Robin Hood vs. The Tea Baggers

When CNBC’s Rick Santelli roused his mob of commodities traders to indiscriminately oppose any sort of taxation (even though they have representation), he set off a campaign that hitched its identity to the revolutionary war era activists who came to be known as the tea party. Unfortunately, there was very little forethought to this aborning movement and the participants began referring to themselves as Tea Baggers. When they learned of some of the other less flattering connotations of the term, they tried to distance themselves from it. But it was too late and besides, some of their comrades decided to embrace it.

The progressive community never really countered this crowd with anything organized. There was an awkward attempt to launch a Coffee Party, but it, so far, has not gained much traction.

Well now we may have a far better branding opportunity, with a far more appealing image. And it is all thanks to the new movie Robin Hood, and its star Russell Crowe. At a press conference for the opening of the film at the Cannes Film Festival in France (oh no, not France), the discussion turned to what Robin Hood would be doing were he to be present and wandering in the woods today. Crowe offered a damn good theory that was aimed directly at the media audience he was addressing:

“Would he be political? Would he aim at certain figures and try to bring them down? Would his aim be economic? Would he be looking at Wall Street and the huge sums of money that people have been patting themselves on the back with, and the subprime mortgage collapse?

“Or would he be looking at what you guys do for a living and realizing that the true wealth lies in the dissemination of information? And my theory would be, if Robin Hood was alive today, he would be looking at the monopolization of media as the greatest enemy.”

Exactly! If there is any authority in the 21st century that is brazenly exploiting the masses for its own benefit; if there is any institution that considers itself to be above the peasants and entitled to the power and money they hoard, it is the media. They travel in elite circles and cover for one another. Once in the club you can never be ejected. That’s why so many pundits are still given airtime despite how often they are wrong. And the Sheriff of Nottingham, known to his friends as Rupert Murdoch, keeps a tight reign on the fiefdom he rules.

Crowe’s insight is not merely recognizing the threat that media consolidation and monopolization represents, but he explicitly rejected the easy analogy of Robin Hood being a Tea Bagger himself due to his opposition to the then-current administration. No, Robin is much more likely to be a liberal as evidenced by his distaste for the opulently wealthy who have no concern for working people. Robin’s policy of taking from the rich and giving to the poor made him an early practitioner of “redistribution of wealth.” He certainly would have battled the Wall Street barons, the environmental abusers, and he would have demanded that all subjects of the realm receive adequate health care, food, and housing.

Tea CrusadesSo get ready for the Tea Crusaders to mount up in opposition to Robin and his Merry Men and Women. Brace yourselves for the 9/12ers and Glenn Beck’s Army of the Delusional. Be vigilant as Fox News amasses the troops on the border of Sanity. Robin Hood, the movie and the legend, will soon come under attack because the Dark Ageists won’t abide this champion of social justice and enemy of free market greed. And if you think they won’t go after a beloved cultural icon like Robin Hood, remember, the Tea Baggers already denounced Captain America.

The progressive movement, however, would be wise to embrace Robin Hood and build our future on the philosophy he represents. It is an ethical and moral philosophy, and an appealing and inspirational tale of heroism and beneficence. And it’s way better than Tea Bagging.

Glenn Beck’s Excellent Vatican Adventure

Glenn Beck went to the Vatican and was anointed by…someone. You have to hear this to believe it. Listen to the tone of his voice. Note the pregnant pauses. And tell me if Jim Jones doesn’t come to mind.

BECK: We are entering a…we are entering a dark, dark period of man. Um, I was, um, I was in the Vatican, and I was surprised that the individual I was speaking to knew who I was. And they said: ‘Of course we know who you are. What you’re doing is wildly important. We’re entering a period of great darkness, and if good people don’t stand up, we could enter a period unlike we have seen in a very long time.’ It was odd to stand in the Vatican and hear those words. Of all places that would understand the Dark Ages.

Beck never bothered to identify the “individual” to whom he was speaking. The implication was that it was a Vatican official of some sort. The phrase “we know who you are,” suggests that it was not a private person speaking for himself, but a representative of a group. And Beck portrays this person as someone whose opinion carries some weight. Why else would we care that he regards Beck as “wildly important?” Of course, this is Glenn Beck we’re talking about, so it may just have been some schnook in line for the tour.

The creepy thing about this is that it is further evidence of Beck’s Messianic ambitions. He clearly wants to convince his audience that he is more than just a television pundit, he is a spiritual leader with a mandate from God. He even said as much on another program:

BECK: It’s darkness, and I can just feel it coming. And I started to say…I said the problem is…and I stopped. Because I don’t want to utter something like this without really thinking it through. But I was about to say, the problem is that God is giving a plan, I think, to me that is not really a plan. And I stopped myself because I didn’t want to utter those things out loud if that’s not exactly right, and it’s not. […]

Then I said the problem is is that I think the plan that the Lord would have us follow is hard for people to understand. But I’m telling you, here’s what I feel with everything in me. If you’ve listened to this program – oy, are they gonna use this against me – If you’ve listened to this program for a long time you know who I am. And you know that many of the things that I have done and said that have put me in, you know, harm’s way, one way or another, they always start at the same place. They always start at my gut or my heart. And then I figure it out as we go along. All the stuff that I feel has been important on this show has been things that I felt and didn’t understand. [..]

I beg of you to pray for clarity on my part. The plan that He would have me articulate, I think, to you, is “Get behind me.” And I don’t mean me, I mean Him. Get behind me. Stand behind me.

So God is giving him a plan (that isn’t really a plan) and you, his faithful listeners, know who he is (the Son of…?), and you know that he is suffering (in harm’s way) for your salvation as he prays to let this cup pass from him. Yet he will endure his fate and accept the things that he feels but doesn’t understand (not as I will, but as thou wilt). Yes, Glenn Beck is hearing the voice of God and passing His Word on to his disciples. First and foremost in the message is the imposing darkness that is enveloping us all. This is an image that Beck returns to often. It is an image of a world in total collapse:

“You’re gonna see a black and white world, man, that is nothing but destruction and ugly.”

“Find the exit closest to you and prepare for a crash landing, because this plane is coming down, because the pilot is intentionally steering it into the trees. […] They are taking you to a place to be slaughtered.”

“I know what our country is headed towards. I know the struggles that are ahead in my life and I know the struggles that are ahead in your life. It’s not going to be pretty.”

“It is the eve of destruction in America.”

“The rain is coming. I think you feel it in your gut. It is time to build an Ark. It is time to prepare yourself for some tough times.”

I don’t know where Beck wants to sail in his Ark, but I suspect it’s someplace like Guyana, or perhaps the free-market paradise of Somalia, the world’s best example of the conservative ideal of small government. Someplace he can preach to his congregants of God’s plan for him and the world he fears is doomed. And I hope his Ark is big enough to hold all those who are demented enough to want to follow him. America will be a better place when they set sail for their homogeneous, free-market, theocratic, utopia.

Bill O’Reilly Needs To Fire His Research Staff

I just had to document this here because it so ridiculous and because Huffington Post has such a great video of it.

Bill O’Reilly confronted Sen. Tom Coburn on his show a few days ago because Coburn had the temerity to point out to his constituents that they should not believe everything they hear on Fox News. The issue specifically addressed an assertion that the health care bill had a provision that would sentence people to jail if they didn’t buy insurance. The truth is that the bill explicitly prohibits such criminal penalties.

However, O’Reilly went to the extreme of insisting that Coburn’s remarks were unfair because nobody on Fox ever said that the bill had such provisions:

O’Reilly: It doesn’t happen here, and we’ve researched to find out if anybody on Fox News has ever said “You’re going to jail if you don’t buy health insurance.” Nobody’s ever said it. So it seems to me what you did was, you used Fox News as a whipping boy when we didn’t qualify there.

Oh yeah? Tell that to PolitiFact who rated O’Reilly’s claim as a “Pants on Fire” lie. Or Media Matters who had no problem finding what O’Reilly’s researchers could not. Or the Young Turks who compiled the video evidence:

Once again O’Reilly makes an ass of himself. He even joked about Coburn’s “mistake” the following night with Dennis Miller. By that time both of them ought to have known that a multitude of people said that the bill could send non-payers to jail – even Glenn Beck said it on O’Reilly’s show! It just doesn’t get any stupider than that.

This is the network that had to issue a memo to its staff warning them of a zero tolerance policy for on air mishaps. And O’Reilly, in particular, frequently boasts that he has never made a retraction on his show. Of course not. He’s made hundreds of mistakes and told thousands of lies, but has never bothered to correct any of them. That doesn’t mean they didn’t happen. It just means that he’s comfortable disinforming his audience. And why mess up a perfect record by suddenly being honest? Although there was one prior incident of honesty for which O’Reilly deserves some credit:

Thanks for the entertainment, Bill. I won’t wait around for a retraction.

[Hilarity Update:] O’Reilly began his program tonight with a Talking Points Memo about how NBC and Media Matters are dishonestly smearing him because of this health care/jail time controversy. He tried to exculpate himself from his assholiness with a tortured argument that went something like this: He claimed that all of the examples of Fox folks clearly saying that jail would be the penalty for not having insurance were made at a time when such a penalty was in the bill. But his assertion that no one ever said it was referring to the final bill which had no such penalty. He even played video clips of Obama and Pelosi that he intended as support for his contention that the penalty existed at some prior point in time.

There are only three things wrong with that. One, O’Reilly, in his remarks, made no distinction between different versions of the bill or time periods of debate. He simply made a flat statement of “fact” using unambiguous words like “never” that pretty strongly imply not ever. Two, there weren’t ANY drafts of the bill that had a jail penalty in it. NONE! So O’Reilly’s excuse is pure bullshit. And three, in the clips of Obama and Pelosi, neither of them said anything about such a penalty. In fact, responding to direct questions about it, they both explicitly declined to confirm that any such thing was in the bill or that they would support it. It’s surprising that O’Reilly even bothered to play the clips when they in no way supported his argument.

The bottom line is that O’Reilly is now lying to cover up his prior idiocy. This is something that he has gotten pretty good at over the years due to the many times he’s had to do it.

Pulitzer Winner: How To Speak Tea Bag

Amongst this year’s honorees for Pulitzer Awards is Mark Fiore, the editorial cartoonist for the SFGate web site. He gained some heightened exposure last year with a piece called “How to Speak Tea Bag”:

Interestingly, this cartoon did not make a big splash at first. It wasn’t until it was posted on the web site of National Public Radio that it became a sensation. And even then it was two months after the posting until some conservatives discovered it and turned it into a cause terrible. The right-wing cacophony of criticism echoed across the blogosphere and on up to Fox News where Bill O’Reilly called NPR a “left wing jihadist deal.” The familiar (and delusional) cry of “liberal media” wafted through the wingnut press.

Sadly, even NPR took the complaints to heart as they bent over backwards to mollify the hurt feelings of the right. NPR ombudsman, Alicia Shepard, wrote in response:

“Fiore is talented, but this cartoon is just a mean-spirited attack on people who think differently than he does and doesn’t broaden the debate.” […and…]

“Some good came from the feedback deluge. NPR’s top editors responded quickly. The word “opinion” was greatly enlarged above Fiore’s cartoon to make it clear it was not a news report.”

I wonder what Shepard’s view would be today, now that the artist has been given a Pulitzer for his work that she said was “not actually funny.” But what IS actually funny is that this cartoon, which mocks the shallow, knee-jerk, substancelessness of the Tea Bag movement, required that the opinion label be enlarged so that the Tea Baggers wouldn’t mistake an animated satirical piece for an actual news report. Isn’t that more insulting than anything in the cartoon itself?

Congratulations are in order for Fiore. He was subjected to some heavy criticism, including death threats, from the Tea Bag contingent. So this tribute was earned the hard way, and is well deserved.

The Glenn Beck Advertiser Boycott Must Be Working

The way you can tell if a protest is effective is when the target of the action can’t stop complaining about it. For two days in a row, Glenn Beck has devoted valuable airtime to castigating the proponents of an advertiser boycott that began last year in response to Beck calling President Obama a racist with “a deep-seated hatred of white people.”

For Beck to divert so much time from fabricating paranoid conspiracy theories to fabricating smears on his perceived enemies is revealing. His anxiety could not be more apparent, even as he pretends that the efforts directed against him are making him happy:

“The fact is, I haven’t felt this good and positive in a long time. Why? Because the boycott attempts are the most transparent AstroTurf attacks I have ever seen or ever heard of.”

Ever? The truth is that the boycotts were initiated by a very small group that most people (including me) had never heard of. Color of Change began the effort with a small email list and a campaign to communicate with Beck’s advertisers. This shoestring effort produced surprising results, getting more than 100 advertisers to refuse to permit their commercials on Beck’s show. [Note: StopBeck later joined the effort further enhancing its effectiveness]

Beck spent the majority of his rebuttal inventing a plot that went all the way up to the White House. The first brick thrown by Beck was at his perennial nemesis, Van Jones. However, while Jones was a co-founder of Color Of Change, he left the organization two years prior to the Beck boycott. That didn’t stop Beck from building his cloud castle of hate.

He then tied Jones to Rev. Jim Wallis of the Sojourners. However, Wallis had nothing to do with the advertiser boycott, then or now. Wallis entered the picture after Beck took an astonishingly stupid stand against social justice and advised his listeners to “run” from any church that advocated it. Wallis responded by calling for Christians who believe in the venerable Christian practice of social justice to run from Glenn Beck.

And of course, Beck had to inject his distaste for working Americans by slandering unions. So he tethered Andy Stern to the boycott effort, although Stern and his SEIU had no part in the year-old boycott until about two weeks ago when they signed on with a new push by MoveOn.org.

After this hallucinatory construction of a widespread cabal attacking him, Beck capped it off with a wild accusation that it was a high level plot that the President was “coordinating from the Oval Office”:

“Is it possible, maybe, that pointing out every night that there are radicals, Marxists, and communists, in the White House, maybe that struck a nerve? Has someone decided that they must destroy my career and silence me because we’ve stumbled onto something? […] Has there ever been a case in American history…where an American president administration tried to destroy the livelihood of a private citizen with whom they disagree. Can’t think of any.”

Beck’s paranoia led to this declaration that nothing like this had ever happened before. He then immediately contradicted himself by comparing it to Richard Nixon’s famous “enemies list.” The only problem with that comparison is that Nixon’s list was documented and Beck’s delusions still only exist in his twisted cranium. What’s more, Nixon sought to use the power of the government against his opponents, but the Beck boycott relies entirely on the efforts of individual citizens engaging in free expression. Nevertheless, Beck elevates this to an absurd altitude wherein he literally compares himself with victims of Nazi atrocities:

“Where’s the media? Do the rest of you in this business think it’s gonna stop with me? Really? Once they get me what happens to you? Is there absolutely no chance whatsoever that you might be a target at some point in the future? What is that poem…First they came for the Jews and I stayed silent…”

Now they are coming for Glenn Beck. It is so like Beck to manifest his Messianic complex in this fashion. He is the persecuted one that suffers for his congregation. And his stylings are getting more televengelical and Apocalyptic by the day. Witness this fire and brimstone sermon:

It is a bizarre world. It is an upside down, inside out, quantum physics world. […] It is the eve of destruction in America.

I believe in God. I believe rights come from man, and this Constitution, and the founding of this nation, were divinely inspired. These are God’s rights and God’s freedoms.

If we appreciate those rights, if we do the right thing […] we are going to have to pay the consequence for our living and mistreating these rights. But in the end, have no fear, because nothing will thwart Him. Because these are His rights. This was His Constitution. This was His country for His purposes, not ours. And nothing…nothing…will thwart Him in the end.

Hallelujah. This may be the first time I have heard anyone declare that the Constitution was “divinely inspired.” To my knowledge, it has not been included in any version of the Bible. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison have not been beatified, nor is George Washington a saint. But in Beck’s mind a new holy doctrine has been proclaimed. One that permitted human slavery and denied women the right to vote. If the Constitution was divinely inspired, then what right did later generations have to amend it? Were they also the servants of God? And if so, did God screw up when he ratified Prohibition or the right to levy income taxes?

I have said this before, and it is all too apparent that it must be repeated: I genuinely hope that the people who care for Glenn Beck get him the help that he so obviously requires. It is way too tempting for his family and his producers and his hangers on, to hold back and revel in the riches he generates for them. But they will surely regret it when he self-destructs and splatters them all with the blood of their greed.

Now I’m sounding a little Biblical. And so I speaketh not further for the time is at hand for me to shuteth up. For now…..

It’s Official: Rupert Murdoch Is A Senile Old Coot

The chairman of News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch, has endured many decades as a right-wing purveyor of tabloid pseudo-news enterprises around the world. His power and influence has been felt in the halls of governments and the boardrooms of corporations. His opinions have been sought after and received with great deference. But that’s all over now.

In an appearance at a forum for the public affairs TV series, The Kalb Report, Murdoch exhibited clear signs that he has lost touch with reality. Sam Stein of the Huffington Post was there and reported some examples of Murdoch’s mental decline. It begins with the ludicrous assertion that the staff at his competitors MSNBC and CNN “tend to be Democrats” but that his own Fox News presenters “are not Republicans.” He did not, however, bother to identify a single Democrat at his rivals’ networks, and when pressed, he was also unable to name one on his own.

More importantly, Murdoch seems to have completely forgotten that he employs the most recent vice-presidential candidate of the Republican Party, Sarah Palin, as well as a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination, Mike Huckabee. And let’s not forget other avowed Republican Fox Newsers Karl Rove, Rick Santorum, Dana Perino, Newt Gingrich, Dick Morris, Laura Ingraham, John Bolton, Dan Senor, Linda Chavez, and Oliver North. Fox is lousy with Republicans, but in his diminished capacity Murdoch is so confused about the political affiliation of his crew that he can declare aloud and in public that there aren’t any such people working for him.

In another departure from reality, Murdoch was asked if it was ethical for Fox to promote the Tea Party movement. For anyone paying attention it is clear that Fox became a virtual publicity machine for the Tea Baggers.

They aired numerous interviews of Bagger spokespeople including their chief strategist and fundraiser, Dick Armey. They had reporter Griff Jenkins riding along on the Tea Party Express bus. They dispatched their top anchors, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Greta Van Susteren, and Neil Cavuto, to host Tea Party events across the nation. They even branded branded some of the events as “FNC Tea Parties.” But Murdoch’s response to the inquiry was rife with bewilderment:

“No. I don’t think we should be supporting the Tea Party or any other party. But I’d like to investigate what you are saying before condemning anyone.”

Either he never watches his own network or his memory and comprehension skills have utterly collapsed. He must also not be paying much attention to that Internet thing. For several months Murdoch has been promising to put all of his online news content behind a pay wall. He has spoken out harshly against what he deems theft by news aggregators like Google. Never mind that he can stop Google from indexing his web sites anytime he wants with just a few lines of code. At the Kalb forum he reiterated his opinion saying…

“We will be very happy if they just publish our headline or a sentence or two and that’s it. Followed by a subscription form.”

You would hope that someone on his staff (or his nurses) would advise him that that is exactly what they do now. If you search Google for news content, you will get only a headline and a couple of sentences. Then you can click the link to go to the full story on the content owner’s web site. Contrary to his misconception, this drives traffic to Murdoch’s site, it doesn’t steal anything. And what Murdoch doesn’t acknowledge (if he even remembers) is that he owns web sites that actually do steal content from other news sources. His Fox Nation, for example, is a news aggregator that does not pay for the articles it features, but reprints much more than a couple of sentences from them – sometimes the whole article.

The general tone of this interview ought to be disturbing to Murdoch’s family and doctors. He really appears to be suffering from an acute cognitive failure. These are not the sort of logical missteps made by someone who has built an international media empire. Murdoch is either profoundly distracted or is losing the mental acuity to perform his duties. It may be time for him to consider stepping aside and let his kids screw up the world for awhile.

Addendum: Additional reporting on the Kalb interview reveals that Murdoch…

  • …doesn’t consider Sarah Palin to be a journalist. (Duh!)
  • …believes that Greta Van Susteren is a Democrat. (Never mind her adoration of Sarah Palin for whom her husband is an advisor)
  • …thinks the iPad will save newspapers. (Right. A $600.00 device possessed by a fraction of American households, that will charge extra for subscriptions, is going to replace a news source that was delivered for pennies a day to any American doorstep)

Keep ‘em coming, Rupert.

Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Wal-Mart Story

Michael Moore has announced that the DVD of his documentary “Capitalism: A Love Story” is now available. On its own, that wouldn’t really be enough to interrupt an episode of Law and Order:SVU with a special report. What makes this release interesting is that it is being carried by Wal-Mart, which is featured prominently in the film in a not particularly flattering manner. As Moore says on his blog:

The fact that Wal-Mart is carrying this movie — a movie that specifically exposes Wal-Mart’s past practice of taking out secret “dead peasant” life insurance policies on its employees and naming itself as the lone beneficiary should the employee meet an “untimely” early death — well, my friends, need you any further proof that Corporate America is so secure in its position as the ruler of our country, so sure of its infallible power that, yes, they can even sell a movie that attacks them because it poses absolutely no threat to them?

Moore contends that Wal-Mart is simply unafraid of any negative publicity due to their market dominance. They are too big to be hurt by a little documentary. I would go a step further. I believe that Wal-Mart is expressly aware that they can make a bundle off of this. And since their mission is to make money and increase shareholder value, that goal takes precedence over any potentially bad PR. They are demonstrating a principle articulated by the anti-consumerist artist Banksy, who said:

“I love the way capitalism finds a place – even for its enemies. It’s definitely boom time in the discontent industry.”

Modern marketing philosophy long ago adopted the position that the counter-culture was cool and, in order to attract contemporary consumers, you have to be willing to bash whatever is considered to be the establishment, even if it’s you. That strategy has led to progressive radio stations, who are owned by giant conglomerates, to explicitly insult their corporate parents. It has led to graffiti being embraced by staid art galleries. It has led to television commercials with music that is notably inconsistent with the product being advertised. Some of my favorite examples of the latter:

  • Jaguar’s use of “London Calling” by confirmed leftists The Clash.
  • Fidelity Mutual Funds use of David Bowie’s “Changes,” which contains the lyric “Don’t want to be a richer man.”
  • Carnival Cruise Lines use of Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life,” which is about heroin use, not partying on yachts.

This self-deprecating brand of promotion is kind of like McDonalds opening up a health food restaurant and imploring people not to poison themselves on the crap at those golden-arched fast-food joints. And now Wal-Mart is selling Michael Moore’s Capitalism. What a world.

Generation Zero vs. Capitalism: A Love Story

Last Night Sean Hannity devoted the entire hour of his Fox News program to the documentary “Generation Zero.” This morning Fox Nation featured it on their web site as a “Must-See” film.

Generation Zero recently made its public debut at the Tea Baggers Ball in Nashville and was subsequently screened at CPAC, where it was introduced by the terminally choleric Andrew Breitbart. The film was produced by David Bossie of Citizens United, the plaintiff in the recently decided Supreme Court case that granted corporations unprecedented financial participation in federal elections. It was directed by Stephen Bannon who, in another life, produced the Sean Penn directed “The Indian Runner.” Don’t tell Bill O’Reilly, who is boycotting Penn’s films.

I haven’t seen this film (it’s not actually been released yet), but its pedigree and cheer leaders reveal something of its intended mission. The web site says the film is not about the failure of capitalism, but it goes on to say that it will “change everything you thought you knew about Wall Street and Washington.” That assertion makes it difficult to separate the movie’s message from the tenets of capitalism. From reviews and discussion of the film, it seems the basic premise is that the current economic meltdown we find ourselves struggling through was caused by the selfishness and egocentrism of the children of Woodstock. This is a peculiar and illogical theory.

It’s a peculiar theory in that it presumes to blame the “Baby Boom” generation for today’s economic catastrophe. But in doing so, the film is really blaming the poor parenting skills of the “Greatest Generation” who, in their zeal to shield their kids from the pain of depression and war, acceded to their every material want and raised them to be shallow and self-indulgent. That’s a pretty harsh condemnation of the generation that survived decades of trauma in the first half of the last century. The filmmakers are essentially charging the generation that fought its way through the economic disasters of the 1930’s and the worldwide conflagrations of the 1940’s with raising their children to be so socially decadent as to lead the nation into near economic collapse. Do the filmmakers really believe that these parents passed no lessons on to their kids about the hardships they endured?

It’s an illogical theory in that it attempts to create linkage between the hippies of the 1960’s and the financial barons of the 1990’s. So much of the rhetoric of right-wing history revisionists relies on castigating the youth movement of the 1960’s. They are portrayed as drug-addled degenerates and dropouts who contributed nothing of value to society. Their preoccupation with trivialities like civil rights, peace, and free love, permanently labeled them as subversive and anti-social. Since when did their reputation get rehabilitated to the point that they are now seen as captains of industry and finance with the blood of our capitalistic empire on their hands? Surely many former hippies went on to successful careers, but I would venture to say that not one of them became the CEO of AIG or Merrill Lynch.

The Baby Boomers that took the helm of big business were the ones that kept their hair short and listened to Pat Boone in the 60’s. They were the hall monitors and the narcs at their prep schools. They were born to wealth and privilege. It was they, who were already inbred with self-indulgence and egotism, who held the reins of power in the 2000’s. It certainly was not a bunch of idealistic, public school, counter-culture, former flower children who somehow grew up to be greedy sociopaths.

It wasn’t a cabal of aging hippies who invented credit default swaps. It was a cooperative of Wall Street pirates and their Washington patrons. It wasn’t the result of permissive parenting, but of submissive regulators and legislators. While Generation Zero dwells way too much on an unrealistic Leave It To Beaver version of the 1950’s, it actually does approach this part of the problem as well. The movie does not neglect the culpability of an entrenched financial class that has no historical memory whatsoever.

Ironically, that’s exactly what Michael Moore presented in “Capitalism: A Love Story.” Moore’s film was an indictment of the coziness between Wall Street and Washington. And it assailed the notion that solutions had to be afforded to the tottering financial institutions, rather than to the suffering citizens who were the victims. So some of the themes in Generation Zero that are now being heralded by the rightist media were previously explored by Moore. But while there are clear parallels between Moore’s Capitalism and Bannon’s Zero, it is unlikely that either side will acknowledge it. The chasm is far too wide to cross. Even on Hannity’s show there was an exchange that came close to recognizing this ideological affinity, but it was ultimately ignored as they broke away to a commercial.

Sean Hannity: Is it the political system that is more corrupt? Because I believe Capitalism works. Capitalism is the answer.
David Bossie, Producer: Clearly Capital Hill is corrupt. Capital Hill is the problem, not Wall Street here.
Stephen Bannon, Director: I think it an inextricably linked network between Capital Hill and Wall Street. […] You’ve had the American taxpayer, the average, middle-class American, paying taxes to bailout these big firms, and there’s been no change in behavior, no change in structure no change in regulation.

It’s interesting to see Bossie quickly suck up to Hannity and absolve Wall Street of any liability. It’s even more interesting to see Bannon contradict both of them and spread the blame evenly across the econo-political spectrum. But most interesting would be if all the people that go to see Generation Zero would pick up a copy of Capitalism: A Love Story as well. They may realize that Michael Moore is not the demon he’s made out to be by the right. And conversely, Moore might take a look at Generation Zero. If it isn’t stuffed with right-wing polemics and denunciations of 60’s “radicals,” perhaps he could promote it alongside his own movie.

If both of these films tell the same story of overarching corporate greed and government complicity, it would make a compelling double bill.

Captain America vs. The Tea Crusaders

Tea CrusadersIn an epic battle of good vs. evil, the archetypal superhero, Captain America, has come out four square against hysterical protest movements that embrace racism and disseminate disinformation in pursuit of a greedy, intolerant agenda: i.e. Tea Crusaders (It aint no party).

Actually, Captain America attempted to express his revulsion of the Tea Crusaders, but agents working for the rightist cabal succeeded in getting his publisher, Marvel Comics, to apologize and remove the offending comments from future printings.

The controversy involved a short segment of the comic wherein Captain America’s alter-ego, Steve Rogers, was observing a protest march by a group of right-wing, anti-tax, activists. The marchers, in an accurate portrayal of reality, were an all-white mob of angry tea-volutionaries carrying signs that recall the Tea Party actions last year. The part that got the Crusaders all worked up contained this image with a sign saying “Tea Bag the Libs Before They Tea Bag You.”

I’m not sure I understand what the Crusaders are grumbling about. The sign being carried by the comic protester is one that has made repeated appearances at Tea Party events. David Weigel of the Washington Independent captured it on film. It is a sentiment that they readily accept and promote. Now, all of a sudden, they are outraged by their own slogans.

As a result of their bellyaching, Marvel Comics, a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company, took the exceedingly cautious (i.e. cowardly) move of apologizing. And since there was nothing about the comic that was false or defamatory, the only reason for the reversal must be to mollify prospective comic book readers who may also be Tea Baggers.

The moral of the story is that, while Captain America may be able to defeat the most vile and villainous enemies ever dreamed up in the imaginary world of comics, he was vanquished by a very real enemy, an international corporate media conglomerate. I’d say we need to call the X-Men, but they are already in the employ of super-villain Rupert Murdoch.

A Banksy Film? Exit Through The Gift Shop

If you don’t know who Banksy is, find out. If you do, you may be interested to know that he made a movie that is debuting tomorrow at the Sundance Film Festival.

From the Sundance site:

In the late 1990s, a hybrid form of graffiti began appearing in cities around the world. Enlisting stickers, stencils, posters, and sculpture and spread by the burgeoning Internet, it would be labeled “street art” and establish itself as the most significant counterculture movement of a generation. Los Angeles-based filmmaker Terry Guetta set out to record this secretive world in all its thrilling detail. For more than eight years, he traveled with the pack, roaming the streets of America and Europe, the stealthy witness of the world’s most infamous vandals. But after meeting the British stencil artist known only as “Banksy,” things took a bizarre turn.

I can’t wait. No, I mean that, I really can’t wait. Does anyone know where I can see it RIGHT NOW? Anyone?

About four years ago I wrote an essay on the the declining status of artists in public life. It detailed how cultural imperialists sought to brand artists as petty amusements who should dance smartly for us and keep their opinions to themselves (i.e. Shut Up and Sing). What an unholy perversion of the purpose of art.

Now, more than ever, we must support our creative advocates. They are the emotive flank of our army and they can inspire and motivate far better than the lecturers who holler at us and wave from their podiums.

I wrote in part in The Rise Of The Art Insurgency that…

…there has arisen a class of self-appointed, civic hall monitors who believe that they can decide who passes through the corridors of free expression. These martinets of virtue want artists to repress their natural inclination to share their insight and their soul.

         But…

Every great social movement was fueled in part by the arts – from the Napoleonic era Disasters of War by Goya, to the guerilla postering of Robbie Conal. The art insurgency is latent now, but it is strong and committed. Like other insurgencies, it blends in with the populace and can strike with fierce and startling force. It stockpiles its weapons of mass construction for the building of consensus and passion and hope.<

Banksy is the embodiment of this philosophy. His public art is a free shot of adrenaline to a world that is too often half asleep or numbed by too many blows to the head.

Avatar: Another Hollywood Plot To Destroy America?

Obamar: Obama as AvatarThe blockbuster, mega-million dollar, groundbreaking, techo-marvel, spectacle, Avatar is opening tonight. Thank goodness it hasn’t been over-hyped. Nevertheless, there is still a fair amount of anticipation for this cinematic tale of a person of color from another country…er…world.

With regard to the film itself, don’t expect to find me in line for an early screening. In fact, don’t look for me on February’s lines either. Suffice it to say that I don’t plan on rushing out to see this flick. There are two reasons in particular that sap any motivation for me to sit through this two and a half hour plus epic.

First, I’m terminally bored with special effects. Particularly when I am advised beforehand that they will change filmmaking, or my life or, or the rotation of the earth, forever. That’s a promise that has never been kept. I’ve seen enough special effects that I am now fully cognizant that anything that can be imagined can be committed to film. It comes as no surprise that digital artists (of which I am one) can produce wonders both realistic and fantastic. Consequently, to stoke my interest in a movie, I prefer to be moved by storytelling, character development, and the sort of drama or comedy or suspense that registers on an emotional level. To be sure, that can occur in a film that contains special effects, but the effects should compliment the storytelling, not supplant it. I really am not impressed by another realistic looking robot or alien or landscape.

Second, I hated Titanic. To be precise, it was something more than hate. I regard it as one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. The acting, the effects, the script (oh lord), the naked schmaltz – there wasn’t a single thing I can recall that was redeeming about it. And in its time it was the mega-million dollar epic that was going to change everything.

Enough already. You know you have reached a new low when a fawning analysis in the iconic Hollywood Reporter relates this overheard bit of artistic defeatism:

So obviously has the creative bar been raised that I heard one young writer-director at the premiere say to his friends, “What do we do now?”

I would suggest that that young writer-director look for work selling insurance. If watching one movie exhausts his capacity to express himself creatively, he doesn’t have a calling for creative pursuits. He can save us all a lot of money and himself a lot of heartache by quitting now.

However, there is a fun element of the hype machine churning around this marketing extravaganza. Right-wingers have latched onto the notion that the movie is a slap at America and its imperialistic ways. They are hammering director James Cameron as an America-hating leftist. I assume they would like to see this nearly half billion dollar monstrosity suffer a massive box office failure, just as they would like to see President Obama fail. And so far as Avatar is concerned, I eagerly support their desire. After all, Avatar is a production from Rupert Murdoch’s Fox studios and watching Murdoch lose money is always fun.

Here is a collection of some the rightist reviews of Avatar:

BigHollywood: Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ Is a Big, Dull, America-Hating, PC Revenge Fantasy
…a sanctimonious thud of a movie so infested with one-dimensional characters and PC clichés that not a single plot turn – small or large – surprises. I call it the “liberal tell,” where the early and obvious politics of the film gives away the entire story before the second act begins, and “Avatar” might be the sorriest example of this yet.

Hot Air: “Avatar” reportedly super mega ultra left-wing
Given the framework of the plot and the obvious allegorical intent – military invades planet to secure valuable commodity in the soil – what other way could this flick have conceivably tilted?

Debbie Schlussel: Don’t Believe the Hype: “Avatar” Stinks (Long, Boring, Unoriginal, Uber-Left)
It’s essentially a remake of “Dances With Wolves” and every other movie where we evil Americans terrorize the indigenous natives, kill them, take their land, and are just all around imperialistically wicked and inhumane. Oh, and we’re destroying the environment, clearing precious giant trees and natural landscapes and killing rare animals and their habitats, in order to invade and harvest valuable substances under the ground. Sound familiar? Yup, just like a million diatribes from Daily Kos, Democratic Underground, and every other far-left outlet about how we invaded Iraq for oil. Yes, “Avatar” is cinema for the hate America crowd.

Newsbusters: Is ‘Avatar’ A Multi-Million Dollar Ad For Global Warming?
With the imminent release of the science fiction blockbuster “Avatar,” some have characterized it as a multi-million dollar public service announcment for global warming.

Telegraph UK: Is Avatar an attack on the Iraq War?
The US public is frankly tired of the anti-war rhetoric of the Left, which has sounded increasingly hollow since the success of the surge in Iraq. James Cameron should leave the political commentary out as he promotes his new film, and acknowledge that the Iraqi people are immensely better off now than they were living under the boot of Saddam Hussein.

RedState: “Avatar” Is a Steaming Pile of Sith
In case you don’t get the analogy, we (the humans) are the Bad Guys who are going to attack the “Tower” that the Noble Savages hold dear. In other words, humans are attacking the environment with technology, and it’s analogous to 9/11. Americanism is terrorism, in other words. […] No one should be surprised that Hollywood liberals hate America and Western Civilization.

After all that I’m beginning to get more interested. I may yet decide to see Avatar if enough reviews like those keep coming out. Or if enough people I respect have good things to say about it. I haven’t seen a review of the film from Fox News. I wonder if that’s because they hated it and are hesitant to publish that, or because they loved it but don’t want to promote a treasonous piece of Marxist propaganda.

But I’m still waiting for the preeminent curator of culture to weigh in. After Glenn Beck’s revelations about the secret socialist art that is hidden in plain sight throughout Manhattan, I couldn’t really draw a conclusion on this without his insight. I’m sure he will find demonic horrors in the film that even Cameron didn’t know were there. And only Beck can decipher the coded signals to ACORN operatives and radical environmentalists that are surely cloaked in between the frames.

Sleep with one eye open, children. The lefties are now invading your thoughts in 3D.

It’s Beat Sarah Palin Day!

A little over a year ago Barack Obama was elected to the presidency of the United States of America. It was an historic event that made headlines around the world and will forever be remembered as milestone in American politics.

No one deserves more credit for this achievement David Plouffe, Obama’s campaign manager. He orchestrated a brilliant strategy that emphasized hope and change, and the result was a remarkable victory over both the entrenched Democratic Clinton dynasty and the wealthy Republican Grand Old Machine of Washington.

Now the winner of this contest has a book out that is competing with the second banana of the loser’s ticket. It is a contest that pits Sarah Palin’s book, “Going Rogue,” that was ghost written for her from the perspective of defeated candidate, and is chock full of the ideology that contributed to her defeat, against a book written by a modern master of politics with insight into the winning philosophy and strategy.

The Audacity to Win: The Inside Story and Lessons of Barack Obama’s Historic Victory
David Plouffe, Audacity to Win

David Plouffe not only led the effort that put Barack Obama in the White House, but he also changed the face of politics forever and reenergized the idea of democracy itself. The Audacity to Win is his story of the groundbreaking achievement, taking readers inside the remarkable campaign that led to the election of the first African American president.

In this extraordinary book, David Plouffe unfolds one of the most important political stories of our time, one whose lessons are not limited to politics, but reach to the greatest heights of what we dream about for our country and ourselves.

For some reason, the loser is winning this book race. I’m not sure what this says about the America’s book consumers, but there is a disturbing message in there somewhere. Well, Plouffe is not taking it laying down. He has launched “Beat Sarah Palin Day,” an effort to sell more copies of his book, “The Audacity to Win,” in one day than Palin’s collection of fables and self-indulgence. This no easy task, as Palin’s disciples are motivated and hungry for more of her shallow platitudes and liberal bashing. Plouffe describes her book and his impression of her in the video below saying…

“Her book obviously talks about an agenda that was completely rejected November 4, 2008, by the American people, and I think would take us in the completely wrong direction. So the truth is, I hope her book tour goes on for a long time because I think having her out there, and her message, as the kind of opposing viewpoint to what the President is trying to do, could not be more helpful.”

I agree. Palin is the best thing to happen to Democrats in decades. Republicans like to demonstrate how popular she is by citing polls that show 60-70% of the GOP want her to run for president in 2012. I bet if they polled Democrats the number would be 100%.

Today is our opportunity to give Sarah a big smackdown. We can show that we are out here too, and we’re not buying her garbage. To be clear, the results of this contest don’t really have a great deal of meaning in the big picture. It is more for the fun of it. Book sales are not an accurate barometer of electoral strength. Just as right-wingers like to believe that Fox News’ ratings validate their superiority, the truth is that that is a poor gauge. It is always better to win at the ballot box than at the idiot box, which is what we did in 2006 and 2008, despite Fox’s ratings. And the same holds true for publishing. Especially when the rightist propaganda engine skews the numbers by purchasing tens of thousands of books that they give away or offer as premiums for joining their organizations or subscribing to their magazines.

So if you are interested in reading a true account of a brave campaign, today is the day to buy Plouffe’s book. If you are looking for a gift for family or friends, this would be an excellent choice. If you just want to stick it Palin and thumb your nose at the Tea Baggers lining up at Barnes & Noble, here is your chance. Plouffe says in the video that if you weren’t already planning to buy his book, that you shouldn’t do so for this event. But I disagree. If you’ve got $15.00 that you don’t need for rent, this is a great way to use it. Not only do you get an enlightening literary experience, you also get to poke Palin. And on top of that, $1.00 from every book sold today will be donated to child and adult literacy programs.

So now is the time to take up the challenge. Let’s BEAT SARAH PALIN today. And then every day thereafter. What could be more satisfying – and fun?

Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Success Story

Michael Moore’s new documentary “Capitalism: A Love Story,” opened nationally yesterday in 900 plus theaters after a limited engagement in just four theaters in New York and Los Angeles. The bi-coastal exclusive set the record for the year so far in per theater box office. The wide launch is now adding handsomely to the film’s success.

For Friday alone Capitalism earned $1.5 million, putting it in seventh place. The six movies ahead of it were all in two to three times as many theaters. Capitalism was the third highest earner on a per screen basis.

[Update 10/5/09: The full weekend take for Capitalism was $4.85 million. It took eighth place for the weekend. It was fourth on a per screen basis]

Three months ago I made a prediction that Capitalism would draw a larger audience than the Fox-sponsored Tea Baggings. So how did I do?

With ticket sales of $4.85 million, and an average ticket price of $7.18, it comes to about 675,000 tickets sold. That number is higher than any estimate of the Tax Day Tea Parties last April. In addition, the attendees of the 9/12 Tea Bagging in Washington were estimated to have been about 60,000 to 70,000. That estimate was provided unofficially by the DC Fire Department. There were other debunked estimates that went as high as 2 million, and they came with photo documentation. The only problem was that the photo was proven to be from a rally that took place over ten years prior. So if we throw out the ludicrous seven-figure fabrications, it would still take ten times the Fire Department’s numbers to approach (yet still fall short of) the audience for just one weekend of Capitalism’s attendance.

Conclusion? I was right! So what’s the significance of this foresight? It isn’t that I’m an uncommonly gifted observer of politics and media (well, not just that, anyway). As I wrote last June, the media made quite a spectacle of both the Tax Day Tea Baggings and the 9/12 event. The implication was that any public gathering that attracted such a crowd should be regarded as statement of the public’s mood. If that’s the case, and if Moore’s movie performs the same or better as an attraction, then wouldn’t that make this event at least as representative of the public mood as the Tea Parties were said to be? Wouldn’t that suggest that it deserves at least as much attention from Fox News and the rest of the media?

So far, Sean Hannity has not hosted a live, on location event with thousands of cheering Moore supporters. Glenn Beck has not assembled throngs of patriotic Americans who agree with Moore that our economic system is dangerously flawed. We haven’t even seen Griff Jenkins cheerleading for the film and riding along on bus tours promoting it. What’s more, the rest of the press is not treating this cinema sensation, that is outperforming the Fox-sponsored rallies by every measure, with equivalent resources and exposure.

The fact that Capitalism produced a bigger turnout than the Tea Parties should guide coverage of, not just the movie, but the issues underlying. It ought to inform the press corps that Americans are expressing their views through the free market by actually paying to align themselves with a political position that is woefully underrepresented in the media. It ought to put the lie to the claim that Tea Baggers were non-partisan opponents of reckless government spending. Were that true, they would be flocking to Moore’s movie which addresses the very issues they claimed to be so riled up about. Instead they are bashing the movie, without having even seen it.

Capitalism, the economic system, is demonstrating that Capitalism, the movie, is a far better gauge of where America is today than the lame tea socials that were so heavily promoted by Fox News and the rightist media. Despite not having anywhere near the promotional boost, or the free publicity from Fox, the movie is proving that Americans are far more interested in honesty and fairness in government than in pandering to the giant multinational corporations who got us into this mess in the first place. The Beck’s and O’Reilly’s and Hannity’s of the world pretend to be guardians of the people’s welfare, but in reality they are defenders of greed and deregulation and all of the worst faults of unbridled capitalism. When will the press recognize this and balance their coverage with reports on what the film’s success really means?

It’s is rather ironic that the success of the movie, in which Moore describes capitalism as “evil,” is also a demonstration of the free market voting for Moore’s perspective on free markets. God bless America.

The Glenn Beck Blackboard Challenge

Let’s face it…Glenn Beck is insane. He rattles off loopy conspiracy theories that connect dots that only he can see. He makes wild and unsubstantiated accusations against his perceived enemies. He weeps incessantly over unexplained threats to “his” country. And, best of all, he draws pictures of his hallucinations that he thinks makes everything oh-so-clear.

It occurred to me that he might be able to use a little help (OK, a lot of help). So I drew up a few pictures of my own that convey a bit of the altered reality that infests Beck’s brain. This is my contribution to enhancing the understanding of a profoundly disturbed individual going through a very public psychological collapse.

If you are so inclined, feel free to make your own contributions and leave links to your work in comments.

Have at it.

And just to put some perspective on the impact of Beck, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll reveals that most respondents don’t know who the heck he is:

“According to the poll, 24 percent have a “positive” view of the Fox News host, while 19 percent view him negatively. Interestingly, 15 percent were “neutral” and 42 percent said they didn’t know Beck or weren’t sure.”

That’s comforting. And I wouldn’t worry about the 24% positive. It’s probably the same deadenders that support Bush, Palin, and Joe the Plumber.

Glenn Beck Has Seen Things You People Wouldn’t Believe

In the 1982 film Blade Runner, Rutger Hauer plays a replicant (human clone) who returns to Earth from an extraterrestrial labor colony to find what all humans want – more life. In a climactic scene with Harrison Ford he tries to convey the depth of his passion for life saying that “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.” His character’s name is Roy Batty. And batty would certainly describe Glenn Beck’s latest hallucinatory escapade in pursuit of demonizing progressives. He too is seeing things, and yes, we don’t believe it. [See Beck’s previous Messianic Delusions]

“I’m trying to show you the things that seem to be hidden but they’re not. They are out in plain sight. Those with eyes will not see and those with ears will not hear. You’re awake. You need to see the things that are hidden in plain sight.”

Those with fingers will not touch and those with feet will not smell. If only some of those with tongues did not speak.

Beck has used his divine vision to reveal the evidence of Satan’s secret seeds. Planted amongst us are the vile devices of communists and fascists meant to steal our thoughts and sway our allegiances to the dark side. And what are these tricks of the netherworld’s master? They are paintings and sculptures and other works by history’s subversives – the artists! These mental traps were set decades ago by devious social perverts with a century long plot and an abundance of patience.

In this sermon (captured on YouTube), Beck associates the evil artists with their patron, Rockefeller. Unfortunately, he doesn’t specify which one. In fact, he jumps around to several of them without making any distinction. It’s as if they were all incarnations of the same demon spirit. Was Beck referring to John D. Rockefeller, Sr., the ultra-capitalist business maven who founded Standard Oil? Or was it his son, the real estate magnate who built Rockefeller Center? Or was it Nelson, who was the Republican Governor of New York and Vice President of the United States? Or was it Jay, the current Senator from West Virginia? No matter. In Beck’s mind, they were all socialist stooges.

Beck begins his unveiling with a denouncement of a relief at the entrance to Rockefeller Center. The work shows two men on either side of the doors. Beck tells us that one is holding a hammer, and the other a sickle. Ergo communism! It’s right there in plain sight. Except that the first man is actually holding a shovel according to the historians curating the Center’s artwork. The figures were meant to represent the strength of America’s industry and agriculture, which I’m sure Beck views as treasonous.

Then Beck focuses on a bas relief carving by Italian American sculptor Attilio Piccirilli called Youth Leading Industry. Beck’s interpretation of this work centers on his theory that the artist, and thus the work, were avowedly fascist. Beck asserts that a strong male figure in the piece is Mussolini. Whether or not that’s true, and there is some debate, it is illustrative of Beck’s dementia that he can jump from warnings about progressives being communists to progressives being fascists without taking a breath. In the real world, Mussolini was a bitter foe of Stalin and vice versa. And the artwork itself is simply heralding a young, creative, and prosperous America. Another subversive concept in Beck’s mind.

Turning to a more conventional subject matter for art, Beck finds fault with a biblical representation of the verse regarding turning swords into plowshares. I’m not even sure what Beck’s complaint is here, but he’s upset about something. Perhaps it just has to do with the fact that there is another swords/plowshares sculpture on the grounds of the United Nations. And the site for the U.N. was donated by – Rockefeller. Obviously there’s something sinister in there somewhere. I also like Beck’s explanation for why he keeps his own sculpture depicting the swords and plowshares. It isn’t because of the message of a peace delivered by God. It’s because it reminds him that something beautiful (the statue) can come from someplace ugly (Russia). Evidently he has never heard Tchaikovsky or seen Chagall or read Dostoyevsky.

The next piece for which Beck provides his striking analysis is a painting by renowned Mexican artist Diego Rivera. Beck is concerned by the presence of people like Stalin and Lenin in the artwork. The funny thing about this hypothesis is that the painting Beck is reviewing doesn’t exist at Rockefeller Center. Beck is reviewing a version of the painting that Rockefeller rejected because of his objection to the very iconography that Beck is pointing out. Rockefeller had commissioned a work from a draft that did not contain those elements. Yet Beck still blames him for the piece he had thrown out. And, of course, it is not one of those works of propaganda that Beck said is hidden in plain sight. Unless you’re walking around Mexico City.

For Glenn Beck to set himself up as an art critic/historian is funnier than anything Monty Python ever thought up. While his interpretations lack any knowledge of the subject, they are jam-packed with paranoid fantasies that would make David Berkowitz’ dog shudder. And Beck is the only one who can see any of it. He’s the only one who can see that Rockefeller (whichever one) was not a capitalist captain of industry at all, but a clandestine communist (or was it fascist) revolutionary. He is the only one who can see the coded symbols in the wicked artwork.

Beck has just recently recognized the malicious power of art as propaganda. He took on the National Endowment for the Arts for holding a tele-conference with artists for the purpose of promoting public service and volunteerism. Now I actually would have agreed with him that that may be outside the mandate of the NEA, but his manic distortions of reality make it impossible to even tangentially agree with anything that comes out of his warped brain. If he regards an initiative to boost the Peace Corps as a dangerous example of propaganda, how can he be taken seriously?

Rightist demagogues have long feared the power of artistic expression. In January of 2003, shortly before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Colin Powell assembled the media at the United Nations to comment on his presentation in support of war. But before the media arrived, the tapestry of Picasso’s masterpiece, Guernica, was covered by a blue drape. A press conference to discuss launching an unprecedented war of aggression could not be held in front of one of the twentieth century’s most moving anti-war statements. The symbolism of literally throwing a blanket over this representation of truth is unmistakable.

But Beck is not demystifying art, he is attacking it. He is assigning false intentions to the artists and their work. He is denigrating these long-respected icons of free expression and celebrations of American prosperity and spirit. And worst of all, Beck is virtually inviting his disciples to do harm to these works, or any others in which they imagine horrors lurking. He is no better than the Taliban mullahs who destroyed the Buddhas of Bamyan, giant statues in Afghanistan that were over 1,500 years old.

If Mullah Omar had a show on the Taliban Fox Network he would have been making the same sort of claims about the Buddhas that Beck is making about this art. Hopefully Americans are more tolerant than the Afghans that allowed Omar to blow up the Buddhas. And hopefully they are smarter than Beck and his congregation of glassy-eyed followers who wouldn’t know art if it was right in front of them everyday – like the over 100 works commissioned for Rockefeller Center.

Farrah Fawcett’s Legacy Will Be The Beauty Of Her Courage

With the passing of Farrah Fawcett, there will be endless references to her beauty, to her smile and hair and the figure so famously captured in a poster. But there is much more to this woman than the surface assets that fueled her celebrity.

After her star-making role in Charlie’s Angels, Farrah was cast as a victim of domestic abuse in the television drama, “The Burning Bed.” It was a role that required her to challenge the critics who, at the time, dismissed her as eye candy. It was a role that called for her to set aside her most bankable qualities and portray a character that was often grotesquely beaten and painful to look at. And it was a role that was controversial in its day, not just for addressing a subject about which few people spoke, but for the assertive, defiant, and aggressive response of the character she played.

The Burning Bed was directed by Robert Greenwald who now runs Brave New Films, a progressive production company and Internet enterprise. The TV movie was nominated for eight Emmys, including Outstanding Directing and Outstanding Lead Actress. Amongst Greenwald’s more recent projects is the brilliant “Outfoxed.”

While Greenwald has gone on to be a profound spokesman for progressive causes, Farrah became a featured guest at conservative events. Yet they never lost their affection or respect for one another. The Huffington Post has just published Greenwald’s account of his last meeting with Farrah a month ago. He recalled their working together:

“I was directing her for the first time and her fearless commitment to going to the darkest places emotionally never wavered. She never hesitated when I took her to battered women’s shelters. To interview women with painful stories.

And she never flinched when I described how we needed to take away her wonderful beauty and life force to make the film and role authentic.”

In her final months, Farrah demonstrated her unique courage by being uncommonly public about the dire state of her health. She appeared in a gut wrenching documentary, “Farrah’s Story,” that chronicled her search for a cure. The ultimate result of her generous accessibility will be to empower others to face and fight the misfortunes in life that most of us will encounter at some point. The same is true for her contribution to the fate and strength of women in destructive relationships that she brought to the forefront of the national dialogue more than twenty years ago.

Rest In Peace, Farrah.

Jill Greenberg Makes Glenn Beck Cry

Last year, photographer Jill Greenberg became the subject of a mini-controversy over some less than flattering pictures of John McCain. The Republican media machine, led by Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post, condemned her for “not manipulating” the photos to make McCain look better. The vitriol directed at her was intense and threatened to curtail her access to conservative public figures.

Enter Glenn Beck. Greenberg just completed an assignment for GQ Magazine that features her photos of a sobbing Beck. This is a little more than ironic in that Greenberg is famous for her series of crying children:

What could be more appropriate than Beck portrayed in the same manner as the wailing toddlers with whom he has so much in common? He is just as infantile and ill-informed as the crybabies Greenberg previously captured so movingly.

It is also notable that the man who insists that his tears are genuine can put on a performance like this. He has previously asserted that he could never fake the emotion that pours out of him when contemplating the ruin of America by evil liberals. He told a Philadelphia Magazine reporter who questioned his sincerity that…

“If you’re going to make that case, I deserve a frickin’ Emmy. That’s unbelievable acting.”

I’m not sure I agree with his assessment of his acting skills. In fact, the reason so many people suspect him of feigning sentimentality is that he is such a bad actor. If he were any good at it, no one would be questioning him.

Under George W. Bush, Republicans peddled a flavor of right-wing ideology they called “compassionate conservatism.” It was a transparent ploy to make us believe that the party of selfishness actually cared. But don’t let Beck’s weepy punditry fool you into thinking that he gives a damn about anything but his own place on the media throne. He envisions himself a leader of a peasant uprising. He spent much of his show today haranguing his audience for not being out in the streets fighting for…well, whatever it is that Beck tells them to fight for. He begins every show by exhorting his viewers to, “Come on, follow me.”

Thank goodness for artists who can express the deeper meaning of their subjects with honesty and insight. Jill Greenberg deserves our gratitude for eliciting this vision of Beck – one that captures both his childishness and his superficial dishonesty.

Are Conservatives Getting Stupider?

“I sense intellectual deterioration of the once-vital conservative movement in the United States.”

Those are the words of Judge Richard Posner, a Reagan appointee to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Posner is also one of the founders of the Chicago school of law and economics, a cornerstone of modern conservatism.

I’m not sure that I agree that there was ever a vital conservative movement, but Posner’s essay this past weekend offers an interesting inside perspective of the decline of conservative intellectualism. You know that there are troublesome tempests taking shape when an icon of Posner’s stature says this:

“…it is notable that the policies of the new conservatism are powered largely by emotion and religion and have for the most part weak intellectual groundings. That the policies are weak in conception, have largely failed in execution, and are political flops is therefore unsurprising […] By the fall of 2008, the face of the Republican Party had become Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber. Conservative intellectuals had no party.”

Since the fall of 2008, things have only gotten worse. The Palin/Plumber contingent has grown to include Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Loon), Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, and Miss California. Whatever pretense held by a previous generation of conservative thought leaders (i.e. William F. Buckley) has been abandoned by the contemporary crop of conservatives who prefer style over substance. Their superficial aspirations are exposed by an agenda that values public relations over policy.

Recently Mike Pence, the chair of the House Republican Conference, advised his party peers to cut their legislative staff to make room for communications aides. And bigshots like Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, and Eric Cantor launched an effort to re-brand the Republican Party, as if branding were their problem and not their paucity of ideas. In this environment, how do Republicans recruit a new generation of policymakers capable of contributions more profound than abstinence-only family planning?

Posner’s focus on this issue is not the first light out of the right-wing wind tunnel. Conservative stalwarts like Andrew Sullivan, Christopher Buckley, Colin Powell, and Arlen Specter have articulated similar laments as regards the right’s brain drain. I, myself, have long been frustrated by the apparent drift in American culture toward an exaltation of averagism as a superior alternative to reason and intellect. It is this trend that allowed an inarticulate, persistently mediocre, dynastic runt to pass himself off as a brush-clearing cowboy and assume the presidency. It is a mindset that defines anyone subjected to higher learning as elitist and out of touch and, therefore, unfit for public service. During last year’s campaign, I wrote a handbook for electoral success in this new era of self-imposed idiocy. It’s a concise guide for how to appeal to an electorate that has been deliberately stupefied by a congregation of conservative anti-intellectuals, and a compliant press corps.

It’s nice to see that there are still conservative thinkers like Posner with the courage to tell the truth about their colleagues, the honesty to face their movement’s shortcomings, and the insight to understand the consequences. It’s nice to see that there are still conservative thinkers who actually think. Unfortunately, what thinking conservative thinkers think is that today’s conservatives don’t think.

The Pre-Obituary Hate Thread

George W. Bush: “History? We don’t know. We’ll all be dead.”

This past weekend, Jack Kemp, a giant of Reagan-era conservatism passed away. The news has been covered with an almost uniformly reverential tone, no matter the venue. Even from the most avowedly partisan Democratic sources, there was abundant praise and sympathy from all but a few insensitive weasels. And that’s as it should be, whether regarding Kemp, or William F. Buckley, or Tony Snow, etc.

Death is without a doubt the single most non-partisan issue that any of us will ever face. No amount of devotion to the second amendment or global warming will be sufficient to filibuster the grim reaper. And while mortality observes the purest form of equality, it is not in the remotest sense democratic. We must all comply with its laws, but no one gets to vote. Nature is such a Fascist.

So as time collects its due from amongst life’s loitering souls, those of us still queued up react to the passing of our earthly cousins. For the most part we are respectful and reserved. We follow the dictum that prohibits us from “speaking ill of the dead.” Whether the deceased is someone with whom we have affinity or hostility, we share the knowledge of our common fate and withhold judgment.

But no such forbiddance precludes us from ripping the living to shreds.

I can’t help but wonder what our reaction would be to the passing of certain individuals whom we regard as patently evil. Would we be as generous with our sympathy upon hearing that Donald Rumsfeld kicked the bucket? Would we exhibit the same tolerance for those responsible for lying us into a war that snuffed out the lives of hundreds of thousands? Would there be an R.I.P. thread for Karl Rove or Paul Wolfowitz or Dick Cheney? And what about George W. Bush himself?

Would we struggle to find redeeming qualities in folks who so resolutely brought pain and tragedy to so many? Would we be considerate of their mourning families? How would our demeanor change from what we would say about them today, compared to what we would say about them in hindsight?

I, for one, believe that there is a special place in Hell (if I believed in Hell) reserved for the mass murderers of BushCo. I could care less about their eternal souls, other than to hope that they suffer. The only sympathy I have for their families is due to their having been cursed with such despicable relatives.

This is not to say that I presently wish death upon anyone. And, despite the tone, it is not even vengeance that I seek. It is more something like justice (which, by the way, is something that we can still achieve while the perpetrators live). The question is, if I can articulate the harsh thoughts that I have above, while the subjects are still enjoying the fruit of their atrocities, could I still do so upon their demise? The answer is, probably not.

The impropriety of disparaging those who have shuffled off is so ingrained into our culture that anyone who engaged in it would be immediately ostracized. It is nearly irrelevant if someone practiced Satanism yesterday. If they die tomorrow society expects you to reassess your judgment and say something nice about the devil.

Well, it isn’t tomorrow yet. So we are still free to wail on the dastardly denizens of doom that torment us. And we should avail ourselves of the opportunity to bitch at the fiends who drove our nation into an unnecessary and illegal war; who tainted and trivialized our Constitution; who sanctioned torture; who continue to befoul our planet; who value wealth over human dignity and compassion. We should get it off our chests now, loudly and with conviction. We should pound them into pulp and show them no mercy.

Why? Because tomorrow they may be dead and we’ll have to bite our tongues.

The Horror Of A Laughing President

It’s really sort of pathetic how utterly humorless modern conservatives have become. Following Barack Obama’s interview last night on 60 Minutes, a torrent of indignation was released across the mediasphere that blew past Politico, Drudge, and countless right-wing blogs. What had Obama done to unleash such fury, even causing interviewer Steve Kroft to inquire if Obama was “punch drunk?” He laughed. Yep, that’s it. He laughed.

To any rational viewer, the moment merely demonstrated the President’s amusement of the relentless curiosity of media figures that don’t get it. At worst, he was just using laughter as a stress reliever. That’s something that many real people do during anxious times. For critics who have been hammering him for weeks about being too glum, it is absurd for them now to assert that a gentle laugh suggests that, all of a sudden, he is too flippant and detached.

All of this fits right in with the sorrowful character of conservatives. They were dismayed when they thought Obama did not do enough to assuage their grief. Now they are disturbed that he is not exhibiting enough grief of his own. Either way they are consumed by their incessant grieving and blaming it all on Obama.

The lack of humor on the part of the right is reaching epidemic proportions. Their comic heroes are Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter. How sad is that? Last week Tucker Carlson presumed to lecture Jon Stewart on the art of comedy. This weekend, Bill O’Reilly’s column attempted to bring the funny, but missed miserably. The article is a collection of fake headlines (something O’Reilly and Fox News should be adept at), aimed at mocking the liberal media. But there are two significant problems with O’Reilly’s comic foray. First, it isn’t remotely funny. Second, the only thing he succeeds at making a mockery of is himself. In the first paragraph he says:

O’Reilly: The other day, left-wing muckraker Seymour Hersh went on MSNBC and said he had information, provided by the usual anonymous sources, that Dick Cheney was running an assassination squad out of the White House.

However, the Pulitzer Prize winning Hersh never went on MSNBC with this story. So in an article seeking to ridicule the liberal media for making up news stories, O’Reilly actually made up a story of his own in the part of the article that he presented as factual. Is there any part of his wretched reality that doesn’t put satire to shame?

So where are the funny conservatives? Where is the right’s Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Chris Rock, Tina Fey, George Carlin (RIP), etc.? Is Rush going to have to be both the head of the Republican Party and the chief conservative comic? Or will it be the indecipherable Dennis Miller or Fox’s Greg Gutfield, who just got a few yucks at the expense of dead Canadian soldiers? There is, of course, the hysterical escapism of Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, but if you don’t already suffer from acute paranoia, do you really want to assume that risk?

It really is pathetic how desperate and forlorn the right has become. They appear to have nothing left but to invent outrage where non exists, and to cling to leaders who offer only obstacles. And when the human spirit requires uplifting more than ever, they are stuck with clowns who have painted on permanent sneers. And even worse, their melancholy is magnified merely by witnessing the horror of a laughing President. It makes me sad just thinking about it.