Wednesday, July 8, 2009


This is more or less to catch up on some topics folks have been asking me about.

1) July 4th was the anniversary of Ted Berrigan's death in 1983. Anyone who knew and especially loved Ted remembers where they were when they got the news (I was in the kitchen of a house I was renting in Santa Monica with my second wife and two older children from a previous marriage when poet John Godfrey called from New York to let me know, followed shortly by calls from others).

It was a way too early death for a great friend and great poet. Not that it couldn't have been predicted. Ted, in fact, predicted it to me himself when we both first moved back to New York from various points in the mid-1970s. Standing outside St. Marks one night before a reading he told me he had come back to New York "to die."

His death had a great impact on me not just in losing a friend, but in losing one too soon and being angry about that which reinforced my only weeks old resolve to stop doing drugs for good (I had already stopped drinking, an earlier addiction). In fact, three deaths all close together that summer of '83 seemed like an omen for me, as Ted's death was joined by David Blue's (a singer/songwriter born David Cohen who was sort of the poor man's Bob Dylan, though in person he was much taller, handsomer and easier to get along with) and Tom Baker's (an actor who was predicted to be the Marlon Brando of the baby boomer generation but overdosed on heroin instead—he was played, if I remember correctly, in the Doors movie by Michael Madsen, though in real life Tom was much more classically handsome than Michael).

(For poet Terence Winch's take on Ted click here—Terry is the guest blogger at Best American Poetry this week and all his posts are illuminating, so check them out. For poet Tom Clark's take on Ted click here.)

2) Robert MacNamara's death (Tom G. got me going on this) drew an enormous range of responses, the most critical I read (thanks to poet and friend Bob Berner turning me on to it) was Alexander Cockburn's here (I don't always agree with Cockburn and there's stuff here I would argue with, but it gives you a pretty clear picture of MacNamara's critics from the left).

I had a visceral hatred of MacNamara during the Viet Nam war and my activist days trying to stop it, but when not many years after it ended I was in a book store near DuPont Circle in Washington DC where Terence Winch worked at the time, and I was in the stacks looking for some political tome I was interested in, I turned a corner of one of the tiny corridors between massive book shelves and ran smack into MacNamara. I was only inches away from him and had the instinct to at least smack him if not pummel him, but as I stood there staring at him, he looked so old and frail and deeply sad, even depressed, I actually had a feeling of sympathy for him, or at least pity, so I just moved on and ignored the man.

In reality he was at the time running the World Bank and according to his critics (see Cockburn again) using it to prop up murderous regimes and destroy poor people, or from the perspective of his defenders (see this editorial in today's NY Times from LBJ's nephew) doing more to help the world's poor than anyone else!

Someone should do a play or movie about MacNamara (not Earl Morris' documentary FOG OF WAR which exposed MacNamara's mistakes to some extent but also let him off the hook). It could be Shakespearean. This know-it-all brainiac technocrat who has all the statistics and educational wherewithal to analyze to death the last detail of war or money lending, but no instinct or higher intuition to grasp the realities on the ground and create a vision for progress and improvement out of those realities rather than the statistics the realities generate. In other words, as my dear old friend and mentor Hubert Selby Jr. used to remind me, MacNamara couldn't let go of the image in order to see the vision.

3) The Honduran situation and the irony of a leftist president being ousted ala the good old American imperialism days, only this time as far as we now know without the usual CIA push (though who can know for sure). Obama's decision to stay neutral, I'm sure comes partly from his usual pragmatic instincts but also out of fear of the right using any support for a leftist president intent on holding on to his presidency through changes in the Honduran constitution (ala Chavez in Venezuela) along with fear of the idea that the military can be used to oust a sitting president whose popular support might well have legitimized his attempt to hold on to his office (through the national referendum that the ouster precluded).

Like the situation in Iran, where the protesters could be said to be the left of the regime there (and the irony of our rightwingers wanting our government to somehow intervene on their behalf) the protesters in Honduras are to the left of the regime put in by the military. So if Obama were the "socialist" or "communist" or any other kind of leftist the rightwingers here keep saying he is, he would have intervened on behalf of his fellow leftists in both countries.

But in fact, he's a pragmatist and realizes that any intervention from the USA will only feed the opposition's justification for their actions. In the case of Iran, some US secret agencies were undoubtedly funneling support to the regime's critics and would be reformists. In Honduras, there may well have been some secret interference against the leftist president as well. Nothing on the scale of this country's imperialist interventions of the past (the democratically elected Allende's assassination in Chile and the installation of the dictator Pinochet, the overthrow of the democratically elected Mossadegh in Iran and his replacement with the "shah" as dictator, or Guatemala in the 1950s or Nicaragua in the 1980s, etc.) and Obama may be doing his best to subdue our various secret agencies and their outside contractors etc. but not being a dictator unable to totally reign them in. Hopefully he'll have two terms and time enough to replace many of the rightwingers who now run and populate our various secret agencies and military. Hopefully.


Anonymous said...

Michael -

Off topic, but I was wondering - having read a previous post - if you knew of someone who might be interested in purchasing some original works by Sylvia Schuster. I have 4 signed and framed pieces that would be a wonderful addition to someone's collection.

Thanks in advance. I can be reached at


JIm said...

The Honduran Situation

If Obama is such a great pragmatist, why does he not stay out of it completely? He should not be having his secretary of state meeting with the ousted president, there by, giving him some sort of legitimacy. He should not be joining Chavez, the Castros and Ortega in offering words of encouragement.

"But in fact, he's a pragmatist and realizes that any intervention from the USA will only feed the opposition's justification for their actions"

Anonymous said...

I know where I was when I heard Ted was dead - living in LA, taking care of my baby, Athena, who was 10 months old. You called me (or I called you?) and you told me rather casually that he had died. I registered a bit of shock and you quickly apologized because you had forgotten that Ted and I had been good friends,
I sometimes even took care of his kids when he would go off into the Iowa City night, looking for whatever. Ted and I got a laugh out of the fact that he was the only person in the world who knew both me and my first husband Arnold Weinstein. He thought we were perfect for each other :)
Through the years I have frequently thought of Ted and was so happy to fing him posted, reciting a poem on youtube.
After having 4 kids through the years, it killed me to realize that Ted had died so young, with such young boys. I finally realized what it meant to Alice to lose him at that moment. Ted was only 43.
He was a great poet. So influential.
Thank you for bringing up the anniversary of his passing. July 4th. What a way to go.

Lally said...

Suzanne, I think he was 48 that summer not 43. But either way, he was too young, especially for his boys.

JIm said...

The Liberal Mind and Abortion, Eugenics and the Ultimate Civil Right

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has to be the preeminate liberal justice who is held in high regard by the Move On Crowd as probably most liberals on this blog.

How does it feel, Liberals, to have one your most prominent leaders espouse or condone abortion for the higher goal of keeping the population of the underclass (I assume; poor, black, Hispanic or Shanty Irish) under control. This is not a new thought for liberals. It was favored by many progressives in the early 1900’s. The irony of it all is that you guys always say you are on the side of the angels. Yeah, avenging killing angels for the sin of being poor or a minority.

Justice Ginsburg Says She Originally Thought Roe v. Wade Was Designed to Limit 'Populations That We Don’t Want to Have Too Many Of'
Friday, July 10, 2009
By Christopher Neefus

( – In an interview to be published in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said she thought the landmark Roe v. Wade decision on abortion was predicated on the Supreme Court majority's desire to diminish “populations that we don’t want to have too many of.”

Unknown said...

Jim: From the same article:
"And then I realized that my perception of it had been altogether wrong.”

Sigh. Did you think we wouldn't look it up?

JIm said...

Hi John,

Here is the rest of the quote. I believe that the quote you cite refers to Justice Ginsburg's view of Harris v McCrae decision. The writer of the article below obviously believes that also.

Justice Ginsburg: I Thought Roe Would Help Eradicate Unwanted Populations
By Kathleen Gilbert

"So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion. Which some people felt would risk coercing women into having abortions when they didn't really want them. But when the court decided McRae, the case came out the other way. And then I realized that my perception of it had been altogether wrong."

Harris v. McRae is a 1980 court decision that upheld the Hyde Amendment, which forbids the use of Medicaid for abortions.

Justice Ginsburg's remarks appear to align her expectations for abortion with those of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, and other prominent members of the 20th century's eugenics movement. Sanger and her eugenicist peers advocated the systematic use of contraception, sterilization, and abortion to reduce the numbers of poor, black, immigrant and disabled populations.

Ironically, the New York Times interview began as an exploration of Ginsburg's thoughts on Supreme Court hopeful Sonia Sotomayor as she prepares for her confirmation hearings this month. Coverage of Sotomayor frequently emphasizes her success story as an underprivileged minority from the Bronx who rose to prominence at Princeton and Yale Law.

Unknown said...

None of the quotes you provide from Ginsberg indicate that she advocated abortion for those purposes. It only states what she thought the Roe case was all about. And just because some right-wing website wants to put words in her mouth, doesn't make it so. It seems to me that she believes that reproductive rights are necessary to protect poor women, as rich women will always have the choice to terminate their pregnancies.

It is my understanding that Margaret Sanger opposed abortion, for the same reason as you do.
When conservatives conflate birth control and abortion, it is telling. It's not about saving the theoretical babies. It's about controlling women.

JIm said...

Sanger seems to have been an advocate of "Negative Eugenics" which included birth control and abortion in order to achieve a better class of people. I suspect that she did not include Irish like you and I as a better class of people.

Margaret Higgins Sanger Slee (September 14, 1879 – September 6, 1966) was an American birth control activist and the founder of the American Birth Control League (which eventually became Planned Parenthood). Although she initially met with opposition, Sanger gradually won some support for getting women access to contraception. In her drive to promote contraception and negative eugenics, Sanger remains a controversial figure.

Negative eugenics is aimed at lowering fertility among the genetically disadvantaged. This includes abortions, sterilization, and other methods of family planning.[25] Both positive and negative eugenics can be coercive. Abortion by "fit" women was illegal in Nazi Germany and in the Soviet Union during Stalin's reign.

JIm said...


If Ginsburg thought Roe was all about Eugenics and she favors and defends Roe, does it not follow that she probably looks favorably upon Eugenics?

JIm said...

You have been strangely silent. Should I assume that you concede that Ginsburg according to her statement on what Roe was all about and her subsequent support for Roe v Rae, looks favorably on eugenics.

JIm said...

It seems that Ginsburg is not the only one. This eugenics thing is more pervasive among modern liberals than I thought. How about you john? Are you in favor of eugenics?

By Drew Zahn
© 2009 WorldNetDaily
John Holdren
The man President Obama has chosen to be his science czar once advocated a shocking approach to the "population crisis" feared by scientists at the time: namely, compulsory abortions in the U.S. and a "Planetary Regime" with the power to enforce human reproduction restrictions.

"There exists ample authority under which population growth could be regulated," wrote Obama appointee John Holdren, as reported by FrontPage Magazine. "It has been concluded that compulsory population-control laws, even including laws requiring compulsory abortion, could be sustained under the existing Constitution if the population crisis became sufficiently severe to endanger the society."

Holdren's comments, made in 1977, mirror the astonishing admission this week of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who said she was under the impression that legalizing abortion with the 1973 Roe. v. Wade case would eliminate undesirable members of the populace, or as she put it "populations that we don't want to have too many of."

In 1977, when many scientists were alarmed by predictions of harmful environmental