Lady Dynamite and other Netflix comedies

By Ed Hightower
6 August 2016

There is plenty of room for satire in American life.

“On the nightly television news, after all, one is confronted with politicians and government officials, hirelings of finance and industry, who preach ‘moral values’ with a straight face. Cabinet ministers and generals, responsible for violence and terror around the world, praise peace and global harmony. None of this meets with a challenge in the media. The present situation is unreal, and almost unbearable.”

So wrote WSWS arts editor David Walsh four years ago.

In the cultural or entertainment sphere too, one could rattle off many examples of hypocrisy, the worship of wealth and privilege and a general inclination toward escapism, conventionality and intellectual fraud. A brief flipping through the channels on television indeed confirms the painful fact that “the present situation is unreal, and almost unbearable.”

Such an environment creates a contradictory atmosphere for artists. On the one hand, the pressure to conform, to appeal to the lowest common denominator, can be irresistible at times, as can a certain tendency to create only for the most narrow, insular layers, writing off any possibility of mass appeal. At the same time, and particularly in regard to the art of comedy, the present situation presents tremendous opportunities. The venal corporate executive, the corrupt layers around the legal system, the brazen insincerity of religious charlatans, the banality and brutality in Hollywood—all of these virtually beg for ridicule.

W/ Bob and David

This reviewer welcomed the news last year that Netflix had signed on for a five-episode sketch comedy program called W/ Bob and David, a reprise of the critically acclaimed 1990s series Mr. Show with Bob and David (with Bob Odenkirk and David Cross). Maybe some of the irreverent, anti-corporate satire that marked the old HBO program would emerge to meet the challenges of this decade?

A more detailed review of Mr. Show with Bob and David is beyond the scope of this writing, but this reviewer places that program among the healthier developments in popular culture in the 1990s. A reader so inclined should watch it, if only in clips available on YouTube. The sketches lampooning the right-wing attack on federal arts funding, the phoniness of “gangster rap” music—mimicked with an East Coast versus West Coast ventriloquism rivalry—and even the pseudo-biographical film Amadeus will make lasting impressions.

Sadly, there is almost nothing humorous or healthy in W/ Bob and David. The program feels slapped together, lacking the nuanced dialogue and genuine creativity of its predecessor. Some sketches are recycled from the original program, without improvement.

This alone would be disappointing to a Mr. Show fan, but W/ Bob and Davidalso bears the signs of a movement to the right on the part of the comedians. One episode begins with a faux prohibition on images of the Prophet Mohammed, with imams controlling Hollywood. This display—more in line with propaganda à la Geert Wilders—is painful to watch.

In the same vein, one sketch follows a would-be police misconduct investigator. The big joke is that the police are extremely polite, leaving him dumbfounded. Aside from the “Blue Lives Matter” fanatics, who comprises the audience for this insensitive claptrap?

A retrograde drift also plagues comedian Aziz Ansari’s Netflix series Master of None, where the main character, Dev, is a 30-year-old actor making his way in New York City.

Ansari earned fame on NBC’s Parks and Recreation, playing an insecure young government employee who aspires to hip hop mogul glamour and excess. This reviewer always found his stand-up comedy more impressive. However, even in his best routines, Ansari’s criticisms of certain hedonistic lifestyles never goes very deep.

Master of None

Master of None exists almost entirely on the surface, depicting the unremarkable, often clichéd ins and outs of middle class life. Episodes concern quests for the ultimate burrito in New York, breakups, and relationships with friends and parents.

If the show has anything that resembles a saving grace, it is the boldness with which Ansari portrays the self-centered and privileged character of identity politics. This plays out in an episode where a producer makes a double entendre to Dev about curry—an Indian dish and a verb. Dev later feels he is offered a role by the producer as something of an apology. He explains to rapper Busta Rhymes: “I don’t think you should play the race card; charge it to the race card.”

“Everybody’s depressed … it’s called being an adult”

In Lady Dynamite, Netflix has created something more meaningful. Comedian Maria Bamford stars as herself, struggling to maintain a career in Hollywood without destroying her fragile mental health.

Lady Dynamite

The show treads a fine line between comedy and tragedy. In the face of the protagonist’s panic attacks, depressive bouts and fits of bipolar mania, one can laugh at the circumstances and still feel deeply for her even when she is screaming into a sponge. The illness is funny, but it is frightening. The craftsmanship here exceeds expectations.

Maria Bamford successfully mocks the superficiality and excesses of upper-middle class life. In one scene, she humors her best friend who is eager to show off her new luxury condominium. Maria tries to be enthusiastic for her friend’s new purchase, even though she has to use a virtual reality headset to tour the place, which is physically located inside a hot-shot realtor’s office. The illusion makes Maria ill. What a healthy metaphor!

Other notable scenes feature Maria’s cutthroat, foul-mouthed agent and her many mental health professionals (she has a psychologist, a life coach, and even a “loaf” coach to keep from being overwhelmed by all her treatments). The various professional helpers, medicines, self-help groups, etc., are not much aid in a cold, calculating world. The slogan on one of Maria’s tee shirts, “Wake up, be amazing, repeat,” has a welcome irony to it.

The most satisfying and daring scene finds Maria concerned about her ability to interact with African American fellow cast members. She attends a 12-step program for this called PURE, or People United for Racial Equality. Instead of introducing themselves as alcoholics or gamblers, PURE members simply say “I’m so and so, and I’m white.”

Other members nod when Maria confesses to having few minority friends, but desiring to be “more cognizant of racism and white privilege.” When Maria says she does not understand why she is racist simply for being white, the group leader explains, “We believe that interfering or even trying to relate is an implicit insult to people whose struggles we couldn’t possibly understand.”

PURE uses the slogan, “If you’re white, keep it light,” to remind whites not to burden minority people with more suffering by asking them questions about race. Instead, talk about the weather, sports and so forth.

Lady Dynamite has limitations. Bamford’s protest outlook pervades some scenes. Thus, a dull instrument is raised against big corporations, consumerism and so on. One wonders what powerful comedy would result from turning her craft against the union bureaucracy or the left fraternity around the Democratic Party. We can hope that if she does not, others will.

WSWS

The un-Democratic National Committee

There’s more wrong with the Democratic Party than former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz or her e-mails, writes Elizabeth Schulte.

Former DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Danuta Otfinowski | Fortune Most Powerful Women)

Former DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Danuta Otfinowski | Fortune Most Powerful Women)

WIKILEAKS’ RELEASE of nearly 20,000 e-mails and more than 8,000 attachments from seven officials on the Democratic National Committee (DNC) just before the party’s convention meant a quick end for Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s position as DNC chair, after the e-mails revealed favoritism toward the Clinton campaign and organized hostility to rival Bernie Sanders.

But if the e-mails–and the convention itself–show anything, it’s the undemocratic nature of the whole Democratic Party, and firing one official won’t come close to fixing that.

The e-mails paint a picture of a party infrastructure that was not only rigged for the establishment choice in the presidential nomination race, but that trades lucrative donations for access on a daily basis.

The e-mails, which span the period from January 2015 to late May 2016, are crystal clear about party insiders’ view of Bernie Sanders’ left-wing campaign for the nomination. Probably the most quoted one since their release is a May 5 e-mail in which a DNC staffer questions Sanders’ religious beliefs. Under the subject line “No shit,” DNC CFO Brad Marshall wrote:

It might may [sic] no difference, but for KY and WVA can we get someone to ask his belief. Does he believe in a God. He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage. I think I read he is an atheist. This could make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist.

He adds, “It’s these [sic] Jesus thing”–to which DNC CEO Amy Dacey responds: “AMEN.”

In e-mail correspondence, former DNC Chair Wasserman Schultz, who is supposed to be unbiased during the nomination process, doesn’t bother hiding her contempt for Sanders and his campaign. In response to Sanders’ claim that if elected, he would get her out of her DNC chair position, she commented: “This is a silly story. He isn’t going to be president.”

It will have surprised no one that after Wasserman Schultz was forced to resign as DNC chair, she quickly got a new title: honorary chair of the Clinton’s 50-state campaign to boost the chances of Democratic candidates.

The leaked e-mails also reveal the DNC’s close working relationships with key members of the Clinton team. For instance, when the Sanders campaign was drawing attention to the Clinton campaign using funds earmarked for state campaigns under the auspices of the DNC, committee staffers got some useful advice–from Clinton’s campaign lawyer.

“My suggestion is that the DNC put out a statement saying that the accusations the Sanders campaign are not true,” attorney Marc Elias wrote on May 3 in response to an e-mail sent by communications director Luis Miranda to other DNC staff that copied Elias and another lawyer at his firm, Perkins Coie.

Of course, this isn’t the first time the DNC has shown how cozy it is with the Clinton campaign. It was revealed earlier this year that in Nevada, the Clinton campaign rented offices inside the DNC offices in Carson City. You remember Nevada, right? Where during the May convention, chair Roberta Lange ignored motions from the floor and miscalled voice votes obviously favoring Sanders–and then accused Sanders supporters of “rioting.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

BUT EVEN more revealing than the DNC’s ties to Clinton is its intimate connection to money and power.

Many of the leaked e-mails concern where major donors will sit at gala events, and their proximity to President Barack Obama and other top government officials. DNC staffers pored over the seating charts for the convention. deciding which donors would be relegated to the far corners and which would get star treatment.

Some contributors are offered the chance to join “roundtables,” where they could take part in discussions about national economic and social policy.

In one leaked e-mail attachment, a menu of contributions and corresponding rewards are listed. For a donor to reach the “Rittenhouse Square” level, they had to raise a minimum of $1.25 million or personally give $467,600. Among the perks they received in return:

— Priority booking in a premiere hotel within the National Finance Committee room block
— VIP credentials for all Democratic National Convention proceedings
— Nightly access to stadium/arena VIP lounges
— Six tickets for an exclusive preview and photo opportunity at the 2016 Convention podium
— Six reserved places for an exclusive roundtable and campaign briefing with high-level Democratic officials

In one e-mail, Alexandra Shapiro, a deputy to the national finance chair, laments the news that Obama wouldn’t make it to an event in in Chevy Chase, Maryland, to secure $350,000 in donations. Shapiro writes, “so they really won’t come down 20 minutes? thats fucking stupid.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

BUT YOU didn’t need a leaked e-mail to recognize the lack of democracy–hidden in plain sight–at the Democratic convention.

On the convention floor, delegates reported DNC handlers ripping signs from their hands or turning the lights out if they tried to raise demands that didn’t fit the Clinton campaign’s script–like opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership or fracking, chanting “No More Wars” or simply supporting their candidate Bernie Sanders.

Delegates who had protest signs weren’t allowed to enter the convention, and their seats were filled with replacements so that the arena still looked full.

The protest placards might have marred the picture-perfect sea of signs that the DNC planned for each speech: “USA” signs for ex-CIA ghoul Leon Panetta; “Change Maker” for former President Bill Clinton of crime bill and welfare “reform” fame; and “Stronger Together” for Bernie Sanders, when he took the convention stage to call on his supporters to abandon their hopes for an alternative and fall in line behind Clinton.

Several hundred delegates took part in walkouts from the convention–one marched to a media tent to hold a silent vigil. In order to be seen on the darkened convention floor on the last day, one group of Sanders delegates wore lime-green T-shirts that glowed in the dark and read, “Enough is enough.”

But if you watched the convention from home, you probably didn’t see any of this. Instead, you probably saw network broadcasters talk about the “historic” nomination of a woman presidential candidate–or compliment the DNC’s stage-management, oohing and awing at every say-nothing speech or maneuver to keep Sanders supporters in line.

The Democratic convention is the most moment in a long election year that is exposing the undemocratic nature of the U.S. political system in general–and the Democratic Party in particular.

A system where millions are unable to even register to vote because they were caught in the net of the criminal justice system and their state doesn’t allow felons to vote. A system where the political conventions aren’t about democratically debating and electing a candidate, but wining and dining rich donors. A political system where the “official” choices are so narrow that the choice is between the “lesser evil” and “greater evil.”

Carlos Marroquin, a convention guest from California, was among those protesting the alleged purge of some 2 million voters from the rolls before the California primary. He toldDemocracy Now!:

[W]e represent literally millions of young people that…put their lives on hold, so that they can actually go out there and register other people to vote. We have children. We want to teach them the right way.

We want to teach them responsibility, to vote…We cannot do that in good faith, to tell them, “Go ahead and be a Democrat, because they are going to stand up for the rights of the people.” They’re not doing that. Why? Why is it that they are so quiet, suppressing the vote of the people?…

And if you think that we are leaving out of this convention inspired, you’re wrong. We are leaving out of here divided. We have broken hearts.

https://socialistworker.org/2016/08/01/the-un-democratic-national-com

Corporate Globalization Has Been a Wrecking Ball to the American Dream

LOCAL PEACE ECONOMY
If the American Dream isn’t working for them, why should anyone, anywhere, believe it will work for their own children?

Photo Credit: pixabay.com

This piece originally appeared atLocal Futures.

Implicit in all the rhetoric promoting globalization is the premise that the rest of the world can and should be brought up to the standard of living of the West, and America in particular. For much of the world the American Dream—though a constantly moving target—is globalization’s ultimate endpoint.

But if this is the direction globalization is taking the world, it is worth examining where America itself is headed. A good way to do so is to take a hard look at America’s children, since so many features of the global monoculture have been in place their whole lives. If the American Dream isn’t working for them, why should anyone, anywhere, believe it will work for their own children?

As it turns out, children in the US are far from “confident, self-reliant, tolerant, generous, and future-oriented.” One indication of this is that more than 8.3 million American children and adolescents require psychiatric drugs; over 2 million are on anti-depressants, and another 2 million are on anti-anxiety drugs. The age groups for which these drugs are prescribed is shockingly young: nearly half a million children 0-3 years old are taking drugs to combat anxiety.[1]

Most people in the “less developed” world will find it hard to imagine how a toddler could be so anxiety-ridden that they need psychiatric help. Equally difficult to fathom are many other symptoms of social breakdown among America’s children. Eating disorders, for example: the incidence of anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders has doubled since the 1960s, and girls are developing these problems at younger and younger ages.[2]

If eating disorders are the bane of America’s young girls, violence is a more common problem for its boys. Consider the fact that there have been more than 150 school shootings in the US since 1990, claiming 165 lives. The youngest killer? A six-year old boy.[3]

Sometimes the violence is directed inward, with suicide the result. In America today, suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year olds. In 2013, 17 percent of US high school students seriously considered suicide during the preceding year.[4]

What has made America’s children so insecure and troubled? A number of causes are surely involved, most of which can be linked to the global economy. For example, as corporations scour the world for bigger subsidies and lower costs, jobs move with them, and families as well: the typical American moves eleven times during their life, repeatedly severing connections with relatives, neighbors and friends.[5]

Within almost every family, the economic pressures on parents systematically rob them of time with even their own children. Americans put in longer hours than workers in any other industrialized country, with many breadwinners working two or more jobs just to make ends meet.[6] Increasing numbers of women are in the workforce, so there are no adults left at home; young children are relegated to day-care centers, while older children are left in the company of video games, the internet, or the corporate sponsors of their favorite television shows. According to a 2010 study of American children, the average 8- to 10-year-old spends nearly eight hours a day with various media; older children and teenagers spend more than 11 hours a day with media. Not surprisingly, time spent in nature—something essential for our well-being—has all but disappeared: only 10 percent of American children spend time outside on a daily basis.[7]

America’s screen-obsessed children no longer have flesh-and-blood role models—parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends and neighbors—to look up to. Instead they have media and advertising images: rakish movie stars and music idols, steroid-enhanced athletes and airbrushed supermodels. Children who strive to emulate the manufactured “perfection” of these role models are left feeling insecure and inadequate. This is one reason cosmetic surgery is on the increase among America’s children. According to the president of the American Academy for Facial Plastic Surgery, “the more consumers are inundated with celebrity images via social media, the more they want to replicate the enhanced, re-touched images that are passed off as reality.” What’s more, he adds, “we are seeing a younger demographic than ever before.”[8]

It seems clear that what is often called ‘American culture’ is no longer a product of the American people: it is instead an artificial consumer culture created and projected by corporate advertising and media. This consumer culture is fundamentally different from the diverse cultures that for millennia were shaped by climate, topography, and the local biota—by a dialogue between humans and the natural world. This is a new phenomenon, something that has never happened before: a culture determined by technological and economic forces, rather than human and ecological needs. It is not surprising that American children, many of whom seem to “have everything,” are so unhappy: like their parents, their teachers and their peers, they have been put on a treadmill that is ever more stressful and competitive, ever more meaningless and lonely.

As the globalization juggernaut continues to advance, the number of victims worldwide is growing exponentially. Millions of children from Mongolia to Patagonia are today targeted by a fanatical and fundamentalist campaign to bring them into the consumer culture. The cost is massive in terms of self-rejection, psychological breakdown and violence. Like American children they are bombarded with sophisticated marketing messages telling them that this brand of make-up will inch them closer to perfection, that this brand of sneakers will make them more like their sports hero. But in the global South—where the ideal is often blue-eyed, blonde, and Western—children are even more vulnerable. It’s no wonder that sales of dangerous bleach to lighten the skin, and contact lenses advertised as “the color of eyes you wish you were born with,” are booming across the South.[9]

This psychological impoverishment is accompanied by a massive rise in material poverty. Even though more than 46 million Americans—nearly 15 percent of the population—live in poverty,[10] globalization aims to replicate the American model of development across the global South. Among the results are the elimination of small farmers and the gutting of rural communities, with hundreds of millions of people drawn into sweatshops or unemployment in rapidly growing urban slums. Meanwhile, many of those whose ways of life are threatened by the forces of globalization are turning to fundamentalism, even terrorism.

The central hope of the American Dream—that our children will have a better life than we do—seems to have vanished. Many people, in fact, no longer believe that our children really have any future at all.

Nonetheless policymakers insist that globalization is bringing a better world for everyone. How can there be such a gap between the cheerleading rhetoric and the lives of real people?

Part of the disconnect results from the way globalization’s promoters measure “progress.” The shallowest definition compares the modern consumer cornucopia with what was available 50 or 100 years ago—as though electronic gadgets and plastic gewgaws are synonymous with happiness and fulfillment. More often the baseline for comparison is the Dickensian period of the early industrial revolution, when exploitation and deprivation, pollution and squalor were rampant. From this starting point, our child-labor laws and 40-hour workweek look like real progress. Similarly, the baseline in the global South is the immediate post-colonial period, with its uprooted cultures, poverty, over-population and political instability. Based on the misery of these contrived starting points, political leaders can argue that our technologies and our economic system have brought a far better world into being, and that globalization will bring similar benefits to the “wretched, servile, fatalistic and intolerant human beings” in the remaining “undeveloped” parts of the world.

In reality, however, globalization is a continuation of a broad process that started with the age of conquest and colonialism in the South and the enclosures and the Industrial Revolution in the North. From then on a single economic system has relentlessly expanded, taking over other cultures, other peoples’ resources and labor. Far from elevating those people from poverty, the globalizing economic system has systematically impoverished them.

If there is to be any hope of a better world, it is vital that we connect the dots between “progress” and poverty. Erasing other cultures—replacing them with an artificial culture created by corporations and the media they control—can only lead to an increase in social breakdown and poverty. Even in the narrowest economic terms, globalization means continuing to rob, rather than enrich, the majority. According to a recent report by Oxfam, the world’s richest 62 people now have more wealth than the poorest half of the global population combined. Their assets have risen by more than $500 million since 2010, while the bottom 3.5 billion people have become poorer by $1 trillion.[11] This is globalization at work.

While globalization systematically widens the gap between rich and poor, attempting in the name of equity to globalize the American standard of living is a fool’s errand. The earth is finite, and global economic activity has already outstripped the planet’s ability to provide resources and absorb wastes. When the average American uses 32 times more resources and produces 32 times more waste than the average resident of the global South, it is a criminal hoax to promise that development can enable everyone to live the American Dream.[12]

The spread of globalization has been profoundly destructive to people’s ability to survive in their own cultures, in their own place on the earth. It has even been destructive to those considered to be its most privileged beneficiaries. Continuing down this corporate-determined path will only lead to further social, psychological and environmental breakdown. Whether they know it or not, America’s children are telling us we need to go in a very different direction.

 

Helena Norberg-Hodge is founder and director of Local Futures (International Society for Ecology and Culture). A pioneer of the “new economy” movement, she has been promoting an economics of personal, social and ecological well-being for more than thirty years. She is the producer and co-director of the award-winning documentary, The Economics of Happiness, and is the author of Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh. She was honored with the Right Livelihood Award for her groundbreaking work in Ladakh, and received the 2012 Goi Peace Prize for contributing to “the revitalization of cultural and biological diversity, and the strengthening of local communities and economies worldwide.”

Steven Gorelick is Managing Programs Director at Local Futures (International Society for Ecology and Culture). He is the author of Small is Beautiful, Big is Subsidized (pdf), co-author of Bringing the Food Economy Home, and co-director of The Economics of Happiness. His writings have been published in The Ecologist and Resurgence magazines. He frequently teaches and speaks on local economics around the US.

http://www.alternet.org/local-peace-economy/how-globalization-impacts-american-dream?akid=14341.265072.CtYp-J&rd=1&src=newsletter1058139&t=8

Facebook, Google and the Tech Companies Bankrolling Hate at the RNC

ECONOMY
Trump has threatened to shut down the open internet. Why aren’t companies divesting from him?

Photo Credit: Khalil Bendib / OtherWords

It’s common for major corporations to sponsor political conventions to buy favor with political parties. But what about when the convention nominates a presidential candidate who’s an out-and-out racist?

That’s a deal breaker, right?

For some big tech companies, apparently not.

Facebook recently announced that it will provide funding and other support for the Donald Trump-led Republican National Convention. And Google will be the event’s official livestream provider via YouTube.

These companies need to find their moral compass and divest from hate.

“Trumped into a Corner,” an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Trump’s violent rhetoric has inflamed a national atmosphere that’s already hostile toward Latino, Muslim, and black communities, as well as women and people with disabilities. He’s called for the mass deportation of undocumented immigrants, promised to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, and vowed to ban all Muslims from entering the United States.

Trump has also incited actual physical violence against people of color, and refused to denounce the white supremacist organizations that openly support him.

If that weren’t enough, Trump’s also threatened to shut down the open internet, censoring the dissident voices standing up against his hate and racism. He’s called for greater surveillance of communities of color, and has encouraged violence against protesters and journalists.

In short, Trump’s campaign isn’t “business as usual”—and corporations shouldn’t treat it as such. That’s why the racial justice group ColorOfChange has launched a campaign called Divest from Hate.

They’re urging major tech companies not to bankroll a platform for hate while Trump continues to incite violence against marginalized communities. Other groups, including my own, have joined the effort to push tech companies to pull their support from the Republican convention, including both direct financial donations and in-kind contributions.

This isn’t about left or right, but right and wrong. People of color make up a large portion of the users of services like YouTube and Facebook. These companies are essentially profiting off the very communities that Trump’s rallying against.

Erin Egan, a Facebook vice president for publicity, claims that the company’s involvement in the convention will “facilitate an open dialogue among voters, candidates, and elected officials.” But throwing a coronation ball for Trump and his white supremacist supporters has nothing to do with democracy.

It’s important to note that these companies have taken stands on other political issues.

Both Google and Facebook recently spoke out against North Carolina’s transphobic “bathroom bill.” And earlier this year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg circulated an internal memo calling out employees who crossed out the words “Black Lives Matter” on the signature wall at the company’s headquarters. He called the behavior “malicious” and “unacceptable.”

Now it’s time for Facebook and Google to take another stand against hate—and to join companies like Coca-Cola, Hewlett-Packard, and Microsoft that have already scaled back or cut their support to the Republican convention.

Lucia Martínez is an organizer with the Free Press Action Fund, a nonpartisan organization that doesn’t support or oppose any candidates for public office.

http://www.alternet.org/economy/facebook-google-tech-funding-trump-rnc?akid=14341.265072.CtYp-J&rd=1&src=newsletter1058139&t=24

Naked Politics: Sanders, Clinton and How to Win When You’re Losing

Wednesday, 18 May 2016 00:00

By William Rivers Pitt, Truthout | Op-Ed

Sen. Bernie Sanders and his wife, Jane O'Meara Sanders, campaign at a rally in Louisville, Ky., May 3, 2016. Sanders has been campaigning heavily in the state ahead of its May 17 primary vote. (Sam Hodgson / The New York Times)Sen. Bernie Sanders and his wife, Jane O’Meara Sanders, campaign at a rally in Louisville, Kentucky, May 3, 2016. Sanders had been campaigning heavily in the state ahead of its May 17 primary vote. (Photo: Sam Hodgson / The New York Times)

First, the bare facts: Hillary Clinton won Kentucky by 1,923 votes as of the most recent accounting — MSNBC is calling her the “Assumed Winner,” a new term in the campaign coverage lexicon — and Bernie Sanders won Oregon by close to 10 points with no assumptions involved.

In the world of gambling, they call this a “push.” In short, Tuesday was a tie, though Clinton gained enough new delegates to snuggle up close to the finish line of nomination completion. Sanders has to run the table from here on out and win every contest in a staggering rout to gain the nomination, and that’s not going to happen. On the Republican side, Donald Trump won Oregon by 12 billion points against two guys who aren’t in the race anymore. He didn’t even bother to give a victory speech, but it’s gonna be great folks, trust me, it’s gonna be great.

Now to the hard part: context and consequences. Bernie Sanders is doomed in this contest. That sucks on a wide variety of levels. It sucks generationally because no presidential candidate since Robert Kennedy has done what Sanders has done these last months. He has inspired those who think politics is for old people and suckers to shed their cynicism and knock on doors, make phone calls to potential voters and believe they can actually make a difference in a profoundly bent political system. He has told the kind of truths about the state of this nation that are seldom heard, but are as necessary to this nation as penicillin is to the immune system when a lethal infection has taken root.

For his trouble, Sanders gets called a “thug” on live TV. I’ve been watching politically oriented television “news” programming with dreary regularity since Reagan was elected in 1980, and I’ve never seen anything like what I saw on Tuesday. MSNBC — the ha ha ha “liberal” news network — went to work on the Sanders campaign as if Bernie had shot Rachel Maddow’s dog in her front yard. It went on for hours. The crux of it centered around the mess that went down at the Nevada Democratic Convention this past weekend. The process of appointing delegates from the Nevada caucus was hijacked by Clinton surrogates in broad daylight, and some Sanders people flipped their lids. According to the Sanders campaign:

The chair of the convention announced that the convention rules passed on voice vote, when the vote was a clear no-vote. At the very least, the Chair should have allowed for a headcount.

The chair allowed its Credentials Committee to en mass rule that 64 delegates were ineligible without offering an opportunity for 58 of them to be heard. That decision enabled the Clinton campaign to end up with a 30-vote majority.

The chair refused to acknowledge any motions made from the floor or allow votes on them.

The chair refused to accept any petitions for amendments to the rules that were properly submitted.

Some idiots allegedly threw chairs (a disputed claim) and made threatening phone calls to the officials in charge of this farce after the deal went down, which was stupid and wrong. The very people trying to stand up for the Sanders campaign wound up stabbing their candidate under the fifth rib by giving the media fodder for slandering him, but they were justifiably pissed because it was a bag job under bright lights right there on the stage. MSNBC, which like most every other “news” network is drooling over the idea of a Trump v. Clinton contest, immediately went into battle mode as if the Sanders people had machine-gunned a home for lost kittens. BREAKING NEWS: Sanders Supporters Have Penchant For Violence; Officials Cower In Terror As Residents Flee. The media blitz went on for hours, and is ongoing as we speak.

It was remorseless, relentless “coverage” that entirely overshadowed what actually went down in Las Vegas. The Sanders campaign got jobbed by Clinton allies within the Nevada Democratic Party who didn’t even have the humility to do it out of sight; they stood at a podium and flipped the bird at a room filled with cameras and people who actually care about something beyond keeping their cushy sinecure within the Party. Some of those people freaked out and acted stupidly, but ask yourself: If you were in the room in 2000 when the Supreme Court decided to give the election to Bush, what would you have done? I might have thrown a chair, too.

Bernie Sanders, when confronted with accusations that his supporters were violent criminals, did not back down:

Within the last few days there have been a number of criticisms made against my campaign organization. Party leaders in Nevada, for example, claim that the Sanders campaign has a ‘penchant for violence.’ That is nonsense. Our campaign has held giant rallies all across this country, including in high-crime areas, and there have been zero reports of violence. Our campaign of course believes in non-violent change and it goes without saying that I condemn any and all forms of violence, including the personal harassment of individuals. But, when we speak of violence, I should add here that months ago, during the Nevada campaign, shots were fired into my campaign office in Nevada and apartment housing complex my campaign staff lived in was broken into and ransacked.

If the Democratic Party is to be successful in November, it is imperative that all state parties treat our campaign supporters with fairness and the respect that they have earned. I am happy to say that has been the case at state conventions in Maine, Alaska, Colorado and Hawaii where good discussions were held and democratic decisions were reached. Unfortunately, that was not the case at the Nevada convention. At that convention the Democratic leadership used its power to prevent a fair and transparent process from taking place.

MSNBC and the other networks took that “penchant for violence” quote from the Nevada Democratic Party and jumped on it like hungry dogs going after a soup bone. Constant, vivid, inexcusable violence at Trump rallies is good television. A few screwed Sanders supporters crashing the fence and being stupid? Armageddon, on the hour every hour, with “These Sanders supporters did this stuff, let’s ask a Clinton advocate what they think.” Sanders was omitted from the conversation. If no chairs had been (allegedly!) thrown, he wouldn’t have been part of the broadcast. The bias was that dramatically obvious.

Noam Chomsky has spoken for years and at length about the means by which entrenched power narrows the debate. “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient,” he said, “is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.” Bernie Sanders scares the hell out of the Establishment, and the manner in which its media mouthpieces cover this sham of an election in order to shove him and his supporters into the woods is as obvious as it is filthy. Sanders is being shamed for what went down in Las Vegas, but Vegas will tell you all you need to know about how easy it is to run the table when the fix is in.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

The Need for Progressive Voices

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The media industry reshaped our precious public commons into a fortress of exclusion that blocks dissenting, innovative and majoritarian viewpoints on matters that address society’s most basic needs,” writes Nader. “One thing is clear―something’s gotta give.” (Source: beautyfilledrevolution)

In 1961, President Kennedy’s Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Newton Minow described television as “a vast wasteland.” Perhaps nothing demonstrates that better these days than the rise of Donald J. Trump as a presidential candidate; now the presumptive Republican nominee. Trump’s boisterous carnival barker persona has dominated the airwaves for the entirety of the 2016 election cycle, eclipsing what precious little time remained for the serious issues that affect millions of Americans.  CBS president Leslie Moonves recently pulled no punches about the Trump phenomenon, saying it “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”

Trump is a symptom of a larger problem―profit-driven commercial television has put a stranglehold on our public discourse, highlighting controversy, carnage and entertainment fare over serious matters.  The media industry reshaped our precious public commons into a fortress of exclusion that blocks dissenting, innovative and majoritarian viewpoints on matters that address society’s most basic needs.  One thing is clear―something’s gotta give.

“Changing the corporate media for the better is easier than you think.”Fortunately, we have the power to massively shift how our public airwaves are utilized. After all, the airwaves are owned by the people and are used by these tawdry broadcasters free of charge! (In the past, I’ve referred to bombastic media personalities Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity as “corporate welfare kings” because of how they freely use the public’s property.)

This exclusionary media has obscured the fact that the public could take back some air time and condition over-the-air and cable licenses to provide serious, well-funded, diverse and informative content.

On May 23rd, 24th, 25th and 26th 2016 at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. a large gathering of civil society will take place to challenge the entrenched power of the corporate/political complex. The event is called Breaking Through Power. This “Civic Mobilization” will involve thousands of people at Constitution Hall and around the country and connect long-available knowledge to long-neglected action for the necessities and aspirations of people from all backgrounds.

May 24th will be dedicated solely to challenging mainstream media, bringing together authors, documentary filmmakers, reporters, columnists, musicians, poets and editorial cartoonists who will demonstrate the need for higher standards on television and  radio, and in print and on the web . Some participants on that day will be: Phil Donahue, Laura Flanders, Eugene Jarecki, Patti Smith, Mark Green, Matt Wuerker and many others.

The major mobilizing action on May 24th will be to create a new advocacy organization called “Voices.” The purpose of Voices is simple―to push for enlarging and enhancing space for serious content in all forms of media.  Voices will be staffed by public interest lawyers, writers, and traditional and social media specialists. Voices will advance long-neglected standards in the 1934 Communications Act which contains the imperative that broadcasters meet “the public interest, necessity and convenience” and other laws under the jurisdiction of the FCC.  The Voices staff will make the case for much more air-time on TV and radio and space in print publications for a multitude of subject matter, issues and activities that are now excluded or censored routinely as a result of a business-model of maximum profit above all else.

Changing the corporate media for the better is easier than you think. The current campaign season has drawn the interest of millions of young people who yearn for a better future.  Many have supported Senator Bernie Sanders’ agenda for a more just society. Now, when political excitement is at its peak, is an ideal time to channel civic energy­―no matter which candidate for president you support―into real, transformative action that benefits people instead of corporations.

Visit breakingthroughpower.org for more information and to register for one or all days of this historic event.

CNN and the Networks Now Rely on Trump to Stay Profitable

Neal Gabler on CNN: “I can’t recall a situation in which a network was so dependent on a candidate. Usually, it’s the other way around.”

The following first appeared on BillMoyers.com:

If Donald Trump didn’t constitute, in this year’s favorite word, an existential threat to American democracy, the contortions into which he has thrown the Republican Party, as they simultaneously try to thwart him while espousing his basic policies, would be hilarious.

On the other hand, the contortions into which he has thrown the media are less hilarious, because they ultimately have more bearing on the outcome of the presidential race. What Trump’s candidacy has managed to do is reveal fault lines in the media that usually are buried beneath the typical journalistic blather, the group-think, and the feigned objectivity of the mainstream media—and the reflexive lock-step partisanship in the right-wing media. (The liberals, with a pox on both Trump and his GOP rivals, get to sit this one out.)

Thanks to Trump, there are civil wars now erupting within the mainstream media between the business side and the editorial side, and within the right-wing media among the establishment Republicans, the populist renegades, and the so-called moderate, intellectual neo-conservatives. What it really shows is just how craven, self-serving and self-involved our media are.

Let’s begin with the MSM. As I wrote here several weeks back, CBS head Les Moonves was mercenary enough to crow over how much money Trump coverage was pouring into his network’s coffers. Trump is a veritable gold-mine, which is one reason why the media have given him so much free coverage—by one account $1.9 billion worth, which is nearly two-and-a-half times as much as the next highest candidate, Hillary Clinton, and more than five times as much as Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz each.

In his inaugural column as the late David Carr’s successor, The New York Times’ new media maven, Jim Rutenberg, examined just how big a stake the media have in Trump—especially CNN, which was nearly on life support before Trump applied CPR. So far during this campaign, Rutenberg writes, CNN’s prime-time ratings have soared 170 percent, and CNN head Jeff Zucker boasted to Rutenberg that on debate nights the network gets $200,000 for a thirty-second ad. This gives Trump a tremendous amount of leverage, and he isn’t afraid to use it to make sure he is treated respectfully. I can’t recall a situation in which a network was so dependent on a candidate. Usually, it’s the other way around.

CNN is so fawning to Trump it’s embarrassing, and its primary night coverage a disgrace. Sitting at desks are representatives for all the candidates, each given equal weight, with every Trump criticism parried by the Trump supporter, lest the network lose Trump’s favor. Anderson Cooper might as well be Trump’s apprentice for all the steely journalistic probing he gives him. But at least now you know how cable television news would have treated Hitler were it around in Germany back in the early 30s. (Note to TV execs who still have a conscience, if any exist: Instead of out-of-work, old political operatives and partisan hacks giving us their tired takes on the primary results, why not have political scientists and historians do analysis? Just a thought.)

Yet amid the glut of Trump coverage, here is something that has gotten far too little attention in the media, for obvious reasons. According to Kyle Blaine at BuzzFeed, Trump not only gets uncritical coverage; he has actually negotiated with the networks as to how they shoot his rallies. If you want to know why the press is kept in a pen and not allowed to mingle at Trump events, it is, according to Blaine, because the press conceded that to Trump. They are not even allowed to provide cutaways of the crowd’s reaction. Again, I can’t recall the press ever capitulating to a candidate in this way, but, then, there was never a candidate who gave the press as much revenue as Trump. Nixon assiduously staged his events; he didn’t tell the press how it could cover them. In any case, can you imagine the howls of protest if the media agreed to the same sort of terms with Clinton or Sanders or even Cruz?

Trump coverage is the smoking gun and CNN is the corpse. And yet, again according to Kyle Blaine, there are some in the media who are actually discomfited by the surrender to Trump. As he puts it, “Conversations with more than a dozen reporters, producers, and executives across the major networks reveal internal tensions about the wall-to-wall coverage Trump has received and the degree to which the Republican frontrunner has—or hasn’t—been challenged on their air.”

But TV reporters are not likely to put their jobs on the line to take on Trump. In the mainstream print media, where the tensions between the public’s apparent desire for Trump news (and the desire of papers and magazines to satisfy it) and reporters’ disdain for him are in daily full view, there’s more of a full-blown war. The Washington Post, to cite one prominent example, runs dozens of Trump stories one after another, but just about every one of those stories is hostile.

Though one can only guess at motives, the difference between the generally lap-dog TV coverage (only this week did Chuck Todd finally demand that Trump no longer literally phone in his appearances on “Meet the Press”) and tougher newspaper coverage may reflect several things: that print journalism, as the late media analyst Neil Postman used to say, is more intellectually engaging than visual journalism; that TV has more at stake financially than print media and is thus more cautious in attacking its golden goose; and that print media feel a moral responsibility that TV doesn’t.

From the decades of insipid political reporting we have gotten in magazines and newspapers, you certainly wouldn’t guess that last one. But we never had a Trump before either—or, for that matter, a Ted Cruz—as a major party candidate. Some reporters, and a whole lot of pundits, evidently don’t want to take responsibility for sitting back and seeing him elected president.

Finally, for all the tensions between money and duty, and between irresponsibility and responsibility in the mainstream media, it is the conservative media that Trump has really discombobulated. Just look at Fox News, which is basically the propaganda arm of the Republican Party. On the one hand, you have the network lashing out at Trump and his “sick obsession” with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, even though Trump has clearly boosted the ratings. On the other hand, you have Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly serving as major facilitators for Trump, and the network, by one count, mentioning Trump 25,000 times in the past month. Put another way, you have Ailes speaking for the GOP establishment, of which he is a member in good standing, and Hannity and O’Reilly speaking for—and to—the angry old white men who seem to comprise Trump’s supporters and the bulk of Fox’s viewers.

For an even more stark case of right-wing civil war, there is Breitbart, one of whose reporters was assaulted, allegedly by Trump’s own campaign manager, which led the Breitbart honchos to come to the defense of… Trump! Ah, those conservatives.

But perhaps the most interesting case of internecine media warfare is that of the “smart” neo-conservatives against the GOP rank and file and the media that speak for them. These folks—the David Brookses, the Ross Douthats, the Michael Gersons, the David Frums—obviously hate Trump, maybe less for ideological or even political reasons than for personal ones. Trump’s brand of authoritarian populism is everything these intellectual conservatives have spent their careers telling folks that conservatism wasn’t—even though, truth to tell, there was always know-nothing Trumpism lurking within Republicanism.

I was especially taken by Ross Douthat’s column last weekend in which he fell back on the default position that the neo-conservatives often invoke nostalgically: compassionate conservatism (as if!), the legacy of good old Jack Kemp, who was supposedly a softie when it came to poor people, and the lionization of House Speaker Paul Ryan, who, no doubt, all of them are praying will be the GOP presidential candidate at a contested convention. Gerson even wrote a piece in TheWashington Post this week conceding that, given Trump, a Hillary presidency wouldn’t be so bad as long as she had Ryan to spar with.

The media have always gone easy on Ryan, way too easy, treating him as if he were a real economic guru, when, in fact, no one who worships Ayn Rand as the prophet should be anywhere near government—or books. But the pining for Ryan in the “smart” right-wing media just goes to show how utterly baffled the right-wing press is.

Guys like Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush enabled them to indulge their fantasies of a smart, gentle conservatism that allegedly worked, never mind that the George W. Bush administration proved it didn’t. Now Donald Trump has blown up those fantasies, and the right-wing media are as confused as the right wing itself.

 

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