Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Rodney Dangerfield Party

There's no making us happy and there's no way the Democratic Party will ever get any respect.

A Gallup poll that came out yesterday morning says that the majority of us actually blame the Democrats for the violence that's been breaking out all over the country in the week since the health care reform bill was signed into law.

On the face of it, opposition to it doesn't seem too surprising, since many progressives are pissed off that the HCR bill, with or without fix its, doesn't do enough to curb health care costs and doesn't have a public option that would help temper the individual mandate.

But, according to the same poll, an alarming two thirds of us also feel that government is playing too big a role in health care and the president's disapproval rating has dipped to 50% for the first time.

It's hard to see how the one party that singlehandedly reformed health care and college tuition, reaching a nuclear pact with Russia and other things in one single week, with no help whatsoever from the Republican Party, could be blamed by the American people for the violence we've been seeing from coast to coast.

Teabagger: "This is your Islamic, Communist, Socialist, fascist President, people. Any questions?"
Democrat: .oO Oh, dear, how will I ever be able to refute that? Oo.

Wasn't there a question on the poll asking the American people who they thought was actually carrying out the violence and which party they thought was failing to condemn, even encouraging it? How could a people in the most educated nation on earth continue to be so stupid and misinformed?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Right

(By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari.)

Jesus wanted us to be ready to defend ourselves using the sword and stay alive using equipment. - The Hutaree's Holy Mission Statement.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is looking more and more like a fucking prophet these days.

11 months ago (on, ironically, a week before teabaggers held their first rallies), it was Homeland Security under Secretary Napolitano that warned us and law enforcement agencies in a report (.pdf file) of the rise of right wing extremism, one that made the right wingers extremely pissed. It was angrily dismissed as so much left wing, Socialist agitprop that was whipped up to frighten the masses, agitprop not at all like the heightened threat levels at Homeland Security during the Bush years that seemed to rise at key points during the 2004 campaigns.

Initially, even the White House tried to distance itself from the report since the Obama administration flinches every time Mitch McConnell or Rush Limbaugh scratch their asses because right wing rage isn't so, well, extreme when you think about it. Still, better to not get them going. Such flinching before proper white, southern and Midwest outrage has made the President look like little more than an Uncle Tom who's, from time to time, a bit uppity.

Now, from the state that brought you Tim McVeigh and the Nichols brothers, consider the case of the Hutaree, self-appointed Christian warriors who were arrested this past week for conspiring to murder police officers en masse. This Michigan militia group's holy mission was to slaughter a few police officers then to use IED's to kill many more at their funerals. If you thought Fred Phelps and his inbred devotees from Westboro Baptist church were human herpes sores at heroes' funerals, think of what these bozos could've done.

However, early this month, the Southern Poverty Law Center released an almost equally noteworthy report stating that last year saw a 244% rise in so-called Patriot groups. This includes homegrown militias such as the Hutaree, self-appointed border patrol groups such as the one that murdered a man and his nine year-old daughter all the way down to the pair that was busted in 2008 in Tennessee for planning to murder scores of African Americans, including the future President of the United States, in a suicide mission while wearing white tails and top hats in some surreal plot that brings to mind "Irving Berlin goes to Rosewood."

And let's not forget that 24% of Republicans out of 2230 people recently polled by Harris stated they thought President Barack Obama is the antichrist and that gun sales have gone through the roof since election day 2008. Then there are the religious groups such as the ones that united to produce the Manhattan Declaration that promised the same kind of civil disobedience that the Old Testament God would've found intolerable and the Rev. Steven Anderson who time and again also wished death on the President and inspired if not commanded a man to show up fully armed at an Obama rally in Phoenix.

Lest we forget, there are also the harder ones to spot, the lone nuts who shoot abortion doctors, Unitarian churches and people at the Holocaust Museum, fly their planes into IRS buildings and blow up their own with them still inside. When Hal Turner was arrested last year for threatening the lives of three federal judges, he wasn't an aberration but a symptom of a larger fever gripping this country, the fever of hateful intolerance.

Finally, there's the so-called liberal media led at the vanguard by the top-rated Fox network that employs Glenn Beck, who called the president a racist, as well as the likes of Bill O'Reilly, Sarah Palin and Sean Hannity, commentators who have accused Mr. Obama of being a Muslim, a fist-jabbing pal of terrorists, a Socialist, a Communist, a fascist and have invited unchallenged guests to also sling such unfounded and easily disprovable lies about our Chief Executive.

The one common denominator in virtually all these right wing groups is obvious: Racism, white supremacy wrapped up in the colors of Old Glory. And you would think, at some time and at some point, a line would be drawn in the sand somewhere in Washington, DC but what we're seeing, instead, are Republicans exhorting others to slit their wrists, egg on the teabaggers during a congressional session, calling the President a liar to his face on international television and stopping short of condemning people such as antitax opponents like Joe Stack.

Yet, in spite of all the violence and threatened violence, xenophobic Rep. Steve King thinks that overthrowing the government in a "velvet revolution" through teabaggery is actually possible.

However, this trend on Capitol Hill and within the RNC that seems to condone violence against those who don't toe the conservative line is not a new one, as Texas Sen. John Cornyn and Texas Congressman and former Majority Leader Tom DeLay showed us five years ago.

It doesn't take a genius to be able to connect the dots and see a rapidly accelerating trend that was pacified into only occasional outbursts of wingnuttery under a GOP-dominated Congress, Supreme Court and White House.

But now that they've lost power in two of the three branches of government they profess to hate, anyway, the right wing has already passed the point where Republicans and teabaggers should have their own theme music played on a carnival calliope. Now, it's rage, rage against the dying of the right. The loss of control, coupled by the fact that a black man is in control of the executive branch and a Latina infiltrating their last stronghold, which is the Supreme Court, makes the acts of violence and threats of it still shocking but hardly surprising to those of us in the cynically-named "reality-based community."

So how come the liberal media are still not connecting the dots and seeing the beginning of what could look like the next civil war?

History tells us time and again that events leading up to civil unrest, rebellion, sedition and outright revolution and civil war accelerate. It begins with rhetoric such as what we've been hearing from the entrenched right wing media and the GOP, civil disobedience as promised by the religious right's own Manhattan Project, mass demonstrations as we've seen with the teabaggers, bigotry-fueled pogroms in which certain minorities are targeted for abuse and death.

Eventually, people begin dying in small numbers. Two in a Unitarian church, a couple more in an IRS office, another at a Holocaust Museum. Pretty soon it begins to add up to real casualties, especially when elected officials and leading figures in the media are not only failing to condemn it, they're actually condoning and encouraging it.

Next thing you know, a new party rises up from the ashes of its own obscurity in the President's own back yard with little opposition from that President and a complete coalescing and organization of these disparate anti-democratic factions is all but inevitable.

Monday, March 29, 2010

How Far Will They Go For Our Forgiveness?

Fiscally conservative Republicans have a lot of 'splainin' to do, especially after this Daily Caller article today about an RNC trip that cost their donors $1,946.25 so their boys could go to a West Hollywood lesbian-themed bondage/strip club called Voyeurs.

Last month alone, Steele blew $17,514 on chartered jets and that same month he and his hangers on spent another $9100 at the famously posh Beverly Hills Hotel. He's even reported to have suggested buying his own private jet with RNC funds.There's no evidence (yet) that Steele was present during this junket but we can derive two things from this:

One, that Steele really is a secret pervert, which is practically synonymous these days with the word "Republican" or 2, the RNC is full of secret perverts and hypocrites who are calling for Steele's resignation for burning through money faster than Heath Ledger's Joker.

Predictably, they're getting lashed mercilessly for this on the left side of the tracks and the ball-gagged Republicans have yet to find the safe word.

The Unreal America

Thuggery is a left-wing tactic. We denounce it. We will not stand for it.” - Mark Williams

At least Hal Turner's got the guts to say to his intended victims, "I want you dead and I'm making no bones about it." When he wants you broken and bleeding, he doesn't mince words and doesn't back away from his threats. At least he has that much courage in his twisted convictions.

But Turner's the exception, not the rule. Most right wingers are craven asswipes who, like Turner, prefer to do things tribally. Sarah Palin, a largely unemployed hasbeen whose entire relevance derives from being able to stir up racist animosity, is such a case in point.

Palin's now saying that the "lame stream media" is lying about the innumerable instances of Tea Party violence that's been breaking out since the first hours after the health care reform bill passed. This is coming from someone whose own Facebook page marks 20 Democratic districts with crosshairs and has exhorted her minions to "reload."

Sure, the targeting terminology is usually part and parcel to politics but these aren't usual times. Instead, these are times that more than just the Chinese would find interesting, times that have seen gun nuts sent to Obama rallies by insane ministers who have openly wished death on the President. These are times in which addresses are being disseminated with the intention of inciting violence and victimizing, instead, relatives of Congressional reformists by cutting their propane lines.

These are times in which right wing bloggers firmly connected to the Tea Party movement have encouraged people to throw bricks through the windows of Democratic congressmen and we've seen it happen in at least five states. These are times in which congressmen and their children have been threatened with death.

These are times that have been wrenched back into the pre-Civil rights era in which African Americans weren't served at Woolworth lunch counters, had to use separate washrooms and water fountains, had to ride in the back of the bus, were lynched with impunity and openly called "nigger" while being denied the right to vote.

These are times in which congressional chairmen and longstanding members of Congress are called "faggot", further pushing us back into a pre-Stonewall age in which gay men were beaten to death with impunity, hadn't the right to marry within their gender and were targeted by police and politicians for harassment.

In other words, left wing thug tactics. We're the ones famous for throwing bricks through Democratic congressional offices, for vandalism, for threatening to murder children.

And a thinking person would be mindful of these things, to know that this lunatic fringe that has so captivated the mainstream media like a hundred boys in a hundred shiny balloons is quivering for the slightest sign to let slip the dogs of domestic war.

But Sarah Palin and asshole apologists like Andrew Breitbart and Mark Williams are not thinking, astute people who are willing to assume even a shred of fucking responsibility for using inflammatory words such as "targeting" and "reload" and crosshairs on maps of congressional districts.

In spite of a neverending stream of news stories of right wing thuggery that's been conclusively connected to Tea Baggers and the Republican Party, this is a left wing tactic, don't you know? It's the liberals who are targeting liberals and Democrats for giving them the health care reform they wanted.

And if it isn't us, well, it certainly isn't the Tea Party movement, either. That's the other America, ya betcha.

The problem with Mark Williams' asinine comment is the fact that right wingers like Palin do stand for mob tactics and prove it every time they try to deny these things are happening.

There's no commonly held definition for "stupid." There are no real, peer-reviewed scientific studies studying the origins and causes of stupidity. Not enough books have been written on the subject to fill even half a book shelf.

But if anyone's picture belongs next to the word "stupid" in a dictionary, it would have to be Sarah Palin's. Since she was named by John McCain in late August of 2008 to be his running mate, we've seen the resurgence of ugly, snarling pockets of racism, mobs great and small who choose not to learn anything from anyone or anywhere aside from Palin's Facebook page, Twitter tweets and Glenn Beck's hyperventilating on Fox.

Sarah Palin's fan base, these Teabaggers, are ongoing, vivid reminders of the willfully ignorant, those who revel in their stupidity and ignorance and prefer not to think outside carefully choreographed Two Minute Hates that have instead stretched to nearly a year.

Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck are so contemptuous of your own intelligence that they're telling you you can't trust your lying eyes and ears even when one congressman after another in one news item after another has told us of acts of violence, prejudice, and vandalism in an alarmingly short span of time.

The teabaggers, however emotionally invested they are in the health care debate, no matter how sincere their concerns, serve as an ominous reminder of the pogroms in Eastern Europe that ran roughshod over the Jewish communities, of the mass hysteria that can be whipped up into a bloodthirsty frenzy over nothing by irresponsible, hateful bigots. Bigots who are too cowardly to own up to violence they incite by using borderline, inflammatory rhetoric and visual cues who then try to claim the violence they incite is more characteristic of their political enemies. Bigots who are so craven and cowardly they sidestep from these acts of violence as if around dog shit dropped by someone else's dog and then enable more of the same by denying its very existence.

Such people are beneath contempt and yet Sarah Palin keeps coming back like a herpes sore to remind us of how vulnerable we still are and always will be to our own stupidity and prejudices.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Demon Pass

(By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari.)

"I tried to boil down in essence what makes me so angry about (the HCR bill). And it was this idea that he and other people decide what the needs are in society. They get to decide. But in order to fund those things, they have to take from some people in order to give to the other people." - Keli Carender, aka "Liberty Belle" on NPR’s Morning Edition.

"The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States... - Article 1, Section 8, United States Constitution.

Those of us in the reality-based community have long known of the Mighty Republican Wurlitzer and how it's continually hammered upon by one conservative Dr. Phibes or Phantom of the Opera or another. However, that Mighty Wurlitzer has begun to take on the tone and timber of a calliope, one piercing and rending an increasingly progressive nation that has just passed the most historic health care reform legislation in our republic's 234 year-long history.

The backlash from the Tea Baggers and the Republican Party that loves them is just the beginning. Former Vice President Cheney has come out in favor of waterboarding and has been joined by his equally psychotic daughter Liz who's actually organized a pro-torture movement called Keep America Safe.

Pro health reform congressmen have been spat on, called vile slurs such as "nigger" and "faggot", have had their children threatened, bricks thrown through their offices in at least five states, had received faxes of nooses and, in perhaps the most alarming case of all, the address of the brother of Congressman Periello was mistakenly disseminated to the public a la Hal Turner and the man's propane line was cut. Congressman Periello's brother has a wife and four children under the age of eight.

The President of the United States has been a big easy target for other racial slurs and renewed calls for an already released US birth certificate. And the imagery has mutated to far more than depicting the President as Heath Ledger's Joker. A dozen Republican Attorneys General and one Democratic AG have already filed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the health care reform and joining forces with Orly Taitz, possibly the most delusional and insane woman this side of Ann Coulter.

Late last January, James O'Keefe and three others were arrested for attempting to tamper with the phone lines of Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu.

"Deem and pass" and "reconciliation," despite being previously enjoyed by the Republicans, is now unconstitutional when used by the Good Guys.

And we're not even going back to the beginning of the still-young year.

Yes, since before the days of Reagan, there have always been fringe lunatics on the far right and we've always known about them but there's something different in the air, something far more unhinged, far more sinister than anything that we'd seen even during the most red-toothed hysteria of the Clinton/Monica witch hunts. And racism trying to scratch its way through the surface of the skin is only part of the reason.

It would be disquieting enough to merely know that such people exist. What adds an extra dimension of terror to the darkening political landscape is knowing that even while they're finding their inner demon, they're patiently given one pass after another by not only the mainstream media but the Republican Party that has found some small patch of ideological common ground with the Tea Bagger movement that loathes them almost as much as liberal Democrats.

More than ever, these past three months the Republican Party and the conservative/libertarian movement in general has betrayed itself to be the party of torture, intimidation and domestic terrorism. They're so brazen about it, it's almost as if they dare us to get the signatures of three psychologists to have every one of them committed (at least they'd get better health care thanks to the vilified President Obama.)

And as usual, our dependably clueless mainstream media fail to connect the dots and see that this growing and still-amorphous but coalescing movement and increasingly frenzied screaming and violence could very well form the basis of our next civil war. It's not too far-fetched when one listens to congressmen such as Steve King, Michele Bachmann and Louis Gohmert, to name just a few, who are calling for open insurrection even to the point of advocating suicide and taking away from American citizens the right to vote for their senators.

Whatever the President's for they're against even if President Obama embraces what few good ideas the GOP has advanced during his young administration. President Bill and First Lady Hillary Clinton, while trying to pass their own health reform bill in 1993-1994, never had to contend with Tea Baggers and racist slurs. That reform bill went down in flames the good old fashioned way- Through corporate lobbyists from K Street and traditional Republican obstructionism.

This time around, the American people were more engaged on both sides. President Obama wisely made health care reform his signature domestic issue and, however watered-down the HCR bill is and may remain even after the fix it amendments, it gained enough traction to eventually push itself out of the mud of Republican opposition.

But these days, not only are Congressmen vulnerable, even their families are at risk. The Tea Partyers have become an old Rodney Dangerfield joke, the football team of the tough school that, after they sack the quarterback, then go after his family.

It remains to be seen if the incorrigible childishness of Republicans will result in a bad aftertaste in the mouths of health care reform-minded, civil Americans this November. But the facts are out there and even our largely dysfunctional MSM can't ignore all the facts:

They are stupid enough to work against their interests and further fostering the illusion of populism while benefiting the very same tycoons who are victimizing them. They stand for racism, for torture, for dirty tricks, for vandalism and violence, for seceding from the union and ignoring history and law in the interests of sedition and treason.

And the Democrats seem as loathe to criticize these fellow Americans as they would be loathe to criticize a member of our military.

These people have the right to vote, the right to speak, the right to petition and assemble and the right to a free press as anyone else. And that means we have the right to oppose their lunacy and to have our opposition amplified and supported by those we put in power. And we're just not seeing that.

And even as Republicans are screaming hoarsely about the tyranny of a majority, the squeamishness of Democrats to engage them (other than Alan Grayson) may result in another minoritarianism that we saw in '93-'94, only this one backed up with guns.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The One Thing All Nations Have in Common... bigotry.

Whether it be homophobia, misogynism, antisemitism or any kind of racism, whether you're talking about the most modern, industrialized nation on earth such as the US or the most aboriginal Third World country, the common denominator uniting every nation and culture on our planet is prejudice against gays, women and certain races and religions.

It was a most distressing revelation to arrive at tonight.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Republican Douchebags on Parade

Ordinarily, I'd ask for a show of hands and take a count of how many of you out there feel as I do that the health care bill signed into law by the president a couple of days ago is a giant, steaming bag of dog shit set fire and abandoned on the doorsteps of Main Street but I won't do that. I was so sick and tired of writing about the obvious evil of an individual mandate without a viable public option that I couldn't even rouse myself to say "blah" about it. In my mind, about the only good thing that can be said about the bill as it stands now is that its evils won't be visited on us until 2014.

But the thrust of my post, instead, is one that just writes itself, namely the various and sundry douchbaggery of the Republican party and its mouthpieces since the HCR was made legal by President Obama.

This is just a tame example of Republican douchebaggery: Glenn Beck, who's a black hole of ignorance that's so dense that nothing, not even the light of truth, can escape his well-fed pie hole. Beck seemed to have a problem with recently slandered Congressman John Lewis. It seems Congressman Lewis fancies himself a major civil rights leader from the 60's. Problem is, he was a major civil rights leader from the 60's. Wait, the douchebaggery gets worse. Much worse. Yes, for once, Glenn Beck is only the warm up act.

For instance, it was bad enough when some glandular-challenged Alabama redneck heading up a blog called the Dipsey Irregulars called for people to throw bricks through Democratic lawmakers' office windows, something that happened in at least five different states.

Then they had to raise the ante by threatening to assassinate the children of pro-health reform lawmakers, according to the aptly-named Rep. Louise Slaughter.

One of the funniest love affairs of the century began when 12 Republican Attorneys General joined forces with birther queen Orly Taitz in filing a lawsuit against the health care reform bill.

Louie Gomer, a Texas congressman, wants to take away your right to elect senators. That's right. He actually wants to go all Terminator and go back to 1913 and do away with the 17th amendment that allows us to elect Senators. Of course, that would also mean no Scott Brown. I have it on pretty good faith that Gohmert's hair didn't fall out- it fell in and clogged his brain.

There's this well-traveled poll result that states 24% of Republicans actually think President Barack Obama is the antichrist. What the Harris poll didn't say was that an additional 7% of Republicans polled think that the President of the United States is a pod person from the Planet Lenin.

Why is Mitt Romney so up in arms about Congress passing a macro-sized version of the piece of shit health care reform bill that he himself signed into law three years ago?

Finally, here's what Prescott Bush's hero has to say about the health care bill and on the bone-dry Republican think tanks.

Sweaty Black People. Icky Poo!

Thank God Bubba's shirt was there to save the day (Watch at 15 seconds in).

Of course, this isn't the first time Bush seemed to think a person's wardrobe was his personal Handy Wipe.

What a Republican fuckstick this guy is. Miss him, yet?

Monday, March 22, 2010

McClatchy: "Racism, Homophobia Dominates Tea Party Protest Over Health Care Bill."

Demonstrators outside the U.S. Capitol, angry over the proposed health care bill, shouted "nigger" Saturday at U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia congressman and civil rights icon who was nearly beaten to death during an Alabama march in the 1960s. - William Douglas, McClatchy Newspapers

So as not to abuse the Fair Usage law, click on the title for the whole article.

Mr. Douglas gives a fair, even-tempered overview of the racism and homophobia that's obviously at the root of this Tea Party movement. And, ironically, when Tea Partyers insist this isn't about health care, they're right. It's about race and, to a lesser extent, uncommon but legitimate sexual orientation.

Let's try an experiment: Next time a progressive blogger gets on TV opposite, say, Andrew Sullivan and/or GOP Chairman Michael Steele, try making race-based, homophobic remarks. Call Sullivan a "faggot" and Steele a "nigger." Yell and scream on top of them when they try to make their points. Lace your diatribes with patently untrue propaganda. Demand that Sen. John McCain produce his birth certificate from the Panama Canal. Bring the American flag to the sound stage and crow about the North beating the South in the civil war and the virtues of Socialist ideology.

Now, see how long it'll be before you're invited back on that show or on any nationally televised program. You personally would lose credibility and the progressive movement as a whole would lose a lot of credibility as a result.

So why are these Tea Partyers getting put on television day after day, night after night in spite of resorting to physical thuggery, calling members of the Congressional Black Caucus "nigger" and Congressman Barney Frank a "homo" and "faggot"? Why are their astroturf talking points fed to them by Dick Armey and the health care behemoths that subsidize him still patiently and respectfully listened to?

Why haven't these screaming, Danny Boyle zombies been discredited, yet? They've had a year to show us what they're made of, a whole year to conclusively prove that they're racist windbags who haven't a single valid counterpoint to contribute to the health care debate.

The equally idea-bankrupt Republican Party, when not actually helping to whip these idiots into a frenzy, are just as complicit in not calling for order and respect because they don't want to lose their vote, despite that many so-called moderate Republicans have long ago lost many of their votes. The Republicans have had an even longer period of time to show us how hollow they are.

Yet the Democrats are already jittery that they'll actually lose some seats in both chambers, a fact the press is gleefully reporting.

It's obvious the same rules don't apply to both sides. Day after day, these Confederate flag waving, erstwhile white supremacists and their misspelled signs keep getting put on TV and getting free publicity as if they're the vanguard of the French or American revolution.

Yet if we were to engage in the same tactics such as calling an African American Republican member of Congress (not that there's any such thing) a "nigger", continually get our facts wrong and talking about an emerging Socialist state that simply doesn't exist (the compromised and corporate-friendly HCR bill that will further concentrate wealth in the upper economic strata, in fact, is the exact opposite), we would've been discredited in a heartbeat on conservative blogs and on Fox "News" and laughed off one sound stage after another. We would've been treated like the passing fad that we would have been.

So how come the same rules don't apply to the Tea Baggers, a rabid, ignorant faction that, whether or not they intend to, seems bound and determined to catapult us back to the pre-Civil Rights days when African Americans were forced to sit in the back of the bus and were kept from voting?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

What Happened?

(Video courtesy of the Political Carnival by way of Brilliant @ Breakfast.)

It's becoming increasingly clear that civility in the post-Clinton years has become a lost art form. It's as if the day after election night 2008, we woke up, rubbed our eyes and found ourselves in the middle of a Danny Boyle movie. And many, many of us are perfectly OK with that.

Sure, I know I'm hardly one to talk. This is coming from someone who'd more than once called George W. Bush an "intellectual anorexic" and someone who got far in life possessed of nothing but "a good family name and a brain stem." But what one says in perishable blog posts and especially how they say it is another thing entirely. The jokes are to keep the locals coming back for more in the offchance I can impart some actual facts. The rest is all bullshit and I understand that. How one conducts oneself even in the act of speaking truth to power by necessity has to reflect respect for the dignity of one's office or station in life.

The Tea Baggers are another breed. These are people who probably have a hard time sitting down these days since they probably beat their bottoms raw after seeing Rush Limbaugh do it. These are corporately-led animatronic bags of hate who chew their own rickety legs off in some wild-eyed attempt to free themselves from the shackles of a Draconian socialist Obama regime that frankly and simply does not exist.

They will not be talked to. They will not be corrected and they'll probably spit in your face if you pointed out the errors in their inevitably and invariably misspelled signage. Like the Republican thugs with whom they share a tacit, uneasy alliance, these people have, despite their hatred and impenetrable ignorance, have been allowed to not only gobble up slabs of air time but have benefited from the MSM earnestly trying to persuade us that these people represent a legitimate counterargument to the health care debate.

This is just a tiny sliver of some of the informed, respectful debate to which we've been fed a steady diet since last summer. Threats of gun violence. The president's head sticking out a donkey's ass. That and scores of racist signs and anti health reform activists bringing loaded weapons to Obama health care town halls in at least three different states.

So what happened?

It all started when the incumbent President got elected in November 2008 in the first free and fair general election we'd enjoyed since Bill Clinton's reelection in 1996. From the moment the last of the polls closed, gun sales began skyrocketing either in response to a perceived Socialist takeover of health care, big business or the threat of having their shiny new toys taken away by gun-grabbing, hip-hop ninjas descending on their roofs in the dead of night from black helicopters.

After eight years of low recruitment in state militias, suddenly when a black man took over the reins of power, recruitment has swelled in a way that no one's seen since al Qaeda was overwhelmed with young men dying to blow themselves up when we invaded Iraq seven years ago.

Now we're hearing that local firearm ordinances trump federal laws that were written, ratified and signed into law to protect the President of the United States. We're hearing strenuous attempts on the part of "the liberal media" that these people do represent a valid counterargument to the health care debate and have, inexplicably, not been discounted either because of their obvious insanity and equally obvious cluelessness.

But as Jill Hussein at Brilliant @ Breakfast notes, "There was a time not so long ago that simply wearing an anti-Bush T-shirt could get you arrested. Now you can threaten gun violence against public officials and not a peep is uttered."

Exactly. It also wasn't too long ago that Cindy Sheehan was arrested and tossed from the Capitol Building just before a Bush State of the Union Address simply for wearing a tee shirt itemizing the number of American dead at that time. It wasn't very long ago when a Florida college student got tased just for asking Sen. John Kerry some tough questions about the 2004 election.

It wasn't too long ago when Hal Turner tried to take a page out of Tim Burton's playbook and threatened to disrupt the President's inauguration using poison-filled balloons and another time threatening Barack Obama's life (let's keep in mind that Turner was finally picked up not for threatening the President but three white federal judges).

It wasn't too long ago when blogger Mike Stark almost got his head put through a plate glass window at the Omni hotel for asking tough questions of then Sen. George Allen. It wasn't really too long ago even in blogging years when we learned the Pentagon was spying on Quakers and the police and FBI were doing the same thing to other antiwar groups.

Yet suddenly, just a few years after people were strong-armed out of Bush Town Halls for anti Bush editorials written years before, it's perfectly permissable for people to bring guns to presidential town halls that aren't even about the 2nd Amendment. Suddenly, wouldbe reality TV stars are allowed to enter state dinners at the White House lacking invitations and even mug for the camera with Vice President Biden, the President, the WH Chief of staff and even US Marines outside.

Suddenly, it's all good and armed men are allowed within a hundred or two yards of the president and we're supposed to be OK with that because the Secret Service is watching them really, really hard. Only an idiot would think these sudden lapses in the President's elite security detail isn't based on race or even overt racism.

You would think these people would've been laughed off and dismissed once the novelty wore off after April 15th last year especially since so many Republicans have distanced themselves from not only the Tea Party movement but even the Republican Party itself. Just yesterday, Mrs. JP and I were approached by someone seeking signatures to get on the ballot an "Independent" who wanted to unseat our Congresswoman Niki Tsongas on a platform of more cuts in federal spending including the stimulus (I handed him back his flyer and told him, "He used to be a Republican. No thanks.")

And if the Republican brand name has been irreparably damaged, as it ought to be considering what Bush and Cheney did to it, then how come this nascent, faux populist movement that has degenerated into outright racism and an even more stupendous disconnect from reality getting so much attention and even respect from the press?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The 7 Year Itch

I had nothing to say yesterday. Bad liberal blogger, bad. No Cheetos!

And what was there to say on the 7th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq? In 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 I'd faithfully written posts on every March 19th trying to remind even a tiny fraction of the American people of something that ought to be actionable common knowledge: That we were lied into a war that would wind up costing us at least $740 billion dollars (and, according to Nobel Prize economic laureate Joseph Stiglitz, will eventually cost us $3 trillion).

But every year I wound up essentially saying the same thing over and over for the simple reason that nothing had changed. There was no accountability save for a detainee abuse trial and a sputtering contractor investigation here and there. Those responsible for lying us into Iraq then shrugging their shoulders five years later and claiming, "Who knew?" and blaming the CIA for their deceptions are no closer to going to the Hague than they were when Bush's approval rating was, inexplicably, at over 90% right after 9/11.

After seven years of bloated Pentagon budgets and bloated Iraq "reconstruction" budgets, the hawks have finally come home to roost. We're reeling from sticker shock and don't even know it even while our government is telling us that the $940 billion health care bill can't insure more than 32 million of our 48,000,000 uninsured fellow citizens.

So, really, what else could I have said yesterday?

Television is supposed to be the only media in which reruns are acceptable. We're not supposed to get reruns in our magazines and newspapers and even television journalism is not allowed to loop the news from previous years.

Yet that's precisely what we're getting fed day after day by media outlets owned by some of the largest defense contractors in the world. And while we were concentrating on comforting blue and purple fingers in the winter of 2005, we should have, instead, been examining with Lady Macbeth's tortured conscience our own bloody red fingers for being so complicit in the greatest war crime of the century if not of all time.

And what will we tell our children and grandchildren decades from now as they ask us from our knees, "What did you do to protest the war in Iraq?"

"Well, nothing. We didn't have a draft and, as a result, there wasn't enough at stake."

Indeed, even the most potent and passionate ideology will sputter out if not supplemented by having something personal at stake. And this generation, this epoch in American history will be indicted by posterity thusly:

That we were the complacent Wall-E generation that allowed ourselves to be lied into a guerilla war we were guaranteed to never win, the war generation without a viable antiwar movement in which Tea Partyers, anti abortionists, anti gay rights groups and anti immigration reformists had made more serious inroads with their own intellectually and factually barren platforms than anti war activists who had unimpeachable reasons to storm and occupy Washington in blood-curdling outrage.

It is all of a piece. Health care reform is gobbling up all the ink and air waves at a time in which this unreachable seven year itch known as Iraq has come and gone without much notice (the front page of yesterday's Boston Globe doesn't even reference Iraq). And, as William Rivers Pitt said on the 17th,
The best estimates, seven years later, put the cost of this war into the hundreds of billions of dollars, a sum that nobody in the media will tell you might have come in handy during this recession.

Let me restate this unimpeachably true and absolute position: We have spent well over $700 billion on an illegal war that has shredded our economy, crippled health care reform, has devastated tens of thousands of American families and devastated through death, maimings, displacement, disease, starvation and economic terrorism millions more Iraqi families.

All so a handful of contractors and oil cartels could get rich after we'd with manic, single-minded dispatch airlifted 363 tons of taxpayer money into a war zone so bundles and bricks of cash could get mailed back to the states or stowed away in offshore accounts or to get stuffed and forgotten in lockers and done with complete impunity. The sheer waste, the sheer disrespect shown toward the American and Iraqi people, toward our troops, toward those few anti war critics remaining should alone make a conscientious human being double over and physically retch in disgust.

So, really, what was there for me to say yesterday? To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, can any of us say that Iraq or the United States, for that matter, is actually better off in any way, shape or form than we were eight years ago?

Caption Contest

Pope bitchslaps Irish church then takes Jonathan Swift's modest proposal literally.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

American Zen: Two Years Later

It was two years ago today that I began writing the defining novel of my life and, I'd hoped and still do, the defining novel of a lost generation of rock and rollers who were born ten years too late. As many of you know, it's entitled American Zen and it was partly culled from actual experiences and conversations while the storyline was completely fictional. I cried my eyes out when one of the characters had to die and I laughed my ass off at Mike's and Billy's liberal and conservative jibes. It completely took over my life to the extent that the last Pottersville blog got deleted while I was in the homestretch. Nothing, and I mean nothing, was going to get in the way of finishing the first draft.

Two days before my so-called family gave me the old heave-ho, I'd introduced the boys to you in what was actually a curtain call in a post entitled "It's A Wonderful Life." To my closest readers, they were written very much in character and remains perhaps my favorite blog post of all time.

I'd more or less finished the book about 6 months after I'd begun it. Two Decembers ago I'd begun sending it out to literary agents and found that a lot had changed.

First of all, talent is no longer at the top of an agent's or editor's list of priorities (if it ever was). Now, I'm no longer so sure that as a result of media consolidation and almost exclusive emphasis on proven money-makers that talent is even a secondary or even a tertiary consideration with these self-appointed gatekeepers of our nation's literary culture.

15 years ago, I had no problem getting an agent's interest or even a contract for sci fi novels written at a time when I was still feeling my oats and just learning how to tell stories in prose. My informal training was in poetry and the occasional joke for Rodney Dangerfield.

Over a year later, it's stunning how how many form rejection letters American Zen has received and even more stunning is how many of these brain-dead literary agents have outright ignored it. If you don't hear from them in 8 weeks or more, that's pretty much an indication they have no wish to hear news of you being alive.

I haven't given up on Mike, Billy, Dave, Rob and Jo Jo by a fucking long shot. Because American Zen is a story that needed to be told so desperately that it almost amounted to physical pain, to the point where I could see every detail of their faces and hear the voice of the characters (Think Denis Leary as Billy the drummer, Dennis Quaid as Mike the liberal journalist, Tim Robbins as the laid-back bassist Rob, etc).

This is the penultimate chapter of American Zen (just before the Coda or epilogue.) after Mike finally gets back home just barely in time for Thanksgiving after the most soul-defining and tragic week of his life. It contains Mike's (and by coincidence, my own) loosely-collected thoughts on life in general, homespun philosophical musings that were crystallized and brought into focus through the prism of concentrated emotion. It's also one of my favorite chapters in the book. Enjoy.

Chapter 48

Redemption and salvation never come cheaply and don’t let any religious huckster fool you into thinking otherwise. You won’t get off that easily. Oh, they may tell you your salvation will be heralded with angels playing harps when you drop some cha-ching in the collection plate or repeat little acts of contrition in a dark stuffy wooden box. Instead, salvation may come only after you wipe from your hands the dirt of your best friend’s grave. Listen to the voice of experience.

Most if not all of us live out our lives in a horizontal freefall yet convince ourselves that we still retain control over the trajectory and speed with which we live. In reality, it’s like hurtling down a dark, unfamiliar highway in an aging car with spongy brakes, a sticky gas pedal and a steering column with no power steering fluid.

That’s pretty much the perfect metaphor for this odyssey, a Grecian Formula/Flomax/Viagra commercial gone hideously over budget and over schedule. At times, it was like a stomach-displacing drop down the chute of circumstance, at other times a labyrinth that, after every left turn, led to another locked door or stairway to nowhere.

All of which summed up my life in general and perhaps all of our lives. And yet, throughout this Minotaur’s lair, Jo Jo never lost that tenuous thread nor ever let it snap, leading all of us out of that frighteningly uncertain cave into the light of life-saving revelation.

Considering how necessary those Zen-like epiphanies proved to be for all of us, I will go to my own grave believing that Jo Jo had acted with prescience that even I’m tempted to call divinely inspired. I will also go to that grave castigating myself for not staying in touch with my most beloved friend and treating myself to a front row seat to the evolution of the most remarkable human being whom I’ve ever had the honor and privilege of knowing.

And regardless of the toll this odyssey had taken on all of us in ways both great and small I will always be grateful for the chance to reunite with my old band, to get to reacquaint myself with and understand in a new light my once-neglected friends Rob, Billy, Dave and especially Jo Jo.

As for Dave, I’ve now come to realize he was the keystone that supported the weight of the arch that we made. In a way, that will always be true but at the same time and for the next three decades we made the mistake of making that perception of his role and function in the band all-inclusive. An arch can support its own burden without a keystone. Yet we chose to emotionally ostracize Dave for being the only one among us to have the courage to trust and pursue his dream, a dream that always included us at some point.

We helped eachother live and even to keep eachother alive and always seemingly at times when other people are least capable of altruism. We were there for eachother under the most inauspicious of circumstances rather than merely in fair weather both in this plane of existence and from the grave. It just took a while for that to penetrate my cynicism and apathy toward this trip.

I’ve read stories of mummified seeds that were harvested from Egyptian pyramids and that had actually grown when planted thousands of years later.

We’re talking about a thinner band of time, of course, but that week in our lives taught us of the importance and enduring nature of real friendship. Sometimes, it can be mummified through decades of neglect then fleshed out and refreshed by a chance encounter, a phone call.

Or just an email.

The other, more important lesson is that, unlike mummified seeds, human love and friendship has a brutally brief shelf life, that one cannot take health for granted, that sometimes, if friendships aren’t faithfully tended, we could arrive a day late and a dollar short.

Jo Jo taught me that in a way that religion couldn’t. And, as a consequence, Rob, Billy and I make it a point to stay in touch somehow at least once a week regardless of whatever the blender setting chaos puts our lives through.

The world is a collection of half-developed illusions in a celestial magician’s workshop. What is once regarded as unassailably real could shimmer and turn insubstantial with a minute shift in perception. The glasses are both half-full and half-empty. Depending on your view, a beautiful woman looking at herself in a mirror can turn into a skull. A statesman can be either a saint or a sinner. No two views can be held simultaneously. As with vacuums, nature abhors absolutes. We play off these half-filled vessels of truths and illusions as a glass organ player producing a ringing, cacophonous symphony of life.

Sometimes, clues and facts in our 70+ act plays are skillfully sprinkled throughout as in a movie in which the ephemera of seemingly unrelated pieces of information are put together and order reigns where there was only chaos. And when the filmmakers finish assembling the jigsaw puzzle and rescue our beleaguered and defeated sensibilities, we’re in such amazement of their ingenuity we don’t even feel chagrined at being revealed as the dullards we usually are.

But life rarely does any of us such a service. We’re left to our own pathetic devices and more often than not go to our graves no closer to understanding the dumb show’s denouement than we were able to anticipate it the day of our birth.

At Jo Jo’s apartment before the funeral, Rob brought up from his van a book about Zen. He turned to a certain page and showed me a black and white photostat of a picture. He asked me to identify the monochrome splotches, saying that it was of something that lots of people see everyday. After looking at the seemingly abstract pattern for a few minutes as the Mapplethorpe twins looked over our shoulders, the most concrete answer I could summon was, “A Rorschach test?”

Rob smiled, perhaps realizing that it was in fact the exact opposite of a Rorschach as the famous ink blot test actually encourages matrixing, or the phenomena of seeing recognizable objects in random patterns. He turned the open book back toward him as if my ignorance was typical. As it turned out, it was. Because after a few more minutes thinking about it, I finally asked Rob what was in the picture. He smiled again as he turned the book back toward me and said, “It’s a cow.”

And indeed, the cow instantly and magically materialized in the mimeograph, the snout, ears and eyes no longer hiding in plain sight.

This little Zen exercise was designed to drive home one important point: That sometimes even the most obvious truths hide from us in plain sight because our perceptions are just a little bit skewed or limited by preconceptions or crippled by none. But with a bit of gentle guidance, those truths become embarrassingly self-evident.

Ironically, Rob didn’t save any of that Zen insight for himself to save his marriage. Or maybe he did see that the bridge was out up ahead and didn’t care to realize that he was powerless to stop the crackup. As he would tell me after our week together even Zen masters aren’t all-knowing psychics. Some days you see the cow, some days you don’t.

Besides, in the times I’ve heard from him since we all went home on Thanksgiving, Rob’s been spending more and more time with a certain redhead in Delmar, New York and becoming a part-time stepdad to a twenty nine year-old woman and her precocious nineteen year-old sister. He sounds happier and has revived his dedication to Zen and Buddhism. A new running joke we now share is Rob asking me during every conversation, “Are you still seeing the cow?” Sometimes he’ll ask me in Swedish.

As of this writing, I don’t know how much of this memoir of that fateful week in our lives that I’ll be willing to share. Much of this account, obviously, is of a highly personal nature for all concerned. Plus, naturally, much got left out during those seven days, things we’d seen and heard, conversations we’d all had together.

Or perhaps it isn’t about privacy at all, and I’m just fooling myself. Perhaps I’m just continuing a thirty year-long tradition of selfishness. Maybe the reason I hardly mentioned Jo Jo to my wife was because I was deluding myself into thinking that I was keeping him and our enduring love for each other all to myself. Even for years after he married Jeremy.

But even now, a couple of months after my return home, I’m already struck and even scared a bit by what I, what we all, would’ve lost if we hadn’t gone on this improbable road trip with Jo Jo and Jeremy. I’ve never been much of a Calvinist and have never taken any stock in predestination. The present or the future, to my mind, is in a constant state of flux. Up to a point, you make your own future and every human soul has in their wallet a bill of sale for their failures as well as successes.

However, this road trip was the closest I’ve ever come to not only destiny but even a necessary one. It was as if the events of that week were guided, God help my atheistic ass, by a giant invisible hand. At virtually any point, the lessons that we had to learn about each other, about ourselves, lessons that will, hopefully, serve us and our loved ones in good stead for the rest of our lives, could’ve been lost. If we’d separated too early during the innumerable times we could’ve and had tried to, these lessons would’ve been scattered and dispersed in the formless matrix of happenstance like so much road silt.

Of course, when you have a specific goal or destination, your options dwindle as you get closer to the end. When your options get pared down to one, then it ceases to be a choice and becomes an imperative. Like getting to the end of a story you’re writing. Or like loving someone of your gender that you can’t help but love despite the conventional dictates of your sexual upbringing.

Jo Jo’s death gave us all that one choice, that inescapable and unavoidable imperative. It could be said that Jo Jo’s final wishes brought about necessary change in all of our lives except perhaps Jeremy’s.

Any fool can fall in love for the first time. But how many of us can claim that we’ve fallen in love for the last time? Damned few, I’d wager. Human nature being the way it is, even those of us who think we’ve fallen in love for the last time are susceptible to temptation. Temptation and the nagging fear that perhaps we could’ve fallen and landed better. Divorce courts are full of such woeful tales of selfish malcontent.

When it comes to love, all too many of us risk everything by vaulting over the fence and lunging for the apparently greener grass on the other side. Yet when it comes to our dreams, hopes and ambitions, we’re willing to settle and horse trade it in for a job or, God help you, the benevolent shackles of a career.

We’ll shove our chips to the center of the table and let it all ride for love while readily cashing in our dreams a bit at a time for a paycheck, promotion and a shitty 401(k).

That’s because we lack the courage to trust our dreams, the courage we show toward our fantasies and fears. I don’t pretend to understand that but my theory is this:

Fantasies are a pursuit of the usually unattainable whether it be a threesome with Venus and Serena Williams or being crowned King of Norway. Besides the addictive longing for what by rights isn’t yours, fantasies don’t require as much hard work, dedication and sacrifice as a dream. Dreams typically have a goal such as marrying that girl before someone else does or starting up a business. It’s not necessarily a work ethic issue. It’s about courage.

Next thing we know, beautifully-written words to unwritten books, sinewy notes from an electric guitar in an unrecorded album or scenes from an unmade movie recede further and further back onto the dusty shelves of the mind. We fool ourselves into thinking that some day, some day, we’ll go back, dust them off and rescue them.

In the meantime, we stand in our own footprints year after year ringing up Chinese clay lawn frogs at Wal-Mart or deep-frying ersatz chicken nuggets at McDonald’s wondering what the fuck went wrong.

Or we lie awake at night in bed, occasionally looking at the person sleeping beside us and haunted by the suspicion that perhaps, just maybe, we’re holding down a life intended for someone else. Then, if you’re feeling ambitious, you can speculate as to who’s been charged with the stewardship of the life that was intended for you, one that sits unclaimed like an unknown lottery jackpot.

The sad but funny thing is we’re as ill-matched in our relationships as we are in our vocations.

And I won’t lie- Sometimes I wonder where we would’ve ended up as a band, where Jo Jo and I would’ve ended up as a couple. But speculation doesn’t afford the intellectual and emotional luxury of following through to a logical conclusion. And the older one gets, the more impossible it is to unravel that decades-long skein of life and to knit it into something else. Life has a habit of closing off, growing over and filling in avenues of possibility like implacable kudzu.

Sure, I failed and betrayed my dreams. But then I realized in Provincetown that I landed OK and Jo Jo came to the same conclusion long before he died. The guy we anathematized for betraying us and the band was the only guy who had the balls to chase his dreams.

Thank God I’m not too old to chase new dreams. And one of the lessons I learned during that road trip may sound like something that you’d see on a poster in a thirteen year-old girl’s room but this lesson is one that we still ignore all too often:

Take care of your dreams and your dreams will take care of you.

When Jeremy stayed with us for what proved to be a week (when people began calling his and Jo Jo’s cell phones in droves during Jeremy’s physical and emotional retreat), Doris, the kids and I had at times heard him quietly crying behind one closed door or another and we chose to give him that private grieving time. Obviously, Jeremy wanted him back and I can’t see how his life benefited from this road trip. All he can do is pull himself together and somehow move on, find some reason outside of our household to be happy again.

He was a big hit with the kids and he provided Doris with a temporary companion and enabler for her guilty addiction to reality TV (especially, God help us, the endless talent shows that revolve like silly satellites around American Idol). At night when he watched TV with Doris, he always wore Jo Jo’s amazing Technicolor dream coat, wrapping it around him as if it was Jo Jo himself, even contentedly smelling it from time to time.

Billy indeed made it to Liz’s house the day after we split up in P’town and, after some token attitude from his spitfire daughter Jay, it seems as if patching together his own nuclear family, while not an inevitability, certainly looks like a distinct possibility. He told me just last week that he indeed began seeing that shrink in Rhode Island and Rob, as promised, began to faithfully pick up the tab. Billy also told me something extraordinary. He’d called me up on my cell phone at one in the morning just before Christmas (Billy was always something of an insomniac) to shoot the shit.

“Mike, you remember that old kit I used when we were together? The skins with the wooden buckets?”

“Yeah,” I’d said while trying to take a piss in a dark bathroom (Doris hates it when I wake her up with the bathroom light).

“I’ve had it in a storage unit ever since I moved to Connecticut to run the old man’s business.”

“Is that so?”

“Yeah. I got it out of storage today. I kinda got infected with the bug those three times we played last November. All I need are a coupla guitarists.” He paused, then said in a loud voice that made me chuckle, “Hint, hint.”

As bleary-eyed as I was, I was glad to hear that Billy, the guy who’d been the most pragmatic and resistant to the idea of us reuniting thirty years ago, was now the one bugging me to get us an agent and a manager. Although we’d rediscovered our love for rock and roll, we still had careers and businesses to manage, families to feed. We aren’t exactly in a position to go back on the road like wealthy, retired rock and roll stars that have nothing better to do than autograph groupies’ tits.

Billy did have a point, however. As expected, our swan song at the Rock Garden and the second set at St. Peter’s made YouTube and showed us in a more sympathetic light. The Rock Garden set, with mine, Billy’s, Rob’s and Jeremy’s permission, was posted on Drew’s and her group’s Myspace page. sExposition has a much bigger following than she let on back in Ayer and she told me when she sent me the video file of our Rock Garden set that the network that will broadcast that talent show just informed them they’d made the show. They’ll be flown to California later this year to begin their live auditions. Somewhere up in heaven, Dave’s ruining his black leather gown crying tears of joy for his little girl. We seem to have found a new audience and Drew even passed on a Myspace comment she’d gotten from a woman about my age who remembered seeing one of our shows. Another woman emailed to Drew some old Kodak pictures she’d taken of one of our gigs. After, once again, clearing it with us, Dave’s daughter had dutifully put them on the group’s Myspace site.

It almost made me cry to see pictures of us when we were young. They were of a gig that I still remembered, one that was obviously indoors. It was the funeral reception for Dave’s friend, the one we did in Leominster, the city Rob and Billy were in when Jo Jo began dying. It was especially painful in a worrying-a-sore-tooth kind of way to see our keyboardist when he was 19. It was our next-to-last gig and we were all wearing our dorky white shirts and black ties but having fun. The pictures, perhaps done with a 110, obviously weren’t taken by Annie Leibovitz but, at least on a personal level, their very raw spontaneity is what made them so appealing.

One picture of Jo Jo was an almost complete blur, which indicated a cheap camera with a slow shutter speed, but in its way it vividly captured the sheer joy with which he’d played that day and virtually every day of his life. I smiled and allowed myself a tear or two as I looked at the 12 picture photoset. Billy’s arms were also a blur as he stoically sat behind the drums; Rob and I almost touching heads and guitar necks in another picture; one shot of Dave playing on his Les Paul with just Jo Jo in the background, my two lost friends. I couldn’t believe that nature ever permitted us to be that young.

Out of us three survivors, the only one who’s benefited professionally from our “reunion” is Billy, whose garage has been flooded with business from bikers who loved his playing (especially the more sacrilegious of our two “gigs” at St. Peters. Fortunately, not all bikers are petulant Catholics.). Seeing this, he began making repairs and improvements to his business with the alimony and child support checks that Liz had put into a separate account. Perhaps I’m seeing too much into that but sometimes I wonder if fixing up his father’s garage is just plain pragmatism or Billy’s way of making peace with the old man.

One day, someone called the magazine asking for my contact information. Naturally, they didn’t give it out, even if he said he was Rob Zombie. Zombie left a number where I could reach him which my employers then passed on to me. Apparently, he was flattered that we thought enough of his music to use it to insult the Roman Catholic Church. Turns out Zombie said he liked our sound and was interested in getting us to cut a track for his new horror movie. I told him I’d think about it while I talked to the other guys.

In fact, I’d made up my mind even before Zombie had finished the sentence. I knew Rob and Billy would go nuts at the thought. They did.

I think I owe it to anyone who cares to know to reveal why Doris was so eager for some private face time with me. The night I got home with Jeremy in tow, Doris pulled back her hair exactly the way I love it, slipped on one of my dress shirts and nothing else and rhetorically asked before seducing me, “How do you like the idea of paying college tuition until you’re 73?”

She’s 46, it shouldn’t have happened but it did. And that’s why she wanted me home so desperately. It also helped explain the kids’ anxiety to have me home. They already knew that Mommy and Daddy were giving them a future playmate.

“Mike, I just wanted to say… I’m sorry for yelling at you on the phone this week. But my hormones were just out of whack. And…”

“Hun, there’s nothing to apologize for. You meant every word. Don’t apologize for being sincere.”

“I may not have meant everything I said.”

“Yes you did. Don’t forget, I’ve known and loved you for 22 years. I know that ring of sincerity. That’s because you’re always sincere.”

“Well, I’m still sorry.”

“Don’t be. Look, you told me some things you felt very strongly that I needed to hear.”

“You’re not going to make my self-effacement very easy, are you, Mike?”

“Never,” I chuckled. Doris reached across the bed and pulled me on top of her.

“Shut up and show me how you got me pregnant.”

Billy, to mention him one more time, was true to his word and indeed sent me those sound files that gave me the sourcing I needed to write that article about his scumbag ex-father in law. When I told Ari, I thought he’d ejaculate Mogan David over the phone. After hearing the files I’d forwarded to him, he told me if I didn’t write this story he’d castrate me. I told him he was beginning to sound like Jesse Jackson. Of course, it would be rash and presumptive to assume I’d led him to believe that tracking down this lead was the sole reason for my road trip. I can’t be held accountable for faulty assumptions.

The story came out just two weeks before Kincaid Enterprises would’ve finalized the deal intended to make the company $75,000,000 richer. But the furor that my article raised led to parallel investigations into Kincaid’s business practices by both Congress and the Justice Department that effectively put the skids on that Pentagon contract. At press time, we’re still waiting for Eddie to make good on his threat to sic his shysters on Ari and me. Since we got the scoop on how Kincaid was shortchanging our troops on their safety in order to save on overhead costs such as Kevlar, a lot of other places like The Nation, Vanity Fair, Mother Jones and followed our lead and circulation has started climbing again.

When Ari was crowing about this the other day, I thought it was a good time for me to bring up the fact that I was going to be a father for the fourth time at the end of June and that a raise would be welcome. After the usual accusations of extortion, my editor in chief said he’d think about it. My next paycheck included a 5% raise, retroactive to the week before.

Anticipating my annual Christmas bonus, I took the kids and Jeremy to the music store the day after I got back to sign up Danny, Meghan and Izabella for music lessons. While we were there, my son was longingly looking at a pre-owned set of drums. Like every other drummer in the land, Danny’s first set was made of crappy plastic drum heads on Lucite. Typically, they didn’t last long with Danny’s style of drumming and his old set was more duct tape than plastic. I figured since MBNA was practically ready to move into our home anyway, why not put a few more charges on the plastic?

So I got him the drums and Izabella the bass and bass amp that she wanted (you can’t stop at just one kid without being crucified for favoritism). Meghan, thankfully, wanted to be nothing but a singer.

I realized even without Doris’ help that I was being an asshole to our kids by making them hang out there while I thought about whether I should get them music lessons. Sure, what I said about the long odds of succeeding in the entertainment business was certainly true but that still in itself makes for a crappy reason to tell your kids not to bother pursuing their dreams, no matter how transitory you suspect they may be. In a way, I was the reverse of fathers who live vicariously through their childrens’ athletic or musical careers. It wasn’t the glow of their success in which I wanted to bask as much as keep them from making the same mistake I thought I’d made by getting mixed up with Dave and his band.

But that final week in Jo Jo’s life taught me that the nine and a half months the Immortals were together was the best time in not just my life but all our lives. Why in God’s name would I want to deny them the chance to have enriching experiences of their own, to make high quality friends such as the ones that grace my life even if they never got signed?

While I was buying the drums, Danny had noticed a used Fender Stratocaster hanging up on a guitar rack and he brought it to my attention. “Hey, Dad, isn’t this the kind of guitar you had when you were young?”

I chose to ignore the unintentional jibe about my decrepitude and ambled on over to the axe. Danny was right- it was a Stratocaster that was very similar to the one that I used when I was with the Immortals. The color scheme was even the same.

“You can still play a mean guitar, Dad. Since you’re getting us lessons and instruments, why don’t you get something for yourself, too?” Jeremy looked at me, curious what I was going to do.

Out of the mouths of babes.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Quotes o' the Day: St. Patrick's Luck o' the Churlish edition

"When I read this, I giggle a little bit. Because $50 billion is a shitload of money, but in the grand scheme of things. $50 billion is a drop in the ocean." - Former UK Lehman managing director.

"But it's important not to lose sight of the fact that what we're seeing here is a corporate failing to an even greater degree than it is an individual one, and that it infects investment banks generally, not just Lehman Brothers. These shops deliberately go out to hire psychopaths, and then they fire the ones who go soft, while promoting the most aggressive assholes, keeping a few smooth-talking client-relationship types on hand to preserve some semblance of a respectable public face." - Felix Salmon, Reuters

"I know that all we do is steal your husband, and I’m sorry you had to move by yourself." - Lehman Bros. executive Teddy Roosevelt IV to Lehman wife Karin Jack.

"(A)ccording to the New York Post, former Lehman CEO Dick Fuld actually feels vindicated by the Lehman bankruptcy examiner's report released last week -- which said that Fuld was "at least grossly negligent" in failing to discover the transactions." - Ryan McCarthy, the Huffington Post.

From (Glenn Beck's) The One Thing segment on Thursday, March 11, 2010:

1. "During normal times, kooks that say this kind stuff is good brushed aside. But history shows us time and time again, if you add two elements, fear and hunger -- all people will listen to anybody who says I have the answer. I'm going to give you an example. When I say 'anybody,' I mean anybody."

Comment: Glenn Beck saying this to his audience is like a copperhead explaining why you should avoid the scorpions. - The Rude Pundit, 3/15/10

"Brooks' conclusion is absurd. Does he really think that passing changes to the health care bill through reconciliation will materially effect how parties act in the future? He believes that the next Republican administration with more than 50 but fewer than 60 Senators would decline to pass a tax cut through reconciliation, but will now do so because the Democrats did it? I doubt even Karl Rove could say this with a straight face." - Jonathan Chait on David Brooks' last column, the New Republic

"And by now you've figured out that you don't really have any say in this, that what we call the "democratic process" is mostly a sham, pretty words that get repeated in the hopes we will all still fall for it. But the fix is in and we don't fall for it anymore. Admit it: Wall Street owns "our" Congress lock, stock and big barrel o' campaign cash. You want a say in this? Well, I don't see you on the Forbes 400, so shut the f@*& up and go fetch me another bottle of bubbly." - Michael Moore, the Huffington Post

If We Were Smart... the summer of 2008, we'd be seeing this sight, Dennis Kucinich stepping off Air Force One a couple of hundred times a year.

Health Care Reform would be actual health care reform and not this craven, "Let's not piss off the HMOs, Big Pharma, the GOP and the Tea Party" mashup that we're seeing now. We probably wouldn't be in Iraq or Afghanistan and NAFTA, the USA PATRIOT Act and DADT would be historical relics of a bygone age when Americans were less enlightened.

Then, post-literate, post-Constitutional Tea Partyers would be able to make a slightly more plausible case that our President is a Socialist intent on taking over one sixth of our economy. A President Dennis Kucinich wouldn't necessarily get a single payer health reform bill through Congress on account of the obvious corruption on Capitol Hill but at least, unlike the pro-corporate centrist we have in there now, he wouldn't have started from a compromised position and be willing to leave out even a public option.

But because of our stupidity and narrow views of what "presidential" ought to be and not be, Dennis Kucinich is not the President of the United States. The lead picture was taken two days ago as he stepped off Air Force One in Cleveland courtesy of the man who actually is the President.

But we may have the next best thing to a Kucinich administration at least as far as health care goes. It's called HR 4789, a bill introduced on the floor of the house by Congressman Alan Grayson. As stated here recently, HR 4789 would extend Medicare benefits to those under 65 who want it. It's the closest thing we have to not only a public option but to an honest-to-God single payer system.

Yet to read the scorecards in the news, HR 4789 isn't even mentioned either here or in the article written by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius despite the fact that the Grayson bill, at last count, has 66 cosponsors.

All we're hearing about are Tea Partyers carrying badly-spelled signs featuring childish cartoons of the President as if this Dick Armey of zombies is actually providing a valid and thoughtful counterargument to the President's tepid health care reform proposals. And we're hearing an awful lot about Nancy Pelosi's complicated and risky tactic involving a Fix It bill, which essentially is selling the American people a jalopy with insubstantial assurances to fix it immediately so as not to violate a lemon law.

We're hearing about the SEIU taking Markos Moulitsas' lead and threatening to primary Democrats who refuse to support the Senate version of the bill, despite the bill having no public option and no real way of controlling costs other than the paper projections of Obama's so-called "exchange."

It's getting ugly out there, folks, and is proving to be more divisive than us going to war in Iraq under false pretenses, immigration and perhaps even the bailout. If anything, health care reform is more likely to lead to a second civil war than anything else. At last count, at least 34 states have already ratified or are considering ratifying laws that would allow those states to opt out of any mandate that doesn't contain a valid public option.

If Dennis Kucinich was president instead of Barack Obama, we'd probably be more divided than we already are and the Tea Party would probably be literally foaming at their gaping mouths. But at least we liberals and progressives wouldn't have begun this arm wrestling match from a severely handicapped position, with the hair on our wrists already touching the table at the start.

KindleindaWind, my writing blog.

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