Saturday, May 30, 2009

Singing Workshop

Do you like to sing? Ysaye M. Barnwell and George Brandon will be leading a vocal workshop from June 14 through June 19 at the Omega Institute, leading participants through a discovery of vocal techniques and African-American history and culture through song. Experience not necessary.

Details here.

Art News

Josey Hale has work in two shows opening next week in Brooklyn:

Little Tragedies Group Show opening June 5, 7-9PM
CCCP Gallery
38 Marcy Ave. at Hope St.
Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Bushwick Biennial opening June 6, 7 - 9 PM
910 Grand Street
Brooklyn, NY 11206

In addition, he's posted some new works on his website.

Also, fans of avant garde jazz will probably be interested in next week's Vision Festival. This year's lineup includes such worthies as Marshall Allan (a day is devoted to a celebration of his work, including an evening performance by the Sun Ra Arkestra), Billy Bang, Sunny Murray, William Parker, Matthew Shipp, Hamid Drake, Joe Morris, and the list goes on.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Recession Survival Fair—Volunteers Needed

The Recession Survival Fair will be on Saturday, June 6 from 11 am to 4 pm at the Brooklyn Brownstone School at MacDonough and Lewis Aves. in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. We need volunteers to help publicize the event ASAP.

The areas we are covering include:

Health/Wellness - Including healthcare for those who are uninsured or underinsured, dental care, mental health (stress from the recession); we'd like to have screenings/tests available if possible so that people can get a baseline of their health. We will include resources for all of the recreational and fitness activities that are free or low cost in the city. We'd like to have a list of the programs that the hospitals/health centers hold for the public. We'd like to have massage therapists, acupuncturists, and yoga instructors there to talk about alternative stress relievers (and there are schools where these services are either free or very low cost). We are also addressing fitness and recreation and low cost or no cost ways of pursuing various activities.

Food/Nutrition - We are looking for a nutritionist to talk about how one can fix healthy, balanced, low cost food for themselves and their family. We'll have people from NOEP to help sort out the food stamp maze. We'd like to talk about the many places people can find food - farmer's markets, local ethnic groceries, CSA's, food coops, urban farming/gardening, soup kitchens, food pantries.....and the groceries. And how to create a food budget.

Veterans - We are trying to gather together special resources for veterans in all of these areas as well as just reaching out to the veteran community to be a part of this.

Finances - Credit repair, debt, foreclosures, savings, financial literacy, etc.......and how to avoid scams.

Families - Child care, elder care, summer food programs for kids who received free breakfast and lunch during the school year, summer recreation for kids, and camps.

Immigrants - Citizenship, assimiliation and rights

Jobs - Job skills classes (free), job search in the internet age, social networking, resumes, cover letters, interviews, what the promising career fields are in the NYC area, what are green jobs and what skills does one need for them?

Business Start Up - We feel that by starting new businesses, people can help fix the economy, providing jobs for other, etc.... We'll have a slew of tools and resources (free) for people who are considering doing this.

In addition, we are starting a bartering site, so that people can trade expertise and skills. For example, an accountant can help a family work out a budget and in exchange, he can get Spanish lessons or learn how to make tamales. A college student could teach someone how to use Twitter and other social networking and in return, she could receive a home cooked meal. We want to encourage people to use their talents to help each other.

Please contact us at to volunteer or get further information.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

David Herrstrom Poetry Reading

My friend David Herrstrom is doing a poetry reading:

I'll be reading my poems on Sunday, June 28, at 3:00 pm, at the Jewish Heritage Museum of Monmouth County.

Settings, interludes, and musical accompaniments by David Brahinsky.

Hope to see you there.



Jewish Heritage Museum of Monmouth County
Mount’s Corner Shopping Center
West Main Street & Wemrock Road
Freehold Township, NJ 07728

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Health Care Bill This Friday?

Congress Committee to release health care bill this Friday?

Rumors are circulating that the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee (HELP) will release its bipartisan health care legislation this Friday. Will the legislation include the public option, a watered-down version of the public option, or no option at all?

Last week, Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, talked about creating a fallback public option that only would kick in several years down the road if insurance companies are not doing their part to bring down costs.

Can we count on an industry which has increased premiums more than 87% over six years? Highly unlikely.

For more on this topic, check out Tim Foley's great health care blog at The public plan is in jeopardy. Please volunteer to lead a Public Option Postcard tabling event from May 30 to June 7th in your neighborhood.

*Media Coordinator Needed - Whatever time you can contribute is helpful. Please contact Naomi Rothwell, NYCforCHANGE Outreach Coordinator, if interested.

Volunteers Needed for Health Care Events

Blue Double Cross underway. Mission: Kill Health Care Reform at any cost

Insurers are gearing up for a major smear campaign to block the public option — the most crucial part of health care reform. Why? They are scared of losing business to a competitor that offers quality and affordable care without the hassles.

We must fight back with our stories - denials of treatments, choice of doctors, medications - of health care when we needed it the most. Go to our facebook group, 47 million strong for health care reform , share your story, and pass it on to everyone you know. Every story makes a difference!


1. Stand UP for Health Care - Postcard Tabling Events - Sat, May 30th to Sun, June 7th
Join NYCforChange in mobilizing our neighbors to support the public plan option by sharing their personal stories on postcards to Congress. Postcards will be given to key members of Congress at face to face meetings on June 10th.

*Upper West Side, Sat, May 30th - - Starbucks on 103rd and Broadway, 12 to 3 PM - RSVP:
*Morningside Heights, Sat, May 30th -- 109th and Amsterdam, 1 to 3 PM, RSVP:
*Washington Heights, Sat, June 6th, RSVP:
*Brooklyn, Sun, June 7th, RSVP:

*Volunteers Needed! Please volunteer to host a tabling event in your neighborhood. Contact

2. Health Care Reform Teach-In - The good, the bad, and what the heck? - Wed, June 3rd
Learn about the public plan option - the most controversial and crucial part of health care reform. Tim Foley, heath policy blogger, will give key messaging points about the public plan and other hot health care topics. Details TBA.


Asian American Heritage Month House Party - Sunday, May 31th, 3:30-6:00 pm
Featuring a conference call with Konrad Ng, Obama's brother in law, Tammy Duckworth and other officials from the Obama Administration. Tim Foley, will be speaking about health care reform and how you can help make it happen. Sponsored by Asian Americans for Progress - Home of Virginia Davies --299 West 12th Street, Penthouse, NYC - RSVP:

National Physician's Alliance - NY Local Action Network meeting - Tuesday, June 2nd
Find out about upcoming health care for all advocacy activities for physicians - RSVP:

SAVE THE DATE - National Health Care for America NOW lobby day in D.C.
- June 25th
For more info, contact

Sunday, May 24, 2009

What is Reality, Jazz Edition

I saw Nicholas Payton's quintet last night at Birdland, and it led me to think about jazz, a music I love (and think about a lot in any case).

There's been a lot of press in recent years about a conflict over a definition--the perennial question, What is jazz? The latest resurgence of this sort of inquiry was inspired by comments by Wynton Marsalis (whose playing I love) that were critical of avant-garde jazz (which I also love) for allegedly abandoning the traditional, core features of jazz as it had been performed and composed through much of the 20th century. The primary target of Marsalis’ criticisms was widely understood to be the music of people such as Anthony Braxton, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and various other practitioners from the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), other centers of avant-garde music like the BAG group, and the Third Stream movement started in Boston by Gunther Schuller. These alleged apostates have incorporated, among other things, elements of 20th century European composed musics, such as 12-tone music and minimalism, into a mix containing ingredients more commonly associated with traditional jazz, such as blues, polyrhythms, modal structures, walking bass lines, superimposed harmonies, chord scales and emphasis on melodic tensions. The results, argued Marsalis, alienated listeners, shrinking the audience base (already small, as it has been since the end of the swing era and rise of The Beatles), thus threatening the future of jazz as a viable artistic entity. Marsalis’ critique was thus both aesthetic and economic.

I’ve always been troubled by Marsalis’ critique, not only because accepting it meant accepting him (or anyone else) as arbiter of cultural definitions, but also because of what I’ve always perceived as a circularity in the economic logic of music programming and promotion in the U.S. Regarding the former, I am (solely with respect to culture—definitely not in terms of politics) a libertarian. In other words, when it comes to making art of any kind, if it feels good, do it. To my mind, the more people are willing to experiment with various ingredients, mixing and reorienting existing ingredients or inventing new ones, the result will be a broader tonal palette—a more colorful, interesting and imaginative cultural life for everyone willing to experience it.

Regarding the economic logic of Marsalis’ argument, there is, I think, an inherent tautology in the conventional wisdom of the idea of What the Public Wants. Music industry executives (who now are typically MBAs, lawyers, financiers, etc.—not music aficionados, as was originally the case) use the supposed expectations of the public as justification for their investment decisions. On one level, this is quite understandable. The music business is by no means predictable (and has been really hurting in recent years, largely, but not exclusively due to digitalization and all that entails) and businesses, particularly those beholden to shareholders, crave predictability, since their stock prices depend on it. Yet because there is no real way to predict what the public will want from one year (or even one quarter) to the next, there is a tendency among music business executives (many of whom, having been quite successful at business, allow themselves to believe that their acumen in one area—business—translates to equal perspicacity in others—such as music and popular tastes). The result is that industry executives generally opt for whatever they’re used to, on the theory that the public will do the same. And here’s where the circularity comes in. Having rationalized perpetuation of a given musical style, the music business implements their conclusion via investments in music that sounds familiar. The public continues to hear music that is familiar to them, and is thus socialized into expecting to hear music that is similar to whatever they’ve already heard. The familiar, in other words, becomes accepted as normal as a result of conscious investment decisions. And having accepted that definition of ‘normal,’ the majority continues to expect it and responds to whatever stands outside that definition as being ‘weird.’

Imagine, for the sake of discussion, that there were no corporate-dominated music ‘business’ as such. (Given the way things have been going for the industry lately, that may not be such a leap of imagination.) Prior to Woodstock (ironically), the music business, while containing a number of corporate entities, and certainly not ideal (the payola scandals and blatantly racist programming and promotion come to mind), was not dominated by corporate conglomerates the way it is now. Popular music was not homogenized—i.e., one could travel to different parts of the country and hear distinctly different styles of jazz, country, blues, rock, etc. (By contrast, my father and I took a road trip across the country in 1990 or 1991 and could access nothing on the car radio but corporate country music or corporate rock all the way from LA to eastern PA, with the exception of St. Louis, which had a great jazz station.) Imagine digital distribution in the absence of a corporate nanny defining what is “normal” in music for us. Imagine a resurgence of all those regional/local styles that have been for so long stuff into a corporate cookie cutter to maximize ROI instead of to simply promote what people create. If we were once again to become socialized into the expectation that music is a bunch of different things, each of which, like human emotions, is as changeable as the weather, what would “normal” be then? What would people be willing to experience given the chance to hear it? This is potentially the promise of digitalization in re music; it is also a measure of the extent to which the current system has, under the guise of promoting a cultural activity, stifled its growth and, by extension, our imagination.

So what does this all have to do with Nicholas Payton?

As I listened to Nicholas Payton’s performance last night, a few associations immediately came to mind. Unlike typical trumpeters, Payton is a reductionist. Rather than engage in pyrotechnic displays of virtuosity (although he’s clearly capable of such things), Payton takes a motif, repeats it (he uses repetition a lot to create tension, quite successfully), turns it around, displaces it rhythmically, and uses it to build to emotional climaxes and valleys. In that sense, Payton reminded me of Wayne Shorter—a thinking, meditative improviser. Whereas Shorter writes pieces with multivalent melodic, harmonic and rhythmic implications, and develops cubist improvisations reflecting that multiplicity, Payton is more stylistically conservative. His harmonic and melodic materials are much more rooted in traditional jazz, R&B and blues. And unlike Miles Davis, who also came to mind due to his own minimalist approach, Payton’s phrases don’t tend to include the kinds of melodic feints that Davis used to throw the listener off balance. This is not to say, by the way, that Payton is predictable—because in a lot of ways, he isn’t—but rather to try to convey the flavor of his approach. Payton reminded me most of Terrance Blanchard. Both are cinematic in their conception (Blanchard writes a lot of film scores, actually; I don’t know if the same is true of Payton), focusing their composition, arranging and improvisations on conveying a mood, being very attentive to the tonal color of a piece.

Payton’s band, which included Johnaye Kendrick (vocals), Robert Glasper (piano), Vincente Archer (bass), Daniel Sadownick (percussion), and Marcus Gilmore (drums), was excellent. Glasper opened the set with an extensive solo intro which reflected multiple stylistic influences. His soloing used many of the same devices as Payton—repetitions, rhythmic displacements, etc., and, like Payton, he was very lyrical. Gilmore played an extended drum solo toward the end of the set that illustrated just how thoroughly Payton’s musical conception has been absorbed by all members of the band. He began very quietly, using a simple motif which he repeated, expanded and displaced before inverting it and launching into extrapolations of increasing intensity. Johnaya Kendrick sang a long, complex melody in unison with Payton’s trumpet, then engaged in impressive scat singing. Her soloing was melodic and inventive.Vicente Archer was solid on bass, creating patterns that contrasted interestingly with the melody in a number of places. And Daniel Sadownick was sensitive but intense on percussion. The band performed like an organism, reflecting clear familiarity with every aspect of the compositions. And the pieces performed were compositions—not just the familiar head-solos-head frameworks for improvisation that had been commonplace in jazz for a long time. Like Terrance Blanchard, Payton is formally ambitious in that sense.

In terms of the formal elements of their compositions, however, neither Payton nor Blanchard is interested in storming the ramparts. Henry Threadgill, for one, is doing that. His pieces thrive on displacement of listener (and player) expectations. Essentially, Threadgill pieces move like 2-dimensional chess, where the melodic materials move in what seems a somewhat familiar direction (although the intervals are often unexpected) while the bass and inner voices shift continually, recontextualizing the melodies above them. The effect is like watching the motion of a mobile made of pieces of glass of a certain color as another mobile (or perhaps more than one) is brought within the ambit of the first, causing the light reflected in the glass to change color as the differently colored pieces overlap in the path of the light. Threadgill’s music is harder to listen to than Payton’s or Blanchards. However, if you’re willing to explore, you’ll find ideas bubbling up in your mind while you listen.

A similar effect is achieved with somewhat different materials and formal relationships in Liberty Ellman’s Ophiuchus Butterfly, released in 2006. Ellman, who plays with Threadgill, has said he’s interested in combining ideas of people like Anthony Braxton with those of more conventional jazz artists. The CD features edgy, off-kilter pieces, some of which are reminiscent of Threadgill’s, along with electronic tone poems and various other musical forms. The compositions are unlike any others I’ve heard, but simultaneously familiar; the playing, by saxophonists Steve Lehman and Mark Shim, tuba player Jose Davila and bassist Stephan Crump, and drummer Gerald Cleaver, universally tight and empathetic.

Last summer, I heard Ellman perform many of the pieces from Ophiuchus Butterfly (along with others from previous albums) with a trio at Bar Sepia. It was a revelation. Showcasing the guitar in a trio setting brought out aspects of Ellman’s playing that I’d never heard before, clarifying the extent of his stylistic connection to the main body of jazz guitar history as well as the innovative use of intervals and melodic ideas that is unique to Liberty’s style. I’ve always marveled at Liberty’s note choices—I could never figure out where they were coming from, but they always made sense—and I still do. But hearing him in a trio setting recontextualized his work for me. His rhythm section, by the way, was amazingly dextrous and basically, telepathic. This was one amazing event, held for a tiny audience in a small neighborhood bar. Who says Brooklyn isn’t the best?

Neither Ellman nor Threadgill has reached an audience on the scale of say, Pat Metheny or Miles Davis, although both have gotten a bit of press attention. Such is life for those who venture beyond the expected. Yet Henry Threadgill has related a story in which one may see signs of hope. A number of years ago (this may have been in the 1980s, I’m not sure), he took his band on the road. They performed in little, out of the way places where people generally don’t get to hear jazz. Threadgill reported that the responses they got were much more enthusiastic than they’d expected, and they apparently drew fairly large crowds. Maybe if people get a chance to hear the music that’s being made—not just the stuff music company executives are used to—they’ll like what they hear. Maybe we need to spend less time defining music and just let it happen. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

GOP Holds Put on Harold Koh Nomination

Senators Cornyn (TX) and Vitter (LA) have put "holds" on Harold Koh's nomination to be the State Department's Legal Advisor. These are procedural devices to prevent the nomination from getting a vote. Cornyn and Vitter can end their holds any time they like.

Please take a moment to contact their offices and tell them to end their holds, and allow an an up-or-down vote on Koh's nomination right away.

Sen. John Cornyn (Texas) 713-572-3337

Sen. David Vitter (Louisiana) 225-383-0331


Recession Survival Fair

An event designed to:
1. Provide information about programs to help people get through the recession.
2. Hold panel discussions of experts who can offer concrete information on key topics affecting our community during the recession: healthy eating on a budget, health care, jobs, credit management, and foreclosure information.
3. Enable trading of skills and knowledge

Volunteers are needed any time between now and Saturday, June 6th (the day of the event).

We also need volunteers for the day of the event.

Activities involve all aspects of:
• Planning the event
• Making it happen

Saturday, June 6th from 11 AM to 4 PM
Brooklyn Brownstone School
272 MacDonough St (at Lewis Ave)

To volunteer, please contact us at

Directions: A/C to Utica, B15 to Bainbridge, B25, B26 to Lewis Avenue, B43, B46 to MacDonough Street

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Insurance Industry Double-Cross--Fight Back

I got this from today:
Breaking news on health care: The Washington Post is now reporting that insurance giant Blue Cross Blue Shield "is putting the finishing touches on a public message campaign aimed at killing a key plank in Obama's reform platform."1

The Huffington Post sums it up as "Insurers Planning on Double-Crossing Obama."2

We knew the insurance companies would eventually turn on the president, but this is much sooner than expected. And they're targeting the public health insurance option—the crucial piece that will help cover everyone. So we're immediately launching a rapid-response campaign to go toe-to-toe with Blue Cross Blue Shield and win quality health care for all Americans.

We need to raise $150,000 in the next two days. It's a lot, but we'll need every penny to take on Goliath. We'll run ads, hold events, and work like crazy to get the real truth out to voters. AND we'll keep the pressure on Congress to make sure they don't get bullied into gutting the president's plan to guarantee health care coverage for everyone. Can you chip in $35 right now to make it happen?
Meanwhile, my friend Theresa Thanjan at South Asians for Opportunity forwarded the following message from Amy Miller at NYC for Change:
We are doing a Postcard Canvass Campaign. We are looking to gather huge numbers of postcards that we have which say "New Yorkers Demand Quality, Affordable Health Care for All." What I need is individuals who want to serve as "canvass captains."

I will work together with the captains to set up canvasses in the place/date/time that is good for them in the next few weeks (preferably May Sat 30th/ Sun 31st and June Sat 6th/ Sun 7th) and I will be providing materials, help recruit canvassers, train as necessary, and later gather the postcards and deliver them to Senator Schumer!

The idea is for canvass captains to tap into their own networks and neighborhoods so we can get postcards from all over New York!

It is very important we pressure our elected officials to include a public plan option in upcoming health care reform legislation! We can't let private insurance win!

If you know anyone who may be in interested please have them contact me asap at or 415-990-2770.

I would also like to reach out to them myself if you could get me their contact info that would be a big help!
Time is of the essence. Let's get to work!

Let Them Know We Want the Public Option

Yes, it's your friendly neighborhood noodge again, this time urging you to tell your Senators you support their efforts to put the public insurance option on the health care reform agenda. Here are the people to call if you live in the state of NY:

Senator Charles Schumer
Phone: 202-224-6542

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
Phone: 202-224-4451

For those unfamiliar with the terminology, the public option is a government-sponsored insurance plan, like Medicare, which would operate side-by-side with the current private insurance options. This would enable people to choose either the public or private insurance option and would force private insurance plans to compete with the public plan. Predictably, private insurers have been arguing that a public plan would not compete fairly with private insurance. When countered on this claim, they claim the public plan would make everyone's health insurance worse; as a fallback argument, they're claiming that the problems with the existing system (if that's the word for it) will be solved if we just institute more stringent regulation of the insurance industry--in other words, "please don't make us compete with a public plan."

And here we see one of the most fundamental problems with the current system--the insurance industry, which functions as an (interested) arbiter between doctors and their patients, is concerned primarily with their own profits, not the health of patients--which is why they've constructed a massive bureaucracy devoted to avoiding payment of medical claims. And this fact, in case you hadn't noticed, stands as one of the clearest refutations possible of the idea that markets, left to their own devices, will always produce optimal results for all participants. The current system, after all, is utterly dysfunctional for a large part of the population of the U.S. (we humans lacking the information and other resources available to the insurers), but it works like a charm for the insurance companies--which is why they're working as hard as possible to find a way to kill the public option.

More Events--Health Care

There’s so much going on, it’s hard to keep up with it all (OK, it’s impossible). Nonetheless, I’ll continue to try--the stakes are much too high to just sit on the sidelines. Herewith, another installment, courtesy of Nina Agrawal of NYC for Change:

Yes, the Industry Is Backtracking. Just 3 days after volunteering to contain costs, insurers took back their agreement - saying that Obama had overstated their offer. Why? Our costs are their income.

Cost control will NOT happen unless Congress passes legislation for a Public Plan Choice - forcing insurers to compete with an important benchmark for health care - in the best interest of patients not profits.

Congress is set to vote on health reform legislation by July 31st. Senator Schumer is leading the battle for the public plan. To win, he needs powerful ammunition - your voices, your stories, your support.


1. HCAN YOUNG PROFESSIONALS EVENT- Thursday, May 21st, 7 - 9 PM

Join us for a conversation with Richard Kirsch , National Campaign Manager, Health Care for America NOW , (HCAN), about health care reform and what you can do to make it happen. Kirsch has more than 20 years’ experience in health care reform and was invited by President Obama to the first White House Health Care Summit.

Co-hosts: Nina Agrawal MD, Tim Foley, Amy Miller, Jonathan Adner MD, Elizabeth Caputo, Dave Pollak, and Reshma Saujani

Free! .
Retreat Bar NYC, 37 West 17th St., btwn 5th & 6th Ave.

2. STAND UP for HEALTH CARE! Postcard Canvass Week - May 29th to June 6th

Join NYCforChange in asking voters to pledge their support for the public plan choice on postcards to Senator Schumer. Volunteers are needed to lead neighborhood canvasses. Contact Amy Miller at for more information.

*If you are interested in participating, please come to the May 21st HCAN event to learn key messaging points.

3. SAVE THE DATE - HCAN National Lobby Day in Washington, D.C. - June 25th
Be a part of the biggest health care rally in history! More information to come.

- Together, we must stand up for our right to the health care we want and need. We've got no time to lose.

Nina Agrawal

"I know what it's like to see a loved one who is suffering, but also having to deal with a broken health care system. I know that pain is shared by millions of Americans all across this country..... that's why I will not rest until the dream of health care reform is finally achieved in the United States of America." -- President Obama, May 12, 2009

Join - Because one person can make a difference and every person should try.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Upcoming Political Events--Brooklyn (mostly)

Tuesday, May 19th: Candidate Forum
On Tuesday, May 19th, New Kings Democrats will host a candidate forum for city council candidates in Brooklyn's 33rd District. (The seat is currently held by Councilmember David Yassky).

The 33rd district runs along the East River and includes parts of Brooklyn Heights, Carroll Gardens, and Park Slope, Boerum Hill, DUMBO, the Navy Yard, parts of Williamsburg, and Greenpoint. Come learn what city council members do, and hear from all seven candidates in the race. Details below.

When: Tuesday, May 19th at 7:00 PM
Where: Harry Van Arsdale High School Auditorium (Williamsburg)
257 North 6th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211

Go to for more information about the debate, to rsvp on facebook, and for links to each candidates website.

Please contact New Kings Democrats at or 646-402-5825 with questions.

Thurs, May 21st, 7PM: A Young Profesionals Event with Health Care for America NOW <>
Join us for a conversation about what's happening in health care reform and what you can do to support the legislation of our generation!

Special Guest Speaker: Richard Kirsch <> , National Campaign Manager, Health Care for America NOW, has spent 22 years helping lead campaigns to provide health coverage to more than 1 million working families in New York. In 2001, Kirsch was honored by Families USA as National Health Care Consumer Advocate of the Year.
Co-hosted by Nina Agrawal MD, Jonathan Arend MD, Tim Foley, Amy Miller, Elizabeth Caputo, Dave Pollack, and Reshma Saujani

Retreat NYC Bar, 37 West 17th St, RSVP: Stewart at 202-547-5797 or Don't miss this great oppportunity! Space is limited!

Thurs, May 21st, 10:30AM to 12:30PM: Brooklyn Clergy/Merchant Association meeting on health care reform
Elim International Fellowship Cathedral, 34 Madison Ave, Brooklyn (between Franklin and Classon Ave.)

Thurs. 5/21: Health Care For America Now Happy Hour
For a conversation about how we can help President Obama make health care a reality in 2009.

Where: Retreat NYC
37 W. 17th Street bet. 5th and 6th Aves.
From 7-9:00 pm
Hosted by Nina Agrawal MD, Jonathan Arend MD, Elizabeth Caputo, Tim Foley
Amy Miller, Dave Pollack and Reshma Saujani

Saturday, 6/6: Recession Survival Fair

Recognizing that the coming year will likely be a difficult one for many of us here in Brooklyn, Brooklyn for Barack, hosted by the Stuyvesant Heights Parents' Association, is planning a Recession Survival fair!

The fair will focus on how we can help each other get through the current economic downturn. It will both give attendees as much information as possible about programs that already exist, and allow us to come together as a community to trade skills and knowledge.

When: Saturday, June 6th from 11 AM to 4 PM
Where: Brooklyn Brownstone School
272 MacDonough St (at Lewis Ave)

Directions: A/C to Utica, B15 to Bainbridge, B25, B26 to Lewis Avenue, B43, B46 to MacDonough Street

The Recession Survival fair will have several components. First, we will have tables for organizations that offer services or programs that can give immediate help to people who've been laid off or otherwise negatively impacted by the current economic crisis. We're focusing on organizations that can offer practical help, either on site – health screenings, for example -- or in the form of information attendees can take home and act on right away.

Second, we will hold panel discussions of experts who can offer concrete information on key topics affecting our community during the recession: healthy eating on a budget, health care, jobs, credit management, and foreclosure information.

Third, we’re planning to create a more informal community exchange of services and knowledge that goes beyond what’s available through official channels. Whether through online barter, or some other form of exchange, we will pool our resources as a community to provide ongoing help to our friends and neighbors.

If you’d like to participate in the community exchange, please email us: Please let us know the following:

• Your contact info
• What skills/knowledge you feel you have to offer to your fellow Brooklynites (this may be a professional skill or simply a talent you can share, like teaching someone to knit or bake)


• What skills/knowledge you are looking to acquire (e.g.,“I’d like to learn Photoshop”)

If you are able to help plan the event (we need volunteers right now) and/or volunteer on the day itself, please let us know. Contact us:

June 11 - 25: Human Rights Watch Film Festival
New York

HRWIFF Celebrates 20 Years
"A film festival that wagers hope against injustice, imagination against apathy." -- Ariel Dorfman

The Human Rights Watch International Film Festival returns to New York for its 20th year with a packed program of films dedicated to raising awareness of human rights issues around the world. Tickets are now on sale. (

The Reckoning
Opening Night at the HRWIFF:
A Film by Pamela Yates, Peter Kinoy and Paco de Onis, 95m
An insightful documentary that follows two riveting dramas—the prosecution of unspeakable crimes and the International Criminal Court's fight for justice. Filmmakers and ICC Deputy Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda present for Q&A following the film. Find out more (

Presented in association with the Coalition for the ICC (CICC) ( and the International Center for Transitional Justice (

Opening Night: Friday June 12, 7:00pm (reception to follow)
Get tickets: (| Invite friends (

Saturday June 13, 1:30pm
Get Tickets: ( Invite friends (

View the full festival lineup (
All screenings at The Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater (
West 65th Street, between Broadway & Amsterdam Aves on the upper level

Tickets Now on Sale
Click here to order tickets online ( or visit the Walter Reade Theater Box Office:
West 65th Street, between Broadway & Amsterdam Aves on the upper level

Would you like to receive occasional updates on special film events for the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival? Sign up for our e-mailing list (


Health Care Reform is moving fast. We need more volunteers to help educate and activate the public. Whatever time you can contribute is helpful -an hour, a day, a week! We especially need volunteers to lead neighborhood health care tabling events. Also if you or anyone you know is a videographer interested in doing a very brief public service announcement on health care reform, please contact Nina Agrawal MD.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Rick Perlstein's Nixonland--Closing Thoughts

This is the second post about Rick Perlstein's Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America. The first part can be found here.

Perlstein had access to recent releases of White House tapes, providing a detailed look into behind-the-scenes deliberations and interactions among Nixon and various subordinates. The attitudes and motives revealed in these conversations were almost always sharply at odds with the public rationales given by Nixon and his supporters for his policies. Perlstein notes early in the book that as a child, Nixon learned from his mother’s indifference to the truth the lesson that no negative consequences need be associated with lying, something he obviously took to heart.

I remember the sixties as a chaotic time. Perlstein’s depiction of that period, buttressed by copious documentary evidence, reinforces and intensifies that impression. There was much more violence than I remembered, and I recalled a fair amount. Moreover, as Perlstein demonstrates clearly, Nixon thrived on and to the greatest degree possible, exploited chaos and social conflict. He comes across in this account as the avatar of resentment—a man fully consumed by self-pity and paranoia, who couldn’t let go of his bitterness even to savor his overwhelming election victory in 1972. Of course, knowledge that he achieved that victory by gaming the entire election may well have erased any pleasure associated with the outcome. Such are the wages of deceit.

Perlstein does a great job of dissecting Nixon’s techniques of rhetorical and psychological manipulation, describing not only what Nixon did to his opponents, but how. This was one amazingly devious character.

The aftermath of the age of Nixon was almost 40 years of GOP political dominance, during which that party continued to rely on the politics of resentment in its use of the southern strategy as a means to gain and secure political control of the south. The irony is that, like its author, the GOP now finds itself greatly reduced in stature and marginalized to the point where a number of commentators wonder whether that party has become an almost exclusively southern organization. Like Nixon, the GOP’s choice of methods brought temporary victory at the cost of its integrity. Perlstein ends his account with Nixon’s 1972 victory and downward spiral into Watergate and resignation. His account provides a great deal of foundation for further investigations into the trajectory of American politics as it has mutated since then. It is also a riveting read.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Today's History Lesson--Nixonland Edition

I'm reading Rick Perlstein's Nixonland, a fascinating and exhaustive (but not exhausting) tour of the mindset of Richard Nixon and of those parts of American culture that supported and responded to him.

I've been fascinated with politics and history since I was 8 years old (too young, I know) and had read quite a lot about both before I studied history at the undergraduate and graduate levels. I focused on modern American history, particularly Vietnam and the Cold War, and I think it's safe to say that I know quite a bit about both. Nixonland contains a lot of details with which I was already familiar--but it includes an awful (in more ways than one) lot more.

For example, I knew that the U.S. government was directly implicated in the coup leading to the assassination of South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem, and that JFK and others in his administration felt morally culpable in the aftermath and obliged to continue the war. I had no idea, however, that the decision to give the green light for the coup was the result of a plot hatched by the American ambassador to South Vietnam and the CIA. Nor did I realize the connection between the Diem assassination and Watergate. As Perlstein explains,
The Plumbers were part of Nixon's reelection master plan. It was the same strategy he'd chartered in 1966: set Democrats at each other's throat. The motive behind implicating JFK in the murder of Ngo Dinh Diem was to tarnish the Kennedy name among both antiwar Democrats and Catholics (Diem was Catholic). Edmund Muskie was also Catholic, and his foreign policy adviser--the dreaded W. Averell Harriman--could also with some creativity be implicated in the deed.

The problem resided only in the historical facts. In truth, the responsible American officer in the overthrow and murder of Diem was a Republican--Nixon's 1960 running mate, Henry Cabot Lodge, then serving as ambassador to South Vietnam. In conspiracy with the CIA, Lodge had deceived President Kennedy into giving an ill-advised green light for a coup that Kennedy himself had naively been shocked to see end in an execution. These truths were why Howard Hunt was hard at work cobbling together new "facts." (p.594)

Nor had I realized that the 1972 GOP national convention took place only because of funding from the international conglomerate ITT as the result of a bribe, disclosure of which by investigative journalist Jack Anderson, led Nixon's Plumbers to threaten an ITT lobbyist into public recantation, and to scheme about the possibility of assassinating Anderson.
You have to read this to get a sense of the level of criminality involved in all this:
The 1972 Republican meeting [their national convention] was to take place in San Diego: a nice, quiet, conservative Southern California city, nearby to the president's San Clemente retreat. But the city fathers had not cooperated, and the business community wasn't ponying up.

So the White House approached an angel.

The multinational conglomerate International Telephone & Telegraph had acquired three companies in 1969 in a deal bureaucrats in the Justice Department worried fell afoul of antitrust laws. Thus it was that in the middle of 1971 an ITT lobbyist named Dita Beard convened a lollapalooza negotiating session whose principals included John Mitchell, Maurice Stans, John Ehrlichman, Chuck Colson, Bud Krogh, and Vice President Agnew. The upshot: ITT promised $400,000 in donations to help stage the San Diego convention. Mitchell would protect the merger.

The deal created more problems than it solved. As the Florida campaigning entered the home stretch, columnist Jack Anderson published a 1971 memo in which Dita Beard exclaimed to her boss that their “noble commitment has gone a long way.” The memo also included the observation, “Certainly the President has told Mitchell to see that things are worked out fairly.” Its famous last words: “Please destroy this, huh?" Beard's boss didn't.

The reference to the president and attorney general of the United States--now Richard Nixon's campaign manager--as direct parties to a bribe was more than a little embarrassing. So Howard Hunt was sent to cajole Beard into claiming she'd never written such a memo.

“Who exactly do you represent?” Dita Beard's daughter asked of the red-headed stranger who appeared on her doorstep.

“High Washington levels who are interested in your mother's welfare,” he replied.
Beard's public recantation clamped the lid on what Nixon feared was the biggest threat to his reelection so far...Still and all, through spring, the ITT lid threatened to blow.

Which was why G. Gordon Liddy and Howard Hunt brainstormed their own solution to the problem. Liddy no longer worked in the White House. Like Mitchell, and also former commerce secretary Maurice Stans and former White House assistant Jeb Stuart Magruder, Liddy had been promoted to a more important job, with the Committee to Re-Elect the President, John Mitchell, chairman...Magruder was the committee's deputy director; Stans its treasurer; Liddy “general counsel.” And what the general counsel suggested, at a meeting with Hunt and a physician who once specialized in nondetectable “accidents” for the CIA, was that Jack Anderson be assassinated--a car crash, perhaps, or a drugging; or, Liddy suggested, Anderson could “just become a fatal victim of the notorious Washington street-crime rate.” Their consultation completed, Liddy pulled out a $100 bill from Committee to Re-Elect the President funds to pay the good doctor for his time.

Bear in mind, now that you've read this, that Dick Cheney believes that Nixon did nothing wrong and made a mistake by resigning. I imagine that many of his acolytes feel much the same way. And so goes the history of modern American conservatism...

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Health Care Links

Ezra Klein says Chuck Schumer’s compromise public option plan, created in concert with Max Baucus, separates the insurance industry’s main arguments that (a) the public option will be worse for you and will take away your freedom of choice by preventing the insurance companies from competing with it and (b) the public option will compete unfairly with the insurance industry, threatening their profits.

(Note: The public plan is NOT single payer, which has been excluded thus far from the discussions in the Senate Finance Committee, as noted previously.)

Klein also reports that Chuck Schumer forced the Senate Finance Committee roundtable to address the public plan, which he defended bluntly.

Matthew Yglesias foresees Congress killing health care reform by expressing support for it publicly while opposing every reasonable way of paying for it. I worry about the same thing, which probably has a lot to do with the fact that I keep blogging about the issue. Psychohistorians take note. ;-)

He also relates that the GOP claims that Obama isn’t doing enough to compromise, but refuses (surprise) to offer anything of their own, in this case in re health care reform. I know—I was so shocked I had to sit down. ;-)

Moving from politics to policy: Since there is NO correlation between levels of health care spending and levels of improvement in public health in the U.S., Yglesias argues we should focus not on setting a specific level of spending, but on health care outcomes, in terms of increased efforts at prevention and “lifestyle issues.”

Health Care Reform--Single Payer Excluded?

The Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Senator Max Baucus, had its first hearing on health care reform this week. Representatives of insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, etc. were at the table. Advocates of single payer were excluded, and in at least one case, arrested.

Single payer is government sponsored health care, essentially what Medicare is for those qualifying for that plan, extended to cover everyone. It is the most cost-effective, least expensive option of all the health care plans under consideration because (a) the expenses associated with maintaining a bureaucracy enabling insurance companies to minimize coverage of the insured would be eliminated and (b) the number of people in the plan would be so big it would enable the government to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for much lower drug prices than would be otherwise available.

What kind of reform are we going to get if the most effective approach is off the table?

If, like me, you support single payer (or even if you just think it fair that all options be put under consideration in the deliberations leading to the crafting of a health care reform bill), please contact members of the Senate Finance Committee to insist that single payer advocates be at the table. The next hearing of the Senate Finance Committee on the subject will be next Tuesday, May 5. Senator Max Baucus’s phone number is (202) 224-2651. Other contact info can be found via the link above.

[H/T to Karla Moore for the link & to Avram for Senator Baucus's phone number]

Recession Survival Fair

If you're interested in volunteering in Brooklyn, here are the details of an upcoming event:
Recognizing that the coming year will likely be a difficult one for many of us here in Brooklyn, Brooklyn for Barack, hosted by the Stuyvesant Heights Parents' Association, is planning a Recession Survival fair!

The fair will focus on how we can help each other get through the current economic downturn. It will both give attendees as much information as possible about programs that already exist, and allow us to come together as a community to trade skills and knowledge.

When: Saturday, June 6th from 11 AM to 4 PM
Where: Brooklyn Brownstone School
272 MacDonough St (at Lewis Ave)

Directions: A/C to Utica, B15 to Bainbridge, B25, B26 to Lewis Avenue, B43, B46 to MacDonough Street

The Recession Survival Fair will have several components. First, we will have tables for organizations that offer services or programs that can give immediate help to people who've been laid off or otherwise negatively impacted by the current economic crisis. We're focusing on organizations that can offer practical help, either on site – health screenings, for example -- or in the form of information attendees can take home and act on right away.

Second, we will hold panel discussions of experts who can offer concrete information on key topics affecting our community during the recession: healthy eating on a budget, health care, jobs, credit management, and foreclosure information.

Third, we’re planning to create a more informal community exchange of services and knowledge that goes beyond what’s available through official channels. Whether through online barter, or some other form of exchange, we will pool our resources as a community to provide ongoing help to our friends and neighbors.

If you’d like to participate in the community exchange, please email us: Please let us know the following:

• Your contact info
• What skills/knowledge you feel you have to offer to your fellow Brooklynites (this may be a professional skill or simply a talent you can share, like teaching someone to knit or bake)


• What skills/knowledge you are looking to acquire (e.g.,“I’d like to learn Photoshop”)

If you are able to help plan the event (we need volunteers right now) and/or volunteer on the day itself, please let us know. Contact us:

Friday, May 8, 2009

Pelau with Squash

Do you like to cook? You know you do. Here's my take on Pelau, a traditional Trinidadian recipe I learned from Becky James, a friend of my wife's. (That makes the version I learned  a Trini recipe via St. Lucia.) I stress-tested my version at the dinner table tonight.


2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cubed
1 pkg smoked turkey neck bones
1 lg onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, diced
1 lg green pepper, cut into strips
1 lg red pepper, cut into strips
1 lg jalapeno pepper, diced
1 16 oz can pigeon peas, drained
1 14 oz can light coconut milk
2 cups water
1/4 cup tamari sauce
Liberal helping of Caribbean hot sauce
2 cups rice
1/2 small squash, cut into chunks.
3 tbspns sesame oil


In large saucepan, cook turkey neck bones in sesame oil, about 5 minutes. Remove from pot.
Brown chicken in saucepan over medium high heat, about 5 minutes per side. Remove from pot.
Cook onions & garlic in saucepan until onions are translucent.
Add rice & brown, about 2 minutes.
Add water, coconut milk, tamari & Caribbean hot sauce. Bring to boil.
Return meats to pot, cover and cook 20 minutes at low heat.

Meanwhile, boil squash for 10 minutes or until it starts getting soft. When softened, remove skin, add to pot.
Five minutes before rice is done, add peppers & pigeon peas.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Healthcare Reform--Death by a Thousand Cuts?

I have a recurring nightmare about Barack Obama's efforts to bring health care reform--finally--to the United States of America. 

The scenario is this: Faced with solid opposition from the GOP, Obama needs enough Democratic support in the Senate to enable use of the budget reconciliation process to get a health care reform bill passed. Via reconciliation, that means he needs 51 votes. Currently, the Democratic margin in the Senate is 58-40 (the Franken-Coleman race still being in legal limbo), the number of Democrats having increased by one last week with the addition of Arlen Spector of PA, who switched parties (as I'm sure you all remember). HOWEVAH, a number of Democrats are of the genus blue dog, which may put that necessary 51-vote total in jeopardy.

I was reminded today (again) of the potential for blue dogs to vote with the GOP by recent statements by Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson (D, allegedly) and Senator Spector (D, at least this week) in opposition to Obama's proposed health care plan, particularly its public option.

What is the public option & why is it important? Basically (and please bear in mind that no bill has yet been written, so the precise details of the plan have yet to be spelled out) the public option would provide medical coverage without private insurance to those who choose it. Instead of private insurance, the government would, in effect, be the insurer, a la Medicare. This would not eliminate current health care plans using private insurance; rather, the public plan would exist alongside medical coverage as currently constituted. However, given that the public option would operate without the private insurance middleman, it is expected to be less expensive than current privately insured coverage because it eliminates the extra layer of bureaucracy created by insurance companies for the purpose of minimizing their responsibility for paying insurance claims, and thus, maximizing their profits. 

Why the opposition to the public plan? Nelson specifically has stated outright that his opposition is due to the pressure on profits a public plan would represent to the insurance companies (if Spector has enunciated the reasons for his objections, I have not yet seen it). In other words, given a choice between the interests of the public and those of insurance companies, Senator Ben Nelson opts for the latter, unambiguously. It should be no surprise to learn, therefore, that insurance companies are the biggest single source of funding for Senator Nelson. They're certainly getting what they paid for. And who says there's corruption in Washington D.C.?

In any case, whatever the motivations of other blue dogs in re Obama's health care plan, it should be clear that if we want health care reform to occur this year--that is, if we want to finally seize the moment and remove the U.S. from that small list of industrialized countries without universal health care (leaving only South Africa), we need to organize to put the maximum amount of pressure on conservative Democrats who are caving in to the insurance lobby or thinking about doing so. And while we're at it, in states where there's a possibility of replacing someone like Spector with someone who'll actually vote in the interests of the public, we should do whatever we possibly can to make sure that such wolves in sheep's clothing are retired in the next election cycle. In PA, keep an eye on Joe Sestak--he seems to be edging in the direction of opposing Spector in the next election. If that's true, I think it incumbent on progressive voters and activists to support him.