Monday, February 28, 2011

Terrordome

Hedges at his best, from late 2009.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

My Kind of Town


For once, Wikipedia gets it right.
On the evening of December 3, 1969, Fred Hampton taught a political education course at a local church, which was attended by most members of the Chicago Black Panther Party. Afterwards, as was typical, several Panthers retired to Hampton's Monroe Street apartment to spend the night, including Hampton and Deborah Johnson, Blair Anderson, Doc Satchell, Harold Bell, Verlina Brewer, Louis Truelock, Brenda Harris, and Mark Clark.

Upon arrival, they were met by FBI informant William O'Neal, who had prepared a late dinner which was eaten by the group around midnight. O'Neal had slipped secobarbitol into a drink consumed by Hampton during the dinner in order to sedate Hampton so that he would not awaken during the subsequent police raid. O'Neal left at this point, and, at about 1:30 a.m., Hampton fell asleep in mid-sentence talking to his mother on the telephone. Although Hampton was not known to take drugs, Cook County chemist Eleanor Berman would report that she ran two separate tests which each showed a powerful barbiturate had been introduced into Hampton's blood. An FBI chemist would later fail to find similar traces, but no explanation for how Berman's tests could have been flawed was offered and she stood by her findings.

The raid was organized by the office of Cook County State's Attorney Edward Hanrahan using officers attached to his office. Hanrahan had recently been the subject of a large amount of public criticism by Hampton, who had made speeches about how Hanrahan's talk about a "war on gangs" was really rhetoric used to enable him to carry out a "war on black youth."

At 4:00 a.m., the heavily armed Chicago police team arrived at the site, dividing into two teams, eight for the front of the building and six for the rear. At 4:45, they stormed in the apartment.

Mark Clark, sitting in the front room of the apartment with a shotgun in his lap, was on security duty. He was killed instantly after firing off a single round, which was later determined to be a reflexive reaction in his death convulsions after being shot by the raiding team; this was the only shot the Panthers fired.

Automatic gunfire then converged at the head of the bedroom where Hampton slept, unable to wake up as a result of the barbiturates the FBI infiltrator had slipped into his drink. He was lying on a mattress in the bedroom with his pregnant girlfriend. Two officers found him wounded in the shoulder, and fellow Black Panther Harold Bell reported that he heard the following exchange:

"That's Fred Hampton."
"Is he dead?... Bring him out."
"He's barely alive; he'll make it."

Two shots were heard, which it was later discovered were fired point blank into Hampton's head. One officer then said:

"He's good and dead now."

Hampton's body was dragged into the doorway of the bedroom and left in a pool of blood. The officers then directed their gunfire towards the remaining Panthers, who were hiding in another bedroom. They were wounded, then beaten and dragged into the street, where they were arrested on charges of aggravated assault and the attempted murder of the officers. They were each held on $100,000 bail.
No conspiracy here: just a flat-out national security state death-squad killing, courtesy of Mark "Deep Throat" Felt's COINTELPRO.

Chicago boys Barack Obama and Eric Holder's COINTELPRO is just as active, and getting more so thanks to the Roberts Court decision in the appropriately titled Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project case.

*

Mike Gray and Howard Alk's very raw 1971 documentary, The Murder of Fred Hampton

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

New Prick City

From Pimp of the Oligarchs, this week's balm for the heart. Michael Bloomberg announces, in spite of a $2,000,000,000 increase in Wall Street tax revenue (out of a record-smashing $30,000,000,000 in new Wall Street profit), these cuts:
The closing of 100 Senior Centers, eliminating the single daily meal most of the elderly eat there, causing further isolation and loneliness.

The firing of 110 caseworkers who visit the elderly.

Eliminating day-care subsidies for 17,000 poor children, adding to the 14,000 cut over the past two years.

$200,000,000 eliminated in rent subsidies for the poor.

The closing of 20 fire stations, all in poor or working class neighborhoods.

The closing of 22 public elementary schools, all in poor or working class neighborhoods.

The firing of over 6,000 public school teachers.


Matt Taibbi.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Waiting for. . .

Friday, February 11, 2011

Executioner


The corporatist defaming and destruction of feminism could not be better embodied than in the personhood of Cathleen Punty Black: Cathie Black. (Woe to those who misspell her first name! One Hearstian I know was dismissed for repeatedly addressing Black in emails as "Dear CATHY.") Several months back, MIZZ Black was appointed New York City Schools Chancellor by Pimp of the Oligarchs Michael R. Bloomberg. This seemed to shock many of my fellow New Yorkers, for Black had zero experience with public education -- not as student, teacher, or administrator. She wound up requiring a waiver from the NYC Commissioner of Education in order to take office. In the face of a heartfelt and growing waiver-denial movement against her ("Black is wack!"), the waiver was issued. It made sense to me. After all, did not Bloomberg announce Black's appointment at the same time he announced his intention to use his illegal third-term as Mayor to destroy New York City's public school system? It made perfect sense.

And yesterday, my daughter's elementary school announced the termination of their free breakfast program. . .

*

I began work at Hearst Magazines about a year before Black was named Magazine Division President. Clinton's New Economy had passed the company by, ad revenue was plummeting, Claeys Bahrenburg (Black's predecessor) -- in a brave attempt to hold off fanatical bottom-liners -- was caught imposing strange new formulas on how ad rates would be calculated (remarkably similar to what Clinton would do to "lower" announced national unemployment and poverty rates), and the decision was made to break what remained of Hearst's still classical approach to a dying medium. That one pre-Black year was a wonderful gift for me, a treasure. Randolph Hearst (the Founder's last surviving son) was still Chairman of the Board and the Family still retained real power. The Magazine Division was still a collection of competing duchies. Every editor-in-chief and publisher, however much at odds with each other, ran their turfs independently, so the titles looked and read and felt (and occasionally smelled) different: different paper stock, issue length, size, history, cover-design, traditions, revenue expectations, readership. The old wall between Church (editorial) and State (advertising) stood strong. And the company itself was like a college campus, housed in half-a-dozen buildings around 57th Street and Broadway. My favorite was 959 Eighth Avenue, the six-story Deco landmark intended to be forty-stories high when the Great Depression smothered that intention. Compared to other Deco remains across Manhattan, the outsides of 959 were nothing special, a drab sort of yellow granite with silly Romanesque statues at the front's four corners. But the insides of 959 had golden cages for elevators, the opal glimmer of marmoreal lobbies and discreet mahogany-lined walls in offices secured against the outside world by blinds, shutters, and heavy drapes.

The eight non-Family trustees decided to destroy all that. CEO Frank Bennack saw the anti-print wave coming: Bahrenburg was fired, Black brought in. (At the time, Black was President of USA Today, where she successfully changed a fun and poppy newspaper into a colorless advertiser-drenched comic sheet.) With Bennack's full support, she went to work right away. She organized a coup against the Chairmanship of the kind and gentle Randy Hearst. (Spreading nasty rumors about Mr. Hearst's wife Veronica's untoward influence over the "old man," to get him out.) Bennack became CEO and Chairman of the Board. Beginning with the honorable Ed Kosner at Esquire, all editors who resisted Black's blatant removal of the wall between editorial and advertising were dismissed one-by-one. (The last straw for Kosner was his refusal to bow to the Chrysler account in its threat to end all Hearst advertising if Kosner did not kill a sexually explicit short fiction piece about a gay couple. More than half of Esquire's editors resigned in protest of Kosner's firing. David Granger of GQ was brought over and Esquire as we knew it was dead.) (Granger would later stand up against Black for the cover-publication of a story by journalists Michael Sallah and Mitch Weiss, about something called "Operation Tiger Force": a U.S. Vietnam death-squad which committed My Lai-level massacres on a weekly-basis. A story eventually published by the Toledo Blade and one that would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize. Dozens of advertisers threatened termination. Granger folded, but at gunpoint.) Same with the publishers. Valerie Salembier, Patricia Haegele, Jane Jamison, Susan Plagemann, Donna Kalajian -- the Black Hand as they were known -- Cathie's Girls from her days at USA Today and all enforcers of the new creed: nothing would be allowed in editorial which could possibly offend any actual (or potential) advertiser.

Within five years, everything changed. The magazines now all looked the same, had the same size, emphasized sleaze on every cover, embodied the cheapest paper quality. Gone was Redbook fiction, gone was Esquire's Dubious Achievements (it came back, in retarded form), the award-winning men's titles -- Sports Afield and Motor Boating and Sailing -- gone. So were the elegant and beautifully written Connoisseur and Victoria. And the little things: the magical Christmas party at Tavern on the Green, the midsummer night's party on Long Beach. And you know what? None of it worked. Cathie Black's Magazine Division was bleeding money. (The common joke was: She should change her name to Cathie Red.) Claes Bahrenburg's profits murdered Black's. Practically every title went on the block. There was serious talk of Hearst selling the division off to Disney. Then came the division's "savior": Oprah Winfrey. "O" the Magazine did save the division, from going bankrupt. Most Hearst titles now seem to take their cue from its treacly and self-important tone, the tone of its namesake. Funny thing is, Cathie Black fought against the acquisition of "O". Just as she fought against the virtualization of the magazines as we passed the Millennium. (When she left last year, Hearst web departments were smaller than they were in 1998.) She fought tool-and-nail for the creation of Tina Brown's idiotic (and very short-lived) Talk magazine, launching it with an East River yacht party costing more than the yearly operating expenses of most Hearst titles, combined. She lost brilliant Cosmo editor-in-chief Bonnie Fuller in a catfight. Lost the very gutsy Anne Fuchs as Fashion Group Publisher right after that. (Anne was the Ida Lupino of Hearst.) Refused to accept Anna Wintour as Harper's Bazaar EiC after the passing of Liz Tilberis, instead shoe-horning in the inexperienced Kate Betts, another short-lived disaster with Harper's losing most of its editorial staff in a mass resignation and almost half its advertisers.

Then came the Tower and the Book. In the same way that Richard Nixon could never get over his jealousy of Jack Kennedy (even after Kennedy's execution), small town girl Cathie Black could never get over her envy of Condé Nast Magazines. Condé began to have monthly EiC confabs at Le Cirque -- so did Hearst. Condé started to have seasonal junkets at places like Cancun, Harbour Island, and St. Thomas. Hearst too. (Black's rejection of Anna Wintour as Liz Tilberis's replacement was her version of Nixon backhanding Ted Kennedy's '71 deal on what would've been genuine national healthcare, instead of Obama's corporate sell-out.) In 2002 CN announced its decision to build the 48-story Condé Nast Building, just off Times Square. It would be the greenest building in New York City and would look like a thunderous electronic headache -- just the style to appeal to the ever-tasteless Ms. Black.

Her campaign began. Bennack would not sign on to a Hearst Tower, but he was retiring, and new CEO-to-be (though not for long as he would shockingly -- and mysteriously -- be fired only a few years in) Victor Ganzi liked the idea. Unlike her campaigning in the NY media press to be Frank Bennack's successor as CEO (and failing), and unlike her campaigning within Hearst for a Trusteeship whenever one of the Trustees-for-Life died (and failing) -- here she succeeded. The ground for the new Hearst Tower was broken by Ganzi in April 2003, and four years later we got this:



959 was gone. Since it was already a declared New York City landmark, Hearst had to pay-off quite a few Bloomberg bagmen to get over that precious difficulty. (Another waiver.) So Hearst agreed to redo the subway station below 959. And to retain the original six-story face. Which is like agreeing to throw away all of Robert Mitchum's career except for this:


(Go here for a sample of genuine insanity.)

A $15,000,000,000 Tower, with a $10,000,000 always-breaking-down waterfall in the lobby. As many NYers asked when Black was appointed Schools Chancellor: how was this possible? The Magazine Division had been in the red for almost a decade, with no turn-around in view (or likely). Hearst had been selling off newspapers for years. As well as radio and TV affiliates. Were the Entertainment / Cable properties that flush? Perhaps it was the real estate. Well, there it was (and is) -- all $15BN of it. A building with the odor of plastic cement, awash in the High-Technology of the Self-Flattered, looking like it will live for ten years; then crack in two. The perfect monument to Cathie Black's Hearst tenure.

Or maybe it's her book: Basic Black: The Essential Guide for Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life). (Really, that's the title.) As my old Hearst pal Marcia Jones would say: "It's beyond beyondo." Basic Black is basically illiterate (one would think a publishing president could hire better ghostwriters), and one of the most unintentionally funny books one could find. It can also be described as one of the most accurate autobiographies one can find, for it is a touchstone in social chi-chi, a book describing an author of undue ambition and impotent imagination, one invariably more interested in being part of an elite machination than in any creative act itself. The question (and answer) is there on every page: whether it is better to trust the individual who travels through desolations before passing sentence; or a poseur who has a good meal, a romp with her hired stud, a fine night of sleep, and a penalty of death in the morning for the culture. For an ex-Hearstian like myself, reading it was to be reminded of the constant sore in one's heart as the blood pumps through to be cleared of love.

*

Cathie Black is now New York City Schools Chancellor. Since her appointment, this is what's happened to my daughter's P.S. 139:

-- Four 1st-grade classes (Saya's grade) reduced to three.

-- A dozen teachers fired, including my daughter's original 1st-grade teacher, someone she liked very much.

-- Many traditional school parties, dances, and festivals canceled.

-- Once-a-week school assemblies reduced to once-a-month.

-- The 6th-grade eliminated (with discussion of the elimination of the 5th-grade for next school year).

-- A reduction in the school lunch program, and an increase in cost.

-- A reduction of ESL instruction.

-- Elimination of after-school care.

-- Reduction of extended-day instruction for struggling students from five days per week to three.

And yesterday they cut the breakfast program. Cathie Black is more than just Schools Chancellor -- she is the face of 21st-Century Manhattan, a face Knowing and corrupt and ruthless, dead to all experience it does not already comprehend, closed to any face not near to its own, as selfish and stingy as it is ingrown, and squeezed together with the ferocity of the timid, with a glisten of stupidity in the gleam of the eye -- that particular stupidity which reflects all of moral damage, living in the dread of the undeserving. A face that takes food out of the mouths of children.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Chomsky on Egypt (and many things. . .)

From late last week.



Monday, February 7, 2011

Traitors


While a list of Barack Obama's gutless betrayals could fill pages, one cannot tag his mentor with that charge: Ronald Reagan ran as a corporate-sucking reactionary militant and governed as one. He promised to re-feudalize the country, and he did. Obama promised to reverse that process. Haha.

However, Obama's hero was a flat-out traitor by any definition, in the manner of his 1980 election. For 15 years, journalist Robert Parry has been detailing how the 1980 fix occurred: Reagan ordered Bill Casey and George H.W. Bush to cut a deal with Iran's mullahs to hold American Embassy hostages not only until after election day, but until after the moment Ronald Reagan was sworn in as President. The oath of office was taken. The hostages were released 20 minutes later. (Parry also shows how the same U.S. and Israeli intelligence forces -- forces later involved in Iran-Contra -- sabotaged Jimmy Carter's rescue attempt the previous April, known as Operation Eagle Claw.)

Parry's brilliant and brave archive can be found here.

*

And the great John Dolan (whom I suspect is really Mark Ames in disguise) on what the dead traitor did to the formerly Golden state of California.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Hell Without End, Amen

Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not, in a way Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt with all the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s and that government had grown and grown but there wasn't much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. He tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity, we want optimism, we want spirit, we want likability, we want a return to the sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.
-- B.H. Obama
We know better.



America's Big Dark descended (and continues to deepen) on November 4th, 1980 -- the night Reagan was elected President. It was the beginning of everything that WASP devil brought to the "spirit" of the country, as one-by-one the lights went out: the demonizing of all things communal, subtle, kind, and modest; the hatred of one’s own government, local, state, or national; the solidifying of the malignancy known as American Exceptionalism; the collapse of Hollywood and the takeover of genuine anti-Hollywood independents (do we need even ten fingers to count the number of great American movies since the early 80s? Five fingers?); the destruction of unions; the destruction of anti-trust laws, financial regulations, and the Fairness Doctrine; the transformation of “Christianity” into a theology of corporatism and privatization; the destruction of Liberation Theology (his time begins with the assassination of Archbishop Romero and ends with the massacre of the Salvadoran Jesuits); the worship of the psychopathically ambitious over the human. He oversaw an Administration of sex haters, race haters, Christ-Firsters, America-Firsters, Israel-Firsters, oil junkies, S.S.-worshipers, mob guys, fascist intelligence agents, military dictators, tweed-covered garbage such as Bill Casey and George H.W. Bush, death-squad commanders, right-wing publishers and editors, drug executioners, psychopathic politicians, Birchers and Goldwaterites. Mister Conservative opened the floods for the wounding and murder of the local, the varied, the traditional, the patient, the folk, the truly mythic – for all that cannot be commodified. He turned the mythic into the Mythomaniacal, style into Styling, the rooted into MadAve-stroked envy. He was the set-designer for the workplace and schoolplace massacre. (The best book ever written on Reaganism is Mark Ames's Going Postal.) After 30 years of moral vomit, we have yet to turn away. Far from it. We celebrate him. So in our Obama-ian/Weimar culture, the incubus haunts us more than ever. Every busted highway and closed library: Reagan. Every crappy little product we take home and swear at: Reagan. Every over-crowded classroom: Reagan. Every price we can't find as we move through the grocery store aisles: Reagan. Every second of air-time spent on meaningless celebrity. The suffocations and anxieties of the office. The humiliations felt by all who must face every day the sniffers capable of judging only by externals and bizniz cards. The somnolence and passivity in the face of endless war. The narcissism which has narrowed US politics to the range of A to B, FoxNews to MSNBC, DailyKos to the Drudge Report. And the lies. The endless lies!

Reagan walks through The Killers (1964), his last movie, with a look of little but lemon-sucking petulance on his face. Even without having to confront Lee Marvin, it is a face Reagan would often make throughout the 80s, for he was a monster of sexual sterility. Far more than Nixon (within whom one can feel a deep sexual and emotional longing, unmet), Reagan was the political equivalent of a sex doll without organs, the sire of our current corporate environment where there’s about a 2% difference between the sexes. Reagan, the first Metrosexual. Not even that. He was the Anti-Man. Take responsibility for nothing. When caught, exposed or challenged: lie and forget. Never admit a mistake. Never show regret or remorse. Demonize all who disagree with you or get in your way. Demonize your own past, if it suits the needs of your endless present. He was the ultimate confabulator. The huckster who made his political bones by dumping on imaginary welfare cheats and “professional victims” is the one who made permanent a national belief in victimization: we do nothing to others – it’s all done to us.

While he roasts for eternity over on open Hades fire, Reagan continues to choke us every day. So on the 100th Anniversary of his spawning, let us celebrate him for what in fact he is: The Father of the Great American Shitpile.

Lee Marvin for President.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

True Heart


He was born in Oak Park, Illinois in 1929 -- the second (and only son) of four (mostly) Irish-Catholic children. After stateside military service during the Korean War, he became an accountant, quit one year later, then gave us this:



The first comedy album to hit Billboard's #1.

As Fred Astaire is the Mozart of American dance, Bob Newhart is the Astaire of American comedy. Dry, smooth, informal, light, perfect -- Newhart's is a comedy unpressured by extraneous events, by social hierarchy, by Attitude. Like Astaire, he was a master craftsman who required total control over his albums, television shows, and live appearances. His delivery is miraculously low-key, elegant, yet somehow omnipotent: he is the only one with pure moral clarity, the only one who sees the world as it truly is. This leaves him, of course, generally on the outside of the joke. But not always.

His first television series was called The Bob Newhart Show, one-hour of weekly variety that would win an Emmy and a Peabody, and would promptly be cancelled.



Following cancellation, he did a hysterical turn in Don Siegel's goofy Hell is for Heroes (1962).



A new variety show beckoned, The Entertainers in 1964.



Then he got into some trouble, with Bob Newhart Faces Bob Newhart: for joking about giving birth, Adolf Hitler, and poodle poop. Oh, how times have changed . . .



During our transition from the open vistas of '67 and '68 to Richard the Undertaker, Newhart appeared in Hot Millions (1968), Vincente Minnelli's On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970), Catch-22 (1970), and Norman Lear's flat comedy about cigarette smoking, Cold Turkey (1971).

Then came Dr. Bob Hartley. The Bob Newhart Show (1972-78) is as legendary and beloved as is the CBS Saturday night dream line-up it was part of: All in the Family (8:00pm), M*A*S*H (8:30), The Mary Tyler Moore Show (9:00), Bob (9:30), The Carol Burnett Show (10:00). (Saturday night? Wasn't the 70s the Swing Decade?) Among the group, it is the most unique and the least dated: laconic and shapely, it has none of the righteousness, nothing of the sweet tooth of its time. There are many brilliant episodes. Yet it is less great than its future competitor Newhart. There's a strange over-focus on professional status, a pre-Yuppie-ism years before that plague would infect us all. (Newhart's 80s greatness partly lies in its enchanted disgust with all things Yuppie.) And Suzanne Pleshette gives Newhart sex -- and that's a problem here. Again like Astaire, Bob Newhart's genius is apart from sex: self-contained and abstract, he needs a partner transparent, someone who can drape him (as does Mary Frann) with the insides or outsides of the joke. The dark, passionate, and incomparable Pleshette is far from transparent.



One of the loveliest and funniest episodes of the 70s series holds Newhart's classical combination of grace, astonishment, and kindness in perfect balance. The final show of Season Four stars his good friend Tom Poston (as The Peeper), from February 1976.



Newhart (1982-90) is his masterpiece -- a sort of necromantic world where the dead are all dear oddballs and innkeeper Dick Louden a ghost apart. (How appropriate it would end as a dream.) Imagine the moments in Bringing Up Baby when Grant and Hepburn are led by leopard Baby into the midsummer's night of Connecticut -- with the heavy Hawks touch replaced by a gentler, kinder hand; and the bedroom communities of Connecticut turned into a Vermont of the mind. In Vermont Bob Newhart's surreal astonishments take flight apart from the weightiness of Chicago. Here the weather is magical, not restricting. There are no Bulls, Cubs, or Bears. No trains, elevators, or moo goo gai pan. There are woodsmen and bell-towers, the prettiest clown in the world and a runaway heiress. And it leaves him, and us, generous-hearted, without ballast. Here, we laugh with Newhart, never really at him, or at others, no matter how unknowing they might be. Despite his moral clarity, we never laugh from a height above, always at about the same level as the folks in the story. Everyone does indeed have their reasons.

Bob at the center on the outside looking in: "Co-Hostess Twinkie" from September 1986.



But sometimes, the world comes to him. From October '86, "Dick the Kid"



There were two more series in the 90s: Bob (1992-93), a 33-episode wonderment where Newhart plays a comic book creator working for a quadrupally-merged company called AmCanTranConComCo (it is great and I so wish there were episodes available to show); and a real thud named George & Leo (1997-98) teaming him up with the ever-obnoxious Judd Hirsch(!).

We come full circle. In between the two failures, Newhart did an HBO special featuring his classic material, fresher than ever.



Beside Astaire, there is also something of Fitzgerald in Bob Newhart, a personal style which promises it would be sacrilege to give offense in a social situation, and in part the manner of Irish elegance: that a man must be caught dead before he takes himself seriously. It was Fitzgerald, after all, who first suggested that one could become the nicest man in the world. . .