Monday, January 25, 2016

EPA Whistleblower Hits Agency on Flint

Almost forty years ago I met Hugh Kaufman, a youngish engineer at the Environmental Protection Agency in D.C. tasked with investigating toxic leaks at chemical dump sites around the USA, before that was a major national issue.   The Love Canal case was just emerging and I was particularly interested because the crime scene was in my hometown of Niagara Falls, N.Y.   Kaufman was playing a key role from inside EPA in exposing, for the press and for congressmen, such as Rep. Al Gore, the dangers at Love Canal and hundreds of other sites.  I wrote about that, and him,  in a major magazine piece and then in my first book, in 1981, Truth and Consequence: Seven Who Would Not Be Silenced.

Hugh continued to raise hell from and at EPA in this realm for years, decades, without losing his job.  Somehow he is still there today.   He keeps in touch with me on some key cases--amid the friendly back and forth on his Nats vs. my Mets (he has gained new fame as the "Chicken Man" at the Nats' ballpark, but that's another story).

He has been weighing in on the Flint water poisoning crisis for some time, of course, and today he has sent me an email he has written to two Washington Post reporters, praising them for their Flint story from yesterday but trying to point them to certain troubling aspects--his usual manner.  Here it is:

Dear Mr. Bernstein and Mr. Dennis,

Kudos for your article in this mornings Washington Post on the Flint Water Contamination Case where you folks compared the Flint MI contamination case to the Love Canal NY contamination case.

I was one of the engineers who helped start the USEPA 45 years ago, and in the mid 1970's, when I was the chief investigator on Hazardous Contamination Cases at EPA, I was the EPA whistleblower on the Love Canal Contamination Case (I'm still at EPA working on Superfund and Emergency Response issues).

The Flint case is much worse than the Love Canal case.
In the Love Canal case EPA did NOT coverup contamination information to protect the financial interests of business "players" (eg. Occidental Petroleum) and politicians.

In the Flint case EPA DID coverup contamination information to protect the financial interests of business "players" (eg. American Cast Iron Pipe Company) and politicians.

Further, 40 years ago, EPA actively looked for and identified other Love Canal type cases, and took definitive action, with the support of Congress, to find and remedy other Love Canals throughout the pendency of that case and beyond.

There were numerous Congressional Hearings at the time which spurred Government at all levels on to do the right thing.

Today, EPA is NOT looking for other Environmental Justice cases like Flint, where minority populations are being poisoned in defiance of Federal laws and regulations, and there are ZERO Congressional Hearings planned.

I would respectfully encourage you folks to continue your excellent reportage on this terrible state of affairs, as the Washington Post did on the Love Canal case, and its ramifications, almost 40 years ago.

The Washington Post is credited with the term "follow the money." I respectfully request that you all consider following the money on the Flint Contamination case, as the Washington Post did on the Love Canal case, back in the 1970's.

Thanks for your consideration, Hugh Kaufman, USEPA

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

When FDR Shafted Socialist-Democrat Candidate Upton Sinclair

As the Bernie Sanders campaign catches fire (at least in two early states):  The following happened 82 years ago,  just after  muckraking author "Uppie" Sinclair,  the former Socialist, swept the Democratic primary for governor of California leading one of great grassroots movements ever,  EPIC (End Poverty in California)--and seemed headed for victory in November.  His meeting with a very friendly FDR at Hyde Park seemed to clinch the deal.  They even chatted about Teddy Roosevelt's response to Upton's The Jungle 30 years back.  Then Roosevelt and his top aides screwed him, backing his right-wing dullard GOP opponent.

Eleanor backed Sinclair in epic race--but FDR instructed aides to tell her to remain silent, and she did.  Sinclair wrote her a key private letter after meeting with the president, but she was away when it arrived, and the aides opened it and informed the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover, no less.

And the dirtiest, and one of the most influential, campaigns in USA history--it virtually created the modern campaign--emerged to defeat him.  Hollywood took its first all-out plunge into politics and the saintly Irving Thalberg created the very attack ads for the screen.  See a trailer below for my book on what led to all this:

Saturday, January 16, 2016

My Book on Hollywood Politics

My recent  e-book When Hollywood Turned Left  (Townsend Books), is something borrowed, something new, yet all very entertaining--and revealing.  It answers the question:  Okay, we all know Hollywood has been pretty damn liberal for a long time, but how did it get that way?  This book traces it back to the 1934 race for governor of California when the outrageous actions by the conservative studio bosses--such as docking every employee one day's pay for the GOP candidate--forced left-leaning (but still powerless) actors and screenwriters to organize and fight back, in spades.  And the rest is history.

If this sounds fairly familiar--at least to my fans and/or longtime readers--it's because most of the book is taken from my 1992 "classic" The Campaign of the Century, although with a new Introduction and fresh material elsewhere.  Ever since that earlier 620-page book (winner of the Goldsmith Book Prize and much other acclaim) appeared, many would-be readers have requested that I create a smaller, although still very substantial, volume focusing on the wild and wooly Hollywood angle.  So, after a couple decades of hearing this, I've finally done it, thanks to the brave new world of e-publishing, and now with clickable links!

So now there's no excuse (such as "I won't read any doorstop books") to not enjoy this story and it's wonderful cast of characters,  including Will Rogers, Charlie Chaplin, Louis B. Mayer, Katharine Hepburn, Billy Wilder, W.R. Hearst, Jimmy Cagney, and on and on.  As some know, my major discovery was the trio of faked newsreels produced by the saintly Irving Thalberg to destroy Sinclair--the first full use of the screen to destroy a candidate, and precursor of TV "attack ads" today.   Here's my video that covers some of that.  But even that is just small part of this book ($3.79 for limited time only, for all Kindles, iPads etc.).  Hooray for Hollywood! Of the full Campaign of the Century in print or ebook.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

MoveOn Endorses Sanders Over Clinton

Just announced in an email to members, and it was overwhelming:
It's official: MoveOn members have voted to endorse Bernie Sanders for president. Now, with your help, we will mobilize and help him win.
After more than 340,000 ballots were cast in a four-day membership vote, Bernie Sanders has earned our endorsement with an overwhelming 79% of votes cast, far more than the 67% threshold required for an endorsement. That's the best-ever performance of any presidential candidate in MoveOn's 17-year history.
This vote was not only decisive, but participation was broad based, with more ballots cast than any other endorsement vote in MoveOn's history.

It’s no surprise that Bernie Sanders has earned overwhelming support from MoveOn members. The issues his campaign is raising—tackling economic inequality, ending corporate influence over our politics, breaking up too-big-to-fail banks, expanding Social Security, fighting climate change, avoiding senseless wars, and more—are the same issues that MoveOn members have been fighting for for years.
Now, with just 20 days until voting begins in the 2016 presidential primary, we're adding our millions of collective voices in support of this historic campaign.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Bowie Up Against the Wall

Bowie song inspired something he witnessed at the Berlin Wall--two separated lovers....and my upcoming book indeed looks at "heroes... just for one day." Building tunnels under the Wall to reunite, in many cases, lovers.

'Never Wave Bye-bye"

I was never a big fan of David Bowie, going back to 1971 when edited one of the first major profiles of him for Crawdaddy.  I was a little old for (and wholly uninterested) in Ziggy and "glam-rock" and then electronica, white R & B, and so on.  Just never connected but he was purportedly a nice guy and obviously broadly  influential.  Always loved and still love 'Modern Love," however, as well as his more recent "Wake Up" with Arcade Fire.  R.I.P.

'The Nation' Adopts Metered Pay Wall

Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation, announced today that  the 150-year magazine (I was a daily blogger there from 2010-2014) has now adopted a "metered pay wall" for its previously "free" Web site.  Here is an excerpt from the email:

In the past, the only way to read everything The Nation publishes (including our 150-year digital archive) was to subscribe. Unlike most magazines that rely on advertising to pay their bills, The Nation has always depended on the support of our readers and the generosity of our donors. But beginning today, January 11, 2016, we’re switching to a model based on metered access to our online content. We think this new system will better suit casual readers and give us the ability to share our most important work in a timely manner at critical news moments (we’re working to build a movement here, after all). Here’s how it works:

  • Everyone will be able to read 6 articles for free over a 30-day period.
  • After the first 3 articles, you’ll be asked to sign up for one of our newsletters so that we can stay in touch with you about our journalism.
  • After 6 free reads in 30 days, you’ll be asked to subscribe at our special, introductory rate of $9.50 for 6 months of unlimited digital access. (That’s less than 37 cents per week!)
  • All print and digital subscribers can log in to enjoy unlimited access. For more details on the meter or on how to create or manage your subscription, go to our handy FAQ.
Many of you already subscribe (thanks!). Some of you have let your subscriptions lapse (now’s a great time to renew!). And for others of you, this will be the first time you’ve been asked to pay for access to our articles. Because we only do journalism that matters, we believe our regular readers should be proud to subscribe—and to help keep The Nation accessible to new readers. Over the next few months, we’ll be keeping a close eye on how this is all working, as well as answering customer queries.

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Atom Bowl

The famed biologist Jacob Bronowski revealed in 1964 that his classic study Science and Human Values was born at the moment he arrived in Nagasaki in November 1945, three months after the atomic bombing (which killed at least 75,000 civilians) with a British military mission sent to study the effects of the new weapon.  Arriving by jeep after dark, he found a landscape as desolate as the craters of the moon. That moment, he wrote, “is present to me as I write, as vividly as when I lived it.” It was “a universal moment…civilization face to face with its own implications.” The power of science to produce good or evil had troubled other societies. “Nothing happened in 1945,” he observed, “except that we changed the scale of our indifference to man…“

One of the most bizarre episodes in the entire occupation of Japan took place less than two months later, on January 1, 1946, in Nagasaki.  (For more on this critical period,  and my own experiences in Nagasaki, see my book, Atomic Cover-up.)

Back in the States, the Rose Bowl and other major college football bowl games, with the Great War over, were played as usual on New Year’s Day. To mark the day in Japan, and raise morale (at least for the Americans), two Marine divisions faced off in the so-called Atom Bowl, played on a killing field in Nagasaki that had been cleared of debris. It had been “carved out of dust and rubble,” as one wire service report put it--without mentioning that it was the former site of a high school where hundreds of students perished on Auhust 9--and was soon dubbed "Atomic Athletic Field No. 2."

Both teams had enlisted former college (from UCLA to Temple) or pro stars serving in Japan for their squads. The “Bears” were led by quarterback Angelo Bertelli of Notre Dame, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1943, while the “Tigers” featured Bullet Bill Osmanski of the Chicago Bears, who topped pro football in rushing in 1939 (and then became a Navy dentisst). Marines fashioned goal posts and bleachers out of scrap wood that had been blasted by the A-bomb. Nature helped provide more of a feel of America back  home, as the day turned unusually chilly for Nagasaki and snow swirled.

More than 2000 turned out to watch. A band played the fight song, “On Wisconsin!” The rules were changed from tackle to two-hand touch because of all the irradiated glass shards from the atomic blast remaining on the turf.  A referee watched for infractions.  Each quarter lasted ten minutes. 

Press reports the next day claimed Japanese locals observed the game—from the shells of blasted-out buildings nearby.  The two stars, Bertelli and Osmanski had agreed to end the game in a tie so that both sides would be happy but Osmanski, after leading a second-half comeback, could not resist kicking the extra point that gave his team the win, 14-13.

More than 9,000 Allied POWs were processed through Nagasaki, but the number of occupation troops dropped steadily every month. By April 1946, the US had withdrawn military personnel from Hiroshima, and they were out of Nagasaki by summer. An estimated 118,000 military personnel passed through the atomic cities at one point or another. Some of them were there mainly as tourists, and wandered through the ruins, snapping photos and buying artifacts.

 A commemorative booklate produced for the game included this line:  "In the rubble of the atomic bomb, we made a gridiron.”

When the servicemen returned to the US, many of them suffered from strange rashes and sores. Years later some were afflicted with disease (such as thyroid problems and leukemia) or cancer (such as multiple myeloma or forms of lymphoma) associated with radiation exposure. More on this and related issues here.

UPDATE:   The images of the program for the game above were new to me until today.   A former  Marine named Bob Trujillo read my piece and sent it to a bunch of other Marines and the son of one of them responded with the program.  I've now been in touch with the son and, yes, his father later suffered health defects he related to his atomic exposure in 1946.   Thanks to Bob Trujillo (@chelledaddy) for this amazing contribution.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

63 Years On: The Death of Hank Williams

One of the great tragedies of modern music, the sudden death of Hank Williams at the age of 29--in the back seat of a Caddy, the cause still disputed (see recent Steve Earle novel)--happened 63 years ago today. Well, as Hank sang, he did not get out of this world alive.  Here are few links and videos marking the day.

Radio announcement of his death.  A small part of his funeral service, including Roy Acuff and Bill Monroe and  others singing Hank's "I Saw the Light."   A fuller part of the service.   Trailer for recent movie The Last Ride starring Henry Thomas of E.T. fame and great song about that ride from Emmylou Harris.   Hank (and Emmylou) doing one of his greatest, "Alone and Forsaken."   Some home movies of Hank as he sings "Long, Gone Lonesome Blues."  Rare TV clip as Hank does "Hey Good Lookin.'"  Alan Jackson's hit tribute, "Midnight in Montgomery."   Waylon's classic, "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?"

Below, June Carter introduces sister Anita singing duet with Hank on his "I Can't Help It (If I'm Still in Love With You)."

The Best of Townes

I've wanted to do this for awhile, so why not now?   As we mark anniversary of his tragic death.   Some of us--a few of us--consider the late great Townes Van Zandt one of the great American songwriters ever (and great American fuck-up).  You may have heard of him, or not.  You may have heard one or more of his songs, or not (or more likely heard them, even in True Detective, and not known it was by him).  So here's what I consider his greatest, in no order, both his versions or great covers of his songs by others.

The Band, 44 Years On

One of the epic live gigs ever opened tonight at NYC's Academy of Music in 1971, featuring The Band (plus Allen Toussaint leading the horn section).  And  I was there one night.  A box set appeared a few years ago.  A highlight:

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Best Album of 2015

Yes, the material is up to fifty years old but my pick is the amazing collection of alternate takes from Bob Dylan's epic recording sessions in 1965 and 1966 that produced, in little more than one year (imagine this today) the greatest album by anyone (Highway 61) plus Bringing It All Back Home and the two-lp Blonde on Blonde.  Besides Bob, the songs feature the top guitarist of the mid-1960s, Mike Bloomfield, and The Band, when they were still the back-up band, The Hawks.  The new collections come in two-lp, six-lp (my copy) and then one for completists including every note.... Here are some of the highlights (which only scratch the surface) available for free over at YouTube...

Most fans have said they prefer every single song in the released version but I disagree in a few cases, such as "Please Crawl Out Your Window"  (no cowbell) and one take of "Highway Revisited 61" (thanks to the vocals).

Saturday, December 26, 2015

10 Best Films 2015

I do this every year--when I remember--but always with caveats because, unlike many critics, I do not see every leading film (although I sometimes wonder if they actually have seen half the films they rave about, given what they write).  Anyway, here is my current top ten, with possibly one or two added when I do catch up.   It looked like a pretty good year  not long ago but then came many disappointments so the decline of the past few years continued....And see notes at bottom.  These are listed in very approximate, not precise, order of favoritism.  You will note the absence of superheroes, sequels, smash and crash.  My top film for 2014, by the way, was Ida.

Bridges of Spies
Gett: The Trial of Vivian Amsalem
99 Homes
Ex Machina 
The Big Short 
45 Years
About Elly

Honorable Mention:   Beasts of No Nation, Amy, Going Clear,  Clouds of Sils Maria,, Z for Zachariah, Phoenix, What Happened, Miss Simone?, The Wolfpack, Best of Enemies, Trumbo   Might  Make Top 10 Yet (but haven't seen)A War, Son of Saul, Where To Invade Next

Not Likely to Make It (but haven't seen)The Ravenent, Anomalisa, Concussion, Joy, Mad Max: Fury Road,  Star Wars

Others Liked A Little Or a Lot More Than I DidThe Martian, Carol,  Brooklyn,  Love & Mercy, Inside Out.  

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Bernstein, Beethoven and the Berlin Wall, At Christmas

In 1989,  Leonard Bernstein conducted a massive orchestra and international chorus (including kids)  doing Beethoven's Ninth in Berlin at Christmas to mark the tearing down of the Berlin Wall just outside, as Berliners went wild--with the lyrics changed from "Ode to Joy" to "Ode to Freedom."  It was aired live on TV in Germany and around the globe.   It's featured in the new Kerry Candaele film on the Ninth, which I co-produced (for more info and trailer).  Also featured in the film: Billy Bragg.   My email:  Here's a clip from the Lenny concert:

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas Massacre, 102 Years Ago

Our folk genius, Woody Guthrie, with the "1913 Massacre" at the miner's Christmas ball, based on tragic true event.  (read all about it, and two films, here).

Cat Joins War Against Christmas

Where will it end?  Zoe attacks white Santa.  Though she does look slightly guilty.

Facebook Censorship?

Last night I tweeted out major story at New York Times on declassified report revealing shocking details of U.S. nuclear targeting in 1959--including direct aims at civilians labeled simply "population."  It is based on the usual fine work of the National Security Archive.  I am especially interested because of my over 30 years of studying Hiroshima and its aftermath, and my current book on Berlin in the early 1960s.  Indeed the report has direct nuclear attacks on East Berlin, which would have doomed all of West Berlin as well....

Anyway:  I learn from several experts in the field on Facebook that they tried to link to the Times story but it was removed or prevented by Facebook's security team as "unsafe."  I have run into the same problem there, though so far my link to the archive's site has gone through.  So: The Times link and the archives link

Monday, December 21, 2015

He Put the 'Mass' (Protest) in Christmas

Woody Guthrie sings his "Jesus Christ."  You'll find a rocking U2 version on YouTube.

What Was Greatest Concert Ever?

Let's return to that fabled night in Vienna when L.V. Beethoven rented out a hall on December 22, 1808, for the premiere of his Fifth Symphony--you may have heard of it (if you're not dumb-dumb-dumb-dumb)--and Sixth ("Pastoral") Symphony and, by the way, the greatest piano concerto written by anyone ever (his No. 4). And selections from a little thing called the Mass in C Major.  Plus: the Choral Fantasia, forerunner to the Nine Symphony.   For good measure: the maestro himself improvised at the piano. It lasted four hours in a frigid hall.  The next day  critics dubbed it too much of a good thing! Or complained about the cold.  Read all about it in my column from a few years ago.

Below, the revolutionary "storm" section of the Pastoral.   And note:  our new film and book about the amazing political and cultural influence of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

When the Santas Go Marchin' In?

Louis Armstrong, "Christmas in New Orleans."