Class warfare in Trump’s America

Boycott all political cable TV news programs

by Dell Franklin

I’m guilty of a two-decade addiction to cable TV political programs, never missing Hardball with Chris Matthews on MSNBC at 4 in the afternoon. I adjusted my day to watch Chris and felt he was an indispensable fixture of my daily agenda, especially when he came around to my views on the mindless butchery and stupidity of George W. Bush’s and despicable Dick Cheney’s bogus wars in Afghanistan and especially in Iraq, and the lies and propaganda that led up to Iraq. I even managed to tolerate Chris’s propensity to drown out his guests with long-winded personal orations and rude interruptions.

But now I have turned on Chris, turned on him with a vengeance. Why? At this point I’m probably too enraged by the Trump election to really explain why, but we can start with Chris’s fawning treatment of a mean-spirited, lying, bile-infested hater named Rudy Giuliani, an opportunist and braggart to whose image Matthews repeatedly contributed as a sort of self-proclaimed savior of New York City after 9/ll, a bilious chest-beater he allowed to treat Hillary Clinton as a common criminal, a wind-bag so supercilious, high-minded and loathsome he wouldn’t last five minutes in a common man’s tavern without being beaten senseless.

Chris also began to draw my wrath by telling us all that former GOP pundit and final Donald Trump head campaign manager and current confidante Kellyanne Conway is a  close friend of his, and allowed her to precede or follow one Trump rally after another with nauseating spins and lies which he seemed to find amusing, so enamored was he of this cutesy-cutesy perpetually grinning Christ-crazed poisonous blonde asp.

Watching Chris led me to hanging with the rest of the geniuses on MSNBC, all partisans I agreed with, though after switching occasionally to CNN and Fox News and cackling at fascist punk Sean Hannity and bully/browbeater,blowhard Bill O’Reilly, I began to feel MSNBC was, at least 50 percent of the time, broken records blowing smoke and repeating the same old tired refrains and, finally, not worth listening to.

CNN is more of the same, though somewhat tempered, but still guilty of shilling for Trump rallies and allowing them to hog precious time because it was entertaining, brought in viewers, brought in sponsors, brought in millions in profits, and resulted in the election of a veritable monster and white collar criminal as president of the country.

The Sunday morning shows are full of the identical, if modulated lies and spins, the same old tired and jaded faces and voices, the politicians stabbing you in the back or cutting out your intestines while smiling with pencil-tip eyes, these tie-wearing so-called respectable and civilized crusaders who must fabricate or embellish to be heard, to make their points, to penetrate the doldrums of a benumbed incurious illiterate zombieland American electorate needing only to be entertained, its attention span so limited from technology and just plain apathy.

Even the fair-minded, sane, brilliant Fareed Zakaria on CNN, who makes more sense than the entire pack left and right, is dispatched, the bad going with the good, like clearing out a whorehouse and jailing the johns along with the hookers, like in the old days.

I have not watched a second of this garbage since November 8. My friend John Winthrop constantly emails me with reports observed on Fox News and MSNBC and CNN about Trump’s latest appointment or tweet, these snippets inflamed with his own brand of spleen and hatred at the events taking place in America, and I repeatedly urge him to quit watching this misery before his anger kills him (he’s already had a heart attack). And of late this concern with the disaster of our politics has so sapped his immune system he is down with a brutal flu that has him aching from bone to joint.

Another reason not to watch even the nightly news, much less these programs, is the odious and now ubiquitous presence of Trump himself. The sight and sound of him is so repulsive and infuriating and downright abhorrent it drains you of your vital juices, deprives you from pleasant thoughts and harmony with fellow man, grinds your guts and mind into a writhing ball of incoherent, corrosive rage. Hell, I want to get through the day, the week, the months without losing myself in a stew of disenchantment with humanity for allowing this mercenary crackpot to be the shameful representative of our nation.

Hell, I stayed mostly drunk throughout the Reagan Administration and was salvaged health-wise because I was younger and could deal with the punishment of one hangover after another, and I had a great time celebrating my nonstop escape from reality and missing Reagan’s good old boy Howdy Doody technicolor grin while he shafted the little guy.

But now I am in my early 70s and cannot allow myself to be pissed off or drunk the whole time by watching Chris Matthews or any other of these programs or personalities, simply because I need to have some semblance of peace of mind. I get enough information out of the LA Times to know what’s going on, and I read the New Yorker weekly, and Winthrop keeps me abreast of the latest catastrophe, but mainly, if I do not have to see these people, and hear these people, and especially Trump, it is out of sight and out of mind, at least temporarily, and I can salvage some peace of mind from the country I dwell in…while waiting for the massive sledge hammer to drop and blast us back into the tragic truths of our times. §

Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he can look out over the vast Pacific Ocean lapping at his doorstep and hope for better times. For more in his Class Warfare series, visit dellfranklin.com, where this article first appeared.

Supporting the arts

Why do conservatives want to eliminate government funding?

Photograph by Robert Mapplethorpe

by 

Recent reports indicate that Trump administration officials have circulated plans to defund the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA), putting this agency on the chopping block – again.

Conservatives have sought to eliminate the NEA since the Reagan administration. In the past, arguments were limited to the content of specific state-sponsored works that were deemed offensive or immoral – an offshoot of the culture wars.

Now the cuts are largely driven by an ideology to shrink the federal government and decentralize power. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, argues that government should not use its “coercive power of taxation” to fund arts and humanities programs that are neither “necessary nor prudent.” The federal government, in other words, has no business supporting culture. Period.

But there are two major flaws in conservatives’ latest attack on the NEA: The aim to decentralize the government could end up dealing local communities a major blow, and it ignores the economic contribution of this tiny line item expense.

The relationship between government and the arts

Historically, the relationship between the state and culture is as fundamental as the idea of the state itself. The West, in particular, has witnessed an evolution from royal and religious patronage of the arts to a diverse range of arts funding that includes sales, private donors, foundations, corporations, endowments and the government.

Prior to the formation of the NEA in 1965, the federal government strategically funded cultural projects of national interest. For example, the Commerce Department subsidized the film industry in the 1920s and helped Walt Disney skirt bankruptcy during World War II. The same could be said for the broad range of New Deal economic relief programs, like the Public Works of Art Project and the Works Progress Administration, which employed artists and cultural workers. The CIA even joined in, funding Abstract Expressionist artists as a cultural counterweight to Soviet Realism during the Cold War.

The NEA came about during the Cold War. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy asserted the political and ideological importance of artists as critical thinkers, provocateurs and powerful contributors to the strength of a democratic society. His attitude was part of a broader bipartisan movement to form a national entity to promote American arts and culture at home and abroad. By 1965, President Johnson took up Kennedy’s legacy, signing the National Arts and Cultural Development Act of 1964 – which established the National Council on the Arts – and the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities Act of 1965, which established the NEA.

Since its inception, the NEA has weathered criticism from the left and right. The right generally argues state funding for culture shouldn’t be the government’s business, while some on the left have expressed concern about how the funding might come with constraints on creative freedoms. Despite complaints from both sides, the United States has never had a fully articulated, coherent national policy on culture, unless – as historian Michael Kammen suggests – deciding not to have one is, in fact, policy.

Flare-ups in the culture wars

Targeting of the NEA has had more to do with the kind of art the government funded than any discernible impact to the budget. The amount in question – roughly US$148 million – is a drop in the morass of a $3.9 trillion federal budget.

Instead, the arts were a focus of the culture wars that erupted in the 1980s, which often invoked legislative grandstanding for elimination of the NEA. Hot-button NEA-funded pieces included Andre Serrano’s “Immersion (Piss Christ)” (1987), Robert Mapplethorpe’s photo exhibit “The Perfect Moment” (1989) and the case of the “NEA Four,” which involved the rejection of NEA grant applicants by performance artists Karen Finley, Tim Miller, John Fleck and Holly Hughes.

In each case, conservative legislators isolated an artist’s work – connected to NEA funding – that was objectionable due to its sexual or controversial content, such as Serrano’s use of Christian iconography. These artists’ works, then, were used to stoke a public debate about normative values. Artists were the targets, but often museum staff and curators bore the brunt of these assaults. The NEA four were significant because the artists had grants unlawfully rejected based upon standards of decency that were eventually deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1998.

Demonstrators protest congressional opposition to an NEA-funded exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs in 1990. David Kohl/AP Photo

 As recently as 2011, former Congressmen John Boehner and Eric Cantor targeted the inclusion of David Wojnarowicz’s “A Fire in My Belly, A Work in Progress” (1986-87) in a Smithsonian exhibition to renew calls to eliminate the NEA.

In all these cases, the NEA had funded artists who either brought attention to the AIDS crisis (Wojnarowicz), invoked religious freedoms (Serrano) or explored feminist and LGBTQ issues (Mapplethorpe and the four performance artists). Controversial artists push the boundaries of what art does, not just what art is; in these cases, the artists were able to powerfully communicate social and political issues that elicited the particular ire of conservatives.

A local impact

But today, it’s not about the art itself. It’s about limiting the scope and size of the federal government. And that ideological push presents real threats to our economy and our communities.

Organizations like the Heritage Foundation fail to take into account that eliminating the NEA actually causes the collapse of a vast network of regionally controlled, state-level arts agencies and local councils. In other words, they won’t simply be defunding a centralized bureaucracy that dictates elite culture from the sequestered halls of Washington, D.C. The NEA is required by law to distribute 40 percent of its budget to arts agencies in all 50 states and six U.S. jurisdictions.

Many communities – such as Princeton, New Jersey, which could lose funding to local cultural institutions like the McCarter Theatre – are anxious about how threats to the NEA will affect their community.

Therein lies the misguided logic of the argument for defunding: It targets the NEA but in effect threatens funding for programs like the Creede Repertory Theatre – which serves rural and underserved communities in states like Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Oklahoma and Arizona – and Appalshop, a community radio station and media center that creates public art installations and multimedia tours in Jenkins, Kentucky to celebrate Appalachian cultural identity.

While the present administration and the conservative movement claim they’re simply trying to save taxpayer dollars, they also ignore the significant economic impacts of the arts. The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that the arts and culture industry generated $704.8 billion of economic activity in 2013 and employed nearly five million people. For every dollar of NEA funding, there are seven dollars of funding from other private and public funds. Elimination of the agency endangers this economic vitality.

Ultimately, the Trump administration needs to decide whether artistic and cultural work is important to a thriving economy and democracy. §

 is Assistant Professor of Art Education, Pennsylvania State University. Knochel receives funding from the National Science Foundation. This article is reprinted by permission of The Conversation.

Can’t get past the DNC’s cynicism

Please tell me what have we learned as progressives?

by Sean Shealy

It has been six months since Democrats made the greatest political blunder in modern history. It was glaringly obvious: If you nominate this person, it was going to completely demoralize the activist base, give a MASSIVE shot of political adrenaline to the Republicans, and middle America would think, “Ick! Another career politician.”

This was the political equivalent of your teenage son riding his bike off the roof of your house. You ask, “What in God’s name were you thinking?”

I understand women wanting a female president. I share that goal. And it is certainly true that misogyny played a role in this election across the political spectrum, right, center, and left as well.

But I submit you this: If BILL Clinton had been eligible to run, and had been the nominee—Donald Trump would still be sitting in the White House today.

And millions of Democrats would have stood on Clinton’s ropeline, feverishly cheering him on, working diligently to defeat the progressive candidate.

Have we learned nothing from history?

Donald Trump doesn’t keep me awake at night.

THIS keeps me awake at night: At every turn, the Democratic establishment, and half of Democratic voters, have screwed and abandoned progressive activists.

They’re happy to have us, so long as we’re working to put the Democratic establishment back into power—but the second they get there, it is this:

  • Mass surveillance police state? But we HAVE to have that, to protect us from terrorists!
  • Well, we certainly need to keep bombing people all over the world, to keep the empire going.
  • Single-payer? That’s a pipe dream.
  • Free college? What is that, some kind of communism?
  • $15 an hour? Why, that’s not realistic! You’ll just have to raise a family on $12!

And on and on and on. Ad infinitum, ad nauseam.

THAT is what keeps me sitting on my hands right now, as an activist, at a time when we are needed most.

My view is that America is going to have to be so devastated, Americans so utterly destroyed and destitute and desperate, that they will finally be forced to look at baseline, bread-and-butter issues, because they have no other choice.

Where there is hope, they can equivocate; where there is hope, they can spend their time hating Mexicans, or gays. Where there is hope, they can vote for politicians who speak in platitudes, or from paranoia, making vague reassurances about jobs and upward mobility, or promising to bomb their nightmare fantasies away overseas.

Without hope? Different story. Without hope, they will ask:

  • Where is the bread coming from? I WANT SPECIFICS.
  • My child will never go to college. WE DEMAND EDUCATION!
  • My mother died, and my child, and my wife, from lack of healthcare. WE DEMAND UNIVERSAL HEALTHCARE, NOW!

These may seem like bleak, dystopian doomsday visions to many middle-class Democratic voters.

But they are reality already for millions across this country, millions who have been left behind, abandoned, so hopeless that many of them turned to Donald Trump in hopes that he would just change something—ANYTHING.

Or, barring that, burn it all to the ground.

They’re dying for progressive change. STARVING for it.

Trump won, largely, on a progressive platform plank: getting out of these insane free-trade agreements. The same agreements pushed by Bill, and Hillary, and Barack Obama. The agreements that have made Wall Street so wealthy, while devastating American workers.

The myriad ways that the Democratic Party establishment has screwed us cannot be listed here. It would be a book.

But the math is pretty simple:

1) Wall Street owned the Republican Party.

2) Reagan destroyed the unions, the lifeblood of the Democratic Party.

3) The Democratic Party then turned to the banks, which were distinct from Wall Street, for contributions.

4) In exchange for the support of the banks, the Democratic Party, under Bill Clinton, agreed to break down the wall of separation between Wall Street and the banks.

5) The banks then became Wall Street.

6) Wall Street then controlled both parties.

The Bible says, “Man cannot serve both God and money.”

Likewise, a party cannot serve both Wall Street and the interests of social and economic justice—of THE PEOPLE.

The two interests conflict. Sharply. They OPPOSE.

Somebody, please: Tell me that a gigantic, blinding light, as hot as the sun, just exploded into your brain. Tell me that you get this. Tell me that I won’t work and sweat and bleed for another four years—for nothing.

Donald Trump’s way is the way of wealth, of oligarchy, of empire.

The Democratic establishment’s way is the way of wealth, of oligarchy, of empire.

Without a clear, complete progressive turn of the Democratic Party, wealth will have its way.

Please, someone, tell me that you have understood?

Otherwise, my activism is a waste of time.

I’d rather go to the beach. §

Sean Shealy is an activist and the author of Corruption & Cover-Ups of the Bush White House Unmasked and the novel Killing Limbaugh.

ROAD TRIP

Driving in your black Mustang, Stella,
Listening to Skynard’s Simple Man
On the way to Felton,
Absence of abstract words
And acrylic paint,
Walking into the river,
We see ourselves.
Not the reflection of the painter’s
Curve, color, and form;
Not the writer’s ideas
About her character’s
Inner life, but the real life
Of two close friends.
As I lean toward you,
Pulling up my earthy dress,
Your hands caress my thighs,
Rays through redwoods;
Sounds of Nor Cal
Birds, stream, and faint
Laughter in the distance.
And right when the sounds of
Nature disappear in heated silence,
We had to pack our things
Rush back to your slick,
Black car.
—Marnie Parker

Exxon’s Rex Tillerson

And the rise of Big Oil in American politics

By Brian C. Black, Distinguished Professor of History and Environmental Studies, Pennsylvania State University. In 1945, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, part of a behind-the-scenes policy to ensure access to oil for the U.S. and its allies. National Archives and Records Administration “How Big Oil Bought the White House… Continue reading

The Tyranny of

Donald Trump’s official presidential bio contains about a half-dozen attempts to convince someone—probably himself—that his win was a massive blowout and not a shameful, slight fluke only made possible by the intervention of a foreign government and a domestic conspiracy to get the FBI director to interfere in the democratic process during the final weeks, twice.

This sad overcompensation—like the emergency White House press briefing called Saturday night to lie about the size of of his inauguration crowd as the largest protests in U.S. history raged against the new president—isn’t an accident.

It’s an announcement: We will do what we want regardless of how many Americans are against us.

Since Trump lost the popular vote by the largest margin in a modern times, he’s done nothing to reach out to the majority of Americans who rejected him. His cabinet is made up entirely of doctrinaire, extremely right-wing Republicans, most of them filthy rich, nearly all white and male. His hostile inaugural address proclaimed a mandate for him to act as the voice of “the people,” though he’s the least popular president to take the office is the history of polling such things.

And things are only going to get worse.

With minority support and no interest in courting anything but that, Trump is about to enact a far right agenda unlike anything we’ve seen since the 1920s.

If Trump gets his way, we are likely to see the greatest transfer of wealth to the richest in human history, though the wealth inequality in America is already nearing levels that brought out the guillotines in 18th-century France.

This transfer of wealth is not just about giant tax breaks for the rich and their kids and their corporations and their kids’ corporations. It’s not just about a massive un-insuring of working Americans that will return us to the era of discrimination against the sick. And it’s not just about the erasure of regulations that will transfer the costs of pollution and financial risk back on to middle-class.

As Trump was about to take the oath of office, his team announced plans for $10.5 trillion in cuts based on a plan devised by the Heritage Foundation—a plan that includes huge cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the Defense Department. This plan would violate some of Trump’s most notable campaign promises and likely send millions, if not tens of millions, of the 48 million Americans, including 12 million children, that the government keeps out of poverty into abject despair.

What mandate does the GOP have to unwind the insurance of 32 million and turn an income inequality crisis into an income inequality nightmare?

Yes, Republicans hold a majority of seats in the House, where they lost seats despite an electoral map that has been gerrymandered for their exclusive pleasure. Yes, they hold the Senate, where they also lost seats and their 52 representatives represent millions of fewer voters than the 48 Democrats. And then there is Trump, who got millions fewer votes than Clinton but won three key states by a margin smaller than 1 percent with share of the vote less than 50 percent.

The closest analogy in history to this is the 2000 election when George W. Bush made passing gestures at unity and ended up pursuing a nakedly partisan agenda that erased a surplus, lost two wars and revealed mass incompetence.

But even W. didn’t go after Planned Parenthood. And the millions he uninsured were just the side effect of the failure of his economic polices.

Posted with permission from The National Memo.

			

CLASS WARFARE

Living with more (or less) in Trump’s America

by Dell Franklin

This kid was my best friend when we were both 12, and he told me his goal in life was to be a millionaire. We will call him Carl C. Today, if you drive along a certain freeway in Southern California in an industrial area you will be hard-pressed not to spot a huge square-block-size building with his name on it. He is a billionaire.

Back when we were 12 in our blue-collar town, Carl was already working in his father’s business, a small manufacturer of construction accessories. Carl took my two prized agates I got for my birthday in marbles and sold them. He had the best rare coin collection in town. He was already better than me at cards and repeatedly took money I earned shining shoes at a local amusement park. In junior high, when we walked around town, he never carried money, only a dime in the change purse of his bill fold in case he needed to make an emergency telephone call.

In high school, he bought a car. When he drove us neighborhood kids around town, cruised the drive-in, went to The Pike in Long Beach, or to the beach on summer days, he made sure we paid for gas. If he loaned you money he charged 20 percent interest. I never borrowed money from him because I didn’t need to, but hanging out with him forced me to be almost as cheap as he was, so I wouldn’t get swindled, but I often did get swindled. He was smart, daring, always one step ahead of everybody, including me. The only thing I was superior to him at was athletics. I started and excelled in all three major sports and ran track. Though he was slightly stronger than me, he stunk and got cut from every team sport.

All through high school and college he worked for his dad, whose business grew and boomed, and he wore a coat and tie to learn finances and sales. He majored in business and languages. I went into the Army for three years, and when I got out he had a master’s degree and enough money to start his own business by living at home and saving. It was 1968, and he was about to be drafted. I advised him to go to Canada to avoid Vietnam, but he felt with his education and his ability to “talk himself into good situations” he would get a cushy job, while those less qualified for language school would fight. He ended up in the infantry and deserted a troop movement to ‘Nam and showed up at my apartment with his passport. He was fleeing to Europe. His dad, already hounded by the FBI, showed up looking ten years older, a decorated WWII infantry soldier who fought in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany.

We watched Carl fly away to Paris from LAX and when Mr. C put his arm around me, and I put my arm around him, he was shuddering. His wife was in hysterics.

Five years later, as the war died down, Carl was back home running his dad’s business after Mr. C had a heart attack. Neither Carl or his dad would discuss how he’d managed to get back in the country without going to jail. I had visited Mr. C off and on during Carl’s absence and he was slowly deteriorating before my very eyes, twitching and shaking, black rings beneath his eyes, his once-powerful body withered. He was a person I adored.

When he died a year after Carl’s return, Carl took over the business and expanded. He lived in a plush two-story home on the beach with his beautiful blonde wife and occasionally came into the saloon where I worked as a bartender in Manhattan beach and carried only the dime in his change purse and a crisp new hundred-dollar bill he never broke. He also refused to pay for his drinks, stating if he was tending bar he’d give me free drinks as his good friend, while I explained I worked for a house and didn’t give away their money. He allowed others to buy his drinks. He was always trying to coerce me and bar denizens to bet on football and basketball games where he was at a huge advantage, realizing he was studious of odds and cold-blooded about who won or loss, having no loyalty to any team, while others were guided by emotions. He won a lot of money. When he lost, instead of paying off, he managed to talk winners into letting what was owed them ride on another bet.

I began to despise him. Just the look on his face and in his eyes as he sized up those with less money, less intelligence, less heart, and manipulated them with his uncanny ability to subtly browbeat, began to eat away at me, especially when he never bought anybody a drink after he took their money on bets. The way he so gloatingly fit those bills into his wallet reminded me of his stashing away my agates years back. Like he owned you.

I finally refused to serve him. We had an argument. He called me a loser, working in a bar for tips and coolie wages at 30 years old. I was a failed athlete and had no chance as a writer. He had everything. I countered by telling him I loved my job, played in two basketball leagues, surfed just about every day, had a wonderful girlfriend and a great cat. He scoffed at me, sneered, said not only was I failed athlete, but that he, a non-athlete, could beat me in tennis and wanted to play for a hundred bucks.

He took lessons from a famous pro in Beverly Hills and owned state-of-the-art rackets, a ball machine and 50 cans of balls in the trunk of his Mercedes. I upped the stakes to two-hundred. So we met on the local courts, and as we warmed up, his face changed. The cockiness disappeared. He began to look craven. He came to the net and stated he wanted to play that afternoon for nothing, until he “felt ready”—this after we had shook hands. I called him a slew of names, cussed him in front of various players on other courts, accused him of being a coward and stormed off, told him to never come around me again. He never did.

So I forgot about him, until I heard he was now a billionaire.

***

Carl was not a creep like President Trump. He was a gentleman around girls. As a kid, he was funny and observant and well-read and curious and good company. But as the years passed, his drive to accumulate money began to change him and control his life, until greed began to win out over humanity, just as today, in  this age, capitalism has won out over democracy, turning us into an oligarchy masquerading as a democracy.

As a millionaire and finally a billionaire, I’m sure, as a person who never liked paying for anything, and coaxed others to pay his way, Carl C has the finest tax lawyers to write off everything. I’m sure he became admired in his own sphere of business and society and eventually worshiped, for in America attaining millionaire and billionaire status is the culmination of the American Dream, so that when one of these people speaks, others stop and listen, as well as catering to and often becoming obsequious to such financial titans, almost as if, as billionaires, whatever they touch turns to gold, whatever they say is the truth, and that because they can make millions and billions they can do anything, even run the most powerful, important country in the world, even, as a young millionaire deserter, beat a trained athlete (who in our society is a poor slacker and loser) in a tennis match for two-hundred dollars because his hubris and ego has no bounds. §

Dell Franklin lives in quiet simplicity, never got rich, and doesn’t lack for anything. He writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif. Visit his website: dellfranklin.com.