Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Days of Gloom and Sorrow

PRESIDENT OBAMA is slumped at his desk in the Oval Office, which is cluttered with papers, binders, empty cigarette cartons and discarded McDonalds’ wrappers. He appears exasperated, and rubs his brow feverishly. A pile of cigarette butts fills an ashtray on the desk.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN enters, carrying a six-pack of beer.

Hey, POTUS! What’s up? (beat) Man, you look really down!

Have you seen these poll numbers? Our party is going to get chewed up this year! Republicans are predicted to get the House and maybe the Senate. My mandate is over, Joe. I’ve failed.

Is that all? Hell, that’s nothing! The president’s party always loses the mid-term elections. Want a beer?

No thanks. I want to take this defeat sober.

Suit yourself, Barry!

(Biden pops open a beer and deftly chugs it like a frat boy. He crushes the empty can against his forehead and emits a deafening belch. Biden pauses to gauge Obama’s stony reaction.)

Say, you are really worried! Look, Barry, you shouldn’t fret about this. Maybe we can go out and grab a few cheeseburgers after the election or something. I know how you like stuffing yourself with junk food.

Sorry, Joe, but a Ray’s Hell Burger with mustard and brie isn’t going to cut it this time. I’m really in a funk. The American people just don’t understand that I’m trying to help them. I was handed this crappy economy and this war.

It just ain’t fair, champ.

Tell me about it! The rise of the Tea Party movement put the kibosh on my plans. They refer to me as an elitist, as if studying hard and moving up the social echelons are bad things. Having media whores like Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck calling me a socialist is one thing, but when an army of unwashed, angry Americans waving the flag and dressing like colonial soldiers does it, it’s an epidemic. Sure, they hate me because I’m an intelligent black man with power, but the socialist label really hurt.

Well, those negative labels stuck.

Right! How did that happen? Did they seriously want the auto industry to fail? Did they want massive unemployment? Now the independents are sick of me, and they’re the ones who put my over the top in 2008.

What a difference two years makes.

I’ve got Democrats fighting each other and resisting me. I mean, the health care bill wasn’t perfect, but it was better than what we had.

Sir, you tried doing too much too soon. Fixing health care right away? We should’ve gone after the economy. Gotten those pissed off people jobs. Worked better with the Republicans instead of blathering about bipartisanship. We also should’ve cut Pelosi and Reid loose. Gotten some new blood in there.

I still can’t look at Pelosi without flinching.

Yeah, that broad creeps me out, too.

(Obama lights another cigarette and inhales deeply. He puffs out smoke rings that hover over the Oval Office like a carcinogenic nimbus.)

Hear about the Democrat running for governor in Rhode Island? Frank Caprio? Told the press because I didn’t endorse him that I could shove it.

That fucking ungrateful prick! Want me to go up there and rough him up? I’ll do it. Just tell me! I’ll nail him to a tree in Woonsocket.

I don’t think that would be a good headline: “Vice President mauls gubernatorial candidate.” Besides, violence is what the other side does.

With all due respect, sir, the other side is winning.

Don’t remind me. They depict me as some effete Ivy League intellectual who’s out of touch with their suffering. I mean, I play basketball! I eat cheeseburgers! I smoke! That’s not folksy enough for them? What should I do next, grow a mullet and ride a Harley?

That would probably help…


The people are pissed off, sir. They’re angry because the country is changing and they need someone to blame.

If I hear anyone else say they want to take their country back, I’m going to go all Samuel L. Jackson on their asses.

The Tea Party activists don’t merely disagree with your policies. They hate you personally. This isn’t a land of clear-thinking, rational adults anymore. It’s a morass of 24-hour news stations, insane talk show hosts and superstitious religious fundamentalists who believe you’re literally the antichrist.

I could deal with crazy. Logic always trumps hollow rhetoric.

Not this time, sir. This time, the crazies will take over the asylum. Democrats will be the new endangered species. Now people want hollow rhetoric. When they’re told what to think, they won’t bother questioning anything.

I think I’ll have that beer, Joe.

(Biden gives Obama a beer. Obama pops the can and takes a few tentative sips, his face wincing.)

Domestic beer? Really, Joe?

Sorry, sir, but we were all out of that expensive imported Dutch stuff you drink out of a solid gold stein.

I guess this'll do. (beat) Am I really that out of touch and unlikable?

Your approval rating is at 37 percent. That’s not too shabby.

That’s abysmal!

Okay, it’s pretty awful. Sir, we might lose the Senate as well. There’s this goofy girl named Christine O’Donnell running for Senate in my home state. She’s a Tea Party Republican who doesn’t understand the First Amendment and believes God selected her to run for office.

That’s pretty funny. She doesn’t stand a chance!

Sir, if she gets in, she’ll be Sarah Palin’s running mate in 2012. She’s got all the qualifications the Tea Party Republicans want.

(Dejected, Obama sips more beer.)

I think I’ll have Zoloft for dinner tonight.

Come on, sir! Don’t be sad! Just look on the bright side!

What bright side? My party is going to lose big and voters are turning against us in droves! We’re no closer to solving any of the problems I set out to conquer! Even worse than that, Michelle is withholding the goodies from me.

Uh, goodies?

Sex, Joe. She’s withholding sex. Today there's less sexual activity in the White House than since the time of James Buchanan.

Oh, because he was a bachelor? Ha! Damn, sir! You are clever! See, this is the side of you America doesn’t see. They’re too busy seeing the intellectual, uptight and whiny side of you.

(Obama finishes the beer. He rubs out his cigarette.)

Guess it’s time to face the music, Joe.

If it makes you feel any better, a lot of one-term presidents have gone on to lead prosperous, healthy lives. Take Carter, for instance.

I don’t think I'd be comfortable with a hardhat and a hammer building low-income housing. Nor would I care to negotiate peace agreements between the Palestinians and Israelis.

If you don't make it in 2012, I mean, if the people really turn against you, what would you do?

I could see myself as a law professor at Harvard. Maybe Yale.

I’m beginning to understand why the public hasn’t latched onto you, sir.


Have another beer, Barry. It’s going to be a long night…

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fundamentalists Rising

This is NOT the line to the Justin Bieber concert.

When I was in my early 20s, I corresponded with a group of Armenian intellectuals, which included writers in California, New Hampshire and Canada, and an educator in Holland. We’d write letters about politics, culture and current events and share our own unique perspectives in a passionate albeit wry way, with the consensus that the powers that be are letting the planet fall to shit.

Recently, I was rummaging around my old steamer trunk and found a box filled with letters from those halcyon days, when the written word carried more weight and correspondence was more than a few hastily typed characters texted over cellphones.

In the summer of 1993, I attended an expository writing program at Harvard University and lived with relatives in Watertown, Mass. The letters I received from my pen pals kept me engaged and thinking about current topics and issues and pushed me towards critical writing.

During my recent excursion to the steamer trunk, I unearthed one of the letters, whose subject matter always stayed with me, particularly after the terrible events of 9/11.

The letter, dated June 20, 1993, was from Stephan, a teacher in the Netherlands, who wrote about the influx of Muslims into Europe:

“I used to articulate thoughts like yours about the brotherhood of man, survival, monsoons, earthquakes, ‘in the long run we are all dead’, etc. What is at stake is culture. Any culture, say the Dutch culture which took 1000s of years to evolve. If one does not protect it, it can become endangered and disappear in a 1000 days. That is the issue. In a sense the Dutch culture, like the American culture is self destructing. It is weakening with corruption and apathy, while other cultures are becoming more militant and threatening to replace it. According to one research, in the last 10 years the number of Dutch churches has been reduced by 8%. At the same time there was a 5 fold increase in the number of mosques in this country. In Britain the Moslems have set up an Islamic Parliament. In Pakistan, there isn’t a single church, because all planning permissions for the construction of churches are denied! A similar policy is to be found in Turkey. If you lived in Europe, you would feel this. I am not a xenophobe, or a racist, but the growing menace of militant fundamentalist Islam worries me and many people like me. If we are not careful, Paris could become another Istanbul in a 100 years, or less. At this moment two people out of every five in Paris are Moslems. Their plan is to turn the whole world into an Islamic planet. We must not sleep walk into such a hell. Early action is called for. Already there is a growing spread of female circumcision in Africa. Have a great summer and write soon!”

Two things: I find it prophetic that the concern over the rise of Islamic fundamentalism happened nine years before 9/11, an attack perpetrated by Muslim terrorists. Secondly, one should never end a letter with references to female circumcision and wish someone a happy summer.

“Have fun thinking about mutilated vagina while you’re on the beach!”

But I digress.

The cri de Coeur against the mosque in lower Manhattan, the claim that President Obama is a Muslim from Kenya, and the skittishness of anyone on an airplane who is brown and wearing a headscarf is based upon the West’s uneasiness with Islam.
My friend wrote this letter because he saw that what was occurring in Europe was a harbinger of things to come. Now I’m not saying all Muslims are terrorists. I’ll save that for the Fox News commentators. I am saying that militant Islamic fundamentalists are the problem.

In August I blogged about the so-called “Ground Zero mosque” and how Americans shouldn’t rush to judgment and allow the Islamic center at Park 51 to be built. I stand by my assertions that Park 51 will not harbor an American chapter of Al-Qaeda, but I do understand the concerns many have regarding the proliferation of Islam, especially those adherents who believe Islam is the only way and everyone else should be exterminated.

Unlike those who are behind Park 51, who desire to develop a dialog with those of different faiths, fundamentalist Islam is determined to wreak havoc upon America. They don’t want us dead because “they’re jealous of our freedoms”. They want us dead because we’re infidels. We’re the wicked country where women go to school, porn and pork are popular and we’re not mandated to kowtow to anyone.

The brand of fundamentalist Islam propagated by the Taliban has no problem with treating their women like animals or decapitating their criminals or marrying children. It might not be PC to criticize other cultures or beliefs, but when you’re operating from a fucked up 7th century worldview that’s mired in overzealous religious dogma incapable of expressing forgiveness or preaching tolerance, you deserve a little scrutiny. Recalcitrant in their attitudes and barbaric in their application of the law, they make life in rural Alabama seem liberal by comparison.

But it’s the use of violence to prove that their God is supreme that sets them apart from everyone else on the planet.
Christianity went through a gloomy phase of death and mayhem called the Dark Ages, but it’s the 21st century. Civilizations should have evolved from a medieval mindset.

Apparently, not everyone got that memo. If you can talk a child into strapping explosives to his chest and taking several innocent lives, then that’s some pretty hardcore shit. We’re dealing with an enemy who doesn’t care about dying, and even welcomes the martyrdom because it brings his family prestige and riches.

This week Muslim insurgents attacked the parliament in Chechnya and killed six people. In September, a suicide bomber in Pakistan crashed into a police station, which killed 11 policemen and four children and wounded 40 others.

These are not random, freak events. They’re business as usual for fundamentalists who’ve declared jihad on what they see as a threat to their way of life and the encroachment of the “decadent West.”

Many in the West are worried about Islam’s proliferation and influence.

National Public Radio recently fired news analyst Juan Williams because of comments he made to Bill O’Reilly on the Fox News Channel about Muslims.

Williams said, “I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country… But when I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

NPR clarified that Williams was fired because his remarks didn’t meet their editorial standards and practices, and that his credibility was “undermined.”

Well, of course it was. He was talking to Bill O’Reilly.

What standards and practices does NPR have? Not being complementary enough after the goateed intern in the Che Guevara T-shirt delivers your herbal tea?

If one delves into Williams’ comments, they do reveal something profoundly important about many Americans: Muslims, whether they’re terrorists or law-abiding citizens, scare the living shit out of us.

Why? I guess after 9/11, the beheadings, the threats made to cartoonists over the depiction of Muhammad and the fact that Islamic fundamentalists would be right at home with serial killers, genocidal madmen and history’s most depraved and bloodthirsty butchers kind of makes us Yanks nervous.

What of Europe’s dealings with Islam? In France, wearing a burqa is illegal. French lawmakers this year overwhelmingly passed the burqa ban because the Muslim garb “constitutes a threat to our society,” according to Jean-Francois Cope, leader President Nicolas Sarkozy’s party, the Union for a Popular Movement.

After that, the falafel hit the fan and the protests began.

Other European countries are also viewing Islam’s rise as a threat. Part of this is based on xenophobia and part on the connection between fundamental Islam and violence.

If Muslims are tired of the West portraying their faith as one of barbarism and terrorism, then they should step up and condemn Al-Qaeda, Hamas, the Taliban and any faction or group that uses the teachings of the Koran to enslave or kill.
I know Muslims view the Koran as the literal, unbreakable word of God and their own practices reflect a submission to God. Going against the Koran for Muslims means going against God.

But there’s got to be some understanding that Islam shares the planet with others who don’t view their religion as the absolute way. It’s up to Muslims who are tired of being lumped into the murderous rabble of Islamic fundamentalism to stand up and show they’re not afraid of any repercussions from the crazies in their own religion.

This struggle is not about cultural differences and we can’t, as one local hippy put it, try to “understand our enemies”. Joining hands with the Taliban and singing “Kumbaya” around a campfire won’t stop the bloodshed in the Middle East or change the way the terrorists feel about the West.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Constitutionally Dumb

In a recent debate at Widener University between with Delaware Democratic Senate candidate Chris Coons and Republican candidate Christine O’Donnell, something bizarre happened.

When Coons clarified that the concept was found in the First Amendment, O’Donnell asked incredulously, “Are you telling me that’s in the First Amendment?”

Not wanting to make his candidate sound like a complete valley girl dipshit, Matt Moran, O’Donnell’s campaign manager responded, “Christine O’Donnell was not questioning the concept of separation of church and state as subsequently established by the courts. She simply made the point that the phrase appears nowhere in the Constitution. It was in fact Chris Coons who demonstrated his Constitutional ignorance when he could not name the five freedoms contained in the First Amendment.”

Really? Because I saw the video and Coons wasn’t queried on the freedoms contained in the First Amendment, nor was O'Donnell making any point. They were talking of the rights of local communities to teach intelligent design in public schools. Coons said schools should teach “broadly accepted scientific fact.” After that, everything took a swift detour to Did-She-Really-Fucking-Say-That Land. Here’s the transcript:

O’DONNELL: The theory of evolution is not a fact, it is a theory, and that theory, if local school districts want to give that theory equal credence to intelligent design it is their right. You are saying it is not their right. That is what has gotten our country into this position, the over-reaching arm of the federal government getting into the business of the local communities. The Supreme Court has always said it is up to the local communities to decide their standards. The reason we’re in the mess we’re in is because our so-called leaders in Washington no longer view the indispensible principles of our founding as truly that – indispensible.

COONS: And one of those indispensible principles is the separation of church and state.

O’DONNELL: Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?

(horrifying gasp, guffaws and a hundred whisperers tittering how stupid O’Donnell is)

Wilmington News Journal reporter Chad Livengood asked O’Donnell if she agreed with repealing the 14th, 16th and 17th amendments.

“17th amendment I would not repeal. That’s the amendment that puts the power to, for the state government to determine who represents you in Washington. I support that. I support the free election process of that,” O’Donnell said.

The 17th Amendment establishes the direct election of two Senators from each state by the people, instead of the state legislatures, which was originally defined in Article I.

“I’m sorry I didn’t bring my Constitution with me. Fortunately senators don’t have to memorize the Constitution,” O’Donnell said, as the rotting cadavers of the original 39 signers of the Constitution simultaneously rolled over in their graves.

It used to be that the best and the brightest ran for public office, that the citizens could look to their leaders in times of strife and unrest and be comforted that the nation’s Congress will find solutions to any insurmountable task though their competent intellectual abilities. Yet after hearing Christine O’Donnell at this debate I’m ready to build a fallout shelter in the back yard because if she gets elected, America will resemble a nightmarish post-apocalyptic wasteland that would make “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” seem like Disneyland.

But soft! Let us once again hither into the laudanum-inspired dream world of Christine O’Donnell:

COONS: I also think you’ve just heard in the answers from my opponent and in her attempt at saying ‘where is the separation of church and state in the Constitution’ reveals her fundamental misunderstanding of what our Constitution is, how it is amended and how it evolves. The First Amendment establishes the separation, the fact that the federal government shall not establish any religion and decisional law by the Supreme Court over many, many decades clarifies and enshrines…

O’DONNELL: The First Amendment does?

COONS: …clarifies and enshrines that there is a separation of church and state that our courts and our laws must respect.

O’DONNELL: So you’re telling me that the separation of church and state is found in the First Amendment?

COONS: It is important for us in modern times to apply the Constitution in my view as it exists today and as it’s been interpreted by our justices. And if there are settled pieces of Constitutional law like the separation of church and state, like the individual right to reproductive freedom that Roe vs. Wade represents, that we’ve lived with and have lived under for decades. In my view, it is important to know whether you have on my side a candidate who believes and supports those things and on the other side, a candidate who’s both unfamiliar with…

O’DONNELL: Let me just clarify. You’re telling me that the separation of church and state is found in the First Amendment?

COONS: ‘Government shall make no establishment of religion.’

O’DONNELL: That’s in the First Amendment?

Oh, Christine. Why are the pretty ones so dumb? If you hope to garner any support from rational, sensible Delawarians…Delawarans? Delawarlocks? Whatever your constituents are called. If you desire their admiration and respect, for once put down the Bible and pick up the Constitution. Better yet, go to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. It’s a wonderful place dedicated to teaching citizens about the U.S. Constitution. There are many interpretive exhibits and experts who could walk you through it, amendment by amendment and you won’t feel stupid for revealing your naiveté. They even have pocket-sized copies of the Constitution you could take with you to your next debate.

But Christine, please, learn about the laws of the country before you decide to run for office.

It’s obvious that you’re constitutionally retarded and it showed when Coons schooled you on the First Amendment.

For your clarification, here’s some shocking shit you Christians won’t believe about the Constitution.

You know when the president takes the Oath of Office and finishes it with “So help me God?” Guess what’s not in the Constitution? That’s right! The presidential oath found in Article II, Section 1 does not mention “So help me God” at all.

If you thought the Constitution was a Christian document and the United States a Christian country, then you’re mistaken, because the Founding Fathers you feverishly dry-hump in your mind didn’t want to make a big to-do about religion in public life. Article VI states that Senators, Representatives, members of state Legislatures and judicial offices shall be bound by oath to support the Constitution, “but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

While this guarantees no favoritism or preferences of certain religions, to the many devout fundamentalist Christians who claim America is God’s favorite nation, this part of the Constitution makes baby Jesus cry sorrowful tears.

Even though the First Amendment doesn’t contain the exact words “separation of church and state,” the meaning is clear, and has been backed up by the courts and is recognized as legal to anyone with a functional brain who doesn’t believe touching your pee-pee parts will send you to Hell.

Christine O’Donnell’s latest cringe-inducing foray into the Constitution is another example of how politics has been tainted with ignorance, and reveals who the teabaggers really are: anti-intellectual robots who shout at the top of their lungs at just how patriotic they are, without having the slightest clue about the laws granting them the very freedoms they so espouse and claim are threatened from a mulatto Muslim president.

Christine, you’re not me. I actually know the Constitution.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


I fucking hate Starbucks.

The Seattle, Wash.-based coffee company and I are at odds recently because I have a thing for its pumpkin spice latte, the quintessential autumnal beverage. I entered the Starbucks in my local strip mall today and told the barista, a jaded 23-year old who, when he’s not serving hot coffee is probably into The Cure or cutting his wrists, that I’d like a medium pumpkin spice latte, which costs $4.75. After I drank this concoction, which is far from the tasty treat I envisioned in my daydreams, it repaid me by giving me orange diarrhea.

That’s why Starbucks can go fuck itself raw with an un-lubed giant rubber dong. The company is an enormous octopus with massive tentacles that encircle the planet and squeezes the life out of everything good and just.

Its pricing is way off the mark for the crappy, bitter coffee it serves.

If you don’t think that Starbucks is not a pretentious yuppie hellhole, then check out its cup sizes. Instead of small, medium and large, Starbucks suggests - no, demands – that the sizes are Tall (12 oz.), Grande (16 oz.) and Venti (20 oz.). Three different languages for cup sizes and they all mean the same thing. If you order a Tall, you get the smallest size. Shouldn’t Tall be the biggest size? In the strange realm of Starbucks, where logic takes a back seat and tells you to suspend your disbelief, the Italian Venti is the largest size, while the Spanish Grande is medium. Whose bright idea was this? What kind of strange conditioning experiment is going on here? I’m not calling the small drink the Tall drink. That’s why I defiantly call the drinks small, medium and large. When I wanted a medium drink, I’m not saying Grande. The only time I say Grande is when I’m ordering Mexican food.

Starbucks spreads like a virus across the globe, pushing its inflated prices and snobbishness in 17,000 locations worldwide, including the U.S., Canada, Australia, Japan, China, Brazil, Peru, Argentina, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Russia, Germany, Poland, South Korea, Sweden, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. If the Saudi Arabians don’t hate us infidels enough, we dumped Starbucks on their doorstep.

Starbucks builds Starbucks next to Starbucks. Some shopping centers have two Starbucks in them, right across from each other. This over-saturation has led to amusement and resentment by some, who see the coffee giant as being an omnipresent juggernaut squeezing out stores that just serve coffee without the Starbucks aura behind it.

The Starbucks mermaid logo is smiling because the salty broad has our money and she’s going on a shopping excursion to Bloomingdales. Finding a dress to fit those dual fish tails isn’t going to be cheap. As long as we’re paying nearly $5 for lattes and not screaming highway robbery, we’re enabling Starbucks to continue to inflate their prices for a sub-standard product.

The problem with Starbucks is that it invented its own culture of liberal activism mingled with unbridled capitalism. It’s designed to siphon every last dollar out of its customers by hooking them with liberal guilt of suffering, poverty and environmental degradation, while cajoling you to buy expensive shitty coffee. If they can’t ensnare you with its caffeine-laden toxic sludge from some dirty Third World country, then you can buy Ethos water at $1.80 per bottle. Don’t worry because every purchase contributes 10 cents to helping children in impoverished areas get access to water.

Starbucks’ pretentious business and political standards seeks to drive out anyone who doesn’t vote for Democrats or makes over $65,000 a year. Hollywood screenwriters sit in Starbucks and type on their laptops as they slam down Sumatra coffee, which helps them hammer out another mediocre piece of tripe they can option at Mirimax. The fat middle aged bastard in glasses and an L.L. Bean jacket relaxes on an overstuffed chair and reads The New York Times and gingerly sips his Tazo tea like a prissy school girl, as a Bob Dylan tribute band plays over the speakers, daring anyone within earshot to purchase the CD on their way out. The place has an intolerable feel of a San Francisco coffee house. The only thing that’s missing are the bad poetry readings by a scruffy-haired beatnik who accidentally soils his dungarees because of a sudden acid freakout.

Every time we visit Starbucks we have to tolerate these urbane metrosexuals cuing up for a mocchachino or an Ethiopian select blend with a dash of steamed milk they gulp down on the way to their jobs as architects, public relations executives or members of the Obama Administration. And if you order the pumpkin spice latte and make a donation to the Peace Corps, you get a free Rwandan child with your drink.

In a way, Starbucks has a brilliant corporate model. By expanding at a breakneck pace, it can gobble up the remaining coffee retail market until it stands as the world’s only coffee source. And by cornering the market, they can charge the public outlandish amounts for their coffee. In the future, Starbucks will rule the entire world, and generations will be born not knowing coffee that doesn’t taste like it came out of a buffalo’s anus.

This trend must stop. We must say no to Starbucks and make them see the error of their ways. The shallow activism that whines at us to recycle but whose own cups can’t be recycled because they contain a plastic inner coating. The irritating marriage of selling CDs and Starbucks-related products, which only makes me resent them even more as money-grubbing hustlers peddling more than coffee beans. The inflated prices that make people drain their bank accounts to pay for something they could get for far cheaper at Dunkin’ Donuts or Wawa Food Markets and at a better quality. Dunkin’ Donuts’ might not charge $5 a cup or their coffee beans might not by picked by Ecuadorian peasants, but it’s a damn good cup of java.

For Starbucks to be taken seriously, it has to act like a company that cares about delivering good coffee at reasonable prices. Dropping the attitude that it’s a savior to the environment and helper of mankind while acting like greedy 19th century robber barons may be a good start.

And who knows? Maybe in the future I’ll walk into a Starbucks again and buy a latte that doesn’t cost like it was made from the breast milk of Balinese virgins and served in a solid gold cup adorned with rubies and sapphires. Until then, I’m reticent to enter a Starbucks, and will get my cup o’ Joe at a place where I’m not inclined to help the starving coffee growers of Peru or buy a Sheryl Crow CD.

I just want good coffee and no schmaltzy gimmicks.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Wild Bunch

Can you feel it, America? The scent of smoke in the air, the roaring sound of many Harleys belching a defying growl as tires skid along the hot asphalt and hands grip the throttles and engines are revving into a cacophonous din that blots out all meaningful discourse? Can you see them riding in the distance, growing nearer and nearer with each passing second, hugging the curves and barreling like screaming demons across the Mojave Desert, through the cultivated Kansas plains, up the clogged highways of the Northeast?

Who are these nomads and mavericks, these people who flaunt all convention and rules, who cause liberals to spit out their organic tofu in droves?

They’re the bumper crop of Tea Party Republicans that will trash Washington, kick ass and bring the well-heeled establishment to its knees.

These lone wolves are determined to get your vote because they’re on a mission, just like the Founding Fathers. They want the entrenched politicians in Washington to go so that they, the Tea Party Republicans, could do the people’s work.

Less government!

Less taxes!

Less intelligence!

Well, the less government and less taxes part is sensible, but what of the third accusation? Are these candidates, who purport to know the Common Man to the point of sharing beers and sliders at a blue collar watering hole, not that bright?

In recent weeks, the media has focused on dumb and insensitive things Republican candidates across the country are saying or have said. Why do the Democrats get a pass? Don’t Democrats utter ridiculous and controversial statements? Is the liberal media protecting their kindred spirits? Actually, no. Democrats are pathetic and mild and don’t make a habit of espousing crazy bullshit, unless it’s Joe Biden.

When Biden hits the sauce, it’s comedy gold quote time.

With all their hostile rhetoric and take-charge attitude, what do these furious and flustered gang of teabagger upstart candidates have in store for America?

Former Nevada state assemblywoman and current Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle thinks Muslims are imposing Sharia law in Dearborn, Mich., a city with a large Muslim population. It doesn’t matter that her statement was untrue. What matters is the implication; that Muslims want to impose their own sacred laws in secular America. So who cares if Angle and other uber-conservatives want to force prayer in public schools and put the Ten Commandments in courthouses?

Angle also wants to ban same sex marriage, eliminate the U.S. Department of Education and nix abortion including in the cases of rape and incest. Now I understand she’s following the GOP’s hard-right playbook by doing away with gay marriage and public funding for education. Gays and learnin’ are America’s downfall, after all. But her position on abortion is practically medieval. So if a woman gets gangbanged by her father and uncle, she has to give birth. Why? According to Angle, it’s all part of “God’s plan.” If you really think that if there’s a benevolent spiritual force in the universe that it would want women to be raped and sexually violated by immediate family, then our religious differences diverge dramatically.

Rich Iott, the Tea Party Republican running for Congress in Ohio’s 9th District had an unusual hobby. Iott donned a German Waffen SS uniform and reenacted battles as part of the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking, a real unit that fought the Russian Army in the Eastern Front during World War II. When questioned about his apparent Nazi fetish, Iott shrugged it off as harmless fun, saying the 5th SS Panzer Division fought Communists. Iott completely glossed over the fact that those same soldiers committed atrocities, including the murder of Hungarian Jews. I wonder if he and his slapnuts buddies ever reenacted that...

So a clueless dolt and his friends like dressed up like Nazis and reenacted episodes of Hogan’s Heroes. Iott isn’t the only Tea Party Republican to have bizarre interests. Take Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell, who purported to have “dabbled in witchcraft” in high school.

O’Donnell downplayed the allegations from a 1999 “Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher” clip, but brought up the issue in a campaign ad, claiming that she wasn’t a witch. O’Donnell is trying to distance herself from her past appearances on Maher’s show, where, with poofy big hair and a bubblegum innocence, she claimed that evolution was a myth because monkeys were not continuing to evolve.

When a former O’Donnell staffer came out as gay, he said O’Donnell ostracized him. Of course gay bashing is O’Donnell’s modus operandi. In her primary race with Mike Castle, she inferred to him as gay, saying that he used “unmanly tactics” and told him to “put his man-pants on.”

When New York gubernatorial candidate Republican Carl Paladino isn’t e-mailing colleagues pictures of women blowing horses or a video labeled “Obama’s Inauguration Rehearsal” that shows dancing African tribesmen, he’s also bashing the queers.

Paladino said, “There is nothing to be proud of in being a dysfunctional homosexual,” and criticized his Democratic opponent Andrew Cuomo for marching in New York City’s gay pride parade, saying it was “not the example that we should be showing our children.”

Right, so racist and sexually explicit e-mail sent to friends is the perfect example for your children, like if your son doesn’t see daddy rubbing one out to “Horse Suckers Volume 8” he might not glean that pornography is cool and could turn into one of those limp-wristed sissies.

Asked about the content of those e-mails, Paladino retorted, “I’m not politically correct and have never been. I’m not perfect. But if the worst I ever did was send out some non-politically correct e-mails, my God.”

South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint is being chastised for comments he made in 2004 when he said openly gay people and single mothers shouldn’t teach in public schools.

DeMint’s reaction to the criticism was, “(When I said those things) no one came to my defense, but everyone would come to me and whisper that I shouldn’t back down. They don’t want government purging their rights and their freedom to religion.”

Does this entire party need sensitivity training? It’s like a mothership landed in the Midwest and dropped off these bizzaro aliens bereft of empathy and personality, who joined the GOP and launched campaigns as anti-establishment candidates.

It’s difficult for people to have sympathy for you and believe you’re a victim when you act like a bully, and that’s exactly what these loose cannons are.

I’m sure none of these dullards are moved by the recent spate of suicides occurring throughout the country of young people who were bullied or teased about their sexuality or just because they were different. Not O’Donnell, DeMint, Angle, Paladino or Iott really give a wet flying fuck that kids like Asher Brown, 13, Seth Walsh, 13, Justin Aaberg, 15, Billy Lucas, 15, and Tyler Clementi, 18, all killed themselves due to purported anti-gay bullying.

What’s being played in the political arena is carrying over to the schools with disturbing results. The bullies call gays weak, ostracize them and say that they’re not normal and are abominations in the eyes of God.

They claim that homosexuality is an immoral “lifestyle choice”, that they’re troublemakers and are different from you and I. And what they want – the right to marry and serve openly in the military – we won’t give them.

I’m all for freedom of speech, and I’m all for assclown candidates saying whatever outlandish shit they want, but this anti-gay crusade based on some highbrow morality has got to go. Yes, in the Old Testament homosexuality is a sin, but the Bible also says that eating shellfish is bad, owning slaves is okay and marrying 11-year old virgins was how ancient God-fearing men spent their summer holidays.

Yet these Tea Party moralists cloak themselves under the veil of religion and bleat about “the gay agenda” as if a clandestine group of queers in a Greenwich Village apartment and a condo in San Francisco’s Castro district are planning a nationwide conversion of all heterosexuals. Like some gay Al Qaeda – Al Queera - would creep into our apartments at night and whisper gay thoughts into our ears as we sleep and in the morning, we’d all be strangely inclined to redecorate our living rooms and drink mimosas.

The only political voice of reason I’ve heard this year was Joel Burns, an openly gay Democratic councilman from Fort Worth, Texas who gave an impassioned speech from the dais describing his own struggles in his youth with bullying over his sexual identity.

He recounted the incidents of teen suicide from anti-gay bullying and told those young people battling this inner war of sexuality and sadness to not surrender to despair.

“I know that life can seem unbearable. I know that people in your household or in your school may not understand you and they may even physically harm you, but I want you to know that it gets better,” Burns said.

Burns related his own experiences with harassment by other students who called himself a “faggot” and said that he would be punished in hell.

“To those feeling very alone tonight, please understand that I know how you feel, but things will get easier. Please stick around to make those happy memories for yourself,” Burns said. “The attitudes of society will change. Please live long enough to see it.”

Of all the petty-minded, nonsensical bullshit spewed from suit-wearing hypocritical holy-rollers and sign-waving yahoos this year, of all the division and spiteful rhetoric, it’s refreshing to hear Burns’s speech. It was emotional, healing and compassionate, and didn’t rely on the scapegoating of race, class, gender or sexual orientation as the root of society’s evils.

It’s about time we heard a message of unity and kindness instead of the cackling voices preaching division and ignorance from Jesus freaks, Nazi re-enactors and sunshine patriots.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Necessary Insanity

I know for the past few weeks I've been getting political on this blog. The election season does that to me. As a reporter, I have to be wired into the current political climate. Believe me, if I didn't have to do this for my job, I'd be off pursuing other goals, like sipping Bordeaux with a hearty mutton dinner or cross-country skiing down an Alpine mountain or trying to nail one of the Olson Twins. Either Mary-Kate or Ashley, I don't care. I'm not that fussy when it comes to celebrity concubines.

Politics is a necessary insanity for my job. I must delve into its murky, often toxic waters if I am to get a story. In so doing, a reporter mustn't wade gently at the shallow end, but rather, hold their breath and plunge into its deepest depths in order to extract the real essence of a candidate, which usually is insecurity mixed with narcissism. Oftentimes, one drowns in rivers of diarrhea the candidates spew in the form of inane hyperbole and trite verbiage that would make any sane person want to flee the room out of frustration and hide under a rock in Outer Mongolia.

Yet the jargon and rhetoric flowing from candidates during a contentious election year is especially polarizing. How do we keep track of the real, substantive issues? Too often the core ideas are lost or not present at all, and we're left with amorphous, half-baked concepts that don't really serve to generate dialog or debate. In fact, candidates want fewer debates because that usually means fewer errors or verbal gaffes. For us in the media covering politics, trying to pull a logical or reasoned argument from a candidate or making them clarify one of their controversial statements is like attempting to swim the English Channel with a piano strapped to your back: impossible and utterly useless.

Instead of addressing the people's concerns, we get partisan attacks and no substance. Gone are the visionaries and charismatic orators. Now we're left with schoolyard bullying and sophomoric utterances that make one want to punch a kitten. The people need candidates with concrete ideas and real solutions who articulate well and who aren't afraid of responding to challenges.

I think candidates should say the following:

1. Admit America is screwed up. Don't assign blame. Both parties fucked this country over tenfold. Greed and love of money did, also. If we've lost our way, it's because we took our eye off the ball and ignored the things that really mattered. We neglected our infrastructure, working poor and children. That's why we have crumbling bridges, a rise in unemployment and kids that bring Uzis to school.

2. Promise to destroy the pay-to-play system and Washington lobbyists. Special interests have formed a stranglehold around the political process and created a culture of corruption.

3. Don't promise you won't raise taxes. Hey, shit happens, and it might happen on your watch. Where are you going to get the money from? A loan shark from Jersey? Sometimes you're going to have to bite the bullet and vote for a tax increase.

4. Candidates and politicians who talk about how sacred the U.S. Constitution is should actually try reading it. I don't mean peruse it, I mean read it; all 7 Articles and all 27 Amendments. Become familiar with one of the greatest documents every produced on American soil. Then and only then can you speak with some degree of authority on the Constitution.

5. Politicians should have the wisdom of Solomon, the intelligence of Ben Franklin and the humor of Abraham Lincoln.

6. All students should be taught mandatory civics, U.S. history and writing courses. They should know about their government, their nation's past and how to express themselves via the written word.

7. Make America a place where businesses can establish themselves, expand and thrive. Create incentives for businesses to compete globally with American-made goods that don't break in a fortnight.

8. Realize that government can't solve all problems. Sometimes government-run programs and initiatives are too bulky and cumbersome and result in mismanagement and inefficiency. Steam-lining and cutting are good, but newer managerial models that reduce waste and duplication and run effectively are better.

9. Conduct wars only when absolutely necessary, like when our national security is threatened or when one of our allies is attacked.

10. Do the people's business, not the party's business. Political parties were created to hold onto power and perpetuate this power for as long as possible, which in reality usually lasts every few election cycles. Candidates should realize who really put them in power: the voters and not the special interests. Money and political parties will corrupt candidates and politicians. With money, candidates will be persuaded how to vote. With political bosses, they'll be bluntly told how to vote. How is this serving the interest of the electorate? Where are the voices of the people?

One final thought and I'll get off my virtual soapbox. Power in America is not monolithic; it doesn’t flow from the top down like an orderly hierarchy that can be easily graphed and plotted. Politics is more like a hydra; a beast with several heads gnashing, hissing and howling for more blood, ravenously devouring all which then morphs into another snapping, hideous head. And the hungry jaws are coming for you, waiting to gobble you up and transform you into a drone who likes business as usual in America.

Unless the people rise from their apathetic slumber and demand more from their elected officials, unless they threaten to oust them if they don't do the people's business, nothing will ever change and the hydra will grow larger. Only a vigilant, civic-minded people who want a better America not through partisan bickering but through reasonable policies which strengthen our communities and nation economically, ethically and socially, can slay the hydra.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Great Motel Room Massacre*

* An excerpt from my upcoming book

The first time I saw Jacob White, I knew he was an asshole. The assertion wasn’t made through some fly-by-night intuition or vague hints about his imposing physical stature, brash mannerisms or crass denunciation of everything I revered and considered sacrosanct. Rather, it was a visceral reaction I felt upon our meeting.

When someone’s a born asshole whose sole intent is to cause as much misery and trouble, you automatically know it.

Such was the case with Jacob. He claimed to come from some small backwards Podunk Midwestern town and claimed to be the first in his family to have graduated college. Both were lies. Jacob was a conman, a professional liar who cared not a whit who he hurt or what lies he spun. Jacob existed only for Jacob.

That’s why I didn’t trust him when we met at a Motel 6 on Interstate 83 outside of York, Pa. one midsummer evening. He rented a room and smiled as he flung a suitcase on the bed. He then opened the case and beamed as the neatly stacked rows of $20 bills stared up at me, with several Andrew Jacksons peering from their Samsonite prison.

“I want you to expose Senator Patrick Hurley. Get the dirt on him. Dig up some shit. There’s a real story here,” Jacob said.
“What’s it to you?” I asked. “And where’s my bourbon? An unseemly job like this should be fueled with alcohol.”

“Senator Hurley is a naughty boy,” Jacob said, ignoring my request for libations. “Naughty boys get what’s coming to them.”

Tempting, I thought. All the fantasies I could make real with all that scratch would dwarf anything Caligula could’ve thought up in his wildest, wettest dreams.

Yet I’m a man of ethics, a consummate professional. I wouldn’t stoop to such debauched shenanigans.

“How much?” I asked.


“When do I start?”

“Now,” Jacob said, and slammed the suitcase shut. He grabbed one of those neatly-wrapped drinking glasses next to the ice bucket and put one end to his ear and the other to the wall.

“I hear them in the next room,” Jacob said, grinning like a jackal on LSD. “Frolicking away like dandy little pets.”

I took the remaining glass and also listened to the wall. Muffled talking, grunting and swearing filled my ear. It sounded like the last days of the Roman Empire in that room.

“Holy shit! What’s going on?”

“Hurley has a woman in there,” Jacob said. “That’s what I want you to dig up. You get your evidence and give me a good story, and I give you the cash.”

Without thinking, I smashed the glass over Jacob’s head.

“What kind of sick muckraker do you take me for? I have standards!” I shouted as Jacob fell back and clutched his bleeding scalp.

He reeled and swung at me, and the punch connected. I toppled a lamp, which shattered on the floor. I tasted blood in my mouth and grew enraged.

“You crazy bastard!” I yelled and hit him across the face with a Gideon’s Bible. The cartilage in his nose cracked and he bled profusely.

“My node! Whad did nu dood tood my node?” Jacob said, clutching his face.

I agreed to do my job and expose the philandering Senator Hurley’s nocturnal ramblings to a daft and ignorant public.

Summoning all my energy, I gathered my laptop, digital camera, a spiral notebook, a can of pepper spray, a Swiss Army knife and a rolled up newspaper and headed over to the neighboring room for an interview.

“I ting nu broke my node,” Jacob said.

“Shut up, fucktard,” I whispered. “I’m about to make contact with the subject. This is the most important stage of journalism. First impressions are critical and determine the entire outcome of whether you get the story or not.”

I lightly rapped on the motel room door and said in my best Spanish accent, “Housekeeping!”

When my attempt at impersonating a Mexican chambermaid failed, I resorted to tougher tactics. I ignored the “Do Not Disturb” sign and pounded on the door with all of my mortal might.

“Open up, Senator! This is the police!” I roared, as Jacob nearly pissed himself.

The door opened a hair and a woman peered out at us.

“What is it?” she asked, her voice as rough as gravel and as pungent as cigarettes.

I kicked the door in and it hit her in the face. As the half-naked hooker spun around, Jacob and I barged into the room, camera flashing and audio recording.

There was Patrick Hurley, staunch Democrat and two term United States Senator, on his knees in the bed, wearing only a leather thong and chewing a cherry red ballgag. When he saw us, his eyes widened like a frightened cat’s. Another hooker, who wore a strap-on the size of a gorilla cock was ready to mount him when we interrupted. The hooker who answered the door angrily grabbed a riding crop and started beating Jacob over the head.

“Senator! Just a moment of your time, please!” I cried as Hurley rolled over and tried covering himself with a severely stained blanket.

“This would be a better interview if you’d remove that thing from your mouth,” I suggested.

Hurley clamored for his pants, his portly, blubbery body rolling off the bed and hitting the floor with a sickly thud. He wriggled into a shirt and tried grasping his pants while the hooker in the strap-on darted out the door.

The other hooker continued to struggle with Jacob.

“Ask him about the girls!” Jacob suggested as the hooker continued laying punches into him and beating him with the crop. He tried defending himself but his swings missed.

“Senator, are these women constituents of yours?” I asked.

Hurley removed the ballgag. His face was crimson, half from anger and half from mortification.

“Get the hell out of here, now! Both of you!” he roared.

“Is this a bad time? We could reschedule,” I said.

Hurley clumsily put on his pants and lunged at me, but I sidestepped him.

“Dude, that’s brutality,” Jacob said as the hooker continued her slapping onslaught.

“You bastards! Who are you? I’ll kill the both of you!” Hurley raged.

“Senator, is this part of the stimulus package?’

Hurley lashed out and got me in a headlock.

“This is an invasion of my privacy!” Hurley shouted.

Suddenly, everybody froze when a naked man with a pierced penis and a thin mustache exited the bathroom.

“Pat, sweetums, what’s all the commotion?” the man said softly.

“It’s nothing Percy,” Hurley said, straightening up. I used the opportunity to escape from the headlock and backed away. Hurley wiped the perspiration from his forehead with a pair of soiled panties.

“Dude! A real homosexual gay man!” Jacob said. “Take a photo!”

Percy scowled and rushed towards Jacob and slapped him across the face.

“You bitch!” Percy seethed. “I’ll tear your fucking eyes out!”

I snapped a few good pictures before Hurley regained his senses and demanded that I cease. When I ignored him, he tried taking my camera from me.

“Stop that this instant!” Hurley said.

“I’m getting paid for this,” I said, shoving him. “I need to accurately portray what’s going on here. For posterity.”

Hurley looked frightened and began hyperventilating. Percy saw this and put a reassuring arm around him.

“Take it easy, sweetie,” Percy said. “Don’t excite yourself. You’ll get another panic attack.”

“Breathe into a bag or something,” Jacob said. “That usually helps.”

The hooker kicked Jacob squarely in the nuts and he fell to the floor, hitting his head on the bed in the process.

“I’ll fucking kill you bastards!” the hooker shrieked and rushed towards me, her sharp fingernails clawing the air.

Thinking fast, I whipped out the pepper spray and gave the hooker a full blast of hot liquid death. She recoiled backwards, howling wildly.

“MOTHERFUCKER! AAAAHHHHH! WHAAAAT THE FUUUCCCKK?” she yelped and rolled on the ground in anguish.

“Don’t worry,” I said in a lame attempt to reassure everyone. “It’s not fatal. She’ll be fine. Just push her around a little.”

Hurley stood astonished as Percy confronted me.

“What do you think you’re doing?” the naked man asked.

When I didn’t respond, he made a fist and swung at me, but I was ready. I pulled the Swiss Army knife from my pocket and extended the sharp wire cutter out. The metal point connected with Percy’s fist. Now bleeding, Percy grasped his wounded hand.

“That’s it! I’m calling the police!” Hurley said and stepped toward the phone.

“You don’t have to do that,” I said. “It’s just a flesh wound. He’ll be okay. I’ll take care of it.”

I reached into the ice bucket for some ice, but all I found was a whiskey flask. I took the flask, opened it, and the strong smell of alcohol stung my nostrils.

“Alcohol is good for cuts, right?” I asked.

Percy tried protesting, but it was too late. I poured the whiskey into his wound and watched as the man screamed in agony.

“What did you do?” Hurley demanded.

I held up the flask and the senator looked crestfallen. Percy dropped to his knees and wept like a kid that’d been slapped by an enraged bull elephant.

“Look, I don’t see what the problem is. I just came in here for an interview. I want to probe the depths of your sex life. Like a series about the mating rituals of the United States Senate,” I said.

Hurley fumbled with his jacket, which was on a chair, and pulled out a handgun. His face contorted into a hateful stare as he pointed the weapon at me.

“You’ll do nothing!” he seethed as he stood across the room.

This wasn’t the first time someone pointed a gun at me, and I was getting used to this tiresome ritual. People like threatening others with violence and weapons, especially firearms. The senator’s Beretta didn’t frighten me, mostly because I had backed towards the door and would be out of the room in a matter of seconds. I only needed to say something pithy and distracting, which would lull the bastard into a false sense of security before I dashed out like a chicken on fire.

Yet it was not meant to be. Hurley squeezed the trigger and fired the gun. I thought I’d be a goner, but Jacob chose that moment to spring to his feet. The bullet, which was meant for me, winged Jacob in the arm and imbedded itself in the wall.
“Hey, dude. What’s up?” Jacob asked, the sting of the bullet not kicking in just then.

Hurley stood aghast as blood trickled down Jacob’s arm.

Jacob looked down and must have felt a rush of pain, because he grasped his bleeding arm and spit forth a stream of profanities.

“Oh fuckmotherfuckershitfuckshitfuckohGodshitfuck,” he said, and hopped around the room in pain.

Not looking where he was going, he tripped over the hooker, who was rubbing her tearing eyes, and then Percy, who was bleeding from the hand.

Hurley took another shot and the bullet slammed into my computer bag, striking my laptop.

Just then, like some brain hungry zombie from a movie about the walking dead, the hooker sprung up and grabbed my leg. I responded by slamming the computer bag on her head and knocking her out.

Crazed and desperate, Hurley moved towards me like a lumbering grizzly bear with a gun.

I repeatedly snapped his photo, and the flash temporarily blinded him. He shielded his face with his hands and accidentally kicked Percy, before taking a dive.

Luckily, I used his incapacitation to flee the motel room. I forgot about the suitcase filled with money and in a blind panic, darted towards my car. Hurley roared some obscenity as I started the ignition. When I drove the car at breakneck speed away from the motel and down Interstate 83, I briefly looked in the rearview mirror and thought I saw a bloated figure on the motel’s balcony, fists shaking angrily at the sky.

When I returned to the office many hours later, I had nothing. The digital camera’s images were nonexistent thanks to the lens cap, and the audio was garbled.

I haven’t seen or heard from Jacob since. Once can only assume the horrific fate that befell him at the hands of a perverted senator and his willing, yet wounded cohorts.

Hurley retired from politics the following year, claiming that he wanted to take time off to spend with his family. Yet I know the truth; he was just another victim of the Great Motel Room Massacre, where reputations and body parts were bruised and damaged in the name of journalistic integrity and where no evidence of that heinous event exists to threaten or humiliate its participants.