Monday, December 16, 2013

Reindeer Games

Zwarte Piet
Here are the latest dispatches from the front in the War on Christmas. Another of Fox News' soulless talking blond provocateurs, Megyn Kelly, found her own little hot spot in the frigid northeast snow after her pronouncement last week that both Santa and Jesus were white. While discussing an article written by Slate's Aisha Harris which called for a more inclusive image of kindly Kris Kringle, and described her childhood confusion of seeing a white Santa in the shopping mall and a black Santa in her home, Megyn Kelly said, "this is yet another person claiming it's racist to have a white Santa." Then, attempting a humorous aside for all the world's children who may have been tuned in to The Kelly Files, she added, "by the way for all you kids watching at home, Santa is white but this person is just arguing that maybe we should also have a black Santa." While her panel of white experts looked on in amused fascination, Kelly injected, "Jesus was a white man too. He was a historical figure, that's a verifiable fact," then adding with a wink, "as is Santa. I just wanted you kids to know that." Not knowing when to stop digging, Kelly concluded her Santa diatribe by asking the eternal question, "How do you revise it in the middle of the legacy of the story, and just change Santa from white to black?" After enduring a firestorm of media ridicule, Kelly, who has a law degree, blamed the "liberal press" for "race-baiting." Kelly's remarks are so dumb on so many levels, it's hard to know where to begin, but she has yet to realize that her views reflect a certain smug, white entitlement that gives other Caucasoids a bad name.

St. Nicholas, the patron saint of thieves, prostitutes, sailors, and children, is where the Santa Claus story begins. Nicholas, or Nikolaos, was a fourth century Greek Bishop of Lycia, in what is now modern day Turkey. Known for his generosity to children and the poor, Nicholas may well have been an oily-skinned, Mediterranean man reeking of garlic and feta cheese. A fifteenth century Russian icon in the Swedish National Museum pictures St. Nicholas as a black man. The Westernized version of Santa begins with the Dutch legend of Sinterklaas, who parallels Odin, a major god among the Germanic people. It seems that the white bearded Sinterklaas brings gifts to children on his feast day accompanied by his posse of mischievous helpers with black faces known as "Zwarte Piet," literally translated, "Black Peters,"- Megyn Kelly's worst nightmare.  In the middle ages, the feast day of Sinterklaas, December 6th, was known for mass displays of public drunkenness. Today, Sinterklaas doesn't arrive in Holland in a sleigh, but on a steamboat from Spain, every year in mid-November for your visual entertainment. Sinterklaas was eventually merged with the swarthy St. Nicholas and England's Father Christmas to bring us the jolly Santa we have come to know.

The white Santa didn't emerge until 1881 with a Thomas Nast illustration of Clement Moore's immortal poem, "A Visit from St. Nicholas," or what is currently known as "The Night Before Christmas." In Moore's poem, old St. Nick is depicted as a morbidly obese, red-suited man with red-cheeks and proboscis gin blossoms, probably indicating a drinking problem, who forces miniature, "tiny," reindeer to haul his fat ass through the snow. If such a man appeared committing these acts during daylight hours, the A.S.P.C.A. would have him arrested for cruelty, especially to poor Rudolph, who wasn't allowed to join in the reindeer games, a bi-ennial, arctic caribou athletic competition. And if Santa is from the North Pole, either he's the only white man there, or he's an indigenous Inuit, an Alaskan people who crossed a land bridge from Asia in the first century AD, known for their high suicide rate- I guess because Eskimo elves are hard to find and Santa only pays minimum wage. This would likewise make Mrs. Claus an Inuit, whose diet consists of fish and caribou. Now we know what happens to the reindeer that can't cut it anymore.

As for Megyn Kelly's "verifiable fact" that Jesus was white- I'm certain that He is on the blue-eyed picture on her wall, but that is in conflict with historical and geographical certainties. We know that Jesus was a Semite, born in Judea, and appeared among his contemporaries as one of them. This means that He was likely a dark-skinned man with curly black hair and facial features typical of the Semitic people of the time- or what some lesser informed individuals once referred to as "Jewish looking." If Jesus sat next to Megyn Kelly in an airport, she would likely report Him to the TSA as a terrorist. Yet Kelly remains oblivious to the heart of the contention that white people should dictate the appearance of what non-whites should revere. It's an extension of the "we want our country back" mentality that has permeated the Tea Party-driven Republican agenda and their propaganda arm, the Fox News Network. In Kelly's world, allowing an ethnic group other than her own a different interpretation of the appearance of a fictional character is an act of inclusion that is simply beyond her comprehension. The renowned, twentieth-century, western philosopher Frank Zappa once said in his 1966 song Trouble Every  Day, "Hey, you know something people? I'm not black, but there's a whole lots a times I wish I could say I'm not white." 

Monday, December 02, 2013

The Pope Is Dope

Although I am not a Catholic, I survived Catholic school, where I learned a thing or two about a Pope or two. So, I can say with all sincerity that the new Pope is dope. My papal-span is like an arc, beginning with Pius XII, who was sometimes referred to as "Hitler's Pope," and ending with Benedict XVI, formerly Joseph Ratzinger, Jr. of the Hitler Youth and the Nazi infantry. The resigned Pope's father, Joseph Ratzinger, Sr., was a member of the Nazi "Order-Police," under the control of the SS, an inconvenient fact that was whitewashed from Pope Benedict's Wikipedia bio. I guess Benedict took his red Prada shoes of the fisherman into retirement with him since Pope Francis would never tolerate such a display of personal vanity. In his short tenure as Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis has given the faithful so much change and hope for the future, he should be called the Barack Obama of Catholicism.

Pope Francis was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio on Dec. 17, 1936. I believe that any Pope who shares my birthday must be destined for greatness. Now I have someone to brag about who was born on the same day as I was besides such Catholic luminaries as Manny Pacquiao, Bob Guccione, and Chris Mathews. It's no coincidence that the new Pope took the name Francis. Born in Buenos Aires, which has one of the largest concentrations of poor of any major city in the world, the new Pope is named for Francis of Assisi, the saint mostly known for his concern for the well being of the poor. Pope Francis has stated that he will remain in the Vatican guesthouse rather than live in the apostolic Palace and he will motor around Vatican City in a 1984 Renault with 186,000 miles on the speedometer. I'm certain the Vatican's guesthouses are nice digs, but it takes discipline to refuse the Palace. Most startling of all was the manifesto written by the Pope last August and released last week.  The 224 page "apostolic exhortation," is called the Joy of Gospel, and though it was mainly written as instruction for priests and pastoral workers, Vatican correspondent John L. Allen wrote in The Catholic Reporter that the work "amounts to Francis' 'I Have a Dream' speech." While adhering to basic Catholic tenets, Francis' populist views, according to Charles Camosy of Fordham University, "would likely be considered too liberal for a prime-time speaking slot at the 2016 DNC convention,"

Of course, Americans of a certain political bent have rejected the Pope's message as radical leftist propaganda. Famous Christian thinker Sarah Palin reared her ugly head to declare the Pope as far too liberal. Other politicians have had so many running commentaries that differ with the Pontiff, I thought it might be fun to compare some quotes:

"Some people continue to defend trickle-down economic theories that place a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power."  Pope Francis
"The supply-side claim is not a claim. It is empirically true and historically convincing that with lower rates of taxation on labor and capital, the factors of production, you’ll get a bigger economy." Former Vice Presidential candidate Jack Kemp

"Justice requires...mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income." Pope Francis
"I know there are some who believe that if you simply take from some and give to others then we’ll all be better off. It’s known as redistribution. It’s never been a characteristic of America."  Mitt Romney

"It is vital that government leaders take heed and broaden their horizons, working to ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education, and healthcare." Pope Francis
"And what is Obamacare? It is a law as destructive to personal and individual liberty as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 that allowed slave owners to come to New Hampshire and seize African Americans and use the federal courts to take them back to federal… to slave states.”  New Hampshire State Representative Bill O'Brien

"The Church has no wish to hold back the marvelous progress of science. On the contrary, she rejoices and even delights in acknowledging the enormous potential that God has given to the human mind."  Pope Francis
"All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the big bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell."  Georgia Rep. Paul Broun

"Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape."  Pope Francis
"You can't help those who simply will not be helped. One problem that we've had, even in the best of times, is people who are sleeping on the grates, the homeless who are homeless, you might say, by choice."  Ronald Reagan

"I exhort all countries to a generous openness which, rather than fearing the loss of local identity, will prove capable of creating new forms of cultural synthesis."  Pope Francis
"Just build the damn fence." Senator John McCain

It's so refreshing to hear the Pope say, "We have to state without mincing words that there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor." Francis expounded that there could be "no solution" to the world's ills until "the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality." This stuff is enough to make a free-market capitalist's head explode. "I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor." Oh oh. The Pontiff just took out the entire Republican Congressional Caucus. Pope Francis' message appears to be resonating. His favorability rating among Catholics is almost 80 percent and lapsed members are returning to their churches with a renewed commitment. It's incredible what one dedicated man can do to restore faith to a disillusioned people. Just ask Jesus.


Monday, November 18, 2013

History For Dummies

History is a funny thing. When you have an understanding of it you can spot it rattling down the street like a steam roller and you can leap out of the way in time. When you're oblivious to history, you never see it coming until it rolls you over and transforms you into road pizza. If you are a political actor in the current tragi-comedy taking place in the U.S. Congress, and also ignorant of history, the rest of of us have seen this tedious play before and in the third act, you can depend upon the past sneaking up and biting you in your collective dumb asses. So it is with the Tea Party suckers who have been bamboozled by the rich man's agenda. Senate Republicans propose bill after bill to cut the top income tax rate and abolish the estate tax, or now that it has been Frank Luntzified, the death tax. Their agenda has nothing to do with helping the middle class, yet they know there is a grass roots movement behind them who are anti-government and hate Obama. As long as the plutocrats make nice, the plebeians will do their dirty work for them. Thus, the mainstream Republicans have made an unholy alliance with radicals and racists, and if history is a harbinger of things to come, the Tea Party will either devour the GOP from within, or become a fringe third party.

As the Republicans look toward 2016, their best chance to win the presidency is with the right-wing Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie. But he's not right-wing enough for the clueless caucus of the GOP, who seem to prefer the plagiarist Sen. Rand Paul as their candidate. If I may just make an aside here, I realize that having sport with someones looks is the lowest form of criticism. Having said that, am I the only one that thinks Rand Paul looks like Lee Harvey Oswald? They have the same pinched, weasel face and an expression of combative, smug assurance. Paul is the perfect Tea Party candidate. He's a libertarian one moment and a right-wing flame thrower the next. He has said, "I have a message from the Tea Party, a message that is loud and clear and does not mince words. We've come to take our government back." Paul has also expressed reservations about provisions of the Civil Rights Act and had an aide on his staff who was forced to resign when it became known that he was a former shock-jock and Neo-Confederate activist known as the "Southern Avenger." The Tea Party is thought to be made up of the common angry citizen but a current Pew Poll shows the typical member to be older, whiter, and wealthier than your average yahoo. The same poll found that forty-nine percent of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of the Tea Party. But that ain't gonna stop them and they will continue to be a tapeworm in the GOP's small intestine.

The parallel universe in which the Tea Party exists is the same one that once enraptured the Dixiecrats. They were also a party that favored home-rule and opposition to the Federal government. But before that, they were part of a post-war Democratic coalition that included the "Solid South." The South could be depended upon to vote Democratic because of a poisonous political bargain to accommodate racists and white supremacists within the party. When Harry Truman established a Presidential Commission on Civil Rights, there was a rebellion in the party among the far right. At the 1948 Democratic Convention, when the platform committee adopted a Hubert Humphrey plank calling for civil rights, the right flank bolted and formed the States Rights Democratic Party, better known as the Dixiecrats, and nominated a presidential candidate of their own, J. Strom Thurmond, the miscegenating Governor of the great state of South Carolina. Their platform was to protect the Southern way of life beset by an oppressive federal government, and to uphold Jim Crow laws concerning voter suppression and white supremacy. Even after an ignominious defeat, the segregationists were welcomed back into the party, and remained there well into the sixties.

When the Democratic-sponsored Voting Rights Act of 1964 and Civil Rights Act of 1965 were signed into law, Lyndon Johnson said that the Democrats had probably lost the South for a generation. Even LBJ underestimated the right-wing resentment that animates the opposition nearly fifty years later and manifests itself in the Tea Party. Richard Nixon made all the pigeons flock to him with the cynical "Southern Strategy" of 1968. The GOP started whistling "Dixie," and all the goobers converted to Republicanism. Tricky Dick won seventy percent of the popular vote in the deep South, but lost ninety percent of the black vote. And so it stands. The Democrats didn't win a lot of elections after 1968. Even Jimmy Carter lost the South when running for a second term. The Dems payed dearly for their embrace of right-wing radicals and segregationist Southern politicians, but it was necessary to purge the obstructionists to construct a true progressive agenda. The radicals are still on the right-wing, railing over Obamacare now just like they did over civil rights in the past. But they are the asp in the bosom of the Republican Party now, and if they don't get their way come convention time, history says they're gonna bite.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Back In Your Burqa

Last week Melody and I celebrated our eleventh wedding anniversary. Thank you. It was my pleasure. When asked why I waited so late in life to get married, I reply that I was just waiting for Melody to come back on the market. I'd been kind of interested in her for some time, but she kept marrying the wrong guys. I first met her forty years ago when she was a young hippie chick working in an Overton Square leather shop owned by my former college roommate. She drove a black VW Beetle and lived in a communal house on Edgewood Street. I admired her spunk and good humor, but mostly I was impressed with her sense of independence. Melody could hang with the big dogs and possessed a quick wit that allowed her to give as good as she got. I quickly began eyeballing her as my potential new girlfriend, but she wasn't studying me. When I was sitting on a tall barstool playing and singing at the Looking Glass, Melody worked in the cloakroom because she was too young to come in to the bar. When it was late and the crowd had cleared out, she came in anyway to listen, and I sang the Bee Gee's song "Melody Fair" for her. I got a hug and kiss, but still no dice. I probably should have asked her out on an actual date, but that seemed so passe' in the freewheeling seventies.
Before I could manage to clearly express my feelings, she got married, but even after that we remained friends. I had no choice because she married my saxophone player. When they moved to California, we lost touch but for second-hand information. I later heard she was divorced and remarried and living on a naval base in the Philippines, and I was bewildered by the thought. Years passed and Melody faded from memory, although mutual friends would occasionally speak of her. Then, my band played for the thirtieth high school reunion for the White Station class of 1967, and Melody was there with her sister. We laughed and talked and I was reminded of how fondly I felt about her but she was still a married woman. Several eons later, I was playing in a club with an acoustic trio when Melody and her husband came in with a large group. I checked out the lucky guy. He looked like he could kick my ass. It wasn't that much later when she came back in one night with some girlfriends and I was told she was separated. We had the obligatory dinner and a movie and shortly thereafter, I concluded that some damn fool had discarded a perfectly good wife.
Our friendship rekindled, I noticed how easy it was to spend time with her and how much we had to talk about. I had just recently escaped an emotionally abusive relationship and was nursing a battered ego, so Melody was like oxygen. After a period of going middle-aged steady and winning the tacit approval of my teenage step-son and daughter-to-be, marriage seemed like the next logical step. I would finally get to hang out with Melody. We approached the Rabbi at Temple Israel and agreed to take Jewish classes in return for his blessing. Melody was charmed by Micah Greenstein and we both agree that he has so much charisma, if he weren't a rabbi, he could start his own cult. When he asked if we had any personal additions to our vows, I replied that right after Melody said, "I do," I would like the Rabbi was to say to her, "Now, get back in your burqa." We shared a chuckle and forgot about it until the actual ceremony where I wasn't entirely sure that I wasn't going to pass out at any moment. I made it through the whole deal before God and everybody and was only waiting for the Rabbi's pronouncement when he said, "And now, Randy, it's time for you to get back in your burqa." I guess you had to be there, but it sure made me guffaw. Whenever I see the Rabbi, I like to tell him that he married us so good, I believe that it stuck.
At age 54, I would never have considered living with a teenage high-school boy, because all I to compare him with was me. As a grown-up, I most certainly wouldn't tolerate living with a teenaged me. Fortunately, Cameron, my step-son, was already a good guy and the only "Dad" thing I insisted on doing was playing catch in the backyard. Melody's daughter was already off at college, but since I never had offspring, I enjoyed teaching a young man how to tie his tie and drive a car. I was delighted to contribute cuff links and cummerbund to his first formal attire and to advise him that a gentleman always wears a pocket square. The rest of the time, he pretty much stayed in his room and I would see him when he surfaced to eat. I liked all his buddies and when they gathered, I was reminded so much of my own youth, I had to restrain myself from participating in their frivolity and risk appearing the old fool. Now that eleven years have passed, everyone's grown and on their own. It's back to just me and Melody once again, if you don't count the three rescue dogs, and she's still happy to see me when I come home from work. We recommend late-in-life marriages. Your priorities change from a half-mad, youthful, libido driven relationship, into one of good conversation and companionship. That's where all that pre-marital friendship comes in handy. Besides, it's good to have someone to argue with about what to watch on television for the rest of your life.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The War on Thanksgiving

Before the Fox News Network gets the chance to gin up hysterical indignation over their patented, annual "War on Christmas," I would like to address a more pressing issue that needs immediate attention, and that's the War on Thanksgiving. The War began two years ago when our Muslim president gave a three minute Thanksgiving speech without mentioning the word "God." He did mention that "Love your neighbor stuff," and say "God bless you" at the end of the speech, but where were the biblical references? Enraged religious conservatives took to the airways and social media to rail against the secularization of our sacred commemoration of the marriage between Miles Standish and Sacajawea by the shores of Gitche Gummi, after which, they threw a party that made Plymouth rock. The director of the website Christian Newswire wrote, "Thanksgiving (is) the one American holiday originating within Christian culture. God's providence was demonstrated when the Pilgrims discarded socialism after a year of absolute failure and embraced capitalism. Redefining Thanksgiving as anything other than a call to give thanks to the one true and living God is an attempt to remove God from America's one true Christian holiday." He liked the adjective "true" a lot.

After the president's Godless address, he went outside to the Rose Garden and pardoned a fat Thanksgiving turkey. Who is Obama to interfere with our nation's annual turkey genocide? And if turkeys start getting pardons, what's to keep them from seeking revenge? We need tryptophan to combat the onslaught of annoying relatives' endless questions about what we've been up to. It serves as a natural sedative and combats the desire to tell them to go and do impossible anatomical contortions. Ben Franklin claimed a preference for the turkey as our national bird, and I'm certain that old Poor Richard never sat down to a Thanksgiving dinner of bald eagle. In fact, Franklin invented the phrase, "Let's talk turkey." This year, Obama's past failure to mention "God" by name, accompanied by the Christian Newswire's declaration that capitalism is holy, has emboldened parade-sponsor shylock, Macy's, to break with their one hundred and fifty-five year tradition of closing on Thanksgiving. They used to give their employees the day off because someone had to blow up all those balloons, but the only Miracle on 34th Street this year will be an accident free parade. They now will have fewer employees on the street to make sure a wayward balloon doesn't hit a light pole and fracture someones skull, like the giant Cat In The Hat balloon did to a female bystander in 1997. Now that Macy's has thrown down the gauntlet, can Dillard's be far behind? And if capitalism is next to Godliness, what becomes of cleanliness? Has the lust for consumer goods caused us to lose the desire to clean ourselves?

Commercialism is destroying our faith-based custom of devouring oversized meals before attending after-dinner worship services that feature the age-old morality play of the Cowboys versus the Redskins. And speaking of Native-Americans, or Indians, as they called them back in the Puritanical days, I wonder how they celebrate Thanksgiving? It's been a few years now since that first shindig when the Pilgrims had the Wampanoag over for Thanksgiving supper, but unfortunately, that was the last act of kindness by the new settlers towards the indigenous population. Why should Native-Americans still be sore at the sons of English refugees? They gave us maize, weaving techniques, and planting advice, and we gave them syphilis, whiskey, and smallpox. Isn't it time to squash the grudge? This year, the Judaeo-Christian day of Thanksgiving is threatened by encroaching Judaism. For the first time in over a hundred years, the first night of Hanukkah, or Chanuka, falls on the same day as Thanksgiving. Personally, I never could get too excited over a holiday where there's a discrepancy over how to spell it, but Hanukkah is a celebration of the Jewish victory over the Greeks in 165 BCE, when Judah and his merry band of Maccabees arranged Olympic-style games for young Jewish athletes and the Olympic flame burned for eight nights. I'm being facetious, of course. The eight day celebration is in reference to the Beatles' song, "Eight Days a Week," because some ultra-Reform Jews believe that the Lord created the earth and the heavens in seven days rather than six, and on the eighth day, He created the Beatles.

This cosmic convergence has even been given a name- "Thanksgivukkah," which was created and trademarked by a Jewish mother from New England named Dana Gitell, who has also snatched up the Twitter handle, created a Facebook page, and started selling tee shirts. Boston Mayor Tom Menino has proclaimed November 28th, "Thanksgivukkah," in the traditionally Irish-Catholic city, saying, "This is an once-in-a-lifetime event. It's a day to celebrate the diversity of our city and the spirit of working together to make Boston a better place." What kind of heretic does he think he is? Just because the event won't repeat for another 79,043 years, is that any reason to sacrifice our traditional values on the alter of political correctness and declare the day as "special?"  Let's return the heavily religious connotations that Lincoln recommended back to Thanksgiving, then we can put the "cai" back in Chanuka. However, if you don't say "Happy Thanksgiving" to me, I won't answer you. None of this "Merry Turkey Day," or "Happy Gobble Day," and if we don't nip this "Thanksgivukkah" business in the bud, the next thing you know, the Jews will be trying to claim Jesus and we'll all be lighting turkey-shaped menorahs. In fact, a nine-year-old New York City boy has patented a turkey-shaped menorah, called a "Menurkey."  At my house, we will still be having our traditional holiday meal of Bar-B-Q Turkey and chopped liver with fried latkes served over cheese grits- and for dessert: small, mesh bags of chocolate coins. Then we'll make burnt offerings to Hanuman, the monkey god, and pray for an end to the sequester just as the Founders intended. Until then, happy pre-holidays to all y'all. Now let's discuss this War on Halloween.

Monday, October 07, 2013

That's Entertainment

My wife has informed me that I've been doing nothing but ranting and raving around the house over the ongoing government shutdown and the yellow rat bastards that created it, only the sole recipient of my eloquent fury has been her, and she's worn out.
Melody said, "I hate it when you do that!"
"Do what?" I innocently inquired.
"You know what you're doing. You're not talking to me, you're writing that thing and practicing it on me." We've only been married eleven years. Melody should know by now that I would angrily soliloquize, thing or no, about these half-wit anarchists that have sold-out our government for a pittance, gaining nothing. But she has suggested, for the benefit of my mental health and her own, that I should try to write something humorous, like I used to before pridefully ignorant peckerwoods began dictating a Santa's list of demands before agreeing to fund the government. I'd like to, but what's funny lately? PeePaw scaling the walls of the shuttered World War II Memorial in D.C.? Anyway, to please my wife, which is never unwise, I've decided to return to entertainment. So now, I would like to do one of my favorite political impressions that I'm forever being asked to do at parties- the angry Tea Party Republican. Ladies and gentlemen, with your permission, let me just strap my holster to my leg and present for your enjoyment, that friend or relative that we, particularly in the South, know only too well.

   "Hey bub, let me tell you one damn thing right off the jump, I don't consider myself one of those Tea Party crazies. I'm a conservative libertarian. All the polls show that the majority of real Americans don't want Obamacare because it was shoved down our throats by one political party. Obama is eager to destroy America and about half the country can see that. Vladimir Lenin referred to American liberals as "useful idiots." Lenin used them, but he was disgusted by them. Nobody but liberals want to live under totalitarianism.The liberals want all power centralized in a world government. Then they can dismantle America at their leisure and institute any form of tyranny they want. Americans have become mindless, dependent sheep. They are so addicted to government handouts, they will believe anything to keep those out of office who will take away their freebies and make them work for a living. The less intelligent must receive unending subsidies and hand-outs provided by those who actually earn money. Obamacare is socialist legislation, passed along party lines as a gift for the country's first African-American president, because not supporting it means you are a racist. The whole deal is just another giveaway to people who refuse to be responsible for their own lives. I still believe he is not a citizen of the USA and he is trying to destroy America from within and create hate for the rich by playing on the poor. He is the worst president we ever had, but Americans have become too politically correct to handle the truth."

Laughing Yet? Maybe a bit too harsh? You're right, it probably was too coherent for a Teabagger. Let me change my vocal inflection and give you my imitation of a right-wing, conspiratorial, doomsday prepper.
   Ahem.."Liberals don't do well under the light of truth. It makes it harder for them to fabricate their B.S. That's why they're for a censored media. Obama is nothing more than a hand puppet for the global Oligarchs he serves. After Hillary is elected, we will be a third-world nation until we're absorbed into the coming totalitarian New World Order. Hillary Clinton in 2016 will be America's first female, Marxist, bisexual, necromancing president. The Bible says Satan is the father of all lies. Politics is Satanic. The Democrats will blame Republicans if Obamacare turns out badly. It's just another theft of working people's money and giving it to the freeloaders. There ain't no free lunch. Just wait until the sale of your home will be taxed three percent to pay for Obamacare. Obama and the crooks he's surrounded himself with have carried their Chicago-style, thug politics too far. We are not yet to the point for the need for open rebellion, but we're heading that way. I hope you liberals like what's coming down the pike, because its your heads that will be on a pike. See you in the gulags. Maybe then you'll listen. "

Pretty far out, huh? I'm thinking of doing a one-man show if I can get corporate sponsorship. And if you think my rhetoric is much too radical for the mainstream, I must now tell you that I took all the above quotes directly from the "comments" section of my last several posts. And I didn't even include the personal attacks- wonderful statements like, "You are a very bad advertisement for the University of Memphis School of Journalism. Anyone with a grain of sense can see that you are a small-time, deluded muckraker and a sorry joke of a yellow journalist." Here's another dart: "You're the most prejudiced, one-sided, prevaricating commentator I've ever read. Stick to writing self-serving stories about yourself." Or, on the topic of race: "You brand anybody who disagrees with Obama a racist. You stereotype worst (sic) than any racist I have known. You are crazed over the issue of skin color. You are a virulent racist and an avid fan of baby murder." And while we've broached the topic of women's reproductive rights: "Aren't you glad that your mother was pro-life- at least in your case? Good luck after you close your eyes for the last time, and that shouldn't be many years hence." And my personal favorite; "When the Jews wipe out Iran and start looking for race traitors, you better hide under the bed." It makes me wonder, why should I labor so hard over these articles or fret about deadlines? This stuff practically writes itself. You've been great. Please tip your waitress- I'll be here all week.


Monday, September 23, 2013

The Fall Season

Hi kids. Uncle Randy checking in once again. Happy Fall to all. Fall always reminds me of fresh starts and new beginnings. This rapid weather change, however, makes me believe that we are going to pay for that reasonably mild summer we experienced in Memphis. Which reminds me, I hope everyone gets their flu shot this year, that is, if you don't believe that the vaccine is a secret government conspiracy to make you sick enough to wish you had health insurance. In that case, you're in luck. Obamacare is due to kick-in on October 1st, and as I predicted in these pages, we are already seeing the formerly infallible insurance companies running competing advertisements for affordable policies. That's different already. For someone like me, who went without health insurance for a decade because of the dreaded "pre-existing condition," the Affordable Care Act is a long awaited remedy. For a person who receives all their information from Fox News and right-wing websites, it's the worst thing to hit America since the Influenza Pandemic of 1918.

With only days before the law takes effect, the Republicans are scrambling around like cockroaches, attempting anything and everything to derail or delay Obamacare. The Tea Party led House Republicans passed a bill to alot money to run the government, without funding Obamacare, technically a violation of the law. If the Tea Party began telling the American people to stop paying their income taxes, or to ignore the speed limit, wouldn't they be aiding and abetting the commission of a crime? The Koch brothers have been running television ads that show a creepy looking Uncle Sam with a wicked smile preparing to perform a gynecological exam on an unsuspecting young woman. The grotesquery is supposed to convince younger people to opt-out of Obamacare. This is where you younger folks come in. I understand that the Affordable Care Act is unpopular and that the right-wing hysteria has had its effect, but all the bill does is deliver thirty million new customers to the health insurance industry. The problem isn't Obamacare, it's the health insurance scam that the medical/pharmaceutical complex forced upon us in the first place. Now that we're all in this together, the first step out of this trap is to at least make health insurance affordable and available to everyone.

The health care act allows a young person to remain on their parents' insurance until age twenty-six. I know you're feeling great now, but when you start getting close to thirty, things begin to happen. You may be fit enough to play on a Park Commission basketball team, until you're diving for a loose ball and get your teeth knocked out, which actually happened to a friend of mine. Another friend was a teammate in a softball league until he tore out his knee sliding into home. You'll be happy you have health care on these occasions, not to mention actual illnesses that require a doctor's care. So, young people's participation is necessary to make the law effective, despite the Koch brothers' efforts to convince them otherwise. Obamacare is the settled law of the land, yet the House bill to defund the  act allows the "loyal opposition" to kick their forty-second attempt at killing the law over to the Senate, where it stands no chance of passing, but every chance of becoming the partisan, political spectacle of the fall season. All eyes will be on the man Sarah Palin refers to as "Tea Party Ted,"- Texas Senator Tom, I mean Ted Cruz. The first term senator, whose naked presidential ambitions are embarrassing, has vowed to do "everything necessary and anything possible to defund Obamacare," including a promise to filibuster any spending bill that does not defund the health care law. Majority Leader Harry Reid, doing his Don Corleone impression, responded, "Any bill that defunds Obamacare is dead. Dead."

Ted Cruz is living proof that a degree from Harvard ain't what it used to be. He may possess a rich intellect, but he displays poor judgement. That leftist rag Wall Street Journal called Cruz's idea of using the continuing resolution to defund Obamacare as "crazy." Sen. John McCain said it was a "bad idea." Before "Tea Party Ted" was to appear on Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace said he was "stunned" to receive opposition research on the Senator, "from other Republicans." Cruz, the neo-Joe McCarthy, has labelled Social Security a "ponzi scheme," and said that "Sharia law is an enormous problem in this country." Oh yeah, he voted against the Violence Against Women Act too. Even his fellow conservatives despise him. Outspoken Rep. Peter King of New York said, "He should stay in the Senate, keep quiet. If he can deliver on this, fine. If he can't, he should keep quiet from now on and we shouldn't listen to him." Harry Reid will merely strip any language about defunding Obamacare from the spending bill and send it back to the House. Then it's up to "Crying John" Boehner to either find the votes to pass the Senate bill and prevent a government shutdown, or stand with the Tea Party and go down with the ship. If you recall, the last government shutdown was a disaster which led to the fellating of President Clinton. The deadline is September 30, and if you think this is exciting, just wait until next month's self-inflicted crisis over the damned debt ceiling, when the Tea Party lunatics attempt to delay the implementation of Obamacare for another year. I'm not a lawyer, but I watch a lot of television. Isn't this legal grounds for obstruction of justice?


Monday, September 09, 2013

Bombing For Peace

That clever Barack Obama with his Kenyan, colonialist, socialist tactics. I see what he's doing. He's using an old cold-war Manchurian mind-control trick he learned in an Indonesian madrassa when he was in training to take over the world. Obama is using the ancient technique of turning someones greatest desires against them, in this case the back-bench Republicans, who would love nothing more than to see the election of 2008 declared unconstitutional and Obama deported. Like using reverse psychology on a child, the Svengali president is using the irrational, frothing hatred of the Tea Party Republicans against the very idea of a Barack Obama in order to obtain his genuine goals. Look at the record. This man distinguished himself in the Illinois Senate by declaring against the Bush Iraq War resolution when other Democrats were too timid. He came into office vowing to end that same Iraq War, and he has. Troops in Afghanistan are loading up the trucks for a trip back down the old Khyber Pass, getting the hell out of hell. Obama doesn't want war in Syria. He's a pacifist who pals around with people like William Ayers, the peace terrorist. This whole "getting congressional approval for a military strike" is a sham. Obama's a peacenick. He even won the Nobel Peace Prize. If he tells this Congress he wants health, they'll vote for sickness. If he says he wants war, they'll give him peace.

It's not as if President Assad is the first lunatic to use chemical weapons. I can still hear echos of George W. Bush sputtering in exasperation, "but he gassed the Kurds," in reference to Saddam Hussein. That wasn't a sufficient reason to invade Iraq then, and it's not reason enough to invade Syria now. The President has assured us that no such thing would ever take place- no "boots on the ground," in the current politspeak. The problem is that the trust factor of the American people in their elected leaders has been so eroded by the Bush lies, they are hesitant to provide that trust to anyone again. Obama cites Bill Clinton's successes in Bosnia and Kosovo, where a bombing campaign ended a brutal dictator's reign and stopped a genocidal Serb forces' terror. Folks that can still remember that far back may also recall Mr. Clinton's response to the Al Qaeda bombings of the U.S. embassies in Africa. When Clinton lobbed a couple of Cruise missiles into terrorist bases in Afghanistan and a suspected chemical weapons plant in the Sudan, he was in the midst of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and his opponents claimed the strikes were just a diversion from the ongoing testimony of the sordid details from his sex life- "Wag the Dog," they called it, after the popular Dustin Hoffman movie.

Bashar al Assad was hoped to be a more enlightened leader than his dad, Hafez al Assad, who ruled Syria by violently suppressing dissent. Bashar is an Opthamologist who lived in London for awhile and even once made a statement praising democracy, yet he's just proven himself to be a more efficient killer than his father. The pictures coming out of Syria of victims of chemical attacks are undeniably heartbreaking and are deserving of a response. Where's the Muslim Brotherhood when you need them? Syria is surrounded by states capable of attacking their weapons cache, so why does the U.S. have to do it? In 2007, Israel made a secretive air strike against a partially constructed nuclear reactor deep within the Syrian desert. Because the operation was subject to a news blackout, tensions in the region remained unchanged- and what was the ferocious Syrian retaliation? Syria complained that Israeli jets had violated their airspace. If Israel felt threatened by Syria's chemical weapons today, would they not act again? There are atrocities committed around the world every day. Although the U.S. claims the moral authority, we no longer have the wherewithal to be the international dispenser of justice. I can still recall DuPont manufactured chemical weapons called Agent Orange and Napalm that were used on civilian populations in Vietnam. They were classified as defoliants, but they killed just the same. Which, among the angry nations of the world, should have decided what our punishment would have been, and who would have delivered it?

Obama's caution is understandable. When he ordered missile strikes against Libyan air defenses for murdering anti-Gaddafi protesters in March 2011, his objective was achieved, but it led to Benghazi. If he's looking for a precedent, all he need do is look to the Republican hero, John Wayne- I mean Ronald Reagan. In 1986, in response to a bombing in West Berlin by a terrorist group based in Libya, Reagan ordered the strafing of Muammar Gaddafi's personal residence. The result was the expulsion of the terrorists from Libyan soil. There's never been a war that the Republicans weren't willing to join, yet suddenly, usually hawkish conservatives are sounding like John Lennon. Tea Party heroes like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have led the opposition to any proposed action, while old guard Republicans like John McCain and John Boehner favor strikes. Obama stepped into his own trap with this "red-line" stuff, and it was wise to leave it up to a Congress that would refuse him ice water in the desert. Rand Paul said, "No on wants to go into Syria," despite the president's assurances that we were not "going in" anywhere. Yet there are always those unintended consequences.

As of this writing, the president has not yet addressed the nation, but it's beginning to look like public, as well as congressional, sentiment is turning against him. And as we grow closer to hostilities, the Tea Party is accusing Obama of "wagging the dog," to detract from their singular pursuit of the Fox News created Benghazi scandal, and for taking up precious time that could be spent attempting to disassemble Obamacare. The chemical attacks in the Damascus suburbs are an outrage to humanity- just the sort of thing for which the United Nations was formed to address. If they refuse to act, the fleet's already there. We're the nation that killed the whole Hussein family, what's another missile or two between murderous tyrants? The president could accept an alliance with France just to drive critics like Donald Rumsfeld nuts. But Obama doesn't want to go to war. If he wanted to end the massacre of civilians in Syria, he could fire a targeted Cruise or Tomahawk, or whatever missile is the latest thing, and send it right up Bashar's Assad. Problem solved- or as Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson put it, "It's better to apologise than to ask permission."


Monday, August 26, 2013

Rebel Hell

It's worth noting that in the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision that took a wrecking ball to one of the pillars of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, new voter identification laws have spread throughout the south like kudzu. Certain states whose past actions indicated voter suppression, and were thus obliged to pre-clear any changes in election laws with the federal government, were freed to harness-up the old partisan mules and plow that rotted field. The surge in states voting to make major changes in voting laws looks like a map of the old Confederacy, including the recent additions of  Alabama, Virginia, and North Carolina. Every week, another rebel state makes a symbolic secession from the union, in defiance of the federal government's desire to uphold the right to vote. Only hours after the court's decision. Gov. Rick Perry announced that the strictest Voter ID law in the country, which had been previously blocked by the government, would become effective "immediately." In turn, last week the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the State of Texas. Attorney General Eric Holder stated, "We will not allow the Supreme Court's recent decision to be interpreted as open season for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights."

So, you may ask, "What's the big deal? You need a photo ID to do everything from cashing a check to buying cigarettes. Besides, I've always presented my identification at the polls." The facts are that before the 2006 mid-term elections, no state ever required a voter to produce a government issued photo ID as a condition of voting. In the past, a driver's license, a student ID, a utility bill, or any other proof of address was sufficient. The new Voter ID laws sweeping the south require that voters obtain a special photo ID, given either for free or with a fee to recipients by the government to combat "voter fraud." Critics say the laws disproportionately affect minorities, the elderly, and lower-income groups because it's a hassle to get. Obtaining the new, official, Flash Gordon, state-approved voter ID card can be a costly burden to those without transportation. Even free, state-issued ID requires a birth certificate, which costs twenty-five dollars per copy and is often difficult for the elderly to locate. Many states eliminate the right of college students to vote on their own campuses, forcing a trip home to see Mom and Pop in order to exercise their franchise. For the poor and minority voters, it's the return of the poll tax, plain and simple.

A New York Times study, done in 2007, found that in the previous five years, there were a total of eighty six convictions of voter fraud. The new, state ID is an antidote looking for an illness. Voter fraud today isn't committed by some ward hack trying to register the dead, it's done by voting machine irregularities and tampering by election officials. We've all seen it. In previous presidential elections dating back to Clinton, there have been proven incidences of the miscounting of absentee ballots or the wholesale discarding of provisional votes, not to mention a little thing called Bush v. Gore, the Superbowl of vote tampering. Do you remember way back to the last election when a state legislator in Pennsylvania bragged on camera that the Commonwealth's new Voter ID law would deliver the state to what's-his-name Romney? Minority voters turned out in droves. Out of the thirty states recently enacting changes in Voter ID laws, all of them, with the exception of Rhode Island, have been introduced by Republican-led state legislatures. That includes the distinguished statesmen in the Tennessee House as well- the same ones who thought it was a good idea to allow guns in bars. If you don't believe the intention of these laws is voter suppression, just watch the zeal of the GOP officials announcing the changes. And it's not just Voter ID laws that have been altered. States under Republican control face cuts in early voting days, and the elimination of Sunday voting, the day that African-American church-goers traditionally go to the polls.

The Tea Party sticklers for fiscal responsibility conveniently discard that philosophy when it comes to disenfranchising black voters and resurrecting a new type of Jim Crow. In their favor, a huge, new government bureaucracy dealing with the creation and distribution of state approved voter ID cards would certainly be a job creator, and a stimulus of sorts. Of the estimated twenty-one million citizens without any government issued ID, the great majority are Hispanics, African-Americans, and the poor. That's enough to alter an election. In 2012, a Federal Court found Texas' Voter ID law and redistricting plans to be discriminatory against particular racial and language groups- in other words, Democrats. After the recent Supreme Court decisions, the rulings of the Federal Court were thrown out. So, now Texas Republicans are free at last. Recalling the long lines of people determined to cast their votes in the last election, regardless of restrictions, the foolish, Limbaugh-listening fundamentalists facing extinction who are attempting to hold on to their dwindling political power by rigging the game will probably ignore the warnings of Colin Powell. The former Secretary said, "These kind of procedures (which) make it likely that fewer Hispanics and African-Americans might vote...are going to backfire." There just aren't enough angry white men to go around anymore. Of course, the Supreme Court's decision leaves it up to the legislative branch to determine which states are to be covered by the Voting Rights Act in the future. Considering the current, do-nothing Congress, any bets on who makes the list?


Monday, August 12, 2013

Elvis Week 2013

I love Elvis. There, I've said it. Sure, over the years I've made some sardonic remarks, often over a microphone from the bandstand. But that was in my capacity as an entertainer, a role I've enjoyed for several decades. Truth be told, if there were no Elvis, there would be no me. I never would have picked up a guitar, or formed a band, or have been signed to Sun Records and produced by Sam Phillips: one of my life's proudest accomplishments. Like a million other children of the fifties, I went Elvis crazy as soon as I heard him on the radio. The difference was that I was at ground zero of the Elvis explosion. As soon as my fingers were strong enough to press the strings down on a guitar neck, I started playing. I didn't just want to be like Elvis, I wanted to be Elvis. Those who became Elvis fans after his death, or even after he returned from the army, will never know the joyous exuberance that accompanied the emergence of the "Hillbilly Cat," or the line of demarcation Elvis created between the Mouseketeer generation and their parents, who loathed him. After Elvis, nothing was the same. Like James Brown in the sixties, or the Beatles in their time, when it came to outshining his peers on the radio; there was Elvis, and then there was everything else.

I wish I were precocious enough to say I heard Elvis' Sun records on the radio, but I was only seven at the time. I do, however, distinctly remember the night in 1956 that Dewey Phillips introduced "Heartbreak Hotel" on his radio show. I listened to "Red, Hot, and Blue" every night, even if it meant putting the radio right next to my ear so my parents couldn't hear. I loved the voice before I saw the singer. The flip side, "I Was the One," sounded so different that I thought it was another of Dewey's favorite Doo Wop groups from the northeast until he proclaimed that it was Memphis' own Elvis Presley. Elvis' photograph appeared in the morning paper with his shirt collar up in the back and his hair formed into a shiny, immaculate pompadour. I had to inform my big sister that Elvis was a greaser. One night, my sister came home from a teenage party at the Hotel Chisca in a state of euphoric bliss. Elvis had been to the WHBQ radio studios visiting Dewey, and when asked by an enthusiastic chaperon, he strolled into the party of giggling girls just to say hello. Photographs were printed with my sister and a tousled Elvis. Years later, when I asked her about the photo, she said there were never any pictures taken. I was adamant that I had seen it. My sister had her hair in a tight curl and Elvis was standing next to her, looking cool and draping an arm loosely over her shoulder. Only then did I realize that the picture I had seen and carried with me had been developed in the darkroom of my imagination for my scrapbook of Elvis memories.

Where I differ with some devoted Elvis aficionados is that I think his earliest recordings, like Sam Cooke's, were his greatest. I've made a personal "E" mix-disc that I listen to frequently when I'm in need of cheering up, and the pure joy that exudes from Elvis in songs like "I Don't Care If the Sun Don't Shine" works every time. All the songs, however, are from 1955-1958. He recorded great songs after that, but instead of working with genius songwriters like Otis Blackwell or Leiber and Stoller, who had written his earliest hits, the weaselly Colonel Parker hooked him into making that series of pointless, silly movies where studio hacks and friends of the Colonel got first crack at Elvis with tunes like "He's Your Uncle, Not Your Dad," "Do the Clam," and "No Room to Rhumba in a Sports Car." When Elvis lost his edge, I lost interest in him as a musical influence. During his spangled jumpsuit years, he never regained the infectious, gravel-throated vocal power that made him the King of Rock and Roll. Elvis had the world's greatest set list, yet in concert he would breeze through his greatest hits in a medley, often mocking the early material as if it were not consequential. The Colonel cheated us out of the best of Elvis. Rather than making musical progress with each album like the Beatles who idolized him, Elvis regressed with each half-hearted effort to fulfill his contractual obligations to his record label. It was a sad descent. It was sadder still to imagine what might have been.

My great regret was never getting to meet Elvis. I suppose I could have imposed upon someone like George Klein for an introduction, but that would have been very un-Elvis like of me. Sam Phillips might have finagled something, but I came to Sun ten years after Elvis and Sam didn't exactly pal around with him anymore. My dentist was Elvis' dentist, but I had to be satisfied with the tales of Elvis' after-hours visits. The single time I received an offer to go to Graceland was from Dewey Phillips, but Dewey was no longer on good terms with Elvis, and in an adventure that I recounted in an article for Memphis Magazine, Poor Dewey was turned away at the gate, and by proxy, so was I. Even in later years, I might have crashed Elvis' annual Christmas party by tagging along with a musical pal, but I didn't. There's one thing I always wondered, and it's total vanity on my part. When I was making records for Sun and having them played on the radio, and appearing on George Klein's Talent Party on Saturday afternoon TV, was Elvis ever aware of our little band? Probably not, but there's no one left to tell me. As an adult, I tried to write songs for Elvis, but I had no hope of reaching him. I always believed that he was one song away from recapturing the fire of his early career.

It was puzzling to me why Elvis felt it necessary to seclude himself inside Graceland. By the mid-seventies, you'd often see Jerry Lee Lewis on the town surrounded by his entourage to keep the nasty drunks away, and he seemed almost approachable. Jerry took a liking to a club in Overton Square called the Hot Air Balloon, where he could be found nights jamming after hours, and no one ever bothered him. I thought if Elvis would just get out a little, people in his own home town would give him a similar break. I retained that opinion until one day at the airport. I had come with my parents to greet the arrival of a relative back in the days when you could walk right up to the gate without being molested by strangers. Suddenly I was struck by the appearance of a man walking toward me and I was certain that he was an old friend whose name I couldn't recall. He was with a group of happy people having obviously just met an arriving passenger, and I was taken by his familiar look and unusually large facial pores. When I caught up with my mother, she asked cheerfully, "Did you see Elvis?" I immediately wheeled and sprinted the length of the terminal and through the double doors. He had just closed the passenger side door of a white Cadillac when he looked up at me. "Hey Elvis," I uttered lamely. He nodded and said, "How you doin' man?" and he was gone. I realized that if I had just chased after Elvis like a teenage girl, perhaps it was wise that he not go out in public after all. With due deference to Jerry Lee, the thousands of pilgrims who come to Memphis in August, year after year, prove that Elvis was never intended to be just one of the guys.


Monday, July 29, 2013

Carlos Danger: Private Dick

In the future, when you google the word "chutzpah," after the definitions of "unbelievable gall," and "crass, vulgar nerve," there will be a footnote that says, "See Anthony Weiner." This man defines public humiliation, and yet still he stands, mast to the wind. It's now public knowledge that JFK had a sexual addiction regularly satisfied with a variety of young sycophants and prostitutes, but it was kept private in a world of press discretion. If not for the internet, Weiner would be the guy walking around the schoolyard naked but for a raincoat. Kennedy might have been a conscienceless horndog, but Weiner is a pervert. Hey kids! Let me give you some advice. Nothing stays private on the web, so unless you're a twisted exhibitionist or a porn star, don't take pictures of your genitalia and post them on the internet. And stay away from the creepy man running for mayor of New York City.

When news of the former congressman's serial exhibitionism was revealed, sources claimed Weiner's lewd pics were posted on a website called "" So just for journalistic integrity, I logged-on, so to speak, and sure enough, there was Anthony Weiner, clutching his schvantz. That's not exactly what I look for in a mayor. I would have said "schmuck," which literally means "penis," but that particular Yiddishism has entered the general lexicon and has come to mean something more akin to a "jerk," or "idiot," which is inadequate to describe the superhuman stupidity of this man. I'll admit to enjoying Weiner's performances on the House floor, when he was the only Democratic representative, besides Alan Grayson, who would show genuine indignant wrath at the Republican Party's iron curtain legislative strategy, but I had no idea what he was doing back in the Cloakroom. The incredible thing is that this man has no shame. So what if he resigned in 2011 over sending innapropriate photos over social media and lying about it. He seems to believe that his talents are so invaluable to the city of New York, his "hobby" will be discounted by voters. The only constituency Weiner has in the bag, however, is the flasher vote and they rarely show up at the polls.

More tawdry than Weiner's online exploits was his dragging his wife into this ungodly mess. But Huma Abedin, Weiner's wife of three years, said she had agreed to a joint press conference of her own accord. Abedin, a career Hillary Clinton staffer since 1996, said she forgave Weiner his indiscretions and supported his mayoral candidacy. I wonder what Mrs. Clinton thought about Abedin's decision to "stand by her man," since Hillary was confronted with exactly the same circumstance in Bill Clinton's presidential campaign of 1992. Pundits as varied as Maureen Dowd and Rush Limbaugh have speculated that the two women's motives for staying with their lying husbands were similar: the desire for fame and power. Although Rush added racistly, "Huma is a Muslim. In that regard, Weiner ought to be able to get away with anything." Both women's forgiveness enabled their husbands to continue their aberrant behavior as if they would never get caught; Clinton in the White House and Weiner, after he resigned from Congress. And like Monica Lewinsky, a University of Indiana coed with the porn-appropriate name of Sydney Leathers has come forward with sexually explicit text messages and pictures that she exchanged with Weiner last summer. "I thought I loved him," Leathers said when it was revealed that Weiner offered to buy her a condo in Chicago and get her a job with Politico.

The text messages are as nasty and smarmy as anything you might imagine. Read them if you must, but after I did, I felt the need to take a shower. Going by the now-famous and much mocked moniker, Carlos Danger, Weiner admitted to sexting and sending pictures of Little Elvis to up to ten women. A respected news source immediately turned up three more women who were treated to Weiner's "selfies." Over the weekend, Weiner's campaign manager, Danny Kedem, resigned over the latest batch of tasteless texts, but Weiner pledged to remain in the race because, "it's about the middle class." It's actually about the no class. "We knew this would be a tough campaign," explained Senor Danger in one of the understatements of the year. Promising that his twisted tweets were "behind him" somehow oddly made it sound worse. Weiner explained that he returned to his pet perversions, "during a rough time in our marriage," seemingly placing the blame on his spouse for his nasty conduct. But now Huma is onboard as Weiner's dinghy drops like a stone in the polls.

This walking punch-line of a person may have a strategy. If no one in the mayoral primary gets forty percent of the vote, a runoff is mandated between the top two candidates. If Weiner continues to stonewall his critics, including every major New York City newspaper, he stands the chance of getting in the runoff, where he can attempt to distract attention from his penis by attacking his opponent. I don't believe he'll last that long. The same massive ego that allowed him to believe that strange women wanted to see pictures of his schlong, will carry him until the full weight of public revulsion wears him down. Also, the longer Huma Abedin supports this degenerate fool, the worse it looks for Hillary Clinton, and 2016 is just around the corner. Abedin is supposed to be one of Hillary's closest advisers. How much can her future advice be valued if she continues to campaign for a pervert for mayor? And can you imagine the Limbaughs of the world having sport with that issue during a Clinton presidential run? The stench of Weiner's preposterous campaign is beginning to infest those around him. Carlos Danger may say he's in the race to stay, but the one person who could make him drop out in a New York minute is Hillary Rodham Clinton. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Stay Out Of My Uterus

Does anyone else see the irony in the Republican controlled North Carolina State Legislature adding severe abortion restrictions to a bill that forbids Sharia law in the Tarheel State? Legislation banning the use of Islamic law in family and custody cases was loaded down with abortion politics during the final hour and renamed the "Family, Faith, and Freedom Protection Act of 2013." Among other rules aimed at closing down the state's legal clinics is the requirement that a doctor be present for the application of any abortion-inducing medication. This means that if you wish to take the abortion pill, RU-486, in the privacy of your home, you're going to need a doctor friend to keep you company. The tone-deaf, Tea Party Republicans in North Carolina succeeded in banishing Sharia law, only to replace it with a different type of Sharia law with a distinct Christian conservative flavor. Governor Pat McCrory rebuked his fellow Republicans for attaching the abortion amendments to their silly-ass bill and threatened a veto if substantial changes were not made. So the GOP lawmakers changed a noun here and a verb there and re-introduced the abortion laws as amendments to a motorcycle safety bill.

This action followed Texas' passing of the nation's most restrictive abortion legislation. Despite the successful filibuster by Sen. Wendy Davis, presidential wannabe Rick Perry merely called a second special session for his anti-abortion agenda. Texas now requires that all abortions take place in a surgical center, and all doctors have hospital admitting privileges; exactly the same legislation that failed in Mississippi earlier this year. The bill's female sponsor, Rep. Jodi Laubenberg, claimed no exception was needed for rape because, "in the emergency room they have what they call rape kits, where a woman can get cleaned out." And here I thought that "a woman can shut that all down" if it's a "legitimate rape." According to Wendy Davis, the new laws will shutter all but five of the states' forty two clinics. This year alone, seventeen states have enacted forty-three new laws that further regulate a woman's access to abortion services, and 120 new laws have been passed in the previous two years. This state-rights attempt to once again criminalize abortion is no coincidence.

In Wisconsin, recall survivor Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill requiring ultrasounds of all women seeking abortions. In Ohio, Republicans crammed abortion restrictions into the state's budget, stating that "life begins at the moment of conception," and mandating ultrasounds before any procedure. The budget/abortion bill was signed into law by Gov. John Kasich, making Ohio the only state where a doctor faces criminal charges for failing to test for a fetal heartbeat and informing the woman of the results. Similar bills have passed or are pending in Arizona, Nebraska, Georgia, and Louisiana. So where is the outrage? Forty years ago, woman staged mass protests and marches for the right to control their reproductive lives. So why aren't women and their supporters marching in the streets now? Actually, they are. The nation is so focused on Kim and Kanye's baby, however, that it's not being adequately reported. Thousands have rallied in Raleigh, NC every Monday since April to protest the GOP legislative blitzkrieg, and over 700 North Carolinians have been arrested in the last two months. Hundreds of people massed in the capitol in Columbus OH, including twenty protesters forcibly removed from the Senate chamber for yelling, "Shame on you." In Austin, thousands have protested and twelve have been arrested. Eight people were arrested in Madison, WI for attempting to deliver coat hangers to Republican politicians. So, what's really at work here?

The targeted, state-by-state, anti-abortion strategy has several supporting organizations, including the Susan B. Anthony List and the well-funded National Right To Life Committee, but the major player is the Americans United for Life, or the AUL. A team of lawyers working for the AUL have provided Republican-led state legislatures with pre-written bills, lacking only a sponsor. The AUL has collected their proposed bills in a playbook called, "Defending Life," and delivered it to every state, including Tennessee, where legislators are already working on their behalf. One of the AUL's major goals is the banning of abortion after twenty weeks. Gov. Perry said that "after twenty weeks we are not going to allow abortion in our state." The twenty week provision is based on disputed research that claims a fetus can feel pain at that point in a pregnancy. There are reasons, usually desperate and life-threatening, for late-term abortions that are beyond the comprehension of the Texas State Legislature.

The prolific poet and great twentieth century psychedelic prophet Jimi Hendrix weighed in on the abortion dispute in 1971 with the release of his song "Belly-Button Window," in which Jimi portrays a fetus peering out into the world from his mother's naval. Among other observations, Hendrix proclaimed from the womb;
So if you don't want me now, make up your mind, where or when/.  If you don't want me now, give or take, you only got two hundred days.  
Two hundred days equals, let's see...six months. That comes out to twenty-six weeks, exactly what the state of Texas allows right now. If Hendrix could figure it out, pre-Roe, then why can't Rick Perry? Here's the point. Abortion is a moral and medical decision between a woman and her doctor and should have no place on anyone's legislative agenda. The politicization of the abortion dispute has distracted us for far too long from the important work of restoring our country, and it needs to stop. I can tolerate a certain amount of government intrusion in my life, but stay the hell out of my uterus.

Monday, July 01, 2013

The Bipolar Court

It was a rough week to be a gay black man in the South. Although I imagine every week is similarly rough, the two decisions last week by the Supreme Court were enough to give a civil libertarian whiplash. The same politicized court that gave us Bush v. Gore and Citizens United has  successfully extended rights to some while depriving rights to others. On one hand, the Court ruled the Clinton Era Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional, paving the way for same-sex marriage equality under the law. On the other hand, the majority of justices kicked out the cornerstone of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the crowning achievements of the civil rights movement, allowing states with a history of discriminatory voting practices to charge full speed ahead with the very same onerous legislative trickery that brought them under Justice Department scrutiny in the first place. After Chief Justice John Roberts voted with the majority on the legality of Obamacare, I thought perhaps the court might assume a more moderate tone ever since they ruled that corporations were people and money was speech, but I guess that was an aberration. Or was this an aberration? Every time the Supreme Court goes into session, I don't know whether to crawl under my desk or get out the flowers and balloons. The declaration by Justice Roberts that "our country has changed" is true enough, but it was followed by the plaintiff's attorney's astonishing remark that, "the problem to which the Voting Rights Act was addressed is solved," which made us laugh out loud at my house. We figured the lawyer didn't live around here, but the case was  brought against the Justice Department by Shelby County, Alabama. Roll Tide.

The Voting Rights Act was purchased in blood, but Justice Roberts and company seem hell-bent on destroying the last vestiges of Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society." People either have short memories or they choose not to remember. The Act was passed in the wake of "Bloody Sunday," in1965, when a group marching for voters' rights were attacked and beaten by police on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Representative John Lewis took a rock to the head that fractured his skull, while others were trampled or pummeled with nightsticks. Of the court's ruling, Congressman Lewis said, "The Supreme Court has struck a dagger into the heart of the Voting Rights Act." A provision of the 1965 law singled out fifteen states, mostly in the Old Confederacy, with the notable exception of Tennessee, and a slew of municipalities elsewhere that had a history of voter suppression, and stated any future changes in voting laws must first be approved by the Justice Department. Even Justice Roberts, citing the Freedom Summer of 1964, when three young activists were murdered near Philadelphia, Mississippi for attempting to register black people to vote, said, "There is no denying that, due to the Voting Rights Act, our nation has made great strides." Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in rejoinder said, "The sad irony of today's decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the VRA has proven effective." The great strides have been made because of the VRA. The decision frees nine states, mostly in the south, to change their election laws without advance Federal approval. Clarence Thomas, as usual, said nothing, but voted with the majority.

Although some have said the VRA is dead, the courts have thrown the decision whether or not to reinstate the act back to Congress, proclaiming they can re-impose federal oversights, but they must be based on contemporary data. That sounds reasonable enough until you consider that Texas officials quickly announced that a voter ID law that was previously blocked under the VRA would go into effect immediately. Florida is now free to set early voting hours and cut down on polling places in ethnic areas. Does anyone actually believe, in our little blue corner of a red state world, that Southern states liberated from federal oversight are about to reinstate the VRA? Congress can't even pass a Farm Bill. Gov. Rick Perry must be dancing a Texas Reel in the flickering light, that he need no longer give a second thought to the legality of the redistricting maps drawn to protect Republican seats, that is--in between his crass, gooberesque critiques of Texas state Senator Wendy Davis' personal life. Speaking for the majority, Antonin Scalia, son of Italian immigrant parents, said, "Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them." Since when is the right to vote an "entitlement," especially a "racial" one? In John Lewis' words, “The literacy test may be gone, but people are using other means, other tactics and techniques," to suppress the black  vote. Instead of Jim Crow era poll taxes, Republican controlled Southern state legislatures use pesky and costly photo ID regulations and restrictions on early voting to remain in power. They quake before the shifting demographic.

Judge Scalia had a rollercoaster week. The 77 year-old Justice has been warming that bench since Ronald Reagan sat in the Oval Office, so the Court's simultaneous overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act and discarding California's Proposition 8, nearly gave the conservative Scalia apoplexy. He said angrily from the bench, “Few public controversies will ever demonstrate so vividly the beauty of what our framers gave us, a gift the court pawns today to buy its stolen moment in the spotlight: a system of government that permits us to rule ourselves.” After the official pomposity was over, Scalia claimed his allegiance to DOMA was criticized, "because it is harder to maintain the illusion of the act’s supporters as unhinged members of a wild-eyed lynch mob when one first describes their views as they see them.” Lynch mob? I thought only Judge Thomas accused his detractors of such a thing. Scalia later surmised that gay-marriage was inevitable, "when the Court declared a Constitutional right to homosexual sodomy." I don't recall reading the Sodomy Clause in the Constitution, but if Scalia said it, it must be so.

While 35 state legislatures, including Mississippi and North and South Carolina, are poised to act on voter ID laws, and other states like Alaska and Arizona are considering changing early voting laws, California has been experiencing euphoric joy over the demise of Prop. 8, which made same-sex unions illegal. It was joyous to watch the parade of weddings on Cable News, particularly the one officiated by outgoing Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa between Jeff Zarrillo and Paul Katami, who successfully challenged Proposition 8 before the court. Isn't this what critics of the gay lifestyle always wanted? If gay people can enter into lasting unions, it eliminates the prejudicial perceptions of promiscuity and replaces it with those of loving relationships. But then there's Texas, whose governor said, "It is fairly clear about where this state stands on that issue." I'm sure all Texans don't agree with Rick Perry, but the state passed an amendment to ban same-sex marriage in 2005 with a 76 percent majority, exceeded only by similar vote totals in Louisiana and Alabama. But gay weddings are coming to Texas, even if it takes a minute, and even while the state legislature fast-forwards its' attempt to gerrymander Hispanics and African-Americans out of the political equation. The Supreme Court's decisions may have far-reaching societal consequences, but for a gay, black man in the south, it was just another week.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Soul Man

A lady in the parking lot kept waving in my direction the other day. Since I had never seen her before, I assumed she was greeting someone behind me. Yet she persisted until I came into earshot.
"Tim?" she asked quizzically.
"Pardon me?" I replied.
The lady responded, "Aren't you Tim Sampson?"
I suppose she could be forgiven for mistaking me for my ranting compadre. All post-middle-aged, white, portly, bald and bespectacled men with close-cropped white beards look alike. We've even begun to dress alike, both favoring the patterned shirts that don't require tucking into the trouser waist. My concern was that after several years of alternating weeks with Tim Sampson in writing this column, we had somehow merged into the same person. After all, I have never read anything of Tim's that I disagree with and I find him a perfectly agreeable fellow. The only thing I found mildly bothersome were the number of times I found myself thinking, "Man, this guy sure does write about his gig a lot." I guess you could say I was envious. I mean, here's Tim Sampson talking about the Stax Music Academy, with all their accolades and special trips to the White House and such, and I'm sitting here with a one-way ticket to Palookaville. Who can stand to read about so much happiness? After reading Sampson's articles about talented young people achieving their dreams, I had to get out the Raymond Carver novellas just to cheer up and get my brain chemistry back in order. But the lady that mistook me for Sampson might also be forgiven because we were in the parking lot of the Stax Music Academy.

I've been a late bloomer in many areas. I graduated from college when I was 45, got married for the first time at age 54, and at a time when many of my peers are entering retirement, I've entered the  workforce. It wasn't so much a "want to" motivation as a "had to" situation. The rent never sleeps. So, I called Tim to ask if there was anything available at Soulsville for an aging musician with an encyclopedic brain filled with trivia about Soul music. Tim told me that, just by coincidence (or not, depending on your cosmic view), he had overheard the Stax Music Academy staff discussing the need for someone to teach a songwriting course for a five-week, summer music program.
"I'm your man," I yelled into the phone, and before Tim could hang up, I was pulling into the Stax parking lot. During an initial interview with some of the staff members, I told them I had written over 250 songs. After seeing they were duly impressed I added, "But only two of them are good."
I submitted a proposed syllabus and before you could say pedagogue, I was an instructor in the craft of composing songs right next to the very building where "Can Your Monkey Do the Dog," was written. My problem was, I had never faced a classroom before, so I embraced the philosophy of "fake it until you make it." But the closer we got to the opening date, the drier my throat and the tighter my stomach became. My wife dutifully packed me a lunch and sent me off to work.

I was assigned four classes with twenty students in each. During my get-acquainted lecture in my opening moments as a teacher, I asked, "Who here has either written or attempted to write a song?" and every hand in the room went up. I wanted to say, "Damn, let me sit out there and listen to you," but I had come equipped with my greatest hit, "Call the Wrecker for My Heart," by George Jones. It was an illustration of my premise that you can write a song about anything. I lectured for a week about structure and the value of co-writing then sent each class off to compose an original song. I don't know what I was expecting, but the result made my big toe shoot up in my boot. The level of musicianship was so high and the songwriting so sophisticated, it caused me to imagine that if I had half the talent of these students at such a young age, I could, dare I say, rule the world. After the second week of classes, I said in the regular staff meeting that the students had grown beyond my abilities to teach them. The next week consisted mainly of me observing the activities from a plastic chair with the occasional hover and rhyme suggestion. At one point, I was forced to quote Rufus Thomas and shout, "I just feel so unnecessary." When the course is complete, I'd like to sign several of the students to my newly created personal management company, where our motto is, "We Offer a Better Deal than Colonel Parker."

This week, the students will be in the studio recording their songs for a competition to be judged at term's end by a group of professionals, including the dynamic young man at the head of the Stax Academy, Justin Merrick. Speaking of the Academy, Justin has just been nominated for a Grammy Award by the Recording Academy in a new category called Music Education. Now I know how Tim Sampson feels when he shares his colleagues' pride in their achievements. Mr. Merrick certainly prepared and motivated the young people in my classes. If the students' recordings turn out as great as the rehearsals, and the Stax Academy is able to create a new generation of songwriters and artists, I know of a large recording studio right next door in the Stax Museum that's presently going unused except for parties and special occasions. And I'll bet no one else has copyrighted the term "Soulsville," in case anyone was looking for a name for a new label or record company. If you're going to dream, you may as well dream big. This could be the rebirth of Stax, or something similar, and the future for the graduates of this innovative musical program, well...I'm starting to rant. Let's just say good things are happening at 926 E. McLemore Ave.

If my good fortune at being on the Stax campus weren't enough, I have also begun work at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, assisting in the development of guided tours. My previous attempt at being a tour guide ended badly because I talked too much, but Stax seemed to want someone who talks too much. At the city's other attractions, guided tours are assembled to last a specified amount of time. At the Stax Museum, you can stay as long as you want. Since the Stax Museum receives grants and charitable donations they are able to offer an educational component that is more extensive than other attractions, and of course, you exit through the gift shop where the former Satellite Record Shop used to stand. Most of all, the people have been so gracious and welcoming, they make me believe they're actually happy I'm there. This makes me happy, plus, I get to see Tim Sampson every day. I was looking for one job, and suddenly I have three, if you count what you're reading. If not, It doesn't matter because I don't know you, and if you're not a fan of Soul music, I don't want to know you. My question is this: if I am teaching at the Stax Academy and working for the Stax Museum, all under the auspices of the Soulsville Foundation, does this make me a Soul Man? Play it Steve!