Today is the 30th anniversary of the release of Spike Lee’s 1989 film Do the Right Thing, first shown at the Cannes Film Festival in France. May 19 is also the birth date of Malcolm X, whose posthumous influence on the film Mr. Lee acknowledges with a quote from him at the end, along with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.. The quotes are about non-violent resistance to oppression (the Rev. King) and the occasional need for violence in self defense against oppressors (Malcolm X). As throughout the rest of the movie, Mr. Lee makes no judgements, but merely puts those ideas out there for the audience to consider. Do the Right Thing provokes thought; it does not provide answers, and 30 years later the state of race relations in America has hardly budged from what Mr. Lee portrayed in the film.
The film did not win the highest prize at Cannes, the Palme d’Or, though it was nominated. It was not nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, and the film that won the honor for 1989 was Driving Miss Daisy, a good film about race relations but a safe one for Hollywood, and a film that in the years since has receded in importance in the rear view mirror. Nearly 30 years later, Spike Lee’s film BlacKkKlansman was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars but lost to another safe film about race relations, Green Book. Both Driving Miss Daisy and Green Book are films produced by largely white filmmakers for consumption by a largely white audience, and are meant to comfort white liberals without unduly upsetting white conservatives. That each received Hollywood’s highest honor is a testament to the institution’s eagerness to pat itself on the back for occasionally making a social message movie without rocking too many boats.
Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X waiting for a press conference to begin in March 1964. Photo by Marion S. Trikosko for U.S. News & World Report, now in a collection at the Library of Congress.
What’s missing in that equation, of course, are African-Americans. In contrast, Spike Lee has made films for everybody, and Do the Right Thing was groundbreaking in that respect. All the characters he portrays are well rounded, with good and bad aspects to all of them. As the late film critic Roger Ebert noted, there are no heroes or villains that we can easily hang labels on. Those portrayals are more true to life than the safe, near-stereotypes portrayed in Driving Miss Daisy and Green Book. The complexity can also leave some viewers uneasy, since they desire the satisfaction of stories that follow a familiar arc leading to either a comforting conclusion or one that at least ties up some loose ends of the story. Do the Right Thing provides none of that. It is a wonder a major Hollywood studio, Universal, backed the film financially and distributed it widely. That it was popular with the public and, eventually, with most critics despite its unconventionality in style and substance is a testament to how well crafted it was by Mr. Lee and his cast and crew.
Ossie Davis as Da Mayor has a confrontation with some youths on the street in Do the Right Thing. Warning: foul language.
30 years laterDo the Right Thing stays with people who view it now for the first time as much as it did with people who saw it then, prompting the same questions in their minds. A few years before Mr. Lee made the film, there was the racially charged incident at Howard Beach in the New York City borough of Queens, an incident which informed the events in Do the Right Thing. Two years after the movie came out, there was the police beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles, and despite the incident being filmed by a bystander, showing the excessive use of force by the police, the cops were subsequently cleared in court, leading to riots in black neighborhoods. There has been no end of ugly, often fatal, incidents in America like those portrayed in the movie, and they just keep coming, like waves pounding the shore. The observations Spike Lee made in Do the Right Thing about race relations in America are still relevant today; the question remains – is anybody listening well enough to change things?
“I just want to say – you know – can we all get along? Can we, can we get along? Can we stop making it horrible for the older people and the kids?”
— Rodney King, speaking on television in relation to the riots in Los Angeles on May 1, 1992, after a jury acquitted the police who beat him the year before.
It’s May and the sweet, citrusy smell of honeysuckle blossoms fills the air. For many people around the country the honeysuckle smells are emanating from invasive Asian and European species that have come to dominate the native honeysuckles in the landscape in the past century and more. The honeysuckle genus, Lonicera, encompasses more than 180 species from around the world, of which about 20 are native to North America. The primary reason any of this matters to American gardeners is how the invasive species, once a welcome addition to the landscape, will overwhelm other plants given even a little leeway.
Besides the bush honeysuckles which dominate the understory in woodlands and arch their branches into the space of neighbors in the garden, there are the twining vines of the Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), which make their way into absolutely everything, whether along the ground or into the canopies of trees, robbing their hosts of sunlight, water, and nutrients. Once the blooms are done, red or purple berries follow, which birds love to eat, making sure the plants spread everywhere the birds go. Honeysuckle bushes and vines can also readily spread by layering, which is to say that parts of them touching soil develop roots, creating a leapfrog effect of new plants. Cut one section down to the ground, and likely as not another new plant has already started a few feet away.
A ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) sips nectar from a North American trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens). Photo by jeffreyw.
There are a number of other aggressive plants which have less to recommend them than the honeysuckles. English ivy (Hedera helix), for instance, offers no sweet fragrance or much in the way of bird food. Misguided people encourage it to grow on buildings, when what they would be better off planting is Boston ivy (Parthenicissus tricuspidata), a better behaved climber which won’t invade the mortar on brick structures, corroding it and pulling it out. Wild grape (Vitis spp.) has only found cultivated use in contributing genetic material to vineyard varieties. No one plants wild grape itself. It is mostly found in woodlands and has no ornamental value, though of course that is in the eye of the beholder.
Japanese honeysuckle blooming along Franklin Farm Road in the Franklin Farm section of Oak Hill, Fairfax County, Virginia. Photo by Famartin. The blooms turn from white when they first open to yellow as they age.
Japanese honeysuckle and the bush honeysuckles are here to stay – there’s no eradicating such successful invaders who are popular with the native fauna, if not flora – and coping with them therefore becomes a state of mind as much as physical labor. Step outside in May and inhale the intoxicating scent of their flowers and observe butterflies and hummingbirds helping themselves to the nectar, and in summer take your ease in the shade or indoors while the berries form, knowing birds are noting their ripening until fall when they will descend on the plants and devour the berries, spreading new plants far and wide. It’s too hot and bothersome in summer to get after the honeysuckle with implements of destruction, but in winter when it’s cool and memories of their pleasant attributes are far away, get after those suckers and yank ’em out root and branch. Don’t worry – you’ll likely never get rid of them altogether, and come spring there will be a new birth of honeysuckle and with it a wonderfully sweet scent in the May air.
A working class person who lives in the countryside may feel frustrated conveying to a better off city dweller the economic stagnation outside cities since the Great Recession (or Lesser Depression) of 2008. If that working class person has had his or her rural homestead on the market for over a year, a not uncommon length of time to sell real estate in rural working class areas, particularly since 2008, the city dweller might have a hard time understanding why that should be when places in the city sell well within a year if they are reasonably priced. For people in the cities, recovery from the Great Recession has progressed to pre-recession levels since the low point in 2009. For people in the countryside, where the economy has been on a downward trend for decades, there has been little to no recovery in jobs or in the housing market since 2008.
A Family Dollar store in Lenox, Georgia. Photo by Michael Rivera. Dollar stores have become a ubiquitous sign of the times in rural and small town America over the past 20 years.
Living in a middle class or upper middle class urban bubble can make it hard to understand how divided the country has become along class lines delineated between the city and the countryside. Those lines have always existed, but never more clearly than now. It’s little wonder many city dwellers, especially those living on either coast, were blindsided by the result of the 2016 election. Because their own economic situation has rebounded since 2008, they failed to notice there was no similar rebound for their country cousins, for whom things have only gotten worse. Beyond economics there is also a growing social and cultural divide between city and country. Again that is nothing new, but again it is a chasm that has opened wider than ever before.
The president elected in 2016 by the weight given to rural votes in the Electoral College has not delivered on any economic improvements to rural life he promised, such as infrastructure jobs, nor will he ever deliver on his promises. Rather than implementing policies meant to improve the lives of many of the people who voted him into office, the current president is primarily interested in stoking their anger and resentment over social and cultural issues while working toward their further economic exploitation by the corporations he really represents. To the extent those voters refuse to recognize their fleecing, they deserve contempt. The difficulty for rural voters who are not true believers in the current president’s cult of vile invective has been that corporate Democrats have forced them into a corner by not offering them a decent alternative.
A clip from “Bailey’s Bad Boy”, a 1962 episode of The Andy Griffith Show, with Bill Bixby and Don Knotts. The Andy Griffith Show ceased production in 1968 while still at the top of the ratings for CBS. Its successor, Mayberry R.F.D., fell to the axe of the Rural Purge a few years later, in which CBS and the other networks got rid of programs targeted at older, rural audiences, and replaced them with programs aimed at younger, urban viewers.
When there are only two substantial political parties, which in their allegiance to corporate donors over all other constituencies have come to resemble each other almost as closely as Tweedledum and Tweedledee, ordinary voters feel powerless and ignored by the system. Social and cultural policy differences remain between the two parties, but ultimately both parties serve their corporate masters before all else. Democrats, most of whom appear to live in urban bubbles on the coasts, would do well to recognize the dissatisfaction of those in the countryside, in fly over country, or the presidential election of 2020 could be a repeat of 2016. Recognition starts from understanding problems unique to rural America, and perhaps then people in cities won’t be surprised to learn not everyone has access to unlimited broadband, as well as many other things they have come to take for granted in wealthier urban centers. A little respect flowing both ways, between city and country, can seem hard to come by in these polarized times, this Cold Civil War, but it can go a long way toward healing divisions.
“And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?” — Genesis 4:9, from the King James Version of the Bible.
Imagine a television game show in which the announcer calls four contestants from the studio audience to the foot of the stage, a stage that is a mock up of a pharmacy, with a counter behind which stands the host, looking like a pharmacist in a white smock. The host directs everyone’s attention to one side of the stage, where an assistant – also in a white smock – presents a year’s worth of a popular prescription drug, let’s say insulin. The host then asks the four contestants to guess the price of the insulin without going over the amount, and the contestant with the closest guess gets to come up on stage for the opportunity to win prizes.
A lithograph promoting James Morison’s alternative medicines, showing a skeletal figure surveying three doctors around a cauldron in a parody of Macbeth and the three witches. From the Wellcome Collection gallery, London, England.
The remaining contestants try again on the next round, and some of them go home empty handed. Almost all the studio audience in attendance go home without even having been invited to participate. The few winners in each episode get to take home expensive prizes such as the year’s worth of insulin, valued at thousands of dollars, but the majority of those attending a taping of the game show go home with nothing or with a cheap consolation prize, such as a bottle of gummy vitamins. This game show analogy is not far off how Americans seem to prefer having their health care system operate, particularly drug pricing.
If you’re lucky, if you win the lottery (another gamed system Americans seem to prefer over taxing the rich), then you’re good as gold. The majority, however, may run into problems and tough choices, such as paying the rent or buying insulin; paying utility bills or buying any of the number of the life preserving medications people depend on, particularly as they get older. Prescription drugs are every bit as crucial to survival for some people as food and shelter, and yet Americans seem to prefer to let the drug industry operate like any other capitalist endeavor. Profits for drug manufacturers are more important than a decent life for an unfortunate number of citizens who can’t afford the high prices those manufacturers demand simply because they can, and the people principally to blame for this awful situation are some cretins in Congress.
“Someday Never Comes”, by Creedence Clearwater Revival from their 1972 album Mardi Gras.
Who are the people responsible for putting those cretins in Congress and in positions where they can run cover for the drug companies? Why, they are in large part the same people who struggle to buy overpriced prescription drugs. Why do they do this to themselves? Ah, that is the question bedeviling America’s sickness today. The unfortunate part is that while some voters are caught up in Congressional posturing and not paying attention to substance, there are many voters who don’t share their ignorant love of machismo and capitalist lotteries and yet are forced to share the results of the bad policies ensuing from all that greed and childishness. They have to scramble for the scraps left over from the game, while a few wealthy grifters laugh at how they have duped enough voters to go along with their rigged game to keep it going, dangling prizes before the willing saps. Instead of gambling on a rigged capitalist lottery, sensible adults take measures, even – horrors! – socialist measures, to ensure decent results everyday for everybody when it comes to matters of survival like food, shelter, education, and medical care, including drugs.
In 1947, as Jews leaving Europe were working toward establishing their independent state of Israel in Palestine, an anti-communist scare was gaining momentum in the United States, leading President Harry Truman to sign an executive order requiring loyalty oaths from federal workers suspected of communist sympathies and possibly conflicted allegiance. Over 70 years later, the state of Israel is well established with economic and military help from the United States, and the idea of a loyalty oath as an assurance that a government employee owes allegiance to America only, and not to any foreign power, has been turned on its head by state and federal laws assuring loyalty to Israel as well, or at least not to engage in criticism of that nation’s increasingly aggressive policies toward Palestinians within and without its disputed borders.
2015 release of the 100 dollar bill, showing the design measures taken to foil counterfeiting. The portrait of Benjamin Franklin remains. Presentation by Sar Maroof.
These laws, which require a state employee or government contractor to sign a pledge not to engage in Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) actions against Israel, are so blatantly unconstitutional that it beggars belief they have not been challenged and struck down in the courts already. They are a return to the old days of anti-communist loyalty oaths, but with a bizarre twist. And it’s that twist which complicates matters, because any criticism of the pledges or of Israel bypasses reason and plain reading of the Constitution and goes straight to emotional howls of anti-Semitism. Most people know that’s coming, and since they don’t want to withstand it, they don’t speak up in the first place. The lobbyists for Israel then have their own way.
What has also complicated the relationship between the United States and Israel since the late 1940s is how support for Israel has taken on a polyglot nature in the intervening years, particularly with the rise of white evangelical Christians in American politics since the 1980s. In the 1940s, American support for Israel came largely from American Jews and from the large numbers of people who sympathized with the plight of European Jews after the tragedy of the Holocaust. There are other reasons having to do with the labyrinth of Middle Eastern politics and, of course, oil, but those are beyond the scope of this post.
Since the 1980s, as support for Israel’s increasingly hard line toward Palestinians and relations with its Arab neighbors dwindled among some American Jews, the slack was taken up by white evangelical Christians who looked at the modern state of Israel and saw the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. They cared little about the multitude of practical complications, and they had an interested ear in the White House with Ronald Reagan. By the 1990s, a litmus test for election to political office in some parts of the country was support for Israel, right or wrong, and the test was administered not by American Jews, but by white evangelical Christians and, increasingly, by lobbying groups supported by the right wing in Israeli politics.
Lobbying in Congress by foreign powers is supposedly regulated by law, though in practice it goes on mostly unimpeded. In the 1980s, when Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against South Africa’s apartheid regime gained steam in this country and around the world, the South African government did not have anywhere near the lobbying clout in American politics of the Israeli lobby then, and certainly not as powerful as it has become since. South Africa did not have millions of Christian soldiers in this country who were willing to go onward for it no matter what. About all South Africa had were diamonds, and it turned out they were not enough to resist pressure from the rest of the world to reform its immoral system.
A scene early in the 1960 film Exodus, directed by Otto Preminger, with Sal Mineo and Jill Haworth arguing their different world views in 1947 aboard a refugee ship from Europe bound for Palestine. Paul Newman looks on. Indeed, those were the days.
Now times have changed for Israel, and it’s no longer the plucky underdog deserving sympathy; its policies of the last 40 to 50 years have tainted that image, turning it into a kind of South African apartheid regime, and if people in this country want to criticize it for that, or for anything else, then it’s none of this government’s business, no matter how many “Benjamins” change hands in the halls of Congress, or how many white evangelical Christians with fever dreams of a picturesque Holy Land as they imagine it from their family Bibles, a place for fulfillment of the Gospel that they probably suppose would be nicer if it weren’t inhabited by all those dusky modern Jews, no matter how many of those people angrily pull away their support from any politician who dares criticize Israel, and with it their fantasy.
“Only one in four households that is income-eligible for federal housing assistance receives any. The annual cost to taxpayers of the federal income tax deductions for home mortgage interest and property taxes, which mainly benefit relatively affluent households, is double what the government spends on all lower-income housing programs combined.”
— Stockton Williams, executive director of the Terwilliger Center for Housing at the Urban Land Institute.
On February 28, Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed into law a statewide rent control bill, the first of its kind in the nation. The provisions of the bill put a cap on yearly rent price increases at a percentage above inflation, and do not apply to all rental units. Tenants’ rights groups believe the bill is better than nothing and puts an end to price gouging in a tight housing market, and they will continue to push for a more comprehensive bill in the future.
Political cartoon from the Chicago Labor newspaper from July 7, 1894, showing the condition of the laboring man at the Pullman Company. The 1894 Pullman Strike was a pivotal event in redressing the imbalance between labor and capital during the first Gilded Age. In the current second Gilded Age, weakened labor unions have had difficulty increasing wages for members, and the ad hoc affiliation Fight for $15 has achieved piecemeal success.
Arguments over whether rent control laws really work in favor of tenants go back and forth between the usual advocates for the free market on one side and advocates for at least limited government intervention on the other. “Supply and demand” is the linchpin for argument. Points less noted are low wages and income inequality, as in too many people have too little money while the rich continue accumulating more for themselves. And with more money comes more power in equal measure.
Free market arguments ignore how over time the rich, with help from their friends in government, put their thumbs on the scales of capitalism, creating an ever more favorable environment for themselves. To conceal from the lower classes how they are being preyed upon, the rich and their enablers in academia and government concoct formulas such as “a rising tide lifts all boats”, and “trickle down economics”. The Earth is not an infinite place with infinite resources, however, and even if it were, the rich in their greed would still grab for themselves with one hand while swatting the lower orders with the other hand. In their pathology, it’s just as important that others haven’t enough as it is that they have too much.
The same Wall Street financiers and speculators who created the housing bubble and consequent financial crisis in 2008 are responsible for skyrocketing rental prices around the country. None of them went to jail or were even indicted and prosecuted, and they were free to take advantage of the mess they had created by using their wealth to buy up property at rock bottom prices, helping themselves to favorable government regulations they themselves had largely written. That is more than just putting a thumb on the scale, it is sitting on it like a fat cat. It’s not unusual for the rich to profit off an economic downturn because they have the money to buy when everyone else needs to sell to have any money at all. This latest example of the rich getting richer has simply been more blatant and egregious than in previous financial crises.
A World War II era sign declaring rent control rules in some localities, a program administered nationwide by the Office for Emergency Management during the war and for several years afterward to prevent price gouging.
Conservative pundits are likely to denigrate rent control laws as socialism, while praising the free market ideal of supply and demand in the housing market for setting rental prices. The problem they choose to ignore, or are possibly even ignorant of, is that the free market ideal has been a dead letter for a long time in America, if it ever actually existed outside of economics text books in the first place. What we have now is a crony capitalist system run by corporate and financial oligarchs who bend government regulations in their favor. They write the rules to benefit themselves. They ran the housing market into the ground, and then scooped up everything at bargain prices and started charging sky high rents. If renters balked at the high prices, it didn’t matter, because they had no other options. Meanwhile, the building industry limped along, maintaining the housing shortage that keeps rents high. Supply and demand economics of, by, and for the fat cats.
“Believe we’re gliding down the highway When in fact we’re slip slidin’ away.”
— from “Slip Slidin’ Away”, a 1977 song by Paul Simon.
Recently the Virginia House of Delegatesrefused to vote on ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), defeating it perhaps for good. If Virginia had voted in favor of the Amendment, that would have been the 38th and deciding vote among the states, and then the measure would have returned to the United States Congress for reconsideration of whether the time limit for ratification should be extended.
The State Seal of Virginia. On February 21, on the grounds of the state capitol in Richmond, Virginia, two pro-ERA activists posed as the figures depicted in the seal, and one was arrested.
The Equal Rights Amendment is meant to constitutionally protect women’s rights and should be a common sense addition to the country’s legal framework, but anti-abortion activists and those who cling to traditional gender roles have long suspected the amendment would be used as grounds for protecting abortion rights of pregnant women besides guaranteeing women’s rights when they are at odds with men’s long standing privileges, and consequently they have done everything in their power, high and low, to defeat the amendment.
Meanwhile, in an official ceremony for a high school in Wisconsin, female cheerleaders were given “joke” awards for their physical attributes, such as largest breasts or butt, or skinniest body. When some parents and faculty objected to singling out emotionally immature girls this way, the cheerleaders’ coach, Patti Uttech, expressed dismay that “politically correct” people couldn’t understand how the awards were all in good fun. Last year another Wisconsin high school made national news after people became aware that a photographer posing a group of boys for a prom picture had encouraged them to raise their arms in what can only be viewed as a Nazi salute, and almost all the boys appeared to comply with enthusiasm.
Then there’s Goodloe Sutton, 80-year-old owner and editor of The Democrat-Reporter, a weekly newspaper in Linden, Alabama, who in a February 14 editorial railed against Democrats he supposed were plotting to raise taxes in Alabama, and called for the Ku Klux Klan to raid the homes of Democratic legislators in Washington, D.C.. He added even more hateful remarks when asked later for elaboration by other journalists from Alabama and elsewhere once his editorial became notorious. In 2019, Mr. Sutton’s beliefs and attitudes are more in tune with those from the year of his birth, 1939.
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel perform “Slip Slidin’ Away” in the September 1981 Concert in Central Park in New York City.
Did those beliefs and attitudes ever go away in the intervening years? Perhaps partially, although mainly they went underground. Now with encouragement from the current resident of the Oval Office, ignorant and hateful talk is bubbling back to the surface across the land, and here and there action has followed. In the current environment, it will only get worse. The Ku Klux Klan of 1939 is resurrected by a bitter old man with a newspaper in Alabama. The Nazi Party of 1930s and 40s Germany is evoked by laughing schoolboys in Wisconsin. Again in Wisconsin, a high school cheerleaders’ coach hands out awards that would not have been out of place in 1950s America, though even then most people might have deemed them in questionable taste given the age of the recipients. And in Virginia an amendment to the United States Constitution goes down in flames because even in 2019 there are people – not all of them men – who cannot step away from controlling all women as if it were their right.
“The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.” — from “The Second Coming”, a 1919 poem by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939).
The problem with cable news junkies is that they believe themselves with utmost confidence to be well informed, when really they are not. Their misplaced confidence in their knowledge of current events that matter is an example of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Since these people sit before their televisions for hours each day absorbing cable television news programs, they assume they are better informed than the average citizen, a situation which they will cite smugly and insufferably to everyone in their personal orbit.
They are wrong. Cable news may give them a broad grasp of current events that is broad, but it is an inch deep. Alternately, they may have a deep grasp of stories such as the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, but in the usually superficial ways that cable news promotes the story as a kind of tawdry reality TV drama, rather than an examination of hard issues. Cable television networks long ago blurred the line between entertainment and news, probably beginning with around the clock live coverage of the 1990 Gulf War by the Cable News Network (CNN), coverage that was steered by the American government as much as possible and resulted in a narrative arc showcasing video footage of superior American battlefield technology fed to CNN by the American military.
Two men attending the October 2010 Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., make satirical comments about Fox News and its viewers. Photo by David Shankbone.
13 years later other cable news outlets, and corporate media generally, followed the 1990 Gulf War CNN formula in coverage of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, this time accompanied by some unashamed cheering from major media figures such as Dan Rather at the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS). When the cable news companies, which unlike CBS need to fill 24 hours with supposedly newsworthy content, weren’t breathlessly following America’s overseas military adventurism, they were jumping in with both feet into the latest scandal, controversial congressional hearing, or human interest story of dubious news value such as the 2009 balloon boy hoax.
What the cable news junkies who sit rapt before their televisions as all this unfolds fail to account for are the corporate puppet masters behind the scenes of the major media companies. In this accounting, it is the questions that are not asked that matter, and the stories that are not pursued by reporters who have either absorbed the parent corporation’s views or are reined in by editors who have. They are not getting the whole story, maybe not even half of it. In the interest of selling their viewers to advertisers, the corporate media steers clear of uncomfortable territory, now more than ever over the past 30 years.
A scene from the 1988 film A Fish Called Wanda, with Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Kline. Warning: foul language.
Now a loyal viewer of Fox News or of MSNBC, to name the two most popular cable news providers from ostensibly opposite ends of the political spectrum, can go through an entire day of watching without having his or her world view and opinions seriously challenged. Yes, there are real differences in coverage and bias between the two networks. In the broader picture that includes smaller independent news organizations like Democracy Now!, however, the differences between Fox News and MSNBC amount to the choleric disagreement between the Yooks and the Zooks in Dr. Seuss’s The Butter Battle Book. Neither network questions the basic assumptions of their corporate masters. Day after day of gobbling up the news as dished out by CNN, the perceived middle-of-the-road cable news outlet, does not make a consumer well informed so much as well suited to be a foot soldier in the corporate takeover of America and its transformation into a full-blown police state.
New York Giants football team co-owner Steve Tisch has spoken out publicly against the National Football League’s (NFL) new policy of punishing teams which allow players to kneel for the national anthem, saying he doesn’t intend to punish any Giants’ players for exercising their First Amendment rights to protest police brutality. Mr. Tisch also criticized the current president of the country for weighing in on the issue, particularly since he appears to misunderstand the reason for the protests and believes the players are against the flag and the anthem, and therefore America.
Considering the Troll-in-Chief’s poor grasp of many issues, such as his recent characterization of the small Balkan nation of Montenegro as a place filled with “very aggressive people” who could involve the United States in World War III in order to come to their aid as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), it is possible he does not understand the true reason for the protests initiated by Colin Kaepernick in 2016 when he was a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. It is equally likely he saw how many in the corporate media used the shorthand term “anthem protests” and how it caught on with much of the public who superficially skim news stories, a group of people which often includes his most loyal supporters, the Trumpkins, and he exploited people’s ignorance to mis-characterize the protests as disloyal demonstrations by spoiled, privileged athletes. There is deep irony in Chief Bone Spurs shamelessly dumping on black athletes as spoiled and privileged ingrates when many of them worked their way up from poor backgrounds to earn a lucrative spot in the limelight afforded to only a tiny percentage of those playing sports.
On July 7, 2016, community members and Black Lives Matter activists gather outside the Minnesota governor’s residence in Saint Paul hours after police shot and killed Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Photo by Tony Webster.
The Troll-in-Chief knew very well his Trumpkins would eat up his slanders of the black athletes. Almost all the players kneeling in protest of police brutality were black, largely because unnecessary police killings have affected black people most of all, and as such the protests were in tune with the Black Lives Matter movement. What better way for the Trumpkins to vent their resentment against millionaire black athletes than to ignore the real reason for their protests in favor of slamming them as un-American? They don’t support our troops, who died for a colored piece of cloth and a song glorifying war! Actually, if anything, those troops died defending the right of the NFL players to kneel or stand for the national anthem. That’s a complex, abstract concept, however, and for the Trumpkins it’s much easier and more satisfying to howl hateful epithets at black players for doing something they don’t like, even though the players have a perfectly legal and moral right to do it.
Warning: Police brutality! Clip art by liftarn.
The current president has harbored a grudge against NFL owners since the 1980s when they refused him membership in their club after his ill-fated stint as owner of the New Jersey Generals franchise in the United States Football League (USFL). He probably sees stirring the pot of the “anthem protests” as revenge. He likely couldn’t care less about the real issues involved. That’s the definition of a troll. In the 1933 Marx Brothers film Duck Soup, the leaders of a small Balkan nation named Freedonia exhibit equal parts comic ineptitude, corruption, ignorance of facts while manipulating lies, and demonization of imagined internal and external enemies as a way of distracting the populace and covering their own tracks. A superficial comparison with Montenegro might come to mind, though a deeper understanding of the satire in the film reveals a more apt match with the current leaders of our country.
The Trump Baby balloon that floated over London, England, last Friday was the culmination of efforts on the part of graphic designer Matt Bonner and a team of political activists and balloon fabricators who wanted to make a statement about the petulant and childish temperament of the current American president. As a mocking indictment of his destructive behavior, it is an effective piece of work. The activists plan to have the balloon shadow it’s real-life angry baby model as much as possible wherever he travels around the world.
The Trump Baby balloon rises over London’s Parliament Square. Photo by Michael Reeve.
Large balloon caricatures came about with the work of Tony Sarg on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in the 1920s. Mr. Sarg was a German-American puppeteer who took the concept of marionettes and simply turned them upward and inflated them, though the comparison ends there because the guide ropes for a balloon caricature do no more than tether and control them, as opposed to the thin wires that puppeteers use to manipulate the movements of small marionettes.
The technology for creating large balloons with discretely modeled characteristics like arms and legs has changed over the years, of course, with the biggest difference coming in the planning stage when designers can now model the character with 3D animation on a computer, eliminating some of the trial and error involved in the design and fabricating of earlier balloons. Experienced engineers at the fabricating plant can then examine those computer designs and make or suggest alterations that will improve the balloon’s stability when floating overhead and streamline its manufacturing, all without greatly changing if possible the designer’s intent.
The statue of Winston Churchill in London’s Parliament Square. Photo by Braveheart.
These protest balloon caricatures appear to be gaining popularity, and it’s easy to see why since they fit the criteria of making an impact over a wider area than a hand-held placard and they can show up around the world as needed with a relatively small support team. An excellent graphic design can also generate revenue for the protest movement through merchandising. The main difficulty in deploying the balloons is in securing permission from government officials, which ought not be that much different from acquiring the usual permits for a protest other than stipulating a maximum height for the balloon when it is in the air.
Since the balloons are not intended to float higher than about 50 feet, conflicts with aviation should be minimal. The main obstacles aloft to safe deployment, besides high winds, are things arising from the ground such as power and light poles and electrical and communications cables. Let’s hope these symbols of protest continue floating freely wherever there’s enough helium a need for them, as a reminder to everyone that many powerful public figures need to have the air let out of them, not necessarily for their benefit since it can be all but impossible to deflate their often massive egos, but for ours as citizens in a still relatively free society.