Two Kinds of Migrants and the “Cultural Generation Gap”

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.

Brookings writes:

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.

Yell Louder, Yeah, that Will Cap the Oil Leak

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?

Sixteen Months Later, Is Obama Finally Getting His Media Honeymoon?

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:

" 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.

No Newspaper Is an Island: Why We Ask for Your Support

By Al Giordano

Dear Colleague,

It occurred to me, while reading online comments about the end of a six-year TV show that a lot of people liked (something about an island, I've heard), that Narco News was around before that series existed and is still around after its finale.

The sum of the resources we’ve raised and spent to publish cutting edge honest journalism and train a new generation of authentic journalists from so many countries over the course of a decade is certainly less than it costs to produce a single hour of a network television drama: Thousands of reported stories, a landmark First Amendment court victory, so much new talent trained through our School of Authentic Journalism and put to work at Narco News and elsewhere, more recently our expansion into online video journalism and political reporting… none of it happened on a fictional island. It happened and keeps happening right here in the world where you and I live.

In fact, over these ten years, more than TV shows have come and gone, but also so many daily newspapers and other media that once were mighty no longer publish or exist. For the most part they relied on the old model of advertising-supported journalism which set limits on what they could or could not report and pushed them to direct their “product” at the upscale consumers the advertisers wanted to reach, turning journalism’s back on the majority of people who struggle to pay our monthly bills.

We’ve survived and thrived these ten years doing it differently. How did we get here? Only through your support has any of this been possible. How will we keep doing this vital work reporting the struggles for authentic freedom, justice and democracy? If there is one thing I have learned about raising funds during this decade, is that if you want somebody’s support you have to ask for it. And so I am asking you today.

I notice that it’s been some weeks since we asked you for a donation and during that time the Narco News Tenth Anniversary bar graph has nudged only a little bit closer to the $10,000 fundraising goal. We are still more than $2,700 short of what we need to comply with our job of reporting and bringing the news to you.

There is a lot going on behind the scenes here in the Narco Newsroom, too, that will soon bear more visible fruit. You may have noticed that slowly and surely we have begun producing and making available (for free, as always) videos filmed at the 2010 School of Authentic Journalism. If you haven’t already seen Journalism and Civil Resistance: Rev. Jim Lawson in Mexico or How to Write a News Story or Torture in Egypt (about the important reporting done by 2010 School of Authentic Journalism graduate Noha Atef) or Translations with Father Charlie or the lessons in how you can best use communications tools like Wikipedia or Creative Commons licensing or the story of Media from Below: Philadelphia’s Media Moblizing Project, then click those links.

There, you will see and hear not just seven compelling videos that share our work, reporting and lessons learned at the School of Authentic Journalism. You will also be seeing – or have already seen – the first steps in the birth of a new project: Narco News TV. NNTV will be very much like Narco News, except the stories talk and move. Like all our work over ten years, we do that on a shoestring budget, too. Still, it does involve more costs: we’ve had to purchase a bunch of additional hard drives, we’ve brought on a full time video editor from the ranks of the j-school, and bringing NNTV to birth takes up a lot of my time and that of other collaborators.

That’s where so much of the Internet is moving. Five years after the launch of YouTube, the online public increasingly wants its news on video. And while we will always continue with hard-hitting written reports and journalism, we’re moving with the public, too, into the digital television age.

And so, once again, because no newspaper is an island, I ask you to toss a coin or two into the cup. It is through hundreds of small donations that big works are done. Thank you in advance for your next contribution. You can make it online, right now, at this link:

Or send a check to:

The Fund for Authentic Journalism
PO Box 1446
Easthampton, MA 01027

Your contributions to The Fund for Authentic Journalism are tax deductible in the United States and 100 percent of them go directly to support the work of our journalists. The Fund is managed by volunteers, has no paid staff, no office and no bureaucracy. Every dollar you give goes fully to the work of reporting, publishing, training a new generation to do this work, and, now, producing online video reports.

Amazing, that a project so frugal has survived a decade already. With your continued support, we intend to be around as long as society needs authentic journalism and authentic journalists. But authenticity needs you, too. It always has, and always will.

From somewhere in a country called América,




US Elections: The Sky Did Not Fall, Again

By Al Giordano

Tuesday’s elections in the United States of Arkansas, Kentucky and Pennsylvania disproved the slick media pundit conventional wisdom and its clucking Chicken Little believers wrong once again. For weeks we’ve heard it in unison from the teevee talking heads and the mynah bird beaks of mass media consumers-cum-bloggers: that 2010 is an anti-incumbent year, that Democrats are going down, will lose the US House of Representatives in November (Newt Gingrich, yesterday, predicted a November Republican gain of up to 70 seats and possibly control of the US Senate, too, including a defeat of Senator Barbara Boxer of California: Bartender, I’ll have what he’s having.)

Most of the races on the ballot yesterday were primaries and in that context political outsiders out-organized the insiders within both major parties. The only contest to test whether climate change has come to the Democrat-vs.-Republican rivalry happened in Pennsylvania’s Congressional District number 12, in a special election to replace the late US Rep. Jack Murtha, a conservative Democrat. How great was the supposed “anti-establishment” tide that the media has been crowing about? The winner was Murtha’s longtime Congressional aide named Mark Critz.

For the past twelve years Critz worked as the regional director for Murtha. He was the staffer who responded to constituents, wrote letters on their behalf, cut Federal red tape, issued flags flown over the US Capitol, attended local events and solved problems for individuals, families and small businesses in the district. In other words, he did the part of a Congressman’s work that is not ideological, the Representative's representative in the district. In Congress, he’ll likely be a “blue dog” conservative Democrat, like Murtha (and that is fairly representative of that district, which I passed through in 2008 reporting the US presidential campaign). It is a bellwether district, 95 percent white, in Pennsyltuckian Appalachia; the only CD in the country that voted both for Kerry in ’04 and McCain in ’08, a “swing district” extraordinaire.

And yesterday the Democrat got 53 percent of the vote, a comfortable margin of victory, in this supposedly “anti-incumbent” year even though Critz was the closest thing to an incumbent in the contest. His victory underscores that when it comes to US House elections – fantasies of the activists of left and right aside – “the issues” and ideology are secondary criteria for most voters. Most Americans look at their representative in Congress and think “what can he do for me?” They want to know that their US Rep. can "deliver for the locals." Critz was accurately seen as the one who could pull the strings for the district precisely because he had Congressional staff experience. The “anti-incumbent” revolution predicted from all quarters did not materialize in Western Pennsylvania. The proper reading of yesterday's result in fact brings the opposite conclusion: Incumbents who do the grunt work of constituent services will mostly survive in November.

Tuesday’s results screw with the narratives imposed by many players on the political stage, and not just Gingrich’s. White, college educated, progressive activists have invested heavily in a harmonious argument with that of the tea partiers of the right. The portrait they paint is that President Obama isn’t satisfying “the base” enough, not being “progressive” enough, and that therefore ideological voters on the left will stay home and Republicans will conquer the upcoming midterm elections. It is often said as a threat: Do what I say or you will lose because “we” will sit on our hands. It’s tiresome not merely because it is boorish and an act of aspiring bullydom, but also because those who shout it don’t really have enough of a “we” behind them to make good on those threats, and most of that “we” doesn’t knock on doors or volunteer on phone banks or organize communities. They are aspiring generals with blogosphere accounts, but without armies.

Rather, the tea-baggers and fire-baggers alike are merely trying to get out in front of a normal trend in midterm elections: the party in the White House usually loses an average of twenty seats in the House and three in the Senate. They simply want to set up the bowling pins to be able to crow credit if and when the ball knocks some of them down. For careful watchers of US politics, their gambit is superficial and transparent, one aimed only at the most gullible among us.

It is in that light we also now look at the US Senate primary results in three states yesterday. Senate races are typically more about ideology and “issues” than House contests, and that is even truer of party primaries for those 100 seats. An important one happened in Kentucky with interesting results in both parties.

On the Republican side, in which the more ideological Rand Paul defeated the GOP establishment-backed candidate Trey Grayson, who was Senate Republican Leader Bill Mitch McConnell’s – also of Kentucky - handpicked horse. Paul, of course, is the son of US Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. The conservative GOP party ideologues, true, went with an avowed ideological adherent to tea-baggery, but it is also true that they picked a Congressman’s son as their white knight. How “anti-incumbent” or “anti-Washington” is that, really?

But as Alex Pareene (who cut his teeth at Wonkette and Gawker) notes at Salon, the more interesting story out of Kentucky yesterday than the Paultard freak show on the GOP side is that turnout was higher in the Democratic primary contest, where Attorney General Jack Conway is the apparent – pending a possible recount - winner:

Did you know that there's a Democrat in the race for Jim Bunning's Senate seat in Kentucky? He's state Attorney General Jack Conway, and he might actually win.

With 99% of precincts reporting, Conway has received 44% of the vote. That's 226,773 votes. His opponent, Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo received 221,269 votes. Rand Paul, the runaway winner of the Republican primary, received a total of 209,159 votes. In other words, both Democrats received more votes than either Republican. Which doesn't make it sound like the GOP base is energized for the Rand Paul rEVOLution.

If Conway remains the Democratic nominee, Kentucky’s “safe red” Senate seat is suddenly in play, and a pebble in the shoe of Newt Gingrich's attempt to party like it's 1994.

In Pennsylvania, the defeat of US Senator Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary by US Rep. Joe Sestak is welcome news, as is that out of Arkansas where challenging Lt. Governor Bill Halter forced corporate Democrat Blanche Lincoln (D-Wal-Mart) into a run-off to take place in three weeks. The “we speak for a base we did not organize” crowd is of course crowing to take credit for both advances by the more progressive candidates after weeks of whining that the Obama White House had backed, at least in name, the two incumbents. Howard Dean's Democracy for America, MoveOn, FDL PAC, etcetera will now fall all over each other trying to push out their credit-taking press releases on both contests, but the real story happened with the ground game in each state. Once again, the Chicken Littles are torn between illusions of their own grandeur and their narrative by which Obama is portrayed as an all-powerful executive who ought to be able to change the course of everybody’s pet issues in a single pen stroke, and all at once!

Rick Hertzberg of The New Yorker lays some rational analysis on it all:

Arlen Specter was not “selected by leaders in Washington.” He selected himself. As one of the last of the moderate Republicans, he was headed for defeat in his own party’s primary. He thought (no doubt correctly) that his chances for survival would be better in the other party, so he switched. The White House promised him support because his vote was an absolute sine qua non for overcoming Republican filibusters, most crucially filibusters against the health-care bill, on which the fate of Obama’s Presidency and the Democratic Congress rested. If this was a “backroom deal,” it was one that the White House and the “Democratic establishment” would have been criminally irresponsible not to cut.

With health care safely passed, however, the interests of the White House and the national Democratic Party are better served by Sestak’s winning the primary. Sestak is an actual Democrat, not a Democrat of opportunity. As such he will be a far more reliable and sincere supporter of the President and the President’s policies than Specter would have been if, at eighty years of age, the cranky ex-Republican had been vouchsafed a sixth (and last) six-year term. Moreover, Sestak is more likely to beat the Republican nominee, the fanatical anti-tax ideologue Pat Toomey. If Sestak wins in November, he'll probably be a senator for a long time. Given actuarial realities, a reëlected Specter might have ended up having to be replaced by a gubernatorial appointee, and there is no guarantee that Pennsylvania’s next governor will be a Democrat.

So I don’t see how this is some sort of defeat for the White House or miscalculation on their part. It looks more like a series of rather brilliant chess moves.

Energized Democratic electorates in the Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Arkansas Senate primaries, plus the comfortable victory of the D over the R in a swing district in Pennsyltucky, once again show that the proclamations of “the sky is falling” by self-promoting blog narrators were not grounded in any reality close to our own.

Many still don’t grasp that in 2008, everything changed in US politics, which is increasingly fought on the ground with the methods of community organizing. That’s what explains the high Democratic turnout yesterday and the bellwether district in Pennsylvania remaining blue. And that – and not ideological tantrums on the Internets – will write the history of November 2010. Seems like the grownups are still at the driver’s wheel and, once again, the Chicken Littles were wrong. And that is of course, old news and history repeating itself again. How many times have I written this story? How many more will I have to pen? Oh well, at least we get to use images of that cute little feathered guy again.

Facebook, Privacy, and The New Exhibitionism

By Al Giordano

There is a mild disturbance in The Force these days – by that I mean Teh Internets – in that Facebook keeps moving the “privacy” carpet underneath its umpteen gazillion users: Information they’ve posted about themselves that was previously considered “private” (as if anything on the Internet really could be) has drifted into default public domains, which now puts the onus on those consumers to proactively change their Facebook “privacy settings” in order to keep their daily ravings, party photos and other content limited among a small circle of “friends.”

If you’re one of the four or five people out there that don’t use Facebook (probably because you knew all along it would go that way, or maybe because you, uh, have a life out there in the real world), apologies for devoting so much pixel space to this matter. But on the Internet, Facebook is what Joe Biden would call a BFD, and the reasons for that are interesting enough to me.

Now there is talk of exodus from Facebook. Maybe it will happen, or maybe not. As a 16-year Internet nomad, I don’t really care: On the Internet, something new frequently appears to replace what, last week, was “new.” But I think the “privacy” issue obscures a much larger societal shift, which is the subject of this essay: The New Exhibitionism.

Jacques Ellul wrote, prophetically in 1948, the radio age, that, “we live in an age of non-response.” The subsequent advent of new communications technologies like television and mass media only made that more true. The more “information” that has bombarded us with each passing day and year, the more isolated and alienated folks in the “developed world” have felt. TV played a big role in atomizing the nuclear family and the long tradition of conversation (which used to be the glue that held cultures and societies together). And the rest of capitalism and media did away with quaint concepts like “community.”

Increasingly, the individual – his and her ego, super ego and id – ended up floating out there no longer having a captive audience inside or outside the home or the community. The new technological distractions just proved more, well, distracting.

Along came the Internet and many of us thought, “Aha! Finally, a screen we can talk back to!” One of the buzzwords of the ‘90s and early ‘00s was the concept of “online community.” People sought out and found like-minded strangers and conversation shifted from oral to typed format. It was the simulacrum of “response” that had been missing from so many lives.

“Online communities” have risen and fallen in a relatively short period of history. In the 1990s, many Internet pioneers – especially on the West Coast – inhabited a space called The Well, where in ancient ASCII code (no photos or other images yet) we commented endlessly in short byte-sized phrases on each others’ comments: The New Illiterati! As the Internet became more popular a multitude of new “online communities” appeared, where people grouped with those that agreed with them politically, religiously, racially, sexually, or that shared other common interests, traits or obsessions. That, of course, sped up the market niching of society into homogeneous groups (for which the only antidote - community organizing - has thankfully experienced a resurgence).

The advent of online photos and images brought with it the concept of having a personal “avatar,” a graphic representation of one’s self in these “communities.” I opine that was a key turning point leading to the situation I am about to describe. The Internet evolved beyond being a cheaper long distance communications service to the place where we talk not just with strangers, but with our actual friends, neighbors, family members, even next-door neighbors and often those who live under the same roof. Why go all the way down the hall or knock on a door when we can type, “Honey, coffee’s ready” from the kitchen?

The personal avatar calcified quickly into our business and holiday card, storefront, and stage: Everybody suddenly had an actor to play our selves online (in the sense that Quentin Crisp said of John Hurt, “he is my representative on Earth”). The avatar – much like in the blockbuster movie by the same name – became a signifier for one’s presence in a new, often more immediately gratifying, “reality,” where it didn’t take too much cleverness or artistic skill to finally have a personal audience, that sensation of “response” that Ellul flagged as the next great yearning of the species.

Facebook turned that audience – of individuals known and unknown to us in off-screen life – into “friends,” a deceptive and somewhat pathetic concept, as this South Park excerpt so deliciously excoriates:

Facebook and other “online communities” became the places to vent, complain, float ideas, and look for the conversation that the media age had largely silenced. Sometimes you just want to say aloud what you cooked for yourself today because no one was around to eat it. But as the “online community” became more crowded and more “friends” were competing for the attention of mutual “friends,” mere venting, or posting photos of your cat, weren’t getting so much response as before. And so people’s avatars had to become more interesting, witty, appear as more complex, and develop, additionally, as stunt actors, pulling off daredevil trapeze acts of varied kinds.

In sum, to maintain that simulacrum of “response,” one had to show vulnerability and risk, as my favorite performance artist - and a huge influence over the authentic journalism renaissance - Penny Arcade described in a 2008 interview for her anthology: Bad Reputation: Performances, Essays, Interviews (2009, Semiotext(e)/MIT Press). The secret to her assemblage of a real live audience and community, mostly under the radar of the media gatekeepers and critics, was, she said, that in her performances she put herself at emotional and sometimes physical risk:

“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.”

This dynamic led more and more users of Facebook and other “online communities” to type things aloud that they probably wouldn’t say on the street or in the workplace, even though those reading them were slaving away in the next-door office cubicle and reading them from that illusory distance. They would type things that others, upon reading, would think, sure, but I would never say that in public! One married couple I know online, for example, posts all the time on Facebook about the hardships of parenthood. And since the kids are too young yet to read what they type, some of it comes off as deliciously harsh about the “little darlings.” That makes for compelling reading and generates comment and response from others with similar experiences. But when one day the wife began complaining online about her husband’s snoring, sending him links in full Facebook view to anti-snore products, and an army of women with similar complaints weighed in mercilessly on the theme, I really felt sorry for the guy. It was great Internet, but also, it seemed, too much information, not something that really belonged outside the comfort and privacy of the hearth.

I’m guilty of that TMI factor as well. I think most participants in “online communities” are. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and see something I typed there the night before and think, “oh, my, did I really say that aloud?” Like many others, I’ve used Facebook to flirt, to cajole, to reward, to punish, and to show vulnerability and risk which is sometimes sincere but other times completely fabricated stage acting because I know my audience and what it wants. Truth is, I don’t feel that vulnerable on Facebook because I’ve never labored under the illusion that my avatar or online representation is the real me. It’s just those pieces and strands of my life that are outside of my deepest core. I see it more as a place to develop material and improvise "on stage" with participatory feedback from the audience. And it is also, obviously, an organizing tool for off-screen events, concerts, sales, business and such, and a kind of phone book listing for long lost friends to find each other.

The danger for everyone comes if we begin to consider that online representation to be “the real me.” But I’m not really “Al Giordano.” I just play him on the Internet. And a very few people have ever gotten in close enough, in daily life outside the screen, to know the real Al, because that guy does have borders and visas to be stamped before somebody can enter.

But I sense that many of my Facebook audience, er, “friends,” suffer under an illusion that they are their avatars, and this is why Facebook’s moving the privacy chains has them so upset. They’ve shown actual risk and emotional vulnerability, exposed what they consider to be their true selves. And the thought of that suddenly becoming public domain is understandably terrifying: when the avatar has no clothes.

All that said, I don’t think this “privacy” flap is going to kill Facebook quite yet. As vulnerable as many people feel after airing their dirty laundry there, that experience has also been immensely satisfying to them; a guilty or or negative pleasure, which is what defines "sublime." It used to be that the place one would say things and do things to themselves and others they would never do in public was the family. But that’s all gone in the developed world now, extinct. Now it is Facebook and other online sites like it. If I had a nickel for every time I’d read somebody typing the words “my Facebook family” I wouldn’t have to regularly ask readers to support Narco News or The Field with donations.

Truth is – as every artist and creator knows – exhibitionism is fun! And extremely satisfying: It is, in fact, a basic human need that is experiencing a renaissance, which has democratized the artist’s impulse beyond the smaller circle of those of us who obsessively develop our arts as a craft.

And exhibitionism is totally addictive. And people need addictions, which are the fourth human instinct after the searches for oxygen, food/water and sex have been quenched: Intoxication, in a word, which comes from many directions beyond the traditional intoxicants that are ingested, injected or smoked. Show me someone in recovery from drugs or alcohol and I’ll show you someone who found a more compelling or healthier addiction. But they still need a regular “fix” of one kind or another. That’s what being human is.

The democratization of public or semi-public exhibitionism has thrown traditional concerns about “personal privacy” out the window. Who needs the CIA anymore when everybody is out there blurting the kinds of secrets it used to take surveillance to discover? Privacy didn’t disappear because Big Brother took it away. We gave it away! Freely! It fell aside to a greater impulse: the need to expose ourselves in public, to have an audience, and to keep it.

Facebook, sooner or later, will surely whither and give way to newer online outlets, just as others fell before it. But my hunch is that it won’t happen because people are really all that concerned about their “privacy.” They are concerned about their “identity” as individuals – at least that which they project in public – and part of many people’s identity is that they want to be seen as caring about their personal privacy. After all, it makes us more interesting, more sought after, if others feel we have something worthwhile to hide.

Outside of illegal acts (most people engage in one or another, at least now and then) what is left that individuals really need to hide in order to preserve themselves and thrive? And even the illegal acts – say, smoking pot – are no longer legally problematic for those of the income level that brings them a computer and Internet access. The house may no longer be a home, but it is still a bunker that the cops don’t typically enter merely because someone posts a Facebook status update or a photo that shows that he just took a bong hit. No, that treatment is reserved for the poor and for those who have to leave the house - or don't have one - to seek their fix.

And so a lot of the public angst right now about Facebook’s encroaching upon what was previously on default “private” setting is not, in my opinion, authentic concern about privacy. It is, rather, just another song and dance by our avatars, trying to show others that we care deeply about privacy and therefore we must lead very interesting lives off screen. It is an especially difficult challenge now posed to those confused that their avatars are honest representations of themselves.

There are still, in this day and age, people who are truly clandestine, who really do dangerous and exciting or felonious things out there in the real world. Most of them are either very poor or very rich and therefore are "off the grid" by circumstance or by fortress. But typically, they are not on Facebook. Or, if they are, they kept that stuff carefully cloaked all along, much in the way that a fugitive from justice will never run a red light or break the speed limit.

The rest of us might yearn for days gone by when privacy existed, but the impulse to expose ourselves has simply proved a stronger human instinct. To every man and woman, a stage, and an audience: Welcome to the New Exhibitionism!

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