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AUGUST 8, 1974

Aquarian Weekly
8/13/14
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

AUGUST 8, 1974
The Seeds of Reality Check

Richard M. Nixon, August 8, 1974, speaking from the Oval Office:

I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as President, I must put the interest of America first. America needs a full-time President and a full-time Congress, particularly at this time with problems we face at home and abroad.

Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow.President Nixon with Advisor H.R. Haldeman

Ah, yes. Forty years ago to the day I write this; I was eleven years old lying on the floor in front of my parent’s trusty RCA, pawing through the new reprints of Will Eisner’s Spirit. Eisner created and produced many of his legendary character’s exploits in the 1940s’, but was resurrected in the 70s’ as part of a growing interest in the anti-hero, vigilante, masked marauder; half on the side of the law and the other half in the shadows; a “spirit”. Unbeknownst to me, it was the perfect metaphor for what I was about to witness at nine bells; the president of the United States resigning his post – embattled, disgraced, busted cold for high crimes against the Constitution. It was a defining moment for me. It shaped all that has been written in this space for coming on 17 years this month.

The first thing I recall about the presidency were tapes of John F. Kennedy’s speeches on space exploration that came with a record album of the 1969 moon landing, a celebratory moment of patriotism which froze the nation in wonder just five years prior. The fallen president had foretold the triumph, the record boasted. To a kid, just learning about world events, it was as if Kennedy was still president. He was not. I was told he had been gunned down six years before. I recall every November 22nd people would drive their cars around Pelham Parkway and Morris Park Avenue with the lights on as a tribute to the fallen president.

This was my introduction to American politics; murder and crime.

Of course, this became something of a joke in my first civics classes in 1976, the year of the nation’s bicentennial celebrations; where for the first time I would learn about the origins of the nation with bold talk of liberty and God and apple pie. Three years removed from the horrors of Viet Nam, another sunny display of America’s stains. I remember those images from television too. But war was still something of a romantic haze for me; war comics, war films, war games, war toys. Imagination over reality, like a president’s voice heralding a mission launched during the first term of a man I was now watching quit the most powerful job in the free world, Richard M. Nixon.

I spent the summer of 1973, the first one in Freehold, New Jersey, a long way from the Bronx, and a long way from everything I had known for the first decade of life, watching the Watergate senate hearings, or as it was known then, “the trials”. I had yet to make friends, and it was so damn hot outside and the bugs were incessant and every TV station – we had five of them then – had the damn thing on. So I found myself weirdly in a trance in front of the tube watching powerful be-suited men sweating beneath a torrent of hard queries couched in the kind of moral berating I had come to know all too well in Catholic school.

These people were in big trouble, and America was coming apart.

My parents, especially my mom, tended to downplay these things, as there was a sense in our house that these people were going about “business as usual”, and too bad for them, they were caught. Could have been the last guy or the guy before that, but it happened to be the 37th president of the United States going down. Hell, my parents had watched the entire western hemisphere balanced like an egg on a high wire in October of 1962. Could you blame them for not batting an eye at this? I was barely one month old, their first son, and a good portion of the planet was minutes from annihilation as Soviet warships approached U.S. shores. Forty-one days into life and it could have been curtains for me.

So maybe America wasn’t really coming apart. Maybe it was just Nixon coming apart. Not every president uses the White House as a criminal syndicate and not every administration has some 48 persons indicted for crimes and a dozen or so others do time and the chief quitting outright on national television. Of course, we still had yet to endure Ronald Reagan, whose administration still holds the record for 138 indictments and 21 convictions, or Bill Clinton, who was officially impeached, something Nixon never was, or whatever crazy shit George W. Bush finagled and this new guy, same as the old guy, whose NSA still runs amok, as he drags us back into Iraq.

These people were in big trouble, and America was coming apart.

But it was hard for me and my generation to grasp, that weird cusp of the Boomers; too young to get high at Woodstock or worry about things like race riots, assassinations and the draft, but too old to ignore the glaring fact that those at the top could not to be trusted. Since much of what the government did prior to the Kennedy assassination, Viet Nam and Watergate was viewed as a deep matter of public trust, this was a new way of understanding.

All of it began to unravel, thank goodness, in my formative years; this charade that all-is-well and that the smart and powerful have everything under control, was fast coming to a close. The Kennedy assassination opened a nation’s eyes, Viet Nam gave us something to see, and, well, the crimes of Nixon pretty much sealed it.

You might call it a reality check.

August 8, 1974.

Forty years ago.

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MONEY, CORRUPTION & THE FREE THINKER PRINCIPLE

Aquarian Weekly
4/16/14
REALITY CHECK
 

James Campion

 

MONEY, CORRUPTION & THE FREE THINKER PRINCIPLE
Some men worship rank, some worship heroes, some worship power, some worship God, & over these ideals they dispute & cannot unite–but they all worship money.
– Mark Twain

 Believe none of what you hear and half of what you believe.
– Something Benjamin Franklin heard in a French whorehouse and repeated at a Philadelphia beer garden
This week the Supreme Court further removed the shackles for wealthy donors to
contribute as much as they wish for political candidates, building on the momentum of the Citizens United ruling of 2007. The decision was 5-4 right down the line of political ideology, five conservative to four liberal judges, which is telling since this has been an issue for high-profile Republican donors like the Koch brothers that have turned quid pro quo cash deals into an art form. However, the dissent by liberal judges is disingenuous since Labor Unions routinely make up the preponderance of big money donations across the country in outrageous sums, and have been long before the Koch brothers knew how lucrative buying congressman could be.koch-brothers

Be that as it may, the following sentiments will not be going down the ideological slippery slope of hypocrisy wherein you have the Right whining about liberal media and the Left bitching about FOXNEWS. This is indeed about the First Amendment and the right to support any candidate of your choice with how you choose to do it. It is also about the realities of this republic, which was colonized, founded and manipulated since day one by money.

Firstly, taking the freedom of speech angle, it is unconstitutional to put limits on a citizen’s voice in the political process. For corporations, big money donors or whatever the fuck Citizens United is, this is the avenue in which they can impart said voice. If this were a true democracy, which it is not, never has been, and was never considered as such by our mostly rich framers, then, of course, there would be an issue with the rest of us (or at least those of you without a weekly column) that have no real voice beyond the ballot box. This is why, despite my abject mockery of TEA Party rallies and the 99-percent protests, there is a real desire for the rest of us to “be involved” without having a boatload of money to invest in our civic interests.

But that does not change the fact that if you have dough, you should be able to spend it how you like, within legal boundaries, which, as stated, should not preclude the First Amendment.

Of course money corrupts the system, just like bad journalism, idiot pundits and kowtowing to the lowest common denominator, which is by far the very essence of this nation’s lasting legacy.

Those opposed to this argument will shout that the system is circumvented by a collected few, which is as American as your mom’s apple pie and steroid abuse. From the shipyard of Boston Harbor to the railroads moguls of the Midwest and the pile of feces printed daily by Randolph Hearst and the tentacle reach of Big Oil, the influence of cash is our heritage. It kicked the English out, eviscerated the natives, ripped off the French, Dutch, Spanish and Mexicans, burned the South to the ground and ended slavery, smacked the Kaiser, toppled Hitler and eventually bankrupted the Soviet Union. It is what got us into Viet Nam and Iraq, elected a Kennedy and bribed Florida judges to put G.W. in office. It is our political pedigree.

Arguing about this now is like suggesting that red, white and blue is not quite right for the flag.

And don’t talk about corruption, which is where all this capping of donations started in 1974 when Dick Nixon blew up the entirety of the executive branch. Like the sallow ruins of 9/11 and whatever crazy shit happened thereafter from illegal jailing and wiretapping, covert wars and the vice president shooting a man in the face over quail meat, Watergate unleashed a torrent of silly overreactions that put a lean on our Bill of Rights that I strongly believe the Supreme Court corrected, whatever its political motivation.

But Nixon gave corruption a bad name. His ravenous paranoia stripped us of our right to have to actually see past the fantasy campaign ads and Super Pack machinations and realize that Citizens United is made-up shit concocted by the dickless to feel important, and do our due diligence as citizens, like ignoring Tipper Gore’s dream of having society parent our children by putting a goddamn sticker on everything. As if a record called “Kill The Cops” needs a warning. Or even merits one, since it is not actually killing cops, just singing about it. And all that awful crap about not being able to burn a piece of cloth because it happens to be designed as an American Flag. Next you’re going to have people suggest Bill O’Reilly shouldn’t be allowed to go on the Today Show and demand every American kid be force-fed Judeo-Christian principles without being smacked with a rubber mallet.

Of course money corrupts the system, just like bad journalism, idiot pundits and kowtowing to the lowest common denominator, which is by far the very essence of this nation’s lasting legacy. Everything can corrupt given the proper circumstances, and sometimes it is welcomed corruption. Lord knows George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, Bob Dylan, Salvador Dali, Alice Cooper, Woody Allen, Mark Twain, H.L Mencken, Hunter S. Thompson, Edward Hopper corrupted me, and I am a better man for it.

It’s called free thinking. Try it sometime. Turn off the radio and podcasts and politically manipulated television stations and put down the signs and toss away the cute slogans and corrupt yourself.

Then maybe you won’t be so threatened by everyone else’s corruption.

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A Songwriter’s Cyber Showcase

Aquarian Weekly
3/12/14

BUZZ Feature

by James Campion

 

A SONGWRITER’S CYBER SHOWCASE
Welcome One & All To Dan Bern’s Cyber Showcase
                              

If you put me in a box, make sure it’s a big box. – Dan Bern “Jerusalem”

“If I was to stage a theme show of my songs, say, around girl’s names; what would you put in there?” Dan Bern asked over Indian buffet near lower Lexington Avenue last September. He had been staying in New York for longer than usual and we made haphazard plans to get together and chat on-and-off the record, take in a film, walk the streets, smoke cigars, and, as Dan likes to say, throw a few back. I did not hesitate to make suggestions from his vast catalogue of material: Of course, “Marylyn” from the first record, Fleeting Days’ “Jane”, “Monica” (about Seles, not Lewinsky), “Sister” – not really a girls’ name, but a beautiful one about his only sibling from 1998’s Fifty Eggs, the stirring, “Estelle”, and suddenly we were off and running.

“Exactly,” he smiled.db

Later, as a collection of unreleased tunes for a planned album filled out the street sounds penetrating his modest suite at a downtown hotel that was framed by crudely beautiful renderings on the walls painted by his four year-old daughter, Lulu, Bern began to build on the idea. “I could see maybe renting out space off-off-Broadway and putting on shows based on song themes; a different one every night.”

There was no arguing that he, more than anyone this side of Randy Newman, could pull it off. For over 20 years now, Dan Bern has been writing songs (along with books, poems, and kid’s stories) with a reckless abandon – some of them even composed on demand for fans to help defray the costs to get this bulging phalanx of tunes out to the public and still others for the films Walk Hard, Get Him To The Greek and friend, Jonathan Demme’s Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains. Pressed to count them all, Bern will first insist he cannot, but will eventually acquiesce with a sighing, “Okay, over a thousand.”

Yup, Bern writes songs like most of us read the paper or peruse the Internet. It is almost a daily routine. He breathes, plays tennis, enjoys a bike ride, loves his family, and writes songs. Since 1997, this prolificacy has resulted in 14 studio albums, two live, five EP’s, a collaborative song-cycle adapted from the letters, essays and poems of the Western folk legend Everett Ruessand, and a collection of children’s songs; the second volume is already done and is brilliant and another country-flavored record is poised.

Suddenly, here was Bern imagining, even scheming a place for this disparate group of melodic brothers and sisters, heroes and despots, celebrations and protestations to go – one place, as if, well, as if a Theme Park.

Bern brought the “theme” idea up again a few weeks before leaving for the West Coast in early December, citing several reoccurring slices-of-life to his canon; pop culture, politics, history, literature, family, tennis, baseball, travel, etc., along with the obvious subjects available to any songwriter; love, loss, protest, and inner revelation.

“My first thought was, ‘That fucking Campion! That’s not in the rules!’ Then I thought,’ Eh, I’ll do it.’”

Once back in L.A., he was inspired by an online concert his friend and sometime collaborator, Mike Viola had hosted on the web site, stageit.com, wherein artists such as Bonnie Raitt, Indigo Girls, Plain White T’s, Jason Mraz, Jimmy Buffet, Sara Barreilles Better Than Ezra, and Ingrid Michaelson, among many others create backstage, in-house podcasts to interact directly with fans. It seemed Stage-It was the perfect vehicle for the “theme” idea, and it did not take Bern long to begin fashioning a one-man show around not only his moving, hilarious and poignantly striking music, but sprinkled with his razor-sharp wit, and officially call it “Theme Park”.

“All of my song subjects are so far afield, and with my songbooks here, I can pretty much pull from everything I’ve ever written and come up with set-lists,” Bern said from his L.A. abode over the phone in mid-February after he had a couple of Theme Park shows under his belt – the first theme, Football, broadcast the week before the Super Bowl included such luminary musical numbers as “Namath, Mantle & Me” (written when he shared a similar knee injury to the ailing stars), “Who Gets Serena?” (an imagined double-date between the Manning brothers and the Williams sisters) and “O.J. Simpson” (you know) and the second, Love, for Valentine’s Day featuring his unique sentimentalities displayed in “Love Makes All the Other Worlds Go Round”, “My Love is Not For Sale” and “I Need You” among others.

“I’m doin’ stuff I wrote this fall mixed with stuff I wrote 20 years ago mixed with stuff people know from the records, and its focused and it feels like a new thing.” Bern says, as he excitedly previewed a third one coming up for President’s Day.

So without much prompting, I had to “tune in” or more to the point, login to see it.

I became a member of Stage-It the day of the show, which was simple using Paypal, and since Bern mentioned more than twice I could “set the price, and in my case, it’s a dime”, I did, but went for broke at an outlandish $2.50. He informed me of the opportunity to “tip” the performer, as if he were playing in a downtown subway.  “I started offering these little perks for top tipper,” said Bern. “For the Super Bowl one I signed a football jersey, and for the Valentine’s one I gave away Henry Miller’s Wisdom of the Heart, and for the Presidents Day show, I painted three presidents, (Lincoln, Nixon, and LBJ) and in honor of the Winter Olympics, I’ll give them to the top three.”

db-2At 9:00 PM Eastern, there was Bern, captured by his MAC camera, nattily attired in a suit and tie (very presidential) and welcoming his audience with a very theme-y Theme Park theme song. Then he immediately launched into a toe-tapping ditty called “Weird Little Thing”, which playfully recites the bizarre coincidences between Lincoln and Kennedy’s time in office (not the least of which both were initially elected 100 years apart, to which Bern lyrically warns whoever is elected in 2060 better keep on his toes).

The humble USB mic did the trick, as the intimacy and immediacy of the performance was striking. I have seen Dan and hundreds of musicians ply their trade in every possible venue, from cramped clubs to upstairs lofts, garages to Madison Square Garden and Carnegie Hall (including Bern), but this is far different;  personal and interactive. As Bern played, viewers started messaging, the comments floating up on a stream to his right. Interspersing pithy comments, one spot-on imprecision of LBJ, and displaying his original paintings auctioned off to the “top tipper”, Bern was in his element and the fans loved it.

It was during a brief introduction to the next song as having been written as something of a dare that I realized my own request would make the show. As is my tradition, when invited to such ad hoc events, and knowing Bern’s ambitions run deep, I emailed him earlier that day to pen a song about William Henry Harrison, who infamously died 32 days into office from pneumonia thanks to his refusing to wear a coat on a bitterly cold and rainy Inauguration Day. “That kind of story is ripe for a folk song,” I wrote, unsure if even he could pull it off.

Sure enough, he did.

“Hey, a challenge is a challenge,” Bern said when I called to thank him the next morning. “My first thought was, ‘That fucking Campion! That’s not in the rules!’ Then I thought,’ Eh, I’ll do it.’”

Bern rounded out the 50 minute set (it was only scheduled for a half hour) with nine more songs, his haunting introspection of Lee Harvey Oswald in “Marine and Me”, a couple of verses of Tom Waits, “On The Nickel” (“…even Thomas Jefferson is on the nickel over there”), and his 2004 call for candidacy in “President” were the highlights.

Then, just as quickly as he popped up, he was gone.

“It’s weird for me, because when I do this show online, although I’m home and not in a club, I still feel that post-show glaze,” says Bern. “It could really grow into a bi-weekly thing for me, but it’s really the gravy, because if I finish touring and then come home and go a week or two without a show, it’s like arrrrrrrr. And to have something like this to focus me – getting the set together for that show’s theme and then doing the thing, and it’s only seven o’clock and your done – its kinda great.”

The experience, which began percolating in New York a few months back as a kind of local cabaret act, became a reality on the other side of the continent and has suddenly gone global. Some members of the audience were from Greece and all points abroad.

“The theme idea along with wanting to stay focused for 50 minutes of playing has allowed me to get 11 to 15 songs into each show, and by getting my paintings in there and being able to play more often to a larger audience beyond touring, it’s just a cool way to do all the things I like to do, and never leave my house.”

But one wonders when Bern does go back on the road, which he will this spring with dates already set to begin here on the East Coast in March and crisscross back to Los Angeles, before heading to Holland in April and returning for another week of gigs around New York in May, will Theme Park live on?

“Oh, I’m gonna keep doin’ ‘em,” Bern insists. “I can do a Theme Show anywhere, the hotel room or I’ll come out to your place and we’ll do it.”

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THE BEATLES – THE WEEK – THE LEGACY

Aquarian Weekly
2/12/13

REALITY CHECK

James Campion              

 

THE BEATLES – THE WEEK – THE LEGACY

In the early 90s’, Babe Ruth biographer Kal Wagenheim told me the only way to describe the Bambino’s effect on the game of baseball and America at large during his first few tumultuously historic years in New York pinstripes would be to say it was like he had been dropped from another planet. “There had been nothing like him before or since,” he said. “No one could remember what the game or American sports were like before Babe Ruth arrived on the scene. He changed everything.

beatles-on-ed-sullivan-showFor my money, this is as close as anyone has come to framing The Beatles arrival on American soil half a century ago this week.

Like Ruth, there was no lead-up to The Beatles in New York City on the second week of February, 1964.

How could there be?

Much of The Beatles image; the four cheerfully pasty, monochromatically dressed mop-topped British lads, was a hodgepodge of German art-house nihilism drenched in a transsexual sheen. At first glance, it was if the four figures were equal parts of a whole – what Mick Jagger once described as “the four-headed monster that went everywhere together.” The Beatles were a moving pop sculpture, a walking billboard of patent waves and cheeky smiles; on stage the rhythmic bouncing and bobbing of heads and the choreographed bows became inseparable from the music.

Beatles music was also odd. A jangling echo-saturated guitar assault launched upon primitive foot-stomping drums adorned with high-pitched semi-accented voices, as if mimicking normal cadence between all the “oohs”.

This was more than Sinatra, more than even Elvis. The Beatles were a thing. This weird inexplicable force of nature; seemingly fabricated, built in a lab somewhere to perfectly capture the intangible drift of hope.

In England, where Beatlemania had exploded through the previous summer, the copycats, both amateur and professional, already abounded, but in the States there was barely minor curiosity. Beyond a three-minute report from an American news organization that autumn smarmily mentioning some outlandish behavior by European youth over a caterwauling guitar band, The Beatles were a footnote by late January of ’64, when the band’s fifth single, “I Want To Hold Your Hand” bounded onto the Billboard charts at a modest #45.

Everyone in the growing organization that was The Beatles, including their wide-eyed genius of a manager, Brian Epstein, sent from central casting as king-maker deluxe, had any clue as to what awaited them at New York’s Kennedy Airport (ironically named after the fallen president scarcely two months in the grave, grieved by a nation starving for a little silly foreign distraction).

New York, much like the four Beatles home, Liverpool, was a port town, an artery of cross-culture and, perhaps more than any city in the world, always a hive of “happening”. It did not take long for “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to torch the charts, and by February 7, the day The Beatles walked out on the tarmac to hundreds of frenzied kids and a phalanx of grizzled Gotham reporters, it was #1 with the proverbial bullet. John Lennon (23), Paul McCartney (22), George Harrison (20), and Ringo Starr (24) were babes in the woods in age and experience – they had never been outside of Europe before – but their time on the rough road from late 1960 through the red-light district of Hamburg playing endless sets of American R & B music prepared them well for the onslaught.

And here’s the kicker; The Beatles were good, real good.

This was a well-oiled machine; no Memphis “aw, shucks” trucker or pristinely coached turtle-necked pop idol. From the harried ad hoc press conference at the airport, where they deflected questions with one-liners and breezy repartee, The Beatles drew the adoration, worship and envy of a considerable portion of the American public. It was an organic template for the modern roll-out of pop stars for ensuing generations, which culminated on the most watched live program in the nation.

Forty-eight hours on American soil, after all the hoopla and mobs in front of the Plaza Hotel and a swirl of photo shoots and half-assed radio “interviews”, arguably the most influential and time-altering few minutes in the history of human communication occurred on the Ed Sullivan Show. In less time than it takes to boil water, The Beatles performance of “All My Loving” (viewed by a record for the time of 73 million) ambushed an entire generation, set alight the British Invasion, and legitimized the heretofore idiotic notion that rock and roll would be anything other than a teen fad.

Before February of 1964, rock and roll, the last truly original American youth movement (its children being Rock, New Wave, Punk, Rap, Hip-Hop, etc) was on life support. Its founders and heroes, Elvis Presley (the army), Chuck Berry (jail), Buddy Holly, (dead) and Little Richard (religion) had gone away. Pop music was mired in bland, white, corporate creations, interrupted briefly by the brilliance of Phil Spector and Barry Gordy’s machinations, but mostly a plastic wasteland.

Before February of 1964 the art of pop songwriting was practiced in smoke-filled cubicles deeply tucked away in monolithic brick and mortar castles like the Brill Building, controlling the force and message of teen angst, lust, and yearning to challenge the status quo and find a voice.

Before February of 1964 this free-form expansion of cultural mayhem known as the Sixties seemed resigned to fight the battles of Civil Rights, sexual revolt, and youthful upheaval to the angry folk brilliance of Bob Dylan.

And here’s the kicker; The Beatles were good, real good. And soon this thing would take us all on a wild ride over six years, 12 studio albums, 13 EP’s and 22 singles. Each one was, without exception, really, really good. Crazy good. Scary good. Along the way this thing changed everything (Babe Ruth style), in fashion, experimentation (both sonically and chemically), business, mass communication, and culture.

It remains an element all its own, this Beatles, this thing, that for all intents and purposes began for America here in New York City in early February, 1964.

Fifty years ago, The Beatles came, saw, and conquered like no one or nothing since. To think of what mattered to us in 1964 being as relevant and nostalgic and passionate as this continuing movement is today is laughable.

John Lennon famously said, “Before Elvis, there was nothing.”

He and his band made sure we didn’t forget that notion ever again.

*Dedicated to my friend, Lisa Geller, born the day this all went down.

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THE CLASSICS

The top ten all-time Reality Check columns as determined by volume of mail or immediate feedback by the hearty members of the indomitable Check Group.

THE 9/11 SERIES

This five-part commentary is now lauded among readers as some of jc’s finest columns in the wake of the events of 9/11. Two of these brutally honest pieces were included in the charity compendeum, “Glory: A Nation’s Spirit Defeats the Attack on America.” (2001)

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DOWN GOES DOMA

 

Aquarian Weekly
7/3/13
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

DOWN GOES DOMA
Along with Prop 8, Supreme Court Ends Latest Era of Legal Discrimination

Although Congress has great authority to design laws to fit its own conception of sound national policy, it cannot deny the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

– Justice Anthony Kennedy

Unconstitutional.a

Of course.

The Defense of Marriage Act, a nifty piece of legislation which disallowed a segment of taxpaying citizens access to the Bill of Rights, is now dead and buried. DOMA, as it is most popularly referred to, was another in a long line of “laws” heaped upon the public by the government to strip us of our civil liberties, as in the now debated Patriot Act. Only this one insidiously singled out a segment of society, denying them access to systems put in place to protect spouses and their property and dignity.
Justice Kennedy expounds; “DOMA’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal. The principal purpose is to impose inequality, not for other reasons like governmental efficiency. Responsibilities, as well as rights, enhance the dignity and integrity of the person. And DOMA contrives to deprive some couples married under the laws of their State, but not other couples, of both rights and responsibilities.”

Amen.

The fact that DOMA was ever formed, voted on, passed, and signed into law is an abject embarrassment for the length of breath of this republic and it is lucky for this country and the people in it that 84 year-old Edith Windsor stood up and said, “What?” Motivated by over 300 grand of estate tax she wouldn’t have had to pay if not for these goofy laws saying she couldn’t marry a woman named Thea she’d lived with for four decades simply because he was not a man named Theo, Windsor became this era’s Oliver Brown.

Upon announcing incredulity with silly laws, Brown v. The Board of Education put a spike through serration, which is a nice word for saying “state sanctioned discrimination” or “legal bigotry”. People like Windsor and Brown make all of our hollow talk about Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness and haughty spouting about the U.S. Constitution being our Bible, which is all correct, can now rest easier that a little more of  us are allowed inside the freedom boat, protected against social tyranny.

The great irony of an abomination called the Defense of Marriage Act is that it was designed and presided over by a Speaker of the House and signed into law by a president, both of whom had routinely made sport of cheating on their spouses (Newt Gingrich, twice divorced, and Bill Clinton’s well-documented misogyny). Although it never quite seriously explained why two of the most powerful men in America would not be more of a “threat” to the sanctity of marriage than an everyday citizen who deserved the same chance to shit all over their spouses. The answer was always that people who make an open mockery of this institution are less a stain on marriage than two people of the same sex.

And that’s the rub.

It is selective moralizing.

We have a Constitution and a Bill of Rights to safeguard against such nonsense.
And that’s apparently what opponents of this obvious and way overdue Supreme Court ruling don’t get. They get all uppity and defensive saying, “Oh, if we defend traditional marriage we are called bigots!” Well, yes, if you are only applying this glorious worship of an institution to one segment of society then it is the very definition of discrimination, and this is only practiced by bigots. Hence, you are a bigot.

Of course, they muddy the whole thing by calling themselves traditionalists, which is old hat for people trying to deny rights they enjoy to other citizens, whether it’s the Irish owning land or Jews allowed access to certain institutions or women voting or African Americans eating at a diner below the Mason Dixon line. “This is the way it’s always been done,” they say. “Why are you going around changing stuff?” The other day talk show host Rush Limbaugh couched his derision on the ruling by actually saying out loud that “things are going along just fine and then the gays say, ‘Hey we want to be able to marry’ and then its madness.”

Yes, can you imagine waking up one day and realizing your height keeps you from getting a driver’s license? And when you say, “Wait a minute!” Some sanctimonious nitwit says, “Take it easy, buddy, things are fine the way they are. This is how we do it and have always done it.” I bet you would take it like a good citizen and realize that tradition is far more important and you’d run out and get yourself a bike.

Sure.

I guess things were going along just fine until some moron invented a radio, huh?

And I know she’s silly and cannot really be taken seriously outside the geeks at CPAC, but the other day when Michelle Bachmann, who would not have been able to publicly voice political opinion, never mind cast a ballot, less than a century ago, stands on the capitol steps as a senator and derides this law on the basis of Biblical law, which openly frames women as nothing more than livestock, is beyond absurdity. Not sure she realizes how much of a metaphor for this ruling she’s truly become. Hell, if Moses or George Washington showed up to her little speech yesterday, if they could ever stop choking, both men would have wondered what bizarre joke was playing out by having a woman legislator speaking to a crowd of people she was not serving soup to.

Look, traditionalists and Bible thumpers won’t get it. This is their thing. And this is why we have a Bill of Rights and a Constitution, to protect us from those who don’t get it, which brings us to the second Supreme Court ruling, California’s goofy Proposition 8, an excellent example of why leaving civil liberties up to the vagaries of state laws is also thorny. Having people vote whether, say, people with blonde hair can have kids is dangerous. And lawmakers? Well, we’ve already seen how that goes on the federal level. Right now in Texas the state legislature and its governor are trying to make it legal to shoot women on the way to get a pap smear. Something like that. I can’t tell.
Most laws in Texas end up allowing the shooting of someone or something. It’s hard to fathom what those preciously colorful idiots are doing down there. It’s like “the weird kid in the basement” state.

And so, regardless of all the other junk and flaws and spectacular hypocrisy that we’re straddled with around here on a daily basis year after fuck-awful year, we have a very proud day in the American experiment; the fantastic Don’t Tread on Me, “Give me liberty or give me death” and “All men are created equal” part that seems to perfectly rear its beautiful head when some generation or segment of our society decides what another can or can’t do.

This is going to be one hell of an Independence Day at The Desk.

Yee-Ha!

 

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Reality Check

THE CLASSICS

The top ten all-time Reality Check columns as determined by volume of mail or immediate feedback by the hearty members of the indomitable Check Group.

THE 9/11 SERIES

This five-part commentary is now lauded among readers as some of jc’s finest columns in the wake of the events of 9/11. Two of these brutally honest pieces were included in the charity compendeum, “Glory: A Nation’s Spirit Defeats the Attack on America.” (2001)

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Obama Victory 2012

 

Aquarian Weekly
11/14/12
REALITY CHECK

THE JOE COOL STOMP II
Barack Obama Doubles Down On History

That was fun. Eighteen months of hard campaigning, billions of dollars spent, hundreds of speeches, rallies and whistle stops, trillions of words spewed from every avenue of punditry, and here we are: President Barack Obama, Republican Congress, Democratic Senate.

How did we get to status quo?

Obama VictoryFirstly, this was about Barack Obama. Beyond the distractions of his opponent’s mostly sub-par to at times atrocious candidacy, this victory cements his place as the most impressive Democratic presidential candidate since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It’s not even close. Truman barely survived Dewey. LBJ quit. Kennedy was murdered. Carter never had a prayer. Clinton failed to win the popular vote twice. Joe Cool stomped the terra. Took the names and buried the comers. In my lifetime, this was the domain of Republican candidates. Until Obama.

Obama achieved the impossible, twice. Just by getting elected as the first African-American president in the first place; not to mention as a northern, liberal, two-year senator, and then, weakened and vulnerable, repeating the achievement as the owner of the highest unemployment as any victorious incumbent from either party since 1936. Thirty years from now journalists and head-scratching Republicans will have to listen to the myths of Barack Obama the way we’ve had to endure those of Ronald Reagan. He is the liberal pillar to Reagan’s conservative one; both men overcoming recession, harsh and unfair attacks from opponents, and a mid-term congressional dump to win an impressive re-election.

Just like the old liberal establishment of the early twentieth century failed to comprehend the pall of the Depression Era, the fatigue of world wars and the yolk of government had faded into the yuppie gore of the 1980s, there is an equally fervent rejection of reality by the Cold War, trickle-down nerds who have been living in a nether world of falsehoods that finally came home to roost on November 6, 2012.

Republicans will argue, and it is starting right now as I write this, four minutes before Mitt Romney’s concession speech, that the candidate merely sucked. He did suck. But if so, he’s sucked for seven years, and despite a TEA Party uprising in 2010 that brought the GOP back from a post-Bush funeral, he, and not a true conservative became the party’s overwhelming choice. And with more disposable cash than any candidate in American history, he was trounced.

Turns out, Romney’s high watermark was that evening in Denver when his campaign was ditched and he boldly unleashed the biggest ass kicking anyone is likely to see in a presidential debate again. Before that his team was deeply divided and the candidate’s performance poor. His desperate lurch to the center and then to shamelessly mirror his opponent in the final debate confused anyone paying attention for more than a few weeks. And perhaps keeping him from any interviewer, radio microphone or television camera for the last 45 days of the race made it impossible for the electorate to embrace him.

But this was not a Romney problem. For weeks nearly every conservative commentator fell over one another to tell us that all the polls were wrong and “momentum this” and “enthusiasm that”. “You’ll see!” they all said. They just didn’t have anything to back it up, like polls or data; not unlike their candidate’s economic math or dozens of other campaign promises that were devoid of detail. It is this kind of disconnection from reality that has plagued the Republican brand for years now, whether in matters of social, cultural or economic concerns.

No campaign, especially those that Rove’s $400 million-plus American Crossroads miserably failed to rescue, can ever make the mistake of ignoring this reality again.

A lot of people got a kick out the Republican Primaries, it was great political theater, but they also scared the hell out of many more. Fighting against gay rights with religious nonsense, dismissing women’s health care as promiscuousness, treating the human element of immigration reform as if rounding up cattle, laughing at climate change and trashing the government you’re auditioning to run was a recipe for November 6, 2012.

This parade of nonsense helped build on Obama’s overwhelming demographic dominance, putting the onus on the GOP to expand its ever-dwindling voting block — working-class whites, religious fanatics, married white women, neo-cons, and fat cats. Fact is right now there is a pretty good chance the next 20 years of trends whether ethnic, social, or gender will land squarely in the opposition party’s column. An entire generation of young people has now come out to vote for a Democratic president twice. The old adage is that three such elections and you have that voter for life.

The Obama Machine, which gained its fangs in those drag-outs against the mighty Clintons in 2008 and designed the nation’s finest grass roots ground game ever, has set the standard. Pinpoint inner polling, a Herculean get-out-the-vote discipline, county-by- county retail political sweeps, and heavy demographic targeting as precise and lethal as a military engagement will be the norm now, not the exception. Fossils like Karl Rove, Michael Barone, George Will, and Dick Morris, who were all sure Romney would win, (Morris predicted a landslide) applied the last vestiges of the loser’s lament; wishful thinking, when well-researched and irrefutable arithmetic were readily available to them. Rove, once the boy genius of a time now long past, was so flummoxed election night he openly fought on the air with the FOXNEWS statisticians until the cold reality of his folly had stripped him bare. No campaign, especially those that Rove’s $400 million-plus American Crossroads miserably failed to rescue, can ever make the mistake of ignoring this reality again.

And finally, the statistical matrix of the race, specifically the superstar, Nate Silver and his 538 blog, with its weighted poll system and de-junking of antiquated systems, has turned a heretofore unreliable prognostication tool into a dead-on indicator of voter loyalties and leanings. This has changed the very landscape of politics forever. Dismissing this data or failing to use these tools as vital measuring sticks to victory for candidates by any campaign or the media from now on will be done at their peril.

Silver is the great revelation of this 2012 presidential campaign. His miraculously stellar 2010 prediction odds were only outdone by the nearly six months of consistent and illuminating polling data that never once gave Mitt Romney a more than 30 percent chance of victory, and as late as Election Day provided Barack Obama a 92 percent probability rating, based solely on fastidiously balanced internal state numbers that failed to waver but only for a few weeks in October and then settled back out to the original and ultimately finishing totals.

Never has polling data been so reliable and in-depth at providing not only the correct outcome weeks even months ahead of time, but factored in all the information politicos, the press and the public would need to know about the electorate at large. Covering or following the ebb and flow of a presidential campaign will never be the same again. It is the political junkie’s equivalent of Einstein, Edison, you name it. Compared to Silver, the rest of the field was using sticks and rocks in an atomic age.

In many ways the 2012 election cycle was historic. Whether this results in competent governing is for those in the wishful thinking category. We feel sufficiently pleased that cold, hard reality won over bullshit for now. We take our victories where we can get them.

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Attorneys General Rogue Past

Aquarian Weekly 6/27/12 REALITY CHECK

WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH U.S. ATTORNEYS GENERAL?

History lesson, kids.

Ready?

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

I cannot.

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

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

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

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

Power grab? Circumstance? Bad luck?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Look Away Dixie Land

Aquarian Weekly 3/28/12 REALITY CHECK

LOOK AWAY DIXIE LAND

In human history a moral victory is always a disaster, for it debauches and degrades both the victor and the vanquished. – H.L. Mencken

Oh, I wish I was in the land of cotton Old times there are not forgotten Look away, look away, look away Dixie Land. – Daniel Decatur Emmett

Ah, the South. Lincoln’s great mistake; not allowing a full and complete secession from the Union to stand, providing the free-market mechanism to eventually take from it the power, ideology and half-baked customs that has been the bane of the American existence for lo these many decades. By crushing the South militarily, it not only cost the 16th president his life, but it left the defeated with a sense of martyrdom and the pangs of vengeance which has filled volumes of American literature, sordid history and rancorous expression for 147 long years. Since, the South never disappoints when it comes to shenanigans of all kinds — political, social, racial, religious; it remains our witless cousin; the one the money people like the Kennedys or the Romneys would keep in the basement and feed dog food and tell the neighbors was a bad rumor.

Trayvon MartinOh, but the South is not a bad rumor. It is real.

Well, as real as the South gets.

Apparently in our most southern of states, Florida, a certified legal and binding prefecture of these United State — where law breeds a hazy mystical sludge and civil rights are up for debate on color, sexual orientation, gender, religious affiliation, patriotism, media outlets and celebrity — you can kill another citizen and not be incarcerated. Joining Texas, South Carolina and Mississippi for this nation’s highest under-prosecuted murder rate and by far highest hate-crime per capita, the Sunshine State takes front and center this week for its ham-fisted legislative racketeering and obligatory confederate axiom to shoot first and figure out the motivation much, much, much later.

Much later.

Twenty-six days later by the time of this writing.

The shooting of a17 year-old African American boy named Trayvon Martin by a civilian that carried the vague title of Neighborhood Watchman, which in the real world and not that of the South means vigilante, has yet to include an arrest. The alleged killer, George Zimmerman, who has a criminal record and a history of domestic violence, reported on a 911 call that Martin “looked suspicious” and then for reasons only known to Zimmerman gunned the boy down with nothing more than a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea on him.

Whoops.

Whoops that end in the death of a citizen, whether black, white, green or purple, whether teenager, infant, cross-dresser, priest or octogenarian in the real world and not that of the South usually ends in at first a manhunt, and especially in this case, wherein there is a full admission of guilt, an arrest.

This is not merely a South problem it is humanity’s problem, however the environment, the aura, and the acceptable social behaviors of these states and their region of origin do not legally sanction such arbitrarily deadly behavior.

What is keeping Zimmerman a free man is a very interesting law (not in the real world and only that of the South) passed by the Florida state legislature and signed into law by its then governor, the honorable Jeb Bush in 2005. Called “Stand Your Ground’, this law allows citizens to carry automatic weapons and use them at their discretion if feeling threatened. According to statistics released by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, since the law was enacted seven years ago, justified homicides in Florida have jumped threefold.

Whoops.

Yes, and while I have to say that I am certainly on the fence about such a law in that if it had been available to me, along with an automatic weapon of my choosing, in the Bronx from 1962 to 1972 and central New Jersey from 1972 to 1982, and certainly in Westchester, New York from 1982 to 2001, and here in the great mountains of New Jersey from 2001 to the present day, there would be a phalanx of bodies piled up behind me from the proverbial here to the probable there. Oh, yes. I felt threatened, was threatened, and beyond that all-out assaulted by every manner of cretin known to civilized man. Having the opportunity to shoot these people might have appealed to me then, especially if the law allowed it, and the law, in Florida (not in the real world and only that of the South) indeed does.

Whoops.

Okay, so maybe as Zimmerman and the confused and beleaguered Sanford city local government and police force maintain, he was threatened, assaulted or put down by a 17 year-old kid and his buddies armed with sugar water and fruity candy, then maybe, according to the law, he has a case. He has done nothing wrong. Justice? For what, protecting his personage against onslaught — real or imagined? Remember the law clearly states that all one needs is to “feel threatened” by someone “looking suspicious”. Justified killing on a feel and a look is regional dialect for not in the real world and only that of the South.

Or…

The South shall rise again.

So now, as with Louisiana during Katrina and Texas during Waco and Mississippi during the 1960s with the murders of Medgar Evars and Martin Luther King, burning of black churches, killing of voter rights protestors — sheesh, I have no room for all of Mississippi’s bullshit — and on and on and on, the federal government, already broke, and the American citizenry, always the collective fall-guy for this nonsense, will have to pay for a proper investigation.

This is, after all, Florida, which gave us the constitutional crisis known as the 2000 presidential election (orchestrated by, you got it, the honorable Jeb Bush) that took federalist comedy to new lows. But even for a fairly screwed up political system, this is a pretty substantial clusterfuck. Dead kids are bad for business. Dead black kids, well that’s bad for everyone everywhere, especially in the South.

Look, no one is claiming that if such a law were to make it through the New York state legislature or in Minnesota or Massachusetts or Illinois that people wouldn’t be “feeling” like shooting each other “under suspicion” hourly. This is not merely a South problem it is humanity’s problem, however the environment, the aura, and the acceptable social behaviors of these states and their region of origin do not legally sanction such arbitrarily deadly behavior.

This is what goes on in the South.

Whoops…it’s legal.

 

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