Daily Archives: June 8, 2004

Liberals Are Back

FITE Newsletter #28

After suffering more than a decade of attacks for their belief that government services in private hands is bad for Americans, the tide is probably turning for liberals. That is a conclusion we draw from a new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll. (subscription only) More Americans now self identify as Democrats than Republicans after two years in which the opposite was true. But more astonishing, in only ONE MONTH the percentage of people self identifying as liberals has increased by nearly one third, from about 15% to 20%.

This is all the more astonishing given that the right wing has managed with relentless propaganda during the last 15 years make liberal into a curse word. It got so bad that even liberals themselves were afraid to call themselves that.

This reemergence of self described liberals together with the 2-years-long growth of self-described Democrats strongly suggests that Americans are getting fed up with right wing attempts to gut vital government services.

We can probably thank the fact that the right wing was given nearly dictatorial power in Washington to implement their radical program of privatizing all essential government functions. It is now possible for the public to clearly see that privatization of government services is mostly, maybe even always, is simply by another name.

It was, after all, a privatized security personnel that implemented the Abu Ghraib atrocities. In the interests of quickly fattening their bottom line, they recruited people with no experience in interrogation. They even hired a truck driver in one case who earned $1,000/day to “interrogate” prisoners who the Red Cross says were mostly innocent. (Coalition forces told Red Cross officials that 70% to 90% were innocent.)

On the home front CBS News broadcast this week an equally shocking revelation. It is now clear that Enron, a corporation that made billions privatizing the utility industry, knew it was actually savaging California grandmothers four years ago when its traders engineered astronomical increases in electric rates. Tapes from the trading room document the conversations of traders cursing the fact that they might have to give back the money they stole:

“They’re f——g taking all the money back from you guys?” complains one trader.

“All the money you guys stole from those poor grandmothers in California?”

“Yeah, grandma Millie, man”

“Yeah, now she wants her f——g money back for all the power you’ve charged right up, jammed right up her a—— for f——g $250 a megawatt hour.”

And the tapes appear to link top Enron officials Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling to schemes that fueled the crisis.

It wasn’t just Enron. Citibank and others who funded Enron with endless millions knew – or should have known – the effects of Enron policies on the people of California. But quarterly profits took precedence.

The lesson Americans are now learning is that when private corporations perform public functions, corporate interest wins at the expense of the public good.

Charles Palson

Short Takes

Mark Fiore: A Bargain at Any Price

John Kerry’s entire speech at the Viet Nam War Memorial: So young.

Presidential Spokespig (Phaedrus on vocals and harp. You gotta hear this. And while you’re there, listen to 1913 Massacre, a Woody Guthrie song. P’s vocal is outstanding, gritty and moving.)

Abu Ghraib Painting Provokes Violence

In America we tend to honor art more in theory than in fact. It is, we think, a fine-sounding idea, but faced with the reality we usually turn to the NASCAR channel and pop a beer. We like art that’s distant from our own reality, either geographically or temporally–‘100 years and 1000 miles away’ is more or less our rule of thumb for ‘acceptable’ art. The term ‘contemporary art’, on the other hand, seems to carry an image of combined difficulty and insult. While we don’t seem to be able to fathom how it could be that van Gogh only sold a single painting in his lifetime, we think Robert Mapplethorpe should be strung up by the heels and drawn-and-quartered for daring to print ‘lewd’ images and De Kooning should have been put in a Rest Home with bars on the windows and guards on the doors because he was obviously ‘crazy’.

Occasionally, though we generally ignore most art no matter where it came from or how old it is, some piece of work comes along that really gets our juices flowing, either in a good way–as in the response to the Assassins revival–or in a bad, as in this little episode in San Francisco:

The furor began on May 16 when Colwell, an East Bay artist, made an addition to his monthlong showing at Haigh’s gallery on Powell Street. Angered by the pictures he saw of Iraqi prisoners being abused, he created a black and white painting depicting three hooded and naked men undergoing electric shock torture by American soldiers. Colwell, who took down his paintings Saturday, declined to comment.Two days after the painting went up, Haigh arrived at her gallery to find broken glass, eggs and trash strewn outside her storefront. Haigh also began receiving the first of about 200 angry voicemails, e-mails and death threats.

A week ago, a man walked into the gallery and spit in Haigh’s face. On Tuesday, Haigh decided to temporarily close the gallery and began to consider giving up on her dream of owning an art gallery. Just two days later, another man knocked on the door of the gallery and then punched Haigh in the face, knocking her out, breaking her nose and causing a concussion.

Art critics.

That this is deplorable goes without saying. That it was likely Freepers or their sympathizers is a good bet (SF is a main Freeper stomping ground). That’s it’s symptomatic of a deep American..well, let’s be kind and call it ‘ambivalence’..toward art in general and contemporary art in particular and political art most especially is a reasonable conclusion given the ease with which Jesse Helms cut the NEA budget and the extraordinary difficulty arts organizations in this country have just surviving. What is surprising, in a way, is that a painting hanging in an obscure gallery could cause such a furor in this age of LCD ‘culture’.

Maybe that’s a good sign, along with Avenue Q‘s Tony win as Best Musical. If a political painting can get a gallery owner beaten up and an adult puppet show with scathing political satire can win a pretigious award, then maybe art isn’t as dead in America as everybody thought. (Assassins won, too–in every category for which it was nominated.) Poor Lori, who thought it would be fun to run an art gallery, didn’t know how dangerous art can be to your health. She, like the rest of us, was used to art being considered a harmless diversion for the 5% of the population that *wrinkling their nose* ‘likes that sort of thing’.

I’m sorry Lori had to pay the price for my learning but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that somewhere deep inside me there was an ecstatic chill I haven’t felt in a long time:

YES! Art still has POWER!

How could I have doubted it?

(Thanks to Charles Dodgson at Through the Looking Glass for the tip)