Friday, June 30, 2006


From Quango:

Cited by legendary radio jazzman Gilles Peterson as one of the two songs that really make him happy (the other was a tune by someone called Stevie Wonder). "Summer Sun" is the brightest, most euphoric thing we've heard in years. The vocal is a story in itself. Hijacked from Gothenburg's Octagon Session, the then 15-year-old Yukimi Nagano was spotted by the Koop-boys at a jazz talent contest where, while rows of 5-stringed bass-broilers did their university fusion-thing, some real raw emotion suddenly bursted from the stage. Yukimi was eventually enlisted by Koop for the album. She lays down two impressive vocal performances on this album. Definitely a talent to watch.

Click here for the rest Quango's review of Koop's second album Waltz for Koop.

I don't recall if I've ever gushed about the Sweedish jazz-house DJ duo known as Koop here at Real Art in the past, but if I already have forgive me for doing so again. It's just that they're so cool. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be much out on the internet just yet about Koop, not even a homepage, or else I would have led off with something from Wikipedia about them instead of a review by a guy I've never heard of, but as far as I can tell, they're part of what appears to be a sort of wave of European DJs-as-artists who all got sick of techno-disco grooves in the late 90s and ran toward the jazz idiom. Hard to go wrong there, if you ask me, but Koop, unlike genre-mate Dimitri from Paris, who I like greatly, takes the approach well beyond what I ever could have imagined was possible.

Their first album,
Sons of Koop, while pretty good, suffers a bit from a residual techno sound, which also infects and mediocritizes the aforementioned Dimitri, but by their second album, Waltz released in 2002, it's like they're redefining jazz for the 21st century. It's definitely still house music, but it has a real late 50s/early 60s sensibility about it, almost walking a thin line between Duke Ellington and Audrey Hepburn. This album is transcendental, but in a thoroughly modern way. I'll never forget the first time I heard this stuff: my old buddy Kevin and I were driving around Houston for some reason a few years back and NPR's All Songs Considered was on the radio; they were featuring Koop that day, and, let me tell ya, it was like slowly sliding into the most perfect warm bath you've ever experienced, or walking into a restaurant refrigerator for a moment to cool off during a busy wait shift.

Anyway, to come to the point here, I found on YouTube a cool Koop video for their song "Summer Sun." Like the music, the visuals harken to the mid 20th century, abstract expressionism and all that, but are still very contemporary. It also features the very beautiful and talented sometimes Koop member Japanese-Swede Yukimi Nagano on vocals. Go check it out; it's very much a part of my own personal aesthetic these days.

Yukimi Nagano







Be sure to check out Modulator's Friday Ark for links to more cat blogging posts!


Thursday, June 29, 2006

The High Price of American Gullibility

From CounterPunch, conservative Paul Craig Roberts on the continuing erosion of civil liberties:

If "national security" is a justification for elevating the power of the executive, where is his incentive to find peaceful solutions?

Emotional appeals to fear and to patriotism have led close to half of the population to accept unaccountable government in the name of "the war on terrorism." What a contradiction it is that so many Americans have been convinced that safety lies in their sacrifice of their civil liberties and accountable government.

If so many Americans cannot discern that they have acquiesced to conditions from which tyranny can arise, how can they understand that it is statistically impossible for the NSA's mass surveillance of Americans to detect terrorists?

Floyd Rudmin, a professor at a Norwegian university, writing in CounterPunch (May 24, 2006) applies the mathematics of conditional probability, known as Bayes' Theorem, to demonstrate that the NSA's surveillance cannot successfully detect terrorists unless both the percentage of terrorists in the population and the accuracy rate of their identification are far higher than they are. He correctly concludes that "NSA's surveillance system is useless for finding terrorists."

The surveillance is, however, useful for monitoring political opposition and stymieing the activities of those who do not believe the government's propaganda.

Click here for the rest.

Some observations.

First, and this kind of thinking is why I love Roberts, we have a huge Constitutional problem: American Presidents have a massive incentive to go to war and keep it going indefinitely whether it's good for the country or not--"national security" means more Presidential power; power hungry Presidents want to go to war, just to have more control at home, and that's obviously what's happening right now. Some Constitutional scholars really need to put their heads together and work this problem out like right now. The Founding Fathers, I'm sure, never envisioned an America with enough military power and economic backing for the creation of endless wars which exist simply to expand executive power, thereby utterly obliterating their carefully crafted balance of power between federal branches. This is a serious defect in the Constitution; it stands to completely undo everything for which this country stands.

Second, the willingness of so many Americans, by accepting continual downgrades of the civil liberties that make our nation unique, to undo everything for which this country stands continues to amaze me. I'm not sure which Founding Father said it, because the quote seems to be attributed to either Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, or Patrick Henry, depending on who's doing the quoting, but it's worth repeating again and again: "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both." That is, all this domestic spying bullshit is so unAmerican. How the hell can anyone support it?

Finally, go read the statistics article linked in the excerpt above. If the calculations are correct, the NSA "data mining" simply cannot do what Bush claims it does. Personally, I got a bit lost somewhere in all the number crunching, but, overall, it appears to be a compelling argument. Perhaps somebody who's better with math can give the essay a review for me, just to make sure. But, wow, the conclusion about NSA data mining being way more effective at spying on Americans than on terrorists is, indeed, frightening.


Guard to miss border mission deadline

From the AP via Yahoo courtesy of AlterNet

The Bush administration has been unable to muster even half of the 2,500 National Guardsmen it planned to have on the Mexican border by the end of June.

As of Thursday, the next-to-last day of the month, fewer than 1,000 troops were in place, according to military officials in the four border states of Texas, California, New Mexico and Arizona.

President Bush's plan called for all 50 states to send troops. But only 10 states — including the four border states — have signed commitments.

Some state officials have argued that they cannot free up Guardsmen because of flooding in the East, wildfires in the West or the prospect of hurricanes in the South.

Click here for the rest.

This was such a stupid idea from the get-go that I strongly doubt Bush was ever serious about it. I mean, why not dramatically increase enforcement budgets and get the right people on the job? I suppose the whole Guard stunt was to show the GOP xenophobes that he supports their point of view and wouldn't tolerate the lag time it would take to get some real border patrol action going. But the thing is that Bush doesn't really support the xenophobes; as a longtime Texas businessman, he's firmly entrenched with the GOP illegal labor exploiters faction--as Molly Ivins once wryly observed when contrasting California attitudes about illegals with attitudes in Texas, "down here we like our Meskins." Yeah, Texan businessmen understand that illegal laborers will put up with brutally low wages and working conditions and never complain about it for fear of deportation, the perfect workers from the capitalist perspective.

So this whole National Guard thing was just a political gesture. Bush, who could easily claim "national security" and federalize the needed troops, simply isn't interested in truly helping out the xenophobes. He never really meant it, which is just fine by me.

Besides, the only effective way of reducing the flow of illegals across the border is to go after the employers. Obviously, Bush is never going to do that.


Wednesday, June 28, 2006

"Where’s the voice of protest? It’s in MTV’s trash can."

From the Progressive:

Even Neil and his team posted it front and center on his blog for the entire week.

What prompted my letter and the outpouring was Young’s comment about why he felt compelled to write his new anti-Bush album, Living with War. “I was waiting for someone to come along, some young singer eighteen-to-twenty-two years old, to write these songs and stand up,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “I waited a long time. Then I decided that maybe the generation that has to do this is still the ’60s generation. We’re still here.”

As the first protest singer to rise from the streets of anti-war and WTO protests and get a major worldwide distribution deal, I felt compelled to explain that today’s Dylans, Ochses, and Neil Youngs are here, but they’re being silenced by an industry that has for years derived its profits from kiddy porn and dreamy boys.

Just two days after my article came out, MTV, which has refused to play anti-war videos even by the biggest stars, published an article addressing the need for political consciousness in mainstream music. In a flourish of Bush-like hubris, one of the country’s chief purveyors of military recruitment ads to youth posted the article, “Where Is the Voice of Protest in Today’s Music?” The webpage boasted an Army video game in the bottom right corner. (MTV, by the way, refuses to air anti-war ads produced by organizations like Not In Our Name and Win Without War.)

Click here for more.

Of course, as the article makes clear, it's not simply MTV: it's the entire recording industry. There are no popular anti-war or protest songs because that's the way they want it--the 60s were something of an historic aberration. So, if there's money to be made, why is the business so dead set on burying protest music? In addition to the industry's conventional wisdom that controversy is bad for sales, which is strange when you factor in gangster rap and all those quasi-pornographic female "singers," the vast majority of opposition culture's venom is aimed at the corporate world. Needless to say, since bigass corporations started buying up all the smaller heavies back in the late 70s, "corporate" defines the recorded music business extremely well. That is, why would the recording industry produce and promote a product that stands a chance, granted a small one, of altering public attitudes about the way they do business?

Over a decade ago, when I realized that my own songwriting was steadily drifting in a political direction, and that I didn't really feel good about writing bland love songs, I decided that it would be foolish to ever think seriously about trying to go professional. I might be able to pull off some club gigs, maybe an idie record deal if I played my cards right, but I would never, ever, ever be signed to a major label. It was obvious that they wouldn't like my stuff.

So, yeah, Neil Young, although I love him to death, was extraordinarily wrong about younger artists not stepping up. They can't step up. They've been blackballed.



From the AP via Yahoo courtesy of AlterNet:

Eleven Sunni insurgent groups have offered to halt attacks on the U.S.-led military if the Iraqi government and President Bush set a two-year timetable for withdrawing all foreign troops from the country, insurgent and government officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The demand is part of a broad offer from the groups, who operate north of Baghdad in the heavily Sunni Arab provinces of Salahuddin and Diyala. Although much of the fighting has been to the west, those provinces have become increasingly violent and the attacks there have regularly crippled oil and commerce routes.

Click here for the rest.

Just to be clear, this is only a portion of the insurgency, not the whole shebang. Nonetheless, this is a significant offer, and it strongly bolsters the point of view that much of the insurgency is about resentment of the US occupation, rather than about a bunch of Ba'athists with a grudge. Coupled with Iraqi government members' similar pleas, it becomes clear as day that the people of Iraq want us out, and that they blame America for all the turmoil over there. Bush could greatly lessen the chaos he instigated by instituting a timetable for withdrawal. He doesn't even have to leave yet, just draw up a document with goals and dates. Unfortunately, he's been pretty open about the fact that we're not leaving until their government can provide stability, which, I might add, is highly unlikely while we still have troops there. Frankly, I think Bush is well aware of the destabilizing influence of the US presence, and is counting on it to give him rhetorical cover for continuing the occupation indefinitely. In other words, the stability-before-withdrawal concept is a bullshit paradigm because Bush has always intended to stay in Iraq forever.

What really kills me is that I'm quite certain that future Presidents, Democrat and Republican alike, are going to continue Bush's policy of permanent occupation. Iraq is now a vassal state, and the US is its imperial overlord.


Tuesday, June 27, 2006


From the Nation, national affairs correspondent William Grieder, like me confused about why bank-spying is a problem given that the feds already said they were doing it right after 9/11, finds a real scandal:

Dirty Money

The scandal here is not government over-reach, he tells me. The scandal is the pitiful reluctance of this administration (and others before it) to get serious about the problem.

Bankers, Blum explained, "have fended off every conceivable rule that would really be effective. Why are we pandering to them if we say we are in such a desperate situation?"

The political influence of bankers tops all other sectors, I learned as a young reporter. Regardless of party or ideology, politicians seek their friendship. So the United States has created a truly bizarre banking code that legalizes--and keeps secret--vast flows of ill-gotten gains. For what purpose? Terrorist financing, yes, but that business is dwarfed by the drug trade profits, insider looting of corporations, offshore tax evasion, securities fraud, plain-vanilla fraud and other uses.

Click here for the rest.

In other words, despite the amazingly business-friendly climate in the US, an opaque banking system is absolutely necessary for businesses, who want to violate what remaining laws continue to restrain them, to go about their dirty deeds. Corporate fraud and offshore tax havens have been in the press on and off for the last five years or so, but do not underestimate how deeply intertwined the international drug trade is with legitimate businesses. After all, drugs are a $400 billion dollar industry. That's an enormous amount of money, and, believe it or not, corporate America is up to their ears in it, which is probably why the government will never win the drug war: the elites, who are making money off of both sides in the fight, don't want it to end. At any rate, as Greider handily observes, the real scandal here is not that the feds are looking at world financial transactions; it's that they aren't doing nearly enough, and, clearly, that's by design.


Glacier expert says Earth's climate is changing abruptly

From the Washington Post via the Houston Chronicle:

Earth's climate is undergoing an abrupt change, ending a cooler period that began with a swift "cold snap" in the tropics 5,200 years ago that coincided with the start of cities, the beginning of calendars and the biblical great flood, a leading expert on glaciers has concluded.

The warming around Earth's tropical belt is a signal suggesting that the "climate system has exceeded a critical threshold," which has sent tropical-zone glaciers in full retreat and will melt them completely "in the near future," said Lonnie G. hompson, a scientist who for 23 years has been taking core samples from the ancient ice of glaciers.

Thompson, writing with eight other researchers in an article published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said the ice samples show that the climate can and did cool quickly, and that a similarly abrupt warming change started about 50 years ago. Humans may not have the luxury of adapting to slow changes, he suggests.

Click here for the rest.

It may just be my own well-tended paranoia, but it seems now like reports such as this are coming out every other week, and each new one is usually worse than the one before it. All of this leaves me with the notion that not only is global warming man-made and really happening, but it's probably even worse than we think, and I already think it's pretty dire as it is. I understand why uber-polluting corporations would push a disinformation campaign about the issue on the country; unlike real people, corporations have no souls, existing for the sole purpose of maximizing profit--cutting greenhouse gas emissions probably would cut into that profit imperative heavily. Individual Americans, however, do have souls. How the hell can anybody not take this unimaginable threat seriously?


Monday, June 26, 2006

Social Isolation Growing in U.S., Study Says

From the Washington Post courtesy of AlterNet:

Whereas nearly three-quarters of people in 1985 reported they had a friend in whom they could confide, only half in 2004 said they could count on such support. The number of people who said they counted a neighbor as a confidant dropped by more than half, from about 19 percent to about 8 percent.

The results, being published today in the American Sociological Review, took researchers by surprise because they had not expected to see such a steep decline in close social ties.

Smith-Lovin said increased professional responsibilities, including working two or more jobs to make ends meet, and long commutes leave many people too exhausted to seek social -- as well as family -- connections: "Maybe sitting around watching 'Desperate Housewives' . . . is what counts for family interaction."

Robert D. Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard and the author of "Bowling Alone," a book about increasing social isolation in the United States, said the new study supports what he has been saying for years to skeptical audiences in the academy.

"For most of the 20th century, Americans were becoming more connected with family and friends, and there was more giving of blood and money, and all of those trend lines turn sharply in the middle '60s and have gone in the other direction ever since," he said.

Americans go on 60 percent fewer picnics today and families eat dinner together 40 percent less often compared with 1965, he said. They are less likely to meet at clubs or go bowling in groups. Putnam has estimated that every 10-minute increase in commutes makes it 10 percent less likely that people will establish and maintain close social ties.

Television is a big part of the problem, he contends. Whereas 5 percent of U.S. households in 1950 owned television sets, 95 percent did a decade later.

Click here for the rest.

Well, I'd agree that television and the internet, new technology in general, have, at least, something to do with this. But why the hell are people so willing to let their electronic devices crowd out much needed human interaction? And that's not even what this study is about, really; people are interacting with each other. The problem appears to be that people don't trust each other enough to make real emotional bonds among themselves.

While "experts" continue to offer deficient analysis about this depressing trend, the above noted television explanation being one example, I think the true instigator of American social isolation is right-wing philosophy. That is, for over a quarter of a century, the right wing has pushed every-man-for-himself economic policies, which are now, by and large, the law of the land. Meanwhile, corporations have outsourced the bulk of security providing jobs, and the healthcare crisis rages unabated. The mass-produced corporate popular culture has only reinforced these phenomena, labeling American culture as competitive, asserting that if you're not number one, you're nothing; this is now the conventional wisdom. No really, I'm not making this shit up. Conservative policy and philosophy, now triumphant, have scared the hell out of everyone, making people think that they are utterly on their own. Is it any wonder that people are feeling isolated?

What conservatives refuse to realize or admit is that there are profound real-world cultural consequences to their actions. You simply cannot have a society based on the principle of individual competition without people coming to see everybody as potential competition. Christ, throw in another conservative favorite, "zero tolerance" or "get tough on" policies, and the philosophical attack is utterly devastating: black-and-white and all-or-nothing thinking is the spirit of our era. Ever seen an episode of Cheaters? Once upon a time there was a sense of "we're all in this together" in this country--granted, I'm talking about white people in the 50s, but you get my drift. Today, we're all against each other.

And that's a pretty damned lonely place to be.



From NEWSARAMA courtesy of Mike over at This is not a compliment:


It’s a story that clearly seems to be a challenge to adapt to film, but now, according to The Hollywood Reproter, that’s what director Zach Snyder’s job is, as the young director was named by Warner Bros. as the helmer of the movie version of the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons classic graphic novel.

Larry Gordon and Lloyd Levin are producing with Alex Tse writing a script based on the comic. According to the trade, Warner Bros. executives were impressed with Snyder’s handling of the adaptation for film of Frank Miller’s 300, and that landed him the job.

Click here for the rest.

Mike, the above mentioned blogger who dug up this little tidbit of info, is dubious of this: the project has been bouncing around Hollywood for over a decade, with Terry Gilliam slated to direct at one point, but nothing has ever come of it; furthermore, given the utterly sophisticated and nuanced story they're trying to trim into the standard Hollywood two-hour/three-act structure, it is very likely that any Watchmen film will just suck. The point is well taken. As for me, I've kind of gotten used to the cinema industry regularly mangling great comic books, and I'm pretty much of the opinion that a shitty Watchmen movie is better than none at all.

After all, every now and then, like with Hellboy for instance, they get it right. Maybe they'll pull it off this time.

But, you may ask, what is this Watchmen comic about which I speak so lovingly?

From Wikipedia:


Watchmen is a twelve-issue comic book written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons. Originally published by DC Comics as a monthly limited series from 1986 to 1987,[1] it was later republished as a trade paperback.[2] It was one of the first superhero comic books to present itself as serious literature, and it also popularized the more adult-oriented "graphic novel" format. Watchmen is the only graphic novel to have won a Hugo Award,[3] and is also the only graphic novel to appear on Time magazine's list of "100 best novels from 1923 to present."[1]

Watchmen is set in 1985 in an alternative history United States where costumed adventurers are real and the country is edging closer to a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. It tells the story of the last remaining superheroes and the events surrounding the mysterious murder of one of their own. In Watchmen, superheroes are presented as real people who must confront ethical and personal issues, who have neuroses and failings, and who are largely lacking in superpowers. Watchmen's deconstruction of the conventional superhero archetype, combined with its innovative adaptation of cinematic techniques and heavy use of symbolism and multi-layered dialogue, have had a profound effect on later comics.

Click here for more.

My buddy Jim once describe Watchmen as the greatest comic book ever produced, which is strange given that he hadn't read many comics when he made this assertion. But I think he may have gotten it right. Watchmen first appeared when I was seventeen, but I didn't get around to reading it until a couple of years later, in 1987. It was perfect for me at that point. I had been reading comics for as long as I could remember, but I was growing up, and much of what had delighted me only a few years earlier was at that point starting to get old and pedantic. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' complex and ambiguous treatment of the superhero concept was exactly what I needed to breathe some fresh air into my old romance with the medium. In short, because of the Watchmen series itself, and the influence that it had on the entire field, comics entered adulthood at around the same time I did. And that's what Watchmen is essentially: comics for adults, but not just any adults; it's for intelligent, questioning people who cannot be satisfied with the black and white philosophy of human existence offered by most popular entertainment. Watchmen is, without a doubt, true literature, timeless even, in that the issues it raises, but very consciously does not resolve, are just as pertinent today as they were twenty years ago. More so, perhaps.

Anyway, that probably explains in a nutshell why my buddy Mike is so worried that they won't get it right. But I can hope, can't I?



From the AP via Yahoo, courtesy of the Daily Kos:

E-mails reveal Abramoff requests, contacts

Wanted: Face time with President Bush or top adviser Karl Rove. Suggested donation: $100,000. The middleman: lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Blunt e-mails that connect money and access in Washington show that prominent Republican activist Grover Norquist facilitated some administration contacts for Abramoff's clients while the lobbyist simultaneously solicited those clients for large donations to Norquist's tax-exempt group.

Those who were solicited or landed administration introductions included foreign figures and American Indian tribes, according to e-mails gathered by Senate investigators and federal prosecutors or obtained independently by The Associated Press.


The e-mails show Abramoff delivered on his original promise to get tribal money for the event that included the Bush visit, sending one check from the Mississippi Choctaw tribe in October and one in November from the Saginaw Chippewa of Michigan. Kartch said Abramoff didn't deliver on PAC contributions.

Norquist and Abramoff were longtime associates who went back decades to their days in the Young Republicans movement. Norquist founded ATR to advocate lower taxes and less government. He built it into a major force in the Republican Party as the GOP seized control of Congress and the White House.

Abramoff became one of Washington's rainmaker lobbyists before allegations that he defrauded Indian tribes led to his downfall and a prison sentence. He is cooperating with prosecutors.

Click here for the rest.

So, I guess a partisan Republican could argue that this doesn't really have anything to do with Bush, that these expensive meetings took place in the context of Norquist's PAC, rather than the standard bribery-for-legislation procedure that's recently lit a fire under numerous right-wing Congressional butts. But you've got to admit, it all sounds pretty fishy, almost as though the PAC context was about giving the President and his staff the "plausible deniability" needed for the appearance of uninvolvement. I mean, it's not as though the President didn't have a motive: a lot of Norquist's work is about making campaign contributions to Republicans who will further his anti-tax crusade. By using a PAC as a front, this essentially amounts to money-laundering on a grand scale, and, whether he likes it or not, Bush and his staffers are knee-deep in it.

But then, Bush claims to not even know Abramoff. Sure, just like he doesn't know Kenny-Boy Lay.

But wait, there's more. Wicked lobbying isn't all about Abramoff, you know.

From Newsweek courtesy of AlterNet:

White House: Washington's Frequent (Freebie) Fliers

As Congress debatees a crackdown on members' and their staffs' accepting travel paid for by outside interests, newly filed records show Capitol Hill lawmakers aren't Washington's only frequent fliers. According to filings with the Office of Government Ethics, White House staffers have accepted nearly $135,000 in free trips since November 2004. Among those picking up the tab: some of the president's top business supporters, including the National Association of Manufacturers, and dozens of conservative and religious groups, among them the Southern Baptist Convention, Focus on the Family and the Federalist Society.

Click here for the rest.

In order to understand the gravity of this, you have to bear in mind that "White House staffers" aren't simply a bunch of clerks and secretaries. No, these are people who oversee regulatory agencies, people who make decisions that affect billions of dollars and millions of lives. These are people with power, just like Congressmen. Taking freebies from corporations and special interest groups is pretty hard to see as anything other than what it is, bribery.

You know, this kind of corruption is going to continue until some very simple steps are taken: ban all lobbying; ban all campaign contributions and replace them with public financing; ban all gifts and contributions of any sort. If government officials need the (strongly biased) information continually fed them by lobbyists, too fucking bad. They've got vast resources; they can do the research themselves. There's just no need for lobbying, and the practice has a heavily corruptive influence. Really, the end goal here should be to get as much money out of politics as possible. Democracy should be about the will of the voters, and it is quite obvious now that money tends to subvert that.

Why do you think I end every post with a bunch of dollar signs?


Saturday, June 24, 2006


From the Frontline website:

"A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies," Cheney told Americans just after 9/11. He warned the public that the government would have to operate on the "dark side."

In "The Dark Side," FRONTLINE tells the story of the vice president's role as the chief architect of the war on terror, and his battle with Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet for control of the "dark side." Drawing on more than 40 interviews and thousands of documents, the film provides a step-by-step examination of what happened inside the councils of war.

Early in the Bush administration, Cheney placed a group of allies throughout the government who advocated a robust and pre-emptive foreign policy, especially regarding Iraq. But a potential obstacle was Tenet, a holdover from the Clinton administration who had survived the transition by bypassing Cheney and creating a personal bond with the president.

After the attacks on 9/11, Cheney seized the initiative and pushed for expanding presidential power, transforming America's intelligence agencies and bringing the war on terror to Iraq. Cheney's primary ally in this effort was Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

"You have this wiring diagram that we all know of about national security, but now there's a new line on it. There's a line from the vice president directly to the secretary of defense, and it's as though there's a private line, private communication between those two," former National Security Council staffer Richard Clarke tells FRONTLINE.

Click here for the rest, and to watch the entire documentary.

Even though much of this was known at the time of the invasion or shortly thereafter, it is well worth it to go over this nightmarish tale once again. Frontline does an incredible job of taking numerous disparate pieces of information and weaving them together into a coherent and compelling narrative: that there were no WMDs found in Iraq was clearly not an "intelligence failure." Rather, at the behest of Cheney and Rumsfeld, decades old procedures and standards regarding the analysis of intelligence data were utterly ignored. That is, even though the conventional wisdom inside both the agency and the White House before the invasion was that Saddam had WMDs, the CIA was totally unable, again and again, to verify such a belief; what few tidbits of existing intelligence suggesting the possibility of Iraqi WMDs were massaged, manipulated, and grossly exaggerated to create a bogus case for invasion. CIA chief George Tenet, fearing for his job, was caught in the crossfire. Knowing that the case for invasion was slim to none, but also knowing that war policy detractors were being purged from the administration, Tenet sided with the devil, and told the seemingly clueless President that what intelligence they had constituted a "slam dunk," a careerist lie. Ultimately, when no WMDs were found, Tenet became the scapegoat, and was purged anyway. Meanwhile, the real bad guys are still running the show, and the CIA, now restaffed with White House loyalists, is greatly diminished in influence.

A chilling tale, I know. Go check it out.


Gay pride

It's that time of year again.

From Wikipedia:

In June 1969, a group of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people rioted following a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City. The late Miss Sylvia Rivera a transgender rights activist and founding member of both the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance is credited by many as the first to actually strike back at the police and in doing so, spark the rebellion.

The Stonewall riots are generally considered to be the beginning of the modern gay rights movement, as it was the first time in modern history that a significant body of LGBT people resisted arrest.

Activist L. Craig Schoonmaker claims to have coined the term "gay pride" in description of the 1969 Stonewall riots. [1]

Brenda Howard known as the "Mother of Pride" an early leader of the Gay Liberation Front and Gay Activists Alliance in the early post-Stonewall era coordinated the first month anniversary rally and then the "Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day March" on June 28, 1970 to commemorate the first year anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion.[2][3]

First year anniversary marches organized by other groups were also held in San Francisco and Los Angeles in 1970.

Howard also originated the idea for a week-long series of events around what is now known as Pride Day; this became the first of the extended annual LGBT Pride celebrations that are now held around the world.

Click here for the rest.

Longtime Real Art readers know that I believe that gay rights are about much more than simply the freedom to get it on with someone of the same gender. Rather, in our simultaneously sexually exploitative yet repressively fundamentalist culture, the GLBT community is essentially the last man standing in terms of sexual sanity. That is, by default, and whether they like it or not, homosexuals in America represent sexual freedom and possibility as well as physical and psychological sexual health. Sure, there are some organizations and individuals outside of the gay world such as Planned Parenthood or Judith Levine doing their part, but gay people are everywhere.

Consequently, gay pride is for anyone and everyone in the United States who values sexual freedom, health, and ethics. Happy gay pride week!

The rainbow flag flying above Castro Street
in San Francisco. Photo by Justin J.W. Powell


Dan Rather's Raw Deal

From AlterNet, America's greatest reporter, Greg Palast, on what's happened to one of America's most celebrated reporters:

They finally put Dan Rather out of his misery at CBS. CEO Leslie Moonves put on his best mourning face, offering upon Rather's departure, "He had a very distinguished career. I'm sorry he's leaving us." However sorry Moonves may be, he still sent Rather to the glue factory -- all for reporting the truth. But not all of it.

Rather's "unsubstantiated story of Bush's military service" (says USA Today) got him canned. Yet, all the poor man did was repeat a story the Brits put on BBC Television a year earlier -- that Poppy Bush put in the fix to get his son out of 'Nam and into the Texas Air Guard, spending his war years guarding Houston from Viet Cong attack.

But Dan never reported this: the documentation from inside the US Department of Justice detailing the fix. Why not? Because it opened up a far more serious charge: that those who kept Little George out of war's way ended up very well rewarded. The BBC, the world's biggest network, ran that full story -- from the evidence of the fix to the evidence of the lucrative pay-backs -- and the BBC never retracted a comma of it. Nor, by the way, has the White House denied our accusations despite our repeated offers to respond.

Click here for the rest.

Bigtime corporate news media face Dan Rather is as big of an asshole as they come, and very much a symbol of everything that's wrong with his field--he is, after all, the man who said on David Letterman in the weeks after 9/11, "He's my commander-in-chief. All he has to do is tell me where to line up and I'll do it;" people who actually remember the bland facts they learned in high school government class know that the term "commander-in-chief" only refers to a President's role as head of the military, and has nothing to do with the civilian population, which makes Rather's comment patriotically stupid at best. Despite all that, however, Rather is no idiot, seems to understand what's been going on with the corporate news media, and somewhere, deep inside his black soul, still has the journalistic ethics he learned back in more civilized days. That is, the man obviously still sees himself as a real reporter, and has clearly been trying to navigate ethically the treacherous career-waters of bigtime corporate news.

For all the good it did him.

Since Christmas, I've been slowly working my way through the book about "Rathergate" written by one of the two 60 Minutes producers who were fired over the scandal. I say "slowly" because its writer, Mary Mapes, is almost as big of a self-important asshole as Rather, whom she idolizes. In between all the self-congratulatory acts of blowhardism, however, lie some fascinating tidbits of knowledge: probably the most important of which is the lowdown on the allegedly forged smoking-gun memo which supposedly illustrates beyond a doubt that Bush went AWOL when he was in the Guard. If Mapes isn't simply making shit up, she constructs a very compelling argument that there is very little chance that the document is forged--in addition to detailing CBS's exhaustive authentication process, utterly ignored by the network's internal review board during the cover-up process in the wake of the controversy, she also easily dismisses the right-wing typewriter font arguments (yes, there were superscript typewriters back then), and shows how the conservative bloggers essentially weren't even analyzing the same memo (they were using a photocopy of a fax of the memo, which heavily distorted it beyond any reasonable analysis).

In short, the story that got Rather canned was absolutely accurate. That's what you get for trying to be an ethical journalist in today's political climate.

Look, as much as I hate Dan Rather, this is not only unjust, it's part of the biggest unreported story in US history, how the big news companies are in cahoots with corporate and government power. Rather and his crew reported the truth, which offended powerful people, so, instead of weathering the storm, CBS simply tried to make it all go away. That's why Dan Rather is now going away. In the end, his long and distinguished career just didn't matter. He, like everybody else who stands in the way of corporate will, is expendable. And that's a damned shame.


Friday, June 23, 2006







Thursday, June 22, 2006


From Think Progress courtesy of Eschaton:

Santorum: We Found the WMD

The Bush administration commissioned the Iraq Survey Group to determine whether in fact any WMD existed in Iraq. After a year and half of meticulously combing through the country, here’s what the administration’s own inspectors reported:

"While a small number of old, abandoned chemical munitions have been discovered, ISG judges that Iraq unilaterally destroyed its undeclared chemical weapons stockpile in 1991. There are no credible Indications that Baghdad resumed production of chemical munitions thereafter, a policy ISG attributes to Baghdad’s desire to see sanctions lifted, or rendered ineffectual, or its fear of force against it should WMD be discovered."

Click here for the rest.

Man, this is amazing, and it should tell us something about the delusional depths to which Republicans are willing to go. It's obvious at this point that, at the time we invaded in 2003, there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The Bush administration lied to both Congress and the American public in order to advance their own weird and violent global agenda. So why the hell is the number two man in the Senate still trying to sell us this snake oil? Hell if I know, and I'm not entirely certain about whether he's willfully lying or simply willing to believe whatever supports his worldview--I mean, after all, this is the same guy who says that legalizing gay marriage is bad because it would lead to the legalization of "man on dog" marriage; never minding the fact that nobody really wants to marry a dog, his argument, if you want to call it that, is absolutely insane. Maybe he's insane.

Christ, how long are we going to let these inmates run the asylum?



From Democracy Now, a speech on the class war from Princeton economist and New York Times editorialist Paul Krugman:

Now, what I can say for sure, and actually some of my colleagues at Princeton in the politics department work on, have done very interesting work on politics, and what they show is that the polarization of politics, which you can measure, and, I would say, the nastiness, which is very -- you can't exactly measure, but it's very closely correlated, is very much -- it rises and falls with income inequality.

Periods, the Gilded Age, the ‘20s, were periods of grotesque abuse of cultural issues, anything to smear people who might suggest things like, you know, progressive taxation. And times when those kinds of views, when everyone had more or less accepted the existence of the New Deal institutions, were quite calm. So that same Time magazine article in 1953 is saying Republicans and Democrats have a surprising sameness of outlook and political thinking, and that makes a big point about how Eisenhower had made it clear that he was not going to try to roll back the New Deal. Well, that's why we -- that's a consequence of being a relatively equal society. And the ugliness and the viciousness of our political scene right now, I think, are in fact largely a consequence of the gross inequalities that have emerged.

Click here to read, watch, or listen to the rest.

If you've already read his column on the same subject posted below, don't think that this speech isn't worth checking out. Krugman expands on the history of the class war and goes further into its effects today--it's well worth the twenty minutes or so it takes to watch the video. What really got me, however, is this notion about income inequality and political polarization. If his poli-sci buddies at Princeton are able to convincingly demonstrate this, that when the rich become vastly richer political discourse descends into the sewers, then it means that economic justice isn't simply about fairness: when the wealthy are too wealthy, political stability itself is in grave danger. If that's the case, and at the moment I don't see any good reason why it's not, the Republicans are playing with fire. Their coddling of the wealthy and corporate sectors stands to literally destroy America with infighting--the GOP may very well be flirting with mass betrayal of our great nation.

I bet this never occurred to Ann Coulter when she was writing her anti-liberal pulp novel Treason.


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

KRUGMAN: Class War Politics

From the New York Times courtesy of the Progressive American:

Before the 1940's, the Republican Party relied financially on the support of a wealthy elite, and most Republican politicians firmly defended that elite's privileges. But the rich became a lot poorer during and after World War II, while the middle class prospered. And many Republicans accommodated themselves to the new situation, accepting the legitimacy and desirability of institutions that helped limit economic inequality, such as a strongly progressive tax system. (The top rate during the Eisenhower years was 91 percent.)

When the elite once again pulled away from the middle class, however, Republicans turned their back on the legacy of Dwight Eisenhower and returned to a focus on the interests of the wealthy. Tax cuts at the top — including repeal of the estate tax — became the party's highest priority.

But if the real source of today's bitter partisanship is a Republican move to the right on economic issues, why have the last three elections been dominated by talk of terrorism, with a bit of religion on the side? Because a party whose economic policies favor a narrow elite needs to focus the public's attention elsewhere. And there's no better way to do that than accusing the other party of being unpatriotic and godless.

Click here for the rest.

This approach, trumping up fears of foreign enemies while asserting that only Republicans can protect Americans from the boogyman, was created during the Reagan era. Back in those days, the enemy was a then declining and crumbling Soviet Union, successfully painted by the Gipper as an impossibly powerful and globally pervasive "evil empire." Today it's Islamic terrorists in the closet or under the bed who are out to get us, but the principle is still the same: scare the hell out of just enough people to get them to vote against their own economic interests, and the GOP is in business.

The reality, of course, is that the Democrats, who are far more serious about actually governing the country because, you know, their core principles aren't about abolishing government, are far better positioned philosophically to protect the nation from terrorists. It's just that they seem so touchy-feely...well, let us never forget that the ancient Spartan warriors, the most badass fighters in the Mediterranean back in the day, were bigtime gay-boys.

But I digress. The point is that, while this fear-distraction political ploy is relatively new in US politics, the class war is not. Indeed, it is always extraordinarily ironic whenever a conservative screams "class warfare" as some sort of admonishment toward liberals, when the truth is that the wealthy class has been waging class warfare against pretty much everybody else since the founding of the republic. Indeed, there are some very good arguments out there that the US Constitution is far more about, as Founding Father James Madison said, "protecting the minority of the opulent against the majority," than it is about "liberty and justice for all."

The rich know what they're up to, but most of the rest of the country takes some stock, at least, in the bogus notion taught in public schools of the "classless" America. It is only when the wealthy overplay their hand, and their relentless diversionary propaganda collapses, that their war-waging is noticed, as happened during the Great Depression. It is my belief that we are rapidly approaching once again one of those moments in history of overplay. In other words, I think the conservatives' days are numbered.

And I'm not just talking about the Republicans, either.


U.S. Back at Full War Footing in Afghanistan

From the Brian Ross ABC News blog the Blotter, courtesy of J. Orlin Grabbe:

The United States military is quietly carrying out the largest military offensive in Afghanistan since U.S. troops invaded the country in 2001.

"The Taliban has made a comeback, and we have the next 90 days to crush them," said a senior U.S. military official.

Click here for the rest.

Oh my gosh. I thought we'd already won that one. What's up with this?

Okay, obviously, I'm being heavily sarcastic: we never won in Afghanistan; the White House simply declared it so, just as it did with jet flights and "Mission Accomplished" banners for Iraq, but, unlike Iraq, the press essentially bought the phony declaration and stopped covering this other war for the most part. As far as I can tell, we're failing there for many of the same reasons we're failing in Iraq, not enough reconstruction money making it into the right hands, a thinly disguised puppet-government lacking true support from the people, corruption, and too many civilian deaths at the hands of US service personnel. And, oh yeah, I can't forget to mention the fact that there are simply not enough US troops in Afghanistan to create the stability needed for the actual nation-building that Bush campaigned against back in 2000, thank you very much Mr. Modernize the Military Donald Rumsfeld.

Anyway, this is bad news, another quagmire apparently, with no end in sight. Christ, this country is so fucked up right now.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Perversion of Judgement

From the Cleveland Free Times:

Soon after meeting at X-day, Steve and Rachel were a couple, enthusiastically taking part in the mockery that is the heart and soul of the SubGenius faith.

Poking fun at religion throughout history has led to people wearing funny costumes or taking off their clothes. And if you're performing and not shy about it, there are likely to be pictures — which the members of the Church of the SubGenius gleefully post at their Web site. So when Jeff Jary decided he wanted to play hardball over custody of his and Rachel's son, it wasn't hard for him to find and download a dozen photos of Rachel taken at X-day.

Once the boy was in upstate New York for a holiday visit, Jary and his lawyer filed for sole custody in Orleans County Court. In support of the request, they showed the judge a picture of Rachel as Mary Magdelen, in the nude and getting a tattoo. They showed a picture of Steve — known among the SubGenius as Lord Jesus Christ — wearing a clown suit in a mock passion play with a crucifix festooned with pool-noodle dollar signs, while a crowd of partially clothed people, including a woman holding a dildo, look on. There's a picture of Rachel in a costume parade called the Deity Ball, in which she's wearing a black mesh bondage suit with a papier-maché goat's head mask perched atop her trim shoulders.

Jary also claimed that Rachel was homeless. But at a subsequent hearing, it became clear that Judge James Punch had been far more concerned with the photos when he awarded custody to Jary. Punch spent a lot of time on those photos, and he didn't get the joke.

Click here for the rest.

I've been a non-affiliated silent supporter of the Church of the SubGenius for many years--I've even had them linked to Real Art from the moment I figured out how deal with links. Their entire organization's existence, their absurdist events all geared around ruthless satire of religion, politics, and power, the whole thing adds up to one gigantic piece of ongoing performance art. Real Art, that is, in that the net effect is to attack the people in our sick society who need attacking the most. But like the high school art teacher who lost her job recently because topless art photos of her were discovered online by employers, it doesn't matter, morally, that this SubGenius woman's art is the reason she's lost custody of her child: if she wants to run around naked while making fun of religion, she can do that, whether it's art or just a weird fetish. It doesn't have a damned thing to do with how she raises her child, and this, as with what's happening to the art teacher, is an intolerable outrage. There is no good argument based on her SubGenius activities that can make this woman into a bad mother. It's completely clear that the judge in the case is using his own variety of Christian morality to substitute for the law. And that's not just wrong; it's illegal. The son of a bitch should be thrown off the bench right now and ordered to pay damages for the way he's used his authority to fuck over an innocent woman.

Fortunately, she's retained new legal representation, the same heavyweights who have defended Larry Flynt for obscenity, and in half an hour they convinced Fuckover Judge to recuse himself--they also got a change of venue. The sad thing is that she's now going to be out tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees all because of a bogus child custody dispute presided over by a judge who simply shouldn't be on the bench. Anywhere.

Wanna donate to her legal fund? Click

You know, maybe it's time I finally coughed up the thirty bucks it takes to become an ordained minister for the Church. Maybe I will...


Nation's ERs at 'breaking point,' study finds

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

At the root of the crisis: Demand for emergency care is surging, even as the capacity for hospitals, ambulance services and other emergency workers to provide it is dropping.

There were almost 114 million emergency room visits in 2003, up from 90 million a decade earlier. Only about half were true medical emergencies. When the poor and uninsured can't get health care anywhere else, they come to emergency rooms, which must treat them regardless of ability to pay.

"It is the only medical care to which Americans have a legal right," noted Kellerman, adding that what constitutes an emergency is different to a doctor than to a desperate patient. Last week, he treated a woman who wound up in the ER after running out of some crucial medication and being turned away by four different clinics.

Yet lack of reimbursement for ER care is one reason some emergency departments go out of business. During the past decade, the total number of U.S. hospitals decreased by 703, and the number of ERs by 425. And the total number of hospital beds dropped nationwide by 198,000, due also to the trend toward cheaper outpatient care.

That in turn means long waits in crowded ERs for hospital rooms to open up. Once stabilized, patients can lie on gurneys in the ER hallway not just for hours but for two days. The new report found that on a typical Monday evening, three-quarters of hospitals reported at least two patients boarded in the halls.

Click here for the rest.

So, obviously, this isn't really an ER crisis: it's just a symptom of the much wider overall healthcare crisis currently facing the United States. I've written about this subject previously numerous times, so there's no need to go down that road again right now, but, suffice it to say, healthcare is a right, not a consumer product. Furthermore, compounding matters is the fact that healthcare and health insurance don't even conform to the economic principles that guide lawmakers in making their policy decisions in this area. It's just one big clusterfuck, and it's getting much worse as each year goes by. In short, they system is collapsing in on itself, and sometime in the future the federal government will have to do something about it. The question is whether that's going to be sooner or later, and how many Americans are going to needlessly die or suffer from easily cured sicknesses before then.


'Star Trek' Fans, Deprived of a Show,
Recreate the Franchise on Digital Video

This is not a drill; repeat, this is not a drill. From the New York Times courtesy of AlterNet:

From these Virginia woods to the Scottish Highlands, "Star Trek" fans are filling the void left by a galaxy that has lost "Star Trek." For the first time in nearly two decades, television spinoffs from the original 1960's "Star Trek" series have ended, so fans are banding together to make their own episodes.

Fan films have been around for years, particularly those related to the "Star Wars" movies. But now they can be downloaded from the Web, and modern computer graphics technology has lent them surprising special effects. And as long as no one is profiting from the work, Paramount, which owns the rights to "Star Trek," has been tolerant. (Its executives declined to comment.)


And viewers are responding. One series, at, and based in Ticonderoga, N.Y., boasts of 30 million downloads. It has become so popular that Walter Koenig, the actor who played Chekov in the original "Star Trek," is guest starring in an episode, and George Takei, who played Sulu, is slated to shoot another one later this year. D. C. Fontana, a writer from the original "Star Trek" series, has written a script.

Click here for the rest.

Oh my god, this is nuts!!! So, of course, I've checked some of this out, and it's exactly as the article describes. If you discount the piss-poor acting, this stuff is good. These people have done a marvelous job recreating the look and feel of 1960s Star Trek--I'll be checking out the later-era groups tomorrow, but nothing does it for me like the original approach. There's even one group shooting 60s style episodes in Austin. I hope my Austinite pal and fellow Trekkie Shane is reading this: he needs to hook up with these people like right now; he'd make a kickass Vulcan. Hell, I'm tempted to move to Austin for a few months after I finish grad school next year myself. Maybe I can help them develop some talent once I've become a MASTER of fine arts.

At any rate, I don't have much more to say about this. Actually, I'm close to speechless. This is the stuff of childhood fantasies for me. Wow.

Go check this shit out:

Star Trek: New Voyages

Star Trek: Intrepid

Star Trek: Hidden Frontier

Starship Exeter

Starship Farragut

Photo by Bill Crandall


Teacher fights for job over topless photos online

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

The school district said the photos were inappropriate and violate the "higher moral standard" expected of public school teachers. As a result, she's become an ineffective teacher, she was told as she was escorted out of class last month.

The photos came to light as a result of a feud over ceramics equipment with another art teacher, according to sworn affidavits. Students who had seen the pictures showed the teacher, who then notified school officials.

Colleagues and students dispute the district's characterizations of Hoover.


Hoover said Friday the photos are art and makes no apologies.

"I'm an artist and I'm going to participate in the arts," Hoover said. "If that's not something they want me to do then I want to be told that. I don't feel as if I was doing anything that was beyond expectations."

Click here for the rest.

This could have been the same dilemma I might have faced the first year I was teaching if the show I was rehearsing hadn't been cancelled. The project had nothing to do with work at all; I was acting in a play slated to be performed well outside Baytown which required me to be naked for a short scene. The show met all my criteria for onstage nudity: it was non-exploitative, absolutely needed for the story, and it was for a good script. I had no reason, artistic or otherwise, not to do it. Of course, I was slightly worried that it might be an issue for my new job, but, I thought, that's none of their damned business.

But, fortunately for me, I guess, it never came to that.

This is an absolute outrage. Never mind, for a moment, that this is an art teacher, and that she describes the photos as art. It simply doesn't matter if a teacher wants to put topless photos online. She can do that. Parents, administrators, other teachers, and any other would-be moral policemen who have a problem with that should just shut their damned mouths.

This whole "higher moral standard" sophistry is pure bullshit. Let's cut the crap and call this what it is. It's not about "higher" morals; it's about Christian morals, as interpreted by some Christians. Face it: if you interpret the Bible literally, the human body is obscene. Once Adam and Eve had eaten from the tree of knowledge, the first thing they understood is that they were naked, and that nakedness is bad--they were falling all over themselves to cover their privates with fig leaves. So, okay, a certain strain of Christian morality straight-up asserts that nudity is immoral. But who the hell is the school board to impose such religious views on their employees on their own time? Maybe they'd have a point if she was pasting nude pics of herself up on the classroom wall, but this is entirely different. And so what if they were on the internet? Big fucking deal; welcome to the Global Village.

There is absolutely no good argument that can justify any retaliation at all from this woman's bosses. It's just none of their fucking business. This really pisses me off.


Sunday, June 18, 2006


From the Daily Kos:

Debating Political Philosophy

I commented yesterday on the mounting discussion among Democrats about the need for a political philosophy for our party. Primarily, the discussion has centered on distinguishing between policy and ideas. Democrats have sound and popular policies--such as raising the minimum wage--but as a party, we lack a fundamental and agreed-upon philosophy to support those policies (and, in practical terms, to sell them to the American people).

Frank Rich, in the (subscription-restricted) New York Times, touches on the need for a party narrative:

What's most impressive about Mr. Rove, however, is not his ruthlessness, it's his unshakable faith in the power of a story. The story he's stuck with, Iraq, is a loser, but he knows it won't lose at the polls if there's no story to counter it. And so he tells it over and over, confident that the Democrats won't tell their own. And they don't - whether about Iraq or much else. The question for the Democrats is less whether they tilt left, right or center, than whether they can find a stirring narrative that defines their views, not just the Republicans'.
Click here for the rest.

This is the intersection of the two major interests that drive my life: politics, obviously, is one, and film, television, and theater make up the other--storytelling, in short. The Times' cultural critic, Frank Rich, once known as the "Butcher of Broadway" when he was that paper's main theater critic, clearly sees the connection himself. Politics, in many ways, is a story, an ongoing serial telling the tale of what it means to be an American. Political battles, then, are waged in terms of manipulating that story in a preferred direction. And the stakes are high. Power and billions of dollars are on the line, and whoever's story manages to capture the media and electorate's collective imaginations wins big. The Republicans are currently extraordinarily good storytellers. The Democrats, who, with their New Deals and New Frontiers, were once masters of political storytelling themselves, are now awful at it. That is, they're not even trying, and no attempts appear to be in the works, which is why, when coupled with the effect of years of gerrymandering which have created countless "safe seats" in Congress, there is great potential for the GOP to retain Congress this fall in spite of their abysmal approval ratings. The Democrats desperately need to craft an inspiring narrative about what it means to be an American, right now, or they will continue to languish in a cesspool of political irrelevancy.

This notion, the political narrative, cannot be undersold. I know that the idea seems intuitively obvious, but there is some hardcore psychological research to support the notion that people literally think in terms of stories.

From Wikipedia:

The Narrative Construction of Reality

In 1991, Bruner published an article in Critical Inquiry entitled "The Narrative Construction of Reality." In this article, he argued that the mind structures its sense of reality through mediation through "cultural products, like language and other symbolic systems" (3). He specifically focuses on the idea of narrative as one of these cultural products. He defines narrative in terms of ten things:

1. Narrative diachronicity: The notion that narratives take place over some sense of time

2. Particularity: The idea that narratives deal with particular events, although some events may be left vague and general.

3. Intentional state entailment: The concept that characters within a narrative have "beliefs, desires, theories, values, and so on" (7).

4. Hermeneutic composability: The theory that narratives are that which can be interpreted in terms of their role as a selected series of events that constitute a "story." See also Hermeneutics

5. Canonicity and breach: The claim that stories are about something unusual happening that "breaches" the canonical (i.e. normal) state.

6. Referentiality: The principle that a story in some way references reality, although not in a direct way that offers verisimilitude.

7. Genericness: The flipside particularity, this is the characteristic of narrative whereby the story can be classified as a genre.

8. Normativeness: The observation that narrative in some way supposes a claim about how one ought to act. This follows from canonicity and breach.

9. Context sensitivity and negotiability: Related hermeneutic composability, this is the characteristic whereby narrative requires a negotiated role between author or text and reader, including the assigning of a context to the narrative, and ideas like suspension of disbelief.

10. Narrative accrual: Finally, the idea that stories are cumulative, that is, that new stories follow from older ones.

Bruner observes that these ten characteristics at once describe narrative and the reality constructed and posited by narrative, which in turn teaches us about the nature of reality as constructed by the human mind via narrative.

Click here to read more about psychologist Jerome Bruner.

In other words, stories are one of the two or three significant ways that human beings make sense out of reality. Sure, everybody knows that stories are either fictional or about other people, but they have inestimable influence over us despite such knowledge--that's why corporations spend billions on advertising even though we all know what they're trying to do; ads, especially the mini-narratives of television commercials, work. We now live in an era where the mainstream news media and much of the electorate have constructed reality for themselves in terms of conservative narrative. Consequently, it is wildly difficult to for liberals to find any opening for advancement of policy. It's like suggesting that the prince simply use a ladder to get to Rapunzel instead of climbing up her hair--the idea just doesn't fit the story. What they desperately need is a good counter-narrative, a storyline that puts people above profits, that makes such an idea far more American than cutthroat capitalism appears to be now.

This is probably a pretty easy thing to do. If only the Democrats would do it.