AlterNet.org: Danny Goldberg http://orgwww.globalexchange.orgwww.endthewar.orgwww.zmag.orgwww.alternet.org/authors/danny-goldberg en Schumer’s Warmongering: A Personal Reflection on the NY Senator's Opposition to Obama's Nuclear Deal http://orgwww.globalexchange.orgwww.endthewar.orgwww.zmag.orgwww.alternet.org/world/schumers-warmongering-personal-reflection-ny-senators-opposition-obamas-nuclear-deal <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The morality of avoiding another needless and horrible war is more important than politics.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2015-08-10_at_6.44.14_pm.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>My father, Victor Goldberg, was in the 195th Field Artillery Battalion during World War II, landing on Utah Beach nine days after D-Day. Like other members of his unit he was given battle stars for being in five bloody battles against the Nazis in Normandy. Later he was among the American troops that liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany.</p><p>For the last several years before he passed away, my dad and I would watch the political TV shows every Sunday and talk about the issues of the week. He would have been deeply saddened by the announcement this past week of opposition to the Iran deal by Senator Charles Schumer and Representative Nita Lowey, two ostensibly liberal Jewish Democrats he had supported and voted for. He was an FDR liberal. He loved Israel and he had a bias in favor of Jewish politicians because he felt a kinship with them. At the same time, he knew the horrors of war. He believed in war only as a last resort and he would have loved President Obama’s speech at American University laying out the rationale for the deal.</p><p>Schumer and other renegade Democrats opposing their president have talking points filled with nuclear jargon. But no matter how they spin it, they are claiming that Democratic foreign policy leaders they support on every other subject are wrong—and that Dick Cheney and the Republican presidential candidates are right.</p><p>The most likely explanation for Schumer’s behavior is that he has been influenced by the implacable opposition to the deal by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. <span style="font-size: 12px;">Schumer, Lowey, Brad Sherman and other Jewish Democrats who oppose President Obama seem oblivious to the fact that Likud propagandists have tried to create a radically different definition of the phrase “pro-Israel” from what it meant in the first half-century after the war against the Nazis.</span></p><p>For decades, the defining “pro-Israel” issues at the congressional level were foreign aid and military support to help defend Israel. For many Americans, especially Jews like my dad, there was a powerful post-Holocaust obligation to the Jewish people. Israel also supported American goals in the Cold War and in the oil economy.</p><p>But after Netanyahu became prime minister, he tried to transform the definition of pro-Israel to include a much larger influence of the overall foreign policy of the United States, a radical departure from previous Israeli regimes. This became vividly clear during the debate leading up to the Iraq War. American acolytes of Netanyahu and his party were stridently supportive of President Bush in pursuit of that disastrous mistake.</p><p>In 1996, five years before 9/11, a memo was written to newly elected Prime Minister Netanyahu by neo-con Richard Perle (who along with co-author Douglas Feith would later serve in the Bush administration at the time of the Iraq War). Perle advocated a new hawkish strategy for Israel called “A Clean Break.” He wrote, "This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq — an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right.” In private meetings with American Jews, Netanyahu often lamented the fact that the first Gulf War had not “taken out” Saddam.</p><p>My dad’s hero, Senator Ted Kennedy and 22 other Democratic senators and 133 Democratic House members — a majority of Democrats at that time — believed correctly that Dick Cheney and his minions manipulated intelligence, and they voted against the war. History has proved them right.</p><p>To this day, the American people do not know why the U.S. went to war against Iraq. All we know is that the talking points the pubic was fed by the Bush administration and its neo-con chorus were false. Similarly we have no idea why Netanyahu and his supporters are against the deal with Iran that every other ally of the United States supports. </p><p>In recent years, in another radical departure from the past, the Netanyahu government has taken partisan sides in American politics, identifying in an increasingly visible way with Republicans, culminating in the unprecedented speech Netanyahu made to a Republican-controlled Congress to criticize a Democratic president’s foreign policy.</p><p>President Obama campaigned explicitly on changing the mindset that led to the Iraq War and on negotiating, if possible, with Iran. He is not the one who has played bait and switch.</p><p>My dad would be relieved to know that the Schumer/Likud definition of what it means to be “pro-Israel” is not shared by most American Jews. Many prominent Jewish Democrats support the deal, including senators Barbara Boxer, Bernie Sanders and Dick Durbin. A recent poll by the Jewish Journal asked whether Congress should “vote to approve or oppose the deal.” Jews favor approval over disapproval by a margin of 53%-35%.   </p><p>Because the Iraq War was so awful and the arguments for it so preposterous, it is arguable that President Obama won the Democratic nomination in 2008 primarily because he opposed the Iraq War. Modern-day Democrats who think actual Democratic voters have somehow warmed up to the views of neo-cons are deluding themselves. Moreover, it is not a stretch to imagine that upwards of 90% of non-Jews who vote Democratic support the president. Schumer et al. must be assuming that their vote on the Iran deal will be quickly forgotten. It won't.</p><p><span style="font-size: 12px;">Recently, David Azoulay, a religious services</span><span style="font-size: 12px;"> minister in Netanyahu’s coalition government, claimed on Israeli radio that Reform Jews aren’t “real Jews." </span><span style="font-size: 12px;">Netanyahu knew this was not good politics at this time, so he publicly disagreed with Azoulay, but tellingly kept him in his government. </span></p><p>There is an American version of Azoulay’s bigotry coming from some Jewish organizations suggesting that people like my dad and the rest of our family are not “real Jews” if we don’t support Netanyahu and oppose the president we twice voted for. Greg Rosenbaum, head of the National Jewish Democratic Council, which supports the deal, writes, “I and members of this organization have personally found ourselves being called 'Nazis' and 'kapos,' told that we are enemies of the Jewish people and leading Israel to another Holocaust.” </p><p>Those few Democrats who play along with the Likud either for ideological reasons or to get the benefit of neo-con billionaires are in for a rude awakening. Despite a vicious, well-funded PR campaign funded by Netanyahu supporters smearing and lying about President Obama during his first term, he still received 69% of the Jewish vote for re-election. He is the only Democrat since FDR to win a majority of the overall popular vote twice. </p><p>It not realistic to expect politicians you support to agree with you on all issues. But the choice between this deal and a war with Iran is of such extraordinary consequence that it will remain indelible in the minds of the base of the Democratic Party. I hope that progressives mount primary challenges to every single Democrat who votes to oppose the president on this deal. </p><p>But the morality of avoiding another needless and horrible war is more important than politics. In the name of my father, I have a plea to make to those Democrats who have veered into the morass of intellectual and moral contradictions epitomized by former Senator Joe Lieberman. Search your souls and change your mind. Even if you vote against the bill, do not vote to overturn President Obama's veto. That, as my dad would say, would be <em>a</em> <em>shande</em>.</p><p><script src="https://actionsprout.io/embed.js"></script><script> <!--//--><![CDATA[// ><!-- window.ActionSproutEmbed('E574E8'); //--><!]]> </script></p> Mon, 10 Aug 2015 15:05:00 -0700 Danny Goldberg, AlterNet 1040703 at http://orgwww.globalexchange.orgwww.endthewar.orgwww.zmag.orgwww.alternet.org World World schumer democrats iran Israel Hey, Democrats: 8 Steps to End Your Toxic Fundraising Habits http://orgwww.globalexchange.orgwww.endthewar.orgwww.zmag.orgwww.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/hey-democrats-eight-steps-end-your-toxic-fundraising-habits <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Al Franken got my donation, but dozens of other fundraising emails went straight into my trash bin. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/fullmailbox.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>I’ve always respected the importance of elections, but the receipt of hundreds of fundraising emails has driven me to the brink of political despair. Seemingly all written and designed by the same consultant, they have as much sincerity as the phony pitches about millions of dollars waiting for me in a Nigerian bank account, or the diet plans from a friend’s hacked computer.</p><p>On January 18 I got this email from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid:</p><blockquote><p>"Daniel — once again, radical Tea Partiers in the Senate have opted for obstruction over helping the American people. 

Just this past week, they blocked an extension of unemployment insurance benefits for those families hit hardest by the Great Recession. We want to raise $10,000 this month to open up the year — can you give $5 or more right now?"</p></blockquote><p>The same day a Democratic congresswoman exhorted me:</p><blockquote><p>"Click here to automatically add your name and stand up for protecting women’s rights."</p></blockquote><p>From Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz:</p><blockquote><p>"I want to have the chance to say thank you in person, which is why we're flying one supporter like you, as well as a guest, to D.C. later this month. We’ll take care of your flight and hotel and even take you on a tour of the city so chip in $10 or whatever you can to be automatically entered."</p></blockquote><p>And there were literally six emails asking me to sign a petition wishing Michelle Obama a happy 50th birthday. Obviously Michelle Obama will never notice whether or not I sign such a generic birthday card. The purpose of the "petition" gimmick is to aggregate email addresses to use as targets for future fundraising pitches.</p><p>Two mornings later, on the Martin Luther King holiday, I received almost identically worded emails from four Democratic House members, each with a blue-lettered link asking me to "share your thoughts with me on my Facebook page." What are the chances that any of them are interested in my thoughts about Dr. King?</p><p>By the way, if Harry Reid and the Democrats had ended all abuse of the filibuster, the extended unemployment benefits wouldn’t have been "blocked." Of course if the Senate had passed it, there is a very good chance that John Boehner wouldn't have let it come to the House floor or that if it did, the Democrats might not have gotten enough Republicans to go along to pass it. We’ll never know.</p><p>To be clear, I don't want the Republicans to control the Senate, but Reid’s email ignores the reality of what it will take for the Senate to function in the interests of a majority of Americans. It makes me think that the consultant who wrote it for him thinks I’m stupid—never a great way to build enthusiasm among your base.</p><p>A booming cottage industry seems to have arisen in response to the right-wing and libertarian oligarchs who are intent on distorting America’s rickety electoral system to promote their own narrow self-interest and/or their fanatic, undemocratic ideology. Its members bombard progressives with emails asking us to send in campaign contributions to help stop the terrifying Republican demagogue du jour: Sarah Palin, John Boehner, Ted Cruz, buffoons who talk about "legitimate rape," and anything supported by the focus group-tested villains the Tea Party and the Koch brothers.<br /><br />I want Republicans to have less power, not more, but the barrage of emails has not made me want to donate more money; rather, it makes me want to delete them as fast as I can while trying to control the dreadful feelings of resentment, cynicism and despair engendered by consultant patois.<br /><br />Democrats did not lose control of the House of Representatives in 2010 because there were more Republican votes. They lost because millions of people who had been inspired by Barack Obama’s campaign had concluded that their votes didn’t actually affect the things that mattered to them and thus stayed home. The Washington beltway name for this syndrome was the "enthusiasm gap." The fundraising culture is far more a part of the problem than it is the solution.<br /><br />Algorithm-intoxicated consultants can high-five each other if they come up with scare language that gets a response from 1 of 100 instead of 1 out of 1,000 (assuming the rate of positive response is even that high). Their compensation and reputation is based on how much money they raise with no regard for the consequences of the burnout they engender with 99-plus percent of recipients. Most recipients are turned off by self-referential campaign prose. Few of us who are motivated by issues such as climate change, American empire and under-regulated banks are psyched by fundraising pie-charts.</p><p>Howie Klein’s indispensable blog <a href="http://downwithtyranny.blogspot.com/">Down With Tyranny.com</a> (DWT) has long pointed out that many Democratic congressional campaign leaders (particularly those at the DCCC) use progressive language in fundraising emails, but then often subvert genuinely progressive Democratic candidates in favor of corporate Democrats.</p><p>DWT recently published a compelling piece by "Anonymous Operative," a Washington campaign insider. The author points out that donors are exploited by consultants whose primary agenda is often their own fees. In this respect some ostensibly liberal hacks are just as cynical as the right-wing groups who lined their pockets with millions from gullible conservatives promising to "end Obamacare."</p><p>But even when written by consultants, candidates or public interest group leaders who are pure of heart and paid appropriately (as many indeed are), most email fundraising, as currently practiced, is counter-productive.</p><p>For example, Sherrod Brown, whose progressive credentials are impeccable, sent this recent email:</p><blockquote><p>"The Koch brothers, and the special interest groups under their control, are already spending millions to buy elections. 

We must remember what we learned two years ago. The best way to fight back against special interests is with strong grassroots organizing. I want to kick off the new election year in a strong position by raising $25,000 by Jan. 31. Can you help with $5 or more?"</p></blockquote><p>Underneath was a thermometer-like graphic showing how far toward the goal Sherrod was, followed by the ubiquitous blue "donate" button.</p><p>The whole idea of making a small donation to a candidate is to express idealism. To avoid continued erosion of enthusiasm there needs to be a major effort to address the cognitive dissonance of using a detestable system to change things the current money system propagates. It’s not easy to deal with these kinds of contradictions, and in the meantime we don't want to unilaterally disarm. But persistently ignoring one of the central problems of American politics is one of the primary causes of the "enthusiasm gap." No issue got more visibility and support from Occupy Wall Street than getting money out of politics. If Democrats want to avoid the kind of despair that motivated Ralph Nader voters in 2000 they need to respect the revulsion so many progressives feel about the fundraising system, rather than engage in incessant rah-rah emails with fundraising statistics.<br /><br />Here are some simple changes that would reduce alienation:</p><ol><li><strong>Stop the faux hysteria about the meaningless "deadlines."</strong> By incessantly crying wolf about deadlines that don't really matter (except maybe for the self-aggrandizement of a consultant), these pitches add to the perception that all politicians are interchangeable con artists.</li><li><strong>No more "matching funds."</strong> This gimmick signals shallow hype, the opposite of what you want when you are trying to appeal to idealism and altruism. Anyone whose donation is dependent on other people matching them is a dilettante.</li><li><strong>No more phony petitions.</strong> I asked a progressive senator about the strategic purpose of ads he’d placed on a number of progressive blogs about overturning Citizen’s United, expecting a coordinated congressional effort on the subject. He sheepishly told me that the sole purpose was to get a bigger email list for fundraising purposes. If you want my email address, just ask for it.</li><li><strong>If you don't know me, please don’t address me by my first name</strong>. Also, don't sign with your first name and don’t ask me how my holidays were. This shtick may have worked 50 years ago, but now it feels like the tired tool of a used car salesman.</li><li><strong>No more raffles for five-minute conversations with the President</strong>, plane flights etc. Lotteries are for suckers. You are supposed to be inspiring us.</li><li><strong>Be transparent about where the money is going.</strong> Charities have to reveal how much of their money is for overhead, compensation to their executives, and the amount that actually goes for direct services. Candidates for office should do the same.</li><li><strong>Less is more.</strong> There are some candidates such as Congressman Alan Grayson who make the effort to add a few sentences of intelligent policy analysis to their pitches, but they still rely on a lot of other aspects of the fundraising spam formula. In order not to totally degrade the relationship between politicians, activists and their public, there just need to be fewer emails. Like any diet, this will be uncomfortable and nerve-wracking at first but it’s vital for long-term health.</li><li><strong>Most importantly, every single pitch for money for elections should explicitly acknowledge</strong> that our campaign system is seriously compromised and that the role of money in politics must change and that such a change is a priority of the candidate or organization. They should specify the particular remedy the candidate supports. So what that it’s conventional wisdom that it’s impossible to change the role of money in politics? It was recently conventional wisdom to suggest that gay rights was a loser for Democrats. The way to change an awful status quo is morally grounded repetition.</li></ol><p>One positive example: This same January I got an email from Sen. Al Franken. Franken is no slouch as a fundraiser and he is facing a tough re-election campaign this November, yet this email had neither a petition nor any reference to the Tea Party nor a "donate" button. It had facts about Medicare, what was wrong with the Paul Ryan, and what needs to be improved:</p><blockquote><p>"The only reason Medicare doesn’t negotiate for better prices is — get this — it's literally against the law for the government to negotiate to get a better deal. That's an actual law that Washington politicians passed. It's a huge giveaway to big drug companies that don't need the help, and it makes zero sense — especially when getting rid of that rule could save us up to $240 billion over ten years."</p></blockquote><p>I went on Franken’s campaign website and made a contribution.</p><p><input id="mac_address" type="hidden" value="" /></p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><br /><p><input id="mac_address" type="hidden" value="" /></p><p><input id="mac_address" type="hidden" value="" /></p> </div></div></div> Tue, 21 Jan 2014 11:45:00 -0800 Danny Goldberg, AlterNet 949752 at http://orgwww.globalexchange.orgwww.endthewar.orgwww.zmag.orgwww.alternet.org News & Politics News & Politics electoral politics democratic party emails fundraising election campaigns Anarchists Vs. Liberals: What's That About? http://orgwww.globalexchange.orgwww.endthewar.orgwww.zmag.orgwww.alternet.org/occupy-wall-street/anarchists-vs-liberals-whats-about <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">David Graeber’s account of Occupy Wall Street is essential—and somewhat maddening in its insistence on heightening the differences between anarchists and liberals.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/occupy_wall_street.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>In The Democracy Project: A History, A Crisis, A Movement (Spiegel &amp; Grau, 2013), David Graeber’s engaging new book on Occupy Wall Street, the author writes of the dismal culture in Washington during the summer of 2011, a few months before the occupation of Zucotti Park:</p><blockquote><p>Republicans were threatening to cause the US government to default in order to force massive cuts in social services intended to head off a largely imaginary debt crisis…President Obama, in turn, had decided the way to appear reasonable in comparison and thus seem as his advisors liked to put it ‘the only adult in the room’ was not to point out that the entire debate was founded on false economic premises, but to prepare a milder, ‘compromise’ version of the exact same program--as if the best way to expose a lunatic is to pretend that 50 percent of his delusions are actually true...This is how a ragtag group of anarchists, hippies, unemployed college students, pagan tree sitters, and peace activists suddenly managed to establish themselves, by default, as America’s adults in the first place.</p></blockquote><p>Although OWS publicly had “no leaders,” it was obvious in those heady days that a few individuals held enormous sway on the anarchist presence in the movement. One name that invariably came up was David Graeber, an anthropology professor at the University of London (and formerly at Yale). He is one of several people who are credited with originating the phrase We Are the 99%, and he describes himself as an “anarchist with a small ‘a.’”</p><p>Graeber has a long affiliation with the Global Justice Movement and fondly recalls time he spent in Exarchia, a neighborhood in Athens “full of squatted social centers, occupied parks, and anarchist cafés where we’d spent a long night downing glasses of ouzo at street corner cafés while arguing about the radical implications of Plato’s theory of agape, or universal love.” But he has no trouble articulating the rationale for much of OWS: “Our government has become little more than a system of institutionalized bribery where you can be hauled off to jail just for saying so.”</p><p>Notwithstanding Graeber’s eloquence and moral clarity in describing the “mafia capitalism” of bankers and other oligarchs and the political system that further empowers them, he spends a lot of the book differentiating his brand of anarchism from other political tendencies on the left who share many of the same enemies. He rejects old-school communist and socialist radical groups, which he refers to as “verticles” to contrast their authoritarian hierarchies with the “horizontal” culture of anarchism. Above all, he wants to distinguish Occupy Wall Street from liberals. Graeber writes snarkily, “Liberals tend to be touchy and unpredictable because they claim to share the ideals of radical movements—democracy, egalitarianism, freedom—but they’ve also managed to convince themselves that these ideals are ultimately unattainable. For that reason, they see anyone determined to bring about a world based on those principles as a kind of moral threat.”</p><p>It is not at all clear whom Graeber is stigmatizing since he uses the word “liberal” (or interchangeably, to Graeber, “progressive”) to describe both the Obama administration and some of its critics on the left. Over the course of The Democracy Project he singles out leaders of the groups Moveon.org and Rebuild The Dream and readers of DailyKos, but it seems as if he views any person or group not committed to anarchist “horizontal” process as inherently suspect, or to use the ultimate anarchist insult, “reformist.”</p><p>Graeber writes “For ‘small a’ anarchists such as myself–that is, the sort willing to work in broad coalitions as long as they work on horizontal principals—this is what we’d always dreamed of.” Of course, to limit coalitions to partners who work on “horizontal principals” guarantees that they will not be very “broad” at all.</p><p>Graeber doesn’t reflect on the fact that much of the emotional energy inherent in the liberal/anarchist divide boils down to tribalism and the narcissism of small differences. For various cultural and generational reasons, many people in these groups just don’t like each other very much, but they have more in common than many in either camp would like to admit. And they both have much they could teach each other, if they would listen.</p><p>For example, progressives are often smug and insular in a way that excludes exactly the kinds of activists who injected so much energy and fresh thinking into Occupy Wall Street encampments all over the world. At least briefly, OWS had a culture of inclusiveness that empowered thousands of people who had no previous way to plug into established progressive organizations, other than passively making financial donations or signing internet petitions. On the other hand, the massive publicity about OWS exacerbated a kind of anarchist exceptionalism. Graeber grandly proclaims that OWS represented the “first time since the civil rights movement in the 1950s, a success for Ghandian tactics in America.” This would certainly come as a surprise to anti-war activists like the Berrigans and anti-nuclear power activists like Sam Lovejoy, as well as many others. And of course, there is no “accomplishment” to date that OWS can point to that is remotely equivalent to those of the civil rights movement.</p><p>Graeber writes as if he believes that anarchists—and anarchists alone—had unlocked the door to democratic transformation and that all progressive efforts were permanently obsolete. But that is a delusion. Anarchists, like liberals, do some things that work and some that don’t; they both win some and lose some.</p><p>Many liberals were equally unfair in their assessment of OWS. There were hand-wringing pieces about the risk of radicals sabotaging President Obama’s re-election and comparing the protests to a cartoon version of the anti-war movement of the ‘60s. In fact, despite a profound disappointment with many of the Obama administration’s policies, there was no disruption of the Democratic convention, nor any incidents that gave fodder to the right wing. Meanwhile the “1 Percent” meme clearly damaged Mitt Romney.</p><p>There was also overblown progressive anxiety about a supposed tendency toward violence in what was clearly a non-violent movement. The anarchists support for a “diversity of tactics” allegedly gave those who engaged in “black block” tactics license to disrupt non-violent demonstrations. <a href="http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_cancer_of_occupy_20120206/">Chris Hedges wrote</a> a widely read essay referring to this alleged violence as a “cancer” that could destroy the occupy movement.</p><p>But Graeber persuasively points out that the actual practices of the movement should mitigate such concerns. “There are always boundaries, acknowledged or otherwise...Just as ‘diversity of tactics’ is based on the tacit assumption that no one would ever show up at a demo with a car bomb or rocket propelled grenade, so assertions that no activist should be expelled from a meeting do assume certain parameters.” With very few anomalous exceptions, the occupations were free of violence except for the unconscionably rough treatment some cops gave to non-violent protesters.<br /> </p><p>* * *<br /> </p><p>At the core of much of Graeber’s book is a dubious belief that process itself is more important than any particular issue. Graeber, a member of the OWS facilitation group, rhapsodizes about the general assembly, which operated by consensus with “at least two facilitators, one male, one female, one to keep the meeting running, the other to ‘take stack’...We discussed hand signals and non-binding straw polls or ‘temperature checks.’”</p><p>For many who were attracted by slogans like banks got bailed out, we got sold out, the fetishization of process seemed like bait and switch. Horizontal decision making at general assemblies and small groups could go on for hours. Far from being democratic, the time-consuming process discriminated against people with jobs, those who had to take care of children or sick people, those with health problems of their own and those unfamiliar with anarchist culture and jargon, among others. Just as is the case with liberal structures, horizontalism encourages democracy in some contexts and dampens it in others.  </p><p>Then there is the “no leaders” concept, which is not without its virtues. Without designated leaders, there are no individuals who can be targeted for arrest, smear campaigns or even assassination. The lack of leaders also forestalls the creation of overnight movement celebrities who, corrupted by publicity and power, may develop agendas at odds with the people they are supposed to represent. But an absence of leaders also causes an opacity that is confusing and needlessly off-putting to those outside of the in-group. If no one has any authority, then no one has any responsibility. As Jo Freeman’s feminist essay “<a href="http://www.jofreeman.com/joreen/tyranny.htm">The Tyranny of Structurelessness</a>” pointed out long ago, a lack of structure can disguise cliques or individuals who have de facto control without any accountability.</p><p>Graeber anticipates these critiques, and he describes various ways to ameliorate the flaws and excesses of consensus decision making for larger social groups such as “lottery systems...something vaguely like jury duty except non-compulsory, with some way of screening obsessives, cranks, and hollow earthers, but nonetheless allowing an equal chance of participation in great decisions to all who actually do wish to participate.” That sounds nice, but it’s far easier said than done. Graeber declares “it’s hard to imagine” that the abuses of such a system “could actually be worse than the mode of selection we use now.” One would think that anyone who’d studied even a little history would have little trouble imagining societies much worse.</p><p>And Graeber doesn’t address the many areas of organized life in which expertise is indispensable. A series of public events in New York—including on Veterans Day 2011, Martin Luther King Day 2012 and a much hyped May Day 2012—squandered the enormous hopes that had been raised for a new vision and made depressingly minor impact in large part because unwieldy committees bound by horizontal process made decisions that failed to inspire anyone other than those who felt therapeutic reward from the process.</p><p>Graeber is not clear about what happens when anarchists “with a small a” don’t like a decision made by a larger group of people via the consensus process. OWS at the outset announced it had “no demands.” For a few weeks this created an interesting space in which diverse voices could protest, but it also made it difficult to collaborate with sympathetic non-anarchist groups. While some in OWS were content with the horizontal process as both a means and an end, and some felt that anything other than a complete change in the political structure was counter-productive, many others felt an impetus to be a force for tangible democratization within the current system. Thus, on Jan 5, 2012,very soon after the eviction from Zucotti Park, the New York General Assembly, using the horizontal process, reached a consensus that “money is not speech, that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights…”</p><p>It was the closest thing to an issue specific demand that OWS produced and could have been a big deal if the movement had decided to work on a mutually respectful basis with reformist wonks advocating for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. Yet Graber doesn’t even mention it. Only a small fragment of OWS participated in “money out” groups, and most anarchists chose not to focus on the issue, which was apparently deemed too reformist by the cognoscenti.</p><p>Graeber is absolutely correct in his outrage at the state’s overreaction to OWS, including evicting encampments that posed no threat to public safety and the arrests and beatings of non-violent protesters. This repression represented a real erosion of American democracy and the policies that produced it should not be allowed to stand.</p><p>But in his most unfair anti-liberal inference, Graeber claims, “It’s also fairly clear that when the camps were cleared…the liberal establishment, more generally made a strategic decision to look the other way. From the perspective of the radicals, this was the ultimate betrayal.” This is toxic and untrue accusation. It may be that many in OWS themselves made such a decision. Following the evictions, rather than focus on the right to protest, many occupiers concentrated on upcoming rallies like Martin Luther King’s birthday (J15 in OWS parlance) and May Day, with its ill conceived call for a “general strike,” and on campaigns like debt abolition and preventing home foreclosures. Meanwhile, several non-anarchist civil liberties lawyers worked tirelessly to represent those who were arrested and who had possessions destroyed by the police. In April, Norman Siegel, the former Executive Director of the NYCLU, won a settlement for OWS against New York City for over $300,000 for property destruction of occupiers during the eviction.</p><p>* * *</p><p>Despite his anarchist provincialism, Graeber’s central thesis is very strong. With all respect to the Democratic party of Clinton and Obama for keeping the hounds of fascism at bay, far too often it seems like their message to America is “this is as good as it gets folks.” For progressives, as well as anarchists, this is simply not acceptable.</p><p>Graeber indulges in utopian rhetoric about “self-governing communities outside of any state” and “refusal to recognize the legitimacy of existing political institutions” and “complete reinvention of American democracy.” He uses the word “revolution” with no plausible explanation of what he actually means. In fact, many OWS anarchists have been involved in “reformist” efforts such as helping people hurt by hurricane Sandy and in efforts to reduce or abolish various kinds of debt. In the late ‘60s, John Lennon encountered similar absolutist rhetoric from self-styled revolutionaries and memorably sung “You say you got a real solution, well you know—we’d all love to see the plan…”</p><p>Graeber is no worse than most liberal thought leaders when it comes to insularity and hubris. He is right when he says that the liberal world in the early Obama years suffered from a “chilling” of the imagination and his very willingness to express ideas outside of the conventional progressive sphere, which he does repeatedly and engagingly in The Democracy Project will add important intellectual energy to both the anarchist and non-anarchists for years to come. Like OWS itself, Graeber is flawed and human and sometimes maddening, and like OWS he is also an important prophetic voice that the left ignores at its peril.</p> Fri, 31 May 2013 15:43:00 -0700 Danny Goldberg, The Nation 848650 at http://orgwww.globalexchange.orgwww.endthewar.orgwww.zmag.orgwww.alternet.org Occupy Wall Street Activism Books News & Politics Occupy Wall Street Visions anarchy occupy wall street liberals Why Criticizing 'Zero Dark Thirty' Is Not an Assault on Free Expression http://orgwww.globalexchange.orgwww.endthewar.orgwww.zmag.orgwww.alternet.org/why-criticizing-zero-dark-thirty-not-assault-free-expression <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">It&#039;s intellectually dishonest to pretend that serious criticism of the film amounts to an assault on free expression. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/film-zero-dark-thirty.jpeg2-1280x960.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><span style="font-size: 12px;">As a long-time defender of the rights of artists -- including controversial ones -- I find it intellectually dishonest for champions of <em>Zero Dark Thirty</em> to pretend that serious criticism of the film amounts to an assault on free expression. </span></p><p>Responding to public statements by actors Ed Asner, Martin Sheen and David Clennon urging Academy members to refrain from voting for <em>Zero Dark Thirty,</em> Columbia Pictures co-chairman Amy Pascal said "to punish an artist's right of expression is abhorrent."</p><p>So it’s “punishing” to merely criticize a film because of its perceived political effect? Kathryn Bigelow is supposed to have unfettered free speech but Ed Asner doesn’t? It’s understandable for those involved with <em>Zero Dark Thirty</em> to fight for their movie, but there is no such thing as a moral “right” to win an Oscar.</p><p>Bigelow wrote recently in the <em>Los Angeles Times</em> that “Confusing depiction with endorsement is the first step toward chilling any American artist's ability.”</p><p>I couldn’t agree more. I have long argued that simplistic devices like counting the number of violent acts on television are useless in analyzing both the aesthetics and impact of art and entertainment. But Bigelow is responding to a straw man, a non-existent argument, while ignoring the actual issues people have with her film. Serious critics of the movie (among them <a href="http://consciouslifenews.com/dark-thirty-review-glenn-greenwald-cia-hagiography-pernicious-propaganda/1146532/">Glenn Greenwald</a>, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/karen-j-greenberg/torture-zero-dark-thirty_b_2448092.html">Karen Greenberg</a> and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alex-gibney/zero-dark-thirty-torture_b_2345589.html">Alex Gibney</a>) are not simplistically attacking the mere portrayal of torture, but have addressed the context and subtext of the way in which this particular film deals with torture. No one is trying to “chill” exposure to the film (as if that were possible). They are trying to explain the ways in which they think the film, intentionally or not, validates bad behavior.</p><p>Unlike some other recent controversies such as those about the Civil War, <em>Zero Dark Thirty</em> affects public perception on issues related to current and future policy.</p><p>Many in the federal government have complained that the film significantly exaggerates the link between torture and the eventual capture of Osama bin Laden (and some assert that there was no connection whatsoever). More significantly, there has been a long-running debate inside the federal law enforcement and security community between supporters of Dick Cheney (including many in the CIA) who believe that “enhanced interrogation” is effective, vital to American safety and morally justified, and those (including many in the FBI) who feel it is both counter-productive and morally corrosive. (One of many books documenting this is <em>500 Days</em> by New York Times writer Kurt Eichenwald.) That debate is entirely missing from <em>Zero Dark Thirty</em>, leading many of the film’s critics to assert that the film falsely gives the impression that prisoner abuse is the price Americans have to pay for safety. It’s not the mere depiction of torture that is the problem, it’s the assumption that torture is necessary to protect Americans.</p><p>As <a href="http://www.buzzfeed.com/mhastings/the-cias-hollywood-coup">Michael Hastings</a> recently detailed, “The CIA played a key role in shaping the Z<em>ero Dark Thirty</em> narrative, corresponding with the filmmakers to negotiate favorable access to a movie that one CIA official described as ‘getting behind the winning horse’ according to internal CIA emails obtained by Judicial Watch.”</p><p>Notwithstanding the caricature of “liberal Hollywood,” there is nothing new about elements in the military trying to influence American public opinion by schmoozing entertainment artists and executives. (David Sirota goes into some detail about the propaganda efforts of the U.S. military during the Reagan years in connection with <em>Top Gun</em> and other films in his book <em>Back To Our Future</em>.)</p><p>One can sympathize with Bigelow and her team up to a point. It’s incredibly hard to make a good movie and it must seem unfair that the efforts and talent that went into creating an entertaining and popular work are de-legitimized by those who are upset about its political reservations. But the intensity of the political reaction is driven by the fact that Cheneyites (in part, perhaps, to justify their own behavior) have been so effective in recent years in persuading large portions of the American public that torture, by whatever name, is now a necessary tool for national security. </p><p>While many opposed to torture have done noble work in the courtroom, the political media and academia, they have not been audible in the popular culture arena in a way that counteracts mass entertainment like “24,” or the best-selling novels of Vince Flynn, and the results are stark and troubling. As recently as October 2007, a Rasmussen poll showed that 53% of Americans said that the United States should not torture prisoners captured in the fight against terrorism. Five years later, a 2012 YouGov poll showed than only 34% were so opposed—a drop of <a href="http://filipspagnoli.wordpress.com/stats-on-human-rights/statistics-on-torture/">19%</a>.<span style="font-size: 12px;">  </span></p><p><span style="font-size: 12px;">In her letter to the <em>Times</em>, Bigelow wrote “On a practical and political level, it does seem illogical to me to make a case against torture by ignoring or denying the role it played in U.S. counter-terrorism policy and practices.” </span></p><p><span style="font-size: 12px;">This is another straw man. Critics of her film are not suggesting that anyone should deny torture occurred in the “war on terror.”  What has been questioned is the role of torture in the effort to capture bin Laden, and whether or not it is necessary or effective or right as a tool to enhance American security. Bigelow chose a narrative and protagonists who come down on the Cheneyite side of those arguments. This is certainly her right as an artist, but she cannot credibly complain that she is being “chilled” when she is the beneficiary of critical acclaim, a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign and huge box-office results.</span></p><p>While it's valuable for the historical record to show that many in and out of government objected to the assumptions on <em>Zero Dark Thirty</em>, the reality is that regardless of what happens at the Academy Awards, the movie is a big hit and will influence perceptions in the general public as well as in the military for some time to come. Hopefully those who oppose torture, and those in “liberal Hollywood” who identify with them can create counter-narratives over time to dissipate the effect of propaganda that has so effectively taken hold in much of the American mind.</p> Sun, 20 Jan 2013 01:00:00 -0800 Danny Goldberg, AlterNet 779942 at http://orgwww.globalexchange.orgwww.endthewar.orgwww.zmag.orgwww.alternet.org Culture News & Politics zero dark thirty criticism expression art creativity speech free Come Back Woody Guthrie, We Need You: America's Great Folk Singer Would Have Turned 100 http://orgwww.globalexchange.orgwww.endthewar.orgwww.zmag.orgwww.alternet.org/culture/come-back-woody-guthrie-we-need-you-americas-great-folk-singer-would-have-turned-100 <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Many of Guthrie’s songs are more relevant today that at the time of his passing in 1967.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/photo_-__2012-07-27_at_3.49.03_pm.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>I suspect that I was not the only teenager in the late 1960s engaging in sex, drugs, rock and roll, and Vietnam War protests to whom Woody’s body of work had an antique feeling. A perfunctory one-time listening to the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Lomax">Alan Lomax</a>tapes of the man said to be one of Bob Dylan’s heroes was enough, I thought, to punch my hipness card. Arguments about unions and the venality of millionaires and the New Deal seemed like passé accounts of battles my parents’ generation had fought and won. Yet through the mysterious alchemy that the greatest works of art possess, and the bizarre devolution of American politics, many of Guthrie’s songs are paradoxically more relevant today that at the time of his passing in 1967.</p><p>Other than animus toward the Koch Brothers and their ilk, admiration for Woody Guthrie may be one of the very few things that the Obama administration and Occupy Wall Street agree about. “This Land Is Your Land” was performed by Bruce Springsteen and Pete Seeger at Obama’s inauguration in 2008, and by Tom Morello leading a “guitar army” at the OWS rally on May Day of this year in New York’s Union Square.</p><p>On the weekend in mid-July of Guthrie’s 100th birthday, President Obama told Charlie Rose that “the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times,” and admitted he had failed to do so. Around the same time several dozen of the activists who had helped launch OWS met in Washington Square Park, where Guthrie had sung on many an occasion, to discuss what to do in the fall on the impending one year anniversary of the occupation. Their moral compass was intact but it was clear that the explosion of attention and activism last fall had not been the product of any one person, group, philosophy, or strategy—and that even the sharpest movement intellects weren’t sure about how to hit another home run. Should the focus be on college debt? Credit cards? Public financing of campaigns? Foreclosures? Should there be a campaign to have people wear red to symbolize how many Americans are “in the red?”</p><p>As both the liberal establishment and the various pieces of the Occupy movement searched for lost chords that could galvanize mass opinion around economic issues, the unique value of great art and great artists loomed large. It was not just Obama who has to figure out how to “tell a story”—it was the entire Left.</p><p>As it happens, the fierce debate about the nature of community and government that is animating so much of modern American politics echoes one taking place just as vigorously more than seventy years ago, when Guthrie wrote his most influential songs, long before cellphones or television, before hip-hop or rock and roll, before hipsters or punks or hippies or beatniks, before Pearl Harbor, before McCarthyism, before gay rights or second-wave feminism, and before Jackie Robinson played his first major league ball game. And the reason Guthrie’s work is remembered, while that of his contemporaries is largely forgotten, is not only because of his genius for memorable phrases. Most of Guthrie’s political songs spoke not solely to transient issues of the day but to fundamental moral ideals about how people and societies should and should not behave.</p><p><br />IN HER new book, My Name Is New York: Ramblin’ Around Woody Guthrie’s Town(Powerhouse Books), Nora Guthrie, who like me was born in 1950, writes of her father’s journey to New York City in early 1940 at the age of twenty-seven. “During the month it took to hitchhike from Los Angeles to New York, ‘God Bless America’ was blaring out of every jukebox and radio across the country.” (The recording is still played during the seventh inning stretch at Yankee Stadium.)</p><p>Woody felt that Irving Berlin’s patriotic anthem was incomplete. As Woody’s original hand-written lyrics reprinted in Nora’s book show, “This Land Was Made for You and Me” (now known as “This Land Is Your Land”) was first written as “God Blessed America,” and the original refrain was “God blessed America for me.” The song balances his admiration, shared with Berlin, for the natural beauty of the American continent (“the sparkling sands of the diamond deserts”) with an acknowledgement of the dark side of American capitalism (“One bright sunny morning, in the shadow of the steeple, by the relief office, I saw my people. As they stood hungry, I stood there wondering if God blessed America for me.”) In the final version, Woody’s finely tuned artistic ear changed the last line to say that America “was made for you and me.” Pete Seeger’s 1967 obituary of Woody in Life pointed out that “any damn fool can get complicated. It takes a genius to attain simplicity.”</p><p>“This Land Was Made for You and Me” was written on February 23, 1940 at the Hanover Rooming House on West 43rd Street, which ironically is now the site of the world headquarters of Bank of America. In the months that followed Guthrie would write many other lyrics about the dignity and value of working people—of those who would later be called “the 99 percent”—including “Jesus Christ,” “Pastures of Plenty,” and “Tom Joad,” the latter inspired by John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath. (John Ford would win the Academy Award for Best Director that year for the film version.)</p><p>At exactly the same time, Ayn Rand, seven years older than Woody, was finishing her benzedrine-fueled novel The Fountainhead, which artistically expressed a philosophy completely obverse to Woody’s. The Fountainhead, published in 1943, was followed by Rand’s nonfiction screed The Moral Basis Of Individualism, which advocated “rational and ethical egoism” and rejected “ethical altruism.”</p><p>In the ensuing decades the beneficiaries of Randian philosophy have made vast investments in changing American public opinion and politics, fanning the flames of McCarthyism, then Reaganism, and now the naked corporatism that some OWS members astutely call “mafia capitalism.” Longtime Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan was an actual acolyte of Rand, and Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, whose plan to dismantle most of America’s social safety net has been supported by virtually all of the conservative establishment, proudly described “growing up on Ayn Rand,” at least until her atheism began to threaten his public image.</p><p>There can be little question that Guthrie would be appalled by the corporatization of the Democratic Party. He was an unapologetic left-winger who wrote a column called “Woody Sez” for the Communist Daily Worker (though he pointedly never joined the Communist Party, and referred to himself as a “commonist.”) His very first column is eerily resonant today:</p><p> </p><blockquote>The national debit is one thing I caint figger out. I heard a senator on a radio a saying that we owed somebody 16 jillion dollars. Called it the national debit. If the nation is the government and the government is the people, then I guess the people owes the people, that means I owe me and you owe you, and I forget the regular fee, but if I owe myself something, I would be a willing just to call it off rather than have the senators argue about it, and I know you would do the same and then we wouldn’t have no national debit.</blockquote><p> </p><p>But though significantly to the left of the Democratic Party even in its New Deal phase, Guthrie had none of the contemporary anarchist propensity (shared by some others on the left) for treating all politicians as if they were the same. In the song “Dear Mrs. Roosevelt,” written after FDR died, Guthrie sang:</p><p> </p><blockquote>Dear Mrs. Roosevelt, don’t hang your head and cry;<br />His mortal clay is laid away, but his good work fills the sky; <br />This world was lucky to see him born…<br />I voted for him for lots o’ jobs, I’d vote his name again; He tried to find an honest job for every idle man;<br />This world was lucky to see him born...</blockquote><p> </p><p>Nor did Guthrie’s pre-psychedelic lefty morality have much to do with the libertarian political current, which owes much to Ayn Rand but also holds a lot of sway on parts of the Left. He may have wanted cops to leave deportees and hobos alone (in today’s parlance, to stop “stop and frisk”). But it is reasonable to assume he wanted FDR’s government to police the bankers he described in “Pretty Boy Floyd,” who “robbed you with a fountain pen” and “drove a family from their home.”</p><p>Although Woody was unblinking in the face of suffering and injustice, he had a persistent streak of optimism. He seemed really to believe that music could change the world for the better, confidently writing on his guitar, “This machine kills fascists.” He could describe the deprivations of migrant workers but still insist that “pastures of plenty must always be free.”</p><p>When right-wing demagogues ranted that President Obama was a socialist, the liberal response was to deny it. Many Woody fans assuredly wished that those in the political conversation, including in this magazine, would add the word “unfortunately.” Woody’s political songs, of course, were animated by clear ideas about what is right or wrong, not precise political arguments. Nothing in his canon would suggest that phrases appealing to focus groups of swing voters, or slogans that temporarily capture the imagination of general assemblies, should be at the heart of progressive politics.</p><p>During hard times, people who are struggling look for an emotionally accessible moral philosophy that can give them hope. If the Left does not provide it, the Right is always there to fill the vacuum. One need only to observe a forlorn thirty-something clutching a paperback copy of The Fountainhead to identify with the yearning of Steve Earle’s 1997 song “Christmas In Washington,” which like Woody’s own songs seems both timeless and of the moment:</p><blockquote>Come back Woody Guthrie<br />Come back to us now.<br />Tear your eyes from paradise<br />And rise again somehow</blockquote> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><b style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: georgia, 'times new roman', serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 19px; text-align: left; ">Danny Goldberg</b><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: georgia, 'times new roman', serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 19px; text-align: left; "> is President of GoldVE Entertainment, which manages the careers of Steve Earle and Tom Morello among others, and is the author of the books </span><i style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: georgia, 'times new roman', serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 19px; text-align: left; ">Bumping Into Geniuses</i><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: georgia, 'times new roman', serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 19px; text-align: left; "> and </span><i style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: georgia, 'times new roman', serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 19px; text-align: left; ">How The Left Lost Teen Spirit</i><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: georgia, 'times new roman', serif; font-size: 15px; line-height: 19px; text-align: left; ">.</span></p> </div></div></div> Fri, 27 Jul 2012 14:59:00 -0700 Danny Goldberg, Dissent Magazine 682326 at http://orgwww.globalexchange.orgwww.endthewar.orgwww.zmag.orgwww.alternet.org Culture Activism Culture woody guthrie culture music Don't Diss The Drum Circles: Why Hippie Culture Is Still Important to Our Protests http://orgwww.globalexchange.orgwww.endthewar.orgwww.zmag.orgwww.alternet.org/story/152863/don%27t_diss_the_drum_circles%3A_why_hippie_culture_is_still_important_to_our_protests <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">It is precisely the mystical utopian energy that most professional progressives so smugly dismiss that has aroused a salient, mass political consciousness on economic issues.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Progressives and mainstream Democratic pundits disagree with each other about many issues at the heart of the Occupy Wall Street protests, but with few exceptions they are joined in their contempt for drum circles, free hugs, and other behavior in Zuccotti Park that smacks of hippie culture.</p> <p>In a <a style="text-decoration: none; color: rgb(58, 81, 139); " href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/10/03/occupy-wall-street-transport-workers-union-seiu-to-join-protests.html">post for the <i>Daily Beast</i></a> Michelle Goldberg lamented, “Drum circles and clusters of earnest incense-burning meditators ensure that stereotypes about the hippie left remain alive.” At<a style="text-decoration: none; color: rgb(58, 81, 139); " href="http://www.esquire.com/blogs/politics/occupy-wall-street-demands-6506089"><i>Esquire</i></a>, Charles Pierce worried that few could “see past all the dreadlocks and hear…over the drum circles.” Michael Smerconish <a style="text-decoration: none; color: rgb(58, 81, 139); " href="http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/44803373/ns/msnbc_tv-hardball_with_chris_matthews/t/hardball-chris-matthews-wednesday-october/#.TqRtTt4g_UA">asked on the MSNBC show <i>Hardball</i></a> if middle Americans “in their Barcalounger” could relate to drum circles. The <i>New Republic</i>’s Alex Klein <a style="text-decoration: none; color: rgb(58, 81, 139); " href="http://www.tnr.com/article/politics/95621/occupy-wall-street-protests-radiohead">chimed in</a>, “In the course of my Friday afternoon occupation, I saw two drum circles, four dogs, two saxophones, three babies....Wall Street survived.” And the host of MSNBC’s <i>Up</i>, Chris Hayes (editor at large of the <i>Nation</i>), recently reassured his guests Naomi Klein and Van Jones that although he supported the political agenda of the protest he wasn’t going to “beat the drum” or “give you a free hug,” to knowing laughter.</p> <p>Yet it is precisely the mystical utopian energy that most professional progressives so smugly dismiss that has aroused a salient, mass political consciousness on economic issues—something that had eluded even the most lucid progressives in the Obama era.</p> <p>Since the mythology of the 1960s hangs over so much of the analysis of the Wall Street protests, it’s worth reviewing what actually happened then. Media legend lumps sixties radicals and hippies together, but from the very beginning most leaders on the left looked at the hippie culture as, at best, a distraction and, at worst, a saboteur of pragmatic progressive politics. Hippies saw most radicals as delusional and often dangerously angry control freaks. Bad vibes.</p> <p>Not that there is anything magic about the word “hippie.” Over the years it has been distorted by parody, propaganda, self-hatred, and, from its earliest stirrings, commercialism. In some contemporary contexts it is used merely to refer to people living in the past and/or those who are very stoned.</p> <p>The hippie idea, as used here, does not refer to colloquialisms like “far out” or products sold by dope dealers. At their core, the counterculture types who briefly called themselves hippies were a spiritual movement. In part they offered an alternative to organized religions that too often seemed preoccupied with rules and conformity, especially on sexual matters. (One reason Eastern religious traditions such as Buddhism and Hinduism resonated with hippies was because they carried no American or family baggage.) But most powerfully, the hippie idea was an uprising against the secular religion of America in the 1950s, morbid “Mad Men” materialism, and Ayn Rand’s social Darwinism.</p> <p>The hippies were heirs to a long line of bohemians that includes William Blake, Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Hesse, Arthur Rimbaud, Oscar Wilde, Aldous Huxley, utopian movements like the Rosicrucians and the Theosophists, and most directly the Beatniks. Hippies emerged from a society that had produced birth-control pills, a counterproductive war in Vietnam, the liberation and idealism of the civil rights movement, feminism, gay rights, FM radio, mass-produced LSD, a strong economy, and a huge quantity of baby-boom teenagers. These elements allowed the hippies to have a mainstream impact that dwarfed that of the Beats and earlier avant-garde cultures.</p> <p>In the mid-sixties rock and roll’s mass appeal fused with certain elements of hip culture, especially in San Francisco bands like the Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and Big Brother and the Holding Company (as well as Seattle’s Jimi Hendrix). That mood was absorbed and expanded by much of the popular music world, including the already popular Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, and the Beatles. John Lennon’s songs “Instant Karma,” “Give Peace A Chance,” “Across The Universe,” “Revolution” (“But when you talk about destruction / Don’t you know that you can count me out”), and “Imagine” are probably as close to a hippie manifesto as existed, and the Woodstock festival as close to a mass manifestation of the idea as would survive the hype.</p> <p>It is easy to cherry pick a few idiotic phrases from stoners in the 1970 documentary<i>Woodstock</i>, but what made the event and its legacy meaningful to its fans—aside from the music—was the example of people in the hip community taking care of each other, as shown in the Wavy Gravy documentary <i>Saint Misbehavin’</i>. No two hippies had the same notion of what the movement was all about, but there were some values they all shared. As <i>Time</i> put it in 1967, “Hippies preach altruism and mysticism, honesty, joy and nonviolence.”</p> <p>Like any spiritual movement (or religion) hippies attracted pretenders, ranging from undercover cops to predators such as Charles Manson, who used their external trappings for very different agendas. By October of 1967, following the so-called “Summer of Love” (during which more than a hundred thousand long-haired teenagers overloaded and permanently changed the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco), exploitation of the word “hippie” had become sufficiently prevalent that a group of counterculture pioneers in the Bay Area held a “Death of the Hippie” mock funeral. A flier announcing the ceremony warned young seekers against the existential perils of hype.</p> <blockquote>Media created the hippie with your hungry consent. Careers are to be had for the enterprising hippie. The media casts nets, create bags for the identity-hungry to climb in. Your face on TV. Your style immortalized without soul in the captions of the [<i>San Francisco</i>] <i>Chronicle</i>. NBC says you exist, ergo I am. Narcissism, plebian vanity.<br /></blockquote> <p>The pure of heart were exhorted to “Exorcize Haight-Ashbury. Do not be bought by a picture or phrase. Do not be captured in words. You are free, we are free. Believe only in your own incarnate spirit.” <i>Woodstock</i> shows that by 1969 even the long-haired masses had taken to calling themselves “freaks.”</p> <p><br /> A YEAR ago, shortly before the 2010 mid-year election, a left-wing blogger on a conference call with President Obama’s adviser David Axelrod complained that dismissive comments by the administration about its left-wing base amounted to “hippie punching.” The phrase was used to emphasize the contempt that the administration had shown for the progressive base, but it was also a reminder of the disdain that most of the Left has for the word “hippie,” as if to complain, “You think that we are as irrelevant as hippies!” Like those who ostentatiously distanced themselves from the Wall Street drum circles, the bloggers wanted to distinguish the modern Left from actual hippies (or who they thought hippies were).</p> <p>The anti-hippie ethos on the left runs deep. Many 1960s radicals claimed that the hippies had squandered a chance to mainstream left-wing political ideas. In Black Panther leader Bobby Seale’s book <i>Seize the Time</i> he quotes white radical Jerry Rubin as saying that he and others had formed the “Yippies” because hippies had not “necessarily become political yet. They mostly prefer to be stoned.” In the real world, the Yippies never got a mass following, but the Grateful Dead did.</p> <p>Early in 1967 writers for the Haight-Asbury psychedelic paper the <i>Oracle</i>, along with local poets, musicians, and mystics, organized the first Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park. They were chastised by a group of Berkley radicals, including Rubin, for rejecting their proposal that the gathering should have “demands,” a suggestion that the amused hippie conveners saw as a contradiction of the whole idea. (There are echoes of this argument in criticisms of the Occupy Wall Street protesters as insufficiently specific in their demands—as if the interests of 99 percent are not a clear enough litmus test for any proposed laws or regulations.)</p> <p>Bill Zimmerman, an antiwar activist of the Vietnam era, summarized the radical attitude toward hippies in his excellent memoir <i>Troublemaker</i>:</p> <blockquote>Not believing they could alter the juggernaut of American capitalism through politics, the hippies tried culture instead—starting with [Timothy] Leary’s slogan, “Turn on, tune in, drop out”....While we [“the political people in the antiwar movement”] all accepted a subsistence lifestyle without expensive clothes, cars or other luxuries, they were about enjoyment, friendship, shared experiences, and whatever transcendence could be achieved through mind-altering drugs, music, and sex.<br /></blockquote> <p>This both exaggerates the political viability of the non-hippie radicals of the day and underestimates the social conscience and commitment of many of those who chose to develop communes and new age spiritual communities. One example is the SEVA Foundation, founded by Wavy Gravy and Ram Dass in the early 1970s. Over the course of thirty years, the nonprofit organization has raised enough money from rock benefits to pay for over three million eye operations in third-world countries to rescue people from blindness. And of course the modern environmental movement owes as much to a mystical belief in the sanctity of the earth as it does to science.</p> <p>Some on the left maintained that hippies scared off socially conservative liberals who otherwise would have been more sympathetic to the antiwar movement. In <i>There but for Fortune</i>, a wonderful documentary about radical singer-songwriter Phil Ochs, the artist can be heard complaining that freakish looking protesters undermined the credibility of antiwar demonstrations with middle Americans. In a piece for the <i>Nation</i>in 1967, Ochs’s friend Jack Newfield complained, “Bananas, incense, and pointing love rays to the Pentagon have nothing to do with redeeming America.”</p> <p>Republicans leaders including Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, and Ronald Reagan eagerly used cartoon versions of hippies as part of their successful attempt to break up the New Deal coalition. “A hippie is someone who looks like Tarzan, walks like Jane, and smells like Cheetah,” quipped then California Governor Reagan in 1969. Jefferson R. Cowie’s <i>Stayin’ Alive</i> theorizes that America’s rightward trend began when Nixon lured working-class whites into Republican arms by contrasting the hippie myth of Woodstock with country singer Merle Haggard’s anti-hippie anthem “Okie from Muskogee.”</p> <blockquote>One was southern, gritty, masculine, working class, white, and soaked in the reality of putting food on the table; the other was northern, eastern, radical, effete, leisurely, affluent, multi-cultural, and full of pipe dreams. One was real, the other surreal; one worked, the other played; one did the labor, the other did the criticism; one drank whiskey, the other smoked dope; one built, the other destroyed; one was for survival, the other was for revolution; one died in wars, the other protested wars; and one was for Richard Nixon, the other for George McGovern.</blockquote> <p>Cowie’s book is terrific, but this is nonsense. The lion’s share of the decline in Democratic votes for President occurred between 1964 (61 percent) and 1968 (43 percent), when Hubert Humphrey was the nominee. Most of those formerly Democratic votes went to the racist Alabama Governor George Wallace, who garnered 13 percent of the vote on a third-party ticket—an explicit reaction against civil rights legislation. The demonstrations outside of the Democratic Convention in 1968 in which many Americans sympathized with cops more than protesters had nothing to do with hippies; they were orchestrated by radical non-hippies like Rubin. (Hippie icon Allen Ginsberg argued in vain against the Chicago protests, because he presciently feared violence).</p> <p>Four years later, there were no hippies involved with the McGovern campaign’s mistakes, like the ill-advised selection of Thomas Eagleton as the vice-presidential nominee and the breakdown of the relationship between the campaign and organized labor. Those mistakes were made by well-intentioned but inept liberal political consultants, many of whom would self-righteously characterize themselves as “pragmatists” in future years.</p> <p>It is possible that some non-racist, older, white Democrats switched sides because they were offended by aspects of hippie culture, but it seems likely that more of their children and grandchildren rejected conservative orthodoxy because of their attraction to that very culture. The Allman Brothers and other southern rock bands developed a following that dwarfed that of Haggard, and ended up being a source of funding for Jimmy Carter’s primary campaign in 1976.</p> <p>Modern heirs to the hippie idea include millions of “New Age” believers, inspired by the likes of Baba Ram Dass, Joseph Campbell, Deepak Chopra, and in some cases Oprah Winfrey, whose non-hierarchal spirituality exists outside the confines of traditional churches and synagogues. Although very few neo-hippie groups have explicit political agendas, many in the progressive public interest world benefit from their largess.</p> <p><br /> WHAT POSSIBLE relevance does any of this have to American politics in 2011? For one thing, many of those young people who like to beat on drums and who devised some of the subtle infrastructure of Occupy Wall Street are clearly tuned into an energy that exists outside of the parameters of political science.</p> <p>Spiritual movements do not adhere to “party lines,” which is one reason why conventional political activists find them so maddening. Martin Scorsese’s recent documentary on the life of George Harrison reminded us not only of the Beatle’s passionate embrace of Hinduism and the funds he raised for Bangladesh but also of his perverse anger at paying his taxes. Nonetheless, it doesn’t take a poll or a focus group to know that people who identify with the hippie idea are unlikely to vote Republican. (Ron Paul’s people are trying. They give out fliers at Occupy Wall Street while, as of this writing, Democrats still fear to do so.)</p> <p>Conservatives have effectively peddled the notion that all politics are corrupt. The resulting apathy, and opposition to government, conveniently leaves big business more in charge than ever. The price that Democrats and progressives pay for belittling or ignoring contemporary devotees of the hippie idea, who share the opinion that politics are corrupt, is to reinforce the impulse to “drop out” in a cohort that would otherwise be, for the most part, natural allies.</p> <p>Spiritual values can expand the reach of political action, especially at a time when progressives struggle to connect to mass consciousness. Their causes have been mired in phrases like “single-payer” and “cap-and-trade.” For all of their virtues, policy wonks didn’t come up with “We are the 99 percent.” People with drum circles did.</p> <p>The Right understands the subtle connections between ideology and practical politics. Few Republican leaders distance themselves from right-wing Christians or demagogues like Glenn Beck. And Ayn Rand’s doctrine of selfishness, despite elements that conservative politicians would be afraid to avow, is celebrated by right-wing oligarchs and wanna-bes. Alan Greenspan, the long-time head of the Federal Reserve, was a personal disciple of Rand, and Congressman Paul Ryan, who drafted the Republican budget that would’ve eliminated Medicare, cites Rand as his intellectual hero.</p> <p>Any bohemian movement will attract goofballs. Drum circles may inspire and unify a crowd in one situation, but simply drown out conversation in another. It is one thing for a polite protester to offer “free hugs,” and quite another for a sweaty inebriate to impose them. The way to deal with this is to rebuke individual jerks, not to dismiss a vibrant section of mass culture.</p> <p>As Martin Luther King pursued his strategy of nonviolent protest, the NAACP leader Roy Wilkins, who oversaw most of the legal strategy for the civil rights movement, mocked him by asking, “How many laws have you changed?” King replied, “I don’t know, but we’ve changed a lot of hearts.” Obviously, the civil rights movement needed both spiritual and legal efforts to achieve its goals. So do modern progressives. As Nick Lowe asked in the song made famous by Elvis Costello, “What’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding?”</p> <p> </p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Danny Goldberg is the author of the books "How the Left Lost Teen Spirit" and "Bumping Into Geniuses." </div></div></div> Tue, 25 Oct 2011 17:00:01 -0700 Danny Goldberg, Dissent Magazine 669310 at http://orgwww.globalexchange.orgwww.endthewar.orgwww.zmag.orgwww.alternet.org Activism Occupy Wall Street Culture Activism hippies #ows Growing Up With Gil Scott-Heron: In Loving Memory http://orgwww.globalexchange.orgwww.endthewar.orgwww.zmag.orgwww.alternet.org/story/151246/growing_up_with_gil_scott-heron%3A_in_loving_memory <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">High school friends remember the legendary musician, writer and poet.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Gil Scott Heron's death last week at the age of 62 stimulated a wave of appreciation from critics and the jazz and hip hop communities who recognized his unique contribution to American and African-American culture. To me, it also brought a flurry of emotional emails and phone calls. Those of us who went to high school with Gil from 1963-'67 shared our memories of the scintillating and joyous character we knew as teenagers at Fieldston, the private Ethical Culture school in the Riverdale section of the Bronx attended then, as now, primarily by the sons and daughters of wealthy Jewish families. Gil was one of five black kids out of a class of around 100.</p> <p>In 2007 Gil was up for parole after about a year into the last of his stints in jail -- he had developed a terrible addiction to crack cocaine that haunted him until the end of his life. I was one of several high school friends who wrote letters to the parole board about his character and value to society. At the same time I sent him a personal letter about what his work had meant to the world. He responded with a long handwritten reply in which he said that his time at Fieldston had "opened new worlds" for him. I suspect that his gracious words contained both genuine emotion, and a dollop of show biz bullshit. But there is no question that being exposed to his spirit opened new worlds for all of us.</p> <p>Until the age of 12, Gil had grown up in Jackson, Tennessee, raised primarily by his grandmother. After her death he moved to New York City to live with his mother. For a couple of years he attended Dewitt Clinton School where an English teacher, recognizing his literary prowess, recommended him for the scholarship at Fieldston that brought him to us.</p> <p>The kid who remained the closest to him was Fred Baron, who also entered Fieldston in ninth grade. Fred lived in Peter Cooper Village not far from the mostly Puerto Rican housing project where Gil and his mother lived on West 18th St. in Chelsea, which was a far cry from the trendy gentrified neighborhood it is today. Most Fieldston kids lived on the Upper West Side and Fred and Gil shared the last subway stop after school. Gil's mom was very strict and insisted on him being home at a certain time. But Bobbi Heron liked the Barons.</p> <p>Fred recalls fondly that "Gil slept over at my apartment one or two nights a week. Gil's dad had left his family when Gil was a baby so he adopted my dad." Fieldston was a bastion of liberal politics (more than 95 percent of the student body would "vote" for Lyndon Johnson over Barry Goldwater in a mock election held the next year) but Baron's father Jerry was a conservative libertarian. "Gil would argue with my dad night after night. My dad gave him Ayn Rand books to read and Gil, although he was still learning, believed in socialism and had a radical view on just about everything. Neither of them changed the other's mind but they became very close."</p> <p>At 14, Gil had a boy's gleeful sense of fun but physically he was a man, gangly but almost 6 feet tall, the beginnings of a mustache (exotic in Fieldston in 1963) and already possessed of the deep voice the virtuoso jazz bassist Ron Carter was later to describe as "having been made for Shakespeare." I would certainly have been intimidated by him had he not been so friendly.</p> <p>By the time Gil was 23 he had published two novels and a book of poems, and had recorded three albums, one of which included the iconic song "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." In high school, however, Gil's persona revolved around sports and a wicked sardonic sense of humor. He was certainly the coolest kid among us, but he was friendly to just about everyone.</p> <p>The first time I realized that he wasn't just an affable jock, was in an English class where we had been asked to write something about our own lives. A few of us read banal two- and three-page essays. Then Gil raised his hand and we spent the rest of the class listening to him read what must have been a 40-page portrait of his life in Tennessee. It was impeccably written with the kinds of descriptions and use of dialogue of real literature. Any fantasy I had that I could someday write fiction pretty much ended there, as I understood what real talent was, coming out of the unexpectedly earnest mouth of my new classmate. Not long thereafter I saw another flash of his precocious talent in the music room as he sat down at the piano and seemingly effortlessly played some blues.</p> <p>Gil taught Baron to play the piano and Baron showed him how to play the guitar. They formed a rock band. Baron played rhythm guitar, Bill Horwitz played lead, David Applby played drums and Ira Resnick sang lead on songs of Stones, Beatles and Kinks while Gil sang lead on a couple of covers and on his original songs. "He was a great performer even then," Horwitz wrote me in an email, "a real showman who did splits while he performed Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs' 'Wooly Bully.'"</p> <p>Resnick remembers, "He was like an old soul, even in high school. We knew Gil was from a different world but he was so great to hang out with." They played primarily at bar mitzvahs and dances. They called themselves the Warlords after a local gang. ("The Bronx was festooned with Warlords graffiti tags so we thought it would be a good name and PR for the band," Baron recalls). At a gig at Manhattan College some members of the actual Warlords gang attended. "After initial tensions they liked our sound."</p> <p>Horwitz remembers, "Gilbert and I used to practice for the band at my house on Kappock Street in Riverdale. He used to play jacks with my younger sister, who was 10 or 11 at the time, his enormous long legs splayed out every which way on our tiny dining room floor. I had a little spinet piano that he liked a lot and he would pound out excruciatingly endless versions of the Moody Blues 'Go Now' which he sang at our shows."</p> <p>According to Baron, Gil was constantly writing songs from his freshman year on. "He had a ring binder and he would fill it up with lyrics every month and he had an upright piano in his house and he'd turn them into songs."</p> <p>Gil never passed up an opportunity to perform. There is a photo of him from the Fieldston student newspaper wearing a silly cowboy hat from an assembly dedicated to "Cowboys and their Songs," and when the Warlords didn't have gigs he also played and sang with another Fieldston band called A Stitch In Time. Keith Kaufman who played guitar in that band recalls, "He was so fucking funny. Just hanging around with him was so much fun and yet he was politically savvy and he was nobody's fool. Once we were at rehearsal studio and a guy who worked there wanted to record rehearsal and Gil refused saying, 'I got to copyright these things first.'"</p> <p>Heron was a good athlete, at least by New York private school standards, joining Resnick and Baron on the football team where he was a defensive back and a wide receiver. "He had a very irreverent attitude to football," Baron remembers. "He was really good but he wasn't gung-ho. Gil would hold the ball out with one hand daring defenders to knock it away and then dodge their tackles and crack up laughing."</p> <p>Gil was also the starting center on the basketball team and in our senior year Steve Rothschild and I volunteered to be the "managers" of the basketball team because it excused us from gym for the winter. Our "job" was to get the basketballs out of the closet for practice and put them away afterwards and to keep score at the games. Despite his nonchalance, Gil was the only player who regularly asked me how many points he had scored. Some of the other players could act like assholes to us but Gil was always unassuming and had a way of making us feel like we were in on the joke.</p> <p>Forty-five years later David Schwartz, the best math student in our grade, still appreciated Gil's kindness in regular gym classes on the court. "He could shoot hoops and play but he made it that regular kids could play with the stars and he gave us respect. Heron would pass the ball to me for an open shot and afterwards compliment me for doing well in math."</p> <p>My own relationship with Gil evolved around our mutual lefty politics. It was an intense time. A few weeks before ninth grade started, Martin Luther King had given his "I Have A Dream" speech at the March on Washington. A couple of months into ninth grade John Kennedy was assassinated. In February after the holiday break Cassius Clay beat Sonny Liston and shortly thereafter changed his name to Muhammad Ali. The year before, Rachel Carson's <em>Silent Spring</em> had launched the environmental movement and Betty Friedan's <em>The Feminine Mystique</em> had reinvented feminism.</p> <p>By the fall of 1965 at the beginning of 11th grade the Viet Nam War protest movement was starting. Joel Goodman and I had protested air raid drills in seventh grade (they were dropped the following year) and in November we organized a bus to Washington for one of the first anti-war marches. Gil didn't come. Maybe his mother wouldn't let him. But after that he always spoke to me on another level. We would often play ping-pong in the recreation room during free periods and vent our frustration with those in power. As 11th grade was ending, in June of 1966, Stokely Carmichael coined the phrase "black power."</p> <p>Parallel to the politics, we were getting drawn into the hippie idea before it became commercialized. Pot and acid were present by 11th grade along with hints of Eastern philosophy and there was an inchoate sense that there was some more cosmic and enlightened way that human beings could relate to each other and to the universe. It was heady stuff for teenagers.</p> <p>Despite his popularity, there was always a degree of ambivalence in Gil's relationship with Fieldston. On the first day of ninth grade Heron, Baron and Resnick were ushered in to see the principal, Luther Tate, who condescendingly told Gil, "We brought you here because we want to expand the scope of the Fieldston community, so be yourself." Baron cringed and on the way out muttered "What an asshole," and Gil cracked up, dissipating the awkward tension.</p> <p>One day Baron and Heron were in an ethics class "and some guy started saying that being poor was being one of the people, some ridiculous rap." Gil, who was ordinarily extremely disciplined in class, angrily interrupted. "Listen, man, I've been poor and I want to be rich. I want to do what I want when I want. You can be poor."</p> <p>At an assembly in the spring of senior year in 1967, Gil sang the Bob Dylan song "Like A Rolling Stone" backed by Bill Horwitz on acoustic guitar. "It was one of the few times he didn't sit behind the piano," Horwitz wrote in an email, "I think he had some things he wanted to say directly to the audience and he was never afraid to say what he believed. It was quite a moment when he got to the line, 'You've been to the finest schools all right, Miss Lonely.' Being at Fieldston was a very complex experience for him to say the least."</p> <p>When seniors were asked to select a quote to go with their photo in the yearbook Gil chose a line from an ad then running in the New York City subways: "Young enough to ride for free? Young enough to ride your knee!" Was it an oblique reference to having gotten a scholarship and some feeling of inhibitions that came with it?</p> <p>Heron attended the historically black Lincoln University in Oxford, Pennsylvania, where one of his idols, Langston Hughes, had studied. It was an extraordinary time in black culture. (The very word "black" was replacing "colored" and "Negro.") The environment triggered an explosion of creativity in Gil that would form his persona for the rest of his life. Rock and roll was jettisoned and he immersed himself in jazz and blues, bonding with several musicians, including Brian Jackson, who would play with him on and off for decades. When the radical poetry group, the Last Poets, played at Lincoln, Gil had a vision of how he could synthesize his talents and his visions.</p> <p>At the same time he stayed in close touch with Baron and his dad. Early in his sophomore year dropped out of college to write his first novel, <em>The Vulture</em>, which was published in 1970. In 1996 when the novel was re-issued he wrote a new forward: "It would not be much of an exaggeration to say that my life depended on completing <em>The Vulture</em> and having it accepted for publication. There was a special man, a very gentle man, the father of a high school classmate of mine who I believe was the person 'the spirits' helped me connect with somehow." Jerry Baron had gotten Gil's manuscript to the publisher and the dedication of his first book read "To Mr. Jerome Baron without whom the 'bird' would never have gotten off the ground."</p> <p>Gil never had the commercial killer instinct of Bob Dylan but he was just as influential and as stubbornly unique. Abiodun Oyewole of the Last Poets called Gil "a prince who was on his own." Most of Gil's inspiration came from John Coltrane and Lightnin' Hopkins, from Paul Lawrence Dunbar and Langston Hughes and Amiri Baraka, from Fannie Lou Hamer and Malcom X and Martin Luther King and other African-American geniuses. But as the years went by I was convinced that there remained a residue of the hippie idea in his approach to his art, mysticism and politics.</p> <p>"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" has Malcom X's fierceness, and ridiculed the shallowness of much of popular culture, but its subtle intensity also contained the message, as Heron often pointed out in later years, that any true revolution must take place inside yourself. The proto-typical hippie rock radio station, KSAN in San Francisco, must have felt those vibes when they played his early albums which led to several bookings at the Fillmore.</p> <p>Gil was always gracious when Fieldston kids would show up at gigs. Ira Resnick saw him in San Francisco in the 1970s when Gil was playing with Brian Jackson as a jazz duo. "We got high and hung out all night. He couldn't have been friendlier. There was zero star trip." Keith Kaufman had a similar experience at shows in California finding his sense of humor livelier than ever. "We laughed all night."</p> <p>I was the only other person from our class who had gotten into the music business, but as a journalist and PR guy I stuck to the rock and roll culture. Although I had watched Gil's growth as an artist with awe I didn't reconnect with him until 1979, when I co-produced and co-directed the film <em>No Nukes</em>, which chronicled a series of concerts that raised money for groups opposed to nuclear power plants. (It was as close to the hippie idea as rock culture came up with in the late '70s, organized primarily by Jackson Brown, Graham Nash and Bonnie Raitt.)</p> <p>PR guy David Fenton and I suggested Gil, who was one of the few artists who had actually written a song about a near nuclear meltdown called "We Almost Lost Detroit." I had no idea if Gil would even remember me, given the passage of more than a decade and his iconic status, but when I entered the dressing room at Madison Square Garden he warmly embraced me and we briefly joked about high school before he did a mesmerizing set. I included "We Almost Lost Detroit" in the film and it was one of the highlights. One of the editors of <em>No Nukes</em> was Joel Goodman, who had also gone to school with us. We all were all old men of 29 or 30 years old.</p> <p>Once in New York when Gil didn't have an answering machine Baron went to see him in his neighborhood in Harlem. "On the street he was known as Scotty. If you asked for Gil they didn't know who you meant. He was sitting with a bunch of guys and it was the one time I felt he was a little embarrassed to be seen with someone from high school. Later he wrote a song saying 'When I'm with my boys--you slide.'"</p> <p>But the friendship endured. Baron become a geologist and his work often brought him to cities where Gil was playing clubs. "I'd see him at half-time in between sets. He was a good friend. He was warm and wise and I always listened to him carefully. Every once in a while he would come up with something that was so profound. But he was living in a different world than me." Baron noticed that at every gig there were local activists from food banks or battered women's shelters asking Gil for help that he was in no position to give. And as the years went by Gil seemed more beaten down by the music business, complaining once, "They always got some slick nigger giving me a headache telling me to sing songs from the latest album."</p> <p>One time Baron and Heron were catching up on each other's families "when suddenly Gil looked at the time, ran over to an ice machine and stuck his head in the ice, jumped up and ran out on stage to cheers just seconds after we'd been hanging out. I realized again that he was in a different reality."</p> <p>For a time, Gil's talent seemed to conquer all. His song "B-Movie" released in 1981 at the peak of '60s revisionism, has a fearless moral clarity and remains one of the most trenchant commentaries on the election of Ronald Reagan. But soon, one additional "reality" was the hold that crack had gotten on Gil Scott-Heron. From 1970-'82 he made 13 albums. He would not make another for 11 years. "Spirits," released in 1993, included "The Other Side," a searing description of drug addiction.</p> <p>Many alcoholics and junkies have found solace in 12-step programs. Neither fear nor therapy nor spiritual practice worked for Gil. He was arrested several times and jailed more than once, the last time in 2005. He'd been arrested for possession of cocaine and he told the judge, who was a liberal, that he had already committed to a European tour and that it would hurt a lot of people if it was canceled, recalls Baron. "The judge said he could do the tour but that as soon as he got back he had to go to rehab or else she would have him sent to prison. We had a beer when he got back from Europe and Gil was joking around about it. He thought that with all the crime that police had to worry about they wouldn't bother coming for him. A few nights later they broke into his apartment at four in the morning."</p> <p>Gil was sent to a prison up in northern New York State. "He was such a thin guy I was worried he would be cold up there," says Baron, so he asked if he could send him silk underwear. Prison officials said it was OK as long as they weren't gang colors. Baron also sent his friend a leather-bound book with writing paper. "I slipped into the binding a photo of him when he was 16." After Heron was released he told Baron, "You nailed my ass--I was lying in my bunk. Time is forever in jail. For a while the book was so nice I didn't want to write in it but finally I picked it up--and that picture fell out and it fell on me and I could step inside my head when I was that age. It gave me some perspective on all the places the mind has been and I started writing again."</p> <p>Even after that jail stint and the loss of several teeth, Heron never stopped using drugs. "I went to SOBs after he got out and saw him at half time and he was wired. He was friendly but his leg was shaking like crazy the whole time."</p> <p>In 2010 XL Records released "I'm New Here," Gil's first album in 16 years and his last. In an interview with Jaime Byng in the London <em>Observer,</em> Gil repeated one of his life-long themes "If someone comes to you and asks for help, and you can help them, why wouldn't you? You have been put in the position to be able to help this person."</p> <p>There are a million junkies, crackheads and drunks. Very few prophetic geniuses. When he was 19, with awful clairvoyance, Gil wrote a poem as an intro to <em>The Vulture.</em></p> <blockquote> <p><em>Standing in the ruins of another black man's life.<br /> Or flying through the valley separating day and night. <br /> 'I am death' cried the vulture,' For the people of the Light.</em></p></blockquote><blockquote> <p><em>So if you see the vulture coming, flying circles in your mind. <br /> Remember there is no escaping for he will follow close behind. <br /> Only promise me a battle for your soul and mine.</em></p></blockquote> <p>God speed and thank you Gil Heron. Life lost. Battle won.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Danny Goldberg was CEO of Air America Radio from 2005 until mid-2006. He is president of Gold Village Entertainment and has worked in the music business since the late 1960s. <a href="http://www.dannygoldberg.com/index.html">Check out his blog</a>. </div></div></div> Fri, 10 Jun 2011 21:00:01 -0700 Danny Goldberg, AlterNet 666623 at http://orgwww.globalexchange.orgwww.endthewar.orgwww.zmag.orgwww.alternet.org Culture Culture culture music poetry gil scott-heron danny goldberg Why Our Books, Movies and Music Are the Catalysts of Politics http://orgwww.globalexchange.orgwww.endthewar.orgwww.zmag.orgwww.alternet.org/story/150296/why_our_books%2C_movies_and_music_are_the_catalysts_of_politics <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Many culturally induced nerve endings, hidden from the view of polls and focus groups, help determine political currents.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>If David Sirota is right, and the culture of the nineteen eighties is defining most of modern America maybe there’s a connection between Charlie Sheen’s “issues” and American political culture. Sheen’s first film role was in the mid-1980’s as one of the young anti-Soviet revolutionaries in the right wing kitsch classic <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_I4WgBfETc&amp;feature=player_embedded#at=124"><i>Red Dawn</i></a>. Oliver Stone then cast him as one of the idealistic young soldiers in <i>Platoon</i> and as the center of his 1987 critique of Reagan-era financial malfeasance in <i>Wall Street</i>. To the extent that the public internalized him as “Charlie Sheen,” and not just the characters he played, his compelling 2011 meltdown is a cautionary tale about the spiritually dead end street of hyper-individualism. (And if Sheen bounces back as his gift for self-mockery suggests he might, his comeback could be a metaphor for the defeat of that very same darkness ).<br /><br /> In any case, in light of the of significant influence of the Tea Party and their ilk, progressive and Democratic communications professionals must come to the grips with the fact, once and for all, that logic and rationality are not the primary motivators of political culture. But what to do about it? George Lakoff and Drew Westen have both written usefully about how progressives and Democrats can improve the way they address various American publics. It’s not enough, however, to simply frame an issue or to speak emotionally to make an impact; communicators and movements need to understand the existing psychology and the unconscious of the people they are trying to move. Many culturally induced nerve endings, hidden from the view of polls and focus groups, help determine political currents. These hidden psychological currents cut both ways. In the last year Democratic researchers did not anticipate a populist susceptibility to the whopper about “death panels” and Republicans failed to unearth a residual affection for labor unions.<br /><br /> Sirota’s brilliant new book <a href="http://astore.amazon.com/dowwittyr-20/detail/0345518780">Back To Our Future: How the 1980s explain the world we live in now-- Our culture, our politics, our everything</a> (Ballentine) describes modern America in the context of the cultural by-products of the Reagan era that Sirota and others of his generation were exposed to, particularly popular American films, TV shows and advertisements of the decade. He widens our understanding of the psychological terrain where political battles are fought and his book should be required reading for anyone who presumes to measure or influence public opinion.<br /><br /> Americans who were High School seniors when Ronald Reagan started his second term in 1985 are in their forties today, many of them occupying positions of power in business, the media and government.<br /><br /> Most public discussion in the wake of Ronald Reagan’s one-hundredth birthday centered on his administration and his opaque personality but Reaganism, the philosophy of conservatives who have appropriated him (sometimes in direct contradiction of some of the Gipper’s actual policies) has had a much bigger impact on modern day America than has the man himself. Reaganism’s agenda included the reversal of the economic egalitarianism of the New Deal and the Great Society and a revival of militarism to counteract the effects of the anti-Viet Nam protest era. Many of the dark and irrational currents in modern politics originate in the culture of the eighties including Islamophobia, hatred of government, excessive deference to the military, exaltation of the rich and individualism to the exclusion of community in the tradition of Ayn Rand, and a nasty contempt for anything that gets in the way of profits including concerns about the environment and human rights.<br /><br /> The primary cultural trope of Reaganism was to deglitimize many of the progressive cultural ideas that had gained power in the nineteen sixties and seventies, what Sirota calls the “Die hippie, die” initiative (the phrase was the title of a <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FFfPwC1pNMk">South Park</a> episode). The policy trends that Reaganism aimed at quashing fell into two broad categories: the expansion of government limits on big business (through environmental laws, work-place regulations, support for unions, and financial regulation) and the politically salient questioning of militarism that had been spawned by the Viet Nam War protest movement.<br /><br /> Of course, Reagan also helped enable socially conservative Christians whose support he cheerfully accepted but in part because of the support of libertarian Republicans, progressives have won more of those battles than they’ve lost. Of course, if you are an abortion provider in a red state, those culture wars are still painfully relevant, but as Thomas Frank points out in <a href="http://astore.amazon.com/dowwittyr-20/detail/080507774X">What’s The Matter With Kansas</a>, most of the real conservative big shots never cared that much about these battles and still don’t.<br /><br /> One pivotal anti-hippie vehicle in the Reagan era was the hugely successful TV series <i>Family Ties</i>, a family sitcom the premise of which was, according to the <i>Baltimore Sun</i>,"rejecting the counterculture of the 1960s and embracing the power that came to define the 80s.” Michael J. Fox became a star playing Alex P. Keaton, a materialistic, Reagan -loving son of former sixties activists who were shown as ineffectual anachronisms. In one episode Keaton makes fun of his parents’ old friends: “Every time these hippies come prancing in from yesteryear, we got get out the love beads, put on the ponchos, and pretend we care about people.” The subtext, so often amplified by right wing populists from Rush Limbaugh to P.J. O’Rourke, is that social programs, compassion, etc. are naïve at best and corrupt at worst. Winners win and losers lose and any attempt to change fate helps no one and undermines stability. Compassion and collective responsibility are for charlatans or suckers.<br /><br /> How did the American political zeitgeist shift from John Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” to Ronald Reagan’s “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are <i>I’m from the government and I’m here to help</i>”?<br /><br /> De-legitimization of government was not solely a right wing enterprise. Many of us on the left were appalled by the government over-reach of the FBI Cointelpro program that targeted war protesters and civil rights leaders including Martin Luther King. Presidents Johnson and Nixon lied about various details of the War in Viet Nam. (See <i>When Presidents Lie</i> by Eric Alterman). Many hippies and civil libertarians hated the “war on drugs” that Nixon started in the early seventies. So when <i>Ghostbusters</i> or <i>ET</i> depicted government officials as thugs it wasn’t necessarily coming from a right wing perspective. But they still helped reinforce a psychology that supported the pro-big business agenda of Reagan’s mantra: “Government is not the solution to the problem, government is the problem.”<br /><br /> At the same time during the eighties there was a powerful campaign to undermine the moral basis of the criticism of the War in Viet Nam and to restore support for the military industrial complex. This campaign was explicitly supported by propaganda in films such as <i>Red Dawn</i> (1984) <i>Rambo: First Blood</i> (1985) and <i>Top Gun</i> (1986). Reagan himself called the Viet Nam War a “noble cause’ in his 1980campaign and suggested that anti-war critics made America “afraid to let American soldiers win.” This canard was echoed In <i>Rambo: First Blood</i>. The protagonist John Rambo played by Sylvester Stallone popularized the lie that most Viet Nam veterans were spat on by peace activists.</p> <blockquote>It wasn't my war. You asked me, I didn't ask you. And I did what I had to do to win. But somebody wouldn't let us win. Then I come back to the world and I see all those maggots at the airport. Protesting me. Spitting. Calling me baby killer. ... Who are they to protest me? Huh?</blockquote> <p> </p> <p>The legend of peace protesters spitting at vets is one of the most successful lies ever perpetrated on the American public. Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, running for the U.S Senate in 2010, claimed to have served in Viet Nam and lamented the way returning soldiers were treated saying in a campaign year speech "When we came back we were spat on." The</p> <p><i>New York Times</i></p> <p>later revealed that although Blumenthal had served in the Army during the Viet Nam War he had actually never served in Viet Nam itself. Blumenthal apologized for pretending to have served in the War and survived to win election to the Senate but the myth of spit-upon Viet Nam vets had become so internalized that the media never pointed out that not only had Blumenthal not been spit on coming home from a war he never served in, but there is also no evidence that any soldiers were spit on by peace activists. Jerry Lembcke, a Viet Nam vet, argued persuasively that the story is bullshit in his 1998 book</p> <p><i>The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam</i></p> <p>, in which he researched every supposed report of the kind of spitting that Stallone’s fictitious character described and could not find a single first hand account of such an incident. There is no question that Viet Nam veterans were not treated well by their country but the blame for that belongs with the governmental agencies that failed to provide them with the kind of support that World War II vets had enjoyed as a result of the GI Bill and the political leaders who sent them to fight a war which they ultimately could not justify.</p> <p> </p> <p>In the real world many Viet Nam veterans, most famously John Kerry, were a significant part of the anti-war movement. Most importantly, the passage of time and the release of White House tapes from both the Johnson and Nixon administrations made it clear that the Viet Nam war was never related to a genuine American security interest but to domestic politics, largely the fear of being called “soft on communism." And the fall of South Viet Nam as a separate country did absolutely nothing to hurt the United States during the Cold War or thereafter. But you would never know any of these things if</p> <p><i>Rambo</i></p> <p>was your source of information.</p> <p> </p> <p>The Hollywood feature</p> <p><i>Red Dawn</i></p> <p>was written and directed by John Milius. It was produced by MGM/UA who actually recruited former Reagan Secretary of State Alexander Haig “to consult with the director and inculcate the appropriate ideological tint.” MGM/UA executive Peter Bart wrote that “Haig took Milius under his wing and suddenly he found himself welcomed into right-wing think tanks.” The film absurdly depicted a Soviet/Cuban invasion of America’s Southwest in which the communists take over several American towns. A group of High School kids played by Patrick Swayze, Lea Thompson, C. Thomas Howell and, of course, Charlie Sheen, retreat to the mountains and form a guerilla army to fight the communists, calling themselves The Wolverines. Aware and proud of the film’s influence on some impressionable young minds, Milius later boasted, “Wolverines have grown up and gone to Iraq.” Although controlled by the Russians, the primary invading force of American in</p> <p><i>Red Dawn</i></p> <p>consists of Cubans, brown skinned Latinos (No Latino “Americans” of course). Conquered Americans are seen stockpiling food with a panic and ardor that must have been one of the proto-types for some of Glenn Beck’s current rants. (Beck was 21 years old, having just started his first radio job, when</p> <p><i>Red Dawn</i></p> <p>was released). The Mayor of the invaded city is shown as a craven weakling who collaborates with the Communists.</p> <p><br /><br /><i>Top Gun</i></p> <p>was also made with Defense Department input. It implausibly showed American pilots in dogfights with the Soviets absent the context of any particular conflict between the Cold War superpowers and it glamorized military service to the level of a fashion layout. According to Sirota "Recruitment spiked 400% in the months after</p> <p><i>Top Gun</i></p> <p>was released leading the Navy to set up recruitment tables at theatres upon realizing the movie’s effect."</p> <p> </p> <p>Of video games, Sirota quotes Army Colonel Casey Wardynski saying that at the Pentagon, “We realized we had to get the flow of information about life in the army into pop culture.”</p> <p><i>Space Invaders</i></p> <p>,</p> <p><i>Defender</i></p> <p>,</p> <p><i>Chopper Command</i></p> <p>,</p> <p><i>Asteroids</i></p> <p>,</p> <p><i>Missile Command</i></p> <p>(my own personal favorite), and</p> <p><i>Battlezone</i></p> <p>(directly subsidized by the Pentagon) entered the consciousness of millions of teenagers during the 80’s.</p> <p> </p> <p>The World Wrestling Federation wrestling villain The Iron Sheik (an “Iranian”) was regularly vanquished by Sgt. Slaughter, a “good guy” wrestler wearing US camouflage who said in 1984, “We don’t want Iranians around. We’re going to clean up America of all the trash.” As Sirota points out: “If that seems exactly like the political rhetoric you might hear today in a talk-radio rant or a cable scream show or on the floor of the U.S Congress, that’s no coincidence. Those rants are deliberately using the same diction as Sgt. Slaughter because that’s the same lingo we were trained to respond to as eighties kids in our basement.”</p> <p> </p> <p>Fortunately, not all unconscious notions of Americanism feed right wing goals.</p> <p> </p> <p>In the same decade that spawned</p> <p><i>Top Gun</i></p> <p>, the finale of</p> <p><i>MASH</i></p> <p>, the popular anti-war TV series, aired a finale which was seen by 125 million people, the largest TV audience of the decade. During those same years</p> <p><i>60 Minutes</i></p> <p>had its peak audience, often exposing the venality and limits of the corporate world.</p> <p><i>Gandhi</i></p> <p>won the Best Picture Oscar and when Warren Beatty, at the peak of his celebrity and show business power, created</p> <p><i>Reds</i></p> <p>, and won the Oscar for Best Director for celebrating the values of early idealistic American communists. Spike Lee’s 1989 masterpiece</p> <p><i>Do The Right Thing</i></p> <p>was the film Barack Obama took Michelle to on their first date. And the eighties also produced Oliver Stone who launched his own very un-</p> <p><i>Rambo</i></p> <p>-like narrative on Viet Nam and militarism through</p> <p><i>Born On The Fourth of July</i></p> <p>,</p> <p><i>Salvador</i></p> <p>, and, most successfully,</p> <p><i>Platoon</i></p> <p>which also won the Best Picture Oscar.</p> <p> </p> <p>MTV was launched in 1982 and while the rock and pop culture of those years was certainly a mixed bag it was far from a rubber stamp of conservative think tank theories. Contrary to the</p> <p><i>Family Ties</i></p> <p>ethos there were a series of concerts, Live-Aid, Farm Aid and the Amnesty tours which celebrated collective responsibility and empathy for those who were suffering. Bruce Springsteen, REM, The Clash and U2, achieved superstardom, Bonnie Raitt, won the Grammys, punk rock started emerging form the shadows, and what is now called “old school” hip hop gave a cultural power to aspects of black America that the</p> <p><i>Cosby Show</i></p> <p>never touched.</p> <p> </p> <p>Looking to the future, the next decade’s power elite will have grown up in the Clinton era when grunge and hip hop exploded, when</p> <p><i>The West Wing</i></p> <p>mapped out a positive case for government like no cultural product before it, and when</p> <p><i>The Lion King</i></p> <p>extolled “the circle of life.” And when</p> <p><i>A Bronx Tale</i></p> <p>gave us Robert DeNiro as a bus driver named Lorenzo telling his son not to admire the local gangster: “Get up every day and work for a living! Let's see him try that! We'll see who's really tough. The working man is tough.”</p> <p> </p> <p>And even in the nineteen fifties, idealized by Reagan and the other classic Michael J. Fox franchise</p> <p><i>Back To The Future</i></p> <p>, there was</p> <p><i>The Birth Of The Cool</i></p> <p>and Ginsberg and Kerouac and Brando and Dean. There was</p> <p><i>Catcher In The Rye</i></p> <p>and Raymond Chandler’s 1953 novel</p> <p><i>The Long Goodbye</i></p> <p>. If you adjust the numbers for inflation the following passage could have been written yesterday:</p> <blockquote>There ain’t no clean way to make a hundred million bucks,” Ohls said. “Maybe the head man thinks his hands are clean but somewhere along the line, guys got pushed to the wall, nice little businesses got the ground cut out from under them and had to sell out for nickels. Decent people lost their jobs, stocks got rigged on the market, proxies got bought up like pennyweight of old gold and the five percenters and the big law firms got paid hundred grand fees for beating some law the people wanted but the rich guys didn’t on account it cut into their profits.”</blockquote> <p> </p> <p>So despite the presence of psychic toxins left by Reaganism, America’s future is still up for grabs. If we come to grips with the cynical toxins of Reaganism we may yet marginalize them from the ruling psychology of our country, even without a visit from a higher being like ET.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Danny Goldberg was CEO of Air America Radio from 2005 until mid-2006. He is president of Gold Village Entertainment and has worked in the music business since the late 1960s. <a href="http://www.dannygoldberg.com/index.html">Check out his blog</a>. </div></div></div> Fri, 18 Mar 2011 13:00:01 -0700 Danny Goldberg, Down With Tyranny! 665655 at http://orgwww.globalexchange.orgwww.endthewar.orgwww.zmag.orgwww.alternet.org Culture Culture Books politics books movies reagan david sirota 80s Reaganism's Dark And Lasting Shadow: How Right-Wing '80s Pop Culture Lives on in Today's Politics http://orgwww.globalexchange.orgwww.endthewar.orgwww.zmag.orgwww.alternet.org/story/150269/reaganism%27s_dark_and_lasting_shadow%3A_how_right-wing_%2780s_pop_culture_lives_on_in_today%27s_politics <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">David Sirota&#039;s brilliant new book posits that we&#039;re living in an echo of the 1980s... and he&#039;s terrifyingly correct.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>If David Sirota is right, and the culture of the 1980s is defining most of modern America, maybe there’s a connection between Charlie Sheen’s “issues” and American political culture. Sheen’s first film role was in the mid-1980s as one of the young anti-Soviet revolutionaries in the right-wing kitsch classic <i>Red Dawn</i>. Oliver Stone then cast him as one of the idealistic young soldiers in <i>Platoon</i> and as the center of his 1987 critique of Reagan-era financial malfeasance in <i>Wall Street</i>. To the extent that the public internalized him as “Charlie Sheen,” and not just the characters he played, his compelling 2011 meltdown is a cautionary tale about the spiritually dead end street of hyper-individualism. (And if Sheen bounces back as his gift for self-mockery suggests he might, his comeback could be a metaphor for the defeat of that very same darkness ).<br /><br /> In any case, in light of the of significant influence of the Tea Party and their ilk, progressive and Democratic communications professionals must come to the grips with the fact, once and for all, that logic and rationality are not the primary motivators of political culture. But what to do about it? George Lakoff and Drew Westen have both written usefully about how progressives and Democrats can improve the way they address various American publics. It’s not enough, however, to simply frame an issue or to speak emotionally to make an impact; communicators and movements need to understand the existing psychology and the unconscious of the people they are trying to move. Many culturally induced nerve endings, hidden from the view of polls and focus groups, help determine political currents. These hidden psychological currents cut both ways. In the last year Democratic researchers did not anticipate a populist susceptibility to the whopper about “death panels” and Republicans failed to unearth a residual affection for labor unions.<br /><br /><a href="http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-TK6kyn5Mm4E/TYDD9g0poRI/AAAAAAAAT78/24MwEmVYYdg/s1600/513Cyk-F5bL.jpg"><img border="0" id="BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5584678999489618194" alt="" src="http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-TK6kyn5Mm4E/TYDD9g0poRI/AAAAAAAAT78/24MwEmVYYdg/s320/513Cyk-F5bL.jpg" style="margin: 0pt 0pt 10px 10px; float: right; cursor: pointer; width: 212px; height: 320px;" /></a>Sirota’s brilliant new book <a href="http://astore.amazon.com/dowwittyr-20/detail/0345518780">Back To Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live in Now-- Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Everything</a> (Ballentine) describes modern America in the context of the cultural byproducts of the Reagan era that Sirota and others of his generation were exposed to, particularly popular American films, TV shows and advertisements of the decade. He widens our understanding of the psychological terrain where political battles are fought and his book should be required reading for anyone who presumes to measure or influence public opinion.<br /><br /> Americans who were high school seniors when Ronald Reagan started his second term in 1985 are in their forties today, many of them occupying positions of power in business, the media and government.<br /><br /> Most public discussion in the wake of Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday centered on his administration and his opaque personality. But Reaganism, the philosophy of conservatives who have appropriated him (sometimes in direct contradiction of some of the Gipper’s actual policies), has had a much bigger impact on modern-day America than has the man himself. Reaganism’s agenda included the reversal of the economic egalitarianism of the New Deal and the Great Society, and a revival of militarism to counteract the effects of the anti-Viet Nam protest era. Many of the dark and irrational currents in modern politics originate in the culture of the '80s including Islamophobia, hatred of government, excessive deference to the military, exaltation of the rich and individualism to the exclusion of community in the tradition of Ayn Rand, and a nasty contempt for anything that gets in the way of profits -- including concerns about the environment and human rights.<br /><br /> The primary cultural trope of Reaganism was to de-legitimize many of the progressive cultural ideas that had gained power in the 1960s and '70s, --what Sirota calls the “Die hippie, die” initiative (the phrase was the title of a <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FFfPwC1pNMk">South Park</a> episode). The policy trends that Reaganism aimed at quashing fell into two broad categories: the expansion of government limits on big business (through environmental laws, workplace regulations, support for unions, and financial regulation) and the politically salient questioning of militarism that had been spawned by the Viet Nam War protest movement.<br /><br /> Of course, Reagan also helped enable socially conservative Christians whose support he cheerfully accepted but in part because of the support of libertarian Republicans, progressives have won more of those battles than they’ve lost. Of course, if you are an abortion provider in a red state, those culture wars are still painfully relevant, but as Thomas Frank points out in <a href="http://astore.amazon.com/dowwittyr-20/detail/080507774X">What’s The Matter With Kansas</a>, most of the real conservative big shots never cared that much about these battles and still don’t.<br /><br /> One pivotal anti-hippie vehicle in the Reagan era was the hugely successful TV series <i>Family Ties</i>, a family sitcom the premise of which was, according to the <i>Baltimore Sun</i>,"rejecting the counterculture of the 1960s and embracing the power that came to define the '80s.” Michael J. Fox became a star playing Alex P. Keaton, a materialistic, Reagan-loving son of former '60s activists who were shown as ineffectual anachronisms. In one episode, Keaton makes fun of his parents’ old friends: “Every time these hippies come prancing in from yesteryear, we got get out the love beads, put on the ponchos, and pretend we care about people.” The subtext, so often amplified by right-wing populists from Rush Limbaugh to P.J. O’Rourke, is that social programs, compassion, etc. are naïve at best and corrupt at worst. Winners win and losers lose and any attempt to change fate helps no one and undermines stability. Compassion and collective responsibility are for charlatans or suckers.<br /><br /> How did the American political zeitgeist shift from John Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” to Ronald Reagan’s “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are <i>I’m from the government and I’m here to help</i>”?<br /><br /> De-legitimization of government was not solely a right wing enterprise. Many of us on the left were appalled by the government overreach of the FBI Cointelpro program that targeted war protesters and civil rights leaders including Martin Luther King. Presidents Johnson and Nixon lied about various details of the War in Viet Nam. (See <i>When Presidents Lie</i> by Eric Alterman). Many hippies and civil libertarians hated the “war on drugs” that Nixon started in the early '70s. So when <i>Ghostbusters</i> or <i>ET</i> depicted government officials as thugs it wasn’t necessarily coming from a right wing perspective. But they still helped reinforce a psychology that supported the pro-big business agenda of Reagan’s mantra: “Government is not the solution to the problem, government is the problem.”<br /><br /> At the same time during the '80s, there was a powerful campaign to undermine the moral basis of the criticism of the War in Viet Nam and to restore support for the military industrial complex. This campaign was explicitly supported by propaganda in films such as <i>Red Dawn</i> (1984), <i>Rambo: First Blood</i> (1985), and <i>Top Gun</i> (1986). Reagan himself called the Viet Nam War a “noble cause’ in his 1980 campaign and suggested that anti-war critics made America “afraid to let American soldiers win.” This canard was echoed In <i>Rambo: First Blood</i>. The protagonist John Rambo, played by Sylvester Stallone, popularized the lie that most Viet Nam veterans were spat on by peace activists. </p> <blockquote>It wasn't my war. You asked me, I didn't ask you. And I did what I had to do to win. But somebody wouldn't let us win. Then I come back to the world and I see all those maggots at the airport. Protesting me. Spitting. Calling me baby killer. ... Who are they to protest me? Huh?</blockquote> <p>The legend of peace protesters spitting at vets is one of the most successful lies ever perpetrated on the American public. Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, running for the US Senate in 2110, claimed to have served in Viet Nam and lamented the way returning soldiers were treated, saying in a campaign-year speech, "When we came back we were spat on." The <i>New York Times</i> later revealed that although Blumenthal had served in the Army during the Viet Nam War he had actually never served in Viet Nam itself. Blumenthal apologized for pretending to have served in the War and survived to win election to the Senate, but the myth of spit-upon Viet Nam vets had become so internalized that the media never pointed out that not only had Blumenthal not been spit on coming home from a war he never served in, but there is also no evidence that any soldiers were spit on by peace activists. Jerry Lembcke, a Viet Nam vet, argued persuasively that the story is bullshit in his 1998 book <i>The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam</i>, in which he researched every supposed report of the kind of spitting that Stallone’s fictitious character described and could not find a single first hand account of such an incident. There is no question that Viet Nam veterans were not treated well by their country but the blame for that belongs with the governmental agencies that failed to provide them with the kind of support that World War II vets had enjoyed as a result of the GI Bill and the political leaders who sent them to fight a war which they ultimately could not justify.<br /><br /> In the real world many Viet Nam veterans, most famously John Kerry, were a significant part of the anti-war movement. Most importantly, the passage of time and the release of White House tapes from both the Johnson and Nixon administrations made it clear that the Viet Nam war was never related to a genuine American security interest but to domestic politics, largely the fear of being called “soft on communism." And the fall of South Viet Nam as a separate country did absolutely nothing to hurt the United States during the Cold War or thereafter. But you would never know any of these things if <i>Rambo</i> was your source of information.<br /><br /> The Hollywood feature <i>Red Dawn</i> was written and directed by John Milius. It was produced by MGM/UA who actually recruited former Reagan Secretary of State Alexander Haig “to consult with the director and inculcate the appropriate ideological tint.” MGM/UA executive Peter Bart wrote that “Haig took Milius under his wing and suddenly he found himself welcomed into right-wing think tanks.” The film absurdly depicted a Soviet/Cuban invasion of America’s Southwest in which the communists take over several American towns. A group of High School kids played by Patrick Swayze, Lea Thompson, C. Thomas Howell and, of course, Charlie Sheen, retreat to the mountains and form a guerilla army to fight the communists, calling themselves The Wolverines. Aware and proud of the film’s influence on some impressionable young minds, Milius later boasted, “Wolverines have grown up and gone to Iraq.” Although controlled by the Russians, the primary invading force of American in <i>Red Dawn</i> consists of Cubans, brown skinned Latinos (No Latino “Americans,” of course). Conquered Americans are seen stockpiling food with a panic and ardor that must have been one of the prototypes for some of Glenn Beck’s current rants. (Beck was 21 years old, having just started his first radio job, when <i>Red Dawn</i> was released). The Mayor of the invaded city is shown as a craven weakling who collaborates with the Communists.<br /><br /><i>Top Gun</i> was also made with Defense Department input. It implausibly showed American pilots in dogfights with the Soviets absent the context of any particular conflict between the Cold War superpowers and it glamorized military service to the level of a fashion layout. According to Sirota, "Recruitment spiked 400% in the months after <i>Top Gun</i> was released, leading the Navy to set up recruitment tables at theatres upon realizing the movie’s effect."<br /><br /> Of video games, Sirota quotes Army Colonel Casey Wardynski, saying that at the Pentagon, “we realized we had to get the flow of information about life in the army into pop culture.” <i>Space Invaders</i>, <i>Defender</i>, <i>Chopper Command</i>, <i>Asteroids</i>, <i>Missile Command</i> (my own personal favorite), and <i>Battlezone</i> (directly subsidized by the Pentagon) entered the consciousness of millions of teenagers during the '80s.<br /><br /> The World Wrestling Federation wrestling villain The Iron Sheik (an “Iranian”) was regularly vanquished by Sgt. Slaughter, a “good guy” wrestler wearing US camouflage who said in 1984, “We don’t want Iranians around. We’re going to clean up America of all the trash.” As Sirota points out: “If that seems exactly like the political rhetoric you might hear today in a talk-radio rant or a cable scream show or on the floor of the U.S Congress, that’s no coincidence. Those rants are deliberately using the same diction as Sgt. Slaughter because that’s the same lingo we were trained to respond to as '80s kids in our basement.”<br /><br /> Fortunately, not all unconscious notions of Americanism feed right wing goals.<br /><br /> In the same decade that spawned <i>Top Gun</i>, <i>MASH</i>, the popular anti-war TV series, aired a finale which was seen by 125 million people -- the largest TV audience of the decade. During those same years, <i>60 Minutes</i> had its peak audience, often exposing the venality and limits of the corporate world. <i>Gandhi</i> won the Best Picture Oscar, and when Warren Beatty, at the peak of his celebrity and show business power, created <i>Reds</i>, he won the Oscar for Best Director for celebrating the values of early idealistic American communists. Spike Lee’s 1989 masterpiece <i>Do The Right Thing</i> was the film Barack Obama took Michelle to on their first date. And the '80s also produced Oliver Stone, who launched his own very un-<i>Rambo</i>-like narrative on Viet Nam and militarism through <i>Born On The Fourth of July</i>, <i>Salvador</i>, and, most successfully, <i>Platoon</i> -- which also won the Best Picture Oscar.<br /><br /> MTV was launched in 1982, and while the rock and pop culture of those years was certainly a mixed bag, it was far from a rubber stamp of conservative think tank theories. Contrary to the <i>Family Ties</i> ethos, there were a series of concerts -- Live-Aid, Farm Aid and the Amnesty tours -- which celebrated collective responsibility and empathy for those who were suffering. Bruce Springsteen, REM, The Clash and U2, achieved superstardom, Bonnie Raitt, won the Grammys, punk rock started emerging from the shadows, and what is now called “old school” hip hop gave a cultural power to aspects of black America that the <i>Cosby Show</i> never touched.<br /><br /> Looking to the future, the next decade’s power elite will have grown up in the Clinton era when grunge and hip hop exploded, when <i>The West Wing</i> mapped out a positive case for government like no cultural product before it, and when <i>The Lion King</i> extolled “the circle of life.” And when <i>A Bronx Tale</i> gave us Robert DeNiro as a bus driver named Lorenzo telling his son not to admire the local gangster: “Get up every day and work for a living! Let's see him try that! We'll see who's really tough. The working man is tough.” <br /><br /> And even in the 1950s, idealized by Reagan and the other classic Michael J. Fox franchise <i>Back To The Future</i>, there was <i>The Birth Of The Cool</i> and Ginsberg and Kerouac and Brando and Dean. There was <i>Catcher In The Rye</i> and Raymond Chandler’s 1953 novel <i>The Long Goodbye</i>. If you adjust the numbers for inflation the following passage could have been written yesterday:</p> <blockquote>There ain’t no clean way to make a hundred million bucks,” Ohls said. “Maybe the head man thinks his hands are clean but somewhere along the line, guys got pushed to the wall, nice little businesses got the ground cut out from under them and had to sell out for nickels. Decent people lost their jobs, stocks got rigged on the market, proxies got bought up like pennyweight of old gold and the five percenters and the big law firms got paid hundred grand fees for beating some law the people wanted but the rich guys didn’t on account it cut into their profits.”</blockquote><br /><p>So despite the presence of psychic toxins left by Reaganism, America’s future is still up for grabs. If we come to grips with the cynical toxins of Reaganism we may yet marginalize them from the ruling psychology of our country, even without a visit from a higher being like ET.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Danny Goldberg was CEO of Air America Radio from 2005 until mid-2006. He is president of Gold Village Entertainment and has worked in the music business since the late 1960s. <a href="http://www.dannygoldberg.com/index.html">Check out his blog</a>. </div></div></div> Wed, 16 Mar 2011 06:00:01 -0700 Danny Goldberg, Down With Tyranny! 665616 at http://orgwww.globalexchange.orgwww.endthewar.orgwww.zmag.orgwww.alternet.org News & Politics Culture music television glenn beck pop culture ronald reagan reaganism 1980s rambo top gun Why Do Americans Keep Getting Suckered By Right-Wing Lies? http://orgwww.globalexchange.orgwww.endthewar.orgwww.zmag.orgwww.alternet.org/story/148939/why_do_americans_keep_getting_suckered_by_right-wing_lies <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Until progressives change the mind sets of the tens of millions who believe right-wing mythology, elections will be disappointing regardless of who is in the White House.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><i>Ideas don’t happen on their own. Throughout history ideas need patrons.” —Matt Kibbe, president of Freedom-Works, a tea party advocacy group, quoted in Jane Mayer’s piece on the Koch brothers in The New Yorker.</i></p> <p>Almost half of the public is either misinformed or subject to unanswered right wing narratives. If I believed that there was a chance of Sharia law being imposed in the United States I too would be gravely concerned. If I believed that most Europeans and Canadians had inferior health care to that of average Americans, I too would be against health care reform. If I believed that man-made global warning did not exist or that there were nothing we could do about it and that environmental efforts were responsible for unemployment I’d be against cap and trade. If I believed that prisoner abuse would make my family significantly less likely to be killed by terrorists, my thinking about torture would be different. And if I believed that the problems with the economy had been caused by too much government instead of too little, that my personal freedom was threatened by the government instead of large corporations, I’d probably be in a tea party supporter and a Republican.    </p> <p>Unless and until progressives change the mind sets of the tens of millions of people who believe right-wing mythology, who never read the <i>New York Times</i> or listen to NPR, who never watch any TV news other than Fox, future elections will have disappointing results for progressives regardless of who is in the White House.</p> <p>Even Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have limits to their ability to de-program those who have been indoctrinated by conservative orthodoxy. As David Bromwich recently wrote in <i>New York Review of Books</i>, “You can learn from them why the wrong ideas are funny, but you cannot learn why the wrong ideas are wrong.”</p> <p>Changing minds is more of an art than a science. Polling and focus groups are reasonably accurate at determining how people <i>already</i> feel, but the idea that every message to educate or convert can be mathematically tested is illusory. Even more dangerous is the notion that public opinion somehow comes from the sky and is thus impossible to influence. The right wing knows better.</p> <p>The impulse to reconnect with American identity through the Constitution is not inherently right wing. Yet progressives have largely ceded the language and majesty of the founding fathers to the likes of Glenn Beck, who regularly expiates on his own bizarre version of them on Fox News and to the far larger audience for his talk-radio show. Progressive Christians like Jim Wallis helped remind American Christians that their faith did not mandate conservative politics. Progressive civil libertarians need to recapture the constitutional flag. There ought to be dozens of books, films, speeches, op-eds, and conferences about the liberal values Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Jefferson.</p> <p>The gay rights movement stands as a contemporary role model on how to change public opinion. Gays could not afford to operate solely within the confines of existing opinion and thus were compelled to find ways to change it.  The growth from minority to majority of support for gay service in the military and other issues is due to a morally driven effort across many forms of communication to make sure that gays were perceived as full human beings.</p> <p>Since Obama’s election, many pundits have quoted Franklin D. Roosevelt’s injunction of “make me do it” to labor leaders who came to The White House in the nineteen-thirties with an agenda. The way to “make” elected officials do things, is not simply to beat up on the administration but to change and mobilize public opinion.</p> <p>Martin Luther King knew a lot about how to “make” Presidents do things. He used to exhort his followers not to be like a thermometer, which measures the temperature, but like a thermostat, which changes it. Gara LaMarche and Deepak Bhargava recently wrote for Alternet.org, “In social change efforts, there is a classic divide between those focused on the art of the possible and those devoted to changing what is possible.“</p> <p>Today both Democrats and the left (by “the left” I am referring primarily to the larger progressive entities such as labor unions, progressive foundations and public interest groups) are almost slavishly deferential to a rigid political culture that invests so much money and credibility in election season short-term tactics, (driven by polls and focus groups) that there are very few resources left for devising and implementing long-term narratives.</p> <p>There is currently an obsession among many progressive foundations to limit support to those projects which can be measured mathematically. The buzzword for measuring supposedly pragmatic proposals is “metrics.” This syndrome is part of the dynamic that led to the recent right wing surge. You can count how many people click onto a web page, how long it was viewed and how many people it was forwarded to but determining how much impact it has on the minds of the readers requires educated guesses and fallible intuitive human analysis. You can measure what people are thinking today but not what they will think a year (or two) from now<b>.</b></p> <p><span>Too little credence is paid to those who look to the future with creative intuition, either in the progressive news media, or the arts and culture or even in advertising.</span></p> <p> This over-reliance on research is not ideologically neutral. It reinforces narrow conventional wisdom. Decades of conservative indoctrination have produced a cohort of “independents” who usually veer toward the right unless there is an extraordinary crisis like Hurricane Katrina. Conservative Democrats are comfortable working within the existing public consciousness because it supports their agenda. Progressives must invest in changing minds not merely measuring them.</p> <p>In the last election a large segment of the American public decided to blame government instead of Wall Street for their problems. This did not come about by happenstance or an act of God. Corporation worship among the masses has been inculcated by decades of expensive conservative effort in many media and forums. The Koch bothers and others have poured large sums of money into the conservative idea factory. Because the right wing’s primary function is to represent the interests of big business, Republicans and conservatives have long had a more intimate relationship with the dark arts of persuasion than liberals. In <i>The Education of Ronald Reagan</i>, the pro-Reagan author Thomas Evans describes how the future president was hired in the 1950s by Lemuel Boulware, the marketing genius of General Electric, to convince the company’s workers not to unionize. Boulware wrote most of Reagan’s career-changing 1964 speech on behalf of Barry Goldwater. Richard Nixon’s powerful chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman spent twenty years at the J. Walter Thompson ad agency before moving to the White House. Reagan’s “Morning In America” re-election campaign was created by Phil Dusenberry who had created the Pepsi ad with Michael Jackson.</p> <p>It is not clear exactly why creative and intuitive messaging fell into such disrepute in Democratic and progressive circles. Perhaps, like of much of recent liberal politics, it was yet another reaction to the real and perceived wildness of the antiwar and social movements of the nineteen sixties and early seventies. Or maybe it was because liberals and Democratic activists lack marketing experience because they come from an academic background or because most liberal funders made their fortunes in finance or other businesses as a result of a brilliance at math and have a hard time surrendering to the vaguer craft of developing and sifting through creative work.</p> <p>Whatever the reason, too often this well-intentioned desire for “scientific” discipline has marginalized cultural tactics and produced counter-productive results. For example, idealistic, hard-working activists have long declined to push aggressively for public financing of all federal campaigns because researchers told them that the public opposed it. Instead they have raised money for and lobbied for “reforms” like the McCain-Feingold bill, which have accomplished little in terms of limiting the influence of money on Congress. What if these same groups had pounded away year after year on the supposedly quixotic agenda of public finance? Support for that policy would be a lot farther along than it is now maybe a majoritarian view.  Instead public financing’s unique virtues are only known by a tiny group of policy wonks.</p> <p>Similarly, focus groups indicated that emphasis on superior and more economical health care in other countries was perceived by swing voters as “unAmerican.” This kind of conventional wisdom informed the subsequent campaign by centrist Democratic allies to talk about health care reform in terms so vague that it allowed the right wing to turn it into a grotesque cartoon. Michael Moore, whom most beltway insiders dismiss as a renegade, did a much better job of framing the health care issue in his film <i>Sicko in 2007 </i>than did the Democrats or the left in 2009.</p> <p>There is an urgent need to develop funding for progressive media to partially counterbalance the huge investments that various conservative and authoritarian billionaires have made in recent decades. There are numerous under-funded progressive blogs, magazines, radio and video programs etc. on the left that with additional funding could immediately broaden their audience.</p> <p>The left also needs to frame and express issues in ways that resonate emotionally. The massive audiences that turned out for Barack Obama in 2008 did not typically describe themselves as “informed” but as “inspired.”  George Lakoff, Drew Westen, Michael Lerner and others have developed a language about how progressives can frame and express their beliefs in ways that touch the hearts of audiences but their influence had been marginalized in the election driven short-term research driven culture of supposedly serious political communication.</p> <p>Progressives need to learn from the mistakes of Air America and Democracy Radio and invest in getting non-conservative ideas and narratives onto the talk radio frequencies where 40 million commuters spend their listening time. In the arts and entertainment progressives enjoy a cultural advantage, but the liberal political establishment tends to have a love-hate relationship with show business, which minimizes this potentially valuable resource. In an era when the mainstream media is weaker and more fragmented than in the past, cultural avenues are vital even though the efforts in the creative worlds inevitably have mixed results.</p> <p>In a scene in an episode of the fourth season of <i>Mad Men</i> the show’s main character, Don Draper (with guidance from the copywriter played by Peggy Olson) intuits that the way to sell Pond’s Cold Cream is to show women it is a product with which to pamper themselves. A researcher had warned him that participants in female focus groups said that their main concern was whether or not a beauty product would help them get and keep a man. Draper fumed  “That’s because they haven’t seen a year’s worth of my ads.”</p> <p>Real life leaders in other aspects of culture have similarly recognized the limits of research. Film producer David Brown who, among his many accomplishments, hired the then unknown Steven Spielberg to direct <i>Jaws, </i>explained in his memoir <i>Let Me Entertain You</i> that researchers at many film studios rejected ideas for several films which later became blockbusters including <i>Gandhi </i>(too serious) <i>One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest </i>(too sad) and <i>ET</i>  (only of interest to small children). Both Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen commercially flopped on their first albums but were given the ability to make the subsequent recordings that made them famous because of the intuitive belief of the legendary A&amp;R man John Hammond.</p> <p>The book <i>When The Game Was Ours</i> recounts a moment in 1991 when Magic Johnson, diagnosed with the HIV virus, was voted by fans onto the NBA All Star team. Some team owners were nervous at a time when many people wrongly believed that HIV or AIDS could be transmitted by bodily contact or sweat but NBA commissioner David Stern insisted that Johnson should take his place as one of the starters for the West Coast team.” Aren’t you getting a little too ahead of the curve on this?” asked one owner. “Why don’t we do some polling?”  “No,” Stern answered, “That doesn’t work for me. I think we can affect the polls.”</p> <p>Research is seductive because it has the aura of rationality. But public opinion forms in mysterious ways. Attempts at persuasion require experimentation, the risk of failure, crazy ideas and temperamental creative personalities. But if progressives want to “make” the President or other Democrats do anything, they will need to rely less on math men and more on mad men.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Danny Goldberg was CEO of Air America Radio from 2005 until mid-2006. He is president of Gold Village Entertainment and has worked in the music business since the late 1960s. <a href="http://www.dannygoldberg.com/index.html">Check out his blog</a>. </div></div></div> Sun, 21 Nov 2010 09:00:01 -0800 Danny Goldberg, The Nation 664318 at http://orgwww.globalexchange.orgwww.endthewar.orgwww.zmag.orgwww.alternet.org Tea Party and the Right Tea Party and the Right politics conservatives progressives right wing public opinion ignorance Air America Radio, RIP -- It Didn't Have to Be This Way http://orgwww.globalexchange.orgwww.endthewar.orgwww.zmag.orgwww.alternet.org/story/145460/air_america_radio%2C_rip_--_it_didn%27t_have_to_be_this_way <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Conservatives believe in spending whatever it takes to promote their ideas through the media. The crash of Air America shows that progressives don&#039;t have the right attitude.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>I think the <em>New York Times</em> got it exactly wrong on Monday in declaring that "the enduring legacy of Air America's failure is that political media from either side of the aisle is more successful when run as a business instead of a crusade."<br /><br /> That very attitude is what has hobbled the growth of liberal talk radio, but conservatives have never thought about media that way and they still don't. The week before Air America shut its doors the Rev. James Dobson announced he was starting a new radio show with his son Ryan, a 39-year-old tattooed surfer who shares his father's ultra-conservative views. On Dobson's Facebook page he asked his supporters to fund the new show. "Your participation will be greatly appreciated, especially during this time when startup costs will be very expensive. The budget for the first year, including the costs of radio airtime, will be about two million dollars."<br /><br /> Conservatives believe in doing whatever it takes to promote their ideas. Richard Viguerie, viewed as one of the architects of the modern conservative movement, wrote a book in 2004 called <em>America's Right Turn: How Conservatives Used New and Alternative Media To Take Power</em>, in which he explains how the right wing used talk radio among other tools. Viguerie stresses that conservatives understand that ideological change does not usually occur overnight; that it takes patience and long-term thinking to build a movement.<br /><br /> In the early 1970s the <em>Washington Post</em> and <em>New York Times</em> were instrumental in helping expose the Watergate scandal and publishing the Pentagon Papers. Conservatives felt liberals had an advantage in setting the agenda because of the influence of New York and DC newspapers on the national media. In 1976 Rupert Murdoch bought the <em>New York Post</em> and it has lost money every year since—the total loss estimated to be more than half a billion dollars.</p> <p>In 1983, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon created the <em>Washington Times</em>, which has also lost money every year. Widely published reports place Moon's losses at over $1 billion on the <em>Times</em> and other political media including a purchase of the venerable wire service UPI. These money-losing properties have put dozens of conservatively slanted stories onto the national radar screen, altered the framing of every important political issue and nurtured virtually every right-wing pundit who now thrives as a TV talking head.<br /><br /> More recently, Phillip Anschutz bought the money-losing <em>Weekly Standard</em> from Murdoch and announced plans to invest in more conservative media. Meanwhile his fellow billionaire and former Republican Treasury Secretary Pete Petersen started a digital news service called the<em>Fiscal Times.</em><br /><br /> The fatal flaw in Air America's genetic code was the pretense that liberal talk radio was a great business opportunity, that progressives could have their cake and eat it too, could do well by doing good, make big salaries and get a great return on investment while also pursuing an ideological agenda. Sure, every once in a while political media like Michael Moore's movies or Rush Limbaugh's radio show will make money, but for those interested in influencing public opinion, media in all venues is vital whether it makes money or not.<br /><br /> Air America's lesser-known competitor, Democracy Radio, had a more coherent rationale. Set up as a non-profit it spawned the Ed Schultz Show and the Stephanie Miller show, both of which survive but would never have been launched were it not for Democracy Radio's initial funding. (Democracy Radio folded in 2006 as a result of a lack of financial support from progressive donors.)<br /><br /> Some blame bad management for the failure of both Air America and Democracy Radio, and since I spent one unhappy year midway through Air America's life as its CEO I suppose I am one of a dozen or so who are in that category. But if progressives really wanted to address talk radio they could have started competing companies with different management. Instead, most of the monied progressive community did the opposite of their conservative counterparts and bought into the notion that media should stand or fall based on media market forces.<br /><br /> It's not that the left doesn't have money to spend on communication. Labor unions, public interest groups and Internet activists have raised and spent tens of millions of dollars on TV spots and digital marketing even during non-election years.<br /><br /> One-hundred-thirty-eight million people commute to and from work in automobiles, where they have no access to computer or TV screens. For around a third of them, or 48 million, AM talk radio is their entertainment of choice. Of the top 10 AM talk radio shows, nine are hosted by extreme conservatives, giving the right wing a captive audience of around 40 million listeners a week—at least seven times greater than the combined audiences of Fox News, CNN and MSNBC. Talk radio's audience dwarfs that of every other category in the news political arena, including the network news and Sunday shows, NPR's public affairs shows and political Web sites.<br /><br /> It was not preordained that all of the millions of people who identify with the Tea Party movement would believe the conservative narrative that the economic ills afflicting the middle class are the result of liberalism. But given that tens of millions of them had no alternative explanations or solutions, it is not surprising that conservative ideas and candidates are ascendant.<br /><br /> Many progressives blame the current political climate on the Obama administration. While I disagree with a number of Obama's decisions, including his Afghanistan policy, why should progressives expect any president to lead the way on our issues given the nature of our political system? At the outset of the Obama administration there were dozens of columns reminding progressives that Franklin Delano Roosevelt had told liberal activists of his day to "make" him initiative progressive programs by mobilizing public opinion.</p> <p>Instead, most of today's progressives spent the last year talking to themselves while conservatives convinced millions of people that global warming is a hoax, that torture is required to keep America safe, that non-millionaires in Canada and Europe have worse health care than their American counterparts. The right wing could never have convinced 45 percent of Americans that the Democrats wanted "death panels" if their outreach was limited to Sarah Palin's Facebook page and the three million people a night who watch Fox's highest-rated shows.<br /><br /> Perhaps the major liberal donors are confused because they became accustomed to focus groups and polling, which are useful tools in predicting short-term public reaction to political messages. They can tell you if a particular TV spot will turn off swing voters two weeks before an election. But long-term political ideas have a more complex and uncertain creative path. Conservatives understand the need to focus on both long- and short-term political communication. Or maybe media advisers and consultants who advise labor unions and an assortment of progressive groups on media strategy are culturally uncomfortable with the crude language of AM talk radio and other mass culture, or are nervous about losing control of their "message."</p> <p>Whatever the reasons, the theory of leaving political media to the marketplace has enabled a status quo in which one-third of the American public are never exposed to progressive ideas or even to facts that are incompatible with the right-wing narrative.<br /><br /> To be fair -- the radio business has an idiosyncratic culture that is hard for outsiders to grasp. In 1987 when the Reagan administration ended the Fairness Doctrine the cultural landscape was such that many conservatives felt under-served by the mainstream media of the time. Rush Limbaugh was able to use his considerable broadcasting skills to attract millions of them as an audience and revive the economic fortunes of AM radio stations around the country. At the same time, as Viguerie describes in his book, conservatives focused on small market stations for religious and political purposes and helped create an infrastructure that continues to serve them well. Traditional radio stations attract audiences based on "formats" that group together demographic cohorts. Thus music radio is either R&amp;B, pop, rock, country or various versions or hybrids of those genres. A listener to a country station would not want to hear a Metallica song sandwiched in between Toby Keith and Sugarland. While liberals ignored AM radio, viewing it as a passe medium for troglodytes, conservatives honed their skill at talk radio and by the '90s, most liberal moderate talk hosts had been taken off the air because they did not fit into what was now the "conservative talk" format.<br /><br /> Many of the radio executives who programmed the right-wing radio stations and produced the shows did not agree with their politics, but like most business people, they gravitated to the easiest path to make the most money the quickest. These radio people understandably were not going to be motivated by an ideological agenda, even one they agreed with. But activists and public interest groups are supposed to be motivated by ideology.<br /><br /> When Air America and Democracy Radio launched in 2003 they faced not only a lack of liberal talent with the broadcasting chops to entertain radio listeners, but also a lack of stations on which to place programs, even featuring someone with the celebrity of Al Franken. One of the main reasons a sizable investment was needed (though nothing like the scale of the investment made by Murdoch and Moon in money-losing right-wing newspapers) was the need to create enough programming to fill up station time 24/7 so as to justify a "progressive talk" formatted station. Conservative talk had a 17-year head start, and there just weren't enough experienced broadcasters with progressive politics to create a format.</p> <p>Identifying, developing and marketing talent takes a lot of experimentation with a predictable amount of failures in order to establish successes. This is part of the reason it took even an ultimately successful company like Fox News years to turn a profit. Another need for investment was to market a brand-new format with lots of personalities new to radio and to give incentives for radio station owners in smaller markets to give the new format a chance.<br /><br /> There are some who claim that liberals are just no good at talk radio. Right-wingers accuse liberal talkers of being elitists who don't understand radio entertainment. Some on the left feel the talk radio audience demands a simplistic, angry, polarizing tone that is incompatible with progressive values. Both theories are nonsense.</p> <p>I am an unabashed Al Franken fan, but even if one disliked his style or politics, the fact is that his show attracted several million listeners a week on AM talk radio stations and because of the under-development of the liberal talk format, it could only be heard, at its peak, by around half of America's radio listeners. Ed Schultz has reached a comparable number and he too has not been able to get broadcast in markets where conservative talk is the only game in town. The apex of Air America's penetration was in 2005-2006 and it not only helped broaden the audience for progressive bloggers who were regular guests, but gave activists like Cindy Sheehan access to Americans who do not listen to the Amy Goodman show or read the <em>Nation</em>. Just as conservative investment in the intellectual world eventually produced legitimate conservative academics and writers, so would liberal investment in the populist media result in more Rachel Maddows.<br /><br /> In Viguerie's final chapter he writes that Air America "was the most ambitious effort by liberals so far to compete with conservatives in the alternative media marketplace." He nervously acknowledges Air America for "turning to articulate entertainers with liberal political convictions." But he was confident it would not succeed because of what he called liberals' "fear of long-term commitment," adding, "Conservatives didn't build their alternate media empire overnight. It was the result of decades of hard work."</p> <p>Viguerie presciently observed that Air America had "inadequate capitalization. Starting a network with clout will cost a lot more than the $20-30 million they claim to have raised. And to start to expect to make a profit in just four years in unrealistic. Ask Rupert Murdoch."<br /><br /> Although the earliest and wackiest group of Air America owners overspent on a few items like studios and initial salaries, within months the primary characteristic of Air America was a lack of cash for marketing, affiliate growth and talent development. The pressure from wealthy liberals was not to create a long-term strategy as conservatives had done, but to show a business model that would turn a profit in a year or two.<br /><br /> Thus, several ill-fated iterations of Air America were driven by delusional projections of traditional business viability. Consequently they misled themselves and staff regarding what resources would be available and then inflicted onerous cuts on a business that was already underfunded. During my brief tenure I received thousands of hate mails from fans of comedian Marc Maron whose morning drive time show (the time when most commuters listen) was canceled in order to move Rachel Maddow from the obscure 5am time slot into the morning drive. Given her talent and discipline it is likely that Rachel Maddow's success was preordained, but there is no question that the audience she developed in drive time was one of the assets she brought to MSNBC. However, if there hadn't been such a cash crunch, there would have been a way of developing Maddow, keeping Maron and also giving more talent a real chance.<br /><br /> By 2004, the radio business, after years of robust growth that made it a darling of investment bankers, was beginning to feel the erosion of its business model experienced by all "old media." The idea that conventional investors would find a liberal talk syndication company a sexy investment was laughable. Contrary to published reports, there were and are numerous radio people involved in running various versions of progressive radio but they all found it was not a particularly good business based on pure economics. That doesn't mean it wasn't and isn't a good political investment for progressives whose agenda is to battle conservative ideology.<br /><br /> Thom Hartmann, Bill Press, Randy Rhodes, Stephanie Miller, Ron Reagan and many other liberal radio survivors deserve all the credit in the world for their resourcefulness and their commitment. But the broader progressive community should not be leaving them to a Darwinian world while the likes of James Dobson continue to raise ideological money to further broaden the hold of right-wing mythology on the minds of 48 million commuters who happen to like talk radio's rhythms.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Danny Goldberg was CEO of Air America Radio from 2005 until mid-2006. He is president of Gold Village Entertainment and has worked in the music business since the late 1960s. <a href="http://www.dannygoldberg.com/index.html">Check out his blog</a>. </div></div></div> Wed, 27 Jan 2010 21:00:01 -0800 Danny Goldberg, AlterNet 660821 at http://orgwww.globalexchange.orgwww.endthewar.orgwww.zmag.orgwww.alternet.org Media Media thom hartmann air america radio bill press randy rhodes stephanie miller ron reagan Right-Wing Media Gets Desperate http://orgwww.globalexchange.orgwww.endthewar.orgwww.zmag.orgwww.alternet.org/story/26178/right-wing_media_gets_desperate <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Business is booming at Air America; so Limbaugh and O&#039;Reilly have started spreading lies about the network&#039;s looming bellyflop.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Recently, Air America Radio came under attack from the same cast of right-wing media characters who have attacked the network for ideological reasons from day one.<br /><br />A recent piece in the <i>New York Post</i> by John Mainelli states that, "Air America is in ... bad financial shape." On Sept. 20, Bill O'Reilly on Fox News which, like the <i>New York Post</i> is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation said that Air America "could be on its last legs."<br /><br />This is untrue. Air America is in strong financial shape. Last week we started broadcasting from our new multi-million dollar studios.<br /><br />Several weeks earlier the Board of Directors of Air America's parent company accelerated re-payment of a loan from the Gloria Wise Boys and Girls Club of $875,000 two years in advance of a previously agreed upon repayment plan. In the last several months, Air America has expanded its executive team to augment our efforts on the internet and in affiliate relations.<br /><br />The pretext for the latest smears is an initiative I launched last week called Air America Associates, in which I asked our listeners to support our programming financially and at various levels offer bumper stickers, tote bags, etc. as a way of thanking them. (We received thousands of responses, far beyond what we projected for the first few days).<br /><br />Many of our listeners also listen to NPR stations and Pacifica and are used to supporting radio programming they like. I got the idea from the <i>Nation Magazine</i>'s program, "The Nation Associates," which helps them fund investigative journalism. Like Air America Radio, <i>The Nation</i> is a for-profit company.<br /><br />But the conservative propagandists have tried to make it seem like there is something unseemly because Air America Radio is both commercial-and a radio network, as O'Reilly said last night, "I have never seen a commercial enterprise ask their listeners for money-ever." This is also false. The modern model of the broadcasting business involves numerous revenue streams. If anything, Air America has been late in fully building such an infrastructure which the "Associates" is a part of.<br /><br />For example, Rush Limbaugh's website offers his fans the "Limbaugh Letter" for $34.95 a year and a totally separate service called Rush 24/7 which includes access to archived programs at the cost of $49.95 a year. The Limbaugh site also features the "EIB Store" which sells such items as $19.95 polo shirt which amusingly says, "My Mullah went to G'itmo and all I got was this lousy T-shirt."<br /><br />The Sean Hannity Web-site features a "subscription" to something called, "The Hannity Insider" for $5.95 a month.<br /><br />But no one tops the self proclaimed non-spinner Bill O'Reilly. Bill O'Reilly.com offers a "premium membership" for either $4.95 a month or $49.95 a year. He also offers a "Gift certificate" for $14.95. Products for sale on the Web site include:<br /><br /><ul><br /><li> Radio Factor diner coffee mug available in white or navy blue for $14.95</li><br /><li> O'Reilly Factor keychain for $7.95 "while supplies last."</li><br /><li> Three different "No Spin" tote bags at $14.95 apiece </li><br /><li> Ten different hats at a cost of $16.95 each </li><br /><li> The "no spin" jacket for $79.95 </li><br /><li> The " Unisex Black Fleece" embroidered with "The Spin Stops Here" for $39.95 </li><br /><li> Several bumper stickers including one that reads "Boycott France" for $2.50 </li><br /><li> License plate frame for $18.95 </li> <li> Three different "No Spin" tote bags at $14.95 each </li><br /><li> An O'Reilly Factor Gear Bag at $64.95 </li><br /><li> "Mens Garment Bag" for $64.95 (sorry ladies!)</li><br /><li> A "Spin Stops Here" organizer briefcase </li><br /><li> A "Spin Stops Here" pen and pad bundle for $19.95 </li><br /><li> Two different designs of "Spin Stops Here" doormats for $49.95 and </li><br /><li> Two different "Rain Stops Here" umbrellas at $24.95("Show everyone who protects you from the rain")</li><br /></ul><br /><br />Mainelli's article also repeated another falsehood about Air America saying "More recently the 70 station left network has been suffering lower ratings." His corporate cousin O'Reilly wishfully stated on August 17 said "Air America-nobody is listening to it," On Aug 3rd O'Reilly claimed that "Air America cannot support itself because of low ratings," and on July 26 O'Reilly said "The Air America radio network continues to fail with catastrophic ratings here in New York City. "<br /><br />In fact, the ratings for the Bill O'Reilly radio show in New York were worse than those on Air America that he described as "catastrophic" In the key 25 to 54 year demographic which talk radio offers to advertisers, the Spring, 2005 Arbitron ratings showed that Monday to Friday from 2 to 4 PM when O'Reilly is on WOR-AM and which at Air America's 1190 WLIB-AM contains the last hour of "<i>The Al Franken Show</i>" and the first hour of "<i>The Randi Rhodes Show</i>," that O'Reilly had a .3 share and Air America a .4 share. O'Reilly had a cumulative audience of 75,400 and Air America had a cumulative audience of 89,300.<br /><br />Inevitably ratings go up and down and vary from time slot to time slot and from market to market. Right wing bloggers have had fun cherry picking isolated pieces of ratings reports to distort the enormous enthusiasm Air America's growing audience has demonstrated. At the vast majority of our affiliates Air America ratings are up. On a nation-wide basis the most recent Arbitron ratings Spring 2005 book showed that our affiliates reach over three million people per week each of whom listens for an average of several hours a week. This is more than triple the amount of people who were listening when measured one year earlier in the Spring, 2004 book.<br /><br />I do not intend to write something every time something like this happens. In the almost six months during which I have been CEO of Air America Radio, I have refrained, for the most part, from responding to the litany of attacks, lies, half-truths and smears from various members of the right-wing media. In general, it seems to me that paying too much attention to these people only encourages them and that we, at Air America, need to get used to the fact that the spirited progressive opinions of our on-air talent and of our audience will attract the kind of mean-spirited smears that are endemic to contemporary political conversation.<br /><br />After having a near monopoly on talk radio for so many years, some conservative media types are literally freaked out at confronting robust, persistent and passionate opposition. On Sept. 26, O'Reilly desperately claimed that "Air America's basic flaw is that "Americans do not want to hear that their country sucks 24 hours a day." Of course the talent and management of Air America have a love of our country which is what animates all passionate debate on political issues form the left, right and center.<br /><br />It is an obsession with stifling debate --even at the cost of using lies and distortions, which is un-American. <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Danny Goldberg is the CEO of Air America Radio. </div></div></div> Thu, 29 Sep 2005 21:00:01 -0700 Danny Goldberg, Huffington Post 630799 at http://orgwww.globalexchange.orgwww.endthewar.orgwww.zmag.orgwww.alternet.org Media Media Hollywood on Trial http://orgwww.globalexchange.orgwww.endthewar.orgwww.zmag.orgwww.alternet.org/story/20567/hollywood_on_trial <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Liberal Hollywood has been blamed for swinging moral values voters towards Bush. But could Whoopi&#039;s joke or Jennifer Aniston&#039;s expletive really have been so influential?</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->In the weeks since John Kerry's defeat in the presidential election, many Democratic politicians and the consultants who run their campaigns and various members of what Eric Alterman calls "the so-called liberal media" have suggested a variety of scapegoats to distract attention from the central strategic mistakes of the national Democratic party in recent years. Despite the obvious fact that decisive leadership and its relation to the war on terrorism was the driving gestalt of the campaign, many pundits pointed to gay marriage as a key to President Bush's victory. Despite the <a href="http://www.alternet.org/wiretap/20401/">unprecedented turnout</a> of younger voters and the fact that they were the only age group to favor John Kerry, numerous articles inaccurately claimed that the youth turnout did not increase or help the Democrats. Not surprisingly, that favorite whipping boy of the conventional wisdom crowd, liberal Hollywood, has now been added to the list of scapegoats – branded a supposed swing factor for the 22 percent of voters felt that "moral values" was the most important election issue.<br /><br />Of course no one knows exactly what those voters who cited "moral values" meant. Democrats never had much of a chance at getting voters for whom abortion and gay marriage are litmus tests, so it's hard to figure out exactly which voters would have accepted Kerry's moderate position on those issues but would have switched from Bush to Kerry if the senator had expressed more moral dudgeon about Janet Jackson's breast – the appearance of which New York Times columnist William Safire bizarrely called "the social political event of the year." (Apparently the Super Bowl commercials for Cialis that discussed the perils of 4-hour erections are off limits for criticism by pro-corporate moralists of both parties.)<br /><br />In a recent Los Angeles Times article Patrick Goldstein said "Hollywood took it on the chin" in the recent election. In fact, the entertainment business was much less of a factor in 2004 than it was in the two previous elections when the losers, Bob Dole in 1996 and Al Gore and Joe Lieberman in 2000 specifically injected moral criticism of Hollywood into their campaigns, not because they could do anything about the popular culture but supposedly to show empathy for families appalled by coarseness and profanity.<br /><br />Goldstein mentioned a handful of harsh references to President Bush made by assorted celebrities during the recent campaign (the same ones that Stephanie Mansfield of the right-wing Washington Times had cited a week before): Jennifer Aniston, the "Friends" actress who called Mr. Bush "a fucking idiot"; John Mellencamp, who described Mr. Bush as "a cheap thug"; and Cher, who called Bush "stupid and lazy." Then there was the Whoopi Goldberg joke, a pun based on the President's last name that she told at a Kerry fundraiser at Radio City Music Hall.<br /><br />No one denies that some entertainers said stupid things at Kerry fundraisers and they should be criticized for the remarks. But there were literally thousands of entertainment/political events during the campaign, so why single out this handful? Certainly it's not the dirty words, given the widely documented profane outbursts by both Bush and Cheney. It may not be the smartest tactic to so bluntly insult a sitting president, but no entertainer remotely equaled the contempt that Republicans heaped on President Clinton. Congressman Dan Burton called him a "scumbag," and Jerry Fallwell enthusiastically hawked a video that accused Clinton of murder. No conservative columnists or politicians suggested that Republicans back away from <i>them</i>.<br /><br />During a campaign season that included the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, an escalation in fighting with hundreds of U.S. forces killed, rising gas prices and unavailability of flu shots, is it actually plausible to suggest that Whoopi's joke or Jennifer Aniston's expletive had an effect on the election's outcome? They didn't do exit polls about <i>that</i>. The only Hollywood-related quote that was ever cited by the Bush campaign came from not from anyone in showbiz but from John Kerry himself, when he said the Radio City performers represented "the heart and soul of America." A simple "thank you" would have sufficed.<br /><br />Of course for Democratic campaign consultants and their friends in the media it's much better to point fingers at a tiny minority of Democratic celebrities who <i>raised</i> money than to question the competence of the supposed experts who <i>spent</i> the money on the losing campaign.<br /><br />Goldstein approvingly quoted former Clinton chief of staff Leon Panetta as saying "The party of FDR has become the party of Michael Moore and that doesn't help the party." Similarly, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote in a post-election column, "Firing up the base means turning off swing voters. Gov. Mike Johanns, a Nebraska Republican told me that each time Michael Moore spoke up for John Kerry, Mr. Kerry's support among Nebraskans took a dive."<br /><br />Of course, Michael Moore did not run for president. John Kerry did. Nor did Moore run John Kerry's campaign. The analogue to Michael Moore (and Al Franken) is William Buckley, who created a vigorous and unapologetic conservative presence in the media in the 1960s that contributed enormously to today's conservative establishment.<br /><br />It is surreal for a deficit hawk such as Panetta to attack an advocate for the working class such as Michael Moore on the basis of Franklin Roosevelt's legacy, but maybe he feels that Roosevelt should only be remembered for fighting a war and not for the New Deal. As far as showbiz contact goes, Roosevelt was very close to a number of entertainers and people in the media – such as columnist Walter Winchell, whom he regularly invited to the White House, actor and comedian Will Rogers, and director Frank Capra, whom he commissioned to make a series of films to explain to American servicemen and their families why the United States was fighting World War II.<br /><br />Nebraska, it goes without saying, is not a swing state, and it implausible that there were polls that measured the effect of Michael Moore's utterances. More to the point, it is pretty silly to ask Republicans for advice on how Democrats can win. They want Democrats to lose and they know that anything they say in the media is part of what political pros call "the permanent campaign." It is more likely that the Republicans are trying to psyche out their opponents so that they stay distant from one of their most valuable allies.<br /><br />It should be noted that Moore has virtually nothing to do with the conventional entertainment business. "Farenheit 9-11" was rejected by all Hollywood studios. Moore is offensive to middle-of-the-road Democrats not because he is casual about his politics, which is the usual criticism of celebrities, but precisely because he is so serious. Moore opposed the war in Iraq in contrast to Democratic congressional leaders and Kerry and Edwards. Democrats should recognize that Moore's fierce opposition to Ralph Nader and firm support for John Kerry was a major factor in Nader's lack of success in attracting anti-war votes this year.<br /><br />The most Orwellian element in the conventional wisdom that bashes Hollywood liberals is the way that actors magically become wise political leaders as soon as they become Republicans. Arnold Schwarzenegger is to be treated as a political phenomenon and potential president. Ron Silver, who supported Bush, was given a speaking spot at the Republican convention. One can't help but think that if Silver were against the war and Tim Robbins favored it that the same people who now treat Silver as a sage would be making fun of him and the same people who belittle Robbins would be posing for pictures with him.<br /><br />The reason why many actors became so politically visible last year was that Democratic leaders, ignoring the vast majority of their supporters, failed to oppose the war in Iraq and failed to articulate core Democratic values. If the Democratic congressional leadership had reflected their constituency and voted against the war, Sean Penn would have gotten a lot less TV time. If the so-called liberal media had reported all of the news, Michael Moore would have lacked most of the content of "Farenheit 9-11."<br /><br />Kristof and his ilk seemed to think that "rallying the base" is a political mistake but it was the primary strategy of Karl Rove, the mastermind of Bush's victories. Although many conservative supporters of President Bush, such as Rush Limbaugh and Jerry Falwell, have made some astoundingly impolitic statements even by Republican standards, it is unimaginable that conservative columnists or politicians would publicly disparage them or suggest that they did more harm than good. Republicans are not threatened by populist conservatives, they work with them. That is one of he reasons why they win.<br /><br />A few weeks before the election, Time Magazine asked voters whether each candidate "stuck to their positions." Bush got the affirmative answer from 84 percent while Kerry got a "yes" from only 37 percent. Bush's most popular line on the campaign trail had nothing to do with Hollywood, it was "You may not always agree with what I do, but you will always know where I stand." Until the Democrats produce candidates who can say that and be believed, tens of millions of American progressives will be forced to turn to Michael Moore and anyone else who stands up for a modern, moral progressive politics.<br /><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Danny Goldberg is CEO of Artemis Records and author of the book "<a href="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0786868961/qid=1101157927/sr=8-1/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i1_xgl14/104-9655152-4269526?v=glance&amp;s=books&amp;n=507846">Dispatches From the Culture Wars: How The Left Lost Teen Spirit</a>." </div></div></div> Mon, 22 Nov 2004 21:00:01 -0800 Danny Goldberg, AlterNet 610780 at http://orgwww.globalexchange.orgwww.endthewar.orgwww.zmag.orgwww.alternet.org Election 2004 Election 2004 How the Left Can Get Its Groove Back http://orgwww.globalexchange.orgwww.endthewar.orgwww.zmag.orgwww.alternet.org/story/16225/how_the_left_can_get_its_groove_back <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">It&#039;s time progressives started speaking the language of America and Democrats started defending themselves and the country.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><i>The follow excerpts are drawn from chapters 14 and 15 of the just published "Dispatches from the Culture Wars: How the Left Lost Teen Spirit."</i><br /><br />A few months the 2002 election I opened an envelope from the Democratic Senatorial Election Committee (DSEC) to find an invitation to a fund-raiser, featuring Senate majority leader Tom Daschle. The entire front page of the mailing consisted of the following quote: "Never before in modern history have the essential differences between the two major political American parties stood out in such striking contrast, as they do today." The quote was from former president Franklin Delano Roosevelt and dated 1945. It seemed to me a terrible commentary on today's Democrats that they had to go back to the 1940s to evoke a contrast with Republicans.<br /><br />The differences between the parties were indeed vivid 57 years ago in the wake of the New Deal and during the end of World War II. The Democrats' problem is that unlike the way it was during the late 1940s, the differences between the parties today are not clear to many of their own supporters, not to mention nonvoters, Nader voters, and swing voters.<br /><br /><br />By the early summer of 2002 it was clear that the Washington consultants for the Democrats had determined that "swing voters" could be swayed by focusing on prescription drug benefits, protecting Social Security, and warning of the impact of Bush economics on the stock market. These were all perfectly valid issues, but again most Democratic candidates had deliberately avoided issues of interest to younger voters and to many other parts of the Democratic base. There was no overarching moral vision of the appropriate role of government, a role that could have been articulated vividly after September 11. There were little or no references to poverty, to public financing of political campaigns, or to national service.<br /><br />There was no questioning of the drug war nor any passion about the environment. This all took place against the backdrop of a Democratic strategy in the years leading up to the election in which consultants treated all messages as if they were in the last stages of a hotly contested election. Instead of looking at long-term opinion growth, they were focusing year-round on the sliver of "swing voters" who represent approximately 10 percent of those who actually vote. No attention was given to the half of the eligible people who choose not to vote. Far too little attention was given to issues that inspire emotional intensity on the part of activists who can influence media and turnout. Even among "swing voters" the assumption was that they are undecided because they are centrist on every issue. In fact, many such voters have strong convictions but can't figure out which party's candidate represents their views.<br /><br />If one were to dig down and read every detailed position paper of the Democrats, in many cases one would find that there were indeed significant differences from Republicans. For someone like me, who places importance on judicial appointments, and who closely follows the Senate debates, it was not difficult to root for a Democratic Senate. But it was not at all surprising to me that most voters who follow the popular media had no idea what Democrats stood for.<br /><br />Democratic strategists seem to have assumed that any reference to September 11 would automatically benefit Republicans. Instead of offering a much-needed debate about security and foreign policy, they naïvely tried to avoid the subjects that were uppermost in the minds of most Americans. As Arthur Schlesinger had pointed out, the Democrats had traditionally been the party that stressed the need for collective action via government. Why hadn't there been a more aggressive government action to protect harbors, train stations, and nuclear power facilities? Why was it so important to the Bush administration to prevent new union members from being minted in a department of homeland security that the Republicans were willing to put off the creation of such a department? These were not esoteric challenges but ones that could have put Democrats at the emotional heart of the concerns of most Americans. Instead, most Democrats robotically repeated concerns about "prescription drugs" as their advisors had directed as if all other issues were irrelevant.<br /><br />I couldn't understand why the Democrats weren't calling for energy independence. It seemed obvious to me that oil affects our relationships in the Middle East, where so much terrorism originates. Moreover, Bush and Cheney both have oil industry backgrounds. Progressive publicist David Fenton suggested that a goal of energy independence could be a progressive goal similar to President Kennedy's commitment to get a man on the moon . . . .<br /><br />Why assume that Republicans had the unique ability to prepare the nation for future attacks? September 11 had occurred on the Republicans' watch. No one was held accountable for security lapses. Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle had enormous moral authority on the subject of fighting terrorism because his office had been the target of an anthrax attack. Yet Daschle mysteriously avoided debating the Bush security policy and rarely mentioned that the search for the anthrax criminals had turned up no suspects nor even any theories of the attack's source. Another issue that Washington mavens avoided was the performance of Attorney General Ashcroft.<br /><br />Early in the year Bob Borosage, who ran a progressive think tank called the American Future, floated the idea to civil liberties groups and progressive Democrats that there should be a national campaign demanding the resignation of Ashcroft. Many progressives felt that Ashcroft had crossed the line on a number of important civil liberties issues and seemed oddly focused on unpopular cultural conservative issues. Weeks after September 11, when the nation was looking toward Washington for ideas about improving security, Ashcroft's Justice Department instead filed a lawsuit in Oregon to prevent implementation of a "right to die" law that Oregon voters had supported in a ballot initiative. For months Ashcroft had kept FBI agents focused on the drug war instead of the war on terrorism. Most absurdly, Ashcroft ordered covering for nude statues in front of the Justice Department Building.<br /><br />However, neither public interest groups nor progressive Democrats chose to make Ashcroft an issue. As summer turned to fall, the Bush administration's push for a preemptive war against Iraq intensified. Bush chief of staff Andy Card implicitly acknowledged the administration's PR strategy when he told a reporter that "August is not a good time to introduce a new product," in reference to the timing of the planned initiative to convert the American public to support of a war. Bush was said to have insisted to his staff that the resolution authorizing a war against Iraq be "so simple that the boys in Lubbock can understand it."<br /><br />Given the awkward and jumbled response of those Democrats who opposed Bush's policy, it was obvious that the antiwar forces were not thinking anywhere near as effectively. I recognize that there are many progressives, people who are passionately pro-environment, pro-civil liberties, and deeply concerned about poverty, who nonetheless agree with the Bush foreign policy relative to Saddam Hussein and Iraq. However, much of the Democratic support of Bush's foreign policy was said to be based on the dubious theory that by avoiding debate on the war, Democrats could get the focus of the nation back on the economy, which pollsters indicated was a better issue for the Democrats. The conventional wisdom of centrist Democrats relative to Iraq was laid out by Senator Zell Miller of Georgia in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece in October. Cleverly entitled "That 70's Show," the piece managed to get in the now fetishistic Democratic insult to entertainment stars who supported the party. Miller's thesis was that the failed McGovern campaign of 1972 was still, thirty years later, the key cautionary tale for twenty-first-century Democrats. Miller, who had been a delegate for Vietnam hawk Henry Jackson at the Democratic Convention in 1972, recalled smelling "tear gas mingling with marijuana smoke."<br /><br />Miller opined that "the 'peace at almost any price' position is a loser for the Democrats," adding that "the extreme left will . . . put their money, their emotion, their Ms. Streisand's vocal cords" into an antiwar movement. Of course, no one on the antiwar side advocated "peace at any price." The debate was over whether or not to initiate an unprecedented preemptive war, and the most coherent arguments from the political world against war with Iraq had come from Republicans such as Brent Scowcroft, the national security advisor for the first President Bush, and conservative Democratic senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia. Miller advised Democrats to "respond with strength and boldness not with the same failed script that doomed us 30 years ago."<br /><br />No national Democrat saw fit to remind Miller that the biggest "failed script" of the early seventies was the continuation of the Vietnam War itself, nor that a "message" tailored for conservative Georgia might not be appropriate for national Democrats. Instead, national Democrats, as expressed through the views of House leader Richard Gephardt and Senate leader Tom Daschle, bought into Miller's argument and supported the president's request for authorization for a war against Iraq. Those Democrats who disagreed with their congressional leadership made speeches on the floor of Congress and dutifully voted against the bill, but none of them spoke at antiwar rallies or staged teach-ins or expressed themselves in a way that was comprehensible to most Americans. At a moment when the Bush administration was making a radical change in American foreign policy, Democrats allowed the Bush administration to decide that a preemptive war was morally and politically valid without so much as a spirited and detailed debate. Why would anyone other than lifelong Democrats be attracted to candidates of a party who so stubbornly refused to engage this crucial issue?<br /><br />Al Gore, who had been eerily absent from the public stage since winning a plurality of votes for president, made one speech articulating reservations about Bush's plan for a preemptive war, but rather than expanding on his position, he hastily retreated from public debate on the issue. Hillary Clinton, like the Democratic congressional leadership, voted in favor of Bush's war authorization bill. Of those Democratic senators up for reelection, only the late Paul Wellstone, who was tragically killed in an airplane accident shortly before the election, voted against Bush. Wellstone was leading in Minnesota polls taken just prior to his death. When Minnesota Democrats picked former vice president Walter Mondale, he followed the lead of national Democratic leaders and avoided the issue of Iraq, emphasizing instead his detailed knowledge of Senate rules. He lost.<br /><br />After both houses of Congress passed the resolution giving President Bush the authority to go to war with Iraq, New York Times columnist Frank Rich pointedly wrote, "Perhaps more than he intended, Tom Daschle summed up the feeble thrust of his party's opposition on Meet the Press last weekend when he observed, 'The bottom line is . . . we want to move on.' Now his wish has come true -- but move on to what? The dirty secret of the Democrats is that they have no more of an economic plan than they had an Iraq plan." As I mentioned in the introduction to this book, the Democrats in 2002 did such a poor job of defending their agenda that a New York Times poll published on the Sunday before the election showed that only 31 percent of the electorate thought that the party had "a clear plan for the country." What makes this heartbreaking for progressives is that there are plenty of excellent plans gathering dust in the offices of policy wonks in Washington. What was lacking was the political judgment to advocate progressive government, and what was present was a cultural myopia among political consultants that actively prevented Democrats from expressing a clear agenda.<br /><br />On Election Day, the low Democratic turnout permitted Republicans to control all three major branches of government for the first time in several decades. As Clinton media advisor and CNN commentator James Carville lamented on election night, "A party that won't defend itself is not going to be trusted to defend the country."<br /><br /><br />The left as well as the right can learn to communicate so that "the boys in Lubbock can understand it". Unless it connects with a mass constituency, progressive politics is like the proverbial trees falling in a forest that no one hears. Professors and critics can and should have rarefied taste. Political activists must learn to speak the language of the people, not solely the "Latin" of the political elite.<br /><br />As Sid Blumenthal, former aide to President Clinton, observes, "Most people in Washington, including those on the left, love the idea of America, which is the ideals, the symbols, the monuments, and the history books, but they don't like actual Americans very much. Americans are those gross people who go to shopping malls and watch television."<br /><br />This is another indulgence that the left cannot afford. Bob Dylan's message of four decades ago still works: "You better start swimming or you'll sink like a stone, for the times they are a changing."<br /><br />Let's swim.<br /><br /><i><a href="http://www.dannygoldberg.com">Danny Goldberg</a>, CEO of Artemis Records and long-time political and civil liberties activist, is currently the President of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California.</i><br /><br /><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> </div></div></div> Sun, 22 Jun 2003 21:00:00 -0700 Danny Goldberg, AlterNet 598546 at http://orgwww.globalexchange.orgwww.endthewar.orgwww.zmag.orgwww.alternet.org News & Politics