Monday, December 20, 2010

Representation Without Taxation

I'll own up to being a yellow dog, liberal Democrat, and I generally support what the president is attempting to do to rescue this country from becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of the Peoples Republic of China. After the great Christmas tax compromise/giveaway, however, the thought crossed my mind that maybe I should have voted for Hillary Clinton. At least I know she's got a pair. As for the president, he's participated in more cave-ins than a Chilean miner. I understand that Bo the dog is following Barack around so he can learn how to roll over. After all 42 Republican senators signed a letter saying that they would allow no other legislation to be considered until the Bush tax cuts were extended, I just knew the President would call their bluff and force them to, literally, filibuster against jobless benefits at Christmas. Instead, he quit in his corner without throwing a punch. Obama claimed the Republicans were "holding the American people hostage," and their demands amounted to "blackmail," yet he paid the entire ransom and even more that the kidnappers didn't even ask for. Doesn't he watch crime dramas on television?  Even when you've paid them off, blackmailers will continue to blackmail. I want my president to be a fighter, but not one that says, "No mas," and surrenders when he's behind on points.

The GOP merely threatens filibuster, and the Democrats flip like fish. But the closest resemblance to an actual filibuster was Rep. Bernie Sanders' 8 1/2 hour marathon speech in objection to the tax bill. Most folks' only notion of a "filibuster" was given by Jimmy Stewart in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." It would be a terrific civics lesson for the American people to see the real deal. I can't remember the last time they dragged in the cots and forced senators to attend in shifts. Perhaps the sight of Mitch "The Amphibian" McConnell reading Bible passages on C-Span while attempting to block veterans' benefits might have changed a few hearts and minds. It's too late for that now. The minority party played "chicken" with Obama over the people's welfare, and Barack blinked. The president claimed this was the best deal he could get before the new congress convenes in January, and that it was a good compromise. When the playground bully pushes you to the ground and demands your lunch money, and you give it to him, it is not a compromise, it's capitulation.

I understand that the tax fight is only over a 5 percent increase at the highest income levels, but the Republicans were willing to stop all government functions rather than compromise. Obama campaigned on the promise to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire for those making more than $250,000 annually, and  though some of my best friends are rich people, does the same group that prospered the most during the past decade deserve a fresh pile of free money? My dad had a saying; "This is a great country, but the dues are expensive." There seems to be a growing number of people who believe they should somehow be exempt,  agreeing with Leona Helmsley that, "Only the little people pay taxes." It's astounding that the Republicans would engage in a petty tax revolt when the nation is still in financial crisis and fighting two wars. In better days, paying taxes was often considered the height of patriotism. In the televised, Senate-Mafia hearings of 1952, when New York mob boss Frank Costello was asked by the committee to name one thing he had ever done to benefit his country, he said, "I paid my tax." Even gangsters understood how the roads get paved.
The conservatives claim tax cuts for the wealthy will help stimulate business and create jobs in the private sector, but we all know what happens to that money. It's invested in various markets, making large portfolios even larger, and allowing the super-rich to live off of their dividends and interest. While the Bush tax cuts have been in place for a decade, all the action switched over to Wall Street, creating a class of obscenely wealthy money-managers while our manufacturing base hemorrhaged jobs. Republicans have warned that  unemployment compensation and welfare assistance for the poor are destroying the work ethic, but the new tax giveaway is simply welfare for the wealthy. Who needs to work hard at a stressful job when your money will work for you? The old Reagan, supply-side, trickle-down theory of economics functions most efficiently in single family estates where the natural instinct is to care for your own. Now that Obama has waved a white flag on any inheritance taxes up to five million dollars, the money no longer trickles down; it gushes like a waterfall. The deficit hawks won't fund medical assistance for 9/11 first responders because they claim it's not paid for, yet they are practically giddy to put nearly a trillion additional dollars on the tab for this tax scam.

Ever since Obama took office, his opponents have questioned his legitimacy to be president. They have called him an illegal alien, a socialist, a Marxist, a Kenyan, and a secret Muslim. But I'm beginning to think the truth may be far more frightening. I believe that Barack did not learn "anti-colonialism" from his father, like the right-wing radio blatherers say, but instead was invested with Kansas Republican values from his mother. After all, Kansas is the home of Alf Landon and Bob Dole, and that brand of conservatism must have affected Barack's single mom and grandparents. Somewhere, he was instructed to grow an Afro and assume the guise of a liberal, which facilitated his admission to Harvard and the bar, and his subsequent hiring by the University of Chicago. His work as a community organizer cemented his liberal street cred, and his "palling around with domestic terrorist" William Ayers, gave Obama a Che Guevara-like mystique. Only now, I'm beginning to see the pattern of deception in all this, and I suspect that Barack may be the most frightening type of politician of all; a stealth Republican. Dreams from his father; politics from his mother. The president promised change, yet the Bush tax cuts are about to be engraved in stone, Guantanamo is still operating, illegal wiretaps are still functioning and Bin Laden is still alive. Would an explanation be out of order, or must we read it on WikiLeaks? Obama has spent over half his life learning how to "fight the power." It's past time he learned how the power fights back.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Tigers' TV Trauma

Let national magazines call Memphians poor, fat, and ugly. You can go to the mall and see that for yourself. But there are still things unique to Memphis that we all enjoy. Sure, we have the river, rock and soul music, and the world's best bar-b-que, but we also have the Memphis Tigers. Every basketball season, all of West Tennessee become riveted to their televisions on game nights. For most people, TV is their only access to the team, and the better the season, the higher the spirits of the citizenry. Until recently, the TV coverage was excellent and brought the game to thousands who would otherwise have to depend on the radio and their imaginations. As a result, few cities share a bond with their local university's athletic teams quite like Memphis loves their basketball Tigers.

Memphis' love affair with the Tigers really began in 1957, when tiny Memphis State College lost the National Invitation Tournament to Bradley on national television by just one point. The Commercial Appeal reported on March 25, 1957, that a huge crowd showed up at the airport to greet the returning team, including Elvis Presley, who had a pretty decent year himself. My Tiger loyalties are generational. My dad had season tickets back in the Field House days and I was that little kid under the bucket shagging errant jump shots for the team's pre-game and half-time warm-ups. Suffice it to say that I saw the entire Wilfong family wear the Tiger uniform and I was in attendance at the NCAA finals in St. Louis in 1973. I suffered through the Moe Iba years and celebrated Dana Kirk and the formation of the Metro Conference, the best collection of unaffiliated schools in the nation. Along with that came a hatred of all things Louisville. I hated their team, their fans, their coach, their school, and the color red. But the memorable games at the Mid-South Coliseum were annual gatherings of the rabid faithful to hopefully witness the Cardinals defeated and humbled, and they were as loud as any rock concert.

I had season tickets in the Coliseum and showed up in snow, rain, or iced parking lots, while the team's following throughout the city boomed. When the Coliseum restricted smoking to the concourses, it was necessary to breast-stroke through a fog of grey plumes to get to the concession stand. And the team had so many Jewish supporters, that half-time looked like Rosh Hashanah at the Temple. Almost all the games were televised on local channels, with WKNO offering a replay of every home game at 10:00 PM. I used to drive home from the games and watch Channel 10 to see if I'd missed anything. The team outgrew the Coliseum, but season ticket-holders were assured of preferential seating in the new Pyramid to reward their loyalty. I wasn't among those who got to choose their seats, but I was certain my assigned tickets would be satisfactory. Imagine my surprise when I found myself sitting parallel to Larry Finch's jersey hanging from the rafters. When I appealed to the university's ticket office, I was told that it would be no problem to improve my seats, only it required an additional $2000 "contribution" to the Athletic Department. I didn't want to pay the extortion, so I gave up my nose-bleed section tickets.

With the move to the FedEx Forum, with its corporate suites and blaring techno-music, I decided the best place to watch a Tiger game was in my living room. Four seasons ago, I invested in the 42 inch, flat-screen television specifically for basketball season and scored extra points by telling my wife that it was a present for her. Say what you will about the Calipari era, but the Memphis games were all televised, either on local or cable networks, and we made an evening of it. Select friends and former disenfranchised season ticket holders came to my house for the games, and Melody put out hors' dourves in our Tiger serving dishes, alongside the Tiger napkins. It's become a tradition. On game night, we all wear Tiger gear and erect a small shrine around the TV with our blue and white pom poms, the stuffed tiger's claw, and the tiger-striped footstool with the tail that I got at Walgreen's. Only now, if it's not a nationally televised game, we're in trouble. While I love everything about the current team and their coach, somebody made a lousy TV deal for the fans that not even High Definition can fix.

The games on the CSS Network come through clearly enough, but in the last game, some computer whiz forgot to throw a switch, and the graphic that shows the score didn't come up until five minutes into the telecast. In addition, the picture distorted and froze throughout the game, although it was not shown in High Def.  When a game is scheduled to be shown on the Sports South Network, however, it's a true reason for despair. It's a lucky thing that Greg Gaston and Hank McDowell are great announcers, because you can barely see the action they are describing. For the second straight season, the network is using some antique camera that would be better suited for a high school game. The resulting picture is so dark that the players' faces are indistinguishable, white boys included, and the jersey numbers are a blur. It appears as if the arena is experiencing a brown-out. When a recent game was televised on a delayed basis, an announcer said, "Because of time constraints, we are moving ahead in the action," and they cut out ten minutes. I understand that Memphis is mired in a mediocre conference with no visible way out, but do you suppose the league could afford to buy a digital camera for its damn network? Or is it possible the Athletic Department that remains solvent only because of the basketball team, might negotiate a better TV package for the fans? Both the team and their loyal supporters deserve better than this. Besides, I really need to see this group of Tigers play, especially since I bet a Barcalounger that they make it to the Elite Eight.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Patted Down or Felt Up?

First came the "Shoe Bomber," so the Transportation Security Administration forced all airline passengers to remove their footwear. Then, the "Underwear Bomber" led to full body scans and invasive, personal searches. I shudder to think of the TSA's response when someone invents the exploding suppository, and they will. Then, perhaps when MeeMaw gets anally probed before her turkey-day flight by a guy that, only last week, worked at the post office, this nation will get serious about rapid rail transit. If the additional charges for baggage and the insipid rules concerning carry-on luggage were not infuriating enough, these new "pat down" procedures have already sparked a citizen's revolt, begun by the passenger who threatened a TSA agent with arrest if, "(you) touch my junk." The viral effect has been similar to the "Don't taze me, Bro" protester's anthem for police restraint.

Already, the TSA has responded to the public push-back by modifying some of their more grotesque practices. Thanks to a Memphis-based pilot who filed a lawsuit, the agency has halted the practice of molesting uniformed pilots before a flight, instead referring to them as "trusted partners." I guess if a pilot can be trusted to fly the plane, he can also be trusted to land it at the scheduled destination. Scanning a pilot for explosives or a nail file seems redundant if he intends to put it down in a shopping mall. Passengers are not so fortunate.  The New York Times editorialized, "There are far too many reports of TSA agents groping passengers, using male agents to search female passengers, mocking passengers and disdaining complaints." While women who "opted-out" of the full naked body scanning complained of near sexual assault by zealous civil servants, right-wing religious leaders have raised the alarm about gay agents administering the enhanced frisking. I heard a rumor that if you declare a gender preference at the rubdown checkpoint, you may be given a masseuse consistent with your sexual leanings, i.e., a female agent would be assigned to pat-down a gay man. So, what would I have to lose by claiming to be homosexual?  If somebody's going to squeeze my lemon, I would prefer it be by a woman. When she's done, I could ask for a "happy landing."

We have been reassured that the new porno scanners are designed to delete images as soon as they are examined, yet hundreds of  leaked body scans have already been circulated on the internet. Women have reason to be squeamish ever since embattled TSA head John S. Pistole told The New York Times that the scanners can detect tampons and sanitary napkins, which may cause the need for further, personal interaction with agents. Another recent complainant was a women who, after undergoing a mastectomy, had her prosthetic breast squeezed and manipulated by a clueless examiner. News footage of the aggressive handling of a sobbing, three-year-old girl whose teddy bear triggered an alarm helped to solidify public opinion that this entire TSA operation is a mindless, time-wasting, charade designed to give the illusion of security while trampling constitutional protections, including that one about "unreasonable searches and seizures." There is nothing in the "enhanced" version of airport security any more effective than the old metal detector, wand,  and baggage exam, which served as deterrents instead of a choking and degrading spectacle. What's needed are computerized file sharing techniques between competing airlines for the "No-fly lists," and "Watch lists." Had these been in place, the Underpants Bomber would never have made it onto a plane to begin with and we wouldn't be dealing with strange men gliding their hands up our inner thighs. At least the TSA is consistent. They are always prepared to respond to yesterday's threat.

It's not like there aren't other experts to consult. I once flew El Al Airlines from New York to Israel and was subjected to their thorough but non-intrusive security examination. All passengers were required to be in a sequestered airline waiting room several hours in advance where their luggage was screened and checked. Each passenger was then required to sit across the table from an airline security specialist that looked like an ex-Mossad agent and answer questions. When the agent asked why I was travelling to Israel, my inner imp wanted to say, "Because the Lord has called me back to the Holy Land to redeem my people," but he looked like someone who didn't appreciate airport levity. Although merely a tourist with nothing to hide, my inquisitor's pointed questions and piercing gaze were so unnerving, by the end of the interview I was ready to confess to masterminding the Entebbe hijacking. The Israeli government has found that a direct look in the eye is better than a ham-handed body search. To those who say, "Israel is a tiny country with only one airline," I suggest each domestic carrier hire one trained profiler for each of the TSA rent-a-cops that will become unnecessary.

A passenger uprising has already begun with internet pages ranging from horror stories in the grope line to the laments of TSA agents who don't wish to spend every day feeling the butt-cheeks of disgruntled, same-sex airline patrons. One activist group declared Nov. 24 as "Opt-Out Day," where participants refuse the naked scan in order to overwhelm the touchy-feely committee. Other air passengers plan a post-Thanksgiving, silent protest. With security agents at waist-level pawing at private parts, bloated travellers will seek revenge by unleashing a massive, low-lying fog of residual green beans and candied yams. It will be sort of like Saddam and the Kurds. With all concerned equally revulsed, it can truly be a Black Friday for everybody, and we can try to bring some reason back into the process. Everyone wants to be assured of their safety, but these absurd intrusions only show that nine years after the attacks on the Twin Towers, we are still being held hostage by the 9/11 hijackers. On the other hand, given the history of the pilgrims, what could be more American than to have a smiling stranger say, "Happy Thanksgiving. Now assume the position."

Monday, November 08, 2010

Burning Down The House

Back in the 90s, I bought my first house. It was in a shady section of east Memphis called Normandy Meadows, a nicely kept neighborhood consisting mainly of modest but well-constructed homes built in the 50s. I was fortunate to find a house owned by a single family who had collected forty years worth of receipts, proving the house was well maintained. After years of semi-reclusive apartment dwelling, I was so delighted with my backyard that I got a boxer dog and named him Floyd. My expectations for my new home were so high, I figured that if I began with a puppy, I could ultimately work my way up to having interactions with human beings once again; and if so, they could have a place to come and hang out. I looked forward to the joys and responsibilities of home ownership despite the retro kitchen, unchanged since the Elvis era.

It seemed no sooner had I taken occupancy, however, before I began having plumbing problems, like bathroom flooding and eternally dripping faucets. The plumber said the water pipes were rigged in a way that condensation from the air conditioner drained from the attic into the back of the porcelain throne. He used plastic piping to reroute the water across the attic floor and down the side of the house and installed a drip pan that needed periodic attention. A week later, I saw water spots and cracks in the living room ceiling and called an air-conditioning company to make an estimate on a home visit. The AC repairman couldn't believe that the unit was installed in the attic and imagined it had been like that for forty years. He placed plastic sheets beneath the pipes and informed me that soon, I was going to have to replace the entire system. My dreams of domestic tranquility were further shaken when a crack in the ceiling opened up as I scrambled for a bucket to contain the steady leak. It was early morning when Floyd and I awoke to a sudden crash from the other room that sounded like a meteor hit the roof. The entire ceiling in the living room had caved in covering the floor with soggy sheet rock and a substance that resembled oatmeal. The repairman just shook his head and said it probably took years for the ceiling to become so saturated.

I now had a new home that needed major repairs, so I became enraged at the house and decided to punish it. I called an air conditioning company whose main business was selling screen doors, and they didn't even believe in AC. I told them the stupid thing was broken and to go up there and do whatever it took to fix it, sort of like going to an auto mechanic and saying, "I'm not sure what the problem is, but spare no expense correcting it." Then I found the most fly-by-night contractors possible and they set about the business of disassembling my home to clear the attic of heavy equipment. When everyone was finished, the heat and air didn't work, holes in the ceiling revealed waterlogged crossbeams, and all the floors were warped from standing water. But I taught that damn house a lesson never to disappoint me again. When my anger had been sated, however, it was unlivable and I had to torch the place. As an American major said after the burning of a Vietnamese hamlet; "We had to destroy the village in order to save it."

Of course, I'm lying about that last paragraph. I did what any sensible homeowner would; I put the place in order and sold it. My point is, intentionally damaging the house you live in over some repairable internal defects, is the same logic voters just used in attempting to put our other house in order: the House of Representatives. It was a creaking machine before, but rather than oil the wheels of government to turn smoothly, the American people chose to throw a whole bunch of monkey-wrenches, collectively known as the Tea Party, into the gears. If the electorate's intention was to slow the Obama agenda, they may have succeeded in bringing it to a screeching halt. Future Speaker, Orange John Boehner has already announced his first legislative priority is to repeal Obamacare. Big mistake. Not only would the Senate refuse to consider such a measure, the president would veto it if they did. The electoral red sea of 2010 was about jobs and unemployment. Everyone has a friend or family member who has been dismissed, downsized, cut back, or cut loose, and people are fearful. If the new congress decides to waste time re-hashing a year's worth of jabbering over health insurance reform instead of instituting a jobs program, they will face a blow-back that would give Newt Gingrich whiplash.

It will be interesting to see how the Tea Party newcomers get along with established Republicans. The country is still in a time of crisis and in desperate need of legislative compromise, but the Tea Party enters Congress with a mission; destroy Obama. If they could only snap out of it and see that Obama is more like Eisenhower than FDR, they might try to work with him for the common good. But don't expect any New Deal programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps, which built public works and parks, or the Works Progress Administration, which hired the unemployed to build roads and bridges, (literally paving the way for the Eisenhower interstate system), coming out of this Congress. Their job is to slow down the workings of government and create enough political potholes for Obama to be defeated in 2012. The president either has a strategy, or he's a slow learner. He continues to extend an olive branch to the opposition and they continue to beat him with it. Speaker-elect Boehner often refers to himself as a "Reagan Republican." Unfortunately, he no longer means the former president, but his wife, Nancy, whose simple philosophy has encapsulated an entire political movement into three words; "Just Say No."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

John Robert's America

Frank Zappa performs "I'm the Slime" on SNL

So, how are you enjoying the continuous outflow of noxious political ads coming non-stop from every broadcast channel on television? You say you're sick of it? Maybe even disgusted? Well, you ain't seen nothin' yet. Welcome to John Roberts' America. Thanks to the Supreme Court's 5-4 partisan ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, corporations were granted individual citizenship, including all First Amendment rights to speech. The majority's decision said that limiting corporate spending in an election is "governmental regulation of political speech." It's a reach rivaling that of Nixon's secretary Rosemary Woods to equate "political speech" with giant wads of cash. In 2009, The Federal Campaign Finance Law restricted an individual's political contributions to $2,400 per federal candidate, and $30,400 annually to a party's national committee. By what logic, legal or otherwise, is it suddenly permissible for international conglomerates to pump billions of dollars into TV advertising to influence our elections, while a typical citizen is legally forbidden to exceed a gift of two large to his congressman? What makes the decision reek even more of plutocracy and cronyism is that the producers of these televised grotesqueries, which look like Halloween Spooktaculars, don't even have to disclose where the money comes from. If you watch these ads with the sound off, you couldn't be blamed for believing that we were being invaded by space aliens.

The Roberts' court decision overturned the McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Act, which was about the last piece of useful bi-partisan legislation we've seen lately. But acting to make the system better is not the court's agenda, and they have started a financial hurricane that has topped our nation's faulty levees and flooded the landscape with bilge water masquerading as political speech. Any group, from the Klan to the Heaven's Gate Cult, could be paying for these spots, or stains, and the Court says you are no longer entitled to know that information. How did this happen? When George W. Bush had to withdraw the name of his hausfrau Harriet Miers from consideration, he cast his myopic eye on Sam Alito. But when Justice William Rehnquist suddenly died, Bush hastily elevated Rehnquist law clerk, John Roberts, to the position of Chief Justice. His cherubic look and photogenic family can't hide an ugly agenda. Roberts is a corporatist, and every court decision concerning business regulation or tax relief  has gone the way of the company store, just as the Bush neocons intended. This nastiest of elections is but a harbinger of things to come. The stakes in 2012 will be much higher.

Conservatives counter that the Democrats brag about their record fundraising efforts during the Obama presidential campaign and that billionaire donors like George Soros regularly finance progressive causes and campaigns. The flaw in the logic is that Obama raised a huge war chest from online donors giving an average of $35 per individual. He had plenty of corporate help as well, but this was before the Citizens United ruling, and thus within established law. Credit Obama's fundraising success to a savvy tech crew who tapped the Internet's potential for seeking individual contributors, especially young voters. While the Republicans' big benefactors are readily identifiable; Murdoch, Koch, Coors, Forbes, Bechtel, and others whose splinter groups have financed the Tea Party movement, the conservatives always point to George Soros as if he were a sinister operative from the Elders of Zion. In actuality, most of the people who throw around Soros' name as some sort of international puppeteer wouldn't recognize him if he walked into the room, and before 2004, they never even heard of him. Soros was involved in currency speculation and philanthropic projects until he entered politics in 2004, with the specific intention of denying George W. Bush a second term. If the Hungarian Holocaust survivor has such Machiavellian influence, how come he couldn't pull that one off? Now you hear conservatives drop Soros' name like Karl Marx and the Rothschild's. Saul Alinsky is another right-wing whipping boy constantly on the lips of the propagandized, though I'd bet my house that the majority of Fox viewers who consider Alinsky a modern socialist menace don't even know that he's been dead for 38 years. And Soros just donated $1 million to California's Proposition 19 to legalise marijuana.

In Memphis, we have to be getting the worst of it. Wait, I take it back. The ad that scrapes the very bottom is Nevada's Sharron Angle accusing Harry Reid of helping sex offenders and child molesters get free government Viagra. But in Memphis, we get the ads from North Mississippi and Eastern Arkansas as well. Our Senate seats aren't in play, but the Tennessee Governor's race has become such a joke that I plan to abstain from voting for either man. If you believed the allegations made about candidates in the surrounding counties, you'd insist that they be immediately arrested. And the Mississippi Republicans, through their anonymous surrogates, make an issue of running against Nancy Pelosi. As many problems as our neighbors currently face, I doubt that Nancy Pelosi is high on anyone's list of concerns in the Magnolia State other than possibly Haley Barbour. One bluedog Mississippi Democrat runs ads boasting of the over 260 times he voted against Pelosi. If people hated politicians before, this relentless barrage of putrid visuals will create disgust and loathing beyond measure. People watch TV to relax, not to be repulsed. The only people pleased about this money tsunami are the ad agencies and your local TV station. They are "On your side."

The Guardian UK reports that over $3.7 billion dollars will be spent in this election, the country's most expensive ever. What's frightening is that the political parties and special interest cabals are just testing the water on the Roberts ruling. With only a short time left in this election cycle, the mega-corporations have to be high-fiving each other in their disbelief that the referees have really left the field. They not only escaped accountability, something that companies like Target had to face in the recent past for their funding of anti-gay candidates, they don't even have to prove what their ads say is true. The Supreme Court has granted them anonymity and the big corporations have reacted like every kid who grew up in the 50s just had his fondest dream come true; They're like Superman now, they're invisible. It's a short step from running greasy ads smearing a rural candidate's character to hiring Hollywood directors to film cinema verite tearjerkers for some corporation's choice for public office in 2012. The flip side, however, is the Tarantino-like expose of a candidate's secret perversions with soundtrack from the 1970s. 2012 looks to be the Superbowl of elections. People who don't care about the game will tune in just for the commercials and the halftime pop stars like Jon Voight and Lady GaGa. With unlimited corporate funds to spend, it could get spectacularly ugly, maybe even in 3-D. Just like they got Al Capone for income tax evasion, maybe we could temper corporate expenses for political advertising with fines for air pollution. The Supreme Court, with the most overt political act since Bush v. Gore, has succeeded in polluting the airwaves as surely as BP bespoiled the Gulf of Mexico.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Tea Party Animals

I just can't get overly concerned about the 138 or so candidates running for Congress under the auspices of the various Tea Parties. I understand the electorate is mad, but it's not insane. I'm sure the pundits are correct that Democrats will lose seats in the upcoming election, but this plethora of extremists running as Republicans are the true inheritors of the nativist "Know Nothing Party" of the 1850s. Like the Tea Party, the Know Nothings exploited the  fear of immigrants, only Catholics instead of Latinos, to fuel the resentment of white, male, Protestants. In fact, that was a qualifier for joining the party. They had minor success, especially surrounding locales in Maryland and Massachusetts that had once held witch trials, but their base of wealthy, white guys was not sufficient to compete with the Democrats and they were eclipsed by the anti-slavery Republican Party before the Civil War. Their national agenda, however, sounds eerily familiar to the corporate-sponsored, grass-roots confederacy of pissed-off white people that intend to "take our country back" in the coming days. Formerly the American Party, the Know Nothings earned their nickname after being instructed to reply, "I know nothing," when asked about the party's platform. With good reason, since it consisted of restricting immigration, especially from Catholic countries, demanding all public office holders to be American-born Protestants, mandating daily Bible readings in public schools, and requiring immigrants already in the country to wait 21 years before applying for citizenship. Arizona Republican Governor, Jan "headless bodies in the desert" Brewer, would have fit right in were it not for her disqualifying genitalia.

Observing Tea Party candidates in action, from Kentucky's Dr. Rand Paul, whose libertarian philosophy is so inflexible as to be closer to anarchy than democracy, to Colorado Gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes, who called the Denver bike-sharing program a "socialist plot organized by the United Nations," is like watching a series of sideshow oddities while strolling down an old-time carnival midway. "Step right up and see the Mama Grizzly bare her manicured claws." Add Delaware's non-masturbating witch, Christine O'Donnell;  Alaska's man with the handcuffs and a 10 o'clock shadow, Joe Miller, and a few more, and you could film a remake of Tod Browning's 1932 horror classic, "Freaks." The single difference is that in the original movie, the pinheads, Zip and Pip, were far more lovable than microcephalics like Carl Paladino or W.Va. senate candidate John Raese, who advocates abolishing the minimum wage while his wife lives in Palm Beach, Florida. Electoral victories by these corporate shills would be disastrous, yet some secret part of me harbors a perverse desire for a few of them to win, just for entertainment's sake and to watch them join in the tired denunciation of our illegal alien, Marxist, Muslim, president. I have a personal confession to make. When the redundant office of Shelby County Mayor was first created, I voted for Prince Mongo.

On the other side of the demilitarized zone known as the aisle, the spineless Democrats are acting like the Mugwumps. They were "progressive" Republicans who fled their party in revolt against the corruption surrounding their presidential nominee in 1884. They threw their support to Democratic reformer Grover Cleveland and swung the election in his favor. Today's Democrats are much like those extinct moderate Republicans who formed the Mugwumps, now a term for a party-swapper like Arlen Specter. Still, the group opposed cronyism during the Gilded Age despite criticism that they were "members of an insecure elite." Historian David Tucker wrote, "The Mugwumps embodied the liberalism of the 19th century," and their writings are "testament to a high-minded civic morality." The problem was their grievances lasted only as long as Cleveland's campaign when most were absorbed into the Democratic Party. That's why the term "mugwump" has also come to mean a fence-sitter, like the passive, timid Democrats who can't even manage a counter-attack in the face of the ugliest campaign in modern history. The responsibility has fallen upon everyday citizens, who dread a return to the Bush era, to save the Democrats from themselves.

Analysts have compared this year's election to Clinton's 1994 disastrous mid-terms and to the Reagan Revolution of 1980, but I have yet to hear anyone correlate the correct period, so once again, allow me. When the Democrats imploded after the 1968 bloody convention in Chicago, voters were horrified by what seemed to be a takeover of the party by leftist radicals. During the 1972 Convention, which nominated anti-war hope George McGovern, the televised images proved it. Party discipline had acquiesced to the demands of political activists for every imaginable cause. Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem bitterly clashed over the feminist agenda and the first African-American woman, Rep. Shirley Chisholm, was nominated for president. Abortion rights and gay rights were not just discussed openly from the podium for the first time, there were floor fights over whether the issues should be included in the party platform. (They compromised with a "right to be different" clause). Party sessions began in the evening and lasted all night and when McGovern was finally nominated, his acceptance speech came so early in the morning, most viewers had gone to bed. What my young eyes witnessed was contentious progress for civil rights. What the American people saw was chaos mixed with a small group of fire-breathing, radical extremists carrying the party over a cliff. The revelations about Vice Presidential nominee Thomas Eagleton's electric shock therapy for a depressive illness merely sealed the deal and Nixon won re-election by a landslide.

What happened on the left in1972, is happening to the right in 2010. History is repeating, but in mirror image. The rhetoric is just as inflammatory and the loudest voices are those on the fringes, purging Republican establishment candidates and replacing them with the wildest bunch of rabid ideologues since the days of  the Yippies, only with Sarah Palin playing the role of Abbie Hoffman. The Tea Party folks say they're mad? Well, now I'm mad too. I'm mad about candidates for office referring to the president as a "committed socialist" or a "secret Muslim." I'm angry that so many people's minds have been twisted by right-wing broadcast propaganda that they somehow believe Obama is actively working against the interests of this country. I'm sick of GOP lackeys blaming Obama for Bush's disaster while simultaneously refusing to work with him on anything and everything, because, in the words of Rush Limbaugh, they "want him to fail." And I'm particularly weary of the Tea Party "patriots" who have yelled and screamed and threatened and disrupted for two years without managing to form a coherent argument about just exactly what is their message, other than antipathy toward Obama. I believe sanity will win out on election day, but only if Democratic voters are motivated to protect what gains they have made. And if the threat of a Congress full of Tea Party mini-despots with subpoena power isn't enough motivation to go out and vote, nothing is. 

Thanks to Bill Day. Click on cartoon to enlarge.

Monday, October 11, 2010

In the Belly of the Beast

A funny thing happened when I was checking my mother into the hospital in the middle of the night for emergency surgery a fortnight ago. When she was settled into a room and I went home to rest, they had to come back and get me too. I was sure the pain in my side was from the stress of the occasion, but my gall bladder had exploded and Melody had to call back the bus. The same two paramedics who had looked after Mom hauled me out as well. When I got the 2am call from my mother, I could barely understand her and I entered her apartment to find her bug-eyed and howling in pain, making such theatrical faces that I thought no one could hurt so without tears. Mom later accepted my apologies for having ever doubted her. She had suffered a perforated ulcer which needed immediate attention. After our respective surgeries, we were even assigned to the same floor for recovery. We're both recuperating at home now and I don't think Mom would object if I said she is 89 and healing more rapidly than I. In the family tally, however, I have the larger scar. I've been told I'm lucky to have my mother's genes. I hope they start kicking in soon.

In my eight days in the belly of the beast, I learned that the hospital consists of two sections, like halves of the same heart, only working at cross purposes. The medical services side, the human side, offers care generously and with compassion. The administrative half - breathing icons of big insurance -gives care miserly and begrudgingly. There is the edifice, and then those that work within. The caregivers are the most wonderful people on earth, but the Hospital stands as a monument to the fraud and greed of the Health Insurance industry and their gangland, bureaucratic tentacles. American health care is run sort of like New York's five Mafia families. They muscled their way into a field they had never traversed before and forced people to buy their protection or face the consequences, only they call it, "You bet your life." Their loyal foot soldiers enforce "policy" in every major hospital in the nation, and are in the business of business, skimming profits from Medicare and deciding who gets preferential treatment according to who paid the extortion. After all, this is the world of the five dollar band-aid and the twenty dollar aspirin and a corporation's got to make a buck. The first line of the physicians' Hippocratic Oath is, "First, do no harm." The insurance industry's motto is, "Do harm first." Fortunately, my mother has, and deserves, the coverage by Blue Cross and Medicare known as the "Cadillac Plan." I, in turn, have the "barefoot pedestrian plan," which means I have been unable to purchase health insurance in over a decade because of the notorious "pre-existing condition," perhaps, the very condition that landed me in the hospital. Thus, when I checked into the same emergency room 12 hours after my mother, began a tale of two health cares.

Mom came in at an odd time and when her insurance was verified, the tests began. Within an hour a doctor was called, a CT scan performed, and immediate surgery recommended. Mom went directly from the emergency room, to surgery, and then the ICU where within three hours, thank God, she was resting comfortably after a successful procedure. My ambulance arrived during afternoon drive time and I was placed in a line of stretchers waiting to be registered. I was assigned an alcove, despite my "self-pay" status, and later found I was lucky enough to have hit the "early-bird special," and had only just preceded a rash of car crashes. I alternately hyperventilated into an oxygen mask or winced in agony for an hour before receiving an inoculation for pain, but the dosage wasn't sufficient and I swore they had given me a placebo. After several more hours, a sympathetic nurse who expressed her disdain for their allowing me to lie there in such a state, finally injected me with enough morphine to manage the pain in my stomach, but also give me a blinding narcotic headache. I was denied the two Tylenol I requested. In my delirium, a Physician's Assistant saw me and recommended a scan which produced the results requiring me to be admitted. When I was finally delivered to a private room close to 2am, I had already been in the ER for nine hours, during which time, I never saw a doctor.

Once delivered from the cash-register side to the human side, I received the same excellent care as did my mother. By sheer fortune, the doctor on rounds was ordinarily an oncological surgeon, and in one of those "only in Memphis" moments, I found  he was a fellow "Brothers' Boy," from CBHS. He informed me that nine out of ten people now have their gall bladders removed laparoscopically, through the navel, and the procedure is so non-intrusive, they go home and walk it off. I was to be that tenth person. But first, I was to receive a regimen of antibiotics, which allowed me to lie there for several days and observe health care in action. The main thing I learned was that the doctors get all the credit, while the nurses do all the work. They are the front line in the battle against infirmity, they do all the procedures, they offer comfort to the concerned, and personal attention to the afflicted. Doctors pass through on rounds, making pronouncements from on high while the staff strews rose petals in their path, but the nurses are the hands-on face of health care. At the same time, they are bound by hospital "policy" and are at the center of the crossfire between insurance companies, doctors, patients and administrators. They have so many regulations to follow and record, it's like going to work and wearing a wet, wool cloak during your daily labors.

After my blood pressure scaled higher than a Sherpa's yak, my doctor decided it could no longer wait and informed me that only after waking up in recovery would I know if I had surgery or laparoscopy. While I was greeting the same anaesthetist that knocked out Mom the day before, my pressure was putting up numbers like Barry Bonds. I woke up with the pain of a gored matador, but thanks to the wonderful people on post-op floor 5-N, from Bessie the singing housekeeper, to dedicated professionals like Kayola Brown, who is bright and passionate and listened to several "mini-rants" that didn't make the paper, my healing has begun. I am indebted to these people, especially the nurses who should be making some of that doctor money instead of being unable to afford health insurance from the very place they work. Mom's bill is covered; mine would make Warren Buffett gag, reminding me of something wise my father once told me; "It's better to be rich and healthy than poor and sick." We're working it out. They're used to it now. The human side of health care is the best in the world, but the commerce side, the health-for-profit racket, is worse than wasteful and corrupt; it's immoral. We live with a medical system locked within some nightmarish Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde duality which severely limits the greatest good. If we could only do something to rid ourselves of that evil Mr. Hyde. Oh yeah, I voted for Barack Obama. Sock 'em, Rocky.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Do The Math

cartoon by Bill Day; click to enlarge 
Math was never my best subject, but this is one calculation that's not difficult to understand; If George W. Bush dug us into an eight year hole, how is Barack Obama supposed to dig us out in two? To expand the equation, Obama would have to dig at a 75% faster pace than Bush just to get us back to level, and nobody could shovel it like Dubya. Lest we forget, the Toxic Asset Relief Program (TARP) that the Republicans now refer to as a "government bailout," originated with Bush's Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson, and a majority  of non-partisan economists agree that had it not been for swift governmental stimuli during the recent financial nuclear winter, the country would have slipped into a Second Great Depression. The conservatives scream, "No more government spending," when that is exactly what saved the economy from the abyss. It's said that "When the U.S. sneezes, the world catches cold," but during this cataclysmic close-call, it was more like almost infecting the globe with Ebola. If Obama did nothing else in his first two years, he brought us back from the brink of financial collapse. The GOP accuses the Dems of "blaming it all on Bush," but if you believe the times are difficult now, be grateful they aren't horrible. One more basic mathematical formula applies to the previous administration from which they cannot escape accountability:  (Two wars) + (Massive tax-cuts) = Economic Catastrophe.

I had written previously that it would take most of Obama's first term to unravel Bush's political dingleberries, but I underestimated the vehemence of the opposition. I imagined that Obama had the mandate to govern like FDR in crisis mode with a Brand New Deal, that included public works initiatives and employment projects to modernize interstates and establish the foundations for high-speed rail. The fact that Obama first chose to tackle health-care reform dispersed much of his political capital, only he got it done. He accomplished what no previous president could,  faced with a unanimous resistance from the opposition. What's disturbing is that the divisiveness of the issue created a network of disinformation to abet the Republican Party's strategy of refusing to cooperate with this president on anything whatsoever. While justifiably disillusioned working people drift toward the Tea Party to express their frustration, their counterparts in Congress stonewall everything from financial reform to extending unemployment benefits. In their lust to recapture political power, the Republicans made the conscious decision to sacrifice the common good and delay the nation's economic recovery, and for this they expect to be rewarded?

On Sunday, 9/12, there were more Tea Party rallies all over the country, financed by Dick Armey's FreedomWorks and other corporate interests. What was initially billed as a time of reflection over 9/11 turned into a pep rally for the right, as angry white people marched from Sacramento to St. Louis. Thousands marched in Washington, D.C., but the main event was in Anchorage, featuring America's sweetheart, Glenn Beck, and the quitter Governor Sarah Palin, proving there is nothing, from her family to 9/11, that she will not exploit for political gain. The poster-children for insurrection were going to discuss how unified the nation felt after the New York attacks, but the best tickets went for $200 bucks a pop. Throughout the entire Bush era, 9/11 was a day reserved for national remembrance, devoid of the usual political acrimony. Not anymore. The obstructionist Republicans smell victory and if the attacks on this country can be recast to suit their cause, they'll wave the bloody flag again.

Now every pundit on every news network is talking about a "Republican Tsunami" in November that will wash away the Obama reforms in a wave of righteous anger. The pundits have not gotten anything right since they declared the presidency for Al Gore, so since I'm not easily propagandized, let me clue you in. It ain't gonna' happen. And these Tea Party rallies all over the country? No big deal. The GOP is doing everything but publicly salivating over the thought of regaining Congress, and they actually believe the Tea Party is representational of the American voter. They do so at the risk of forgetting that everybody hates Congress, but no one really objects to their congressman. The election is still seven weeks away, and the more the public sees of the fringe-right candidates, the less they seem to want them in office. Harry Reid must be one of the most despised men in Nevada, but every time Sharron Angle opens her mouth, his poll numbers go up. I'm aware that the Democrats are fools and cowards, but the Republicans are liars and whores, and that's just the men. It's beyond question that the reactionary wing of the Republican party is angry and motivated to vote against something, but some of these Tea Party candidates remind me of Jack Nicholson as The Joker, looking in the mirror and saying, "Wait 'til they get a load of me."

The thought of Speaker John Boehner and Leader Mitch McConnell should be enough to snap anyone from the hum of the right-wing fog and obfuscation machine, but they always seem to come up with that wedge issue, like gay marriage, that drives conservative voters. I can just see some young operative doing opposition research and discovering with delight that a long-planned Islamic Center in lower Manhattan was just two blocks from the site of the Twin Towers, and thus was born, "The Ground-Zero Mosque." The President, already facing hysterical accusations of being a "secret Muslim," is bound by oath to defend the Constitution, and thus protect the freedom of all religions, even Islam. It was a brilliant tactic and it worked, but it's a bogus issue and harmful to the country. The example of Pastor Steve Stone, of Cordova's Heartsong Church, in not just welcoming the neighboring Islamic Center, but offering the church's facilities to the Muslim community for prayer during Ramadan, is reverberating across the nation simply because it was an act of love, rather than one of hate. Which gives me cause to believe that people may be growing weary of the manufactured rage of the right. When you spend two years blocking the schoolhouse door and only offer more of the same, it equates to another mathematical certainty, which happens to be the title of an old Billy Preston song; "Nothing from Nothing leaves Nothing."

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Beck Brigade

It's been over twenty years since I visited Israel as part of a statewide delegation led by then Senator Al Gore, Jr. It was a multi-religious group, which was great for me as a product of a Jewish home and a Catholic education. I saw the tourist sights, but I was inclined to break away from the group, particularly at night, and stroll the streets where people gathered in order to get a personal feel for the place. Chance encounters, in combination with walking in ancient footprints, soon had me believing that I was a part of some larger scheme. An old rabbi physically stopped me in the street and pulled me into his classroom for a lecture on goodness, and when he had finished, he invited me to join his communal group and promised to find me a wife.

My last night in Jerusalem, I hailed a cab driven by a young Palestinian who offered to be my guide. When I told him I was leaving for New York the next day, he proudly displayed a business card from his brother's sandwich shop inside a midtown office building. He had me memorize the address since it was his only card. I glanced at it and told him I'd look up his sibling if I was in the neighborhood, then forgot about it. The next day, after an endless flight and morning hotel check-in, I was feeling jet-lagged and walked through a side door into the afternoon sun. Directly in front of me, not thirty feet away, was the office building whose address I had seen on the cabbie's card. I crossed the street, entered the building, navigated a corridor, and walked up to the lunchroom counter where a gentleman identified himself as the owner. I told him, "I was with your brother in Jerusalem yesterday. He sends his love and wants you to call him." Lunch was on the house as the proprietor explained that he had married a Jewish girl in Israel and they had come to the U.S. to escape the hostility of their respective families and communities. We agreed that the intolerance between the peoples of the holy land was regrettable and when I left him and again walked into the sun, I looked up and said, and I paraphrase myself, "Lord, You're messing with me."

Most of the Lord's messengers have beatific news to deliver, but if I was only supposed to convey a shout-out between brothers, that was cool. Afterward, I walked around for several months searching for signs and wonders, believing the Lord was personally leading me by the hand, until reality returned and I discovered that I had neither been called nor chosen, but had an ailment common to unseasoned tourists known as "Jerusalem Fever." It's the inclination for first-time visitors to the holy land to believe they are personally interwoven with the ongoing religious narrative and are receiving instructions directly from the Deity. Some believe they have been called to play great roles in the events of mankind. Such a pilgrim is Glenn Beck, who claimed his "Restoring Honor" rally in Washington D.C. landed on the anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech because of "divine providence," and only "wrote out a few bullet points so as not to interfere in case the Spirit wanted to talk." He professed an "American miracle" was going to occur and attendees would be present "at the awakening." I might pay money to ride a bus to D.C. to see Jeff Beck, but Glenn Beck? Nahh.

Beck's not that difficult to analyze. A self-confessed "hard-drinking, hard-living ignoramus," gets sober, reads some books, and begins to see patterns. By espousing his conspiratorial views, he is first promoted from talk-radio to back-bencher on the Headline News Channel, then on to the big leagues, where he becomes the most controversial, "entertainer" on Fox News; no easy feat. Soon his every utterance is dissected by other teleditorialists and his ratings and self-importance grow until he perceives himself as the leader of an earth-changing, transcendent movement on the march. His grandiose scheme drew a quarter million people to the National Mall, but Beck's gathering was more of a religious revival than a societal shift, and if he was trying to channel Dr. King, he came off sounding more like Elmer Gantry. At his "Million White Man March," Glenn spoke of returning to God, supporting the military, and the importance of family. Who could argue with that? The firebrand Beck was entirely inoffensive, unless you object to receiving religious instruction from a shill for Rupert Murdoch. The big crowd seemed pleased, but I thought it was like going to a Kiss concert and having the band come out in street clothes playing acoustic guitars.

Unquestionably, Beck possesses accumulated knowledge, but he consistently misinterprets it and ends up connecting the wrong dots. He praises the "Chosen People" but rails against "social justice," which is the cornerstone of the faith. He speaks of "restoring honor," yet refers to the president as "a person with a deep-seated hatred for white people," and "a racist." Personally, I thought the nation's honor was restored  the moment George W. Bush left the White House, and although a short film was shown to commemorate Dr. King's historic 1963 march, there were more blacks on stage as speakers and singers than in the audience. Beck's restraint was the result of his promise to keep the event non-political, but the location, the date, and the name, "Restoring Honor to America," by implication, made it so. To his credit, Beck waited until three hours into the pageant before succumbing to his patented sobbing. He even read the Gettysburg Address. Mostly, he did no harm, which I suppose is a good thing until his next outrageous on-air outburst. But, his stature has been diminished. Beck demonstrated that he's not a transformational figure and he certainly is no Martin Luther King. Forty-seven years ago, Dr. King had a dream; Glenn Beck just has a delusion.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

No, Canada!

When the seasons turn, imagine hordes of illegal aliens streaming across the U.S. border dressed in their bizarre native garb and speaking in a foreign tongue, straining our social services and imposing their criminal ethic on sovereign citizens legally in this country. It wouldn't be the first time illegal drugs and contraband flowed undetected over that border and into the lives of everyday Americans, along with the accompanying violence that's always part of the deal. It's a frightening thought to envision roving gangs of disaffected Quebecois, crossing the Canadian border on snowshoes and wearing toques, speaking crude French slang and overwhelming border towns like Buffalo and Rochester, hanging out in the parking lots of the Home Depots with huge snow shovels looking to clear someone's driveway and take a job from an American. And who can stand that whining music they listen to...Celine Dion and Bryan Adams?  During prohibition, our porous northern border was the gateway for Canadian hooch from the forerunners of the soul-stealing Seagram's empire, just as today it is the entry way for the demonic "B.C. Bud," and the Manitoba drug cartels. Their entertainers, from Alex Trebek to Howie Mandel have taken over youth culture and television, while alien seductresses like Pamela Anderson have corrupted the internets.

No wonder our economy is in the crapper when Canadians can smuggle their cheap, socialized, pharmaceuticals into our country and sell it for half the cost of the identical product here. Busloads of Canadians are trying to escape their evil, Marxist health care system to come over here and have lots of unnecessary tests performed in substandard hospital emergency rooms that serve the uninsured. There are even cabals of subversive comedians, led by Martin Short and Jim Carrey, that try to set the American standard for what's funny. Seeing Mr. Short in a fat suit playing a character named Jiminy Glick may have been humorous to some, but what of the family of 9/11, Flight #93 hero Jeremy Glick, whom Short was clearly mocking. Or, how about a Canuck, ex-con, beatnik like Tommy Chong, who has been attempting to pervert our youth for over 40 years. This Canadian invasion has reached a tipping point and true patriots want immediate governmental action to end this outrage. I demand that the fortifications protecting us from Canadian women sneaking into Detroit to have American babies become the President's top priority. I mean, isn't that why we built Fort Ticonderoga? The only good to come out of this breach in our northern border is the proliferation of Canadian restaurants and re-fried cuisine. And their work ethic, of course.

But when these illegals come into this country and take these rare jobs, what do they do? They don't spend it here. They send their money back home to support their families. This underage, risque singer, Justin Beiber, comes to this country unchaperoned, makes a fortune, and sends it right back to his people in some province called Ontario. If he gets sick on tour, he's got the best medical care the government can offer, and he doesn't even pay taxes in this country. Same thing with this hippie surfer Keanu Reeves, who portrayed an average American teen in the Bill & Ted movies, but then I discovered he was not only born in Lebanon, he starred as Prince Siddhartha/Lord Buddha in 1992's "Little Buddha." At least this Beatleboy Beiber pays taxes somewhere. For all we know, this "transplanted" Lebanese Canadian Reeves could be funding Al Qaeda with his Hollywood money. Plus, I heard he's part Hawaiian, so there's got to be something up with his birth certificate. Is it difficult to draw the conclusion that Reeves and rock-star sex therapist Pam Anderson will settle in California with the intention of raising "terror babies" that will automatically be American citizens, but grow up to be suicide bombers as Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert has suggested?  Is it just a coincidence that suspect leftist superstar moms are already raising North Vietnamese children? And why isn't Glen Beck on top of this?

That's why I'm so grateful to the group of Republican senators who so revere our Constitution, that they are always prepared to change it in order to stop what S.C. Sen. Lindsey Graham calls the policy of "Drop and Leave." These Canadian women will squat in the bushes like Sacajawea just to have an "anchor baby" that leads them onto the fast track for welfare. Senators Kyl of Texas, Kentucky's McConnell, Iowa's Grassley, and since it's an election year, John McCain, have all called for a "review" and potential revocation of the 14th Amendment which grants American citizenship to those born within our borders, including all those rosy-cheeked offspring of Canadian skaters who have come to dominate the National Hockey League and take jobs away from thousands of aspiring American hockey legends. The tough thing about repealing the 14th Amendment, is that it also deals with that "equal protection under the law" business. In these turbulent times, however, perhaps "equal" protection is a little too much for the Mexicans and Muslims to expect. It takes a trained eye to spot a Canadian. The best way is to drop a hockey puck in a crowd and see who dives for it.

Ginning up bloodlust, immigrant xenophobia failed to work for the Republicans the last election cycle, and it will fail again this time. There are better ways to solve our border issues than savage demagoguery about beheadings and kidnappings when the non-partisan Pew Research Center reports an all time high in arrests and deportation of undocumented workers. Right-wing candidates for office have offered solutions as varied as internment camps to mass deportation, while most people still come here illegally because they know there are employers who will hire them for more than they can make at home, be it in Alberta or Mazatlan. Americans have forgotten the struggles of Cesar Chavez and his United Farm Workers, or politicians like Bobby Kennedy who championed not only their cause, but their dignity. It's easier to call them all drug mules or arms smugglers than people just trying to scrape by on this earth with their hands. Wouldn't it be weird if one day we found out that God was really on Mexico's side all along and that the theory of "Manifest Destiny" actually pertained to them, and that's why they are this nation's fastest growing demographic? When Latinos become the country's majority, we'll let them deal with this encroaching Canadianization of the good old U.S.of A.

A Haspel Hat Tip to Kennedy Award Winner Bill Day for his cartoon.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Tempest In A Tea Party


Mark Williams, the Chairman of the Tea Party Express, got booted from the Confederacy of Dunces last month because, in response to an NAACP suggestion that the group repudiate racial elements within the movement, he wrote and published an "Open letter to President Lincoln" from the emancipated slaves, something he referred to as "satire."  The full text of the knee-slapping missive is worthy of examination, because it reveals more about the writer than the subject, and shows something about the common beliefs of a great many Americans. In his "satire," all Williams did was put down in words what many Tea Party types refuse to say out loud.

           Dear Mr. Lincoln
We Coloreds have taken a vote and decided that we don’t cotton to that whole emancipation thing. Freedom means having to work for real, think for ourselves, and take consequences along with the rewards. That is just far too much to ask of us Colored People and we demand that it stop.
In fact we held a big meeting and took a vote in Kansas City this week. We voted to condemn a political revival of that old abolitionist spirit called the ‘tea party movement’.
The tea party position to “end the bailouts” for example is just silly. Bailouts are just big money welfare and isn’t that what we want all Coloreds to strive for? What kind of racist would want to end big money welfare? What they need to do is start handing the bail outs directly to us coloreds! Of course, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is the only responsible party that should be granted the right to disperse the funds.
And the ridiculous idea of “reduce[ing] the size and intrusiveness of government.” What kind of massa would ever not want to control my life? As Coloreds we must have somebody care for us otherwise we would be on our own, have to think for ourselves and make decisions!
The racist tea parties also demand that the government “stop the out of control spending.” Again, they directly target coloreds. That means we Coloreds would have to compete for jobs like everybody else and that is just not right.
Perhaps the most racist point of all in the tea parties is their demand that government “stop raising our taxes.” That is outrageous! How will we coloreds ever get a wide screen TV in every room if non-coloreds get to keep what they earn? Totally racist! The tea party expects coloreds to be productive members of society?
Mr. Lincoln, you were the greatest racist ever. We had a great gig. Three squares, room and board, all our decisions made by the massa in the house. Please repeal the 13th and 14th Amendments and let us get back to where we belong.
Precious Ben Jealous, Tom’s Nephew NAACP Head Colored Person
Laugh? I thought I'd never start! How can you convince someone there is racism in their midst when it runs in their blood and they don't even know what it looks like? A week later, Williams was still on cable news defending his remarks by saying the NAACP was guilty of reverse racism, which appears to be the Tea Party's prime rebuttal  for all the "patriotic Americans'" outrageous behavior at the various kleagle rallies around the nation. These "concerned citizens" don't like it when their ultra-rightist movement is called "racist." They defy you to prove any member of their group called Rep. John Lewis a "nigger" while simultaneously gutting ACORN with false propaganda. Their new hero, Kentucky senatorial candidate Rand Paul, can't deviate from his Libertarian philosophy enough to agree that segregated lunch counters in the Fifties were a bad thing. He expressed the still burning racist ember that private businesses should be able to choose who they serve. Not if they serve the public, they don't. If someone wishes to start a private club that caters exclusively to Caucasian, dwarf albinos, that is their right, but if you are serving the public, that means all the public. And I don't believe for a second that Paul is a racist. However, when I grew out my beard and started hanging around with people with long hair, they called me a hippie. So, if the sheet fits...

The term "yellow journalism" was created in the late 1800's to describe the sensationalist rhetoric and fabricated stories of newspapers owned by William Randolph Hearst, particularly the New York Journal.  As influential as newspapers were in the last century, not even Hearst could have imagined a 24-hour "news" network continually pumping out anti-government propaganda for the benefit of a particular political party, or entire radio empires built on hatred and fear-mongering. The Hearst of the 21st century, Rupert Murdoch, became a naturalized U.S. citizen in order to own multiple media outlets in the same market, like the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal. His brand of  contemporary "yellow journalism" is far more insidious than the sabre rattling of a few newspapers, and makes the "Remember the Maine," jingoism of the Hearst era seem almost quaint. With Fox News acting as a running-dog for right-wing extremism, pseudo-smart "entertainers" like Glen Beck get free reign to espouse their inflammatory "theories." So, when a real journalist, like the Washington Post's Dana Milbank, calls Beck out for his serial use of Nazi references to describe the Obama administration, the right's reaction is to claim that the country is experiencing a phase of "political correctness," in which their freedom of speech is under attack. They have become oblivious to the difference between "free speech" and "hate speech," and the saddest and most alarming statement of all about Fox News is their massive ratings success and rabid, "true-believer" folllowing.

A typical Fox "story" comes from out-of-the-mainstream, internet sources, like the ACORN "prostitution sting," or the most recent running expose' about the "New Black Panther Party." Fox flogged the story for weeks and Bill O'Reilly pondered aloud why the other news organizations were "avoiding" the issue. Then it turned out that the "Party" consisted of two, baton-wielding wannabe radicals hanging around an overwhelmingly African-American polling station "intimidating voters" into casting their ballots for Obama. When that poisoned well ran dry, Fox virtually leaped on blogger and Tea Party apologist Andrew Breitbart's odious contention that reverse racism existed at the Department of Agriculture in the person of one Shirley Sherrod. By slicing and dicing Sherrod's speech before the NAACP, he made a convincing argument that she was discriminating against white people out of what was actually a story of redemption. Had anyone been paying attention, WorldNetDaily had reported on a July 16th appearance at a Fargo, N.D. talk radio program where Breitbart said, "Let me say something a tad newsworthy to the president of the NAACP. You can go to hell." He then bragged, "I have tapes, a tape, of racism, and it's an NAACP dinner. You want to play with fire? I have evidence of racism and it's coming from the NAACP." The law states that if you defame a person's reputation with feckless accusations with the intention of smearing them, it's called "libel," and it's a prosecutable offense. I only hope that after Ms. Sherrod sues Breitbart's ass off, she goes after Fox News.

I confess that I was fooled too. When I saw the initial reports and video of Sherrod on Fox News, I thought that she must certainly resign, and the outrage of the Obama administration and the NAACP was justified. They made the same mistake that I did by assuming that Fox was a semi-responsible news organization that abides by the rules of journalism. How foolish of me. Fox News President Roger Ailes knows what his boss wants as surely as if he were William Randolph Hearst. This current Fox "reverse racism" crusade is in keeping with Ailes past deeds like advising Richard Nixon on appealing to southern, white voters, and orchestrating "Poppy" Bush's presidential campaign against Michael Dukakis by tying the Massachusetts Governor to paroled rapist, Willie Horton, in a famous negative political ad. When questioned about the propriety of the controversial commercial, Ailes said his only hesitation was whether to picture Horton with or without a knife. Why should I have assumed Fox News vetted the Breitbart piece when he was the one behind the story and video of ACORN's adventures with the now felonious, fake pimp, and then spent six months lying about it? And all in the cause of proving Mark Williams' supposed point in his "satirical" letter to Lincoln, that honest, hard-working citizens' tax money goes directly to the support of shiftless layabouts who prefer "big-money welfare" to a job; the raison d'etre of the Tea Party movement. Former representative and Tea Party darling Tom Tancredo has announced his candidacy for governor of Colorado, only months after waxing nostalgic about literacy tests at the polls during the Jim Crow era. Since good test results are a pre-requisite for entering a respected college, isn't there some way we could institute civics literacy exams for potential candidates for public office? At least check their SAT scores.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Reefer Madness Redux

Since the initial wave of the hippie movement travelled from west to east, it didn't reach Knoxville until well after the 1967 "Summer of Love." We had more of a "Springtime of Love" in 1968. Toward the end of the school year, rumors reached our Tennessee tribe that there was marijuana growing wild in the state of Kansas, right in the interstate median. Just like the Gold Rush of '49, van loads of denim-wearing, entrepreneurial hippies raced to the great plains and, sure enough, returned with garbage bags filled with something looking identical to cannabis. It was the remnants of a WWII era government program that grew the plants for their hemp value, and all these years later, the crop had survived. The problem was, the wild plants lacked the psychoactive ingredient that caused the euphoric effect in pot and were pretty much useless for anything other than weaving into handbags or sandals.

Personally, I never tried to sell pot because I lacked the ruthlessness required to profit from your friends, but even I got caught up in this deal. Since it was over 40 years ago, I trust the statute of limitations has expired. We tried to doctor this cabbage in every way possible, including baking it, but only ended up with brittle leaves of the worst pot anyone had ever tried. It wouldn't even give you a headache. I finally locked it all up in a Styrofoam chest filled with dry ice overnight and by the next day, the gas from the CO2 made you mildly dizzy. We drove it to Nashville, where a new breed of songwriters had settled and distributed all of it without complaint, and soon afterward, there was a Renaissance in country music. OK, that last part was a lie, but we did unload all the Kansas weed on Music Row.

Just recently, I was reminiscing with an old friend about that particular escapade and we couldn't help but agree what a dumbass, reckless college-boy thing that was to do, like trying to smoke the inner skin of a banana peel because we had heard Donovan singing "Mellow Yellow." We also agreed what a shame it would have been to have been arrested over such hideous weed during an age when people were going to jail for seeds in an ashtray. The irresistible lure was that it was just growing wild, but by picking it and carrying it in a sack, we were guilty of the crime of possession, and when we crossed state lines, our crime became federal. Kansas ultimately eradicated all the interstate pot because Hefty-Bag toting hippies kept popping up on the highways like penal farm work crews. It did occur to me, however, that if this weed could grow wild on a Kansas blacktop, it could pretty much grow anywhere, and people being who and what they are, it was only a matter of time before the prohibition of pot would be tossed aside just like the prohibition of whiskey. But, that was eight presidents ago. What has prevented even the discussion of decriminalization  until relatively recently, has been the same old-boy deal that has always muzzled debate on the issue; political influence. In this case, the beer, spirits, and alcohol lobby, who are still smarting from having their seductive and subliminal liquor ads removed from television. The pot industry doesn't have any lobbyists. Plenty of advocates, but no lobbyists.

Local news reported that a man was arrested in Memphis last week after a DEA task force raid with more than 1,200 pounds of baled marijuana in his humble Orange Mound home, and was being held in city jail under a bond of one penny less than ten million dollars. A somewhat saner judge reduced the bail to a quarter mil, but you'd have thought these guys caught Scarface. Rapists and murderers are given more consideration and less harsh treatment than a pot dealer, and they do less time. Though the bust warranted a scant five paragraphs in The Commercial Appeal, it was eye-popping news to pot aficionados who are experiencing the annual Memphis summer marijuana drought, or so I'm told. The DEA agents testified that after jack-booting the doors, they found large bales of a "green, leafy substance." Can you imagine the number of police and the manpower used to haul away a half a ton of leaves? In the end, they'll burned it all which was exactly what was going to happen to it in the first place. And this all-purpose panacea had a street value of over a half-million dollars. The zeal in which the pot dealers were captured and jailed was exceeded only last month by the Las Vegas police, who killed a 21 year old man while serving a marijuana search warrant. And this was in a state where citizens voted to decriminalize possession. The late outlaw's bride-to-be told local TV that her intended was "a recreational smoker. He smoked weed, marijuana, that's what he did." The police recovered "an unspecified amount of marijuana and some digital scales." A regular Al Capone, this kid.

In the Memphis bust, there will now be a trial or two and long incarcerations, costing the city and state and ultimately you. And because the profit motive is so high, (you know; Capitalism), someone else will take these guys' place and the criminality will continue. In fact, author Eric Schlosser writes, "There are more people in prison today for violating marijuana laws than at any time in American history." And that population will only grow as long as police forces around the country maintain the marijuana home-invasion mentality. Imagine if the ban on the plant was lifted for adults, and regulated and taxed by the government for the benefit of society. How many more policemen or teachers would that revenue hire? How much gang violence would be diffused by removing the profit from illegal pot sales? How would our problems on the Mexican border be affected if the demand for marijuana smuggling were eliminated? I'm not naive enough to believe that there won't always be a demand for illegal narcotics, but hard drugs that do emotional and physical damage are another matter entirely, and if we are being honest, we'll admit our major national drug problem is with good old home-made American pharmaceuticals. I'd prefer to be able to take advantage of that "pursuit of happiness" thing. All these people who are running around screaming that their freedoms are under siege and they want their country back; well, so do I. No federal agency forbids you from growing poppies on the veranda. Give me the freedom to determine what grows in my own backyard. I want the government out of my bedroom and the police out of my garden. This is an issue worthy of a tea party.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Gluttons For Punishment

I enjoy celebrating Independence Day much the same way as I do New Year's Eve; I stay off the streets. The nation's birthday has become an annual orgy of mattress and auto sales, not to mention the charcoal and lighter fluid. Aside from visiting with family and friends, there's really no good reason to leave the air conditioning for outdoor activities now that the downtown fireworks display over the Mississippi River has been cancelled due to budget cuts. However, the amateur fireworks were so loud on my block that we had to sedate the dogs. After viewing the July 4th hot dog eating contest at Coney Island, live on ESPN, I thought I would need sedation myself.

This has got to be the only country in the world where some people go hungry, while others are "professional" eaters. But, who could object to a good old fashioned sausage eating contest that's been going on at Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Stand since 1916?  I can. The once good-time event has now gone big-time with the formation of the Major League Eating organization. They are the governing body that oversees all professional eating contests in the nation, under the auspices of the International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOC). The MLE is looking towards global expansion, but they are constrained to places where they actually have food. Other than the U.S. and Japan, I think the International League is having trouble fielding a team in countries like Haiti or Bulgaria. And it's no longer merely hot dogs. In a year, there are over 80 major scheduled events, like the Krystal Square-Off and the Pizza Hut P'Zone Chow-lenge, with corporate sponsors as varied as Smirnoff Vodka and Netflix. The Coney Island competition was co-sponsored, appropriately, by Pepto Bismol. I like a Nathan's hot dog myself, just not 50 at once.

This years' contest was engulfed in controversy when former champion and world renowned eater Takeru Kobayashi refused to participate because of an "impasse" with Major League Eating. The Japanese challenger left the Mustard Belt up for the taking since the MLE wanted to bar him from participating in "outside competitions." This meant clear sailing for defending champ, Joey Chestnut, who out-gorged the rest of the field, winning by nine dogs plus buns. Without Kobayashi to spur him on, along with the 95 degree temperature, Chestnut fell far short of his own record of 68 dogs in ten minutes, devouring a mere 54 red- hots and half a bottle of Pepto. The real drama came after the event had ended, when Kobayashi, wearing a green "Free Kobi" T-Shirt, attempted to storm the stage during the award ceremony and was arrested and carted off by the police. The huge crowd of spectators chanted, "Let him eat" in unison, while The Who's "Teenage Wasteland" blared over the loud speakers. Just like professional wrestling, allow a league to take monopolistic control, bring in the corporate sponsors, and there goes your "sport."

In the end, the event looked more like the marathon dancers of the thirties; doing something unnatural and demeaning for the entertainment of the mob in the hope of winning the $10,000 grand prize. The "color commentators," who kept referring to the bingers as "athletes," reported that Joey Chestnut consumed 20,166 calories in 10 minutes while perfecting his technique of shoving two dogs in his mouth at once while doing a little jig to stretch his stomach lining. In his career as a professional eater, Chestnut has won over $200,000, three cars and a motorcycle. He's also eaten 10.5 pounds of macaroni and cheese in seven minutes, and 56 matzoh balls in one sitting, even though he didn't know what a matzoh was before the competition. While the other contestants looked for buckets, Chestnut waved the Mustard Belt aloft while drooling hot dog juice down the front of a T-Shirt covered in corporate logos like a race car driver. I couldn't decide which was more offensive; the mindless inhalation of massive amounts of food, or the corporate takeover of "the sport of competitive eating."

This Super Bowl of gluttony is a typically American spectacle that would be an occasion for mirth were it not for the fact that the gulf between the haves and the have-nots has never been greater since the Gilded Age of Robber Barons. But even then, the "in-your-face" attitude was subdued, lest the proletariat rise up and storm the suburbs. Major League Eating does nothing to help the nation's obesity epidemic, especially now that Tennessee has been ranked second in the country, only behind Mississippi, as the fattest state in the Union. There are many issues to blame, but there is no worse perpetrator in the enlarging of America than the fast-food restaurant chains. I sympathize with people who struggle with their weight, but lately it seems as if most have simply stopped the struggle. Exhibit A is the sandwich sold by KFC consisting of two fried chicken breasts filled with bacon and cheese, a heart attack available in the drive-thru, while products like the Triple Whopper are directly marketed to the poorest among us. Morbid obesity is so common here, the front pew in church looks like the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line.  Major League Eating seems sort of incongruous while the Memphis Food Bank is feeding over 186,000 people per year that otherwise would not have nourishing meals. Other than gluttony and sloth, there is a word that describes this big-money, "professional," eating circuit; disgusting.