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Category Archives: American Pastoral


Remiss in posting here, verging on a year – more or less on the road all the time, Marcella and I.   For that time the numbing cacophony of American politics has rumbled as a background noise throughout the culture, interwoven with the other threads of our communal quilt: football, baseball, basketball, the now-customary gun massacre in a shopping mall or school, or even church.  The economy wheezes, sneezes, and we are assured is on a painfully slow recovery from the banker’s bust of 2008.  While the naked eye can read these things in the homeless encampments in any city or town, and the forlorn downcast faces of placard holding “losers,” academics scan statistics to inform us that the cohort of middle-aged white American males holds the distinction of having an ever diminishing life expectancy, with high suicide rates, and deaths from drugs and alcohol.  Pundits scurry to analyze this data, to ponder just why this should be so here in the world’s richest nation. Statistics demonstrate the grotesque disparities in the distribution of American wealth; demonstrators echo the mantra of Occupy, of the 1% and the 99%, and these are belatedly mouthed by our current presidential candidates.


Meanwhile in distant lands Predator drones, and C-130 armed planes, drift high over the landscape delivering American policy, in the sudden rush of a Hellfire missile or cannon blast from 40,000 feet.  The “target objective” is (perhaps) vaporized, along with the tangential collateral damage.  Our serious columnists and pundits sift the think-tank data and opinion and then theorize on why some elements of the world’s population are angry with us.  There is no denial so successful as self-denial, and the American elite, rapacious and vicious, believes (at least some of them do) that our nation is out “doing good” in the big bad world out there.  Building democracy (backing right-wing dictators), bringing freedom (to be vaporized if you differ in what is best for your own),  developing free markets (where corporations dictate the rules).  What’s not to like?

9_Andy_Warhol_Guns_198 _AWF

Moving down the coast through a bedraggled and fracked Pennsylvania, we passed through Gettysburg, the grim cauldron of American nationhood, where the Union was – ever so American – enforced at gunpoint and vast bloodshed.   It became a national instinct, which these days finds its expression in the gun lobby, and rural America’s love of guns which it seems to correlate with “freedom.”  About 300 Americans are killed by guns everyday.  Among the casualties are veterans of America’s endless wars, who take their own lives at a clip of about 22 per day, mostly with guns.  More collateral damage.  The monuments to these men are the VFW halls which litter the rural world, one in almost every small town and city, where hardly anyone notes the curiousness of what they mean: Veterans of Foreign Wars.  Of which we have plenty.




Meandering further southward, we passed into the Deep South, where the sense of poverty deepened, and indeed the statisticians who crunch numbers confirm, if necessary, what the eye already reveals.  Though it takes a bit more than surface evidence to understand that these deep fried souls of the south, the white ones, the ones whose lifespans are contracting, are indeed the same who vote hard Republican Right, for those who would strip them of health care, of, in due time, Social Security and any other “safety net.”  All in the name of less “guvmint” and more Bible.  And in the name of not giving a crumb to Those People – the black ones, the Hispanic ones  – the any other than one’s own cracker good old boys.  Down South the purpose of a university is to host a money-making football team, and education comes far down the totem pole.   The rewards are a prideful ignorance and stupidity, worn as a badge of honor.  Fuck them libruls, and them pointy-headed college kids.  Go NASCAR.





Sprouting from this fertile ground, the current crop of Republican Presidential wanna-be’s assemble on television for their “debates” and revel in a political vulgarity that in another time would have seen them promptly booted from the stage.  Instead, in this benighted time, their inanities are taken as if serious, and even the New York Times kow-tows to their absurdities: the world is 6,000 years old (because the Bible tells me so); global warming is a hoax (because the oil industry tells me so.)   Too much idiocy to redundantly list here, though these idiocies are taken in some perverse PC-warp as acceptable by our media.   Science is a “belief” on an equal setting with, say, “Christianity.”   Thundering from the podium, we are sold pie-in-the-sky as snake oil –  old as the nation is our addiction to delusion.


“No one in this world has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.”

“Civilization, in fact, grows more and more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.”     H.L. Mencken





Through the Southwest of res towns and spectacular landscapes, we veered north to the dilapidated once-city of Butte, one of my American touch-stones.  The vast spaces are punctuated with pockets of mocking wealth and faux Westernism – places like Santa Fe, Taos, Cody, Jackson Hole – sparkling next to the myriad run-down abandoned places strung along disused rail tracks.  The res towns seem frozen in amber, desolate and hopeless, suffocated by the bowl of sky above and the empty landscapes around them.   Once thriving towns lie in ruins, roofs collapsing, stores boarded up and empty.  Desolation is transparent and real.


They’re selling postcards of the hanging
They’re painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors
The circus is in town
Here comes the blind commissioner
They’ve got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker
The other is in his pants
And the riot squad they’re restless
They need somewhere to go
As Lady and I look out tonight
From Desolation Row

Dr. Filth, he keeps his world
Inside of a leather cup
But all his sexless patients
They’re trying to blow it up
Now his nurse, some local loser
She’s in charge of the cyanide hole
And she also keeps the cards that read
“Have Mercy on His Soul”
They all play on pennywhistles
You can hear them blow
If you lean your head out far enough
From Desolation Row

Now at midnight all the agents
And the superhuman crew
Come out and round up everyone
That knows more than they do
Then they bring them to the factory
Where the heart-attack machine
Is strapped across their shoulders
And then the kerosene
Is brought down from the castles
By insurance men who go
Check to see that nobody is escaping
To Desolation Row

Robert Zimmerman



Landing in the self-conscious civility of Portland, where the invisible hand of the market masks racism, and the weird politeness of well-off hipsters hides its class-roots (those thousands of dollars of tattoos and piercings that “keep Portland weird” don’t fall from the sky), I felt exhausted, not of the thousands of miles on the road, but of the meanderings of my mind.  Road hum for me is something that loosens my thoughts, allows a vast free-flow of observations, perceptions, and experiences to intermingle, and opens up “thinking,”  which in its turn allows one to really “look.”

Thinking is more interesting than knowing, but less interesting than looking.”  Goethe

Of America – boisterous, crazed, beautiful, ugly – I have seen enough to ponder the balance of my years.  Enough to guess its fractures now run so deep that it will, following in the wake of the USSR, stumble and collapse, and modestly soon – the next 30 to 50 years?  Enough to sense I have nothing more to add to the tumult of sounds which riven it, the avalanche of images and noises, which now run amok, out of all control, driving it towards ruin.   In all honesty I think nothing – certainly no political party, certainly no technical wizardry, certainly no “religious revival” (a recurrent American fall-back) – can thwart this spiral into dissolution.  Nor, really, should one try:  it is natural that things are born, grow, live, and then die.  As much for human constructs like nations and cultures, as for any living thing.

The pure products of America
go crazy–
mountain folk from Kentucky

or the ribbed north end of
with its isolate lakes and

valleys, its deaf-mutes, thieves
old names
and promiscuity between

devil-may-care men who have taken
to railroading
out of sheer lust of adventure–

and young slatterns, bathed
in filth
from Monday to Saturday

to be tricked out that night
with gauds
from imaginations which have no

peasant traditions to give them
but flutter and flaunt

sheer rags succumbing without
save numbed terror

under some hedge of choke-cherry
or viburnum–
which they cannot express–

Unless it be that marriage
with a dash of Indian blood

will throw up a girl so desolate
so hemmed round
with disease or murder

that she’ll be rescued by an
reared by the state and

sent out at fifteen to work in
some hard-pressed
house in the suburbs–

some doctor’s family, some Elsie
voluptuous water
expressing with broken

brain the truth about us–
her great
ungainly hips and flopping breasts

addressed to cheap
and rich young men with fine eyes

as if the earth under our feet
an excrement of some sky

and we degraded prisoners
to hunger until we eat filth

while the imagination strains
after deer
going by fields of goldenrod in

the stifling heat of September
it seems to destroy us

It is only in isolate flecks that
is given off

No one
to witness
and adjust, no one to drive the car

Wm Carlos Williams









As I write, October 16th, 2013, the grand Kabuki drama of the nation rises to one of its cyclical peaks as the structural weaknesses of our Constitution come into synchronicity. In the next day or two this media orchestrated minuet will play out,  with a temporary collapse of the Tea-Party Republican extremist’s efforts to block so-called Obamacare, claiming the real concern is the Federal deficit, by threatening to defund the government, though most of the same people blithely upped the deficit, slashed taxes, and started two fraudulent wars without a care during the reign of George W. Bush – as VP Cheney famously said way back then, “Deficits don’t matter.”  But today, with a black man in the White House, they matter, if only as a rhetorical weapon-of-the-moment.  Or, instead, this dance may see the little hard-core of Tea Party Representatives willing and able to risk a global financial melt-down as the rigged “reserve currency” of the post-World War II era runs aground on the fractured politics of the nation which prints those famous old Greenbacks, as the “exceptional” USA defaults on its debts.  This in turn will accelerate the process where the great sloshing of globalized, unaccountable wealth is shifting its currency into what those with it imagine to be safer forms than silly old abstractions, like money.  Instead they buy “art” or real estate in places like London, New York, Abu Dubai, and other enclaves of the increasingly “only rich welcome” sanctuaries.

[Note: barring some last minute glitch, it appears the Republicans have blinked, and our grand Kabuki drama will carry on, with another riveting crisis being revved up off-stage at this very moment.]


rothko1_2214608aMark Rothko painting, sold for $86,882,500koons01_Jeff Koons work sold for $33,682,500

A Rothko painting is composed of a thin sheet of canvas, and some thin layers of paint, and a wooden frame.  Materially it is both easily degraded (the red tones in this work are especially vulnerable to fading), or destroyed.  Materially it is worth perhaps $100.   Clearly what is being bought is something else – either the experience of looking at it, or, the assumption that its investment value in terms of money will increase faster, say, than the value of stocks, or interest from loaning the money.   While the Koons work is materially more substantial, the money to purchase it was animated by the same assumption: that the “art” aspect would multiply its “value” more rapidly than other investments.  In both cases, the reality is that, exactly as is the case with “money,” what is being assumed is that a social agreement that something “abstract” has material value.  Money, whether “represented” with things like gold or silver (chosen long ago because they do not readily oxidize and change their atomic structure), or paper, is in effect a social contract, one which says X currency is worth X material something.  When I was young a cup of (bad in the USA) coffee cost 5 cents.  Today in most cafes a cup of perhaps good coffee would run $3 or so. You can do the math on the inflation and figure out that the social contract regarding the numbers shifted terms rather drastically in my life-time.   In a similar way the social contract in America – between Americans – has also drastically changed.


Two years ago Occupy Wall Street materialized, and shifted our political dialog sharply:  the phrases “we are the 99%” and its corollary, “the 1%” emerged from decades of suffocation with barbs about “class war.”  OWS was initially ignored by the press, and then briefly given coverage as it spawned across the country.  At the same moment the NSA, CIA and FBI, in a Federally coordinated effort, collaborated with local police departments to heavily clamp down and as best they could, destroy this movement.  But the cat had been let out of the bag and a broad social awareness of the ever increasing disparities regarding the grossly tilted distribution of wealth, topics which are now almost everyday conversation, and around which our thoroughly corrupted politicians must dance, had been birthed.  Hence today’s minuet, which, as I write, appears headed towards an absurd “settlement” of kicking the can down the road 4 months.  And behind the curtains, cynic that I am, I can see the next act in this American theater of the Absurd:  in the coming months, as the Congress sits down to “seriously” decide on the Nation’s budget for the coming years, decade, whatever they say, in a signal of his “flexibility” President Obama will agree to cutting Social Security costs, cutting Medicare and Medicaid costs, and doubtless many other things.  However our sacrosanct military, and its burgeoning adjunct of the vast security state which has blossomed since 9/11, will not be touched.  And perhaps, as a signal of its reasonableness the counter-party will admit to some tiny tax here or there, though preferably it would be along the line of a VAT, “so we can all share the burden.”  Bets?




Senate Republicans Address The Press After Weekly Policy Luncheon

But, just in case the dog and pony show in the District of Columbia doesn’t provide enough sleight-of-hand to duly befuddle the citizenry, we can always count on mass media circus to do the job.


20111021-WARHOL-slide-KGYV-slideEarly Andy Warhol20130712-LEGENDS-slide-LLOS-slide - Copy

diet coke from Jordan Wolfson video (1)



As this scenario has essentially been going on since we started, at the very outset anointing ourselves as “exceptional” and telling whatever untruths were necessary to support our illusion, beginning with our blatant theft of an entire continent from its inhabitants under the ironclad law that “might makes right” – after all, what were “they” doing with all this except wasting its values?  And on through a founding document which asserted that “all me are created equal” which was written by wealthy men who owned slaves, and whose document actually only considered white male landowners as “men” and on through the rest of our sordid mountain of self-delusions, which we must confront every day, and which confound our politics and society as they historically have.  To untangle this mess of contradictions is certainly more than our institutions can cope with, which as the stresses of these days indicate, will lead to a breaking up of our Union, as the diverse interests and beliefs of our populace decide myth is not a good place in which to actually live.




kennedy assass 5

kansas city church

fracking in the countrycrpd





brain at work




20130705-TRAYLOR-slide-DYTS-slideBill TraylorhalloTrick or treat!


packard_0491b_tmDetroit, photo by Mark EifertDSC09887Point Mugu, Ca.  –  JostDSC07186

DSC09881Corporate building, Oxnard, Ca.DSC07249Oil field, near Taft, Ca.DSC08695

DSC09814Pacific Ocean, near Carpinteria, Ca.DSC08743Wood along Swanton Road, Davenport, Ca.

Winter has slipped by, leaving the Rocky Mountains and Sierra’s bereft of the “normal” snow-pack, and in turn predicting a grim summer of drought, fires, smoke-choked skies, and rationing of water down-stream in Arizona, California and throughout the West.  To the east, rain and snow has been more than usual, hinting perhaps at floods.  In the same moment our political dialog remains in stasis, the special interests of oil buying the airwaves to insist the evidence is not in, never mind the flooding of lower Manhattan and extensive coastal damage in the east caused by Hurricane Sandy some months ago – global warming is a myth, and it’s full steam ahead on the Keystone Canadian tar sands XL pipeline, despite the recurrent leaks and ruptures in the pipeline infrastructures around the globe.  Recall  Deepwater Horizon, BP’s little incident on the gulf?   Business as usual in the oil biz.


The Presidential election over, and the rather convincing evidence of a culturally “liberal” national consensus being revealed, our Republicans are falling over themselves cozying up to same-sex marriage and other right-wing taboos, just as they fell all over themselves embracing evangelicals and tea-partiers not so long ago.  In the wake of the shootings in Newtown, Ct., even the matter of some kind of gun control has become speakable in Republican language, though the NRA is doing its best to enforce its control.  And yet we seem intractably frozen in our large communal conversation, unable to actually even speak, much less act in the face of piles of problems, accumulating as time goes by.  Whether with the accelerating collapse of the “middle class” or the utter ignoring of the now 30% of the population who are “poor,” or the ever increasing concentration of wealth at the very top of our fiscal pyramid, or with the very real consequences which will visit us from global warming – water crises, evacuations of major urban concentrations, diminishing food supplies for an expanding populace – our inability to even begin a conversation will write our epitaph.  Cruising for a bruising.

DSC07025Jim Nisbet’s workshop, San FranciscoDSC04463Autumn trees, eastern WashingtonDSC07134Morro Bay, Ca.417086_457685187615241_1500966691_n


DSC02364XOGeronimo in Shoshone, Wyo.PORT ANGELES 64Port Angeles, Wa.packard_0515_tm

Hurricane Sandy rolls off the American East CoastGrand Coulee dam, photo JostPhilip GustonGrant Wood

Above photos: J Jost

WeegeeJasper JohnsJost

Russell Means, AIMSusan RothenbergJostThe Real Thing

With the blessings of the Supreme Court’s  Citizens United ruling, which has sanctified money as a form of speech and proscribed any limits for it, the present quadrennial cycle of America’s political landscape has flourished as never before, with literally billions of dollars being spent to broadcast a flood of bile and lies, amplified by the corporate owned “press,” which now merely repeats the calculated sound-bites of the candidates and their PACs and party propaganda organs, and has unleashed a flood worse than that with which Hurricane Sandy inundated New Jersey and New York.  Our electoral system has gone berserk on a hit of endless greenback steroids, and a “politically correct” 4th Estate which seems unable to call a lie a lie, and is clearly in the pockets of our corporatocracy.  Awash in a constant dose of fraud and corruption, our citizenry is numbed, as is clearly the intention of the Wizards of Oz who manipulate this social landscape with the purpose of concentrating the land’s wealth into ever fewer hands and stripping any control of political and economic levers from anyone but themselves.  The Plutocracy is in full flower, shamelessly.   Their advocate Mr Romney, himself of minor wealth by comparison, is game for any contortion required, and the exhausted and corrupted body politic applauds this as if politics were a bizarre circus in which the greater the pretzel twisting, the more the reward.  America has descended in a political death spiral, as if instantly turning itself into a mode of Berlusconi’s Italy in which criminality runs the show and the larger part of the population gazes in admiration at the capacity of the crooks to bend the system to their will.  Where we once pointed to others as the ultimate in corruption – Italy, Egypt, some Central American “Banana Republic” – we can now only honestly point to ourselves.

Edward Hopper


Shulamith FirestoneEmily Dickenson and Kate Scott TurnerJackie and JFKBrooks Range, Alaska; Sebastian Salgado

Bikini Island nuclear test X-ray1Sol Lewitt drawing

Alberta oil sands, headed to USA by pipeline

OWS, Denver. Colo.

Federal Prison, Florence, Colorado

DetroitArkansas River

Phil Glass with score of Einstein at the BeachButte, MT.

Summer’s turpitude has lapsed, and the world has scurried back to work, to school, to the everyday hum-drum of what we imagine is “life.”  In America, in this year, 2012, the autumn is overwhelmed with politics as our quadrennial charade of “democracy” takes the forefront of our national life.   After a numbing sequence of primary elections, and the Republican’s ill-fated endless series of auto-destructive “debates,” the dust has settled and the candidates for President has narrowed to the permitted two.  In this case, representing the Elephant symbol of the Republicans it is Mr Romney, scion of industrial wealth, and self-proclaimed biz-whiz.  And representing the Donkey symbol of the Democrats, is Mr Obama, running for his second term, after 45 months of being hog-tied by an anything-but-loyal opposition, which has done everything it can to damage the political prospects of the incumbent, even if it meant inflicting grievous damage on the nation – which it has.  And so, with the curiously inverted political coloring of red and blue strangely switched since Cold War days when red was the taboo commie/pinko code, and blue the benign sign of patriotism, the American versions of Left and Right will have at it.   That Mr Obama is politically a step or two to the right of Republican Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon, but masquerades as a Democrat, while Mr Romney morphs to whatever pander pose seems to strike him as opportune for the moment, all serves to corrode this grand national theater with a cynicism which seems to transcend party lines.  Both sides of the aisle genuflect to the same masters – the bankers, the military-industrial complex, and the not-so-hidden powers that govern our national life with total control over money, the media, jobs, the law, and, of course, the politicians who represent them.  Thus those who have transparently transgressed beyond the laws they themselves have written are all naturally left utterly unfettered and set free:  war crimes are hush-hushed, great financial crimes are not prosecuted, the President sits as judge, jury and executioner in violation of the Constitution which he is sworn to uphold, the great national security state carries on with its spying, torturing, and other Orwellian practices – such as “extreme rendition” (to say kidnapping, torturing and sometimes killing in the name of the State).   Needless to say, none of this will be mentioned in the coming days of political rhetoric.  Nor will either party suggest that spending half the “discretionary” budget of the US government on the military is in any way a dubious matter, or indeed sure to bankrupt the nation, in keeping with the usual nature of empires.  Nope, goldern it, instead Mr Romney says he’d increase the military funding by 10%, while Mr Obama drones merrily away, nicely masked by the Neanderthal neo-con con-game.  In the name of the nation’s businesses, it’s American corporations über alles, by hook or crook.  This time the snake oil is in the neo-liberal process of privatizing about everything, while socializing the losses, and blaming the poor for the red ink.  Mr Obama is as much a party to this as is Mr Romney.   Indeed the entire spectacle appears little more than a highly formalized minuet in which the thuggish reality of America’s actual real-politik is obscured by the impolite shrieking of our mass media, and the cartoon buffoonery of our now nearly endless campaign season, mired in small-time cultural warfare while we engage endlessly in militarized global warfare.   So, while there are some tangible, real world differences in the outcome of whether one or the other is President for the coming four years, the baseline is much the same:  the rich and powerful get off free, the military bloats more and ever more corrupt, the media lies with no kind of punishment for doing so, and the nation will, whomever “wins,” drift ever more toward dissolution.  Our politicians, with their lapel pins, their plastic folksiness, their transparent corruption, all look and behave ever more like their old Soviet counterparts – those pre-embalmed figures who graced the reviewing stands on Red Square, caught in the illusionary bubble of their faltering system, sure of their mystical powers until the edifice crumbled before their eyes.  Likewise will the United States stumble onward, reciting self-pleased rhetoric about its exceptionalism, its inherent goodness, its dynamic economy, and all the other bromides our politicians utter as their mandatory catechism.    If you don’t play that game, you are not allowed to play at all.  To participate in America’s Kabuki politics, one must be blind.

The deal with the devil was long made.  Their hands lie open awaiting the silver coins due them for their prostrations before the great powers that really run the show.

General Sherman

White Elk Motel,  Idaho (Photo: Jost)Shield, Chief Arapoosh, Montana, 1825Jasper Johns, MapGeorge Zimmerman, killer of Trayvon MartinTarget Store (Photo: Linn Ehrlich)Dalton GangDead pines near Butte, Mt. (Photo : Jost)Storm clouds move over west of Palmyra, IndianaAaron Siskind photographBy the tracks, Missoula Mt. (Photo: Jost)

Festooned with the bright colors of the flag, America entered summer 2012 with the bang of fireworks, concomitant fires, and a vast heat wave hinting at our hot future, and of course, the cyclic noise of electioneering.  Soon lawns will bloom with campaign posters – Obama or Romney – though from where I write now – Montana – is more inclined towards Ron Paul.  The drone of pundits will assert a secret knowledge to be found in the arcane tea-leaves of gaffes, and eager to make of our quadrennial electoral charade a contest, they’ll take any dip or bump in “the market” as a sign of disaster or hope for one of the two authorized and permitted candidates.  Blame will be duly apportioned for whatever befalls the nation – a drought or flood, an economic slip, or a bonanza.  Given the Supreme Court’s recent rulings, billions will be spent to cajole the voting population into supporting this or that candidate with an avalanche of falsehoods, lies, and bombast, not to mention legalistic maneuvers to delete from the rolls certain segments of the populace, and where that fails, to confuse them with bogus mailings, false addresses.   It matters, in certain essential matters, not at all who “wins.”  The game is rigged, and while in many domestic matters it will matter a little, in the basic ones governing America’s imperial behavior, it won’t matter at all:  the drones will drone on, the military-industrial complex will continue its path, and we will all follow.   Thus flows the beneficence of our democracy, in which a combination of self-interested hyper-wealth and a vast public ignorance are meant to deliver wisdom to the public domain.  Good fucking luck.

John BaldassariJackson Pollock, Lavender MistBy Clearwater River, Idaho (Photo: Jost)Schoops, Photo by Linn EhrlichElvis Presley and Oral RobertsMose Tolliver, Alabama

Miles Davis arrestedJFK Bar, Anaconda Mt. (Photo: Jost)

Walkerville, Mt. (Photo: Jost)Mercury Showroom, Los AngelesBob DaltonWalt Whitman

And so another July 4th comes and goes, announced with barbeques and fireworks, the birth of the nation celebrated in a mindless and drunken splurge.  What was it all about, that Declaration of Independence?

Near Ellensburg, WashingtonSouth Fayette, Pennsylvania

From Nathaniel Dorsky’s Triste

I returned to America from Korea after almost four years’ absence, in mid-March.  Taking a whirl-wind tour from Los Angeles, to Portland (Or.), to Nashville and Knoxville, then on to Tampa, Chicago, Kansas City, and then to Minneapolis, Northfield, St. Cloud and Mankato, Minn., and finally down to Lincoln, Ne. and  Stanberry, Mo. where I shot a film for my friend, Blake Eckard.  I acted in it as well.   The journey was prompted by a wish to get a quick over-all sense of the state of the Union, which I’d tracked somewhat obsessively from my distant perch in Seoul.  From that remove I’d read the statistics on unemployment, the grim news of the economy.   From the glancing view I got on this trip, it was frankly difficult to perceive this, but then I was traveling for the most part in the economic cocoon of academia, a firmly middle-class realm in which $4 for a cup of coffee is taken without a comment.  It was only on an Amtrak ride from LA to Portland, and a few bus rides I took – Nashville to Knoxville, and Mankato to Lincoln – where I was afforded a glimpse of the other America.  The fiscal chasm which divides America is deep, and seems carefully constructed to hide from both sides the reality which unites them.  I found myself wondering how many of those people who filled the restaurants and cafes and bars I was taken to as a guest – often places which on my own I’d never entertain – were living on credit.

Plains Indian Moccasins

Fake Jackson Pollock paintingWoodpeckersPunditsAmerican Menorah

Hydraulic fracturing waste disposal

It’s an election year, and the divisiveness of the last years is being amplified in our four-year cycle of political combat.  In the last few years the Supreme Court has issued rulings which effectually make our supposed democracy a system formally for sale to the highest bidder.   Asserting that corporations are de facto “persons” and that money is speech, the Court has openly condoned what is now legalized corruption, evident in the avalanche of super PACs flushing millions of dollars into the political process, whether for advertising blitzes or into the pockets of  “lobbyists” who in turn slip it into the pockets of our revolving door politicians.   As in the classic American axiom “Money Talks and Bullshit Walks” the massive flow of funds from Wall Street through the halls of Congress is now transparent, and in the form of ALEC has shown up in every State House as well, ready to bend the “law” to favor still more the interests of “business.”   America is busy fracking itself to pieces, all in the name of patriotism, profits, and the God Almighty Buck.  American as Apple Pie.

Rough Rider Teddy Roosevelt

The American Dream

Danny Lyons motorcycle in the mid-westJasper John’s NumbersEd Ruscha’s ExitTrayvon Martin’s memorial

On my arrival back in Los Angeles, as I left the plane, an airline stewardess asked me if I was glad to be back.  I answered her, “I don’t know yet.”   It remains my view.

Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Park #122

Gary Beydler, 16mm film, Hand Held Day (1970)Trader, NY Stock ExchangeForeclosureRustbelt, DetroitTornado, Grand Island, NebraskaMitt Romney and Rick Perry, Presidential aspirantsNina Mannering, killed at 29 in meth’ed out Ohio townMap, Jasper JohnsAttica State Prison, New YorkOccupy, SeattleOccupy, OaklandTodd Morten, Scott’s Bluff, Ne.Hank Williams
George Kuchar, 1942-2011Paramount Cinema, Oakland, Ca.

Rupturing through the slick apathy of corporatized America, where last the semblance of public utterance was underwritten by the Koch brothers in the form of the Tea Party, this autumn found another voice.  Unlike the AstroTurf patriots of the tri-corner hat costumed shills of wealth, whose origins were transparent in their corporate logo mass-produced placards, the Occupy Wall Street movement – triggered by the example of the Arab Spring, fueled with Twitter and Facebook and ironically their corporate heft, as well as seeded by the Canadian anti-corporate magazine Adbusters – is instead truly a grass-roots phenomenon, as signaled in their simple hand-made singular signs.  Willfully lacking “leaders,” the Occupy movement has baffled our “authorities,” be they of the government or pundits representing the ruling class, all of whom take hierarchical order as a natural state of affairs and cannot comprehend its absence.   At its outset, occupying Zuccotti Park in New York City, OWS was seen as a brief quirk, a small cluster of mostly college kids camping in downtown Manhattan.  Palin’s “lame-stream” press did its best to ignore them, in a manner tipping its corporate hand:  when the Tea Party entered the scene the coverage was instant and massive.  But of course, hidden behind the screen, it was their party, supporting corporate interests.   OWS was certainly not theirs, and in the classic Pravda style of the good old USSR, if they didn’t report it, it wouldn’t exist.   And so the major media of America issued its black-out fatwa, very much as the Mubarak regime had done, and officially Occupy Wall Street vanished from view.  But, just as in Egypt, the internet provided the mechanism for an end-run around the the views of officialdom, and rather than withering in a matter of days, variants of OWS began to pop up around the country.  Flummoxed, authorities applied their usual remedies:  police were used to cordon and attack, rules were suddenly applied or invented.  And yet with each maneuver of suppression the movement gained support and within a short period, despite repeated attempts at official suppression and ridicule from the punditry, Occupy Wall Street managed to gain from 47 to 70% favorable polling (depending on which), and the national conversation drastically shifted from discussing how to slash Social Security or Medicare, into  discussing how it was that 1% of the population sucked up most the wealth, had bought the government and the press, and had pretty much ruined things for the 99% below them.  All in six weeks.  Without a “leader.”  Without a talking-point agenda.  Without going on one of the TV network talk shows, or Sunday morning political platforms.  Without all the requisites of corporate dictated politics.

Whether in its current form Occupy manages to survive, or develops into a potent political force, it can reasonably be said that it has already been a massive success in articulating the rage underlying our political and economic system.   Without presenting a platform or a list of requested demands, it has made clear that our economic system is utterly out of balance and does not serve the larger public, and it has pointed the finger at the Masters of the Universe who occupy the suites of Wall Street and K Street, and dictate to our corrupted politicians – from Barack Obama to Mitch O’Connell and on out to the far-right extremes of those presently running for the Republican nomination.   In changing the national conversation from the bullet points of neo-liberalist economics and neo-con foreign policy, it has made a major contribution already towards correcting the insanity which has engulfed our national politics.

Governor Scott Walker, Wisconsin

George Kuchar sees the futureScott Olsen, Iraq war vet attacked by Oakland policeFrom Nathaniel Dorsky’s “The Visitation”

Jasper Johns, FlagsNebraska
Liberace’s shoes, Las Vegas

Manhattan Loop Bridge, Edward HopperTuscaloosa, Alabama, after twister

Babe Ruth, heavy hitter

Corporate heavy hitters of today

Coryell’s Ferry, by Joseph PicketMissouri River flood

Patriotic paintingBoise City, Oklahoma, droughtUS/Mexico border, CaliforniaOcean Park series, Richard Diebenkorn

July 4th, 2011.  Subdued by a near-decade of terrorism alerts, innured to the steady encroachment of police-state “security” measures, mired in 2 and a half unfinished wars, with a bloated military sucking up 50% of Federal “discretionary” spending, and sucker punched with a double-whammy yo-yo ride on the banker-built debt balloon that crashed in 2008, the nation limps into its 235th birthday celebration less convinced than ever of its Number One status in God’s graces.  Official unemployment sits near 10%, giving ample proof that governmental statistics are bent like pretzels, and fed by a willing and compliant mass media to the public, which is supposed to accept them, like airport body scans, as the price of life in the greatest nation on earth.

The day will be filled with political hot air, with Presidential-aspirants floating trial balloons as the nation’s spirit deflates in the face of realities concocted in the back-rooms of big business and the government it now fully owns and controls.  Americans will be told, as their counterparts in Europe and elsewhere are, that austerity is the demand of the times, except, of course for the tiny percentage on top who command multiple million and even billions of payment annually for their hard labors.  Meanwhile the columned porticos of the foreclosed McMansions disguise the reek of formaldehyde soaked plywood and the fiberboard and Chinese sheet-rock moulders, revealing the more fundamental fraud that accompanied the dicey mortgage loan with which they were bought.

Accelerating faster than our political shell-game masters can shuffle the deck, the public is left behind in a welter of ever more Orwellian slogans,  led towards serfdom in the name of “freedom.”   Unaware of where their previous wealth was secured – by imperial/capitalist exploitation – when the same is applied directly to themselves, the citizenry of the once all-powerful USA finds itselfs grasping at straws.  Economically whipped into line, they duly line up for good-old-boy Wally’s Wal-Mart, to buy cheapened goods at basement prices from those who took their jobs, and in the country-western song line, shoved it.  Mainstreet America is boarded up while the Board of Directors of Wall Street corporations dance like Scrooge McDuck in their hoarded wealth.

At the same time, obscured in the shadowy world of the real powers that run the show, a scramble is on to beef up the security system, militarize the police, and pass laws that will allow the military to police internally when the rupture between reality and fantasy evokes civil violence.  Drones which patrol the borders will find themselves directed inland to survey the wreckage of the American dream, laid waste metaphorically of late in tornadoes, and bank collapses.  Yankee doodle no longer dandy.



Post-bin Laden Obama GI Joe doll

Nuclear test “X-Ray”

The gloves of  Bob Allison,  Babe Ruth,  Brooks Robinson, Jerry Koosman,  Ray Hayworth,  Red Murry

Lindytown, West Virginia, coal town abandoned after mountain-top strip miningBoston under lighteningChicago, South Water Street Terminal, 1943, Photo: Jack DelanoEllen McLaughlin in Angels in America

Chuck BerryRichard and Pat NixonSurvivalist’s stockpileDollar store, Saddlebrook, N.J.Aggragate pit, Irwindale, Ca.Abandoned commercial buildings, AlabamaMug shot, John Henry1919 Chicago White SocksBarry Bonds
Gillette, Wyoming, coal and gas boom townDetroitJ.P. Morgan Library   LizGrant Wood, Daughters of the American Revolution

Edward Hopper, Movie

The boys of spring are out on the diamonds, though some have skipped onto the courts.  And not the basketball ones.  The pressures of commerce, which as has been said is America’s purpose for existing,  naturally warps the great American past-time, no less than it warps the doctors who prescribe mountains of pills at the behest of the pharmaceutical industry.   “The business of America is business,” said Calvin Coolidge, and for the most part it seems Americans have taken that mantra as their own.  We live, it seems, to make money.   The politics of the moment merely underline this old American adage, as Representative Ryan sells his snake-oil “plan” and President Obama retorts with his.  Shall we or shall we not throw Granny and Gramps under the bus?  Or when and how?

Inexorably the nation moves towards its fiscal truth, which certainly no elected politician can utter, except in the most oblique of manners: the bill has come due, and it must be paid.  We don’t really say from whom the bill comes and we don’t really say why.  Instead we discuss who must pay it, and how.  The reason is that an honest look all points to the very system which America has raised to a religion, that good old Free Market Economy Capitalism, which, left to its own devices does whatever is needed to make a bigger faster buck.  If towards that end ravaging the landscape, selling sugar and oil saturated food to ever bigger and sicker customers, peddling fast gas guzzling cars, shipping factories and production systems to lands of cheaper labor and less onerous regulations,  building a giant near-private military establishment to protect our global “interests,” and developing an all pervasive mass media to sell lies to the citizenry all looks to make the quickest fortune, then America will do it.   That’s how capitalism works, and it has worked its magic on America. 

The current end result is that a tiny one or two percent sliver end up owning about everything – especially those things, like the mass media, the educational systems, and the military, which serve its purposes best.  And of course, the political system, which now is pretty much totally under the control of the corporate systems which that most rich segment has devised and uses to control the rest of us.   The reckoning perhaps has already arrived, or it is arriving now – it depends on how we slice and dice our view of history.

The ship of state has run aground on the usual shoals of empire (that forbidden word which we Americans dare not utter):  an over- extended and overgrown military gobbling up our remaining resources and busy making us unwelcome where ever it goes; a fat and complacent hoi polloi happy to be distracted with trivial circuses  (the Super Bowl, the World Series, American Idol), and a bickering political class in panic as the last pieces of imminent collapse fall into place.    It is, of course, all the others’ fault, though they all agree we can only put it right by carefully avoiding reality.

Pumped on the latest designer drugs our colosseum gladiators take brain-dimming hits, swat homers, collect the hottest chicks and take home millions, to the adulation of the crowd.   Our stars and CEO’s are swamped in “earnings” for their secret labors, the stock market curiously goes up each time unemployment figures head higher, and outside the gate the bread begins running short and the circus begins to grow stale. 

The Sultan of Swat


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