first political consulting firm in 1933 and its role in health care

September 18, 2012

Published in The New Yorker (24 Sept. 2012), Jill Lepore’s The Lie Factory: How Politics Became a Business is the kind of article we need more of. Lepore details the first political consulting firm, Campaigns, Inc., founded in 1933, and offers a chronology of battles including the defeat of two health care insurance programs: Earl Warren’s (governor of CA — his program was defeated in 1945) and Harry Truman’s (the President’s program was defeated in 1952). For some historical perspective, here’s Lepore on the defeat of Truman’s plan:

Whitaker and Baxter’s campaign against Harry Truman’s national-health-insurance proposal cost the A.M.A. nearly five million dollars, and it took more than three years. But they turned the President’s sensible, popular, and urgently needed legislative reform into a bogeyman so scary that, even today, millions of Americans are still scared.

Lepore’s piece offers excellent research and much-needed historical background to our current landscape of super pacs and health care rhetoric.

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music and literature save lives

August 24, 2012

My friend, Julie Jung, designed a graduate course at Illinois State called “Rhetoric Saves Lives” (scroll down to ENG 590 Seminar in Rhetoric and Composition Studies, almost at the bottom on the right-hand side). From Julie’s course description: “Titled ‘Rhetoric Saves Lives,’ this seminar argues that scholarship in rhetoric can and does productively intervene in discourses that threaten the lives and livelihoods of beings on this planet.*” And the asterisk signals a note at the bottom of the course description — I’m including the note not only as an example of citation and gratitude but also as an example of Julie’s humor, which always cracks me up:

* I am grateful to my colleague Professor Angela Haas for arguing so persuasively that rhetoric does in fact save lives in response to my once saying that our work as rhetoricians isn’t like “brain surgery, because, you know, we don’t save lives or anything.” Accordingly, she inspired not only the title of this course, but also the very course itself.

As an undergraduate at an experimental college, I pestered my beloved literature professor with questions and comments such as the following: But how can literature make a difference? What does literature have to do with reality? Aren’t we destroying the literature by picking it apart? To which, my beloved literature professor answered, “How is my job any different from that of a plumber or a carpenter?”

Thirty-five years later and I’m reading a collection of contemporary Iranian literature with a group of alumni from that same college and with that same literature professor. Strange Times, My Dear: The PEN Anthology of Contemporary Iranian Literature, edited by Nahid Mozaffari, offers a corrective to our mis-information and monolithic stereotypes about Iran. Literature is dangerous — on the back jacket of the collection, Dick Seaver of Arcade Publishing explains that the Office of Foreign Assets Control (Department of the Treasury) warned the company that without a permit, the publisher would face consequences: a million-dollar fine and ten years in prison. What is the danger in this collection? Iranian writers describing their home, country, culture.

Reading Ahmad Mahmud’s excerpt from the first chapter of his novel, Scorched Earth, about the first days of Iraq’s invasion of Iran in 1980, I kept thinking, ‘Why isn’t this required reading in high school, in college world lit. courses?’ The excerpt offers confetti pieces of the start of war and its inexorable normalcy.

This evening, I’ll attend a concert, the first of the 2012 Twickenham Fest three-concert series. I’ll listen to the world premiere Speaking for the Afghan Woman by William Harvey, an American composer, who lives in Kabul. Scroll down and read the Program Notes for a quick introduction to Afghani literature, music, and the feminist, Meena Keshwar Kamal, the founder of RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan). (There’s a fantastic exhibit on RAWA at Second Life.)

How do music and literature save lives? They combat ignorance. Listen to more about William Harvey’s work with his organization, Cultures in Harmony, or read this review of Shiva Rahbaran’s Iranian Writers Uncensored: Freedom, Democracy, and the Word in Contemporary Iran. Have at it. Go save some lives.


anybody else got that old-time “Handmaid’s Tale” feeling?

February 16, 2012

Perhaps the creepiest book I have ever read is Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which I read in 1985, when it was first published. I was so creeped out because the novel offers a reality that is one shade away, palpably imaginable, almost present. The Evangelical right is dystopian fantasy in The Handmaid’s Tale in 1985 and present reality in our government’s discussions of women’s autonomy in 2012. Or haven’t you been listening to the discussions on contraception?


effects on health from BP oil disaster

September 19, 2011

Dahr Jamail has a powerful article at Al Jazeera, “Sick Gulf residents continue to blame BP.” Widespread respiratory problems, rashes, miscarriages. One of the major problems is the chemicals used in the oil dispersants — many of these are showing up in the blood of Gulf residents.


in-depth article on U.S. Postal Service crisis

September 19, 2011

Nicole Colson’s article, “Why postal workers need your support,” offers an in-depth and nuanced take on the labor issues as well as the history of the current problem. Excellent piece.


Southern Poverty Law Center sues state of Alabama

July 8, 2011

Today, the Southern Poverty Law Center and other groups filed a lawsuit against the state of Alabama and HB 560, set to take effect on 1 September. In an email to subscribers of the SPLC newsletter, Morris Dees writes, “Today we filed a lawsuit against Alabama’s new, draconian anti-immigrant law. The New York Times calls it “the most extreme” in the nation. It makes Arizona’s anti-immigrant legislation look like child’s play.” Here’s a snippet from the SPLC website:

“We have filed this lawsuit today because Alabama’s immigration law is blatantly unconstitutional,” said SPLC Legal Director Mary Bauer. “This law revisits the state’s painful racial past and tramples the rights of all Alabama residents. It should never become the law of the land.”


for the right, academic freedom = conservative indoctrination

May 26, 2011

Fascinating article by Brian Tierney — Attacking the Memory of Workers’ Struggle details the smear campaign against two U. of Missouri labor relations professors, Judy Ancel and Don Giljurn. Footage of their lectures were doctored by Andrew Breitbart (right-wing blogger) to distort their statements. Both almost lost their jobs. Did Andrew Breitbart ever have an ethics class in college? Did he ever go to college? Ah, yes — B.A. in American Studies from Tulane. Tierney writes this:

On one level, this was just another sleazy attack by Breitbart and his cohorts. Recent attacks like this one involved edited videos to disparage ACORN, Shirley Sherrod, Planned Parenthood and NPR – attacks that revealed the vile racism, Islamophobia, and anti-women bigotry that are the bread and butter of right-wing attack dogs like Breitbart and his ilk.