NATIONAL EMERGENCY FALLOUT

Aquarian Weekly
2/20/19

Reality Check

James Campion


NATIONAL EMERGENCY FALLOUT
Or The Political Price For Betting On Fantasies

Let me reiterate what I wrote here one month ago nearly to the day: President Donald Trump has every legal right to declare a national emergency to procure funds (doing an end around of congress) to build a border wall for any reason he deems necessary. There is no constitutional dispute that can oppose this and any such attempt to stop it should not stand up in court. Presidents have the power to do some crazy shit. The issue is with the system, not Trump. However, supporters of the president who think this is bad precedent might be correct, since once it is in place a future Democratic president can and now most likely will (especially this leftist bunch gearing up to run in 2020) call for a national emergency on guns or climate change in 2021 should they defeat Trump in his re-election bid, assuming he makes it that far. Who knows with this nut? But the question once he does needs to be: What of the political fallout?

The 88 percent of Republicans – all that is left of Trump’s core support – who have stood strong for the president, more or less anywhere from 39 to 44 percent of the national electorate – may see this battle at the border, wholly made up by Trump, as an imperative that supersedes political consideration. In other words, if this costs him a second term, so be it. It’s that important. That is admirable. Truly. Even if there is no crisis or emergency at the border nor any of the sketchy arguments for this wall, which won’t even work for what these people want anyway, and yada yada yada, Trump ran on this nonsense and the nation (or at least a minority of them bailed out by the Electoral College) voted him in and this is what we get.

Still, the idea of building a wall along the southern border of the United States is unpopular. According to an average from PollingReport.com, somewhere in the ballpark of 67 to 70 percent of Americans oppose using their tax dollars to pay for this boondoggle. Once again, Mexico was going to pay for this. When you’re done laughing at that move along to the paltry polling average of Americans who support this national emergency maneuver; 31 percent.  That is abysmal, even considering Trump’s sad polling standards.

Again, not that it matters legally or morally or whatever crap people like to argue, this move, while wholly constitutional if not wacky, will bring consequences. And assuming Trump wants to run again, then these numbers are scary. Of course, since we all thought him doomed in 2016, his side will rightly argue we don’t know what we’re talking about. But consider this; at the current rate of popularity, no president has ever seen a second term, and some were bloodied in a primary challenge or…well, quit.

I brought up a presidential emergency thing when citing the Viet Nam conflict/police action/advisory mission/war last month. It was lunacy and a made-up crisis that was by far the worst event that was cast upon this nation since I began breathing. How did that work out for Lyndon Johnson? He quit. And well he should have. The fallout from this horrible mess was severe and rapid and it destroyed his presidency.

This move, while wholly constitutional if not wacky, will bring consequences. And assuming Trump wants to run again, then these numbers are scary.

Right now, Trump, whose national approval rating is averaged out at around 40 percent is hanging by a thread among independents – the voting block that he carried by four-percent in the autumn of 2016 and to which he has not only lost but flat-out hemorrhaged, at least for now. This was brought to bear last autumn when Republicans lost 40 seats in the House of Representatives with a whopping 12-percent of Independents abandoning the president.

No matter how you slice this – even with the mysterious non-voter/non-polled electorate that came out of the woodwork in the Rust Belt to put Trump over the top in 2016 – if these numbers hold, or, as many Republicans have predicted – go further south (no pun intended) for Trump there is virtually no way he can be re-elected. Unless, of course, he can get Hillary Clinton to run again. And I am not sure that even works out for him.

Thus, this is a bold political move for a president that has not displayed a scintilla of evidence he has a fucking clue what he is doing.

To wit: If this was a national emergency, which Trump all but announced when he threw his hat in the ring in the summer of 2015, then once he was sworn in with an overwhelming Republican majority in both houses of congress, he would have pursued the money more vigorously. He did not. Next, he could have just studied the election results from November 2018 and surmised that his enemy had just stormed the gates and been given a mandate from the American voting public to curtail him. This was duly verified by the abject failure of the Trump strategy to paint the border as a sieve and the siege evil caravan instead of trying to taut a solid economy and stem the tide of the Blue Wave.

Now here he is months later stumbling into another political landmine for something even he, until last fall, didn’t consider that dire.

Trump can call for all the national emergencies he wants. He’s president. But assuming he’s not impeached, does this finally and completely doom him for 2020?

The numbers tell you, yes.     

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THE DELUSION FACTOR

Aquarian Weekly
1/16/19

Reality Check

James Campion


 THE DELUSION FACTOR
Or How to Get Out of a Political Impasse 101      

Not that he is inclined to take any advice, quite obviously, but I have some for the president of the United States to get him out of this political corner he has painted himself into.

As discussed in this space a few weeks ago, Donald Trump’s insistence that the federal government, with our willing tax dollars, bankroll a fantasy he conjured during campaign rallies that was supposed to be paid for by Mexico and that no one involved on a professional level thinks we need or that will actually work is a dead end. His wholly manufactured border crisis, easily verified by merely asking people at the border, (for instance his 4,000 terrorists – there have been six – or “massive drug smuggling”, which is mostly done on airplanes and through legal entry in cars or vans) has also queered the deal considerably. And now that the purse strings in congress has been taken over by the opposition party with a mandate to put the brakes on foolish Trumpian bromides, there will be no funding for The Wall. And, unfortunately, since our game show president works most comfortably in a delusional construct – his reasoning, statistics, and overall dire depiction of issues all originate from a demonstrably false base – it therefore provides a flimsy foundation for any cogent argument. This has all led to this current impasse that resulted in the shutdown of a portion of the federal government for, at the time of this writing, 21 days.

Hence, political corner painted.

Now, Trump’s first mistake – and this has been repeated throughout his first two years in office – is he misunderstood the entire idea of a partial government shutdown, at first living under the other delusion that these 800,000 federal workers were somehow merely liberal democrats that can suck it, or part of the pork-fat, anti-government rhetoric the Right has depicted for a century, or that these jobs would not also affect key elements of national safety like Homeland Security, Air Traffic Control, farmers, and even people receiving tax refunds. He also miscalculated how much people would accept living without paychecks and working for free for what he deems patriotic reasons. This is an excellent symbol for his cracked ideas that somehow the American people would endure trade wars and pay more for products to save a couple of thousand jobs, or the kind of thing hippies believe, not purported titans of industry.

But alas, as is my wont, I digress.

Trump being an idiot is not what we’re about this week. It is what he has available to him as president to switch the narrative of this madness – and by available, I mean, not salient compromising points or even a modicum of mature meditation. He has shown a specular incapacity for any of that. What Trump can do, and must do, is declare a state of emergency and send the military down there to “build a wall”, whatever the hell that is. There really is no other way for him to pull out of this and do what he does best, claim victory, whether its draped in ignominious embarrassment or not. Congress is not going to budge on this, nor should they, it is insane.

Now, I realize there are some constitutional purists who would bitch about this, but really there are copious examples of the commander-in-chief blowing past congress and ignoring facts to enact some crazy shit. For example, just in my lifetime we have Viet Nam, a completely made up crisis – the Gulf of Tonkin incident, emanating from a false narrative, the goofy “domino theory”. What was reported by the Pentagon never happened and whatever the LBJ administration thought about the spread of communism in Asia or Nixon’s “secret plan to end the war” no one after the initial advisor stage and troop build-up thought it was a sound move. Ten years, two administrations, and 60,000 American lives, including thousands mutilated and mentally destroyed, and millions of dead Vietnamese and Cambodians later, well you get the point. And we now know that there never were any weapons of mass destruction nor a scintilla of enriched uranium in Iraq, but well, the war, long after “Mission Accomplished”, is still going on, after hundreds of thousands dead and trillions of dollars wasted, blah blah blah.

“There’s always the army, Mr. President, Lincoln used it.”

There are certainly more of these throughout our history, proving without a doubt that Trump has every right to make something up and then use our money and kids to make it happen. Even if some judge sees it differently, because there will be lawsuits, Trump can claim he did everything he could to satiate the weirdly racist desires of his 35-percent base and whatever other delusions he has about how drugs and gangs get into this country.

Because Trump is a neophyte at this, he’s overplayed his hand. He was unaware that his minions and their radio and FOX News voices were going to hold him to this lunacy. He used to do things like claim the Central Park Five were guilty as sin, when they were not, or that he had evidence that the president of the United States was born in Kenya, he did not, but eventually he went back to mocking Rosie O’Donnell, cheating on all of his wives, or hosting game shows. Now, as president, his blurting of claptrap becomes reality for the great unwashed, and it comes with consequences. After blowing the House at the midterms, Trump has gone from “Maybe we’ll get to it” when the Republicans could have handed him funding (except many also thought this was goofy) to whatever nonsense he laid on the American people for ten excruciating network minutes this week, which I have to give an Associated Press colleague credit for describing as “something like watching a monkey trying to fuck a greased football.”

Trump is probably going to get impeached anyway. Things are looking grim. Yesterday his fixer decided he’ll go in front of the new congress and the American people and describe those crimes he helped Trump commit in NYC for years and the special counsel has evidence his campaign manager shared opposition stats with Russians. These are just the first of many dominoes to fall. My advice is take this last ditch effort to blow things up and go to the military. As Al Haig told Nixon in his final hours in the Oval Office when the beleaguered president was facing impeachment, “There’s always the army, Mr. President, Lincoln used it.”

Then send everyone back to work.

You’re welcome. 

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THE WALL – A SURREALIST PERSPECTIVE

Aquarian Weekly
1/2/19

Reality Check

James Campion

THE WALL – A SURREALIST PERSPECTIVE  

 Existence is illusory and it is eternal.
–  Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays

Don’t know what I want
But I know how to get it
 – Sex Pistols, “Anarchy in the UK”

The bizarre nature of this illusionary resplendent wall that exists in the pantheon of incredibly stupid concepts rumbling around in the cracked frontal lobe of this game show president of ours has taken on at once a symbolic, political, racist, nationalist, and cultural slant on levels of geographical surrealism worthy of Salvador Dali. It has become artiste Americana – a kind of grotesquely abstract Dadaist performance craft meets paranormal emblem of strength and hate and protection and division. Yet it exists only in lore, like Paul Bunyan or Davey Crockett. It is neither a thing nor it is not a thing. It is all things to all people: an edifice, an abomination, a salvation and a joke. It lives in imagination and litigation, as well as legislative combativeness, all of it devoid of recognizable definition. Moreover, there appears to be no sane rationale for its proposal or battle, despite its stated imperative. No one, not even its conjuror can quite pinpoint what the fuck it is or what it means or what portion of it is real or something else entirely. It’s existence or vision is malleable, as if a child’s dream or Lewis Carroll’s obsession. It is not the wall…it is The Wall.

With deep apologies to Pink Floyd’s intellectual property, at the time of this writing a partial government shutdown over The Wall’s congressional funding continues as part of its strange journey through our lexicon. Its supporters demand it. Its detractors defy it. It’s not unlike the first years of Christianity or the final sequence to 2001: A Space Odyssey; it is mystery and mysticism and myth; Egyptian nu and a Coptic mindfuck; it has begun, but yet it has not. It is partial but permanent and it is must be at the same time it always has been. Again, neither its origins nor those who espouse its elixir seemed to have a goddamn clue, and perhaps they never did, for in the unknowing, there will be knowledge.

Cue the sitar.

A nearly two-thousand mile cement Wall, a real wall (we think) along the rocky, valleyed, mostly desert terrain the length and breadth of the American/Mexican border was first proposed by then celebrity candidate Donald Trump as a way to get cheers from rally participants in what was fast becoming a media sensation in the late months of 2015 into 2016. “We’re going to build what…?” Mr. Trump asked. The hooting throng would bellow, “…a wall!” And then after this line began to lose its swagger for El Douche, it became the now infamous, “And who is going to pay for it?” To which the crowd shouted gleefully, “Mexico!”

This piece of cheap carnival theater, which became the very foundation, some say raison d’etre of the Trump run to the presidency – a minstrel barker kind of tent revival meets the bearded lady to which the candidate bragged endlessly outdrew all the other normal tie-and-haircut political nonsense – tended to use hyperbole and National Inquirer bold type headline lunacy as pure showmanship. The Wall, its very nature and idea of conceiving it and building it, much less getting the very country it would be erected to flip off, was truly a work of punk rock genius. Those paid to say so, communicated this safety-pin-power-cord delusion as Trump merely riling up the base and kicking sand in liberal tree-hugging faces. None of it, they laughed, was meant to actually be real.

Somewhere along the line it did become real for Trump. It may have been the nifty scare tactics he used to try and stem the tide of the Blue Wave that would crash at his door last November, when the Caravan – another Grendel-like form created from the bowels of the Anglo-Saxon queer Puritan dysfunction of our national gene pool – was to bear down on us with disease and drugs and killer rapists and brown-skinned marauders. The commander-in-chief even deployed the U.S. Army in its wake, reminiscent of mad King George’s paranoia cum policy. This alerted his most loyal servants, who for reasons only known to them keep defending this car wreck presidency, to need The Wall. “Walls work” said a press release on the Homeland Security home page, framing what can best be described as a fourth-grade level explanation for why brick is heavier than a bag of leaves. But the question everyone within the Beltway was prompted then to ask laid it all on the line: Did Trump always believe this schtick or was he forced to eat it, like writing “I hope I die before I get old” and living way past 70? Because this summer a bipartisan piece of legislation made it to Trump’s desk that provided $25 billion in funding for this campaign rant and he refused to sign it, and only now does he demand $5 billion, five-times less, to build something he claims is already being built and/or he doesn’t seem to need congress to do so.

Did Trump always believe this schtick or was he forced to eat it, like writing “I hope I die before I get old” and living way past 70?

Trump’s latest shifts in truth – a master at work – has gone from a wall needed to one already partially built to a mysterious Christmas week signing of non-existent contracting bids for an out-of-thin-air 115 miles (no one knows where the number came from) and several curious tweets of a type of gothic, spiked fence taken from Getty images that no one involved can begin to surmise was ever part of the original hype. Suddenly the phrase “steel slats” was a thing, like emoji or hydroponic weed. And before the president traveled all the way to Iraq to call our military “suckers” and lie to them about pay raises they never received, there was a proposal of using them once again for a political prop and start laying brick. “I’ll just get the military to build it,” he tweeted.

Speaking of tweets, as I literally finish this up, the president has tweeted plans on unilaterally closing the entire southern border if he doesn’t get your tax dollars to realize this weird hallucination of his, throwing a grenade into U.S. commerce and halting aid to South American countries. Nothing, though, on Mexican funding.

Meanwhile, back on planet earth border security experts and high-ranking officials of Homeland Security, as well as cyber geeks in the U.S. military, not to mention actual contractors routinely scoff of the idea of building a mid-level barricade in an era of drones and electronic surveillance and other barely legal inspired forms of protecting the other three borders of the nation and aboard, not to mention the treacherous landscape it is meant to span, thinks any of this, any of it, is such for a good idea.

But yet it exists; a collective agreement of understanding that this is what happened or what happens, like say, Columbus discovering America or that somehow human existence has not affected the earth in any way.

In a very effective way, The Wall is a microcosm of this presidency which on a daily basis seems to secure the idea that artifice is the actual and that this is and always be that. It is art; Diane Arbus in its reach – horribly beautiful and damaged, set to music by Nine Inch Nails and wonderfully American.

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RESURRECTING LENNY

Aquarian Weekly
12/19/18

Reality Check

James Campion

RESURRECTING LENNY
In Praise of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel & The Spirit of the Great Lenny Bruce

I probably should have penned this piece last year after the first season of Amazon Prime’s magnificent series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel written and directed by the brilliant Amy Sherman-Palladino, whose work I have admired for years in her previously smart, funny and poignant, Gilmore Girls (2000-2007). Maisel is the finest piece of serial television I have seen since AMC’s titanic Breaking Bad – its characters are deeply vivid, filled with relatable pathos, and deliver exquisite dialogue framed in stellar set-design, music and costuming. The plotlines within the impressive locations and ambiance of 1950s NYC are absolutely riveting. And thus far I have not even sent a nod to its star, who is a tour-de-force as Mrs. Maisel, Rachel Brosnahan or one of my favorite actors, Tony Shalhoub as her father, Abraham or the comedic whirlwind that is Alex Borstein as Maisel’s cantankerous manager or that the first season took home three Golden Globe Awards and five prime-time Emmy’s, including Best Series and Outstanding Comedy Series respectively. Nope. This tribute to what is now my favorite TV show begins and ends with Sherman-Palladino’s resurrection of one of my heroes, Leonard Alfred Schneider, better known as Lenny Bruce.

Anyone who has read a line of this column for the past 20-plus years knows from which I speak. Lenny “not a comedian” Bruce, along with Mark Twain and Hunter S. Thompson, make up the Holy Trinity of satire around here. There is no James Campion without Lenny, who I have been writing about since I’m 19 and have quoted copiously here in Reality Check from its start, including dedicating a two-part series on a seminal record of Bruce’s impact on American culture and jurisprudence, The Trials of Lenny Bruce: The Fall and Rise of An American Icon in 2002. I have read everything published on or by Lenny Bruce, listened to and studied his every bit, and probably reviewed every film on him made.

Did I mention I am a fan, as in fanatic, as in, drooling worshipper of Lenny Bruce?

So you can imagine my surprise when then 39 year-old actor, Luke Kirby first enters the series in its opening episode as the 33 year-old Bruce – crumpled, wincing, brandishing a smirk and a cigarette and waving his arms over his signature trench coat like the Mineola martyr he transformed into a lethal weapon. Of course, Lenny is leaving jail, bemused by his persecution for speaking his irreverent mind, as he would infamously do on several occasions from 1961 until his death five years later. He confronts Mrs. Maisel, who was also hauled in for her irreverence cum liberation from her upper-crust prison, mostly as a vehicle of narrative. This is understandable, but as an unofficial “keeper of the Lenny flame”, I was at first put-off if not titillated. This is supposed to be 1958, when there were rumblings that Bruce was pushing boundaries and unleashing his observations into territories not yet expressed in polite (or otherwise) company, but he wasn’t yet the dean of arrested comics. That would, as stated, come soon and often. And, quite frankly, I was not sure how Lenny would fit into this light comedy about a pampered but sharp-witted Upper-West side Jewish house wife and mother who is dragged into the world of edgy comedy by the emotionally violent disruption of her life when her feckless husband leaves her for his secretary. But soon my trepidations were not only quelled but eviscerated.

This is one of the finest portrayals of a historic figure I have ever seen – in comedy or drama.

From the first, in the hands of Kirby, a trained and celebrated Canadian actor, Bruce comes alive – and not in the oft-tired impressionistic biopic way in which the famous and doomed are slathered across screens for lazy melodrama. (Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of Bruce in Bob Fosse’s 1974 film Lenny is still one of my faves, though) No, Kirby inhabits the essence and spirit of Bruce, and through this he becomes Mrs. Maisel’s guardian angel first, but thanks to the preternatural chops of Sherman-Palladino’s pen begins to unfurl the subterranean spectacle that is the birth of modern American comedy as a social mirror in a time of nuclear threat, racism, religious fanaticism, and an emerging drug culture, for which Lenny infamously would partake to fatal ends. As the first season progressed, it is clear this is no apparition or mere narrative vehicle. Bruce floats through the series, appearing at the right times to better understand the zeitgeist and to lend credence to the period. And there is no time Kirby does not resurrect him, wholly and without fail.

Quite frankly, this is one of the finest portrayals of a historic figure I have ever seen – in comedy or drama. There is a scene in which Bruce is smoking weed outside a downtown club with jazz cats that Maisel hovers, like us, interlopers in this time-traveled reimagining. Watch Kirby move, interject, parry and jab, both verbally and physically. His wincing bravado masking an entrenched mass of insecurities hidden slightly by this smoldering rage that would soon bring the icon to life for real is remarkable. Holy shit, I have seen it about a half-dozen times now and it gets better every time.

Eventually, Kirby’s Bruce does indeed become the patron saint of Brosnahan’s Mrs. Maisel by season’s end in a fantastic wrap-up of events, but even more, for me, is how we finally see the transformation from Bruce as specter into Bruce as working comedian circa 1958. As he agrees to play Greenwich Village’s famous but now defunct Gaslight on McDougal Street in support of the equally persecuted Mrs. Maisel, Kirby brings Lenny’s soul back into focus effortlessly. This is no longer an interpretation of off-stage Lenny, but the one chronicled in the pantheon of 20th century aura: His mannerisms, his inflections, his very core of the legendary Bruce stage presence, the delivery and mastery of which is on display in a mere two to three minutes of screen time – much of it interrupted by dialogue of the main characters or in the background. But it is truly extraordinary and, for me, an emotional experience.

This season, figuring the Bruce thing did its job vaulting the fictional characters where they needed to go for the second act, it was even more surprising to see his return. I awaited it with great anticipation once I knew Kirby’s Bruce would play a role, but the show is so damn good, it was not as if I merely watched it to see him ply his trade. But when he did, man, his creation scaled new heights. All of this culminating in the season finale that forced me to finally get all of this out.

Now, I guess this is a spoiler-alert, but not really – since this entire piece is pretty much my dumbfounded admiration of Luke Kirby’s work and my child-like excitement in seeing Lenny Bruce brought to life with so much passionate respect – but the recreation of Bruce’s truly seminal appearance on the Steven Allen show, which, time-wise, is spot-on 1959, is so incredible I really only offer that you need to see it and then watch the film, easily found on YouTube of Bruce’s actual appearance. Again, it is not mere mimicry, it is magnum opus of interpretation, a living, breathing case study in the greatness a creative genius. You watch a man nailing someone nailing something pretty substantial to the monument of American culture. And it is no wonder it becomes the epiphany for the main character and the revelatory moment for the series.

Thank you, Luke, wherever you are today. You and Amy have put Lenny where he belongs; back in our reverence for his craft, his art, his legacy. The show is great, but this is a gift.

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GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH – 1924 – 2018

Aquarian Weekly
12/12/18

Reality Check

James Campion

GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH – 1924 – 2018

George Bush is guiltier than all of them.

Hunter S. Thompson, Portland, Oregon’s First Congregational Church, 1988

A mostly ineffectual one-term president, whose political and personal journey through civil service was miserably stained by queer controversy, roagish affiliations and dark secrets, George Herbert Walker Bush leaves us this week with three horrific legacies, not the least of which his son, the 43rd president of the United States, but specifically his foolhardy land war in Iraq that eventually led to the 9/11 attacks and this endless foray into turning the region into an anti-American fireball, and his prominent role in one of the great crimes against the U.S. Constitution, the dumb-struck Iran-Contra affair, helmed by his doddering and confused predecessor, Ronald Reagan. In his lame-duck exit in the winter of 1992-93 he would cement this criminal orgy by pardoning six convicted felons of its fallout, one of them preventing a trial in which he would have at least been a key witness if not a defendant.

Anything written about the legacy of George H.W. Bush in the annals of American governance must start with his place as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency for 357 extremely active days between the years 1976 and 1977 in which he enthusiastically supported a clandestine illegal maneuver called Operation Condor. One of the last CIA edicts in a nearly 30-year international Cold War chess game played without the knowledge of the U.S Congress or (chuckle) the American people, it eventually resulted in the deaths of an estimated 60,000 Latin American dissidents, leftists, union and peasant leaders, priests and nuns, students and teachers, intellectuals and “suspected” guerillas.

It was this kind of dedication to tainted patriotism, and his hearty primary challenge to Reagan, that would lead to the Gipper’s choosing Bush as his running mate in 1980, resulting in what would turn out to be an equally shady role as a mostly door-stop vice president.

For the final record, it must be written in stone that Ronald Reagan absolutely and with great relish hated George Bush. He repeatedly called him a wimp and a worthless Washington toady behind his back and in public. It would often get big laughs at GOP fundraisers and proved that Reagan knew where his bread was buttered somewhere in the deeper recesses of the far right. For Bush’s part, a mostly centrist, country-club, Connecticut elitist, he considered Reagan clearly insane, and after his overt attack on what would become Reganomics as “voodoo”, he was known to shout out insults from down the corridors of the White House when a crippling recession cost Dutch dearly in the 1982 midterms. This, and the infinitely stupid “Read my lips, no new taxes” stuff would bury Bush in conservative quarters forevermore.

Unlike his son, who would pick the bones of his father’s administration for damaged goods, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, both of whom religiously believed in quaint notions of nation-building, torture and bombing children for stock market spikes, Bush was completely and quite dangerously, for him, unaware of a violent shift in 1980s Republicanism the likes of which the country had not seen since the bizarre days of Calvin Coolidge, until now, in which the very core and soul of the party seems to be on trial daily. And for that, he never recovered.

The true right wing of the party abandoned him before he was ever handed a shoo-in nomination to run for president in 1988. Thus, the infamous Willie Horton ad against Democratic opponent Michael Dukakis, a blatantly racist and now considered arguably the ugliest and most divisive campaign low-blows in the history of American politics. It would help elect Bush while consequently championing the kind of scum-scraping tactics his son would use in 2000 to link his then Republican primary opponent John McCain to an illegitimate black child, and later the vicious attack on homosexuals to secure certain battleground states against John Kerry in the general election campaign of 2004. The brainchild of Bush’s campaign strategist Lee Atwater, a dementedly evil fascist who would later go on to run the Republican Party during the first two years of Bush’s presidency, the Willie Horton template would help create the kind of “alternative facts” cloud that infected Roger Ailes building and branding of FOX News.

it is this buttoned-down, smirking, billboard for backdoor, underhanded chicanery that may have been far more dangerous than this openly spastic buffoonery we endure currently.

Even after Bush’s completely outlandish defense of Iran/Kuwait/Saudi Arabia in his extremely popular and successful Desert Storm in 1990, which began the domino effect that would rile up Osama bin Laden in song and story and effectively lead to the great tragedy of this generation, 9/11, there was never any love for President George Bush. Of course, this “domino effect theory” is nothing new for readers of this space. Much of my defense of the Bush II Doctrine of “Iraq had something to do with 9/11” for years was based on the continued stance of al qaeda that Christian infidels were stationed on holy Muslim land in what was once the center of radical Islamic territories and later inspired the 1998 East African U.S. embassy bombing, the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen’s Aden Harbor, and finally the 9/11 attacks on U.S. soil.

What was absent from much of the reporting on Desert Storm at the time was the Reagan and eventual Bush administrations’ continued arms support of what was the origins of al qaeda, the Afghani Mujahedeen army to oust the Soviets from the country that went on a mind-numbing ten years as another covert illegal exercise called Operation Cyclone. This would turn out to be the origins of the quagmires that this nation has been sunk in now for 17 years running.

Despite a 92-percent approval rating after what amounted to Iraqi soldiers surrendering to CNN cameramen, Bush would eventually be booted from the job in 1992 by William Jefferson Clinton and Ross Perot, whose TV-induced populist (Trump before Trump) run for president sucked dry the last of his weakened right-wing support. Yet, in the face of all of it, on his way out, Bush pardoned the architects of Iran-Contra. Its most notorious figure, the convicted former Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger went free to essentially keep Bush out of the proceedings after several documents surfaced that refuted the then vice president’s claims that he was kept “out of the loop” on the illegal arms trade with a hostile Iran to fund a wholly illegal Central American war.

This shameless over-reach in presidential power that began when Bush served under Gerald Ford during his pardon of Richard M. Nixon for high crimes against the United States, would first and foremost implicate him in the Iran-Contra scandal as a major player and later influence Bill Clinton, George Bush, and certainly this thing in the White House today, for presidents to duly ignore the general understanding that “no one is above the law”.

Certainly, in the current climate of trashing our game show goofball president, it became chic this week to praise George Herbert Walker Bush for not being vulgar, ignorant, and racist, but it is this buttoned-down, smirking, billboard for backdoor, underhanded chicanery that may have been far more dangerous than this openly spastic buffoonery we endure currently.

In the end, George Bush’s most lasting legacy may be that he masterfully hid the disgusting stuff better than most. And for that, he deserves the mantle of president of the United States.

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THE RUSSIAN BANK PHASE – SUDDENLY WHITEWATER

Aquarian Weekly
12/5/18

Reality Check

James Campion

THE RUSSIAN BANK PHASE – SUDDENLY WHITEWATER
Trump Scumbag Lawyer Spills Beans on Illegal Land Deals – Sound Familiar?

It is true, we shall be monsters, cut off from all the world; but on that account we shall be more attached to one another.
– Mary Shelley, Frankstein

The horrible creature Donald Trump created sits in a New York City courtroom on the 29th day of November 2018 and lets fly a whole new set of revelations about where this whole Russia Investigation is going. He is very much like the man lying in wait, Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a creature also created by this mad Doctor Frankenstein because our game show president just had to fire the head of the FBI and then go on national television and brag about obstructing justice, despite very little evidence at the time that he committed any crime. But none of that matters now that the new phase – and really many of the prior phases of this political tragedy – has come home to roost on what made Donald Trump “The Donald” in the first place; illegal shenanigans in real estate dealings.

The most damaging information former Trump bagman, Michael Cohen, who crawled from his slime-ridden past, offered yesterday, which was reported in Buzzfeed back in May and corroborated by reporting in the Financial Times in July, is the planned Trump Tower Moscow that Citizen Trump was working on with the Russian government far into his time as candidate for president and later Republican nominee for that position. Part of it included (gulp!) a $50 million penthouse apartment gift to Mr. Vladimir Putin, Draconian leader of a hostile nation who was already waist-deep in cyber-attacking our democratic infrastructure. Not that any of this offends my ambivalence on moral turpitude, but the bank that was laundering the money to make this happen queers things.

Enter the specter of the Vnesheconombank or VEB, a state development institution described by one former CIA analyst as the “Kremlin’s cookie jar”, which operates in 19 countries legally but one of them is definitely not the United States due to strained Russian-American relations after the invasion of the Ukraine in 2014 and its ties to funding terrorist organizations in Syria and Yemen, some of which ended in the deaths of Americans.

I have maintained here that not collusion, but stupidity is what will bring Donald Trump down.

Cohen, instructed by Trump in the summer of 2016 to meet with Russians that was eventually scuttled for more obvious reasons than even the candidate could comprehend at the time, included a Trump-Putin detente corroborated by incriminating emails that was at first scheduled and then moved to lesser workhands, is damning not for this Russian Collusion thing, but for what the original Bill Clinton special counsel investigations of the early 1990s would begin to percolate on all of this: illegal real estate deals. The subsequent circumstantial evidence is that strangely enough someone smarter than the president has kept Trump’s Twitter hand on the wheel to keep claiming innocence of “Russian Collusion”, since some other really heinous shit is a-comin’.

Now, in the president’s defense, unlike Clinton, who was the governor of Arkansas at the time of the alleged crime (which was never proved), he was indeed a private citizen when this was occurring, even though there are vagaries in the constitution to what a candidate for the nation’s highest office can do in national or international business (especially with enemies of state) while seeking the office – one has to go back to Alexander Hamilton to unravel – but illegal business deals are another nut entirely.

I have maintained here that not collusion, but stupidity is what will bring Donald Trump down – and by down I mean what is fast looking like the inevitable House impeachment, (here come the Dems in January!). The president’s consistent actions that appear to be those of a very guilty man – most likely stemming from this raging insecurity of his petulant father, whose influence on this nation will be forever linked to his damaged son – has broken any reliable records for obstruction of justice, the latest being this boondoggle switcheroo of the attorney general to some half-assed lackey, etc. Even that one reeks of (with apologies to the late, great Jimmy Breslin) The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight, since it appears acting AG Matthew Whitaker, another retread TV goof that seems to give Trump a hard-on, was not alerted to any of the information coming out of the special counsel’s office yesterday. It was overseen by Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, who for the life of me still maintains a gig in this House of Freaks administration.

Meanwhile, sitting on the beachhead like some demented and sad King Canute – blathering on about forest floors and backing Saudi murders of journalists – Donald Trump awaits his fate. Not sure what that is, but for certain as the weeks have moved along and Democrats broke mid-term voting numbers records (nearly nine million in vote total victories) and gained nearly 40 House seats in what has turned out to be indeed a Blue Wave rebuke of this nonsense, how much longer could the GOP-controlled Senate eat this shit? I would maintain as much as Clinton’s senate did in 1998. As in ’98, we are two years from an election, but unlike Big Bill, El Douche has to run again, or he can repeat the Great Quitter’s 1968 maneuver and slink away like LBJ and rob us all of this much fun.

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STAN LEE – 1922 – 2018

Aquarian Weekly
11/21/18

Reality Check

James Campion

STAN LEE – 1922 – 2018

I resented the fact that some people thought comics were just for kids. I wanted comics to be for everybody, including people who’d read the Harvard classics, people who would read Shakespeare, Dickens. To me, comics were reading matter, like anything else.
– Stan Lee

In the spring of 1962, about six months and five-plus miles from where I would be born that September, the nearly 40 year-old Stanley Martin Lieber, better known by his goyish nom de plume, Stan Lee, was pacing the empty Madison Avenue offices of Marvel Comics deep into the night. He was trying to make a very important decision. Should Marvel’s head writer spring his idea of a superhero called Spider-Man on the world or go in another, perhaps safer direction? He had slyly convinced skeptical Marvel publisher Martin Goodman that it could work, despite Goodman’s hatred of spiders. He thought the idea repugnant and hardly heroic. Lee, already riding the crest of his Fantastic Four, which would greatly assist in taking comic books into what would be the golden age of superheroes, went with his gut. Spider-man was good. He was mysterious, menacing and intense. His partner, artist Steve Ditko had brought him to life – thin, wiry, all blues and blacks and reds, a mask with intimidating white eyes. And Lee had duly structured who Spider-Man really was, a scrawny, insecure and luckless boy genius Queens high school kid named Peter Parker, who would learn the tough lesson that “With great power comes great responsibility” and carry its burden forward into the unknown. Hardly wowed, Goodman reluctantly allowed them to dump the character into the fifteenth and final issue of a dying title called Amazing Fantasy.

Turns out Stan Lee was right. To say the least.

Aside from Action Comics #1 that in 1938 introduced Superman to the pre-war universe, Amazing Fantasy #15 would go on to be the most famous, important and expensive collectible comic book ever and Spider-Man arguably the biggest, baddest, most marketable character in American history. Nearly ten years to the day from that fateful decision to follow his preternatural instincts for connecting the supernatural to our realities, Stan “The Man” Lee, with dozens of groundbreaking characters and titles behind him, would assume Goodman’s job as the publisher of the most renowned and successful comic book empire the world would ever know. Under his enthusiastic tutelage, Marvel Comics became the focal point of the superhero archetype for the Baby Boomer generation, and, quite pointedly, for every one thereafter. In addition to the iconic Fantastic Four and Spider-Man, Lee, along with artists like Ditko and the brilliant Jack Kirby, John Romita Sr, Bill Everett, among others would create the Hulk, Iron Man, Doctor Strange, The Avengers, Daredevil, Thor, X-Men, and hundreds more. Their alter egos, the men and women who lived behind the heroics, were wildly flawed and relatable, like young Peter Parker, as well as impressively irascible and infuriating. You rooted for them as you were, in many ways, them. And his villains (Doctor Doom, Green Goblin, Loki, etc) were never two-dimensional meanies. They had pathos; darkly pitched in ennui, tragically Shakespearean, and in the most delectable ways, empathetic. You feared you may become them, because again, you were them.

I can tell you first hand that coming of age too late to see this blossoming cache of essentially epic dramas for kids, filled with danger and excitement and for the first time in this genre, humor, was overwhelming. It was already the standard for a young boy growing up. The Spider-Man Saturday morning cartoon ruled my existence. For five straight Halloweens I was Spider-Man. When my parents would ask what I would be the next year, I thought they were mad. Of course, I’m Spider-Man, who else would I be?

It was like getting the map to a treasure chest.

All the while, through all of the comic books my dad would bring home from the Big City where Spidey and the rest of Marvel’s superheroes plied their trade, and later on the spinning rack at Lane Drugs, I was mesmerized and hypnotized by the craft – the art, the dialogue, the gripping beauty of it all – and leading the way, always reminding us in his Marvel Bullpen Bulletins, Stan Lee was our guide, our master of ceremonies, our voice of morality and reason – at once shamelessly plugging all-things Marvel (“Make Mine Marvel” was one of his biggies) and making you feel as though you were part of a fun cult. He would end them all with a hearty “Nuff said!” or his signature “Excelsior!”

But, for me, it was Lee’s 1974 professional memoir, Origins of Marvel Comics that turned a mere cultist into an ever more dangerous creature, a writer. Here was Stan “the Man” revealing where all of this magic came from, and for an 11 year-old former Bronx boy now moved to the flat farmlands of Freehold, it was like getting the map to a treasure chest. None of this just came out of thin air, mind you, it came from some guy’s imagination and that guy would share how it’s done. And man did I read that book over and over for two summers and then found my best friend Chris Barrera and we began making our own comics and selling them to neighborhood kids and I knew right then how I would spend the rest of my time on this spinning sphere, in one way or the other, writing.

I would learn from that book that Lee had done it all; penning stories for Atlas Comics in the 1950s in every damn genre; romance, Westerns, humor, science fiction, medieval adventure, horror and suspense. The guy knew how to tell stories and do it under pressure and do it well, time and time again. This was a master. There is a line in it, and I am paraphrasing, where Lee marvels (pun intended) at the connective emotional and intellectual tissue of what it is to have something come out of your head and know that someone tonight will go to bed reading it and have it on their night table in the morning. You can move the reader through your words, and, if you’re lucky, inspire them and enrage them and frighten and entice and appeal to their best intentions without artifice, with no social preconceptions or anything that comes with the art of communication beyond the written word.

I have Stan Lee to thank for that. He kick-started this in me. He awakened my imagination and provided a young mind direction and purpose and man-o-man a lifetime of entertainment. But, most of all, I thank him for making me want to tell stories.

And I have always tried to find in those stories something Stan once said, “I see myself in everything I write.”

Nuff said.

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MID-TERM ROUNDUP

Aquarian Weekly
11/14/18

Reality Check

James Campion

MID-TERM ROUNDUP
Women, Repudiation, Entrenchment & Reckoning

Lots of stuff happened on November 6, 2018. This was the second time the current administration – its polices, its tone, its corruption and investigations have had to face the voters since 2016, and the results were historic, contradictory and changed the face of Washington DC dramatically for the next two years. Let’s review the ten take-aways…

Women, Women, And More Women

Out of a record candidacy of 53 for Senate and 475 for the House, an unprecedented 110 women were elected to congress. Another record nine women were elected governor across the nation. As the proud father of a ten year-old daughter and the honored husband of a woman who traveled down to DC to join the Women’s March of 2017, this was one for the books. This election realized the first woman of color, Ayanna Pressley in the historically racist Massachusetts’ congressional delegation. Rashida Tlaib in Michigan and Ilhan Omar in Minnesota will be the first Muslim women ever to serve in Congress. Sharice Davids toppled a Republican man in Kansas and Deb Haaland prevailed in New Mexico, becoming the first Native American congresswoman. In Tennessee, Marsha Blackburn, a Republican, became the state’s first woman elected to the Senate.

Beyond party and politics, the real wave of the evening, and for the future of the heretofore mostly patriarchal construct of this republic, was the X chromosome. Shit, in response to the Clarence Thomas hearings, the 1992 election was considered “The Year of the Woman”, as a paltry 33 women were elected to positions of power around the nation. Of course, this is politics and therefore the numbers must be analyzed as such. A Gallup survey of registered voters on Election Day shed light on the shifting trend in America. The female electorate preferred Democrats by 58 percent to 34 percent. The gap between the genders is even more striking among millennials. According to Pew, a whopping 70 percent of millennial women affiliated with or leaned toward the Democrats, up from 56 percent four years ago.

This, I believe, more than anything else is the most strikingly concussive response to the current president, whose issues with women are well documented, along with the outpouring of outrage over the threat to a woman’s right to choose and a strange but impenetrable support for the Affordable Care Act.

The ACA? Yup, the ACA

Here’s the thing. The fight over pre-existing conditions absolutely led more to the flip in the House of Representatives and the closeness of gubernatorial and senate races in ruby red states than anything coming from this damaged and beleaguered president or what Republicans and Democrats will do for or against the country in the next two years. The groundswell of exit polling had now nearly 72 percent of voters (by far the most important subject of voting November 6) favoring the stabilization of the ACA.

In the final weeks leading up to the election, some Republicans who over a dozen times voted to repeal Obamacare, claimed they supported all of its elements, but apparently very little of the electorate bought it. If there was a true, unequivocal repudiation in this election beyond a controversial and divisive president, it is the defense of the ACA, which in the 20-plus years I have been penning this column is the oddest most unexplainable political phenomenon yet. It was abhorred mostly by the Left and the Right in 2009 when it was enacted, cost a record 63 seats in congress to the party in power in 2010 and had to survive a ridiculous amount of vote attacks on the Hill thereafter, including two squeaker decisions on the Supreme Court. Yet it was this past Tuesday the most important reason for voters to show up, especially ones voting to flip the House, and especially among the aforementioned wave of women votes and elections.

The future of the ACA was cemented on this Election Day. Period

The Rust Belt and Florida

Two bellwether results that came out of the 2018 midterms could, indeed, determine the 2020 presidential election: First and foremost is that Florida is no longer a battleground state. Not to say it will stay red past that election, but the current president is Teflon there. The rather bland and openly racist Congressman Ron DeSantis defeated Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a charismatic African American mainly on the wings of the 2016 late-surge voter that helped put a Republican in the White House. Florida is over for Democrats and the party should attack their plans to take back the executive branch somewhere else.

Beyond party and politics, the real wave of the evening, and for the future of the heretofore mostly patriarchal construct of this republic, was the X chromosome.

And that direction could be the Rust Belt, which absolutely solidified the current presidency two years ago on the wing and prayer of international trade and manufacturing jobs, both of which have not materialized in favor of those who rolled the dice in the other direction in 2016 but have come back to the Democratic fold just one major election cycle later. Michigan and Wisconsin (both voted Republican for president in 2016) elected Democratic governors and another flip state for the GOP, Pennsylvania sent a record three women to congress (all Democrats), although they split the senate races.

If the results of the midterm told us anything, the whole turn-back-the-economic-clock theory that galvanized enough independents and conservative Democrats to vote GOP in 2016 across the mid-west is swinging back and that is what the eventual Democratic candidate needs to concentrate on this time, and not ignore, as did the last one to her own detriment.

Okay Then, Who Should Be Celebrating?

Both Republicans (whew, this could have been waaay worse) and Democrats (whoopie we took over a branch of government) can celebrate this. The expansion of the Senate, the most probable outcome due to the amount of seats the Dems had to defend in mostly Republican districts, is important for 2020, as it will shift mightily against Republicans then. This past election provided them a cushion against that. It also allows whatever right-wing court appointments that come out of the executive branch a wide voter birth, including a pretty solid buffer for the highest court vote if that comes into play again over the next two years. Taking the House for Democrats, again, a known factor since so many GOP candidates had to survive in mostly suburban Democratic districts, is important for the party out of power to check this quite blatantly out of control administration, and to basically cripple any legislation that does not reek of centrist or progressive leanings.

Not to mention subpoena power and a resurgence of the congressional investigations into this presidency that had been thwarted by obstructionist defense of it.

Investors certainly celebrated, as the Dow Jones had its best day in over a year. Considering the historically low approval ratings for the president and the record numbers of voters that came out to turn over the government (it was a higher percentage than the 2010 GOP surge, but due to gerrymandering, kept the overall numbers down) it was a historic day all around and one that come January will turn things around quite a bit to say the very least.

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ALT RIGHT UNDERGROUND – A PERSPECTIVE

Aquarian Weekly
10/31/18

Reality Check

James Campion

ALT RIGHT UNDERGROUND – A PERSPECTIVE
When Mailed Bombs Become Teachable Moments

I was reminded of a couple of things this week when word came that enemies of the Trump administration – past political opponents, celebrities, old leftists and CNN – received to what amounted to half-assed non-working “bombs” in the mail by alt right domestic terrorists. The first is Randolph Hearst’s media empire calling for President William McKinley to be eradicated and some enterprising anarchist shooting him in Buffalo, New York at the turn of the twentieth century. The twenty-fifth president eventually died. And my own perhaps ill-advised challenge to a sitting US. Congressman to a fistfight in 2016, which ended in many discussions with local authorities and his eventual defeat. It was the first such defeat of a Republican congressman in New Jersey’s Fifth District in nearly a century to which I took partial credit.

Both of these were desperate attempts to change the body politic through random, and in my case, satirically driven violence. I mean, I would have fought Scott Garrett, but he refused. I was relieved. He seemed like the kind who goes for the groin. But let this be said of anarchists and me, at least we show up. Sending bombs, and poorly made bombs at that, is no way to make a point, political or otherwise. And it is a veiled attempt at stopping the inevitable mid-term backlash to what is now beyond rational argument the worst first two years of a presidency in my lifetime, and perhaps ever.

However, I am not here today to discuss politics, but motive. And I think the motive of these domestic terrorists have less to do with politics or social order than cult of personality, something Donald Trump has refused to give up since becoming president. Not that I blame him. It is the only reason he is president. He could offer nothing else. He is a one trick pony and he has clung to this act as best he can, and as a writer obsessed with the damaged, I get it. What comes of this cult of personality has to do with the people targeted. And either you believe the president knows what he is doing or not. There is very little grey area as it has been for other presidents.

But back to the would-be bombs and domestic terrorists.

In the 1960s when the idea of domestic terrorism came roaring back for the first time since the American Nazi Party began making inroads to use anti-communism and anti-Semitism and I guess right-wing politics to make a national play, it was a left wing response to the wholly illegal and astonishingly immoral Viet Nam War, in which many of the terrorists and radicals had been called to order to avoid being mutilated or worse in a god-forsaken stretch of Southeast Asia that a few geo-political intellectuals had deemed the linchpin of a spectacularly flawed domino theory.

Terrorism is horrifying, but it always made sense to me. It is what freed the nation from the yoke of British rule.

What happened this week is merely people wanted to, I guess, kill or threaten people who don’t believe Donald Trump knows what he’s doing. It is kind of like rogue Beer Hall Putchers from 1930s Germany created from the cult of Adolf Hitler’s political groundswell. None of what the eventual Brownshirts stood for was political or necessarily anti-Jewish or anti-Communist. It was simply to eradicate enemies of Hitler. It was for a personality and not a political movement or to cease a shift in the social order.

I find this extremely interesting since, as we know, Trump, whose father was a member of the KKK and was constantly sued in the 1970 and 80s for racist real estate tactics in New York, had infamously tried to rhetorically even-the-playing-field for neo-Nazis and Klansman (summarily applauded by such in social and mainstream media shortly after) with his now highly regrettable “both sides are bad” series of monosyllabic speeches after the Charlottesville riot and tragedy. And recently he celebrated on stage the attack of a journalist by a Republican congressman and continued to strangely defend the Saudi government for the torture and murder of a journalist with ties to America. None of this is to say that Trump is directly responsible for these “bomb” deliveries, any more than Martin Scorsese is responsible for the shooting of Ronald Reagan because some goofball decided he wanted to save Jodi Foster like Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver.

However, it is hard to, as I have written in this space before, defend this president anymore when it comes to his drumming up of the “us versus them” theory, which is only based on Trump figuring out who likes him and who doesn’t. This is fine for a bedroom tweeter after his reality show wraps, but for the president it is dangerous. Because Trump has not abandoned his celebrity persona for that of the leader of the free world there continues this “playing to the base and sorting out enemies” approach that lends itself to personality over the national interest. It is, again, not about politics, right or left wing, it is about Trump, as most things end up with him – how Trump sees the world. It is why he chums up to Vladimir Putin, a man who internationally terrorized the U.S., while attacking his FBI that works to out him and make sure it never happens again. The FBI is investigating him and Putin helped him win the election. It really is as simple as that.

And to ignore the fact that his critics and political opponents were targeted (however haphazardly) with violent terrorist retribution is as silly as simply blaming Trump because he is a child and has no idea what the fuck he is doing.

Nevertheless, this is desperation. And it makes sense. Terrorism is horrifying, but it always made sense to me. It is what freed the nation from the yoke of British rule. It kept the Irish Republic alive for generations. But, to be fair, it is also illegal and, as stated, horrifying, and cannot go unpunished. And most likely, as these guys were sloppy in their bomb making and their postal service deliveries, they will be caught and tried as such and my guess will wonder why any of this mattered for a someone who is not going to be president much longer.

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THIRTY-SIX HOURS

Aquarian Weekly
10/24/18

Reality Check

James Campion

THIRTY-SIX HOURS
The Nightmare of Legal Purgatory in the Island Tombs

Thirty-six hours.

No water. None. No place to sleep. Well, steel benches. Fifty degrees with blowing ceiling fans in a twenty by thirty-foot cinderblock room. Open, rusted, putrid, reeking toilet. Cold, wet cheese sandwiches and tepid pink milk every six hours. None of which I eat or drink. No answers. No assistance when needed. Twenty-plus men, of variant degrees of criminal activity and equal parts desperation – some understood, others duly ignored with a violent bravado borne of experience, social order and race. I start off standing in the corner, not making eye contact. Then I pace. For the first overnight stay, I paced. And pace. I do not sit. I do not talk, unless asked. “What are you in for?” Waiting.

Prison Cell Bars

My hands, I start to notice (not at first, because I choose to ignore it) begin to shake, ever so slightly, uncontrollably. Muscles begin to tighten. No one knows I’m here. That is what I think about – minute by minute with every slow-motion passing hour. My dear wife, Erin, my darling daughter, Scarlet. No one knows I’m here. And I will be here. Thirty-six hours. Cold. Hungry. Very tired. Or too wired and steely to be tired. Not frightened, but pensive, like being caught in a time warp. Time, like a suspended luxury concept for the free, stands still here, as my identity, which has left me for this enduring subsistence of a creature grappling with defense mechanisms I have not used since I was kid in a new neighborhood with the bullies lying in wait, as Dostoevsky wrote, “neither a rascal nor an honest man, neither a hero nor an insect,” I waver between defeat and defiance. Incarcerated; physically and emotionally.

At 11:20 PM or so on Tuesday evening, the ninth day of October, 2018, I left the Sony Hall on W46th street, hugged my friend, Eric Hutchinson, who had just completed a triumphant show with his band The Believers, the members of which I’d interviewed three hours earlier. I had stopped by a bar at five and had a beer. Had one during the interview in the six o’clock hour and another during the show around 9:30. I did not eat. This would be key to what eventually would be my plea, but none of it matters now.

What ended up mattering more than anything during the crucial hours that landed me here was that I made a wrong turn by the Lincoln Tunnel and found myself in what was described to me by a very angry and stressed-out NY police officer as a “temporary police barricade” while “a drug bust was in progress.” I had driven into a crime scene in the biggest city in America and passed the breath test for DWI but failed a lower demarcation by .02, (.072) just inching into what I would learn is a DUIA, a bunch of acronyms that only mean I was in handcuffs and soon sitting in a jammed van with very pissed off drug dealers and eventually a mid-town precinct.

The police who would eventually tend to me were professional and calming. It was chaos in that place. It was me, some guy in a candy apple red Camaro and a half-dozen to ten drug dealers. Hardcore. But kids. Just kids, man. “This guy isn’t fucked up,” opined one of the officers when I easily passed every physical test for sobriety. “Let’s work something out.” What we worked out is the charges for driving through the “barricade” – a mere hundred or so yards from the tunnel’s entrance – would be dropped for a plea deal on the DUIA. It would amount to an “infraction” with no bail, instead of a misdemeanor that would require trial; something akin to a speeding ticket with some additional penalties. But other than that, I felt that once I saw the judge and paid my fine, I would be home in time to not scare the shit out of my wife.

This was not to be.

“Your car is parked on forty-first and eleventh!” was the last thing the chubby, blonde, kind-faced officer said to me after we talked Yankees, our daughters, our favorite beer and weird songs from the 1960s. Before I passed through the metal detector he assured me that night court would take me in a few hours.

This was not to be.

I do not write the rest of this piece as some kind diatribe against the system or as a “wronged citizen”. I was guilty. Guilty and despondent and angry at myself and wondering what would have happened had I left two minutes later or two minutes earlier or if I had seen the officer in the corner of my vision waving wildly on the avenue or if I had seen the flashing lights coming from the other side of my peripheral vision or if I had just gunned the engine and blew through the damn thing and gotten into the tunnel or if I had two beers instead of three or that I was “lucky” to drink them because it gave the cops an out to drop misdemeanor charges and all those things you think about during the long hours of sleepless hunger in a freezing tank, but this is not why I write. I write because there is a voice in this place where we find ourselves, and that voice is there now and tomorrow and the day after that with no water and a refusal of medical care and an ignoring of violent retribution and an overcrowding that tumbles into cruel and unusual punishment.

And I do not write to bear witness or cry for cushy environs for lifers and drug dealers and women batterers and drug addicts and erratic drunks and damaged souls that saw fit to beat someone senseless with a bat to protect street cred or whether you hail from the top of the Sugar Hill steps in Harlem or if “I had just dumped the bags when I finished that fifth” and have “two bitches waiting to bail me out of this fucker.” I do not write for face tattoos or gang colors or borough rules or failing to respond to a warrant and spitting on the floor or throwing up on one’s self or whatever happened to the white kid who had caked blood all over his head and shirt and pants and some make-shift plastic bag in place of clothing.

I write because none of us are convicted. We await a “fair and speedy” trial as promised by the U.S Constitution and because this is the U.S.A. and the living conditions of this place is “worse than Guantanamo Bay!” or is filled with people in limbo with less rights than Rikers Island. “At least in Rikers you get three hot meals and a pillow, man!” I write because they cannot or will not and I have to. For them.

The “tombs” as they were once called, in the bowels of the Centre Street courthouse in Lower Manhattan have no laws. That’s for people on either side of this. We are in the in-between. We are not in jail nor are we free to go. The bars are the same. The smell. The despair. All the same. Everything is the same. No one cares here that I’m published, or come from a sound, middle class background and make a good living and own a beautiful home in the mountains and have a podcast and will be co-hosting a music festival by the weekend. The 18 year-old kid with three kids and four drug busts for selling meth and me. All the same now.

The Correction’s Officers are also in some kind of legal and moral vacuum. They have no affiliation with police or any political station. Many of them are ex-gang-bangers and some have done this job for far too long. They go beyond dismissive and actually verbally challenge and torture those who have legitimate concerns about why it’s 50 degrees here. “Roaches, body odor and disease, the cold takes care of all of that,” one says. When I implore several abut contacting my wife through texts, they make a veiled reference to the upstairs, in the court, where there is heat and water and workable phones and how one in my predicament shouldn’t have so many “concerns”. The phones in this holding pen, two of them, do not have receivers – ripped out of their sockets. “You maniacs did this, now deal with it,” comes another answer. And when I look into the eyes of the kid they brought in after me, Hispanic, handsome, dangerously troubled – maybe 18, perhaps 19 – he is shivering and scared and starving and we do not know why we’re not seeing a judge after a long night of pacing and then another day and another night.

I regret not making a phone call at 12:30 in the first minutes of Wednesday morning from the police station. The officers told my lawyer they offered it to me. They did not. I remember that clearly. I debated asking. But I’ll pay my fine and go my way, I thought. Stupidly. By mid-afternoon that day, a dozen hours since I was pulled from my car amidst the swirling lights and shouting and commands from everywhere, my wife and friends and lawyers and police tried to find out where I ended up. They did, eventually. It was all hands on deck for the Editor-in-Chief of the Desk. I was in the hole and the troops rallied. And I thank them for that – Johnny M, Vegas, Elizabeth esq, even Eric, and the rest.

We are in the in-between. We are not in jail nor are we free to go.

Later Wednesday it dawned on many who had been there – some for four or five days (one poor soul was told he was “re-arrested”, whatever the hell that means) – that the city could hold you here for up to 72 hours for anything from felony to infraction. And we would never drink any water and refused the cold, wet cheese sandwiches because needing to defecate in this dungeon on that toilet was never going to be an option, even for those who had served real time. “Let this man contact his family!” someone shouts. “I’ll pay off the guard,” a fairly well-dressed drug dealer intones to me. When the guard refused the $500 he flashes, he punches his chest and points to me. Then he turns his attention to the lunatic screaming in Spanish and kicking the phones until they have to take him away with a broken foot.

After one long day and two nights in this nightmare, they call my name. Each time they had called names with docket numbers, I stood like a dog awaiting a stick to be thrown. All of my humanity tucked inside – nothing resembling what I left in that car at 11:20 would make it here, not for this long, and not with these people; demons and miscreants and tender, misguided discarded street survivors. The ones who called my wife once they got outside and the others who tried to explain that for me there would be no long days and nights in real jail, “You’ll be all right, brother.” They understood my fear about the people who worry about me. I could not be worried about. Not in here. Just stay alive and do not get caught in the middle of the next fight, the next threat, the next desperate move.

And I go upstairs, finally, there is no phone. Of course. Just a public defender and a bemused judge and then my papers and my release into the pouring rain in Chinatown trying to flag down a cab in rush hour. I look up through the sheets to see 4:48 PM. Thursday. I’m free. And the cab takes me to my car, just as the cop said, forty-first and eleventh. No tickets. No impounding. A sign “Do not move, by order of the NYPD.” Some weird perk of having to nearly rot in legal purgatory.

I was arrested in NYC on Tuesday, October 9.

I emerged with a story to write on Thursday, October 11.

“There’s a place…” began one of the last men I spoke to, his eyes watery with tears, his future without family, without hope, without precious freedom in front of him. “…where they should know about what goes on down here.” He was ringing his hands and running them over his scalp like I did. He was… me. “It’s bullshit, man. This ain’t right. We should have heat and water and we should get care if we’re injured. We’re not convicted. We await our right to trial in this horrible place? How does this happen here? How does this happen?”

I write that now, as I lived it then.

How does this happen? Here? In America? In the greatest city in the world?

And it is happening now. I can feel it as if it is still happening… to me.

Thirty-six hours.

Changed me.

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