2006 Midterm Elections Dilemma

Aquarian Weekly 10/11/06 REALITY CHECK


Dennis HastertHere’s my midterm elections ’06 dilemma: Continue to root for the hapless Democrats to crash and burn one last time to put a final nail in their coffin and leave the dismantling of the two-party system to this abortion the Republicans have fashioned over the past decade…or…pull for the Democrats to sweep into Congress and begin the always-entertaining Investigation/Impeachment Follies for the next two years.

Double-edged sword: either way you win and lose.

It is no secret that the Republicans are ready to be had, and if the Democrats can’t do it now there really is no logical reason to have them around, save for laughs and sympathy. Therefore, this should be the Democrats last ride at the rodeo, opening the doors for some kind of third party or Independent run to wade into the quagmire that is the legislative branch of our fancy federal government.

All of this, of course, is the fantasy notion of a pathetic man, who still believes in the “better angels of our nature”, despite centuries of corruption, madness, and disaster. But forgive me, I dream because I must.

But it would take an October Surprise worthy of Disney or the Bible to keep the Republicans in power now, despite the parade of mediocrity coming from the opposition, because let’s face it kids, the GOP is reeling.

There hasn’t been this kind of fallout on Capital Hill since the near shooting of Missouri Senator Tom Benton by the blabbering lunatic Henry Foote 166 years ago. Foote, a fun-loving senator from Mississippi, was a terrible goon with a short fuse and no boundaries, but he would’ve fit in well with the present legislators, who have presently turned the U.S. Congress into a Martin Scorsese film.

Forget the Abramoff stuff, which on any normal calendar year would land half of Congress in prison. That’s merely the opening act.

Things have gotten so bad you half expect the bastard offspring of Caligula to burst through the chamber two-fisting Jack Daniels and brandishing a Luger.

Since, we have mounds of proof Texas Congressman Tom Delay has been ripping off taxpayers for as long as he’s been sworn in. Then there is the curious case of Virginia Senator George Allen Jr., who has now publicly taken racist stump banter to new levels and spent three days last week apologizing for having a Jewish mother so vehemently you’d think he was caught sniffing coke off the ass of a teenaged hooker. And what can anyone make of Mark Foley? The Florida Representative’s text-message romp with young male pages, and the apparent cover-up from spin-conscious Republican leaders, presents just the right kind of creepy for potential voters.

Things have gotten so bad you half expect the bastard offspring of Caligula to burst through the chamber two-fisting Jack Daniels and brandishing a Luger.

Never mind the albatross that is our Boy President defending his vacillating approval numbers, scores of defamatory book releases, and one too many Donald Rumsfeld media events, but these baffling presidential news conferences are straight out of Lewis Carroll. When Bush starts yammering on about this Iraq War of his being the “fight for civilization as we know it” I pray for an apparition of the Mad Hatter to materialize and bash him in the back of the head with a cricket bat.

But that’s just what this reporter is willing to explore in the first week of October with three more weeks of rallies and pratfalls. Things have a way of turning around more than once these days.

To wit: Just last week things were looking up for the president and his wounded charges. Firstly, gas prices were plummeting, and crazy people were calling him Satan at the UN, proving once and for all what kind of reeking farce that gaggle of has-beens are running on the East Side, as they more or less pull off the impossible: Make the bully look like the victim.

But wacky Venezuelan despots aside, the Bill Clinton FOXNEWS meltdown made even the goofy Dick Chaney “Meet The Press” escapade look sober. Why a man who was once the leader of the free world would need to get into a schoolyard piss match with a hack like Chris Wallace is beyond me. Maybe the part of Big Bill’s brain that chose to solicit Oval Office head from the kid intern took over. Either way, it was a calling card to many voters that there still lurks mania in the hearts of the Democrats’ best and brightest.

Then the Foley thing hit the fan and House Speaker Dennis Hastert had the balls to use politics as his party’s “cover-up” defense, as in his Washington Post quote, “I know our opponents want me to be guilty of something.” Does he mean opponents of congressmen using government property (the people’s property) to flirt with underage boys, and then the Republican leadership covering it up? I’m sure we can find a few of those.

Bad news for Hastert is these opponents vote. But good news for Hastert is most people, especially mid-westerners and southerners, would sooner vote for a bumbling Republican skank then hand the reigns over to the scary Democrats. It gives me the same sense of American pride I felt when listening to the National Organization of Women defend the predatory nature of the aforementioned Mr. Clinton.

But, be that as it may, we have a job to do here, and despite our dilemma we shall shoulder on.

There are 33 seats available in the Senate. With the vice president holding a deciding vote, the Dems need a swing of at least seven seats of them for a bonafide majority (this does not count Vermont Jim Jeffords, who is an independent and repeatedly votes Democrat). Depending on what poll you use, there or about six to seven seats legitimately up for grabs, two or three firmly in the GOP column, and five to six leaning to the Democrats, four of which are currently Republican.

This will be a tough go for the Democrats, but we will begin to discuss the states, seats, and races in question next week.

On to the House, where the Dems need to pick up roughly 16 of the 31 open seats (three vacancies to consider), to gain a majority. Again, without getting into particulars, this is a more realistic quest for the Democrats to sniff power, but no gimmie.

I fear the only “gimmie” is this space will likely despise the results, whatever the results, and spend the ensuing years mocking the victors.

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Corporate Lunacy In The Wake Of Katrina

Aquarian Weekly 9/20/06 REALITY CHECK

CHING-CHING, CASH IN ON TRAGEDY! Part I Report Uncovers Corporate Lunacy in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina

New OrleansRita J. King is a colleague, a friend, and a fine freelance investigative journalist who has gone deep inside many nasty corners of society, business, and politics for the Village Voice among other publications. In 2003, the New York Press Association awarded her first place for investigative reporting on the nuclear industry and in 2005 she placed first in the NYPA news category for “The New Agent Orange,” an investigative article about nine soldiers who returned from Iraq and are now suing the government because they believe they were knowingly exposed to Depleted Uranium.

Her new work, completed just last month for CorpWatch, (corpwatch.org) a decade-old nonprofit monitor of all-things-corporate online, is called Big, Easy Money: Disaster Profiteering On The American Gulf Coast, a tirelessly researched and frightening insight into the rapacious milieu of scavenger business practices that inevitably follows the type of historic disaster that was Hurricane Katrina.

Now, one year removed from the litany of mistakes and tragedies that have rendered the gulf coast a watery graveyard, we find its reconstruction to be less than ethical, and in most cases, downright deplorable. I figure it’s high time Ms. King was given a proper voice at The Desk, because, for some warped reason, she is a fan of this space.

James Campion: How did you initially get involved with this story?

Rita J. King: I frequently write about Indian Point nuclear power plants, which a company called Entergy Corp. owns, and they’re headquartered in New Orleans, so I figured chances are there’s a story there. CorpWatch asked me to write a feature about Entergy, which, consequently, declared bankruptcy in the wake of Katrina, and has asked for a $718 million Community Development Block Grant so taxpayers and ratepayers can bail them out. There’s also an Entergy subsidiary in Mississippi that’s asking for a similar bail out. Between the two of them it is a billion and half dollar bail out to shelter the corporation from the cost. As I was gathering the information for the Entergy piece, CorpWatch asked if I would write the whole report.

So for six months I did hardcore investigative research on the contract procurement process, which involved scouring through all the records of contracts of prime contractors and government agencies, and I found the numbers to be very convoluted and unclear, but in the process I interviewed a lot of people who were beyond the focus of the scope of the report. And so my hope was to use the report as a platform to segue into some of the deeper social issues involved.

When you began the report, were you already assuming that there was likely to be some cloudy areas of where the relief money was coming from and how it would be spent, or even a fertile ground for corporate malfeasance?

“What I didn’t except to find, but came away with, is this feeling that the ‘bumbling bureaucrat’ image that used to pervade our thinking on these things has been replaced with a ‘fox in the henhouse’ image. Corporations are far savvier than the governments they manipulate and the politicians they enrich.”

Going in I knew this was the most pervasive disaster that had ever taken place on American soil. And I knew that some of the corporations that were notoriously profiting off the Iraq War were involved. I also knew that it was cheaper to do domestic disaster than foreign conflict, but I did not know going in what the specific ramifications were going to be and I did not go in assuming malfeasance was an issue as much as ineptitude – you have to keep in mind that FEMA was gutted in the 90s, and it has continued to be gutted, and as the Department of Homeland Security grows in the number and worth of contracts it gives out, personnel is being cut back. What I didn’t except to find, but came away with, is this feeling that the “bumbling bureaucrat” image that used to pervade our thinking on these things has been replaced with a “fox in the henhouse” image. Corporations are far savvier than the governments they manipulate and the politicians they enrich.

For example, on 9/7/05, a week after Katrina, President Bush suspended the Davis-Bacon Act, which protects workers’ wages. Two months of controversy followed. He reinstated it, but not retroactively, so all of the contracts that were given out during that time were exempt form the Davis-Bacon Act, which resulted in a lot of workers not being paid or being paid slave wages.

Then there is the contracting pyramid, wherein corporations benefit greatly from undocumented workers performing the labor at the bottom, because each successive subcontractor is only responsible for the layer below them. So, as a prime contractor, if I subcontract the work to you and you subcontract the work to someone else, and so on, I am not ultimately responsible for what the last subcontractor who hires the workers chooses to do, and whether they pay them…or not.

Some of what I learned is shocking, and largely unreported. The two largest Chinese construction companies, Beijing Construction Engineering Company Unlimited and Beijing Urban International Company, have made a proposal to the city of D’Iberville, Mississippi through Gulfco Construction, which is actively trying to procure visas for thousands of Chinese laborers so they can work cheaply, and with their own materials, to rebuild vast swaths of the coast. Who is going to own those areas when they’re done?

So the cloudy numbers add up to hidden profits for those insidious enough to exploit the chaos?

Exactly. Prime contractors like AshBritt received $500 million, or $23 per cubic yard, to remove debris, according to an investigation conducted by NBC. At the bottom of their pyramid the company hired C & B Enterprise, which was paid nine dollars per cubic yard. That company hired Amlee Transportation, which they paid eight dollars a cubic yard, and they turned around and hired Chris Hessler Inc. for seven dollars a cubic yard, who then paid a debris hauler from NJ, who was paid three dollars per cubic yard, which is less than the cost of actually doing the work. So AshBritt gets paid $23 a cubic yard for nothing more than subcontracting.

I have to say this does not shock me.

AshBritt was listed in the Small Business Data Base as both a minority-owned and woman-owned company in order to tap into the federal regulation for set-asides, which stipulates that a portion of the contracts go to businesses owned by people who are categorized thusly (the same applies to other special groups, such veterans or physically disabled individuals). AshBritt’s owner, Randall Perkins, listed his wife, Cuban-born Saily Perkins, as the company’s president. However, I found a list of 2004 campaign contributors compiled by the federal election commission that listed her occupation as homemaker. Perkins later claimed it was a clerical error.

Part II: Aggressive Accounting, Money-Grabs, & The Future Of New Orleans

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Corporate Lunacy In The Wake Of Katrina

Aquarian Weekly 9/20/06 REALITY CHECK

CHING-CHING, CASH IN ON TRAGEDY! Part II Aggressive Accounting, Money-Grabs, & The Future Of New Orleans

New OrleansIn Part II of our interview with Rita J. King on her investigative report, Big, Easy Money: Disaster Profiteering On The American Gulf Coast for CorpWatch (corpwatch.org), we uncover more greed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina: Corporate feeding frenzies leading to the fleecing of the unfortunate and the jobbing of the lazy federal government, which, in turn, fleeces us in the tax game, and learn how the these crimes could eventually bury the beauty and tradition that was once New Orleans.

These “business practices”, while being sneaky and rotten, are pretty much expected as shenanigans as usual. The question must be then, is all of this unethical behavior technically illegal?

It’s not necessarily illegal, but it clearly demonstrates the degree to which laws are set up to favor corporations. At a certain point you have to say it’s not a matter of politics, or anything other than the obvious fact that the greater good is not being served. I am not prepared to completely blame corporations for that – they’re playing a game. It’s called capitalism. I understand that. But if the system isn’t working, this is how empires crumble. In the history of the world, I’m not sure there’s ever been a civilization that has recognized its own demise in time to do anything productive to avoid the calamity.

Taxpayers need to know that the Army Corps of Engineers, Bechtel and Halliburton, among others, are using the same contract vehicles in the Gulf Coast as they did in Afghanistan and Iraq. They need to know that there are indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity open-ended contingency contracts being used on the Gulf Coast to squeeze out local companies, and cost-plus contracts that allow them to collect a profit on everything they spend, which really gives them an incentive to overspend. The report lays out the astronomical charges in detail. The American people need to read it.

“It’s not just that it’s expensive to get things done, we’re throwing billions of dollars at things that are not getting done – it’s wasteful, it’s disgusting, and how can we really expect the rest of the world to believe we’re interested in preserving their respective cultures, if we’re willing to decimate our own?

After all this research and investigation, what is your final assessment of these repeated money-grabs? Will they eventually bleed taxpayers and/or the federal government dry and consequently stall the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast or New Orleans specifically?

Corporate law requires that corporations put profit above everything else. People need to keep that in mind. The law is subject to the people. If people don’t like their taxes to skyrocket and their money to be squandered they must act. It’s not just that it’s expensive to get things done, we’re throwing billions of dollars at things that are not getting done – it’s wasteful, it’s disgusting, and how can we really expect the rest of the world to believe we’re interested in preserving their respective cultures, if we’re willing to decimate our own?

I wonder, in the absence of the minority voices, whose master plan to rebuild will be followed. The Louisiana Recovery Authority is coming up with a master plan, but in whose image? What are the values being used? It’s very unclear. It is one of the most precious regions in this country for its cultural diversity. You can’t rebuild what was already there, but you can value the history. I think the single most important characteristic of the rebuilding effort needs to be a creative approach to synthesizing the past to build a viable future.

Ironically, I watched a documentary on the rich and mysterious history of New Orleans only a few weeks before the devastation, and it was one of the first things I thought of, how much of it will be washed away inevitably?

When the early French settlers came to New Orleans, they almost perished from the heat, and so they brought in slaves from Ghana, because the climates are so similar, and the slaves wove into the wrought-iron gates of the city a symbol called the Sankofa, which still stands today. It is a heart with spirals on the inside and the outside and it means – which Bob Marley immortalized in his wonderful, “No Woman/No Cry”; “In this great future, you can’t forget your past.” You can’t rebuild unless you take the past into account. I believe the image of the Sankofa should stand as the pervasive symbol of the entire rebuilding effort of New Orleans.

But will it ever be rebuilt – physically, culturally, or symbolically?

The future of the city is uncertain, but I question the wisdom of rebuilding it in an area where the levees haven’t been improved. Climatologists are predicting increased ferocity in weather patterns in the near future. So rebuilding in this climate has to be undertaken with the utmost caution.

You’re talking planning, wisdom and compassion, so my humble guess is it will never be rebuilt.

Well, will it be rebuilt to my utopian vision? No. But it will be rebuilt to someone’s vision, and as such I think people need to keep a sharp focus on this process. We’ve been given an unprecedented opportunity here to look at our values, and the manner in which this rebuilding process is accomplished says something about the lives of every American. So people can hash out their ideas of American values until they’re red, white, blue in the face, but if they do not take a step back and realize this is the defining gesture of our lifetime, how we rebuild the Gulf Coast, then there is the risk it can be inevitably turned into a Mardi Gras theme park.

Really, what it comes down to is there’s something different about that place, and if we lose it, it will be a huge victory for homogenization.

Besides the public, or those who go to the Corpwatch web site, who is going to see this report?

The 20,000-word report is available with photographs online, in PDF format, and it’s also available as a pamphlet, the size of a magazine, which has been disseminated to most major media, and I believe it will be given to all congressional representatives. We are hoping to do a book, because, to my knowledge, CorpWatch is the only not-for-profit organization that has trailed Homeland Security’s spending since its inception. CorpWatch has written reports on spending in Afghanistan, Iraq, an alternative Halliburton report, and now this. All of it can be viewed on their site.

For more on the report and Rita J. King’s continued investigative journalism, please visit: ritajking.com

Part I: Corporate Lunacy in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina

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Conversation With Dan Bern On “Breathe”

Aquarian Weekly 9/13/06BUZZ

TENDING OXYGEN BAR WITH DAN BERN A Conversation On Reflection And Dissection In “Breathe”

Dan BernThe paradox of the desert landscape is ample enough proof of the ying/yang turmoil which fueled the songs on the new Dan Bern record, “Breathe”, an aptly titled homage to hope and regret, pain and promise, heart and bones.

Of course this is the place where these introspective compositions were born, where their composer strides comfortably to his daily tennis forays and mineral baths and bicycle sojourns to nowhere. Of course this is where the beat-up acoustic guitar leapt from the wall of Bern’s private artist bunker, strewn with soiled paint brushes, discarded beer cans and pistachio shells, the crackling of ancient Hank Williams crooning from the corner tape player placed carefully above the perpetually suspended game of Scrabble.

Of course.

Somewhere out in the badlands of New Mexico, beyond the endless horizon of sun-scorched rock and bending cacti, framed by mountain peaks painted with snow, in a town better suited as the back lot for a black and white John Ford epic, Bern fashioned his ode to middle-aged angst, soulful longing, and blunt observations on love, life, and the brokered faith of uncertain future. This, his sixth full-length studio recording, accompanied over the past decade by five ep’s, four books, and a continuous schedule of touring the world with or without a band, encapsulates the road-weary experience of a true American troubadour.

Joined by what Bern calls his “dream team” collection of musicians and helmed by legendary producer Chuck Plotkin, who not only steered Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen recordings home, but Bern’s masterpiece “New American Language” five years ago, the pleasing melodies of “Breathe” are cleverly couched in humble arrangements that ferry the poignantly ruthless lyrics as if easing the sting of medicine.

James Campion: I believe it was one of the last times you played in New York that you prefaced one of the songs that ended up on “Breathe” as a song that was born of your environment, of being home and immersed in the idea of being introspective, retrospective, and then looking forth from where you were in life, an exercise in reciting to yourself in song. So do you view “Breathe” as a collection of songs written in a place of comfort where you could exhale?

“Stop what you’re doing and breathe” is like the answers are there, the answers are inside, but you can’t keep going at this pace and expect to right the ship.

Dan Bern: Yeah, taking time away from the road, being here in the desert, looking at the sky, just trying to get healthy. It also came from a completely different approach to writing songs for me. I think in the past I’d always written what the writer wanted to write and then sang it accordingly. At some point I got it into my head that I was a singer, so I started writing for the singer. So a batch of songs like “Remember Me”, “Tongue-Tied” sort of came out that way, as if some singer walked in and you’re a songwriter and he wants something to sing. So you give him something he could actually sing.

Did you plot ahead how you wanted to record “Breathe”, or who would produce it or play on it? Or was it merely serendipity how it all came together?

I think it was as I was writing these songs and thinking about making a record. There became a kind of urgency with this stuff, particularly with the songs “Breathe” and “Past Belief”.

How so?

Well, it’s a message: “Stop what you’re doing and breathe.” It’s the return of the messiah; the return of the “Jerusalem” guy from the first record and this is what he has to say now…to the whole world. If I was to find myself in front of five billion people suddenly with three minutes to tell them something…

…that’s what you’d say: “Stop what you’re doing and breathe”?

Yeah, rather than some specific thing like “Fix this!” or “Do this!” or “Do this differently.”

“Stop what you’re doing and breathe” is like the answers are there, the answers are inside, but you can’t keep going at this pace and expect to right the ship.

It’s like in the past when I had something like “Bush Must Be Defeated”, it became an urgent thing, and something that I needed to get out right then and sort of get behind. This is the ’05 version of that, I suppose.

So the theme of the record might also be a way of responding back to the younger you, the messiah, and you’re now at this point, or the messiah is at this point, and you’re commenting from that perspective. This makes me wonder if all that time on the road stumping against Bush for close to a year in ’04, the blood and guts you displayed for something you truly believed in, and all the shows and the two ep’s you put out and everything you accomplished, and in some ways painfully failed to accomplish, lead to the voice of “Breathe”. Could you have written the songs on this record had you not gone through that experience?

Oh, probably not. Some of it was the result of being broken, and not so much broken…um…I really don’t feel like my spirit was broken, just that my body was broken. (laughs) It required me to sort of learn how to breathe and listen to my insides.

So it was certainly cathartic.

Dan BernOh yeah. It’s funny because everybody reacts to the new thing you do based on the thing you did before. When I did the overtly political stuff, people were surprised by it based on what I had just done prior to that. You know, “Why are you doing this, I don’t understand?” And now people will probably go, “Well, have you abandoned the political stuff?” To me this is in some ways also political, it’s just more personal too, which is really, I think, what I do. There’s the stuff that’s out there and then the personal stuff. To me it’s always intertwined. I don’t really make the distinction between the personal and the political. The political stuff is personal to me, and the personal stuff is political. So I don’t know if I’ll ever make a record again like this one, because I was in a very specific head space for these songs, but I think I needed to make this one.

It’s very interesting that the two songs that became the impetus for this new collection are polar opposites in many ways. There is a conflict there. “Breathe” is a hard look from the inside and “Past Belief”, with that great line, “I’m willing to go on faith, but I’m past belief” is the viewpoint of a man who is more cynical about the things outside of himself he cannot control.

I don’t know that “Breathe” is just about “listening to yourself” as it is about all the rhythms of the universe being in there. Through listening to yourself and being aware of your breathing and slowing it down will lead you back out. And “Past Belief” is basically all the stuff that’s out there – “water’s are rising and world’s on fire.” Things you can’t control. At the same time that leads you back into “right here-right now”, this kind of “What have I got to do to get a little shuteye?” (laughs) It is kind of like breathing; the in and the out. They kind of reflect off each other.

There’s a great deal of outside forces mentioned throughout the songs on “Breathe” like the rain and the wind and standing against it, not unlike dealing with much of what you cannot control sometimes…like politics, no matter how personal you make it.

Yeah, and it will break you if you try and fight some of the big forces. It’s like those trees that bend in the wind. They’re fine, but the ones that try and fight it are the ones that end up broken and lying in the ditch.

The irony of the whole thing is breathing is involuntary, yet it seems like a metaphor for being more in control of your immediate environment: “Just breathe already!”

It’s weird, because it’s a subtle thing. It’s not controlling your breathing so much as it is being aware of it and allowing it to work for you. I mean, by breathing through different parts of your body you can open up all those cells that sometimes get clenched without you ever being aware of it. I don’t want to sound too fruity with all of this, (laughs) but it is a pretty primal thing, and I think everybody at some point in their lives needs to get down to these basic things. Having said that, in the first song on the record, “Trudy”, let’s discuss this “escape route” you write about “from my life, from my time”.

Do you feel when you brush off the dust of the road and you’re back home and you’re forced to be introspective and more isolated you become this other person? The one that writes, “Just one push of this button over here/New clothes, new face/New name, vanish with no trace.”

“I think a few years ago it would have scared me to make a record like this. I would have squelched it, short-circuited it somehow. You know, ‘I’m Dan Bern, I’m supposed to write about pop culture, I’m supposed to mess around with images of Jesus and Elvis and Einstein. That’s what I do.’ But that’s as limiting as anything else.”

Oh yeah…yeah. There are times I definitely forget that I even go out on stage and play, and have this life beyond what most people know of me, especially in the past few years when I was having a lot of ambivalence about ever doing this anymore. Well…yeah…you and I have had these conversations where I told you “I’m done. I quit. I’m not doing this anymore”, so it became necessary that when I do have breaks to completely disassociate myself form that aspect of what I do.

Strangely, I think I’ve come through that. Check with me in six weeks, (laughs) but I don’t think I’ll quite have that difficult a time with that anymore. But, yeah, there is that thing where at times you need to do different things: paint, play tennis, ride a bike, and sort of get back to yourself the way you were when you were 12-years-old.

I think almost all of the songs on “Breathe” are about, in one way or another, defining one’s self or redefining one’s self. For instance, the line from “Feel Like A Man” – “I’m lost, crazy lonesome/a plane with no place to land/And I do what I have to/ to make me feel like a man.” To me it’s coming from a person who lets go of himself, and like the line says…does what he has to do.

Yeah, I think to get back to there…you have to let go. Getting that far away from that grip that we have on ourselves, feeling like we can maintain some control, and to really let yourself get blown around by the wind, you can never get back from that. You know, we’ve seen people raving in the streets and they don’t know who they are. That’s extreme, obviously, but we sometimes go through some version of that, and if we come out the other side, we’re better for it.

Is this the most introspective of all of your records?

I think a few years ago it would have scared me to make a record like this. I would have squelched it, short-circuited it somehow. You know, “I’m Dan Bern, I’m supposed to write about pop culture, I’m supposed to mess around with images of Jesus and Elvis and Einstein. That’s what I do.” But that’s as limiting as anything else. There was a time when that was freeing, but if that becomes your job description and doesn’t allow for anything else…? I mean the reason you’re an artist in the first place is so that you don’t have to conform to what you or anyone else decides your place in the world is.

Was this a fun record to make?

It was probably the easiest record to make that I ever made. It was just really congenial. I liked everybody. Everybody got along. It was done pretty quickly. I was living on the beach, swimming in the ocean every morning before we went into the studio. There’s probably something in the songs that didn’t want to be terribly messed over and over and over with. Most of these are first and second takes. Almost all of them were live vocals. I tried to redo them or improve them, but, almost without exception, the vocal I sang as the whole thing was going down is what seemed the most right for the thing.

Which is the complete polar opposite of the last record you recorded with Chuck Plotkin, “New American Language”, which is a brilliant record, my favorite of yours, but one that took a year or so to finish, and one you pained over, right?

Yeah. It was just a completely different process. That one we did in two different towns over a long period of time. Chuck wasn’t there for all of it. He’d come in two or three times for a few days, and I’d send him tapes and we’d talk, but it wasn’t a soup to nuts kind of process for him.

We just took it a tune at a time and shook out the arrangement. Then we’d record it. If there was something we did six or seven, eight, nine times, it was usually the first or second take that we ended up using.

You’ll be touring this record?

Yeah, but I don’t really know how to tour a record as such, because what happens is I write some songs, we go in and record them, and at some point you gotta say, “Okay, that’s done.” Then the next song you write is for the next record, but it continues. But I’ve never felt like I’m touring a record. It’s like, “I have a new record for this tour,” which is cool.

Do you see being on the road with the new material as the final snapshot of the recording experience? In other words, do you see a tour of this kind as a celebration of the complete experience or have you already entered a new headspace and left the work back in the studio?

Well, both, really. Because in some ways once its mixed and mastered, it’s done, and I’m working on other songs, but at the same time it’s part of the whole sphere surrounding the whole thing. So, yeah, it is kind of a celebration, and I probably will emphasize the songs on this record. And there is a way the record doesn’t quite feel complete until you’ve gone out and played it and given people a chance to hear it and talk about it, and go on the radio and play a few songs from it.

This way you can just let the songs speak for themselves.

Yeah, it’s like “You want to know about the record, then listen to it…and then you tell me.”

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Trouble With The North County News

Aquarian Weekly 9/6/06 REALITY CHECK

HOOLIGANS IN THE PRESS ROOM The Systematic Assassination of a Westchester Institution

Disturbing news trickled into the Reality Check News & Information Desk last week. A good friend and colleague of mine, and one of my sports editors during the early 90s, Ray Gallagher was unceremoniously sacked from the North County News. After 17 years of tireless efforts over countless hours of shedding significant light on athletes, coaches, programs, and schools in the Westchester, NY area, he was asked to leave with no warning or vacation or sick time earned.

The company reason?

The conflict of a second job working for the Putnam Valley Parks & Recreation Department, a post Gallagher has held with pride and care for the past five years. A job he takes seriously to help the kids he will cover in the coming years achieve their dreams in athletics, and one, let’s face it, he had to get to supplement the atrociously low compensation accompanying a hard-working local sports editor.

The real reason?

Perhaps the ultimate demise of the small town weekly to save a buck or sate an ego.

Whatever the reason, seems the razing of the staff with little-to-no compensation is more the norm than the exception at the North County News these days.

Be that as it may, this unconscionable crime against not only quality sports journalism, (NY State award winner for best weekly sports section 15 of the 17 years Gallagher helmed it) but the toil and sweat of a dedicated community hero cannot stand. In my many years in sports journalism – a despicable trade inhabited by sub-mental sops and sad-sack gambling addicts – I never met a writer with more integrity and guts than Ray. I was proud to work for him, know him, and most importantly, read him.

Gallagher’s struggles to help bring high school sports to Putnam County and the selfless campaign to help make the high school a reality and making sure all the area kids were well-equipped and respected in and around the varied sections should have garnered him a statue, instead of this apparent dime-store flim-flammery perpetuated by cheap hacks and scurrilous purveyors of yellow schmaltz.

So if destroying a wonderful newspaper like the North County News is the goal, than the powers that be are accomplishing their mission with dizzying speed. But if the goal is to improve content by stomping out the talent, then these people are even stupider than they appear.

Admittedly, I consider Ray a friend, and I tend to view most publishers and other literary vipers as mutating forms of a bilious disease oozing over the damaged organism known as journalism. So I’m biased. But then I set out to interview another former member of the NCN staff on an unrelated subject. Before resigning from the paper this week, uber-scribe Rita J. King backed up Gallagher’s allegations of megalomaniacal bullying performed by new publisher, Bruce Apar.

“Every publication has room for improvement, and when I found out a publisher had been hired, I looked forward to the changes that would take place,” King recalls. “But Bruce Apar’s treatment of the North County News staff, supported by the company’s management, was dehumanizing, and resulted in a round of immediate terminations and resignations.”

According to other reliable sources within the paper’s staff – many of whom either fear for their jobs or have since abandoned ship – Apar, along with general manager Carla Chase, appear to be systematically, if not clumsily, attempting to “drag the paper into the ground as some kind of write-off.”

“Someone should write about this,” one source told me last week. “Because this is really about the death of the hometown newspaper.”

Okay, so maybe the paper is taking a financial beating and needs to clean house. I understand this. Business is business. Sometimes a fine magazine or newspaper is trashed for the bottom line. I’m a big boy. Ray’s a big boy. But why refuse to pay the man his due or take the low road by not allowing Gallagher to say goodbye to many of his faithful readers or demand he return his laptop and camera equipment as if he were a common thief? And why did they remove his archives from their web site as if he never existed?

We don’t know, because several calls to the paper, and specifically Mr.Apar, have gone unanswered. But Apar is apparently only a symptom of a greater problem inside a once proud local institution. According to several former employees, the spate of staff harassment has been an inherent part of working for the NCN in recent years.

“The PR director relishes firing people,” a high-ranking official at the paper told me this week. “Apar isn’t doing anything they don’t support in Human Resources and at the top levels of the company.”

Does this include dumping employees on flimsy grounds and withholding benefits?

“I might have better understood their actions if they had been professional about it, but they were just plain mean spirited,” Gallagher told me this week. “My dismissal couldn’t have been on economic grounds; I increased the circulation of that newspaper by the thousands when I decided to expand the coverage area from six high schools to 14 from 1996 to 2000, despite an increased workload for my staff.”

King also felt the flak she endured was of dubious merit.

“Apar didn’t want to run one my columns because he found it too ‘self-referential,’ and he made it clear that all writers will follow his editorial philosophy,” King told me. “Yet the newspaper that week was full of his own self-references, including in the editorial section and in the form of two large photographs. With such contradictions riddling his ‘editorial philosophy’, it was impossible to know what was expected of us.”

After extensive discussions with several present and former employees of the paper a rather odious string of events began to emerge, not the least of which are the alleged demotions from full-time to part-time positions and/or the outright firing of employees to avoid providing their health benefits.

Again, despite numerous inquires on these allegations to the North County News management, nary a response.

But no response is necessary, right? They can do whatever they want. It’s their paper. If anything illegal or unethical has been done, one hopes action will be taken and reparations would be in order. Otherwise you can make up any old reason to drop someone. No one is owed anything. No one is entitled to be treated fairly. Fairness is illusion. Lord knows I’ve earned a living in this miserable vocation long enough to realize that.

But if the business is news, and the enterprise is a media outlet, whether the NY Times or a hometown weekly, than the public needs to know how the business is being run. The public needs to know that the reporters, columnists, and photographers who work the community to the best of their ability are being treated shoddily and that the quality of the coverage and writing is taking a backseat to cutting costs or some base form of insane egomania.

So if destroying a wonderful newspaper like the North County News is the goal, than the powers that be are accomplishing their mission with dizzying speed. But if the goal is to improve content by stomping out the talent, then these people are even stupider than they appear. And that’s the problem with management types, they think they’re the paper because they sign the checks or make the rules. But there isn’t a publishing cretin on this planet that could turn a phrase or cover a story or capture an opinion with all the hissy office tantrums in the world – not without a dedicated staff.

I say let the NCN crumble. It wouldn’t be the first time the ham-fisted wannabees wrecked a good thing, and it won’t be the last.

Ray Gallagher may be out of a gig for now, but he’s still the best damn sportswriter in Westchester County. He just does it now from his new web site, www.yourdirectrays.com or a competing newspaper soon, instead of a doomed rag run by low-rent goons.

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Middle East Solutions

Aquarian Weekly 8/23/06 REALITY CHECK

Niftier Than Cease Fires & Other Running Jokes

IDF in LebanonIf only Abraham had kept his cock in his pants.

Be that as it may, God’s starting quarterback screwed up. Since then it’s been a mess.

But fear not, unlike Amorous Abe or our faulty Supreme Being, I have a grip on this idiocy called The Promised Land, and I aim to finally impart it. It will not be pleasant, and it will certainly not adhere to any normal but previously failed policy or philosophy. However, it is the only solution to bring about a lasting peace to a region torn asunder by cultural and religious madness for centuries – long before there was a United States, and, in fact, long before anyone labeled European could amble erect.

The first phase of our solution begins with ceasing this United Nations shit. The UN is completely inept and wholly corrupt. The best thing the UN can do is disband. Then it can get the hell out of NYC before someone gets seriously hurt. No one wants to hear from the UN on cease fires when it passes all these apparently innocuous resolutions, like the one they passed over a dozen times on Saddam Hussein, the impotence of which gave him the balls to start expanding his nonsense to Kuwait and got us involved. Once that happened, there was no way we could escape having to eventually oust him, which then morphed into a tainted brand of Nation Building 101, and we all know how that’s turning out.

Every time someone from the UN starts yammering at Israel to calm down or implores the latest band of marauders to back down someone from Israel retorts by pointing to a toothless UN resolution. The UN likes to bark, but has nothing approaching a serviceable bite. It is as useless as a drug-free American cyclist or Mel Gibson’s AA sponsor.

This brings us to the United States and their white-noise president. Please. No more speeches from George W. Bush on freedom and democracy. After five years it is beyond funny and has successfully trumped pathetic. It has now reached the rank of sad, like our Boy President’s “Islamic fascist” comment, which makes as much sense as any number of mumbled declamatory claptrap this guy’s offered for the past six years. And sadder still is the robotic Condoleezza Rice, who has contradicted herself so many times over the past 18 months I’m pretty sure ESPN will hire her.

Let’s see if this is an exercise in international chest beating by Iran, or if it really wants the obliteration of western efforts and Israel as a working entity in Allah’s backyard. Why not? This is what they want.

We need to stay out of this one. Really. I know we bankroll the damn IDF and I know we have billions invested in these oil fields and refining centers, but we have proved pretty convincingly now for half a century we do not know how to wage war anymore, especially a war against guerilla factions from cultures we know nothing about, like Korea or Viet Nam, and now crazy Islamic extremists. Enough of our Bungling Giant routine, let the more experienced handle it.

And what about this goofy dilettante crap citing democracy as being a roadmap to peace? Our friend Tucker Carlson rightfully pointed out the other day, as did Washington Post columnist, Jefferson Morley in March of 2005 and yours truly a month earlier, that terrorist champion Hamas was elected in Palestine, as was Hezbollah to prominent positions in the Lebanese government. Some 85% of Lebanese support Hezbollah, which openly ran a campaign with “a call for the destruction of the state of Israel.” Hoorah for democracy!

This brings us to Israel, which has miraculously existed for over half a century, despite a half dozen or so wars, a million skirmishes, bomb and missile attacks, terrorist activities, etc. A good portion of its neighbors, at least those who have the guts to go on record, pretty much pray, plan, and even attempt to execute this aforementioned “destruction of” every day. It is no secret: Everyone in the region, whether Christian, Muslim or Hebrew understand this as fact.

Sure, sometimes there is muted diplomacy-speak about giving this stretch of sand back or bowing to a religious superstition, but mostly it has always been, and will always be an Us or Them proposition: An End of Times Biblical Massacre worthy of King David or the Implosion of Jericho or the systematic murder of Egyptian children. Oh, it’s way beyond the meager notions of politics or intellect or humanity.

So now that we have eliminated the amateurs and newcomers to this blood feud and sufficiently pinpointed motivations, we are left with the Arabs and the Jews, specifically Islam vs. Judaism, or Abe’s little mistakes. Order all the cease-fires you want. We’re still left with the sovereignty of Israel and the promise of a Holy Land. That’s all we’ve ever had here, fans. Face it. Hezbollah wants to wipe out Israel and the Jews. The IDF wants to gut, disarm, and annihilate those who point the finger of violence at it.

I say let it rip.


See how far all the threats and rhetoric can go. Let’s see if this is an exercise in international chest beating by Iran, or if it really wants the obliteration of western efforts and Israel as a working entity in Allah’s backyard. Why not? This is what they want. This is true freedom in action. It is their free will, not ours and not the UN’s, but their free will, and even the shortsighted Yahweh has some idea about that concept.

The finality of real peace sometimes takes an addition by subtraction. It is harsh. It is cold. But it is authentic. Not like all the usual bullshit we hear from every corner of this globe, and have heard for a long, long time. Peace often happens after one side is gone, like the Carthaginians at Himera, or the French at Waterloo, or the Germans at Leningrad or the Japanese at Hiroshima.

The bleeding hearts and neo-cons do a great deal of sanctimonious grandstanding and pointless pontificating on the subject of the Middle East, about oil and peace and God and children and civilians, but we don’t really believe it, because if we did, we’d let them be free to enact all this stuff they incessantly yammer on about. It is what they want.

The innocent? Enough of these people have had time to contemplate if they actually want an End of Times or not, and as far as I can see they have chosen to hang around with the crazies, and therefore they’ve played their innocence card, and unfortunately, they are dragging their poor children down with them.

Hey, people make mistakes with children all the time.

God did with Abraham.

Abraham sure did with his.

Check tonight’s news for the results.

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Aquarian Weekly 8/16/06 REALITY CHECK

THE LIEBERMAN EXPERIMENT How The Vanquished Shall Inherit Independence

Joseph LiebermanJoseph Lieberman could be the most important name in American politics since Thomas Jefferson. His inspired bailout on the Democratic Party for an independent run for senator from Connecticut, if successful, might just begin to erode the two-party monopoly that has heretofore damaged our delicate hold on democracy for over 100 years.

Think I’m being too dramatic? Really? Check this out, Jack.

Unless you’ve been hermetically sealed for the past decade this whole two-party thing has reached a polarized critical mass. The usual black and white nonsense pitched by liberal to conservative agendas has never been more embedded, leaving a proving ground for militants and goofballs the likes of which no free society could survive.

In many ways it has become absurd, and more so, dangerous, as it has rendered candidates for either the Democratic or Republican parties hostage to many social, cultural and/or fiduciary issues that command the party line. All this slaking the extreme right or left wings of said parties has made plastic tools of politicians and reduced the vagaries of debate and voter confidence to a dense morass of “us vs. them”. And although this works in the odd theocracy or fraternity kegger, it is hardly a sober guideline for governance.

Enter our hero.

Joseph Lieberman, fresh from a humiliating party horsewhipping for the past months, is going to ignore his defeat as a Democrat and run for senate as an independent. It is this observer’s opinion that he will win, and when he does there will be a minor tremor in Washington politics, that may, if there is an ounce of justice and progress and true intelligence in the design of this republic, escalate into a full-scale quake that rocks the foundation of this partisan stalemate on free thought within our currently cracked system.

Lieberman, independent, free to offer an alternative to “one way or the highway” can actually live or die on the grounds of his own beliefs, however brilliant or abhorrent they may be. The voter choice will be for a single voice and not the collective. The fog cleared, the din abated.

Lieberman, independent, free to offer an alternative to “one way or the highway” can actually live or die on the grounds of his own beliefs, however brilliant or abhorrent they may be.

Oh, it’s a long shot, but dreams die hard here at The Desk. Twenty-four years of independent voting, ranting, arguing, and literary bitching could render a serviceable pay-off after all.

To wit:

Lieberman gives the Democrats the finger. He becomes an independent candidate, runs on his own platform that is judged merely by its “independent” ideas and goals, and not that of some odious conglomerate pushed by party heads and special interest fops, and wins going away. Other party pariah’s who dare think outside the agenda of both parties copycat the revolutionary concept of “thinking for one’s self outside the shackles of black and white resolve”. Candidates once again represent the people through their own devices, and not that of blind allegiance to a one-note dirge. Parties suffer. Freedom wins. Everyone wins, because everyone will want a piece of the pie.

That’s what winning does, it breeds imitation.

Politics is not unlike professional football. Whatever scheme makes good every other team and coaching staff is running to repeat it. Every so often there is a maverick, and if he hits the jackpot with victories, soon the pack will follow. Doesn’t always work out in every individual case, but the sport is revived anew. That is how we see this Lieberman Experiment, but only if it succeeds.

So it absolutely must succeed.

Lieberman was jobbed from the beginning. The Democrats have talking points that begin with bashing the Iraq War, which opposes nicely the stupidity of the Republicans race to ignore it. However, Lieberman has stood by his conviction that the war, however mishandled and junked, was necessary. Unlike fellow Democrats who voted for it (the comedy team of John’s Edwards and Kerry) Lieberman is staying the course. It may be shortsighted and political suicidal for an opposing party member to back a fantastically unpopular president and his mounting folly, but to his credit Lieberman is consistent. This got him the boot.

Lieberman’s defeat in last Tuesday’s Democratic primary to his entertainingly loquacious challenger Ned Lamont, the perfect party dupe, was a measly six percentage points, or roughly 100,000 votes. These are votes easily made up by independents and moderate republicans disgusted with right wing screw-ups, but fearful of pie-in-the-sky revisionists. The question is will these people see this as an historical imperative or a sore loser’s attempt at vengeance. The answer, I believe, will echo loudly against the two-party lethargy, which trumps this “throw the bums out” ripple against incumbents everywhere.

Also, Lieberman can win because he’s been entrenched in his position since 1988, and as is New England’s political wont, there’s always room for the “same old”. He has a rich history of incumbent crushes on his side. These people love to keep the boys coming back for more, regardless of bad behavior, scandal, or just about anything – see Ted Kennedy for the best example. Lieberman’s loss made him only the fourth incumbent senator to lose a primary since 1980. This bodes well for his name being on a ballot come November.

In conclusion, it will be nearly impossible for Lieberman to lose, unless there is some underhanded political chicanery, which there most certainly will be, but that cannot derail him. His corny “Team Connecticut” campaign must focus on a rally for new horizons and blazing trails and all that rah-rah poop, and not any goofy pictures of him tonguing the president.

Look, I don’t like Joseph Lieberman. I despise his sanctimonious moralizing most of all. Not the point. And maybe he truly is a sore loser trying to change rules to benefit his own gain. Hell, that’s fine. Whatever it takes. There was a whole lot of changing the rules for personal gain going on in Philadelphia in 1776. Fairly sure I dislike half of those jokers. The results were pretty good, though.

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Mideast Crisis Dissected Soberly

Aquarian Weekly 8/2/06 REALITY CHECK

DOGPILE ON THE LOONS Al-Qaeda Gets On Board The Crazy Express

It is a jihad for the sake of God and will last until our religion prevails … from Spain to Iraq, we will attack everywhere. – Ayman al-Zawahri

Ayman al-Zawahri Yada. Yada. Yada.

The above statement was uttered from another pathetic sack of shit from another “secret remote location” somewhere in the desert. Another in a tired series of “Notice Me!” nonsensical prattle from displaced mutants streamed over Al-Jazeera television. “Coming up next after ‘Camel Races from Qatar’ another anti-Semitic rant from your friends at al-Qaeda! Take it away, Skip!” – “Tyrannical Western Civilization! Blessed Allah! Death! Vengeance! Holy this! Sacred that! Blah. Blah. Blah.” Retread. Cry wolf. Really sad.

The latest grainy and haunting video of a riled-up Ayman al-Zawahri comes complete with images of the World Trade Center burning and a portrait of Mohammed Atef hanging dramatically behind him. Trouble is Atef has been dead since November of 2001, and well, 9/11 was a few months prior to that and nearly five years ago now. I’m no trend-spotter and I rarely check the pop culture meter to see what’s hot and what’s not, but seems to me like we have ourselves a washed-up entity trying desperately to hone in on the new hot commodity: Hezbollah.

Let’s face it; al-Qaeda has a little David Lee Roth thing going on.

Much to the chagrin of the bin Laden clan, Hezbollah is front-page news right now. They have managed something the PLO, Hamas, and even their own hate-mongering coffee klatch could not accomplish – wake the sleeping lion Israel. That had to raise the collective ire over in the caves of Afghanistan: “We’re the baddest! We’re the tops on the terrorist hit list! Remember Spain? Remember London? What about 9/11? Look over here! Despise us! Shower us with fear!”

This is the fatal flaw in being a revolutionary; you have to matter. You have to be in the spotlight. It’s over for al Qaeda. They had their time. No one wants to hear from Ayman al-Zawahri anymore than they want to “Get Jiggy”. It’s over. Time to hate someone who matters.

Okay, so now, predictably, al-Qaeda has thrown its turban into the ring over this IDF kill-fest. Why not? Anytime anything happens anywhere in the terrorist realm they take credit. We even talk about this has-been clique as if it is still a threat, in and of itself. Truth is al-Qaeda is so 2001. Give it up. The whole thing reminds me of Britney Spears, who was at her nubile jail-bate best in ’01, and is now an ebony-quaffed pregnant white-trash harpy.

These guys cling to 9/11 as some kind of super-victory. C’mon already, 9/11 was a half-decade ago. Sarah Silverman is even goofing on it now: “American Airlines should advertise they were ‘first through the towers’.” If it weren’t for the Bush Administration or Ann Coulter it would be ancient history by now. This reminds me of driving down Northern Blvd. in 1993 and seeing an aging sign celebrating the 1986 Mets. Enough already. Let’s see some action and less yapping from these idiots.

What have you done to us lately?

“Stand with Muslims in confronting this unprecedented oppression and tyranny,” al-Zawahri continued. “Stand with us as we stand with you against this injustice that was forbidden by God in his book.”

Notice the desperate cry for attention to cash in, connect his merry band of yesterday’s news with the current crisis: “Stand with Muslims?” “Stand with us?”

Muslims = Us. This is akin to the Jerry Falwells of the world talking about their voodoo shit as if their myopic fantasies gel with the rest of Christendom.

This is the fatal flaw in being a revolutionary; you have to matter. You have to be in the spotlight. It’s over for al Qaeda. They had their time. No one wants to hear from Ayman al-Zawahri anymore than they want to “Get Jiggy”. It’s over. Time to hate someone who matters.

Now Al Jazeera is another kettle of trout. They are a happening media event right now. Go where the action is, that’s what I say.

To that end I recently contacted the advertising department of the station through Allied Media, which makes a pretty convincing argument about placing your ad campaign in their hands: “Al Jazeera is the largest and most controversial Arabic News Channel in the Middle East, offering news coverage 24 hours a day from around the world and focusing on the hottest regions of conflict. With programming focusing primarily on news coverage and analysis, the station has earned the loyalty of a large audience. It has also earned the enmity of various critics who argue that Al Jazeera is overly sensational, with a bent on showing bloody footage from war zones as well as giving coverage to violent groups. Criticism from varied governments has helped the channel garner credibility from an audience that is used to government-imposed censorship and biased coverage.”

Hottest regions of conflict! Excellent. The spirit of fighting censorship has always been something of a lifestyle for me. Al Jazeera turns negative publicity into gold! It’s like the new Eminem, who has also gone the way of spandex and Rubik’s Cube. Not to mention the ability to reach 40 million radicals in the Arab world and 175,000 in the U.S. alone.

So after a lengthy discussion with a Mr. M. Saout – he never did reveal what the M stands for – on my repeated failures with working within and without the vagaries of the publishing industry and the continued fuck-ups of my current distributor/publisher, Airleaf and the Phenix & Phenix Publicity troupe, I pitched the idea of plugging my next book to radical Muslims and funding a documentary on the primacy of Moses in the history of the Holy Land and why Islam is pretty much an hilariously formulated hoax.

Surprisingly, he was not receptive. Reminded me of my battles with Simon & Schuster ten years ago. He even used the same response: “This will not fly here.”

Therefore I urge all of my readers to pitch your own brand of entertainment to Al Jazeera now. You can reach Allied Media in Alexandria, VA at (703) 333 2008, or e-mail them now at aljazeera-tv@allied-media.com.

Just don’t suggest any of the following. They have all already been forcefully rejected:

The Mohammad Variety & Laff Hour

Stripping – Women out of their burkas and into your heart

The Osama Corpse Cam

Good Morning What’s Left of Beirut!

Celestial Virgins Are Overrated

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Robert Novak & Journalistic Ethics

Aquarian Weekly 7/19/06 REALITY CHECK

UNRELIABLE SOURCES How Two Bobs Are Killing The Free Press

Robert NovakIn the long, steady stream of crumbling credibility surrounding this god-forsaken Valerie Plame outing case, syndicated columnist Robert Novak released the names of his confidential sources this week, or at least the confirming sources in the 2003 story that lead to this mayhem in the first place. Nobody is surprised at the revealing of Karl Rove, who, unfortunately, is not going to prison, and nobody beyond the most insufferable Beltway nerds have any clue who Bill Harlow – a purported spokesman for the CIA, which is a contradiction in terms anyway – is. But neither name is important here, nor is the identity of the original source. Here we only, finally, discuss the concept and importance of protecting confidential sources to the power and priority of a free press, the penultimate blockade in our 230 year-old experiment in democracy.

Novak, along with celebrity journalist and a hero of anyone who has done this job for five minutes, Bob Woodward, who, in recent decades since toppling Tricky Dick, has morphed into a celebrity political slut, have sold out one of the most sacred tenets of this profession: Do Not Reveal Sources.

This atrocity comes on the heals of last year’s jailing of journalists Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper for attempting to protect sources, an incident which brought to the surface over a dozen cases across the country in the past 24 months of accredited journalists subpoenaed in federal cases and forced to reveal confidential or background sources under the threat of prison.

Nobody loves to bash the mainstream media more than me, and God knows I have been unkind in this space to my chosen profession, or part-time profession now, or whatever it is you might call what we do here; but if the press is going to be this weak, then batten down the hatches, we’re officially living in a fascist state.

Then we have this asinine argument two weeks ago that the NY Times should sit on the electronic spying of bank records, as if the public has no right to know that federal agencies are tapping into private accounts. You can certainly argue social responsibility or timing or even the age-old national security issue (see Berlin, 1933 for details) but you cannot argue rights. It’s nuts. It’s stupid. And folks, unless you have yet to visit the most rudimentary civics class, it’s unconstitutional.

But enough Basic American History and Journalism 101. Back to Novak and Woodward.

Last year Woodward barbed and winced and then apologized for a similar story he penned on the Plame affair, going as far as engaging in childish schoolyard antics, by telling everyone the aforementioned secret source spoke to him first. Jeez. Bully for him. However, through all this weeping, back-biting, and sickening consolation, we get the name of former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who has repeatedly offered a telling “no comment”, which means he is, of course, the primary source.

So I guess it’s too bad for Armitage. Simply because he entered into a sacred agreement that he provide information for a story, regardless of whether anyone thinks the story pertinent, politically motivated vengeance, or nonsense, he has to scramble and eat shit. This is, in journalistic parlance, an abomination, not unlike what normally fills the space of this column weekly. But I digress.

Listen, if Armitage wants to reveal his identity, this is his right. But he should not be forced out, not by special prosecutors or publicity-starved journalists, or anyone at any time. It is foremost Armitage’s right to privacy being infringed upon, but it is also the right of a free press to gather information for an important story and not selling out their primary sources to do so that is the most heinous element to this mess.

I don’t care who’s guilty in all this Plame case. That’s Plame’s problem. I’m sure everyone is guilty. Maybe Scooter Libby will be the scapegoat. Maybe not. Maybe his “I’m a nutso Alzheimer’s victim” defense will fly. Not sure. Don’t care. Not anymore. Politics is ugly and war is hell. Plame is a small causality compared to the thousands of people either dead or maimed in the past three years. What I do care about, as should you, is that a sad majority of the national press in this country is chucking the final remnants of investigative journalism into the scrap heap: The Deep Background Off-The-Record Source.

I’ll tell you one thing, if I had the goods on an important story to impart, I would go nowhere near Novak or Woodward. I don’t give half a fart how long these geezers have been pounding the trail. They cannot be trusted. But who can be trusted? Ah, good one.

So it should be considered an outrage for anyone who celebrates freedom as bestowed upon us through bloody revolt, raging debate, and countless speeches from rich white guys that the supposed free press can be bullied this way. I have had enough of this bullshit. Nobody loves to bash the mainstream media more than me, and God knows I have been unkind in this space to my chosen profession, or part-time profession now, or whatever it is you might call what we do here; but if the press is going to be this weak, then batten down the hatches, we’re officially living in a fascist state.

Christ, I have been one of the saner voices in the wilderness over the pasty years when all of my radical and left wing pals begged me to compare this government to Nazis or scream about baby killers in Iraq. I have stayed out of that arena. I choose to sling arrows from a more logical point – in the middle. But I will not sit around and watch tired incontinent hacks like Novak or prima donnas like Woodward piss all over the immutable right and duty of journalists to protect sources, no matter what.

The bidding on the identity of Georgetown begins now.

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Warren Buffet For Sainthood

Aquarian Weekly 7/5/06 REALITY CHECK


Saint WarrenWhile on the book tour for “Trailing Jesus” three years ago, I was asked time and again how the heck did we get from a murdered Jewish mystic to the massive scope of Christianity, Jerry Falwell, George W. Bush, etc. It was a fair question, one that unfortunately my book does not cover. But I was able to answer a small part of the query by confidently stating that if there is one aspect of the first century Jesus Movement which could be translated to any time and any place it would be charity, sharing, and a complete disregard for personal possessions for the good of the whole community. Many people took that as some kind of political testimonial, like Jesus was some kind of socialist. But that was never it for Jesus, and anyone who claims to act or speak or cull his name in deed and promise need to know one thing: You cannot ignore the idea of chucking riches for the good of your fellow human.

The rest of it is really just a song and a dance or a wafer and a pulpit – uniforms and glad-handing myopia, and nothing really to do with what a preponderance of Christian mouthpieces like to call The Word.

Sorry folks. It is well documented. Far more documented than this pogrom against homosexuality or defining marriage or saving the world with war or damning the sinners or holding up holy relics like Mohammad’s visage or the celebration of Christmas as life preservers of society. Camel through the needle’s eye. It’s all there in black & white. Good to go. Easy to follow.

No one does, of course – least of all me, who charges a healthy 18 bucks for my little tome. But you don’t see me wagging an accusatory finger at the moral fabric either. I know I’m a self-centered ass just like everyone else.

Look, nobody with half a brain is going to give away all of their stuff to homeless, sick, indigents on a lark. It’s insane, which is why, among other prominent reasons, they strung Jesus up in the first place. And, of course, if you’ve read a word of this space for the past nine years, you know that you have a cynic on your hands here. I think the best way to go through life is let the other guy worry about it. Chances are “the other guy” is trying to screw you anyway.

In the world we live in right now, and considering the art form of the stock prognosticator and what money, big money, means to people like Warren Buffet, this is Mother Teresa meets Gandhi meets the Loaves and the Fishes.

But then there is the whole “Love your neighbor as yourself” and/or “Love your enemy” stuff that gets in the way of all this Christianity. Dig?

So when I first heard of billionaire stock guru, Warren Buffett handing over the miraculous sum of $37 billion to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, doubling their pot, I was reminded of the two-thousand year old Galilean loon and his small attempt to move the notion of humanity.

And I do not use the word miraculous flippantly. On the contrary, this is a friggin’ miracle. No matter how you slice it. Especially since it is all the rage among philanthropists to mumble under their collective breath about the evil white corporate stock market greed-heads, who carve up the world in a salacious gentlemen’s criminal syndicate. And let’s be clear here, we’re not just talking about nations throwing money at disasters and human rights atrocities or We Are The World publicity parades. This is the greatest show of charity in the history of this country, or any country for that matter.

In the world we live in right now, and considering the art form of the stock prognosticator and what money, big money, means to people like Warren Buffet, this is Mother Teresa meets Gandhi meets the Loaves and the Fishes.

Last week, Buffet made good on a promise to hand over the bulk of his fortune to charity upon his death, only he did it on the heels of his beloved wife’s death. Of his $44 billion, he let go of $37 billion.

And not even my bitching heart can mock someone this generous by saying, “Hey, he has seven billion left.” Sure, but again I tell you: You do not accrue $44 billion dollars by letting even a lousy two bucks get away. It’s the financial equivalent of you chopping off a finger. This man just lopped off every limb, and then some. And never mind the money, if you can ignore this gluttonous figure, because it may just be the act that makes all the difference. For, as stated time and again in this space, and a subject that is often mistaken for doomsayer satirical trickery, I state that although religious theocracy, political philosophy, or other tired forms of human meandering, is all well and good, the only way to shake the foundation of the human collective, the heart of our species, is through personal sacrifice and selfless citizenship. No organized faith or government’s military action, no president, or celebrity, or even grass roots movement is going to make a dent in society like a person making good.

Attach that bit of twisted wisdom with the fact that this column is normally a running commentary on what motivates the great horde of bipedaldom: Cash. Moolah. Greenbacks. Deneri. Sweet, sweet coin, and you got yourself one impressed son of a bitch here.

Hey, this is the landscape we roam. We like to think it is a world run by God, compassion, empathy, and a yearn to be free. We like to think we fight for these concepts and the other guy fights for some bizarre notion of Allah, but we all know it’s about Mighty Mammon. We know what makes this spinning rock go ’round: Money, Money Money.

So now the second richest guy in the world gives nearly all of his money to the richest guy in the world’s own charitable institution: Bill Gates, who recently retired to spend the rest of his days running the organization and making sure the money doesn’t end up in the coffers of some sham artists or a black hole of red tape, but in the hospitals, villages, and bank accounts of needy organizations and persons with so much less.

It’s good stuff. Great stuff. And, as we know, this is a rarity around here or anywhere.

So here’s a note to all those who claim to know “What would Jesus do?”

Check with Warren Buffet, and not some Bible waving idiot for the lowdown.

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