Thursday, November 24, 2016

“Joe Klein, The Specter of Citizens United & Political Advertising”---From #Trump#TIME

In the November 9, 2016, “President-Elect Trump” issue of TIME Magazine, Joe “Primary Colors” Klein claims that “the American political establishment has been toppled. As a long time member of the clan, I am writing from beneath the rubble. The view from here is rather limited.” Yet, I remain skeptical of his claim that “the entire political-consult industrial complex has collapsed. Money raised and spent on advertising meant nothing.”

Although this was true when considering the main story of the election the case of HRC and Trump, it doesn’t mean that money spent on advertising meant nothing on the less hyped elections that allowed for the Republicans to retain control of both houses of congress, as well as the vast majority of state governers and legislatures (with the power to gerrymander districts, deny voting rights and ensure that the electoral college is not abolished). By claiming that “advertising meant nothing,” Klein is, in effect saying that the fears that Citizens United (that allows unlimited corporate spending on political advertising) would radically transform, and render less democratic, American politics have been disproven by this election. Citizens United isn’t really worth worrying about, and had little to do with what gave us Trump….

Yet, since the advertising industry has benefited with increased revenue as a result of Citizen’s United, I’d be very surprised if Trump’s victory in and of itself will reverse that trend. I think Klein is being somewhat of a catastrophist there (after all, Joe, if things were this bad, TIME wouldn’t be using the money it gets from Big Pharma to pay you for your opinion). Obviously, he’s licking his (collective?) wounds. On the other hand, those who wish to repeal Citizens United and the political advertising media industrial complex should not, however, be appeased. The media was good to Trump—insofar as he knew that no publicity is bad publicity-- because it knew it could make more money off him (and sell ads to its other advertisers) than it could from the standard deal it usually made with politicians, parties and other interest groups: Pay To Play; coverage for advertising, etc.

TIME commentator David Von Drehle compares him to the way Facebook “cut out the middleman” while Zeke Miller claims “Trump presented himself as a destructive app; his campaign staff compared him to Uber.” Trump used social media to Trump TV. Trump was, in fact, one of the best advertisers, for social media (an unacknowledged spokesman for Twitter).

From Klein’s perspective, “the greatest danger of [Trump’s] victory is that it will spawn a whole generation of candidates, in both parties, who believe that being obnoxious is the path to power,”[1]who will use the tools and weapons Trump honed as a celebrity millionaire to become what the media deems charismatic, or newsworthy enough to be able to bypass the advertising-based political establishment in which Klein could thrive. And even Klein acknowledges that he created a climate in which “it became permissible for a certain sector or people---white people without college educations—to say and think a lot less savory things too. Trump empowered a brutal ignorance, especially toward Latinos and Muslims and the world outside our borders.”

But though the corporate media banked on Trump, it was smart enough to hedge its bets. While it’s likely it will continue to cultivate characters as “obnoxious” or “charismatic” as Trump, it will also continue to court those advertising dollars, and vigorously fight against any media regulation that would, for instance, mandate that stations fulfill their license in the public trust by mandating as much coverage of the local races as it devotes to the more lucrative and “glamourous” national ones. Since under the current system, many voters get much of their “information” through advertisements, this regulation would render political advertising not only illegal but also superfluous.

Joe Klein, of course, does not bring this third option up as within the realm of possibility (Hell, it’s hardly even ever brought up on Democracy Now, which prides itself on its coverage of third-party candidates like Jill Stein). Perhaps it sounds too much like the Fairness Doctrine in going against the country’s dominant secular and commercial religion of advertising. But it’s not just an either/or choice between the allegedly toppled political establishment, and the race-baiting obnoxious celebrity. And if we collectively refuse to support any candidate (or ballot initiative) that spends money on political advertising, we may be able to truly topple, or at least trump, the political establishment more than this election was able to.

And I appeal to any of those (like, say, Rod Smith) seriously considering running for office on a grass-roots level, whether democrat, republican, or so-called independent---to make the refusal to buy advertising a selling point. Don’t pull a move sending out pleas, “She’s winning despite being outspent. Donate, please!” But consider the possibility, “she’s winning because she’s being outspent.”

And, regardless of what one thinks about Trump’s agenda, he was successful at breaking down the traditional political dichotomy between “serious message” and “rowdy party” and one doesn’t have to be a “law and order,” white male supremacist candidate to so this as effectively as he did, at least on a local level. And while Klein laments that Trump’s campaign has shown that “even truth, sadly, has shown to be irrelevant,” we can make truth relevant again with a good soundtrack.

Bernie couldn’t do this (maybe had he played the late Sharon Jones’ version of “This Land Is Your Land” instead of trying to sing it himself), but imagine a local city council candidate, who can still bombard social media with a series of ostensibly apolitical tweets designed to unify as much as Trump’s were designed to divide.
Imagine a slate of city council candidates who for the last two years have been involved with this Oakland podcast/ radio show, who plays local hip hop, who plays local “indie rock” or whatever they call it now, who plays local contemporary country, and holds dance party contests for campaign theme songs that stir local pride, and can even create jobs, all on a shoestring budget. In a city with 60% renters that is being destroyed by gentrification, these candidates will run on an affordable housing agenda, for instance. I’d donate money for that, or, better, try to provide people power—bring this person to my class at Laney College (though I can’t “endorse” him), or get some musicians together and stimulate the economy by recording at the Creamery and/or another local studio….

There are many possibilities to create a populist grassroots movement that does away with the “business of usual” of “respectability politics” (i.e. it’s okay to support racist policies, just don’t sound racist), even if Klein fears that the defeated Democrats will go more socialist which he calls “a philosophy at odds with the American spirit.” Is it really, Joe? Given your erroneous prediction about this last election, it’s quite frankly a little hard to take your assertion seriously that “America’s only possible is…globalist.” Yes, Trump will have to adjust to an increasingly multi-cultural America, but certainly the anti-globalist Trump supporters, as well as the millions of anti-globalist Bernie Sanders supporters who didn’t vote for Trump, together, suggest another possibility if they can somehow find a way to unite, despite the media and the political establishment which, alas, has not been toppled, even in this presidential electoral defeat. Citizens United did play a large role in this election, but primarily on the congressional, state and local levels. I don’t want to go so far as to say the election of Trump is a false flag, only that we have a lot of work to do if we wish to make his claim that “money spent on advertising meant nothing” a reality.

[1] If you’re a white male, that is, for as Charlotte Alter (42) reminds us, a white man can get away with such “obnoxiousness” while a white woman, or a half-black man in Obama’s case, has to be ‘squeaky clean.’ Certainly Obama couldn’t have won had he spoke about grabbing pussies, for instance.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016


I tried to cry Katrina into art that would do something
In a feeble John Prine-esque country-folk waltz
I packaged as a New Orleans Benefit CD (not the Red Cross, dammit).
I raised like $527, a lot for one who sucks at hustlin’.
I saw people cry when I played it on a casio
Lying on my belly on the floor of Adobe Books
(couldn’t get comfortable crosslegged after the accident)
Yet it was kinda sanctimonious
Lacking the spirit of New Orleans
I felt at the Mother-In-Law Lounge just before K-Doe died
And the Krewe du Vieux parade with Brett and Janine
Who were now trapped in an abandoned warehouse[1]
After the flood took their dog
Still, I self promoted my little song
More than I self-promoted my previous art
(much to the chagrin of my publishers)
because it didn’t seem like a mere self
I was promoting and perhaps it was
Sanctimonious enough for the old white folks on KPFA
Using Katrina as an excuse to dig out
Their old Randy Newman records
As they used Desert Storm as an excuse
To dust off their old Phil Ochs.
KPFA didn’t play it….

Was I hung up on trying to convince
The whites to feel some sympathy for black people
Or was I just trying to act like what whites called “my age?”
Like my Tom Waitsy cover of  The Coup’s “Ride The Fence”
Or strategically using Merle Haggard’s “Branded Man”
To convey the same message about the P.I.C
They couldn’t hear if Tupac rapped it
Even though at least as many racist whites
Listened to hip hop as that kind of northern country folk
So beloved in Nor-Cal during the height of the hyphy craze…
And soon The Legendary K-O’s “George Bush
Don’t Care About Black People”
Was getting play in commercial pop stations—
(I love the lineage of that song
sampling a Kanye song
that sampled Jamie Foxx singing
a Ray Charles song
that caused a controversy
for sampling “It Must Be Jesus”…)

KPFA didn’t play it, but KPOO did.
I went to KPOO to buy a shirt
And got talking to Terry Collins
About Katrina and told him about the CD
If they would be so kind to mention it.
I didn’t expect them to actually play the song
(I was as humble and/or embarrassed
as I was when one of K.Doe’s musicians
invited me to play trumpet on stage with them—
in retrospect I deeply regret it
so in awe of the black musicians
or perhaps feeling solidarity
with all the black musicians
who criticized James Brown
when he hired a white musician
or when the Panthers
hired a white lawyer to get Huey out of jail).

But my favorite Bay Area radio jock,
The legendary station manager J.J. On-The-Radio
Said, “we could interview you about the song now.”
There’s no recording of that. Thank God
And I went back in shame and think
Of what my friends Brett and Janine told me
About a debate brewing in Nawlins next February.
“Should we celebrate Mardi Gras
even amid all the destruction or cancel it?”
Cancelling it would be letting them win, of course,
And however noble in intent my song was,
It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing
Or the transformative power of the second line[2]
Or even the funk of the legendary K.O
Sampling Jamie doing Ray—
You can’t be truly pro-New Orleans
In Eurocentric words only…
Maybe that’s when I got sick
Of trying to pass so when Yezal got shot
I made sure to go a nearby traffic triangle
With my trumpet and blast out
When The Saints Go Marchin In (screw my cliché)
As cars flip me the bird or even the bitch
(which almost makes up for my regret
for not jumping up on stage with K Doe)….

[1] I bet it’s now a luxury market rate condo
[2] I got to join in with one in front of The Make-Out Room, blocking off streets in the Mission to bring a little Mardi Gras back to the city that’s now less than 4% black.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Post Election Blues

Post Election Blues

The minor character said:
Oh, the only vote they really care about
Is how you vote with your pocket book.
Every month, AT&T for President,
Comcast for King of Kings, taxation without rep.
The Emperors have their Colonial governors
And gives them little fortress gated community land grants
In the heart of what used to be
Your proud working class city…

Their blue collar servants drive up in Vans
To procure more money
Under the guise of fixing the equipment
That breathes new life into the phrase “planned obsolescence”

And, you vote, sheepishly
And kinda feel forced—
You need it for your job
    Of trying to find a job
And this government
Has more power than the one
We try to convince ourselves is democratic—

Some know the story of Apple’s “heroic stand”
Against U.S. Government surveillance
But we could use a government
To take a heroic stand
Against Facebook’s surveillance.
“Oh, they like Trump—what can we sell them?
(up pops a confederate flag)
“oh, they like Bernie”
“don’t worry, that doesn’t mean

they plan to boycott big tech anytime soon.”

Oakland Nocturne 2016 (R.I.P Biff's Coffee Shop)

Another seemingly apolitical difference
Between then & now I hear the old folks,
Or, say, wise elders, wax nostalgic about
Is how they used to be able to walk around Oakland
More at 1AM and 2AM and felt less unsafe.

The way they talk about Oakland in 1968
Makes me almost forget about
 the cops killing Bobby Hutton, and Vietnam
but those things at least as bad today
(Sandra Bland….Tamir Rice….Iraq….)
so it sort of cancels out, but he’s talking All Night Diners
for instance….where did they go? Why did they go?

The death of those diners should be in history books,
And the way Judy talks about Oakland in 1966
Has a lot in common with my nostalgia for NYC 2000
Or the way my grandmother talks about Reading, PA. 1952

Reading: the poorest US city according to the 2010 census
Reading: the town that died giving birth to me
Reading: Taylor Swift’s hometown
(though she came out of the gates denying it).[1]

But Oakland is home now,
Even though the physiocrats give it more
Of what they call love than Reading does,
It’s got more in common with the poorest city
Than it does with New York 2000…
Indeed, the lack of night walking here
Was oppressive even before that car hit my bike.
Subways, such as they are, stopping by midnight
So you gotta drive to go out
So you drink less and more clubs shut down
And more drunk drivers zigzag on the highways
They tore down the blues clubs
(within walking distance from where he lived)
to build.

The anti-night people so normalized here—
(Wasps from the Midwest?)
stores closed then the streets became less safe
(for those cause-effect argument buffs).
Of course it’s logical.
Since the NYC business day starts 3 hours earlier,
The west coast has to open and close earlier.
It’s logical, if one accepts colonization,
Like starting school on the hottest day of the year
Coz the east coast school schedule
Doesn’t work for this climate
And the Spanish conquistadors 250 years earlier
Imposed curfew….

Perhaps you have to be an “outsider”—
A New Yorker—specifically---
Who speaks too fast (in NYC they liked that)
To find that lack of night-running subway
Is clearly part of a “kinder, gentler,” curfew
“police state” lockdown policy
As was later made brutally obvious when,
On the one exception night---New Year’s Eve—
That they allow it to run after midnight
to appease the restaurant industry lobbyists—
they murder Oscar Grant!

And I wonder if the gentrifiers
Are really happy? And even though so many
Things in this town are named after Henry Kaiser,
It’s clear the Bay Aryans are still mad that
He lured so many black people here back in the 40s
(not that he did it because he wasn’t racist)…

Meanwhile, Gov. Brown and his puppet mayor
Keep telling us, It’s gonna be more like NYC….
And each day it’s less like what was good about NYC
Less like what was even better about Oakland
In the days when Rodger Collins sang
About those foxy ladies strutting down East 14th[2]
(now called International because the urban developers
couldn’t bring themselves to call it Cesar Chavez)
while the cops run prostitute rings
but thank god for Khafre Jay & Malik Diamond
and their “invisible” (No cell phone) parties
with no whites allowed. I don’t mind
coz I get to listen to their radio show
and bring them into my classroom
at the school that they’re trying to replace with MOOCs.

[1] It’s even got a recent Tony-Award winning play
called Sweat, though Gary Adelstein’s Reading 1974: Portrait Of A City is better