VIVA LA CUBA!‏

Aquarian Weekly
12/24/14
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

VIVA LA CUBA!
Sort of…

It is important to point out that this “normalizing” of relations with Cuba is a long way from lifting the 50-plus-year useless embargo on the Castro regime, which is still an oppressive communist construct and has little recourse but to run down the clock until the Castros die, something I brought up around six years ago in this space. Of course then it was under the same tired theme of hoping that Fidel Castro would die quicker than he is – the man has a Keith Richards like invincibility – so I can get cheaper Cuban cigars and not have to be forced to smuggle them in with my shaving kit from Mexico or Europe twice a year. Or paying $30-plus a pop for a Cohiba Rubusto because a few votes in Florida might go bye-bye.castrocigar

Without being too cynical, a stretch for me, this is a way overdue move by the president, dare I say by far the best thing he has done (for me, personally) but it would have made more sense timing-wise with his party holding sway over the legislative branch, instead of the concussive slaughterhouse it has been for Democrats over the past three election cycles. But politically it was dangerous, which is why it never got done on either side of the ideological aisle for the past half-century, especially since the Soviet Union went bankrupt in 1989.

But, as stated, it had to get done, at least to the point of what the executive branch can accomplish. It takes congress to lift embargoes and it surely will not do so, because this congress does everything the opposite of this president, as illustrated over the last two editions, as will be the case with the new one to come, even if the issue at hand might make sense or even if it was a fairly Republican idea once when someone else was in charge. There is no sense dissecting that kind of childish minutia when I have Cubans to consider.

However, as long as this embargo stays in place then there will be no free and open market to bring down prices and get the distribution lines going. Sure, I can schlep to Cuba now and bring back around $100 of Cubans, but I would rather have it shipped – and by shipped I don’t mean my current available method of having a connection in Dublin, Ireland send me a box for an astronomically over-priced figure and hope it isn’t red-flagged. Only my absinthe gets here unscathed from Paris.

It’s hard to admit in print the volume of illegal shit that comes and goes from the Clemens Estate, even in this most austere time of spying and lock-down. It has not stopped the flow of contraband and it never will. This is what New Jersey deems a “free zone”, something I negotiated in 2005 when attempting to secede from the county and was rebuffed with extreme prejudice. The paperwork alone could choke a dozen lawyers, but it did grant me a crow’s nest described in the permit as a “balcony” and a ten-day a month grace period to gain access to my nineteenth century canon.

What we’re talking about here is easing the burden of simple price gouging and I have to think about the bottom line. If I want to smoke Cubans at a descent clip than there has to be a complete lifting of the embargo, and as long as dipshits like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul and the kid from Florida who made a name for himself gulping water after every sentence during a very entertaining rebuttal to a state of the union address, then it ain’t happening. And that is sad.

My favorite is when Cruz within a 72 hour period defended the United States right to torture and the importance of keeping the Gitmo detention center open (located in Cuba) then went on a ten-minute rant on CNN decrying regimes like Cuba who torture. Jesus, God in heaven I pray that this guy runs for president – more fun than watching Dennis Rodman on Hollywood Access explain foreign relations while high on Nepalese temple balls and threatening to kick Billy Bush’s ass.

Okay, so what does this mean for the greater scheme of things since this is occasionally a column that deals with politics – not necessarily issues, but the political ramifications of said issues?

Well, for one, Florida is back in play for Republicans. Those who dismiss this do it at their own peril.

Believe me, this move by Barack Obama is a classic lame-duck, final two years, fuck it move.

It is also a move, as stated before, which had to be made by this president now. Reason? Firstly, Joe Biden is not going to be running for president in 2016, thus no one from the current administration needs to be sheltered politically. Obama clearly doesn’t give a flying flatulation about his former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Why should he? She is a private citizen and hasn’t even declared herself a candidate yet. Free reign.

Secondly, this is a progressive president, supposedly. (But only when it makes pragmatic sense, as many of my liberal friends continually point out to me as my conservative friends did when W. was posing as one for eight years) Just like Nixon (the staunch red baiter) opened up relations with China in ’72 and/or Clinton (the first black president) diving headlong into welfare reform in ’96 or hard-line rhetoric machine, Reagan’s arms-control negotiation with Gorbachev in the 1980s. In all cases it had to be the opposite of what the base clamors for, allowing for a smoother transition into the inevitable march of time.

While a fair number of liberals support lifting the embargo with Cuba, many are human rights activists and still many more are supporters of the Democrats maintaining power in the White House past this president, especially with Republicans having taken over two-thirds of the federal government. This is tricky. Obama, not the shrewdest of political junkies, but astute enough, knows this. And, believe, me, only days after former Florida Governor Jeb Bush made it known that he is likely to run in 2016, a moderate with strong demographic ties to Hispanic voters, the president has to understand that Florida and its 29 electoral votes, pretty much a done-deal for Hillary before, is now up for grabs or more likely gone.

But all of this pales when sitting alongside getting a flow of more affordable Cuban cigars to the Clemens Estate.

Merry Christmas, indeed.

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CONVENIENTLY INVISIBLE AMERICA

Aquarian Weekly
12/17/14
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

CONVENIENTLY INVISIBLE AMERICA
Or CIA – Our National Apathy Over Dirty Little Secrets

In April of 2009 this space said all it was going to say about the United States and torture during those wild and woolly years after 9/11 when, as warned by this space in the autumn of 2001; the “gloves would be coming off.” This is how it works around here. You don’t like it, wear a helmet or go back to your Instagram and Twitter. No, in the wake of this latest report on our national ugliness, I only mean to bring agonizing perspective, or, if you will, pour a bucket of ice water on your white-hot outrage.pinochet

But our been-there-done-attitude comes from our study of human nature (and by “study” I mean living for over a half century, most of it confronted with this miserable shit and having the forum to share it) that and if it wasn’t fixed then, it ain’t getting fixed. It’s like all this whining about this president having too much power, when the expansion of that power has been growing since Andrew Jackson in 1831.

Time to wake up and smell the steaming-hot helping of feces.

When I was a kid in the mid-70s’ – 1975 to be exact – there was some hubbub about the Central Intelligence Agency that at first rocked the core of our moral construct as a country and then kind of petered out, as is our wont. This was the end of innocence, as if the Bay of Pigs, Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy assassination, the murders of Selma, the riots on campuses, Viet Nam (yes, damn it, I am evoking Nam again – how do you write anything about the CIA without mentioned that colossal massacre?), the shootings at Kent State, the Weather Underground, Watergate, Patty Hearst, etc. had not been enough to shake us from our Pollyanna slumber.

It began with the Church Committee, named after a rakish 54 year-old liberal Democrat from Idaho, who had an unassailable hatred of the CIA and set about uncovering some of the most heinous crimes ever perpetuated around this globe by a single unit outside of the Nazi Party.

Most of what we know and openly accept today as business-as-usual for the spy unit of our federal government was a bit of a shocker for some in the 70s’. For some odd reason, there wasn’t much talked about concerning the CIA after WWII. This was the Cold War, and people, I guess, accepted the whole thing as some kind of intrigue novel meets James Bond – kind of romantic, sort of dangerous, and full of weird gadgets like shoe-phones and pens with poison tips or a gas-fog corsage. We all saw Get Smart; funny, paranoid, inside-baseball stuff.

Then the Church Committee started to peel back the layers of our stinking onion and boy was it a big deal.

For awhile. We hadn’t discovered the Fonz yet and KISS had yet to break it big.

Through five administrations representing both parties, the CIA literally ran amok; unchecked and unflinching: Assassination attempts of foreign leaders, including Patrice Lumumba of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, the Diem brothers of Vietnam, Gen. René Schneider of Chile and the solicitation of the Mafia to kill Fidel Castro. There was also the little nugget of the “HTLINGUAL” program, a warrant-less infiltration of the U.S. Postal Service – in other words since the early 1950s until 1973, the CIA routinely and aggressively opened the mail of American citizens, and in many cases actually stole packages and personal correspondence with no repercussions or even a blurb in the Something Examiner. Chances are if you used the USPS to communicate in any way from 1951 to the early 1970s’ and it went missing or you never received it, there is a very good chance it was absconded by the CIA.

Chill Alert: This was before it was legal. The 2001 Patriot Act took care of that annoying detail.

Of course, after some ooohh-ing and ahhh-ing, the backlash started, wherein many in the government and the Gerald Ford White House began shutting down the investigation due in part to executive order and “national security” concerns (the usual stuff), protecting the lives of hired murders around the globe to save face and keep the engines moving. Those who still kept JFK in the sainted category were appalled and fought back, and, well the whole Nixon thing is well-documented, so we’ll leave that abomination to the annals of history for now.

What was not known through the Church Committee, but would later be revealed through leaks and books quoting “hidden sources” was the spectacular list of actual assassinations of world leaders, bloody and bloodless coup de tats and other insane shenanigans by this tax-funded rogue enterprise.

These included, and would later come back to haunt in the Middle East (Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan), Eastern Europe (Czech Republic, East Germany), Central America (El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua) and South America (Argentina, Guyana, Venezuela), overthrows of governments and instituted puppet regimes of despotic factions in Iran, Syria, Guatemala, Tibet, South Viet Nam, Brazil, Chili, Argentina. Some of the most hideous mass murderers in the recent history of our planet were ushered in and supported by the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States of America.

We are responsible for – and if by “we” I mean we are somehow attached to this as we are attached to say, something LeBron James does since you are a Cleveland Cavs fan or you wave a flag every time something goes right around here, then I guess you are somewhat culpable for this crap, but I digress – such luminaries as the Shah of Iran, Jorge Ubico, and Augusto Pinochet, among others. Do yourself a favor when you’re done reading this; look up the legacy of these gentlemen and then get worked up over torturing a couple of hundred suspected terrorists.

It will be hard to up your dander.

So what is Campion saying here? What is his angle; the usual, sure this is horrible, but we have done much worse and likely are still doing much worse? Am I siding with Dick Cheney? Do I have such contempt for this country I would just come to the conclusion that we are somewhere in the ballpark of evil and I’ll just finish writing this, throw my hands up and go have a beer and a stogie?

Well, yeah, sure. I guess.

Some of the most hideous mass murderers in the recent history of our planet were ushered in and supported by the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States of America.

But that is too simple. I only mean to bring up that the CIA’s mere existence is the issue (an existence that continued long after 1975 for some truly bizarre and abhorrent behavior), not its latest in a long line of “crimes”. Why do I put quotes around it? Am I trying to be cute or do I not think that defecating (how many times can I possibly use excrement as metaphor? Answer: four times) on the conventions of international war that was the legal umbrella for the Nuremberg Trials is a serious stain on our national soul?

Excuse me, I need a cigar and a beer.

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I CAN’T BREATHE!

Aquarian Weekly
12/10/14

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

I CAN’T BREATHE!

Daniel Pantaleo killed Eric Garner. He choked him to death while four other men held him down and pulled his hands behind his back and proceeded to cuff him, leaning all of his weight on the man’s head as he pleaded, “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!”

This is not a crime.eric-garner-dead-photo

Uh?

I don’t care if Pantaleo is a police officer. I don’t care that he is white and Eric Garner black. I don’t care if Garner was selling cigarettes illegally, which shouldn’t even be a crime in itself, but that is for another column. I don’t care that Garner had a record or if Pantaleo was an upstanding citizen. I don’t care if the NYPD banned choke-holds in 1993 or that the victim had asthma or was obese. I don’t care that the racial makeup of Staten Island is predominantly white or that prosecutors, who normally slam-dunk grand jury indictments, tend to not want to push hard to go to trial against a police force it needs to stand with 99.9 percent of the time. I certainly don’t care that the city’s smallest borough just re-elected a man to congress with 20 federal indictments against him or that while campaigning he threatened (on television) to throw a reporter off a “fucking balcony” in the nation’s capital. And I don’t care about what happened in Ferguson, Missouri or any of the dozens of places around this nation where both black, white or “other” get gunned down by police officers, deserved or not. I don’t care about whether this is racism or not. I don’t care about protests or riots or op-ed pieces in the Wall Street Journal, The NY Times or what stupid shit Bill O’Reilly or Chris Matthews are spewing nightly. I don’t care about semantics (neck compression or chokehold) or nuance (manslaughter, first-second-third degree).

Here is what I do care about, and what any American or any human being should care about; a man killed another man and is not standing trial for it.

This is the fact: Daniel Pantaleo killed Eric Garner, violently, pitiless. And how do I know this? It is all clearly visible on a 14-minute video. Not a shaky two-minute thing that misses the origin of the event. And not something copyright-owned by Life magazine like the Zapruda film of JFK’s head exploding in the back of a limo, doled out incrementally to tease our gruesome curiosity or fuel conspiracy. It is available in about a 100 forms all over the Internet and it shows the whole shebang go down; and unless you are comfortable in a fascist state or are into snuff films, it is goddamn horrific. But make no mistake about it, it is murder and murder is a crime, and if it is not, as a grand jury decided this week, I am not sure I even understand the concept of crime or murder anymore.

Although there should be far more responsibility placed on the police officer (an armed civic defender paid for by citizens) in shooting an unarmed man, I still am not sure what the hell happened in Ferguson, Missouri in August, and neither are you, as neither is Sean Hannity, who supports any police action or Al Sharpton, who cannot help but thrust his face into everything that appears beneficial for his own publicly. Yet, I have my doubts about what happened there. Did Michael Brown attack Darren Wilson and then “charge at him” or was he standing with his hands up and gunned down in cold blood?

Not sure.

But I have definitely seen the complete video of Daniel Pantaleo killing Eric Garner, along with four other officers either working as accomplices or certainly doing nothing to abate their colleague’s overzealousness, which led to what the New York City coroner eventually deemed a homicide.

Video evidence that this is a crime.

Scientific evidence that this is a crime.

How is this then not a crime?

The Rodney King video is still hard to watch. The first time I saw it I was enraged like every clear-thinking human not already bigoted on either side of the race spectrum. Then I find out the guy was hammered and driving like a maniac and being chased for miles by cop cars and a police helicopter, before wrestling with five guys before they lost their nut and began to beat him senseless. When we first saw the brutal video no one knew how we got to the beat-down, whether you think it justified or criminally insane; a Los Angeles grand jury eventually found it to be the former, while a federal investigation settled on the latter.

This video is different. Not only do we see the entire event unfold, but Eric Garner, totally sober and more-or-less minding his own business, is telling the officers to stop harassing him, and even backing away while doing it. He literally puts up his hands, something we are still not sure Michael Brown did. He is spending the entire time pleading and arguing for them to leave him alone. This prompts the officers to descend on him like something out of a black-and-white Gestapo film and take him down like an animal and murder him.

Speaking of which, there has been a preponderance of references to Nazis and tyranny in our recent political discourse, on both sides of the ideological aisle, but who can argue that the state bearing down on a man this way does not reek of militarism or fascism in the most acute way? How is that not tyranny? How do we protect ourselves from those we expect to protect us? And when they act like maniacs, and murder us, how do we reason the state does not see it as a crime?

And, by the way, this space has supported the police in many matters over the years when it was easy for vogue protesters and knee-jerk reactionaries to dogpile. At the beginning of my second year of this column, my diatribe over the inconceivable defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal, and a subsequent “benefit concert” here in New Jersey, for the murder of a police officer named Daniel Faulkner landed me in a four-month battle with the members of Rage Against the Machine – well documented in the pages of this paper.

This is not about a sweeping allegation against the police, especially the NYPD, with whom I have had great respect and admiration over the years. Believe me, growing up in NYC and having spent the better part of my private and professional career there, I openly, and have done so in print, supported Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s cleaning up of what was quite obviously to anyone who spent any time here during the ‘70s and ‘80s a cesspool of crime and degradation. I thank the NYPD every day I take my child into Washington Square Park to play, something that would have been akin to child abuse three decades ago.

a man killed another man and is not standing trial for it.

But this incident is a crime and it is murder; not cold-blooded, but murder nonetheless. I expect that Officer Pantaleo was angered and frightened and quite blatantly acted way over-the top. I don’t think he meant to kill Garner, but kill him he did. Hell, I’m a man. I get it. I get really, really pissed and lose my shit when stuff goes down – or at least I used to, but I am old and I am small and hardly ever got the best of it, so that has kind of faded. But, believe me; I get the “snapped” thing.

Officer Pantaleo is probably not evil, he might be, but I am not going there. And Eric Garner was no squeaky-clean innocent. But he is dead and would not be if not for Daniel Pantaleo.

In any measure of understanding, this is murder and murder is a crime.

So I ask you, then how is it not?

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MIKE NICHOLS – 1931 – 2014

Aquarian Weekly
11/26/14
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

MIKE NICHOLS – 1931 – 2014

Film is the theater of the unconscious.
– Mike Nichols

I hate endings. Never liked them; in books, films, sometimes songs (especially fades – what the hell is that?), whatever. This is why my novel has a shitty ending. And I took a lot of guff for that. But it was a sort of my way of protest against “the ending”, seemingly so tacked on and trite, unrealistic stuff.

Happily Ever After.FilmTV_Graduate-underwater-50

Nonsense. What’s next? That’s what I want to know.

The grand exception to this is the 1967 film masterwork, The Graduate, which has been without challenge since I first saw it at age 19, my favorite movie of all time.

You know the ending; two college-aged kids, Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) and Elaine (Katherine Ross), mostly alienated, disillusioned, mixed-up and beyond impetuous, having just escaped what would surely be lives trapped in suburban drudgery, sit panting in the back of a bus they board with no real plan. They don’t know where it is they’re going. They just needed a vehicle out of “there”. Elaine, still adorned in a wedding dress, having abandoned the sanctity during its ceremony, and her rescuer Benjamin, who has spent most of the film screwing Elaine’s mother in a fog of social confusion, sit disheveled. They laugh. They exhale. And then they stare into the abyss. What the hell have they just done? What will become of them? How can anything ever approach normality again? They will literally, as the great Doctor Thompson counseled us; “buy the ticket and take the ride.” The film then cuts to the back of the bus, an exterior of their two heads still staring forward as it rides off into the sunset.

What the…?

Exactly. No ending. It is maybe the only piece of storytelling, especially Hollywood storytelling, which subverts “the ending.” It ends; well it ends simply because it can’t keep going, as life. You have to live your life. These people have their own problems. Get back to yours.

Brilliant.

Mike Nichols, the film’s director – his second in a long distinguished career that included comedy writing, acting, dramatic writing, stage directing and films – who passed away this week, decided during final editing that this amputation of his story was his film’s conclusion; a film about being lost, finding no solace in the things that are determined for us long before we had a choice. It is a film about deceit leading to discovery. A film about how perhaps an entire generation misread the tea leaves on revolution as salvation and ended up with a decade-plus of drug overdoses, narcissistic excesses and 1980s apathy. These kids don’t know. They never know. And maybe they never will.

Nichols presupposes all of this in his art. This is his greatest triumph. This is his Great Gatsby, his Sgt. Peppers, you know; his big thing.

And not just the perfect anti-ending ending, but the entire roll-out; from opening scene to final frame, there is not a wasted or throwaway shot in The Graduate. And unlike Charles Webb’s 1963 novel, it is awash in subtext. Shit, the film opens with Benjamin sitting on an airplane (as a bus) staring into the abyss. Then we see him being ushered along a moving sidewalk at the airport, yet he is motionless, being carried along as if a part in a factory; people passing him by in a flurry of activity. The damn opening is a film in itself.

I recently watched it with a young colleague of mine and drove him crazy pointing out the nuances of the thing in every scene. To be honest, nuances is cutting it way short; the metaphors in The Graduate are so profound and unapologetically blatant, it’s scary. And since the Buck Henry/Calder Willingham screenplay is a satire bordering on farce; it is something of a miracle that Nichols manages to unveil such a poignant visual assault. There is, as the saying goes, truth behind the humor.

The “messages” Nichols provides with the camera belie the absurdity of the dialogue, a bizarre story of anti-social terrorism, as if the main character is on a personal suicide mission of no discernible purpose but to crash and burn. Maybe, we think, it is because, as the great Warren Zevon once sang, ‘I rather feel pain than feel nothing at all.”

I realize I am merely using the passing of a great artist to gush about my favorite film, but The Graduate was more than that for me. Steven Spielberg wrote of seeing The Graduate upon the death of Nichols this week as “life-altering,” which I took as one damned brilliant director giving props to the other for inspiring him. But for me it was “life-altering” in the sense that having seen it for the first time as a late-teen and then again in college later the next year (in full wide-screen format, which it must be seen, because when I first viewed it on television it was so cropped that half of Nichol’s fantastic visual storytelling was missing), it got inside my psyche. For months afterwards, I had dreams in which I was in the film, the main character, (the incredible image of Benjamin forced to wear this ridiculous diving suit his parents give him for a birthday present at the bottom of the pool; alone, submerged, embracing the silence) and others wherein I was seeing the story play out as a voyeur; overhearing conversations, seeing something I was not meant to see, but could not look away.

Nichols once said that film is an unconscious art, and in a very real way, more than any other film, The Graduate got inside me that way. And it has informed my fiction (as little and strangely subversive as the output has been) and formed much of my ho-hum look at what others may consider the seminal moments of our lives. The sense that Nichols’ visuals – beautifully accented by Paul Simon’s wonderful songs, which should never be understated as a major contributor to the work – seem to stay with me long after its immediate effect. I read Jack Kerouac’s On The Road around the same time and it also blew my doors off, but I rarely returned to it later in my maturity. I barely think about it now, other than nostalgically, even as a literary device to inspire. The Graduate has stayed inside me.

Powerful stuff.

A few years ago I took in Nichols’ staging of my favorite American play, Death of a Salesman with the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman on Broadway. Nichols was a man of the theater first and considered film an extension of that. There were elements of what I perceived in The Graduate throughout the production, and while I was moved to tears for the first time in a theater, yet, like most of Nichols work after The Graduate, it pales. Some good stuff, some not-so, but nothing like that shot-for-shot masterpiece.

It is maybe the only piece of storytelling, especially Hollywood storytelling, which subverts “the ending.”

Oh, and weirdly enough, speaking of Mike Nichols and “life-altering”, I happened to have kissed my wife for the first time on his property; a horse ranch in Monticello, New York, where my wife’s best friend and later our maid of honor, Pamela, trained and rode his horses for completion.

And so upon his death, I contemplated these things; The Graduate, my impenetrable love for my wife, my impish, almost maddening sense of non-conformity as religion, and thank Mike Nichols for his art.

A worthy ending, indeed.

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FEAR OF A BARACK PLANET‏

Aquarian Weekly
11/5/14

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

FEAR OF A BARRACK PLANET
The Fallout of The 2014 Mid-Term Elections

Poor old Mitch McConnell. He’s so happy, for now. The Republican Party takes control of the U.S. Senate. Thus, as minority leader, he suddenly becomes majority leader. Just like that. Presto. Democracy. Cool stuff. New regime, like the waves of 2006 and 2010 that changed everything. Remember? No? Because they changed nothing, which is the exact opposite of change, like when Change was all the rave in 2008. That’s out now. Kaput.mitch-m-75

Six years of obstructionist politics to “make Barrack Obama a one-term president” (negative sound-effects buzzer) turned into plan B, take over the Senate, (positive chiming sound effect) allows McConnell this new lease on political life. Problem is McConnell is going to have to govern now; work with a lame duck president of the United States, who has no reason to do so with no one from his current administration having to defend it, or at least caucus with a very ornery Right Wing filled with TEA Party types who were elected to stop government from growing, and even some of whom, like the always entertaining self-promoting Ted Cruz and whatever Rand Paul is today – libertarian, hawk, Republican power player – will be positioning themselves for a White House run.

Good luck with all that.

You see, McConnell is very old. Not sure how old, but likely not able to quickly get through a supermarket line quickly or maneuver a car in city traffic without causing some delays. He speaks as if someone has a gun to his head in a spy film and looks two minutes from having “fallen and I can’t get up”. But luckily for McConnell he doesn’t have to drive or buy his own groceries. He’s been in the Senate for 30 years. Thirty fucking years in the Senate. I was 22 when he came in. I am friggin’ old, but not as old as Mitch McConnell. Or Harry Reid on the other side of the putrid aisle. Two aisles, both putrid. The one they call Red is now in the hot seat. We’ll see how that goes.

A few months ago McConnell was spending millions fending off a battle to his Right and then spent millions defending himself against a weak opposition from the Left. He works for a body of government that has a 19 percent approval rating and has accomplished less than any congress in the 238-year history of this republic. Now he’s the big boy, and it will be high time he gets to work, because there is little patience in this electorate and the way the map is looking and the demographics are shaping up for 2016, his lifeline ain’t long.

But make no mistake about it; this was the Democrats turn to take the beating, much like 2010, but with less populace outrage. This was big Republican mainstream money and less grocer-next-door quality of the TEA Party run; well organized and strategically planned. Good execution. Old politics style. No longer is the passé Affordable Care Act in play; this was the summer of ISIS and Ebola and “Obama hates America”. Very effective stuff when the mood, which has not changed since late 2003, is “Kick the bums out!” New bums, Old story.

For instance, lending a nod to the quality reporting of Andrew Romano from Yahoo News, who while pointing out that despite a surge of Latinos over the past half-decade and the legalization of marijuana, the fairly progressive state of Colorado elected Cory Gardner as part of the key states to flip the Senate to Republican, also notes the GOP strategy to run a “repackaged” Gardner as a moderate. “Gardner isn’t a moderate,” Romano writes. “He’s a pro-life Republican who ranked as the 10th most conservative House member in 2012. He has opposed Republican immigration reform efforts, voted to shut down the government unless Planned Parenthood was defunded and supported Ted Cruz’s efforts to gut Obamacare. Yet he emphasized compromise and displayed a remarkable, Bill Clintonesque talent for triangulation on immigration, abortion and birth control. In the process, Gardner may have provided the GOP with its biggest lesson of the night: A Republican can still win in a purple state — if he’s the right kind of Republican.”

Like Mitch McConnell, who is the face of the 2014 mid-terms; big time GOP national politics is back. Let’s see if they centrist this thing like Newt and Big Bill in ’94 or if they go off the rails and turn this into part six of “The Revenge of the 2000 Election” and usher in new bums from the other side of the putrid aisle.

Here’s my guess; the Democrats follow the winning model of obstructing any wild bills that are sure to continue flowing from the House and declare them “radical”, further pushing the narrative that Washington is “broken” and that it needs “new blood”. Blaming a lame duck president, who is no longer bound to run (and what comes of that for the next two years is fodder for another time) will not curtail the derision aimed at the newly “Republican-controlled” legislative branch. A sort of copycat strategy wonderfully deployed to political success the past six years, which allowed the GOP to grab seats at the power table.

Two aisles, both putrid. The one they call Red is now in the hot seat. We’ll see how that goes.

It will go down like that (the two-aisle putrid equation) and it will work, because unlike the fortuitous map just exploited by Republicans (mostly defended seats by Democrats in both “Red” and “Blue” states) in two years it will be the Democrats who will go after 23 of the 33 seats held by their opponents in more friendly territories – Illinois, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and Wisconsin – doing so in a national election year when far more Democratic demographics flood to the polls to vote for what looks like the most potent presidential candidate in several generations.

Lots of jobs will change hands; some people on the Left and Right (shouted from the rooftops by their lapdog town criers on cable news and radio) will bitch and celebrate. But for you and me, it’s the same old “two putrid aisles” using tried-and-true fear mongering and waves of our frustration to gain power that they will abuse to secure book deals, corporate speaking engagements and lobbying gigs.

Presto.

Just like that.

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NEW JERSEY: HOME OFFICE TYRANNY

Aquarian Weekly
11/5/14
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

NEW JERSEY: HOME OFFICE TYRANNY

It is not based on any clear public health evidence. It’s not the recommendation of public health and medical experts at this point. You know, I think we have to be very careful about letting politicians make medical and public health decisions, and all of the evidence about Ebola shows that if you are not symptomatic, you are not infectious.
– Kaci Hickox, nurse suspected of being infected with Ebola virus and involuntarily quarantined under recent draconian N.J. law.

What went on here in New Jersey for the past week is nuts. Wish I could embellish this observation more astutely, but I’ll stick with nuts. Governor Chris Christie and his partner in crime, Governor Mario Cuomo in neighboring New York, who have teamed up to keep both of their hides poised for doomed presidential runs, stood in front of reporters, live cameras and the citizens of their respective states and stripped them all of their civil rights.kaci-hickox-75

As much as I get the human nature to panic over deadly African diseases that don’t involve homosexuals – how many thousands of American lives had to be sacrificed to AIDS before anyone lifted an eye-brow in the 1980s – not sure that suspect Ebola cases warrant dumping the entire concept of the Bill of Rights down the crapper. Ebola, terrorism, World Wars, refugee crisis, you name it; first sign of trouble we’re trading in our rights.

Why?

Blanket quarantines of health workers with fevers, even in an unwarranted panic state is patently unconstitutional and deserved the ensuing outrage. Slice it anyway you like, but Maine resident and Doctors Without Borders nurse Kaci Hickox was a victim of systemic overreach, to say the least. Remember, anytime your government, federal or local begins selling the idea of trading in your civil rights for the greater good, take it for bullshit.

Forget the unheated cell-like bubble Hickox was forced to subsist in for a few days, which could have been 21 full days had she even come close to actually testing positive for the disease. In fact, Hickox, who revealed no symptoms of the virus (the only time it is contagious) merely registered a low-grade fever on a forehead scanner, though she had not previously registered a fever and has not since.

Ebola scare aside, this type of lockdown is symptomatic of a grander systemic issue; a knee-jerk stripping of our rights granted by law every time there is some kind of crisis. This mentality has lead to a our right to privacy afforded by the Fourth Amendment being obliterated by the goofy Patriot Act and the legal vagaries of the Affordable Care Act or something as onerous as Eminent Domain or even the unconscionably cruel internment camps for Japanese citizens, not to mention the always lamentable suspending of habeas corpus every chance we get.

I suspect this kind of fascist lunacy in Texas, but New Jersey?

This also gives us an insight into this “holier than thou” tough-guy routine run amok displayed by Christie, which is totally out of character for a mealy-mouthed talking suit like Cuomo. It is this sort of iron-fist bluster that has dragged Christie down with the Bridgegate scandal, which has thus far revealed no hard evidence of his personal wrongdoing but reflects his modus operandi for bending the law on a whim. And wasn’t it Christie who rightly pointed out that a person should not be assumed guilty by mere circumstantial evidence? Then why was Ms. Hickox assumed ill with less evidence by the same man?

Back home in Maine, Hickox is fighting for her freedom against another hypocritical Republican governor, who claims to represent individual rights over the “public good” in matters of gun control, federal funds to supports national health care, and this childish notion that denying the civil rights of gay citizens somehow protects the “sanctity of marriage”.

Here is a doozy from Governor Paul LePage: “While we certainly respect the rights of one individual, we must be vigilant in protecting 1.3 million Mainers, as well as anyone who visits our great state.”

Can you imagine if a liberal Democrat blurted that claptrap? It would take all of three seconds for someone to call him a Nazi.

Ah, but LePage nor Christie are Nazis. They are symptoms, deeper and more egregious than anything threatened by Kaci Hickox; this idea that it is perfectly fine to ignore the most fundamental right, more vital than the First Amendment or Second Amendment or any of the others – the right to exist. Once parameters are put on this, we might as well close up shop.

Even if the argument based on even a shred of medical evidence beyond panic is offered for rounding up a citizen and quarantining her, then what is to keep state or federal officials from throwing you in a bubble for sneezing? There is a crawling skin disease afoot and you happen to have an itch? In the bubble!

And then there is this very real social disease of ignoring the science in place of spastic hand-wringing.

A doctor on the scene at Newark Airport, where this state-sanctioned crime was first committed, stated clearly to officials that Hickox’s forehead reading was not an accurate one and that her flushed features did not constitute a lasting fever. In other words, this de facto jailing was done without proper medical science being administered; a classic ploy used to create unsubstantiated claims into law involving drugs (marijuana, steroids) or matters of environmental hazards (toxins, pesticides) or the poisons corporations are allowed to put in our foods (GMO’s).

Remember, anytime your government, federal or local begins selling the idea of trading in your civil rights for the greater good, take it for bullshit.

For years I have written of the war against intellectualism; specifically science, usually waged by either “traditionalists”, who claim that because something was always done this way that it should always be done this way and damn the facts, thus spitting in the face of progress or religious loons, who prefer voodoo reasoning backed by century-old screeds dictating modern law over the nuisance of reality.

This is what dooms us; not Ebola. Ignoring science and plowing ahead like frightened children is our disease. The entire scare, in a pathetic series of them, perpetuated by hungry media outlets looking to trade fear mongering for ratings and politicians, who love to exploit a crisis to appear decisive is a flimflam; a house of cards in which we place our precious right to exist.

“This is the government’s job,” Christie said of this dangerous law.

Causing undo panic, stripping civil rights and ignoring the facts presented by medical science? I suppose then he’s right.

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FINAL OBSERVATIONS – ONE WEEK OUT

Aquarian Weekly
10/29/14
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

FINAL OBSERVATIONS – ONE WEEK OUT
A Caffeinated Political Notebook

If voting made any difference they wouldn’t let us do it.
– Mark Twain

Ah, Samuel Clemens; a man for all seasons. But this is his season, isn’t it? Autumn. This is when America hums. Football. Elections. Halloween. Beer tastes better. Women feel warmer. Sweaters. Wood burning. Ebola. Good times.

I was going to write about the passing of Ben Bradlee this past week Only fitting. This is a man who helped orchestrate the cynical age in which I was reared; all that fear and dubious turns of authority, the unmasking of trite myths like “leaders have all the answers, just shush, take your medicine and let us run things” mentality that was flushed down the shit tubes by the mid-Seventies when on any given day there was a hijacking or bombing or half-assed attempt on the life of a ranking official. My childhood come to life.

Do you realize that in 1973, when I was ten years-old and beginning to become aware of current events – having just endured a summer of constant coverage of the president of the United States being accused of overt criminal activities – there were 24 terrorist bombings in the United States. The next year, 45, and in 1975, 89. The newspapers were filled with the horrible results of the Church Committee hearings in which the Central Intelligence Agency finally fessed up to decades of assignations, coup de tats and secret wars to cause unrest in nations all over the globe and the place despots in charge of third-world counties to keep the price of bananas down.

This was the shit-storm of my political awakening; when Ben Bradlee’s post as Executive Editor of the Washington Post decided, along with the NY Times, to print the lies of the Pentagon for over a decade of shenanigans in Viet Nam that eventually cost almost 60 thousand American lives and $140 billion (worth about $950 billion now) of our tax dollars. His defense of Woodward and Bernstein’s brave reporting took down a president and blah, blah, blah. Bradlee was my hero because he had no inner editor. He blurted stuff out no sane man ever would, whether drunk or sober, and he never apologized for it. He called the attorney general of the United States a “fuck-head” over the phone and once at a Georgetown mixer made Patrick Moynihan cry. His kind would be lost today, and so that’s all I have to say about that.

What I came to write about is what everyone that visits this space wants to read and that’s my overall observations on last week’s gubernatorial debate between a Libertarian candidate, a Green Party one, the sitting governor Andrew Cuomo and my friend, Republican challenger, Rob Astorino.New York gubernatorial Republican candidate Astorino and New York Governor and Democratic candidate Cuomo during a debate at WNED studios in Buffalo

I was proud of Rob. He stood his ground and hit Cuomo hard. For Cuomo’s part I think he held his own. As objective as I can be; I think Cuomo did enough to stem the tide. I don’t think by any measure it was neither a strong showing nor a disastrous one. I will say this; it is still a long shot that my friend will win this election, but I am fairly certain after witnessing that performance that Cuomo is a piker. His smoldering angst and monosyllabic back-and-forth will doom him nationally. He speaks as if he were scalping Metallica tickets in an alley. He is anything but big time and certainly no Chris Christie, who if properly coached in the aesthetic of the campaign trail, could end up being a dangerous man. Cuomo is uncoachable. He even blew the lines he was no doubt repeatedly prompted to deliver. He should be grateful for his last name and the legacy he piggybacked. Running New York State is as far as he goes.

I think Rob can still go places. He is not going to get skunked here. This was his Plan B – either win, great, or get pummeled and finish out his term as Country Executive and then back into broadcasting, to which he is best suited – his ability to communicate has always been brilliant – or hold his own and perhaps run for congress someday. The latter is apparently going to happen. For this is a campaign that has gotten no help from that stammering weasel, Reince Priebus or the gutless national wing of the Republican Party, and not one endorsement or appearance by the neighboring GOP governor.

Sources tell me that a deal was brokered between Christie and Cuomo, since the NY Democratic governor has curiously not joined the dog-pile on the Washington Bridge controversy in exchange for Christie staying out of New York politics. Not saying this type of buddy-system is wrong, just saying.

And with all of that ill wind blowing in his face, Astorino is not going to get his ass kicked and might still pull out an 11th hour coup, ala George Pataki. Some of Pataki’s 1994 people have hinted as much on numerous occasions. This is Rob’s best hope, which is at least doable.

Having said that, the only minor observations I have about the national scene this mid-term season is that the Democrats are going to lose the Senate, effectively putting the kibosh on whatever lame duck meandering is left of the Obama presidency, which will predictably lead to an executive order surrounding some kind of amnesty for illegal aliens. The results of this will be fought in 2016, if anyone has the balls to kick at that hornet’s nest.

Not saying Republicans deserve this windfall, anymore than they did in ’94 or 2010, as did Democrats in ’96 or 2006. This is the pendulum swing; the plodding exercise for “the new guy”, which perplexed the great Mark Twain over a century ago and still bends my mind today. The GOP will almost certainly give back the Senate in 2016, as Democrats tends to only vote in presidential elections and Madam Shoo-In will ride high on whatever nonsense this new legislative branch rears on the republic over the next two years.

I wish my friend all the luck in the world, if he happens to pull off this unlikely upset. I’ll be there in the scrum of his Election Night gathering; lucky hat and all. Hey, I know little to nothing about New York politics anymore. I did my time in that godforsaken state. I have my problems here with whatever anguished dink keeps calling my phone for some insipid town hall meeting that mucks up the phone lines so my bookie can’t get through and I am unable to call the cops on the babbling drunks across the lake.

‘Tis the season.

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ROB ASTORINO UNPLUGGED

Aquarian Weekly
10/15/14
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

ROB ASTORINO UNPLUGGED
A Candid Discussion with the Republican Candidate for Governor of New York

Anyone who has read this space over the years knows about my friendship with gubernatorial candidate for New York, Rob Astorino. We were professional colleagues for 12 years and our families have been close for 25. I have written extensively here about his two successful runs for Westchester County Executive in 2009 and last year. I covered the accepting of his party’s nomination for the governorship this past spring and thought it fitting to donate two weeks of columns to our recent discussion of inside politics on the campaign trail.

jc: Ok, first thing I have to ask you, as a friend, how’s it going, how are you feeling, what’s this like? What’s your mood?

RA: Going well, I mean it’s a lot of travel. It’s a big state, sixty-two counties. There’s not always an easy way to get from here to there. So, we’re driving a lot. Sometimes when we’re lucky we have a couple of people with planes and they’ll take us around. It’s just a long campaign, but it’s going well. The seeds are growing quickly. We planted a lot of seeds in the summer and they are all starting to sprout now. This is where it has to happen, down the home stretch. The Rasmussen poll has it down to 49-33, but when you look into it, those that are certain to vote is 47-37. So this is when it’s really happening, people are paying attention.

jc: What are the seeds that you planted in the summer?

RA: Meeting with all these different citizen groups around the state; “Second Amendment rights” groups, anti-Common Core, going to African American and Hispanic neighborhoods, just being everywhere – talking to people and garnering support and grass roots. Now the effort’s to get it all put together so we lead into the final days and the polls on Election Day. It all comes down to that. Polls don’t matter at all. Every poll is just a quick snapshot of who they poll on a sample, the turn-out model. All of that varies tremendously.astorino

jc Right, you have to convince people you have a shot. That’s what keeps people away from the voting booth; they see these polls and they say; “He has no chance. I’m not going to get up on a rainy day.”

RA: I know, and it’s a little frustrating, because you talk about the vast majority of people, including all the press, which have no clue how to read a poll. We know, and we’ve known from day one that there are a lot of cracks in the armor and it’s all coming to a head now. In the primary, forty-percent voted against their city governor, which is unheard of. Cuomo’s opponent, Zephyr Teachout won thirty-one counties. So it just shows that there is no big base support for Cuomo. He has problems on his Left, he has problems on his Right. He hasn’t fixed this state, which is where he is going to lose the middle. The turnout is going to be critical. A lighter turnout in New York City and a heavier turnout upstate and we’re going to be in a great position to win. That’s what we expect.

jc: Your number-one issue is still the taxes and the highest taxed state and all that stuff. Do you find when you are out on the trail, that’s the thing that comes back to you or is it the Second Amendment thing (NY Safe Act) or Common Core?

RA: Overall the taxes and the economy everywhere we go. Second Amendment issues are the biggest upstate. Common Core is a threat out here all over. For Long Island, it’s energy costs and taxes. So it’s all economics, there’s no question. This is coming down to the state of our state. They look at Cuomo, who has had four years, made a lot of promises, and didn’t come through. I mean, we’re no better than we were four years ago.

jc: You’re from Westchester and you were able to win in a very blue area. Now you have to go upstate where the big Republican support frames you as more New York City, so is that the tougher sell or is it pushing down here and trying to get the independents to buy in?

RA: The up-staters have a lot of suspicion about down-staters, because they feel like all their taxes get sucked down into New York City. I spent a lot of time upstate talking to people and getting them comfortable with who I am and realizing that I understand that the upstate economy is ranked worst in America and there is no reason for that. We can turn that around. It begins with upstate, because New York City, by and large, is doing fine and it will always, because it’s going to be the most resilient. It has the most resources. Upstate has resources and yet it continues to get pushed down because of the policies coming out of the state. Their blessed upstate with natural gas and yet this governor refuses to allow natural gas drilling, like every other state is doing in America. It’s because he’s politically paralyzed. Yoko Ono says no, so he doesn’t and he’s telling everybody upstate you’re on your own. Meanwhile, unemployment is unacceptably high. There is a mass exodus out of the state. It doesn’t have to be that way. So I had said in the first ninety days we’re going to set up the rules and regulations to safeguard the public water and health and then move forward, which is what we should be doing.

jc: You have mere weeks to go. What’s the plan now?

RA: We are going to spend a lot of time on Long Island, in the Hudson Valley and important markets upstate. That’s really what it’s going to come down to. We need to get about thirty percent out of New York City. So we could lose New York City 70 to 30 and we hit our number. Last year there was a Liberal movement with Deblasio and it was only a twenty-five percent turnout in New York City. If that happens again that’s very beneficial to us. Joe Lhoto, the mayoral candidate for the Republicans got twenty-five percent of the vote last year, so we should be able to pick apart areas and get to 30.

Staten Island’s also worth work, we have to spend time there. Upstate, we have to win fifty-seven percent of the vote or more and that’s very doable, and we have to win the suburbs, which is doable. We have to spend most of our time in those areas, but it’s achievable, it’s there. You have a very week incumbent with this economy and a very unpopular president and that all comes into play. The national mood comes into play; political winds, which are with us this time, that’s all in the mix. Finally, it’s the intensity of the voter, which is also on our side this time. That means we have real good tail winds, the passion is on our side. People want to vote for a whole bunch of reasons. On their side, it’s not there. That’s big intangible in this race.

jc: Let’s talk about these negative ads. First off, they’re hilariously bad. There is always this picture of you that looks like you are trying to kill somebody’s grandmother. It’s amazing how they put these things together. I have to ask; where the hell is Reince Priebus and where is the national Republican Party providing you the funds to combat this? I never see any ads with you hitting him back. Is it because you don’t have that kind of cash flow now or what’s going on with that?

RA: Well, we just went up on TV, but it’s nowhere near what we need on a regular basis. But it is having an effect, because I am seeing the numbers going up his numbers are going down and it’s been consistent, really. The fact that he spent sixteen million dollars so far on pure negative ads and he’s been on a steady decline and we’ve been slowly but surely going forward and up tells you something. I don’t think people are buying it. It’s so over the top. It’s so outrageous.

It’s all based on two dubious at-best characters. One is this is a civil lawsuit that was filed against me and one hundred people last year right before my county executive race. It was all meant to be a political hit on me. The two people that this lawsuit was filed by, and that is the basis for Cuomo’s whole negative ads against me, is one guy is an independent party chairman in Westchester who was being investigated for no-show jobs and pay-to-play scams, a pension scandal by the Moreland Commission that Cuomo shut down to protect him and then took the nomination by the Independent Party. The other guy, Sam Zurica is a strip club owner, who has filed lawsuits like we brush our teeth. Every day it’s against someone else. He was arrested and indicted by a federal grand jury last week on tax evasion and many other fraud claims. He has such a violent history that the federal judge is refusing bail. He has to stay in jail until his trial. These are the two characters that have filed a lawsuit against me last year before the election.

jc: What about the charges of cronyism?

RA: Yeah, it tries to make it look like it’s all patronage when these are a few positions and most every position is civil service. There are a few exempt positions where I can appoint and I do. I appoint qualified people who are going to be loyal to me. Should I do hire Cuomo’s people?

jc: I thought we were past that when the president of the United States’ brother was the attorney general.

RA: Yeah, no that’s okay.

jc: There are just certain things that are part of politics – you win and that’s the perks of winning; you get to put people in there that you want to put in.

RA: Exactly, as long as they’re qualified.

jc: That’s why I am waiting for my job.

R: (laughs)

jc: I don’t understand why the Republican Party has not come to your aid on this. Is it because they feel it’s a state they can just give away? That’s what these power politics guys do; they say, “Well we can’t win New York, so let’s dump all our money into Arkansas or somewhere else”. I get that, but it seems like all the garbage is flowing one way.

RA: Well, that’s why the Republican Party will never win consistently unless they start investing and building their party in states that are blue and turn them purple and then eventually turn them red. If they don’t want to invest any money anywhere they are never going to have success. Anyone looking at the polls, anyone who knows how to read polls will know this is the race to invest in. We have a very week incumbent now with big issues; a federal investigation against him for corruption, an economy that is ranked dead last in America with mass exodus of people, highest taxes, worst business climate and an incumbent that just lost forty-percent in his own primary. The polls have him under fifty percent now. There would be no bigger prize in America for the Republican Party than for them to win the governorship of New York.

jc: Is there going to be a Left Wing party that is going to run a third candidate in this thing?

RA: There’s a Green Party candidate, yeah. This guy, Howie Hawkins, he’s the Green Party. The Green Party is the far Left and he is absolutely able to siphon away from Cuomo. It’s possible he could be the Ralph Nader of the 2000 election.

jc: Are there going to be debates coming up in the next couple weeks or what?

RA: Cuomo is going to try to run the clock out. He is going to an undisclosed location with Cheney until Nov 4th. He doesn’t want to sit there and have to defend his record to the public, who he has completely disregarded. He doesn’t want to talk to the press and doesn’t talk to the public. Any events he does are staged and he leaves immediately, so he doesn’t have to talk about a second term, which he refuses to do. He doesn’t have to defend the ridiculous, false ads he runs against me. He doesn’t have to defend why he underpaid his property taxes by thirty-thousand dollars, because he didn’t take out building permits for all the work he did on his house. He doesn’t have to defend why he’s being investigated for corruption by federal prosecutors. These are things he doesn’t want to talk about, along with the economy and job loss and people loss. So, he’s going to try to do everything to run out the clock.

He has an obligation. I have accepted all five of the invitations we got from the media for legitimate public debates. Last year when I was running for election and I was up in the polls and my opponent was a Harvard trained debater, I debated five times. I could have played it safe, debated once or not debated at all, but I debated him five times, because I believe very much in the importance of the dialogue.

jc: So how is the family doing with all this? Every time I talked to Sheila (Rob’s wife) in the past, you know, it takes a big toll. Obviously you’re traveling all the time.

RA: I have to tell you it’s been much more manageable than I expected. I am able to get home more nights than I thought. Some nights later than others, but I do get to see everybody in the morning. I am waking up in my own bed, so I get to see everybody. So it’s not as bad as I expected with regard to travel, because we make an effort to get home. It’s tiring, it’s a big state. The good news in the summer is Sean (his eldest son) traveled with me for trips. Kylie (his eldest daughter) came on a trip. We all went on a trip together where we started in Niagara Falls. Went to Letchworth State Park, which is gorgeous. We ended up at the Finger Lakes and went to the State Fair in Syracuse. So we got to do some things together. Before we know it it’s going to be over with. Win Lose or Draw, we’ll have a great experience and maybe having the honor of leading the state of New York.

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#2

Aquarian Weekly
10/1/14
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

#2

Derek Jeter changed everything.

This is why the New York Yankees shortstop for the past nineteen years and the team’s fourteenth captain for the past eleven is more than a ballplayer; a rarity that some sports figures get to be – not unlike the rare political figure, movie star or musician – an icon. And it is this week the icon leaves his post, one that has defined him to a generation of baseball and pop culture fans for nearly two decades, in which he emerged from talented kid to symbol; something not easy on a team playing in a city bloated with them.derek-jeter

Derek Sanderson Jeter was a great baseball player, some believe greater than most and vice versa. That kind of thing is left to the sports pages and the Internet’s growing number of statistical gurus, and maybe even some of us still left to the vagaries of the tavern debate. What is certain is that for these past nineteen years, Derek Jeter did big things on a baseball field at its highest level on the grandest stage in the biggest city for the nation’s most storied, popular, successful, and, thus, richest franchise.

Along the way he accumulated more hits than anyone that has ever played Major League Baseball save five; this includes more hits than any NY Yankee, a list that boasts the giants of the game; Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Berra and Mantle. He played in 158 post season games; almost an entire regular season’s worth, and starred in a gaudy number of them. My favorite of a dozen cool Jeter stats is that he scored 32 runs in 38 World Series games.

He has exploits; catches, homers, hits, runs; moments ingrained in the infrastructure of baseball. During his lengthy career he has played in 2,744 games and, at the time of this writing, only one did not count for much. In other words, there pretty much was no time that Derek Jeter did not play in a meaningful contest for his team, which in his time at shortstop would compete in the MLB play-offs 16 times, winning 13 division titles, including nine years running, seven American League pennants and five World Series championships – three consecutive from 1998 to 2000.

For a huge portion of that indescribably never-to-duplicated in anyone’s lifetime run of sustained excellence was Jeter considered the best player in baseball or even at his position. Although the four or five guys who were have since been either discredited or given the shuddering asterisk of PED’s; an epidemic in science versus integrity that fractured the sport during Jeter’s era, enhancing his legacy. It also put him on the track of “overrated” or some such anti-New York palaver enjoyed by the sports world, especially the baseball world since I began paying attention.

But one thing is for certain, for his time no player transcended the game as Derek Jeter did. In the media, as he was regularly depicted in celebrity circles dating models and actresses. In advertising, as he was the sports figurehead for three of the top sponsors of professional sports in the last half century; Ford, Gatorade, Nike – two of the three the central component of making Michael Jordan a transcendent sports figure a generation before, as MJ and DJ would become friends and business partners. In pop culture, as in 2001 when Jeter became the only active baseball player to ever host Saturday Night Live. In fact, the only people associated with baseball at all to previously host were Bob Uecker, lousy player/great comedic spokesman and actor, Billy Martin, crazy man manager, and DJ’s boss, George Steinbrenner, who was also immortalized in pop culture as a recurring character on Seinfeld, a show in which Jeter also appeared. HBO did an entire documentary on his rehabbing an injury and he was a character in a recent Broadway play.

Alas, none of it approaches Derek Jeter’s seminal part in keeping my beloved NY Yankees in the Bronx, where I was born and raised and where they belong.

There was a time when the Yankees seriously considered and threatened to move operations to New Jersey. The Giants and Jets had already jumped state in the late ‘70s’, to pretty lucrative results. Owner George Steinbrenner, famously combative, furiously capitalist, and a man known for a Herculean lack of patience, was convinced that the South Bronx was a deteriorating sinkhole. Crime, crumbling infrastructure and an ill-conceived Major Deegan Expressway had led to reasons to why this glorious franchise playing in a cathedral to the game (renovated and modernized in 1976) failed to draw the magic 3-million attendance mark that less popular teams did. Even the cross-town Mets had done so in the team’s brief ascension to the top in the mid-80s’. The mantra was the Yankees had never and will never draw 3 million fans to the Bronx. This was true during the Babe Ruth era of the 1920s’ all the way through Steinbrenner’s reign in the 70s’ when the Yankees back-to-back titles and back page shenanigans made them the most talked-about and star-studded team in the game.

By the early 90s’ (the Yankees mired in its longest run of futility ever) when Jeter was drafted as a skinny kid out of Kalamazoo Central High in Michigan – the man who scouted him, Dick Groch, famously told a nervous Yankees front office that was convinced the prospect would follow a girlfriend to the University of Michigan; “The only place he’s going is to Cooperstown” – Steinbrenner began making inroads to get out of the Bronx for good. There was no talk of “fixing up” the area around Yankees Stadium or “construction” along the Deegan, just “Bye-bye, Bronx”.

Then the new Yankees manager by the name of Joe Torre, who had never won a thing of consequence in 15 years, named a 21 year-old first-round draft pick to start at arguably the most important position on the league’s most expensive team. And things started to change around here. Fast.

Beneath Steinbrenner’s loud protestations, the kid started at shortstop and hit his first home run in his first game in Cleveland (Jeter had a cup of coffee the year before, about 15 or so games as a sub), including a stellar over-the shoulder catch. Jeter would go on to win Rookie of the Year honors and literally lead the Yankees to its first championship in 18 years. The next year the Yanks were ousted from the play-offs by the Cleveland Indians, but in the off-season Jeter made himself available to tell anyone who would listen that that kind of ending was inexcusable and that he personally worked his ass off to make sure it didn’t happen again.

In 1998, the Yankees went an inconceivable 125-50 (the best record in the history of the game) to recapture the championship, which turned his team from good to great to immortal.

The following year the Yankees drew 3.2 million, and did so for the next six straight years while doing crazier winning (Yanks were 11-1 in the ’99 play-offs and won 14 consecutive World Series games from 1996 through 2000, including the first Subway Series since 1956, in which Jeter was the MVP).

Jeter was named the first Yankees captain in eight years in 2003 and from 2004 through 2008 the team drew an unprecedented 4 million fans a year.

They have never drawn less than 3 million since.

All of it on River Avenue and 161st in Bronx, New York, USA.

In 2009, the Yankees built a new stadium across 161st street, as Jeter was handed the microphone to bid farewell to the House That Ruth Built in a wave of similar celebrity nearly a century before. The Yankees then went out and won the World Series, Jeter’s fifth.

During the late 90s’ I covered baseball as part of radio and newspaper gigs around Westchester County, NY. I had left sports reporting and my professional association with baseball during the tragic 1994 owner’s lockout of players, which resulted in the canceling of the World Series for the first time. Jeter and this Yankees resurgence brought me back. I remember sitting next to Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame during a World Series game in the press box at Yankee Stadium. I bugged him for background on arguably the most important work of American journalism of the 20th century. He bugged me about Derek Jeter.

I told Bernstein what I tell you; I had met and spoke with Jeter a few times; mostly boring baseball stuff. He never once said anything close to profound. Most reporters will tell you that. Always cordial. Always humble. Always assured. Always boring.

Jeter didn’t say things. He did things.

There is a great story told by NY Times baseball writer, Jack Curry of Jeter’s high school basketball coach telling him; “You’re going to go out there and hit the winning shot and we’re going to win” and he did. That kind of unflinching confidence held firm in Jeter’s heart; the heart that moved him up the latter of some of the greats of the game and an ambassador for a generation of players – dozens of which cite him as inspiration; the heart that resurrected the NY Yankees back to its iconic franchise tag and kept them in my Bronx.

I never got to thank him for this.

I do now.

Pulitzer Prize winning sportswriter, Dave Anderson (who covered Namath in the 60s’) said it best when he told me once in a press elevator during the 2000 World Series, “The difference is the Yankees have Derek Jeter and the other team doesn’t.”

#2.

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OBAMAWAR

Aquarian Weekly
9/25/14

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

OBAMAWAR

Okay, now the anti-war president is at war. This makes sense. Sure it does. Remember in 1964 when LBJ’s campaign included this nugget; “We are not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves”? Then Nixon got elected in ’68 with a secret plan to end the Vietnam War and escalated it to horrifically criminal heights by bombing peaceful, sovereign nations “back to the stone age”. Oh, and remember when George W. Bush spoke in the late-summer of 2000 of a “humble foreign policy”? They can’t help it. It’s all over them like feces, runs through them like a virus. War. Aggression. The heritage of the post-WW II generations – make trouble in some godforsaken region of the planet for cash, energy, unholy alliances and the always popular “face-saving” or as it is couched by the dumb, “World Leadership” and then get embroiled in the fallout. It is practically part of the job description, even if you maneuver your way through a Democratic Primary in 2008 overcoming the Clinton Machine bitching about Madam Shoo-In’s vote to allow presidents unchecked powers to wage war for generations – the very blank check used now to renege on a promise during the subsequent current presidency; get out of Iraq, for good.obamawar

Ten presidents in my lifetime; eight of which were touched in some way by aggression and war, now this one; the reasoned, over-analyzing, “lead from behind” guy, with the Don’t Do Dumb Stuff foreign policy. I like that guy. I need him back. Only Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter failed to bomb a nation, colonize a nation, meddle in a nation. Ford was around for barely two years and Jimmy friggin Carter. Where’s Jimmy Carter? I want him. I’ll take all the other shit; false energy crisis, Iranian hostages, soaring inflation, malaise, whatever. Just, please… no more war.

And for the sake of Allah, please don’t insult our intelligence AGAIN with “imminent threat”! Imminent threat? Who’s buying that bilge? I’ve got a good idea; how about ramping up our security, use all that free-willy NSA lawless wiretapping and that massive boondoggle called Homeland Security and the billions we toss into nearly every country in the region and keep the wolves at bay. Is that too much to ask? Do I run around Paterson, NJ rounding up all the crack heads to ensure my safety?

So enough of the imminent threat talk, especially from an “enemy” that wishes first to create its own territory by some metaphysical manifest destiny with holy genocide. Isn’t that how this country was formed?

By the way, Americans only ended up dead once we got involved with “only a humanitarian mission”. My inner-cynic has me half believing this was a Rooseveltian two-step to force the potential enemy to respond and then gin up the masses for war, like Pearl Harbor, when in the summer of ’41 some 80 percent of the greatest generation wanted no part of Hitler’s Europe or whatever carnage the Japanese were pulling in the Far East. FDR had other ideas.

We are so reactionary, so myopic, that two-thirds of us sanely tell this federal government to NOT get involved in this patently obvious religious killing spree, then after two rogue journalists get beheaded on camera (two – less than the women beaten by NFL players or unarmed black men murdered by cops daily) we suddenly MUST stop the Islamic State, ISIS, ISIL or whatever fancy crapolla 20 thousand marauders are currently calling themselves or being called by salivating hawks.

Twenty thousand? Maybe thirty-thousand? That is less people than fit inside Madison Square Garden give or take a grand. This is why we’re ramping up for war? This is what the president has to solemnly roll out the rah-rah for? This is why we are discussing entering a bloody Syrian civil war, which has already taken the toll of our nifty one over 150 years ago, (6,000,000 dead)? This is why we’re parading the state department around the Middle East to gain the support of nearly every country that hates us, most pointedly our greatest enemy/ally, Saudi Arabia – they of the Desert Storm damsels that got us in the tinderbox in the first place, Osama bin Laden, 15 of the 19 9/11 attackers that secretly funds anti-American sentiment across the region?

Speaking of this Fourth Century sinkhole; once you hear things like “stabilizing the region” or “supporting our allies” you know you’re being railroaded, as in, “enriched uranium” or WMD’s, then it becomes Iraqi Freedom then “take the fight to al Qaeda over there”, and then the Surge and then the infinite mission of stabilization. If this is a true threat to the region, then where is Iran? Where is Saudi Arabia? Where is Jordan? Where is Turkey? The Iraqi Army doesn’t even care enough to fight, with our weapons and our training. Let’s not even begin to dissect the stupidity of arming “moderate rebels” in Syria. We know less about the rebels there then Dick Cheney knew about all those Iraqis accepting us as liberators or as the bungling Donald Rumsfeld so idiotically framed it the last go round; “We know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

Who knew that Rumsfeld’s slack-jawed babbling perfectly explained this nation’s foreign policy since 1945?

Hell, nobody knows how this is going to turn out, but evidence of the past half-century gives us a pretty clear indication that if it includes our military then it won’t be good. And don’t believe a word of “no boots on the ground”, which is a classic “just sending in advisors” kind of thing that ends up with 40,000 dead kids and thousands more maimed and mentally ill, many of which we don’t even care for now.

This is our anti-war president.

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