Democratic Convention 2012

Aquarian Weekly 9/12/12 REALITY CHECK

2012 Democratic National Convention THE SHOW PART II

This is a crappy time to be president. GDP diving. Manufacturing is down. Unemployment hangs steadily over eight percent. Congress is in gridlock. A war still rages, which apparently no one beyond those fighting it or dying for it care about. Even the stuff that doesn’t suck is created out of thin air by opponents. The Democrats are in control of the office and must defend it over the next sixty days and it more or less started this week in Charlotte. Unlike Republicans, whose job at their convention was to put a face to all this talk about Mitt Romney being the font of business acumen and shrug off allegations of his casual disingenuousness, and, if possible dent the overwhelming disadvantage in the gender and Latino gap, the Democrats need to ramp up damage control and then go about undertaking the thankless job of convincing those once beatific followers of Barack Obama this baby isn’t a complete dud.

Bill ClintonThe Republicans may have missed an opportunity to go beyond “throw the bum out” and present a viable alternative to the six or seven percent of undecided and/or independent voters which will decide this election; thus giving the president and the Democrats a sliver of daylight to argue that Barack Obama, while being something less than a messiah, is not the harbinger of doom. The Republicans painted an ugly picture last week, perhaps overreaching. All the Democrats have to do with a likable candidate that the country not only knows but voted for in greater numbers than any Democratic presidential nominee in a generation, is prove that being less than stellar is far less dire a prospect than destroying the Western Hemisphere.

Failing that the Democrats turn at The Show must at least rouse its base and try and rekindle the incredible enthusiasm that gripped the Hope & Change Obama Machine of 2008. This is nearly impossible, for what the Republicans deftly accomplished last week when not derailed by a seemingly half-soused octogenarian Hollywood icon mumbling incoherently at an empty chair, was to say that all the hoopla and energy and soaring rhetoric cannot be digested this time without first combing the record that is there for all to see.

Many Democrats pressed to answer the famously quoted Reagan query from the 1980 campaign; “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” fumbled it badly on nearly every Sunday morning news show prior to the convention, something the Republicans did not mess with in 2004 by quickly pointing out the positives of two unwinnable wars and an exploding debt. The Democrats argument cannot be won on the promises proffered by the 2008 Obama campaign, but to say the brink of economic collapse, a Dow Jones at 6,500, the loss of 750,000 jobs a month and two unfunded wars raging out of control in the late summer of ’08 is not far worse than the slowly trudging economic recovery of ’12 is hardly rocket science. One Democratic strategist remarked to me the other day, “If a Republican president killed Osama bin Laden and doubled the stock market in three years they’d have already erected a statue of him.”

The Democrats have decided, if these evenings of processed drama be believed, is to embrace the idea of anti-government as anti-American, the way the Bush re-elect campaign used anti-war as being anti-American. This segues neatly into what this week has been the first real defense of what everyone, even chirping Democrats, now call Obamacare, which still polls terribly as a monolithic piece of legislation, but gets gangbusters ratings when stripped into vital segments.

It was as if the Wizard of Oz had not only pulled back the curtain but driven a Panzer Tank through the heart of Munchkinland.

Things did not begin well for the convention upon the discovery of the word “God” stricken from the Democratic platform giving the God-crazy Republicans, whose most fringe voices have vociferously depicted the president as either a Godless heathen who is hell-bent on stripping religious freedoms or an evil Muslim insider looking to enact Sharia law, a mighty hammer. But soon The Show was underway and the speeches, initially highlighted by First Lady Michelle Obama (the most political speech given by a First Lady since perhaps Eleanor Roosevelt in 1942) and the keynote, the 37 year-old Mexican-American mayor of San Antonio, Julian Castro (a sugary attack dog act), which duly patronized the woman and Latino voter base.

And then it was time for the Minister of Fun.

By the time former president and current lauded statesman, Bill Clinton had wrapped up his half-improvised 48 minute screed the entire pundit class was left genuflecting in awe. Nearly every conservative voice on the news networks heaped reverence on Big Bill with an embarrassing level of girlish glee, calling the entire race a wash and the point of whatever the current president could manage to utter the next evening would be backwash. Liberals wet themselves.

For the first time in this election cycle a representative of the political realm actually talked policy, numbers, economic strategy and the effect of ideological debate on the grand structure of governance. It was as if the Wizard of Oz had not only pulled back the curtain but driven a Panzer Tank through the heart of Munchkinland. And it was done with the causal pace of a passing stranger in a hotel bar. It was the finest piece of political theater this reporter has seen in some time and not only roused the base, but could also well have tipped some independent scales. What it may have unintentionally done was eclipse the entire idea for the charade of voting for candidates that might well be incapable of achieving its measure; most specifically the man he was there to defend, whose ability to explain these concepts over four years has been sadly non-existent.

The damn speech, far too long and dripping with Arkansas smarm, kicked ass, took names, and rang every bell available to ring within 10,000 miles of North Carolina, where Barack Obama and maybe the progressive set was making its final stand.

To that end, the president took the stage the next evening and offered up a less than stellar defense beyond “I need more time” and “Things are working” with the occasional swipe at the soaring rhetoric that made him a most compelling candidate four years ago and eventually an historic presidential choice. But it rung hallow in its shadow, like a fading rock band trying to recapture its relevance. Whether this performance and another week of The Show excited those whose enthusiasm has most assuredly waned remains the story of the next two months.

The president still has the mathematical advantage in the Electoral map and his opponent offers only answers to all this fancy economic stuff that are pretty much the same ideas that still helps keep this economy in a slog and the deficit rising (the Bush tax cuts remain), but make no mistake, Barack Obama’s most looming foe in 2012 is the guy from 2008. Problem is no one can beat that guy.


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Republican Convention 2012

Aquarian Weekly 9/5/12 REALITY CHECK

2012 Republican National Convention THE SHOW PART I

People in the business of politics recognize convention weeks as “a show for the uninitiated”; those voters, most of them outside the fisticuffs of the junky set, who choose presidents based on appearance, likability or the general self-interest of the moment. This key demographic must be dazzled by the parade of like-minded revelers — signs aloft and fists a-pumpin’ — but also provide a sniff of the refreshing scent of unrealized prosperity unleashed in a bevy of carefully crafted spin-a-thons posing as speeches. The true goal for any convention post 1980 — the last time parties actually negotiated the party platform, its ideological stance for the upcoming election, and the completing of the ticket — is to appear to not be incompetent and, if events are tightly choreographed, not say anything that may haunt come debate time.

GOP Convention 2012This is not politics; it is a show.

Politics is nothing anyone wants to see televised. The raw wiring of a political personality does not translate to optics. In fact, it a disturbing blend of grotesque subversions played out beneath the strain of irrational narrative. The best example would be, say, the work of Alejandro Joborowsky, specifically his seminal film, The Holy Mountain, which I was introduced to in my very first Political Science class at Trenton State College by an ill-humored professor that I was quite sure was recovering from an episode of extreme panic. This is why C-SPAN is…well…I don’t watch C-SPAN and I’m mildly interested in the craft.

The subtext of these things is to play both to the room and the television audience, a difficult Mcluhanian balancing act that can be accomplished by looking away from the camera when spitting out party pabulum framed to rouse auditorium cheers and staring directly into the camera when seducing the hearty few who have not yet switched over to “Shark Week”. The undecided vote is the nut here; the ones fresh from vacationing or normally fascinated with celebrity and sporting events, who, for the first time, are seeing what this whole shebang entails. And, of course, it is to unleash a torrent of barely substantiated rumor and gory innuendo at the party’s opponents; their ideas, personality traits, and general comportment to see what sticks.

Finally, we have the acceptance of the party’s candidate for president appearing presidential; looking proud (distinguished without pomposity), passionate (but not crazy) and determined (full of promises never completely conceived). He must strike a distinction to what he opposes, but never to ratify his own stance on governance. This must be avoided. It is a wait and see proposition; a gamble known as The Vote and the candidate is the ultimate odds maker — the grim card dealer that stands between you and bum-hood.

The most crucial parts of these conventions are presented at ten and eleven pm, after the networks have plied their trade and rapt audiences can stick around for coverage of the big speeches from the big players, the ones the party wants the country to see in the best light with the most hoopla. The damaged, overly-ripened, bug-addled fruit, as it were, must be pushed to the back of the cart, given their due to fill out the display but be strategically hidden to avoid revealing any taint. It all must look like there is no slip in production value from “So You Think You Can Dance” and a presidential candidate making his case.

Oh, it’s a show, and it must be a good one; because there is only one shot with two months of campaigning to go. Ask John McCain, who was so spooked by the Barack Obama mass-hallucination convention he lost his equilibrium and chose a half-bright loose cannon for a running mate in a desperate attempt to appear as if he were not an eighteenth century gremlin.

This was a big one in Tampa, Florida this week. It had to be. Mitt Romney is still struggling to gain traction in the middle, a place he must grab, as his constituency of white, rich, paranoid, religious, anti-Obama types has been tapped. He’s left to party-crash on Hispanics, women and the disenfranchised youth, who still cling to the current president’s damaged bandwagon, but whose dedication may be enough to re-elect him.

The Republicans did not have an easy backdrop, what with Hurricane (or tropical storm) Isaac bearing down on the Gulf Coast and (gulp!) New Orleans — a place that still conjures images of Republican incompetence and insensitivity. There was little doubt that the precious television audience, especially the key demographic — those less interested in politics than a natural disaster and its resultant video evidence — were going to be distracted.

Oh, it’s a show, and it must be a good one; because there is only one shot with two months of campaigning to go. Ask John McCain, who was so spooked by the Barack Obama mass-hallucination convention he lost his equilibrium and chose a half-bright loose cannon for a running mate in a desperate attempt to appear as if he were not an eighteenth century gremlin.

The party did the right thing in postponing for a day what amounts to a televised whoop-it-up whilst American citizens braced for disaster. But, alas, they could wait no longer, as the storm hit hard amidst the cheering revelers chanting and fist-pumping merrily along.

It also did the right thing by burying the stench of its faded past; the Bush Administration, which was represented by only one speaker (and not in primetime), former Secretary of State and national security advisor, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, an African-American woman. There was also nothing in primetime for the more recent past, like religious zealot, Mike Huckabee, the second most popular Republican four years ago. Recent goofiness by Missouri senate candidate, Todd Akin about “legitimate rape”, which Huckabee has strongly defended, and the losing battle of social issues amongst women, shoved him into insignificance. Then there was the present dumping ground like Speaker John Boehner, who fronts the most unpopular congress in the history of this republic, droning on and on about bars in suburban Cincinnati with half the house missing and those who were left chatting about the Florida heat.

One voice that was heard loud and clear was that of runner-up for this year’s nomination, Rick Santorum, whose camp was given a set of provisos he was to hit home, not the least of which is the dubious claim that his primary legislation of Welfare Reform has been side-stepped by the president, which he duly ignored beyond two sentence and then enacted a small measure of revenge on the Romney ticket by instead hammering home his standard culturally-charged message.

Not so clear, since they were silenced and kicked out of the hall, were the Ron Paul singers, whose tune of true conservative reformation was not welcomed. The nominee and his running mate, Paul Ryan needed to sidestep their sizable liberal histories; the former, a government-run health care system that served as Obama Care’s template, and the latter, whose voting record of bloating the national debt with government overreach (unpaid-for tax cuts, two wars, Homeland Security, No Child Left Behind, a massive $700 billion Medicare expansion, TARP, the auto bail-out, and, stunningly, a request for $20 million of the Democrats’ stimulus package for his state in 2009) set about several hours of wrangling over delegate rules. The catcalls from several Paul delegates left to bellow disapproval was audible when during his acceptance speech Ryan thwacked the president for ignoring the bold Simpson/Bowles Plan, something the Wisconsin congressman vehemently opposed.

As for the GOP candidate, who was barely mentioned by many of the speakers throughout the week, his acceptance speech was as expected. He’s a bore. He did nothing to dispel my critique that he is merely the candidate that stands in opposition to Barack Obama and not a strong alternative with a unique vision. And it was pretty much the same Republican stuff; hawkish, socially and scientifically atavistic, and predictably anti-government when it befits the ideology.

But all of that doesn’t matter, nor does it matter than this is a nation in love with the angry, fired-up “regular guy”, like our corpulent governor, Chris Christie. Nor does it matter that half the stories you hear are overly dramatized or half the promises that are in direct opposition to the beliefs of the people espousing them.

It was a show.

And there’s another one next week in Charlotte.


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A-Riteway Construction Must Be Stopped

Aquarian Weekly 8/29/12 REALITY CHECK


A-Riteway Construction has been allowed to run a deceitful, negligent and dangerously haphazard business here in New Jersey for far too long. Its spectacular string of unfinished or in many cases barely begun jobs — despite gladly taking deposits — false claims and empty promises and, as one livid victim of its egregious practices put it, “a blatant disregard for human decency” has cost an agonizing roll call of unsuspecting “customers” hundreds of thousands of dollars, along with grief and damages that its owner, a chunky, chain-smoking stutterer named Leonardo Petrosillo has apparently no intention of rectifying.

I know this because I am a victim of A-Riteway and the devious Petrosillo, who at the time of this writing continues to take on new jobs despite a host of complaints stemming from what can only be described as a festival of carnage posing as legitimate construction. But I am also a reporter and have put that to good use by digging deeply into A-Riteway’s pattern of at best incompetence and at worse malfeasance.

A-Riteway’s shoddy work on the Clemens Estate (named, of course, for the great Mark Twain, who thrilled in deconstructing the habits of the brainless) began this past April, overrun with sloppy and mostly incoherent sub-contractors, who, while actually showing up –something those directly involved with the parent company or the obviously distracted and apathetic Petrosillo failed to do — treated the grounds as if a refuse pit; leaving debris, broken glass, discarded materials and tools everywhere. One low point featured the pulling of fish from out of a community lake and, when confronted, dumped back in, bucket and all. When A-Riteway did show up, like for instance to blow insulation in walls or even to rebuild a wall, it was done in a way that even a layman such as myself harbored doubts these men had previously attempted anything resembling it.

Let’s face it, I’m a maniac, and when things went sideways around here I blew several gaskets. After throwing these cretins off my property, I began to harass the poor girls at the A-Riteway office, not the least of which was Petrosillo’s own sister, Maria, who for my money was the toughest and most honest of the bunch, which best explains why she walked on her feckless brother after finding no more excuses for the barrage of accusations hurled at her daily. More times than I can count the woman promised that Petrosillo or someone would show up when, in many cases, the workers were at disparate jobs or I later learned from inside sources working on Petrosillo’s own home.

It was then, around early June that Petrosillo literally disappeared under a torrent of dubious alibis that he instructed his new receptionist, a soft-spoken and overwhelmed 25-year old named Rosemary Trapani to roll out on an hourly basis every day. “When Leo did show up to the office we gave him a list of customer complaints that he either would just ignore or would give me a rotating list of excuses written next to each customer to tell them where he had been, whether in the hospital or Europe or he was getting a shot in his back or in surgery,” explains Trapani, who was so appalled by Petrosillo’s disregard for civility she had to go on record to expose what she claims was a formulated attempt by him to respond to damaged property and unfinished jobs only when a disgruntled customer “lawyered up” and not before. “I dreaded picking up the phone because he had a specific story per client that I had to keep track of.”

Trapani remembers that for a month and a half almost every call the office received were complaints: “On a normal day I took calls on average of one every fifteen minutes, and in some cases multiple calls at a time from people screaming at me that deposits were taken and work wasn’t started.

“I was very angry and scared,” continues Trapani. “Here I was a woman left alone in that office for hours on end and that any one of these people he took money from could come in and… who knows what?”

Quite sure after more than a week of unreturned calls and ignored texts that the jig was up, Petrosillo had all-but stolen the money I had given him and was not going to provide the proper services rendered, I set up a face-to-face meeting at the A-Riteway offices. Petrosillo agreed through Trapani. For five hours I waited on a Tuesday morning, as Petrosillo told Trapani for me to wait for him throughout. Of course, he failed to show. I later learned that day from an A-Riteway worker, who feared so much for his job he begged me to have him remain unnamed, that Petrosillo had the entire workforce convene at his house to delegate the day’s schedule in order to avoid meeting with me.

But that was his mistake.

“Everyone at A-Riteway lied about things all the time,” concludes Trapani. “The worst is that they wanted it to look like a completely family owned business, so much so that some of the workers would tell customers they were married to Maria and that Leo was their brother-in-law or even Leo’s brother.”

While there I was able to obtain key information to help fill out the details of what was fast revealing itself to be a strategic level of bait, switch, duck and cover by A-Riteway for months on end. The workers and office staff, Trapani and a young and very frightened woman by the name of April regaled me with tales of confused and angered crews, apoplectic visits from wronged customers, and a blow-out resulting in the exit of a company partner named Rocco — the name familiar to me as months before he had warned me that Petrosillo was in his own words, “going mad”.

Documents left lying out in full view and posted blackboard lists displayed up to 30 different recalls (complaints from jobs completed badly) and impatient customers having invested money with no sign of work being done. I listened as call after call came in berating Trapani and demanding to see Petrosillo. I could see her cringe when a prospective customer would call looking for assistance. “I feel like telling these people to run,” she whispered to me. “But what can I do?”

I took the information gleaned from my visit and began contacting some of A-Riteway’s victims; David and his brother Raji Chandan from Jersey City, whose home was dismantled improperly for over a year after handing over $15,000 of the proposed 18 grand for a job never close to being done, Victoria Rodriguez from Hackensack, who hired A-Riteway in April and by May, after parting with a down payment and enduring a complete demo of portions of her home, was abandoned, Donna Brooks from Wayne, who was sold two erroneous “annual insurance policies” for gutters and face work not constructed properly in the first place, and a gentleman from the Newark area so livid over Petrosillo’s chicanery he preferred to remain anonymous for this piece so that he could surreptitiously destroy A-Riteway on his own terms.

“I hated what Leo turned me into,” says Rodriguez, who furiously tracked down Petrosillo’s mother, allegedly the company’s accountant, and threatened a lawsuit, which unleashed another spate of confused and unsupervised workers that eventually stopped showing up. “Dealing with Leo was like handling a drug attic, telling one lie after the other to get his fix until the whole thing implodes and the family gives up.”

The Chandans’ two-family home was left in “disaster” after what David describes as A-Riteway “sending people out here sporadically without supervision and half-completing crap work only after several calls to complain” (Trapani, who took many of them, estimates his brother Raji’s calls to the office at five times a day). Upon discovering that the paving in the front of the house was not done with a proper permit resulting in the job being shut down by police, the Chandan brothers placed several unreturned panic phone calls to A-Riteway before contacting a new contractor. They were further angered to find that there had been major violations like no parchment put on plywood to prevent build up of moisture that could lead to harmful molding and another city inspector that confirmed an uneven stone staircase that previously had nearly caused Mr. Chandan and his sister-in-law to fall.

Donna Brooks, who’s filed complaints to the Better Business Bureau (at present count there are a total of 31) was left holding completely useless “insurance contracts” from A-Riteway before her own freak-out calls led to her being told they would respond in 24 hours to any issues — the key issue being major leaks from substandard work. Each time she was met with wait-times up to a week after which still no one arrived.

“By then I was pissed off and asked for the guy who sold me the insurance policies,” Brooks explains. “I was told he no longer worked for A-Riteway and when I asked for the owner, they told me Leo was at the doctor (the doctor excuse, as confirmed by Trapani, was likely a completely fabricated con to avoid a professional response). Brooks then filed a small-claims case that soon went to court. Not surprisingly, no one, least of all the now running for cover Petrosillo bothered showing up.

The kick was the court judged against A-Riteway, but only when Ms. Brooks was instructed to return a week later to provide “expert witnesses” to prove her complaint, putting the consumer and not the obvious recidivist Petrosillo on trial. The system in effect is set up to protect marauders like Petrosillo and A-Riteway by making it nearly impossible to sue under the misty guise of “perceived value”, as in my case, wherein the contractor can yammer on about having done enough work to justify the costs, while claiming customer impatience or general ignorance to the “inner workings of professional contracting”.

At the time of this report, the length of breadth of which is still being unfurled, the North Haledon Police Department (the town where A-Riteway currently resides) has gotten involved. According to Trapani, one particularly fed-up customer demanding a check arrived late one afternoon in mid-June, a few days after I was there, with the police in tow. Given the runaround until day’s end and threatening Petrosillo with arrest, the cops preceded to his home, where they found a purportedly dazed Petrosillo being helped by his wife to a hospital, the victim of an alleged nervous breakdown. (Petrosillo had told me himself for whatever its worth that he had begun to show signs of mental duress from pills prescribed to him after an employee he sacked ran him over with his car)

I followed up with local police weeks later and received a call back from a Detective David Parenta, who informed me that there were four different complaints against A-Riteway and I was welcomed to come down to the station to join in. I gladly did a few weeks later and spoke in length with several officers who all knew of Petrosillo’s tactics, but beyond “keeping an eye on him” considered the matters civil cases. One source at the station confirmed to me that Petrosillo had been run ragged for weeks under a barrage of fiscal woes and was summarily evicted from his offices, where he had moved into only months before after rambling from his original location in Hawthorne, New Jersey. Another source proffered a theory that swirled around one complaint from a woman in Rahway, who had seen A-Riteway billboards further south, indicating perhaps that Petrosillo was expanding his reach in order to allegedly avoid too much local blowback to his gradually growing negative image.

It will be hard to do after this piece.

Or what may be coming from Trenton, as I later learned just minutes before sending this to press that Passaic County Consumer Affairs Senior Investigator for Consumer Protection Carol McClellan told another wronged A-Riteway customer from Mahwah that there have been so many complaints against A-Riteway that they had to send the entire case up to the state.

“Everyone at A-Riteway lied about things all the time,” concludes Trapani. “The worst is that they wanted it to look like a completely family owned business, so much so that some of the workers would tell customers they were married to Maria and that Leo was their brother-in-law or even Leo’s brother.”

Not sure what will happen to A-Riteway or Leonardo Petrosillo once this hits newsstands and the long arm of the Internet, the results of Trenton’s influence or the local police, but it is painfully obvious that something has these charlatans and any contractor who feeds on those who entrust them with their homes.

As for the Clemens Estate, after taking bids from reputable contractors for nearly two weeks in mid-June my job was completed by several entities, mostly the extremely professional Bernie Connors Construction and Rick Hamilton, a private carpenter who both rescued the place from Petrosillo’s dim-witted disrepair, the running thread in opinion seemed to surround a practice of many New Jersey contractors that have used the downturn in the economy to under-bid legit companies in an attempt to get a name on a dotted line, grab the cash, start the job in the most rushed, slapdash way, and disappear, which A-Riteway has done and is still very likely doing to numerous new customers.

For the record, Petrosillo was warned this type of brutal action was coming from me. He was told in no uncertain terms that it was not a good idea to screw with a journalist, especially a vindictively crazed journalist, and the might of my viper pen would be unleashed should he not make right. But despite several calls (unreturned, of course) A-Riteway has presently declined to comment or make amends.

This, among 100 other reasons still being uncovered, is why A-Riteway must be stopped.

This is just the beginning.


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The Paul Ryan Factor

Aquarian Weekly 8/22/12 REALITY CHECK


Okay, so now we have a 2012 campaign.

The VP pick is an important symbol for where the pre-convention narrative is going for a candidate, especially a challenger. For Barack Obama in 2008, Joe Biden was chosen to connect with the alienated white, working class voters lost in the epic primary battle with Hillary Clinton. For George W. Bush in 2000 it was to calm the noise on his foreign policy naiveté with Dick Cheney.

The choice became an imperative for Mitt Romney, who has thus far conducted a excruciatingly safe run casting himself as an awkward figure, the length and breadth of which appears neither particularly bold in his ideology nor straightforward with his biography, and is certainly vague in his plans to lead should he be chosen come November.

Paul RyanAs documented incessantly here for the past weeks and just about everywhere else, it is becoming increasingly evidentiary, even to those who support him, that Romney had better be about something other than standing as the anti-Obama if he wants to challenge this thing, which has slowly gotten away from him in recent weeks. Despite historically high unemployment numbers for a sitting president to be leading in national polls, and a sense that any incumbent anywhere, be they Republican or Democrat, is vulnerable these days, Romney’s poll numbers have spun their wheels, and his occasional gaffs and the unshakable unfavorable responses to his personality, demeanor and overall presentation put the onus on his choice as running mate.

At age 42 and with a dozen years on Capitol Hill, enter Wisconsin congressman, Paul Ryan, a wonkish, staunchly conservative numbers-cruncher whose claim to fame is his wholly symbolic hard-line budget proposal that aims to radically reconstruct the level of control instilled in the federal government for nearly a century. What is known as the “Ryan Bill” is so outlandish to most lawmakers that the previous conservative stalwart in congress, former speaker, Newt Gingrich has dubbed it “Right Wing social engineering”. But there is no mistaking that Ryan is a serious politician. Unlike the party’s previous choice for vice president, Sarah Palin, who had trouble with the most rudimentary facts about governance or practically anything, Ryan is a champion of minutia.

However, like Palin, Ryan is a credentials pick. The aim in 2008 for GOP nominee, John McCain was to energize the base and put a dent into the “history making” run of Barack Obama. Ryan represents the same audacious stroke, especially for a candidate whose motus operandi is bland mixed with a healthy dose of blander. Where Romney is a stuff-shirt with no foundation beyond the robotic ambition to seduce victory, Ryan is as right fiscally as can be mustered in Washington. His very name conjures grief on the left while also creating the unintended affect in allowing the president’s re-election team to point directly at what it deems a radical draconian approach that reaches far beyond the incumbent’s more measured proposals; if in fact the president or the Democrats can conjure one.

You see, it has been Ryan’s plan, draconian, radical or genius, that has stood alone in firing the opening shot at what Republicans have used as a sledgehammer for three years; reducing spending and by consequence, the debt, thus reversing its party’s wild spending spree of the century’s first decade and rebuilding a new narrative upon the ashes of the now conveniently ignored Bush Administration. What makes Ryan’s almost religious fervor to curtail spending bizarre is the fact that he voted for shit-loads of unpaid for nonsense when a Republican was in charge, including unfounded tax cuts, two wars, a massive ramp up of federal government security measures, and the disastrous Medicare Modernization Act.

Ryan makes the most sense for the ticket mainly because now the candidate hopes the campaign can shift to clashing ideologies and away from a personality contest, a game in which Romney would have trouble besting a lamppost. gravitas.

Ryan’s convenient hypocrisy aside, for months Romney has argued, “What not try it my way?” on the stump and in his ads, but no one, least of all Romney, has a clue what that way is, allowing the president to paint it as another run on Bush economics. Romney hopes he now has that alternative; the Ryan Plan, which is in effect becomes the Romney Plan.

Something that should not be ignored is Ryan’s connection with his home state and its governor, Scott Walker, which has become the Right’s clarion call to crush unions and slash budgets. This is the mojo Romney lacks; mainly because he is a wind-shifting moderate, whose record as governor of Massachusetts, his only public gig, makes anyone with a dog-eared copy of “The Fountainhead” wretch. Ryan, by comparison, sleeps with a crumpled photo of Ayn Rand under his pillow. Although, once again, when recently pressed by the Catholic League on his Randian worship (fueled as it is by rabid atheism) he tempered what he once stated as a life-affirming philosophy that inspired his embracing of fiscally conservative economics.

So what does the Ryan pick, maybe the boldest move in Romney’s uneven to spectacularly mediocre campaign, say about the candidate to this point?

Firstly, he is worried about his base, which has failed to completely embrace him. This was clearly becoming a distraction again after he was eviscerated by conservative opponents during a nearly one-year primary roll-out, with recent flak over hardcore conservatives failure to coddle him and the deluge of criticism from blogs, radio geeks and even establishment pundits who initially pushed for him over the fringe candidates. For good or ill on the national level and with more moderate independents, Ryan is the poster boy for the Right’s argument for less government, relaxed regulations, and the age-old trickle-down free ride for “job creators” to rescue a feeble economy.

Secondly, Ryan has a personality; combative, unapologetic and recklessly youthful; all the things Romney is not. Although careful not to give too detailed an answer to his no-compromise pitch to privatize Social Security and gut Medicare in the face of his atavistic cow-towing to a continued bloated military budget, Ryan is far more forthcoming about his rather unpopular measures to refigure the Washington landscape than Romney would ever dare.

However, it is hard to see Ryan — a work-machine whose love of the inner workings of legislation trumps his already serious-as-bone-cancer tone — sitting around like Joe Biden whipping off the occasional eructation between ribbon cuttings. He’s Al Gore meets Hillary Clinton meets the bastard son of Dick Cheney. He’s hands-on, pal. Or at least that’s what Mitt Romney wants you to believe. “Don’t trust me? How ’bout this guy, then?”

The brass tax here, beyond rousing the base and designing an air of credibility to a walking haircut, is affecting the electoral map.

There are no signs that Wisconsin is in play for Republicans, unless the GOP hangs its hat on the recent recall failure of the Left to expunge Governor Walker from office after his marauding of state unions. It is a predominantly Democratic state that last voted Republican for president in 1984. Since Ryan is still young and has made his bones on the national level — specifically in hated Washington — it is unlikely he will be an embraceable figure to many independents there.

This is why Ohio Senator Rob Portman would have been the more strategic pick. While Ryan forces the Obama Campaign, which currently trails the money race by a significant margin, to spend treasure and time in Wisconsin, it pales in comparison to the ever-crucial state of Ohio. A razor thin but widening lead for Obama in a state Republicans need (no Republican has claimed the White House without carrying Ohio since Lincoln) would call for the Portman pick. To be blunt, Wisconsin is a gamble with Ryan, while Portman could have conceivably tipped the scale for Romney.

But Ryan makes the most sense for the ticket mainly because now the candidate hopes the campaign can shift to clashing ideologies and away from a personality contest, a game in which Romney would have trouble besting a lamppost. gravitas.


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Fuck Chick-fil-A

Aquarian Weekly 8/15/12 REALITY CHECK


A few years back, I penned the opening salvo for a Free Speech blog at the request of friend and fellow scribe, Rita King. It was aptly titled “Free Speech Must Stop” and its premise was primarily focused on prefiguring what the loss of free expression might be when measured against the preponderance of babble that passes for commentary and the general state of the ill informed who find it necessary to utter it. Of course, I put myself right in the mix — fully admitting that I had and still have nothing binding to add to the vox populi and was relieved, nay, proud to admit so.

Dan CathyI took more shit for that essay than most of what has appeared here weekly for 15 years and my guess at the time (beyond the fact that I put the damnable thing in my fourth book, Midnight for Cinderella) was it pierced a main nerve. No one likes to hear that their opinion is not only insipid but also mostly lost in the grand din; the irony of such a statement posted on a blog was not lost on me. These were the days of blog infancy, to which Ms. King should have been lauded; instead of receiving a half-bright invective wrapped in amplified wise-assery.

Since then, wise-assery and dumbness has reigned supreme on the Internet, most of it veiled in the obligatory cowardice of anonymity.

At least, I could argue, my dumbness went to press with my name heralding it.

What could not be imagined then was the explosion of social media and its affect on recording every burp of every public and private figure and in some cases high-profile political types. More than ever we are deluged with opinion. Some of it warranted and well considered, and a whole lot otherwise. But through it all there seems to be this hidden obligation to express the most banal to the most heinous of thoughts for all to absorb. Almost none of it appears to come from a place where a scintilla of fact or rational thought is involved.

Don’t get me wrong; dullards are a dime a dozen and have been offering their two cents far longer than the evolution of technology could more or less legitimatize them. But things have truly become unchecked, almost anarchistic, and sheds a great deal of light on the level of our intellectual barrenness or what Jim Morrison once mused as “a short cut to thinking”.

The act of imbecilic regurgitation has certainly reached the halls of our “esteemed” leaders, as in the most recent unfounded implications by Senate majority leader, Democrat, Harry Reid, a 24-year veteran of the United States congress, who walked to the floor of the Senate and claimed to have heard something from someone who knows another unidentified guy mention that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney did not pay taxes for a decade. This on the heels of a two-week McCarthyesque harangue by Republican congress woman, Michele Bachmann, (who also sits on the Foreign Intelligence Committee) accusing members of the State Department of having direct ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Neither of these charges has been remotely substantiated by anything resembling evidence. Yet these “professionals” conjured the need to brazenly express it, as if by simply doing it would lend it gravitas.

Give me all the stuff, not the populist, rabble-rousing nonsense, and maybe this whole Free Speech thing can work after all.

Now, we’ve written volumes in this space over the years dissecting the outrage stemming from the “controversial” yammering of radio showboats like Howard Stern, Don Imus or Rush Limbaugh, the comic stylings of (you name it) and the usual lyrical musings of the faux revolutionary set. Rarely someone hits a nail as straight as say a Lenny Bruce or George Carlin or Bob Dylan or Edward R. Murrow, much less Mark Twain. Mostly it’s the spastic hammering away at one sacred cow after the other to get ratings and keep jobs, all of which is celebrated here as a blessed right, but hardly worth noting.

It’s the easy targets for which I take umbrage; Bill Maher riffing on people seeing the Blessed Mother in a potato chip or the relentless pounding by everyone on Sarah Palin’s inability to never appear coherent. Taking potshots from the cheap seats on the Internet, making shit up for shock value or making a buck is all well and good, but my respect is saved for those who tread against the grain, deny the force of the tide beyond mere grandstanding.

Take for instance the case of Chick-fil-A CEO, Dan Cathy, who last week expressed his distaste for same-sex marriage (a 50-50 polling proposition that has yet to win a deciding vote by citizens of any state) citing the “arrogance” and “audacity” of this generation (not sure which one specifically, the man’s a Baby Boomer) to deny the will of God. Unlike Reid or Bachmann, Cathy has proof; the Holy Bible’s Book of Leviticus. Although the Bible lacks credible insight into the actual mindset of a monotheistic being than the Qu’ran or Dianetics, and is no basis of law, we must assume Mr. Cathy believes in the immutable truth that according to Leviticus 20:13; “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”

But everyone uses that Leviticus bit — 33 lousy words out of thousands — but what of the other immutable laws set down by the will of God? Take for instance a woman who is raped being forced to marry her rapist. Let’s say for argument’s sake Dan Cathy quoted that nifty tidbit of God’s will, which is as legitimate a sentiment as the one he uttered about the popular and easily identifiable same-sex thing. You think there would have been people lined up to buy tons of chicken in support of free speech?

That would have impressed me. I might have even been on that line. For no other reason, but the man treads the road less traveled.

I wonder where talk show God-man, Mike Huckabee falls on the side of rapists marrying their victims to fulfill the will of God?

Free speech advocates and God-fearing Christians everywhere would like to know.

What if Cathy had cited Leviticus 20:10 about the killing of any man who cheats on his wife? Hell, since lust and masturbation are considered cheating that pretty much wipes out the male population of this country. How about my favorite, “Any person who curseth his mother or father must be killed” from 20:9. My guess is in the time you’re ready this there would be bodies everywhere.

Also, it stands to reason if Cathy is sold on express his support for the persecution of homosexuals, certainly his right, then he also believes very strongly that those who are handicapped (deemed “lame” or “blind” five thousand or so years ago) or those with “flat noses” should be denied salvation.

Chick-fil-A supports the damnation of the handicapped!

Now, my friends; that is some heady free speech.

Saying gays are going to hell is like people protesting war. It’s the rhetorical equivalent of shooting the proverbial fish in the barrel. Hitler is bad. Star Wars sequels blow. Yeah, yeah.

Give me all the stuff, not the populist, rabble-rousing nonsense, and maybe this whole Free Speech thing can work after all.


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In Praise of “Vegan is Love”

Aquarian Weekly 8/1/12 REALITY CHECK

IN PRAISE OF VEGAN IS LOVE Author Ruby Roth’s Alternative Literature for Kids

My wife is a vegan and we are raising our daughter vegan. I am not a vegan nor am I a vegetarian. I am, for those familiar with this space, nothing. I could scarcely call myself human, really. I traded in my integrity for a moped and a six pack of Genesee Cream Ale in 1981. This makes almost everyone I know better than me. This is an interesting base in which to run an elitist egomaniacal construct. But I manage.

Vegan is LoveFor those unfamiliar with the term, vegan is according to Webster’s “a strict vegetarian who consumes no animal food or dairy products; also: one who abstains from using animal products (as leather)”. A quick search of veganism on Wikipedia will garner “Ethical vegans reject the commodity status of animals and the use of animal products for any purpose, while dietary vegans (or strict vegetarians) eliminate them from their diet only. Another form, environmental veganism, rejects the use of animal products on the premise that the industrial practice is environmentally damaging and unsustainable.”

My wife simply says, “Eat like you give a damn”, which she wears on a tee shirt as proudly as she displayed the “Meat is Murder” bumper sticker on her college shit box.

So it is no surprise that as we happened to catch an appearance by children’s author and artist, Ruby Roth speaking about her new work, Vegan is Love, a practical and rather stirring primer for kids from seven years and up (a publisher’s recommendation Roth does not necessarily agree with, as she believes, as I have always believed, that children of any age are capable of handling the truth of a given subject if explained properly) it roused a request from someone who rarely if ever reads my column; “You should write about this woman and her book.”

At first I thought my wife was nuts; something that was clearly evident long before this suggestion. No one cares about this, really. This is why I had to add the definition of vegan to my lead. People can barely muster empathy for the starving, war-damaged or oppressed peoples of the world, much less chickens. And if there is one thing people usually agree on is they love meat; cheap McDonald’s crap to big fat juicy, expensive carcasses.

But my best friend on planet earth has dedicated her adult life to this cause and now my only child has followed suit for four years and counting, so I figured; why not?

We received a copy of Vegan is Love some weeks ago and love it; and most importantly so does my daughter. And so a couple of phone calls ensued, and after a few biographical tidbits about Ms. Roth being the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors with “an acute sense of oppression”, raised by a vegetarian mother on a “an organic tree farm in Hawaii”, and later studying politics and American history at UC Santa Cruz, which she calls the Mecca of veganism, we got down to business.

“To know the violence you’re participating in and continue to eat animals takes a willful ignorance,” Roth began. “Our society has a very anthropomorphic-centric view and it is at the root of the ecological crisis that we find ourselves in today. Our desires and addictions and technologies are more important than the very earth that we walk upon. And I think the self-centeredness that allows us to keep abusing animals is the same outlook that allows us to buy houses that we can’t afford or trick other people into buying houses that they can’t afford. It is a systemic belief that our country suffers from that surely begins on our plates.”

Roth, thirty, considers herself an artist before a writer and has dedicated her life’s work to what she says is a “cherished philosophy and the foundation of my morals and values.” She is soft-spoken and well versed in the advantages of her chosen lifestyle and quite adamant about the adverse. Yet she does not come on as preachy, simply referring to humanity’s apathy to the abuse of animals as “the truth”.

“The quickest way out of any predicament is to tell the truth,” insists Roth. “You forget how simple it is to say some people eat meat and some people don’t. I don’t.”

The public image of most vegans is that they’re militant, elitist and mostly angry, something you would be if you really cared about animals, because a preponderance of evidence shows that hardly anyone does. Most say they do, but they don’t — like people telling pollsters they go to church instead of strip clubs or read instead of watching The Bachelor. Maybe people dig their pet or some cute thing they see in a movie, but cows?

“It’s a very strange disconnection,” Roth said when I inquired about how people who would not normally kill a pig or cow or turkey can easily compartmentalize their eating habits. “It’s like a blind spot even when your attention is turned to it. I think if you haven’t witnessed the footage it’s impossible to imagine the depth of destruction and violence that occurs. It changes you as a person. I think my brain chemistry changed when I started witnessing the footage, because our habits allow us to associate meat with comfort food and that’s normalized, but when you see what it really is your neural pathways actually change.”

“The quickest way out of any predicament is to tell the truth,” insists Roth. “You forget how simple it is to say some people eat meat and some people don’t. I don’t.”

The other public image of vegans is that they tend to skew young, as in they embrace this philosophy in the idealistic age of caring for the future of their environment, etc. And once they go vegan, most don’t let go. Believe me. I know. It is here that Roth has connected on a deeper level with Vegan is Love, in that it purports what my wife has always believed; children have an innate bond with all living things and if that disconnect was not passed down from their parents, they would, as Roth puts it, “choose wisely”.

For the first time in children’s literature Vegan is Love presupposes that if kids know animals are being tortured for product testing, abused for sport or entertainment or especially killed for glue or coats or lunch, they might be inclined to go for the salad.

“It’s never too early to discuss the truth and when kids start asking questions, that’s an appropriate time to tell the truth,” said Roth. “There is no universally accepted concept of childhood. Our American one is inherited from the Victorian age when it was believed that children needed to be protected from the adult world, so it’s passed down to us and we see it in our schools, our children’s books, and our laws. In other countries by the time kids are four they’re hauling wood and watching over their younger siblings.”

Although a kid’s book, there is nothing juvenile about Vegan is Love. It is beautifully and realistically depicted with Roth’s stunning illustrations and the text allows for parents to discuss such weighty subjects as animal testing for drugs, hunting, the wonton destruction of the environment and the gory spectacle of animals in circuses. Yet the book is less polemic than it is a genuinely empathetic characterization of animals. It is here that Roth makes her most interesting point.

“Most children’s books and movies are anthropomorphic and I think that detaches us from animals, because we automatically think of them with fictional attributes. It’s the same with zoos and circuses, which they claim sensitize people to animals when it actually does the opposite; it desensitizes us to the use and abuse of animals.”

Roth’s mission for Vegan is Love is to offer an alternate view for children, and for our daughter, it is a helpful reinforcement of something she has embraced thus far; something she will need when entering a world that doesn’t accept alternatives to anything easily. But hell, the kid is already behind the eight ball with a lunatic like me for a father.

“Vegan kids are good influences on their peers and their peers are often interested in what they’re eating” Roth, a former educator, assures me. “I think knowledge is power. And the more your child knows because of discussions that you’ve had the more confident they will be. The confident kid in the classroom always seems to be the cool kid.”

Roth, who says the positive response to Vegan is Love has far outweighed some of the criticism, is currently working on her third book with the same faith that humanity’s most compassionate elements begin in childhood; which is where we all begin our journeys to the center of our own universe.

“Maybe if it’s too scary to talk about,” Roth mused as we bid ado. “Then it’s too scary to eat it or participate in it.”

Or write about?


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What is Mitt Romney Afraid Of?

Aquarian Weekly 7/25/12 REALITY CHECK

WHAT IS MITT ROMNEY AFRAID OF? GOP Nominee Must Embrace Rich Guy Status

A few weeks ago Rupert Murdoch berated the Romney Campaign for not being “real pros” and later accused the Republican presidential nominee of “playing it safe”. But, of course, playing it safe is Mitt Romney’s mantra; a Mormon sense of stoic privacy and his “holier than thou” attitude served him well against a parade of loonies during the primaries. And anyone who has been around a campaign, no matter how large, knows at this point for the candidate to try and be anything other than what he or she is courts disaster. Good examples are Al Gore trying desperately to pivot into “earth tones” or Michael Dukakis attempting to act tough in a tank. Yet, Murdoch has a point. Romney has been strangely defensive of his financial success, how he achieved his wealth and how he maintains it, and that makes no sense.

Mitt RomneyIt’s as if Romney thinks he can have it both ways; hard sell the private-sector tycoon obviously more qualified to speed up America’s economic recovery with the same bold ideas he instituted in his career and then be evasive on the very practices he’s pitching. This is an uncanny mirror image of 2004 and John Kerry, so far a doppelganger for Romney — bland, rich, out-of-touch New England Ivy Leaguer. Even Kerry tried being photographed in hunting gear to cut into George W. Bush’s “regular guy” routine, as Romney has gone tie-less in jeans standing in front of a variety of macho machinery.

Kerry’s convention speech, laced with military rhetoric, immediately framed his candidacy during an unpopular war and the continued national fear of terrorism as an alternative to a bungling civilian and the architect of an amateurish foreign policy. Once Kerry infused his character into the equation, Karl Rove and the Bush Campaign unleashed a torrent of abuse on it; questioning the Democratic nominee’s tour of duty in Viet Nam and playing over and over his testimony before congress that war crimes were being committed by his fellow soldiers. Soon a private group calling itself the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ran television ads raising real question about Kerry’s credibility in this arena.

Kerry never defended himself, choosing instead to sheepishly attack the Bush Campaign for practicing dirty tricks with misleading ads and distracting the American electorate from the real issue, mainly that the Bush foreign policy was an abject failure costing the nation blood and treasure for what amounted to basically nothing. And this is exactly what’s happening to Romney right now. His entire argument for being president of the United States is that he is not a regular politician, but a man of business and the free market, while Barack Obama is a lifetime politician and insider whose only solutions comes through a broken Washington system that everyone pretty much hates.

It’s the wise move. Romney was a fair to middling governor, whose economic record was by all measures in the lower echelon of states when he left. And if he dares mention Massachusetts then he must address his mandated health care law and that gets him nowhere. His time working with the Salt Lake City Olympics may add a nice homey story to the narrative, but it’s really his connection with Bain Capital, a company he helped build and what his campaign and many Republican spinners have called a “job creating” enterprise that defines him. And here comes the Obama Campaign kicking the tires, at first bringing up the new third-rail of politics; outsourcing, a reality of business for the past two decades. Outsourcing may be gangbusters in Romney’s beloved private sector, but it is poison in politics. The Obama Campaign has brilliantly, and in many ways deviously, connected those dots. It’s good, clean, hard politics and part of the game, but it’s the way Romney has responded that is curious.

Why Romney refuses to release a decade’s worth of returns when it is the predominant practice of past nominees is weird, but for a candidate promoting himself as a financial wizard it’s downright insane.

Romney has been apologizing for his wealth and success by skirting his professional history and refiguring his time at Bain Capital, which helped earn him his fortune and the type of reputation that put him in the lofty position to run for president of the United States. When pressed about outsourcing he immediately claimed to have nothing to do with it, as he had already retired, for all intents and purposes admitting that whatever crazy shit those guys were doing from 1999 on he was busying himself in the a wholesome job of “running the Olympics”. Then when the Boston Globe uncovers the man’s title as “sole stockholder, chairman of the board, chief executive officer, and president” for the years he’d denied having anything to do with it he sends a phalanx of apologists on every news show to claim he was “retroactively retired”, whatever the hell that means.

Then comes the tax return issue.

Why Romney refuses to release a decade’s worth of returns when it is the predominant practice of past nominees is weird, but for a candidate promoting himself as a financial wizard it’s downright insane. Even novices know that by not revealing something — this was the Birthers argument with the current president’s birth certificate for four years, still kept alive by Romney Campaign surrogate, Donald Trump — the understanding is that there is something to hide. Nixon learned this the hard way when he at first battled the courts to keep control of the tapes that led to his impeachment.

Romney even went on network television and openly stated that if the tax returns of the past decade were released his opponents would eviscerate him by distorting the numbers. This goes beyond bad politics; it is character suicide. It puts his candidacy in the crosshairs of the oldest weapon in the books; “Make the bastard deny it.”

What Romney needs to do is stop denying it. He needs to stop running from his resume. In fact, he needs to embrace it. No one thinks that all of a sudden three months and change from Election Day that Mitt Romney is a champion of the poor or gives a shit about manufacturing jobs or the black caucus or unions or government regulation. Whatever Romney is, and many including this space have yet to actually figure it out, he must let the freak flag fly. Pull the Newt Gingrich line from 1994 about the party being over for freeloaders. Be the hardliner. Many Republican governors won their posts in 2010 with this approach. Shit, the guy who runs this state, a huge star in the party, is busy trying to fistfight people on the boardwalk and he’s getting a primetime speech at the convention.

Romney represents his party, much like Barack Obama did during his general election campaign of 2008. He smartly ignored Democratic pundits and did not get in the mud with Hillary Clinton, as Romney avoided any goofiness with Rich Santorum and the rest of the bunch this past spring. When Romney did go hard to the Right, something he was uncomfortable doing, he stammered out weak base-baiting crap like “self-deportation” or nonsense about contraception that sunk his chances at cutting into the Hispanic and young women’s vote. His party chose him over those guys, and whatever it is that beats in the man’s heart has to emerge quickly and defiantly to provide the broadest choice in November. What appears to be happening is he’s waiting out the clock, hoping to freeze the ball until the fourth quarter with the hope that no one notices he’s…well…he’s whatever the hell he’s scared for us to fine out he is.

Rupert Murdoch knows something about image. His FOXNEWS has restructured forever the idea of using the news to reframe the narrative. Mitt Romney should heed his warnings. Not being Barack Obama will serve him as well as not being George W. Bush served John Kerry.

So, I ask; what is Mitt Romney afraid of?


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The Iconic Art of Bob Gruen

Aquarian Weekly 7/24/12 Buzz


Eighty percent of success is just showing up. – Woody Allen

I liked being there. – Bob Gruen

If you’ve wasted just a fraction of the time I did in my youth, hell, my entire life reading rock magazines, popular music compendiums and studying the history of rock and roll with a myopic fervor usually reserved for religious vocation, then there is a better than two to one shot you’ve come across hundreds of images captured by the camera of Bob Gruen. Bob GruenFor over four decades the passionate eye of one of the world’s leading photographers has visually dissected the most important artists of the rock era; The Rolling Stones, John Lennon, KISS, Aerosmith, The Sex Pistols, The Clash, Bruce Springsteen and Prince to name a few from prog rock to punk and beyond. A new documentary, Rock ‘N’ Roll Exposed: The Photography of Bob Gruen by Grammy Award-winning filmmaker Don Letts beautifully frames the essence of Gruen’s art and its origins.

The 66 year-old Gruen casually mentioned what was originally a four-part British television special chronicling the many arcs of his work back in June when I visited his West Village studio/apartment/archive bunker. Getting there was half the fun; a maze of long hallways and two elevator trips into the center of an artist’s complex, where nearly every inch of its cramped but charming environs is crammed with overflowing file cabinets and stacked shelves of Gruen’s work. More a portal into a life spent smack-dab in the middle of rock history than an office space, the minute you step inside it’s as if you’ve entered the rare intimacy of the performance world from spotlight to backstage to the after-hours private parties.

It is also a place where Gruen has entertained the likes of John Lennon, Joe Strummer and KISS, whose leather-clad, Kabuki-faced members tried on his civvies for a CREEM magazine photo shoot that became the iconic Dressed To Kill album cover. “I took the guys in The Clash back here once, cooked them dinner and showed them my New York Dolls live tapes,” Gruen told me, as we sat on the couch where “the most important band in the world” once dined.

These and many more anecdotes, all illustrated stunningly with a parade of gorgeous rock and roll moments forever frozen in time by Gruen’s unique talents, color Letts’ film, which not only features commentary from some of his famous subjects like Yoko Ono, Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry and Billie Joe Armstrong, but includes Gruen’s own insights and the stories behind it all.

Rock ‘N’ Roll Exposed: The Photography of Bob Gruen is an exhaustive filmic biography. It takes us back to the burgeoning professional photographer’s early days traveling with Ike & Tina Turner (featuring Gruen’s famous picture of a gyrating Turner onstage in a multiple-exposure masterpiece of five images at once) through his years as John and Yoko’s private NYC photographer (in the studio, on stage and in their home) then onto his years trolling Manhattan’s underground punk scene from Max’s Kansas City to CBGB all the way through his travels and friendships with The Sex Pistols, The Clash and Green Day, who today have entrusted Gruen to maintain their image as standard-bearers of the genre. The main theme throughout the film, which was part of New York City’s CBGB Festival, a three-day celebration of the famous dive on the Bowery that birthed the punk movement of the late-Seventies and where Gruen spent many a night capturing the mood, sweat and ear-splitting mayhem of The Ramones, Television, Blondie, and Talking Heads, among others, centers around Gruen’s edict to immerse himself in the heart of the action.

“Some photographers are adamant about not being edited. I’m adamant about getting hired again. I was very comfortable working with a band and helping them create the image they want to create.”

“Bob always seemed to just be floating around,” Yoko Ono muses in the film. “He was never obtrusive or demanding like other photographers. He was respectful and really cared about his subjects. John and I trusted him completely.”

Or as Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong puts it; “Bob’s not a pain in the ass.”

“I want my subjects to be happy with the image my photographs depict,” Gruen told me back in June. “Some photographers are adamant about not being edited. I’m adamant about getting hired again. I was very comfortable working with a band and helping them create the image they want to create.”

Seeing a Bob Gruen photograph for the first or fiftieth time speaks volumes about a man who loves the artists and wants the fans, the ultimate arbiter of the rock experience, to get closer to their heroes and to better understand by a single image what listening to the music has already awakened. Quite simply, Gruen’s artistry enhances the experience of the music. His pictures represent in a very serious way an extension of it.

Gruen rode the crest of the budding craft of rock journalism long before music videos could bring home the images of rock stars. Kids, especially the younger ones like myself in the early Seventies, who might not have had the money or access to transportation to see their favorite acts as they rumbled through town (if they ever did at all) lived vicariously through the images exploding from the pages of Creem, Circus, Rock Scene, Rolling Stone and Crawdaddy. Gruen’s camera filled in the blanks, added to our imaginations of a nether world of rebellion, riches and madness.

John LennonGruen’s best work treads the thin line of that madness, especially in the salad days of rock, as many of his shots, whether live concert photos or backstage meandering, seemed to border on or be completely out of focus. Soon, as he jokes today, it would become his “soft focus” style that many have aimed to mimic.

“There are more technically proficient photographers out there,” Gruen confidently states. “But I never went for the technically perfect shot, I went for feel. I wanted the person seeing the shot to feel what the artist was feeling at that moment, whether in front of a wild crowd or alone in a studio setting.”

This was a time, Gruen reminded me, long before pre-set digital cameras, when the pro photographer had to quickly perform many key maneuvers – adjust exposures and change lens – in the virtual darkness and controlled chaos of a rock and roll show: “Shooting a live performance is a wing and a prayer. I never had any idea if anything would come out or not. You hope you’re getting something, but the lights are changing, you don’t know what the exposure is, people are running around the whole time, you don’t know where to focus. It was fun, though. A lot of it was a guessing game. If some of the pictures came out all right, you were lucky and you’d get some good ones. If you take a lot of pictures you’re bound to get a couple of good ones and if only show the good ones then people think you’re good.”

Almost all of the subjects interviewed for Rock ‘N’ Roll Exposed: The Photography of Bob Gruen describe Gruen’s “technique”, whether proficient or visceral, as being almost nonchalant, especially in closed quarters in the after-party clubs or crowded apartments when the cream of the rock set would let their guard down to mingle and imbibe.

The Clash “Bob would be carrying on an intense conversation with you and suddenly, whap!, he’d snap a photo of someone a few feet away and get right back to you never missing a beat,” recalls rock journalist and longtime friend, Legs McNeil. “Then you’d see the picture weeks later and it would be fantastic! How did he see that?” Gaining incredible access to a host of huge rock acts during tours, on buses, in diners and hotel rooms, Gruen got the best shots, but knew where to draw the line.

“My theory has always been if I didn’t want to be shown in that light, I wouldn’t take the picture,” Gruen told the audience in a Q & A session after the film premiered at the Landmark Sunshine Theater on East Houston Street. “A good rule to go by was when the drugs came out, the camera was put away.”

Each of Gruen’s subjects echo the same sentiment throughout Letts’ film; he always displayed a respect and restraint unfamiliar to most rock photographers or the ever-present paparazzi. “Bob never did the usual, “Hey Alice, make a scary face’ bit,” recounts Alice Cooper in the film. And it was through that trust that Gruen was on a first-name basis with scores of rock stars, who had long given up letting anyone with a notepad, let alone a camera in.

“I never looked at this job as a journalist,” Gruen insists. “I was always a part of the lifestyle. I’m not looking at these people, I am these people.”

Gruen’s ability to see into the soul of the rock performer may have been fueled at his first professional shoot, the infamous performance by Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival in July of 1965. Gruen explains in the film; “Everyone was booing Dylan and felt he was betraying the folk scene by showing up with a rock band, but I thought it was his way of saying that rock and roll was the new folk.”

The Sex Pistols

A few years later, after establishing himself as a solid freelancer, Gruen headed up to the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem to cover an Aretha Franklin show. It was there he literally ran into John and Yoko, where several camera-ready fans and pros were frantically snapping away. Lennon, in his usual smarmy style, joked that although he’d been photographed every minute of every day he never saw a single one. Gruen, ever the opportunist, shouted, “I’ll show you my photos!” Knowing the most famous rock and roll couple of all had recently moved right around the block from him, Gruen was true to his word.

Lennon was so moved that Gruen would hand off the pictures at their apartment (more to the point to yippie madman, Jerry Rubin, who answered the door) with no hint of wanting any favors from a Beatle, the two struck up a friendship that lasted until Lennon’s tragic murder in 1980. “That was the worst thing that ever happened to me, still is,” Gruen solemnly exhales, the memory still etched on his face. “People die, but not everyone gets murdered for no reason.”

Gruen’s work with John and Yoko produced a chronicle of their time living in Manhattan, the best of which are available in his 2005 book, John Lennon, The New York Years. These precious slices of life include the famous shot (Gruen’s idea) of Lennon giving the peace sign in front of the Statue of Liberty during his fight against deportation, and perhaps his most famous image, the ubiquitous “New York City Shirt” picture, which today festoons thousands of bootleg and official tee shirts, posters, stickers, etc. Just like KISS sporting his suits on the cover of Dressed to Kill, the shirt was a gift from Gruen, and when Lennon died years later and the photographer was asked to provide the seminal Lennon image for a memorial, without hesitation he chose that one.

“If it’s a good show, I’m driven to photograph it, I need to photograph it.”

“John died in New York because he lived in New York,” Gruen told me. “He died going home. I wanted that to be his legacy, his love for the city that I also love.”

It was Gruen’s love for New York that put him in the gritty innards of the downtown scene where he became one of The New York Dolls signature photographers. A band built upon the dying glam movement that bridged the Sixties NYC decadence of the Velvet Underground to the CBGB punk movement, Gruen worked tirelessly to help them conjure a variety of images.

“I loved bands like the Dolls and Alice Cooper and KISS, because they put on a show, on stage and in front of the camera,” cites Gruen. “They understood how much image mattered. They call it show business, so I always thought there should be a show.”

Gruen’s affiliation with the New York Dolls and Malcolm McClaren, would allow him to make his mark as the godfather of punk imagery; as important a statement as the music itself. Gruen set down for posterity the short-lived and wildly outrageous career of England’s most notorious act, the Sex Pistols. Given almost unlimited access to a band that made its bones abusing the media, Gruen’s pictures of the Sex Pistols, and most notably the doomed Sid Vicious, in their infancy holds a special place in the rock pantheon. Soon Gruen would be the American liaison for The Clash when the last true punk outfit embarked on one of the seminal residencies of the era.

Today Gruen readily admits he’s slowed his 24-hour rollercoaster lifestyle, limiting his talents to special events and working with many of the friends he’s made in the music business over a lengthy and groundbreaking career. His photographs hang in museums and many galleries around the world, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; a veritable who’s who of the long thread of rockers from Chuck Berry to Lady GaGa. Each one holds a special place in Bob Gruen’s lens; filled with volume, attitude and decadent glamour. Gruen says it best; “If it’s a good show, I’m driven to photograph it, I need to photograph it.”

For forty odd years, Bob Gruen showed up and took us all with him.


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The Supreme Cop-Out

Aquarian Weekly 7/18/12 REALITY CHECK

LAST WORD ON THE INDEPENDENT VOTE A Public Service Message Before Business as Usual Commences

Once every two years when national elections loom, this space makes its case for a third political party or at the very least a legitimate non-partisan independent voice to emerge from our fixed system. And make no mistake, it is a fixed system. It’s been rigged since 1860 when the last third party candidate took the White House. Several independents have tried and failed; among them notables Theodore Roosevelt (being shot didn’t help), John Anderson (who?), Ross Perot (twice) and Ralph Nader (lost count), lest we forget the now defunct Citizens Party, Independence Party of America, Reform Party, Unity Party and my favorite, the Modern Whig Party. All of them sent packing under a pile of money, strong-armed racketeering and public derision by the monolithic, monopolized corporate monstrosities know as the Republican and Democratic Parties.

Ralph Nader, a friend to this space, used it in 2004 to reveal the Democrats illegal jerry rigging of poll numbers to keep his independent run from entering primaries, town halls and caucuses, as both parties blocked his and fellow independent, a frequent contributor to the Reality Check News & Information Desk, Pat Buchanan’s participation in the 2000 presidential debates. Details of these and other atrocities against democracy are well documented in compendiums of this column readily available in book form.

Normally I would now descend into satirical hyperbole garnished with an explicative-laced joke-a-rama mocking everything you hold dear. But this is serious business now. There appears to be no way — and the evidence bears this out — that anything can be done during this generation on a bi-partisan basis. One party must rule to get stuff through the system, and usually it is asinine, like when the Republicans went insane and turned the country into not so subtle forms of Marshall Law and the Democrats kicked them out to engineer a massive health care law they still cannot fully explain.

What truly needs to happen to “fix” things is a balance of tax hikes and government cuts the likes of which we have not seen in four generations, because the shit storm is coming, folks, and there is no one in sight who has displayed the balls to deal with it.

John Boehner? Nancy Pelosi? Mitch McConnell? Chuck Schumer?

How long have these fossils been “in-charge”?

They have new ideas now?

I dare either one of these party hacks to utter the phrases “tax increases” or “budget cuts” — and I mean across-the-board tax increases and real cuts to a bloated military and a groaning entitlement coffer.

Perhaps if there was any true balance for the past two decades then things could have gone a bit smoother, but nope. It was all-in, and we have paid the bills and will continue to pay the bills for it. Some of us and our families and friends paid dearly with life and limb. Now these myopic ideological sycophants have the balls to ask us to choose once again between one fuck up or the other?

So the sheen is off the Barack Obama apple? Great. What’s the alternative? A guy who’s been hanging around the political trough for decades pitching the same tired shit that straddled the current guy with a broken economy and a damaged foreign policy? Excellent.

And what is the alternative to back-to-the-future? The guy who was supposed “change” with all the “hope”, who instead was predictably sucked into the system and spit out the other end a flaccid, inconsequential historical burp?

They’re not my voice and never have been. And they don’t give a flying fart about you or your country. Never did and never will.

Soon, I will get e-mail arguing that Obama has been jacked by the congress since 2010 and another will retort that he had control of both houses for two years before that. Then another will counter with how awful the 2000-2006 Republican congress was. And all of it will be spot-on.

So where does that leave us?

Mitt Romney has nothing. If he did, you would have heard about it. He represents the same dead-end refuse the Republicans offer up every time. And this version isn’t even authentic. The Republicans haven’t improved on the Calvin Coolidge model of free-market in a century. The same nonsense that landed this nation into a Great Depression has been watered down to careen us into a Deep Recession, but it’s not anything approaching new.

And then there is the made up stuff, like repealing laws and deporting undocumented citizens. Romney has as much power to repeal law as you and me, which is none. So he will do nothing to the health care law. And he will do nothing about immigration, because Obama has done nothing, as Bush II didn’t, as Bush I didn’t and Clinton in between, or has anyone in the position of president or members of congress during our lifetimes for that matter.

Why? These are ideological party platform issues. Nobody is going to budge.

Same sex marriage? (Yes, I’m going there again) There is no real champion for civil rights in the picture. The idea that a fifty-something progressive president can come to an epiphany that homosexuals are also citizens is enough to make you weep, when you’re done being embarrassed to be an American. Romney, once again, has no idea about this. He didn’t have an idea when he supported it, as he has none now that he is against it. He is a party puppet, an ambitious suit with nothing to offer as president. He, like the guy in charge now, is a party suckfish.

Need more evidence?

The Affordable Care Act of 2010 was a Republican invention — the individual mandate the brainchild of Newt Gingrich and the last great Republican revolution on Capitol Hill. It was originally a fairly centrist answer to the colossal mess Hillary Clinton sent to congress. It is also the same model the opposition candidate instituted in his state when governor of Massachusetts. Now the very same idiots who helped forge this alternative call it “socialized medicine”. Why? Because a Democratic congress enacted it, not a Republican one. Mitt Romney has even gone as far as supporting about fourteen of the law’s merits, and he’s the alternative.

Both candidates and their respective parties can’t even agree on the goddamn thing being a tax or a penalty. They have called it whatever suited at the time. It is a song and dance, nothing more: The Democrats did everything they could do doom Reagan, so the Republicans did everything they could to doom Clinton and the Democrats countered with treating G.W. Bush like a pariah and what this president has endured by the opposition party takes all comers.

The debt ceiling debate last year was by far one of the dumbest cons ever perpetuated on the American public. And I am convinced had an independent or non-party affiliated politician been in the Oval Office, it would never have happened. The United States Congress refused the paying of our bills to make political points. It was a battle they could never win, like these empty votes to repeal the health care law or Obama stonewalling Romney on gay marriage, women’s issues or immigration. It’s the same dime-store distractions Karl Rove pulled in 2004 to keep Captain Shoo-In afloat. None of it ever has a shred of truth to it. It is a fantasy dribbled out for our entertainment.

Okay, so I’ll get to my point and get back to the pool and my gin.

Last August a bi-partisan group called Americans Elect had a fine idea to send out a direct primary to the citizenry, so we had a grassroots alternative to nominate a capable candidate to bridge the political divide. It needed no affiliation with the two-party system, just an alternative voice straight from the people — like what the TEA Party was going to be before Roger Ailes turned into a bleating quagmire of slack-jawed car salesmen.

I hadn’t been apprised of Americans Elect until last Sunday when it was mentioned off-hand in an interview on CNN with former senator, Bill Bradley. Now to say I spend an ungodly amount of time trolling the underground media for crazy shit like this is a profound understatement, and I never heard a word of it.

Turns out both political parties spent millions in a successfully engineered kibosh of the thing. True democracy trampled by those who control the system — the jack-booted mutants of our making. We gave them the hammers and hell if they don’t use it.

Now poor Ron Paul, as independent a voice as you’re going to get in 2012, who tried the traditional way to make a dent in this whirlpool of corruption, is trying to just get 15 minutes of time on a podium to make his alternative points at the Republican Convention. The Republican Party wants no part of it. Lord knows the Democrats don’t even have someone with those kind of stones. They’ll be parading the usual bureaucratic wonk-addled “power to the people” snake charmers with nary a dissenting voice.

Meanwhile, this summer into fall we’ll listen to over a century of shitty ideas regurgitated by party shills calling themselves “the voice of the people”.

I ask: What people?

They’re not my voice and never have been. And they don’t give a flying fart about you or your country. Never did and never will.

Now I’m ready to cover this baby.

Bring it on.


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The Supreme Cop-Out

Aquarian Weekly 7/4/12 REALITY CHECK


Never saw this coming.

But give the law its due; the congress does have the power to tax anything and anyone. This is how we got to the 5-4 ruling by the Supreme Court on Florida v. Department of Health and Human Services, No. 11-400 and the National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, No. 11-393.

U.S. Supreme CourtHowever, the stance by this space and other relatively cogent opponents of the law has been duly supported, as the White House and its challengers defended it. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act or Obamacare, as it has come to be known, is unconstitutional in the realm of the Commerce Clause, giving congress the right to regulate interstate business dealings. That avenue was a boondoggle from day one and everyone knew it. But the Court ultimately ruled correctly under the guise of the powers of the federal government to tax — as was done with most of entitlement programs and heavy leans, like with energy and tobacco, interstate highway tolls and all that crazy crap pulled during times of war.

The issue here, beyond the incredibly juicy political fallout on both sides of the aisle — positive and negative — is the gutless action by the highest court in the land to leave this issue in complete chaos; stating the law’s “wisdom” as questionable and how it will be implemented.

What’s the “wisdom” of any law, and how does the federal government have the right to say, for instance, outlaw a plant or denying basic freedoms, which is happening right now with marijuana and same-sex marriage?

This kind of shoddy, half-ruling should open up a chasm for these cases to cruise through nicely.

The same can be said by a ruling a little less than a week ago on the laughable Arizona SB 1070 Law.

The Supreme Court ruled 90 percent of the thing a joke, but left it up to the local police to dare to racially profile in the remaining ten percent of a law that pretty much calls for racial profiling. It’s not unlike these delusional people I encounter who don’t want to hear that they’re actually eating animals: “Cute little baby lamb? Not me…Yum!”

By the letter of the law both the ACA and SB 1070 infringe on the rights of the citizenry, do they not? This “greater good” stuff is always the way into your pocket and to keep you from doing something you just know isn’t harming anyone but yourself.

Granted, high-stakes gamblers (as I was for most of my twenties and early thirties), who wish to roll the dice and run amok without coverage, will most likely cost some sucker a grand a year. And it always cracks me up to think that sure, why do young people need health care insurance? — they’re healthy and strong with no other responsibilities — ah, but at the same time they’re drugged up and racing around in beat up, barely legal automobiles and motorcycles, hormones raging in random sex-fueled romps worthy of Caligula, topped off with stage diving, moshing, self-mutilation with tattoos and piercings, cliff diving, bungee jumping, night swimming (likely on drugs and in mid coitus), and well…give yourself a minute to think of all the dangerous shit that should have killed you.

Sure, let’s all line up and pay for these cretins.

This is basically, in childish but fairly stringent terms, what the United Stated Constitution was drafted for, the protection for the citizens of this republic to pursue happiness without a confused and powerless police force or the IRS keeping tabs on you.

So, I get the nuances of demanding these idiots and/or their parents get on board with the rest of us suckers and pony up the cash to keep doctors from having to treat the semi-comatose head-laceration that comes in at 1:00 am without a card. But the fact (to which laws are supposed to be based and ruled upon) remains — this is a mandated clause by the government (again!) for us to be part of some pool with the lazy, stupid, fat, pathetic and irresponsible, AND their dullard offspring. It’s akin to the cops forcing you to hitch a ride with a guy tripping on jimson weed. “It’s for the greater good!”

The Arizona law is less a national epidemic than the PPACA, merely because really no one lives in Arizona. It’s a fucking desert with beautiful Sedona trapped inside. Wonder if we could extricate it in an Obamacare medical exclusive, and let those people treat everyone like it’s Kristallnacht. But if they’re going to draft a law that speaks to border safety (a border with Mexico) then the chances enacting that law on a blonde, blue-eyed middle-aged jackass like me is unlikely. Why does any law need to pertain to one set of individuals and not another?

This is basically, in childish but fairly stringent terms, what the United Stated Constitution was drafted for, the protection for the citizens of this republic to pursue happiness without a confused and powerless police force or the IRS keeping tabs on you.

Let’s review, since I am repeatedly (and may I say with good reason) accused of either taking both sides of an argument for laughs or none for heartier laughs. The Supreme Court ruled correctly in both the PPACA and Arizona law SB1070, but did so in a very half-assed way, leaving lawmakers in congress and law-enforcers in Arizona with an extremely short rope in which to hang themselves. It would have been better to simply rule one way or the other — the law is legal under the Commerce Law (which it might be with the right attorney) or it is not (which it most certainly is not) and just wipe out the goofy Arizona law, because without the teeth of it, what exactly are these poor cops going to enforce?

Finally, because we cannot resist in getting a head start on the political charade a-comin’, the president will now have to finally defend his administration’s signature legislative accomplishment. Now the Republicans and specifically Mitt Romney can make it clear that if you don’t like this thing you had better vote for their guy or you’re stuck with it. And for Romney, the architect (along with Newt Gingrich in 1994) of the individual mandate, which was the main reason for the lawsuits in the first place, it will be hard to divest the record from the candidate. It also dilutes some of the crazed rhetoric that this was some kind of fascist/socialist plot, while continuing to make claims on being a strict constructionist.


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