Economic Stimulus Package Crapolla

Aquarian Weekly 5/14/03 REALITY CHECK

VICTORY MANDATE & OTHER SILLY CLAIMS

It is important to point out at this juncture that anyone taking political bows for the systematic dismantling of a third world nation by the most powerful and expensive fighting machine on the planet should be exposed for the opportunistic spin jockeys they aspire to be, and eventually held accountable for whatever weapons are not discovered within the borders of Iraq over the next calendar year.

In the coming weeks you are going to hear a lot of talk from men in ties and women in suits taking credit for a fixed military campaign that was never in doubt. It has already begun. It is disingenuous. It is grandstanding. And it is expected. But it has nothing to do with truth or this pitiful economy or your precarious job as a result of it.

It has everything to do with no mandate regarding domestic concerns, which has been the real quagmire around here.

Using the war or the fallout from 9/11 can only go so far for this current administration or the congress it helped form. It is time for the current government to take political responsibility for its abysmal economic record.

Crushing foreign regimes with wretchedly out of date equipment and a weak-ass, mostly guerilla army does not a mandate make.

Ask the first Bush who tried that.

And while millions of our tax dollars goes to rebuilding Iraq and appeasing allies and keeping the military police running things in the Middle East, and the red, white and blue bulldozer that heaves endless funds into the money pit known as Homeland Security, the financial solvency of the United States of America and its citizens is in serious question.

You also hear a great deal of back-tracking talk from political hopefuls in 2004 that want you to believe that although they were vehemently and vocally against the war, they were always for the troops and the civil rights of Iraqis. That will also be bullshit.

This will be mixed with talk about how the war, although so far not producing the big-gun villains like Saddam or his brothers, or any Weapons of Mass Destruction, was really about human rights and freeing Iraqis. As stated so many times in this space that it boggles reason, this is a fine example of bullshit’s better half, horseshit. When someone does something about China’s record human rights abuses I’ll believe them, until then shut the fuck up about human rights.

The truth is the military campaign in Iraq was long overdue and probably not completely necessary from a foreign policy standpoint. Could the money and time and lives sacrificed have been better served by a well-designed covert black ops mission, a CIA assassination, fancy coup de tat, or waiting another month for the world to rally the weapons inspectors?

Perhaps, but this is a new world and the constant rhetoric by terrorists that used to laugh at the sleeping giant that was too moral and too conservative to try anything like what went down this spring has ceased. Only a loud public stomping of that kind of magnitude would accomplish this.

And although those lucky enough to be living in fantasyland may see loud public stompings as abhorrent, regardless of what your definition of patriot is these days, they are sometimes good. Those of us forced to comment on the stinking, rotten mess of the real world see the odd stomping differently.

In the long run having Hussein out of the Middle East will settle a few key ingredients for the protection of financial and military allies like Israel, not to mention the billions of other funds funneled into Middle Eastern countries, and the all-important US oil concerns. Again, this is good, unless you use energy alternatives to oil, which unfortunately most of us do not. But it has nothing, let me repeat; not little or hardly, but NOTHING to do with how this county will survive this year or the next with an outrageously bloating national debt, soaring record numbers of unemployed and a frighteningly unstable stock market.

Using the war or the fallout from 9/11 can only go so far for this current administration or the congress it helped form. It is time for the current government to take political responsibility for its abysmal economic record.

I have no space or inclination to start throwing figures out there. They range from whomever you choose to receive them from, but none of them are good. Now the president campaigns for another tax cut package, mainly because his war was successful. Yes, well, that is a ducky reason, even amusing, but glaringly asinine and spurious, and in some circles, plain silly, even for George W. Bush.

Hey, I want a tax cut. Sounds good. Pay fewer taxes. Only here’s the problem. This administration received their rather healthy tax cut a few years back. Things have not turned out well. Actually things are friggin’ bad. Really bad. Historically, painfully, sickeningly bad.

Bad.

Sears screwed me lately. I don’t buy anything at Sears anymore.

Get the analogy?

Once again, as pointed out here in the past, the economy usually has little to nothing to do with stimulus packages trumped up by the executive branch or bills bouncing around capital hill, or even Allen Greenspan tantrums. Just like not one of these blathering suits brandished a weapon in the desert last month. But this latest political football fallout from the War on Iraq kicking around Washington and into our living rooms on cable news outlets is getting into the blurry images political strategists dig. They love it when that happens. They love to tell you that since the president commandeered the war and it ended in victory, then hi-hip-hooray for tax cuts!

By that reasoning the heavyweight champion of the world should be appointed Queen of England.

Or something like that.

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Ani DiFranco In Bloom

Aquarian Weekly 5/12/03 REALITY CHECK

ANI DIFRANCO IN BLOOM
A Candid Discussion on Political Change, Gay Marriage, Jesus, and Personal Exorcism With Buffalo’s Finest

Ani DiFrancohow can one talk on the role of politics in art when art is activism and anyway both are just a lifelong light shining through a swinging prism

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Since our last published discussion two springs ago, my favorite folk gal has been through some dark times and personal reflection, while also managing to shoulder more social causes than any normal musical performer. Ani Difranco puts her passion where her music and soul reside, and does so under the microscope of the liberated and angry (she hates that) young woman artist thing. Her projects and efforts to restore and preserve her hometown in Buffalo, her overt national political endeavors and women’s rights engagements are inexhaustible, and to this grouchy cynic, enviable. Somehow she always finds her way into a studio and onto stages to perform her ass off.

On the heels of her latest record, the probingly intense, “Educated Guess” and a new one-woman tour hitting Carnegie Hall on 5/15, Ms. Difranco decided to open up in her only east coast interview this spring.

This is what transpires when two diminutive, big-mouthed Virgo troublemakers get together.

james campion: The last time we did this you had a very positive view of grass roots politics and how it can still engender change. So, after two more years of the present administration, another war in Iraq, the Patriot Act, and everything else that’s happened since the spring of 2002, I wonder what your mood is today toward the American political scene.

Ani DiFranco: I’m still very optimistic for the potential of grass roots change. I still see and feel it out there. It’s what allows me to get up in the morning, the immense possibility that exists all around us right now. I was hanging out with my friend Dennis Kucinich the other night, and he’s so energetic and so brilliant and so positive. At one point he runs across the room and slams his hands against the wall and says, “Some people see a wall here, but in between each one of these molecules there’s a whole other reality! It’s something we can’t see or what we can see if we collectively envision it. If we draw it out. There’s another reality existing around us right now.” So we admitted that we don’t need to change the world. The world is changing around us. We just need to direct that change. And our power to direct it is immense once we use it.

jc: I was going to ask you about Kucinich and exactly how he represents the political side of your worldview. You backed his run during the democratic primary. Of course, Kerry is going to represent the party now, but certainly others like Kucinich and Howard Dean have given voice to the anti-war movement and other liberal agendas. Having said that I know you supported the last Ralph Nader campaign in 2000. I gave up on Ralph in ’96, myself. So I must ask where you stand on Kerry, and will you throw your considerable influence to Nader in the upcoming election?

“We don’t need to change the world. The world is changing around us. We just need to direct that change. And our power to direct it is immense once we use it.”

AD: (chuckling sarcastically) Ahhhh, no. My support four years ago for Nader was very qualified. I showed up for one of his rallies in New York with a press release in my little paw that said I support voting for him in the done-deal states, but in the swing states I felt very strongly about the priority being voting against Bush.

jc: No kidding.

AD: Yeah, that was my scene at the time. Somewhere along the way during those primaries somebody asked me, “Who do you think is the best candidate?” And I said, “Well…Nader. He’s got his head screwed tightest onto his shoulders. He has the best ideas.” So he sort of used that as an endorsement.

jc: So he never officially solicited your endorsement.

AD: Ralph called me up, personally, and said, “You know every time I say your name up on stage at a rally I get the biggest response.” He said, ” You gotta come out, Ani! You gotta come out!” And I told him, “Ralph, this is a very complicated situation.” But I was very impressed with the fact that he still wanted me to participate in the rally in New York with my qualified support. I even stood there at the press conference and said that I believe voting with my conscience means the lesser of two evils, because my conscience includes people less fortunate and more affected by these minute distinctions of corporate whores like Gore or Bush. Then, of course, along with a number of other people I was disappointed at the way Nader played that out, and the way he seems to be repeating that scenario now. Meanwhile, Dennis is still in the race.

jc: I’m glad you mentioned it, otherwise…

AD: Yeah, you’d never know. Of course, mums the word in the media. But he’s still in the race. And Dennis is doing exactly what I would hope Nader would eventually do, which is to stay in there through the primaries to push the debate as long as he can. The point being to show that the progressive population of America is here, that we count, that we matter. That we’re powerful, and that the Democratic Party must distinguish itself once again, if they want to survive, not to mention other more meaningful reasons. So Dennis plans to stay in the primaries, and then he’ll lend his support to Kerry in the general election.

My plan, personally, is to continue working with my friend, Dennis in whatever capacity we can invent, because he is a comrade, because he is a like-minded, wonderful, inspiring person to me. We’re bouncing around a few ideas that in the fall we’d do a swing-state tour. Doing voter registration. Creating shows that are part political rally, part musical party with a real eye toward the upcoming election, trying to get young people motivated and involved. Although it does seem that America is pretty darned inspired to get involved at this point, I would say, which is a relief.

Ani DiFrancojc: As you play across the country, what kind of passion do young people have for voting? That’s always been the concern since ’72; 18, 19, 20 year-old kids get motivated to go to rallies and contribute over the Internet, but as we witnessed with the doomed Dean campaign, will they actually come out and cast a vote?

AD: I really wouldn’t know. I stand on stage and I play guitar and I sing and talk to people, but I don’t know if they go out and vote. From what I hear, from the statistics that seem to be thrown about in this country people are not voting, especially young people, and it’s very understandable, the mass disillusionment with what is obviously a farce.

jc: The “fixed game” thing again.

AD: Yes, but ironically, it is the reinvestment in the belief in government that is going to get us out of this mess. It’s funny, even my friend Utah Phillips, who’s a card carrying anarchist – how’s that for an oxymoron – says he’s fixin’ to go register and vote this time. His philosophy is his body is his ballot and he votes with it every day, and I have a lot of respect for the way he approaches it. But for the rest of us, voting is a very important contribution and the first step to involvement and participation. While Utah talks about voting as assigning responsibility for governance to others, I think of it as securing institutional support for the good work of people, for the work that we are doing, that we continue to do, that we must do. Without people on the inside, without support of these institutions that exist whether or not we participate in staffing them or not, we can’t do the work. Our hands are tied. If we’re shipped off to a desert to die, or if we’re locked up for cannabis possession for untold amount of years, or etc, etc., we cannot live and grow as a people. So, it was heartening to hear Utah say he may step out of his anarchist shoes for a second and go and pull a level because it’s that fucking desperate.

I can only hope that young people can rise above the mind control of the media, which says consume, consume, consume and deny and forget your power as a citizen, and that we will rediscover it on our own through the encouragement and inspiration of each other.

jc: Speaking of the system, and the absurdities within, the last time we spoke we talked about what you called the “defacto economic segregation” which exists in this country, and of which you touch upon in your song, “Subdivision”. I equate that to the “cultural segregation” in this gay marriage issue. I wrote in a recent column that if you take out the frightened-by-the-unknown aspect of it, if you remove the vague moralities of it, and if you expunge God from it, the argument makes about as much legal sense as forcing citizens to sit in the back of the bus or women being denied the right to vote.

“I can only hope that young people can rise above the mind control of the media, which says consume, consume, consume and deny and forget your power as a citizen, and that we will rediscover it on our own through the encouragement and inspiration of each other.”

AD: I think you’ve got your finger right on the epicenter of the problem when you said take the moral part out of it. That’s the huge part of this debate. People are confusing God and religious customs and sanctions with laws. We are completely muddling this issue. I think that the word marriage should be dropped from that quest altogether, and we should all have civil unions in terms of the state involvement, because that’s what it is, legal benefits for partners. Gay or straight, you should have hospital rights or will rights. That’s all about civil union. We should make that across the board for all couples, and that’s as far as the law should go, providing legal rights for couples.

Now in terms of marriages and whether its Adam and Eve or Adam and Steve, or whether this is going to be culturally acceptable, that is fought out in the churches, in the communities, but it has nothing to do with the government’s role. Whether we want to accept it as a society it should be left out of the government’s responsibility to provide equal rights for people.

Actually my friend, Dennis helped my thoughts grow a bit on women’s right to choose for instance. Dennis is a Catholic boy from Ohio, grew up pro life and thinking abortion is wrong, and then he switched his position as a politician because he began talking to women, and listening to women, and realizing that unless an individual woman can control her own body she is not free. To not own your own body means you are a slave. He began to see it as a civil right that applies only to women, and conceive of it that way, and the government’s involvement in that matter should only be on that level in terms of preserving women’s freedom through guaranteeing this civil right. Whether or not it’s morally acceptable or reprehensible, that’s for the churches, for the people, for individuals to work out for themselves. It’s not for the government. The government should not legislate morality on that level.

jc: Of course this has always been my beef with the FCC.

AD: Yeah, and it’s just about clarifying government’s role in providing these civil rights. We have freedom of speech. The government’s job is to preserve that. What we say, whether its right or wrong, or good or bad, that’s for people to work out amongst themselves, and for society to put pressure on people that say bad things, but their right to say it must be guaranteed by the government, and the government’s job ends there.

jc: Did you have a chance to see “The Passion Of The Christ”?

AD: No. Not interested in the least.

jc: The reason I bring it up is I was quite hard on it because I spent some 12 years researching and writing a book on the search for the historical Jesus, and we’ve discussed the separation of the revolutionary historical figure versus the Christ figure before…

AD: Right.

jc: Now, using your analogy of Kucinich’s journey in reassessing the Pro-Choice issue, mine was the opposite. I’m always going on and on about defending the artists’ right to free expression, but yet I not only took offense to Gibson’s view of Jesus of Nazareth as a sacrificial vessel of a patriarchal God, but the method with which he magnified the same old Catholic dogma. I called Gibson a propagandist, yet I have always known intellectually that all art in one way or the other is the expression of a viewpoint in propagandist terms. Your songs. My writing. But my emotions seemed to swing me into a personal attack on the artist.

AD: Sure, but I can understand that. I didn’t see the film, but from what I understand of the Bible and the story of Jesus and what we have carried down culturally through the ages, it’s a multifaceted and life-affirming story, and there’s a little moment in there when he gets taken down. He’s taken down by the power structure. It’s a warning to those of us who want to make change. It’s a lesson there too. But to make a whole film on that moment…

jc: …or a 2,000 year-old religion for that matter.

Ani DiFrancoAD: Fuckin’ yeah! To boil it down to the moment of defeat and gory violence, I mean, even the crucifix as a symbol for him is just fundamentally morbid, bizarre, and wrong-headed. To show the man in his moment of defeat, when he was so full of life, when he gave people life, when he inspired people to freedom. To use that to represent his meaning I think is bizarre, and to construct a movie all around this sort of violent, unfortunate death? I would think that anyone with a real passion for that man and his teachings would make a movie about his life, not his death. I have no interest in gratuitous violence in movies to begin with, let alone of a religious nature. (laughs)

jc: This is why you’re one of my favorite people.

AD: (laughs)

jc: No, really, because I’ve spent all of my adult life trying to defuse this harmful myth, which to me shows a complete lack of respect regarding the assassination of someone who endeavored to demonstrate the divine spark of humanity, and then to prop it up as some sort of victory? I can’t accept it, and never could, even as a ten year-old Catholic-schooled boy.

AD: If we keep staring at that cross, at that moment of defeat, what are we supposed to feel? We’re supposed to feel hopeless, we’re supposed to feel powerless, we’re supposed to feel pity or remorse? What is that to keep carrying through the ages?

jc: Well, the most important thing you’re supposed to feel is guilt.

AD: Guilt! Oh, God! I forgot the guilt! (laughs)

jc: (laughs) That’s the key.

AD: I should have mentioned that one first.

jc: I’d like to talk about the new record, so this is the butt kissing part of the interview.

AD: Ah! (laughs) Woo! Hoo!

jc: I view “Educated Guess” as your “Blood On The Tracks”. I don’t know how much you respect that record, but I’m of the opinion that Dylan’s best work was, and still is the ultimate musical statement on the despair of loneliness and the loss of love. Coming from a writer’s perspective, the lyrics on “Educated Guess” achieves that level. That record, for me, could not have come any closer to the bone. So I’m wondering where you have to go, what you have to endure to achieve it?

I’ve not been alone for many years and I was emotionally unhealthy with a lack of solitude and time for reflection, so this record represents a journey back to myself, the self that began writing songs and playing them solo and making little records on her own.”

AD: Well, you know, I have not said this yet while talking about the record, but I’ll say it to you. It was an absolute exorcism for me. And because of that it’s my favorite record that I’ve made. I guess me being more of a Springsteen fan than a Dylan fan, I think of it as my “Nebraska”. You know, the record I made in my bedroom, cause I had to…alone. And the aloneness of it was like medicine for me. I’ve not been alone for many years and I was emotionally unhealthy with a lack of solitude and time for reflection, so this record represents a journey back to myself, the self that began writing songs and playing them solo and making little records on her own. Except, hence the title, I am slightly older, and hopefully, slightly wiser now.

jc: Well, if there’s better line than, “As dolls go, I am broken” I don’t know if I’ve seen it.

AD: (laughs)

jc: You read a particularly striking poem when you played at the Beacon here in New York back in November. You pulled it from your pants pocket. I haven’t heard it anywhere since. Is it going to end up on a record?

AD: Yeah, yeah. Next record.

jc: Oh, great.

AD: (recites) “33 years-old and not once do you come home to find a man in your bedroom that is a man you don’t know.” That one?

jc: Yes.

AD: I actually have a plan for my next record. I’m going in the opposite direction of “Educated Guess”, now that I’ve found myself again in this pile of my life. I called up my friend Joe Henry, a beautiful songwriter, and a snappy dresser and a creative, energetic man. I invited him to share the stage with me month’s back, and we really resonated. Every night we’d sit around after the shows and talk, and we discovered we have a lot of the same sensibilities and energy when it comes to making records. So I began to envision my next record. I called him up with two songs! I had two songs and I called him up and asked, “You wanna co-produce my next record?” and he said yes. Then I just began furiously writing. I wrote like eight songs in just a few weeks. So not only is it going to be a completely new environment for me to have a co-producer, to be working with new musicians, it’s also new for me to approach a record with my eye on the prize from the beginning. I’m writing for the project, with the idea of the destination in mind, as opposed to just writing songs and sort of looking at the collection later in the game and beginning to conceive of what the record is. I’m actually conceiving of it from the onset, which is a new process for me. It’s been really fascinating for me.

jc: Sounds like it. Can we expect to hear those songs at the upcoming Carnegie Hall show?

AD: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, I’m playing mostly those songs now.

jc: How’s Buffalo?

AD: Well, I hear…well, I don’t know. I ain’t been there in awhile. I’ve been on the lovely west coast. I imagine my garden will be awake when I get home. Can’t wait.

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A Discussion with Dan Bern – Part II

Aquarian Weekly 4/30/03 REALITY CHECK

TALKIN’ DAN BERN MUSE – Part II An Interview with Singer/Songwriter, Dan Bern conducted over the phone lines on the road from Pittsburgh to Philly from The Desk at Fort Vernon. 3/26/03

jc:. I’d like to talk about musical style for a moment. Since I’m a fan of Dylan and Woody Guthrie, I noticed Guthrie in your song “Jail” and an obvious homage to Dylan in “Talkin’ Al Kida Blues”. Also, Dan Bernthe first song on the new “Fleeting Days” record called “Baby Bye Bye” is a great stab at Springsteen. As all artists, do you use other voices to create your own sound?

DB: I suppose. Some things are probably closer in style to those tunes than other stuff. If people hear it, it’s probably there. Those are songwriters I’ve definitely listened to and absorbed and so it probably comes out that way.

jc: As you become more and more ingratiated into the culture of celebrity, less than some certainly, but still, do you feel it’s harder to write songs as an observer? Ken Kesey once said that fame for a writer is the death of observation, because the more you become part of the landscape, it’s more difficult to write about it.

DB: Maybe I would feel that way if I were more famous. I’ve never been on Conan. I’ve never been on the cover of any major magazine. I still feel like I’m the guy outside looking in. I suppose I’ll always feel that way, you know, the outsider.

jc: You reference icons of culture more than anyone I’ve heard, from Jesus to Henry Miller to Monica Seles to Leonardo DeCaprio to Hitler. You can tell from listening to your songs you’re aware of so much of your surroundings from a cultural sense.

DB: I don’t know. I think I’m able to separate it. It’s not like the people I’m writing about know me or hear the songs. Maybe they do, but I’m not aware of it. So, it keeps a distance.

jc: How do you see the music business from your end as the outsider? Do you experience the conglomerate, corporate side of the business or do you avoid that as well?

DB: I don’t have much to do with that. From my standpoint it’s a lot of hard work and I don’t get a lot of that magical thing, throwing around a lot of money or having my picture up on a billboard. Usually I’m pissed off because I get to a gig and nobody put our posters up. That’s kind of the world I’m dealing with.

jc: It’s still grass for you.

“It’s a personal struggle that I have, really. I’ve had it my whole life; this wish and desire to right wrongs of the past. So when I’m talking, when the narrator is talking, I’m expressing that wish. I’m confronting that desire. And I think when God is talking; I’m sort of getting the answer.”

DB: It’s more grass roots now than when I first started making records. I was with Sony for a couple of records. They didn’t spend money wisely. I don’t think they quite knew what to do with me. Every once in awhile they’d throw a bunch of money at something and you’d get the feeling that something might happen, but for the last several years it’s really been about making good records and to keep writing the songs and keep being relevant to myself and the audience and not go completely broke doing it.

jc: Amen to that. Do you prefer playing with a band, or is there a place for you to perform your songs by yourself.

DB: Oh yeah, I think that is something I will always use. This fall I’m going to go out for a couple of months by myself. I have more time when I do that. I have space. I write more when I’m by myself on the road, and the pallet, the song bag is bigger when I’m by myself. I can play anything I can remember. Even though this band has a pretty wide array of songs from my bag, and it’s widening, there’s a lot of places we can go in terms of material. But even with that, there are limits. And with playing by myself there’s just this connection between you and audience that’s a pretty cool thing.

jc: Let me ask you about one specific song that I saw you perform by yourself that I know is a favorite of your fans. When my wife and I saw you do it we looked at each other and knew this guy has something special, and that’s “God Said No”. Is that song Nietzschian? Is it from a theological standpoint? Does the narrator who asks God to send him back and keep Kurt Cobain from suicide or assassinate Hitler or save Jesus from the cross, does he believe he is actually speaking to God, or is it merely a commentary about the linear aspect of life and it’s limitations to live “in the now”?

DB: It’s a personal struggle that I have, really. I’ve had it my whole life; this wish and desire to right wrongs of the past. So when I’m talking, when the narrator is talking, I’m expressing that wish. I’m confronting that desire. And I think when God is talking; I’m sort of getting the answer.

jc: No.

DB: Yeah.

jc: Would you consider yourself a spiritual person?

DB: I think what I consider God is something that other people might consider as nature or existence. That’s what I look to. That’s where I get answers of substance. I think it’s there. Without sounding to hippyish, I think the trees breathe and they give us answers.

jc: Having said that, would you purchase or read a book that paints Jesus of Nazareth as a social revolutionary who was miserably misunderstood and whose teachings and personal sacrifice has been criminally annexed for two thousand years?

DB: Sure.

jc: (laughs) Good, it’s the subject my new book. “Trailing Jesus”. I’ll get you a copy.

DB: (laughs) Yeah, I’d love to read that.

jc: This discussion was actually quite inspirational for me, since I’m going on a promotional tour for the book and I’ll be on the other end of the phone trying to avoid direct answers of theorem in the work, and still give acceptable answers. You’re pretty good at that.

DB: Well, thanks. (chuckles) I’m sure you’re up to the task yourself. You know I’ve always felt willing and able to add my two cents to any like-minded movement that needs a singer, but at the same time I feel like if I speak for myself then I can’t go too wrong.

Read Part I

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A Discussion with Dan Bern Part I

Aquarian Weekly 4/16/03 REALITY CHECK

TALKIN’ DAN BERN MUSE – Part I An Interview with Singer/Songwriter, Dan Bern conducted over the phone lines on the road from Pittsburgh to Philly from The Desk at Fort Vernon. 3/26/03

Dan Bern songs speak to me. That is the power of song, and it is not lost on him. And although he is one of the most prolific composers of this era – Messenger Records chairman, Brandon Kessler told me he could release Dan Bernan album a week – there is an obvious care given to each lyric, each characterization, each wonderfully crafted chord progression. This is because Bern is cut in the mold of the old-time songster who would use the medium to cajole and soothe the listener right along with its author, as if sharing an experience. And the range of his emotions is wide.

He should have a wider audience, and he’s working on it, touring like a madman – he even recently played his baseball songs at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown – but mainly because Dan Bern is everything right about the craft of songwriting and performing. A troubadour, a poet, a painter and a writer, he shies away from nothing, opening dangerous channels to allow his audience to peer down with him.

The first time I saw him; he blew me away, the honesty and humor right there for everyone to see. No pretensions, no illusions, pure ugliness and beauty set to music. Soon after, Bern’s recordings played in the background for the final excruciating days of finishing my last book; no small task since completing a book is like being in some kind of labor/limbo for months. And it was a pleasure to hand him a copy after his Bowery Ballroom show mere days after conducting this interview.

It was more of a discussion than an interview really, as Bern let his slow, infectious drawl pour over the answers with an old country wisdom belying his mid-thirties experience. We started out with a jibe on his playfully rambling song, “Jerusalem”, which happens to be the first one on his first, self-titled 1997 recording, a song in which Bern announces that he is the Messiah; a nugget too good to ignore for a wise-ass like me.

jc: Let me start off by asking, are you still the Messiah, or has that changed for you the last couple of years?

Dan Bern: No. (chuckles)

jc: No, it hasn’t changed? Or no, you’re not the Messiah?

DB: No.

jc: (laughs) The only reason I’m asking is I’m Beelzebub. So I guess you and I have a meeting in the desert sometime soon.

“The whole idea of writing or painting is some kind of multiple perspective and somewhere in there may be some world view, but it can’t be through one lone voice that never changes and shifts. It wouldn’t be honest.

DB: I’m looking forward to it. Anytime, bring it on.

jc: Do you see yourself less as a folksinger and more as a satirist? Most of your work, specifically “Cure For AIDS” and the “Swastika Song” are in that vein, less serious commentary than satire.

DB: Well, it shifts around. I think it really depends on the song. Actually, those labels – folksinger or satirist – I tend to shy away from them myself, or anything that can put you in a box. Other people do it, but I never found it necessary. This way I can take it from song to song.

jc: Would you say that your songs are more observations rather than commentary?

DB: I think you have to make the observations, but then, what do you do with them? What are they for? How do they fit into some larger picture? So I think the observation is part of the work, but then what does it mean? What did you make the observation for?

jc: So would you consider the meaning behind these observations in your songs more from an optimist’s standpoint or a pessimist’s?

DB: I certainly have my moments of pessimism, but I think overall just to be out here doing this, being able to write songs in the face of everything else, there’s a hope, a belief in something.

jc: So you’d say writing the songs, even from the pessimist’s side, is something of a catharsis for you and the hope comes from the listener going through the same thing?

DB: I think so. If you’re just looking to depress people, what’s the point? If someone is out there going through terrible times, from losing their house to just fighting traffic, and they spend their hard earned money to go out and hear me play my songs, there has to be something positive there. I know if I’m going to a show I’m expecting to be uplifted somehow, gain a kind of inspiration from it. I’d hope that’s happening with my performances.

jc: How much of your own personal experience do you put in the songs? In other words, you write predominantly in the first person, so when you use “I” in a song, are you talking directly from your own experience?

DB: Well that shifts too. There’s some reflection of me. It’s the narrator, really. If you look at it like a short story, the “I” is coming from the narrator, not the guy who wrote it. There’s an assumption that within the theme there will be a good deal of a similarity with the author. It works like some kind of a mirror, but you have to give yourself the complete freedom to take the truth as you see it and stretch the hell out of it. (chuckles)

jc: (laughs) All right, but for instance, the touching aspects of a song like “Lithuania” seems extremely biographical, while also speaking to various different avenues of the universal personality, even if the listener didn’t happen to have grandparents who were murdered by Nazis. There is something personal, yet eminently relatable to ghosts of our past that shape us, the relatives we’ve never met, the experiences of escaping our legacy.

DB: Yes, a song like that crosses over. That song is very much, if not completely, autobiographical.

jc: As opposed to something satirical like “The Swastika Song”, which comments on the same issues as “Lithuania”, but in a completely different voice. You are coming to grips with the issues of the past in “Lithuania” and grabbing back a part of history that has been annexed by hate to return it to a positive art form in “The Swastika Song”.

DB: (chuckles) Yeah, it’s like a big mural on the wall. You throw it up there.

jc: Would you consider yourself a realist? Or do you try and create a world that is best suited for your art?

DB: Hopefully I’m covering the whole ball of wax song by song. Again, in the course of a two or three hour show, I feel the need for the songs to speak clearly and linearly at some point and distort and stretch at other points. I don’t think I’d be comfortable sitting with only one way of speaking of things.

jc: Or one viewpoint.

DB: Yeah, the whole idea of writing or painting is some kind of multiple perspective and somewhere in there may be some world view, but it can’t be through one lone voice that never changes and shifts. It wouldn’t be honest.

NEXT WEEK: PART II

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james campion.com

Aquarian Weekly 4/9/03 REALITY CHECK

POST MORTEM FOR WAR COVERAGE

It is an embarrassing time to be a commentator on current events, bludgeoned beneath a miserable torrent of opportunists reduced to regurgitating fascist blather for network dollars in a twenty-four hour a day propagandized abortion of reporting. It is the kind of demented philosophizing that has expensive messengers shamelessly cheerleading and reasoned dissention reduced to a treasonous anathema. This military campaign, and the circus of television madness it has wrought, has reached a level of dangerous stupidity that even my most painfully cynical paranoia would not have dared conjure.

I knew the idea of true journalism had been fatally wounded years ago, but to parade this rotting corpse out onto cable waves incessantly is at the least criminally insane and at its worst a terminally damaging exercise in national brainwashing. Every moment we continue to broadcast foggy glimpses of this fairytale to what is left of the American psyche we are perpetuating an electronic form of generational genocide that will have our children thinking how they are expected to think, and believing what they are told to believe.

I knew the idea of true journalism had been fatally wounded years ago, but to parade this rotting corpse out onto cable waves incessantly is at the least criminally insane and at its worst a terminally damaging exercise in national brainwashing.

I also know that this is wartime personified, but now it is updated by the minute when there is nothing to update. It is editorialized when there is no actual fact to support it, and it is politicized when the debate sounds like the final gurgle of a bleeding animal hunted down by brainless thugs who elicit joy from massacring helpless creatures to compensate for desperately failed images of an angered God.

Know this, if you know anything about what is slowly happening to the social landscape of this country, as long as this nation is at war the truth can no longer be considered an absolute, it is a concept to be manipulated and raped and put on display for those with agendas to dance around like savages soliciting rain.

Answer this: When did the news become only relevant through its interpretation? How many more of us have to endure the following extremist definitions: People protesting for peace hate America and wish death upon every kid enlisted in the Armed Forces or those who support the foreign policy of the present administration are kill-crazed white supremacists ridding the planet of Muslim scum and colonizing a perfectly structured nation.

This may be the collective delusion of retired Birchers jerking off to old Joseph McCarthy speeches while kicking in the heads of their deviant teenaged brats, and may be all the rage for granola-addled burnouts needing something resembling Viet Nam to allow them to appear passionate to the dates their trying to screw, but is it news? Is it disseminating moments that make up an historical record?

Perhaps I’m mistaken. Maybe it’s all right now to have news anchors wearing American flag pins and going on and on about “we” and “us” and frowning over video of burning buildings. Apparently it is now considered responsible journalism to prop up military fossils in front of maps and reduce carnage and death to a game of Risk. Perhaps I missed the rule changes in allowing events to unfold under their own momentum. Now we predict and re-predict, and when it turns around, we blurt out barely confirmed abuses of rumor and pass it off as competitive reporting.

I think I see it now. We need news channels run like a Don King Promotion promising “Shock and Awe” and co-opting terms like “imbedded” to increase the excitement and ratings, then after a few days wonder when the good stuff starts because the numbers are dipping. People are dying all over the place, and the entire composition of the Middle East is being challenged by the day, and all we care about is who is the most watched coverage of this thing, and wow, look at this fantastic technology we’ve got going here!

Then there are the skewered perceptions born of clumsy propaganda.

Let me make sure I’ve got this straight, if the press questions the Pentagon’s operation it is a blatant insurrectionist movement against the American spirit of freedom and an endangerment of the troops? We’re talking about the same Pentagon that has stood as a monument of chronic disinformation since its inception. The Pentagon is always “on track.” They’re always “on plan”, but journalists are killing our brave boys and girls stuck in the desert with horrible queries like why the hell did the military decide to rush through the Iraqi countryside in three days, woefully stretching the supply lines and failing to fully control cities and baring its flank?

Meanwhile these uniformed marionettes stand before the pack-rat laziness that passes for the eyes and ears of the American people and act surprised a pathetically out-manned rag-tag mafia of frothing religious maniacs fight dirty to defend land they believe was bartered directly from Allah?

I expect Donald Rumsfeld to act like this is business as usual. He is a festering boil on this wildly moronic fantasy machine. He is a puppet, a mouthpiece, and he knew less about Iraqi resistance or the Republican Guard than the Central Intelligence Agency that has failed this country once again. What I don’t expect is for anyone to take a damn thing this strutting ass has to say as anything approaching fact. And neither do I expect anything representing a doomed regime to utter even a slice of newsworthy commentary. Of course whatever is left of the Iraqi government is going to pump out militaristic tripe and pass it off as news, but do we have to acknowledge it? It is getting harder to control these violent retching attacks every time I see another Iraqi diplomat using airtime denying 30 years of human atrocities as if it is merely a cultural divide between the Zionist Western establishment and Islamic law.

And this latest pandering of Iraqi television by Peter Arnett to gain access to Saddam Hussein is so off the charts wretched it bares discussion not as a matter of national security, but of journalistic integrity. If the Iraqis had any guts they’d shoot that miserable bastard in the head and put his severed head on Al Jazeera. It is equivalent to FOXNEWS anchors using “the good guys” rhetoric to suck up to the Pentagon and the current administration to cull better access on this end. This type of grandstanding is also used by those on the inside like the generals conning the Washington Post to rip other military leaders for going with plans differing from their own. Not to mention that self-aggrandizing turd, Geraldo Rivera who is the most glaring example of phony journalism since that insufferable windbag Rush Limbaugh.

In a few days this invasion will be over and we’ll all get back to covering celebrity divorces and political dalliances. That suits the medium better anyway.

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Dan Bern at the Bowery Ballroom

 

Aquarian Weekly 4/1/03

DAN BERN AND THE IJBC AT THE BOWERY BALLROOM 3/30/03

New York City

Dan BernDan Bern is one of this generation’s finest song-smiths, mixing a sardonic wit with emotional strains of whimsy, a folksy charm with a pop sensibility mixed liberally with the obligatory dab of fierce rock and roll grit channeled through a balladeer’s touch. His performance is not overstated, choosing to let the tunes tumble out of his five-piece ensemble and achieving the right mixture of acoustic warmth and electric snarl. Bern’s voice, a razor sharp twinge of Dylan meets Costello meets Guthrie meets Richards, chants and cries and croons while he stalks the stage in a manner befitting the piped piper when he knows the check is due.

On this snowy Sunday evening at the historic Bowery Ballroom, his second show in as many nights, Bern is in rare form, chatting with the packed house about such diverse subjects as tennis, war, and doomed love while bobbing and weaving his way through his considerable repertoire, which encompasses a seven-year span of eight records. Fan favorites like the haunting, “God Said No”, the hilariously grinding “Tiger Woods” and the bouncy “Chelsea Hotel” are fused with powerful new material from his latest collection, Fleeting Days, to which he humbly thanks the crowd for listening.

The band, satirically nicknamed the International Jewish Banking Conspiracy, is raw and passionate, not unlike an early snapshot of the Attractions, providing the perfect undercurrent to the immediacy of Bern’s biting lyrics. The highlight of its powers comes with a spirited rendition of the new classic, “Graceland”, wherein the troupe plows through (the other) Elvis’s songbook with precision and humor.

Best known for his moving acoustic shows, some of which will pop up on this lengthy tour of the U.S. and Europe, Bern feeds off the band and allows for an energy that carries the night, a bold and furious romp which tempts the audience to chant and bark and join the composer in his bizarre slants on life and limb.

Bern’s work, both live and recorded, along with his prose, encapsulated in his 2002 effort, World Cup Diary, reminiscent of Charles Bukowski meets a young Henry Miller, is a rising force in the alternative scene that is sadly muted in the usual flash-in-the-pan fit-the-mold music biz. His like and creative voice is one that is refreshingly rare and should be cherished by connoisseurs of true expression.

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Top Ten Lies About The War In Iraq

Aquarian Weekly 3/26/03 REALITY CHECK

TEN LIES ABOUT THE US INVASION OF IRAQ

The following is a two-part final word before the launching of the War On Iraq. Using a format familiar to the readers of this space in the past during the Clinton Impeachment and the 2000 Presidential Election, it appears here in its entirety, but due to space restraints will run for two consecutive issues of the Aquarian Weekly.

1. Disarming a threat to the United States is less about revenge for 9/11 than it is about defending human rights and saving lives within Iraq and protecting neighboring countries from a sinister regime’s “weapons of mass destruction”.

Wrong. If this country gave a hoot about saving lives and preserving human rights abroad by toppling unstable empires stockpiling “weapons of mass destruction” we’d be planning to invade a dozen countries. This includes China, the worst of the bunch, but a country that we trade and interact with copiously.

It’s important to remember that before 9/11 the Bush administration displayed a sly form of isolationism by pulling troops out of formerly strategic areas of the globe and steering completely clear of Middle East political strife, specifically Israel/Palestinian relations. There is no evidence this administration recognized the plight of any peoples of the world beyond our borders before the 9/11 tragedy.

In the weeks following 9/11, The Desk received several reliable source reports that US intelligence had concrete evidence Iraq was as responsible for the highly strategic attack as the symbolically evil, Osama bin Laden. In the summer of 2001, this space predicted, and even championed a run on Baghdad. However, the troubling aspect of this current diplomatic disaster conducted in the shadow of international pressure, UN protests, and clamoring from the press and nearly half the population of this country, the president has failed to ante any of this alleged evidence up.

2. There is a secret Zionist Kabal manipulating the strings of American foreign policy in the Middle East region.

Anti-Semitic cretins like Pat Buchanan and Bill Bennett, among other dark notables, have used their “political isolation” jones to drag Israeli influence on US Middle Eastern policy whenever possible. Although this is predictably asinine and only bolsters rabid Arab hatred for American support of Israel, it once again ignores this administration’s steadfast ambivalence of any peace process before last week’s White House “road map” rhetoric. While it is true that Israel has been this country’s only consistent ally in the region since WWII, and its safety and survival is always a concern, there is no precedence that the US would plan an invasion of an Arab nation solely for its benefit.

Contrary to rumor we’re not the only fish in the bowl. You want to root-root-root for the home team and change the name of your greasy fat sticks from French to Freedom? Go right ahead, but don’t let an international billion dollar corporate kill-fest bloat your head with righteous grandeur or you’ll be coming down hard from a delusion binge the likes of which you have rarely experienced.

3. The United States’ usurping of the unilateral power of the United Nations proves it is overtly acting as an imperialistic bully by attacking a nation that has not threatened or attacked it first.

The UN has garnered little to no credibility in issues of grave danger, as displayed in its inability to face the ugliness of the world politic for decades. The more heinous of this recent “head in the sand” passivity is its hesitance in ending the atrocities in Rawanda and Kosovo, not to mention its coddling of China and North Korea and the complete silence in the approaching devastation of an escalating Pakistan/India border war.

And perhaps someone can explain why the hell the UN unanimously passed Resolution 1441 that threatened military action if Saddam Hussein, who has ignored 17 resolutions over the past 12 years, did not comply? If it didn’t plan on the US using 1441 as a ticket to aggression, what was its purpose?

Needless to say, when the shit is hitting the fan the UN is an impotent institution that will likely survive this latest hand-sitting mess as it did throughout decades of transparency during the Cold War. However, you can bet the ranch when it’s clean-up time for this latest US carnage, the UN’s relevance will suddenly take the front seat.

4. The president’s recent “road map” to peace in Israel by supporting a Palestinian Prime Minister is a brilliant diplomatic maneuver that will change the rest of the world’s view of American aggression.

As explained above, anything this administration does now for Israel/Palestinian relations is purely political. There is no secret that the US’s top ally, British Prime Minister, Tony Blair has been raked over the coals for his vocal and rabid defense of the Iraqi invasion, volunteering troops, supplies and money at a record pace for a European power. The main thrust of the rancor revolves around the majority of the British government’s concern that in the wake of this fiasco the US will continue to be aloof in the growing PLO threat. Ironically, as of this writing, the move failed to keep Blair’s Labor Party from stirring up a political revolt.

Moreover, those who naively paint this clumsy ploy as a diplomatic breakthrough at the brink of war ignore one key Gulf War lesson. Israel, asked to restrain from retaliation in the face of constant bombing the first time around, must be sated. The IDF’s infusion into the fray should Hussein likely attack Israel would be catastrophic for the effort. That is all the Arab world needs to see, three of the last two centuries’ imperialistic super powers, Britain, Spain and the US joined by the capital of Judaism waging war on a fellow Muslim nation.

5. The French, Russian, German government’s vehement protest against this imminent war is based on sober diplomacy and a support of UN resolutions.

The best way to refute this nonsense is to break out every cliché on money you’ve ever heard and apply it liberally. These countries have been in financial bed with Hussein for decades, sending him funds to build weapons and fortify his palace compounds in trade for stabilizing oil costs. The Iraqi government is into Russia for a few billion and the French for a load of cash. When the US was throwing bribe money at nations last week for a final shot at getting them on board the CIA was handed a tab so large agents were told to close all teller windows.

It is important to remember the US is not innocent in the building of the Iraqi weapons structure either. During the Iraq/Iran war of the early 80s’ the Reagan administration funded Iraqi military build-up. It’s all a murky historical soup stirred by the first Bush standoff with Hussein in 1990 that eventually led to all-but ignored attacks on US ships and embassies during the Clinton administration and finally the terrible events of 9/11.

6. For the last time, this entire diplomatic cluster-fuck is not about oil.

Label it Oliver Stone paranoia and conspiracy mania all you like, but there isn’t one human who has paid attention for the past half century that does not fully understand how deep the US is in with Middle Eastern oil concerns. It is made more painfully obvious when people reeking of oil money are running this country, but make no mistake, every president of the latter half of the 20th century has had the same albatross around its neck. Is this latest mess predominantly about oil? No, but is it free of any oil concerns or financial barriers those concerns impose? To argue that it isn’t is purely stupid or politically motivated and nobody with half a brain should buy it.

7. George Bush is a crazed, cowboy warmonger hell bent on shoving American ideals on nations across the globe by force.

Questionable aggression is always fair criticism on the eve of invasion, but wildly off the mark when considering the mounting evidence that this has been anything but an off-the-cuff maneuver. If this administration had been fueled mainly on eradicating the Hussein regime it would not have half-assed its military deployment with a pathetically weak show of diplomacy. Secretary of State Colin Powell begged the president to petition the UN Security Council, while Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld insisted on making a European tour to act like the belligerent ass he’s been for two years. The whole international message has been so diluted in flip-flop rhetoric these past weeks to paint Bush now as a “hit first, ask questions later” leader is laughable.

This insanely bad diplomatic quagmire shrouds this administration in the worst example of a Republican-led global maneuver in US history. Even in the face of economic suicide and criminal acts of lunacy, Reagan and Nixon were top-notch foreign policy wonks that shamed the recent Democratic models, Carter and Clinton, both of whom were mired in the same wishy-washy paradoxical diplomacy as displayed over the past two weeks. The in fighting among the hawks and doves in the Bush administration over this planned invasion ranks as one of the most divided since Lincoln with far less dire consequences, thus dubbing this president a warmonger is just plain wrong.

8. The invasion’s inevitable success will ignite an increase in anti-American sentiment among Arab and Muslim nations and fuel further terrorism against the US and its allies.

Please, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus, and there is no way the radical Muslim hatred of the US will be any worse or lessened in the wake of this invasion. We are dealing with thousands of years of religion fanaticism with these loons. The British Empire once smugly thought that by crushing the American colonies, never mind its later miscalculations in India or Ireland, would end random terrorism. How’d that work out for them?

The best you can say about this thing is that when it is done gas prices will dip and the suits at Wall Street will get a collective hard-on. The worst is that the US will lose all credibility among the Arab coalition of nations the first Bush collected after the Gulf War. But it’s nothing barrels of money and a weapons handout won’t cure.

9. Anyone who opposes US foreign policy is against reason and freedom and all that is good and true under the sun.

Put down the flag, sport. This government has concerns abroad, and so do other countries’ governments. Sometimes they don’t jibe. And often times it has nothing to do with justice or what is deemed good or ill. This is international politics. It is ugly and it is indecent and its history is full of bloodshed, both innocent and guilty, or whenever the winners of these things finally get around to interpreting the difference.

Contrary to rumor we’re not the only fish in the bowl. You want to root-root-root for the home team and change the name of your greasy fat sticks from French to Freedom? Go right ahead, but don’t let an international billion dollar corporate kill-fest bloat your head with righteous grandeur or you’ll be coming down hard from a delusion binge the likes of which you have rarely experienced.

10. Dissenting voices from the Democrats on Capitol Hill has damaged the war effort.

Republicans are not getting away with this one. This has the stink of Hillary Clinton’s “vast right-wing conspiracy” all over it. They wanted full control of two branches of this government? They have it. Any pebbles tossed at this massive war machine are merely farts in the political wind. The American people, while nearly divided on this maneuver, will rally when their brothers and sisters start soldiering around the desert. Survivalists in the House will pipe down plenty then.

This will be a military victory for this nation’s current government. It is a matter of when, not if. The fallout will be in how it protects our borders and stabilizes world opinion and how that fallout will effect the US and global economy through the summer and the rest of this year. The last time a Bush waged war in this desert his approval ratings were astronomical. Two years later his flaccid economic record made him fodder for Bill Clinton.

Therefore politicizing this war means little and to say it would weaken a war against one of the most inept and woefully ill-prepared of the world’s armies against the Biblically potent American colossus is stupefying dumb. Military victory is imminent. Time and money will decide 2004.

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War Room Commandos

Aquarian Weekly 3/12/03 REALITY CHECK

ABANDONING REASON AT THE FORT

There has been an egregious breech of security here at the Reality Check War Room. The morale of the group is down, and passions have been splintered by the day. This once proud conclave, and its failed dream of finding the sense in this government’s foreign doings in the face of a three-front police action has rendered these once hearty souls to back-biting pansies. And unlike many of these anonymous cretins, I have to answer for it.

Our findings have been appearing in this paper and across the globe on the Internet for over a month under my name, and not one of these people have so much as considered the safety of its author. These are desperate times. This country is on the brink of war inside the most volatile region on the planet with little to no international support. Now is not the time for leaks and dissent within the group. Now is the time for rabid solidarity.

Objective commentary is dead. In its wake remain only extremists, the woefully confused peace-protesters and the shills for war. There is no more middle ground. Get on board or get out of the fray.

But, alas, the local authorities have been alerted to our clandestine barnyard meetings, and all hope of dissecting the truth from a rotting corpse of bullshit has been compromised. Needless to say the floodlights at Fort Vernon have been ordered to stay on until further notice and the digging of the memorial Mr. Kitty Mote has been put on hold.

If I thought for one minute anyone would find us, I surely would not have written the insane shit that has been running in this space lately. This nonsense about Colin Powell taking a dive for the Pentagon or burning flags or seceding from the Union is, of course, all a joke. Satire. Yes, that’s what I do best. Poking holes in the hypocrisy of human endeavor with the sharpness of my pen. Sure. It is an art form to be admired, not vitriolic blather to be feared and evidence for restitution.

My fears are real now. Not even Georgetown is answering my calls. There has been a lockdown in Washington for ten months and after that staged kissy-face showcase between the Commander and Chief and the White House press corps its time to prepare for the worst. And God help the next lame bastard who asks a president about Viet Nam every time two American troops meet anywhere. Of course the president thought it a “good question”, a troll could have defused it.

Many of our best War Room commandos exited in shame after that dog and pony show last night. The diligent watchdog press has been felled. Objective commentary is dead. In its wake remain only extremists, the woefully confused peace-protesters and the shills for war. There is no more middle ground. Get on board or get out of the fray.

The weaker of us saw it coming last night. And those who were left to listen for the police sirens could only stare into space. We were not prepared for this to get real. We foolishly believed there was hope in knowing the truth, not versions of the truth seen through prisms of political ideology and diplomacy-speak. But it was all a big fuck-around, and now it is done.

I should have heeded my original hesitance to be involved with this charade. Twelve long years of this crap over 17 pointless UN resolutions. It’s like watching tapes of old Super Bowls and rooting for the Buffalo Bills. Hussein is not going to surrender and no Bush with the power of the free world is going to let this go without bloodshed.

But before we broke camp, the majority of the remaining warriors decided to be the only journalists to actually print a date when the beginning of end for Saddam Hussein will be. By the time this column hits the streets on 3/12, the first bombs will have fallen in Iraq, and as stated in this space before, the whole thing will be over within the month. That’s my beloved mother’s birthday. She is the ultimate warrior. It might even be the day some triplets will be born in Syracuse.

I’ll be out front finishing this mote. Then we will hope, with everyone else, that Captain Shoe In’s vengeance crusade doesn’t open up the can of worms his father’s failed mission wrought.

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The Blessed Right of Dissent

Aquarian Weekly 3/5/03 REALITY CHECK

THE BLESSED RIGHT OF DISSENT

Here’s a juicy one.

Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled that although abortion protestors in many annoying and wacky ways have and do tend to break the law, the act of their protest and its ill effects on clinics does not constitute a crime.

The always entertaining, and highly hypocritical National Organization of Women, joined by two abused abortion clinics, tried to apply the 1970 established federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act to prevent these protests. The Supreme Court had previously ruled that RICO could be applied to abortion protesters, ignoring the very spirit of the US Constitution’s First Amendment, a continued favorite and oft-dissected subject in this space since the autumn of 1997.

The right to peaceful protest and civil disobedience is the only voice of a people that is supposed to be the final voice in its government and its society at large.

Speaking for the nation’s highest court, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, wrote that racketeering laws require a conclusion that someone has committed an underlying crime, in this case extortion. The court reversed a lower court ruling on that point, finding that protesters did not extort money or valuables from the clinics when they tried to disrupt business.

Disrupting is all part of civil disobedience, a cherished right of this republic and ostensibly the advertising campaign on invading another government half a planet away.

Dissent is always a sticky subject in political realms. That is why the law is the best place to settle it. And it is why this space has always espoused that although you may hail from one side of the ideological fence or the other, at some point you have likely tried to illegally halt it.

For example, Right Wingers, especially those mired in the fundamentalist ring, have constantly heaped their moral outrage on rap music or violent movies and video games, or any form of art or commentary that might afflict their fragile belief system. Yet, these are the same ones who today cheer the ruling of the high court.

Hypocrisy.

Even those who do not wave the Bible at free expression, choose to wave Old Glory when trying to halt dissent. The asinine call for anti-war protestors to cut the act is blatantly un-American in every way. The paradox is stunning. People defending this country’s government in every move it makes foolishly define this as patriotic, when it is merely ideological and sickeningly political. And even if the anti-war protestors are also politically motivated, having outwardly defended the government’s foreign butting-in when another ideology was in charge, does not mean they should not continue.

And don’t even get me started on the burning of the flag. If I buy a flag and want to burn it, you bet your ass I will. Fucking stop me.

No one stops the KKK or the American Nazi Party or the NRA or the Catholic Church or NAACP or NAMBLA or any other configuration of letters.

Now those hailing from the Left Wing are all the rage when they are busy throwing blood on furs and burning down circuses, sleeping in trees and lying down in front of military camps. Sure, that’s okay, but mucking up the flow of abortions is deplorable.

Hypocrisy.

Protesting against abortion does not mean shooting doctors or bulldozing buildings. We don’t need racketeering laws to stop that. Those fall under well-covered categories. The idea that NOW, completely silent during the Clinton woman-hating scandals, has some set of rocks here. If not for dissent and protest, they would be nothing more than an offshoot of the Girl Scouts; how they got away with denying someone’s right to protest in the first place is beyond comprehension.

The right to peaceful protest and civil disobedience is the only voice of a people that is supposed to be the final voice in its government and its society at large.

One person’s enemy is another’s cherished icon. The issue is not how you think, but that you are able to do so, and express it within the boundaries of the law, not good taste, religious moralities, silly traditions or how much it pisses someone off.

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The Bill For Rebuilding Iraq

Aquarian Weekly 2/26/03 REALITY CHECK

THE BILL FOR REBUILDING IRAQ The Small Details of The Bush War

WARNING: The following numbers are not official, for no government would dare divulge dumping billions of tax dollars to restructure areas of the world it pummeled into granite powder.

Our series on the pending military action in Iraq continues this week with a breakdown of the inevitable rebuilding of the country we’ll be bombing into near oblivion in a few weeks. A team of tireless accountants – excluding my accountant, who was excused to allow for the constant 24 hour watch which effectively keeps me from financial self-destruction, and my father, who after nearly 40 years of this shit has taken on the monumental feat of willing NC State into the NCAA tournament – joined our War Room to estimate the taxpayer investment in razing and then reconstructing a nation halfway across the globe.

Make no mistake; this fiasco will not be lengthy nor will it be anything approaching competitive. The Iraqi army is weaker than it was 12 years ago, and that wasn’t exactly a fighting machine. Even with troops spread out all over Europe and Asia and other points Middle East, the US Army will obliterate the Iraqi infrastructure within a month, tops. And when those left are finished surrendering to CNN camera crews, the bill will come due.

This latest and greatest standoff with Iraq will also not be cheap, but it’s too late to back down financially or politically. The cost of ramping up this sucker has already rivaled the first six bombings of Baghdad alone.

Okay, now raise your hands if you know the extent of US tax dollars funneled into the rebuilding of Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo or Afghanistan in the past decade. If your hands are still down, use them to hang on to your wallet.

We’ll start with Somalia, because in terms of rebuilding, it was a drop in the bucket at $1 billion of US military and humanitarian funds spent between in 1993 and ’94. But later in ’96, the World Bank estimated the total cost of cleaning up the Clinton Administration’s other charitable fascination with Bosnia at $5.1 billion over four years. However, the US costs alone reached that number after the first three years culminating in a grand total of $30 billion for the complete economic reconstruction of the Balkans. This included our funds to rebuild Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia and Romania at $2.2 billion.

The numbers on piecing together what was left of Kosovo are a little hazier, but the more concrete breakdown of war costs make up for that. According to a June, 1999 Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments analyst report in Rueters, the US coughed up $3 billion to take down Slobodan Milosevic amid the fumes of what was once Yugoslavia. This incorporated $1 million cruise missiles, 300 grand worth of tank-busting munitions and the occasional laser-guided bombs running $100,000 apiece. While the rest of Europe picked up the tip, our 1,000 aircraft, including 24 Apache attack helicopters, 18 multiple launch rocket system artillery pieces and some 5,500 supporting Army troops rounded out the grace-saving gig. And when you get to the cost of hanging around and making sure the deal sticks, the US spend up to $3.5 billion the first year to deploy peacekeepers.

Now for what continues to be an ad hoc covert operation in Afghanistan, going on its second year of spying, torture and all around merriment, according to a BBC report one year ago, the cost of rebuilding a country that was worth about 40 cents of infrastructure when we began gutting it is $297 million a year.

Note that our research does not go back to the tons of cashed dumped into Desert Storm 12 years ago, because of cost-of-living curves and vacillating inflation numbers, but suffice to say that wasn’t cheap.

This latest and greatest standoff with Iraq will also not be cheap, but it’s too late to back down financially or politically. The cost of ramping up this sucker has already rivaled the first six bombings of Baghdad alone. And unlike the Gulf War, this will be a full-scale invasion to unseat the current government, which means a complete dedication to rebuilding the damages, defending the next regime and keeping overall peace in a region our current government feels will start to be cleansed by this maneuver.

Our dollar share in this starts at $15 billion a year, while also risking the lives of thousands of US troops defending a reported coalition government that includes Sunnis, Shias and Kurds.

Whether this war protects our oil interests, bolsters Israel’s defense or puts the scare into terrorists remains to be seen. What is known is the tremendous financial burden it will put on the American taxpayer, the majority of which want little to nothing to do with it. To a nation struggling through an economic quagmire, this will either be crippling or productive. Again, a hard gig to predict, but one that is all but inevitable save Saddam Hussein’s head appearing on a platter at the UN anytime soon.

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