Category Archives: Ground Level Conditions

David Wilk Interviews Bill Mohr on “Writerscast”

Friday, March 24, 2017

While many cultural activists bemoan the disappearance of independent bookstores, another important link in the chain of cultural transmission that has also become endangered in the past 15 years is the book distributor. One of the most important figures in this regard in the United States during the past half-century is David Wilk, who ran Inland Book Company after first launching a Midwest book distribution project called Truck. David got in touch recently and asked to interview me for his radio program, Writerscast. I was delighted to have a chance to talk and catch up with him as well as to answer his questions about Momentum Press and the other editors who were working alongside me in Los Angeles County in the 1970s and 1980s.

The interview was conducted by phone from my office on campus on a chilly Sunday afternoon. The office lacked heat, but the memories were warm. You can listen to our conversation at the following link:

David Wilk interviews poet and publisher Bill Mohr

The Realigning Equinox

Monday, March 20, 2017

What, then, is to be done?

First, remember what is already being done.

March equinox! Happy spring or fall

The Earth is circling the sun at 17,000 miles per hour. Sit with as much stillness as possible and feel this extraordinary speed. Imagine your spine as being in alignment with this “magic prison” of a planet being centered on its axis. Breathe with those alignments.

What would be the point of a social revolution that did not provide the wherewithal for each human being, fed and clothed sufficiently, to be able to do this for at least an half-hour several times a week?

Happy equinox!

Trump and Snoop Doggy Dog: “Bang” and the Second Amendment

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A recent video made by Snoop Doggy Dog includes an image of a gun being pointed at a figure with a Donald Trump mask: the word “Bang” comes out of the gun.

As an initial comment, there is little else to say than this video is completely unacceptable, as it currently stands, and deserves denunciation by anyone who wants to preserve a constitutional civility in this nation. Snoop Doggy Dog needs to have a serious talk with a lawyer about what is protected free speech.

On the other hand, if Snoop Doggy Dog had pointed the gun and had the words “Second Amendment” pop out of the barrel, we might have a very interesting artistic statement. For one thing, it would serve to remind us that Donald Trump himself has used a citation of the Second Amendment to indulge in a nod-and-wink comment that amounted to an assassination threat against Hillary Clinton. If Trump could toy with the Second Amendment to threaten the life of his opponent without any reprisal or public legal rebuke, why would a similar usage by Snoop Doggy Dog cause him to be treated any differently? Unfortunately, the video is already out.

Regardless of how Snoop Doggy Dog made his video, Trump’s threat remains a far more serious and permanent stain on the current discourse. Let there be no mistake about it. When Donald Trump casually dropped a suggestion, at a rally in Wilmington, North Carolina, in August, 2016, that the “Second Amendment people” could stop Hillary Clinton, anyone who understood the rhetoric of crude implication did not have to think very hard as to what Trump intended to underline with his body language: he meant that people could take the law into their own hands and assassinate her. Nor did his implications stop there. Was it not also implicitly a threat against the life of anyone supporting her? Why would anyone inspired by Trump’s alleged sense of humor stop with just HRC? Remember Ted Nugent’s call to action in 2012 to “chop their heads off in November”? Trump knew very well what he was saying and to whom he was speaking, and he needs to be reminded that he will continue to be held accountable for the “bang” that his words deliver.

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/08/not-what-the-second-amendment-is-for/495191/

And while we’re on the subject, let us remember that Trump’s dictatorial disdain for those who opposed him extended to Obama, too. As I pointed out last October 30 (and I reprint that post below), the entire nation saw a widely circulated image of President Obama with a lynch rope around his neck. Trump’s silence about that image equalled approval, and his refusal to denounce in no uncertain terms his extremist followers continues to be one of his few consistent traits. This has surfaced in particular in his reticence in speaking out against the numerous bomb threats against Jewish community centers in this country.

I’ll say it again because it cannot be said often enough: “Not everyone who voted for Trump is a racist, but every racist voted for Trump.” (Thank you, Michael Lally.) However, a video such as the one made by Snoop Doggy Dog is not going to transform the hearts and minds of those who voted for him. Of course, I doubt that what I have just written in today’s blog post will illuminate them, either.

What, then, is to be done?

* * * * *

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Darkness at the Center of Wisconsin

https://www.yahoo.com/sports/news/fan-wears-barack-obama-mask-with-a-noose-at-nebraska-wisconsin-040333264.html

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3887230/Football-fan-Wisconsin-Nebraska-game-asked-remove-offensive-costume-showing-President-Obama-noose-neck.html?ITO=1490&ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490

The story is that the fan was asked to remove the “offensive components” costume.

That’s all?

Why was the fan not immediately investigated for making a death threat against the President?

This is not a “costume,” but a death threat, and the specificity of advocating the execution of the President is made all the more clear by the fact that it is not the person wearing the costume whose hand is holding up the noose, but the arm of a person standing alongside the depiction of President Obama. In the photograph, an arm wearing a red sleeve juts into the air at an angle that can only mean that the white fist jerking the noose upwards belongs to another person. It is a blunt portrayal of a racist execution.

This is not an issue of free speech, which would include the right to wear a prison outfit with a mask of Obama, just as free speech includes the right to chant “Lock her up,” as Trump’s partisans do whenever Hillary Clinton’s name in mentioned. One may not like a message, but free speech allows messengers safe passage. Provocative and outrageous speech is protected by our Constitution. However, in depicting the execution of President Obama, the individuals at a football stadium in Wisconsin flagrantly transgressed the boundary of free speech.

Death threats are not free speech, especially in an image meant invoke the heyday of the KKK. Within the context of a newspaper associated with the KKK all but giving its straightforward endorsement to Donald Trump, this so-called costume represents crude propaganda at its most harrowing level.

If there is not at least a brief detention and interrogation of the fan and his “prop assistant” for making a death threat against President Obama, then it is fair to say that this costume represents the values of a cadre within the Secret Service; in this instance, the person in charge of the Secret Service has the obligation to act in a manner that proves otherwise.

I would note that a report that Secret Service conducted an investigation in an instance that involved a far less public venue.

Playing with Fire and an Obama Effigy

Why should this incident in Wisconsin be treated with any less seriousness?

The failure of University of Wisconsin officials to understand the gravity of the image is quite remarkable. Simply asking a person to remove the “offensive parts” of the costume represents a lack of courage in standing up to a bully. In making a statement that was nothing short of a death threat against the President, the person wearing the costume and his assistant forfeited their right to remain at the game and should have been removed from the stadium.

The University was probably afraid of being accused of censorship. There is an easy answer. The people were removed from the stadium in order to have their identities firmly established by police officials so that the Secret Service could begin their investigation.

Finally, we should all take note: the desire expressed by these two people in the football stands in Wisconsin is not limited to President Obama. First him, then his supporters. If anyone is so naïve to think that the two people who concocted this outfit will be satisfied with President Obama’s death, then they need to review 20th century history. As the poet Don Gordon said, “We are only on leave from Auschwitz.”

As a postscript that occurred to me a couple hours after posting this, I think it is fair to say that those who doubted the legitimacy of President Obama’s birth certificate would most likely be the ones inclined to defend this person’s advocacy of a Presidential death certificate as free speech. “If attacking one end of a life spectrum doesn’t work, then try the other extreme,” would seem to be their preference.

I do look forward to the conclusion of the current general election, and the chance to concentrate on books of poetry again. To neglect the havoc generated by a fascist with international ambitions would be an unforgivable omission on my part, however.

CORRECTION: The original post for this commentary mistakenly stated that the football game took place in Nebraska, whereas the University of Nebraska was playing a road game in Wisconsin.

Greg Kosmicki: “Whenever I Peel an Orange”

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Greg Kosmicki: Whenever I Peel an Orange”

Greg Kosmicki sent me a link to a video made of his poem “Whenever I Peel an Orange.” In watching it, I noticed how certain images lingered in my imagination even as the words of the poem moved on in a quiet pas de deux the visual layering on the screen.
Kosmicki’s poem is a meditation on mortality in the midst of the collaborative community of a shared workplace. It is a “portrait” poem, both a compassionate tribute to and acknowledgement of a deceased co-worker for whom there was no retirement party. His last day on the job is no different than any other; his evanescence is a set of phone calls from his spouse, in which tests for a lesion swirl lead incrementally to more and more serious medical interventions, all of which prove futile. The poem makes the peeling of an orange a kind of cenotaph in remembrance of this man, whose revelation of his son’s problem proves to be the kind of resistance that conservative people are prone to and yet that makes complete sense upon reflection. One of the ways Kosmicki’s poems has the tart juice its central symbol suggests is in the implication of this story within a story. The co-worker’s son keeps getting his car towed because he won’t get a parking sticker for the complex he lives at. That his son resists the change of the bureaucratic demand to secure permission to park at a place that he is already paying for makes sense to those of us who have to endure the impediments of tasks imposed simply to keep our lives busy. The father, too, the poem recounts, resisted changes on the job, and the spiral of the orange peel comes to stand for the DNA helix of contumacious integrity. The poem was originally published in Rattle magazine.

The lingering of the images as I read the poem reminded me of my recent visit to a book I had looked at a couple of years ago, Imagination by Mary Warnock. Although Warnock at one point suggests that the co-habitation of images is something that happens without any particular strain (one drives a car, for instance, in her example, and thinks of other images while absorbing and reacting to the images arriving through the windows of the car), in any encounter requiring the full circumference of the imagination, a kind of smudging must take place. If I imagine Kosmicki’s co-worker pinning the spiral of his orange peel to the side of his work cubicle, it has the underlayer of the image of the skinned fur of a hunted animal nailed to a barn wall. And I continue to meditate on this image as the video swirls off into other images, all of which I am coiled within as the poem peels itself. I don’t peel the poem. The poem peels me.

Twitter Democracy: An Alternative Public Sphere

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

On the day after I posted my comment on the “Twinkie Cabinet,” Ron Silliman posted a list of twitter accounts that will enable you to stay abreast with others who are engaged in resisting the rise of a nationalistic, xenophobic, racist, autocratic government. If you have a Twitter account, then I recommend going to “ronsilliman.blogspot.com” and availing yourself of these resources for information, which you can then circulate to your friends and provide them with the succor of your insight.

A friend wrote me the other day: “It’s not that Trump is not my president; it’s that I CAN’T BELIEVE he’s my president.”

The disbelief is understandable. The monster in the closet that children are told is just imaginary has transmogrified into the master of the house.

Believe it, and refuse to accept its ethical legitimacy.

President Trump’s Twinkie Cabinet

February 19, 2017

President Trump’s Twinkie Cabinet

There are two ways to take the title of today’s post. The first is obvious. If there is anyone who can possibly vet their diet, please be vigilant: under no circumstances whatsoever should anyone serving in Trump’s cabinet be allowed to consume Twinkies. The individuals appointed to Trump’s cabinet possess rapacious impulses that are already out of control, and the slightest increase in their consumption of such confections might well result in the entire world being treated as if it were the reincarnation of George Moscone and Harvey Milk.

On a more quotidian economic level, of course, the Twinkie Cabinet is a reference to the financiers who exploited the workers of the Hostess Company. If Trump found himself the beneficiary of a miniscule margin of victory in just enough states to tip the Electoral College in his favor, it was in large part because of the displaced anger of workers at companies such as Hostess, whose executives walked away with their portfolios intact during the bankruptcy proceedings earlier this decade.

The problem confronting these workers, when they had to make a choice in the 2016 election, was that no major party offered any remedy for their plight. If you were an employee of Hostess, age 53 years old, and you faced the loss of everything you had worked for, what was your choice during the spring primaries of 2016? If you had been such a worker, the question you should have asked yourself was “What would have turned out different if any of these candidates had been president between 2011 and 2013?”

We absolutely know that nothing different would have happened if one of the GOP candidates had been President, but would there have been a different outcome if Hillary Clinton had been President? Or Bernie Sanders?

No.

It’s not that I would be sad if Clinton or Sanders had been president then, or now for that matter. But let’s be blunt about it: Would Apollo Global Management and Dean Metropoulos have operated any differently five years ago, if Bernie Sanders had been president then?

No.

The laws under which capitalism eviscerates the lives of those whose work generates wealth would have been no different under Sanders, when Hostess declared bankruptcy, than under Obama, just as they were no different under Bill Clinton than under George W. Bush.

“Betrayal without remedy” is the phrase that appears in “The Great Twinkie Caper – how U.S. Workers Get Flipped” by Lawrence J. Hanley.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lawrence-j-hanley/hostess-sale_b_6250650.html

Justifiable rage blinded workers into settling for vague promises of how America could be made “great again,” as a result of which one of the great political tragedies of this epoch is unfolding in front of our unbelieving eyes.

I wonder how many months will go by before these workers realize that they have been duped. What they deserve is a future retirement with some sense of dignity that includes decent shelter, excellent health care, and nutritious food to eat. This is the minimum that any person who has worked all of her or his life deserves. I would hope that a candidate would emerge in 2020 who will bluntly campaign on this kind of platform.

Until then, let us hope that another complete meltdown of the economy will not happen again. The risk of that kind of collapse is accelerating. Laws are being expeditiously revised right now to make the U.S. economy vulnerable to the same set of plundering usurers who drove this nation to the precipice ten years ago. The current Money Mob will make certain that the same laws invoked in the last crisis remain on the books to save them from prosecution, too.
It is indeed “betrayal without remedy.”

Well, not quite. There is one remedy, and it is radical beyond anything ever witnessed in this nation. Something much more radical than anything called for by Bernie Sanders is needed. It begins with changes in our diet, both physical and intellectual. Hard as it is to break old habits, we must do so if the pursuit of human dignity is to prove itself worthy of that ideal. And it ends with the complete abolition of the death penalty, for above all, we must confront the fact that as long as nuclear weapons exist, we have all been judged and sentenced to death. This is an unacceptable horror, and must be utterly reversed.

In between those two points, much will have to change in the hierarchies of privilege and power, and it will be an unfamiliar discomfort for those presently ensconced at the highest levels of administrative turpitude.

Let us start with a good night’s sleep, having faith that this can be accomplished.

Post-Script: I woke up to find an article in the Los Angeles Times giving an account of a speech at the Ace Hotel in Los Angeles on Sunday, February 18. When I posted this blog entry, I had no idea that he was in town asking his audience to identify with the workers who have been traumatized by massive shifts in the global economy.

http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-bernie-sanders-event-20170219-story.html

Racism and Standing Rock

Sunday, February 12, 2017

RACISM AND STANDING ROCK: Bismarck, North Dakota and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

“Race is the modality by which class is lived.”

In the case of the Indigenous Peoples of North, Central, and South America, Stuart Hall’s observation should have the word “class” replaced by “subordination.”

Racism is the permeating logic inhabiting the praxis by which the Other, who has already been dispossessed, is further subjected to a quality of life inferior to that which you believe is appropriate for those who resemble you.

On Twitter recently, John Upton retweeted @relombardo3:
“Reminder that DAPL was
re-routed through
Standing Rock because
Bismarck’s residents
feared it could poison
their drinking water.

The Sioux are literally
being forced at gunpoint
to accept ecological risks
that North Dakota’s
white residents refused.”

North Dakota’s residents overwhelmingly voted for Trump; their decision to subject the Sioux to one more degradation recalls a comment made by Michael Lally, “Not everyone who voted for Trump is a racist, but every racist voted for Trump.”

Now I’m sure more than a few people might say, “Well, it’s easy for you in live in Long Beach, California, Bill, and look down on the people of North Dakota.” Actually, it’s not that easy, since I’m talking about a state in which I have had family by marriage, and I like those people. Along with my first wife, Cathay, I remember visiting Bismarck in the summer of 1985, then driving east to Dickinson, and north all the way across the border to Winnipeg in Canada. We had gone to Bismarck to visit her father, brother and nephews, and we took a vacation trip afterwards. The drive north to Winnipeg was one of the most beautiful drives I have ever experienced. The land formations were far different than I expected, and the sky that day had an ensemble of clouds worthy of a master choreographer. I remember how much we enjoyed visiting the museum in Winnipeg. We headed south to Duluth, and then visited Cathay’s sister in Minneapolis. My father-in-law and brother-in-law are dead now, but the time I spent with them has lingered in my affections.

I liked the people I met in North Dakota, and it didn’t surprise me that they would be judicious enough to elect someone like Kent Conrad to the U.S. Senate. That the people I met were all congruent to my wife’s family is the crucial qualifier, though. The color line, as DuBois pointed out over a century over, is firmly drawn in segregating Native Americans from the mainstream of civic, social and political life in North Dakota. The memorials we visited were concerned with preserving the tragedy of dispossession and subordination, and not just commemorating it.

Even given that fracture, however, my hunch is that things have changed there, and in part this is due to the wealth that poured into North Dakota due to the oil boom earlier this decade. Sudden wealth can distort one’s values, and it doesn’t take much wealth to undermine the inclinations toward compassion and community.

Perhaps resistance to the oil pipeline will give a few of those who have hardened their hearts a chance to reconsider, but I doubt it. I admire those who are resisting. It takes more courage than I have at the moment. May they survive, buffeted but unscathed.

“Time for Another Kent State”: They Are Not Kidding, Folks

Friday, February 10, 2017

As D.T. (Darth Trumper) finishes appointing a roll-call of Koch Brothers-clones to his cabinet posts, I despair for the future of the planet. I am also more than a little worried about my own measly life. It’s bad enough that Steve Bannon would be all too happy if he could taunt the North Koreans into launching a rocket topped with a nuke towards Los Angeles. Fortunately, in terms of life expectancy, however, provoking the ire of the North Koreans and backing them into a corner from which they see no escape but reckless attack will take at least six months, and is more likely to require two years, if not a second term of office.

Unfortunately, this would appear to be an unacceptable, interminable wait for some of D.T.’s adherents. Less than a month after the oath of office was administered, there are already underlings calling for indiscriminate massacres of protestors and anybody in the vicinity.

Let us not kid ourselves: When Mr. Dan Adamini tweeted, “Time for another Kent State perhaps. One bullet stops a lot of thuggery” and reiterated his proposition on Facebook, “I’m thinking that another Kent State might be the only solution,” …. well, only a fool would take his “apology” at face value.

His speculations are meant to test the waters of acceptability, and there are plenty of people in the GOP who agree with him. Don’t let Adamini’s rebuke by officials in the GOP fool you. They know their base, and these people have no qualms about murdering doctors who affirm a woman’s right to choice. They also would seem to have no reservations whatsoever about the possibility of a bystander being killed at a protest. I would like to remind Mr. Adamini that two of the four students slaughtered at Kent State were merely walking to class. They were not part of the demonstration. In fact, one of the murdered students was on the opposite side of the protestors: he had applied for a ROTC scholarship.

I do not know if William Knox Schroeder’s parents are still alive, but there is a fair chance that his siblings, Nancy and Rudy, are still alive. I wonder if they would agree with you, Mr. Adamini.

Of course, Kent State wasn’t the only place that erupted in state-sponsored violence back in early May, 1970.

My tweet:

GOP official advocates Kent State-type repression for protestors. For African-Americans, though, it is always already Jackson State.

“Respecta Mi Existencia o Espera Resistencia” — Victoria Garcia

Political Graphics: Peace Press and the Amplifier Foundation

The Huffington Post is carrying a story about the Amplifier Foundation and its project of feminist posters aligned with the Women’s Marches. Before I provide the links to the foundation and the work of a few of its impressive artists (some of which can be downloaded for free), I want to call your attention to the work of Peace Press in Los Angeles, a progressive printing company that made its facilities available to numerous causes between 1967-1987. The Center for the Study of Political Graphics has an archive of the posters produced at Peace Press, which they have loaned out to various institutions for retrospective exhibitions. Their website link is http://www.politicalgraphics.org. When I went to that site, an invitation to receive a daily poster selected by CSPG popped up on the screen. Obviously, CSPG is not merely the custodian of an archive, but is still active in promoting its cause, which might be summed up in a sentence I jotted down earlier this morning: Progressive policy is the people’s politics.

The L.A. Fine Print Fair in West Hollywood held a benefit for CSPG last night (February 3) for CSPG, and I wish I could have attended. There was also an art opening by Kathi Flood in Burbank, and a performance of a collaboration by Darrell Larson and Rob Sullivan at Beyond Baroque in Venice. Unfortunately, I had to be in a conference call with my brother, Jim, about the situation of our 95 year old mother and was unable to leave home.

Make yourself a cup of strong tea, and spend a half-hour with the following links and artists.

http://lbpost.com/life/12325-art-social-change-peace-press-posters-uam
http://laassubject.org/article/exhibit-opening-peace-press-graphics-1967-1987-art-pursuit-social-change
http://web.csulb.edu/~uam/UAM%20Files/Peace%20Press/PressRelease_PeacePress_August2011.pdf
http://peacepress.org

http://theamplifierfoundation.org/experiments/womens-march/

I especially recommend the following posters:

KATE DECICCIO, “Embracing EachOther”
VICTORIA GARCIA, “Respeta”
LIZA DONOVAN, “Hear Our Voice”
JESS X. SNOW – “Long Live Our 4 Billion Year Old Mother”
ANN LEWIS – The Future Is Now & It’s Female”

http://theamplifierfoundation.org/all-artists/

http://theamplifierfoundation.org/artists/melanie-cervantes/
http://theamplifierfoundation.org/artists/robert-montgomery/
http://theamplifierfoundation.org/artists/cheyenne-randall/

Women’s Wages (Women’s Marches, Part 2)

Women’s Marches: Women’s Wages (Equal Pay AND Equal Raises)

The question of the moment is: What Next? The discrepancy between what women are paid and how much men are remunerated for the same work will remain a defining issue in the next four years. If I were to recommend a way to channel the outrage, it would be to concentrate on the very thing that Trump has claimed to be concerned about: jobs. One cannot separate jobs from wages, nor can we allow him to make employment and the net pay (after taxes) become a masculine issue. In looking at his cabinet and his own egregious aura, one knows that his inner psychic default is to cater to the brawny voter. As a clarifying rebuke, the mental and physical dexterity, knowledge, and strength that women bring to jobs needs to be in the forefront now. A feminist occupation of occupation itself needs to become a primary outgrowth of the women’s marches. What women do and how much they are paid must be adamantly reiterated, in no uncertain terms.

As Trump puts forth proposals to increase employment, we need to remain vigilant and see how these jobs affect the incomes of working women. His campaign emphasis has been on construction jobs, which range from infrastructure (roads and bridges) to the Border Wall.
It would be fair to demand of Trump that at least 51 percent of the jobs created in anything he advocates result in the hiring of a women at the same rate of pay for that position as a man would receive, given equal experience and training.

There are two things to be aware of, in considering how to put pressure on this particular point. The first is that corporations have been sequestering their profits off-shore for some time now, and quite a substantial kitty of surplus funds has built up. The problem, from the corporations’ point of view, is that the tax rate is “too high,” and I have heard that one political horse trade under consideration is that the tax rate on this offshore money might be lowered to bring in a floodtide of funds, which would in turn be used to pay for these construction projects. It amounts to blackmail. “I’ll give you temporary jobs if you let me keep, on a permanent basis, unmentionable amounts of wealth.” The Republican party refused to let Obama move forward with a public works plan in his second term. Once again, it must be said that Obama failed to work from a position of strength in his first year of office.

Trump is inheriting an economy with more people employed than at any time since the Great Recession started ten years ago. If employment does pick up even more momentum, it will be interesting to see how the work force will sustain it. There is a relatively low rate of unemployment right now, and full employment – or anything near it – is likely to launch inflationary pressure. I wrote about this future crisis in the economy last year.

Once again, the question will be wages, and what women and the men who support feminist visions for human societies need to be vigilant about is not just that women are hired at equal pay, but that when inflation brings about the need to increase pay, the raises must also equal.