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James Brown, 1933-2006

"Internationally known as the hardest working man in show business . . . . Mr. Dynamite, the amazing Mr. Please Please himself . . . the star of the show, Jaaaames BROWN!"

That was the unforgettable opening of "The James Brown Show Live at the Apollo," an LP released in 1963, which spent 66 weeks on the Billboard album charts – something no R&B album had ever done. The hardest working man in show business died Christmas day at a hospital in Atlanta. He was 73.

I saw his live show in 1967 at the Boston Garden, the cavernous basketball and hockey arena. Tens of thousands of us knew exactly what would happen onstage: First he would dance like no man had ever danced before, hips shimmying, doing the splits, snapping his head in time to the beat, and never stopping.

Then would come his finale, "Please, Please, Please." In the middle of the song he would collapse. We would all leap to our feet crying "no, no!" Two assistants would emerge from the wings, cover him with a purple cape, and slowly help him to his feet to lead him offstage. Just before disappearing, he would throw off the cape and explode with even wilder dancing and screaming. It was the most ecstatic stage show anyone had ever seen (you can still see part of it on VHS as "The T.A.M.I. Show," taped at Santa Monica Civic in 1965).

His 1965 record "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" brought a revolutionary transformation to popular music. Rolling Stone called the song "epochal." Brown eliminated the chord changes that had provided the structure for song melodies for centuries, and in its place put rhythm--an irresistible beat, played by all the instruments--a stuttering, choked guitar, choppy base lines, riffing horns, and on top his awesome voice, raw, harsh and insistent, itself the greatest rhythm instrument in his band.

A decade of Brown-inspired funk followed, and after that rappers spent three decades sampling his tracks to provide the basis for their own.

"Poppa's Got a Brand New Bag" somehow announced the new era when an assertive black power replaced the dream of civil rights. He seemed to personify black power, especially with his 1968 song "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud."

But his relationship to politics was complicated and troubling to many of his fans. In the late sixties he became an advocate of black capitalism and offered himself as its exemplar, with a fleet of cars, a private jet, and a well-publicized mansion. When inner cities exploded in rage in 1967, he urged young blacks to cool it. Politically he aligned himself with Hubert Humphrey, LBJ's vice president and a defender of the war in Vietnam. In 1972 he endorsed Nixon for president.

Born in 1933 in South Carolina, James Brown grew up at the bottom in the segregated South, shining shoes and dancing for pennies on street corners. He served time in prison, first as a youth and later as an adult in the late 1980s. His death reportedly came as a surprise--he had planned to do a New Year's Eve show in New York City.

Surge, Reset, Escalate

Say it: escalation. More and more that's what the geniuses in Washington have come up with as a way of ending the war in Iraq. Instead of calling it an escalation of the war, they are using the military term of art, "surge." Ok, fine. Surge, escalation, "reset", call it what you will. The fact is that the American people voted in November to end the war in Iraq, and the White House has demonstrated that, kabuki-style consultations to the contrary, it just doesn't care.

Let's take as a given that adding more troops is a horrible idea, both strategically and morally bankrupt. How do the Democrats stop it from happening? Under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, passed by Congress in late 2002, the President has fairly wide latitude to prosecute the war. The new Democratic-controlled Congress has two main sticks to wield: oversight hearings and the power of the purse. There's a lot of skittishness on the part of Democrats to use their power of the purse, because Republicans could then spin it as the Democrats "cutting funding for the troops." Spencer Ackerman laid out just such a scenario recently, and I understand where he's coming from. The right was able to construct a myth in the years after the end of the Vietnam war that Democrats ended the war by refusing to fund it after 1974. While this wasn't really true, the funding was cut-off only after Nixon had signed the peace treaty, it created an enduring right-wing bugaboo, one that Republicans now threaten to wield as a cudgel if Democrats attempt to use their power of the purse to end the occupation.

So how about this: Early next year, the president is going have to submit an emergency appropriations bill to continue to fund the war. The Democrats should respond in two ways. First, if by the time the appropriations bill is submitted, the president is still discussing escalating the war, Democrats should come up with a counter offer: they will only approve enough funding for the current troops and not one more. Second, the funding should only be approved for the first 90 days, after which time the administration will have to report comprehensively to Congress on what progress has been made in bringing the war to a conclusion.

It's certainly not an ideal strategy, insofar as it essentially maintains the status quo, but in the in the near term, the first priority for the Democrats has to be to use their newfound ability to stop this war from escalating.

Cross-posted at the Notion

Two Cheers for Paul Krugman

Rubinomics may still reign over the Democratic party, but thehair-shirt economic orthodoxy has taken an influential hit. New YorkTimes columnist Paul Krugman today renounced his faith. Next toCitigroup executive Robert Rubin, Krugman may be the Democrats'favorite economist. He flogs George W. Bush relentlessly and never,never criticizes the Dems (maybe still dreaming of a Cabinet postsomeday).

Krugman's columns have been deficit-obsessive--can't leave the subjectalone. Until now, that is.

Krugman reversed his field on fiscal rectitude by arguing today thatDemocrats must now concentrate on new spending, not budget-cutting.Deficits still matter, he explained, but Americans are hurting and thepolitical situation dictates that the Democratic Congress undertakeprojects and programs that will make a real difference in people'slives.

Two cheers for Krugman. This put him in the labor-liberal camp (myselfincluded) that has been making the same point for several years. IfDemocrats stick with the Hooverite logic of Rubin--whackingentitlements and shrinking budget deficits-- they will forfeit theopportunity to rebuild their party by restoring the country.

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds (saith Emerson)but Krugman's mind is as big as his ego. He will get a third cheer fromme when he comes clean on free-trade globalization. The system Krugmanhas long defended and promoted is a disaster for most workingAmericans. He's too smart not to know it. 

A Democrat Who Thinks Like A Democrat

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Rahm Emanuel, the corporate-friendly centrist who actively worked against a number of anti-war progressives in 2006 Democratic primaries for US House seats and then refused to support at least some of those candidates in November, is handing his DCCC leadership position off to Chris Van Hollen, a congressman who has a dramatically better track record on foreign and domestic policy issues.

Emanuel, the former Clinton administration "fixer" who organized support for the North American Free Trade Agreement and other Wall Street-favored policies and who then went to Congress as a pro-corporate, pro-war Democrat, has tried to spin his management of the DCCC during the 2006 election cycle as a success. In fact, many of the Democrats who prevailed on November 7 did so despite the Illinois congressman's efforts, not because of them.

In primaries from California to New Hampshire, Democratic voters rejected Emanuel's hand-picked candidates and nominated progressives who went on to win in November. Indeed, while candidates such as Illinois centrist Tammy Duckworth, who had Emanuel's full support, were going down to defeat, the list of breakthrough winners included contenders such as New Hampshire anti-war candidate Carol Shea-Porter, who never got any support from Emanuel or his DCCC team.

While Emanuel was an effective fundraiser and a reasonably good strategist in some close races, no one should doubt that he worked the 2006 cycle wearing ideological blinders. And that caused him to make choices with regard to key races that erred on the side of candidates who shared his White House-friendly views against candidates who adopted more progressive positions--and who had more grassroots support.

Could Democrats have won additional seats in 2006 with a different DCCC chair--one who not only knew how to raise money and had a good strategic sense, but who was willing to support candidates who tapped into the anti-war and anti-free trade sentiments that ran so strong this year?

Of course.

For that reason, it will not just be progressives who welcome Emanuel's exit.

At the same time, there is every reason to be enthusiastic about the choice to replace him: Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen.

The new head of the DCCC has a far steadier record of opposing the Bush administration on the war in Iraq, on the Patriot Act and other civil liberties concerns and on economic policy. Van Hollen also knows a thing or two about running in a primary against high-profile candidates with lots of national support and money. Before ousting a Republican incumbent in the difficult 2002 election cycle, he won a Democratic primary against Mark Kennedy Shriver, a member of the Kennedy clan who, seemingly, had most of the advantages in the race.

Van Hollen is not a perfect player. But he is far more in touch with the values of Democratic voters than Emanuel ever was. And he is far more likely than Emanuel to support candidates based on their ability to win -- rather than their willingness to muzzle their message so as not to offend Wall Street and the foreign-policy hawks in Washington.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal, Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into the intentions of the founders and embraced by activists for its groundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability. After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone political writer Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "John Nichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, The Genius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less with the particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and instead combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

Praying for the Peace of Jerusalem

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:they that love thee shall prosper.Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces.For my brethren and companions' sakes, I will say now,peace be within thee.For the sake of the House of the Lord our God I will seek thy good.

Psalm 122

The world's great religions preach peace.

So it is ironic that at the root of so many of the conflicts in the Middle East has been an emotional, at times irrational, determination by the followers of different faiths to control the soil to which they trace the roots of their particular practices of religion.

Nowhere are those conflicts more bluntly in evidence than in Jerusalem, a compact city that is home to structures, traditions and living faith communities that are the touchstones of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. With the approach of the Christmastide that is so linked to the city and the region surrounding it, surely it is appropriate to ponder what it might mean to sincerely seek after the peace of Jerusalem.

We neglect the question at our peril. The struggle among these religions has poured too much blood on the ancient stones of the streets of Jerusalem. And that bloodshed influences the politics not just of Israel and Palestine but of the Middle East and the world. Yet for the most part, contemporary political leaders who profess to be the children of Abraham cannot seem to recognize that they are called, first, to seek peace--not property, ideological reassurance or tactical advantage.

It is troubling that President Bush, who claims a deep Christian faith, is so very unwilling to listen to the former President whose devotion to the teachings of the Nazarene has earned him the Nobel Peace Prize and other honors awarded those who devote their lives to promoting reconciliation and redemption.

Jimmy Carter's new book, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid (Simon & Schuster), is an urgent plea for the United States to play a more useful role in promoting peace in the region. To do so, Carter argues, the United States must stop "squandering international prestige and goodwill and intensifying global anti-American terrorism by unofficially condoning or abetting the Israeli confiscation and colonization of Palestinian territories."

Carter's book has been wrongly characterized, mostly by those who have not read it, as an attack on Israel. In fact, it is a call for the United States to respect the fact that most Israelis and most Palestinians want peace. "As I said in a 1979 speech to the Israeli Knesset, ‘The people support a settlement. Political leaders are the obstacles to peace,'" Carter explains. "Over the years, public opinion surveys have consistently shown that a majority of Israelis favor withdrawing from Palestinian territory in exchange for peace ("swapping land for peace"), and recent polls show that 80 percent of Palestinians still want a two-state peace agreement with Israel."

Carter, who successfully negotiated a lasting peace agreement between Israel and Egypt and who has remained highly engaged with Middle East affairs over the past twenty-five years, is not naïve. He knows that a roadmap to peace requires travel through difficult territory. He has taken his hits for being honest about what must be done. But when he prays for the peace of Jerusalem, he means it.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal, Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into the intentions of the founders and embraced by activists for its groundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability. After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone political writer Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "John Nichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, The Genius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less with the particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and instead combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

Holy Homophobia

For religion-watchers, the decision by several northern Virginia parishes to split with the Episcopal Church and join Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola's crusade against Anglican liberalism came as no surprise. Akinola, the most powerful figure in the Anglican Communion, directly leads at least 17 million Christians and has been fomenting this schism since at least the consecration of openly-gay Bishop Gene Robinson in 2003. It became inevitable, however, once Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church earlier this year. Schori, a supporter of Robinson and same-sex unions, is the first woman to lead a division of the Anglican Church.

For the most part, the mainstream press has done a decent job of reporting the nuts and bolts of the split. The Washington Post noted Akinola's support for legislation in Nigeria that would make it a crime for gays and lesbians to dine together in restaurants and identified him as "an advocate for jailing gays." In a subsequent op-ed, Harold Meyerson dubbed the breakaway faction "Episcopalians Against Equality," and linked them to other orthodox fundamentalists of Catholic and Jewish persuasions who've made anti-gay politics a focal point of their scriptural literalism.

Akinola's supporters quickly denied these allegations. In a post on the website of Truro Church (Fairfax, Virginia), Marytn Minns, a leader of the schism and a friend of Akinola's since their days at the Virginia Theological Seminary in the early '80s, said "That is not true. Archbishop Akinola believes that all people -- whatever their manner of life or sexual orientation -- are made in the image of God and deserve to be treated with respect." Subsequently, the Post and other outlets repeated Minns' claim, cryptically writing, "His advocates say he is trying to navigate an explosive cultural situation in Nigeria and appease Muslim leaders."

While it's certainly true that parts of northern Nigeria submit to Sharia law, under which homosexual sex is punishable by death by stoning, holding Muslim leaders solely responsible for the bill doesn't quite wash with an examination of Akinola's published declarations. The legislation under question is known as the "Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act." Under the guise of banning gay marriage, the bill would prohibit almost any association of gays and lesbians, restrict their freedom of speech and movement. Section 7 prohibits any "publicity, procession and public show of same sex amorous relationships through the electronic or print media" (for example, a screening of Brokeback Mountain). It would also imprison for five years anyone "involved in the registration of gay clubs, societies and organizations, sustenance, procession or meetings, publicity and public showing of same sex amorous relationships directly or indirectly in public and in private" (for example, any lesbians or gays meeting in a restaurant or even in their own homes).

This bill was introduced by Nigeria's Minister of Justice, Bayo Ojo, on January 19, 2006. In a "message to the nation" issued in February, Akinola endorsed the legislation saying, "The Church commends the law-makers for their prompt reaction to outlaw same-sex relationships in Nigeria and calls for the bill to be passed since the idea expressed in the bill is the moral position of Nigerians regarding human sexuality." In another declaration made in September, Akinola said, "The Church affirms our commitment to the total rejection of the evil of homosexuality which is a perversion of human dignity and encourages the National Assembly to ratify the Bill prohibiting the legality of homosexuality since it is incongruent with the teachings of the Bible, Quran and the basic African traditional values."

Given these statements, the attempts by Akinola's supporters to distance themselves (and him) from his previous support of this draconian legislation ring false. Is this crusade what the parishioners of Truro Church and Falls Church in Virginia, who according to World magazine include "leaders of government agencies, members of Congress, Washington journalists, and think-tank presidents," meant to endorse by siding with Akinola?

In the next few days, I'll report more on the Anglican schism, including posts on their right-wing US backers (Scaife, Olin, Coors), their interpretation of scripture and their narrative of reverse imperialism (Africa to the US), so stay tuned.

Brownback Molehill

Once again, being on the losing side of history is driving social conservatives mad. Senator Sam Brownback, currently the only presidential hopeful beloved by the far right wingnut community, said yesterdaythat he wants a Senate panel to question judicial nominee Janet Neff, a Michigan who has already been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, about her role in a 2002 lesbian commitment ceremony. One of the brides was a neighbor and longtime close friend of Neff's; most Americans would have attended and participated under those circumstances, just as she did, regardless of their opinions about the constitutionality of same-sex marriage. But not Sam Brownback, who felt that having a lesbian friend, especially one living next door, should disqualify Neff from the federal bench, and put a block on her nomination. When Senate colleagues objected, Brownback then tried to exact a promise from Neff that she would recuse herself from cases involving same-sex marriage, a condition so barkingly absurd that constitutional scholars nationwide openly jeered at it, and once again Brownback's colleagues had to rein him in.

Increasing numbers of Americans have gay friends, and the right-wingers are panicked about this. Research shows they're right to be -- having a gay friend, even more than a family member, is closely associated with support for gay rights. And of course, as gay and lesbian Americans live more openly , more straight people are aware of having gay friends. And a studyof recent election data conducted by political scientists Kenneth Sherrill and Patrick Egan found some further bad news for the haters: young people don't support gay marriage bans. (Egan and Sherrill also found that the initiatives don't help Republican candidates and are unlikely to fare well in states with fewer evangelical Christians.) So, while this election was a rough one for same-sex couples hoping to make it to the altar, the data suggest that in the long run, anti-gay politics may not have a bright future. Neither -- we hope -- does Sam Brownback.

Oil Law

Listening to the President's press conference just now, something caught my ear. In discussing the new "strategy forward," in Iraq, Bush mentioned that a key to unifying the country would be getting Iraq's new oil law passed. The idea is, I imagine, that once Iraq's new government has figured out how to equitably share oil revenues among various factions, everyone's going to get along just fine. Of course, along with bringing Iraqis together, the new law might just also provide a boon to American energy companies A win-win!

As Antonia Juhasz shows in a new cover story for In These Times (not yet on line), and argued in the LA Times earlier this month, access to oil continues to drive US policy in Iraq:

The Bush administration hired the consultancy firm BearingPoint more than a year ago to advise the Iraqi Oil Ministry on drafting and passing a new national oil law.

Plans for this new law were first made public at a news conference in late 2004 in Washington. Flanked by State Department officials, Iraqi Finance Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi (who is now vice president) explained how this law would open Iraq's oil industry to private foreign investment. This, in turn, would be "very promising to the American investors and to American enterprise, certainly to oil companies." The law would implement production-sharing agreements.

Much to the deep frustration of the U.S. government and American oil companies, that law has still not been passed.

In July, U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman announced in Baghdad that oil executives told him that their companies would not enter Iraq without passage of the new oil law. Petroleum Economist magazine later reported that U.S. oil companies considered passage of the new oil law more important than increased security when deciding whether to go into business in Iraq.

There are two elephants in the room when it comes to Iraq, and for some reason the establishment press can never quite bring itself to broach the subjects: permanent bases and access to oil. It's fairly clear that Bush is not going to withdraw from Iraq no matter what happens. Part of this is due to the fact that he has decided that as long as we stay in Iraq we can't lose the war, and he doesn't want to lose it. But there's also the not-so-minor fact that if we withdraw from Iraq we'll have a hard time establishing permanent bases and may not have any secure access to the country's oil.

So why is it the word oil never crossed the lips of any of the reporters at today's press conference?

Smart Shopping

In her latest Nation magazine column, Katha Pollitt offers tips on how to have yourself an altruistic holiday by reaching out to people in need. In that spirit, I've gathered a few socially-conscious holiday gift ideas for my fellow last-minute shoppers. (And in this same spirit, check out Talia Berman's new piece on WireTap profiling some young Americans who are breaking the holiday mold by making their own gifts, volunteering with friends or donating to the causes they care most about.)

Eco-Bags

The stylish yet sensible ChicoBag, a reusable shopping bag, is the perfect gift for your favorite Whole Foods shopper. It folds into an integrated pouch with a hook, can fit in or hook on to your pocket or purse, comes in five colors and helps lessen America's dependence on fossil fuels and foreign oil. (ChicoBags can save the average American 300 to 700 plastic shopping bags per year, which would reportedly save three to seven gallons of crude oil.)

While we're on bags, Brendon Smyth, writing in Grist's holiday gift round-up, lauds the Alchemy Goods bag "as a compulsive recycler's wet dream." Made from recycled bike-tire tubes and seat belts, it's soft, durable, and really sharp-looking. He also likes Reware's Juice Bag, "perfect for off-grid adventures: It's made from recycled soda bottles and can power up your electronics via the sun! The outside flap is a thin-film solar panel that can recharge mobile devices like a camera, phone, mp3 player, or GPS."

Political Docs

Since the 2004 election, Brave New Films has tackled Wal-Mart, Tom DeLay and war profiteers in Iraq. Now, this holiday season, Robert Greenwald's dynamic production company is offering you the opportunity to buy a gift for a friend, help raise funds for future productions, and get a gift for yourself. As with everything at Brave New Films, this is no traditional fundraiser.

Get one of a limited number of Brave New Films Boxed Sets. Each set contains the films Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, The Big Buy: Tom Delay's Stolen Congress, and Iraq For Sale: The War Profiteers, plus a bonus DVD containing extra footage, interviews, montages and more. Rolling Stone just gave the set three-and-one-half stars in its upcoming issue.

Your $100 donation gets the box set for a friend, relative, or co-worker, and they'll send it directly to them with a special introductory note from Robert Greenwald. As a thank you for your donation, they'll send you the bonus DVD. And you can always get discounted boxes of DVDs and 5 packs by clicking here.

Conscious Consumer Marketplace

For a range of socially responsible gift ideas, see the Center for a New American Dream's Conscious Consumer Marketplace. Things like sweatshop-free clothing, gift baskets with fair trade coffee, flowers and organic chocolate, hand lotion and organic cotton clothing and home-improvement items like energy-efficient kitchen appliances, shower-heads and faucets, non-toxic paints and sustainable wood products are easy to find. There are also gift certificates that can be used on a range of green travel packages and a section of presents for college students looking to "green their dorm room."

BuzzFlash Progressive Marketplace

You can also find a host of conscious presents at the BuzzFlash Progressive Marketplace, where you can get great gifts and help a terrific web site at the same time. Proceeds from this marketplace are critical to BuzzFlash's continued survival. And with more than twenty categories of gift options--from apparel to foreign films to postcards to food to books to Barack Obama buttons--you can probably scratch off numerous names on your lists in one fell swoop.

NationMart

I'd be remiss if I didn't urge you to visit The Nation's online shop. NationMart is your one-stop shop for everything Nation. Be subtle by sporting the Nation logo on t-shirts, caps, mugs and totes. Or be brash by wearing our t-shirt featuring our famous "Worry" cover image (recently selected by the American Society of Magazine Editors as one of the top 40 magazine covers of the past 40 years). Nation gear makes for great gift-giving all year round. And don't forget radically discounted books by Nation writers and editors.

Happy holidays!