Monday, January 31, 2011

Sarah and Michele's High School Reunion

Many great representatives of American culture have come from Minnesota. They gave us Bob Dylan and Prince; Rod Carew and Fran Tarkenton; The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Minnesota Fats. Long a bastion of progressivism, great statesmen like Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale have been elected to congress by Minnesotans. Lately, however, things have taken a turn for the weird.  In the "Land of 10,000 Lakes," citizens seemed immune to celebrity until they went a little crazy and elected Jesse "The Body" Ventura as governor. When that experiment was done, they elected comedian and former Saturday Night Live alumnus, Al Franken, to the Senate. In the case of the Harvard educated Franken, however, he proved to be a viable candidate because he was good enough, smart enough, and, doggone it, people liked him. I am at a loss, however, to explain how an electorate goes from Hubert Humphrey to Michele Bachmann, unless some outside, sinister force is at work.

In Don DeLillo's classic novel "White Noise," he describes an incident called the "Airborne Toxic Event," a chemical spill from a rail car that makes townspeople go insane. This fictional account is close to describing some of Minnesota's real-life disasters, like the I-35 bridge collapse into the Mississippi River in 2007; or the 57 separate oil pipeline spills since 2000; or even the severe storms and massive flooding that required the president to declare parts of the state a "disaster area," in 2010. Even Minnesota's loons were threatened by the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Whatever the cause, something has made these hardy Midwesterners turn to Michele Bachmann to represent them in congress, and she acts more like a contestant for Homecoming Queen than a legislator. It used to be said that politics was just show business for ugly people. In truth, congress is one big high school do-over, with the same adolescent jealousies and pettiness that we find in some pre-teens. Only now, their hissy fits are putting us all in jeopardy. The quote, "Carbon dioxide is portrayed as harmful, but there isn't even one study that can be produced that shows that carbon dioxide is a harmful gas," could have been straight from DeLillo, had Michele Bachmann not said it first.

A singular event in American history took place after the President's last State of the Union address. Michele Bachmann, the self-appointed Miss Tea Party, gave a rebuttal to the official Republican rebuttal to the president's speech. CNN was the only network to elevate this to news, and thank goodness. Bachmann  stared into a computer camera for an online response seen by a few thousand people, while the rest of us got to watch her gaze off, slightly to the left, and appear as if she were waiting for Peter Pan to return and whisk her off to Neverland. With charts and graphs, Bachmann told of the 16,500 IRS officers being prepared to enforce Obamacare and claimed that what was really needed is medical malpractice reform, something Obama had announced only an hour before. More astounding was the footage of Bachmann addressing Iowans for Tax Relief only the night before. Speaking with hushed reverence about the founding fathers, Bachmann claimed, "(They) worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States." No they didn't. Half were slave owners, and anyone who ever took a history course knows that. She lauded John Quincy Adams, who was not a founder, but proves, at least, that she saw "Amistad."

Among Bachmann's other lies; she has accused the census of being a government plot to round up dissidents, like her, and put them into internment camps, and she began the canard that Obama was "spending over $200 million a day," on a state visit to India. She advocated eliminating the minimum wage and suggested $400 billion in cuts for veterans' benefits as an austerity measure. Michele was a backbencher until Sarah Palin proved that venomous rhetoric and a pretty smile will get you noticed, even if the professional pundits refer to you as a "Bubblehead." Despite having called for an investigation into Democratic congressmen to see which ones were "anti-American," John Boehner appointed Bachmann to the National Intelligence Committee, and she has already visited Iowa to explore the possibility of a presidential run in 2012. A pretty face and nice smile may win you "most popular" in junior high, but when you get to congress, it's time to put away the pageant sash and work to serve others. Instead, she has said that Obama is turning us "into a nation of slaves," and called health insurance reform, "The crown jewel of socialism,"

Watching all the media attention Bachmann was receiving, Sarah Palin got "all wee-weed up," and leaped into the fray. In an interview on Fox News, Palin claimed that the launching of Sputnik in 1957 was the ultimate cause for the Soviet Union's downfall in 1991, and that the Russians "won the space race." More ghastly, she noticed that Obama's phrase from his State of the Union, "Win the Future," could be abbreviated WTF, which fits well into her Twitter mindset, but not for a serious candidate for high office. Yet she continued to repeat it several more times, including on her Facebook page, oblivious to the 90% of Americans who approved of the president's speech. Between Michele and Sarah, we could be headed for a loser-leaves-town cage match to determine who will be the undisputed Tea Party Princess. Meanwhile, when did stupidity become a virtue in public life? Before a law school graduate becomes an attorney, he must pass the bar exam. Shouldn't we at least have an elementary civics exam for all potential legislators? That might weed out half the know-nothing, yet ambitious politicians of today, including "Dumb and Dumber."

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Second Amendment Remedies

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.   Second Amendment 

This nation's founding father's were wise, but they weren't clairvoyant. A "well regulated Militia" in 1787, had more to do with keeping the old musket cleaned in case the Minutemen needed reassembly, than an individuals right to possess more firepower than a standing army. The framers' intention was to assure the rural populace that, in league with a regulated militia, they had the power to beat back an insurrection or invasion by force of arms. Not even Ben Franklin, however, could have foreseen a semi-automatic assault rifle in every closet, or statewide militia organizations that serve more to intimidate citizens than protect them. Certainly, the founders did not wish for a paranoid "Wild West" mentality to grip the entire country with regular occurrences of indiscriminate gun violence and murder. Yet, the Second Amendment has become the Rosetta Stone for conservatives, untouchable to modern interpretation, exploited by the NRA, and used as a shield for the explosion of gun sales during the past two years of the Obama presidency.

That's why the obscene violence visited upon the citizens of Tucson in recent days was a shock, but not a surprise. This country has become so accustomed to spree killings, the only news value is the body count, or, as in Arizona, the prominence of the victims. The documented mental condition of the Tuscon shooter demonstrated that lethal weapons are as easy to obtain as a Happy Meal, and if one Walmart won't sell you enough ammunition to fight off an army of Huns, just drive over to the next one and load up. We lurch from Columbine, to Virginia Tech, to Tucson without batting an eye, because the battle for reasonable gun regulation has been forfeited in the face of the firearms lobby. The National Rifle Association, by heavily "contributing" to the campaigns of sympathetic state and local officials, has successfully initiated a stealth campaign to eliminate any restrictions on where a gun can be taken. Consequently, the guy sitting next to you at Happy Hour, or in the public library, could be concealing a firearm. And there was hardly a scintilla of public debate before these insane notions were codified into law.

It can be expected for a goober like Texas Rep. Louis Gohmert to advocate carrying a weapon into a legislative chamber like the House of Representatives, but when Congressman Steve "Quick Draw" Cohen announces he'll start packing heat, it's a cause for concern. Not because Cohen is a bad shot or a pacifist with an occasional temper, but because we have come to this as a society. Who could blame Cohen after a major party's senatorial candidate suggests "second amendment remedies" to reign in government and some zipperhead in dysfunctional Arizona declares open-season on congressmen and their constituents? At Rep. Cohen's own Town Hall meeting during the Tea Party's "Summer of Hate," a few local zealots chose to wear holstered weapons like trendy fashion accessories and suddenly, there's a rash of nationwide amateur constitutionalists strapping on sidearms at public events as some sort of political statement. The romanticized gun culture reinforces their fantasies of repelling a home invasion or taking up arms against a tyrannical government and the Glock has become the most coveted household possession since the Salad Shooter.

The debate over regulating the sale of guns is over. The remaining question is how to keep weapons out of the hands of homicidal lunatics. For all the conservatives have done to champion gun rights, they certainly have liberal attitudes about who can obtain them. The GOP brags of being the party of  "God, guns, and guts," only lately, it's other people's guts that are involved. One of the questions in a recent forum for candidates for Chairman of the Republican National Committee was, "How many guns do you own?" The greater the number of firearms claimed, the louder the applause from the audience. One candidate bragged of owning every manner of weapon except a surface-to-air missile. In this case, Michael Steele got out-gunned, while the Republican Party is just a few warlords short of resembling Afghanistan..

Politicians and pundits are quick to assign blame, but who can say what motivates these murderous freaks? A brutal popular culture that glorifies violence has surely contributed to our annual national gun carnage, but Canada has as many guns per capita as the U.S., and they watch the same movies and listen to the same music as we do. If their country-wide gun murders in a year equate to Chicago's in a month, it must be an issue of mental health, and we seem to be in the middle of a national nervous breakdown. Our political discourse may be vulgar and ballistic, but the Tucson shooter seems just another in an endless parade of the viciously insane. John Hinckley shot Ronald Reagan to impress Jodie Foster. Squeaky Fromme took a shot at Gerald Ford in order to be incarcerated with Charlie and the Mansons. These potential assassins cared      more about fame than politics, yet they were able to wipe the drool off their chins just long enough to purchase a firearm. Who doesn't believe that another incident like the massacre in Tucson isn't looming somewhere already? This country's deranged individual arms race has made us one nation under the gun, and the casual, vending-machine nature of weapons sales has turned us into the land of the free to carry, and the home of the artificially brave. I don't think this is what the framers intended. 

Monday, January 03, 2011

Ten Most Annoying in 2010

I have never compiled an end of the year Top 10 list, mainly because no one ever asked me. Nothing has changed in that regard, but since I wrote about this wretched 365 days past, I feel qualified to enumerate my ten most annoying people/events of the year. Since this was an election cycle, I could have filled the list with nothing but goofy senatorial candidates like Sharron Angle or the world's worst loser, Alaska's Joe Miller, but I tried to spread the scorn around a little. There were many deserving and hideous annoyances, but I've attempted to incorporate a wide range of the aggravating, beginning with:

10. Dick Clark. Although he only shows up once annually, it's enough horror to last all year long. When he first appeared several years ago on "Dick Clark's Rockin' New Years Eve" after a debilitating stroke, it seemed shocking but courageous for him to go on the air in a semi-incapacitated state. Now, after several years, it's purely for self-aggrandizement. Only there's no one around him to tell him to hang it up. Clark increasingly looks like the Cryptkeeper and speaks in brief, indecipherable mutterings that only Ryan Seacrest can understand. Seacrest calls him "The Master," while eyeballing that cozy, indoor desk-set he will inherit one day, maybe even on the air. It's a shame that Dick Clark began his career entertaining children and ends it by frightening them.

9. Willie Herenton. The former Memphis mayor did not go silently into that good night, but mounted one more vanity run for representative of the 9th Congressional district with the slogan "Just One." Had that meant there's just one Willie Herenton, it might have been effective, but the slogan and the Herenton campaign drew national media attention by consistently stating that the district could only be fairly represented by a black man. This racist strategy drew a rare congressional endorsement from President Obama for Herenton's opponent, Rep. Steve Cohen. Herenton cancelled a debate because he didn't approve of the questioners and even after Cohen beat him like a dusty floor rug, Herenton railed at the media, County Mayor A C Wharton, white voters, the president, and anyone else he considered responsible for his last hurrah. At least we can hope it was.

8. BP CEO Tony Hayward. After the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Hayward began a campaign of serial lying to stall for time. He intentionally misrepresented the size of the spill, the estimated damage to the Gulf, the mechanical safeguards that failed, and BP's grotesque record for safety. When appearing before Congress, Hayward said "I don't remember," more times than John Gotti at trial. His treatment of the victims of the spill was reminiscent of an English Viceroy in India during the days of the Raj, and his famous remark, "I want my life back," drew enough anger for BP to recall him to Great Britain. His replacement tried to tamp down the public relations damage while Hayward rushed off to the yacht races.

7. Cialis Commercials. Cialis is an erectile dysfunction medication made by GlaxoSmithKline, a public corporation. Since the Supreme Court determined in the Citizens United decision that corporations are now considered people, Cialis is one annoying sumbitch. Two aging yuppies are gardening or painting a house and exchange a randy glance, and suddenly waterfalls appear and thick plots of green grass grow where the horny couple appropriately pitch a tent. Next thing you know, they're reclining naked in the woods or on the beach in separate, antique bathtubs, implying that they did their dirty business thanks to Cialis. When's the last time you hit on someone and ended up nude, lying outside in a dry tub? I thought only tequila could do that.

6. Snooki. I allowed my wife to talk me into watching The Jersey Shore, with its cast of hedonists, and it happened to be the episode where Snooki gets cold-cocked by some beefy drunk in a bar. Intrigued, I watched for a couple of weeks until I realized that this show is about a group of aimless, clueless, functioning morons whose sole purpose in life is getting drunk, fighting, boasting of their "hotness" or manliness, and picking up strangers with whom to "hook up." I used to have a redneck friend who would get mean drunk and say, "I want to fuck or fight, and I don't much care which." This sums up the entire premise of Jersey Shore, and the result is that Snooki and her "poof" are international celebrities. Lord knows why.

5. Bank of America. The second largest non-oil company in the nation (after WalMart), BOA received $45 billion in government money through TARP, with the instructions to ease credit restrictions and work through their mortgage division to assist financially troubled homeowners in restructuring their loans. They responded by raising interest rates on credit cards by 28%. Only last week, the bank was accused of institutional fraud, where people applying for loan modifications found their paperwork "lost" within the system, until default. The bank's employees advised some homeowners to intentionally miss payments to illustrate the urgency of their need, only to have BOA speed up foreclosure on those in arrears. When the foreclosure horror stories emerged, BOA suspended, then resumed foreclosures in 23 states. The institution is so steeped in fraud, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has said the next batch of leaks will succeed in taking down the bank and its officers.

4. Mel Gibson. It was bad enough to read Gibson's anti-Semitic screeds second-hand, but to actually hear his insane ravings on his former girlfriend's phone tapes proved that he's a regular, foaming-at-the-mouth, psychopath. His vile, name-calling obscenities and threats of violence were enough to make the worst misogynist wince. I, for one, am no longer capable of watching a Mel Gibson movie. And here I thought it was just the Jews that he hated.

3. The Republican Congressional Leadership. They devised a strategy of depriving the president of a single legislative victory through the tyranny of the minority, then pointed at him at election time and accused him of accomplishing nothing. And it worked. That is, until Obama steamrolled them during the lame duck session. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has admitted that the Senate Republicans' top priority is to deprive Obama of a second term, and new House Speaker John Boehner aims to "repeal and replace" the Obama health insurance reforms. It's not just that I think these men are working against the best interests of the country, and it may be superficial, but how do you take someone seriously when one of them looks like Mr. Toad from Alice in Wonderland, and the other looks like an Oompa Loompa?

2. My Neighbor. I make a point of knowing my next-door neighbors, but this is a family across the back fence and it's probably just as well I don't know their name. The wife and four kids have spent the last eight years in their back yard screaming. The children were infants when we moved in, and although I wondered aloud whether they shouldn't be in college by now, they're all still back there screaming. The husband owns every gas powered lawn device on the market, including a riding mower with a headlight so he can cut his postage-stamp sized yard at night. Between the leaf blower and the weed wacker, some deafening motor is always running. I had to wake Melody early one morning, however, to tell her that the neighbors now had chickens. She gazed in disbelief at the grown birds clucking away across the fence. Now, our dogs have gone insane and we've inquired about the legality of keeping barnyard animals in east Memphis. But the wife found a way to grandfather in the chickens before some new ordinance takes effect. They say strong fences make good neighbors, but, in this case, only when they're soundproofed.

1. Sarah Palin. I try to ignore her, but they won't let me. From the book deals, the speaking engagements, the Fox News commentary gig, and her inane "tweets," Palin has made a vast fortune from non-public service, or, as we used to call it, "self-service." And yet, a large segment of the population just loves her and can't get enough of her cruel sarcasm. The final outrage came during the reality show, Sarah Palin's Alaska, when she traveled to some remote hunting area and murdered a young, female elk. Sure, she justified it by claiming they planned to eat the animal, but I'll bet the response to the dining experience won't match the orgasmic breathlessness exhibited by the bystanders when she killed that majestic creature. If this weekly Palin infomercial is intended to boost her chances for higher office, it has, so far, only exhibited her vapidity. I'm convinced that this woman is a complete idiot, and if you think she's qualified to be the president, then so are you. And that's deeply annoying.