GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH – 1924 – 2018

Aquarian Weekly
12/12/18

Reality Check

James Campion

GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH – 1924 – 2018

George Bush is guiltier than all of them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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THE RUSSIAN BANK PHASE – SUDDENLY WHITEWATER

Aquarian Weekly
12/5/18

Reality Check

James Campion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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STAN LEE – 1922 – 2018

Aquarian Weekly
11/21/18

Reality Check

James Campion

STAN LEE – 1922 – 2018

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

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

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

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

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

It was like getting the map to a treasure chest.

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

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

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

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

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

Nuff said.

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MID-TERM ROUNDUP

Aquarian Weekly
11/14/18

Reality Check

James Campion

MID-TERM ROUNDUP
Women, Repudiation, Entrenchment & Reckoning

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

Women, Women, And More Women

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

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

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

The ACA? Yup, the ACA

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

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

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

The Rust Belt and Florida

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

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

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

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

Okay Then, Who Should Be Celebrating?

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

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

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

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ALT RIGHT UNDERGROUND – A PERSPECTIVE

Aquarian Weekly
10/31/18

Reality Check

James Campion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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THIRTY-SIX HOURS

Aquarian Weekly
10/24/18

Reality Check

James Campion

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

Thirty-six hours.

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

Prison Cell Bars

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

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

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

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

This was not to be.

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

This was not to be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was arrested in NYC on Tuesday, October 9.

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

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

I write that now, as I lived it then.

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

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

Thirty-six hours.

Changed me.

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#FEMINIST

Aquarian Weekly
10/10/18

Reality Check

James Campion

#FEMINIST
Notes from the Penis Underground

I wish to start out this week by denouncing this asinine argument that somehow this beer-soaked lightweight Brett Kavanaugh is somehow representative of the men in this country. He is not. He is a fucking wimp and clearly has issues with alcohol and women and should have been tossed into the trash heap of history weeks ago. There is enough evidence he lied under oath and most likely assaulted women in a semi-blacked out state of inertia. Fuck him. He gives proud alcoholics and men a bad name. I will not stand idly by and allow people to put him into any category I am in. None of my friends or the people they know did this. Just like the idiotic notion that “all guys talk like Trump grabbing pussies” during the 2016 campaign. Not all guys. Just assholes. And criminals. I was in plenty of locker rooms and not once did anyone brag about assaulting women. Ever. Fuck Trump.

Okay, so with that out of the way, let’s call it as we see it. This Brett Kavanaugh nomination process was bullshit. This guy is a lunatic and at best is 50-50 whether he sexually assaulted at least one woman, maybe two or three. This is the best we can do for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court? No. It is not, and he is not. Any other circumstance – weeks from a mid-term, nearly half century of a religious right push for a conservative Supreme Court and a Republican controlled federal government (for the time being) makes Kavanaugh the hold-your-nose and vote candidate. He sucks, that much is true. But whether that matters or not politically is not the issue. The issue is how the women citizenry has been treated throughout all this. That is a mountain of in-your-face-go-fuck-yourself bullshit for women. Period.

The abomination of a human being Donald J. Trump’s performance at a Mississippi rally (Mississippi, let that sink in for a second…sheesh) this week openly mocking Christine Blasey Ford was a new low even for this bleating moron. It was a misogynistic slap in the face of every woman in this country. I’m sorry. Go see for yourself. Watch it. How in the world can any woman listen to that fourth-grade nonsense, from a president, and not start throwing up? This man has been and always will be a slop-addled hog, but this took the cake. Shit, man, go ahead and defend your nominee, put doubt in the body politic, but even Kavanaugh himself and all the Republican senators laid low challenging Ford’s testimony, much less openly ridiculing it and her. It was a fucking disgrace and it is mounting evidence that this whole thing was a fucking disgrace, especially to women.

This is a blatant and vicious war on women.

I wrote weeks ago in this space that Kavanaugh or really any conservative judge considered for the swing vote on the Supreme Court would be a likely blow to women’s reproductive rights and a challenge to Roe v. Wade, the law of the land since 1973 that gives women the right to choose what to do within their bodies and not the federal government. That is a cogent argument that has been going on for decades. I respect those who think the opposite and feel that Roe v Wade was a legal mistake and a moral horror show, giving citizens the right to eradicate the lives of innocents. I get it. I get the religion and the science of it. And I also made the point last week here that this is all about politics, not the law – politics, as it should be and has been since the dawning of this republic. This is not about that.

We are beyond politics now. This is a blatant and vicious war on women. First, the ignoring of Ford’s allegations until it became publicly untenable. Then the obligatory and showboating senate hearing, which was, again, all about politics, in which Kavanaugh acted like a maniac throwing out Breitbart level conspiracies about a left-wing cabal and deep state and for some reason only known to his rage-induced brain farts, the Clintons. Most of it was to get a troglodytic president that only goes with the last thing he hears or sees on board. Trump was wavering on Kavanaugh once Ford had done a credible job parsing through the moments of whatever trauma she endured. It was a performance to get the senate and the president back on his side by pulling out the tired tropes of the 2016 election.

This is expected of politicians, but not judges up for lifetime appointments. They are supposed to remain hypocritically silent on these matters. That is the lowest bar to reach in this process and Kavanaugh failed to approach it. In fact, he obliterated it – loudly and crudely and quite frankly, for a grown man, embarrassingly. Kavanaugh went nuts, and once again, tried to make the case that Ford could not have possibility come forward on her own without being used as a puppet of the Democrats.

Not sure, as I write this and send it to press on the morning of this fifth day of October, if Kavanaugh has enough votes or not to be confirmed. Sure, this is being rushed, after, mind you the Republican senate saw fit to let the Supreme Court languish at eight justices for the last ten months of the Obama presidency and months into the Trump one. Again, that is not the issue. The issue, for women, is threefold: Why this man – accused of these heinous crimes, and Why now – when the goal is to clearly wrest rights from women, and How this came to be – nominated by a man who was accused over a dozen times of sexual harassment and abuse and paid women whom he had affairs with to shut up and then demonized them from the bully pulpit of the presidency.

Whatever the reasons, it is bullshit.

This is the issue: women.

#feminist.

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I LOVE POLITICS

Aquarian Weekly
10/3/18

Reality Check

James Campion

I LOVE POLITICS
The Unraveling of Judge Kavanaugh & The Heinous Beauty of our Human Experiment

I love politics.

Always have. It is my grand flaw. I am mostly angry, somewhat dazzled by art, music and certainly the written word, I love to drink gin, smoke cigars, read until I pass out, love women (especially my wife, Erin and my daughter, Scarlet) and I love politics.

I would not have spent five minutes of my time on the subject much less the past 20 years penning this column or the prior 15 years as a freelancer, deriving pleasure and inspiration from its most heinous and glorious gifts. Whether Watergate or Iran/Contra, Monica Lewinsky, the 2000 election being tossed into a constitutional crisis, the intrigue and fistfights over health care and illegal wars and the kneejerk spastic reaction to 9/11 or even the more mundane bloodbaths over budgets and, my favorite, social issues. All of it is sadomasochistic thrill ride for me.

You see, I understand politics. I get what happens to people when they are in the midst of them and what it does to their brains and their nether regions and how it can at once titillate and mutilate. It always baffles me when people don’t get it. It’s like golfers or sexual deviants. They get it. You might not. But they really get it.

But nothing is more seductive than the every-once-in-a-while moment when political desperation kicks in – when politicians become like cornered animals and toss decorum, principle, almost everything they supposedly stood for or believed in and torch it in a self-immolated public bonfire. That is what the nation witnessed yesterday on Capitol Hill when Republican and Democratic senators put on the show of shows. Shouting and crying – citizens bearing their souls, righteous grandstanding, contemptuous lawyers, families paraded out like human billboards, staged interruptions and sweet-lord-jesus-there’s-a-fire speechifying – it had it all. And while it blessedly proved we are as fucked up a nation as can possibly be imagined that fancies itself “free”, I do not agree with these third-grade assessments about how it has lowered our public discourse and disgraced the “world’s greatest deliberative body”. That kind of hyperbole seems downright goofy when considering it happened in the same room as the McCarthy Hearings or the fact that a man who left a woman to drown in the car he ran into a Massachusetts lake was allowed to work there for nearly half a century.

Nevertheless, what happened yesterday was an education in both political mastery/buffoonery that reveals a great deal about the putrid, horrifying and wonderfully disgusting aspects of America.

And so, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, as conservative and politically motivated judge as we have seen being considered for a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land, appointed by the way, by an accidental criminal game show host man-child president, had all but been confirmed for some weeks, as he should, when the majority (and this is part of the putrid, horrifying and wonderfully disgusting aspects) is sitting with the power and therefore the right to confirm him. I only mention the “putrid” part because the previous president had appointed his nominee during his last year in office and the GOP-led senate decided to ignore the constitution and not even put that individual up for a vote for ten months and then when the last judge was up for a vote, they changed the procedure from overwhelming majority to mere majority to ram him through.

You see, Republicans have been fighting to swing the Supreme Court in their favor for decades. This, like health care for Democrats in 2009, which many of these same Republicans rightfully decried as a political disaster, has been a slow and deliberate slog to try and dominate the courts in the hopes to overturn marriage equality and Roe v Wade and defend corporations and banks and gun manufacturers and whatever defies the majority will of the people. This is what elections – gerrymandering, fear-mongering and electoral colleges – add up to. Elections, it should be mentioned, Democrats have been losing pretty consistently for the past dozen years or so on the local and legislative level.

The idea that a woman may or may not have been sexually assaulted by a judicial nominee is a speed bump to all this. FBI investigations? Witnesses? Search for truth? This is a kind of game and the people in it mere players. This is what politics is and has always been – from Washington’s crushing of the Whiskey Rebellion to Jackson’s Native American death march to Lincoln’s bribing of senators to LBJ’s and GW Bush’s phony intelligence – it is an immutable law, like physics and an AP reporter refusing to pick up a check. When Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, charmingly nervous and intellectually elastic, came forth with 36 year-old allegations, Democrats saw a golden opportunity and that left Republicans, hemorrhaging educated women voters of all races, to have to have a hearing. But the very fact that there is a committee vote to confirm Kavanaugh after that fiasco as I write this proves there was little point to any of it, but to perform the duties of politics.

Nothing is more seductive than the every-once-in-a-while moment when political desperation kicks in.

Oh, those who don’t “get it” will predictably accuse this space, aptly titled Reality Check, of cynicism again, but come on, who was under the impression any of this was real? I guess it was as real as Johnny Cochran’s brilliant defense of O.J. Simpson by making it about LA cops. LA cops were racist and corrupt, but O.J. Simpson also killed two people. O.J. got off. And this is where we ended up yesterday. Kavanaugh probably sexually assaulted women, as did Donald J. Trump, but he will be on the Supreme Court, appointed by President Trump. Politics.

For the record, I believe Dr. Ford. She had no motive to come forward and lie. She was absolutely exploited by Democrats, but the idea that she was a conspiratorial tool as Kavanaugh shouted in his creepy snot-filled, cry-fest (excellent job coached by the Breitbart crowd to play angry and get Senator Lindsey Graham, angling for a job in the Department of Defense, to wake up), is asinine. Sitting on national television in the glare of that horde of miscreants had no pay off for Ford. Being Supreme Court Justice for life does. Kavanaugh had every reason to lie his ass off, as his friend and purported culprit, Mark Judge, who said he has no recollection of events, had to. What do you expect him to do, admit to assisting in a sexual assault?

Dr. Ford gets nothing out of this deal other than death threats, grief and ignominy. Kavanaugh gets to be on the Supreme Court. Again, he has every reason to lie. She has none. Plus, and this is important, not once, when asked about a half-dozen times if his impassioned plea to clear his name would benefit from a full non-politically tainted investigation – something you would need to do to make absolutely certain you are not a criminal, and something Dr. Ford agreed to – he declined to answer even no. Kavanaugh is hiding something. She is not. That’s what you get from that. You demand an investigation when you spend a half hour screaming and crying like a mental patient – to clear your name and reveal this woman as a fraud. I get being pissed, as Kavanaugh clearly was, but I do not get not wanting clear evidence that I was not guilty. The rest is pure political theater to get a gig from politicians. Period.

And why did Republicans choose a woman prosecutor to ask questions of Dr. Ford? To save political blowback. Why did they steamroll her once Kavanaugh showed up? To gain political points.

I love politics.

Speaking of which, I have been asked for weeks now if the two women/moderate Republican senators, Lisa Ann Murkowski and Susan Collins, from Alaska and Maine respectively, or Democratic West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin would scuttle this vote by denying Kavanaugh his seat. I do not. Makes no political sense. As I write this the American Bar Association has called for an investigation of this alleged crime and several outlets, including the leading Jesuit periodical (Kavanaugh was attending a Jesuit high school, Georgetown Prep when this all supposedly went down), have rescinded their support for the candidate. However, these people are living in the real world of consequences and conscience and ideological purity. This has zero to do with politics. Those things are actually a detriment to the artform. It makes no political sense for any of those senators to vote no on Kavanaugh. For Republicans, the fallout would be disastrous at the polls in November, as the deluge of Democratic fervor would be exacerbated by GOP voters staying home (the same thing that killed Hillary Clinton in 2016, as crestfallen Bernie Sanders’ backers refused to cast a vote for her). And with an election so close in a “Red State”, why would Munchin risk his hide? For principle? Law? Guts?

What makes politics such a wonderfully damaging subject to dive into – here, week after week – is what it reveals about the core of our nation, of every nation. How much shit would Senators Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham eat, both personally and professionally eviscerated by this president, to get a politically motivated Supreme Court judge seated? A lot of shit. They wallowed in it yesterday, as did the Democrats in a desperate attempt to give a flying fart about a wronged woman, when so many of them defended Bill Clinton over and over again.

Brett Kavanaugh said this yesterday, in a desperate attempt to achieve his goal and make this all about politics: “This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election. Fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record. Revenge on behalf of the Clintons, and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.”

None of that statement has a thing to do with law or the Supreme Court or defending one’s self. That is a political attack on the opposition. Politics. Plain and simple. That could have been written by FDR or Hitler.

And that is why I love politics.

May Benjamin Disraeli have mercy on my soul.

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Seán Barna: Impressions Be Damned

James Campion

September 19, 2018

Confronting Religion, Grief & Anti-Gay Bigotry in Seán Barna’s Brilliant “Cissy”

Seán Barna sits across from me looking off into the distance as he contemplates a question I’ve asked him about the importance of his new EP, Cissy, which I have just finished telling him is a wholly provocative, mesmerizingly intense and unerringly brave collection of five songs that turned me sideways just a few weeks before. A tall, sinewy, dark presence, distinctly accentuated by gray pants and a black tee shirt, the 33-year-old singer-songwriter runs his long fingers through his lengthy, ebony hair that is ever so slightly streaked with gray, and finally sighs, “I had nothing, no songs, no idea for a record. I’d just moved up to Brooklyn from Washington D.C. after the presidential election, where my team didn’t do so well, and all of a sudden I was into this really interesting scene, where I figured I’d go out and try and find the rage in the streets being expressed in music and art and I found that people just aren’t fucking doing it.”

Eschewing irony, Barna suddenly becomes disturbed by the memory, looking back at me to intone, “Songwriters are really dropping the ball right now, in my opinion. It’s like, ‘What are you doing? What’re you saying?’ It’s as if everyone is suddenly doing an impression of a songwriter, instead of being a songwriter.”

Seán Barna did not want to be that songwriter. Not now. Not ever. His first two records, the stirringly autobiographical, 2014 EP, Cutter Street and Pictures of an Exhibition (2017) and the recent single release of “Straight Motherfuckers and Their Famous Friends” more than hint at his determined outlook on the craft. But it is within the stories that Cissy tells — of this time, this place and the revelation of his subjects; inspecting, even dissecting, and eventually unfurling their sexuality, their fears and shameless fury in the face of societal headwinds that make it an important musical and spiritual document, a cut above what he had failed to hear on stages across New York City.

Barna channels these visions when he sings in the opening track, “Serious Child”, a wonderfully crafted sonic homage to Phil Spector-era pop rhythms; “And if these mirrors are right, we’ve had our fair share/Killing ourselves under synthetic hair/We’d be the belles of the ball if Jesus were here/Single and queer in the bathrooms of Brooklyn.” It is a song that at once evokes religion, culture, identity, sexuality and duality within and without the gay community, his community; feeling marginalized, vilified, even hunted. “It’s all in there for me,” he says. “The drag queens, drug abuse, the absolute utter hypocrisy of religion and how fucking disgusted we all are with it.”

All roads — his family, his career, his lifestyle and beliefs and loves and hates, and the untimely death of his younger brother in 2003 — have led to Cissy for Barna; these remarkably poignant songs that stare unblinkingly at dread, lust, defiance, liberation and youthful alienation. It is a confessional of the deepest grief and this relentless passion to reflect a culture eviscerated by bigotry, ignorance and oppression. Confronted with power cords and drum fills and the twittering emotion of vocals so exceedingly raw they lay bare the concussive nature of the music they adorn, Barna has indeed created something “important”. Like all true art and seminal rock ‘n’ roll, Cissy comes from a place of desperation — in the best sense of the word — desperate to express and share.

“I am very interested in how people deal with pain… because it’s ravaged my life,” he says.

“So, in the face of all that, do you think it’s important?” I ask again.

This time he doesn’t hesitate. “I would like to think that it is important,” he says, letting a knowing smile crease his face. “It’s certainly important to me. For me, it was as if before it I didn’t know I was that good… if that makes any sense.” He laughs at his impertinence and concludes; “That’s a very brash thing to say.”

This brashness is not coincidental. Turns out there were places in New York that shared Barna’s urgency to express anger and defiance that made a lasting impression on him and would eventually inform the songs he would write for Cissy. “I was going to these drag bars and finding people who were fearless,” he says, getting animated. “They didn’t get to this point because they’re scared of you anymore. And I could hear them saying, ‘If you feel unsafe tonight, you come tell us and that motherfucker will be out, whoever it is.’ I’ve kicked people out of these bars myself. There’s an anxiety that exists in these communities and we’re sticking together, basically, is the way that it feels.”

Barna sings on the record’s second track, “Danger Baby”, “These are desperate times, we are wandering away/Did you hear? There was another shooting today/The straight motherfuckers are getting their way/Tonight we’re scared, but tomorrow we make them pay”.

“These characters are based on real people, with, of course, with the exaggeration you’re allowed as a writer,” he says. “But none of them are that far removed from things I’ve seen in drug scenes. I’m basically describing a scene and making it seem like I’m making up these great lyrics, but really, I’m telling you something that actually happened.”

Although the characters’ conflicts and redemptions found in these songs needed to be written and eventually recorded, it wasn’t until Barna called his friend and fellow musician, Dave Drago that the seeds of Cissy were sown. He playfully describes his calling Drago up to complain that he was overwhelmed with inspiration with no tangible material to show for it. “He told me to ‘Shut the fuck up and get up here and let’s make a record!’”

A producer/arranger/manager, Drago’s 1809 recording studio housed inside a re-purposed 19th century Erie Canal-side Tavern located in the little hamlet of Macedon, New York offered Barna just what its web site exclaims; “Relaxing surroundings, sleeping accommodations” where musicians “can easily remove yourself from daily life to focus on making the best recording of your career”.

“I sat in his ‘guitar-isolation room’ and started to go through these voice notes and 20-second clips of ideas (you can hear one of them whispered at the opening of “Danger Baby”) just trying to pick out melodies and put things together and figure something out,” Barna remembers. “Then Dave and I basically chose the forms of the songs, meaning that I decided on how many verses there were going to be before I even had them.” After a hearty night of drinking, Barna woke up and recorded “Serious Child”, first laying down the drums (Barna is a studied and accomplished percussionist of 22 years) singing lyrics he’d only conjured the day before. “I knew I was in a sprint,” he laughs now. “I had to do my best work very quickly.”

The furious spontaneity in which the guerilla-like writing and subsequent recording of the songs that make up Cissy duly reflects its ignoring of artifice. There was for Barna no time to think it out, edit himself, or consider the consequences of such honest expression.

“It was hard for Dave and me to not acknowledge what was happening, because we both knew there was something going on here with this record,” says Barna. “From the time that he literally woke up from a drunken sleep and said, ‘Cissy!’ and then went back to sleep and remembered it in the morning, hungover, and told me, I was like. ‘Oh man, this is good.’”

Two of the EP’s songs were already formed before Barna teamed up with Drago in upstate New York, although he acknowledges the duo transformed them into more accessible compositions — the heart-wrenching elegy to how his mother survived the death of his brother, “Routines” and its stirring coda, the brilliantly sparse and emotional “Queer Mad Blues”. The former moved Counting Crows’ lead singer and main songwriter, Adam Duritz to want to sing on it and the latter conjured the spirit of the Beat Generation poetry so vividly I could not help but gush about it on our Underwater Sunshine podcast when Adam first played it for me. “I was trying to stay in this place that artists get into, the writing zone,” Barna recounted when I marveled at the speed and purpose of the work. “I’m sure you’ve felt this too, the zone where nothing can deflect you or get in the way of your confidence. I knew there were stories to tell.”

“Routines” is written in the guise of Barna’s mother, whose grief is so overwhelming she must stick to the everyday mundane to maintain her equilibrium, creating structure to shelter her against the sheer madness of losing a child, who was struck by a car at the tender age of 13. “I asked myself, ‘How as a writer can you get in somebody else’s head… somebody else’s perspective?’” he explains, reminding me that through expressing his mother’s loss, he was translating the pain of the entire family, including himself. “I just had this vision of my mom on her porch, where she sits all the time smoking a cigarette and drinking her Coors Light. Here is somebody who isn’t speaking for herself, she’s just existing until it’s over, and there’s a profound sadness in that to me.

“I know that if I’m about to cry, I’m where I need to be for that kind of song. When Adam heard it, he said, ‘I gotta sing on this.’ And, of course, that meant everything. Adam is the reason I started writing songs in the first place. I saw Counting Crows for the first time in 2007 and this fucking man, this modern man — that’s why he’s mentioned in that song, by the way — was on the end of the stage with his heart ripped right open and laying on the goddamn stage and I was like, ‘Woah! We didn’t do that in my Catholic-Irish-Italian family!’”

The cornerstone compositions that hold together the desperate themes of sexuality, duality, revolt and youthful rage in Cissy are found in the bouncing rock of “Modern Man” and the record’s final statement, “Queer Mad Blues”. Both could be summed up in the lines, “I’ll paint my nails when it suits me/Breathtaking, isn’t it?/Masculinity/I’m a modern man”. Its understated growl of the ghostly apparition of Lou Reed’s best 1970s recklessness of intuition reeks of New York and the Velvet Underground, the urban centers, pitch black bars and the spilling out of the demimonde and the playing with gender definitions. When it all gets too much, Barna beseeches, “Sing the good songs/Do the good drugs/Turn the news off, and love, love, love/I’m a modern man,” as if echoing a lost psyche scrambling to find its own sense of the real, beyond apologies and explanations, just a man who needs to tell you about it.

The lynchpin of “Modern Man” that prompts me to give it a standing ovation every time I hear it is the verse that name-checks the legendary McDougal Street Gaslight Café, which is still huddled in the heart of the bohemian soul of Greenwich Village, bearing the scar of the underground poets and musicians and outsiders with a singular voice that has been drowned out, according to Barna, by the din of apathy. “I heard there is a protest today…” he sings with the strained relish of a damaged prophet scrambling along the corridors of our American refuge. “But the Gaslight is already closed/Yeah, the Gaslight is already closed/So let’s keep it numb/Let’s keep it reckless/Cuz the Gaslight is already closed.”

“Places like the Gaslight don’t exist for me,” expounds Barna. “I go over there, and I look at it sometimes, but I won’t go in… I just look at the stairwell and think, ‘Wow, I used to be able to walk in there and have meaning as a songwriter and have a voice’, but nobody is listening so I’m going to do drugs instead. The Gaslight is closed and there’s no change to be had. It’s kind of like giving up a little bit…but not really.”

“Queer Mad Blues” is far different but no less signifying of this search for the authentic cry in the wilderness. Delicately picked on an acoustic guitar and sung as if an audacious confessional, it stands alone, naked to all of the anger-speak and sedition of Cissy to walk the thinnest line of all, sanity. Its final lines toll the mission bell as a call to arms for a generation adrift and perhaps not aware of the dangers that come with expressing such anger: “Took what I wanted/The queens and the jokes/I burned all my belongings but not this leather coat/You found your disease, tried and true/You meant what you said, now spread the news.”

As if channeling Jack Kerouac’s famous stanza from On the Road, a book that had taken the young Seán Barna by storm like so many before and after him “Queer Mad Blues” completes the lineage. Saint Jack writes in the book, “[…]the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue center-light pop and everybody goes “Awww!”

Barna sings, “Blues are blues, even queer ones/The sad ones, the scared ones, the mad ones…and even the queer ones.” Six decades since Kerouac’s ode to the displaced thrill-seekers adrift along the inter-generational byways, Cissy ends with a repeated, “The sad ones, the scared ones, the mad ones, And even the queer ones.”

When I recite these lines back to Barna, he straightens from his comfortably slouched mid-interview stance and becomes animated. “I am trying to express anxiety in people through my life. I use my life as a metaphor to explain how fucked up the world is and the world as a metaphor for how fucked up I am! And I try to interchange those so you can’t figure out what’s going on necessarily with me. ‘Queer Mad Blues’ in a general sense, captures this sadness I felt in my life and I’m obviously talking about queer people, that there’s a gay sadness that exists, just an inherent sadness to a lot of queer people and that’s derived from society, but I need to say that you cannot let it get you down. You have to stand up and you have to demand your rights because no one is going to give them to you for free. You have to speak loudly to be brutally, viciously honest, in art and that’s why I have no goddamn tolerance for the singer-songwriter ‘impression’ or whatever else it is. That’s why I was drawn to drag. I’ve never done drag, I’m never going to do drag, but watching these people be fearless in their art is the best thing that I think we can do as artists right now; continue to speak for ourselves.”

Important?

Listen to the five songs in Cissy and decide. It is, if nothing else, music for its time, with or without the Gaslight Café.

“The record itself is a “Fuck you! We’re still here and we’re still going to speak!’”, Barna says before we part for a beer at the White Horse Tavern, where Kerouac used to drink, where the Village Voice, which recently went belly up, was conjured, where the Clancy Brothers and Bob Dylan crossed paths, where Dylan Thomas fell into ignominy. Hesitating again, Barna looks up at the ceiling and exhales one last time to conclude; “I’m just going to be louder. I’m going to become more art, bigger art, better art, because we are the resistance to this thing and artists always have been, whatever little part you play in that.”

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CATHOLIC CHURCH’S ONGOING CHILD RAPE PROBLEM

Aquarian Weekly
9/5/18

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

CATHOLIC CHURCH’S ONGOING CHILD RAPE PROBLEM

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.
– Matthew 23:13

Holy shit.

A few weeks ago, a grand jury report shed light on internal documents from six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania that show that more than 300 “predator priests” have been credibly accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 child victims. And it could be more. “We believe that the real number of children whose records were lost or who were afraid ever to come forward is in the thousands,” the grand jury report states.

Also from the report: “Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades. Monsignors, auxiliary bishops, bishops, archbishops, cardinals have mostly been protected; many, including some named in this report, have been promoted.”

Promoted.

Rape = Promotion.

Let that sink in. I’ll give you a minute.

How’s that sitting with you?

I repeat, holy shit.

Let me ask this question as succinctly and as straight forward as I can: If there is an organization that has repeatedly been outed for decades with the perpetuation of child abuse and systemic pedophilia that has run rampart throughout the Catholic Church all over the world, but specifically here in the U.S., why should it be allowed to continue as such?

This is a serious issue. Right? Children being raped by priests and the institution hiding it from the public and the continued protection of predators against children being either mostly ignored or at least in a twisted sense being accepted as some kind of “new normal” these days is sort of important, no? And this in an era when outlandish reactions to say something like ISIS in the Middle East and the embarrassingly moronic current reaction by this federal government and many of our citizens to illegal immigration, both of which is treated as if the wolf is at the door. But where is the outrage and special taskforce or movement to oust the Catholic Church from our shores as a dangerous, predatory, criminal organization?

Where is the major presser from Attorney General Jeff Sessions – obsessed with jailing brown people and pot users – about launching a major investigation, fuck that, a War on the Catholic Church?

Three hundred priests protected by an organization that systemically rapes children, boys AND, by the way, girls, lest we get the usual “gays are predators” nonsense from the Bigot Brigade. This happens. Here. In our country; where we have concentration camps for the children of illegal immigrants. A multi-billion dollar untaxed conglomerate is raping kids and not only making excuses for it and/or covering it up, but spending millions to do so.

Millions of dollars, I might add, given into baskets by Catholics, who unfortunately for them are complicit in this unchecked horror show.

Paying for rape.

“Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades.”

This gets a HOLY SHIT.

The grand jury described the church’s methods as “a playbook for concealing the truth” after FBI agents identified a series of practices they found in diocese files.

And to make it even more sickening, this has been a discussion of fact for more than half a century here and for over a century in counties like Ireland, which has now begun a rightful public uproar for the church to do something about it, like holding the current Pope responsible. None of this, though, seems to resonate here, where there are now Religious Freedom Task Forces. What is that? A group that decides the best way to hide pedophiles?

How about we demand the Vatican extricate Pope Francis to our shores to stand trial for this heinous crime?

This is what we would do if a foreign or domestic organization’s CEO was pulling this shit, so why not the Pope?

Really, it is the timeline and the ignoring and the excusing and the hiding and the covering up that is the final mind-blower. This ain’t this week’s problem. This is what the Catholic Church does. It has become a haven for child rapists and, apparently, seemingly no one there cares a lick beyond protecting their money-making scheme. But the fact that we here in secular/law land don’t care is the bigger issue.

Example: Every night Chris Matthews, an avowed Catholic who was educated in its system and sent his children to Catholic universities, goes on TV and decries the gutless Republicans who continue to walk like zombies in the disdainful shadow of this buffoon president of ours. However, the day this news broke, he admitted he would still go to church. This is the length and breadth of hypocrisy. Or is it? Do we have some kind of disconnect to our religious institutions? Do we allow it to continue this behavior because they are beyond reproach? And if this is true (and after reading this, who doesn’t’ think so?) then how dangerous is this whole thing?

Aside from the violent retribution, what is the difference between an untouchable, untaxable, outside-the-law religious group imposing its dogma on the public at large and the dreaded Sharia law we’re all supposed to be frightened of?

Yeah…nothing.

Now, lest anyone think this is another case of Campion slamming organized religion and its bloated institutions, I think it is interesting this investigation came out of Pennsylvania, (the report covers six dioceses in Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton) as the 2012 Penn State incident regarding a massive cover up of years of sexual abuse by the now infamous Jerry Sandusky went from a national disgrace to what officials at Penn State currently call “a complicated complex and emotional” situation. In other words, we went from disgust to contemplation in a few years. Hell, even the NCAA reduced what were initially slap-on-the-wrist penalties after two years. Apparently, religion and football and the passage of time make it okay for us to accept the raping of children.

People still venerate Penn State saint, Joe Paterno, who covered up these crimes for years.

Rape = Veneration.

I am out of holy shits.

Best argument of all: This grand jury report came out two weeks ago. Last evening I watched six reports about how Donald Trump, American flag fan, doesn’t know how to color it in. Yeah, I get it, the president is an idiot. But there are children being raped right now in this country and the rapists are being promoted by a non-taxable, untouchable institution protected by superstitious nonsense.

That is the story.

What are we doing about it?

Nothing.

Okay…one more…

Holy shit.

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