Can’t bear to watch the Inauguration? Check out these political dystopian films instead

Art imitates life:

The dark and cynical “A Face in the Crowd” won’t make you feel better about politics, but at least it’s fiction

Art imitates life: Can't bear to watch the Inauguration? Check out these political dystopian films instead
“A Face in the Crowd” (Credit: Warner Bros.)

During inauguration weekend, the Anthology Film Archives in New York City is featuring a timely, cogent (and bitter) film series entitled “Inauguration of the Displeasure Dome: Coping with the Election.”

Jed Rapfogel, who co-programmed the film with his colleagues, said that the series came together quickly, “It was something we did out of necessity. When Trump won, we had to mark that weekend. The films reflect the sense that a dystopic, alternate reality has come to pass.”

There are numerous films that could have been screened, but the selection of “A Face in the Crowd,” “It Happened Here,” and “Punishment Park,” as well as Robert Kramer’s “Ice,” Stan Brakhage shorts, and other titles provides AFA the opportunity to present “radical, progressive, politically-engaged films” that reflect on the current political climate.

“A Face in the Crowd,” Rapfogel noted, “came first to mind because of how its hero, Lonesome Rhodes (Andy Griffith), is a celebrity and a demagogue who rises to political power. It is relevant in so many ways.”

He continued, “‘Face’ as well as the other films in the series are going to look different now, coming at a time when we don’t have that benefit of thinking of it as dystopic. The perspective has changed, and these films are all interesting and useful in some way: How do we deal with this situation?”

For those not able to get to Anthology Film Archives, the titles reviewed below are available on DVD and/or online. Folks not wanting to watch Trump’s inauguration are urged to check out these essential classics instead.

“A Face in the Crowd”

Elia Kazan’s electrifying 1957 film, written by Budd Schulberg (who adapted his own story), is about a “gentleman loafer” (hobo) named Lonesome Rhodes (Andy Griffith, in his debut) who becomes a media sensation when his grassroots wisdom connects with the common people. He can say anything to sway the listeners of his radio and TV shows — and he sure does. Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal) is a radio host who discovers Lonesome in an Arkansas jail. She follows him from local radio to a TV gig in Memphis and ultimately a national program in New York. Lonesome raises ad revenues and gets high ratings because he is able to guide the masses with a strong hand. However, marketer Macey (Paul McGrath) is fearful of Lonesome using TV to persuade the general public and calls the media sensation “a risk, uncooperative and unpredictable.” [Sound familiar?]

It is no surprise that Lonesome doesn’t care who he walks over as his success grows. He wants love, not respect, and soon finds work as a political consultant for a right-wing presidential candidate. TV writer Mel Miller (Walter Matthau) sees through Lonesome, observing, “He’s got the courage of his ignorance,” a fact that Lonesome proves when he sounds off in a hotel room to Marcia, “This whole country’s just like my flock of sheep! . . . Rednecks, crackers, hillbillies, hausfraus, shut-ins, pea-pickers . . . I own ’em! They think like I do. Only they’re even more stupid that I am, so I gotta think for ’em . . . I’m gonna be the power behind the president . . .” Marcia’s expression can only be described as terrified at hearing his abuse of the public confidence.

“A Face in the Crowd” is dark and cynical, and the acting is as superb as the script. When Mel says at the end of the film, “We got wise to him, that’s our strength” it is a rallying cry for those who can’t endorse a Trumpian world.

“It Happened Here”

This remarkable film, made in 1965 by Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo, eerily feels like a documentary, it seems so real. The filmmakers came up with the idea — a “fantasy” imagining a Nazi-occupied Britain in 1944 — when they were teenagers, eventually shooting it eight years later on film stock donated by Stanley Kubrick.

The film’s heroine is Pauline (Pauline Murray), an Irish nurse who is evacuated from the British countryside and sent to London where Nazi propaganda posters line the Thames. She decides to join the Party to be helpful by working as a nurse, only to be told by a clerk, “We don’t accept your decisions. You accept ours.” While Pauline observes that the Party has a “faintly military flavor,” National Socialism offers a new way of life, one that is “backed by the people of Britain” to outlaw Bolshevism, establish a corporate state, help solve the “Jewish problem,” and conquer unemployment with a labor front. A highly disturbing sequence in the film — one that was censored by the studio — involves Pauline participating in a discussion that claims “Jews are parasites” and they will be sent to Madagascar.

As Pauline slowly awakens to the perils of the Party, “It Happened Here” gets more intense and more alarming. A pivotal scene has Pauline meeting her friend Dr. Richard Fletcher (Sebastian Shaw), who berates her for being a Party member. She admits to being ignorant, stating, “I know as much about politics as a lamppost.” Pauline’s innocence and her desire for “law and order” contrast with Richard and his wife’s struggle for freedom, which include harboring a partisan in their apartment. Pauline may believe that resistance is futile, and she calls Richard’s activism out as a response to his guilt for doing nothing before then.

Yet Richard chides Pauline in the film’s most quotable (and prescient) line, “The appalling thing about fascism is that you’ve got to use fascist methods to get rid of it.”

The last act of “It Happened Here” gets even more frightening as it presents a funeral that looks like a Klan rally, and an extended sequence set in a medical hospital that is revealed to be performing “cleansing” operations.

The fantasy of “It Happened Here” is scarily Trumpian; this forceful drama will still cause viewers to bristle more than 50 years after it was made.

“Punishment Park”

This is Peter Watkins’ gripping (and grim) 1971 pseudo-documentary film in which the McCarran Act is invoked. The Act — which was enacted in 1950 over President Truman’s veto, and in force until the early 1970s — enables the president to declare an “internal security emergency” and “apprehend and detain persons who may cause sabotage.” In the film, groups of subversives — draft-dodgers, conscientious objectors, black militants, feminists and the like — have been apprehended and detained. They are sentenced at a tribunal where they are given two options: years in a federal penitentiary or days in “Punishment Park.”

However, Punishment Park may be worse than jail. As one fatalistic female prisoner states quite bluntly, “It’s win or die.” The park is a section of the Bear Mountain National Park in Southern California, where the criminals must walk 53 miles in the 90+ degree desert without water for three days to a designated location marked by an American flag. They must also evade capture by the police and national guardsman on call to keep the prisoners in line. If the prisoners fail to complete the course, they must serve out their sentence in federal prison, unless they die (or are killed) first.

A documentary film crew (lead by Watkins) follows the prisoners’ efforts, and also captures scenes of the law enforcement officers conducting target practice as well as the heated exchanges at the various tribunals.

In the intense, exciting courtroom scenes, non-professional actors improvise their roles as defendants. They complain about being detained for months without knowing why, are denied a “jury of their peers,” and are argumentative and combative in ways that will make every liberal viewer proud. They testify against the violence in society, the repressiveness of the government, and the immorality of war (the film makes connections to the Vietnam War and Nixon). They champion ideas of freedom, uphold moral values, and emphasize the importance of thinking for themselves. These “disruptive outbursts” are the most stirring in the film.

Watkins shrewdly intercuts the three storylines for maximum impact. A defendant’s tribunal speech about violence is juxtaposed with the military’s gun lessons, and scenes of brutality experienced by the prisoners who are running for their lives. The film may feel almost too on the nose with its messaging, but “Punishment Park” was a timely response to Kent State, the Chicago 10 Conspiracy Trial and other real-life events. That said, when a radio announcer recounts a senator resigning his position because “he refused to participate in dismantling basic freedoms and repressive legislation” (e.g., immigration reforms, stop-and-frisk measures, etc.), it’s eerily prescient of contemporary politics. How is that for art imitating life?

Gary M. Kramer is a writer and film critic based in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter.

US Millennials face higher unemployment, lower income than parents’ generation

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By Shelley Connor
16 January 2017

A report released by Young Invincibles last week outlines key areas in which so-called Millennials—Americans between the ages of 18 and 34—face unprecedented financial difficulties.

The brief, which compares the financial health of Millennials to that of Baby Boomers in the 1980s, demonstrates that wages and home ownership have declined significantly within a generation. The authors measured five factors of Millennials’ financial health against that of young adults in the 1980s: income, assets, net wealth, home ownership and retirement planning.

The discrepancies in income alone are shocking; wages have declined by 20 percent from 1989 to the present, with Millennials earning about $10,000 less than Baby Boomers did as young adults. In 1989, a high school graduate earned about the same income as a college graduate with a degree today. The report also notes that an astounding 1 million young adults experienced long-term unemployment during the Great Recession of 2008-09.

The report’s authors maintain that, although income declined across all education levels for Millennials, a college degree remains a worthwhile investment. According to the Young Invincibles’ analysis, “intergenerational declines in income were steepest for those with no degree.” Nevertheless, years of deep cuts to state education budgets force today’s college students to contend with ever-rising tuition costs and increasing amounts of student loan debt.

The Young Invicibles’ report acknowledges that “student debt blunts some of education’s benefits,” which stands out as an impossibly sanguine understatement in light of the numbers they present. By their own analysis, median assets declined at a rate of 71 percent for college graduates with student debt, in contrast to a decline of 45 percent for college graduates without student loans.

Student debt is at an all-time high, with 42 percent of all 18-29 year olds reporting that they bear student loan debt. In addition, the average debt burden for students has nearly doubled within a single generation, with Millennials owing an average of $37,000 upon graduation.

In years past, a college degree was regarded as an important aspect of preparing for a career and gaining enough wealth to own a home and retire comfortably. The economic burdens of today’s college graduates, however, demonstrate that the economic downturn has cut deeply throughout all educational levels for working and lower-middle class youth.

When Baby Boomers graduated college, those with outstanding student loans earned an average of $68,000 annually. Student borrowers today, by contrast, can expect to earn an average of $51,000—a 25 percent decrease.

Another cornerstone of financial security for Americans, home ownership, has declined by about eight percent between the Baby Boom and the Millennial generations. When separating out those without college degrees, however, the decline is a much steeper 22 percent. College graduates with student loan debt are also less likely to own their homes.

Only half of today’s young adults own their own homes, according to Young Invincibles, and the authors point to studies that show an estimated 2.8 million 25- to 34-year-olds contend with severe rental burdens.

Housing accounts for over 60 percent of assets held by the middle class; it represents about 15 percent of gross domestic product. Given that fewer than half of today’s young adults can attain home ownership, while many others cannot afford to rent, the implications for the economy as a whole are sobering.

This is a particularly strong indicator of the depth of economic decline. Last year, a study by the Pew Research Center revealed that, for the first time since 1880, young adults between the ages of 18 and 34 were more likely to live with a parent than in any other living arrangement. Pew’s researchers pointed to an anemic job market, where 5.7 percent of men between ages 25 and 34 are unemployed. On top of this, rental costs have risen disproportionately to wages since 2008.

Housing is not the only area in which Millennials lag behind Baby Boomers. Young adults in the 1980s owned twice the amount of assets as young adults in 2013. Research highlights the impact of student debt on this decline; non-borrowers amongst this cohort own over three times the assets of borrowers. In 1989 college graduates with student debt enjoyed a median net wealth of $86,500; by 2014 the same cohort had a median net worth of only $6,600.

On its face, retirement seems to be the one area in which Millennials are on stronger footing than Baby Boomers; retirement plan ownership increased by 150 percent between 1989 and today. However, beneath the surface of this seemingly hopeful number lies the virtual disappearance of pension plans, which decreased from 27.1 million in 1989 to 15.2 million in 2013.

The Young Invincibles’ report was notably released amidst a storm of pageantry surrounding President Barack Obama’s exit from the White House. The New York Times, which pumps out wholesale lies and half-truths on a daily basis, published an editorial in its Sunday edition praising Obama’s “optimism.”

The Times heralded Obama’s ascension to the White House as a surprising victory over racism and greed and compares him to Abraham Lincoln, insinuating that he has made America a more equitable and prosperous country.

The Times also praised Obama’s stimulus plan, which they assert staved off another Great Depression, and hailed the federal investment in General Motors and Chrysler. This move, they claim, preserved more than a million jobs. They casually ignore the fact that the investment was predicated upon stripping autoworkers of their hard-earned pensions and dramatically cutting wages. Autoworkers today are forced to work grueling hours and face hazardous working conditions for poverty wages.

“Even now,” the Times’ chides, “…stubborn biases and beliefs… have blinded many Americans to their own good fortune, fortune that flowed from policies set in motion by this president.” The startling numbers quoted by the Young Invincibles—declining home ownership, disappearing pensions, rent that outstrips earning, and crippling student debt—give the lie to this offensive statement.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/01/16/mill-j16.html

How Diversity Makes Us Smarter

Being around people who are different from us makes us more creative, more diligent and harder-working

Credit: Edel Rodriguez

IN BRIEF

  • Decades of research by organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers show that socially diverse groups (that is, those with a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation) are more innovative than homogeneous groups.
  • It seems obvious that a group of people with diverse individual expertise would be better than a homogeneous group at solving complex, nonroutine problems. It is less obvious that social diversity should work in the same way—yet the science shows that it does.
  • This is not only because people with different backgrounds bring new information. Simply interacting with individuals who are different forces group members to prepare better, to anticipate alternative viewpoints and to expect that reaching consensus will take effort.

The first thing to acknowledge about diversity is that it can be difficult. In the U.S., where the dialogue of inclusion is relatively advanced, even the mention of the word “diversity” can lead to anxiety and conflict. Supreme Court justices disagree on the virtues of diversity and the means for achieving it. Corporations spend billions of dollars to attract and manage diversity both internally and externally, yet they still face discrimination lawsuits, and the leadership ranks of the business world remain predominantly white and male.

CONTINUED:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-diversity-makes-us-smarter/

Bad times make great art?

 Worlds of light and shadow: The reproduction of liberalism in Weimar Germany

The claim that good art comes from hard times is the height of delusionally entitled thinking

Bad times make great art. Worlds of light and shadow: The reproduction of liberalism in Weimar Germany

Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” (1927) (Credit: Kino International)

On election night a murmur started just as the last gasp faded, “Well at least we can expect some great art.” At first the sentiment was a fatalistic one-off, a brave face, a shy hope that something good would come from the dark days forecast for the Trump presidency. It didn’t take long for the statement to acquire a predictive tone, eventually a waft of desperation was detectable and, ultimately, shrill fiat.

The art of protest is provocative, no question. It’s often brave, usually fierce, sometimes compelling and occasionally inspirational. But is the appeal of the books, films, poetry, painting, television and sculpture produced in response to tyranny, oligarchic pomposity or a fetishistic prioritization of the bottom line universal or simply reactive? How durable is the art birthed from protest? The following essay is the second in a series for Salon exploring the question Do bad times really inspire great art?

On Nov. 6 of this year, just two days before the presidential election, aging American punks Green Day took the stage at the MTV Europe Music Awards to perform their 2004, Bush II-era modern pop-punk staple, “American Idiot.”

Singer Billie Joe Armstrong snarled in the vague direction of then-presidential hopeful, now president-elect Donald J. Trump, asking the audience of largely Dutch citizens possessing close to zero influence on the American political conversation, “Can you hear the sound of hysteria? The subliminal mind-Trump America.”

Apart from the lyrics not making a lot of sense, it also had no effect whatsoever on the outcome of the election. However well-meaning, Armstrong and Co. would have been just as effective by writing “DO NOT VOTE FOR DONALD TRUMP” on a piece of paper, cramming it in a bottle, and chucking it into the ocean, or by whispering “Trump is bad” into a hole.

The clear lesson: punk is dead. And not only that, but it’s been poisoned, drowned, hanged, beaten, stabbed, killed, re-killed and killed again, like some slobbering Rasputin-ish zombie. So when people claim, desperately, that Trump’s America will somehow lead to a resurgence in angry, politically charged guitar music, it’s all I can do to keep my eyes from rolling out of my head.

* * *

To claim that good art — that is: stuff of considerable aesthetic merit, which is maybe even socially advantageous — comes from hard times is the height of delusionally entitled thinking, as if mass deportations and radicalized violence are all in the service of a piece of music. Of course, even the idea of what qualifies as “good times” must be qualified. Given that Trump won the election, it stands to reason that for a majority of Americans (or at least for a majority of electoral college representatives) the prospect of a Trump presidency is a beneficial thing, which will usher in a new epoch of prosperity and big-league American greatness.

There may be truth, or at least the ring of truth, in the idea that objects of artistic value can be produced under the pressure of hardship. While it may be true that an artist like, say, the late Leonard Cohen was able to mine the fathomless quarries of heartache and longing for his music and poetry, it is also true that Cohen was blessed with socio-economic privilege, both in the form of family inheritances and grants from a liberal Canadian government that supported (and continues to support, in various respects) art and artists. His heart may have been hard, but the times weren’t.

At the cultural level, good art tends to emerge from good times. It’s not even about having a well-managed social welfare state (though that, of course, helps). Rather, it seems to be a matter of liberal attitudes reproducing themselves in certain contexts, leading to greater degrees of freedom and greater gains in artistic production and sophistication.

So forget Green Day for a second. Take, as an example, the Weimar Republic of Germany’s interwar period. It was a short-lived heyday of liberalism and representative democracy, flourishing smack between two periods of staunch authoritarianism: bookended by the post-unification German Empire on one side, and Nazi Germany on the other. It was in this context that some of the twentieth century’s most compelling art was created.

* * *

It’s tricky to even think about Weimar Germany without being ensnared by the sickly succour of cliché. You know: leggy chorus girls high-kicking in all-night cabarets, gays and lesbians fraternizing freely, women in short hair lighting cigarettes while the zippy strains of jaunty jazz wafts hither and yon on in a smoky hall — a populace caught in full thrall of freedom. Fritz Lang’s 1922 film “Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler,” the opening titles of which describe it as “A Picture of the Times,” depicts Berlin’s underworld as equally rococo in its bourgeois elegance, and chaotically debased. As the proprietor of an illegal casino puts it, summing up the free-spirited ethos of the era, “Everything that pleases is allowed.”
Emerging from the horror of the First World War, and the 1918 November Revolution that saw the imperial government sacked, the nation’s consciousness was in a state of jumble and disarray. But it was an exciting  jumble, full of possibility. The philosopher Ernst Block compared Weimar Germany to Periclean Athens of the fifth century BCE: a time of cultural thriving, sovereign self-governance, and increased social and political equality. Germany became a hub for intellectualism, nurturing physicists like Einstein and the critical theorists of the Frankfurt School. Art indulged experimentalism and the avant-garde, united less by common aesthetic tendencies and more by shared socialist values. It was era of Otto Dix, Bertolt Brecht, the Bauhaus group, Arnold Schoenberg and a new, expressionist tendency in cinema.

Robert Weine’s 1919 film “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” embodied the spirit of this new age. It told the story of a small community preyed upon by the maniacal carnival barker Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss), whose newest attraction is a spooky-looking sleepwalker named Cesare (the great German actor Conrad Veidt). By cover of darkness, Caligari controls Cesare, using him to commit a string of violent crimes. With its highly stylized sets, and comments on the brutality of authority, the film presented a whole alternative vision of the world. Both stylistically and thematically, “Caligari” imagined the splintering of the postwar German psyche, presenting a sense that reality itself had been destabilizing, and was reconstituting itself in jagged lines and oblique curlicues. The movie’s lasting influence is inestimable.

In his landmark work of cultural analysis, “From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film,” film critic Siegfried Kracauer described the “collapse of the old hierarchy of values and conventions” in Weimar-era Germany. “For a brief while,” Kracauer writes, “the German mind had a unique opportunity to overcome hereditary habits and reorganize itself completely. It enjoyed freedom of choice, and the air was full of doctrines trying to captivate it, to lure it into a regrouping of inner attitudes.”

Certainly, German cinema of the era often explicitly figures authoritarian characters attempting to seduce the public: from Weine’s madman Dr. Caligari, to Lang’s huckster Dr. Mabuse. For the reforming national consciousness, authority served as a kind of siren song, luring the public out of the rowdy cabarets and nightclubs and back on the straight and narrow. By the early 1930s, attitudes seemed to be shifting. In Fritz Lang’s classic thriller “M,” from 1931, police sniff out a serial killer in part by trying to determine a psychosexual basis for his crimes. It was at once a strike against the unfettered sexual libertinism of the Berlin cabarets, and a sinister intimation of Nazism, which was notoriously marked by its pseudoscientific quackery about the biological basis of criminality and depravity. The hallmarks of Weimar — its authoritarian disenthrallment, its slackening attitudes toward sexual repression, its intoxicating cosmopolitanism — were curdling.

* * *

Weimar poses a number of compelling questions around the subject of historical and cultural Golden Ages. Such rigidly compartmentalized, epochal thinking leads inevitably to collapse. How, after all, can a “Golden Age” be defined without presuming its emergence from, and collapse back into, periods of relative darkness and doom? It recalls Karl Marx’s thinking on historical stages, outlined in volume one of “Capital,” and the idea that each historical period carries within it the seeds of its successor. And it is force, according to Marx, that serves as “the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one.”

In the case of Weimar, the sense of expanded liberty was undercut in several respects. While the upper and middle classes grew in prosperity, the working poor were afflicted by hyperinflation, and by and large unaffected by new gains made in left-wing modernist painting, cabaret culture and avant-garde cinema. Sexual libertinism bred syphilis outbreaks. Old-stock Germans balked at the moral and aesthetic degeneracy of the new art movements. For such people, Weimar was regarded less like Periclean Athens and more like the ancient African port of Carthage: fit to be sacked, razed, and have its earth salted so that no memory of it could possibly proliferate.

It speaks to a certain historical tendency. To revise Marx, it’s not just that a given society is pregnant with the next one, but that it’s pregnant with resentments and reactions. With Weimar, expanded cultural and political liberalism emerged as a reaction to the authoritarianism of imperial Germany, with the even fiercer authoritarianism and violence of Hitler’s regime emerging as a response to that. Stereotypes of left-leaning artists cavorting in cabarets found their negative image, their doppelgänger, in nationalist thugs roving the streets.

This is not to say that it wasn’t a period of growth and advancement, artistically and otherwise. Rather, it’s a historical reminder that even periods that usher in all manner of artistic and cultural headway need to be relentlessly qualified. It’s not that good times don’t make for good art. It’s that, really, there’s never been such a thing as a distinctly, determinedly, wholly unequivocally “good time.” Even the most shimmering epochs exist in contradiction, conflict and often out-and-out hypocrisy. Like the backdrop of “Caligari,” ours has always been a world of light and shadow. Something to keep in mind as the world stumbles into what’s shaping up to be a new Periclean Golden Age of American Idiocy.

John Semley lives and works in Toronto. He is a books columnist at the Globe & Mail newspaper and the author of “This Is A Book About The Kids In The Hall” (ECW Press).

Trump’s Agenda Is a Threat to Protections the LGBTQ Community Has Spent Decades Fighting For

The incoming administration is already targeting laws protecting basic civil rights.

Photo Credit: Ted Eytan / Flickr

Many are called but few are chosen during any presidential transition. That’s why it’s illuminating to consider who Donald Trump has chosen from the parade of possibilities for his transition team and senior administration appointments so far— and what they may portend for LGBTQ people.

The Christian Right, with few exceptions, backed the Trump ticket, with over 80 percent of White evangelicals voting for him, and now they’re being rewarded with traditional forms of political patronage. They’re scoring major appointments and have won a say in personnel and policy decisions on a scale far surpassing anything seen since the movement first arrived in Washington with the Reagan administration in 1980.

Since Trump himself has never held the kinds of values or displayed the kind of personal behavior prized by conservative Christians—and barely passes as any kind of a Christian at all—he and his backers needed a theological rationale for the Christian Right’s support. They found justification in biblical examples of God-anointed leaders who were ungodly themselves but who nevertheless delivered for God’s people. Christian Right leaders presented Trump in this way, it was broadly accepted by their followers, and Trump is now evidently making good on the deal.

Let’s look first at two early warnings from which all the rest flows.

The first is an important campaign promise affecting LGBTQ people. In November 2016, Trump told 60 Minutes that he was “fine” with gay marriage; at the Republican National Convention he described himself as “a supporter” of the LGBTQ community, and said he considers marriage equality a “settled” matter. But none of those statements amount to promises to LGBTQ people, to whom he is sending mixed messages He has also promised the Christian Right he would consider appointing justices who would overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, the decision that guarantees same-sex couples the right to marry.

Secondly, Trump has also positioned himself in the camp of establishing dangerously broad religious exemptions from all laws aimed at ensuring LGBTQ civil rights. He promised he would sign the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) if it reached his desk. FADA, which was first introduced in 2015 and now has substantial support in both houses of Congress, would legalize discrimination in the name of “religious belief or moral conviction,” requiring nothing more than someone’s say so. The scope of the Act appears to primarily affect government departments and agencies, and federal contractors and grantees, including entities that may require federal accreditation or licensing, such as universities and hospitals. And maybe more.

Under FADA, denial of service could take many forms beyond matters of wedding cakes, flowers, and photographers, to include allowing hospitals to refuse treatment to LGBTQ people (or their children), businesses to refuse health benefits to a same-sex partner, and child welfare workers to keep a child in foster care as opposed to placing them with a loving and qualified same-sex couple. If that’s not enough, FADA exempts non-profit organizations and businesses from non-discrimination standards. The proposal’s implications go well beyond issues of direct discrimination. FADA might allow federal employees to refuse being involved in processing federal benefits and rights claims to which they conscientiously object, such as any involving married same-sex couples. The bill exempts “any person regardless of religious affiliation, including corporations and other entities regardless of for-profit or nonprofit status” from following non-discrimination codes on the basis of religious beliefs.

If this is the benchmark approach to policy (regardless of the immediate future of the legislation itself) the federal government will be leading efforts to reverse historic gains of recent decades—attacking the basis for LGBTQ freedom and the dignity and rights of everyone else for whom a religious justification for denying service can be made.

But there’s more.

Trump’s selection of Mike Pence as his vice president was a transformational moment in the campaign, and arguably in American history. Pence may be best known for his theocratic political identity, proudly explaining at the 2010 Values Voter Summit in 2010, for example, that he is “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order.” Donald Trump, via his son Donald Jr., reportedly called an aide to his first choice for veep, Governor John Kasich of Ohio, and told him that a president Trump would put Kasich in charge of both foreign and domestic policy, while the president himself would be in charge of “making America great again.” Pence hasn’t said whether he got the same deal, but his role as chair of the transition team suggests that he is already among the most powerful vice presidents in American history.

This does not bode well.

Pence’s tenure as governor of Indiana was marked by his signing a version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law that would make discrimination against same-sex couples legally defensible. Pence signed the Act in the company of his state’s Christian Right leadership, marking him as a movement leader himself. Following national outcry, the legislature passed an amendment that explicitly stated that such discrimination was not the intent of the law.

Unsurprisingly, given both Trump and Pence’s history and views, much of the Christian Right agenda, particularly with regards to anything that affects LGBTQ people, will probably come wrapped in the flag of religious freedom. Some leading indicators of the direction the administration will take in this regard are visible in the transition team that’s proposing staff for the new administration and the appointments and nominations that have resulted from their work so far.

Ken Blackwell heads domestic issues for the transition team. A longtime Christian Right pol from Ohio, he is Senior Fellow for Human Rights and Constitutional Governance at the Family Research Council, the leading Christian Right lobby in Washington, D.C. Blackwell also serves on the board of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Christian Right legal group that promotes religion based exemptions from the law.

Ed Meese leads the transition team for the Office of Management and Budget. He is one of the architects of FADA and served as Attorney General in the Reagan administration. He is joined by Kay Cole James, the former dean of the Pat Robertson School of Government at Regent University and a former head of the federal Office of Personnel Management. These figures know how the federal government works and how to ensure their people are well represented among the 4,000 positions that need to be filled in the West Wing of the White House, and throughout the federal government over the course of the Trump administration and beyond.

Ken Klukowski serves on the part of the transition team focusing on executive authority, responsible for “protecting constitutional rights.” He is the senior counsel for the Texas-based First Liberty Institute (formerly the Liberty Institute), a leading Christian Right legal group focused on religious exemptions from the law, especially LGBTQ rights. He is also the senior legal editor for Breitbart News.

Dr. Ben Carson is one of twelve vice-chairs of the transition team and Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Carson is a Christian Right leader and anti-LGBTQ ideologue known for harsh rhetoric in support of his beliefs. Carson has associated being LGBTQ with polygamy, pedophilia, and bestiality. He thinks that transgender people are “the height of absurdity” and he claims that marriage equality is a Marxist plot that may lead the country to go the way of the Roman Empire. He has characterized the kind of public housing he would oversee at HUD as “communism” and as Secretary he could undermine if not reverse the Obama administration’s efforts to curb discrimination against LGBTQ people in housing.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is a vice-chair of the transition team and Trump’s nominee for Attorney General. A senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sessions is also a co-sponsor of FADA. The Huffington Postheadlined an article about his nomination, “Pick Any LGBTQ Rights Issue. Jeff Sessions Has Voted Against It.” His Senate chief of staff, Rick Dearborn, is the executive director of the transition team.

Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) is nominated to be Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Price’s House voting record received a 0% rating from the Human Rights Campaign. He is a co-sponsor of FADA and supports a constitutional amendment to overturn Obergefell v. Hodges.

Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, is a longtime financier of Christian Right projects, particularly in the area of school privatization. Politico reports that DeVos has said her work in education is intended to “advance God’s kingdom.” She and her family, heirs to the Amway corporate fortune, have a long record of underwriting Christian Right and anti-LGBTQ projects and organizations for the same reason. They have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to organizations that believe in “conversion therapy”; they are major backers of Focus on the Family, whose founder, James Dobson, called the battle against LGBTQ rights a “second civil war.” (Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr., who steadfastly supported Trump through the campaign, was Trump’s first choice for secretary. Falwell said he declined in order to attend to other obligations.)

President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team and top level appointments should be taken as clear indicators of the direction of the Trump administration with regard to the dignity and civil rights of LGBTQ people. And if past is prologue, what Mr. Trump says may not be nearly as important as what he does. Continued vigilance regarding what his appointees do in his name will be vital.

 

Frederick Clarkson is a senior fellow at Political Research Associates and a member of the Public Eye editorial board. He is the editor of Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics in America, and the author of Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy.

http://www.alternet.org/lgbtq/trumps-agenda-threat-protections-lgbtq-community-has-spent-decades-fighting?akid=15112.265072.qavF5g&rd=1&src=newsletter1070542&t=8

Farewell Obummer, Hello Golden Showers

There’s been a few hot topics this week, from Obama’s final speech as president to the amusing allegations of Donald’s pee fetish.

Let’s start with Obama. The era of hope and change most certainly ended with a whimper. Not much has changed and we don’t have much to hope for either.

Over the last eight years income disparity increased in the US (despite White House claims to the contrary), real wages plunged, and while productivity increased, hourly pay didn’t budge much. America’s obtuse wars in the Middle East rage on, and our country’s drone program is operating at full tilt. Obama also extended many of the nation’s most egregious energy policies.

In fact, Obama celebrated America’s biggest oil boom in decades. How’s that for battling climate change?

This isn’t to say we won’t be missing Obama for the next four years (if Trump’s presidency lasts that long, we’ll get to that in a moment), but that doesn’t negate the fact that Obama was a huge disappointment.

Cornel West put it best this week for The Guardian:

“A few of us begged and pleaded with Obama to break with the Wall Street priorities and bail out Main Street. But he followed the advice of his ‘smart’ neoliberal advisers to bail out Wall Street. In March 2009, Obama met with Wall Street leaders. He proclaimed: I stand between you and the pitchforks. I am on your side and I will protect you, he promised them. And not one Wall Street criminal executive went to jail…

Obama’s lack of courage to confront Wall Street criminals and his lapse of character in ordering drone strikes unintentionally led to rightwing populist revolts at home and ugly Islamic fascist rebellions in the Middle East. And as deporter-in-chief – nearly 2.5 million immigrants were deported under his watch – Obama policies prefigure Trump’s barbaric plans.”

Facts are facts no matter how you want to sugarcoat them. Obama has been pissing in the wind for eight years now and progressives have little to be happy about.

Speaking of piss, how about Trump and those Russian call girls?

Buzzfeed’s release of the now infamous dossier, which was put together by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele, an executive at a private intel company called Orbis Business Intelligence, has caused quite an uproar. Steele is respected in the intel community, having played a role in gathering info about corruption within FIFA, the global soccer organization. Much debate has swirled around the journalistic ethics of Buzzfeed’s decision to publish the uncorroborated account of Trump hiring prostitutes to piss on the bed the Obamas slept in at the Ritz-Carlton’s presidential suite in Moscow.

Trump has called the whole thing fake news, but it is news nonetheless. Steele was likely paid a bundle of cash to put together the report, which had more to do with Trump’s alleged ties to Russia than golden showers.

According to the New York Times, the origins of the report date back to September 2015 when a wealthy Republican donor hired Fusion GPS, an opposition research outfit headed by Glenn Simpson, an ex-journalist for the Wall Street Journal, to dig up dirt on The Donald. When Trump won the Republican nomination, this wealthy donor ended his support of Simpson’s work, but it was later picked up by backers of the Hillary Clinton campaign. At this point Steele was hired by Simpson to look into Trump’s Russia connections. According to the New York Times:

“Mr. Simpson hired Mr. Steele, a former British intelligence officer with whom he had worked before. Mr. Steele, in his early 50s, had served undercover in Moscow in the early 1990s and later was the top expert on Russia at the London headquarters of Britain’s spy service, MI6. When he stepped down in 2009, he started his own commercial intelligence firm, Orbis Business Intelligence.

The former journalist and the former spy, according to people who know them, had similarly dark views of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, a former K.G.B. officer, and the varied tactics he and his intelligence operatives used to smear, blackmail or bribe their targets.

As a former spy who had carried out espionage inside Russia, Mr. Steele was in no position to travel to Moscow to study Mr. Trump’s connections there. Instead, he hired native Russian speakers to call informants inside Russia and made surreptitious contact with his own connections in the country as well.”

Steele’s report laid out two different Russian operations, the first was an alleged effort by the Russian government to entangle and influence Trump with compromising information, like a video of The Donald with prostitutes in Moscow. In the second operation, Steele alleged, among other things, that Trump surrogates, including his lawyer Michael Cohen, met with Russian officials in Prague to discuss the hack at the DNC. Cohen strongly denied the meeting ever took place, noting on Twitter that he’d never even been to Prague. Steele’s intel, factual or not, floated around Washington circles for months leading up to the election, with David Corn at Mother Jones being the only reporter to write about the allegations, minus the salacious pee party. The New York Times also reports that the FBI was investigating Trump’s ties to Russia in the early fall. So while Hillary’s email scandal was being investigated so too was Trump, yet only one investigation was making any headlines.

Of course, the pee story and Trump’s alleged ties to Russia are almost too good to be true, which means they probably are not. Nevertheless, truth was never the dossier’s objective. A story, or an intel report for that matter, doesn’t have to be factual to cause damage – just like the Washington Post‘s absurd allegations that publications like CounterPunch are purveyors of Russian propaganda.

If there is one thing to take away from Goldengate it should be that the intelligence community has a myriad of ways to fuck with you. They are masters of the “leak” and we can expect more to come. Steele’s report is likely the tip of the golden iceberg. As Senator Chuck Schumer told Rachel Maddow this week, “Let me tell you: You take on the intelligence community — they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.”

It’s probably the truest and most obvious statement Chuckie has ever made. Trump, who still has a week before he moves his throne into the White House, is busy sharpening his knives for a battle with the intelligence community. The problem for Trump is the spooks don’t bring knives to a gunfight.

It may well be a depressing four years ahead, but at least nobody said it won’t be entertaining.

JOSHUA FRANK is managing editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, co-edited with Jeffrey St. Clair and published by AK Press. He can be reached at joshua@counterpunch.org. You can follow him on Twitter @joshua__frank

COUNTERPUNCH 

Plan an Inaugurexit That’s Just Right for You

Posted on Jan 13, 2017

By Chris Storm

  Soon-to-be-President Donald Trump. (Rainier Ehrhardt / AP)

If you sat out Election Day by not voting or by voting for a third-party candidate, there is nothing here for you. You’ve made your bed; enjoy lying in it and watching wall-to-wall inauguration coverage.

But if you are still hoarse from making get-out-the-vote calls or your feet still have the blisters you got while door-knocking during the campaign, or if you need to watch the news with your new friend the airsick bag, read on for some things you can do to push back on Inauguration Day.

To avoid permanent retina damage from the sight of 30-foot gold letters spelling out “TRUMP” on the Capitol dome, you have three options: You can protect yourself from it, cleanse yourself of it or correct your world in the wake of it—like a skin care ad for sudden-onset inauguritis.

Protect

• Unplug. This is the prime directive: Cut off all media, news and social connections. The last thing you want is to see old friends start to rationalize this with the maybe-it-won’t-be-so-bad-after-all Band-Aid. Inauguration coverage is going to be omnipresent. Whatever you are used to watching will be preempted and soaked with so much bunting and B.S. it will send you back to the airsick bag. So pull the plug on all your devices, or at least disconnect the news sources and alerts on your phone.

• Divert. Do something that occupies you. If you have hobbies or skills, go at them for as long as they distract you, then switch to an alternative below. Knitting can suck up hours, for example. Can you paper-mache a festive cover for your TV screen? It will come in handy for the State of the Union too! The inaugural will be endless, followed by ball coverage, so plan your diversions accordingly.

• Venture out. Make a list of the museums and cultural institutions you have not been to or checked out in a while. Hit them all. Then stop for a wonderful dinner at a place without a TV before taking in a concert, play or film. Wind up the evening with a nightcap. Just don’t head home until after the 11 o’clock news.

• Venture out plus. Why not get on a plane, fly away from media centers and rust-belt states and land at a calming retreat? The inauguration is on a Friday, so you could make it a long warm-weekend escape. Hawaii is now an all-blue state, beaches and mai tais included. If that’s too pricey, jump in your car and drive somewhere out of Wi-Fi range.

• Hunker. Hook up a hose over your bedroom window to simulate rain, lower the shades and repeat your new rainy-day mantra—“must finish book”—over and over. Do not get out of the bed unless it’s for a food delivery or bathroom break. Do not answer the phone unless the call is from a pal who is also inaugurexiting.

• Escape. Queue up some visual favorites, but think through the content. “Judgment at Nuremberg” is a great film but will make you think about Agent Orange, our about-to-be president, in a comparative way. Pull it out of rotation. Obviously, pull “The Manchurian Candidate” (either version) as well. All presidential biography films—yank. And be wary of classics like “Born Yesterday.” I recently watched it but started seeing orange hair on Broderick Crawford and hallucinating Judy Holiday with a Russian accent. Whoa! Way too close for comfort.

• Sustain yourself. Stock up on snacks and a box of wine. Don’t drink the good stuff on this mission; boxes tend to contain more, and it’s going to be a long day—and evening. So pack enough mood enhancers to make sure you don’t awaken to see Agent Orange dancing with Ivanka at the Scott Baio ball, the Ted Nugent Ball or the Alt-Right Ball ‘n Burn.

• Work. If you must go in and someone brings up the inauguration, treat it like a sporting event you want to see later. “Oh for God’s sake, don’t spoil it for me” (swallow the little throw-up that surges up in your mouth.) You should know which co-workers to avoid. If you must leave your cube, keep eyes forward or down.

CLEANSE

There’s no way to change what happened now. If you’re thinking you can Harry-Potter it away, you will just magnify the appendix-rupture-like pain you feel. Try these tips instead.

• Couldn’t your social calendar use a good scrubbing? Cleanse it on Inaugurexit Day—a gift that will pay you back all year long!

• Invited to attend a fundraising event where the recipient group is leaving you with a bitter Orange taste? Bet you forgot your uncle’s upcoming operation—he needs you for a few days. These social-event outs will challenge your imagination with excuses that are fun to create and embellish.

• A good primal scream is very cleansing. As soon as they finish the swearing-in, I want you to go to your window and open it, and scream as loud as you can, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Repeat as necessary.

CORRECT

Or as rock legend Warren Zevon wrote, “Send Lawyers, Guns and Money.” Because truly, the shit has hit the fan. We have to play hardball. That means organizing and backing effective organizations that are already lawyered up, because the action is going to be in the courts. Use your safe-and-sane Inaugurexit day to review these organizations. There will be plenty of efforts you can engage in locally, but manage your cash for the big wins.

Indivisible: A group of congressional staffers has created a how-to guide based on the success tea partiers and others had in disrupting Congress’ and Obama’s agenda. Plan during the inauguration and dive in the next day. Make your group part of something bigger and more effective.

Common Cause: Ever wonder why, as our country becomes more diverse, our Congress doesn’t? That’s because in many states, congressional districts have been configured to spit out same-party candidates forever. The contorted district shapes look like the alien alphabet in the movie “Arrival.” Rigged? More like preordained. This solution will be under the other side’s radar, because it is longer-term and because their leader believes “gerrymander” is the kid in “Leave it to Beaver.” Fortunately, Common Cause is a successful, lawyered-up organization that is already on the gerrymandering case. Follow up with them online and start folding up those airsick bags.

ThinkProgress has started its own Trump Investigative Fund. To fight against fake news, which clearly got us to this point, regularly funding them or Mother Jones and others of their ilk will ensure that the pressure stays on. You’ll feel much better knowing you are shining a flashlight on the little orange cockroaches, exposing lies, financial conflicts and Twitter hypocrisies.

Credo: This is a long-distance provider that donates a percentage of your payments to progressive and charitable organizations you help select. Account setup is easy, and any additional financial donation is always in your control as you help patch the forthcoming congressional shredding of the social safety net.

• The Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council: The environment has a large orange target and a harsh way of doing its own “correcting” (bye, bye humans). These two groups have lawyered up and won big victories, so consider signing up and saving the planet.

CharityWatch Top Rated: These guys dive deep to let you know how efficiently a charity will use your donation to fund the programs you want to support. CharityWatch exposes nonprofit abuses and advocates for your interests as a donor.

Resolve to donate to whatever organization fits best with your priorities. You can try to avoid what’s happened, you can shake it off and keep going, but most importantly, fight it.

If none of these tips work for you, you can always volunteer to live fact-check Trump’s inauguration speech. Shouldn’t be too tough. How many lies can you fit into 140 characters?

Chris Storm is a writer who works in marketing in suburban Philadelphia.

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