THE MORAL LOW GROUND

Aquarian Weekly
7/3/19

Reality Check

James Campion


THE MORAL LOW GROUND
Conditions at Our Southern Border & What It Says About Our Country

Admittedly, the person who pens this column every week is either an asshole or a genius. Or both. The mantle I have chosen to drape myself in does not come with gray areas. I sometimes point out that hypocrites fail to see those in their black and white existence, but mostly I tend to work on the margins between beauty and disgust. Predominantly disgust. This is due primarily to my insistence on commenting on politics, but that is merely a subtext for the great human experiment, America. We’ll be celebrating its two-hundred and forty-third birthday this week, so this is where the asshole comes in: Sure, remind us of our shitty side when we’re about to merrily force-feed hot dogs at an alarming, get our dime-store mini flags out of mothballs and blow stuff up. But consider the genius of this. It is not unlike Dickens getting all up in your self-absorbed misery when you just want to get some eggnog and a new tie. Humanity is a tricky subject.

And it is of our humanity of which I write this week. Forget politics and countries and religion and the rest of that John Lennon song. Let’s concentrate on humans. For the purposes of the true grit here, children.

The images and news emanating from what amounts to concentration camps, or if you are Laura Ingram – a comedy show host from a cable network – “essentially summer camps”, has really struck me hard. From the very beginning when we became aware of what our government was doing with our money I tweeted daily, “There are children locked away in cages and we’re paying for it.” I thought this might cut through the usually self-absorbed hate-fest that is Twitter. After a time, even I thought it silly to keep bringing it up. Apparently, like perpetual war (Americans have been fighting in Afghanistan for eighteen years now and Iraq for sixteen), we have more or less come to accept this as our national normal.

Now, I am not here to cast blame. We know who is to blame, if you choose to blame anyone. Our president, who likes to say he runs everything, so get out of his way and get sick of winning, blames congress. Congress blames the game show host. Some people blame Mexico. Some blame past administrations. But I blame humanity. And if you’re reading this, you’re human, so yeah, us. Our government, that means us in this fancy American experiment, is putting fellow human beings in hot, clammy, lice-infected flu-cages in stifling heat under inhumane conditions. And that cannot sit right with anyone. Can it?

This always gets me to think about the moral high ground that America is supposed to, theoretically, or for some, theologically, stand for. In other words, if this were happening in the Middle East or Central America there would be debates on when the bombing should start. Yet, we’re paying for it. When I am done with this piece, I will send it to press, and then at the end of a period, I will get money. Then, at some point, I will pay taxes on that money. Those taxes will go to what doctors have recently described as “torture facilities”. Now, I have written extensively in the past about the kind of torture or “enhanced interrogation” methods our government used on apprehended terrorists at the beginning of this century. I believe for terrorists, anything goes. Once you choose terrorism, you’re essentially saying “no thanks” to society and its norms. If you wish to see those norms eradicated, then you kind of hand in your human card. However, not sure people escaping poverty and violence and sneaking into the country equals the same thing. Some argue it is. Those people have wildly exaggerated what they feel is an open attack on our nation and for them, this nightmare of caged children is justified. No tolerance. Stay home or get this kind of treatment.

Makes sense. But is it good? Or even moral? Or something we represent as a nation or as fellow members of humanity?

I blame humanity. And if you’re reading this, you’re human, so yeah, us.

What has always made me ill about the concept of morality is its vacillating institutional tool, religion, and especially its most bizarre creatures, evangelists. Mostly it is their sadly quixotic ways in which they flub the very idea of it. All religions are filled with this craziness, but Christians, when considering the source, do and say the most hateful and judgmental things. We can argue whether Jesus was an egalitarian and hated capitalism and money and property and welcomed the inclusion of all peoples against the ruling religious class or not. We can even assume him God. But I am not entirely sure how you balance what is happening to the children at the border with any level of comprehension about a Christ figure. Never mind Yeshua the Nazarene. Yet, there are a whole lotta Christians who support this policy and this administration, and I don’t get that. Never will.

I only bring this up because the No Tolerance Policy that led to these horrors was sold, predictably, by quoting Biblical scripture. Then Attorney General Jeff Sessions said “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order. Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.” Ignoring that the former Saul of Tarsus, a man known for torturing Christians as a weekend hobby before some shit happened to him on the road across the border, using the Bible to sell oppression and systemic criminal activity is as old as the damn thing. But that brings us back to our national morality, even a secular compassion for our fellow humans.

How do we, a nation so full of itself, so prideful of our accomplishments to assist the less fortunate and protecting the weak and needy, stand by and watch this happen?

I have no answer and that is not a rhetorical question. I want to know.

Do you?

Read More

BOB MUELLER’S PRIMER IN PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE TRUTH-TELLING

Aquarian Weekly
6/5/19

Reality Check

James Campion


BOB MUELLER’S PRIMER IN PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE TRUTH-TELLING
How the Speech of the Century Tells Us Everything We Need to Know & More

As I requested on May 5, Special Counsel Robert Mueller took to a podium and tried like hell to qualify what is already in his comprehensive 448-page report, which has been severely mangled by spin-doctored interpretation, botched by our finger-puppet attorney general, and turned into treason by FOX News. Clearly not comfortable in a public forum, he was nevertheless intelligently respectful and stuck to the facts of his findings. However, because he is a man of integrity and believes in crazy things like the U.S. Constitution (imagine that?) he was quite subliminal in his phrasing. There was much subtext to his dexterous wordplay simply because his position does not allow him to come out and say what he actually means. This might be considered lawyer-speak to some, but I heard it with writer-ears. For me, Mueller provided a subliminal plethora of metaphor and symbolism the likes of which is often found in the misty realm of poetry.

We begin with the core of Mueller’s address: He is tired of hearing the president, his media cronies, and a plethora of Republican lackies whine about Donald Trump being the victim of his investigation, which they have repeatedly dubbed a “witch hunt” or “a hoax” that was launched by “deep state” Democrats attempting a coup de tat. No less than eight times did Mueller make clear that not only did Russia fuck with our election, having every intention to do so and do it again in 2020, it did so to the detriment of Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, and thus consequently helped the president win the 2016 election.

Mueller: “The indictment alleges that they used sophisticated cybertechniques to hack into computers and networks used by the Clinton campaign. They stole private information and then released that information through fake online identities and through the organization WikiLeaks. The releases were designed and timed to interfere with our election and to damage a presidential candidate. And at the same time, as the grand jury alleged in a separate indictment, a private Russian entity engaged in a social media operation, where Russian citizens posed as Americans in order to influence an election.”

For the truly dense or Sean Hannity, who that evening went back on FOX and said Mueller was a tool of the deep state, Mueller reiterated, “They needed to be investigated and understood. And that is among the reasons why the Department of Justice established our office.” This was also a direct hit on the Trump/Barr witch hunt/hoax boondoggle that’s recently moved into a doomstruck DOJ counter-investigation on the origins of the investigation much like the short-lived and sadly funny “Voter Fraud” team launched and then predictably skunked by a winning candidate after the election.

Of course, all of the “helped Clinton’s opponent” stuff drives Trump nuts because it taints his victory, which if you’ve followed along, we ascertained long ago that was his initial motivation to fire the FBI director and get him stuck with a special counsel in the first place. And Mueller knows it, because if you listen to the way he presented his case, he doesn’t care a lick about the president’s insecurities. In fact, if the tone of this speech was any indication, Mueller sees Trump as a thin-skinned loon with a Twitter account who has less respect for American values than the man who perpetuated these crimes, Vladimir Putin, for whom the Trump has defended and naively believed when the Russian dictator told him he had nothing to do with it.

“These indictments contain allegations,” Mueller wryly continued, distinctly referencing previous and existing indictments about yet unnamed individuals that he felt compelled not to “comment on the guilt or the innocence of” and that “every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.” This was another cleverly worded sting at the president, who immediately went fourth grade again on Twitter after the address telling everyone Mueller cleared him with a hearty “Case Closed”. Mueller reminded us there is still much to learn about this whole mess and that the learning part should involve Congress.

When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of their government’s effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.”

Mueller was also precise in his secret messaging to AG William Barr, who “made the report on our investigation largely public” using the telling adverb “largely” as a hint that it was not “completely public”, serving as an addendum to the letter Mueller sent to the AG after his ham-fisted summation farce and Barr’s shameless lying to Congress on how the special counsel viewed obstruction of justice. Barr told Congress Mueller saw none, when the report cited ten incidents of possible obstruction of his investigation, something he would restate later in this speech.

To wit: “That is also the reason we investigated efforts to obstruct the investigation. The matters we investigated were of paramount importance. It was critical for us to obtain full and accurate information from every person we questioned. When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of their government’s effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.”

Ouch.

Mueller then took time to break the report down in two parts for the still-confused or Tucker Carlson. The first being “a broader conspiracy” with Russia to fuck with our election. While stating there was not enough evidence for broader (a key adjective here) conspiracy – unlike collusion, conspiracy is an actual legal term – it immediately conjures up a “kind of conspiracy”, making it likely that there was some form of conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia. He later will also conspicuously cite “evidence could be used if there were co-conspirators who could be charged now” to further this idea. Mueller did not twice use a blockbuster term like “conspiracy” in this speech without note. Moreover, this is an important distinction from the two-dimensional report. Mueller reiterated that although there was not a sweeping overall conspiracy, there indeed may have been one.

Hmmmmm.

The second part, stated Mueller, is “the results and analysis of our obstruction of justice investigation involving the president.” Here is where, again, things get hairy for Trump, and where Congress is instructed by the report and this speech to act. Mueller wrapped with the damning sentence; “And as set forth in the report, after that investigation, if we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so. We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime.”

Mueller made a point to end each paragraph of this address with a major statement about Russian interference and conspiracies, but this is the dooziest of all doozies. In essence, Mueller obliterates the continued lunacy of “exoneration” repeated by the president and his zealots with a we tried to exonerate this guy, but let’s face it he is at best shady and worst a criminal, and there are plenty examples of both in this baby.

With one last salvo, Mueller looked up from his rostrum more than once and cited that “under longstanding department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional.” In other words, this ain’t my gig, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have the evidence, just did not have the authority to charge someone under the overwhelming evidence for crimes and misdemeanors, and let’s face it none of this even approaches the most rudimentary definition of “exoneration”, so the president should probably stop saying this. “A special counsel’s office is part of the Department of Justice, and by regulation, it was bound by that department policy,” he concluded. “Bound to policy” means; I am busting with stuff that could impeach any president, but you know, the whole constitution thing. If I were Senior Twitter, I could just trample on it, but once again, I am a pro and not a game show host, so I was at the behest of an AG that is in the bag for the president and all of this is very, very bad and someone needs to do something about this and fast.

To wit: “The opinion says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.” This again refers directly to Congress, as Mueller does in several places in the report. It also reminded Barr that the DOJ is not the final word on this, as the AG has tried with everything he has to perpetuate in Trump’s defense. In the subtlest of ways Mueller flat-out accused Barr of obstructing justice if he continues this shit. This sentence leaves the matter up to Congress to adjudicate. You know, the equal branch of government Trump is treating like some NYC real estate regulatory department he can threaten, stonewall and bribe. This was Mueller’s job to hand them enough to consider impeachment, which is a political, not a legal tool.

Here is another kick in the teeth sentence to conclude: “Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.” Concentrate here on the word “could”, which throbs like a rotten tooth. Then reflect on a subsequent verb, “would”, which immediately lands on the table when someone says “could”. Mueller expounded by saying the special counsel was “guided by principles of fairness.” Only “fairness” kept Mueller from shouting from the rooftops that a criminal is running the free world. He would have if he could have charged the president with something, but that is up to…Congress.

Mueller rode off into the sunset hoping aloud that Congress would not make him repeat all this again in a media-crazed atmosphere of self-aggrandized political piss-fighting, but really that ain’t up to him. And he did take one last dig on Trump’s F.B.I. attacks by stating in conclusion they were a “professional staff who helped us conduct this investigation in a fair and independent manner” with “the highest integrity.”

“And I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments, that there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election,” said Mueller, putting his foot on the neck of witch hunt/hoax. “And that allegation deserves the attention of every American.”

That includes Congress, the president and the attorney general, assuming they are part of the “every American” thing, which I will conceded for the purposes of this speech; a speech that had all the elements of great theater and an even greater theatrical libretto.

Read More

FINAL WORD ON MUELLER REPORT & OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE

Aquarian Weekly
4/10/19

Reality Check

James Campion


FINAL WORD ON MUELLER REPORT & OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE


As stated time and again in this space, this whole Russian obsession the Trump campaign and its administration’s first two years of governance has displayed had nothing to do with collusion. The undisputed proof that the President of the United States plotted with a foreign government to help push the election in his favor seems crazy when considering this guy can’t keep two thoughts in his head for five consecutive minutes, much less oversee a Machiavellian scheme of this magnitude. Donald Trump doesn’t possess the mental capacity or the sense of survival techniques inherent in someone who would do anything like this. However, what I have been commenting on now for over two years was this dumbfounding collage of self-incriminating acts that made it look as if the president were guilty of something. He is so delusional to the consequences of his actions and certainly his comments that he keeps making things worse for himself. To his credit, Special Counsel Robert Mueller shut the Trump noise out and actually saved the president from himself by coming to the conclusion that despite the mounting idiocy coming from the White House to make him continuously appear as guilty as sin – weird tweets, incessant haranguing of the special counsel and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a dozen or so colleagues and alleged co-conspirators lying to congress and the FBI, 34 indictments, Trump was not guilty of at least an ill-conceived strategy with a paper trail.

We’ll get to more of Trump’s rampant stupidity that caused all these investigations in the first place, but let’s get to the crux of the issue for which this space has indeed repeatedly stated: Trump is guilty of obstruction of justice.

First off, we know nothing about what is in the Mueller Report because right now Attorney General William Barr (the third one in two years under Trump and handpicked by him for his anti-Mueller rhetoric) has not released it. After a few hours over a day and a half of perusing over 300 pages of the thing, Barr summarized Mueller’s findings on collusion and stated quite cryptically that “while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” This is because Mueller believed he had enough evidence to conclude that Trump had obstructed justice. This has been bared out by Barr’s original statement and more recently in a detailed NY Times report that has Team Mueller bitching that this is starting to smell like a cover-up.  But unless motivated (and of course Barr is not) there is no precedence in implicating a sitting president on obstruction of justice if there is nothing to obstruct justice from. In other words, in Barr’s reasoning, if there is no collusion then what is Trump exactly trying to protect himself from?

And this is where Trump’s stupidity comes stumbling in.

Trump of course came roaring out of the gate (or in this case the golf course) to proclaim himself exonerated on all counts – which ran counter to his hand-picked attorney general’s specific comment about the report not exonerating him. In his usual bumble-fuck manner the president shouted about how much this whole thing was a waste of taxpayer money and time and put undue pressure on the first two years of his presidency. Startlingly, this is all true, but then this buffoon says it was all some kind of plot against him, as if he were a political martyr in the vaunted guise of a Clintonian “vast right-wing conspiracy” defense.

But, you see, no matter how you slice it, Donald Trump caused this whole thing by, again, doing and saying things that implicated him.

First, against the dire protestations of the man who actually helped him get elected, Steve Bannon, then the president’s chief strategist, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, the man who was essentially investigating his possible involvement in an ongoing criminal review of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Not to mention at that time Trump bent over backwards to make up stories (counter to the overwhelming evidence gathered by the entirety of the U.S. intelligence community) that it was anyone but Russia who had hacked into his opponent Hillary Clinton’s emails among other illegal and hostile maneuvers.

This single act would have been enough to force Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to appoint a special counsel to investigate the president, but then Trump did something even more incriminating, he admitted guilt. On national television.  

Rosenstein, another Trump appointee by the way, was thrown into this steaming pile of shit because his boss, the then acting attorney general, Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself from the case after being one of a hundred people around Trump that lied to congress about absolutely never having spoken to any Russians during the campaign. In fact, for the record, Trump repeated for fourteen months – from the time this came up during the campaign and well into his presidency – that no one near him had ever spoken to a single Russian, when, it turns out, all of them did – his family, his campaign manager, his associates (both business and political) and many members of his presidential staff.

When Trump told the anchor of NBC News that he fired Comey (already a controversial and suspicious move) because of “the Russia thing”, even after his beleaguered staff had gone crazy concocting some bizarre fiction and subsequent written statement claiming Comey was an FBI pariah that needed to be sacked by recommendation of, if you can believe it, Rod Rosenstein, he made it impossible for anyone to ignore it. Trump: “He made a recommendation, but regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it. And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story.”

Bingo! Obstruction of Justice 101.

Also, for the record, Trump said this past August that he never said such a thing and that NBC “spliced” his answer to incriminate him, just like he eventually claimed it was never his voice on the Access Hollywood tape, even though he immediately apologized for bragging about assaulting women three weeks before he was elected the leader of the free world.

Donald Trump caused this whole thing by doing and saying things that implicated him.

Thus, Bob Mueller recommended that the DOJ consider Trump’s actions as possible obstruction of justice, (this is apparently what is riling them up enough to reach out to the media to berate Bob Barr), but among other things we have yet to see the entire report, which right now is being held up in the (ahem) Department of Justice. Why? If it “exonerates” Trump and he wins and the media and the Democrats and the FBI eat shit, then release it. No redactions. The whole report. That we paid for. Yet, thus far, and a preponderance of Republican legislators have worked as this guy’s echo chamber, the DOJ does not want us to see the whole report, which further raises suspicion on what’s in it. Apparently, no one supporting Trump wants this thing to see the light.

Again, all of this makes Trump look incredibly guilty of something. And if that’s the case then maybe the media didn’t go all that nuts, the Democrats may have a damn good reason to hold this maniac accountable, and the FBI was and is doing its job quite nicely.

Refusing to release this report is again another asinine move by Trump and his zealots, pretty much presuming there is ugly stuff in there. Maybe there isn’t, like there wasn’t collusion. But then why were all those people around the president lying? And going to jail for it? And what’s with all the meetings with Russians? And what about these private nobody-is-allowed-to-be-in-the-room-and there-are-no-transcripts meetings the POTA has with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin?

If I may offer my humble explanation: Beyond the president’s business dealings with Moscow, which hopefully will be revealed when we finally see his tax returns, Donald Trump’s insecurity and childish knee-jerk reaction about everything from Spike Lee to Saturday Night Live to a dead John McCain reared its ugly head once it became obvious that the Russians had aided and abetted his barely over the finish line election in 2016. He was pissed because Clinton won the popular vote and that his inauguration was far smaller than Barack Obama’s and all the other facts that run counter to his delusions of grandeur. Therefore, Trump tried to squash it, never realizing it made him look like he was involved all the time. Then when it came down to actual accountability he did what he has been doing since the 1980s; attack the messenger (the media) and the source of his headache, (Robert Mueller), before finding an alternate culprit (Democrats).

The comedic tragedy of Trump/Mueller comes down to this; over 1,100 times (a count roughly put together this week by the NY Times) the president of the United States framed the special counsel’s attempt to get to the bottom of our nation being attacked by a foreign adversary as a “hoax” or a “witch hunt”, but now uses it’s a questionable summary of his detailed report to defend his sad-sack actions that caused it all in the first place.

No more spot-on event could better describe the first two dismal years of this abortion of a presidency.            

Read More

TO THE BALLOT

Aquarian Weekly
4/3/19

Reality Check

James Campion


TO THE BALLOT
Time for the People of NJ and Not Our Feckless Politicians to Legalize Recreational Marijuana


Eventually barriers do fall to those who are committed to breaking them down.
– NJ Governor Phil Murphy

In the beginning of a change the patriot is a scarce man, and brave, and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot.
– Mark Twain


Predictably, do-nothing NJ lawmakers have sunk the legalization of recreational marijuana this week, and not by striking it down, but by NEVER GETTING TO A VOTE! And so, in the interest of actual democracy (remember that kids?) I propose we do it the democratic way and have a vote. What a concept. Let the ballot box decide if we’re going to drop this delusory, over-officious, money-grubbing, half-assed nonsense about a plant and get down to the business of business. I will stand by the tally. I only ask that we have one.

Governor Phil Murphy and the Democratic-led legislature have failed, miserably. Republicans are, as always, useless. I will spend the next two years campaigning against all of them, but this is not about repercussions for abject failure, this is about moving forward and taking matters into our own hands. The will of the people, as our founders framed it.

No sense going over why this gutless body didn’t even put the matter to a vote – a myriad of the same crap you hear all the time, whether it is to keep minorities or women from voting, recognizing same-sex marriage – religious, taxation, antiquated, bigoted, irrational fears for the moral destruction of society. Stupidly, I have put my faith (is that even the right word?) in the self-serving myopic machinations of politicians, and they fucked up. Again.

Thus far I have made it a point that unlike the zombie Trump zealots who continue to somehow support him despite a spate of broken promises he used to narrowly win the presidency throughout the Rust Belt, not the least of which his constant ranting on repealing and replacing the ACA with a cheaper, better alternative health system, and my favorite boondoggle; bringing manufacturing jobs back and (chuckle) expanding the coal industry, I will hold Mr. Murphy accountable for his only campaign promise I cared two licks about – legalizing recreational marijuana.

Of course, the sensible commentator side of me realizes that the governor was motivated and had plenty of state senate support, control of most of the legislature, and even pushed hard these last months to get a vote, but let’s be honest, there are no medals for trying. This is not about wanting to do something. I would guess that Trump, beyond his infantile tweeting and defending himself against forty investigations, may wish to bring jobs back, he just can’t, and has not, and for this he should be held accountable. Same goes for Murphy. Whether he is a showbiz clown or a progressive Democrat. Results matter. Not talk and tweeting and posturing and desire. Everyone wants something. Politics and governance are about getting it done.

Why should drug dealers and drug lords profit? Why not firefighters or teachers or funds coming in to fix roads and bridges?

This is why it is imperative now that this state put the matter on the ballot this November. I believe it would have a far better chance to pass and thus no one has to feel like they’re damning children (God forbid people actually parent their miserable offspring) or pissing off God or doing whatever frightens politicians. Take it off their desks and lay it on ours. Let us decide. Once that part of it is done, they can bitch and fight over how to tax, regulate or enforce laws dealing with it. Apparently passing controversial bills has become an anathema to lawmakers. With elections looming, they wilt in the bright light of actually doing their jobs. Not even a vote? No public debate or forum? Just a bunch of suits in rooms deciding what’s legal so they can divvy up the tax revenues? Well that revenue comes from us, so let’s decide how we wish to use it.

Truth is money is what this all about for me. I barely smoke weed. I don’t care if its legal or not beyond cashing in. If and when I want contraband, I get it, like my former insane consumption of pure French absinthe. However, why should drug dealers and drug lords profit? Why not firefighters or teachers or funds coming in to fix roads and bridges? Hence, I do not subscribe to the civil rights concept of this. It is not a right to be feed your head. Ask the poor bastards that passed the Volstead Act. Marriage equality was indeed a civil rights issue. This is a commonsense issue.

This is not like say, climate change, which is real, and it is embarrassing I have to state this, but since an entire political party chooses to ignore scientific fact for economic posturing, I guess I do. People are going to believe what they believe. I assume humans are doomed and no matter what we do about the environment, it will come to pass. Thank goodness. We’re a virus and we need to go. No, this is direct line to simply monetize or if you will, exploit a thriving industry. This is how we built this country – free land grabs and slave labor. All I’m asking is we get down to the nitty gritty here, and to – what part of the proposed bill proffered – get those people out of jail doing serious time for smoking a particular plant. We spend enough money with jailing the poor in this country, drugs should not be part of it.

Commonsense needs to be on the ballot. And I am far from saying I think this will solve anything. Holy shit, a moron is president. Regardless of that electoral abortion, I will, as stated, stand by the decisions of the citizens of NJ, because what else do we have left?

The frightened and weak members of our legislature have had their day.

Put weed on the ballot.

Read More

ENOUGH WITH FOX NEWS

Aquarian Weekly
3/20/19

Reality Check

James Campion


ENOUGH WITH FOX NEWS

Most columns that begin with “I never do this” and then the columnist goes on to do it is total bullshit. And yet, here I go: I hardly ever comment on other news outlets or media in general in this space. I think over the nearly 23 years of penning Reality Check I may have dedicated an entire column on matters of media once or twice, and mostly it was in a mocking capacity and scarcely worth noting. When I do make passing critiques on the silliness of cable news or morning shows or the way-too-easy-target talk radio crap-fest, it is merely in the service of a larger point – however rambling or meaningless said point. But today I am forced to comment on FOX News merely because it is suddenly embroiled in a first amendment issue, the likes of which I have spent a lifetime interpreting, and in most cases, defending to its most precious core.

Recently, the Democratic Party has refused FOX News’ request to host any of its presidential candidate debates. This is, of course, the privilege of the party, as it can find any outlet to do so, but the reasoning has gone beyond the right-leaning channel’s penchant to be overly critical and sometimes rancorous towards the party and its liberal platform as a matter of principle over coverage. Party chairman, Tom Perez, issued a statement this week that the cable news outlet “is not in a position to host a fair and neutral debate for our candidates.”

Now, normally, I would take issue with this. Mainly because words like “fair” are quite subjective and downright arbitrary and don’t belong in a serious political discussion and the very idea of “neutral” is at worst nebulous and at best in the eye of the beholder. Hate speech, liberal or conservative ideas, broad mayhem set beside intellectual exchanges all fall under the right to free speech and a free press. However, it has become increasingly disturbing how much FOX News has acted as a state-run propaganda wing of the White House in the past two years, specifically in the past 14 months. So much so that it must be finally stated that what has become of the already marred FOX News brand over the past decades has reached an untenable level of subjective glad-handing and worse still a direct link to governance. Therefore, it can no longer be looked upon as anything resembling a news source. It is for intents and purposes the kind of bizarro shit you see on YouTube or read on Facebook or listen to at the end of the bar around 3:15 am, and once again (yikes!) working as an unelected branch of the federal government.

recent study by New Yorker magazine has fully revealed the length and breadth of the damage FOX News has done to what was already loosely being sold as journalism. The exposé brilliantly researched and written by respected investigative reporter, Jane Mayer, with a myriad of inside sources, is beyond damning. It lays out a systemic pattern of back-and-forth sharing between Donald Trump and its public employees of information, suggested policy and agenda formats for U.S. public and international policy, and a measure of cover-ups on legitimate stories of executive branch crimes and misleading and/or alternate reality concepts peddled as facts.

It appears when the public elects a product of television – and its shortcuts to reasoning and immediate gratification of response, extrapolated in the concussive mendacity of Twitter and most of the Internet – there are consequences. It appears the choice of this president to use one singular communication tool posing as “news” to both figure governing techniques and ideologies, and to have those echoed back to him as if a cheerleading squad, and then promote fiction as a narrative to have it reported as fact, thus creating new fictions, is both stupid and dangerous.    

You have to go back to early 20thcentury Randolph Hearst level of journalistic corruption to equal the well-organized presidential publicity machine FOX has become

Now, to be fair (fair?), there is – and the New Yorker is as guilty of this as any – an alternate argument that much of what comes from commentary or coverage on the liberal side has also been queer and icky and at times downright lunacy. I used to watch FOX as my role here dictates to digest all the areas of coverage until I started to experience a dramatic shift in merely defending this president or stretching the credulity of an argument into pretzels as an insult to my intelligence. But I also watch MSNBC and can report that while it is the oft-times overly enthusiastic opposition wing of this edict, and it goes beyond the pale in setting up scenarios (much like FOX during the Obama administration) giving hope to the resistance that soon there will be impeachments and all the stuff that riles up the bases on both sides, it has never directly influenced presidential policy. You have to go back to early 20thcentury Randolph Hearst level of journalistic corruption to equal the well-organized presidential publicity machine FOX has become wherein hosts of shows, Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs, Jeanine Pirro, and FOX & Friends, which even those within the Donald Trump orbit have admitted the president is both obsessed with and educated by, have crossed the barrier normally set up for purported news organizations.

The most egregious example of this is the recent furor over an emergency at the nation’s southern border, which has been roundly refuted by those actually controlling the border and every other news organization. Again, there are many in the Republican Party and even the White House staff who see the entire episode as classic Trump hyperbole, but by in large has received legitimate “coverage” on FOX News, including the election-period nonsense about invading caravans of illegal alien criminals, and the completely made up figures of drug trafficking, et al. Whether the argument about border security is lacking or is fine or whatever is up for debate, but a crisis? No. Yet it is covered as such by FOX, which is regurgitating the paranoid musings of a lunatic as a legitimate story. Either way it is not news and therefore cannot be considered a source of news. In the end, it cannot be allowed to do newsy things like moderate debates.

Bill Sammon, managing editor of Fox News’s Washington bureau, recently referenced poor Chris Wallace, Bret Baier, Shepard Smith and Martha MacCallum as those who “embody the ultimate journalistic integrity and professionalism.” This is true in the sense that those are sincere reporters who find themselves besmirched by their affiliation with this clown show. Problem is if they are truly pros they would not only quit FOX but go on a pilgrimage to stop these embarrassingly pro-Trump-or bust tactics. They can stay if they wish. I shall not. And apparently those not named Donald Trump, who have a choice to be covered by legitimate news outlets, will not either. And who can blame them?

Enough with FOX News.

Read More

NATIONAL EMERGENCY FALLOUT

Aquarian Weekly
2/20/19

Reality Check

James Campion


NATIONAL EMERGENCY FALLOUT
Or The Political Price For Betting On Fantasies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The numbers tell you, yes.     

Read More

THE DELUSION FACTOR

Aquarian Weekly
1/16/19

Reality Check

James Campion


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

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

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

Hence, political corner painted.

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

But alas, as is my wont, I digress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then send everyone back to work.

You’re welcome. 

Read More

THE WALL – A SURREALIST PERSPECTIVE

Aquarian Weekly
1/2/19

Reality Check

James Campion

THE WALL – A SURREALIST PERSPECTIVE  

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

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

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

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

Cue the sitar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read More

RESURRECTING LENNY

Aquarian Weekly
12/19/18

Reality Check

James Campion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read More

GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH – 1924 – 2018

Aquarian Weekly
12/12/18

Reality Check

James Campion

GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH – 1924 – 2018

George Bush is guiltier than all of them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read More
Page 1 of 1912345»10...Last »