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The Notion

Unfiltered takes on politics, ideas and culture from Nation editors and contributors.

Keeping it Real

The New York Times has an interesting story on street fiction, the ever-rising genre of "urban" (read: Black) fiction that is moving from stalls on Brooklyn's Fulton Street to Manhattan publishers' desks. Long popular in prisons (especially with incarcerated Black men) and with Black women (women are historically bigger readers than men), some of these writers have become mini-empires unto themselves. Most white people have probably never heard of her, but Teri Woods, featured in a Salon story last year, has done millions in sales and attracted the attention of Random House. (She's also in the process of turning one of her books into a film, which may feature actors Hassan Johnson and Michael K. Williams, who play Wee-Bay and Omar on the best-show-of-all-time, HBO's The Wire ).

The Times story focuses on DeWitt Gilmore, the author of books like Push, Topless, and Platinum Dolls, who writes under the pen name Relentless Aaron. He has just signed a six-figure deal with St. Martin's.

According to the Gray Lady, "Mr. Gilmore's prison pedigree gives him a street credibility that is almost as vital as his written word," Ms. Patterson [Monique Patterson, a senior editor at St. Martin's] said. Readers of the genre want to feel that the author is drawing upon his own hard-knock experience as grist for his books.

'He's really writing about what he's been through," she said. "It's similar to the way hip-hop appealed to a mainstream audience.'"

Riiight. Cause hip-hop artists are totally known for really writing about what they've been through. Cause 50 Cent knew druglords Pappy Mason and Supreme, and Jeezy's been cooking crack for days, and Tupac didn't go to a performing arts high school. Is it that an African American experience that isn't ghetto isn't real, or just that it won't sell?

I don't really know what to think about "street fiction" --- on the one hand, it glories in misogyny and violence, passing itself -- and those things, too -- off as "gritty" and "real." On the other, it's pure entertainment, and it's reading, right? (As someone who has been known to very much enjoy listening to music about drugs and guns, it's really hard to point any fingers here.) Besides, Mr. Gilmore has gone from a convict to a six-figure deal, and you've got to give him some credit for that. But look at that Times quote again: "Mr. Gilmore's prison pedigree gives him a street credibility that is almost as vital as his written word...Readers of the genre want to feel that the author is drawing upon his own hard-knock experience as grist for his books."

It's not just readers of "street fiction" or hip-hop fans who want to feel that the artist is drawing upon his or her own life. It's all readers, and all viewers, and all listeners. It's why we have reality television and it's the cause of people's tiresome obsession with James Frey. We don't really care about telling stories anymore unless they're extreme real-life stories, unless they feature "viewers like you."

Last thing: A while back Gawker linked to an item about Marc Gerald , 50 Cent's literary agent (What, you didn't hear about G-Unit Books?). Gerald used to run an imprint for Norton called "Old School" that specialized in "gangsta-lit novellas" that are presumably kin to what 50 will oversee. The project is rumored to have fallen apart not only because writers were grossly mistreated, but because manuscripts were "blackened" with "ghetto" language. It will be interesting to note how Mr. Gilmore's writing fares under St. Martin's, and how he's pimped out for the public --- sorry, I meant marketed.

An Analysis of Sunday Talk Shows

In my post on Sunday, How The Mainstream Media Is Missing What's Mainstream, I referred to a forthcoming Media Matters report on skewing to the Right on our Sunday talk shows. The report was released this morning. It's worth checking out and reading more on how to take action.

John Edwards Should Do a Truman

In her "Editor's Cut" call for the establishment of an independent commission to investigate war profiteering by U.S. corporations -- operating on the ground in Iraq and on the homefront -- Katrina vanden Heuvel makes reference to the role U.S. Senator Harry Truman played in cracking down on war profiteering during World War II.

The Truman model is a good one for today's muckrakers.

The senator from Missouri was blunt. Truman did not fall for the line that words needed to be watched in wartime. Rather, he accused corporations that engaged in war profiteering of "treason."

He was also proactive. When Truman heard rumors of war profiteering, he got into his Dodge and, during a Congressional recess, drove 30,000 miles across the U.S., paying unannounced visits to corporate offices and worksites. The Senate committee he chaired launched aggressive investigations into shady wartime business practices and found "waste, inefficiency, mismanagement and profiteering," according to Truman, who argued that such behavior was unpatriotic. Urged on by Truman and others in Congress, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt supported broad increases in the corporate income tax, raised the excess-profits tax to 90 percent and charged the Office of War Mobilization with the task of eliminating illegal profits.

Truman, who became a national hero for his fight against the profiteers, was tapped to be FDR's running mate in 1944.

As has been duly noted, it is unlikely that Republican leaders in the Senate will allow a Truman-style committee to operate under the Capitol Dome. But that does not prevent an intrepid contemporary pol from following Truman's lead.

But who will go down the trail Truman blazed?

Why not John Edwards? He's a skilled trial lawyer who knows how to go after corporate misdeeds. As a former member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a former presidential and vice presidential candidate, he's prominent enough to draw media attention to the hunt for profiteers. And Edwards has been on the right side of this issue for a long time.

When he was campaigning for the 2004 Democratic presidential nod, Edwards delivered a stump speech featuring a riff on war profiteering that was well received by voters in early caucus and primary states.

"We need to end the sweetheart deals for Halliburton and stop the war profiteering in Iraq," declared Edwards, who made pointed references to Vice President Dick Cheney's former firm but also to a list of other defense contractors that have contributed heavily to George w. Bush's campaigns and that have profited heavily from his war.

"The American people know there is something wrong going on with war profiteering and Halliburton and the contracts in Iraq," said Edwards, who promised to examine every contract handed out by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his aides "with a magnifying glass" in a hunt to halt "the fleecing of the American people."

Edwards wanted to wield the magnifying glass as president -- and it is no secret that he is still interested in occupying the Oval Office.

What Edwards needs ought to recognize is that the best way to get there is to go down the road Truman took.

Edwards should hop in his Dodge, or, better yet, his hybrid, and take that 30,000 drive across the country. He should bang on the doors of Halliburton and the other profiteers. Sure, critics will call him ambitious. But they said the same thing about Harry Truman. Truman didn't care. He just kept banging away at the profiteers, and the American people kept cheering him on -- the way they always do when a prominent figure has the courage and the conviction to defend the national treasury against the ravages of corporate criminals who use the excuses of wartime to line their deep pockets.

Remind You of Something?

Few events are as tailor made for Comedy Central's The Daily Show as Dick Cheney's accidental shooting of 78-year-old Harry Whittington, a moment that had Jon Stewart exclaiming "Thank you Jesus!"

Stewart, via Crooks & Liars:

 

Don't let your kids go hunting with the Vice President. I don't care what kind of lucrative contracts they're trying to land or energy regulations they're trying to get lifted. He'll shoot them in the face.

 

Though there were more than a few bird jokes, the show's Vice Presidential Firearms Mishap Expert Rob Corddry invoked an eerily similar Administration defense:

 

Jon, tonight the Vice President is standing by his decision to shoot Harry Whittington. Now according to the best intelligence available, there were quail hidden in the brush. Everyone believed at the time there were quail in the brush. And while the quail turned out to be the 78 year old man, even knowing that today, Mr. Cheney insists-he still would have shot Mr. Whittington in the face.

 

Corddry continued:

 

He [Cheney] believes the world is a better place for spreading buckshot throughout the entire region of Mr. Whittington's face.

 

 

In a post 9/11 world, the American people expect their leaders to be decisive. To not have shot his friend in the face would have sent a message to the quail that America is weak.

 

 

Hackett Exited Ohio Race After Bad Poll

Paul Hackett, who has dropped out of the race for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination with his usual theatrical flourishes, says he quit the contest because of the pressure he claims he felt from national Democratic bigwigs.

That may well have been a factor in Hackett's decision.

But it appears that an even bigger factor was a poll that showed Hackett trailing far behind his progressive primary opponent, U.S. Representative Sherrod Brown. With the filing deadline for the May Democratic primary rapidly approaching, Hackett was confronted with new numbers from his own pollster, which showed Brown was ahead among likely voters by an almost 2-1 margin -- 46 percent for the congressman to 24 percent for Hackett.

Despite the fact that Hackett had been campaigning for the Senate seat since last fall -- while Brown had been tied up in Washington leading the fight against the Central American Free Trade Agreement and other administration initiatives -- the poll, details of which were obtained by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, revealed that Hackett had made few inroads among Democrats outside his southern Ohio base.

This is not to say that Hackett was a bad candidate.

An Iraq War veteran gained national attention with his blunt criticism of President Bush during the campaign for an Ohio U.S. House seat that he almost won in a special election last summer, Hackett would have been serious contender in a Senate race against just about anyone else. But Hackett had a hard time convincing most Ohio Democrats -- particularly more liberal voters in the northern Ohio counties where the party is strongest -- that he would be a bolder or better candidate than Brown, an early and consistently outspoken critic of the Bush administration's rush to war in Iraq who is one of the House's leading foes of corporate excess.

Staggering Recklessness

In a larger sense, I think Dick Cheney's hunting accident is emblematic of the staggering, reckless incompetence that has been the hallmark of this administration. It is also emblematic of how Bush & Co. have worked to manipulate and suppress news--usually in the belief that they can pretty much get their way--and always to the detriment of public record and interest.

As the Frank James of the Chicago Tribune points out, "When a vice president of the US shoots a man under any circumstance, this is extremely relevant information. What is the excuse to justify not immediately making the incident public? Why did the VP's office not immediately report this--but, instead, wait 24 hours?" And now we learn that in this security-obsessed administration, the president did not know the shooter was Cheney until Sunday morning? Then there is the striking disdain for accountability which Cheney (Dick, Cheney, n: lesser of two evils) has come to embody. As Sunday's New York Times editorial stated, "There is a gaping trust gap when it comes to this administration."

Doug Ireland noted today, "The entire Cheney hunting incident story stinks." (Check out his blog for the explanation.)

Why was there a 24 hour delay in reporting the news? Was Cheney drinking, or under the influence of (we-trust-prescribed) drugs, which marred his judgment?

How could it be that in a security-obsessed country, the President didn't even know--until Sunday morning--that his VP had shot a man on Saturday afternoon?

And doesn't Texas law--as in many states--require that hospitals report gunshot victims to police--immediately?

A Fitting Heir to Bush

George Allen, the not-so-bright, tobacco-dipping, football-quoting Senator from Virginia, is quickly emerging as the right wing's potential answer to John McCain come 2008. Allen solidified his standing as an inside the Beltway rising star by winning the Conservative Political Action Conference's '08 straw poll on Saturday, besting McCain 22 to 20 percent. He also won the title of "America's Best Senator" from Muslims for Bush.

Since we're likely to be hearing Allen's name more and more in the coming months, let's take a look back at what he thinks of the pressing issues of the day, starting with the selection of Ben Bernanke as Chairman of the Federal Reserve. From the New York Times, January 31, 2006:

Here is what Senator George Allen of Virginia, who is considering a bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, said when asked his opinion of the Bernanke nomination.

''For what?''

Told that Mr. Bernanke was up for the Fed chairman's job, Mr. Allen hedged a little, said he had not been focused on it, and wondered aloud when the hearings would be. Told that the Senate Banking Committee hearings had concluded in November, the senator responded: ''You mean I missed them all? I paid no attention to them.''

The heir to Bush, only dumber.

Cheney Gets His Gun

Sure, it's been fun joking about the fact that Dick Cheney obtained five -- count them, five -- deferments to avoid serving in the military during the Vietnam War. Sure, its been amusing to recount his limp claim that the man who served as George Bush I's Secretary of Defense had "other priorities" than taking up arms in defense of his country. Sure, it was a laugh when the chief cheerleader for the war in Iraq mocked John Kerry for having actually carried a weapon in a time of war.

But it is time to stop laughing at Dick Cheney's expense.

Now that the vice president has accidentally shot and wounded a companion on a quail hunt at the elite Texas ranch where rich men play with guns -- spraying his 78-year-old victim, er, friend, in the face and chest with shotgun pellets and sending the man to the intensive care unit of a Corpus Christi hospital -- it has become clear that Cheney was doing the country a service when he avoided service.

Despite the best efforts of Cheney's apologists to have it otherwise, the man the vice president misstook for a quail, millionaire attorney Harry Whittington, was in plain sight, wearing a bright orange vest at the time the vice president blasted him.

U.S. troops had enough problems in Vietnam without letting a trigger-happy incompetent like Dick Cheney start shooting things up from behind the lines.

Those deferments were well and wisely issued.

 

How The Mainstream Media Is Missing What's Mainstream

On Saturday night, Stephen Crockett, Co-host of Democratic Talk Radio, had an interesting blog about a "typical missed news story" and what it reveals about the "liberal media" myth.

I'm posting it to The Notion not because it's about an event The Nation was involved in, but because I believe it's another sign of how skewed our so-called mainstream media coverage is. Too many media outlets--especially television--focus on the beltway, on the horse-race stories, and echo the administration's line. As a result, they fail to reflect the real and broad range of views in this country. I'd argue that the mainstream media is missing what is mainstream.

As Paul Krugman recently pointed out, "You'd never know it from the range of views represented on the Sunday talk shows, but a majority of Americans believes that the administration deliberately misled the nation about W.M.D.'s and that we should set a timetable for withdrawal [or]... For example, that the public believes by two to one that we should guarantee health insurance for all Americans."

I've always believed that there are millions of progressives/liberals in this country, who may not agree on everything, but whose concerns and values are basically ignored by broadcast media and radio--which is where a majority of Americans still get their news. Poll after poll shows shows that most Americans share what one could call core progressive or liberal values--investment in health care and education over tax cuts, fair trade over free trade, a speedy end to the disastrous war in Iraq, corporate accountability over deregulation, preserving clean air and water instead of rolling back environmental protections, defending social security and medicare over privatizing them, raising the minimum wage instead of increasing CEO payouts. But because people don't hear their views, concerns reflected on television or on the local radio, they begin to think that their views are weird, unpopular, even, deviant.

If you want more evidence of how increasingly skewed our media landscape is, check out Media Matters' valuable new report, "If It's Sunday, It's Conservative." (It's embargoed until Tuesday, but we'll be posting it here that morning.) The report documents, through rigorous content analysis, how over the last five years Republicans and conservatives have found their voices amplified by the Sunday debate-setting talk shows. Confirming Krugman's point, Media Matters' report shows that, "As a result of the skew of the Sunday shows, our national debate--with all of its consequences for policy and public opinion--has been pulled unmistakably to the right."

And check out Stephen Crockett's blog of Democratic Talk Radio.

Coulter Gone Wild

To truly understand conservatives, you need to experience them in their element. The largest such gathering of true believers is the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which took place this weekend in Washington, DC. CPAC is a rite of passage for young conservatives, graced by the likes of Dick Cheney, John Bolton and Bill Frist.

I and The Nation's Max Blumenthal stopped by on Friday, hoping to catch Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, the subject of Jeff Sharlet's masterful profile in this month's Rolling Stone. Brownback didn't show, but luckily Ann Coulter was on the menu later in the day. She didn't disappoint--characterizing Muslims as "ragheads," comparing moderate Republicans to slave plantations and wishing she'd assassinated Bill Clinton. Go read Max's blog for the full account.

Before Coulter's speech we strolled around the exhibit hall, home to such vendors as the "ex-gay is OK" table and "Muslims for Bush." We stopped by the booth of one man opposed to affirmative action in South Africa, of all places. Much to our surprise, he was not a fan of the current Republican Party or its followers. When Max told him to go see Coulter he responded, "my friend warned me about her."

Even white nationalists from South Africa are more mainstream than Republican activists in this country.

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