THE MEXICAN FLIP OFF

Aquarian Weekly
6/19/19

Reality Check

James Campion


THE MEXICAN FLIP OFF
How Mexico Keeps Embarrassing Donald Trump and Why He Allows It

Our Game Show President’s latest fuck up brings his old political dominatrix back for more punishment when he threatened to impose tariffs on another nation that has a stranglehold on our manufacturing infrastructure to stem the tide of weird paranoias in his head. This makes no sense to anyone with a modicum of understanding about treaties and international trade, and certainly for every member of the U.S Congress, including even those suddenly appalled Republicans who normally kiss his ass. But for Donald Trump, it was a winner. The minute he rode down that escalator and started calling Mexicans rapists and killers, or well…some of them are fine…but mostly rapists and killers, he had himself a fine argument to run the free world instead of having his contract renewed by the National Broadcasting Network. Soon there would be a wall and Mexico paying for it and more racist nonsense that went over big in the anti-free-trade wing of the Republican Party heretofore relegated to a dark quasi-conservative philosophy once pitched by the kind of laissez-faire isolationists that doomed the economy for generations. Then there’s the aforementioned ill-conceived tariff threats that forced Trump to cave and then, as is his childish wont, claim victory and get all pissy when anyone not affiliated with state-run television at FOX News couched it has an ass-kicking.

Let’s unpack this baby.

Unfamiliar with anything that has occurred in American history or the basic tenets of governance over the past centuries, Trump – who continues to float the idea of nations paying the U.S. for our occupations of said countries for our national security post-WWII – merrily conflates the idea of trade with national security. His ridiculous China trade war (including executive orders that are so wildly idiotic it would take four columns to cover, and I am beyond tired citing stupid shit this guy does, so go research it yourself) is destroying our farming industry, causing market unrest resulting in billions in big-government bailouts, and has just begun effecting our consumer bases. It also forced Trump’s National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn to quit in protest. So, of course, this growing fiasco became the basis for the president’s reasoning on taking on Mexico, which he has deemed an existential threat to our nation, even though illegal immigration has been down for ten years and was at an all-time low during the previous administration. In fact, Barack Obama’s border run was so invasive he began to get serious backlash from the Latino community that most likely resulted in the less than stellar turnout for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

A short aside here, it should be noted that the laws Trump uses to its most horrific depths in jailing children in inhuman conditions at our border was supported and enforced by the Obama Administration, which Trump and his usual lackies have cited to get the backlash for this national blight off their backs.

Mexico held firm against being threatened with tariffs for weeks, while waiting for the U.S. Congress to lose its shit, which it did. Even Mitch McConnell, who has been using Trump’s empty philosophical husk to ram-rod outdated right-wing crap through the Senate for over two years now, told El Douche to snap out of it. Trump, as he did with Nancy Pelosi after shutting the government down and bringing us to the brink of war with North Korea, and then relenting, avoids the catastrophe based on his own original decisions then reverses course at the last minute to claim that his brilliance saved the day. This is tantamount to someone lighting your house on fire and then after putting it out says, “You’re welcome.”

Trump ate shit. And then this week happened and, well, bon appetit!

The Mexican government even tried to save Trump from himself by agreeing to things they had already agreed to months before his showboating to throw him a PR bone, but then they heard Trump was doing a victory lap and telling the international press he had bested them. So, Mexico came clean and told everyone nothing was changed by the phony tariff threats. Trump then did the Trump thing and called an impromptu press conference waving a piece a paper around telling everyone a “secret deal” was made. Mexico, unfamiliar with “secret deals” to sucker the great unwashed up north, not only denied this goofiness, Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s foreign minister produced paperwork of the actual deal and then when reporters studied Trump’s paper-prop, it jived with Mexico’s and he looked like an idiot. Again.

I say again because for some reason Mexico is the gift that keeps on giving for Trump (helped him get elected and the ongoing whipping post for his fear-mongering that fires up his base, which is his only support left) and the pill that taketh away (as in the fabricated “caravan” nonsense Trump tried selling to stem the tide of the Blue Wave that inevitably turned into a tsunami last November). The whole “Mexico is paying for the wall” thing has been an abject embarrassment. Even Trump knew it when less than a week into his presidency he begged then Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to go along with the ruse to cover his ass. Leaked White House transcripts has Trump whining, “The fact is we are both in a little bit of a political bind, because I have to have Mexico pay for the wall – I have to.” Peña Nieto literally laughed and then told the president he would not be taking any bullets for his lying, forcing Trump to ask him to simply keep it under his hat. “You cannot say that (you will not pay for the wall) to the press. The press is going to go with that and I cannot live with that. You cannot say that to the press because I cannot negotiate under those circumstances.”

Trump even tried threatening to shut down relations because of this, but Peña Nieto instead told his press that he told Trump to go hump it and watched his approvals go through the roof. Trump ate shit. And then this week happened and, well, bon appetit!

But to be fair to Trump, he counts on people not having a clue what is really going on, which has kept his 38 to 42 percent of Americans digging his schtick and he absolutely needs Mexico as a villain in his ongoing MAGA bullshit. And that is why, despite getting skunked again and again by Mexico, he keeps going to that poisoned well.

The president needs Mexico, and it appears, Mexico, or at least its government really needs him.    

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OPEN LETTER TO MY WIFE IV

Aquarian Weekly

6/12/19

Reality Check


James Campion

OPEN LETTER TO MY WIFE IV


My bride,

I can vividly remember the first time I decided to do this, the week of our nuptials in early June 1999, an unthinkable twenty years, one daughter, yoga instructor certification, six books, three houses, two-dozen or so weird and wonderful trips abroad, and a half-dozen cats ago. It made sense I would come here to make my witness. I had officially begun what would become this column the first night we spent alone together, on our way to see Sinead O’Connor at the Beacon Theater. It was the twenty-sixth day of August 1997. I sent my very first socio-political piece to the Aquarian that evening from the fax machine at the Roosevelt Hotel where my oldest and best friend of forty-five years now, Chris was working media. I began to fall in love with you that night. I did. Maybe I told you a few weeks later. Two months after that you moved into my hovel and transformed a boy into a man and a mostly directionless heart into one with a laser beam focus. And that is why I felt the need to write the first of these Open Letter pieces before we were to be married on June 12, 1999, twenty years ago today. I still had this fear that one day I could lose this thing we had that I shall never, ever take for less than what it is; the answer to the question (you know from which I speak) about the meaning of…well…everything.

I wrote then: “Let’s face it, who is going to pick me up and dust me off the way you do? Who is going to heal those wounds, the ones the doctors can’t see, or the tax man can’t heist, or the priest can’t bless with a few hollow words? I don’t deserve any of this. I should be banished to a remote island in the Pacific and left to dig for fallacies with a teaspoon.” – 5/26/99

And, of course, it is probably the darker side of maudlin and certainly the upper register of cheesy to do this in public, even for a writer. Most of us tend to change names and mask much of our emotions in subtext and metaphor, and for the most part I am rarely if ever truly honest in this space unless forced to be. I have too much fun with the form for it to actually mean something. I made that assessment on the twentieth anniversary of my first published book, Deep Tank Jersey three years ago in which I was sure that the emotions I expressed in it eventually turned into a muted narrative of disparate wordplay. I felt icky admitting this, but it’s the truth. But here, I come clean. And even that doesn’t matter all that much, not to us. We never use words to express what it is we embarked upon almost twenty-three years ago (the day you walked up to my door in your pajamas – November 4, 1997, and stayed, thank the universe). In fact, words are pathetically incapable of approaching what you mean and have meant to me.

Our story, in a very real way, is this reoccurring dream of a dance.

And because of these subpar expressions, I wish every day I could paint, and that I had your eye for visual artistry, the one Scarlet got in spades and displays on occasion when we least expect it. Maybe then I could actually illustrate this bond, this current of electricity that comes from knowing that you came and never left and then made it official – standing before all of our friends and family in an old theater in Syracuse – and married me in front of a woman judge, who butchered my middle name. I can hear my mom now, B-A-R-T-O-L-O-M-E-O. I also wish I still wrote songs, but love songs are a dime-a-dozen and none of it really does the trick. I think your connection to Dylan’s “Love Minus Zero/ No Limit” (she’s true like ice, like fire) makes more sense to me every day I get to be with you and argue with you and sleep with you and laugh with you and challenge you and be challenged by you and get to kiss your lips and your forehead and your cheeks and hold your hand and put my arm around your waist and worry about shit we will never really be able to do anything about and then avert our eyes for just a moment from all this us-us to see the kid we made but who now makes us.

You know when I am sure that words fail, because when I typed that last sentence my hands were shaking. They were. No joke. I almost lost control of them for the briefest of moments and couldn’t ride it out until I could and that is why I think I do this – get these thoughts down every five years we’ve been married – not for you, but for me. I need to do it. I do. I need to force it out in this space and out of my head and my soul what the hell being married to you has done to me and for me and why whether it is twenty years ago on a mostly overcast and sticky June day near where you grew up and we danced together like we loved to dance together and how I love how we could dance together, or ten minutes ago, it is eternal.

All the pain that you have known / All the violence in your soul / All the ‘wrong’ things you have done I will take from you when I come – Sinead O’Connor, “This is the Mother You” – our wedding song.

Our story, in a very real way, is this reoccurring dream of a dance. Our movements through this life together moves effortlessly even when it is messy and rocky and challenging and filled with the pressures and death and parenting and art. It will always be you and me in the swirl of that dance. The smell of you, the sight of you, the texture of you remains. That is what I remember today as we celebrate that particular day today and every day. The dance. Yeah, our dance. Together. Always.

All mistakes made in distress / All your unhappiness / I will take away with my kiss, yes /

I will give you tenderness

So, you know, we’ll start the next twenty or at least the next year as we have done all these others, embraced. This is how it makes sense to be around…with you. Because with you always made sense. Getting together – eleven years apart in age, some 180 miles distance, the visual and the literary, the caustic and the emotional – made zero sense. But the you-and-me always did. Always will. And that makes writing this, like the previous three (and that one a few days before we hitched) so difficult and so damned easy. A paradox. This love. A familiar and rhythmic paradox that I would not trade for anything anywhere, anyway.

Thank you for coming over that night. For that sticky June afternoon. Our Scarlet.

And the dance.

Our dance.

Twenty years.

Dance with me.

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BOB MUELLER’S PRIMER IN PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE TRUTH-TELLING

Aquarian Weekly
6/5/19

Reality Check

James Campion


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ouch.

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

Hmmmmm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rob Thomas: Out of the Pocket

Aquarian Weekly

Feature

5/22/19

James Campion

Hair-tussled and all comfy in faded jeans and a loose-fitting gray waffle shirt, Rob Thomas sits with his dog Sammy perched on his lap and intently bobs his head as a playback of the first single off his upcoming album, Chip Tooth Smile, “One Less Day (Dying Young)” fills his downstairs home studio. The vocal, a recognizable baritone accented in his always reliable surge of emotion, comes at you crisp, clear, relentless: “I’m not afraid of getting older/I’m one less day from dying young.” When the pulsing momentum of the track resolves in a heavy Celtic-styled accent, the 46-year-old singer-songwriter sits for a moment and exhales, “You know, they say you only live once… well, you die once, but you live every day.” Then, without hesitation, he concludes, “I wanted to write something that expressed that I like being older, which means I get another day.”

On the eve of the twentieth anniversary of his first amazingly successful solo project—working with Carlos Santana to write and perform what Billboard magazine recently calculated is the second-highest charting song ever, “Smooth”—and twenty-three years removed from the smash hit debut of Matchbox Twenty’s Yourself or Someone Like You, “One Less Day (Dying Young)” frames a life in and out of the spotlight. He sings with a measure of enviable unrepentance, “All my life I have been wandering/Burning up my candle like my time just won’t end/And I’ll keep burning ‘til there’s nothing left.”

Looking off in the distance, he smiles for a moment and then looks my way. He honestly wants to know what I think.

Thomas had contacted me in early November of 2018 to invite me up to his Bedford, New York home and down into his musical lair, complete with old stage guitars perched on stands or hanging majestically beside inspiring paintings, photographs of his favorite authors, and military-era ones of his dad, so he could play me these tracks. Back then he was deep into working out the songs and very excited about the prospect of the record. I had spent some time with him on tour with Matchbox Twenty two summers before when he was conjuring up the ideas for new music, and I felt when he called this was his way of completing the journey. In a way, I would be his finish line. It wasn’t until a few months of back-and-forth between us and more recording and mixing that I met him at his doorstep in early February, immediately noticing a bounce to his gate and a broad grin creasing his face. He knew what he had was good and he could not wait to share it.

As much as Chip Tooth Smile is Thomas coming to grips with his present and what he’s accomplished—a meteoric rise to fame during an incredibly creative past quarter-century; composing and performing four #1 singles with Matchbox Twenty and one as a solo artist—much of the record unerringly reveals from where the man who has sold 80 million records and played for millions more across the world has come. More pointedly, the album is a self-portrait and a celebration, if not a deep introspection of a journey to discovery. In the funky blues croon of “I Love It,” he defiantly sings for all he’s worth; “Won’t be getting played out/Never gonna fade out/I’ll just keep on nailing you with fire ‘til you flame out.” In other words, for Thomas, a voracious reader and adoring disciple of literature, it is very much a “rage against the dying of the light” statement while simultaneously coming to grips with its glare. And it is a glare he has known long before he became one of the most recognizable voices in rock history.

“When I was young, maybe fifteen or so, I thought. ‘I’m going to do this forever and I’m going to be really big’,” Thomas says, recalling his origins. “In my first bands, playing covers and shitty originals over tons of gigs that we traveled to in vans and trailers, I had enough suspension of disbelief to the actual possibility of this—I could visualize where I would go, and what I would be.”

Reflective of all this is the album’s title, which refers to a busted front tooth his wife of nearly twenty years, Marisol Maldonado, refused to let him fix for years because, for her, it was indicative of his personality. The dead-end kid with holes in his pockets and stars in his eyes. And it is that very personality—the core of the man and the artist—where Chip Tooth Smile is realized. It is in songs like “We Were Beautiful,” the seventh track on the album and the titular first song on the second side (for all you vinyl freaks, of which Thomas counts himself). It is a simple but chilling underscore to the memories of youth crystalized in a photo, produced by hit-maven, Benny Blanco. Before he plays it, Thomas explains, “We were so beautiful when we were young, and not just aesthetically… we had all this promise.”

Chip Tooth Smile is Thomas’s fourth solo effort, and perhaps it is his most, well, solo. Using only his exceptional alacrity for musical structure, melody, and innate pop sensibilities, with adroit assistance from musical co-conspirator, Butch Walker, the album is at the very least his most singular testimonial, both musically and lyrically. “I had full demos—drums, bass, and guitar—for some of these songs, but Butch didn’t want that to get in the way of how he sees a song,” explains Thomas. “I sent him just me with the guitar playing, then Butch would arrange and play everything, except for a few drum tracks. I was thinking of using the talented people from my earlier solo records like Mike Campbell, Wendy Melvoin, and Abe Laboriel Jr., but it came down to Butch and me deciding, ‘Okay, here’s the song. Where do you want to go?’”

The moment the music begins to pour from the speakers above a computer nestled behind a recording console, I’m led to where the duo would venture and end up; back to the decade of the songwriter’s youth—its sounds, its effects, its instruments, its aura. “An eighties theme runs throughout this record,” Thomas chuckles, knowingly. “It’s in the DNA of the recording.”

Listening to the unabashed tribute to his heroes, from R.E.M. to INXS to George Michael, and echoing the MTV-infused modernity of Human League and the Eurythmics, Thomas and Walker create a time-warp soundscape on the expertly realized “I Love It,” which more than harkens to mid-eighties Robert Palmer or the vocal and drum effects culled from Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight.” One could say it shamelessly slathers it on, but with an impish nod and a wink. Both men made concerted efforts to use authentic and, in many ways, completely antiquated instruments and sounds. On the achingly honest portrayal of coming to grips with racism, “Early in the Morning,” and the Tom Petty colored “Tomorrow Will Only Break Your Heart,” there is no question there is a thematic aural thread here.

Yet none of it devolves into mere homage. Thomas utilizes these muses as subtext to deeper themes. Although the veil is completely lifted on the engagingly fun “Timeless” which Thomas says is “a song about eighties songs, about listening to eighties music, sounding like an eighties song, but also made up entirely of eighties songs titles.” It is the meta equivalent of Ouroboros (the snake that eats itself) and as much fun for the listener to pick out each song reference as it apparently was for the composer and his bride. “I sat down here in the studio and my wife was texting me and feeding me our favorite eighties albums and songs,” he says, excitedly. “I had a list of like forty or fifty of them and I was just picking out the lines and titles that worked.”

The dozen tracks Thomas chose for the release from the nearly-thirty considered (he showed me his secret file called “The Stockyard” where the fallen tunes would remain) were whittled down from a mind-bending sixty. Most of them were composed over the past three years while he was touring solo and with Matchbox Twenty—locations as vast as hotel rooms, backstage corners, and somewhere on a bus rolling across America. All the while, Thomas, who’s prolific musical output has captured Songwriter of the Year awards from both Billboard magazine and BMI, was exploring a time long before he was writing songs with Willie Nelson and Mick Jagger, performing for sold-out arenas, singing at the White House, appearing on magazine covers, and collecting Grammys. These are rummaged snapshots from the energy, promise, and insecurities of his youth.

“You know, they say you only live once… well, you die once, but you live every day.”

“We were a radio family,” Thomas remembers. “The radio was always on, so eighties and late seventies radio that my mom and I listened to would become my foundation.” I casually cite his acute sense of the pop idiom for his most celebrated work and he doesn’t hesitate to let me know that it is very much a combination of natural evolution mixed with calculation. “I see myself as a radio kid who has always written radio music. I used to get busted on for that, but what I write is just music for the masses, because—come on, man—I am the masses.”

For those who have followed his career, Chip Tooth Smile is very much awash in Rob Thomas leitmotifs; songs of becoming a father (“Man to Hold the Water”), painful breakups (“It’s Only Love”), and a uniquely charming number entitled “Funny” that takes a steely look inside his deep and lasting love for Marisol in which he describes within as “Every trip and stumble and fall that has gotten me to this point/Making me stronger for the moment we’re experiencing right now… and life is funny that way.” Thomas strips bare how the past few years of Marisol’s very public health issues has affected him in the heart wrenching “Can’t Help Me Now,” something he’s shared from her perspective in previous songs but never from his own. “She’s the one I would turn to when things got tough,” he tells me in a quiet moment after its last note fades. “But when I’m the one caring for her during her difficult health issues, whom can I turn to then?” One can envision the Songwriting Hall of Fame honoree contemplating the weight of this soulful rendering as he was hunched over the piano, leaning in to read the lyrics of the chorus in which he sings, “You’re the one that talks me down/Even you can’t help me now.

But she did indeed help put a ribbon on Chip Tooth Smile. The album’s final salvo, “Breathe Out” almost didn’t make the record until Marisol intervened. Thomas was not sure the song fit with the whole “middle-aged artist rediscovers his past in sound and fury.” But it sure does. The final stanza, a mantra for Thomas’s journey as a young man, coping with his mother’s cancer and alcoholism, his sleeping in cars, and fighting to keep his dreams and music alive underscores the entire project as catharsis; “When the world is making promises that it can’t keep/You alone your only friend/Breathe out/Breathe in/Breathe out again”—the principal aspect of breathing out first, thus sighing, letting the burdens of the inner-conflict escape before finally breathing in again to allow life to renew hope is starkly brilliant, if not a subconscious piece of advice to take on each and every day. But mostly, it is a damn fine song and would be missed if it remained in The Stockyard.

“I don’t want to die with my best songs in my pocket,” Thomas tells me, agreeing that this gem making the cut was the right call (nice job, Marisol). “If I get a chance to put songs out there for people to hear them, then I’ll take it.”

Later at dinner, still waiting for my thoughts on the record, a man about to dive headlong into months of promotion, TV appearances, and a summer tour casually sips wine, unwinding before the deluge. Part of the day was spent discussing the edits to a video for “One Less Day (Dying Young)” in which he was directly involved. We bat around much of what I’ve written above, and I was quite frankly pleased to tell him I think Chip Tooth Smile is an ambitious triumph in sonic tribalism and personal confession; what all good solo albums from solid songwriters should be. But what I mostly take away from the music is how much it means to Rob Thomas, for whom persona and fame sometimes precedes it. It was back in the nineteen-eighties when a kid with big dreams believed only in the music and hoped for all the rest. And it is the music, it appears from this project, that endures. “I hear songs that haven’t been written yet,” he tells me before we part. “So much of my writing has always been just sitting down or driving down the road and humming a melody to myself and then trying to figure out what it is, and realizing it’s nothing, so it must be me!”

And so, Rob Thomas, on the eve of his fourth solo album, filled with stories and grooves aplenty, proving his youthful musical muse is still very much inside him, has made his case. He only had to wait for everyone else to hear it. These infectious and insightful songs are now finally out of his pocket.

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ESCLAVE IN UTERO

Aquarian Weekly
5/22/19

Reality Check

James Campion


ESCLAVE IN UTERO 
A Users Guide to Life After Roe v Wade Goes Down

Governments are instituted to “secure,” not grant or create, our inalienable rights.
                    – Thomas Jefferson, scholar, patriot, slave owner

Last month the first shot across the bow against habeas corpus, the very foundation of a free society preventing our inalienable rights from government oppression tantamount to forms of 17th century slavery, was fired with Ohio’s unconstitutional ban on abortion. Last week, Georgia picked up the mantle with HB 481 (“heartbeat bill”), the governor signing another law criminalizing abortion in the state. As I write this Alabama is following suite. A dozen states over the past few years have passed similar but smaller laws restricting access to women’s health care. All of this, with open admission by the Republican governors of these states, is to have these illegal laws stricken down in court with the express purpose of challenging the l973 landmark Supreme Court Roe v Wade ruling through mostly conservative appellate courts and then to the mostly conservative Supreme Court.

Demonstrators hold signs outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the court is due to issue its first major abortion ruling since 2007 against a backdrop of unremitting divisions among Americans on the issue and a decades-long decline in the rate at which women terminate pregnancies in Washington, U.S. June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque – RTX2IGAZ

For all intents and purposes, it is there that Roe v Wade will go. The final nail in the Trump coffin is being hammered on human rights. Women’s bodies will affectively be considered slaves to the state. Abortion will result in jail time. If you have certain genitals your literal freedom is at risk. And it will open a future that allows the United States government to tamper inside the bodies of every citizen; man or woman forevermore. That is what is going down soon. And there is not a thing we can do about it.

To be fair Trump is merely a tool of this scheme. It has been going on for years. While conservatives screamed about having all your guns taken away, they slowly changed the court system and began chipping away at women’s freedoms with strategic amendments to state statutes on abortion. Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush would have done the same thing. What makes it weird is Trump is really Pro Choice. He is only about attaching himself to whatever makes him win things like the presidency. So, even though it will go down that Donald Trump ended Roe v Wade and those who voted him in will have their signature on this abomination, it is a larger more sinister systemic slide toward in utero slavery that we must discuss and then deal with.

Now, on a personal level, I’ve expressed my philosophical conflicts in this space over the past two-decades-plus on Pro Choice v Pro Life. Unlike the First Amendment, which I think is sacrosanct or some Pro Choice supporters who meander on this subject, I willingly admit to abortion being a form of killing. This is not unlike the slaughter of say other mammals on the planet for sustaining human life or the justifiable murder we sanction through taxes and voting – for instance America bombings of Middle East villages with children casualties. Is not the Sandy Hook mass shooting a symptom of the Second Amendment? Sure. It’s not its aim, but gun people have to own it, so Pro Choice people need to own this. But are you giving up the right to bear arms because some kindergarten kids are massacred? Nah. Law is the law. And this is my Pro Choice or – more to the point here– habeas corpus argument. It is abjectly insane to allow a governing body the unchecked power over a human one in a purportedly free society. It makes no legal sense under our existing constitution. If they wish to add an amendment to strip habeas corpus and make a concerted mockery of the document, I am all for it, but if we are using it as an existing template to protect our rights, then to force humans against their will to do something within their bodies is simply a form of slavery and it is the very reason for the 1973 ruling.

The moral argument is, of course, always bullshit. There are a ton of laws that are immoral. The conscription law that freed the world in the 1940s is completely immoral, as was the bombing of Japanese innocents to end it. Right now, there is a law that separates children from their parents and leaves them in cages at our Southern Border. Fuck morals. They are subjective and obviously malleable to your politics. This is why Evangelicals forgive this president’s rampant immoralities. Shit, for Evangelicals, who believe even thinking of sex is a sin against God, to turn away for a serial adulterer that brags on tape about grabbing pussy is all you need to know. They chucked all that morality bullshit for their Pro Life movement. And I give them credit for this. Welcome to the world of secular opportunists. The high ground on morality has been ceded to a lying, womanizing, racist bully to jail teenaged rape victims!

Begin the post-apocalypse by considering your political life as a woman … your gender is under siege.

But enough of that. It is time to speak to the women around us who are totally fucked by this. And this means generations, when the government will again have the power to enact forced abortions once we’re overcome with natural disasters due to ignored climate change. Trust me, there will come a time when the government will limit the number of children. It may be while your bones are rotting in the grave, but you’ll have that as a legacy. Nice work.

Ladies, it is important to first move to states that will allow you to control what happens to your body, (or choose Canada, where it is legal and binding and never to be overturned) because the rescinding of Roe v Wade will undoubtedly carry with it a state’s rights statute. This will appease the conservative wing of those 70 percent of Americans who support not having the government poking around in its citizenry’s uteruses. In fact, last year when the judge who will likely push this over the top, Brett Kavanaugh was in his controversial “Who did he rape and when?” appointment, only 37 percent supported him. Put a more direct way, twice as many people support Roe v Wade than the guy who will strike it down.

If you decide to stick around goober states or live in this newly fascist country, then at the very least women need to be way more aggressive about making sure that contraceptives are on the books for any future health care legislation – another way Republicans have been chipping away at this; you can’t protect yourself from pregnancy and if you get pregnant you have to have the baby or go to jail. Tremendous! Meanwhile, pills that help 70 year-olds get hard-ons come free with male health care. Fantastic!

It may be too late to stop the eradication of Roe v Wade, but it’s time women finally mobilize and get a measure of take-backs. Come to grips with this: Roe v Wade is toast. Your uterus and your daughter’s and her daughter’s will be owned by the state. Begin the post-apocalypse by considering your political life as a woman – not an economic or anti-war or pro-war or religious principled vote. Your gender is under siege. So, it is time to push for the Equal Rights Amendment. Use it to topple anything that takes away your inalienable rights, which by definition “cannot be surrendered, sold or transferred to someone else, especially a natural right such as the right to own property.” You know what’s your property? Your organs. Imagine! Your house. Your car. Your apple tree and the parts of your internal being. An Amendment will supersede unlawful Supreme Court decisions and finally and properly protect them from government invasion.

The insurgence of women into congress in 2019 is a nice start.

Don’t Tread on Me.

Abolish the coming enslavement of your uterus.

This is on the clock now.

Get to work.  

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HOW BAD CAN TRUMP’S TAX RETURNS BE?

Aquarian Weekly
5/15/19

Reality Check

James Campion


HOW BAD CAN TRUMP’S TAX RETURNS BE?
Spoiler Alert: He Thinks They’re Really Bad

Come on, admit it. Even if you continue to defend Donald Trump despite everything, aren’t you the least bit curious as to why he has never released his tax returns despite every candidate since Richard Nixon doing so and the accepted idea that those running for or serving as president need to be transparent to the American people so there is no gory speculation on what kind of weird shit our public servants are into? I mean, especially for a (in)famous business man who stakes his reputation on being some kind of financial wizard and specifically this man, who finds the need to tout the most banal of accomplishments (making up many of them) and regurgitating his most heinous fuck-ups like the post-Charlottesville “both sides are good people” nonsense about neo-Nazis to defend himself. And it is extremely odd when considering this guy spent two years chasing down then president Barack Obama to release his birth certificate to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was an American citizen.

It is all very, very strange.

Unless…

There is some really bad shit in there. I mean, catastrophically bad.

Because this what people not in the bag for this president are left to think.

And, to be fair, this is against form for Donald Trump. He’s bypassing his usual braggart/knee-jerk/quick draw machinations to allow people to frame this gaping hole in his bio as anything they wish: a possible scofflaw or having ties to the mob or more Russian crap or perhaps tons of donations to Democratic candidates or left-leaning organizations despite his right-wing stances, or maybe he’s exaggerating his worth or financial successes. Maybe he paid no taxes at all. We can think anything is in there, because he is going to great lengths to keep the proof from us.

This is how public office works. It is not like big-time real estate, which is pretty much a shell game of rampant malfeasance meets outright fraud. People mostly find out stuff about you. And it will happen to Trump.

The law is airtight on this, despite the stonewalling by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, whose job it is to hand over such requests by Congress as dictated by the Supreme Court in a 1975 ruling. It is just a matter of time. It always has been. Trump gambled rightly that a Republican House wouldn’t expose him, but his trouncing this past November all but guaranteed this confrontation, something Trump dealt with the morning after Election Day when he did what he did best; parade a pig smeared with lipstick and declared it the prom queen.

To wit: After jockeying during the primaries and even his run for office with his memorable line of spectacular bullshit, “I’m being audited, so I can’t release them” he followed up for a few months there with my favorite, “They’re too complicated and cannot be fathomed by any person living or dead.” The last one was a paraphrase, but even that was more cogent than this ramble from early that morning after Trump got his clock cleaned in the mid-terms: “They’re very complex. People wouldn’t understand them. They’re done by among the biggest and best law firms in the country, same thing with the accounting firms, they’re very large, powerful firms from the standpoint of respect, highly respected, big firms, and great law firms. They do these things. They put them in. But people don’t understand tax returns. It is a very big company, far bigger than you would even understand, but it’s a great company, but it’s big and its complex and it’s (tax returns) probably feet high.”

From I understand the president hadn’t blown any Tai Stick or suffered head trauma before the above, but it still does nothing to make him look like he isn’t hiding something…again.

We can think anything is in there, because he is going to great lengths to keep the proof from us.

And that leads us back to the original conclusion; Trump cannot release his tax returns and survive serious scrutiny, embarrassment or worse. Period. So, we get stonewalling.

Thing is Trump likes to run things like this whole charade is another wing of his disastrous business dealings – and if the NY Times revelations this week that he lost billions in the 1980s and 90s is any indication, then good luck with this – he is no longer a private citizen. He works for us, not Trump Enterprises. And the majority of us apparently would like to see his so-called business genius or if some of the stuff that is in the Mueller Report about his negotiating with Russians to build towers while their government was attacking us jives with his records. Polls range from 56 percent to 74 percent of Americans interested in seeing the president’s returns and nearly 80-percent believe it should be a prerequisite to run for office, much less govern.

And even if Trump’s solid, unwavering 35 to 40 percent zealotry sticks with him whether there’s a lifetime subscription to NAMBLA or investments in Trump Tower al Qaeda in these sacred documents or not the rest of us living in the real world would like to see them. But for damn sure Donald Trump doesn’t want us to.

Why?

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TIME FOR MUELLER TO SPEAK

Aquarian Weekly
5/8/19

Reality Check

James Campion


TIME FOR MUELLER TO SPEAK

Things move so fast during this car-wreck presidency I am forced in mid-stream to abandon one column on Donald Trump’s spastic scramble to keep Congress and thus the American people away from his tax returns (Yikes, what horrors lurk within?) and shift gears to the breaking news on Special Counsel Bob Mueller’s recent eyebrow raising D.C. bombshell of a letter to Attorney General William Barr that was not only completely unexpected by out of character for the normally tight-lipped Mueller and unprecedented in the long history of special counsels and the justice department. Within hours of a report in the Washington Post about this unusually aggressive correspondence, Congress made it public, and man it is a doozy.

Mueller basically calls the Attorney General of the United States a liar, and worse yet, subsequently an accessory to Trump’s obstruction of justice the special counsel framed in his 448-page report, or at the very least making clear that Barr’s March 24 fluff-note disguised as a summary of the Mueller Report led to “public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation.” At which point Mueller goes on to write, “This threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the Department appointed the Special Counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations.”

Oy.

The letter is not long, but it is direct, (no one that makes his living in the law uses the term “threatens” lightly) and turns out to be a kill-hell bitch slap of a rebuke on the nation’s top law officer. In Barr’s grubby paws, according to the report’s author, there is no assurance of “full public confidence.”

Ouch.

And this point became far clearer during a heated exchange at Barr’s Senate hearing this week, as California Senator Kamala Harris, Democratic presidential candidate, got the beleaguered and stammering AG to admit that although he determined publicly more than once that the DOJ found no evidence of Trump’s obstruction of justice in the report, he never reviewed any of it before making this decision. Because, you know, he is only the nation’s attorney general and was the first one to have access to the most important official government document created in the last decade. I mean, why study it when you can merely make shit up.

Mueller concludes his stern warning on misinterpreting his two years of work by respecting the right of Barr’s office to review the material in the aforementioned report, but “that process need not delay release of enclosed materials.” In other words, “Hey, buddy, don’t use this whole ‘review process’ as an excuse to stonewall what is rightfully the American’s people’s document bought and paid for by them and researched and formulated for them.” And then with swift and severe precision Mueller slides effortlessly into his final paragraph with “Release at this time would alleviate the misunderstandings that have arisen and would answer congressional and public questions about the nature and outcome of our investigation.”

This is the equivalent in writer’s parlance of a right-cross. Think of Mike Tyson in 1986 as a sentence. Barr would be the first-round casualty.

We know now that after digesting this little missive, Barr quite ceremoniously told Mueller to go fuck himself and took his sweet time before disseminating a rose-colored pro-Trump summary (that he later claimed was not a summary) of Mueller’s investigative opus and then before actually releasing the report held a surreal presser in which he tried to soften the obvious accusations that it levies on the president of the United States.

There was less speculation in interpreting the Bible or late-Sixties Beatles songs than the Mueller Report. Its author needs to speak, and soon.

This tiptoe through bullshit is what landed Barr in front of Congress again – a request he playfully dodged before complying, keeping himself from contempt charges that tend to lead to disbarment and other things – and it has wrecked whatever possible credibility the AG could have had after he shamelessly campaigned for the gig by kissing Trump’s ample hindquarters. 

But I digress.

This is about Robert Mueller today. It is his reputation that will be on the line next. What the special counsel does not get to do is throw stones at Barr’s rather flimsy glass house and then continue to play intellectual recluse floating above the fray with a smirk while occasionally being seen wandering in and out of D.C. churches every Sunday and leaking accusatory letters to the press. This was Mueller’s baby. He signed his name to it. And it has predictably been politicized by Congress and Trump apologists and constantly battered by Tweety McTweeter in the White House. There was less speculation in interpreting the Bible or late-Sixties Beatles songs than the Mueller Report. Its author needs to speak, and soon.

Now, there will be some who might claim that everything Mueller needed to do as a patriot and a respected investigator is encapsulated in this extensive report. Enough is enough. Leave the man alone. He did his job and did it well under scrutiny and leaks and hammering from all ends. But I disagree. As a writer, I believe it is incumbent on the author to stand up for the work and if there is any ambiguity in the interpretation of it then it must be put to rest. And this is not some novelist who can say, “I wrote it, you figure it out. It speaks to everyone differently. How you see it is where you come from emotionally and…blah blah blah.” This is law and it contains evidence and facts and it is being tossed around like a worn political football.

Mueller needs to fix this. And there is an easy way to put it all to rest; come out and speak. And not in an interview format on 60 Minutes or Oprah or CNN. He needs to conduct a press conference; a full, binding and unfiltered statement to the American people on where he stands, as his name is on the front cover of this massive undertaking that people are pulling apart. Book time on all the networks. Talk to us. Directly. Without media noise, a redacted tome, or certainly whatever lunacy comes from our game show president. It is that important.

And I don’t even mean sitting before Congress in some endless charade, which I assumed was coming no matter what was in the thing, never mind all the “The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law” – the key sentence in all this. But if Congress is considering additional investigations, and we know there are already 14 independent ones ongoing mentioned in the redacted version of the report, then Mueller cannot be coy. The future of this presidency, future ones, and the structure of this republic is on the line here.

The Mueller Report was #1 on Amazon’s best-seller list for days after its release. It is a bonafide smash. People are obviously very interested in what its author has to say about it and for all this guessing and litigating to cease. Everyone has a side and an idea about what level of crap the president is in. There is only one man for whom any of that matters, Robert Swan Mueller III.

And he needs to speak.

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TRUMP GUILTY OF OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE – NOW WHAT?

Aquarian Weekly
4/24/19

Reality Check

James Campion


TRUMP GUILTY OF OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE – NOW WHAT?

Thank you.

Not since I began filling this space with words in August of 1997 have I gotten so many accolades from readers and colleagues on my correct analysis, as corroborated by the release of the Mueller Report this week, on President Donald J. Trump being clearly guilty of obstructing justice during the investigations into his campaign and administration allegedly working with Russians to destroy our democratic system. Now, to be fair, this was a slam dunk. I mean, the guy did it in broad daylight, on national television, Twitter, he even bragged to a bunch of Russians in the Oval Office with big-mouth staff hanging around. It was more like writing that pizza is good or war is bad, or nothing is better than sex. And folks, there is no sillier phrase in any language. Nothing is better than sex. Period. So, I appreciate your kind words, plaudits and references to my genius, but Trump being guilty of obstruction was a no brainer. Kind of like Trump himself.

There is so much damaging shit in this report about our game show president, it will take volumes by historians to distill over the decades. But since I promised that the piece referred to in all this praising would indeed be the last word on the report itself, I am not here today to rehash it. Although, come on, how great is it that the president is on record as saying the minute Robert Mueller was appointed Special Counsel, “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m fucked.” Then, according to his then attorney general Trump began his road to obstructing justice by tearing into Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the investigation. Trump, as he did with FBI Director James Comey, when he tried to queer a criminal inquiry (this one was on soon-to-be-locked up former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn), begged to be protected from himself. This is the Donald Trump that appeared in my celebrated deconstruction of his obstructing justice – a man, who if he were innocent, sure did not act like it from day-one.

Also, if I may, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders admitting under oath she is a lying machine is delicious too, but I giddily digress.

And so, Robert Mueller after nearly two years and over 400 pages of what we can see here is heavily redacted info from an attorney general who is openly in the bag for Trump, the president committed at least ten different acts of obstruction of justice. What it comes down to is not that the president is guilty or not guilty, but what there is under the constitution to be done with this. Trump being guilty, as stated here for months and nailed down by federal investigators, is a done deal. What William Barr is arguing, again covered here two weeks ago (damn, I am good), is that unless there was collusion than there cannot be obstructing justice. And since there is no solid evidence of direct collusion – although the report states that there was plenty of merry collaborative efforts to use a hostile foreign entity trying to destroy its opponent to win the presidency by the Trump campaign – there is no point pursing the Mueller team’s evidence to this end.

What Barr is saying is, “Sure, this behavior is icky and bad and even toeing the line of criminal, if not criminal, but if the guy was only reacting out of fear for being railroaded, then what can I do?” And in this reasoning, Barr’s objective is clear: “Fuck the Justice Department and the United States and its citizens. I have to protect Trump.” As Trump has asked of anyone in his employ. The president often uses the specter of Roy Cohn, a despicable openly bigoted criminal lawyer, who according to Trump was a trusted mentor, to insist this. Thus, Barr’s credibility is shot. He should now be viewed as an untrusty hack who has dumped the objective concept of his office to be a lacky. Good for him. Let’s move on.

And where we move is the U.S. Congress. This is where this sordid tale now continues. Trump is guilty of obstructing justice. What Mueller is arguing is that it is not within his powers to prosecute a sitting president, this he punts to the legislative branch as our constitution states. The preponderance of evidence against Trump is enough for a deeper dive into an investigation and possible impeachment hearings, but whether congress, more specifically Democrats – Republicans have consistently crapped the bed on this fiasco – have the stones to pull this off is another thing. There is politics involved. And when that happens we see that more times than not all hope for legality and morality is tossed into the shit pile.

What it comes down to is not that the president is guilty or not guilty, but what there is under the constitution to be done with this.

The second Pennsylvania fell to Trump and it looked all the world like this doofus would be our president on November 6, 2016, I texted a dear friend, “Countdown to Impeachment”. It was part joke, but also knowing Trump since the 1980s here in and around NYC, it was obvious this guy was going to do something to get himself in trouble. And, well, here it is; an impeachable offense. Whether that happens or not, it’s up to congress. It was for Nixon and Clinton, and it came to bear. It was for Reagan, and it did not. This goes where congress goes.

And, trust me, I am not putting my stellar predictive talents on the line when it comes to congress. I have no idea how it will go there. Ever. Chances are nothing will happen. We’re 18 months from the 2020 election and Trump is still languishing in the low 40s approval rating and his “crazy shit” is now without the checks and balances of all those poor bastards in the White House that kept Trump from firing Mueller and implicating himself even further into this mess. They all quit in protest or were sacked for trying to stay out of prison for him. There are more Trump shenanigans to come to bury him, so, really, why risk a backlash or what DC insiders like to refer to as “investigation fatigue” to make a martyr out of this dink? Democrats could drag this out for publicity and wait until the election, or (imagine that!) congress could actually do its constitutional duty job and act as a viable check on the abuse of powers within the executive branch.

Whatever happens, this is what is at stake now that we have official compiled and corroborating evidence of obstruction of justice by the president of the United States.

Trump is guilty.

Okay…

Now what?

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THE ATTEMPTED MURDER OF THE PLANET & THE MERRY HUMAN VIRUS

Aquarian Weekly
4/17/19

Reality Check

James Campion

THE ATTEMPTED MURDER OF THE PLANET & THE MERRY HUMAN VIRUS 

And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”
– Genesis 1:26-28

You know the deal; if there is a choice to be made – the environment or the human need to destroy shit – the latter wins out. Every time. If we had a slogan it would be; Humanity – Fucking Up Everything Natural For 200,000 Fun-Filled Years. This was true long before anyone thought to write this concept down, and then some enterprisingly insane Israelite decided to frame it as a holy edict by this God thing they made up: Dominion. The Torah (or as the Christians started calling it a few centuries in) the Bible is silly with it. Webster’s defines it as “sovereignty or control” or in more detailed conventions, “a governmental system”. Given this, we are “responsible” for this, but more times than not provided a choice between the planet and us, we choose us. Welcome to humanity, the virus of our terrarium.

Okay, so there is my opening paragraph for Earth Day.

When my fantastic new managing editor, Dan Alleva asked me to add my two cents to this occasion I shuddered. But I like Dan. He is doing a fine job already. He deserves much better than this, because I believe he generally cares about this thing. Enough that we should devote an entire issue of this paper to it. And that is quite noble, if not a tad naïve, at least from this damaged perspective. Yeah, we know, Campion; we’re all doomed, blah blah blah. Well, this seems about right, especially when considering I was asked to play at a No Nukes rally in the mid 80s and showed up with a song I wrote titled “Living in the Underground” that gleefully hoped for the end of times so we can all dance around in a tunnel to Elvis Presley records, or that I was invited to speak at a Tea Party thing in the late aughts in which within the first two minutes I called everyone there a blithering idiot before being roundly booed off the stage, and then there was the time a thoughtful and brilliant writer asked me to pen a screed on freedom of speech for an online community of creatives and I handed in 3,000 words of such rancid bellicosity that she could not run it.

So, considering the source, you were probably not going to get any kumbaya out of me. And to be fair, even in the context of the great human experiment, America, the previous administration was the kindest ever to the earth in its policies, I believe most of it was overkill and hindered our economic growth, and so I am as guilty as anyone in assisting in the planet’s demise. Quite frankly, I will always be guilty of choosing my own comfort over the earth. We all do. Come on. Shit, Al Gore spent years decrying Global Warming while whisking around in a private jet. Why? Because Al Gore is a human, and he can’t help it. We mean well, or we think we do – coming up with fancy philosophies and mottos and (ahem) Earth Days, but we still merrily burn fossil fuels and use plastic all over the joint and eat animals who are filling the ozone with methane.

Right now, as I write this, coal is being burned to make the electricity that lights my way and I used a car to get here to write it. Wait, I have to sip water out of this Styrofoam cup to keep hydrated, so I have the energy to slowly and quite deliberately erode the livable space my kid will have to inhabit.   

But for the purposes of mocking the doofus that sits in the White House today, who doesn’t believe in things like science or really any ounce of reality, I offer what our God-fearing country is now doing to help speed (and I do mean speed) along the destruction of the planet, or as Master George Carlin put it, us: “Pack your shit, folks. We’re going away. And we won’t leave much of a trace, either. Maybe a little Styrofoam … The planet’ll be here and we’ll be long gone. Just another failed mutation. Just another closed-end biological mistake. An evolutionary cul-de-sac. The planet’ll shake us off like a bad case of fleas.”

First our game show president, after he struck Climate Change as a threat to national security, appointed a man who had sued the Environmental Protection Agency 13 times to run it. Scott Pruitt, a science denying ambulance-chaser from Oklahoma, immediately bragged to the Washington Post that he has “moved to shrink the agency’s reach, alter its focus, and pause or reverse numerous environmental rules.” Then, within weeks of making a move akin to choosing Al Capone to head of the FBI, Pruitt loosened all regulations on toxic air pollution. Because, you know, it’s not bad enough we don’t give a shit about the planet, but we need to use kill-friendly toxicity to ramp it up.  

Al Gore spent years decrying Global Warming while whisking around in a private jet. Why? Because Al Gore is a human, and he can’t help it.

Pruitt then began gutting every clean-water act known to modern law before he had to quit in ignominy under 14 different counts of fraud and who knows what else? The man is scum, even by human standards. But wait, he was replaced by an anti-environmental lobbyist for coal, Andrew Wheeler, who is currently poisoning something.     

But these two are merely poster boys for what has transpired thus far over the first two dismal years of this farce.

The United States pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement that was not necessarily one headed by Barack Obama but fit into his agenda to “save us” from ourselves. Poor bastard. But the Clean Power Plan was Obama’s baby and of course the Trump Administration has rolled back even the most commonsense aspects of it to “save the coal industry”, which is also dying a slow death that has actually accelerated during Trump’s silliness.

And my favorite, since we all claim to love animals, but really, really don’t; in July of 2018, the Trump administration announced its intention to change the way the Endangered Species Act is administered, saying more weight would be put on economic considerations when designating an endangered animal’s habitat, this includes the Migratory Bird Treaty Act reinterpretation, which means as long as you can make a buck you are allowed to kill birds, lots of birds, endangered or otherwise. It is, well, a Bird Holocaust, if you will.

I wish I could put that in the lyrics of my new Earth Day song; The bird holocaust is underway / Construct your power lines / Install your wind turbines / And smile, smile, smile until we slowly waste away. Something like that. I’m working on it. Maybe put it to the tune of “Imagine”, so John Lennon can be the first corpse to puke.

There’s more horrible shit going on, and I haven’t even gotten to China, which will surely erode the ozone so drastically that everyone will have some form of skin cancer to go with all the poison food and allergies and out-of-whack hormonal damage our offspring’s offspring will suffer until we indeed mutate into every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

Did I mention the oceans?

Who has time for that condemned shit? Not me. Gotta get back to polluting.

Happy fucking Earth Day.

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STEPHEN KELLOGG & HIS OBJECTS OF HOPE

Aquarian Weekly

Feature

4/17/19

James Campion

STEPHEN KELLOGG & HIS OBJECTS OF HOPE
Singer-songwriter Takes His Most Personal Musical Statement on the Road

He sings in its title track; Surrounded by family, 12 O’clock on New Year’s Eve / Throwing paper on the fire / Nothing else that we require / Cause a heart with no regrets / Is as good as it can get.

Stephen Kellogg stands with his arms outstretched on stage beneath the din of thunderous applause. Dressed in a black velvet jacket with his initials tapered in white on his right breast and a grey hat that keeps a tuft of curls from erupting across his forehead, he appears as if he wants to embrace everyone in the room. Beside him, sporting his own ragged fedora in a dark short-sleeved shirt and grey jeans, is his musical partner, co-songwriter, sounding board and main instigator, Eric Donnelly. Sitting with a bemused smirk on his face, Donnelly grips his electric guitar and waits for the man to give him a cue. Eyeing him, Kellogg flips his guitar strap over his shoulder and counts off. These compatriots in song and travel have been on the road now for three weeks touring an album that took them a month to record some nine-hundred miles south of here in Music City – Nashville, Tennessee. Kellogg ended up calling it Objects in the Mirror, because, like the memories he frames in each of its songs, they can sometimes be “closer than they appear”. It is indeed an album filled with snapshots in time, both past and present, and make up what might well be Kellogg’s finest work. It is at least his most autobiographical and eerily relatable.

“I’m gonna play some songs from the new album and then we’ll take requests,” Kellogg sheepishly tells the audience. “First part’s for me…the second one’s for you.”

That sentiment could describe the tour thus far, two-parts struggle, one part joyous. To review; Kellogg has had to rush back home to tend to his family (wife and four girls) who were in a bit of a car bang-up (everyone’s fine), he’s severely sprained his left thumb (the one that grips the guitar neck) and battled a pretty nasty throat bug. He’s also played to packed houses of adoring fans and used the opportunity of this roving duet to bring these close-to-the-bone sonnets to love and loss and age and death and family and money and social and political concerns to the public completely unfiltered.

It is beyond the music, though. There is a connection Kellogg makes with audiences that is unique; the shared experience of his personal story, the way he finds the universal thread of humanity that gets under the skin with a voice that is a mixture of sultry country-tinged pinpoint melodic crooning and genuine rock and folk aw-shucks. He sings without the haughty weight of symbolism in the album’s first single, “High Highs, Low Lows”; Only one way the river flows / Was it comedy or tragedy / Both I would suppose / High highs and low lows. And when he is done everyone in the room is with him.

“The tour we’re doing, just me and Eric sharing it all night after night, which is the first of two ways we’re bringing this album to audience, just feels so correct,” Kellogg told me a few weeks back when he began this journey. “These songs and these venues are the perfect introduction, but then we’ll go out and play the album the way we recorded it… with a full band.”

Donnelly, who plays in both incarnations, co-wrote six of the songs on Objects in the Mirror, acting as co-producer along the way. He was also the impetus for the entire project as he prompted his friend to Come on and make an album already!

“It’s really special having Eric with me on the road and being able to share what I see going on out in the audience when we play these songs,” Kellogg said an hour or so before showtime. “Beyond being a great musician to play with a lot of his heart is in this record too, and it’s been pretty nice to soak it up together.”

The room is pin quiet when the new songs come (well, mostly, on this night Kellogg has to uncharacteristically berate some loud chatter over by the bar, which garners righteous applause). You get the feeling when listening to them one after the other that the songwriter is peeling back layers from his life. “Song for Daughters”, wherein he sings my favorite track on the new album– spoiler alert, I too have a daughter – has begun to move people as much as the songwriter. It’s chorus of Don’t be too hard on yourselves is chill-inducing, but not in any maudlin way. Just the opposite, there is a genuine sense of communicating with his children the way Kellogg does with the audience, through his most powerful tool, music.

He sings, This is a song for our daughters, cause there’s some things they need to hear / We never know when it’s our time to go, so let me be perfectly clear / You’re gonna win, you’re gonna lose, you’re gonna walk around in your shoes / ‘Til one day it’s you who will say… Don’t be too hard on yourselves…

One of Kellogg’s female brood has joined him on this leg of the tour, 11 year-old Adeline, an adorably semi-bored soul who occasionally puts her head on daddy’s shoulder during our backstage chat. Of course, I have to ask her about when her sisters had first heard the song. “Well, I remember dad got all of us together in the living room at my house and he played it for us and at first I didn’t really want to hear it because I didn’t feel like listening to a song right then…” Laughter fills the room, and after she politely allowed it to die down, she finishes. “But I listened to it and I really felt some kind of connection, and it is an incredible song and I was really proud of him for writing it.”

Adeline’s dad’s performances on this tour, and the current one he’s embarked on with a full band, suitably reflect what he achieved on Objects in the Mirror; this sense of self and a surge of positivity that comes from never having abandoned that most precious of human resources, hope. It is all over his record, from the sometimes humorous but endearing “All The Love (That Comes To Me)” (I’ve got all I ever wanted / But I still cannot believe / How I love to take for granted / All the love that comes to me) to his profession of undying love from the very start for his wife of nearly17 years (they’ve been together “26 years and counting”), Kristen, “Love of My Life” (But of all of the best memories that live in my head / It’s you in those blue jeans on the day that we met) there is a fierce embrace of life.  

“I’m feeling that the presentation of these songs is a different role than I’ve played before,” Kellogg tells me. “It feels more inclusive and it sort of operates on the basic premise that most people are fundamentally good and trying to take a breath and get back to that. And you know what, that feels really important these days.”

To that end, Objects in the Mirror does not shy away from the current climate of anti-civility that exists from Washington DC to the Internet, as in “Symphony of Joy” that cross-checks the breaking of glass ceilings and when they finally shatter; Those who pinned you to the margins, baby, they’ll be sweeping up. “I’m trying to find ways to discuss the way the world is right now that is beyond ‘they’re wrong and we’re right’,” says Kellogg. “But I feel anger too, and I am constantly battling this sense of just being furious with what’s going on, but I just can’t use my emotions up on that. I have to find the happiness in there.” And for this he presents perspective, specifically, and perhaps not coincidentally on the two penultimate tracks on the album, “I Will Always Have Your Back” and “Right There By You”.

However, there is one track on Objects that may explain this sentiment the best. It hits on several themes, some controversial, some spiritual, but mostly inspirational. It is called “Prayers”, but it ain’t what you think. Played softly on a piano – one of the first Kellogg has written on an instrument he is just beginning to comprehend – it is a beseeching to go beyond the vagaries of detachment and the impulse to give up, and offers a rather strict edict; Every unkind thing we say leads to our unhappiness / No one in the world gets by without feeling bad sometimes / I’m not trying to be a jerk / But say your prayers, get off your ass and get back to work.

Some have bristled at this as a tad insensitive, but when watching the songwriter hunched over the piano and singing it softly on this night, with zero pretense, it is hard not to embrace his refrain.  

“I reworked that one a lot, almost as much as I’ve worked on a song, because I didn’t want it to feel soap boxy at all,” he recalls with some measure of humor. “I was going for this idea, you know, say your prayers, hope for the best, but then roll up your fucking sleeves and let’s go! It requires you too, and that’s always been my shaky relationship with religion and spirituality. I found myself wanting to sing about it and the lyric really isn’t totally where I can land for songs, that end line, ‘Say your prayers and get off your ass and back to work’, so I wanted to make sure that I was one-hundred percent behind it and comfortable, and ultimately by the time that I was done with it, I was. But in no way did I expect what that song was going to mean to people.”

However, it is when Kellogg and Donnelly perform the title track that there’s not a rustle in the audience. Suddenly, all the hoopla by the bar and the clinking of glasses and murmur of the back tables drop silent. Last day I remember mama acting like herself / When the angels took her home / I was never so alone. “Objects in the Mirror”, as a song and an album, and as Kellogg likes to point out, an idea speaks of the journey, the one we have taken and the one we find ourselves on; most of it has little to do with our choices. Life happens, and it is good to remind one’s self of how and when it changes us. His touchstones are right there for us to see – childhood impressions, iconic public events, personal tragedies, the loss of innocence – the moments of mourning of death or the slow passage of time or the ever-evolving heart and its comprehending of an oft-times cruel world. This is both an unblinking glimpse at the tragic while celebrating the survival of it, as is his show, which is open, and conversational – in both storytelling and song-sharing.

“I am constantly battling this sense of just being furious with what’s going on, but I just can’t use my emotions up on that. I have to find the happiness in there.”

Donnelly’s recollection of the song speaks of how the album’s themes began to emerge. “Stephen had given me a Dropbox file of about 80 different ideas and ‘Objects’ had a couple different iterations and I remember that line wasn’t quite there yet, but it was close, and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s something, but I don’t know what it is yet’,” he says. “And at the very end of the process, Stephen mentioned liking what he called then ‘the date song’ and then connected those dots of the objects in the mirror idea with this date song, and we started texting ideas back and forth. That’s when I knew Stephen was off to the races.”

Donnelly, whose work on the album Kellogg is quick to point out was not only paramount, but crucial, made sure I knew that he watched his partner at the top of his game when it came time to working with some of the best Nashville session cats, as if catching a glimpse of one of the world’s most accomplished athletes in his prime. “Maybe it’s because Stephen didn’t have a set band and was completely in charge of the project, but he became this person that I hadn’t seen before,” recalls Donnelly of the duo’s first days in Nashville. “It’s incredible to say this, whether playing the guitar or singing, I don’t think he made a single mistake, and the entire record was done live! I mean, that just doesn’t happen. On ten songs in four days, there wasn’t one time that we listened back to a take and said, ‘Oh, the vocal wasn’t good, but we’ll just have him re-sing it.’ It was just a really cool thing to be around how focused and how in his element Stephen was throughout those sessions.”

‘I feel like…woah, this album has created a moment for me,” Kellogg concluded during our initial conversation later last year, when the sessions were still freshly in his own rearview. “And for every listener that quotes it or shares it or someone who writes about it or you guys podcasting about it (Adam Duritz of Counting Crows and yours truly played some of the songs on our weekly Underwater Sunshine podcast) is all part of the momentum that allows you to believe in yourself enough to think like, yeah, I have things to say and we’re going to get this out in the world and act as the medicine that we intended it to be.”

The ovation continues throughout the night. It continues as Kellogg takes his band across the country getting these songs of hope and loss and love out in the world. I can hear them now, still bouncing off the walls of the place enough to last, like memories, like objects in our own mirrors, for a little longer than a single show.

Kellogg thanks everyone, gayly tips his hat and heads to the next stage to administer another dose of his musical medicine.

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