By Al Giordano
“The political climate that we live under says that diverse people from different strata of society, from different cultural orientations, would not all be together in the same room at the same time sharing a similar experience together. The political climate that we live under is divisive. It’s designed that way. It only reinforces the extremes in difference between us. And yes, while we are all very different from each other, we are overwhelmingly similar.
“There are lesbians in this room; there are gay men in this room; there are heterosexuals in this room; there are bisexual people in this room, are there not? There are transsexual people, asexual people. There are Catholics, Protestants, atheists, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, agnostics in this room. There are Asians in this room. There are Blacks in this room. There are Hispanics in this room. There are Middle Easterners in this room. There are WASPs in this room. There is every kind of ethnic group in this room. There are trendy people in this room. There are people over fifty in this room. There are people over sixty, over seventy in this room. There are people under twenty-five in this room. There are at least five kinds of gay men in this room, and they don’t agree with each other about anything! There are people in this room who don’t identify with any particular group in this room.”
- Penny Arcade, early 1990s
During an April visit to New York I had the chance to see The Penny Arcade Experience at a club called the Poisson Rouge, which now fills the hallowed space of the old Village Gate. The original Gate marquee still stands, an historic landmark, on the corner of the beige brick building at Bleecker and Thompson Streets. It eternally announces the last two shows that appeared at that legendary forum when Art d’Lugoff had to close its doors in 1993: one by Jacques Brel and the other was Arcade’s long-running (more than 1,500 performances) Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore!
Everything I have always loved about Penny Arcade’s performances was as vibrant and alive as ever on that April 2010 night in New York, starting with Penny – nee Susana Ventura, the girl from the Italian immigrant family in the mill town of New Britain, Connecticut who ran away to New York as a teen and soon landed as Andy Warhol’s youngest superstar – a tornado of truth-telling, humor, timing and authenticity. The male and female erotic dancers, actors and performers, video camerapersons and the lighting-sound-production-dramaturgy team on and off stage included a core group of the same talents that were collaborating with Penny on her works back in 1996 and 1997, when I last attended a Penny Arcade show: dramaturge Steve Zehentner, stage manager Lorie E. Said, dancer Kenny Angel Davis, videographers Dean Lance and Rick Jurgens. Hanging on to a team for 14 years and more (most go farther back than that) for a project of independent anything is itself a rare accomplishment, especially in the ego-heavy world of show biz, whether a project is economically flush or it is underground and often struggling.
There was also something new in the Arcade arsenal in 2010: Merchandise. For decades, Penny and her collaborators have videotaped most of her public performances. Like a sports team, they watch the videos after each “game” both to evaluate the play and to capture the considerable improvised and ad-libbed moments, the best of which get worked into future performances in an ever-evolving show. Back then, the video was about developing and improving the work (“In the 80s I was antiproduct,” Arcade has said, “that was my stance.”) Now, entering or leaving Penny’s shows, the audience can take home DVDs of a 1991 performance of La Miseria, the 1995 An Evening with Penny Arcade & Quentin Crisp, a 1999 on stage filming of Bad Reputation and a 2009 revival of Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore!
Also new, a book: Bad Reputation: Performances, Essays, Interviews (2009, Semiotext(e)/The MIT Press), based on transcripts of Arcade’s shows, an interview with Penny by editor Chris Kraus, and essays about her work by Stephen Bottoms, Ken Bernard, Sarah Schulman and Steve Zehentner.
I took those DVDs and the book south of the border where in recent weeks some of us – students and professors of the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism, along with friendly artists, performers, singers, photographers, designers, troublemakers and such - have gathered weekly to watch, read and discuss together what we see in those and other works of varied indole.
My j-school colleagues have repeatedly remarked things like, “Al! Now I know where the School of Authentic Journalism came from!” I had much the same thought seeing these works 13 years after the year I was immersed in and around Arcade’s laboratory (we lived under the same Lower East Side roof from about May ’96 to May ’97, but not having enough gray hair yet for memoirs, that’s really all the disclosure required for now; April was the first time in a dozen years we had spoken). Penny was then busy developing, rehearsing and performing Bad Reputation, a powerful show about “bad girls,” violence, rape, and resistance, among other things. It was, for me, the year of my big inquiry (what others probably called an early mid-life crisis) in which, having left commercial journalism, I worked at a local anarchist bookstore (largely out of motive to read everything on the shelves for free), and co-hosted, with Arcade, Radio Free New York on a pirate radio station every Friday evening. There, we held long on-air conversations with the likes of Judith Malina and Hanon Reznikov of The Living Theater, Semiotext(e) publisher Sylvere Lotringer, writers Peter Lamborne Wilson a.k.a. Hakim Bey and the late Robert Beers (also an actor and film curator at MOMA), musicians Jayne County, Tuli Kupferberg, Bebe Buell and Coyote Shivers, the poet Ira Cohen, former New York School Board president Sister Elizabeth Kelliher, and others who had lived and helped form the secret history of radical New York over previous decades.
I confess that, during that heady year on the Lower East Side, I thought my inquiry – an attempt to study and figure out where I really do stand in society and its politics; to unlearn myself of years of presumptions conditioned by staffing commercial media and “go back to the drawing board” anew – was “out there” on the bookshelves and in the pirate radio studio. In retrospect, the more highly advanced revolutionary project was happening right under my nose, in what Penny and her collaborators were building. I was sloganeering politically about “refusing mediation” and trying to understand Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of “the war machine outside the state.” Arcade was doing it. Full circle, that experience turns out to have been a defining influence on all that I’ve done since.
“I talk directly to the audience,” Arcade said in the book’s 2008 interview by Chris Kraus. “I started doing it because I was so ignored by the press and the art scene. I understood that my relationship was with the audience, that it wasn’t with arts administrators, that it wasn’t with the press, and that the audience and I were actually treated the same way by the press and by the arts administrators. They thought we were stupid and didn’t know anything, and so I developed that talking to the audience, and just got braver and braver and braver.”
Narco News’ decade-long adversarial relationship with the commercial media and our greater priority of building and sustaining a direct, unmediated, relationship with our readers pretty much copies the Arcade Doctrine of theater and applies it to journalism. And you know what? A decade later the jury is in: it works, and is sustainable, across the borders of art forms.
“A lot of younger people who’d work with me would see me talk directly to the audience, and they’d go, ‘Oh, I can do that.’ But they didn’t understand the level of integrity you have to bring to talking directly to the audience. Because …it doesn’t work unless you’re really at risk… When I break out, it’s because I’ve realized something. Either something that I’m hiding from the audience, something that will embarrass me…”
And those are the moments that – whether it happens on a stage or via an online newspaper – the work breaks through the Fourth Wall and, according to Penny, “We’re all in it together.”
“It’s a complete accident that I have a career,” she says. “It’s really because of the public’s commitment to my work.”
“So when I say it’s an accident, I mean obviously I understand that I made a demand on the audience in the ‘80s, very early on, and that demand was, if you need to see like a big article about me in The New York Times or the Village Voice, stop coming, because they’re probably not gonna write about me. But if you think this work is important, if you like this work, if you want me to continue doing this work, I need you to replace yourself.”
Thirteen and fourteen years ago I attended thirty or forty of Arcade’s shows in a row and although she got very little press from the gatekeepers of the media, every single hall was sold out and filled to the brim. Overflow audiences often sat on stairwells and floors. And every single one had a transformative impact on those who attended it. Since no two shows were exactly alike – like jazz, they improvised around structured sections – it never got boring. The same dynamic continued at the April 2010 show, which borrowed from her entire body of work over the decades.
Arcade’s continued drawing power is testimony to the fact that you don’t need to kiss the critics’ asses, or suck up to the media, to build and expand the attention of the public on one’s work. Being authentic alone might not be enough, but if one is authentically entertaining, funny and observant, one can win the night again and again and again. Freed from the constraints of worrying about whether the critics or the media will approve of one’s work, an artist or communicator achieves a much wider field upon which to play. There is simply more one is allowed to talk about, to show and to tell; a wider well of materia prima, available to the anti-careerist. The boss ceases to be someone in a hierarchy of power outside of a project, and instead becomes the audience, the readers, the listeners. The only thing that then matters is whether they find it worthwhile, and also importantly, whether the work provokes them to participate, because that’s how all work is constantly improved, through that interaction or relationship with the public.
From the 2008 interview:
“I’m against the professionalization of the arts, where people actually think that by going to school for four years, they are an artist. Jack Smith said it best, ‘You have to be willing to be bad for twenty years in order to be great. And then there’s no guarantee…’
“Artists will talk about the politics of politics every fucking second, but they will never say anything about the politics of art. They know what side their bread is buttered on, and they’re not going to get themselves 86’d, as I have.”
The same is true in all fields. So many journalists (including many bloggers) express lots of political opinions but never about the politics and economics of the media industry. Not even “media critics” are allowed to do that! Every ethical lapse must be treated as an isolated act, and never a systemic consequence. It was when the late Jeff Buckley (another whom Penny introduced me to back in the day) started to talk about the politics of the music business that he began to have problems with SONY. Communications – whether media or the arts or some combo of the two – are the industries most protected from authentic communication about how they operate, because the threat is always looming over the heads of communicators; the blacklist, what Arcade calls the 86.
Some didn’t understand at all, for example, my comments yesterday about the talents of the 538 blog moving over to the New York Times. Some asked me, "how can you say that? Isn’t that guy your friend?” First, yes, and that friend will be fine. He can smile all the way to the bank. He’s just going to have to live with the ticket he bought that brings with it the few pockets of sustained criticism of the New York Times that have achieved this unique space (a stage, in a way) from which we’ve long made the Times our foil, a Mrs. Teasdale to our Groucho Marx. 538 can continue to do good things, but can’t during its partnership say anything “bad” about the Times itself, one of the incarnate media problems of our era. Nor can any blogger or reporter that aspires to work at official media, where the Times is considered king. And that has long been the achilles heel of so much "alternative" journalism, art, blogging, or whatever: the playing of the role of "the outsider" as merely an audition to become an insider, when the rare authentic artist or revolutionary is up to a different game altogether: tearing down the prison wall between inside and out. Democracy is not a lottery ticket!
Self-censorship is the guillotine over the heads of so much media, including those who inhabit the “alternative” press. Mark Liebovich and David Carr were enormously important writers in their alterna-media salad days. Since they’ve been swallowed up the Times, can you cite or even remember anything of real import they’ve been allowed to write since?
True, the official media try to ignore, or mock, or discredit any voice raised up against any of its members from the critique of the everyday life of how the sausage is really made in those media. Take this 2002 “review” of Penny Arcade’s show, New York Values, in 2002, by Alexis Soloski in the Village Voice:
“Like the amusement of her adopted name, Penny Arcade offers a reasonable amount of low-rent razzle-dazzle and whisbang for the buck. In New York Values (P.S. 122), she delivers her rants and raps ringed by a chorus of go-go boys and girls, illuminated by spots, magnified by live video, and backed by a rock ‘n’ roll soundscape… Of course, discussing Arcade’s material is almost beside the point. She’s attracted a following not for what she says… but for who she is: a dizzy autodidact with big boobs and a mean streak. Even at 51, she still looks devastatingly cute in décolletage and mouse ears… It’s a pity her repetitive material isn’t aging as well as her rack.”
As Stephen Bottoms notes in Bad Reputation, “The poisonous blend of sexism and snobbery in these comments hardly needs underlining.” I would add: except to mandate the observation that such cat calls have failed at their motive of turning the public off from Arcade’s work (Swift’s concept of a confederacy of dunces increasingly is recognized by the public as pointing toward genius, and the official media's minions are more frequently receiving the dunce hat), more in popular demand than ever before, built one member of the public at a time, and than by the word-of-mouth that public generated.
What has lost credibility and attraction over these same years is the professional gatekeeper of media and other institutions. It was the generic reporter and critic’s repetitive and formulaic material that didn’t “age well” and the public stopped looking to them for guidance; many were simply laid off. The media market-niched its audience by “identity” categories and demographics, in accord with advertiser "targeting" strategies, which makes Arcade’s early 1990s observation atop this review about “the political climate” and the diverse kinds of people that “are not supposed to be all in one room” prophetic. When Barack Obama began saying something similar a decade and more later, many people thought it was a new idea!
Now, here’s a little word-of-mouth, YouTube style - from that same New York Values show in the same year - so you can now replace the obsolete Voice critic, too:
A lot of the strange official hostility toward self-sufficient projects is class generated ("low rent... autodidact... mean streak...", these are descriptions that are only considered epithets by the comfortable, for whom the most classless act is desiring a classless society aloud): Big media tends to hire its troops from oversocialized university graduates. Autodidacts are generally less reliable as contented servants. (“There is nothing so depressing,” said the Mexican anarchist and independent journalist Ricardo Flores Magón, “as a happy slave.”) And likewise nothing is so threatening to the managing classes than the evidence that the rest of us can manage ourselves just fine, thank you very much. Everyone who is working class or poor (and that is the majority of everyone, after all) knows how this works, as it is drummed into our heads from every direction from a very early age.
In Arcade’s earliest full-length stage work, La Miseria, an actor portraying her brother, Mario, yells at Penny on stage:
“You are working class! That’s what you are… You’re living in a fuckin’ fantasy world. You know that? You – what – you wanna be an artist? … Let me clue you into something. Art – art – art is for rich people… Besides that, nobody wants to fuckin’ hear from you. Huh? So just shut your mouth!”
And then there are those, like Arcade, for whom shutting up is an impossibility.
Steve Zehentner, Penny’s longtime dramaturge, writes in Bad Reputation:
“I used to describe Penny as an angry mob in just one person. I would complain to her after witnessing another round of her surly public behavior – breaking the routine of calm of the neighborhood café with a tirade against the ‘pseudo-hip’ gentrifiers, swinging the microphone stand perilously close to the heads of the audience – that she was never socialized. I’m truly sorry about that. Now I recognize it as a little miracle.”
“She marched around her loft as if on the verge of a great discovery. She talked and walked and had things she wanted to hip me to – things I needed to know: ‘You don’t know the ground you’re standing on,’ she said. ‘The whole Lower East Side used to be a landing pad for aliens; the illegal, the immoral, the born losers, it was a Mecca for the Misfit. It had everything except control freaks. Have you seen the avant-garde lately? Who are those young Republicans with purple hair?”
“She doesn’t sit. Working with Penny is to engage in the continual development of a never-ending performance… She’s up, stomping about, trying things out, thinking out loud. She turns up the music and now she’s dancing: Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Dylan, The Rolling Stones. People drop in, hang out. She likes an audience. There’s always commotion, something stirring in the air.”
Every word Steve writes is true, 24 hours a day. Penny is the same person on or off stage, which means, take your pick, she is either never off stage, or perhaps never on it in the sense of a pedestaled stage that places the performer as elite and above the plebes in the audience.
Another thing I learned from Penny is the power of long term patience. Also from the Bad Reputation interview:
“As Quentin Crisp said when I complained to him about my career, ‘Not to worry, Ms. Arcade. Time is kind to the nonconformist.’ You know, so eventually… they wouldn’t give me anything in my 40s, you know, they wouldn’t give me anything in my 50s, but no doubt if I live into my 80s, I will have the full thing, do you know what I mean? Because that’s how it works. They wait ‘till you can absolutely do nothing with it.”
After attending Pete Seeger’s ninetieth birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden last year, I made similar observations. Ten years ago Pete was largely out of sight and out of mind, and certainly in the media. I remember when singer-songwriter Stephan Said pulled Pete out of his Beacon farmhouse to collaborate on a song against the Iraq war, The Bell, and how little attention that got. But by 2009, suddenly Pete, the former blacklisted communist, was playing before hundreds of thousands on the National Mall at the President’s inauguration, and filling The Garden for his birthday. Time is kind to the nonconformist who marches to his and her own beat, if he and she live long enough to harvest it. And posthumous history is even kinder.
There’s a lot more to say about Penny Arcade and her extensive body of work, much of it said well in Bad Reputation. This may be the first review of her work that didn’t focus much on her being raised “by a tawdry band of drag queens,” among them Jackie Curtis and Candy Darling, Penny’s history from Stonewall through “gay rights,” and the AIDs crisis, to a more public hetero and market acceptance of gays with her singular front row faghag seat, or the matter of fact that she is widely and fairly considered heiress to movements and moments like Warhol’s Factory, The Living Theater and the Playhouse of the Ridiculous, among others. The first musical project that Patti Smith ever formed was with Penny, and all those historic events are of course important, but I chose to focus on what I think is most relevant to our work as communicators and artists in the present day.
Projects that really are free of any worry over offending the gatekeepers and that succeed at building an authentic relationship with the public without dependence on the media are immensely important to the freedom of society. They become more important every day as the warden caste of the mass media prison solidifies its techno-grasp on the dwindling control panel: the press is entering a new era of fewer and fewer reporters and more and more middlemen, editors and outsourced “content providers.”
Penny Arcade’s project in theater and performance began doing it, year in, year out, before any of us attempted anything similar in journalism or media. With more experience, it is of course more highly evolved and advanced, a continual engine of innovation that can be applied not just to journalism, but to all art and forms of communication.
The School of Authentic Journalism today makes Penny Arcade’s Bad Reputation: Performances, Essays, Interviews a recommended textbook of our curriculum. As one of our recent graduates, Sebastian Kolendo, the young Wikipedia overlord now working as a video editor on the Narco News team, recently commented while watching the video of Penny’s 1995 stage interview of the late Quentin Crisp in Austria, “Who is that doing the interview? That’s the best journalistic interview I’ve ever seen!” Bad Reputation is of course a must-read for anybody who ever steps or hopes to step upon a stage, but – think about it - that means journalists, too. And all artists in any field. Its transcripts, essays and interviews open the curtain on an important part, surprise, surprise, of our own secret history.
Penny Arcade official website.
The book, Bad Reputation, can be mail ordered via The MIT Press.
By Al Giordano
The best independent reputation on the Internet today announced that it will co-brand with the worst journalistic reputation on earth.
What were the statistical probabilities of that?
The New York Times sucks the life force out of every single person it touches. And now I have to watch someone I like and admire be destroyed, slowly and painfully (yes, nerds, think of it in language you can understand: it's the Sarlacc pit from Star Wars), where they will either digest him slowly over a thousand years after stuffing him behind a paywall or, worse, turn him into a prick just like every other Timesman.
In the end, everybody has the right to make our own mistakes, and that goes for Nate, too. I've cheered every other success he has had: the book contracts, the New York mag gig, and all. I mourn this move because I want Nate to succeed and go to the toppermost of the poppermost. But the Times is hurtling downward in the opposite direction.
Remember those crazy protesters outside the Royal Wedding with the placards that shouted “Don’t Do It, Di”? At the end of the tunnel car chase, it turned out that they were right.
Not even Nate Silver can make the passé New York Times cool again. But the Times, in its death throe years, can make even Nate Silver uncool.
I don't know what he's thinking. This is not the first time an artist or rock star I've known took a turn toward nihilism. But, Jebus, Nate: heroin would have been a safer move!
Good luck, Bro. I hope I’m wrong about this. And we will miss you on the outside. While you’re there, at least make some blueprints of the building, its security systems, floor plans, exits and entrances, and a list of each guard's vices, and send them this way, for you'll want us to know how to rescue you when the revolution comes.
By Al Giordano
This handsome young Canadian is Jesse Freeston of The Real News, whose cutting edge online video journalism work has been featured here before. He was one of 40 volunteer professors in February at the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism in Mexico where we trained each other plus 30 students to be better at this craft. Today he writes you a letter about his experience at the 2010 J-School and asks you to support this project with a donation:
I think the word that was all over my lips after the J-School was unique. What a unique experience I had, truly like none other I’ve had. I’m very picky about the people I spend time with, some might even say, an asshole. That said, I can’t think of a single person in a room of 60 at the J-School that I wouldn’t want to spend more time with. I familiarized myself with new concepts, skills and perspectives, some of which I have already put into practice. I met some tactics, ideas, and templates that I will likely never emulate or disse minate. But I’m still all the better for having been exposed to them in an environment like the one provided by the school...
After unique, if I could help myself to an entire phrase to describe the school, it would be density of potential. The human potential that was in the room in Mexico was unprecedented. The capacity per square foot was orders of magnitude above any room in the world. And we’re just starting to harvest the fruits of that time spent together.
So to those who have already donated, and those who helped organize the school, thank you a million times over. For those who still have some pennies to spare, pretty please with a journalistic revolution on top, help us keep Narco News publishing also so we can do this again next year!
You can donate online at this link:
Or send a check to:
The Fund for Authentic Journalism
PO Box 241
Natick, MA 01760 United States
There's more to Jesse's letter, so read the whole thing. Truth is, we're short on funds right now and with the summer season about to begin I'm worried that we'll have to make some cuts while I go out to the street corner and clean windshields or lease my writing fingers out to pen comic-tragic porn for The Onion or Wonkette (that would be fun, but wouldn't you miss me here?) to be able to pay the bills for the rest of the team who works so hard here every night and day on subsistence level stipends reporting, translating, webmastering, editing video, training and being trained as the next generation of authentic journalists.
We give this to y'all for free. We always have. That means we have to count on your generosity and support to keep on keepin' on. So toss a coin into the cup if you can, large or small, every little bit helps.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming...
By Al Giordano
A new report out of the Brookings Institution offers a thought provoking theory that could explain recent freak phenomena like Arizona’s anti-immigrant law and the conservative tea baggers: a widening “cultural generation gap” in certain regions of the US.
The math is simple enough: compare the percentage of senior citizens (age 65 and over) in a given state or metropolitan area who are non-Hispanic white with the percentage of their neighbors who are 18 and under and non-Hispanic white, and, voila, let’s look at what part of the nation has the widest “cultural generation gap.”
Arizona tops the charts, with 83 percent of its seniors Caucasian but just 43 percent of its minors in the same racial demographic: a gap of 40 points.
Demographically, there is no doubt Latinos and other immigrant minorities are America’s future, and on this, Arizona stands on the front lines. Over the past two decades the state has seen its Latino population grow by 180 percent as its racial composition shifted from 72 to 58 percent white.
Yet there is an important demographic nuance to this growth—providing context to the white backlash in Arizona in ways that could play out elsewhere. It is the fact that the state’s swift Hispanic growth has been concentrated in young adults and children, creating a “cultural generation gap” with largely white baby boomers and older populations, the same demographic that predominates in the recent Tea Party protests.
And so what we have here is a kind of cocktail of racial tensions mixed with generational differences (which, although the Brookings study doesn’t come out and say it, I would posit retards societal integration since old folks don’t typically hang out or even cross paths with young ones; both groups tend to avoid the other even within the same racial or other demographic categories).
And here is something else to consider: In the warmer climes of the United States, Mexicans, Latin Americans and other newcomers to the US aren’t the only new wave of immigrants. The exodus of northern retirees that began decades ago to Florida and Southern California has widened into a wave of elderly immigrants to key metropolitan areas throughout the Southwest. The Phoenix, Arizona metropolitan area, being one of them, for example, has the highest cultural generation gap in the country, of 41 points. That’s not only because Mexican-Americans are moving in, but also it is a result of the geezer brigades.
The seniors, of course, come government-supported with Social Security checks, Medicare and lots of other socialized goodies. They move into gated communities with access to cheap “illegal” labor to water the lawns and care for them in every other way possible. Many in fact come to border lands precisely so they can cross into Mexico easily to purchase their pharmaceuticals at bargain prices. But despite all the benefits they receive exactly because they move to the lands of immigrants, these older white populations are hotbeds of hostility against the immigrants, which is how we got to the place where Arizona’s anti-immigrant law has now exacerbated racial and other tensions.
The metropolitan areas with the largest cultural generation gap happen to coincide with clusters of Republican voting patterns and tea party activity: The Tucson, Arizona metro area joins Phoenix among the top three cultural generation gap zones. Certain California metropolitan areas are high on the list: Riverside-San Bernardino, Fresno, Bakersfield, Modesto, Stockton and San Diego are in the top ten. Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Florida and Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, join them there. Here’s the list of the top twenty:
I think Brookings is onto something big here. Generational apartheid is exacerbating racial segregation and discrimination. And this underscores, among other things, that for political movements to succeed they have to be multi-generational and multi-racial, and very intentionally cross over another kind of border fence called demographics.
The situation created by these cultural generation gap clusters also presents a challenge for the so-called “baby boomers” (officially, Americans born between 1946 and 1964) who were, according to the hype when they were young, going to be the pioneering generation of peace, love, “the Age of Aquarius” and all that granola. Starting next year, the oldest of them turn 65 and join the ranks of the retirees. And that’s when another process will begin that will determine the boomers’ place in history: whether it really is a transformational generation, or one that merely replicates the sins of the fathers it rebelled against when young.
Many of the teabaggers, in fact, are boomers. They’re a small percentage of them but it is nonetheless cause for pause that they exist, because they represent the worst-case scenario of where the boomers could end up politically: From parent supported suburban youths to government supported suburban seniors, the danger is that, in their twilight years, they become their parents all over again.
Which is precisely why a responsibility is on the shoulders of every boomer of conscience to break that cycle both in daily life and in political participation; to embrace his and her generation’s best legacy of community organizing, racial tolerance and integration and all the other qualities they championed in their youth.
The coming national debate over immigration reform, I think, is where we will begin to see whether “the sixties generation” walks its talk, head held high, into the retirement years. If not, it will become one of the biggest jokes in history because it began as the most hyped (and privileged) generation ever. But if, as polls suggest, it understands that there is little moral high ground to be claimed by seniors who migrate to live their retirement years and immigrants who migrate to the same places to live their working years, Comprehensive Immigration Reform can accomplish at least two giant leaps forward for the United States.
First, a path to citizenship for twelve million undocumented Americans will bring them onto the voter rolls, creating a vital counter-weight to the cultural generation gap seniors in the very same states and Congressional Districts where the latter group now has the upper hand. It is the change that will cement the generational political change begun in 2008. The latest data is a game-changer: “68% of Latinos approve of Obama’s job (compared with 48% of overall respondents and 38% of whites), and they view the Democratic Party favorably by a 54%-21% score (versus 41%-40% among all adults and 34%-48% among whites)… And Latinos remain a sleeping -- yet growing -- political giant: 23% of them aren’t registered voters (compared with 12% of whites and 16% of blacks).”
And second – listen well, ye boomers – unless those twelve million undocumented Americans are brought out from the persecuted shadows and into the aboveground economy, there won’t be enough Social Security or funding for your health care or your drugs or anything else left when you hit retirement age. Contrary to urban legend, immigrants aren't a drain on the social services system, but elderly people are! When immigrants are brought in to the system, they also begin to pay in: an about to be badly needed net plus on the national budget.
Without them, your gated communities will fast become the new ghettoes, filled with the elderly poor suddenly without the same benefits their parents and grandparents had. And senior slums won’t be a pretty sight or happy places to live. Only with the new sweat equity of immigrants will retirees get to live out the American dream. Funny how that works, but it’s always been that way. Without immigrants, there can be no America at all.
By Al Giordano
I don’t know how to cap the big oil leak in the Gulf and truth is neither do you. And even if it is capped in five minutes from now, the damage is already done.
That said, as a longtime vocal opponent of off shore oil drilling, and proponent of renewable energy, I wish to publicly disassociate myself from all the newly concerned voices screaming at the top of their lungs that the government must “do something” if they don’t come with concrete suggestions for what exactly can be done. They do not represent me and please don't ever confuse me with them, okay?
Without an easy solution in sight, and with the knowledge sinking in of just how harmful this oil gusher will be to the Gulf of Mexico, its shores, its fishing and tourism and quality of life, a lot of people seem to be screaming that somebody should yell louder and point their fingers harder.
Okay, just this once, I will point fingers. You know who is to blame in addition to BP and the government that allowed this oil rig to be built? Every single one of us that ever drove a car, got in an airplane, or drank from a plastic bottle (they’re made from petroleum, too). The heavier our “carbon footprints” the greater each of us is to blame. Go yell at yourself now.
Yell at yourself especially if you live in the United States, because you use up twenty times the earth’s resources as people in other countries. You are, therefore, twenty times greater to blame for this civilization’s addiction to oil that created the market for which BP and others went drilling in the seas.
Yell louder if you are a parent. You, breeder, are twice as much to blame as the childless person because your little darling is also using up twenty times the earth’s resources as the child of other lands. The more kids you have had, the louder you must yell. That’s right, go yell at your children, too. Beat them, if you must. That’ll cap the leak!
Are you using a computer right now? You electricity slut! Turn it off immediately and go yell at the mirror instead. Make sure to turn off the bathroom light as you do so. Go take a sledgehammer to your car and smash it to bits in front of all the neighbors. That’ll make a real loud noise. (Make sure to include the “Save the Planet” bumpersticker in the rubble.) What? You can’t live without your car because you live in a rural area? You slob! Don’t you know that city dwellers use up far less energy per capita than you bumpkins? Go yell at your pigs, cows and chickens then, and at the people who eat their meat, because they have huge carbon hoofprints too.
Me? I don’t own a car. I walk everywhere I can. I don’t eat meat. I never bred or inflicted my spawn on the earth. I live in a city in a much poorer country where the per capita carbon footprint is a fraction of that of each person in the United States. I consume locally grown food all year long. My carbon footprint is a tiptoe compared to yours. So I actually am justified at yelling at the rest of you that did any of those things. You’re strangling this Eden more than I am. Hey here’s an idea. Save the Planet: Kill Yourself! Or at least refrain from yelling at others over this oil spill until you’ve checked your own carbon footprint at the door and wiped the sludge off your own hands.
But you know what? Even though I would be somewhat justified in yelling and pointing fingers at you, I’m only being tongue in cheek about it here to make a point. Yelling doesn’t solve anything. And it sure won’t plug the leak or make anyone else do it faster, because nobody has yet figured out a surefire way to do it. But they sure ain’t gonna think faster with you yelling in their ears.
Yelling is for panic, and panic is for losers. In the movies, you know, the scary ones where soldiers or zombies or aliens come and kill whomever they find in their path, don’t you remember who always gets eaten first? The idiot who screams hysterically! That’s who you are behaving like today. And if you keep thinking that screaming at others to yell louder and share your misery aloud is going to save the earth, you and the rest of your pestilent species are already doomed. The earth will carry on. It’s you who won’t. And at least it’ll be a lot quieter around here, then.
There. Glad I got that off my chest. Problem solved, now?
By Al Giordano
No US president in my lifetime entered office so rudely hazed as Barack Obama. It’s been sixteen months of this: A bunch of privileged white folk with college degrees – you know, the ones who dominate the press and pundit corps – suddenly discovered a fun new board game. Let’s call it what it is: “The black guy can't possibly know how to govern so we will tell him what to do!”
This rebirth of know-it-all-ism took on distinct languages on the right and in some corners of the left, but it came from the same instinct: a profound unease that The President didn’t look or sound white, um, like previous commanders-in-chief.
The racist impulses of the tea partiers and others of the far right came unglued in full public view last week when Republican US Senate nominee Rand Paul in Kentucky – at the very moment he became the political face of the tea party “movement” by winning his party primary and by virtue of the nepotism of being “libertarian” Saint Ron Paul’s spawn - actually called for allowing private businesses to discriminate against Americans based on their skin color. Then he backpedaled and claimed not to mean it all the dozens of times he had said it over so many years.
That tendency has also manifested in some corners of the left, but it played out differently because unlike those on the right, its adherents felt a sense of entitlement to tell Obama what to do. And when Obama ignored the self-appointed counselors of left and right, some on the left took it personally. That’s when it really got vicious. “What? How dare he not follow MY advice!” At that point a gaggle of them lost their heads altogether, because hell hath no fury like a know-it-all blogger scorned, especially one who thinks everything is about him or her.
Yet for sixteen months, denied the media honeymoon that every other president always had in his first year in office,The President has been one hundred percent unflappable. He has not lost his cool or blown his temper in public, not even once. Instead, Obama set to work cueing up his legislative priorities and shepherding them, one at a time, through a difficult Congress, especially hard in the Senate where 40 Republicans plus any one or two conservative Democrats could, as a minority, block the 100-member chamber from voting on any proposed law. And on every single law he proposed or backed, he won passage. Let me repeat that: Every single one. In baseball terms, Obama has batted 1.000. He hasn’t struck out once. Not yet. In a funny way, that infuriates his naysayers even more.
Whether one agrees with Obama’s positions or not, one has to give credit that is due: He walks to his own drumbeat and step by step has gotten big things accomplished.
After all, even in frat house hazing rituals, if the guy being hazed endures it with grace, he has to be invited into the fraternity. In that sense some of the current serial hazers have shown less class than frat boys.
Suddenly – and I suppose the Rand Paul implosion pinpricked some white liberal consciences to contribute to their sudden turnaround, because it made it clear just how much of the American dysfunction is about race – some journalism and opinion column insiders have begun to consider the cumulative whole of President Obama’s first sixteen months in office and do some very simple math.
David Leonhardt’s Friday New York Times piece – “A Progressive Agenda to Remake Washington” - connected the dots:
With the Senate’s passage of financial regulation, Congress and the White House have completed 16 months of activity that rival any other since the New Deal in scope or ambition. Like the Reagan Revolution or Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, the new progressive period has the makings of a generational shift in how Washington operates.
First came a stimulus bill that, while aimed mainly at ending a deep recession, also set out to remake the nation’s educational system and vastly expand scientific research. Then President Obama signed a health care bill that was the biggest expansion of the safety net in 40 years. And now Congress is in the final stages of a bill that would tighten Wall Street’s rules and probably shrink its profit margins.
If there is a theme to all this, it has been to try to lift economic growth while also reducing income inequality...
This morning, columnist and economist Paul Krugman – one of the earliest “Obama must do as I say” lecturers – told the nation what New Yorker media insiders, due to their proximity to Wall Street sources, have discovered. That big business is hysterical over the President now because, contrary to the anti-Obama talking points that have blabbered on for sixteen months, the President’s administration and policies have had the effect of policing corporate America for the first time in decades. The party of the elites begun under Reagan and continued through two Bushes and a Clinton, is palpably over. Krugman writes:
So here’s how it is: They’re as mad as hell, and they’re not going to take this anymore. Am I talking about the Tea Partiers? No, I’m talking about the corporations.
Much reporting on opposition to the Obama administration portrays it as a sort of populist uprising. Yet the antics of the socialism-and-death-panels crowd are only part of the story of anti-Obamaism, and arguably the less important part. If you really want to know what’s going on, watch the corporations.
How can you do that? Follow the money — donations by corporate political action committees…
...63 percent of spending by banks’ corporate PACs has gone to Republicans, up from 53 percent last year. Securities and investment firms, traditionally Democratic-leaning, are now giving more money to Republicans. And oil and gas companies, always Republican-leaning, have gone all out, bestowing 76 percent of their largess on the G.O.P.
Corporate America, however, really, truly hates the current administration. Wall Street, for example, is in “a state of bitter, seething, hysterical fury” toward the president, writes John Heilemann of New York magazine.
Heilemann’s essay “Obama is from Mars, Wall Street is from Venus,” likewise was the result of his proximity, as a New Yorker, to the big money hornet’s nest. He basically says as much:
One night not long ago, over dinner with ten executives in the finance industry, I heard the president described as “hostile to business,” “anti-wealth,” and “anti-capitalism”; as a “redistributionist,” a “vilifier,” and a “thug.”
So, woo hoo!, right? It turns out that all along the President has been putting the screws on Wall Street even while he’s been polite in tone to it. (That’s what we Italian-Americans have long called “smiling while sticking the knife in.”)
All this, of course, has Obama’s real base breathing a big exhale of relief, like the 347 Daily Kos bloggers who recommended a diary today extolling this sudden shift in the Conventional Wisdom acknowledging that, hey, maybe the black guy is even better at governing than all those white guys who preceded him!
But if you want an idea of how angry this change in the political winds is making the dwindling “Obama must do as I say” grouposcule, and you have the stomach for tantrum overdrive, scroll some of the earliest comments on that highly recommended diary: the same hyena pack of a dozen or two poutrage addicts that have led the Obama Hazing Society for sixteen months are besides themselves now. They can’t stand the new recognition that Obama has angered Wall Street and that his presidency has already broken historic barriers for defeating special interests and getting progressive change done.
One would think that true liberals and progressives, especially those who were skeptical at first, would be truly happy, and truth is that most are. So what’s wrong with the Eeyores? Well, they’ve been proved wrong (again) and that always gives them road rage. And some are now personally embarrassed and are beginning to catch some overdue blowback for their tantrumism.
One of them is Open Left’s front-pager Paul Rosenberg, who for sixteen months has sprung a toxic leak that, if you could take a photo of it, would look a lot like that BP oil rig in the Gulf.
Nine days ago, Rosenberg had the trademark poor timing of making this looney tunes declaration a week before the rest of the media and blogger world came to the realization that in Obama, something truly historic is going on:
"...no one wants to face up to just how truly terrible a president Barack Obama is turning out to be--we're talking potential Herbert Hoover territory, folks."
Excuse me while I reply: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.
Rosenberg really stepped in his own bullshit, again. That blog post was penned with mid-May’s poutrage-of-the-week, when some like Rosenberg were shopping their latest proposed anti-Obama crusade. Then it was against Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan (that particular arson attempt snuffed out pretty quickly, as Kagan now coasts to Senate approval and Poutrage Inc. has gone looking for new reasons to incite fear and loathing of all things Obama). But now, suddenly, Rosenberg – much like Rand Paul - is being taken to task for the written record of his bizarro world claims. What goes around comes around, and bloggers who live by spitting up their own bile in public should expect to get cookies tossed upon them now and then, too. Live by the critique, die by the critique, and no critic has the right to whine when criticized.
Jamelle Bouie at Think Progress serves up the just desserts:
I need help understanding how OpenLeft’s Paul Rosenberg can credibly argue that Barack Obama has manically embraced “discredited conservative ideas” and “helped enormously in extended the hegemonic continuity of [the] Nixon-Reagan Eara. [Emphasis his]” More specifically, I need help understanding this strange impulse among liberals of Rosenberg’s ilk to understate or dismiss most of the work Congress and President Obama have done over the past sixteen months, especially when — as David Leonhardt noted in yesterday’s New York Times — it’s been a burst of activity that “rivals any other since the New Deal in scope or ambition.”
Right now, liberals (again, of Rosenberg’s ilk) ought to spend less time lamenting Obama’s aversion to ideological orthodoxy and more time working to defend and improve progressive governance
That led to an indignant response this morning from Open Left owner Chris Bowers who claims that Bouie had attacked everyone at Open Left. My gawd. Can they be that self important? Do they always think it is about them even if it is just about one of them? To wit:
Excuse me? The Open Left community ("Rosenberg's ilk") has collectively engaged in a significant amount of direct action attempting to improve progressive governance over the past sixteen months…
Leveling such a charge against Open Left requires lumping us into some pre-set stereotype of do-nothing, left-wing whiners that belies an almost total lack of familiarity with Open Left.
But Bouie didn’t say anything about “the Open Left community.” He wrote about Rosenberg and his “ilk” which, in proper English, would describe only those who agree with him.
If Bowers shares Rosenberg’s view that “Barack Obama is turning out to be… a terrible president… in Herbert Hoover territory, folks,” well then, yes, that would define him as “ilk.” But since Bowers and some other Open Left front pagers have refrained from making such foolish expressions (Bowers, not too long ago, in March, was praised from this corner for coming to public grips with very much the opposite view when he wrote “Obama developed new messaging that was more convincing than the likes used by myself… or anyone else on the left who was making contrary arguments” – does he likewise think I was praising Rosenberg and “the Open Left community” when I said something nice about him?) no reasonable person thinks that Bouie was criticizing everybody on the blog where Rosenberg is provided his own public port-a-potty with glass walls.
But all of that is a sideshow; a car wreck that I admit I slow down and stretch my neck out the window to see the gore of it.
What has really just happened is conventional media wisdom has begun to shift, and it looks to me like President Obama is about to get that honeymoon from the media that all the white previous presidents got in their first year in office, only a year and some months late.
And that works out real well, too, since it is this year when midterm Congressional elections will be held in the United States. Sometimes it makes sense to save the honeymoon for the second anniversary.
It won’t last – no media honeymoon does – but it might well endure through November, which would be another triumph in political timing with positive, real world, consequences.
Even if I didn’t like and admire this President, I would still be impressed by his temperament, and by the way he plays the political game. It is worthy of study, and I've learned lots of new tricks just by watching him in action, and taking notes.