Sunday, November 29, 2009

Full Contact Shopping

When my email in-box became filled with ads from every merchant with whom I've ever purchased a book or candle, offering steep discounts and free shipping, I knew that the holiday shopping season had arrived in earnest. Before the turkey had even been digested, every news outlet was talking about Black Friday. I understand the day after Thanksgiving is when retailers are supposed to "go into the black," but as a history buff, I can't help but think of the original Black Friday on Oct. 25, 1929, when the stock market crashed, precipitating the Great Depression. That day, it wasn't merely prices that were falling, it was raining stockbrokers. Nonetheless, I suppose I managed to save around three hundred dollars this Black Friday just by staying in bed.

The news footage of the crowds that camped out in front of big box stores and rushed the entrances at dawn was enough to discourage me. Police were called to restore order at a local Toys R'Us when a crush of people caused one female shopper to begin waving a taser in the air and threatening those around her to back up. Voices could be heard saying, "Don't tase me, Ho, Ho Ho." I've been informed that people wait all year for these "doorbuster specials." They get the family involved and plot out strategies and logistics, and were it not for the early-bird sales, many could not afford these gifts at other times. As for me, fighting a frenzied mob of aggressive shoppers at 5AM for an electric, Japanese hamster sounds only slightly less appealing than dipping my face in the deep-frier at Wendy's.

Then comes "Cyber Monday," a recent creation to encourage online shoppers to begin early so they don't end up at "Glitch Thursday," when the retailer screws up your order, it doesn't arrive in time for Christmas, and you end up giving your loved one a catalog photo of the gift they were going to get. Even though you run the risk of receiving that late season post card telling you the great bathrobe you ordered for Mom is presently out of stock, I still shop online ever since I noticed that people don't know how to behave in public anymore. The jostling crowds, the slow walkers and cell-phone talkers, the indifferent clerks and rude cashiers had turned Christmas shopping into a two Xanax event. Online, the need for human interaction is unnecessary, which some may think is contrary to the spirit of the season, but it also reduces the chances of contracting the swine flu. That's why the hottest holiday gift this year is Purell Hand Sanitizer.

Speaking of "holidays," I would expect the opening volley of the annual "War on Christmas," sponsored by Fox News, to go off any day. Usually, Bill O'Reilly kicks things off about a conflict over a creche at the post office somewhere, or some such symbolic thing. I heard a woman say last season that if a merchant wished her "Happy Holidays," instead of "Merry Christmas," she would void her sale and take her business elsewhere. I don't suppose a delicatessen was on her list of shops, but isn't that attitude a bit like the Taliban? Since my neighbors think I'm strange anyway, I was thinking of erecting a large, inflatable Ganesha, the Hindu Elephant God, in the front yard. I mean, anybody can blow up a Walgreen's Frosty the Snowman, but Ganesha is the "remover of obstacles." I heard that my rabbi doesn't approve of Jews having Christmas trees, but we're getting by on a technicality since our tree isn't even real and folds up in the attic the rest of the year. Since we're a bi-tradition home, I always get out the acrylic, electric Chanukah menorah, where, on each of the eight nights, you switch on another pastel-colored bulb. I am, after all, a Reform Jew.

I wish I could get more exited about Hanukkah, but it's a minor holiday commemorating a military victory in the 2nd Century BCE, that paled against the festiveness of Christmas as a child. While our Christian friends were given bicycles and ponies, we were getting mesh bags of chocolate coins to celebrate the miracle of one day's worth of Temple oil lasting for eight nights. As far as miracles go, I thought the "Let there be light" one was far more impressive. If it were a holiday of great significance, you would think that after two thousand years, they could agree on how to spell it. It was, however, the world's first holiday celebrating energy conservation. I saw one catalog selling the ultimate in mixed-faith metaphors; the Chanukah spinning top, called a "dreidel," with pictures of Santa on the sides. Could this be a sneaky attempt at conversion, or another Obamanite plot of world-wide ecumenicism?

I know I'll radiate a more seasonal glow as the time draws nigh, then on Christmas day I can erupt in good cheer like an overstuffed Pinata. The family will gleefully unwrap our presents and hunker down for Blue Tuesday, when everybody exchanges everything they received for store credits and gift cards. When all the carolling stops, no one wants to miss an after-Christmas bargain. Until then, the traffic is impossible, the crowds are surly and pushy, and I'm having a difficult time adjusting to life in a world without Ed McMahon. Ask not for whom the jingle bell tolls; especially if you're Dick Clark. "Hiyo!" And, is it alright to say "happy holidays" if you're referring to Lincoln's Birthday, Valentine's Day, and Passover? Finally, why do people pray on Good Friday, but shop on Black Friday? It's not a riddle, I'm just asking. Now get out there and help heal this sick economy by joining our new, grass-roots, holiday initiative, "No electric gerbil left behind."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Lieberman the Schmuck

I would like to offer a heartfelt and blanket apology to anyone that I ever mocked, criticized, or offended for having inadvertently cast a vote for Sarah Palin while trying to register their choice for John McCain as president. To my lasting humiliation, while casting a vote for Al Gore in 2000, I am guilty of voting for the mamzer Joe Lieberman. At the time, I felt it was an inspired choice by Gore. Holy Joe was the anti-Clinton and I was thrilled at the prospect of the first Jewish Vice President. Now, Lieberman's looking more like the anti-Christ, and he has announced his intent to join with the Republicans and filibuster Harry Reid's health care reform proposal, or any bill that contains a public option as a "matter of conscience."

I know this guy believes that he holds up the sky, but how can he speak of "conscience" when he betrayed his own party, supported the opposition candidate for president, and was the second Democrat to speak at a Republican convention in successive conclaves, after the nar Zell Miller. Lieberman means to stand in the way, like George Wallace in the schoolhouse door, and prevent the Democrats from even voting on their centerpiece issue on the Senate floor. All this cranky noise from Lieberman is the continuation of a pattern of revenge against the Party for backing the legitimate winner of the Connecticut senatorial primary in 2006, Ned Lamont. Lieberman was re-elected as an independent, but caucuses with the Democrats, and to guarantee that he would play nice, was allowed to retain his chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee. At the risk of encouraging Jew on Jew violence, it might be time for Rahm Emmanuel to think about slipping a horse's head under Lieberman's linens.

If you'll permit me a couple of ad hominem attacks, Lieberman looks like The Joker from Batman, and when he speaks he reminds me of the Saturday Night Live characters from the 1980s, Doug and Wendy Whiner. He might even have diverticulitis. Every time he opens his yapper, he embodies the term "mealymouth." In the latest Quinnipiac poll, even Connecticut voters believe his views are more in line with the Republicans, so why continue with this sham? The handy website lists Lieberman's top campaign contributors. Why am I not surprised that in the home state of the insurance industry, his major donors include Aetna, Hartford, Pfizer, and Purdue Pharma? Rather than serving the public, or even his constituents' interests, Joe is first serving his corporate masters that got him re-elected.

I long for the days when there was a strong Senate leader like Sam Rayburn or LBJ, who preferred a little arm twisting to assure the success of the party's promises rather than fluff and flattery. And who is the Senate Whip whose responsibility it is to guarantee the votes are there and to enforce party discipline? -Illinois Senator Dick Durbin. Between Durbin and Harry Reid, I don't think either man has ever raised his voice. As a result, rather than a unified party doing the will of the people who put them there, we have a version of a Democratic Party Fight Club, with the Blue Dogs peeing on the carpet. Senator Patrick Leahy has suggested punishing Lieberman by stripping him of his committee chairmanship, but I think it's past time to boot his tuchis from the party so he can find his true home as a spokesman for Fox News. Either that, or force him to filibuster and read the phone book on the Senate floor while people are suffering. Lieberman is already in bed with the Christian right over their staunch support for the state of Israel. His ultra-Zionist views allow him to compartmentalize the fact that the evangelicals' long-term vision for the "end times" in the Holy Land is for either the conversion or death of the Jews.

Earlier this month, Mel Brooks announced the founding of a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the word "schmuck." Brooks announced at a rally in Brooklyn that, "Shmuck is dying. For many of us, saying 'schmuck' is a way of life. Yet when I walk down the street and see people behaving in foolish, pathetic, or otherwise schmucky ways, I hear only the words 'prick' and 'douche bag.' I just shake my head and think, 'I don't want to live in a world like this." The literal meaning of the Yiddish word "schmuck" is a man's penis, or more specifically, the foreskin. But over the years it has become used to describe any arrogant, annoying, or disagreeable person. Brooks told reporters at the first Shmucks for Schmuck rally, "You can be a poor shmuck, a lazy shmuck, a dumb shmuck, or just a plain old shmuck. We must save this word." I have a tip, forgive the pun, for the success of Mel's campaign. Take a long look at Senator Joe Lieberman, and I think you may well have found your poster boy.

mamzer=bastard, nar=fool, tuchis=ass, schmuck=Lieberman

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Dick Cheney On Acid

I suppose it was a coincidence that both the National Geographic and Discovery Channels broadcast back to back documentaries about the CIA's experiments in mind control on successive nights. There was nothing new that had not been previously revealed during the Church Committee Congressional hearings of 1975, where the entire ghoulish laundry list of CIA abuses was unfurled before the public, but one inadvertent piece of evidence made my jaw drop. Both shows focused on the CIA's MK ULTRA program, begun in the fifties, which examined the effects of LSD on subjects both witting and unwitting, in an attempt to create new ways to brainwash potential adversaries. Among the early volunteers for the program was Stanford University student Ken Kesey. The whole sordid story is easily researched online or in library, but here's the short version.

In 1953, the CIA killed one of their own and covered it up. An agency biochemist named Frank Olson, who was critical of the program, was surreptitiously given a large dose of Lysergic Acid in his coffee by fellow agents and observed through a two-way mirror. Soon, Olson was debating the weather on Mount Olympus with Zeus and had a severe psychotic break which required sedation and observation by CIA doctors. Claiming Olson was suicidal, he was secretly checked into a tenth floor New York hotel room to be supervised by an agent entrusted with his care, but before morning, the chemist allegedly leaped from a window to his death while his trustee slept. The CIA declared it a suicide. After Senator Frank Church's committee determined that Olson was a forced participant in the CIA's LSD experiments, his family filed a civil suit against the U.S. Government for wrongful death. President Gerald Ford invited the Olson family to the White House and convinced them, for reasons of national security, not to pursue the case. This is where my eyes widened, since this was not a new film, nor one with a political purpose. The official, contractual papers were shown where the family agreed to settle with the government for $7000 (Seven Thousand Dollars). The author of the deal and the signatory for the United States was the president's Chief of Staff, Richard Cheney.

When someone says "Cheney knows where all the bodies are buried," they are not speaking figuratively. Dirty Dick has been covering up for the CIA's illegal nastiness since the seventies. No wonder he was able to go to Langley as Vice President and rifle through the files with impunity to cook the intelligence for the Iraq War buildup. They owe him, and his access goes back to the Nixon years when he coat-tailed his pal Donald Rumsfeld into the White House. Under Gerald Ford, Cheney and Rumsfeld staged what became known as the "Halloween Massacre," usurping the powers of Nixon holdovers Henry Kissinger and Vice President Nelson Rockefeller to become Ford's Chief of Staff and Secretary of Defense, respectively. From his new position of power, Cheney urged Ford not to cooperate with the Church Committee, arguing that airing the CIA atrocities could only damage the intelligence community. And when the terrible truths became public testimony, Cheney and Rumsfeld engineered the ouster of acting CIA Director William Colby, and had him replaced with George H.W. "Poppy" Bush. The Secret Service's codename for Cheney was "Backseat."

And what a putrid list of illegal activities it was that Cheney wished to protect. From the assassination attempts; Lumumba in the Congo, Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, the Diem brothers in Vietnam, and the Mafia sub-contract to kill Castro; to the domestic spying and infiltration of the peace movement; to attempts to discredit Dr. Martin Luther King and destroy the Black Panther movement, the CIA was so blatantly beyond the law that congress passed legislation to reign them in. The FISA laws (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) came from the Church Committee recommendations, a law that Cheney obviously disdained then as now. When Ford lost the presidency, with Cheney as his campaign manager, to Jimmy Carter in 1976, the Wyoming native ran for Congress in 1978, serving as the Republican leader on the House Intelligence Committee before "Poppy" Bush tapped him as his Secretary of Defense for payback.

In exile at Halliburton during the Clinton years, Dick Cheney enriched himself as Chairman and CEO of the international conglomerate until the uncanny opportunity presented itself for him to screen the Vice Presidential prospects for "Poppy's" clueless boy Georgie's new administration. We know how Cheney spent the next eight years, trying to revive the Nixon presidency and attempting to concentrate power in the Executive Branch. CIA director George Tenant genuflected before him and Cheney became the de-facto head of government and chief protector of manipulated intelligence. He invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, Halliburton and KBR became bloated with war profits, and the CIA was marginalized by the mercenaries from Blackwater. His understudy, Scooter Libby, pleaded guilty to outing a covert agent, and George Tenant was given the Medal of Honor. Everything he warned of or predicted, from the spectre of mushroom clouds to the effectiveness of state sanctioned torture, has been proven dead wrong; yet he still has the temerity to stick around the Capitol like the ghost of Strom Thurmond, and criticize the military strategy of Secretary Gates and the President.

I believe Cheney is hanging around just to scream "National Security!" if any legal entity should dig too deeply into his resume. Anyone who places a value on the life of an intelligence agent who died in service to his country at $7000, has no qualms about exposing the identity of an undercover CIA analyst who crossed him over the veracity of reports that advanced his imperialist agenda. In 1994, the family of Frank Olson requested an exhumation of the body for further examination. A new autopsy showed that Olson suffered "severe cranial injuries delivered by a blunt object," and was most likely "knocked out" before being tossed from the window. Since Dick Cheney was intimately familiar with the case and prepared the original settlement, and considering his influence with the CIA was sufficient to put his man "Poppy" in the directorship, why do I get the nagging suspicion that he knew about Olson all along and bought his family off with pennies and patriotism? Now that his multi-year, century spanning, executive office-holding marathon is over, there is only one additional governmental agency that Dick Cheney truly deserves to be a part of; the Federal prison system.