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Melody Bates as Dina

The past is a strange and distant country, and we are refugees with no right of return. J. Stephen Brantley’s new play 83 Down playing at Under St. Marks is a postcard from that country. On one side is a montage of evocative images – Duran Duran posters, car telephones, TV top cable boxes, Ronald Reagan’s avuncular smile – and on the other side is a cryptic prophecy that reads: pleasure is punishment; freedom is bondage.

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The Last Supper

The Rising Sun Performance Company is now performing Dan Rosen’s movie cum play The Last Supper at The Red Room. It’s a rip-roaring good time, and well worth your dime.

A conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged

The official blurb runs something like this: A group of young, liberal graduate students in Iowa have a formal, sit down dinner once a week, to which they like to invite a stranger – to spice up conversation. Their ivory tower serenity is disturbed, however, when their latest guest, Zach (played in the 1995 movie by Bill Paxton!), turns out to be a redneck, pedophilic, murderous, Holocaust denier. Zach taunts the tolerant liberals, saying that they don’t have the balls to stand up for themselves, and pulls a knife on Marc, the resident Jewish artist. Zach is distracted for a moment while breaking the arm of Peter, another sissy liberal, and Marc seizes the opportunity to stab Zach in the back with his own knife. Existential angst ensues as the “liberals” try to justify their aggression. They rationalize it so well that they decide to recreate the scenario every week with a new flavor of conservative crazy. Their preferred method of execution? Poison in the chardonnay.

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by J.D. Oxblood

I’ve trolled the sources and, as usual, the best coverage comes from the AP.

It’s a sad day in the world today, as we mourn the passing of one of our favorites, one who made our days a little more pleasant, whether it be from reruns of “Kung Fu,” the forty-second viewing of “Kill Bill,” or even just those fab derivative Yellow Pages commercials.  That voice, the voice alone that made the first “Kill Bill” so… enticing, knowing that was Dave-C fondling that sword and never seeing his face.  And for children of the 70s, who goaded our friends on the playground with “grasshopper” and “until you can take this Jolly Rancher from my hand” or “until you can walk on the sand box without leaving a footprint”—this man is a part of our Jungian psyche, both an archetype to inhabit and a Campbellian hero to emulate.  It’s a sad day.

And then there’s the question of the cause of death.

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Christine Elmo

Christine Elmo

Last Thursday, May 21st, I clanked down the metal stairs of Jimmy’s 43 and into the subterranean bar completely and thoroughly confused. I had been invited by Christine Elmo to come to a benefit for a dance production she has choreographed and hopes to produce. Christine is a New York dance artist who has performed in the city and Europe extensively for the last two years. (Check out the video of dancing in Central Turkey and her CV here. Beautiful!) She’s a mover and a shaker in every sense of the phrase. So I guess I expected the benefit would be in a black box theater south of Houston, someplace that reeks of fresh paint and sawdust.

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Jake Desantis’s (public) letter to Edward Liddy in today’s New York Times is just one more attempt by the the real media elites — the conservatives of both parties — to quash public outcry over the legacy and abuses of Reaganomics.

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UPDATE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE!!!

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I know the readers of Cultural Capitol are probably sick of hearing me rant on this subject, and for your sake this will be my last post on the topic. The Editor has counseled moderation, and I know in my heart of hearts he’s right. But I can’t leave it without saying just this one more thing about the “popular” reaction to A. I. G.’s bonuses.

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James Barron and Russ Buettner write in a human interest piece in today’s New York Times that “many [A. I. G.] workers felt demonized and betrayed. ‘It is as bad if not worse than McCarthyism,’ [an anonymous A. I. G. exec] said. Everyone has sacrificed the employees of A.I.G.’s financial products division, he said, ‘for their own political agenda.'”

Bless Barron and Buettner for trying to put a human face on this mess.  But the execs who cry “I didn’t have anything to do with those credit problems” (James Haas) still don’t understand why their fellow citizens want to lynch them. Let me attempt to put a face on populist outrage.

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The story in the Times today trying to defend Geitner puts the blame for his bad judgment (really, a complete lack of political common sense) on faceless “government lawyers” who told the Treasury secretary exactly what he wanted to hear:

On Tuesday last week, as he prepared for a meeting in London of the finance ministers of the Group of 20 nations, Mr. Geithner learned that A.I.G. by Sunday would send out the bonuses to employees at its financial products unit, which developed the risky derivatives now blamed for the global credit crisis.

With few senior political appointees on hand, the word came from one of the numerous career civil servants who keep the Treasury functioning through changes of administration, according to an official.

Mr. Geithner consulted lawyers. They told him the government could not override the contracts that the insurance conglomerate had signed in early 2008, when its financial products unit was fast losing money.

The Times piece tries hard to justify Geiter’s naivete, blaming his lapse on his “crushing workload,” and telling us he is “shouldering more crises on his slight frame than most Treasury secretaries ever have.” But that’s no excuse — either for him or for Obama. Geitner, whose instincts as the Times says “are that government should not dictate compensation issues to businesses,” suffers from the same free market fundamentalist dementia as a recent respondent to my earlier post. Let’s look at this pathology more closely in order to better understand it.

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The plaque outside AIG's downtown HQ

I was going to write an angry piece on the AIG bonuses, the kind that uses a flamethrower to incinerate the subjects of my wrath. Then I took a walk down to AIG headquarters on Pine St. in Lower Manhattan. Unlike the offices in Greenwich, CT where the financial products guys reportedly work, an office which was receiving death threats, the main office downtown didn’t have any gawkers or thrill seekers (other than me).

I find this surprising. After all, to hear the internets tell it, people are spitting mad over the legalized Madoff make-off with tax payer money. (MoveOn cites the NY Times to estimate the AIG bailout is $500 from every tax payer in the USA.) And yet no one was storming the castle in downtown Manhattan. If anything, the corner of Wall and Broad, the place where a statue of Washington looks out on the NYSE, was buzzing with happy tourists.

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He looks so serene.

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the DJIA from 1929 - 1932

The DJIA dropped perilously close to 7,000 this afternoon after Chris Dodd said the government might have to nationalize the banks. David Brooks wrote in his NY Times editorial today what is probably the Obama administration line, that we might have to bite the bullet and give the idiots who got us into this mess lots of money to get us out again. He says:

…sometimes you have to shower money upon those who have been foolish or self-indulgent. The greedy idiots may be greedy idiots, but they are our countrymen. And at some level, we’re all in this together. If their lives don’t stabilize, then our lives don’t stabilize.

I suppose that’s all good and well, though if you happen to live in the same place as “the idiots” (i.e. New York City), and you see them holding their heads up high, riding in new cars with new wives who are wearing massive sparkly rocks on their fingers because the bankers got their bonuses in January, you might worry more about political stabilization than economic stabilization.

The markets took a dive because Dodd raised the specter of state control over the financial industry. But isn’t that exactly what’s called for in this situation? The culture of free markets failed, and now the culture of civic responsibility — which can only be manifested through the institution of government — has to pick up the slack.

Obama’s men — Geithner and Summers — are freemarketeers and have good reason to be scared out of their wits by populist posturing from Dodd and others. But is Obama a freemarketeer? Is he a populist?

My first instinct is to say he’s a savvy operator who knows the congressional Dems are right (and that the right needs to be ideologically disillusioned). The Obama of my imagination will play the aloof leader and let the Dems do the necessary dirty work that undoes the damage of anti-social freemarket puritanism inflicted on us since Reagan.

My fear is that he has no convictions outside of a personal messianic conviction, and that he thinks economic justice is no more or less important that religiously unfettered economic activity.

The markets bounced back because they think Obama’s a covert freemarketeer. I hope they’re wrong. I hope Obama is willing to split the issue with the congressional Dems, and let leaders like Dodd do the work of justice while Obama tells us all not to panic.

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This was taken last week downtown. Where is the New Depression is headed?!

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Tim Geithner — Really? I mean, is it really possible to live in this country after 8 years of Bush, 6 months of financial apocalypse, and still not have the smallest clue? Macroeconomics as a discipline developed in the 30s because that global financial meltdown was precipitating a global political meltdown. Doesn’t anyone remember Nazis vs. Commies in the streets of Berlin and Munich? No, not in this country. If you want a perfect example of the triumphalist myopia of the free market fundamentalists take a look at the documentary The Commanding Heights by Greg Barker and William Cran. The one good observation made in the documentary is that both J. M. Keynes and Friedrich Von Hayek thought economic collapse would lead to political anarchy.

Geithner and Summers

Geithner and Summers

Now these yahoos working from a mix of free market fundamentalist ideology and naked, corporate self-interest, are opening up a political firestorm by crippling a real fiscial stimulus package with useless tax breaks and spending cuts for states while at the same time handing over hefty cash gifts to their friends the oligarchs on Wall St. (For my personal experience of the humiliation of this see my earlier post.) In the words of Stephen Labaton and Edmund Andrews:

Mr. Geithner, who will announce the broad outlines of the plan on Tuesday, successfully fought against more severe limits on executive pay for companies receiving government aid.

He resisted those who wanted to dictate how banks would spend their rescue money. And he prevailed over top administration aides who wanted to replace bank executives and wipe out shareholders at institutions receiving aid.

Obama is spending his good name out in America to enable a couple of bumbling, Ivy educated fools to destroy any trust Americans have left in their government.

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I guess the Big 3 were too big to fail. That is, our venal leaders were torn between fearing we’d revolt if they bailed out their buddies and fearing we’d revolt if they let a million more jobs go down the tubes. In the end I think it’s a good thing that they gave these pompous losers three more months to get their house in order before the day of reckoning comes. Once again strange political bedfellows made for a weird ideological tension behind the resolution. Conservatives want to break the back of organized labor forever, and in their view they’re not so much saving jobs as making sure manual laborers get paid no more than service industry employees. True liberals want the market to do its magic — even if that means losing a million jobs. Bleeding heart liberals want us to think of the children — of the soon to be impoverished northern states. The best possible outcome here, is for entrepreneurs of small companies that make small, incredibly efficient cars to spring up like mushrooms on the rotting dung heap of the big 20th century American auto industry. Even better, companies from Detroit and Milwaukee that make high speed light rail trains, tracks, services, and all the rest. But I’m not holding my breath.

Illinois Governor Jarrett

This is the headline from the AP: “Did Obama team have contact with Ill. governor?” The first paragraph isn’t much better:

Barack Obama insists he didn’t have any contact with Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich or anyone else who might have been scheming to sell the president-elect’s U.S. Senate seat. But he has not yet given his transition staff the same clean bill of health — perhaps with good reason.

Jon Stewart showed Wednesday night how Fox has been trying to tar and subvert Obama by subliminally implying he and Blagojevich were best buddies, but in a rare nod to subtlety, Sean Hannity went to great lengths to say Obama had no connection with the soon-to-be-former governor. Leave it to the AP to take the fight to the next level.

The New York Times article on the scandal today tries to mitigate some of the right-wing echo chamber. But as I said in a previous post, Obama must make this an opportunity to purge any and all corruption in government. Our future depends on it.

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Should Democrats, and specifically Barack Obama be worried about corruption scandals? Yes they should. It is true that conservative = corrupt. From Iraq to Katrina to Wall St. to The Big Three, success has bred corruption throughout our culture.

Now is the time for Barack to do a Hank V and renounce any and all shady buddies. They’re just skeletons in the closet, waiting to sabotage the necessary reforms that must be implemented in the next four years. Bill Clinton tried to play the middle, and his presidency was hobbled by conservative attacks (gays in the military, socialized medicine) within his first 100 days. He played a rearguard action against the conservative hate machine for the rest of his tenure.

Please, please Mr. Obama, don’t let your presidency be scuttled by scandal before it even begins. Purge all corruption now, make it public, make it a crusade. Only then will you be able to give us the rest of your agenda.

Zach B.

P.S. Also try to avoid doing an Eliot Spitzer. For the next four years at least you have to be holier than Mother Teresa.

Front page news folks!

If you didn’t see it in the comments, our girl Jocelyn over at Rock Star Diary, alerted us to an article in the Greenpoint Gazette that gives more scoop on the Richard Duran killing on July 11.

BUT HERE’S THE NEWS: Why wasn’t the crime scene cleaned up? Because it happened on MTA property. This makes me laugh… the kind of sick, disgusted, sardonic laugh one is likely to cough up at the end of a French noir or an O. Henry story. Or after watching Fox News. No rest for the wicked. No good deed goes unpunished.

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A friend of mine who lives on the Southside of Williamsburg was complaining — though not in a mean way — about not being able to sleep because of the vigil being held in front of the building next door for a 22 year-old kid who was shot. This led to a conversation about the machete-wielding gangs that have been roving the Southside, the basic street-level knowledge that it’s all about gangs living the old school “what are you doing on my block?” code of ethics, and the fact that the neighborhood is full of cops — the problem being that they’re guarding construction sites. Of which we have many.

Since the editor and progenitor of this blog seems genuinely concerned about the future of America and its priorities, I couldn’t help but think about what violent crime really means to a New Yorker: rent prices. Truly, this is a perversion that seems unique to Newyorqinos: if violent crime is on the rise, does that mean my rent might not go up next year? It’s not lost on me how distinctly fucked-up it is to wish for more violent crime.

However, it’s worth taking a closer look at Williamsburg, which is a virulent Petri dish in the study of New York at long-range. In a city headed by a billionaire mayor who has unilaterally given permission to every developer to come down the pike, giving permission to build higher and higher in neighborhoods that have for decades been small-potatoes, watching what’s happening in Williamsburg is simply a malignant insight into coming attractions: The New New York, where everyone makes two hundred grand a year and the working class (read: servant class) are bussed in daily from ghettos in what used to be rural Pennsylvania. Next time you find yourself on the other side of the East river, take a little walk through Williamsburg, Greenpoint—even Long Island City. This entire waterfront will look just like Midtown Manhattan before the decade is up.
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