Saturday Reads: the Mona Lisa and War on Poverty edition

Photograph: Gianni Dagli Orti/Corbis

Good morning, news junkies! My Saturday offerings, hot off the presses…

On this day, January 8th, in 1962, the Mona Lisa was exhibited in Washington, marking the first time it was shown in America. From the link, which goes to the History Channel website: “Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and Andre Malraux, the French minister of culture, arranged the loan of the painting from the Louvre Museum in Paris to the United States.”

You may have caught the following story on the Mona Lisa from December, but in case you didn’t… From Tom Kington in the Guardian: Mona Lisa’s eyes may reveal model’s identity, expert claims… Silvano Vinceti claims initials – possibly the model’s – are discernible in the left eye of the iconic Da Vinci painting.” Stephen Bayley wrote a piece in the UK Telegraph on this story as well called, Mona Lisa: Leonardo was a genius, let’s leave it at that.

Another piece of historical trivia for January 8th… In 1964, LBJ declared a “War on Poverty” in the US. (Link takes you to an essay hosted on

Who has taken up the call to fight the war on poverty today? Hillary spoke of and to “invisible” Americans when she ran in 2008, but the powers-that-be railroaded her and kept her powerful voice off the domestic stage. John Edwards tainted his “Two Americas” rhetoric on poverty with his “narcissism,” as he himself characterized it. Elizabeth Edwards, who was the genuine advocate for the least of these in that power couple, is no longer with us, though she left behind a body of thoughtful writings and interviews to guide us, much in the way she wrote a journal to her children. The other Liz–Elizabeth Warren–is fighting for us, but her hands appear to be tied.

Every day of this Administration that President Obama fails to govern for the people who elected him, he instead tries to win the approval of the corporations who will never openly adore him enough for all his efforts… because nothing he does for them will ever be enough. More and more, his former supporters are coming to realize that they endorsed an empty suit in 2008, which brings me to my first newsy item. From today’s NY Times: Obama the Centrist Irks a Liberal Lion… ‘By freezing federal salaries, by talking about deficits, by extending the Bush tax cuts, he’s legitimizing a Republican narrative,’ Mr. Reich says. ‘Why won’t he tell the alternative story? For three decades we’ve cut taxes on the wealthy while real wages stood still.'”

I’ll answer Reich’s question with a question. When will the left understand that Obama fears and thus respects the Republican narrative and does not do the same when it comes to the liberal narrative? The so-called “caving” to Republicans is by design.

Bob Herbert has some good stuff covering the same ground today; I had a hunch he would:Misery With Plenty of Company…Consider the extremes. President Obama is redesigning his administration to make it even friendlier toward big business and the megabanks, which is to say the rich, who flourish no matter what is going on with the economy in this country. (They flourish even when they’re hard at work destroying the economy.) Meanwhile, we hear not a word — not so much as a peep — about the poor, whose ranks are spreading like a wildfire in a drought.”

Indeed, but I’ll get off my rantbox for now. Here are some other headlines that struck a chord with me throughout the week…

First up, an actual update on the Gulf this morning in a national, mainstream outlet. From the Gray Lady: In Louisiana, Scope and Pace of Gulf Cleanup Is Criticized… Billy Nungesser, the pugnacious president of Plaquemine Parish who was an ever-present gadfly on CNN during the early months of the Gulf Coast oil spill, was particularly unhappy. Mr. Nungesser has been relatively quiet recently; he had been staying off of the television as a gesture of good faith, he said to a Coast Guard commander who was along for the trip. But he was getting tired of being quiet. And so, with a crowd of reporters watching, he told the commander to do something that cannot be printed here.”

More power to Nungesser!

Switching gears completely, I’d like to turn your attention to an angle of the Wikileaks developments that you won’t see in most, if not all, of the reporting elsewhere… a H/T to quixote, who e-mailed me this piece from the LA Times MagazineBackstory: Out of Iran… Buried within Wikileaks’ exposed secrets is one L.A. dentist’s great horseback escape.”

Buried within that headline itself is a smaller story of the quiet work that Hillary Clinton and her State Department have been doing. About two-thirds of the way into the article appears this: “The State Department in Washington had sent word. Embassy staff took him to a hotel, and he enjoyed a long, hot shower. Then came the shocking news: Although Turkey is an ally of the United States, it was Turkish policy to send back anyone caught entering illegally from Iran. And because Vahedi’s American passport did not have an entry stamp for Turkey, the local magistrate could deny him an exit visa. ‘If it wasn’t for Hillary Clinton’s staff at the State Department,’ Freundlich says, her father-in-law might have been deported back to Iran.”

For a stimulating read on all the censorship that’s been going on between the sanitizing of Huckleberry Finn and the omission of “three-fifths of a person” from the congressional reading of the Constitution this week, check out Adam Kirsch’s “The First Drafts of American History.

Here’s my nifty graph pick for the week, from Economix–“Comparing Recoveries: Job Changes.”

Another quick link. The Saturday Profile at the NYT this weekend is as inspiring as ever: “Under Siege in War-Torn Somalia, a Doctor Holds Her Ground.”

If you have not already seen this next one, be sure to make this the one link you click on in this post: “The end of his rope” from Susie Madrak. H/T to Fredster for linking to this sad-but-salient post in the comments at Sky Dancing earlier in the week. It’s a short read, so go read it now. I’m not going to tease with an excerpt, because it’s important to see exactly the way Madrak quotes the article she is referencing.

Soon after I read that story, I came across another one echoing the former. From NYT‘s City Room blog on Monday: “A pile of uncollected garbage on West 45th Street saved the life of a would-be suicide jumper. [Daily News] (Also see The New York Post.)”

Both stories bear a couple of uncanny similarities–the impending doom of an eviction and a spouse or a parent suffering from cancer–and seem to me a bad omen rising in terms of our broken economy. The toll it is taking on invisible Americans is starting to become all too visible. When a pile of garbage is all that can save a person from the desperation that one feels when facing eviction, what else is there left to say. We don’t need more pretty words, President Obama. We need more action putting people over profit. So much more action of this sort than you seem capable of producing.

On a somewhat related note, from the editorial board of the NYT: This week’s killing at Millard South is a horrifying reminder that politicians must stop cowering before the gun lobby and its reckless agenda to make it easier for volatile young people and troubled adults to obtain guns.”

Hear, hear!

Continuing on the somber note, the following link is actually from last week, but I missed it during the holidays and thought it would be good to spotlight and discuss. Via The New Republic, Aaron Shulman reports on the epidemic of femicide in Guatemala: The Rise of Femicide… Can naming a deadly crime help prevent it?” What do you think? Is “femicide” an effective term?

Cinematherapy: What with all the dourness above, I want leave you with something more uplifting that turns the topic of human suffering and death on its head.

Back in October, I had mentioned the movie It’s Kind of a Funny Story (link takes you to a youtube trailer). The plot in a nutshell: a depressed teenager considers suicide but ends up checking himself into a psych ward instead; shenanigans ensue. I finally got a chance to watch it over the holidays. It’s a lovely film, reminiscent of another favorite of mine–Girl, Interrupted.

Another semi-recent one in a similar vein that I’d recommend, if you’re into Bollywood kitsch at all, is Anjaana Anjaani (link takes you to wikipedia because I don’t have the time to dig around for a subtitled trailer). The two leads make a suicide pact after trying to commit suicide at the same time and place and failing. Once again, shenanigans ensue. The critics in India were bored by it, but it’s a dark comedy twist to the typical Bollywood romcom, so I’m not surprised. It’s still got the requisite masala and is not Oscar material by any means. When I watched it some months back, I remember it cheered me up, though, and that’s my rule of thumb to cinematherapy. Either a movie should make the viewer think or feel alive. The ones that make me do both are the ones I treasure the most.

Alright, that’s all I’ve got. Have a wonderful weekend, and chime in below in the comments with what you’re reading and ruminating on if you get a chance.

Originally published by Wonk the Vote at Let Them Listen. Crossposted at Sky Dancing, Taylor Marsh, and Liberal Rapture.


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