The Life You Take is Your Political Voice

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Pivoting –and plagiarizing– from earlier sentiment expressed in greater detail HERE, HERE and HERE, this is my succinct .02 on what’s at stake and a final shout-out for any of my undecided or indifferent friends.

As my girl Chrissie Hynde said: Everything touched is by political choice/The life you take is your political voice.

Believe that.

An ostensibly rhetorical question I read (and get asked) quite often these days is “Why bother?”

Why bother getting invested in politics?

Why bother reading all those papers and blogs and magazines?

Why bother wasting time since they are all the same?

Why bother voting?

Well, there are lots of good reasons, some of which are immediately evident to anyone who takes the time to be moderately informed and is aware of not-so-complicated concepts like cause and effect. That the policies of our former administration (and, more importantly, the power-to-the-powerful ideology that informs those policies) bankrupted our nation and –this is the toughest one to grasp– made us less safe is not a matter of opinion; it’s not debatable and there is no room for any possible nuance.

Also, there is only one type of Socialism being practiced in America today and it has been in effect for longer than four years. It’s Corporate Socialism. For evidence to support this claim, I submit every action taken by every Republican politician since 1980. Case closed, your honor.

To the haters, I certainly feel your pain, to a point. Yes, watching the Democrats try to govern is an often painful and occasionally pitiful spectacle (it’s amusing: Harry Reid is at once a man who should never, under any circumstances, have gotten involved in politics, yet he is, in the final analysis, the prototypical politician). Of course, in their defense, a reasonable person understands that actually attempting to govern is messy, difficult and frustrating. Particularly as our nation has become increasingly ignorant, self-absorbed and childish: we don’t want any government interference, we don’t want to pay taxes and we demand to see all of these pesky problems go away and take care of themselves. We have become a country of children who want to skip the main course and go directly to dessert, every meal, and then complain that we’ve gotten fat. And that in itself is a problem: that allows the Republicans to continue to frame the idea of shared accountability and responsibility as an inherently negative or intrusive notion. Let me be clear: that is, upon cursory inspection, a decidedly anti-American sentiment. The idea that paying taxes and supporting regulation of the food we eat and air we breathe is some type of burden implemented by a leering Big Brother is beyond moronic and borders on offensive. The idea that we can have no taxes, no regulation, no government involvement, unfunded wars and private interests in charge of everything is exactly the intelligence-insulting ideology that landed us where we are now. And, for the last time, and as Thomas “What’s The Matter With Kansas” Frank elucidated, vigorously endorsing the notion that the wealthiest .01% of the population should not pay any taxes is going to put exactly zero cents in your pocket and create precisely zero jobs.

This is why you have to choose sides. This is why you can ill afford (literally and figuratively) to let these cackling, wealthy and well-insured weasels lull you into a state of impotent rage or, worse, apathy. Because aside from the ceaseless corporate welfare they will fight for, their ultimate ambition is to render the actually literate and sentient amongst us fed up and indifferent. Without awareness, and with no resistance, they can more easily continue their unchecked assault on our collective well-being.

Do what you have to do.

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RICH ASSHOLES PAYING NO TAXES IS UNPATRIOTIC

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Did you catch this? (Trigger warning: you’ll need to Windex your screen and take a shower after watching to disinfect and rinse the slime off.)

This embarrassing exchange merely confirms what anyone with a semblance of political, business or psychological acumen has known for decades: Trump is, in addition to being an irretrievably wretched human being, also an appallingly bad (albeit opportunistic) “businessman”, serial liar and hypocrite. Bonus reminder: Rudy Giuliani remains an execrable, race-baiting, sexist troll who has made a career off the suffering of others.

But what should not be lost in the melodrama that will unfold this week is a very revealing and, if the Democrats manage to handle yet another gift correctly (for once?), useful opportunity. For entirely too long, Dems have been on the defense against the easily disprovable claims that if not for the richest of the rich, there’d be no job creation or tax revenue since, of course, the government doesn’t create jobs (ha) and the wealthiest pay the lion’s share of taxes (ha!). In addition, the working poor (keywords: working and poor) have been consistently and successfully marginalized for not paying their “fair” share, even and especially the ones who are below the poverty line. (A primer on the playbook that has worked, pretty much without fail, since the early ‘80s is HERE.)

And of course we blame out-of-control welfare (which, among other reasons, was created to ensure we don’t have children starving, and, in many instances, an opportunity to help pull willing would-be workers out of privation…unless, of course, you want to believe the racist and classist malarkey that there are thousands (millions?) of Americans who don’t want to get ahead; who are perfectly content to cash those checks and—not having the remarkable good fortune of inheriting wealth from their parents—perpetuate the cycle of hopelessness for their families).

The GOP has been able to have it both ways, with minimal pushback from the “liberal” media, lionizing the wealthy 1%; those “job creators” who, when the rocks are lifted from their shady but—courtesy of 21st Century Capitalism on steroids—not only perfectly legal, but encouraged dealings, are very happy to ship jobs overseas, fight against regulation (which directly enriches them while causing all sorts of health issues that cost working folks more money…if it doesn’t kill them), and—wait for it—pay no taxes. We’re not talking about taking advantage of available loopholes (themselves an indication that the system is, of course, rigged so that the richest of the rich get away with the most while stiffing the rest of us); we’re talking about ensuring that they pay close to nothing. And, at long last backed into this corner, we get brazen sycophants like Giuliani calling Trump a “genius” for paying no taxes.

Herein we have, at best, a conflict of interests.

Because, if enjoying every available loophole was unassailable proof of his savvy business instincts, why wouldn’t Trump have happily released his tax info months or years ago? After all, he could make the case that his successful avoidance of paying taxes underscores his brilliance. But…that’s complicated because Trump has played the poor/race card, calling out the tens of millions of Americans who pay no federal income taxes—you know, the “takers”.

(Sidenote: any person who laments out-of-control entitlements or social programs, but is unperturbed by –or applauds– the psychopathic swindling by the Masters of the Universe is not ignorant so much as an unwitting victim of very purposeful and politically motivated propaganda. That this is based, at least in part, on a far-from extinct culture of prejudice, alive and unwell, and so disgustingly exposed at any Trump rally, scarcely requires elaboration.)

Is this revelation going to sway any hardcore Trump supporters? Of course not. (Anyone capable of rational thought when it comes to Trump would have rightly been pushed past endurable limits with the knowledge that he’s unashamedly stiffed workers who have built or provided things for him, a venal sort of bullying that makes the aforementioned psychopathy seem almost quaint.) This “revelation” is simply overdue acknowledgment of the hatred so much of our entitled class (and the political party that serves them) feels for the rest of us peasants. They have largely held—and acted on—these beliefs with impunity, on occasion even marketing themselves as the real populists. That farce can, and should, reach its tardy expiration date, effective immediately.

Back in 2014, as the Dems, running away from Obama’s accomplishments (obviously) and downplaying the demonstrable good Obamacare had already done (naturally), I wrote the following:

During the Tea Party shenanigans in ’09, I kept asking myself: when is Obama going to start reminding everyone that this big bad government has historically been the bulwark between the people and an Industrial Revolution lifestyle? Does it need to actually get to the point where the Republican Party literally says “let them eat cake” before people start to realize wages are stagnating, prices are rising and the only people getting fat are the wealthiest one percent? Apparently it does.

(This is an opportune time to remind any recalcitrant Gary Johnson supporters that, in addition to your candidate being a vapid loon, his libertarian policies—you know, the ones you claim more closely align with yours than either Trump’s or Clinton’s—double down on all the pro-business, anti-regulation Republican nonsense and ignore or oppose what most of us would consider sensible things like climate change, engagement with foreign allies (or enemies!) and government services. Never mind the Ayn Rand jokes that write themselves: just ask yourselves about things like maternity leave, minimum wage and 40 hour work weeks. Then try to square these, or virtually any single progressive advancement (the ones Bernie Sanders rightly, and heroically, has spent his life articulating and endorsing) with anything Libertarian. Please gang, resist your sexist tendencies and slack-jawed gullibility. Or and, if you insist on not being remotely conversant with the issues, at least stop deluding yourself that Johnson has anything whatsoever in common with either Sanders or progressive politics. Also, being nihilists without a clue is never a good look. Finally, vote for Clinton if for no other reason your dream of legal marijuana has approximately 100% better chance of happening with a Democratic administration.).

Speaking of, just as every politician was once (still?) asked if they ever smoked pot, going forward every single aspiring president should be asked—ceaselessly—what, if any, taxes they paid. (Oh wait, that did happen with every candidate until the supine media rolled over for Trump? My bad.)

The takeaway here is the same as it ever was: actions speak more eloquently and loudly than time-tested boilerplate does. In addition to exposing, without any gray area or subtlety, what these entitled and wealthy elites truly believe, the attack line going forward must be as direct as it is devastating: failure to pay any taxes might make you a more successful—and wealthy—businessman; it also makes you unpatriotic. If you’re unwilling to pay your fair share for the services that often make America exceptional, you’re not merely putting your money where your heart isn’t, you’re letting the country know no rules can, or should, apply to you.

That, sadly, will never be enough for the Fox News watchers, bigots and our angry old guard (Hey millennials: vote for Clinton if for no other reason than to savor what the next 4-8 years will be like for bitter racists for whom “making America great again” would be outlawing abortion, not letting women vote, no separation of church and state and—yikes!—reinstating the draft.). But it just might open some eyes of inexplicably “undecided” voters, and certainly should resonate with the younger demographic—the one with school debt and uncertain job security, whose taxes helped bail out the 1% when they systematically and deliberately tanked the economy less than a decade ago. The one that gets younger and less white every day.

*This essay originally appeared at The Weeklings on 10/3/16.

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Some Men Just Want To Watch The World Bern

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Hey Bernie Bros!

What’s up, fellas? First, I feel you. To a certain extent, I am you. I love me some Bernie, and, to establish some obligatory street-cred, actually knew who he was (and admired him) many years before he decided to run for president.

Secondly, I get it. Check this out.

I have to say, you younger dudes are reminding many of us of the obdurate blowhards who claimed, in 2000, that their only choice was Nader since (as Nader himself said, to his eternal shame) Bush and Gore were essentially two sides of the same soiled coin.

Here’s the thing: quite a few folks knew not only that this was bullshit, but that the feckless and untested Bush wasn’t remotely up to the job. Yes, it was infuriating to witness some of the most irresponsible media negligence of our lifetimes (little did we know it was a test run for the run-up to Iraq), but at least, without the literal benefit of hindsight, it was impossible to prove Bush would be incompetent in ways that made even our most cynical suspicions seem…naïve. Here’s the other thing: we already know, without even the slightest iota of uncertainty, that Trump is not merely a reckless, obscene and ignorant buffoon, but that his election will put the very concept of American democracy in jeopardy. Speaking of Iraq, imagine Trump…no, let’s not even go there.

So, with condolences and admonition, let me toss fifty well-intended turds into your oh-so-pure punch bowl before your precious, but increasingly nihilistic “Bernie or Bust” antics do our nation irreparable harm.

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1. Donald Trump.

2. Trump’s VP? Google “Pence. Abortion bill”.

3. Take a quick gander at the GOP platform. And read this.

4. Imagine, for one moment, that you’re not white, or had a vagina. Or were gay. Or, if that’s too frightening and uncomfortable, what our country will be like for any and all of these folks.

5. Pretend (and this is probably the biggest stretch of all) that you ever, under any circumstances had to work a blue collar job.

6. Contemplate Newt Gingrich as Secretary of State.

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  1. Contemplate Chris Christie. (Not even necessarily in any position of power; just contemplate him.)
  2. Imagine, for one second, this idiot feeling vindicated.
  3. The fact that the cowardly and cretinous Rudy Giuliani has recently inserted himself into the public eye with the typical grace of a rabid ferret in a crowded train, and could easily be named Attorney General, should be enough to make you not only vote for Hillary, but get excited about canvassing for her.
  4. If you seriously believe, for one second, that living under a Trump regime will be in any way cathartic or cleansing, do us all a favor: go live in North Korea for a few months and let us know what you’ve learned.
  5. Have you actually ever read anything by Orwell or Kafka or even the pre-9/11 Christopher Hitchens? Didn’t think so.
  6. “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”, right? Trump’s another word for it, too — for people who’ve never lost anything, or have excellent jobs or benevolent parents to shelter them from shit when it gets real. Speaking of freedom: everything this concept conveys is something Trump had handed to him or has fought to obstruct his entire life.
  7. Hillary a tad egocentric for your tastes? Fair enough. Think she puts herself first too much for comfort? Okay. Compared to Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton is Florence Nightingale, Mother Teresa and June Cleaver rolled into one.
  8. Think of Hillary Clinton as the pâté of politics: overvalued by the wrong type of people, appalling in its pretensions, bought by well-connected sorts, but undeniably created through expertise and time-tested processes. It, in short, might not be especially appetizing for all kinds of reasons, but fast food it ain’t. Think of Trump, on the other hand, as a worn out chicken breast raised on a chemical and steroid mash inside a rank, concrete factory that is months past its inflated expiration date, then had bleach poured on it for coloration before hitting the meat aisle at Food Lion.
  9. Everyone who really wants Trump to win really hates everything about you.
  10. And they would not hesitate to harm you, physically, if they could get away with it.
  11. And they would be encouraged (and, perhaps, exonerated) by Trump, if he had the power.
  12. Read the short story “Mario and the Magician” by Thomas Mann.
  13. Read something by any writer who lived through a dictatorship.
  14. Read this excellent piece from founding Weeklings editor Greg Olear.
  15. Imagine all the right wing radio listening, bigoted and elderly dunces who detest Obama (because he’s black) and fantasize about them spending their miserable last years ranting in their futons because a woman just became president for two terms.
  16. I would say, imagine Secretary of Defense John McCain, but The Donald prefers Secretaries of State who didn’t get captured. You know who definitely never gets captured? Short-fingered cheese-dicks whose daddy helped them avoid military service in the first place.
  17. At a certain point you just have to grow up. There are few things more appalling than the way sausage is made (literally and figuratively). There are also few things more enjoyable, or American.
  18. You know how you love Bill Clinton despite the ways he drives you crazy because he’s such a gifted natural politician with such cripplingly poor judgment? Hillary Clinton, in virtually every regard, is his opposite.
  19. Read this.
  20. Read this, too.
  21. More knowledge dropped by Mr. Olear.
  22. Put this in your pipe and smoke it.
  23. Donald Trump is the tragi-comic apotheosis of the GOP successfully, for decades, side-stepping all reality-based criticism by insisting the media is liberal. (The only way that story ends happily, and appropriately, is if Trump loses in spectacular, historically humiliating fashion.)
  24. Also, the Fox News-enabled transition from low information voters to no information voters has been deliberate, if cynical, and will have one of two results: epic comeuppance that will rend the GOP into several desperate, greedy and angry (always angry) factions, or the utter collapse of democracy, assuming Trump wins.
  25. Seriously, the distance between Hillary and Bernie, though profound in some regards, is like the gap between Starbucks franchises in any major city. The distance between Hillary and Trump, on the other hand, is not even calculable by man-made means; we’re talking quantum physics black hole time space continuum type shit.
  26. See how long you can make it through this:

33. Am I the only person who, whenever Donald Trump is speaking (invariably about himself), thinks he is a much dumber and more dangerous realization of this classic character?

34. You notice how the Republican Establishment has, of late, tripled-down on calling itself “the party of Lincoln”? That’s not accidental. This election needs to ensure that for the indefinite future they are, correctly, known as “the party of Trump”.

35. Getting back to that Republican platform. Did you know they’re against medical marijuana?

36. And that they are still shamelessly anti-gay marriage, anti-gay adoption and for the farcical “conversion therapy” snake oil? (Follow the money, opportunism and denial, always the GOP Unholy Trinity.) It’s one thing to be unrepentantly bigoted and call yourself “traditional”; it’s another to essentially fly your flag of intolerance and dare people with their hearts and minds on the moral side of history to do something. Now’s the time to ensure you do something.

37. Hey, smart guy: can’t be bothered to be appalled by anti-abortion (even in the cases of rape and incest!) laws? How about when your online porn habits start being monitored and persecuted?

38. Still unmoved? Get a load of this exhaustive (and yes, epic) takedown of all-things Trump by our own Brother Sean Beaudoin.

39. You’ve got your panties in a pretzel over Hillary’s emails, but you don’t realize Trump University alone should be enough to ensure Trump is doing the hardest possible time at Rikers Island?

40. Ever seen Dr. Strangelove? Donald Trump is Buck Turgidson, General Jack D. Ripper, Colonel Bat Guano and Ambassador Alexei de Sadeski, all in one. Only dumber and more dangerous. And much less amusing.

41. Remember this?

42. Just vote for Hillary and then complain and whine as much as you want. That’s what blogs are made for.

43. For the sake of the country, be the one saying “I told you so” each time the media, on rinse, wash, repeat, blasts out the latest manufactured Hillary-related outrage. We can take it; we’re prepared for it. Don’t be the person being told “I told you so” by the rest of us, as our collective future flatlines.

44. Ensure another essential Democratic win just to see if it finally causes this evil motherfucker to implode.

45. Just because Batman had some megalomaniacal tendencies doesn’t mean you rooted for The Joker. (If you did root for The Joker, it’s time, at long last, to move out of your parent’s house. Also, too: see #9.)

46. Every great leader, including FDR, had personal foibles that, if scrutinized the way Hillary’s have been for decades, would prevent them from being elected to their home owners association, much less president of the United States.

47. Imagine the good Bernie can continue to do in support of a (grateful, and accommodating) Clinton administration.

48. Visualize every hero who has fought for social justice in the history of the world. Who do you think they’d want you to vote for? (Hint: not Trump, never.)

49. Have the courage of your convictions: go light your house on fire and send every penny you have to Donald Trump. That will allow you to get it out of your system and repent before you help usher in the apocalypse. Win/Win.

50. Seriously. President Trump? You’re better than that. We’re better than this.

Final words from the man himself.

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Some Day A Real Rain Will Come: What Travis Bickle Can –And Cannot– Tell Us About Tucson (Revisited)

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Voices In Our Heads

You talking to me?

It is the pivotal scene in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and it remains one of the seminal moments in movie history. Not so much because of its improvisational nature, or the uncanny way Robert De Niro (playing the alienated and ultimately violent Travis Bickle) disappears into this character, managing to seem invisible and menacing all at once. Most important, this short scene echoes a question that all of us, to a certain extent, ask the world every day.

“Are you talking to me?” we ask, and the tone may be inquisitive, rhetorical or defiant. It may be those and many other things. Mostly, as we interact in a mechanized, sped-up and increasingly unreal reality, we want to make sure people know we are there. We use our voices, our eyes, our frowns or smiles, our horns, our phones, our e-mail, our clothes and a thousand unspoken thoughts to affirm that our presence does not go entirely unnoticed.

In a way, it was easier a few decades ago, around the time Taxi Driver (1976) was released. There was no Internet, no texting, no cell phones, no cable TV, no electronic anything. If you needed to reach out and touch someone, you had to do just that. It’s possible that with the proliferation of devices and toys, in our information-overload moment (which, as it relates to art, content and information, is definitely not a negative thing), we are lonelier than ever before. This ground has been well-covered and there are compelling arguments on either side. On one hand, it can be conjectured that by remaining indoors, behind a glowing screen, we’ve effectively cut ourselves off from old-fashioned interaction and our communication—however ceaseless—lacks intimacy and engagement. On the other hand, people who in another era (including this one) may be best described as socially awkward (due to a variety of societal and self-imposed factors) have myriad opportunities to connect that simply did not exist even ten-to-fifteen years ago.

And the above observations almost entirely relate to action as opposed to reaction. It’s difficult to accurately gauge precisely how a constant bombardment of content, opinions and steadily louder voices is affecting our perception. Not too long ago it was a common joke to talk about (either in celebratory or castigating tones) how we had one hundred channels to choose from via cable TV. Now we have hundreds of channels, as well as streaming video, social media, blogs, and a dedicated website for every news channel, program and talking head in the world. And all of these voices are trying to tell, or sell, us something. Always urgently, never off message, constantly competing with all the other noise to get inside our heads and influence our opinions in one way or another.

 

Who Owns The American Dream?

You’re in a hell, and you’re gonna’ die in a hell like the rest of them.

It was horrifying enough when we had Travis Bickle types who, for their various reasons, sought violent ends to make some type of statement or try and quell that voice screeching non-stop in their ears, like a demented wasps’ nest. Taxi Driver, though wrongly or at least simplistically described by too many as the story of a psychopath, is very much a cautionary tale about what can happen when an alienated citizen has no one to talk to. The fact that it’s set in one of the busiest cities in the world is less ironic than tragic: anyone who has spent time in a bustling urban environment can confirm that it’s sometimes—if not often—the case that one can feel most alone when surrounded by millions of people who don’t know or care about them.

Loneliness, alienation and even violence are sufficiently commonplace as to be unremarkable facets of American existence: watch the news or consider your own life story. This certainly holds true in any society, particularly our plugged in but often disconnected post-millennial era. It seems safe to suggest these conditions are most rampant and profound in the United States. There are countless reasons and/or symptoms, and they are rooted more in myth than reality. For instance, while America does not have the rigid and stratified class systems that still plague Europe, we do have a collective addiction to the white-washed fantasy also known as the American Dream.

Lest that sound like a facile dismissal of a very complicated and, in many ways useful illusion, there are undeniably certain aspects of the American Dream parable that are provable and worthwhile. The ceaseless influx of grateful immigrants is sufficient testament to the inherent promise of an ostensibly free society. The same promise luring men and women to illegally enter our country is the same impulse that served as a siren song for Irish, Italian and other immigration movements through the 19th and 20th centuries. And yet, this speaks to the dream of America itself more than what we call the American Dream. Being able to do something is altogether different from being able to do anything. Most of these immigrants (then, now) are obliged to work excruciating hours doing horrific work at woeful wages, and the only thing making it tolerable is that it is (usually) better than the alternative.

The proposition that any of us, regardless of who we are and whatever our initial station in life can, with the correct combination of industry, initiative and luck, ascend to a status of wealth festers as one of the more powerful, if poisonous fictions our country has produced. More, it is not merely promulgated but actively inculcated: history books and sentimental movies tend to tout the exceedingly rare rags-to-riches allegory while ignoring, denying or conveniently dismissing the typical reality, which is that the working poor are likely to remain exactly where they are. In fact, as we’ve seen in the last few decades, this is more—not less—the case in a political and cultural system that has steadily ensured that those who have more will get more, usually directly at the expense of those who have little.

This dichotomy between what we see on screens or inside magazines is not new, but commercials, ads and websites telling us how can be or who we should be are incalculably more prevalent and powerful in today’s world. Thus, the same types of alienating forces that the lonely, angry and outcast citizens have historically been subject to are alarmingly more intense in a 24/7 info-tainment unreality. Which brings us to the Republicans in general and the Tea Party in particular. The GOP has auto-piloted the Horatio Alger story to the extent that counties receiving the most federal aid will lash out most indignantly (if ignorantly) about the perils of “big government”. Indeed, generation after generation illustrates that those who benefit most from higher taxes (and who have the least likelihood of ascending to the upper tax brackets) are consistently fanatical about keeping taxes low for those who earn the most. There are an unfortunate number of tragedies we commit as Americans, but this is one of the more profound examples.

Someday A Real Rain Will Come…

Loneliness has followed me my whole life…there’s no escape. I’m God’s lonely man.

One of the more devastatingly poignant (or poignantly devastating) scenes in Taxi Driver occurs when Travis sits, silently in his apartment, watching the attractive and fashionable folks dancing on TV. Alone in his sweltering studio walk-up, the look on his face—at once longing, frustrated and confused—reveals the hastening recognition that he will never attain the easy, if superficial, security he sees on the screen. With subtlety and lack of sentimentality (the script is actually somewhat slight, which only underscores the astonishing work De Niro turns in), we see that Bickle is the ultimate loner, an underground entity who is as much insect as human, scurrying in and out of his pointless and preordained routine.

Add to this the fact that he is a veteran, perhaps the most overlooked, yet prescient touch of the film (flash forward thirty-plus years to see how we treat our soldiers when they return from the wars we ask them to fight; little coincidence that it’s the same party that salutes the flag most tearfully who are quickest to slash and burn the programs designed to provide physical—and especially mental—assistance). The result of these circumstances and lack of choices provide us, circa 1976, with a character sketch of someone who, if one thing leads to the next, might opt for a more sociopathic solution to his problems. Importantly, Bickle is not revealed as a man destined to snap; while he is far from blameless for his predicament, he is very much a casualty of the world (the real one and the manufactured one) that he can’t master but must exist in. Therefore when he decides “my whole life is pointed in one direction…there never has been any choice for me”, it is both a confession and a one-man verdict, his indictment against this world.

There is some irony, looking back on the candidate he turns his grim attention toward: Palantine, running under the campaign slogan “We Are The People”, seems to espouse a very optimistic (if clichéd) message. (Further irony in that this notion of a collective synergy only amplifies Bickle’s isolation.) Imagine all of these elements contributing to Bickle’s disintegration placed in the context of our contemporary culture, with venom being spewed 24/7 by charlatans and circus clowns like Beck, O’Riley and Palin. Imagine Travis Bickle watching Fox News each day. If you can, you may begin to see why the concern and loathing of the Tea Party movement had much more to do with what happened this week in Arizona and little to do with comically misspelled signs and morons telling the government to stay out of their Medicare.

Travis gets his guns after a frightening encounter in his cab (and having heard about the violence fellow drivers have suffered). Only after he feels himself finally out of options does he contemplate using his gun on an innocent person (and later, people). Even in 1976, this was sufficiently compelling commentary on the ease with which Americans get access to guns. Today, appallingly, gun laws are looser than ever (and—shocker!—one political party defends this madness with the same tenacity they bring to cutting taxes and eliminating federal aid programs) and instead of a lone madman with one round, we have the sickening spectacle of semi-automatic weapons. Flash forward to Columbine, Virginia Tech and Tucson.

It slowly comes into focus: it is easier, now, for more people (except perhaps the politicians and mainstream media, the two most culpable parties) to understand the calculus that made this weekend’s tragedy predictable and, perhaps, inevitable. There are and—as ass-covering TV talking heads remind us—always will be lunatics in our midst who will kill and maim others and there is little we can do (other than disarm them). That said, it is way too easy to suggest this was an ambivalent act with random victims: in the same state the cretinous Sarah Palin put gun-sights on in a map of “targets”. It’s not necessary to pile on Palin, no matter how much blood she has on her carefully manicured hands; it is every bit the supine and opportunistic media’s fault, since they have breathlessly provided this imbecile with a public platform every step of the way. Special disgust, certainly, must be reserved for the reprehensible propaganda machine at Fox News: that so many Americans receive their “information” (and/or marching orders) from these scavengers debases us all.

And so, while the GOP gleefully fed the ill-conceived ire of the Tea Party faithful, they continued to double down on the very things that have caused so many of these folks to feel genuine hardship. It would almost be comical, except for the immorality and the guns. If someone in a red (or blue) state wants to endorse candidates who blithely promise to increase the collective misery, one can only laugh—unless one can’t help but cry. But when we see these candidates urging “Second Amendment remedies”, we need not wring our hands and ask how we all share the blame. No, the bulk of the blame can easily be laid at the spit-shined shoes of the pied pipers leading these rats to the water’s edge. That, an older and/or more cynical observer might suggest, has always been the case. Except now these rats are packing heat and they don’t mind taking out as many of us as they can, smiling as they do it.

This essay originally appeared in PopMatters on 1/26/11 and is now in Murphy’s Law, Vol. One –available now.

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“20 MINUTES OF ACTION” WARRANTS MORE THAN 15 MINUTES OF OUTRAGE

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CAMPUS RAPE IS AN epidemic seemingly without comparison in terms of its frequency and how often it goes unreported—not to mention unprosecuted.

We have, arguably, become uncomfortably numb to the archetypal rape scenario, where—without the benefit of witnesses—even if an accusation makes it to court, the proceedings often degenerate into a repulsive spectacle of he said/she said in which the victim must, essentially, explain why and how she allowed the violation to happen in the first place.

The Brock Turner case certainly has elements of this too-familiar tale: the sickening details of forced entry, violence, abandonment and lack of accountability, only more so. Much more so. In this case, the raped woman was in fact unconscious, dragged behind a dumpster and then left, mostly naked and alone. One would never want to rank such attacks by severity, but the heartbreak of this image would likely be over-the-top even for the most unimaginative and sleazy movie director. It’s that bad.

In a twist that should have brought clarity and finality to the sentencing, two Samaritans (Swedes, actually) saw the crime-in-progress (or before it was completed, anyway), and overtook Turner as he fled the scene. So…without these two, it wouldhave been a felony with unidentified perpetrator. Visualize that, and recoil accordingly: this frightened young woman waking up, knowing she’d been demeaned and left outdoors with her clothes balled up beside her, not having any idea exactly what happened or who did it.

What happened next is predictable as it is appalling: Turner’s parents hire an experienced and aggressive defense attorney (naturally) and in addition to the usual blame-the-victim antics, much hand-wringing occurs as to how the consequences of this indiscretion will impact…wait for it…his future (naturally). It’s almost impossible to imagine what a victim of rape experiences during and especially after the ordeal. It’s instructive that this victim was brave enough to document, for posterity, what she endured. Of particular note are the specific questions she was forced to answer as the defense angled for any possible opening to impugn and implicate her.

But at least, for a change, there’s some justice, right? After all, there were eyewitnesses, who chased down Turner, which is enough to prove beyond any reasonable doubt he was very aware of what he did, how wrong it was, and what the aftermath might entail. Turner was found guilty of three felonies: assault with the intent to commit rape, sexual penetration with a foreign object of an intoxicated person and sexual penetration with a foreign object of an unconscious person.

Here then, an opportunity to remind would-be predators that—beyond being morally repugnant, unacceptable on any societal level and just plain one hundred percent wrong—this is a crime, with consequences. The kind that will change your life forever, for the worse. And, in this instance, depending upon Turner’s capacity for reflection and remorse, sufficient time to meditate on the ways the victim’s life has been irretrievably impacted.

The sentence? Six months in county (not state) prison.

Six months.

(If you want to understand what male privilege is, consider that sentence. If you want to consider what white male privilege is, calculate what the sentence would likely be if the assailant were an African American student. If you want to consider what our society unconsciously condones, imagine if the assailant were an African American male not affiliated with the university.)

Six months. Lenient to the point of insult. And that’s assuming this sentence is not successfully appealed.

Even in the most charitable quid pro quo formulation, you’d figure that the minimum exchange would be one year—the same amount of time the trial took and the days Turner stole from his victim as she and her family struggled to not only piece together a shattered life, but to effectively defend themselves in a very public trial, where her sexual history, decision-making and so many trivial aspects of her life that would be no one’s business except for the fact that she was raped behind a dumpster while unconscious were all dissected as if she were an etherized butterfly on a lab table.

Certainly one advantage to our civility and civil rights is that we can’t be convicted without a trial. At the same time, anyone who insists the American Dream is an equal opportunity proposition and we’re largely a classless society needs to contemplate the travesty of a rape victim compelled to answer—if not rebut—incriminating questions from a determined attorney (just business as usual; besides did we mention this young man is a promising young athlete? There’s more than just another white male life to salvage, he has the potential for remarkable things, and let’s consider how detrimental an extended prison sentence would be for his prospects…Business. As. Usual.).

So far, and unfortunately, there’s not much about this particular case that seems unfamiliar: bad guy (key word: guy) has ways and means to do everything in his (key word: his) power to get away with it. With the full support of his family, naturally.

And speaking of that, it’s the letter Turner’s father wrote—which demands to be read in full—that puts this atrocity at a whole other level. In a beyond-parody instant classic of the worst sort, Turner addresses the judge who felt six months, not 14 years, was appropriate. With four words that should—and must—henceforth become a permanent part of our cultural lexicon, Turner’s father laments “(six months) is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action.”

Twenty minutes of action.

Reading this made me think not of cartoon characters representing evil, like Gordon Gekko, or our national treasure of satire The Onion (because, my first and then second reaction upon seeing that letter was to think: there’s no way that letter was really written; there’s no way that’s actually real, is there?), but of the very human and peerless reprobate, Lloyd Blankfein. As the economy cratered and tax-paying citizens’ 401(k)s were evaporating—courtesy of the intentional (and still inadequately disciplined) malevolence of these so-called masters of the universe—Blankfein revealed the disgusting depths of his sociopathy when he wryly demurred that bankers were merely doing “God’s work”.

Let’s face it: life seldom offers up such stark, such unambiguous occasions where, once they’ve occurred, they become immediately and eternally unforgettable. Even in the most clear-cut cases of depravity, there’s typically some nuance, some room for alternative interpretation, some slight possibility of misunderstanding. Thus, as enraging as it is to behold such brazen and pitiless sincerity (connecting the dots, as usual, between men, sports, money and “winning”), it’s nevertheless edifying.

Shame on Mr. Turner for so many things and so many reasons, but shame on us if we let father or son not be reminded of this for the rest of their days. More than the proverbial teaching moment, this anti-epiphany (twenty minutes of action!) is sui generis; it’s so wrong it’s a paradoxical but perfect gift. Finally, a sentence about the sentence that henceforth, in one sentence, can serve to illustrate cause, effect, and accountability (or the lack thereof), all from the father of the felon. In addition, it’s a reminder of our responsibility to protect one another, to elevate awareness, and push back against the narrative—empowered by money and the influence it buys—that all too often confirms a very human outrage: if you can get away with it, it’s not a crime. Or, if you can own the narrative, you can revise reality.

I am in no way intimating that any portion of this victim’s anguish is justifiable or worth the opportunity for others’ enlightenment. But considering how often these transgressions occur, how seldom they are reported, and how unusual it is to see anything approximating penance, this case (in general) and Mr. Turner’s letter (in particular) supply us a concise synopsis of the violence done to women. And more, the circumstances that too often accompany it. More still, the ugly one-two gut punch of silencing and rationalizing that serves to leave victims even more broken and without recourse.

That injustice of this magnitude is tolerated, or even overlooked as part of an imperfect system, should be overdue impetus for resolution: hold ourselves and our system more answerable, and do much more to eliminate the shame and suffering forced on guiltless survivors of these traumas.

And in the meantime?

I’m not particularly proud of this wish, equal parts uncultured and clichéd. And yet, if we’d like to imagine a sentence a tad more commensurate with the crime, perhaps some willing inmate—presumably one bigger and stronger to facilitate a sense of symmetry and perspective—will give Turner a taste of his own intrusion and let him see, smell, taste and feel what it’s like to have a most private orifice energetically penetrated.

Never mind the humiliation, belated accountability and comprehension for what all this involves; let’s see how quickly Turner moves on, physically and especially emotionally. A case study of sorts. In a sense it would only be appropriate, poetic in a way, for one hackneyed situation (the frat house rape) to be repaid with a correspondingly overwrought one (the prison rape).

Six months, way too brief by any criteria, still contains 4,320 hours. Is it too much to hope that Turner gets “twenty minutes of action” that he’ll never forget?

 

*This article originally appeared at The Weeklings on 6/7/16.

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Bernin’ For You

 

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I’m…

Don’t say it.

I’m F…

Don’t say it!

I’m Feel…

Don’t say it!!

I’M FEELING THE BERN!

Are you serious?

I’m as serious as the heart attack The Establishment is about to have!

Well, you know what they say…

What’s that?

Democrats fall in love; Republicans fall in line.

Love is all around us.

Are you serious?

What’s the problem?

You mean other than Bernie Sanders can’t get elected?

Yes, other than that.

The other party is imploding and you want to hand them the election?

We’re not handing them shit. This country is not going to elect Donald Trump or Ted Cruz.

But why take the chance?

What if going with Hillary turns out to be the losing bet?

That’s what you said in ’08.

Exactly.

Don’t you want the next president to be able to get anything done?

That’s my favorite argument: that anyone is naïve enough to think the Republicans are going to work with Hillary!

At least we know what they’re going to throw at Hillary. They’ve already done it.

I’ve got several hundred million Koch dollars that say you ain’t seen anything yet.

At least we know what we’ve got with Hillary.

If we wanted half-measures, we should have just voted for Hillary in ’08.

It might have worked out better…

Better? Hillary would have one-and-done Jimmy Carter style and been beaten like Mondale.

No. Hillary getting elected would have killed the GOP. Just the fact of her in office would have annihilated the entire Republican party.

Actually, she would have energized them for a generation.

No, she would have won. The Clintons always win!

Except in ’08.

Okay, fine. But why not get on board now?

I can’t.

Why not?

Because that’s what the Republicans always do.

Do what?

Going with the safe bet; going with the Establishment choice.

They’re not doing it this time.

Yes, and it’s going to cause them to lose in historic fashion!

Not if idiots like you make a Socialist the nominee.

Democratic Socialist.

Full-on Mao Communist by the Time Fox News is finished with him.

Fuck Fox News!

No. Fox News fucks you. That’s the history of the last two decades in a nutshell.

Those days are over.

Those days have scarcely begun.

It’s different this time.

That’s what you suckers say every four years.

You’ll see.

What is your problem with Hillary?

Nothing. If she wins the nomination, I’m behind her 100%.

Why not now?

She wants it too badly, which is alarming. She expects it, which is insulting.

Can’t you say that about any candidate?

No. Her husband wanted it more badly than breathing, but he never expected it. Dubya expected it, but his life wouldn’t have ended had he lost. Obama cut the balance.

So what’s Bernie’s secret?

He is allowing the people who want it badly to make the difference.

You mean like Ralph Nader?

No, this is different (and that is insulting).

What’s different?

Well, for starters, look at his poll numbers.

Well…

And, um, how about his showing in Iowa and New Hampshire?

Well…

And the fact that, from jump, Nader knew he was playing spoiler, at best. Also, fuck Ralph Nader. And fuck Gore for not fighting harder. And double-fuck him for running a campaign that made Dukakis look competent. And fuck Scalia and the rest of the so-called Constitutionalists for handing the election to Bush, just like the founding fathers intended…

Look, I’m all for fairy tales and rainbows, but I’m also about reality.

What’s unrealistic about the most grotesquely wealthy country on the planet investing in its own?

It’s unrealistic because it can’t happen.

It has happened.

A long time ago.

Yes, and even a long time ago, it was the result of struggle, and a politician who was willing to fight the special interests.

You mean FDR?

Yes, I also mean Teddy Roosevelt.

That was a long time ago.

You know what Obama could, and should, have done, at any point during his first six years?

What?

Borrowed the “I welcome their hatred” speech from FDR.

He did the best he could with what he had.

No, at first he was too cocksure everyone would go along with him, then he was unwilling to get his bully pulpit on, and he only started fighting back once he’d been already been shat on for three years.

So a rational, moderate liberal can’t get it done, but a full blown Socialist can?

Yes, you’re falling into the trap again. It’s not because Obama really wanted it, it’s because he was too easily corrupted, too easily cowed, too easily distracted. I’m not saying he didn’t do his best for the most part, but do you actually believe he really wanted it, like up in the middle of the night agonizing over it?

So you’re going to fall for this Sanders flavor of the month shtick?

Sanders has been walking the walk for decades.

So has Hillary.

Sure, she’s evolved, and fought the pretty-good fight. But Sanders was marching for minorities, women and gays when Hillary was still a confused Republican. (Also, let’s not rehash the policies from the Clinton years that hurt employment, fucked minorities and opened the casino doors to the Wall Street shitshow that crashed our economy.)

Look, every Democrat can get behind the spirit of what Sanders is saying…

I think Hillary—and her supporters—are incredibly wrong to assume voters, especially young or undecided voters, are going to be swayed by caution and the same formula that fails to work in every mid-term election.

It’s not Hillary’s fault she isn’t exciting.

No one gives a shit about that. Do you think people find Bernie Sanders exciting? It’s what he’s saying and the lack of fucks he has to give that is resonating with liberals and, quite possibly, people who usually tune politics out.

People get scared of what they don’t know.

No, people get enthusiastic about what they never knew was possible. Bernie’s support thus far has already proven that.

Hillary isn’t promising people magic and dreams.

No, she’s promising that she’s going to tack to the center even quicker and more naturally than Obama did. And that’s why she’s not inspiring people. Don’t blame the people who fail to be impressed that she hasn’t been impressive.

What if Bernie has already hit his ceiling?

Bernie hasn’t even begun yet. Wait until the mainstream media can no longer ignore or further marginalize what he’s accomplishing.

What makes you so sure?

We know Democrats tend to sit at home during mid-terms. Do you think the debacle of this last cycle that might have had something to do with that load of craven, faux-centrist shitheads running away from Obamacare and trying to split the difference between tea-party lunatics?

So they won’t sit it out this time?

Have you seen the crowds Sanders is getting?

Are they sustainable?

Here’s the thing. We know Democrats get demoralized, especially when they’re offered the same old shit. But how about the fact that Republicans undoubtedly sit out too? Maybe a whole lot of them. Maybe the ones who are, at long last, fed up with being taken for granted and generally fucked over during the last three decades, but pandered to every four years, and every time jobs go overseas and wages freeze and their kids are sent to ill-advised wars and their water is poisoned and they’re told how great America really is, maybe some of these otherwise impossible to reach old and young red state voters might find someone who’s actually telling them precisely what he’d do and exactly who he won’t work with and how his policies will tangibly improve their lives. Maybe this is proof that all the inside-the-beltway, elitist Democratic strategists with their lobbyist friends buying them dinner are entirely wrong and being forever surrounded by career consultants, like Hillary, is exactly why she suddenly finds herself battling for her life against Bernie Sanders.

Won’t you feel silly even if Bernie gets elected and none of his promises are attainable?

You know what I think is silly? Not prosecuting a single Wall Street executive. Insisting that it was way too soon to have reasonable and belated action taken on same-sex marriage (thanks again, Joe Biden!). Going to the negotiating table meeting intransigent Republicans half-way to the farthest right position (then getting shut down), and making that mistake time after time throughout the better part of two terms.

But what if little of what Sanders talk about is achievable?

By moving the conversation to the left and resetting the terms of the debate, he’ll be doing, at long last, what the GOP has been doing for their cause since 1980. If nothing else, Sanders will work toward a very overdue recalibration.

If he helps Hillary be more outspoken about liberalism, isn’t that a good thing?

It’s not a bad thing. But the fact that it requires Bernie’s presence to persuade her speaks volumes about why people are flocking to Sanders.

But at the end of the day, we’re not Europe.

We’re not Europe. We’re not even America anymore, as we once knew it. And just accepting the very least we should expect from representative government is neither tolerable nor sustainable.

I still think you’re dreaming.

You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one.

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This piece originally appeared at The Weeklings on 2/19/16.

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Carly Fiorina…

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There’s simply too much riding on the 2016 Presidential election to be intimidated by its vast field of candidates. So in the spirit of true post-partisanship, the Weeklings has decided to help America vote right. Over the course of this 8-part series kicking off with the Iowa Caucuses and running through the New Hampshire Primary, we break down our favorite Republican contenders, and tell you exactly who’s worth pulling the lever for.

WE SHOULD BE embarrassed that it’s taken our country this long to realize we need a woman in charge. Virtually all other so-called civilized nations have recognized that women are not only as capable, but possess more emotional intelligence than dudes do.

With Obama as a man trying to act like a woman, it’ll be refreshing to see Fiorina, a woman emulating all the worst qualities of men. The result is a mishmash of opportunism and inelegance that we demand from our leaders. In short, she’s perfect.

It’s been amusing, if typical, to see folks claiming that Planned Parenthood has been vindicated in the wake of the unexpected (or, in hindsight, entirely predictable) convictions of David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt. Tampering with governmental records? Really? So, two patriots are railroaded by a liberal jury concerning a liberal organization and the Liberal Media, just reporting the “facts”, claims these two heroes are actually the bad guys?

It’s amazing, and appalling, to imagine the ways men like Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and especially Ronald Reagan would be libeled and slandered by today’s lamestream media. No fair trials, no evidence considered and no acknowledgment that the heart understands things the eyes can’t see. We all know Planned Parenthood is trafficking human body parts for profit, and just because a national conspiracy to “prove” otherwise is preventing the truth we all know from seeing the light of day, is no reason to give up home. One day Carly Fiorina will be remembered, and revered, as one of the few brave warriors who stood proud against contempt, civility and comic relief.

(This extends beyond Liberals and we can see, from the rigged-game exclusion of Fiorina in this Saturday’s debate, that the Old Boys Network has no room for a woman. And just because she is not polling well enough to merit inclusion is totally beside the point. Obviously.)

With her record of working with, and leading (and prevailing against the machinations) of men in both political and professional circles, it’s only Fiorina who has any chance against Hillary. Even if you are inclined to bother actually examining her tenure at HP, and can’t see exactly what really transpired (hint: a bunch of scared men unwilling to understand, much less appreciate, Fiorina’s exceptional business acumen), you can certainly comprehend that in today’s politically rigged game (thanks again, Liberal Media), the only Hope we have against Hillary is another woman. A better woman. A more honest woman. A woman of accomplishment; a woman who has busted through glass ceilings and butted heads with shareholders and CFOs, a woman who knows that sometimes you have to kill a company before you can save it.

She did it with HP, and she can do it with America, if we are smart enough, if we are brave enough to give her a chance.

This piece originally appeared at The Weeklings on 2/6/16.

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Ted Cruz: Pimpin’ is…actually pretty easy

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There’s simply too much riding on the 2016 Presidential election to be intimidated by its vast field of candidates. So in the spirit of true post-partisanship, the Weeklings has decided to help America vote right. Over the course of this 8-part series kicking off with the Iowa Caucuses and running through the New Hampshire Primary, we break down our favorite Republican contenders, and tell you exactly who’s worth pulling the lever for.

YOU KNOW WHAT prevents decisive action and dooms presidencies?

Self doubt.

Reagan had it (but he had his wife—and she had her astrologer). Bush 41 had it; you could read his lips. Clinton…what was driving that unrestrained libido other than self-loathing and the Big Dawg’s Daddy Issues? George W. Bush? Even The Bard and Oedipus, locked in Hunter S. Thompson’s belfry, couldn’t concoct that kind of pathology. Obama? What the liberal media calls thoughtful and cautious the rest of us recognize as petrified and paralyzed.

Who then, amongst us, doesn’t suffer from a shred of uncertainty, doesn’t question for one second who he is, what he wants, and how much he deserves?

Ted Cruz.

The nerve of us, really.

Here’s a man willing not only to sell out his colleagues, friends and family, but preempted the ordeal of forming principles so he could save time betraying them. And we can’t at least ensure he’s our next president?

Did it ever occur to any of the naysayers that alienating every single person you’ve ever met is exhausting, often thankless work, and something that requires the type of ambition and effort that would likely reduce a lesser specimen to a used-up husk, a conscience-ridden shell of a swindler, on both knees in a (Southern Baptist) confessional?

Bear with me.

Americans obsess over which candidate we’d most enjoy sharing a domestic beer with, and this becomes the implicit or, in the case of Gore vs. Bush, explicit issue driving public perception of a candidate’s so-called electability.

How about, at long last, flipping the script and going with a guy we despise from the get-go?

Seriously.

No honeymoon period, no disillusionment, no bad blood halfway through the first term (or, if he or she is a Democrat, half a week after their inauguration).

We agonize, needlessly, over the types of trivial imperatives that inform high school elections. It’s time we acted like adults and select someone who would do anything to do the job.

Think how liberating it would be. For us. For him.

Imagine, instead of starry-eyed chants and extravagant optimism, we held our collective noses, averted our eyes, and treated our commander-in-chief the way we treat our dentists, doctors, CEOs and especially our lawyers. We need them, and they need us to need them, but who ever said you had to like the asshole repairing your car or your teeth or, heaven help you, your heart.

Case in point: national security. If Ted Cruz is thoroughly reviled to the point of being scorned on public stage by his own compatriots, imagine how many fucks he won’t give about our “allies” abroad?

Obama draws crowds wherever he travels? Good for him.

Cruz will make America feared the way an abused child cowers from his alcoholic stepfather. That’s what this nation needs after coddling terrorists, fretting about due process and kidding ourselves that sanctions are more effective than carpet bombing.

Remember when Bush embarrassed everyone by claiming to look into Putin’s eyes and getting a sense of his soul? No worries with Cruz: everyone knows he doesn’t have a soul to speak of, at least the way we usually speak about souls and who has them.

Can we be certain Rubio would really stop at nothing to overturn a woman’s right to choose? Are we positive Jeb (!) will preserve our 2nd Amendment rights? Can we count on Christie to terminate, with extreme prejudice, those who’ve had enough chances already? Do we really believe Donald Trump will put God before himself? Too many Republicans are willing to pander on these issues, and then forget them once America hands them the keys to the country. Can anyone doubt that Ted Cruz doubts himself on any of these issues?

How we feel about the fervency of his faith says more about us than him. If you have doubts, consider the source: it’s God’s word, right there in the bible, in plain English.

If we want to eradicate uncertainty and avoid the nuances of not knowing who we’re really dealing with, there’s only one choice and it’s that beautiful black boot in our face. We must lick that boot and surrender ourselves to the brute, brute heart of a brute like Cruz.

 

This piece originally appeared at The Weeklings on 2/4/16

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Being for the Benefit of Dr. Carson

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There’s simply too much riding on the 2016 Presidential election to be intimidated by its vast field of candidates. So in the spirit of true post-partisanship, the Weeklings has decided to help America vote right. Over the course of this 8-part series kicking off with the Iowa Caucuses and running through the New Hampshire Primary, we break down our favorite Republican contenders, and tell you exactly who’s worth pulling the lever for.

BEING PRESIDENT, THEY SAY, is not brain surgery.

Well, guess what? Ben Carson is a brain surgeon!

And let’s cogitate what it means to open up a sick person’s skull and examine their brain. Dr. Carson has in effect torn apart America’s festering head and beheld the waste and decay. This unassuming man does not especially want to be president; he’s been called into service by the great hospital administrator in the sky. He doesn’t need to be the surgeon for our country’s soul but we need him.

Recall that one of our beloved and influential presidents, Teddy Roosevelt, once proclaimed: “Speak softly and carry a big stick”. Here is a humble man of accomplishment who speaks softly and carries a sharp scalpel. That scalpel is what will save us; it’s what America needs. America has a malignant cancer that has metastasized under the godless, liberal pathologies of Obama and his minions. Dr. Carson has, in his tranquil and unorthodox fashion, identified the disease, and his presidency will be the medicine we need. The first step is identifying the problem. America is in bad enough shape that even the other potential Republican nominees can articulate it (hint: eight years of Democrat ideology and the rot that follows). That, frankly, is the easy part.

Next, we need someone who can extract the tumor: someone with the hand/eye coordination, the smarts, the savvy, the nerve to put our body politic on the table and apply the anesthesia, make the necessary cuts, stop the bleeding, and put the patient in the recovery ward for four and hopefully eight years. Dr. Carson is the only person qualified to do these things. We must not only vote for him, we should thank him. And be grateful that God, even after eight years of disobedience and despair, has once again anointed someone who can save us from ourselves; who will lead us not into liberalism, but deliver us from tax increases.

And let’s face a fact most Republicans—or at least the so-called Establishment—find unpalatable: despite the by now obligatory veneration of all-things-Reagan, and regardless of how many of these recent wannabes draw flattering comparisons (from the risible Romney to the flat-out offensive—or at least farcical—Scott Walker) is there a single one of them who is more analogous to the Gipper than Carson? Let’s go to the tale of the videotape. Soft-spoken with that creepily avuncular vibe? Demonstrably disinterested in the intricacies of world affairs?  Devout with the dead-eyed certainty of saints and opportunists? Given to embellishing tales of his own upbringing and fond of relaying events that most definitely didn’t happen? Astute enough to parlay a previous specialty (acting, operating) to bolster ostensible “outsider” bona fides, or to preempt accusations of being an “insider” in ways tailored  to a certain, not particularly discerning demographic? Checks, please.

So, what does he do?

For starters, Dr. Carson will put the free back in free market, where it belongs. After decades of false starts and phony promises, Carson will make the tax code transparent and fair: a flat tax that extends to everyone. No more soaking the rich, no more opportunities for certain folks to get away without paying their share. Everyone pays, everyone profits. Finally, you won’t need a degree in economics, or a friend at the IRS to understand why we’re taxed, where the money goes, and who gets it. Everyone wins.

Next, as a man who has already saved lives with his extraordinary skills, he will put the bully back in the pulpit and outlaw all abortions. No more murder on our hands. More unwanted lives allowed to reach the destinies God intended, which also means more able bodies to pay taxes and more soldiers to keep us safe. Strength, in every sense, through numbers, is what will really make American great again.

Finally, he will pull the ultimate rope-a-dope on the rest of the world and just ignore everyone. We’ve tried everything else: unwise wars, failed negotiations, half-assed engagement. Expensive, embarrassing, futile. You don’t show the world you’re number one by acting like number two. (We’ve had enough of that the past eight years, right?) President Carson, surrounded by a cabal of bad actors from previous administrations? No thanks. President Carson, spending hours in briefing rooms and weeks abroad meeting with bullies and despots? No way. President Carson, kowtowing to commies and climate change freaks and people who can’t bother to learn our language? Not happening.

It’s actually not that complicated when you think about it. President Carson, in short and in sum, is the antidote for a country that thinks too much and believes too little.

bencarson11This piece originally ran at The Weeklings on 2/2/16.

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Sorry, Charlie: On Art and Extremism (Revisited)

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OF COURSE RELIGION IS the problem.

For anyone who, understandably, would say it’s a political issue and not a religious issue, I aver that so many of our political difficulties exist because of and not in spite of religion. And we muddle the matter if drawn into a debate about whether Religion-with-a-capital-R is ultimately a force of Good or Evil. I know how I feel and you know how you feel. More importantly, religion isn’t going anywhere, so we heretics must remain skeptical, and vigilant. And if there’s one thing that unites East and West it’s the chasm between those convinced more religion is the answer and those for whom the less the better.

It has become a tad too fashionable these days to pit believers vs. non-believers (and there are few things more exasperating than proselytizers playing the victim card). Let me stand up and be counted as someone who respects—in theory and practice—anyone’s right to believe anything they choose. Indeed, I’m relieved we have a handful of commandments, however randomly obeyed, to keep would-be-sociopaths in check, their eyes on an eternal prize. The problem, as always, involves those amongst us who would initiate mayhem, compelled by the imperatives of their faith.

We do ourselves a great disservice by failing to acknowledge the role religion has ceaselessly played as either an instigator of, or cover for, violence. In this regard, a similar impulse connects what happened in Paris and what happened during the Crusades and that disaster porn saturating the Old Testament: perceived righteousness in the name of divinity. Yes, clever commentators can point out that, at least in some instances, religion is a cynical shield for atrocity. It has always been thus.

We have, at least, advanced culturally (one might say we’ve evolved) to the extent where no one can be taken seriously for condoning massacre of innocents. That, in any event, is not the crux of the matter before us. What we see, and what has been polluting the discourse these last two weeks, is a refusal to denounce, without reservation, the religious rationalization signaling—then seeking to explain—such acts.

A single quote resurfaced in several news stories last week, and it crystallizes the cause and effect so many are struggling to see with clarity. Nasser Lajil, a Muslim city councilor in France, had this to say regarding the slaughter of 11 journalists: “I want to make clear that I completely condemn the attack on Charlie Hebdo. But I think freedom of speech needs to stop when it harms the dignity of someone else. The prophet for us is sacred.” (Emphasis mine.)

Two simple points need to be made. One, any sane argument begins and ends with a declaration that under no faith-related circumstances is murder of human beings ever acceptable. Two, if your faith is capable of being threatened by a cartoon, your faith is a cartoon.

 

ii.

Which brings us to Charlie Hebdo. Our collective reaction requires more J’Accuse and less Je ne sais quoi. Anything other than a full-throated and unequivocal denunciation of such carnage renders one a coward. When it comes to free speech and matters of life and death, you are either an advocate or an accomplice; there can be no middle ground. Satire is not possible without someone’s sacred bovine being savaged; the complication is that so many of us are equal opportunity instigators until it’s our cow getting cudgeled. Free speech, in short, is not an à la carte arrangement.

It is, therefore, dispiriting to see anyone, especially (if predictably) the liberal intelligentsia, so cavalier about throwing down what’s typically a trump card. Is Charlie Hebdo racist? It’s an interesting question for curious minds to ponder, but irrelevant in this context of assassination and presumptive self-censorship. Even if, however hysterical the argument, we concede that this magazine exists only to offend, does that in any way legitimize the act of murder?

More, it’s precisely because so many of these cartoons are juvenile that we must defend their right to exist. It’s generally painless to rally around literature we consider sacrosanct, and feel smug doing so, but if we don’t allow the claptrap to function as an aesthetic caboose, we risk being elitists as well as defeatists. How revolting, then, to read pundit after political analyst after Op-Ed arbitrator stroking their chins and opining that the images were, after all, in questionable taste. Or, if you provoke certain groups often enough you have to expect some type of reaction. Really?

Any form of suppression, especially as it pertains to someone else’s faith, is an act of accommodation. Full stop. These intellectually bankrupt rationalizations, in effect blaming the victim, smack of our rape-enabling semantics. Some of the self-righteous comments sullying our newspapers and blogs call to mind the familiar formulation: “Yes, she was brutally raped but should she really have worn that skirt?” Translation: Rape is awful, but maybe next time she’ll think twice about the decisions she makes.

It’s situations like this that help me understand what pushed Christopher Hitchens, the erstwhile socialist, over the edge. It was occasionally perplexing to see him stand alongside (figuratively and sometimes literally) the architects of Iraq and unrepentant exploiters of America’s underwear-wetting sensibility concerning all-things-terror post 9/11. But even then, while I couldn’t forgive it, I could fathom it. Here was a dude who talked the belligerent talk, but also walked the uncompromised walk: he spent considerable time in the very hot zones he wrote about, and bore witness to the atrocities we excoriate in editorials.

And while many lamented his ostensible act of betrayal and/or expedience in the years before his death, he had political and creative skin in the game. Also, and this is important: it quite clearly wasn’t a game for him; whatever else one can say about The Hitch, he had the courage of his convictions and they were not easily earned. His good friend Salman Rushdie, one might recall, was targeted for the infamous fatwa—a price on the author’s head equal parts medieval and postmodern—and, it’s quite worth noting, this occurred several years before the first Iraq war. As such, he saw the reaction of the literary community, which ranged from muted to craven. Everyone, it seems, is all for artists’ rights until it’s their ass in the crosshairs.

It obviously galled him, over a decade later, to see the usual suspects, secure in their tenured offices and café latte circle jerks, sniffing about imperialism and why our Big Bad Empire had come to bring all this grief upon ourselves. Nevermind the fact that these internecine quarrels predate the founding of America by several centuries. (Look it up, it’s in the Bible.)

And that is the real (dark) heart of this matter: of course it’s about religion. Invariably, it’s always about religion. (It’s always about money, too, but the two are not mutually exclusive; indeed, it’s arguably the lack of money—and resources, education and democracy or at least unregulated thought—that makes one susceptible, if not ravenous for what religion promises to those who can’t find heaven or even a hint of transcendence here on earth.)

 

iii.

Let’s be clear: our collective hands, in the West, are far from clean as it pertains to policies and actions antithetical to our own beliefs (due process, drones, etc.), and certainly there are myriad dots that must be connected before we can hope to comprehend the resentment we’ve allowed—if not enabled—to fester. In so many ways, we have so much to answer for. Nevertheless, the underlying symptom, religion, was alive and unwell long before our current, clichéd clash of civilizations.

We can respect, or at least tolerate the existence of, cultural mores (see: subjugation of women; lack of walls between church and state, and so on) that seem odious or at least antiquated to our Western eyes. We can also acknowledge that perhaps it’s not our place to interfere, particularly when we have our own complicated quandaries of race, class and sexuality in the states. But we can, and must, judge. If we abdicate our obligation to denounce such archaic attitudes we are derelict, rationally and morally.

Here is an affair, at long last, that should serve to unite the Left and Right: a genuine atrocity that’s at once easy to understand, and revile. It has done so, to an extent, but for the wrong reasons. The only thing more hypocritical than conservative Christians becoming convenient allies of Muslims only because they can’t stomach denigrations of their own faith is the faction of liberals who disparage All Things America even as they bask in the very freedoms their country provides them. (Want a laugh? Contemplate how long any of our textbook radicals would linger in the offices of Charlie Hebdo after the first death threat.)

A commitment to free speech inexorably allows bigots an opportunity to spew sewage, all in the name of ill-will. But that is precisely the price we pay for free speech, and hurt feelings are an exceedingly small price to pay, especially compared to the body count accumulated in religious conflicts throughout history. But there is a silver lining: allowing, even encouraging, morons to get their outrage on does us the collective service of isolating the antisocial and potentially psychotic amongst us. Free speech is, like it or not, an all-or-nothing proposition. Where are we, as Americans, if we agree the KKK must be allowed to legally march, but draw the line at religious satire?

Are we actually in a place, circa 2015, where we unthinkingly submit to X-ray scans at airports but confiscate cartoonist’s pens? We soil ourselves if a color-coded terror alert goes into effect but don’t see that “Terror” really is winning if we let extremists dictate the terms of engagement—artistic or otherwise? If we are at war, even metaphorically, what is the fight about if we can’t agree that unfettered expression is inviolable?

This debate can—and should—continue, but on the topic of faith-based violence, the concern should be plain and pure: free speech is a non-negotiable precept. It has everything to do with everything we talk about when we talk, often speciously, about American exceptionalism. Ironically, or not, it was free speech that enabled early Americans to practice the religion of their choice (!); it is the guarantee of free speech that underpins our Great Experiment and gives Americans the freedom to not believe. It is, ultimately, free speech that ensures the pen is mightier than the sword, and that no one has to die proving otherwise.

*This piece originally appeared on 1/23/15 in The Weeklings.

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