Sunday, March 28, 2010

Your Life Is Not A Movie

Your life is not a movie.
Sometimes the bad guys will win. You don’t always get the girl at the end and you don’t always end up rich. You’re not the town hero receiving the applause and accolades. You don’t find happiness or romance or rescue the galaxy from a villainous menace.
Sometimes you just break even.
Sometimes you end the day no better than when you started it. You take your lumps and hope the next day will be an improvement.
Sometimes you’ll bleed. Sometimes your heart will break. Sometimes you crawl into bed and wish it were all a nightmare.
But you get out of bed eventually and face the world.
Know why?
Because your life is not a movie.
Somewhere, in the back of your mind, you keep Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer on constant loop: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”
My father is always quoting the Serenity Prayer. I first heard it from him when I was a kid, then I discovered it appeared in Kurt Vonnegut’s wonderful novel, “Slaughterhouse Five.”
The sentiment expressed in the Serenity Prayer is timeless and universal. Realizing your limits and abilities and being aware of your life is important to coping.
It all comes back to this:
Your life is not a movie.
Sometimes the girl that got away just gets away. Sometimes she ends up dating a complete asshole. You can’t do anything about that.
Sometimes people you care about die. Their deaths come suddenly and without warning and hit you like a cold shock down your spine.
Other times you get fired from a job you love, or are forced to keep a job you hate.
While you’re alive, you’ll meet good people and bad people, people who love you or hate you and others who are wholly indifferent to your existence.
Not everyone on the planet will recognize or understand your talents. Only a select few might appreciate you and what you do.
Nothing is guaranteed, not your health, family, job or material possessions. You might lose everything tomorrow. You might find yourself homeless and living under a bridge, or you might keep everything you have and not change anything.
Your life is not a movie.
Screenwriters create their scripts with formulas that work because unlike life, the movies have to make sense. Injustice must be punished, the nice boy must end up with the pretty girl and the town underdog must rise up and save the town that shunned him.
Everything is tied up in a neat little bow and packaged to the audience. All is smiles and applause in two hours and everyone goes home happy.
That’s not how it works in real life. Real life is grueling. For most people, it’s an uphill climb, usually with little reward or pleasure. It’s mostly an obstacle course filled with barbed wire, high walls and thick mud. Every day we run that obstacle course and end the day battered, bruised and shaken, yet we do this over and over again.
Nothing comes easy. Only by realizing this do we toughen ourselves and fortify our wills. Only through resolve and experience do we run that course a little bit faster and a little more confident every day.
We become veterans at life. If we really dig down and live life, things may get easier. We may cope better with disasters or misfortunes. We mend up our broken hearts, lick our wounds and patch up our flustered feelings and get back out there.
We don’t exist in the movies.
We exist in real life.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sick Rebellion

The House passed a health care overhaul that would cost $940 billion over ten years and extend coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans, a signature accomplishment for the Obama Administration. All House Republicans and 35 Democrats voted against the bill, and the atmosphere in the House chambers was raucous and volatile.
There were strong emotions on both sides of the aisle that night.
Anti-abortion Rep. Bart Stupak, a Democrat, had the floor and was advocating for assurance that the health care proposal would not include federal funding for abortions. That’s when Texas Republican Rep. Randy Neugebauer screamed “baby killer” at Stupak, a move that brought swift condemnation. So much for preserving what little shred of decorum and dignity Congress still has. What’s really odd is the aftermath of Neugebauer’s outburst. Much like South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson’s condemnation during President Obama’s address to Congress when Wilson shouted “You lie!”, supporters are coming out of the woodwork to congratulate and donate money to Neugebauer.
Seems that emotional outbursts help rake the cash in.
Now if a Democratic lawmaker were to have shouted at former President Bush, or any Republican member of Congress, you’d see calls for that lawmaker to be expelled from Congress and hung from the highest lamppost in Foggy Bottom.
What’s particularly disturbing is the aftermath of this health care vote. Opponents have turned violent and threatened ten Democratic Representatives who voted for the bill.
The district headquarters of Rep. Louise Slaughter and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had bricks thrown through their windows.
Kansas Congressmen Emanuel Cleaver and Dennis Moore both received threats. A caller told Cleaver that he would receive “a bullet to the head,” while Moore received a call from someone promising to drive to his house and do him harm.
Stupak was threatened over the phone several times. One threatening caller said, “I hope you bleed…(get) cancer and die.”
Stupak also received threatening faxes, one depicting him with a noose around his neck that read, “All Baby Killers come to unseemly ends either by the hand of man or the hand of God.”
South Carolina Rep. John Clyburn was threatened with a photo of a noose. Clyburn is black, which made sending him an image of a noose even more disturbing.
People who threaten assassination and deface property aren’t patriots. They’re terrorists. I hope the FBI catches these Travis Bickle devotees and ship them to Camp X-Ray where they’ll share cells with their brothers-in-arms. Maybe they can learn bomb-making techniques from a 16-year old Iraqi boy.
But I’m not surprised the Teabaggers use violence and intimidation as an outlet.
Just look at what happened to Bob, a former nuclear engineer with a doctorate from Cornell University who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and went on disability. Bob attended a health care rally in Columbus, Ohio with a sign that read: “Got Parkinson’s? I do and you might. Thanks for helping! That’s community.” Pro-health care bill supporters and Teabaggers clashed and Bob sat down in front of his opponents. I guess it was a silent protest, or Bob just wanted the camera to film him seated in front of a bunch of furious patriots.
Anyway, one of the Teabaggers crouches over Bob and says, “If you’re looking for a handout, you’re in the wrong end of town. Nothing for free over here, you have to work for everything you get.”
Another Teabagger, who looked like an accountant or insurance rep, started throwing dollar bills at Bob like he was a stripper at Scores.
“I’ll pay for this guy! Here you go! Start a pot! I’ll pay for ya!” he said, and tossed money at Bob. “I’ll decide when to give you money! No more handouts!”
“You love a communist!” another one shouted.
I’ve always found it peculiar that those who profess to understand Jesus are the first ones to behave like the Romans.
All that was missing from the interaction between the Teabaggers and Bob was the crown of thorns. I’m not saying Bob was some kind of messianic figure, but he is disabled and was trying to make people aware of his plight. He shouldn’t be mocked and ridiculed in the public square. Nobody should. Respectful dialog and decorum must win the day because we’re Americans, damn it!
I guess the political paradigm shift is away from Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” to “Government is bad and leave us alone.”
Surely, this is an isolated incident. Only a few bad apples in a vast fruit cart of political dissent, right?
Even before the vote, protestors slung racial epithets at black lawmakers and anti-gay comments at Rep. Barney Frank, an openly gay Congressman.
Since when did the Teabaggers go from patriotic Americans fighting for freedom and justice to the cross-eyed Klan bumpkins from “Mississippi Burning?” I’m sure George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson didn’t spit at the Hessians and call them the N-word.
What separates the loathsome Teabaggers from the Founding Fathers and those brave minutemen who fought the American Revolution is intelligence and morality. The current bumper crop of sign-waving yahoos are really, really stupid. They’re ignorant sheep who believe unquestioningly in everything Glenn Beck espouses about capitalism and big government squeezing out the citizens and socialist tirades that would give Joe McCarthy’s corpse a wet dream.
The men who founded this country were from varied backgrounds, yet possessed a singular desire to compromise, negotiate and reason. They believed in order and the goodness of the Enlightenment and debated with skill and passion.
They didn’t, as many Teabaggers are doing, regurgitate hackneyed slogans and call the president a “communist,” or a “socialist” or repeat false claims that he was born in Kenya.
Look, I get it. I understand that people should work hard and keep what they earn. I understand it's tough these days to make a living and that the American Dream is slipping away.
But that doesn't give you the right to threaten bodily harm to anyone or smash windows like skinhead hooligans.
This angry, petulant mob won’t desist until members of Congress who don’t agree with their agenda are dead. That’s the kind of bloody revolution a Robespierre or a Stalin might endorse, and the last thing these growling Republican maniacs want is to be compared to the French or the communists.
It’s hard taking anything the Teabaggers say seriously. Sure, the health care bill was a legislative clusterfuck, forged from a year of debating and arguing and back room deals that would make New Jersey politicians embarrassed. And it’s probably unconstitutional to force Americans to but health insurance. Let the courts strike it down like the Supreme Court struck down the New Deal. Let the process work and the checks and balances the Teabaggers apparently don’t understand, work.
If the Teabaggers win, if their sick rebellion unfolds the way they want it, then what kid of place would America be then?
I suspect it would be a country with censorship, conformity and where the rational and reasoned are chastised or worse.
It would be the very place the Founding Fathers fought to change.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Porn Is Everywhere

Pornography went full-throttle mainstream about ten years ago and is getting more exposure in popular culture now than ever before.
Back in the day, you’d keep a stack on Penthouse magazines your uncle gave you hidden away from your parents. Now with DVDs, the Internet and the proliferation of pornography out in the open, such private pleasures created a populace desensitized to what once was taboo.
It used to be that pornography, the explicit manufacturing and distribution of graphic sexual materials, was a seedy underground enterprise, perpetrated by organized crime and a few sleazy characters in their Manhattan studio apartments or trailers scattered throughout Orange County. Entrepreneurs like Irving Klaw, who photographed women in garters and stockings performing light bondage in the 1950s might have made garnered Bettie Page international notoriety, but was hounded in his day as a purveyor of smut.
Everything was encased in brown paper wrappers and hidden below the counters, or shown on small screens in basement clubs or movie theaters with sticky floors. Porn in America was the hidden vice, food for perverts and degenerates and the bane of puritanical authorities that took this material to the torch.
Porn’s influence in popular culture manifested at the height of the porn chic era, with the release of 1972’s “Deep Throat.” The film’s impact spilled over from the dingy Times Square theaters to mainstream theatres across America. Linda Lovelace’s performance as a frustrated woman with a clitoris in her throat who could only experience pleasure by giving head became one of the top grossing pornographic movies of its time and sparked obscenity trials to ban it. Couples who never watched porn before went to see “Deep Throat,” and its presence in small towns prompted local police departments to closes theaters showing the film.
Though the porn chic era had its dark side, (“The Devil in Miss Jones” starring Georgina Spelvin and Harry Reems, “Behind the Green Door” starring Marilyn Chambers and the rise and fall of John Holmes) content was mostly lighthearted sexual romps with dialog and production values that rivaled most small films of the day.
Current pornographic subject matter is mostly hardcore, emphasizing anal, gangbangs and domination. Once clever dialog or erotic subtext has been totally stripped away, leaving just explicit sex acts recorded not on film, but on video. Once playful actors have now been replaced by weary amateurs who fuck each other like libidinous robots.
During the porn chic era of the 1970s and early 1980s, pornography had an almost romantic sensibility, a classical edge far removed from its seedy past.
Within this multi-million dollar business, a circus of freaks gyrating and getting off in several studios in Van Nuys, the Hollywood of porn, nestled in the San Fernando Valley. The output has gotten more explicit and gratuitous, with more content produced than ever before. What used to be titillating groping and close-up penetration of the girl next door with perk tits and massive untrimmed pubic hair, today’s porn is more violent, more hardcore and bereft of the whimsy of 1979’s “Debbie Does Dallas”, one of the more successful films of the classic porn era.
What used to be risqué and fun has become a cum-soaked den of humiliation and sodomy bereft of subtlety. The old titles were evocative and conjured an erotic mystique.
Today that mystique has been ruined by the direct and shocking, such as “Gang Bang Angels,” “Interracial Cheerleader Orgy” and “Cum Fart Cocktails #6.”
I don’t know what’s more disturbing, the fact that someone made a movie called “Cum Fart Cocktails” or that there are six of them.
Some porn titles try to be cute and put a humorous spin on mainstream Hollywood titles like “Forrest Hump,” “Star Whores,” “The Sperminator.”
Why go through the trouble of portraying sex as something lurid or scintillating when you can have “Assy McAss and Her Asstastic Assventures?” I made that title up. It really doesn’t take any imagination to name a porn film.
A simple straight girl-on-guy encounter is viewed as passé and bland in today’s hyper-sexed ghetto porn world, and the audiences demand rougher acts, including Ashley Blue getting choked, Sasha Grey getting gangbanged by ten men or Cytherea squirting her vajayjay juices like the fountains at the Bellagio.
The days of Peter North riding Ginger Lynn on a couch are over, replaced by Brianna Banks getting it up the pooper from a midget.
The problem with modern pornographic depictions of sex is that they’ve become travesties of themselves, spectacles only Caligula would admire. In a race to outdo others in the industry, the studios crank out more outrageous acts, but in the process, hardcore has become formulaic and trite. Every sex act must involve anal penetration and conclude with the man ejaculating on the woman’s face. Women have taken more bukkake blasts that by the end of the shoot, the actress has more genetic material on her face than can be found on a bed sheet in a Motel 6.
The sex act isn’t concluded until the guy cums on the girl’s face. That’s how you know it’s over. Just try that one with your wife. Fire a load of jizz all over her mug and see what happens. She’ll kick your ass faster than Chuck Norris.
Despite where the money shots originate or end up, modern porn audiences see more ejaculations now than ever before. Cumming on a woman’s pert tits is so old school. Now these would-be onanists fire their wads down the woman’s esophagus with alarming frequency. I hope for their sake that there’s a bottle of mouthwash on the set.
Internet porn sites climbed over the last decade, featuring everything from tame softcore to Japanese women shitting and vomiting on each other.
What the hell is wrong with the Japanese?
Before the Internet brought limitless, globe-spanning information into our homes, I never knew that a woman could blow a dog while another woman pisses on her. And after watching “2 Girls, 1 Cup,” I think I’m going to need therapy for the rest of my life.
Celebrity sex tapes brought the mainstream to the porn industry. Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee's sex tape leaked online in 1998. The most famous home sex tape was Paris Hilton's, which essentially made her a household name overnight. As more celebrities continue fucking each other, it is inevitable that their videotaped carnal activities will be made public, which surprisingly doesn't destroy their careers.
The porn industry has leached into pop culture with some of its more famous denizens appearing in other non-pornographic media.
The most recognizable contemporary porn star, Ron Jeremy, made a notable appearance in The Surreal Life, a reality show where the Hedgehog shared living quarters with such noteworthy celebrities as Erik Estrada, Tammy Faye Messner, Vanilla Ice and Traci Bingham.
Jeremy also appeared in several movies and made cameos on TV shows, including “Orgasmo,” “Boondock Saints,” and an autobiographic film “Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy.”
Jenna Jameson, a former porn actress, is a successful businesswoman who appeared on TV and in mainstream movies. She wrote an autobiography, a comic book and did voice work for “Family Guy” and the video game “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.”
Veteran porn actress Nina Hartley made a cameo in “Boogie Nights” while Sasha Grey appeared in the Steve Soderbergh film “The Girlfriend Experience.”
In 2003, endowed porn actress Mary Carey ran for governor of California in a freak show of an election.
These appearances pushed porn onto Main Street instead of the dark dungeons of red light districts. “Porn Star” T-shirts and other merchandise glamorize the porn industry. Amateur Web sites allow you to post your own home movies for others to view, and by home movies I don’t mean that family trip to the Grand Canyon.
Privately, porn is growing edgier, with more bodily fluids and acts of penetration than a frat house on a typical weekend. Publicly, it is morphing into popular culture as a glamorous profession the young idolize. As more porn stars go Hollywood, what affect will that have on both industries?
Will young women in trailer parks across America aspire to be the next “Double Dildo Dyke” or something tamer, such as the next “Lactating Latina?”
Only time will tell if Bree Olson wins an Oscar for her performance in “Jane Austen’s Blowjob Bandits” or if Larry Flynt wins a U.S. Senate seat.
Just remember to stock up on tissues.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Hell Freezes Over

A former New Jersey Assembly candidate wanted to “friend” me on Facebook. A Republican, he ran for state office twice and lost twice. Our newspaper endorsed him for office twice. I covered his candidacy and also interviewed him when he attended the Republican National Convention in Denver in 2008.
We haven’t spoken for many months. Then I checked Facebook today and saw he wanted to “friend” me.
Gobsmacked at this obvious possible breach in ethics, I reflected just how dangerous the Internet had become. It’s a stalking ground for perverts, pedophiles and criminals. Now the politicians are browsing the social network sites, looking for unsuspecting journalists to befriend.
I’ve prided my career in staying an arm’s length from any politician to avoid any misperception of bias or favoritism. On the phone, I’m always direct and business-like, talking about issues and not drifting off topic into personal subjects. If it makes me a stickler, then so be it. I’d rather be a matter-of-fact Joe Friday than everybody’s friend.
After I received the friend request from the politician, my paranoid mind kicked into overdrive. Why did he want to befriend me? Why now? Was it because I wrote a story about the county Republican Party’s disassociation from an incumbent freeholder? What was his angle?
Politicians don’t do things for altruistic or benign reasons. They’re shrewd and calculating, and always anticipate their next maneuvers. Their prime motivation is obtaining power and exploiting others’ weaknesses.
No politician, from president to local town council, likes journalists. It’s simply against natural law. It would be like a lion inviting a gazelle ‘round the house for a few drinks and light hors d’oeuvres.
The problem with social networking is that it creates a false sense of comfort and allows one to lower their guard. This poses a lot of knotty ethical concerns for journalists who want to preserve their objectivity.
Why would a politician want to friend a reporter on Facebook?
Has Hell frozen over?
This is the first time that a politician has tried befriending me on a social network site. I know reporters who have “friended” politicians who they no longer cover, which is fine for them. For me, I’d rather be safe than sorry and not compromise my integrity.
This guy might decide to run for some other office in the future. Then where would I be, with access to his Facebook information? Would he constantly e-mail me? Would he put my name on mailing lists? Privacy concerns are another reason why journalists should choose their Facebook friends wisely.
For a long time, I stared at his friend request on the screen. Is opening a Pandora’s Box of ethical questions worth upping my total friend count by one? I don’t care if he’s offended that I don’t add him as a friend. It’s not about personalities, political parties or past acquaintances.
It’s about professionalism. It’s about me, as a journalist removing all doubts that I can be thoroughly objective and uninfluenced by a thousand nattering whispers and familiar faces telling me what they want to hear.
Add technology to the mix and you get Machiavelli with a Facebook account, “friending” everyone they’ve ever met or hope to meet.
I had two options: Confirm or Ignore. Destiny branched out in front of me and I saw the consequences. Confirm the invite and join the unholy army of whores, panderers and flatterers and put my reputation for straight-shooting objectivity at risk. Ignore the invite and lose a potential source but preserve journalistic integrity.
What awesome evil hath technology wrought?
Would the barbs of insulting a politician’s ego weight heavily upon me?
What truly is a friend?
I chose Ignore.

Monday, March 8, 2010

What a Lovely Tea Party...

The Tea Party Movement is challenging incumbent Congressman Frank LoBiondo by supporting a candidate who claims LoBiondo votes more like a liberal than a conservative.
LoBiondo was first elected to Congress in 1994 and has remained there, enjoying wide popularity throughout New Jersey’s Second Congressional District. But his vote on the “Cap and Trade” Bill, which places limits on greenhouse gas emissions has provoked ire among his fellow Republicans. LoBiondo voted for the legislation, one of eight Republicans that did so, and as a consequence, the party is fighting back.
This is the first time LoBiondo has been challenged so ferociously from within his own party, and it’s primarily due to the rise of the Tea Party Movement, which advocates fiscal conservatism and limited federal government.

From the New Jersey Tea Party Coalition’s website:

“We use the term ‘tea party’ as an allusion to the Boston Tea Party, when colonists, on December 16, 1773, in a protest to taxation of tea, threw the cargo of three British ships overboard into Boston Harbor.”

There’s a vast difference between those who protested the Tea Act in 1773 and the Republican faction behind the modern Tea Party Movement. The Tea Act was passed to increase the British East India Company’s monopoly on tea to the colonies and to thwart smugglers who sold tax-free tea. The colonists protested being taxed without representation in Parliament. Americans do have representatives in Congress and the Senate and are free to communicate their concerns to them. They might not always like their representative’s response, yet that’s the system we have under the Constitution.

From the New Jersey Tea Party Coalition’s website:

“If you were to listen to the news media, you would hear that we are an organization of rich people who don't want to pay their taxes. We have been called mobsters. We have been called Asto-turf. Nothing could be further from the truth! We are the epitome of a ‘grass roots’ movement made up of citizens who are concerned with the high spending, high taxing path the United States government is on. We feel that this is a road to economic ruin not only for us, but for our children and grandchildren.”

The Tea Party Movement has not been called “Astro-turf.” There were published allegations that the group is an example of “astroturfing,” a technique where an organization hides its origins by inventing grassroots movements that appears to be spontaneous and authentic, when in reality, it’s all bullshit. The published allegations linked the conservative groups FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity as the real catalysts behind the Tea Party Movement.
As far as demographics, at the Tea Party meeting I attended, all of the participants were white, in their 50s or older and conservative. I don’t know that’s the makeup of the group in other parts of the country, but that’s what I saw.
The Tea Party Movement compares themselves to the colonists who rebelled against the British Empire. However, they’re rebelling against a democratic republic, with representatives (including the president) who are elected directly by the people. That’s a far cry from the tyrannical reign of George III.
The way the Tea Party followers talk, you’d think we live in a military dictatorship with armed soldiers who randomly stop citizens, conduct strip searches and issue a steep bill for harassing them.
One Tea Party faction, the Tea Party Patriots, conduct rallies throughout the country where they protest the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009 (passed under the Obama Administration) and the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 (passed under the Bush Administration). While most of the blame should be heaped on the Clinton and Bush administrations, Obama seems to take the brunt of the Tea Party Movement’s anger. Members refer to Obama as a “socialist,” a “Nazi” and a “tyrant.”

From the Tea Party Patriots website:
“Tea Party Patriots, Inc. ("TPP") is a non-partisan, non-profit social welfare organization dedicated to furthering the common good and general welfare of the people of the United States. TPP furthers this goal by educating the public and promoting the principles of fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government and free markets. Tea Party Patriots has not endorsed candidates for public office.”

Non-partisan? Really? Here are some of the supporters of the Tea Party Movement: former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Governor Rick Perry, Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, former GOP Vice Presidential candidate and former Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin and conservative commentators Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin and Sean Hannity.
Do they really want to label themselves as a “social welfare” organization? Sounds a bit like socialism, doesn’t it? You know: the very thing they’re fighting against.
According to one hotheaded Tea Party follower, who bitched out a CNN reporter at a tax rally, “Lincoln believed that people had the right to share in the fruits of their own labor and that government should not take it.” In other words, the government should not tax its citizens.
Not according to Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution:

“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, Imposes and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States…”

So Congress has the ability to tax its citizens? Surely, we are entitled to the fruits of our labors like the Tea Party activists purport?
The 16th Amendment to the Constitution says different:

“The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.”

Taxes and the Constitution go together like tea and scones. Or tea and crumpets. Or whatever you eat with tea. The point is, the taxation system is ingrained into our laws as a way of funding the government. We, the people, pay for our government. The Tea Partiers are complaining because the government wants more money to run its bloated, unwieldy self.
The Tea Party Movement claims less government can be effective, yet they don’t cite examples of which departments could be reduced and how exactly this would work efficiently overall. Most of their rhetoric is against the federal government, lamenting about “too much government” in our lives. They make no bones about their loathing for government, except the military. They really sport massive hard-ons for the troops while bashing the Commander in Chief and the government those troops serve.
That’s like a colonial saying, “I really hate King George and the British Empire, but I support the redcoats.”
Participants of the Tea Party Movement are disparagingly referred to as “teabaggers” because members mailed teabags to the House and Senate as part of the 2009 Tax Day protests.
After listening to the speeches and reading some of their propaganda, I think they should be called teabaggers for another reason: if they actually manage to ascend to power, it would be like dragging a scrotum across the face of America.
The Tea Party Movement uses the purest, most cherished principles from a chapter of American history (the fight for liberty and self-governance) and perverts them for their own purposes.
Though they are free to assemble and form their own political movement, the teabaggers aren’t examining the whole picture. The federal government is full of career politicians (like LoBiondo) and does implement cumbersome programs that result in waste. If we didn’t have bloviating, ineffective politicians more interested with partisan one-upsmanship instead of actual bipartisan attempts at governance, maybe the Tea Party Movement wouldn’t exist.
The Tea Party Movement are a pissed off rabble who ignore the biggest problem with American politics: the corporate donors who buy and own representatives lock, stock and barrel. Corporate donors and lobbyists are the scum of the system and apply pressure on lawmakers to either vote for or kill legislation based on their special interests.
The lobbyist’s plentiful donations steer Congress. If you want to talk about who’s doing more damage to the process, it’s not Obama’s “socialist” agenda, but the entrenched corporate and lobbying interests.
Look, America is a capitalist country where free enterprise and industry reign supreme. In order for business to thrive, sometimes businesses need tax breaks or lax anti-pollution laws or land to strip-mine. They woo members of Congress, who in turn propose legislation or vote the way their corporate masters want them to.
It’s the way things have been done in this country since the beginning.
The teabaggers should direct their outrage to the root of corruption: corporate campaign contributions and lobbyist groups.
Maybe these “patriots” remain silent because they’re side is heavily invested in the system more than they care to admit. Maybe all of this posturing and evoking the sacrifices of our colonial ancestors is a way to capitalize on the discontent and frustration they feel and to give their movement a higher and worthier purpose.
The problem with the Tea Party Movement is that it’s too cynical to be effective. Their entire argument revolves around bashing the federal government and claiming that the federal government is somehow going to control every aspect of our lives like Stalinist Russia, that people would be part of the system from the cradle to the grave and America would be a dystopia the likes of Orwell’s 1984.
The Sons of Liberty were successful in uniting the disenfranchised colonists against the British Empire because their cause had an intellectual ideal: a people’s self-determination of their own destiny. This was a radical, 18th century idea, the fact that leaders were elected and not born and that the people govern themselves.
Yet in their zealousness to quote from and evoke history, the teabaggers fail to learn its most important lessons. So afraid are they of phantom socialists suppressing their freedoms that they don’t realize the ones manipulating them into outrage are the ones who would like to see the Democrats gone, namely the Republicans.
The Tea Party Movement is a petulant, angry mob devoid of any cohesive message and an articulate way of expressing their grievances. Instead, we get Photoshopped images of Obama with a Hitler mustache.
The teabaggers claim the Democrats will turn America into a socialist dictatorship. Hey, we're talking Democrats here. This party is so disorganized and can't pass meaningful legislation, yet somehow it will undo over 200 years of American democracy?
Presidencies are temporary things and laws can be amended and repealed. Yet the rancorous messages spouted from these fearful people are dreadful warnings regarding the rise of socialism and the death of Constitutional freedoms.
The movement fails to adopt the long view of history, preferring to mythologize the Boston Tea Party and American Revolution as bold examples of citizen defiance against an entrenched world power. However, unlike the Sons of Liberty or the founding fathers, the teabaggers are not advocating an armed rebellion and a new national system. Their property, jobs and lives aren’t threatened because of their activism.
Before signing the Declaration of Independence, which would forever brand him a traitor to the British Empire, Dr. Benjamin Franklin said, “We must, indeed, hang all together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
The Tea Party Movement is nothing like the American Revolution, where to ally oneself with the rebellion meant death.
It is, at its best, a gathering of citizens upset with politics as usual and burdensome federal taxes that are affecting the quality of their lives during an economic crisis.
At worst, it’s a paranoid faction of the Republican Party, Independents and Libertarians pissed off and insane with rage against the United States government. If Obama really was a socialist and their freedoms were in jeopardy, don’t you think these teabaggers would be censored or jailed?
They have under the First Amendment, freedom of speech and freedom to protest their dissatisfaction with the government, which means wearing tri-cornered hats, holding up teabags and calling the president a Muslim terrorist.
I also, under the same Constitution have the freedom to write about how ridiculous they are.
God bless America.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Peter Jennings Fellow

I admired Peter Jennings and his integrity and commitment to journalism, so when I had the opportunity to apply for a fellowship named after Jennings at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia last December, I jumped at the chance.
Happily, I received word in January that I had been selected a 2010 Peter Jennings Fellow for the Peter Jennings Project for Journalists and the Constitution.
Named after the late Peter Jennings, former news anchor and editor of ABC News “World News Tonight,” the project is designed to help journalists and students understand the U.S. Constitution and constitutional issues and apply them to their work.
In late February, I participated in the program, one of the greatest experiences in my life as a professional journalist.
Journalist Fellows for 2010 included 32 professional journalists from various newspapers, magazines, broadcasting networks and online publications such as The Wall Street Journal, New York Daily News, Forbes, BBC, CBS News, The Philadelphia Inquirer, MTV News, Houston Chronicle, Hawaii Public Radio, Telemundo Network, World Policy Institute, Fox Television Stations, The Associated Press, How and Voice of America.
In addition, seven Collegiate Fellows from such institutions as Yale University, Brandeis University, the University of Minnesota, the University of Missouri and the United States Military Academy at West Point participated.
The 2010 faculty included Akhil Reed Amar, Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale University; Sherrilyn Ifill, professor of law at the University of Maryland Law School; Timothy Lewis, former federal judge for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit; Nina Pillard, professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center; Jeffrey Rosen, professor of law at The George Washington University and legal affairs editor of The New Republic; Kenneth W. Starr, Dean of Pepperdine University School of Law and former U.S. Solicitor General; and Witold J. Walczak, Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.
After a brief orientation, we viewed the Constitution Center’s excellent main exhibit, “The Story of We the People,” a stirring and emotional overview of America’s struggle for independence and creation of self-government. I get choked up every time I see that presentation. It accurately reflects the doubts, fears and strengths of Americans and the desire to extend freedom to those who were historically deprived of it.
The Constitution is the blueprint for America’s political and legal system, but the rights we’re granted under it are fragile and must constantly be maintained. Freedom and liberty are greater than cynicism and tyranny, something I believe many in this country are forgetting.
Each Jennings Fellow received a packet containing a pocket-sized copy of the U.S. Constitution and two books: “In Search of America” by Peter Jennings and Todd Brewster and “Peter Jennings: A Reporter’s Life.”
We had to analyze a federal case with a faculty member and develop our own findings, which we then reported back to the group.
Kenneth Starr facilitated my group, which analyzed Morse v. Frederick, a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court school speech case. The case stemmed from a 2002 incident at the Juneau-Douglas High School in Juneau, Alaska where students were excused from classes to watch the Olympic torch pass through their town. Student, Joseph Frederick and his friends displayed a 14-foot banner that read “BONG HiTS 4 JESUS” across the street from the school. Principal Deborah Morse ran across the streets and grabbed the banner and suspended Frederick ten days.
The fellows ruled 4-3 that Frederick’s free speech was violated.
I delivered my group’s minority opinion, which supported the principal’s decision to discipline Frederick.
Starr was a very affable, cordial person and dynamic litigator who was unfortunately demonized as solicitor general during the whole Bill Clinton investigation. As our facilitator, he talked us through the case and allowed us to explore the issue of student free speech deeper. Plus, he rewarded us with Ghirardelli chocolates whenever we contributed.
In my book, he who dispenseth chocolates and wisdom shall be doubly blessed.
We also heard a moot court case at the James A. Byrne U.S. Federal District Courthouse about rationing health care in favor of citizens over immigrants after a fictitious pandemic strikes the country.
We also heard two panel discussions at the F.M. Kirby Auditorium in the Constitution Center.
“The Long War,” explored constitutional issues during a protracted military conflict and consisted of moderator Terry Moran of ABC News, retired Army Vice Chief of Staff General Jack Keane, Yale Law School Professor Bruce Ackerman and Brigadier General H.R. McMaster.
“Behind the Scenes: Arguing Before the High Court” focused on litigator’s experiences with the Supreme Court and included moderator Jeffrey Toobin, legal analyst for CNN, Nina Pillard, professor of law at Georgetown University, Lisa S. Blatt, of Arnold & Porter LLP, Richard Lazarus, professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center and Kenneth Starr, Dean of Pepperdine University School of Law.
We were charged with writing three stories this year that incorporate what we’ve learned. The stories would be published on the Peter Jennings Project blog.
I am honored to be a Jennings Fellow. The people I met were an impressive cross-section of media, law and academia and I am humbled to be among such distinguished company. The overall experience solidified my commitment as a journalist and gave me a new appreciation for the Constitution and the Supreme Court's role in preserving our rights.