SCOTUS AT LOWEST EBB & DEVOURED BY SCANDAL 

Aquarian Weekly
5/10/23
 
Reality Check
 

James Campion
 
 
SCOTUS AT LOWEST EBB & DEVOURED BY SCANDAL 
Another Suspect in the Slow Murder of Democracy

 
Not since the dark days of Jim Crow has the United States Supreme Court been in such disarray from outright corruption to political hackery. Even after the controversial 2000 presidential election decision that anointed George W. Bush president at least half the nation believed the Court was a trusted and objective defender of democracy and its sacred laws. Now, only one in four Americans believe that – the lowest polling in its history. And it is likely that most of that twenty-five percent are Republicans, who cheered as the packed “conservative” Court stripped women’s reproductive rights in 2022 and handed a tyrannical blank check to states that have since enthusiastically enslaved women with the stroke of a pen.

Since the final few Republican flunkies filled the highest court in the land there have been a bevy of ridiculously partisan and radical decisions that fly in the face of civil rights, voting rights, much of it kowtowing showing to religious fanaticism over legal precedence and a gutting of protections for minorities. The Supreme Court is now a rogue anti-democratic collective that has lost the trust of the American people.  

Then came the Clarence Thomas saga.

The long-time embattled justice, who lied under oath about sexual abuse during his senate hearings in 1991, was finally outed as the fascist swine he is. Thomas is beholden to special interests from the right. Every one of his decisions have been bought-and-sold by a rich, sugar-daddy who whisks him to million-dollar locales, pays for his kid’s college tuition, and buys his mother homes. A Supreme Court Justice, who wishes to scuttle every protection for the electorate and openly mocks the system with quotes like this one from a 2001 speech that now holds deeper, darker meaning, “The job is not worth doing for what they pay” is now the poster-boy for this shit show. 

Thomas has been a mouthpiece for fascism for decades, held in check only because the Court, even conservatives, kept him from wrecking their reputations. But now the corruption is so blatantly shameless, he cannot even feign defending his actions. And won’t. His defiance is guilt enough. Thomas shrugs his shoulders at mounting evidence of his receiving luxury gifts, travel, and tuition payments from the GOP billionaire donor Harlan Crow without publicly disclosing them. Of course, he didn’t, because it proves he is in the tank for whatever Crow tells him to do. In the parlance of the law of business, this is called quid pro quo. Think of Crow as a mob boss and Thomas some cheap hood. Backscratching is only part of the fun for Thomas.

The top mob boss owning a radical fascist Supreme Court Judge, who openly challenges the Fourth Amendment as if a fart in the proverbial wind.

His right-wing activist wife, Virginia, is also tits-deep in scandal. The woman who called White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to demand Donald Trump ignore the election results of 2020 and declare himself monarch, has been routinely pocketing a stipend of secret payments from leading deep-state fascist, Leonard Leo to spread anti-American propaganda. It turns out Thomas and his wife are paid lackeys carrying the water for unelected lunatics that own our Supreme Court. Hence, the plummeting trust of the American people in this slag heap Court.

Meanwhile, Chief Justice John Roberts has been on a month-long mission to restore the Court’s tarnished integrity that has long been sold out to Fundamentalists and Neo-Nazis that use this farcical doomed institution to ignore human rights for political gain. And to what gain is anyone’s guess. As covered here for months, the dismantling of women’s reproductive rights has put the Republican Party in a deeper hole than it was after the chaotic goof-fest that was the Donald Trump presidency and his ensuing January 6 insurrection. And despite the party’s nominee to lead the 2024 presidential ticket being the same domestic terrorist, this rancid Supreme Court might be the GOP’s biggest political weakness. 

But make no mistake, Clarence Thomas is Harlen’s Crow’s whore – legs akimbo, moaning to the bidding of his benefactor. And now that the cat has scrambled out of Thomas’s fetid bag of tricks, the word is that Crow is not merely a Koch brother or even the wrinkled turd that owns discredited and embarrassed Fox News, he is the leading donor to Republican and conservative causes. He is numero uno. The top mob boss owning a radical fascist Supreme Court Judge, who openly challenges the Fourth Amendment as if a fart in the proverbial wind.

How does that sit with ya, patriots?

Meanwhile, a flummoxed Justice Roberts is trying to sell you dog crap by telling you it’s ice cream.

Here is what we know: the Supreme Court is currently the Republican Gestapo. It has no shame. American fundamental rights twist in their hands. These crazies can pretty much do what they want, or sorry, what Harlen Crow wants, or Donald Trump wants. And that is to defecate on your personal sovereignty, especially if you have a vagina. Their motto is Fuck You. That should be the new seal for SCOTUS. Fuck you. And also, Pay Me.

How did we get here?

This clusteruck has the fingerprints of two America villains, former Democratic Nevada Senator Harry Reid, and current Republican Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell. Both were majority leaders when they fucked the entire Court. First Reid invoked the “nuclear option” in November 2013, when a Democratic majority eliminated the 60-vote rule for judicial nominations, sans the Supreme Court. But that was risky, and McConnell promised vengeance. Then ultra-conservative pustule, Justice Antonin Scalia croaked during the Barack Obama presidency. The GOP owned the senate and with over a year to go in his presidency disallowed a vote on his nomination to replace him, hoping against hope a game show host would win the 2016 election. Turned out to be a good bet for Republicans, bad for the USA. McConnell then used Reid’s “nuclear option” to lower the threshold for SCOTUS appointees to 51 senate votes and summarily rammed Judge Neil Gorsuch into the seat. Then in a reversal of ideology, which I guess is Hypocrisy 101, within months of Trump’s final term, with polls looking like he would be waxed by Joe Biden, McConnell guessed right again and rammed another Trump nominee onto the Court after progressive champion Ruth Bader Ginsburg stupidly didn’t retire earlier and died of a cancer she’d been fighting for years. Consequently, screwing the Court for decades. 

So, now there is this complete joke of a Supreme Court. Politically and financially in the employ of extremists. The tool of one party and special interests with a twenty-five percent approval rating and a stench reminiscent of the swamp in which it plies its evil trade.

Maybe we should storm that building. 

Oh, shit. The Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers are all in prison. 

Next time.

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The Healing Kind of ‘An Evening at Macri Park’

Seán Barna stands with his back to the unfurling vista of downtown Austin puffing on a thin cigar, smoke billowing around his head. His friend, collaborator, and producer, Dave Drago (who is playing bass on this run), sits behind him, leaning his feet up on the railing of the hotel balcony sipping on tequila from a small cup. Surrounded by the other three members of their five-piece touring band, they look comfortable in their idiom. It is a day off on their first ever major U.S. tour supporting Counting Crows. Its lead singer, Adam Duritz, a longtime fan and friend of Barna’s, affectionally named the band, the British Cigarettes (get it?) the first time he announced them. A dream has come true for these two men. They have worked hard to achieve it, and all the pitchers of margaritas and Lone Star beers they’ve consumed on this afternoon attest to it. It is a rock and roll scene – and they are indeed on the rock and roll ride.

“We’re serious about this,” Barna tells me the next evening after the kind of blistering set that will have created a stir across America. He had graciously emerged from backstage to offer me a beer. Counting Crows having already begun to kick hard into their spectacular show, transfixing the audience, but then something interesting happened. Many around us noticed the thin, six-foot figure standing beside me – thick mustache, elaborate eye makeup – as the rocker on stage only moments before. They began to convene around him, tossing out accolades ranging from emotional triggers to musical adoration, but they all centered on the sincerity of Barna’s performance; the way he dives into his songs, makes sure to enunciate the lyrics he painstakingly authored – an openly gay man reflecting his culture and those of the marginalized and oppressed. He appeared taken aback by all this, having always hoped his music would connect. “I get emotional when I think about it,” he tells me on that balcony. “All these people who are inspired by the songs, how they relate, how it makes them feel less alone,” but from his reaction to this much attention, I can tell it is all still a bit weird for him. It happened again later as the arena filed out and we loitered by the band’s van close to the backstage area; people shared stories with him while he glibly responded with veiled jokes, his biting humor and self-effacing comments acting as both a defense and a comfort.

For his part, Barna’s musical and philosophical partner Drago, the proprietor of 1809 Studios outside Rochester, New York, is also a man finding his way. He is taking all of it in as if it may never happen again. He mixes this trepidation with a quiet confidence that this may be the beginning of something special. “This was always the plan for Seán and this music we made by ourselves over the weeks and months,” he says after a sip of tequila. “I could always picture him roaming a larger stage, singing to as many people as we had tonight. We both knew this was the plan. It doesn’t always come your way, but when it does… you take it and don’t waste it.”

Drago and Barna are an interesting pair. They share a love of the music they create together and a deeper personal connection – it is clear if you spend five minutes with them or listen to one of their songs, it reflects the incessant brain-battering strive for excellence in what they do. They are also quite different in many important ways. Drago is a family man – a wife and two children – living out in the woods. Barna is the perpetual rover and seeker, embracing the urban underground. Steeped in his culture’s history and battles, he is an activist as much as an artist, and sometimes it is hard to tell the two passions apart. His adoration of “the scene” and what he can do to protect, advance, and illuminate its agenda is no pose. Drago, however, reveals a more pragmatic side. He owns a business and has a mortgage. Barna, who nearly died of a stomach ailment just two years ago, openly discusses drugs and sexual abandon in his songs and interviews. Drago will talk about the experience of being a parent with equal measures of dread and pride – his family is his center. Barna, it seems, is still searching for a center beyond the music and the dream to express it.

Earlier in the day that ended up on that sun-splashed balcony, I joined them and the band in bar-hopping around Austin. The band is made up as the seemingly always-smiling vocalist (Margot McDonald), the quiet but funny guitarist (Jake Rodenhouse), the energy-addled keyboardist (Alex Northrup), and Spencer Inch, a wonderful conversationalist on drums. They are comfortable needling each other, spurred on by Dave and Seán’s seemingly impenetrable bond – a barbed ping-pong match of insults and one-liners that eventually has everyone doubled over in laughter. “It is a sunny day and I’m drinking with my best friend, what is better than this?” Drago shared on our walk to ever more spirits. “This man had faith in my music,” Barna tells me later of his producer. “He demanded I write songs and make them as good as they can be. I followed his lead.”

What we do not talk about today but had been the subject of a longer prior conversation we had over this past winter are three crucial elements of their kinship and professional tontine that has hovered over them like a storm cloud: depression and anxiety, imposter syndrome, and self-loathing. A consistent undercurrent to their lives long before they began working together, these afflictions came roaring to the fore in the confines of the studio, eyeball-to-eyeball and shoulder-to-shoulder, while the two men realized the kind of music that would cause two separate crowds to form around the singer-songwriter on the tour of their lives. Two collaborators forming a burgeoning alliance in art and ambition were tearing down its emotional fabric day after day – negatively affecting the music and wearing on their friendship. They both realized right then that this magical partnership was imploding from within, and they decided to save it by seeking help and medication. It was either that or watch it die.

This revelatory road began during the intense sessions for Barna’s breakout 2018 EPCissy, a record I once described in print as “a wholly provocative, mesmerizingly intense and unerringly brave collection of five songs that turned me sideways.” This was the music that poured from Barna at the unwavering behest of his friend. “He told me to ‘Shut the fuck up and get up here [to] make a record!’’ He admitted this after the EP was released. Indeed, Drago understood he had started this fire, and for a while he was not sure he could contain it. “The brand of self-hatred that Seán brought to the table during the making of that record was a little much for me,” he said. “All of a sudden there were two people in the room and one of them was talking shit to the guy that I loved. And so, I went and attacked the other guy, because that’s who I was.” Drago manifested how he handled Barna’s outbursts. “It all kind of came out in the room when Seán was feeling under pressure, under stress, or in a position of vulnerability,” he recalled. “The studio is a totally normal place to feel weird and anxious and shitty – but I’d never seen anyone attack themselves in that way. Then that put me in attack mode, which is also – maybe not always, especially at that point – the best way to handle the situation.”

The brilliance of Cissy had the two artists believing that although the volatility, self-flagellation, lashing out, and flashes of fury that nearly fractured their creative providence were also an effective cocktail for greatness, so while working on Barna’s latest album, An Evening at Macri Park in the winter of 2020 (mere weeks before a worldwide pandemic descended), the two were forced to face their demons. Ironically, it was while working on a new song called “Easy on Me.”

“There was some fight about something – the same old shit, my losing it and him pushing me,” recalled Barna a few months before he landed on that Texas balcony. “I had a cold or something. We did a couple of shitty vocal takes. He kept urging me on to get one down and I was getting angrier and angrier, just beating myself up. ‘I suck! What the fuck am I doing singing? I’m no singer! This is a joke!’ All Dave wanted to do is nitpick what I did with the melody, which is his job – literally. It is why I’m paying him, and yet it infuriates me! It’s like being mad at the guy in New Jersey that’s filling your gas tank, ‘What the fuck, man, why are you filling my car?’ I swear to God, that’s what it is.”

Drago smiled at the memory, nodding his head; “I seem to remember asking myself, ‘Do I have another one of these [records] in me?’”

“I’m 35 years old, I have given up everything for music,” Barna adds. “I have a graduate degree in Public Policy and I’m not pursuing anything there because I’m still worried about music. I’m still doing music and it’s never gotten me anywhere, and then, artistically, with Dave, it’s got me somewhere, but it’s still like, ‘Dude. Oh, you made a great album, but what’s up? You’re bartending!’ Even now, I’m about to sell my car to go on tour with Counting Crows so I can pay my mortgage while I’m on tour! It’s not what people think it is, right? And I’m happy to do it. I’m happy. I’m not depressed about that, but this all comes up in that moment.”

“Our working together actually let us know that this is what some success looks like,” Drago said.

“Yeah, I’ll sell a car a 100 times. I’ll cut off my fucking arm. I don’t care,” Barna continued. “I want to go play these shows, but, you know… I’ll just get so scared that all the sacrifices I made aren’t working out. And, to me, if I can’t sing a full take than I shouldn’t be doing this and I’m not good enough. You give up all this stuff for music and then you have panic attacks. I mean, Dave has sunk thousands and thousands, probably a hundreds of thousands of dollars, into his studio instead of being an accountant or something. It’s terrifying. I never thought I wouldn’t make it, but you get older, and you think, ‘Well… maybe not.’”

Exhausted and frustrated, despite the self-doubt and knowing he had another great album in him, Barna went home to Brooklyn and immediately faced his demons. “I knew that I needed to confront my depression and anxieties for years, but I wanted to not do it,” he remembered with a snide chuckle. “So, I’d exercise, and if I went for a run, I’d feel ok that day, but at some point, it gets to be so dark that you get in your own way, which is interesting because the myth of being a depressed person and writing beautiful art is not like that when I’m depressed. I can’t do anything. I can barely get out of bed. Waking up is a chore. Everything I do is a chore. And everything I do that is good? I don’t feel much pleasure from it. So, for me, it was less an epiphany and more accepting that I am this way on a chemical level and I should maybe take some steps to give myself a fucking break.” 

Fed up with skirting the issues that caused him so much pain, he discussed it with his partner of seven years, Sam Droney. “I flat-out asked him: ‘We’ve been together for seven years now, have you noticed my feeling this way?’ And without hesitating, he’s said, ‘Yeah.’ It was one thing he had noticed that I didn’t think about: Back before I had the AirPods, I had the wire on my iPhone. I was in the kitchen and I walked by a drawer and they got caught and it ripped them out of my ears – it happens to everybody, you know, stupid shit like that. I would say, ‘Motherfucker!’ like anybody would, and he said, ‘But you start thinking about how your life is bad and it takes you 40 minutes to get over that.’”

“Yeah,” Drago later added. “Everything is like a tailspin. Anything could conjure a full on…”

Barna finished his sentence; “…meltdown.”

After his discussion with his partner, Barna started seeing a psychiatrist to air his darkness and fears and find the right medicine. That was when Seán called his pal, Dave.

“Whether we’re working on a record or not, Seán and I speak every two or three days anyway, but when we’re on a project it is every day because we just become such a part of each other’s constant thought,” said Drago. “He called me and told me he was seeing a psychiatrist, so I was really excited that he was even going. Then it just seemed like a pretty no fuss, no muss diagnosis. After that, it was, for him, ‘We got to get you on some fucking drugs, and then you should begin talk-therapy.’”

It was a game-changing moment for Drago. “To see Seán do that, I finally said to myself, ‘What excuse do you have anymore?’”

But being a pragmatist and helped by the fact that as a producer and studio owner he interacts with several and varied people, he conducted what he calls “a private poll” of musicians who had gone on anti-depression and anti-anxiety medications. “I essentially polled about a half dozen of my closest friends and clients. ‘So, what happened? What did they put you on? Tell me the pluses and minuses? Did you have any weird withdrawal symptoms?’ Stuff like that.” 

Three weeks later, inspired by his friend’s courage to face his issues head-on, Drago discussed medication with his doctor who had already been helping him “along the road of smoking cessation.” Doctors who treat smoking addiction have noted that depression is generally a root cause of a person’s continuing to smoke – even when they don’t want to. Many popular anti-smoking drugs are indeed also antidepressant or dopamine inhibitors. 

Seeking out and taking medication for their mental health was a first for both men, which came with similar concerns about how these drugs would affect their creativity. “I think before you decide to take the medication, musicians and creative people in general, we all tell ourselves that we’re going to go on these drugs and we’re going to be comatose for two or three weeks or a month,” noted Drago. “We’re gonna lose all our creativity. Like all this darkness is the reason that we are what we are, but the actuality is, before the drugs, as Seán said, waking up was even more difficult and going to sleep was more difficult. Everything’s more difficult. Being sad is exhausting. Not knowing how you’re going to feel at any given moment is exhausting.”

“Look, man, I didn’t want to be alive,” Barna blurted out, bringing our conversation to a halt. His friend, sitting beside him, raised his eyebrows. “I wasn’t suicidal, ever,” Barna went on to explain. “But I woke up in the morning thinking, ‘I don’t want to do this again.’ That has been almost every single day for 15 years. It’s hard and it’s exhausting, and this all comes out as, ‘If I could have an excellent vocal take, I’m all right, I’m high, I feel great,’ and if I don’t, it makes it even harder to face those dark feelings. It’s hard to admit that now, and for my family to read it in an article, but it’s true. I had at some point owed it to my musical and personal partners to confront this. It wasn’t fair to Sam that I felt this way all the time or to drag it into the studio for Dave to deal with.” He goes on to remember that he “finally got insurance and told a psychiatrist how [he] felt.”

“She immediately put me on an anti-anxiety medication and then a month or so later an anti-depressant, and immediately I felt like I took a deep breath for the first time in years and years. I could just objectively go through my life instead of subjectively – just objectively do things, objectively be mad if I fuck something up like any human would be, but not have end up as an internal character assassination.” 

It was at this point in our initial discussion when I could see how deeply connected these two young artists were to each other and how the music that had moved me could have come from such a partnership. There were no barriers here. They were there for each other and the promise to seek help to salvage this rare jewel, maybe even take it to a greater level through healing, was a genuine experience, and they didn’t mind confronting the bad stuff – together.

“I just became a master at synthesizing failing and being terrible and thinking like, ‘Well, if I do this perfectly, then I won’t have to deal with that,’ but even coming to grips with that as the motivation for my behavior… it was still not fair to Dave or my partner or to any of the people around me who have really stuck in there to have to deal with these intense feelings I have.”

The Barna family lost Seán’s 13-year-old brother after he was struck and killed by an automobile in November of 2003. The reverberations of the incident, which Barna so brilliantly frames in his 2018 track, “Routines,” off of Cissy, tore pieces from the family. “When he was in the casket, I whispered, ‘You know, whatever I do now is for you.’ I remember saying it, but I never felt when I didn’t achieve something that I was letting him down. I never felt that, but the intensity of which you feel things when you’re feeling that kind of pain, everything is intensified because every feeling – negative or positive – you’re so manic and it’s really tough. Then I’m crying at random times and I can’t talk. I can’t watch certain movies. I remember I watched the movie Big Fish and I had to sit in the car for three hours. I watched The Notebook, a movie I don’t even like, and at the end, I’m just bawling.”

“I cried during both those movies,” Dave added.

“But for three hours?” Seán said.

Then, in a notable lull in our conversation, both men sat for a moment before Barna finally said, “I didn’t really grieve for my brother for about two-and-a-half years. It wasn’t something where I grieved immediately – it was much later for me.” The intensity of realizing the music he had inside him, and the close-knit creative hub eventually provided by Drago, brought much of it to the surface. “The funny thing about my depression is it’s a cocktail,” Barna added in his darkly rich humor. “I felt depressed long before my brother died.”

It would make sense that Dave Drago, watching his friend come apart before him, might try and help him find the origins of his unhappiness, but confronting his own fatherhood as well as outside familial sources of his own dismay may have led to it. There has been, for him, an unhealthy balance between the person in the studio, “keeping it together for the project,” and his time at home as a dad. While he could, as he told me, “keep my shit together” in his professional life (because the work was always rewarding), it was his home life that revealed his most erratic mood swings. “My wife and children have always seen the worst part of me,” he said, remembering how his son, too, had saved his most irritable personality for the family unit. “My son is a peach in the world; smart, charming, and funny, and also weird and kind. He can be extremely difficult at the house, though… because why? Because kids are so comfortable in their relationship with their parents – you’re not going anywhere, and they know that inherently. And so, any complicated, weird feelings that they’ve never had before, or knew, they can experience those authentically in the household, only in the household, because that’s the place where people aren’t going to stand up and leave. I eventually saw that in myself, so my wife and my son especially only ever got the worst side of me. I felt comfortable enough to torture them, which was never fair to them, but it allowed me to see how damaged I was.”

It is interesting to parse Barna’s and Drago’s expression of fairness when considering what their anxiety and depression may have done to their loved ones. For Barna, it is his partner Sam, whom he relies on for strength and stability, and for Drago it is his wife, Caitlin, and his children, (six-year-old son and one year-old daughter), and the home life he built, but that also introduced stresses he had not counted on. “Having a child before I felt like I had ever achieved any sort of success in my career, and in my life in general, was basically watching my ego, my entire sense of self, unravel in front of me,” he said. Drinking daily and sneaking outside to smoke for the first two years of his son’s life did not help. Then, one day during an innocuous phone conversation with his mother, Drago broke down. “For whatever reason, where I was at that day, the sound of her voice made me… explode,” he recalled. “I just started bawling, and I just felt so out of control in my own life, so out of control in my emotions. I had a child with colic, too, you know, sleep deprivation was involved in this entire unraveling – first-time parents, all this kind of stuff, and just all the pressure was a lot to bear. This is why most people have kids and stop doing shit like this [making music]. It’s pretty hard to do both of those things.”

This is much of the baggage Barna and Drago brought to the sessions that were to be the follow-up to the monumental, knock-down-drag-out emotions to realize Cissy; baggage that they made sure to unpack with therapy and medication, letting go of its crushing weight. They pondered if any of this could be enough, if it could save the friendship, expand the artistic parameters, and lead to the music they knew they now could make.

Courtesy of 1809 Studios

“There were six weeks between our sessions,” Drago recalls of their first professional meeting after their healing sojourn. “Seán was on drugs within two weeks after the first session, so he had a month under his belt.”

“The darkest parts of my psyche were given the night off,” Barna remembered about those first set of recordings in the studio, the one place to take their new lease on life for its most crucial test. “But I also felt exhausted. There is an adjustment – the adjustment to me is physical, though, like I was just exhausted, tired all the time. So, I went on a SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors), it’s different than what Dave’s on, but then I went on an NDRI (norepinephrine–dopamine reuptake inhibitor) in addition later, which brought me more energy. It’s not an upper, but I guess kind of. I’m on less NDRI than Dave, but the winner for me is the SSRI. That’s the one that stops the anxiety and the horror in my brain. The NDRI one came later, but I would have just been a little more tired, which is fine up here [points to his head], because my productivity is defined by whatever I can do that day. Not necessarily as somebody in an office would be measured by, but yeah, I felt, immediately, almost within a week, like… [exhales].”

“I felt it after the first dose,” Drago added, excitedly. “It was immediate.”

All the anxiety, stress, and fears about family, professional concerns, and what Dave describes as “higher profile positions” faded. “It used to be that my first reaction to any new thing getting added to the pile or just about any externality is ‘Fuck you!’ But the day after I took my drugs the first time, I remember getting one of these externalities and not responding to it for like four seconds. All I needed was four fucking seconds to remember who I am at my core and respond as who I am – not an asshole – and ever since then I would say the only negative side effects of these drugs is that I will purposely keep my mouth shut sometimes, which I have never done in my entire life. I haven’t had an ability to do that to that point until a few weeks ago. Even my wife said to me, ‘I actually need you to respond to this.’ I said, ‘Oh, ok, because I understand my first reaction to what you said was to rip your head off.’ So, I waited and kept my mouth shut, because I knew that the real answer would come to me later. I was like, ‘I’m happy to respond to you now, but I was gonna wait for a while or revel in my ability to not take everything so personally.’ Not everything is a stab wound anymore.”

And so, two friends, creative brothers, met as changed men. They made their music together, healed, and are glad that none of that healing curtailed their creative output. If anything, they thrived, and this time, enjoyed it. “I just had a good time,” Barna remembered.  “Such a good time,” Drago agreed.

“The relief for me was to be able to emotionally respond to some of these songs, the new songs are really emotional for me,” Barna continued. “And having David… you know, usually producers are not in the emotional space with you. That’s not their job to be – their job is to keep the trains on the tracks, but now Dave will exist in this emotional place with me for some of these songs and that’s really special. My voice sounded better, too. It was clearer, more relaxed. My drumming sounded better…”

“Oh yeah, more relaxed,” Drago said. “We were also allowed to stop and go, ‘We hit a bit of a roadblock, so it’s probably not the time to try that right now.’”

Barna added with a smile: “I would still get pissed if I fuck something up in the studio.”

“But it wouldn’t derail an entire day,” noted Drago.

“I’m not like way medicated,” said Barna. “I don’t even know what the measurements are, but I’m on a fairly standard dose. It’s not particularly overwhelming, but it just lets you be objective about things.” 

“Yeah,” added Drago. “That’s what was so remarkable about it to me. Because even before I took it, I was like, ‘What is this gonna do? Is it gonna make me a different person?’ Because that’s scary to me, but what it actually did was just gave me a few seconds to think about how I wanted to respond to things, as opposed to just immediately responding to everything.” 

Just as the stresses during the recording of the song, “Easy on Me” before their new balanced psyches seemed to strike an ironical note in both men, when they returned to the project, having faced their mental health head-on, “Sparkle When You Speak” was the song they chose to record.

“The vibe was like, ‘Oh, you want to start something now? Ok!’” recalled Drago. “And for the first time there was no hyper-organized spreadsheet on the console. It was, ‘Let’s effervesce into creation. Let’s sparkle. Let’s manifest this.”

“I’m not trying to make pretty songs, I’m trying to say something,” Barna said. “And I am fucking dead serious about it. I think that us in a room together, like, you know… his job is different. I’m the artist and his job is to record things he’s maybe not as excited about… I don’t know. We get in a room and we’re just excited to create something and I think we’re both in this terrifying place of creating something and wanting to do it right and knowing that we might hit something great if we’re careful, which, of course, means not being careful. But it always feels like a little bit of an elevated space when we’re in the studio.”

“That’s a really great way to put it,” Drago added. “I think that’s the difference between weekend one (before medication) and weekend two (after medication). ‘Cause weekend one we were still trying to control it into fruition, hold on to whatever our weird gut was telling us about it. The second weekend there were no rules anymore because our egos wouldn’t be shattered if we didn’t do something the way we thought we were supposed to do it. It was just… so… free. What came out the other end of that was we punched up and reworked and added to the songs that we have recorded.”

“Then we re-recorded ‘Easy on Me’,” Seán noted with pride. “And this time it was way better.”

“We circled back to weekend-one work and said ‘Oh, well, that structure’s cool, but you need to chill on the drum kit’ or something like that. We were off and running.”

“One of the big ones for me was when I recorded a vocal for a song called ‘The Lonely’, a quiet one where I just play piano and sing,” Barna shared. “I did a vocal for that the first weekend and I was a little bit stuffy, but it was ok because it is a quiet song. It would have worked, but then I said I wanted to do it again. This is after the medication, because as an artist you’re like, ‘Oh, I’m not going to be able to get as deep and as sad,’ and then I’m doing that vocal take in there after some beers and Dave’s in there having an emotional reaction, saying, ‘Man, I forgot this song is so good.’ That’s where I like to be.”

That vocal for “The Lonely,” the track that Barna describes as “a performance I did in a state of contentment in my life” made it on An Evening at Macri Park. “My job is not to be sad,” he said. “It’s to be able to reach truth within the human condition and express that – whether it’s mine or somebody else’s.” 

“We knew that we could never make another Cissy again,” Drago surmised with a smile. “And that’s ok! You can’t recreate the moments, the mental or emotional state of the two of us in that place and time. The reason that Cissy worked is because it’s volatile, it’s dynamite, and we were both so surprised by it. We had never worked together, so we could get through that situation, because everything – every response we had to each other – was new.”

“It was also the respect of not knowing someone that well,” Barna added, with his friend agreeing explicitly. “Dave wanted to say, ‘Go fuck yourself, you piece of shit’.” They both laughed heartily at this. “But he didn’t, because we didn’t know each other that well.”

“Whereas this new record was like, ‘Well… we know we can’t do that again, because the reason that that happened is because we were both confusing the living fuck out of each other and with that it was just this beautiful tornado,” Drago said. “An Evening at Macri Park was just us finally and completely knowing what we were capable of, what that level of intensity that existed within both of us was while making the record, but to deliberately channel that into every little thing that we did was different.” 

Drago then concluded: “One of the bigger takeaways I would hope that we can gather in this is that myself and Seán, and many musicians that we talk to and have relationships with, have been in this situation where they know there’s something fucked up and they know that they could be better, but they’re afraid to do it because we have this weird, stupid belief that our muse is to feel bad about ourselves. Our muse is that life is extra difficult. Our muse is that we fucking hate ourselves or we have these internal voices that make us feel like garbage people. It’s not true. Everyone I know, and Seán and I are a testament to this, have been able to exercise this in an interesting little vacuum of a two-or three-year career together. Everyone I know who takes the plunge, despite the fear that they’ll be ruined before it comes out the other end says, ‘I’ve never been able to be more emotionally open, and to be more vulnerable, and to be more emotionally creative than I am now, because this isn’t an accident anymore. I can be in touch with myself. I can find those emotions, and not stumble on them.’”

Barna, still worried how these revelations will be taken by his loved ones, has more obstacles to traverse to get to where he wants to be. “This article you’re writing scares me to be perfectly honest,” he admitted. “My family doesn’t know I’m on antidepressants, and that’s ok – they probably should know at some point, but it’s a similar feeling I felt before I came out – I’m scared what people don’t know about me. The thing is, it’s just clearing out the bullshit so I can be who I am a little more. I think that’s the key: The pills aren’t taking away from who I am, they’re just removing this crud, so I can be me.” 

Courtesy of 1809 Studios

The sun is beginning to set in the distance. There is no more tequila. The beers have run dry. Our cigars, nearly gone. Members of the band have dispersed to their rooms, strumming guitars, checking in on loved ones on FaceTime. Barna turns to face the city. Tomorrow he will play a remarkable show. Afterwards he will be confronted with the people who are so moved they are inspired to tell him. This is what he endured those years of bartending and all the rest for, and on this balmy Austin evening, he knows it.

“To be this queer voice that I didn’t even realize when we made Cissy, is a power I cannot ignore,” Barna told me. “I know it sounds egotistical, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I know I have the power to speak to these issues and these stories and these places that I didn’t know I had, and now it’s so fucking exciting to bring it across America, to some places that might not be ready for me – ready for us.”

Dave Drago flicks the ashes of his cigar and smiles at his friend. 

Barna concludes, “It’d be a fucking shame if my inability to get out of bed got in the way of this much fun.”

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FIGHT FOR THE EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT

Aquarian Weekly
5/3/23
 
Reality Check
 

James Campion
 
 
FIGHT FOR THE EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT
Republicans Continue Their War on Women They Will Lose

 
In yet another glaring assault in the Republican Party’s war on women, this week all Senate Republicans – aside from two GOP women, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Susan Collins of Maine – voted against a resolution to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment that has been before the U.S. Congress in one form other another since 1972. In the wake of the blatantly unconstitutional, politically manipulated Supreme Court striking down of constitutional protections for women’s reproductive rights last year, the ERA would serve as fulcrum against government oppression against women’s rights over their body. 

Ironically, the Fourteenth Amendment, the very one ignored by the Court and shouted for months from the rooftops in this space as a legal umbrella for said rights, was cited by Republicans as a reason for squashing the resolution. In a humorously sickening turn, GOP opponents argued that the amendment already protects women’s rights. Clearly, it does not, nor does the Fourth Amendment. Otherwise, fascist governments in places like Texas would not currently override women’s personal sovereignty. And so, there is no time in my sixty years on this planet when the ERA has been more vital, and it must now be ratified into our Constitution or our laws continuing to view women as less-than American citizens will stand.

The foundation of the Equal Rights Amendment is simple: “Invalidate many state and federal laws that discriminate against women; its central underlying principle is that sex should not determine the legal rights of men or women.” Just as no law shall discriminate against skin color, religious, cultural, or political belief, or financial station, all of which are currently protected against systemic autocracy. Except for women. This is a Civil Rights issue, which gets us back to “equality” and the Equal Rights Amendment. 

Republicans clearly don’t want women to be equal. They stacked the Supreme Court with anti-women, religious fanatics carrying the water for Republican fascists, then once elected to barely control the House of Representatives, Republicans voted unanimously to federally ban all women’s reproductive rights, and now their Senators work to stop a measure that would protect fifty-one percent of the citizenry against this crime. 

There is no time in my sixty years on this planet when the ERA has been more vital, and it must now be ratified into our Constitution.

Lest we forget, in the same week Republican-controlled states continued to crank out Draconian laws to jail women seeking abortions or incarcerate those who aim to move across state lines to freed states in order to enact what should be their inalienable rights. In Florida, a proposed Republican candidate for president of the United States signed a six-week ban on women’s reproductive rights that all but eradicates them in Florida. 

Women are under siege, and although the goal of this space and all true Americans is to eradicate the Republican Party completely from our vox populi, failing this pipe dream, the ratification of the ERA is paramount.

In 1972, the arguments against the ERA were to keep women from serving in the military or from earning an equal wage to men, the latter of which is still true today. It was also an attempt to dehumanize the gay community and begin the decades long push to stop marriage equality. The latter thankfully failed. Now, in the wake of the Court’s Dobbs decision of 2022, its rejection is to make sure the government controls women’s organs. Pure and simple. Republicans voting against the amendment openly argued this point, saying that the ERA was a veiled attempt for Democrats to supersede the Court’s Dobbs ruling, which, of course, it would, because the Court ‘s ruling was/is unconstitutional. 

Proud fascist Jim Jordan, congressman from Ohio, told Politico after the vote, “Anything that would hurt the right to life and threaten the protections we have for unborn children is a concern.” This is tantamount to the argument for segrationists in the 1960s to disallow integration under the guise of disturbance of the peace and harmony of the South, so Blacks should choose safety from lynching and be happy to not be able to vote or eat at the same diner or sleep in the same hotel as whites. It is the same tired shit over and over again. No matter the argument against rights – remember, “If women vote, what’s next, horses?” – it is specious and always fails on its face.

Finally, in 2020 with Virginia’s vote, the ERA has been ratified by thirty-eight states, the required three-fourths needed to be approved. However, some of those states adopted it after a congressionally mandated deadline had passed, raising questions about the validity of those actions. Nevertheless, the procedural claptrap is for Congress to figure out. They do it all the time – to wage wars and raise the debt ceiling, they can do it for women. Instead, what is before us is one party strategically and systemically refusing to grant women equal rights to men. Period.

You would think at this point, Republicans would just relent on this nonsense, since it is looking more and more with every election since the Dobbs decision that Republicans are no longer a viable national party. Gerrymandering and the goober states are pretty much the only ways they even remain in the conversation. Pretty soon winning elections with any measure of the independent vote (and by the way a majority of Republican voters support women’s reproductive rights and voted that way in 2022) or pulling in Democrats, as Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan did, will be impossible. Sixty-five percent of the electorate want protections for women’s reproductive rights against government oppression. Getting this issue off the table will allow them to run on other policies, instead of being choked by this issue. They should jump at a chance to even do the practical thing. But they choose to keep shooting themselves in the political feet. It is pure madness.

Needless to say, the actions of Republicans have worked consistently against the rights of women – in the workplace, the military, the voting booths, and the womb. If you are a woman or support women, you can no longer support the party. The only way to continue to show Republicans they must give up their attacks on women is to keep serving up losses in elections. Force them to come to the table to return women to equal status or face electoral extinction. 

This is how it is done. 

Stomp out fascists or accept that our daughters, sisters, mothers, wives, and friends are second class citizens. 

Fight for the Equal Rights Amendment.

Or accept tyranny.

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Matt Sucich – A Passage From Many to One

Every new record for Matt Sucich offers a new beginning, for himself and his listeners. Each track provides sonic and lyrical evidence of his evolution and is an expansion on his artistic reach. Since our last discussion in 2019 for his brilliant breakthrough album, Thousand Dollar Dinners, the now 42-year-old singer-songwriter found himself in what he describes as a “cliché moment in an artist’s life that comes and goes regularly.” Heartache, loneliness, and a bittersweet reckoning with emotional recovery dominate. Enduring the pandemic, he started streaming a weekly woodshedding of songs on Thursdays at 9:01p.m. via Instagram Live, which at once started the ‘9:01 Fan Club’ and introduced the music that would make up his last record, the aptly named Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself from 2021.

This time around Sucich decided to use his craft to look beyond himself, which brings us to his latest effort: Holy Smokes, out Friday. The singer, who tends to parse the most complicated of concepts to one killer line in a song describes Holy Smokes as music “about life and death and love and nostalgia, and, you know, robots and religion… all that shit.”

‘All that shit’ puts an amusing perspective on where Holy Smokes lives and breathes. Even its title, taken from the album’s second track and its third single, “Give Love,” reflects the biting but lovable humor his audiences adore. He sings, “I was unhappy when I finally spoke / My brand new spirit didn’t get my jokes / I said ‘What do you call a church on fire?’ / He said ‘What?’ / I said ‘Holy smokes.’

Yes, Sucich is a card, but to shuffle (pun intended) that metaphor a little further, he’s a straight dealer. There is no artifice in his storytelling. His relatable, sad, and funny three-act song-plays help me learn as much about myself as I do about him while he questions his motives, his surroundings, and observes the weird dance of humanity. An example of this can be found in the lyrics of one of Holy Smokes‘ standout tracks, “All the Same,” which reads as a screed from my own skewed sense of the world. “So I’m trying to pass my time just a little more anodyne / Like a picture, in a frame, on a wall, as crooked as the day is long.” While I may forever be partial to Thousand Dollar Dinners, I have come to adore these new songs for their honesty, wit, and emotion.

Full disclosure: Matt has become a good friend over these past years. He did me the greatest honor by playing an opening set for a book event I had for my latest release, Take a Sad Song – The Emotional Currency of “Hey Jude,” last year, a project for which he’d previously lent his thoughts. That evening at Rockwood Music Hall – a room in NYC the he’s called home for some time – saw him regale the audience with song and story before I hit the stage with Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone, Adam Duritz of Counting Crows (a band that Matt supported on their 2021 American tour), and his fellow songwriter friend, Stephen Kellogg. It was the first time I heard “Give Love” and the album’s opener, “After Life” – both of which strategically pull you into the record’s intimate ambiance and set the mood for its geographical, social, and observational sojourn.  

The trek began when Sucich decided to travel down to Nashville to record with an old friend and master musician/producer, Paul Loren, who was then living in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Matt journeyed over the bridge for a drink one night when Loren revealed his plans to rent a house in the fabled Music City and send his considerable amount of technical gear down there to set up a studio and launch a record label (Five and Dime Records). As the musicians retreated to Loren’s Brooklyn apartment – where Paul whipped up Matt some homemade amaro – Sucich figured this was as good a time as any to play him some of his newest songs. “I just busted out a guitar and played him pretty much every song that we ended up recording,” Sucich recalled with a smile when we spoke this past March. “There were a couple that weren’t ready and some I hadn’t written yet, but for the most part, I think I played him like 10 or 11 songs in his living room… whether he wanted me to or not.” Now laughing at the memory, he said, “I just kept going!” 

Loren loved what he heard, and so, barely a month after his friend settled in, Sucich was down in Nashville becoming the first to try out the new digs. Matt describes the scene with a chuckle: “It was just insanity because the studio wasn’t fully ready. He’s got boxes everywhere, there was still stuff that wasn’t plugged in. The board needed to be set up by a tech and that was not scheduled for another month, so we were going directly to the tape machine.” Then, for good measure, after one of those brutal Tennessee rainstorms, the studio flooded.

Adding to the ad hoc atmosphere, the two men instituted a self-inflicted three-week deadline to record the entire album. “Paul hired all the players,” Sucich adds. “They were all local guys. I only knew one of them by chance: the guitarist, Anthony da Costa from New York, but the rhythm section I did not know. He didn’t even tell me who they were until the day before I arrived.”

When you listen to the final product of Matt and Paul’s efforts none of this frenzied, seat-of-the-pants creativity detracts from its sonic impression… but it does makes sense, because if there is one thing that can be said about Holy Smokes is it sounds immediate, unadorned by too much forethought or studio machinations. In fact, that is its enduring charm. What you hear is what was played. A recording, as Ani DiFranco once told me should be “a record of an event, the event of people in a room playing music,” or, as Sucich says, “Mic on my vocal, mic on my guitar. I think there were maybe four mics on the drums, da Costa playing guitar, which would have been amped so that mic was going into the amp, and then bass DI (direct input), and Paul on keys.” 

The album’s seventh track, “Real Time” is Sucich and da Costa laying it down live. Even when the rhythm section would come in, there was minimal overdubbing. “We did, at most, five takes of a song because the band learned it on the first take, and it was almost always take-two or three that made the record,” says Sucich, who eschewed playing to a click track, describing the album’s drummer, Dom Billett, as “our human click.”

Remarkably, in two-and-a-half weeks the album was complete. Sucich even had the photos for its cover and promotion done before he left town. The tracks that traveled back to Queens with him were the culmination of developing his craft; the results of which make up the rapid, creative, and intimate album the two of us would discuss a few months later.

Photo by Laura Partain

As stated already, “After Life” is a perfect opener for Holy Smokes as it introduces the album’s spatial quality. Its wispy country flavor with da Costa’s reverb-drenched guitar creeping in the background recalls Roy Orbison’s early Nashville days. The haunting echo of the “oohs” do little to dispel this notion as they settle you in for the ride. “That was done on purpose for sure,” shares Sucich. “I just loved that clopping along, because when I wrote it, that’s what I heard – those ‘oohs’ backed by a ghostly, distant guitar.” He also needed it to sound like the old Eddie Arnold country records like “Cattle Call,” which Matt told me he reveres. “The thought of singing about the afterlife, you know… it needed to sound like that… and Anthony fucking nailed it.”

The album’s next track, “Give Love” delivers on the impact of “After Life” and continues on with the same atmospheric ramble, the music traveling aimlessly across infinite vistas with the same urgency that lifted Thousand Dollar Dinners onto a higher creative plane than Sucich’s previous work. He lends a breezy island flavor to his phrasing with another helping of well-placed “ooh-oohs” that bring his pop-song-bona-fides to the fore. Laughing at my observing of the song as anything resembling pop music, Sucich reluctantly nodded his head. “It’s only way I know how to do that kind of thing. Yeah, it’s got some hooks, but I can’t take credit for the final product, because that should definitely go to the band.” 

If it sounds like Sucich is sharing plaudits, he is, for it was meeting the musicians for the first time that informed the songwriter on how to shape many of the songs on Holy Smokes. “You know, I’d never played ‘Give Love’ with a band before, and for a while, it was lost,” he explains. “When I finished it, I remember not being happy with something about it, and it just lived in my voice memos, disregarded. Then I went back to it by chance, which is something I don’t normally do, but I still couldn’t figure out what I thought was wrong with it. When I played it with the band, I was thrilled because it was the first time it just felt right.” Sucich describes the track as “all hands on deck,” as they brought in Arron Lee Tasjan on guitar to join da Costa. “It’s double guitars,” notes Sucich. “Paul’s playing keys, Dom [drums] and Will [bass] and other people doing what they wanted to do, making it happen.” The session turned the little lost song into one that may come the closest to defining him. When I look at my records, ‘Give Love’ has become almost my signature song. I have this way of telling these six, eight verse stories, and this one might fit the best into that category.”

There was no such push-and-pull with the album’s fourth track, “Upper West Side,” though; the oldest of the bunch, which Sucich penned on New Year’s Eve 2020, the culmination, as we know, of a very weird and bad year. He recounts, “I will never forget: I was sitting in this exact seat that I’m talking to you in right now, and as I finished ‘Upper West Side,’ it knocked me out of my fucking seat. I couldn’t stop playing it. I loved it so much. I was like, ‘Man, ok, this is definitely the beginning of my ‘next thing,’ even though I was nowhere near starting the next thing yet. That song was always in my head, like, ‘I can’t wait to record this.’”

“Upper West Side” returns Sucich to his Thousand Dollar Dinners days, describing a bittersweet memory of a lost love affair, but this time the sweetness lingers. “It reminds me of ‘Back at Zero’,” admits Sucich, noting the darkly tender track from Dinners. “Except it’s a little healthier. And I’m so happy that people are reaching out to me and saying, ‘Man, that song reminds me of a certain time in my life,’ which for me means I struck gold.”

The track’s music and vocals offer a languid, cinematic trip into the past – all the sights and smells that bring us back to when we were in that rarest of emotional places. Perhaps we might not want to revisit those memories, unless, of course, coerced by the power of song as we then realize the trip was worth it. The line, “Ain’t it funny how one life can lead you down so many lives / We all get a little lost sometimes” sums up what Sucich calls “healthy nostalgia.” He explains further that “sometimes it can be unhealthy to live in a nostalgic space, like you can’t move forward if you’re constantly living in the past, but with this song I explore how you’re not living in that past, because we’ve all lived so many lives, you get a little lost and then you come out of it. It’s basically sense-memory in song.”

One wonders if something this close to the songwriter’s heart could ever be realized on record. “Yeah, I was a little nervous because it’s the one that I held closest,” the singer admits. “I worried that it wouldn’t translate or never be as good as it was in my head – and it did!”

Not to skip over the album’s third track, “Carrying It” has the telling line, “You sing songs about the seasons and the patterns of the heart.” This lends another atmospheric, spatial quality to this collection, while also focusing on the changing seasons of our emotions. “It’s a wink at the cliche of singer-songwriters,” says Sucich. “We wear all our weaknesses like shackles on our arms in songs about the seasons and the patterns of the heart. We’re carrying it. I also love that bridge, ‘I don’t need to know that you don’t look back / You’d have to be a fool for punishment / It’s like looking at a photograph / You’ll never be that young again.’”

Adding to the pathos is the dulcet tones of Kathleen Edwards, a singer-songwriter Sucich has gotten to know, respect, and share stages with for the past four years. “We ended up having to track Kathleen’s stuff in a hotel room in Stamford, Connecticut,” he recalls. “So, I brought my gear out while she was on this Last Waltz anniversary tour that she was doing with Don Was and Warren Haynes. She was great on the song. I always heard her voice on it, and I thought it would be nice to have some of that signature ‘Kathleen Edwards music’ that you know the minute she opens her mouth.”

Sucich’s lovable dark humor rears its head again in “Let Me Die (Before They Find Me Like This),” a song inspired by a video of a robot that Matt thought looked a little too real for comfort. He says with a smile, “’I hope I die before they find me alive, because I don’t like where the robots are going.’ That was the joke of it. At the same time, I could hear how it would sound with the band, but they achieved this sloping feel to it that changed it immediately. It’s no longer a stupid ‘joke’ song. Anthony went off at the end with the trippy guitar stuff and then it just… ends. Kind of like life.”

The unexpected “ending” (it fools me every time, convinced I lost connection on my streaming device) is followed by “All the Same,” a mild Cajun bop reminiscent of New Orleans’ favorite son, Alan Toussaint, mixed with the bayou swamp crawl of the late, great, Dr. John. As noted above, I am preternaturally drawn to Matt’s observations of viewing friends and lovers as they float across the media stream. This time the narrator sees an ex-lover’s name in print, recalling the uneasiness of being made aware of someone’s nervous breakdown on the internet, a reoccurring theme of surviving a fixed world construct that reminds me of what permeated much of Thousand Dollar Dinners. I offered my analysis of this being his “laundry list of complaints” to the songwriter and he didn’t disagree. 

“’All the Same’ came out of my pure frustration with the state of the world,” Sucich explains. “It seems that almost everyone depicted on the internet is on the brink of collapse. It’s this constant battle between us. And I admit I’m not immune to this, when I sing, ‘But I’m not perfect, nobody is / But if I think you’ve got it coming, I can be a real son-of-a-bitch,’ it’s this idea that ‘America the beautiful, she’ll break your heart’ comes from our freedom to believe what we want to believe, but when you give people with dangerous views a pedestal, they become mainstream. That’s not healthy. There’s plenty of middle ground out there, we all know it, but it’s the extremes that flourish, and no matter how many times people fight back, history repeats itself.”

Photo by Laura Partain

The following track, the one in which Matt played along with Anthony da Costa, is “Real Time” – some of the most compelling and beautiful acoustic guitar ever recorded on a Matt Sucich record, which Matt, being Matt, credits to da Costa, but it is their intertwining styles that make it a sublime listen. The song also features some of the record’s most striking lyrical imagery, again an observational character study of belief, tradition, and superstition as a survival technique in an ever-changing and, in some ways, threatening world. 

Sucich frames the song’s storytelling as stream-of-consciousness conflating of several characters that initially have no direct connection but make up a narrative, something he previously failed to embrace, but wishes to explore more in his songwriting: “I can let the writing show me where I’m going, as opposed to starting the song with a whole idea in mind. It jumps around. The opening line, ‘They’re wheeling out the nativity from the basement to the boulevard’ is literal. I saw that with my own eyes in my neighborhood and I was like, ‘That seems silly, so I’m gonna write that down,’ but then I expanded on that scene to turn it into a story. Then it switches to ‘She’s struggling at art, attending bars,’ which tells the story of a woman at a bar with a bartender, and I built that out. At first, these people weren’t supposed to be in the same song. Neither of these experiences were about the same thing when I started out, but they became about the same thing after the fact.”

Sucich believes the next track, “Swing On” may be the one song in this collection that encapsulates another theme of Holy Smokes: you’re allowed to make mistakes. He sings in its second verse, “And living is just editing / You shave your head and / You shave your face / You shave your legs and you lose some weight / You run your mouth / You feel ashamed / You learn what and what not / To say.” When I pressed him on this, Sucich was adamant; “These days people are so quick to judge you on one error that you’re not allowed to make up for, that you’re not allowed to be forgiven for. What the fuck is that about? People are just so quick to ruin lives and cast judgment. I decided to start it with the perspective of a newborn baby that hasn’t made any mistakes yet, but then bridge it to maturity, to growing up, to becoming human – when you’re finally proven wrong. You’ll grow a little older, a little wiser, and that’s life. It takes being proved wrong to learn lessons.”

It is with those “lessons” that Holy Smokes wraps up with two of its most beautiful and profound songs: “Waste It” and “Oh! To Make Her Smile.”

In the former, the lyrics, “The roads are forever changing / And no certain path can be taken / But if you won’t leave and there’s nothing worth staying / You waste it” threw me at first. Matt offered context. “If there’s nothing worth staying for and you truly wanna go, but you won’t… then why? Are you in a relationship that’s stuck? Are you in a job that’s stuck? Are you in an apartment lease you can’t get out of? If you don’t embrace the chance at change, then it is a waste.”

The song’s theme of stasis versus the much more difficult act of accepting change and bracing for the dangers of the unknown seemed to bring the songwriter to contemplation. “I’m always battling with my inner child, telling him to grow up,” Sucich mulled when we discussed the song. “I say to myself all the time, ‘What the fuck are you doing? You’re not even making a lot of money doing this. So, what are you doing with your life? In this way the song haunts me. I was so glad Kathleen sang on it – she added beautifully to it and she even plays a violin on it, too.”

This new album concludes with “Oh! To Make Her Smile” – yet another distant electric guitar that underscores the songwriter’s final positive message of enjoying the simpler things: just making her smile. I asked him if there was a specific her, but he prefers to leave it open-ended for the listener. Putting your own person in there would be just fine for him: “Whatever that thing is that simply brings you joy, you know what I mean?” And I think I do. Matt concluded; “This whole record is just taking you on this journey of religion, of life, of all these things that weigh on us. I wonder… Does it get better? If so, when and how do we get there? My whole life has been about that, and, boy, I’m just connecting this right now – I didn’t even do this on purpose – but the opening line of the album’s first song, ‘All my life I’ve lived 10 years behind’ might be my most confessional. I’ve always felt that I’m late to the party, but to end the record with the urgency of ‘Oh to make her smile / is to feel so goddamn high’ set against the impatience that I’ve always had in my life is a telling and kind of funny bookend.”

And so, even in an album filled with general observations on the events, insecurities, and occasional joys of lives all around him, a world in turmoil filled with the lonely and broken, Matt Sucich finds his inner voice and aims his most alluring observation on himself. Ultimately, Holy Smokes is a record that forces us to move beyond ourselves by reflecting what we see in our surroundings as personal evolution and to discover empathy through our collective journey. In that, the music succeeds, the message works, and it continues to adhere to that thorny aspiration of the songwriter – to bridge the distance between us.

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THE WISCONSIN STORY

Aquarian Weekly
4/12/23

Reality Check


James Campion


THE WISCONSIN STORY
Protection of Women’s Reproductive Rights & The Marginalization of the GOP

Another important and resounding win for women’s reproductive rights transpired this week in Wisconsin. The state supreme court flipped from a conservative to liberal majority after nearly sixty percent of its voters – many of them young, women, and independents – spoke at the ballot box refuting the civil rights abuse of American women with the advent of the Supreme Court’s unconstitutional, partisan decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and hand the sovereignty of women’s bodies over to government control. This disaster led to a draconian 1849 trigger law in Wisconsin to make abortion a crime that a conservative court would have codified if victorious. But the Republican war against women took another wounding this past Tuesday, as liberal judge Janet Protasiewicz defeated conservative Dan Kelly, and doing it in impressive fashion – outdistancing President Joe Biden’s numbers that barely handed him the state in his 2020 victory and cutting into his opponent Donald Trump’s vote-totals in more Republican-leaning counties.

Protasiewicz won by eleven-points. Do you know how much of a stomping that is in a battleground state? Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is touting his 2022 re-election victory of ten percent as if he is Genghis Khan and the reason he should run for president. And Florida is no longer a purple state. What happened in Wisconsin wasn’t merely an election but a loud, booming, resonant call to action. 

This should send shockwaves throughout the Republican Party, but it likely won’t, since they exist in a fantasy media bubble led by the recently indicted conman Trump and fringe lunatics in congress who believe they exist to enact religious vengeance. But it is real, and it is happening at a rate that may decide the fate of the party for a coming generation, one that is rejecting its fascist leanings and might well expunge it to the dustbin of history.

To wit: Since the Dobbs decision, there have been resounding victories to codify women’s reproductive rights in blue states like Vermont and California, as well as the crucial purple state or Michigan, or denying the criminalization of abortion in deep red states like Kansas, Kentucky, Montana. The 2022 midterms were poised to be a “red wave” due to inflation, low approval numbers for President Biden, and the historic nature of a first-term president’s party taking a beating, but dramatically shifted that narrative mostly due to the blowback to Dobbs. Many state legislatures flipped to Democrat, as governor’s races moved left. The general rejection of new Republicanism has taken its lumps, and it shows no sign of stopping, at least for this and maybe the next generation. Then, history shows, people are willing to live in a less free world, because this is what they know. This can never take place. 

There is a long road ahead in the fight for women’s civil rights, but so far it appears that the wind is blowing in the right direction.

While the survival of democracy and sensible gun restrictions were also concerns in the Wisconsin election, an overwhelming majority cited the 1849 law and the Dobbs decision as paramount to motivating turnout and eventual victory. This latest blow to fascism is important because it happened in a battleground state that will be crucial for deciding the next president of the United States. This became dire since Republicans showed their hand on how they will govern if given the national majority in 2025, when they unanimously voted in congress two days after taking power to strip women’s rights if given the chance. A chance they must never have. You think your rights are safe in your state? Not if Republicans take all three branches of government backed with a fixed and corrupt SCOTA. Wisconsin was an excellent sign that this is a less likely outcome.

That is if we don’t become complacent. Complacency is what led to women being legally relegated to second-class citizenry. The fight and these results are only beginning to rectify this horror. 

Since Dobbs, Republicans have taken historic beatings at the ballot box. Red state, blue state does not matter. Even a majority of Republicans don’t want the government to decide what happens inside the body of American tax-paying citizens, so there is a slow and steady siphoning off of votes for a party that is already hanging by a thread, having only taken less-than-majority wins for the presidency once in two decades, and losing ground in the senate. Only redistricting and the south is keeping the Republican Party relevant. And this must be the goal for anyone who wants to give women their sovereign rights back: Marginalize the GOP, as the defunct Whigs Party before them, and force them to realize they can no longer win on the national level if they do not relent on this issue.

In a recent article for The Cook Political Report titled “The Impact of Abortion on 2022 and Beyond,” Amy Walter cited a recent interview with Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg in which she said, “‘the gender gap with independents was huge” in 2022 not because these voters didn’t prioritize inflation but because “being scared about what was gonna happen to the country for the folks who voted Democratic mattered more than inflation.’” Greenberg went onto say, “I think the existential threat of Republicans to Democrats as it was presented in Dobbs drove turnout, drove voting Democratic, drove particularly independent women voting.”

Walter is correct in dissecting the framework of the Democratic argument for women’s reproductive rights as effectively making “the debate on abortion about ‘values,’ not the medical procedure itself.” The parsing of a Republican post 2022 mid-term election analysis found that “for many women, the issue was about much more than abortion. It was about how we [Republicans] view and respect women in America. This sentiment is deeply felt and highly nuanced.”

And the vote to reject fascism in the Wisconsin state supreme court this week was a major victory to that end. Legal and systemic protections for fifty-one percent of our American citizenry is all that should matter now. If Republicans want a voice in our democracy for lesser taxes and international intervention or isolationism or this latest populist fad, then they must give up on fascism. If not, they will be relegated to a regional party that appeals mainly the southern portion of the U.S. Without Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and now trending blue states like Georgia and Arizona, not to mention the slow shift in North Carolina and even Texas, then there is no national political party, only a sad, marginalized philosophical cult. As an independent, I do not want this, but it is up to Republicans now to decide to stand with fascism or relent, and get back to governing in a democracy, not as a theological gang like ISIS.

There is a long road ahead in the fight for women’s civil rights, but so far it appears that the wind is blowing in the right direction.

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“WOKE” – A STUDY IN DEFINITION

Aquarian Weekly
3/22/23
 
Reality Check
 

James Campion
 
 
“WOKE” – A STUDY IN DEFINITION

Recently, a woman who’d written an entire book on the concept of “Woke” was hawking her wares on some podcast. The host asked a simple question that one assumes a person having taken the time to pen a tome on one topic would be able to define it: “What does ‘Woke’ mean to you?” The author stammered through a weak aside before falling silent, looking as if she had lost her puppy. Of course, this is 2023, so she was summarily lambasted on social media. And she knew it was coming, remarking moments after her flummoxed response that it would likely “go viral.” But to be fair to scribes unfamiliar with their subjects, quite a few of us appear to know next to nothing about a term that has come to define the political and cultural divisions in America.

I’ll give it a shot. 

Since Republicans are woefully bereft in having anything approaching policy or ideology, the entire purpose of the party’s existence seems to now be about using “Woke” to attack societal progress, or what Brandon Tensley couched recently on cnn.com as “an imprecise term used to decry progressive action.” This strategy to stem the tide of cultural evolution worked out great for the Whigs. That was sarcastic. They went bye-bye like most movements based on stopping progress. Ask Southern Democrats or the Catholic Church. Still, “Woke” has become the #1 priority for the modern Republican Party, a term they abhor and often cite with the pejorative suffixes, Woke Mob, Woke Mania, and the neatly designed “Wokism.” Ascribing an “ism” to something brings Reality Check into the fray, as both a cultural/political movement and sheer linguistic fun. 

First off, “Woke” has been attached to things it has nothing to do with; for instance this past week when those Silicon Valley banks went belly up due to banking regulations being stripped by the former president, a Republican, GOP voices attempted to cover their asses by blaming the banks’ failures on being “Woke,” which I assume means that their kowtowing to diversity and cultural understanding of minorities distracted them from making money. Determining the implosion of financial institutions due to a misunderstood cultural phenomenon may seem odd to you, but, again, no policies or concrete ideology will get you here. 

It is also important to note that “Woke” is not liberal agenda per se, like taxing the rich, comprehending climate change, or government-funded social safety nets. Yet its most vehement opponent, who may well be the Republican nominee for president, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, has based his entire purpose for political existence on fighting it. Another “conservative” politician with nothing to offer society beyond suppressing free speech, demonizing gender and sexual diversity and other scary things to the imbecilic among us, DeSantis has made a good living propping up “Woke” as a cheaply cobbled enemy to which only he “has the balls to fight.” However, the origin of the term did not speak to political agenda but a very real response to the mistreatment of persons of color, specifically African Americans.

Insert racist reasoning for DeSantis’ opposition here if you like. I’m moving on. 

Since it is now in the dictionary, a book that the woman who wrote the fancy “Woke” book might be familiar with, we can start there. Merriam-Webster defines “Woke” as: “Aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).” More to the point, it is a term that recognizes marginalized communities, which is only half of the idea currently ascribed to it. The other half would be respecting those communities, which “Woke” does not address. Its cultural origins are derived directly from the Black community attempting to rise above the stereotypes perpetuated on them, to become aware of their plight, as must every societal minority – which, by the way represents everyone’s family history. It could not have less to do with other cultures, mainly the White race, which has now taken up a knee-jerk defense to “Woke” or the idea that anyone can rise to their “status.” So much so, it has fed to unfounded fears that their “culture” is being usurped by its very uttering. 

I have zero time to discuss white supremacy and systemic racism, which is essentially the entirety of American history in this space. If you wish to do so, I suggest expending more research energy than Ms. Woke Book did on her project.

But I digress… 

For our succinct purposes here, the term was first used in a 1962 New York Times op-ed by Black novelist, William Melvin Kelley titled “If You’re Woke, You Dig It.” You can’t read that piece today online without paying the publisher, but since I read it in a college journalism class in the early 1980s, I can tell you it is a revolutionary and revelatory depiction of how the Black community might define itself while faced with the absurdly ubiquitous levels of oppression and discrimination mentioned above.  But since most cultural movements after the nineteenth century begin with artforms other than that of the written word, it was singer-songwriter Erykah Badu’s 2008 song, “Master Teacher” and the empowering phrase “I stay woke” that did the trick. 

“Woke” has been attached to things it has nothing to do with

Similarly, I was reminded of “Woke” during my activism in support of Russian feminist group Pussy Riot, who you might remember were imprisoned for protesting Vladmir Putin’s oppression of women. It was then Badu lent her support to their cause by tweeting: “Truth requires no belief. Stay woke. Watch closely. #FreePussyRiot.” Two years later, Michael Brown’s murder at the hands of cops in Ferguson, Missouri triggered the phrase “Black Lives Matter” wherein “Woke” was used to express much-needed systemic change. And so, it became a police thing, and for those who think the police can do no wrong, a belief mostly held by Republicans, it became political. 

Of course, “Woke” has been used as a convenient get-out-of-dutch free card when personal fuck ups go painfully public, like when NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers lied to the league about being vaccinated against Covid-19, was busted, and then blamed his travails on a “Woke mob.” This example having absolutely nothing to do with the term “Woke” has appeared in defense of fuck ups as much as the phrase, “Cancel Culture” perpetuated by the book-banning Right and safe-zoning Left of our political spectrum. 

It’s a semantic free-for-all out there, folks. 

In conclusion, the slow transfer of “Woke” to the ensuing “Me Too” movement, which crystalized the general fears of White people to the alienating of specifically White men being threatened by sexually abused women, was then applied to any form of diversity and inclusion efforts. But, most interestingly of all, this application of “Woke” was not by its proponents but its opponents. Of course, demonizing a term or a culture is as old as civilization itself, yet unlike the wicked labels of “Foreigner” or “Communist,” “Woke” is quasi-defined by both those who use it in protest and to silence protest.

In the very weird way that culture often creeps up on us, “Woke” has become yet another indefinable word like “love,” “music” or “god” that can never inarguably be applied to the very thing it supports or attacks.

I might even say you might be more “Woke” after reading this.

But that is not the correct use.

And you’re probably not anyway. 

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THE REASON FOR FOX NEWS

Aquarian Weekly
3/15/23

Reality Check

James Campion

THE REASON FOR FOX NEWS
Contemplating an Elixir for the Damned

Author’s note: As a rule, I do not comment on show-business cable new outlets, but once the song-and-dance elbows its way into national news, it becomes fodder for commentary here. Thus…

There was a time when Fox News offered an ideological slant on “the news” that differed from CNN, MSNBC, and network news organizations. Not sure when it went from conservative-leaning option to completely off the rails as a shameless propaganda machine, but it did. Specifically, over the past two years it has transformed into a right-wing bullhorn that serves one purpose, to placate the guilt of conspiracy theorists, domestic terrorists, bigots, and the generally frightened. Of course, not everyone who watches Fox News is a domestic terrorist or a bigot, mind you, but they are frightened, either by real or imagined bogeymen, and the network is absolutely their propulsion and forgiveness chamber. Riling up the audience and then using bizarre rationalization for anti-social behavior and general disdain for democracy, it has managed to survive burgeoning competition from even more demented outlets that popped up during the dark times of the Donald J. Trump presidency, which simmered the scum to the top of the boiling pot that is America.

I’ll explain with two key events that are currently ongoing at Fox News.

The first is a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit brought against the concern by Dominion Voting Systems. After Trump was roundly defeated in November of 2020, he did what he hinted at in 2016 during the Republican primaries, a general election he actually won, and the ramp-up to the 2020 presidential election, he claimed if he lost the system was rigged. The severe beating he took, something he does not believe can exist in the off-kilter world devised in his spoiled rich-kid head, broke him. He found enough anti-American voices and a clearly dementia-addled Rudy Giuliani to pitch the idea that not only was the entire election, run across fifty states – most of them Republican run – rigged by the opposing party, this sham was assisted by the voting machines. Many of these machines were owned by Dominion. They suddenly became the specific target of Trump and his sycophants’ fantasy show. The trouble is Dominion counts on integrity to exist as a business, and when it is not just called into question but accused of deliberately being involved in a bloodless coup d’é tat, it had to retaliate.

The suit has gone to trial and depositions from Fox News hosts, who perpetuated this nonsense, were released to the public in which all of its hosts, Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs, Laura Ingram, and most importantly for the rest of his piece, Tucker Carlson admitted to outright lying to support Trump’s anti-humiliation defense mechanism. Tucker, the station’s leader in ratings, as did the others, knew the entire thing was a crazy kneejerk fallacy, yet continued to vehemently whip up the kind of frenzy that placates its audience that believed, as they were told for months, Trump would win, and as Trump kept assuring them, easily. This is despite Fox News and every other poll conducted for six months of the campaign predicting candidate and now President Joe Biden would win by a comfortable margin of four to six points. If anything, the final results defied these prognostications in Trump’s favor. But these are mathematical absolutes, which doesn’t jibe with fantasy. Fox News stuck with the latter and will likely pay a hefty price for it.

So, as everyone had known for some time, except Fox News on-air personalities that called it left-wing attacks, the entire operation was full of shit. Every one of the hosts told authorities they thought Trump was nuts and they were shocked and dismayed by the entire thing, including the ensuing January 6 insurrection on the Capitol that occurred when Trump and his allies called to Washington D.C. the worst element of the bigot-terrorist-frightened brigade. In the face of all of this historic lunacy, they continued to pitch election fraud that failed to emerge in dozens of investigations, lawsuits and recounts. They openly described in these depositions to repeatedly lying to their own audience for ratings, for money, for fame. That they weren’t a news organization at all, but an entertainment entity. Come on, the rabbit doesn’t live in the hat. It’s all for fun. And, by the way, I do not begrudge any of this. That’s showbiz, folks! It just proves the musings of my opening paragraph: Fox News merely exists as an elixir to coddle the deranged.

Then comes this week’s shenanigans by the aforementioned Tucker Carlson, aided by Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, who was forced to promise the darkest corners of his party he’d provide mayhem if he were to procure the votes to secure that position.

The mayhem began when McCarthy took hundreds of hours of footage of terrorists violently sacking the Capitol and handed over to Carlson for his dog-pony-show. The only possible reason for Carlson to then go on the air and manipulate the footage (pro-terrorist propaganda?) to dilute the crimes (overtly and on camera live) committed against the United States was to make those who felt shame and disgust by this, much of it echoed by lawmakers like McCarthy that day and for days afterwards, much needed cover. Until Carlson went to the airwaves this past week, there was only weird rationalizations for this horror show that left five police officers and two civilians dead, many present having been badly injured, and now hundreds arrested. But the idea that it never happened was never seriously broached. Now in the tradition of Holocaust deniers, flat-earth proponents, right-wing denials of climate change, and the sudden movement on the right to wipe out the moral outrage of this country’s systemic treatment of African Americans, the events of January 6 did not occur. So therefore, none of it was a crime. Thus, nobody should go to jail. If anything, it was a fine day ruined by left-wing extremists trying to turn everyone not agreeing with them into outlaws. It was rigged. Like the election. The election Tucker Carlson said was rigged, even though he knew it wasn’t, lied anyway, and then copped to lying under oath.

I cannot think, beyond the ratings and money angle (always a good angle, explaining the existence of reality shows), why Tucker Carlson would do such a thing if the agenda wasn’t condoning January 6. It makes no sense. Historically, he is now an accomplice-after-the-fact of one of the worst events in modern American history. Granted, this once moderate commentator, who got his start bloviating on liberal-leaning PBS and MSNBC and kick-started the career of much-hated by the right, Rachel Maddow, was given the task of taking over the prime Bill O’Reilly spot at Fox News and knew what he needed to do to keep and grow this audience. He needed to become an avatar for bigotry and anti-American rhetoric. For cash.

Funnily enough, there are ample clips all over YouTube of Carlson previously excoriating O’Reilly for the very thing he does routinely every evening for the same reason. Carlson, having admitted to lying for a living, is a cheap carnival barker. What he does is nothing more than a geek biting the head off a chicken for a sixpence. But in the social order of the day, he is accomplishing a key element, washing away the sins of the guilty with one fell swoop, like a Catholic priest. Go now and sin no more.

Fox News had never been a serious news organization. It was built by a notorious Republican operative to game the system. Its genesis was silly and continued down the silly path, like, to be frank, most things on cable television. But the Dominion defamation suit and this week’s January 6 revisionist history showcase underlines its existence now is to make those who watch it feel emboldened and not anti-American for questioning the nation’s right to vote, its promise of civil rights, and the rule of law. But ultimately, they are no different than the radicals they used to fear and mock from the 1960s. But as long as Fox News tells them it is okay to act like wild animals when elections don’t go your way, and that looting, assault and murder are perfectly fine, because, you know, it didn’t happen at all, then… whew… they’re not crazy terrorist-sponsoring bigots paralyzed by fear. Hell, they’re true Americans.

As one president once said without retribution, “Mission Accomplished.”

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A CASE FOR SECESSION

Aquarian Weekly
3/8/23
 
Reality Check
 

James Campion
 
 
A CASE FOR SECESSION
 
 
For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.
– H.L. Mencken
 
Back in 2005-ish, I made a serious attempt to secede my property from the state of New Jersey. It was an annoying process that had zero chance of succeeding. I wrote about this extensively then, probably published it in this space, but I think it is in my fourth book, Midnight for Cinderella. (Shameless plug) Anyway, it was a bitch, and as expected nothing came of it. (Well, words. Like to get words out of random hijinks) But this does not mean the idea is not intriguing or serviceable on a larger level. So, when I heard something about a National Divorce pushed by the great unwashed this past week and the congresswoman from Georgia, Marjorie Taylor Green pitching this to the usual rodeo clowns on cable news I got excited.   

Now, not sure how old Ms. Greene is, but judging from her syntax and most of the drivel she passes as rhetoric, I am assuming she is an infant. However, she appears older. I am thinking that she was likely first figuring out that she was friendless dink in need of a hug as she gathered her political philosophies back when I was busy actually trying to secede from New Jersey. She is likely unaware of its pratfalls.

But let’s not throw the infant out with the bilge water.

Since the Dobbs decision, it is obvious that some states in this union do not deserve to be a part of things around here – this includes military protection provided by the federal government, and other aid taxpayers waste on goober states that would financially collapse in weeks without being propped up by solvent states like California, New York, New Jersey and maybe four others, tops. They are draining quality resources form the us while keeping the poor, Blacks, women and the LGBTQ community from voting, providing basic civil rights, and other important elements of the American construct. So, what is the point of them, really?

For instance, I read the other day that Tennessee’s Republican Governor Bill Lee signed legislation banning minors from receiving gender-affirming care and it is now illegal to perform in a drag show anywhere in the state. This is stupid. Clearly. But more importantly, it is also unconstitutional, like the Dobbs decision, which the Right-Wing cabal in the Supreme Court used to eradicate millions of women’s reproductive rights, blithely stomping on the Fourth and Fourteen Amendments. So, for those states that wish to imprison women’s wombs I say, good riddance.

Since the Dobbs decision, it is obvious that some states in this union do not deserve to be a part of things around here.

How grand would it be for Texas or that fascist sinkhole in Florida to secede from the union, so we can treat them like we do all foreign nations that practice pogroms on human rights – unless, of course, we need their oil (Saudi Arabia) and their cheap Walmart-esque products and iPhones. (China) But, really, why do we need Tennessee? Arkansas? Mississippi? What is the fucking point?

Come on, give it up, I used a French suffix on Walmart. That’s like putting an Armani suit on the Duck Dynasty guys.

Once the states secede, we begin the invasion with tactical air raids, which should secure the skies for the marines to sweep in and clean house. 

Sound like a plan, Marjorie?

Marjorie?

Okay, let’s review: No point on keeping states around that oppress the vote and use poor trans kids to feel like gypsies in the Third Reich. I say, let’s make it a one-week sign-up for these states to either shit or get off the pot. Leave the union or be part of America. If they choose the former, gut the local government, put in a puppet regime to return the rights to all those listed above and prevent any Republican fascists from running it again.

Who’s with me?

Marjorie?

Wait, can Greene read?

Never mind. I’ll just send her crude drawings of the U.S. Army rolling into Dallas and Orlando and ridding the festering boils from their seats of government and trying them as insurrectionists. Real ones. Not those lunch pail Trumpy sycophants that roamed the Capitol Halls on 1/6/21 with Confederate flags. I mean, that is small potatoes. They’re going to jail. I am talking old timey justice, like I heard recently Mark Levin brag about.

By the way, how long would it take that old fart Levin to whine like a baby when we smash down his door and tell him the piper has come for his checkbook? 

I’ve got a C-Note on five seconds.

We talk big in this country, but we don’t execute the BIG ideas. I am coming with one of those. Or at least MTG is coming with it, and it’s a fine way to rid the nation of fascism, which is on the rise and needs to be cleansed. Democracy in action. Forefathers’ redux. Bring back tar and feathering and riding the guilty out on a rail.

But we need them to secede first.

Get on that.

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RUSSIA’S INVASION OF UKRAINE ONE YEAR OUT

Aquarian Weekly
3/1/23
 
Reality Check
 

James Campion
 
 
RUSSIA’S INVASION OF UKRAINE ONE YEAR OUT
A Retrospective for the Hell of It
 
A year of pain, sorrow, faith, and unity.
– Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky this week.
     
It’s been one year since Russian “troops” rolled into Ukraine as a mighty force to crush the ragtag defenses of its neighbor on the flights of demented fancy conjured by its omnipotent ruler and despot Vladmir Putin. The claims out of the big bad Ruskies were that this baby was going to be short and painful for the “enemy” and quick and glorious for the home team. Showing might and righting historic wrongs, it was going to bring former glory back to the mother country, return land once heralded as part of a great and long-remembered empire, and show the world the invincible power of Putin and his charges that had only been a suggested concept by a blustery middle-aged mental midget.  

How’s that going?

Well, for one thing, this is now a year old. The shock and awe bullshit that we bought when the Iraq War, going into its twentieth year now, was sold by our government, was duly pitched to the Russian people and its blatantly overrated military. The geniuses in the George W. Bush Administration said we would be welcomed as liberators, and it will all be clean as the proverbial whistle and done in a few arduous months. This obviously did not occur. Remember “Mission Accomplished?” That disaster was so far-reaching it not only elected America’s first Black president, it went on so long another Republican one used it to mock Bush and completely transform the party from international police force mongers to its current home of bleating isolationists. That is some rancid journey.

War is the great reality check, for everyone. It teaches us the valuable lesson uttered time and again by that beautiful brute, Mike Tyson, who said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” And the reality check goes both way, kiddos. Ukraine did not roll over as Putin, and let’s face it, the world expected. It fought. And won. And continues to fight and win and endure in the face of this aimless blunder. 

If history teaches us one thing, it is that invasion, a favorite of humans everywhere since the dawn of civilization – I’m reminded of the brilliant opening “Dawn of Man” scene in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 – a Space Odyssey, with the monkey men and the watering hole, the bone, and the smashing of a skull for dominance – needs to be over in a few days, weeks or maybe a month or two. Once things get into the six- month-to-one-year-anniversaries it tells you things went horribly wrong. Say what you want about these lunatics, but Julius Caesar, Genghis Kahn, Alexander the Great, Napoleon, even Hitler had it down. Putin, not so much. This was a grand fuck-up on the world stage and he is eating it right now.

But what about the Russian citizens? These poor people and their descendants have endured the hardships of war for centuries and are once again paying a terrible price for the musings of a madman. International sanctions have crippled the country. You could make the case that the war might be the only thing propping it up. The casualties have mounted far beyond the accepted rate by any society without the obligatory blowback, and the riots in the streets and the abandonment of duties by hundreds of enlightened Russian soldiers on the battlefield have underlined this. 

There is very little that has happened since the tanks cruised across the border that did not go sideways for Putin and it will continue to go sideways now that even more countries are backing Ukraine. More weapons are pouring in from the United States and elsewhere daily. They gain and lose ground in a weird two-step that costs them lives and treasure for no payoff. How is this supposed to end, if not badly?

Ukraine did not roll over as Putin, and let’s face it, the world expected.

Of course, we are no strangers to quagmires, Korea, Viet Nam, Afghanistan (also a fine Soviet screw-up) and the aforementioned Iraq. Shit, I was dubious a year ago when I wondered what might be the endgame had this ended well for Putin in a week, as he surmised? Governing a people who do not want to be governed is bad mojo. Terrorist plots, assassinations, insurrection; ask the British how the whole colonization of Ireland went? For that matter, their 18th century shenanigans around here.

But enough about history, the doomed-to-repeat-it bromide is already in effect. It has not dawned yet, if at all, on Putin that he royally screwed up and he should cut his losses. He was offering his people the kind of rose-colored gas-bag routine this week that sinks republics. Cutting losses for people with penises is not an option. Doubling-down on bad ideas is how men roll. Especially powerful men with daddy issues who use the nations they lead as a half-assed form of therapy to prove in some violent way that their penis is bigger than the next guy’s. 

It all comes down to this, and for Putin, I assume he will have to be assassinated. That is the best bet, because then the next guy can just say it was his fault and save face. Blaming things on the last guy is also a big favorite among the penis-set. Although, there are plenty of us walking around with vaginas who are also dipshits. Not sure if that is so much male v female malady. Looks like simply being a bipedal mammal is the cause. 

At the very least this ugly year of the latest in a long line of pointless European conflicts has helped us better understand history and psychology. Of course, it has come at a cost. It has been an unmitigated horror show for Ukraine and its battered but unbowed people, who bravely fight on despite what was supposed to be an overwhelming beat-down. As a small guy with a modest penis who had to deal with his share of bullies from childhood to yesterday, I am inspired and buoyed by all this. And I am proud we are backing the right horse and that not one American has had to die for it, unlike previous embarrassing military clusterfucks. We spend enough tax money on our obsession with weapons, why not use them to take down the odd tyrant?

Nevertheless, onward we go. More misery and stupidity.

Mammal style. 

I’ll have more to say on this at the two-year anniversary. 

See ya there.   

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FIRST AMENDMENT CRISIS IN FLORIDA

Aquarian Weekly
2/15/23
 
Reality Check
 

James Campion
 
 
FIRST AMENDMENT CRISIS IN FLORIDA
Governor Ron DeSantis & Fascist Republicans Shit on Constitution
 
Republicans run Florida. They are now using that power to ban books in schools.

This is a real thing. I’ll write it again.

Republicans run Florida. They are now using that power to ban books in schools.

Let that sink in. It is important you do. 

There is no reason to ask why about this. Nothing that can be offered up as a “reason” or “excuse” for defecating on the First Amendment of the United States Constitution will suffice.

It is a crime perpetuated on the citizens and children of Florida by its government. 

And if you have a specious retort to this, please stop reading and go press your brown shirt.

For the rest of us, I am going to assume no matter your political leanings, anyone reading his right now cherishes the freedoms provided by the United States Constitution. That is why you are reading this right now. There are many who are fans of some its Articles over others, and its vital ensuing Amendments, but the general respect of the document is, or should be sacrosanct. 

I realize the irony of that statement in a post-Trump world where Republicans lose elections and declare victory for months and years afterwards, insurrections have and will happen, and the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments are out the window for women. 

But humor me.

I, for one, am a big fan of the First Amendment, which guarantees the government shall make “no law prohibiting the exercise of freedom of speech and expression.” That’s a biggie. I mean, is there even a functioning democratic republic without this? Of course, this applies to literature. Banning of books is a no-no. Although previous fascists have had their way in this arena but were struck down eventually, it is and has always been against the law; the law provided by the Founding Fathers and upheld with massive bloodshed. 

Florida doesn’t give a shit about any of that. 

Banning books is pretty much the poster child of fascism. It’s what the Nazis did first, before all the camps and invasions. Currently, however, the Florida government has chosen to arbitrarily ban books from its school systems. No matter their argument for this, which is stupid, racist and a shamelessly transparent showpiece to help its governor, Ron DeSantis gain the approval of Republicans, so he can run for president, it is unconstitutional.

So, what is being done about it?

Well, you could sue and hold it up in court until it gets all the way to the Supreme Court, but that is now packed with fascists, who have stripped 51-percent of the populace of their reproductive rights and handed the decision over the same type of governments. So, where do you think that is going?

The most recent legislation in question is House Bill 1467, enacted last July, which mandates that books in Florida’s public schools be free of “pornography” and suited to “student needs,” as determined by a librarian or school media specialist. 

Banning books is pretty much the poster child of fascism.

Short aside: the SCOTUS – a previously functioning one, not the current fascist one – has already determined that state-sanctioned definitions of “pornography” is in not constitutional. Who decides what is porn? I can make a very good case that the rape, mass orgy fuck-fest and seduction addled free-for-all in the Bible is pornography. It really is inarguable. Have you read that thing? I did. Three times. Oof.

Okay, now back to these “specialists,” who are making these “decisions” on what is acceptable free speech. Doubtless they are white, fascist, Republican religious nutcases. The “retraining guidelines,” which only became available in January, according to Andrew Spar, the president of the Florida Education Association, are ambiguous. The chief academic officer (whatever the fuck that is) of Duval County (wherever the fuck that is), took a stab at it: “Books not on the district-approved list or not approved by a certificated media specialist need to be covered or stored and paused for student use.” 

I ask: What in the holy name of bicycling Christ does ANY of that mean? 

I’ll take my own stab at it: Right-wing lunatic or lunatics – they are unclear of the number or actual unelected shadow-people – who will go by a chosen name of “Media Specialist” (to make it sound official and not criminal), a will enact a “district-approved” – more fascist right-wing nomenclature – “list” of what books meet standards. (Again, who decides the “standards?” 

If I had written this about 1930s Germany, you’d shake your head in disgust and thank whatever deity you subscribe to that WWII eradicated this bullshit. But it is going on in Florida. Right now. In the United States of America.

To put a turd cherry on top of this pile of legal feces (Yes, I am riding the defecation metaphor hard here, wouldn’t you?): Not complying with this results in what one superintendent quoted in a recent AP piece will be “a felony of the third degree.” This is due to a pre-existing law prohibiting the distribution of pornography to minors.

Like, the Bible?

How does this happen? Well, how does any fascism begin? Fear. For the Germans, fear of Jews and Communists. For Florida, fear of African Americans and progressives.

What DeSantis does is hide this racism in a cloud of rhetoric about “Woke Mobs” and “Critical Race Theory.” Or the more ominous-sounding CRT, which is all the rage on brainwashing right-wing media. We don’t have enough time to cover the college-level merits of “CRT” (never taught to public grade-school kids) here, but like the Deep State and Trump having won the 2020 election, it is a fantasy concocted to scare the great unwashed into voting for half-assed idiots who shout during State of the Union speeches and knuckle-drag their way through culture wars to hide their horrific governing agenda, which is usually nothing with a side of nothing.

To wit: DeSantis previously introduced his fancy “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which disallows the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity through third grade, and another bill, known as the Stop Woke Act, which prohibits teaching that someone “must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress” on account of their race or sex.

In his charmingly monosyllabic way, the governor and his fascist minions believe that teaching the history of this country – the true history, which is what education should be – might “offend” people, mostly white people. The coverage of slavery, Jim Crow, systemic racism, hurts white people’s feelings. But I ask genuinely, why? Is this guilt over admitting that racism still exists and they wish to quell this? Are they afraid a new generation might finally cop to this? I’m white. I do not feel or have never felt learning about these things makes me guilty, because I am not. Reminds me of bigots claiming gay marriage threatens their marriage.  Makes you think they doth protest too much, no?

Anyway, none of this matters – because even if they were “scared” or “sad” or whatever about Black History, this is still not good enough to ban books. Let me repeat: There is no reason good enough to supersede the First Amendment. This all sounds to me like cancel culture, anyway. It is no different than the left’s attack on Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the most effective and influential book attacking racism ever published only two decades the goddamn Civil War for having the N-word in it. There is no difference. It is criminal.

By the way, Mark Twain rules!

But Florida has cleared the shelves and boxed up the offending literature just the same. All of this hinges on the whims and psychosis of a few people; right-wing, republican people, who play footsies with the Constitution as if it is a mere suggestion.

To be fair, I will let Ron DeSantis, who by the way is Italian, a race that was not considered “white” until halfway through the last century and for most MAGA crazies he is courting with this nonsense, still are not considered so, have the final word.  

“In Florida, our parents have every right to be involved in their child’s education. We are not going to let politicians deny parents the right to know what is being taught in our schools. I’m proud to sign this legislation that ensures curriculum transparency.”

He is a politician currently denying parents and their children’s rights.

Translation: Fuck the constitution. I run things. My way or the highway.

Or fascism. 

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