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Workin’ in the Fertile Fields of Elysium

Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

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Dear Readers of Levees Not War:

We want to apologize to those of you who have checked in lately and wondered about the infrequency of new posts—and to those who may have had trouble accessing the site. The technical, server problems have been remedied. And, on a happier note, the founder of this blog, Mark LaFlaur, has been very busy preparing his New Orleans–based novel ELYSIAN FIELDS for publication, due in early March from Mid-City Books. Here’s a brief description:

New Orleans, 1999. Simpson Weems is a 36-year-old aspiring poet whose life has been on hold—to the breaking point. All he needs to fulfill his potential is to move to San Francisco, but he’s torn between his long-held dream of being a great artist and obligations to his aged, ailing mother and his emotionally volatile brother, the all-demanding Bartholomew. Will someone in his family have to die before he can get to California? And how might that be arranged?

Written “on location” in New Orleans and set shortly before Hurricane Katrina, Elysian Fields combines menace, the comic strangeness of Flannery O’Connor, and hints of magical realism to convey vivid, original characters and a Crescent City that is both recognizable and more odd than visitors usually see.

Please go to marklaflaur.com or the Facebook fan page to learn more about the book—and, in about a month, we hope you’ll order it, either in paperback or for your e-reader. Soon the first chapter will be available at Amazon.com for free downloading or reading online.

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Praise for Elysian Fields

Best-selling author Christine Wiltz writes:

“In this compelling and mesmerizing debut novel, Mark LaFlaur has taken on New Orleans in a big way. Elysian Fields is real literature coming out of a real place. A great addition to the already substantial body of New Orleans writing, it’s a story of such originality that the familiar top layer of the city is peeled away. The local color here is handled just right—the depiction of the city’s neighborhoods and peculiarities is right on—but it’s the deeply individualized characters who anchor the story so solidly.”

Christine Wiltz, bestselling author of The Last Madam and Glass House

And novelist Moira Crone says:

“Fans of A Confederacy of Dunces and The Moviegoer will find much to admire in this well-written, funny, and melancholy—and thoroughly New Orleans—novel. Evocative, poignant, complex and well paced, Elysian Fields is full of delights.”

Moira Crone, winner of the Robert Penn Warren Award, Fellowship of Southern Writers, and author of The Not Yet

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Only a few mentions of ELYSIAN FIELDS will appear here—after all, Levees Not War is a blog about infrastructure, environment, war and peace, and progressive politics—but we hope you’ll excuse an author’s using one widely known platform to launch another New Orleans–dedicated project.

And we wish everyone a happy, happy Mardi Gras (Feb. 12, if you didn’t know).

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Please “watch this space” for more . . .

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Book cover photograph by Derek Bridges; street tile design by Evelyn Menge.

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Happy Thanksgiving to You: Much to Be Grateful For

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving! We hope you and your friends and family have much to be thankful for this year, and that you’re able to spend the day with people you love. We wish you a festive gathering over a Thanksgiving dinner with good food and drink, and happy memories of the day.

Among the things we’re grateful for is the massive, energetic volunteerism by hundreds of thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds all over the USA to re-elect President Obama (more about this in a post to come) and to elect liberal and progressive Democrats to Congress, including many women. This engagement by young and old shows the power of the people—“citizens united” indeed—over big-dollar corporate influence, and we trust it will result in some good legislation, and defense against bad bills.

Just weeks after Superstorm Sandy battered the East Coast, we are thankful for a president whose administration is responsive to natural disasters (and proactive in preparing, too). We know from all-too-bitter experience that it doesn’t always happen this way. Proving that government can be a force for the public good—and that taxpayers’ dollars can help here at home—FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, the National Guard and other agencies have been helping New Jersey, New York, and other areas rebuild from Sandy. We are also grateful to the many good-hearted volunteers who have contributed money and supplies and their own muscle to help people whose homes were destroyed or damaged.

Please consider making a donation to the Red Cross today. Click here or phone 1-800-HELPNOW or text “RedCross” to 90999. Even $5 or $10 can help buy food, water, bandages, batteries, blankets, and other necessities. Thank you.

We are also grateful, and relieved, that Israel and Hamas in Gaza have agreed to a cease-fire (thanks to persuasive intervention by President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi). We pray it lasts and that peacemakers may prevail (esp. in the proximity of already-burning Syria). For more about this situation and other Middle East affairs we recommend Prof. Juan Cole’s blog Informed Comment.

Showing Thanks to Veterans

Today, and so soon after Veterans Day, we don’t want to forget the millions of active-duty troops and the veterans who have fought in the wars since 2001. We opposed the second war and the prolongation of the first, but nevertheless we believe all the servicemen and women deserve good training, equipment, and excellent health care (physical and psychological) during and after their tours of duty. They deserve lifelong care.

This morning we did what we meant to do on Veterans Day: Donated again to the Iraq Veterans Against the War and to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). These organizations do good work and deserve the support of millions of civilians on whose behalf these veterans have served, risking their lives. If each one of us gives just $25—or even 10 or 20—that money can go a long way to helping veterans in need. Among other things, the groups are pressuring the shamefully tardy Veterans Administration and the U.S. Congress that funds it to move faster on processing veterans’ applications for health care. (See IAVA statement here.) The backlog is approaching 1 million claims, and many vets have to wait a year or more just to hear if they’re going to get help or not. Many members of Congress love to vote for wars; they just never want to pay for them.

See our blogroll, bottom right, under “Anti-War,” for links to IAVA, IVAW, and other organizations that work for veterans and their families. If you can, please make a contribution today.

Thanks.

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Thanks and Homage to President John F. Kennedy

One last thing: We cannot let the convergence of 11/22 and Thanksgiving go by without paying homage to one of our most admired presidents, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who was slain on this day 49 years ago in Dallas. We are not referring to the “glamour” of the “Camelot” mythology, but rather to the president’s strong insistence on working for peace, for finding diplomatic solutions to crises whenever possible—the Cuban Missile Crisis is the example par excellence—and his (admittedly cautious) support for civil rights, among other deeds to be thankful for. Did we miss something, or were there not any commemorations, in print or elsewhere, of the successful averting of nuclear war in the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962), whose 50th anniversary passed this October?

Below are a few words from his great commencement address at American University in June 1963, perhaps his clearest evocation of America’s responsibility and opportunity to set an example toward a more peaceful coexistence with the nations of this fragile planet:

What kind of peace do I mean? What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children—not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women—not merely peace in our time but peace for all time. . . . 

Today the expenditure of billions of dollars every year on weapons acquired for the purpose of making sure we never need to use them is essential to keeping the peace. But surely the acquisition of such idle stockpiles—which can only destroy and never create–is not the only, much less the most efficient, means of assuring peace. 

I speak of peace, therefore, as the necessary rational end of rational men. I realize that the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war—and frequently the words of the pursuer fall on deaf ears. But we have no more urgent task. . . . 

So, let us not be blind to our differences—but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal. . . . 

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See last year’s tribute to President Kennedy here.

For a generous sampling of President Kennedy’s speeches, we recommend the book + CD Let Every Nation Know: John F. Kennedy in His Own Words by Robert Dallek and Terry Golway (2006). Each of 34 speeches is introduced, but transcripts are not provided. For transcripts, see the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum, under the tab “JFK.”

We highly recommend James W. Douglass’s JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters (2010), with special emphasis on his often behind-the-scenes efforts toward peace.

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Eisenhower on Military Hyperpower and Dictatorship

Saturday, December 3rd, 2011

The “Crushing Weight of Military Power”

“Any person who doesn’t clearly understand that national security and national solvency are mutually dependent and that permanent maintenance of a crushing weight of military power would eventually produce dictatorship should not be entrusted with any kind of responsibility in our country.”

—President Dwight D. Eisenhower, quoted in Joan Mellen’s A Farewell to Justice: Jim Garrison, JFK’s Assassination, and the Case That Should Have Changed History (p. 166–67)

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See also “Eisenhower on the Opportunity Cost of the War Machine.” • Click here for the text of President Eisenhower’s famous farewell address (1961) in which he warned, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” • Click here for a series of YouTube videos of the address.

 

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Going to War Is Easy

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

“A continual state of war”: No need to consult Congress or those who must pay the cost.

Ned Resnikoff at Salon.com’s War Room writes a fine piece on “The Real Reason We Rushed into (Another) War.” Fine and troubling. But don’t let that stop you: Mr. Resnikoff’s piece is worth reading in full, but here are some key excerpts, with a strong passage from economist Joseph Stiglitz. Dr. Stiglitz has often been quoted here for his prediction that the Iraq war—remember, the one we were driven into almost a decade ago by leaders of the fiscally conservative Republican party? (our words, not his)—will end up costing $3 trillion. But we digress . . . Here’s Ned Resnikoff:

With our military already overextended and our economy still far from healed, how is it that we committed to such a large gamble with so little hesitation or public debate?

Maybe it’s because those in charge are gambling with other people’s money. In the past month, both Ezra Klein and Kevin Drum have written solid pieces noting that the policy preferences of the poor and middle class have ceased to matter at all to either major American party. . . . Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz noted that [the outsize political influence of the rich] also distorts how we go to war. In a recent piece for Vanity Fair, he wrote:

Inequality massively distorts our foreign policy. The top 1 percent rarely serve in the military—the reality is that the “all-volunteer” army does not pay enough to attract their sons and daughters, and patriotism goes only so far. Plus, the wealthiest class feels no pinch from higher taxes when the nation goes to war: borrowed money will pay for all that. Foreign policy, by definition, is about the balancing of national interests and national resources. With the top 1 percent in charge, and paying no price, the notion of balance and restraint goes out the window. There is no limit to the adventures we can undertake; corporations and contractors stand only to gain.

“The interests of the rich are effectively the only interests now being represented in government.”

In other words: The more powerful the rich have become, the more they’ve shifted the cost of war downward. And because the interests of the rich are effectively the only interests now being represented in government, politicians have no incentive to avoid policies that exert pressure on the middle and lower classes. For the people in charge, war has gotten cheaper than ever.

. . . Even if [the White House] were to deploy a significant ground force to Libya, the reaction from Congress would be feeble at best—perhaps some symbolic outrage and an impotent, inconclusive Senate hearing.

. . . Congress has spent the past few decades gradually ceding its capacity to conduct meaningful oversight on matters of war. After all, if it doesn’t affect their constituency, why should it affect them?

“Even supporters of intervention in Libya should be alarmed by the manner in which the United States now goes to war.”

. . . No matter how the conflict in Libya ends, the rich will still be the only meaningful political constituency in this country. War costs them little. And until that changes, we can look forward to a continual state of war at the expense of everyone else.

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Ned Resnikoff is a freelance writer and researcher for Media Matters for America.

•  See also Steve Clemons’s Washington Note post titled “Obama Moved at Warp Speed on Libya,” in which the foreign policy blogger asserts that “there is simply no truth to the notion that Obama dragged his heels in orchestrating action [in Libya].”

•  And “Unequal Sacrifice” by Andrew J. Bacevich, a West Point graduate, Vietnam veteran, and author of Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War.

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Photograph by Platon, from a portfolio on American soldiers and their families published in the Sept. 28, 2008, issue of The New Yorker.

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Talkin’ to You, Barack (and You, America)

Saturday, October 2nd, 2010

Yesterday’s piece “The Silence of the Dems” was originally meant to introduce some choice excerpts from a tough, hard-hitting post by our friend Pat at Hurricane Radio titled “Why the GOP Is Going to Win in November.” We do not concede that heavy losses are inevitable, but here’s why Dems are in such trouble. Be sure to read the piece in full—we’ve filed it under “Rants We Wish We’d Written”—but first, as a warm-up, here are some heavy punches. (Might this be a fitting post on the weekend Rahm Emanuel leaves the White House? You decide.)

“Why the GOP Is Going to Win in November”

You get elected with a mandate for change, and then proceed to make minor, incremental changes that your political opponents use to cast you as a communist. . . .

You withdraw, expecting blind support from your own side while leaving the debate to your political opponents, because you think if you are nice to them, they will stop acting like lunatics. You think that the American people will turn in disgust from their lunacy without you having to do anything, even though that flies in the face of every historical indication of American culture.

You allow revisions of the last 10 years of history to go unchallenged. . . .

On policy, you step back while the Pelosi/Reid situation in Congress gives us a politically disasterous, confusing and meekly submitted stimulus; a confusing health care plan that removes the majority of real progressive reform; Gitmo remains open, and the plan to actually bring the terrorists to trial has faltered; we double down in Afganistan without really doing what needs to be done to win that conflict; we leave 50,000 troops and a host of defense contractors in Iraq; some of the worst excesses of the drug war and the war on terror continue unabated. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, despite broad support for repeal, remains—even politically gamed to a defense spending bill.

Let me be clear—if I have to defend the Health Care Bill because it was originally a “conservative” idea, there’s a reason your supporters aren’t up for this go-round in November. Not a single one of your opponents voted for the bill, and yet it was their think tanks that proposed most of it. One of their Presidential candidates from the last go-round made something like this happen in Massachusetts with the help of their new Senator from Massachusetts. That was basically their bill, without disbanding Medicare and Medicaid to pay for it.

That means THEY got THEIR legislation passed while THEY were in the MINORITY and NOT A ONE OF THEM VOTED FOR IT.

(more…)

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