Letter from Los Angeles
February 2010
© 2010 Joel

Breaking News

As writer of this newsletter it’s my duty to make this announcement: “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is terminally ill. Secretary of Defense Gates and Admiral Mullen are making hospice reservations for it even as you read. With utter respect for the women and men who protect us, those who support this disgusting policy are the pansies, not us.

Breaking Hearts

So much has happened since last I wrote, most of which you are acutely aware, that I’m going to try not to cover familiar ground. I’m not the “paper of record,” just a Joel with a perspective to share.

With conservative friends who aren’t playing “Gotcha” I disagree respectfully.

On a less personal level, Republicans need to contemplate what their party has wrought. I’m no flaming liberal, I bend over backwards to be fair and it takes a lot to make me, politically, mad. My initial response to the one-two punch of the Massachusetts outcome and the high court’s 5-4 decision on corporate “free speech” was to advocate the taking off of gloves and recasting electoral politics as a bully kind of war.

Upon further reflection, that is exactly what I intend. If I recommend the President get a whole lot tougher, as in his debate with the Congressional GOP, I must sit on my conciliatory spirit, too. I find too much intolerable going on.

Political Inspiration

“We had to struggle against the old enemies of peace–business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.... They are unanimous in their hate for me. And I welcome their hatred!” —Franklin Roosevelt, Madison Square Garden, October 31, 1936

Political Reality

“All America’s achievements and glories can be credited to our angelic natures and to the politics of some pretty ruthless men.” —Joel

Quote of the Political Generation

“Any farmer will tell you that certain animals run around and are unpleasant, but when they are fixed they are happy and sedate.” —Grover Norquist, Republican political operative referring to people like you and me. (Nov. 10, 2006)

Quotes of The Month

“The mob is fickle and it’s back with a vengeance. While the left slept the right saw a void and leapt in. They feted the fearful to a steady stream of dread and circuses and now the pendulum has swung in the other direction.” —Charles Blow, The NYT, 1/23/10

“By means of two legal fictions, that corporations are people and money is speech, the Roberts Court has turned America from a democracy to a plutocracy.” —Norman Holland of Gainesville, Fl. New York Times 1/23/10

“The justices have affirmed a core principal of Republican government: one dollar, one vote.” —Stephen Bowles, Santa Barbara, CA. NYT 1/23/10

“With a single, disastrous 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court has thrust politics back to the robber-baron era of the 19th century. Disingenuously waving the flag of the First Amendment, the court’s conservative majority has paved the way for corporations to use their vast treasuries to overwhelm elections and intimidate elected officials into doing their bidding.” —Editorial, The New York Times, 1/21/10

“How we can make Americans afraid of the other side.....is how we operate.” —President Obama to Republican members of Congress

“The question remains, what kind of political leadership can we expect from Barack Obama, an unquestionably decent and intellectually gifted man whose election hinged on campaign slogans and his personal appeal.” —Joel

American Winter (2010)

Our country is changing in ways few of us like, and Americans of all political stripes know something’s very wrong. Control of public opinion tops my list of concerns. With the 24 hour news cycle, a steady stream of misinformation and trivia trump honest coverage of the issues of the day. A reader in Long Beach, Ca. speaks of the intentional “infantilization” of the American public, which even a cursory examination of our movie and t.v. watching habits, our susceptibility to rumor and gossip and our preoccupation with celebrity culture confirms.

Consider the effects of the economic downturn on Americas who have insufficient or no medical coverage, have lost their savings or their homes and are desperately looking for jobs. Compare the nature of Nathaniel West’s Depression era disillusionment with today’s.

The Day of the Locust describes a working class mob run amok at an early 1930’s Hollywood premier. The participants “were savage and bitter, especially the middle-aged and the old, and had been made so by boredom and disappointment. All their lives they had slaved at some kind of dull, heavy labor behind desks and counters, in the fields and at tedious machines of all sorts, saving their pennies and dreaming of the leisure that would be theirs when they had enough. Finally that day came...........

They don’t know what to do with their time.....They don’t have the mental equipment for leisure, the money nor the physical equipment for pleasure......Their boredom becomes more and more terrible. They realize they’ve been tricked and burn with resentment. Every day of their lives they read the newspapers and went to the movies. Both fed them on murders, sex crimes, explosions, wrecks, love nests, fires, miracles, revolutions, wars. Their daily diet made sophisticates of them. Nothing can ever be violent enough to make taut their slack minds and bodies, They have been cheated and betrayed. They have slaved and saved for nothing.” West’s apocalyptic words do have a contemporary ring.

Now consider We the People at the polls. Imagine a two year old intoning, “I don’t twust the government and I’m as mad as I can be. (At top of its lungs) I want my job! I want my job! (Breaking into tears) I want the big bad government to give me back my job. (Gaining speed) I hate the government because (slower, and with authority) Uncles Glenn, Sean, Bill and Rush tell me the government took ALL my money away so I can’t gwow up and be wich. (Real Brat Mode) So I know what I’m going to do! (At top of lungs) I’ll vote Wepublican (and when they let me down, Democwat), and that’ll show ‘em all!!!”

The road to reform begins with an understanding of the context in which these developments take place. America’s dominance and pent up consumer demand in the wake of WW II were responsible for the emergence of a prosperity so overwhelming there was plenty for shareholders, management, employees, the upper crust and a thriving middle class. The other fellow’s success was a plus for Me, Me Me, and memories of the Great Depression and the residue of wartime cooperation held Americans together, too.

Political, ideological, economic, social and historical conditions are unlike 1945’s. America is deeply in debt and in danger of ideology from without and within. Globalization and the outsourcing of jobs, Reagan’s assault on government and the middle class, the emergence of a mentality in which your loss is my gain, consolidation of media into fewer and frequently right wing ideological hands, the demise of rigorous reporting and, increasingly, of reliable news outlets themselves, shifting political coalitions, the demise of party loyalty, equating one’s political positions with the word of God, the glorification of misinformation, rumor and smear, a justifiable distrust of elected officials and, thank goodness, greater equality for women, blacks and gays than ever, are among the conditions in our world today. So much needs to be reversed or revised.

Independent’s Day

The electorate’s, “I want, I want, I want” precedes “I won’t, I won’t, I won’t”- sacrifice, spend or bend. Unless we cease raging at Republicans one minute and at Democrats the next, our political system will be injured even more. Neither party in power can fix everything, and without the opposition’s cooperation they can accomplish little at all. America’s is a politically centrist heart. Independent voters rule the waves today, not anybody’s “base.” Ignore this and, politically, you die.

Each party’s base is victorious now and then (and consequently hate one another), but neither really prevails. The proof is that the hard core on either side are pissed off all the time.

It’s not a matter of choosing between independent voters and your political base. It’s about addressing as many of your constituent’s concerns in ways politically wise. An Obama figure at the top, as we are seeing, is not enough. Americans need to admire and trust their other elected representatives, too.

Say It Ain’t So

Both parties are too indebted to their large donors not to be called corrupt. The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision will only make things worse. (“Two political parties equal opposing hypocrites.” —Bill Moyers, 2/5/10)

Bold progressive initiatives succeed only in desperate times, or with the backing of social movements as large as abolitionism or civil rights. With all the bitching and moaning, we have no such movement now.

Leaders of the largest corporations are in it for the good of no one but themselves,

Too many “Christian” Americans see no contradiction between their spiteful agendas and the example of Jesus Christ.

The largest corporations and financial institutions remain improperly regulated and are insured by the Treasury of the United States regardless of what they do.

Tea Party activists are unaware that the Republican Party is cynically using their exaggerated fear of government and their conception of liberty as every man for himself to play them for suckers like they did the religious right. God, gays, guns and individual freedom have become the GOP’s rather successful cover for fashioning a plutocratic state.

Dese, Doze, But Mostly Dems

The Democrats are not afraid to do what is needed. They don't know what to do.

Republicans, go ahead. Filibuster! Shut down government like you did in the 90’s. Unless your cohorts on the Court can pull off another Bush v. Gore you’ll be through. Which is too bad. The country needs alternatives when incumbents go off track.

The Democrat’s reputation as mindless social experimenters and squanderers of other people’s rights and wealth seems awfully hard to shake. If the Party fails to appeal to a majority of independent voters or create a broad coalition it may never get out of its hole. Where will progressive Americans turn then? A third party? Get pragmatic. Get smart. Coalesce, young man–coalesce!

The Democrats rode highest when they held the liberals, workers and the South, and “the fundamentals still apply.” Today they need more Joe Liebermans–I’m prepared for assassination threats :)–and the Republicans more Olympia Snowes. Imagine if liberal Republicanism were revived. I could become one.

Next newsletter I’ll try to find reasons to be optimistic about America’s political future. Please help me by offering one or two of your own.

Growing Up Gay, Part 4 Chicken at NYU

“I have been particularly moved by how lonely and personally destructive it is to be treated as an outcast.” —Theodore Olson, conservative Republican of Bush v. Gore fame, who with Democratic counterpart David Boles is championing the cause of same sex marriage in the courts.

Brokeback Mountain’s promise, a critic remarked, was realized in Watercolors, a little known new movie about a tender yet tragic high school gay romance. The affecting story explores the power and limits of overwhelming love. One boy refuses to hide his gayness while the other insists they not acknowledge one another in public at all.

Lloyd and I acknowledged one another so completely by college, me at NYU and he at New York Tech, that my parents and his widowed mother, who met when we were in high school, became lasting friends. Nonetheless I was intensely uncomfortable when, for appearances sake, Lloyd went out with girls. Would he cave and marry for convention’s sake like some folks did and do? On one of our famous Manhattan jaunts we concluded we were going to spend our lives together, and that was that.

The busyness of college provided cover for my seldom seeing girls, though occasionally I, too, dated just to keep mouths shut. Dates could expect no ordinary night out with me. The Russian Tea Room, Tavern on the Green and Carnegie Hall helped sweeten these wastes of time. I’m sorry none became a friend, but the girls were impatient for the one thing I was unwilling to provide. Had they been boys, they wouldn’t have had to ask.

Oh I had my chances, don’t you fret. At NYU’s Loeb Student Center (donated by the Loebs of Leopold and Loeb) I shared a table with a fellow freshman one lunchtime. I presumed his eyes were brown because he had dark hair, but as he wore sunglasses to be 1960’s cool I never really knew. Kaboom!!! Instant mutual attraction. Instant chicken. I resisted even exchanging phone numbers and regret that to this day. I would have gone with them all, you know that. What you may not know is that it would have always been perfectly safe, a topic for some other time.

One afternoon I encountered one of my greatest detractors from the Yonkers ‘hood, also at NYU, and you know what? He was more obviously gay than myself. He wasn’t as tall as I remembered but his face was handsome and his sweet, encouraging smiles made me melt. I hadn’t forgiven him, though.

Then there was the boy actor from the Broadway shows I had always loved from afar. He, too, was at NYU and obviously interested in me. “Cluck, cluck” once again. I’ll never know the identity of the one who, fortunately, got away because he tried to grope me in the men’s room in the dark. Could he have been Ira, later the sex changed Iris, who was in my class that day?

Our first gay play (by then Lloyd and I were “our” and “we”) was Andre Gide’s The Immoralist, off Broadway and starring a very young, attractive Frank Langella. (Mom was not amused) Gay relations were simulated by Langella’s character and The Boy playing beanbag, and we were entranced. When my theater professor read my play review aloud in class, titters and giggles from an unlikely source filled the room. The gay theater majors found my homosexual references hilarious and I could have died. They never found me attractive enough to even smile or say “hello.” Funny that today I have the affection of several better looking, though heterosexual, college going men.

The time had come to be with others of our kind. Lloyd and I were never leading man types and our hair loss began young, so when nobody even glanced as we “cruised” Greenwich Village on Saturday nights I would go to sleep dismayed. One of the regulars, high school senior Tom, assured us he would know us despite our looks. When I think of those barely 4’s and 5’s with their noses in the air I would have chosen myself any time.

In the early 1960’s, Greenwich Ave. was the long two block strip where, before Christopher Street, New York gay boys paraded on Saturday nights. Guys could meet and laugh, have a sandwich in joints like Pam Pam or another with Chicken in its name, trade obscenities with whores hanging out the windows at the Women’s House of Detention or, just as likely, pick up another guy. Did we encounter types! An appealing deaf black man who refused to look at us until we met again in San Francisco, years and years ahead. A scheming young queen named Sheba who was later murdered at the beach. The NYU classmate who spoke of becoming a priest so he could befriend the little boys.

My world was not a predominantly gay friendly place. A salesman at my summer job at a stuffy men’s clothing store in Manhattan (where I also met the tailor with the “seed”) waited until my final day to ask, with a smirk, if I were heading up to 72nd Street, a well known gay locale. (When I came back to work weekends in the fall he apologized)

Another salesman, Tony Pizza (for real), was an unabashedly out of the closet flaming middle aged queen. Pizza was mean to me, but I loved his tales of having lived in San Francisco in the 1950’s, and having donned a crepe paper dress after an all night party and heading for Ocean Beach. As they said back then, God save such nelly queens!

One evening when I was in grad school in 1965, we passed some jerks on Greenwich Ave. who had dropped by just to mock. I recognized my old department chairman’s secretary from NYU, with whom I had been friendly and had occasionally had lunch. Spying me she gasped, shook her fat head slowly from side to side and mouthed, so help me, “Tsk tsk, tsk.” “Same to you,” really, “F--- you!,” was my first gaily militant thought.

Next Issue: A Home with Lloyd, Working for “The Bureau,” and Judy Garland Dies.

Joel: Letters