The Paul Ryan Factor

Aquarian Weekly 8/22/12 REALITY CHECK


Okay, so now we have a 2012 campaign.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Fuck Chick-fil-A

Aquarian Weekly 8/15/12 REALITY CHECK


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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In Praise of “Vegan is Love”

Aquarian Weekly 8/1/12 REALITY CHECK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or write about?


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What is Mitt Romney Afraid Of?

Aquarian Weekly 7/25/12 REALITY CHECK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then comes the tax return issue.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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The Iconic Art of Bob Gruen

Aquarian Weekly 7/24/12 Buzz


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

I liked being there. – Bob Gruen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sex Pistols

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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The Supreme Cop-Out

Aquarian Weekly 7/18/12 REALITY CHECK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They have new ideas now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

So where does that leave us?

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

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

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

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

Need more evidence?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I ask: What people?

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

Now I’m ready to cover this baby.

Bring it on.


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The Supreme Cop-Out

Aquarian Weekly 7/4/12 REALITY CHECK


Never saw this coming.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Attorneys General Rogue Past

Aquarian Weekly 6/27/12 REALITY CHECK


History lesson, kids.


Okay, can you name a single United States attorney general that has not broken some kind of major law in the past, I don’t know, let’s say half century?

I cannot.

Eric HolderWell, there are a few, William B. Saxbe, Griffin Bell, and maybe two other guys. There’s also the technicality of what a certain attorney general did before taking the office, like Nicholas Katzenbach, who as deputy attorney general drafted the infamous memo to the dubious Warren Commission that cast light on a government cover-up of the JFK assassination: “The public must be satisfied that Oswald was the assassin; that he had no confederates who are still at large; and that evidence was such that he would have been convicted at trial…Speculation about Oswald’s motivation ought to be cut off…Unfortunately the facts on Oswald seem about too pat–too obvious (Marxist, Cuba, Russian wife, etc.)…We need something to head off public speculation or Congressional hearings of the wrong sort.”

Be that as it may, the list of attorneys general, the chief law officer in the nation, having made mincemeat of some portion of the U.S. constitution is long. Very long.

For the purposes of current events, let’s first discuss the sitting attorney general, Eric Holder, who has been in the news for the Fast & Furious mess that has sullied his status, career and reputation. Without delving too deeply into Holder’s shenanigans here, there is absolutely nothing, not some, nothing that is legal about what Fast & Furious was supposed to achieve. Handing over a spectacular cache of weaponry to Mexican drug lords to track their use that ends up in the murder of an American border patrol agent is hardly murky. It’s indefensible. He simply belongs in prison for this. Not sure what has kept him working all this time. Election year? The possession of nude pictures of the first lady?

Holder’s screw up in all its drug running gun toting glory is a doozy, no question, but what I’m after is bigger; an explanation on why these top level law officers, specifically during my lifetime, have shown a complete disregard for the law. It’s as if by merely representing a concept, it is an invitation to flout it.

Power grab? Circumstance? Bad luck?

It is not coincidental that there has been a spate of attorneys general that for one excuse after another ignored their station — national security being the niftiest excuse — to better treat the law of the land as toilet paper.

Most recently was George W. Bush’s Alberto Gonzalez, who was for all intents and purposes using the Department of Justice as a political tool to launch trumped-up investigations of Democratic congressmen.

Before Gonzalez, John Ashcroft’s Patriot Act was so blatantly unconstitutional it was almost surreal, the only thing that topped it was the complete capitulation of the electorate, including yours truly, figuring that it was so off the charts loony that there was no way to actually enforce half of it. This of course turned out to be true, as the hundreds of lawsuits brought against the government has been successful. It became so messy for Ashcroft, he had to bail after memos circulated amongst his staff that the Justice Department handed iron-fisted powers of surveillance and torture to the executive branch, which included ignoring of the Third Geneva Convention, the ABM Treaty and the convenient sidestep of the First and Fourth Amendments under the auspices of “national security”.

It is not coincidental that there has been a spate of attorneys general that for one excuse after another ignored their station — national security being the niftiest excuse — to better treat the law of the land as toilet paper.

Janet Reno, serving as Bill Clinton’s attorney general, acted on flimsy intelligence about “militia groups” and presided over the massacre of 76 Americans in a compound outside Waco, Texas. For reasons only know to her, a lunatic preacher and his wisecracking and heavily armed Branch Davidians (many of them women and children) deserved to be eradicated with full military force. Later, Reno was held, as is Holder, in contempt of congress for withholding documents implicating the justice department for failing to pursue investigations of known Democratic donors.

That brings us to my favorite, Edwin Meese, as terrible a human being, assuming he was one, as has ever held high office in this land, and that, my friends, is saying something. Funny thing is he isn’t close to the worst attorney general. Meese was charged but not convicted (a technicality at best) and later resigned in disgrace over the Wedtech Scandal, wherein a company he was culling a paycheck from was given easy access to Department of Defense contracts that cost taxpayers millions. But that pales in comparison to the unmitigated contempt Meese held for the First Amendment, which he attacked ceaselessly by harassing every avenue of free expression above and beyond any sane description of his job. And should I bother going into his shameless manipulation behind the scenes to successfully, for a time, keep the dirt off his boss, Ronald Reagan for the outlandishly illegal Iran/Contra affair?

Reagan’s previous attorney general, William French Smith was another in a long line to be held in contempt of congress. This time it was Smith’s turn to withhold documents during an investigation of General Dynamics Corp., a weapons company in the pocket of the federal government for decades.

But Reagan’s clan was not nearly as roguish as Dick Nixon’s.

First, there’s John Mitchell, who paid money to everyone under the sun to commit a series of covert spying crimes against American citizens and sitting government officials, amongst other “national security” concerns surrounding students, protestors and private churches. Mitchell was clinically insane and was sacked by Nixon to parade in a cabal of attorneys general to keep the president from going to jail, including Richard Kleindienst, whose silence in the face of several pay-offs for a phalanx of criminals launched from inside the White House during the Watergate crisis lead eventually to Robert Bork, who carried out Nixon’s manic “Saturday Night Massacre”. This included, among a host of many others, the firing of his predecessor, Eliot Richardson, who had the job for five months.

This was what they call in the law business, the golden age of mayhem.

Then there is the curious case of Robert Kennedy, who had never tried a single case in any court in any land. In a case of nepotism run amok, Kennedy was given the post by his brother as payback for his father’s fixing the 1960 general election in at least five states. And although never outwardly breaking the law, RFK used his position and unusual access to the highest office in the land to heights never intended for attorney general. These include the covert negotiations with Soviet diplomats over the deployment of U.S. missiles in Turkey during the Cuban Missile Crisis and ushering prostitutes and starlets for JFK’s favor to and from the secret White House pool.

Not sure any of the above has to do with interpreting the law unless it is to interpret it through the prism of, at best, questionable behavior, which is what Eric Holder is now doing in the great tradition of the office.


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Dan Bern – Drifter

Aquarian Weekly 6/20/12

Prolific Songwriter’s Ode to Perpetual Motion

I first heard a selection of the songs that ended up on Dan Bern’s brilliant new record, Drifter in November of last year in the lobby of a refurbished theater in Beacon, New York and then the next day during a promotional live web cast for a magazine in downtown Manhattan. He played a few more at Joe’s Pub in Greenwich Village that night and in late-December at Mexicali’s Blues Café in Teaneck, New Jersey. Separated from the eventual collected work, which both musically and lyrically segues in and out of each song as if psychic travelogue – a yearning to discover, hide, escape and return to a home that is at once geographical and spiritual – it was as if Bern were symbolically ushering the songs through a rigorous performance trial, first solo and then with his new collaborators, the creatively versatile Common Rotation.

Drifter - Dan BernLater in the winter, as is his wont, Bern sent me a rough mix of the material he wanted to put on the eventual release. For weeks I played it in my office, in the car, and in the background during gatherings of the local tribes, but it wasn’t until late one night that it hit me; this is as close to a running commentary on the American folk ethic as could be laid down in one place; a literal ode to perpetual motion; Jay Gatsby’s ride through the valley of ashes to his unreachable green light at the end of the dock.

Drifter is a statement; Bern’s, a generation’s, a genre’s; the effects of traveling on the traveler for good or ill. It is survival. It is change. It is acceptance. Serpentine movement as philosophical, ethereal, political, nostalgic, narcotic, and introspective on tracks like “Luke the Drifter”, “Raining in Madrid” and “Haarlem”, “Carried Away”, “Home” and “Mexican Vacation”, “I’m Not From Around Here” and “Love Makes All The Other Worlds Go Round”, which is the type of denouement that eases seamlessly into the epilogue of “These Living Dreams”. Many, if not all the songs deal with a transitory experience; aging, evolving, moving along through life observationally; it is also replete with an imagining of a better “place” through vivid dreams and visions of hope.

A concept record? Nah. Bern was quick to dismiss that on a late-night phone call in March, after I sent him a manically cobbled deconstruction of the record under the influence of my sudden epiphany. Hell, who isn’t swept up in the lure of the road? And what writer (and Bern is nothing if not one) has not tackled its seduction from Homer to Joyce, Horace Greeley to Woody Guthrie, Kerouac to yours truly.

“I think subconsciously you choose what you choose to tell your stories about, but it’s not a conscious effort on my part,” Bern explained when a proper interview commenced in early June. “I’m not clever enough to make up something and realize its metaphoric significance, though I do think it’s a beautiful thing when the listener acts as my interpreter and takes the ride to that degree. That’s all I ever want from any song. It’s what any songwriter can ask; that the listener wrestles with it and lets the ideas reveal themselves. For me, it’s all the stuff of my mundane little life lifted by the power of song and maybe, subconsciously, you’ll tap into these things because similar experiences come up in all of our lives.”

Bern’s protestations to the contrary, these songs are not disparate ballads or ravers, wise-guy sing-a-longs or political harangues, the likes of which he has mastered over 16 years spanning 18 albums. “Maybe this is my swansong for that character,” Bern says. “But then again, maybe it never goes away.” Or as he sings in “Luke the Drifter” (the title a reference to country legend Hank Williams’ non-deplume); “Go or stay, one or the other.”

Drifter is a singular vision of a journey, the infinite search through snapshots and notations of every can-kicking crossroad conundrum. “Ooh, I do my share, I knock about/Is anything gonna work out”? he sings in the hauntingly beautiful “The Golden Voice of Vin Scully”; as the interior echoes of the radio wave acts as a north star in a desert-scape Californian hymn worthy of Georgia O’Keefe’s pallet.

“Ultimately this stuff is therapy, isn’t it?” Bern muses. “Any literature is interpretation, the only difference being that most of the time you’re not talking to the writer.”

Drifter‘s topographical references are vast. We visit the Milky Way, the moon, Madrid, Hollywood, New York City, Capetown, Johannesburg, North of Seattle to the Mexico line, San Bernardino, Haarlem, the black hills of Ohio/Wisconsin to the Indiana mud, the Canadian border, Philadelphia, West Virginia, and the solar system. Then there is time travel as in “Mexican Vacation”, where a train moves the narrator through the anarchic landscape of a pre-historic American construct overrun with slave-traders as he professes his love for the “runaway slave girl”.

“The truth is I worked on this record three-times longer than anything I’ve ever done,” Bern sighs when confronted with the events of the past three and a half years. “It becomes this thing that every little change that occurs in your sphere you apply it.”

A sense of travel even appears when we’re stuck in the obligatory isolation chamber of the traveling musician, the hotel room, which is wistfully depicted in “Party by Myself”. Bern’s bittersweet sampling of embraceable loneliness and mind-altering inertia is not unlike being suspended in outer space or in a capsule, which appears, as in the classic film 2001: A Space Odyssey to be still but is actually moving. Most interesting is Bern’s use of the two-dimensional image of Captain Kirk flickering on the tube; another iconic character set adrift “boldly going where no man has gone before”.

Kirk appears, as do all of Bern’s pop culture/historical figure references, brimming with symbolism, not the least of which is his nod to Jonathan Swift who penned the immortal Gulliver’s Travels and for whom the poet W.P. Yeats once described in his epitaph as the “world-besotted traveler”.

“I suppose the interesting thing is that these songs were written at different times, instead of a concentrated period,” says Bern when pressed again about this coincidental subconscious spate of songs with the central theme of the passerby. “I started to write songs like ‘Raining in Madrid’ and ‘Haarlem’ in those places, while ‘Capetown’ is sort of a flight of the mind. And then, you know, LuLu came (his two-year old daughter), I moved out here (from New Mexico to Los Angeles) and, yeah, I think that kind of sparked the whole thing.”

I count Dan Bern as one of my closest colleagues and in many ways a brother-in-arms. We have tracked the bloody grounds of political and social battles and acted as sounding boards for each other’s work for close to a decade. Both of us have fathered daughters within a few years of each other and watched our generation begin to take charge of all that we railed against in our youth; the destruction of the earth, the systemic killing of innocents, the segmental repression of society, the global economic power-play, and we even managed to elect our own leader of the free world, and yet watch in horror as the madness continues unabated.

“Yeah, that’s true,” Bern chuckles, as he usually does when confronted by larger issues before whittling it down to his own corner of the world. “But what’s true at the same time is we’re getting older and we have a feeling of our own mortality; we’re not young bucks anymore.” And then he makes sure I know that he doesn’t feel particularly in charge of anything.”I’m not even in charge of my house!” he laughs.

This may well be why Drifter is filled with the temporary escape provided by chemicals and booze, which pop up as playful landmarks along the way. Senses dulled just enough to continue the search for anything; integrity, friendship, love, comfort? “Will I see you in the street tonight?” Bern sings in “Raining in Madrid”, as if drifting into random social interaction. But in “Home” his search flirts with futility; “Like a vagabond out on the lawn, I was almost gone”, but then suddenly he sings; “Find out who will stick it through thick and thin, lose or win, it’s how you get some place.”

The passion of the search has certainly inspired Bern’s singing. He has never sounded better or more controlled, completely at ease with these wonderfully crafted pieces; each one fastidiously pored over with absorbing precision. Here Common Rotation’s honeyed harmonies and weathered accompaniment on trumpet and banjo (Jordan Katz), harmonica and saxophone (Adam Busch) and guitar and dobro (Eric Kufs) lend the songs a weight they crave, a deserving ensemble for their poetic resonance.

“The truth is I worked on this record three-times longer than anything I’ve ever done,” Bern sighs when confronted with the events of the past three-and-a-half years. “It becomes this thing that every little change that occurs in your sphere you apply it.”

The story of the making of Drifter could well have found its way into the work, as Bern and his ensemble, absent the umbrella of a record company this time around, sold songs, studio time, played private gigs and even composed personal jingles for outgoing phone messages for a host of donors all over the country; the time, expanse, and constant dissection of the project adding to its charm.

“The biggest thing is I didn’t have a wad of record company dough to go in and just do it,” Bern explains. “This record was done on everybody’s good graces and time. Money talks. It gets things done. It books studio time, it pays for musicians, it moves things along. And in a place like L.A. there’s all the people you want, but everybody’s doing a trillion things.”

Some of those people, like film songwriting partner, Mike Viola and a stirring guest appearance by the incomparable Emmy Lou Harris on the moving, “Swing Set”, serves the travel aesthetic well. We stop off into different voices and pass through musical styles, providing a station-to-station, truck stop ambiance of the rootless existence. “There’s a line through this record, for sure,” admits Bern. “And that’s why I worked so hard to get to a sequence that works. It’s like you wouldn’t routinely skip over a scene in a movie to get to the next one. Even though there are fifteen songs here, they all play a role. Basically if something’s on there, it’s because it wouldn’t allow itself to be thrown off. It forced its way in and wouldn’t let go.”

Bern says the sequence of the songs became “like an accordion” for months upon months, jumping the total from 15 songs down to 12 and in some cases just eight and then back up again. “I finally went to Chuck Plotkin (famed producer of Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan, as well as Bern’s 2002 masterwork, New American Language) and sat with he and his wife for two full afternoons,” recounts Bern.

“Turns out, I had the bulk of the run down, but he made a couple of important switches, which tied everything up. For me, if Chuck says it’s okay, then it’s okay.”

“I can’t tell you how much of my energy, attention, DNA is in Drifter.”

Once given the thumbs up from his musical sherpa, Bern quickly shifted gears and recorded 18 of his baseball songs with Common Rotation. Culled from nearly thirty years of work, which spans a century of the game’s most compelling characters and stories from The Babe to Barry Bonds, Doubleheader, aptly titled due to the 18 song list – a song an inning – will be released on the heels of Drifter on July 4 when Bern plays the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. “We just finished it six weeks ago,” he says excitedly, as if relieved to be free from the looming stranglehold of the Drifter marathon. “We just went in and did it all at once, boom; now all these songs I’ve been carrying around are under one roof.”

Beyond wrapping up Drifter and banging out Doubleheader, Bern hints that a third record of country songs, which he whispers may be the best of the three, is ready to go. “Probably for a good ten, fifteen years I was writing on average a song every ten days, like eighty songs a year, but now that seems paltry,” laughs Bern. “I pat myself on the back now if I can get through a tour without writing a song, allowing myself to stay present, because what writing does, as much as it’s this amazing thing that freezes moments, what you’re doing is freezing a rapidly approaching past moment. So while you’re scribbling and drawing your brain cells for a rhyme, maybe you miss that next passing cloud.”

And so here is Dan Bern, putting a ribbon on his troubadour life and turning his attention to the pastoral lore of the grand old game, which James Earl Jones so poignantly performed in Field of Dreams, a film more about the passage of time and the evolution of spirit than baseball. He could well have been reciting from Drifter. “The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again.” Or as Bern sings in the refrain of “Luke the Drifter”; “Oh, life ain’t tragic mostly/Life is magic somely “

“I can’t tell you how much of my energy, attention, DNA is in Drifter,” concludes Bern. “But I am so personally relieved to not have to think about it anymore on a daily basis. It’s a happy, guilty, candy pleasure to talk about baseball. I guess it’s just easier to talk about baseball than myself.”

Drifting….drifting….drifting along.

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The Summer of Obama

Aquarian Weekly 6/20/12 REALITY CHECK


A national political campaign is better than the best circus, with a mass baptism and couple of hangings thrown in. – H.L. Mencken

The stomp outweighs the gavel where persecution reigns. – Marquis De Sade’s aid-de-campe

With the notable exception of 2008, when there was no one left to defend or explain the abysmal eight years of George W. Bush, all election seasons are about the incumbent — his economy, his international standing, his policies, his leadership, his likeability and the confidence in the citizenry to either award him another four years or be so completely frightened or apathetic about his opponent, the choice is down to the lesser of two evils. Outside influences like hostages or a complete unforeseen economic meltdown and/or the random “October Surprise” not withstanding, that’s pretty much it. And in the cycles of an election season, none is crueler than summer. The best and the brightest, strong incumbents like Roosevelt or Reagan or even Nixon, have felt the sting of summer polls, dips in voter confidence, et al. But for the shaky ones, like the one we have now, the summer can be the death knell.

Barack ObamaIt’s time for those in the White House to get real about how they plan on defending this presidency. The hackneyed early pounding of challenger Mitt Romney by what appears to be a close-your-eyes-and-aim-a-dart strategy at the Barack Obama re-election committee has been weak and mostly ineffectual — and not because Romney isn’t one of the worst candidates in recent memory. Hell, a good deal of the underground element of his party never wanted him. I have yet to hear a single Republican or conservative friend or colleague — as long as they are not in the employ of the GOP — say anything positive about their candidate, except that he isn’t Barack Obama. Also, these same types who keep writing me missives that begin with “Beware the TEA Party” have yet to explain how the hell this fat-cat establishment stooge is their representative after six months of a long Republican primary.

No, Romney stinks, just like John Kerry stunk the last time we had a weak incumbent ready to be had. Kerry’s stench didn’t fully reveal itself until September. That’s about when the “I’m not Obama” thing will wear thing for Romney. He had better be about something and have a semblance of an alternative vision, because if he has to survive on cult of personality or tangible elements, he is toast. But in the summer of an election year when the warts of a presidency are out in full force, it’s all about The Man. And for Joe Cool, there are warts.

This economy, although rightly argued by the White House as markedly better than it was when Obama took office (Dow at 7,500 and the private sector losing 800,000 jobs monthly), it is hardly a scintilla of what was projected or even promised by his crack economic team of Wall St. punks and Clinton-era has-beens. The massive stimulus was hijacked by liberal lions in the congress — a congress that was controlled for four years, two under the president, before being ousted in 2010 in the wake of a slipshod and soon-to-be decided by the Supreme Court “unconstitutional” boondoggle of a Health Care Law.

And while this president has been more effective at this illicit and wholly vague “war on terror” than the cowboy president who preceded him, his ramping up the heat in Afghanistan and the blithe dismissal of most of its dead-end policies has been egregious. Remember, this is our anti-war candidate, who has assassinated more disparate terrorists than any president in history, included in the carnage are an America citizen and the man responsible for 9/11. The chances now or anytime that this guy, or anyone, least of all another Ivy League wimp trying to appear tough, is going to end this perpetual state of war is nil. It has been and will be the bankruptcy of this nation, because even purportedly fiscal conservative voices are in favor of never-ending aggression. Obama has done nothing to curtail it, if anything he has to done the opposite.

Shit, can Joe Cool run on this at best shaky and at worst horrid record of economic solvency, as instituted nearly a century ago, or will this be about how shitty Romney is or how shitty the Republicans were in the first place?

Apparently, even in the bitter heat and unforgiving light for summer, six out of ten voters still dig Joe Cool. And why not? He’s still the young candidate (Romney being another tired Baby Boomer nudge), articulate (except when explaining the actual gig he’s been given) and he’s overseen, Afghanistan aside, an overall responsible and effective foreign policy (the Libyan move — which I mocked ceaselessly — was a win-win).

But these same voters do not want more spending or more pathetic excuses about The Right blocking all these infusive economic salves. There is only a Right because in the dust of a Republican spending surge for the better part of a decade, leftist banshees like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid ram-rodded the usual parade of government overreach and caused a backlash. Being shocked that the opposition party, roundly mandated by the electorate in 2010, is blocking your agenda is like being surprised when a TV ad is biased towards the product it’s hawking.

Of course all this pales to the woeful economic numbers that for good or ill (and it has mostly been ill for presidents since FDR made it the business of the executive branch to be responsible for American fiscal solvency) are crushing Joe Cool weekly. Thanks for the most part to Republicans like Coolidge first and Hoover last, both of whom chose to ignore one out of every four Americans being out of work for three solid years prior to Roosevelt’s madness, the country as a whole has henceforth accepted the assistance and regulatory powers of the federal government over the monolithic banking system.

Trouble for this president is his desire to play the middle. Thus, he’s painted as a big-government liberal (in some goofy places as a socialist) as he cow-tows to the interests of speculators, banks, unions, and manufacturers, while also managing to pay lip service to the Dodd-Frank bill, which was passed under a Democratic congress and never certified. The Left claim it doesn’t exist, and what happened last month to J.P. Morgan Chase makes it clear that Joe Cool has no clear footing on either side of the aisle.

And thus here we are, as we were in the summer of 2004 when I sent to press the summation of what this fall’s election should be about: “George W. Bush was ready to be had by anyone aggressive and smart enough to build a viable alternative argument to massive job losses, a throbbing recession, the most spendthrift administration since FDR, and the worst post-war effort ever bungled by a sovereign nation. This election is supposed to be a referendum on the incumbent’s standing. It was ripe for a legitimate challenger to seize the opportunity to engage a debate on its merits.”

Karl Rove brilliantly framed it about gay marriage and soccer mom fear mongering and re-elected a dunce, who continued to care take the greatest economic collapse in eight decades, as will be the case this time around for Barack Obama. Second terms in my lifetime have been doom chambers. No one can survive it, least of all a polarized nation of overfed and over-stimulated mutants ramped with fear over some bullshit they read in a random screed like this nonsense.

But at least I am willing to go on record calling it nonsense, rather than commentary or analysis, even though it is as salient as any crap I’ve read from anyone for months. Shit, can Joe Cool run on this at best shaky and at worst horrid record of economic solvency, as instituted nearly a century ago, or will this be about how shitty Romney is or how shitty the Republicans were in the first place?

Hell if I know, but I do know it’s time for this president to get himself a helmet.

As Voodoo Princess Madam Sissy Meechum says, “It’s a long summer.”


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