“LITTLE RICHARD” WAYNE PENNIMAN – 1932 – 2020

Aquarian Weekly
5/20/20
 
Reality Check
 
James Campion
 
 
“LITTLE RICHARD” WAYNE PENNIMAN – 1932 – 2020
 
I could do Little Richard’s voice, which is a wild, hoarse, screaming thing, it’s like an out-of-body experience. You have to leave your current sensibilities and go about a foot above your head to sing it.
– Paul McCartney
 
Surrounded by gospel music and the saccharine crooning of Bing Crosby and early radio-flavored Ella Fitzgerald, young Richard Penniman once remarked that he was looking for the an “edgier” sound of music and a “louder” singer to awake something in him. And then, he decided, that missing ingredient was him. And with this grand awakening, Little Richard was hatched from nothing, like the light that comes at the behest of God in Genesis. Because at his core, in his central being, Penniman was a man of God (his uncles were preachers) who also could not help frantically searching for edgier and louder (his dad was a bootlegger), and in there somewhere is America – the grand dichotomy of feral desire and better angels. At these crossroads lie the origins of rock and roll, also an American original. Only here could a hodge-podge of black blues, Irish jigs, redneck picking, and dance hall hype coagulate into a pristine soundtrack of rebellion.

Black. Gay. Primitive. Showbiz. Inventive. Influential. Penitent.

Little Richard was all of these.

In the Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, my first introduction to the timeline of a music that had dazzled me since sentience, and a book I begged my parents to get me for Christmas, and they did, which may or may not have been a mistake, Little Richard comes after Elvis Presley and Fats Domino but before Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, and everything else. When Berry died I remarked in these pages how he invented rock and roll. This is because at its nucleus the art form is rooted in guitar. Even though Johnnie Johnson, Berry’s pianist, built the foundation of Berry’s work, the piano would not define the genre. Yet, before all of that, Fats Domino, a master pianist and composer, was a New Orleans fixture, an original from the town that heeded the swampy crude rhythms that bounced off the bayou and back into the grimy streets of the French Quarter, pulling the jazz licks from its European parameters and slathering its slave hymns into a pure, primal groove. Fats Domino, then, was the smoldering fire. Little Richard came along and poured gasoline on that fire and from its lapping blue-orange tongue let out that primeval bellow from the nether regions of the soul.

“A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom!”

It is the most famous of all early rock and roll lyrics. It means nothing and it means everything. It comes out of the speakers, a-cappella, raw and mean, as if the voice of the past and the future. A call of the wild that wipes clean anything before it. It heralds a career and a style, and it made Little Richard famous. “Tutti Frutti” was the song. The year was 1955. It was a paean to anal sex. Its original lyrics were “Tutti Frutti / Good booty / If it don’t fit, don’t force it / You can grease it, make it easy”. It was, it turns out, the most subversive art in the history of popular music, making it to #2 on the charts and entering the lexicon of lily white mid-American as if a virus. Makes the Sex Pistols, Marylyn Manson and every hip hop record blush. It invented the part of rock and roll that counts. It was dirty and loud and ugly and sexy and puerile and fun and infectious and… dangerous.

Black. Gay. Primitive. Showbiz. Inventive. Influential. Penitent. Little Richard was all of these.

Beyond that, Little Richard sang with a smirk that challenged every notion of what music could do and in turn being as soulful and raucous as any young African American man could be on the Chitlin’ Circuit where the music was not meant to integrate but ingratiate. Unlike Fats Domino and Chuck Berry, Little Richard’s sound was black as night, as black as blues, as black as America, inventing things for the white kids who wanted to get out of the suburban dream and into the stark realities of the underworld. Little Richard did not pander, he commanded.

His first album, released by Specialty Records, Here’s Little Richard reads like a template, “Long Tall Sally”, “Rip It Up”, “Ready Teddy”, ‘Slippin’ and Slidin’”, “Jenny Jenny”. Then there would be “Good Golly Miss Molly”, who sure liked to “ball”, another pretty blatant euphemism for unbridled sex, and “Keep a Knockin’”, which may be the first punk rock song; “Keep a knockin’ but you can’t come in!” shouted over and over like a head-banging Ramones mantra.

Later, Little Richard’s shouts from the culture would bring us Sam Cooke, discovered and produced by Robert “Bumps Blackwell”, who worked on “Tutti Frutti” and “Long Tall Sally” and everything else Penniman recorded for Specialty Records. Cooke then toured with Little Richard, as did Jimi Hendrix, who would be his guitarist and protégé in histrionics and showmanship. The shy Hendrix, like Sam Cooke before him, credits the cool brashness of his mentor with unleashing his true talents, which included obliterating the landscape of electric guitar forevermore. As would the influence of Little Richard on James Brown, Otis Redding, Sly Stone and Prince Rogers Nelson tear pieces from what had come before. The Beatles worked with Little Richard in Hamburg, Germany before anyone knew who they were, as the Rolling Stones first toured with Little Richard as snot-nosed blues worshipers. There is nothing in the first two to three decades of rock and roll that doesn’t have Penniman’s stamp on it.  

In 1957, at the height of his powers, Little Richard famously quit rock and roll to become a preacher, after some spiritual revelation about hellfire on a near-death airplane experience. So, in essence, those two years, wherein he invented the howls later copped by everyone from Paul McCartney (whose first performance in front of anyone was a version of “Long Tall Sally” at fourteen) to every heavy metal screecher ever committed to the craft, was his legacy. When he returned he hid nothing; his sexuality, his annoyance that he was passed over as an originator, his unchecked flamboyance and a penchant for general upheaval. He became the living embodiment of his initial splash on the scene and everyone fed off the genuine article.

It should also be noted that Little Richard appeared in three seminal rock and roll films, not the least of which titillated a young Robert Zimmerman, who at first only wanted to be Little Richard before he wanted to be Woody Guthrie and invented Bob Dylan, and all-but triggered the British invasion. The Girl Can’t Help It, of which Penniman sings the title, along with performing out of his mind on others. The film starred a blonde bombshell named Jayne Mansfield, whose mere presence awoke the animal instincts of every breathing male in attendance and connected this ass-shaking, mind-quaking music to the purpose as well as any youth-film did during the time when that was not yet a thing but soon would be. It would be joined by Blackboard JungleHard Day’s NightSaturday Night FeverPurple Rain and 8 Mile in the roll call of culture-shifting rock cinema.

The most difficult aspect of writing about Little Richard is that one cannot begin to overstate his import and influence on what we understand about modern popular music. His voice was a clarion. His look was an outrage. His songs were a revelation. His kind did not have a mold to break. It came new. That is what you hear and see with Little Richard. In 1955. In 2020. He is always new. He is forever our red-white-and-blue shock to the senses, the thumping of our hearts. His paradox is America’s conundrum. Our most lethal attribute: We want to be good, but man, we can’t help, shit, we love being bad.

And it sounds like…

“A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom!”
       

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GET OUT THERE AND SAVE THE DAY

Aquarian Weekly
5/13/20

Reality Check

James Campion


GET OUT THERE AND SAVE THE DAY
Time for Americans to Risk Their Lives For the Good Ole U.S.A.


Hey, America! Here’s how it works now. You need to get back out there and save the economy. If you get sick, well… if you die, it happens. We need to have a country. The clock is ticking. Yes, the economy was wrecked by idiots, or one specific idiot, who denied there was a virus, lied about its severity, promised it would be gone “miraculously” in a week and then said everyone would be in church together on Easter – a month ago – and throughout fought with everything and everyone in sight, even refuting his own administration’s rules, and still has failed to get the proper testing out here so we can open back up, but it’s time we save the idiot and the idiot’s country by putting our and our families’ lives at risk. Have a nice summer.

Oh, you may ask: How did the most powerful, richest, most technologically advanced nation with purportedly the best health care system, hospitals, doctors and nurses in the world, end up utterly destroyed by a virus? No one alive remembers anything this bad. No one. This is very bad. Catastrophically bad. WTF?

Well, beyond the abject failure of the president and the federal government and to an extent much of our local state governments, in the last week of March I wrote this in this space: “I ask this with all due respect to the medical gravity of what we are facing with this current Covid-19 pandemic, but, honestly, how long do you think we can pull this social distancing off?” We now know the answer is six weeks. Probably five. Maybe a month? Didn’t take long, really. The worst pandemic in modern times – over one hundred years – curtailed us for a month. There are more people dead from this than the Viet Nam War – that went on for twelve years – and aside from this deadly fiasco, was the worst political disaster of my lifetime. Infected numbers still rise. The economy is in the shitter. Unemployment numbers are the highest since the Great Depression. And so, we’re done. Six weeks. Long enough. And I can’t say I blame us.

In the same column, titled, “How Long?” I broached what I call the cruelty of freedom and the anti-Judea-Christian concept of capitalism, which I support because it tramples merrily on the myth, or to be blunt, the lie of the Judea-Christian construct in a country that was built on so many lies it is hard to keep up. Nevertheless, my support for capitalism is neither here nor there. It is the way of the world, thankfully the American world, and it cannot survive another month of this. And as much as people can be stupid, selfish and petty and tend to lean heavily on messianic figures from celebrities to sports to politicians and religious loons, we know that much. It’s not hard. You either bring money in to feed yourself and your family and keep the lights on and the heat going, or you go into the street and try your luck. This is capitalism in a nutshell.

And so, America cannot be South Korea. They handled this thing from the get with smarts, teamwork, hardcore planning and tribal cohesion. They were hit the same time we were with dreaded Covid-19, just a hop and skip from China, and they are completely free of the virus right now. We have 1.2 million infected and over seventy-five thousand dead. Yeah, South Korea wins. We suck.

Or do we?

Easy fix. Don’t tell anyone there is a shark in the water.

Nah, we’re just beholden to commerce. Look at New York City. Without NYC we are knuckle-dragging goons clinging to atavistic agrarian precepts. NYC got wiped out by this thing. NYC is bigger than the United States. It is certainly bigger than South Korea. When you are the font of capitalism, you tend to get hit harder than most. In a way, NYC is a microcosm for how much the rest of the country relies on the activity of humans making money and sharing money to keep the wheels from coming off.

Without commerce we are wandering around the wilderness like cavemen. Take a look at the people protesting right now. Cro-Magnon or Neanderthal? Not sure. Close, either way. Primitive. That’s what I call it. What turned these people into this? The virus? Shit, people don’t know anything about health. You see what they eat? How much they smoke and drink? Have you fathomed the exorbitant fat content of these people? Heart disease murdered 637,000 people in this country last year. Fast food. Steroid-addled meat. Drugs. Booze. Laziness. These numbers scoff verily at Covid-19. We came into this pandemic sick. No, it is commerce that keeps us going. When that goes, we go nuts. We can do without god and sex. Money? Where’s my MAGA hat!

You can’t set up a system that measures our greatness in stock prices and player salaries and the size of our cars and how expensive and fancy our haircuts look and then take it all away? That’s madness. We’re weak. Give us a break. You made us this way. We had no choice.

The finest example of capitalism, really economic solvency versus safety and pragmatism is the 1975 film, Jaws – for my money one of the best movies of the latter half of the twentieth century and Steven Spielberg’s greatest cinematic achievement for so many reasons. But it’s commentary, nay, its instructional value on the power of the dollar over human existence has no equal. It lays it all out there: Local government of a beach town knows there is a shark in the water. Without tourists and swimmers there is no local economy. Easy fix. Don’t tell anyone there is a shark in the water. Woman gets eaten by a shark. They close the beaches. People can’t eat or pay bills. They bitch. Politicians open the beaches. There are even scenes with the mayor asking the local merchants to go in the water to allay the genuine fears of the beachgoers, get things going, show them there is no danger. Kid gets eaten by a shark. Roll credits right there. The rest is Hollywood storytelling. That is the lesson of Jaws: Sometimes you rush back in and make it with all your parts intact and sometimes you get eaten by a shark. But it’s worth the gamble, Jaws tells us. Wait, does it? No, killing the shark does. And we can’t kill the virus because we have no testing to contain it or a vaccine to eradicate it, so not sure what Jaws tells us. Maybe that the alternative to not swimming with sharks is starvation, humiliation, bankruptcy. Capitalism is more important than life. Yes!

Hey, our government and experts failed to protect us, so we have to bail them out. Like in the Great Depression and WWII, Civil Rights, and on and on. It’s always on us. Game show hosts, preachers, pep talks, talking-head doctors in the media can’t do it. Only we can fix this by risking our lives and the lives of our loved ones and friends, to save our way of life and then hopefully get everyone re-elected who fucked us.

So, put on your masks and get out there and save the day!

Cue the music: “God bless America… land that I love… Stand beside her… and guide us… through the night with the light from above…”  

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STATES’ RIGHTS REVERSAL IN THE AGE OF MADNESS

Aquarian Weekly
4/22/20
 
Reality Check
 

James Campion
 
 
STATES’ RIGHTS REVERSAL IN THE AGE OF MADNESS
National Leadership Vacuum Pushes Us Through the Political Looking Glass
 
 
In the mid-eighties, during the last true wave of modern conservatism, it was difficult to imagine a time, some thirty-plus years later, when we would see a Republican president at war with the concept of states’ rights, especially during a crisis. That used to be a Democrat thing. You know, Franklin Roosevelt restructuring the entirety of the national economy over to the federal government during the Great Depression or Lyndon Johnson battling the southern states over civil rights. But we are in the Age of Trump, where down is up and black is white. In a Lewis Carroll-esque scenario we have a Republican president expressing lordship over state’s rights to administer rules for dealing with social distancing and its economic fallout in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis. At one point the president uttered these words, in public, into a microphone, in front of a press he has been at existential war against since he tried to convince them that a couple of thousand people at his inauguration were actually millions in the first hours of his presidency: “When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total. And that’s the way it’s gotta be. It’s total.”

Of course, this is insane, even to Abraham Lincoln standards, the last Republican president to take on the mantle of a singular power during the initial weeks of the Civil War. Lincoln would have never actually said these things. Lincoln was a doer. This guy’s a talker.

When pressed further, because, well… who the fuck says this kind of thing out loud?… Donald Trump, who has consistently tried to run the U.S. government like Trump Enterprises, answered. “Well, if some states refuse to open, I would like to see that person run for election. They’re going to open. They’re going to all open.”

Like the whole “grab the pussies” thing, I am always unsure if Trump knows what the hell his is saying. “The authority is total, and that’s the way it’s got to be” is not nearly the craziest thing he has said in public, but this one makes political junkies like me, especially ones who believe most if not all political theories are complete bullshit when dissected under any measure of scrutiny, salivate.

Let’s have some fun. 

During the aforementioned final gasp of conservatism as a governing principle in the mid-eighties, President Ronald Reagan, the last bastion of this since debunked political theory mused, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.’” He said this on August 12, 1986, while his government was illegally shipping arms to a virulent enemy of the United States to fund a fascist guerilla war in Central America. It was high times for this kind of abject hypocrisy, but Reagan knew what he was doing. He was a functioning government official, who could quip about keeping government out of your life while criminally imposing it on others. Before his ascent to the presidency as an avatar for the pencil-pushing geeks like William F. Buckley and the zombie-eyed Heritage Foundation, Reagan ran the second-largest state in the contiguous United States, not a casino in Atlantic City or hosted some game show for the National Broadcasting Company.

George W. Bush.. murdered the purity of conservatism and made it possible for knuckle-dragging trolls like Donald Trump to profess “total authority” vested in his title as CEO of America Incorporated.

Reagan’s Hollywood smile and down-home grandpa act put to rest wild notions of populism that by the 1950s was whitewashed enough to be an anachronistic Huey Long nightmare that the liberal press dreamed up. For Republicans in the latter half of the Twentieth Century, the Tenth Amendment was a sacred cow: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” This was the immutable law of conservatism, and thus, Republicanism forevermore. Until it wasn’t. There was George W. Bush, whom I have maintained here for a good long time, was the man who murdered the purity of conservatism and made it possible for knuckle-dragging trolls like Donald Trump to profess “total authority” vested in his title as CEO of America Incorporated.

It is important to remember when states’ rights were a big deal for conservatives. So much so, they embarrassed themselves in the 1960s arguing against the Civil Rights bill, because it took the rights away from southern states to deny the rights of African Americans. It should be noted that most of these states’ governors were Democrats. Soon the Democratic Party, in the wake of a Democratic president signing the Civil Rights Act, imploded below the Mason Dixon line, allowing for Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” to help himself and later Reagan to dominate the south.

But I digress.

The idea this week that the president, this one or anyone, having the authority over the states without something as legislatively historic as the Civil Rights Act is silly. But Trump is silly, and before the week was out, and someone in the White House schooled him on the Constitution, he first tried to peddle the idea that he might “allow” the states to control their openings based on what the states’ governors deemed necessary. And then, finally, the day before I write this, Trump completely caved on his wacky assertions of kingly powers, colorfully announcing to the states, “You’re going to call your own shots.”

Of course, Trump was way late to the party. In a display of unity, while Trump was holding completely useless two-hour pressers with propaganda videos making him look like King Solomon meets Albert Schweitzer, both Republican and Democratic governors banded by region were creating their own timelines for lifting restrictions based on the level of infections, deaths, hospital needs, etc., not a guy in D.C shouting monosyllabic platitudes in between trying to salve his rock bottom self-esteem.

The vacuum caused by erratic national leadership during this crisis denotes one specific axiom, no matter what the flavor of the month or year, politics be damned, the founding fathers put in place a republic capable of handling things like this; especially when the bumbling at the top becomes so odious that events demand every man, woman and child for themselves. In a strange way, by claiming “total authority” Trump essentially abdicated his responsibility – a good move, since he sucks at everything – to the collective; a very democratic (small d) and American maneuver.  
 

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TRUMP IS FAILING CRISIS TEST

Aquarian Weekly
4/15/20

Reality Check

James Campion


TRUMP IS FAILING CRISIS TEST
Like Everything Else in This Clusterfuck Presidency

I alone can fix it.
     – Donald J. Trump on the campaign trail 2016

The most pressing national crisis since the 2008 economic collapse and maybe even the 9/11 tragedy and we have a game show host in charge. And worse yet, the game show host not only ignores science, doctors, his Covid-19 team, he exasperates the problem by holding self-aggrandizing and combative pressers, spewing his obligatory phalanx of lies, attacking the press, fighting with governors, and continuously misrepresenting the level of danger. He refutes facts that expose his world of denial, and daily jeopardizing lives. If pre-president Donald Trump, twitter fiend, was around to toss grenades from the sidelines at this Trump, President Idiot, it would be some show.

I alone can fix it.

The president, this poor excuse for a human being, is failing. And it is costing us the very fabric of this country; morally and economically. No, he did not cause this, as much as George W. Bush caused 9/11 or FDR caused Pearl Harbor or Herbert Hoover caused the Great Depression (that one was on Coolidge), but ignoring signs, not listening to the experts and posing rather than doing made it worse. And it has gotten worse. As a whole, the federal government, that Trump continues to excuse as some sort of feckless bystander to tragedy, passing the buck to the states, blaming the World Health Organization, the Chinese, CNN, and even, get this, Barack Obama, who hasn’t been president in four years, has dropped the ball and replaced it with lame ass excuses.

In fact, in 2018 Trump, aided by his eventually sacked national security advisor John Bolton, unceremoniously disbanded the Global Health Security Team, established under the Obama administration in response to the Ebola outbreak. At the time experts warned against this maneuver, but was duly ignored, a Trump dullard specialty. So, while countries like New Zealand, Singapore, and South Korea use technology, communication, science, not to mention getting on this as early as December of last year, lap us in efficacy, we continue to read stories of American citizens dying in hallways of hospitals, not enough testing, a woeful and criminal lack equipment for doctors and nurses, and complete chaos.

We need consistent, calming leadership. Instead we get utter stupidity.

The lack of testing alone, an egregious oversight by the federal government, has led to thousands of illnesses and deaths that could have been prevented. Testing earlier or at all would have revealed what minimum testing is now showing, the preponderance of cases on the east coast have come from Europe not China, Trump spent over a month ignoring experts and proper decorum for a U.S. president in the midst of a global pandemic, calling it the Wuhan Virus and diddling before finally banning travel there.

“I alone can fix it” no longer applies… apparently. Never did. Trump is and has always been a fraud, and while it has cracked holes in our democratic system for three years, this year it has reached the point of deadly saturation. And none of this had to happen. And if it did, not this badly. It is on him and his government.

Never mind politics here. It is simple common decency or at the very least leadership skills. No one should ever begin a story about this pandemic with, “Trump feuds with…” or “Trump attacks…” But that is what we see day after day as people get ill and die. What the fuck is this guy doing touting his Facebook popularity, making jokes about dating super models, and denying the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Doctor Anthony Fauci a chance to refute his nonsense about taking an untested drug (a drug he reportedly owns a stake in) at a press conference that sounds more like his brainless fascist rallies than serious updates?

We need consistent, calming leadership. Instead we get utter stupidity.

Low-lights include Trump announcing he was placing a “very powerful hold” on funding for the World Health Organization, even though it correctly identified the scale of the virus when he told the nation in January, “We have it totally under control” and “The stock market looks good to me.” Then, (during the same press conference!), when pressed on the “funding hold’, he insisted he never said it. Then when Trump’s top economic adviser Larry Kudlow admitted that a small business rescue program was off to “a bad start” after recipients struggled to register funds, Trump took to the podium and called it “a roaring success” and then for some reason said his daughter Ivanka “personally created fifteen-million jobs.”

How many times, for months, did the president tell us “Anyone who wants one can take a test?” You can’t even get tests as I write this here in New Jersey, the second largest number of infected in the country. It is April. In his ongoing feuds against states, in which he’s acted more like a foreign enemy than president, Trump told New York City it was overreaching when asking for ventilators and masks and basic necessities to assist in what last month looked to be a total disaster area in the state. As I write this there are more people with coronavirus in New York State than any country in the world.

I alone can fix it.

The kicker of this week was when Trump, junior fascist, removed Defense Department Inspector General Glenn Fine from a post monitoring the two-trillion dollar stimulus funds so he could oversee the package directly with zero oversight and keep the new inspector from reporting to Congress on the handling of the funds, something clearly expressed in the law.

Then we got this doozy this week; The New York Times revealed that a top economic official, Peter Navarro, had written a memo to the president in January warning that the coronavirus could become a “full blown pandemic” causing trillions of dollars in economic damage and risking the health of millions of Americans. Even in the days and weeks after Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar alerted Trump about the virus, and the stock market – “Looks good to me” – began to tank more rapidly than any time in many of our lifetimes, Trump told people to go to work, hosted eight rallies and played golf six times.
I alone can fix it.

Trump has mostly been a failure during this abysmal first term. He is the third president to be impeached. He has never had over 45-percent popularity. He has destroyed the state department, made a mockery of the United States abroad, repeatedly embarrassed the nation and its standing as a true, reliable ally, fueled racial, political and cultural divides and basically acted like an asshole. But never has any of this been so dangerous in such a crucial time.

History will mark this as one of the worst examples of leadership during a catastrophe in U.S. history.

But no need to wait for that.

“I alone can fix it.”

Trump has failed his crisis test.

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ADAM SCHLESINGER – 1967-2020

Aquarian Weekly
4/8/20
 
Reality Check
 
James Campion
 
 
ADAM SCHLESINGER – 1967-2020
 
 
When you go out of the blackness
Into the great big sky
Supercollider
Shooting inside your mind

 
 
Adam Schlesinger has died from complications stemming from Covid-19. He was fifty-two. As of this writing there have been 51,809 cases in New York City, including 1,562 deaths. This number rises by the hour. He is just one of those and the 5,316 people who have perished in the past three months from this pandemic. But this one hits close to home, because Adam was a friend. Long before that I admired him for his music, his humor, his insights into the human spirit. He was unique talent, a throwback Brill Building songwriter’s songwriter, who could capture the spirit of a moment, an era, and even the workaday, hum-drum of life in and around his home state of New Jersey. He was a Montclair kid by way of Manhattan who made good, whose band, Fountains of Wayne, one of the finest pop/rock outfits of the new century, was named for a now long-gone relic of a bygone age for New Jersey.


Where do you start to encapsulate an artist who was everywhere and nowhere? Outside of the industry the name Adam Schlesinger is not as well-known as his canon would suggest. He won three Emmy Awards, a Grammy Award, and an ASCAP Pop Music Award, and was nominated for Academy, Tony, and Golden Globe Awards. He penned dozens of themes and songs for television series, movies and worked on Broadway musicals. He wrote and performed with Fountains of Wayne on a Top 25 hit and co-wrote one of the most famous movie songs ever. Of course, that’s what Wikipedia will tell you. What it won’t tell you is what one of my favorite music essayists Tom Breihan wrote about him for Stereogum this week; “Maybe Schlesinger wasn’t doing the mystical personal work that we expect songwriters to do when he was writing all of those things. But the man was working. He was cranking out material at a high level every single day. Those of us paid to do the same at our own professions — those of us who, let’s say, are paid to blog relentlessly five days a week — should regard Adam Schlesinger as a hero, and as a monumental loss.”

Adam Schlesinger loved song. He loved songwriters. He loved talking about songwriting and songwriters. The last time I saw him we talked about Warren Zevon for an hour. It was just before my book on Zevon was released in June of 2018. Adam understood Warren like few did. I told him that night I should have gotten his take for the book it was so spot-on. I was considering picking his brain for an upcoming project I am starting. He understood how hard Zevon worked at his craft and how unique he was as a composer, both musically and lyrically, and how his take on the “everyman” that he and his partner in the by then defunct Fountains of Wayne, Chris Collingwood was derived from artists like Warren, another celebrated industry figure, who had his hand in the scope of songwriting, from jingles to films to pop hits and personal expressions of longing and introspection.

“You can take a lyric that seems really silly and tossed-off but put it against a melancholy ballad, then suddenly it becomes so much more dark or poignant.”

I have spent over two decades interviewing artists for this historical rock weekly, but I always fondly recall my chat with Adam in the spring of 2007. It was just before the release of Fountains of Wayne’s fourth record, Traffic and Weather, another in a series of incredibly infectious and brilliantly crafted pop/rock albums brimming with melody, adorned with supple harmonies and played with innate precision. The band’s pristine effort was 2002’s Welcome Interstate Managers, quite simply a pop/rock masterwork. Every track is a gem, including the band’s biggest hit, “Stacy’s Mom”, a cheeky tale of a suburban teenaged crush on the neighborhood cougar.

Adam couched his method of taking the everyday secretary, salesman, drunken frat boy, abused girlfriend and heartbroken schlep and making them epic tragicomedy figures for song. He told me, “I’ll focus on a phrase that you take for granted or that you don’t really think too much about and see if I can do something literal with it or stretch it out or do something unexpected with it.” Although he accused himself of being sloppy when it came to his immediate memory for such small incidents in the lives of the people around him, he filled in those spaces with mystical charm that lifted something as mundane as being stuck in traffic on the Tappan Zee Bridge into an existential treatise.

Tom Hanks saw this in Adam Schlesinger in 1996, when he tapped his and fellow elastic musical storyteller, Mike Viola’s “That Thing You Do” as the song that reflected the title of his film ode to 1960s one-hit wonders. Barely in the business, the first eponymously-titled Fountains of Wayne album had just been released, Adam used his preternatural ability to tap into a moment, a genre, and an era to perfectly capture the crudity of teenagers from Erie, Pennsylvania, who distilled their rock and roll dreams in a two-and-a-half minute ditty. The song, much to Adam’s chagrin, but to Hanks’s delight, is played on a repeated loop in the movie – much like a pop hit might be in the mid-sixties; “The first time I saw the movie I almost wanted to apologize to everyone in the theater,” he recalled to me.

Tom Hanks, who had also contracted the virus a month earlier with his wife, Rita Wilson, tweeted this upon hearing of Adam’s passing: “There would be no Playtone without Adam Schlesinger, without his ‘That Thing You Do’!  He was a One-der. Terribly sad today.”

Adam used that playwright mentality as musical director for the groundbreaking television series, Crazy Ex Girlfriend, a tuneful dramedy conceived and starring the multi-talented Rachel Bloom that ran from 2015 until last year. A quasi-post-modern musical that dealt with a staggering array of emotional and cultural issues, Adam, along with his team and Bloom, paid homage to every possible musical style and period. Composing for a myriad of character voices, in several and varied settings, moods and genres at that rate with such pinpoint alacrity is stunning. This genius is reflected in what he told me more than once, so much so, that I had to write it down: “You can take a lyric that seems really silly and tossed-off but put it against a melancholy ballad, then suddenly it becomes so much more dark or poignant. Or you could go the other way and just put it against something that’s fast and bouncy and it changes the meaning of it.”

Rachel Bloom tweeted the day he died: “I have so much to say about Adam Schlesinger that I am at a complete loss for words. He is irreplaceable.”

There was never a time that Adam Schlesinger came across as a big shot, but he was, a seminal American songwriting staple, but he was, or a major contributor to the universal songbook of our lives, but he sure as hell was. He was humble, intelligent, with a sense of humor you could carry with you after just ten minutes of his time. He inspired me. I was fortunate to know him, call him friend, but most of all enjoyed and cherished his art, which was immense and filled with a joy for life.

Rachel is right. His kind doesn’t come around often and to lose it has left me staggered. Like all the people he shoehorned so deftly into song after song after song, he is irreplaceable.

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HOW MUCH LONGER?

Aquarian Weekly
3/25/20
 
Reality Check
 

James Campion
 
 
HOW MUCH LONGER?
 
 
We’re afraid of everyone
Afraid of the sun
Isolation
The sun will never disappear
But the world may not have many years
Isolation

          – John Lennon, “Isolation”
 
 
I ask this with all due respect to the medical gravity of what we are facing with this current Covid-19 pandemic, but, honestly, how long do you think we can pull this social distancing off? How long do you think we can continue to stay in our homes, work remotely, do without social interaction or distractions like sporting events, concerts, restaurants, bars, etc? How long can we endure curfews? Restrictions? Isolation? Never mind the absolute tanking of our economy for the next month, two months, three? There will be no coming back from this. Store owners, small businesses, people relying on humans to pay rent and eat – waiters, barkeeps, attendants at events or places of social interaction. Shit, what about musicians and comedians, actors, and the like? They will never be able to replace each day that is missing to earn and survive. And what about our collective sanity? How long?

This is weighed against fear – always a biggie for Americans. How long did it take before feeling safe and secure traveling on an airplane after 9/11 turned sour about getting there an hour early, waiting on extended security lines, taking our shoes off, having strangers rifling through our personal stuff, and having a body scan? How long did it take before the shock and dismay of the 2008 economic catastrophe before we started getting pissed at banks and the auto industry and expected the housing market to return? Fear only goes so far. Eventually things like eating and paying rent take over. Normalcy is very underrated. People long for excitement and fantasize about the out-of-the-ordinary. But most of us deep down hate that shit. We want A to go into B seamlessly and then occasionally on the weekends some C to burn off steam.

I was discussing these things with my brother the other day. He lives down in North Carolina and says people are already wondering how much longer before they just decide “Fuck it, I’m opening my bar, my newsstand, my coffee shop, and deal with the consequences.” My wife has heard from colleagues and friends that they would much rather just get sick, come back, and get to life then all this self-sequestering and having nowhere to go and not being able to buy toilet paper or sanitizing wipes. Oh, and there has been quite a bit of squawking – and not from pundits and the usual rabble – but people like you and me, that the percentage of a couple of thousand people getting infected against the solvency of 320 million makes it all the more outrageous that it’s all coming crashing down around us.

That gets to the crux of the matter – capitalism. This nation, as stated before here, was built on free labor and land grabs. It is not, as some like to brag, a Judeo- Christian construct with morals and higher aspirations. We tell ourselves that, so all the racism and misogyny and monster truck rallies and porn and bling don’t besmirch our better angels. That kind of thing would be a Bernie Sanders country – socialism, or at least, according to the first century Jesus Movement, an egalitarian one. Equality for the lesser among us? Um, no. The reason even liberal Democrats have now sent Sanders and his democratic-socialism packing is no one likes to give their stuff away to the less fortunate. Oh, people love to jam the Jesus thing down your throat to get you to give up control of your body, decide for you who you can fuck, and other sorted activities, but when the man’s main tenant – give up everything you own and give it to stranger – comes up, they are conveniently silent.

And I do not blame them. I mean, they sure took care of Jesus all right. And let’s face it, there is no America without money flowing freely. Freedom? This is what we call buying stuff. And capitalism, like freedom, is cruel. You know those people you ignore lying in the street? Yeah, capitalism. You know those people who die every day because they can’t afford expensive drugs or are ruined because they get cancer? Capitalism. You know the rivers and waterways and the ozone being eviscerated for business concerns, so future generations and to some extent now all of us are left to suffer? Capitalism. There are losers in capitalism, the poor, the prejudiced, the sick and the environment. Eventually if this nation is to survive the Covid-19 isolation days, then at some point, says capitalism, we need to get back to working and buying stuff. Fast. Otherwise it’s sunk. All of it. There is no country for us to return to once this passes.

Freedom? This is what we call buying stuff. And capitalism, like freedom, is cruel.

To wit: Right now Goldman Sachs, who predicted in December of last year that the economy was “recession proof” is predicting a record requests unemployment relief at two-and-a-half million and an almost certain recession.

Before this happened, the President, who is a huge part of the blame here, for many reasons – the first being that he’s the fucking President. Presidents have to deal with the crazy shit like this at one time or the other, and let’s face it, not surprisingly, since everything Donald Trump has ever done has turned into a pile of steaming feces, this has predictably tumbled into crazy town. Another key reason is long before any of the stupidity and misinformation and diddling we covered here last week happened, we learned saving a buck (capitalism) was a key component that has led to what we are dealing with currently.

Two years ago, the CDC stopped funding epidemic prevention activities in 39 countries, including China, after the Trump administration refused to reallocate money to a program that started during the government’s response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak. Remember Ebola? Did you spend a week inside with Ebola? Was March Madness canceled? Did the stock market plummet? Let me answer that for ya: No. And former CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden saw this coming. He told the New York Times that stopping the “foreign” funding (see Trump’s continued childishly bigoted referring to the virus as “Chinese”), done to save money or make a wall the Mexicans were supposed to pay for, “would significantly increase the chance an epidemic will spread without our knowledge and endanger lives in our country and around the world.”

Whoopsie!

Dr. Eric Toner, who studies hospital preparedness at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told USA Today this week that “we’re two months too late in starting to do this. I really think this is a fundamental responsibility of government to have acted on this a long time ago.”

Awwww, well, here we are, isolated. Soon there will be 20 or 30 percent unemployment. The country is shuttered; our largest cities and all that. And I ask again, how long do we have before people just walk out the door and do what they want? Are there enough cops to stop them? Are there enough hospitals to handle the overflow? Who knows? But these are fair questions to ask. Especially here in Reality Check land. You want kumbaya stuff, call the Billy Graham prayer hotline and spend some money there or pick up bootlegged toilet paper for a fifty-percent mark-up. Capitalism! Because this has a shelf-life, whether scientists or doctors or politicians want it to or not. It is already starting to crack.

How long?

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CORONAVIRUS: DONALD TRUMP’S KATRINA

Aquarian Weekly
3/18/20
 
Reality Check
 

James Campion
 
 
CORONAVIRUS: DONALD TRUMP’S KATRINA
 
 
Stop me if you heard this before: Unpopular Republican president that citizens generally view as incompetent is confronted with a crisis and bungles it… badly. Yeah, 2005, August, George W. Bush. Hurricane Katrina. You know, the Kanye West “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” thing – frightened victims sitting on roofs begging for help in Louisiana. The head of FEMA, a horse trainer or some such, in way over his head. Federal government stumbling around. The Superdome in New Orleans a flophouse. People dying. That has pretty much been the “Jump the Shark” demarcation for the past two presidents. Kind of like putting the suffix “gate” at the end of political scandals since Nixon. Fast-forward fifteen years. There appears to be a global pandemic on our hands and an unpopular idiot is in the White House. I guess you can call him a Republican, although he does a ton of random shit that has nothing to do with Republican traditions, but okay. And once again, bungled.

The question is will this be as historically or even short-term as damaging as Katrina was for Bush to this president, who unlike Bush, is seeking re-election?

Or, maybe it’s worse.

Thus far it has been. Trump’s approval ratings, not stellar at any point in this first-term quagmire, have steadily dropped since this thing hit American shores, and he has not helped matters.

The optics and truth on the ground is that for all intents and purposes the response on the global and now domestic outbreak of COVID-19, or as it is more widely known, the latest trend of human coronavirus, has been abysmal. First, the president ignored and mocked it. This is his thing. But like almost everything Trump deems a hoax – Russian interference in our 2016 election, his impeachable offenses being investigated and prosecuted, paying off porn stars for sex, climate change, North Korean aggression, etc. – coronavirus was spreading fast and he could no longer rely on the great unwashed at his base to help him tweet it away.

So, he told everyone it was contained and overrated, a media invention, like his shitty approval ratings and orange tan, his children being mentally challenged or his playing golf half the time – which he did for the first week of this crisis. To slap some lipstick on this pig, he put on a baseball cap and lied about everyone being able to get a test for it. It’s been ten days since this nonsense. Hardly anyone can be tested.

Hopefully we survive this. But like Katrina, it’s going to have to happen in spite of our leadership not because of it.

This was around the time he put the vice president in charge. You know, the science denier in chief. Actually, after two or three days of Trump ranting about Democrats inventing a disease to hurt him, Mike Pence has been fairly effective. He at least let the doctors speak during press conferences, instead of standing there while the game show host rambles on about how he is unfairly treated. Because, of course, a global pandemic is all about him. Jesus Christ, it is hard to believe there is still a human breathing who is not retching every time this moron opens his mouth.

Okay, so there was then more lying by Trump and the comically said, “Everyone should just go to work.” There is a slow and sloppy response to a hurricane and then there is the president reportedly pitching a payroll tax cut to officials in private that had better last until he is re-elected and then silencing a medical warning for the elderly not to fly to quell the “bad news” cycle. This takes things from goofy to evil.

So, yeah, this has been pretty bad, and although it looks – after three weeks – as if the government is slowly catching up to say the National Basketball Association (canceling the remainder of its season) and the Democratic Party Committee (holding a presidential debate without an audience and then moving it to DC), Trump kept his plans on having a rally, until it became untenable for him.

Then came time for his oval office address.

Holy shit.

Now, for a man preternaturally incapable of empathy, making a calm fireside assurance or somber address is not a good look. It was like watching a monkey try and open a can of tuna with its dick. The president, looking perturbed that he had to do this at all, opened with us being hit with a “foreign virus” and mocked China and Europe and said some things about how Americans are better than all of them before telling the world there would be a travel ban from and to Europe, including goods and products. He made some odd campaign pitch to bail out frackers, and breathed like a man about keel over. When he was done there was a scramble to correct the president on several points, not the least of which was the import/export gaff, which he then corrected with a tweet. There would be trade. He thinks. Well, maybe. Mostly it looked like Kevin Bacon shouting “All is well!” before the rioting horde literally flattens him in the closing mayhem scene in Animal House. No mention of tests being made available or hinting at domestic travel and this containment things he assured us almost a month ago. Even Republicans were “disturbed”. Wall Street followed up with having the worst day on the Dow since 1987 and Disney World closed.

This is what happens when truth and leadership are bandied about on cable news as in the eye of the beholder. Alternative facts may be fun on FOX News, but now people are getting sicker and some are dying, and this is happening in a country that panics on the turn of a dime. Having a game show host in charge turns out, again, to not be the best move.

Hopefully we survive this. But like Katrina, it’s going to have to happen in spite of our leadership not because of it.

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THE LAZARUS WEEK

Aquarian Weekly
3/11/20
 
Reality Check
 
James Campion
 
 
THE LAZARUS WEEK
Joe Biden Rises from Political Oblivion to Become Democratic Frontrunner in One Insane Week
 
What transpired on Super Tuesday, 2020 is by far the most stunning political comeback I have ever witnessed.

Former vice president Joe Biden nearly swept through the fourteen states like a firestorm, many of them he had not stepped foot in or spent a dime campaigning, while his opponents, especially billionaire and former NYC mayor Mike Bloomberg, spent millions. Yet he flipped states he was a clear underdog in over and over, and won, won, and won again. He beat Senator Elizabeth Warren in her home state of Massachusetts, and bested neighboring and favored Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, and did it again in Minnesota and Oklahoma, states Sanders dominated against Hillary Clinton in 2016. Biden even bested Sanders in Texas, where he wasn’t even supposed to collect a single delegate. To add to this amazing election day performance is that the turnout, for the first time in this cycle, was record-breaking – larger in some states than 2016 and shockingly more than the 2008 Democratic revolution of Barack Obama.

All of this from a political dead man.  

The week before, Biden, having never won a single primary in his third run for the White House, stood on stage at the Gaillard Center in Downtown Charleston with five other candidates; all of whom were more viable than he. The presumptive frontrunner throughout the summer, Biden was a no show in the first three primaries. Sanders had millions of dollars, an impressive ground game built from his 2016 run, and rabid rallies, not to mention three wins in his pocket. He was the clear frontrunner now. Biden was broke, looked old, confused and beaten. Even Capitol Hill Republicans and Trump loyalists stopped mentioning his son and Burisma and figured they’d dodged the threat that got the president impeached in the first place.

Then something completely unsuspected happened. Biden held his own in the debate, appearing as the adult in the room and making timely quips about the furious cluster of shouting candidates around him. At one point he stopped speaking when his ninety seconds were up and calmly uttered, “Why do I stop when my time is up, no one else up here does?” Even his opponents chuckled. “Must be my Catholic upbringing,” he said. Then he got a little ornery. He started remembering the annoying, loudmouthed Irishman that people both adored and despised in the Senate. He pointed his finger. He did some shouting. He occasionally made sense.

Something else fortuitous, some might say magical, happened on a similar stage the week before. Elizabeth Warren took the opportunity of Michael Bloomberg’s first ever presidential debate in Nevada to relentlessly eviscerate him. It was a bloodbath of personal, business and political proportions. And suddenly the moderate alternative to Sanders, as Biden lay in ruins, was unmasked as a stuttering dolt who looked like he showed up at the wrong event. The millions he spent on ads that vaulted him in mere weeks to twenty percent in national polls withered to low single digits in days.   

When the SC debate was over, while Bloomberg was still being widely mocked as a paper tiger, Biden received condescending praise from pundits. But it appeared at the time that all the debate did was give supporters a reason to hold their noses and vote for him, allow him to get at least one slim victory before he bowed out gracefully and pulled the final curtain down on the Obama legacy.

For one week in the late winter of 2020 a 77 year-old went from the edge of oblivion to the top of the political heap. This doesn’t happen. Ever.

Those people were mostly African American. Some were contemplating Bloomberg, but no more. And they came out in South Carolina in large numbers that Saturday for Joe Biden. He gathered nearly fifty-percent of the vote, despite a veritable horde on the ballot. Thanks in large part to perennial congressman Jim Clyburn, who is to SC what Ted Kennedy once was to Massachusetts, without all the drunken buffoonery and murder. Clyburn, a no-nonsense, astute political thinker, told Biden and then the press he was impressed that his friend Joe found his voice, because up until then he had been a joke: no organization, half-ass operatives, weak stump speeches and off-kilter TV appearances. He told him in no short order to get his shit together and he would endorse him, then he would carry the state and be reborn.

It was that moment that Clyburn became the man who will either topple Donald Trump or hand him another four years. It was the seminal event thus far in the 2020 presidential campaign, whether Joe Biden becomes the nominee or not. Clyburn almost single-handedly shifted the narrative, forever to be known as the “candidate whisperer”, who resurrected dead Joe, because he was flatlining Saturday morning and by Saturday night he had a landslide victory. Then reborn Joe hit the stage and gave the speech of his life; a speech he needed to give. He needed to sound coherent and energetic and ready to fight and connect. And he did all of that. And within two days he ended the campaigns of Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and former Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the other two moderates frightened by Bernie Sanders.

The evening before Super Tuesday they both joined Biden on stage in El Paso, Texas for full-throated endorsements. Even long-gone Beto O’Rourke, who nearly beat Ted Cruz as part of the 2018 Blue Wave, chimed in. And after that the storyline was maybe Biden could hang in there on Super Tuesday and make this respectable? Maybe he could get to the fifteen-percent viability level to grab a few delegates and stay within a hundred or two hundred of the surging Sanders? Maybe hold off Warren or Bloomberg? South Carolina, they said, was a blip. There are no Clyburns anywhere else, even the other southern states like Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama and Arkansas. He may do well there, but ho-hum.

By Tuesday morning the odds-addled 538 web site started chirping that the Biden surge was mega real, and it was scrambling numbers, flipping deficits to big leads, and by Wednesday morning it predicted he would have the delegate lead over Sanders. And boy were they right – to the humming tune of 637 delegates by the time of this writing (they’re still counting California). He is now in the delegate lead. The frontrunner. Before SC he had nine. Nine.

What Joe Biden has pulled off in one week, and really since the South Carolina Primary two days before, is beyond remarkable. The NY Times called it a miracle. The Sanders backers called it Party Interference. A frightened Trump is tweeting again about coups. One or two GOP senators began floating another possible investigation into Biden’s son, followed swiftly by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, demanding it. Mike Bloomberg, after a half of billion dollars spent on TV and radio ads, a giant multi-state infrastructure, and a superstar team of soulless political vipers, quit the race and endorsed, you got it, Joe fucking Biden. One day later Elizabeth Warren suspended her campaign.

What this means for the race going forward is hard to tell. After the bizarre 2016 results, I am out of the prediction business, but there is one thing for certain; for one week in the late winter of 2020 a 77 year-old former senator of Pennsylvania and vice president of the United States went from the edge of oblivion to the top of the political heap. This doesn’t happen. Ever.

Except it did.  

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FASCISM 101

Aquarian Weekly
2/26/20
 
Reality Check
 

James Campion
 
 
FASCISM 101
The Swift Erosion of Democracy in Living Color
         
Fascism is a form of far-right, authoritarian ultranationalism characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition, and strong regimentation of society and of the economy.
                   – Wikipedia
 
The current administration is working in a fascist construct. Now, this may become a popular form a governing for the 21st century United States or it may crumble in the wake of horror and revolt, but make no mistake, it is occurring. I am not going to get into the personality that is perpetuating this. We know it. We saw it in New York City in the 1980s and through the latter parts of the 20thcentury into the early aughts, on television from celebrity to politics, and how it was conjured in a one-man operation that appealed to far less than a majority of the electorate four years ago. This is about the actions of our present government as a whole. There are many actors in this severe shift to fascism; as close to a true tyrannical state as I have witnessed in my nearly half century of political sentience. And more importantly, this is institutional, as in a broken system that must be dramatically altered to save the republic.

Now, in my time in political science study in school and post-collegiate research from Zinn to Buckley to Koestler to examining the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich through experiencing Watergate and Iran/Contra and the myriad of unconstitutional wars we’ve been embroiled in since late 1962, this current crisis in the powers of the executive branch has reached the levels of pure autocracy; from the constant and blatant attacks on the media as an “enemy of the people” to the shut-down of press briefings of any kind from the executive branch to the Pentagon. There is zero consensus on foreign policy with an embrace of dictators from North Korea to Turkey to Russia and spastic conflicts with of the most powerful democracies in the world – Germany, France, Canada and Mexico.

Add to this an institutional assault on the rule of law practiced in defiance of non-political power structures by a Justice Department that now acts solely as an arm of the executive branch and attacks and investigates state-run court cases as if it controls its outcomes. This is, of course, only if the defendants are part of the cadre of administration loyalists, no matter the level of criminal behavior. This has expanded to investigating independent councils and whistleblowers instituted by the founding fathers to check the creeping slide toward monarchy, which include those who should feel safe in protecting the republic against a single-voice of power that are being weeded out – disparaged and mocked openly and then relieved of their jobs to be replaced by disqualified boot-licking sycophants. This includes the pardoning of high-criminals who not only have been convicted of anti-state and anti-American conflicts, but those who have no confidence in the U.S. Constitution.

In addition to this, the entire structure of the federal government from its leading law enforcers (FBI) to its intelligence committee (CIA and DNI) are incessantly under attack for expressing anomalies in the power structure and being replaced by dictatorial substitutes for positions usually given to non-political candidates. This has led to the attempt to silence threats to national security and our democratic processes to keep the Russians out of our system, thwarted by one branch of government for the consolidation of influence.

It does not end with one man, with one regime, it ends when the next person sitting in its chair bequeaths its powers to the people.

The most formidable faction of our legislative branch has been severely compromised by fear and a lust for keeping power and chooses to avert its sworn responsibilities to instead allow for a singular political ideology to command the day, ignoring decorum and its place as a check on utilitarian rule. Moreover, many in the United States Senate, like the Justice Department, currently act like the ruling class of a third-world country in its feckless verbal and material defense of this affront to democracy.

This is fascism. Plain and simple. You can defend fascism, and that is your right, as you can defend misogyny and racism. I will fight to the death for your right to do so, but there is a reason for semantics and vocabulary. Facts are facts and they line up with this description. When the initiation of government abandons systemic parameters to act without constraint for a myopic vision without the will of the people or the rule of law, this is fascism. And like facts, the ensuing description cannot be debatable.

So now as the courts and military and watchdog principles are brazenly and outwardly being dismantled, berated and undercut, there is a lesson to be learned. It is important that it is, because we are in a structural crisis, not a one man or one term incongruity. This was an inevitability; the culmination of our steady erosion of the original checks-and-balances put into place by our founders since the 18th century. This is beyond the current madness, although it has reached its saturation point in 2020, it is something that must be corrected the minute this present threat is sent away.

Beyond what is at stake in November, this is something we should demand from the moment the next president is sworn in, and maybe demand it from the current crop of candidates that stand as the only hope to curtail this tailspin. The powers of the presidency must be reined in, no matter the name or political affiliation. The next president must embrace the George Washington model of handing the majority of powers back to the law and those who enact and protect it. All presidents in my lifetime and beyond have been guilty of over-stepping or expanding their powers and it has led to a vacuum that has been filled by an irresponsible, ignorant and power-mad individual. This is what happens when we ignored the war powers, the executive-order powers, the power to pardon any criminal, no matter how heinous, the power to wield the threat of the IRS and the CIA and the Justice Department to lash out at enemies, withhold information and cover-up crime.

If we learn nothing from this crucial period in our nation’s history is that you cannot wipe clean the infrastructure of democracy by merely changing the personality or the party in power. We have a serious issue with the unchecked authority of one branch when that branch is led by one voice, and when that voice is consolidated by its own control over narrative, law, military might and volume-addled pulpit, we are left with fascism.

We have been on this path for decades. It has now reached a point that anyone claiming to be American must defy. But it does not end with one man, with one regime, it ends when the next person sitting in its chair bequeaths its powers to the people.

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THE BERNIE PROBLEM?

Aquarian Weekly
2/18/20
 
Reality Check
 

James Campion
 
 
THE BERNIE PROBLEM?
Democratic Primaries Kick Off with Chaos & Fear     
 
 
The shit show that is the Iowa Caucuses draped a pall of calamity on the start of the 2020 election season. After three years of a mentally-challenged racist goofball in the White House sixty-percent of the nation turns to the only major party left to stem the tide of madness and criminality that is Donald Trump and is instead confronted with bad craziness. Nearly one week went by before anyone knew who the hell won the Iowa follies, and even then, it was some kind of plurality tie between former South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and 2016 also-ran, once independent socialist Bernie Sanders. I used to dig the eighteenth-century charm of the Iowa Caucus system. I have fond memories of the greatest speech I have still ever heard in February of 2008 by future two-term president Barrack Obama there after his stunning upset of Madam Shoe-In, two-time loser, Hillary Clinton. But now an unchecked dangerous lunatic is running the free world and it is no time for charm.

Nevertheless, Sanders and Buttigieg claimed victory for the week and then got to do it again once, I guess, the numbers became official. In the New Hampshire debates leading up to the second primary of the season, Mayor Pete took his requisite beating as “the new guy” from the field of, I don’t know, twenty Democrats drooling to defeat what is a wildly unpopular and newly impeached president. But all of that was window dressing, because Sanders, once a senator from neighboring Vermont with the infrastructure to compete from four years ago, and a spectacular cash foundation from dollar-donations, had it in the bag. He would indeed win the primary, but not in a blow-out (something not in the cards when there are, what thirty candidates, in this thing?), which led to all sorts of bizarre permutations.

Pete Buttigieg, hardly a household name with subpar liberal credentials from a tiny town in a mostly red state, is in this now. Too bad Iowa fucked him, because he could have had an Obama Moment, surprised the field with his tie or percentage win, and given a speech that may have vaulted him like Obama. But alas, it did not happen. Yet he was still the prime target in the following debate, and then had another strong showing in New Hampshire. It is he and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, all smiles and vinegar, that placed in the teeny-tiny, lily-white state, and so they get to crow and hopefully for them raise the kind of cash it will take to deal with Sanders.

Before we get to what the Democrats and their cable news affiliates seem to think is the “Sanders Problem”, we should provide a shout-out to the losers of these first two contests. The biggest hit is on Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, for many reasons: First off, she is also a neighboring senator and received zero delegates out of New Hampshire. That is how many you and I got. Secondly, unlike Klobuchar and Buttigieg, she has name recognition (she is so famous Trump has given her one of his fifth-grade nicknames) and was once a liberal lion. Finally, the party – whether they admit it or not – are worried that another woman candidate is mere fodder for the great unwashed in the Mid-West, so what’s the point? Next up is former Vice President Joe Biden, who was for months the front-runner, most-electable, and so feared by Trump and apparently the entire Republican Party there were a myriad of impeachable offences and a lot of disgusting displays of cover-up by the Justice Department and the U.S. Senate to bury him. Still, Biden did not compete in Iowa or New Hampshire. He looks old and tired and has that usual “Biden fading fast during a primary” look about him. This is his third trip to oblivion (the man has never won a goddamn primary), so the trail is familiar and well-trodden.

Sanders failed miserably four years ago coalescing his constituency behind the doomed Clinton campaign, and he is four years older and hardly even an autumn chicken.

Biden and Warren, once strong nomination possibilities, are on life support. Neither are flush with cash and both are hemorrhaging support to other more viable candidates. The clock is ticking on both these campaigns unless someone wins something quick.

Then there is the wild card in all this. And wild cards are not welcome in movements to oust crazy people from power. Billionaire and former three-term mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, who is not on ballots or debate stages, has already spent over $300 million of his own money trashing, trolling and engaging Trump, for which in his usual twitter-moronic idiom the president has duly taken the bait, and getting traction. Within a month Bloomberg is now polling as strong as anyone beyond the new frontrunners and is slowly bleeding the African-American and Electable vote from Biden.

Now to the state of the Democratic Party going into two election days in Nevada and Virginia before Super Tuesday: It is crap. Unless Sanders shakes this apparent stench that he gives off within a party that went above and beyond to cheat him out of the nomination in 2016 or convinces the rest of the power-brokers that he can win a general election, he is going to have issues. And so then will his following, which appears to have a Bernie-or-Bust manifesto attached to them. Twitter is alive with their rancor and recalcitrance already, as if, like the Trump Cabal in 2016, they are preparing to get rooked. It is entirely possible – like in 2016 – that Berne-Backers will stay home if he is not the nominee. That cannot be said, yet, of any other candidate. Sanders failed miserably four years ago coalescing his constituency behind the doomed Clinton campaign, and he is four years older and hardly even an autumn chicken, and, as mentioned, still not fully embraced by the powers that be. You do not have to be Benjamin Disraeli to know this is a problem.

The moderate and clear-speaking youth of Buttigieg is a formidable foe against the Sanders tide. And Bloomberg has money. Lots of money. And money means more than anything in the current political climate; ideology, party support, a ground game, a coherent message shutter in its wake. He is not a game show host, but there is something of a showbiz element to what Bloomberg brings to this game, which, as we know, is antithetical to what Sanders has brought to the party platform since the 99-percent movement nearly nine years ago now. You know, Eat the Rich and flip the power structure, which is not as popular as a daddy figure with the bucks. The slack-jawed knuckle-draggers in the Rust Belt apparently dig that kind of candidate and this is where the 2020 election, as in 2016, will be decided. This is Bloomberg’s argument for being the nominee, and considering the human clusterfuck that currently sits at Pennsylvania Avenue, can you refute him?

Finally, everyone knows that Sanders biggest support comes from the youth vote; this weird ghostly group that never seems to come through for anyone. Shit, kids didn’t vote against Nixon during the draft or against Reagan when their generation was under attack. And although the youth vote came out for Obama, that isn’t a fair example, because not since George Bush Senior over four decades ago had we seen a candidate for president as popular or impressive as Barrack Obama. Everyone else has won without the popular vote or by a teeth’s skin.

So, no matter which way you look at this right now – and it is fluid, so stay tuned – there is a Bernie Sanders problem in the Democratic Party. It is rightly seen as a muddled construct that needs to cut to the chase and begin to form a workable movement to stop this madman in the White House or continue to be a political pratfall.     

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