Friday, September 24, 2010

The Obama Malaise

Is it me or is the mood of the country somewhere between a Sylvia Plath novel and the end of the movie Requiem for a Dream?

Remember the utopian future we were promised back in 2008? Remember the pledge to alleviate all suffering, unemployment and a war seemingly without end? We would be propelled into the future, a vibrant and prosperous time without a recession, where the thriving middle class could achieve the American dream. The Wall Street fat cats would be tamed. No more would the Average Joe worry about losing his life savings. Families would have affordable heath care and not have to sell their children to pay for that expensive gallbladder operation. We would bring jobs back to America, and not just petty little service jobs, but gigantic manufacturing jobs where America’s bounty shall be sold throughout the globe. We’d show these envious and idle nations how American ingenuity and gritty determination trumps despotism and sloth. We would be soaring into the 21st century, not in a cumbersome SUV powered by fossil fuels, but on jetpacks that harness the sun’s rays, or soybeans or chicken farts or something revolutionary and renewable.

Yes, the United States of America would be a leaner, healthier, wondrous nation where science and technology would miraculously transform our jaded, filthy cities into shiny metropolises reminiscent of a Hugo Gernsback novel. We’d use stem cells to cure cancer, teach evolution in schools and our multi-racial, multi-ethnic children will be super geniuses, knowledgeable in six world languages and three styles of martial arts.

So what happened to Barack Obama’s rosy vision for the country, and why are the Republicans, who were breaking out the razor blades and arsenic two years ago, poised to capture Congress this November?

Did Obama inflate our hopes, only to have them dashed by vicious realities of a world in recession?

Were Obama voters led like mice by a Pied Piper to follow his every move, a Svengali from Chicago who used slick marketing and clever propaganda to sell us on a lofty promise that he and he alone would transform the last shitty eight years under George W. Bush into Shangri-La?

With every election, Americans are becoming more conditioned to reject the present authority and yearn for something else.

In 2008, after eight years of being paranoid, scared and broke, Americans took a chance with Obama. Those who voted for him truly believed that he’d deliver, yet how can you deliver a Frank Capra ending in a Sam Peckinpah world? How can you sell us on Hope and Change and whatever flowery, saccharine buzzword your campaign used when we’re up to our nipples in debt to China and are fighting a war with Islamic terrorists who think nothing of strapping C-4 to their abdomens and blowing up shopping malls? How can you sell us on changing Washington’s corrupt culture while still keeping Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi? Wasn’t this a time for new blood, for new leadership?

Further, where was all of this bipartisanship we were promised? What happened to Democrats and Republicans working together in harmony, standing barefoot in grassy fields and drinking Coca-Cola? Instead, we’re cursed with one of the most divisive Congresses in history, with filibusters, distortions and outright threats.

The Democrats will lose Congress this year and it’ll be their own damn fault. Their failure to articulate a central legislative theme - that of working to turn the economy around and restore prosperity while punishing the greedy bastards who got us into this mess – will cost them big. But what do you expect from a party that’s comfortable wearing the ball gag and being whipped? Whenever trouble strikes, whenever their opponents hurl accusations, instead of standing up for the workers and the middle class, the Democrats stick their dicks between their legs and mince around like prissy schoolgirls.

When a Tea Party member calls Obama a socialist, a secret Muslim or demands to see his Kenyan birth certificate, the president remains silent. How can you project strength and authority and not respond to the charges made by the lunatic fringe? Obama should call them out on their accusations.

According to the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll this week, 29 percent of voters strongly approve of Obama’s performance, while 42 percent strongly disapprove. Compare this to January 2009 when Obama took office, when 44 percent of voters strongly approved of the president’s performance compared to 16 percent that strongly disapproved.

So what has POTUS done for us lately? Besides being called Hitler, the Antichrist, Muslim and a socialist/communist/fascist, what’s Barry done for America? How has he placated the sheeple and brought his promise of Hope, Change, and Unicorns for All to the masses?

Here are a few things this lazy playboy president dared to list as accomplishments:

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 - Signed into law Feb. 17, 2009. The comically-named “stimulus package” distributes $787 billion to various projects as a way to jumpstart the economy during the recession. The act allotted funds for job creation, education, infrastructure improvements, first-time homebuyer credits, alternative energy, federal tax incentives, and expansion of unemployment benefits. The Obama Administration hoped this act would boost the country out of the recession and ensure that Americans were not huddled around a barrel fire and heating cans of Dinty Moore stew.

Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act – Signed into law April 21, 2009. Creates a Summer of Service program where 6th to 12th graders can earn money for their educations. The legislation also expands the number of positions in AmeriCorps and creates a National Service Reserve Corps where participants can coordinate with FEMA during disasters. There’s nothing that will get young Americans to volunteer in their communities like the image of late Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy requesting a third gimlet and pinching the hostess.

The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 – Signed into law May 22, 2009. This credit card reform legislation protects against arbitrary increases in interest rates, eliminates penalties for those who pay their credit card bills on time, safeguards credit card holders from misleading terms and “gimmicks” and restricts anyone under 21 from owning a credit card unless they have a co-signer over the age of 21. That last provision was put in place so teenage girls don’t go hog wild and buy everything in Hot Topic or Juicy Couture. I mean, how many pairs of freakin’ shoes do chicks need?

Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act – Signed into law June 22, 2009. Puts the regulation of the manufacturing and marketing of tobacco under the auspices of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Obama celebrated this legislative milestone with a pack of Marlboros.

Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – Signed into law March, 23, 2010. Expanded health care to 32 million of Americans, whether they wanted it or not. Patients with pre-existing conditions can buy into an insurance pool. Businesses have incentives to provide health care to employees. Pledges to reduce the deficit by $1.3 trillion over the next 20 years. However good intentioned, this health care bill was responsible for increasing the blood pressure of several Americans who articulated their views by boisterously shouting at town hall meetings and hurling rocks through the windows of several Democratic lawmakers.

Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act – Signed into law July 21, 2010. Named after Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd and Congressman Barney Frank, this act is a sweeping reform of the nation’s financial services industry. Among its provisions, the act creates the Financial Stability Oversight Council to identify risks and respond to threats in the U.S. economy, creates the Office of Financial Research to provide research and budget analysis to the Financial Stability Oversight Council. The act also provides for the orderly liquidation of financial institutions, ends corporate bailouts and protects investors. If you try reading this law your brain will literally explode like that guy in David Cronenberg’s 1981 sci-fi movie Scanners. Just smile, nod and say it stops Wall Street from fucking us over and prevents investors from living in an alley and blowing drifters for crack money.

In addition to this, Obama’s administration saw the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, giving Chief Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg some gal pals to schmooze with.

Oh, and he also pulled our troops out of Iraq and started a troop surge in Afghanistan, home of the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

On paper, it’s quite a record, but reality reflects a different story. The bold agenda alienated Republicans and drove Independents away, and his administration is viewed as arrogant and out of touch with the average American. Going after Wall Street, while daring and necessary, is causing a big backlash. It was perceived by many as going too fast too soon and in the wrong direction.

The problem is Americans are impatient. They were promised change and when Obama failed to deliver it at light speed, the people grew restless. They wanted the American dream delivered to their door like a Domino’s pizza, in 30 minutes or less. What they got was a sluggish economy, a Congress in gridlock and grown adults wearing tri-cornered hats and screaming about taking their country back.

Democrats failed to tell people that change won’t happen overnight. It took over a decade for us to climb out of the Great Depression, and that was thanks to World War II. Now that we're already involved in a war, a recession and high unemployment, is it any wonder that the crazies are coming out of the woodwork?

Promising Hope and Change may not have been the right tactic. Perhaps it was only a way to sweet-talk the voters. In many ways, the GOP in 2008 had a more honest message; the super patriotic “Country First” told voters that if you don’t vote for John McCain, you’re an effete pussy who hates America. Bullying the public into voting for you takes balls. At least with McCain, we could’ve had a rough-and-tumble administration of patriotic pirates who would have nuked Mecca and given us free Bibles we'd use to line our cardboard shantytown homes.

The Democrats squandered an opportunity for real change and look weak and ineffective as a result. This November the pissed off rabble will turn them out and give Obama a real test at making bipartisanship work.

Monday, September 20, 2010

That Crazy Witchcraft

When a video surfaced of Delaware’s Republican senatorial candidate Christine O’Donnell admitting that she “dabbled in witchcraft” as a teenager, the world shit a brick. The video was an excerpt from Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher, which aired in 1999. In that clip, O’Donnell admits:

“I dabbled into witchcraft. I never joined a coven…I dabbled into witchcraft, I hung around people who were doing these things. I’m not making this stuff up. I know what they told me they do…One of my first dates with a witch was on a Satanic altar and I didn’t know it. There’s a little blood there and stuff like that…We went to a movie and had a little picnic on a Satanic altar.”

Maher played the clip on his show Real Time on HBO over the weekend and threatened to play one clip per week unless O’Donnell appeared on his show again.

A few days following the airing of the clip, O’Donnell told a crowd of supporters in Delaware, “That witchcraft comment on Bill Maher, I was in high school. How many of you didn’t hang out with questionable folks in high school? There’s been no witchcraft since. If there was, Karl Rove would be a supporter now.”

Yet the witchcraft comment wasn’t the only instance where O’Donnell articulated something most would consider outlandish.

After O’Donnell’s primary win, a video surfaced of her talking about abstinence on MTV in 1996. She said in the video:

“The Bible says that lust in your heart is committing adultery, so you can’t masturbate without lust.”

While mentioning witchcraft (which was done in reference to celebrating Halloween) and that playing with your pee-pee parts is the road to eternal damnation are not issues one would associate with a political candidate, the media have missed the real story of O’Donnell’s past.

O’Donnell sued her former employer, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute for gender discrimination after she was fired in 2004, and later dropped the suit. Reports that she defaulted on her mortgage, and that the IRS filed a lien stating O’Donnell owed $11,000 in back taxes and that she dipped into her campaign money to pay for personal expenses also surfaced.

Given all of the damaging information and accusations swirling around, wouldn’t the witchcraft charges be tame in comparison? Weigh them. Teen witch versus conspiracy to commit fraud. Which one would you want reporters asking you if you were Christine O’Donnell?

I have high hopes for O’Donnell, not because I support her bizarre-o fundamentalist religious stance or her outlandish claims that homosexuals have “an identity disorder” learned from “societal factors.”

I have high hopes because O’Donnell is the first Gen-X political wanna-be who’s come the farthest the fastest. Riding on a wave of discontent and voter anger, she’s poised to be the spokesperson of a generation, or at least a fraction of a generation, that wants Washington to do things differently.

So I give her big props for that, for opening the door and showing these skeptic Baby Boomers that voters are willing to try someone younger and more inexperienced.

Christine O’Donnell and I have a few things in common. She grew up in Moorestown, New Jersey while I grew up in nearby Cherry Hill. She graduated high school in 1987 while I graduated in 1988. We were practically neighbors. I wonder if I ever encountered her at high school football games or other teen events. I’m sure I’d remember her. She was probably that shy girl who wore all black and sacrificed a goat.

While I brought it up, another thing Christine O’Donnell and I have in common is that we’ve had an interest in occult somewhat. While I’ve never joined a coven, practiced magic or picnicked on a “Satanic altar,” I once owned a deck of Rider-Waite Tarot cards.

I guess that counts.

Oh, and I also fucked two witches.

Let me explain.

While in my 20s, I dated two women who were Wiccan. Interestingly enough, Wiccans don’t believe in Satan. They believe in the Horned God, which represents masculine energy and sexuality, and the Triple Goddess, which represents the three aspects of womanhood: virginity, fertility and wisdom. They also believe in the Rule of Three, whereby anything you do returns to you threefold. See, when you date someone with a different set of religious beliefs and practices, you want to understand them as people, so you ask questions about their religion, even if that religion is not in the mainstream.

The flap over Christine O’Donnell’s supposed witchcraft reveals a longstanding prejudice in America, namely anything pagan freaks the shit out of people. I don’t know if O’Donnell knows the intricacies of Wiccan rituals but somehow I can’t imagine her scattering sea salt around a casting circle while saying “merry meet.” I can, however, imagine her throwing bullshit to appeal to the Christian fundamentalists who burn Harry Potter books and who believe gays can be reformed through intense deprogramming.

In a country that prides itself on religious freedom and tolerance, we’re really not all that tolerant. While some will judge O’Donnell as a hypocrite who may have banged a warlock on an altar before accepting Jesus and becoming an uber-Christian, others will just view her witchcraft as “youthful indiscretion,” just like Bill Clinton when he smoked pot or George Bush when he snorted cocaine.

It’s not like we’re judging O’Donnell by putting her in a ducking stool or bringing her before the American Commission on Pagan Activities.

“Did you see Goody O’Donnell cavorting naked in the woods on Samhain under a harvest moon?”

Her critics accuse her of lying about her education or writing off her apartment as a campaign expense or using her eldritch powers to win an election. Such is politics in the early 21st century, a strange place where sound bites, resumes and past associations return to do candidates harm. Why can’t candidates just be regular people? We want everyone to be unblemished, spotless and boring. Somehow as voters that makes us feel better, that we’ve elected the perfect candidate, free of skeletons in their closet. Sure, we want the best and the brightest to lead us, but can’t they at least party once in a while?

I’m defending Christine O’Donnell, not because I agree with her insane social agenda, but because as one who was balls deep inside two witches, I think all nature-loving pagan women both former and practicing deserve some slack.

So what if Christine O’Donnell admitted to dabbling in witchcraft? So what if she’s a batshit crazy Christian who believes touching yourself in the shower means you’re hell-bound?

So what if O’Donnell is so financially strapped that you want to buy her a bowl of soup?

Hey, it’s not like she’s secretly a Muslim or anything.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Nine Years Later

“We have met the worst of humanity with the best of humanity.”
- Rudy Giuliani, former New York City mayor

Nine years ago under a cloudless, turquoise blue sky one September morning, America’s sense of security and innocence shattered. What started as an ordinary day with commuters heading to work in lower Manhattan and the Pentagon, passengers riding airplanes and people going about their lives, would soon erupt into one of the most violent days in American history.

Nine years ago, we were sent into a headlong chaotic spiral of fire and death at the a hands of an Islamic terrorist organization most Americans had never heard of. They hijacked four commercial airplanes and used them as fuel-laden missiles, crashing two into each tower of the World Trade Center in New York and one in the Pentagon. Another plane, United Airlines Flight 93, was brought down by the heroic acts of those on board, preventing the craft from reaching its intended target.

We saw acts of terrible tragedy and acts of valor and heroism. We saw America blindsided by an enemy, quickly rise up and respond to the challenges of saving lives and helping those who lost everything. We saw the fireman and policeman become domestic heroes, rushing into burning skyscrapers to help others and paying for it with their lives. We saw the common man and woman give aid to the frightened and scared. We saw people standing in long lines to donate blood and the photographs of those missing and dead.

It truly was our most tragic day but it became our finest hour as Americans embraced each other. We shared grief and pain. We cried in front of our televisions. We donated money and volunteered our time to help those affected. We displayed the American flag as a national icon that portrayed our tenacity and resolve.

We were damn proud to be Americans.

We were struck, but we weren’t defeated. America doesn’t go whimpering into the night.

Nine years later, where are we? Still the same nation united under one purpose, or are we fragmented into an angry, factionalized mob of loathing and derision?

On Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush shone as a strong leader, determined to punish those terrorists responsible for the loss of over 3,000 lives. When he stood on the rubble at Ground Zero, surrounded by firefighters and First Responders, he was Churchill after the Blitz.

Yet Bush’s approval rating sank from 90 percent in the days following September 11, 2001 to 22 percent when he left office in January 2009.

We’ve spent eight years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Terrorists continue to plot to kill Americans, to make us fearful through violence.

These days, it seems like politicians evoke 9-11 only when it serves their purpose, and only when they want to generate a patriotic fervor.

Politics itself has changed since September 11. Back then, members of Congress gathered on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and sung “God Bless America.” Now Congress can’t agree on anything. It’s like some kind of backwoods hillbilly feud, with each side sniping at each other and holding grudges that will last for generations. It’s no wonder why Congress has some of the lowest public approval ratings in history.

Now there’s talk of “taking our country back” from President Obama’s socialist agenda, punishing the liberals by electing radical Republicans from the Tea Party and protesting the construction of an Islamic center blocks from Ground Zero. A Florida pastor made news for threatening to burn copies of the Quran and a conservative pundit Glenn Beck held a rally at the Lincoln Memorial to “restore honor” to America.

And our precious economy collapsed like a house of credit cards following the attacks. Things have gotten so bad that there’s a ration of one bag of Cheetos Mighty Zingers Ragin’ Cajun & Tangy Ranch per American family, who huddles in their Snuggies in the darkness of their almost-foreclosed homes.

Things have gotten worse in America over those nine years.

Instead of a brave, resilient and hopeful people, we’re a nation of pissed-off children screaming at each other. Instead of sharing a common purpose of defeating those who wish us harm, we’re debating the merits of whether Islam is a religion of peace or war. We’re viewing illegal Mexican immigrants as threats to our national security and looking to gut the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment. We’re also afraid of gay and lesbian marriage.

That last one makes sense. Members of Al-Qaeda murdered thousands of people, but it’s gays marrying each other that disturbs the shit out of us.

We’re looking for someone to blame for everything that’s gone wrong over those last nine years.

Someone came into the newspaper where I work and tried debating me on freedom and terrorism. He complained about the safety procedures at the airport where passengers must remove their shoes before boarding airplanes, thanks to Richard Reid, the so-called “shoe bomber” who tried to ignite a bomb in his shoe mid-flight in December 2001. Now passengers have to remove their shoes, like that’s a big inconvenience. I’m just glad Reid didn’t have the bomb up his ass. Could you imagine how awkward those security screenings would be?

America has changed since 9-11. We have a Department of Homeland Security, an increased military presence in the Middle East and Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act which increased surveillance, strengthened borders and gives conspiracy theorists fodder for their next newsletters.

Though we’re at each other’s throats like the kids from Lord of the Flies, we should remember that we’re all Americans. We might not agree on everything, but there are universal truths we can abide by: the Constitution is a wonderful document for our evolving and changing nation; the freedom to worship, think, write and express ourselves makes us unique among countries and $45 for a 3-foot by 5-foot nylon American flag is frickin outrageous.

Monday, September 6, 2010

May They Receive What They Wish For

The Tea Party movement makes repeated calls to stand up for freedom and to "take our country back" with the same mindless fervor as a Nuremberg Rally or even more recently, the Obama inauguration.

When one surrenders their individuality to groupthink, bad things often happen. When you vow to rally around the Constitution, then support some idiot Congressman's call to vivisect the 14th Amendment or introduce ridiculous amendments to prevent the desecration of the U.S. flag or define marriage, then you obviously don't grasp the Constitution at all. You're just swept up in the Glenn Beck tirades and tantrums of uber-patriotism, jingoism and douchebaggery that make foreigners scratch their heads and wonder how we ever invented the light bulb, telephone and airplane.

For all their whining about socialism and reclaiming their country from liberals, progressives and dusky hued minorities that somehow threaten their very way of existence, I'd like to see the Tea Party win in 2012. In fact, I'd like to see them get exactly what they want and win the White House and both houses of Congress. I want the Tea Party, which are the radical right wing of the Republican Party, to run things.

This is the only way you can successfully shut these fat, overindulgent doofuses up.

Because I don't want them to get Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck or some other obvious choice. I want them to elect a middle aged white man who thinks he's Hitler. I want them to elect an American Hitler, someone with a messiah complex who believes God put him on this Earth to cleanse America of her sins. I want them to elect some delusional whackjob who, the day of his inauguration, puts on a quasi-military uniform with a red, white and blue armband and pontificates about America's destiny as the apex of the world's nations.

I want this new president, who manipulates the law to make himself president for life, to govern by executive order, the same thing Obama is doing. Except I want the Tea Party president to pass laws that would liquidate San Francisco's gay and lesbian population in concentration camps in Alaska, make Christianity the national religion and English the national language and ban the teaching of evolution and science in schools. I want the punishment for not saluting the flag to be public hangings. I want this president to go completely nuts and invade Canada and Mexico because America needs more room to expand. I want him to take manifest destiny to the extreme and promote American colonies abroad. I want to see a cleansing of the ghettoes, a newfound appreciation for automatic weapons and all social welfare programs stop. I want the kind of jackbooted thuggery that would make Orwell's "1984" look like a Dick and Jane book.

I want the Tea Partyers to get their revolution and push America into a new shining age of nationalism, whether the people want it or not. I want them to repeal the 13th Amendment and have slavery once again. I want us to nuke the Middle East to ensure our safety from brown-skinned Muslims. I want them to lead a new holy war against the blasphemers and anti-American zealots. I want them to repeal the income tax and institute a system of taxes on the middle and lower classes, creating an even wider disparity between the wealthy and poor. I want them to ensure that corporations and not the government, run our lives. I want them to elect a president so insane, that he scares the shit out of his die-hard supporters.

I want the Tea Party Republicans to get exactly what they want in 2012. After all, that's the year the Mayans predicted the world would end.