Monday, June 18, 2018

The Steve Miller Ban

What would you call a nation that separates children from their immigrant parents and warehouses them in abandoned Big Box stores behind chain-linked fences? What do you call a regime that institutes a "zero tolerance" policy for immigrant families fleeing violence, political upheaval and poverty in their own countries?" What does it say about the law when the Attorney General has the pomposity to quote Scripture to justify the administration's gestapo tactics while grinning at the camera? And what do you say about a nation's leader that demands that all followers of a global religion be banned from entering the country? It used to be verboten for any responsible journalist to compare our democratic republic with the Nazis. How do you avoid the comparison when two Texas Public Defenders testify that some parents were told by Border Agents that their children were being taken "to bathe," and never returned? Reporters have told of nursing babies taken from their mothers; the screams of parents following the realization that their children were gone; and the tears of refugees who presented themselves at proper border crossings seeking asylum but instead were hustled off into criminal custody. I saw a documentary about children torn from their parents' arms once, only it took place in 1939 and I had to read the subtitles because it was in German. This is no longer the home of the brave and the land of the free. It's the home of the intolerant and the land of the incarcerated. I don't know about you, but I want my country back.

Always looking to deflect his assholism on to someone else, Trump tweeted in his own ungrammatical way, "Democrats can fix their forced family breakup at the Border by working with Republicans on new legislation, for a change." He's lying. No law requires this. During the influx of mothers and children from Central America in 2014, the Obama administration attempted to detain families with Immigration and Customs Enforcement until their cases could be adjudicated, which was administrative rather than criminal detention. Even then, a federal judge ordered a stay for confined asylum seekers and ruled that families could be held in detention for only a short period of time- usually twenty days. And children were not taken from their parents. In Trump's America, immigrants are taken into federal criminal custody, thus transforming their children into unaccompanied minors who are then whisked away to one of two hundred immigrant detention centers dotted all over the fruited plane. Chief of Staff John Kelly claimed that children and their parents would be separated, "In order to deter more movement along this terribly dangerous network. The children will be taken care of- put into foster care or whatever." Currently, the government has opened a "tent city" near El Paso to house three hundred sixty minors in one hundred degree heat, with plans to construct numerous such "cities" across Texas. They are also actively looking at military bases to house immigrant children. Even conservative pastor Franklin Graham said it was "disgraceful."

It only figures that a corrupted corporatocracy like the United States would eventually cough up a hairball like Donald Trump, but you'd have to look far and wide to find a Jewish Nazi like Stephen Miller. A far-right icon, Miller is a Senior Advisor to the President at the age of thirty-two. Born into a liberal Jewish family in Santa Monica, California, Miller is a descendant of ancestors who fled the pogroms of what is now Belarus. His conversion to conservatism took place after reading "Guns, Crime, and Freedom," a screed against progressive ideas and criminal justice reform written by National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre. At Duke University, quasi-nazi and white nationalist Richard Spencer claimed he mentored Miller, although Miller disavows ever knowing Spencer. Miller's first D.C. gig came as spokesman for Minnesota's moron Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who said in 2014 that American Jews, "Sold out Israel," by voting for Obama, and apologized in Jerusalem only last week for her calls for converting "as many Jews as we can," because "Jesus is coming soon." In 2009, Miller became advisor and communications director for then Senator Jeff Sessions. In an interview with Breitbart News, Sessions praised the National Origins Act of 1924 which restricted immigration from Eastern Europe, saying, "It was good for America." The irony was lost on Miller.

Miller piggy-backed Sessions into the White House where his white nationalist views meshed perfectly with the new administration. After cozying up to the incendiary Steve Bannon, Miller invited the writers and editors of Breitbart News to the White House to discuss immigration. He played an integral part in Trump's illegal travel ban and was a crusader for restricting refugee resettlement and immigration from Muslim countries. He even wrote Trump's "American Carnage" Inaugural speech. His initial appearance on national news was notable for the comment, "The powers of the President to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned." A recent New York Times article said, "Mr. Miller was instrumental in Mr. Trump's decision to ratchet up the zero tolerance policy." Senator Lindsey Graham opined, "As long as Stephen Miller is in charge of negotiating immigration, we are going nowhere." I don't know the conditions that create a self-loathing Jew. If Miller was oblivious to the darkest chapter of the twentieth century, you'd have thought he'd at least seen Shindler's List. The Times reports that over the last six weeks, an estimated two-thousand children have been separated from their families. One immigrant from Honduras killed himself in custody after being separated from his wife and child. With Josef Goebbels wannabes like Stephen Miller advising the president, the time has come to decide whether the United States will retain its status as a beacon of liberty to the world or become just another "shithole country."

Monday, May 21, 2018

King Don the Last

There's this classic Soul song that you should hear called "Everybody Plays the Fool," by The Main Ingredient. You could YouTube it, or find it wherever you steal your music. The chorus goes, "Everybody plays the fool/ There's no exception to the rule/ It may be factual, it may be cruel/ But everybody plays the fool." I'll be the first to own up to it. As a younger man, I've been stood up, shot down, duped, used, and abused. I have been made a fool of, and have made a fool of myself more than once. Often, the most difficult part of being misled is admitting it to yourself. I think of myself as a reasonably smart fellow, so how could I allow myself to be so deceived? Coming to terms with my willful blindness meant admitting that I wasn't as smart as I thought I was. Anyone is capable of being hoodwinked if they truly want to believe in what you're selling. What's hard is confessing that you were had. It was a tough life lesson to absorb, but after awhile, I emerged a more cautious and wiser person. So, when are the Trump fanatics going to give it up? How long will it take before it dawns on the MAGA minions that they've been conned by a pro? As of this writing, Trump's approval ratings are at an all-time high. This means the educationally challenged are digging in, abetted by Fox News, Info-Wars, Breitbart, talk radio, and the oxymoronically named "Freedom Caucus," Trump's right-wing commandos in the House of Representatives. They are constantly spoon-fed an alternate reality where the "Deep State" and embittered Democrats are out to destroy the Trump presidency. In Trump World, he's as innocent as Santa Claus. They ask, in all sincerity, "tell me exactly what he has done wrong?" You've probably seen it in your Facebook feed too.

There is no convincing the "true believer" that their convictions are flawed. They must reach that conclusion alone. When attacked, they search for villains to blame and they give them names like Comey, Mueller, McCabe, Rosenstein, Clinton, and Obama- four of whom are Republicans. The revelation that the FBI had an informant embedded in his campaign has driven the President insane. During a tsunami of tweets, Trump wrote, "I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes (sic)- and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!" The "king" hereby demands- who does he think he is, Vladimir Putin? Trump is commanding the Justice Department to investigate itself. It's no mystery. Foreign policy "advisors" George Papadopoulos and Carter Page were caught up in routine foreign wiretaps discussing the Trump campaign with Russian sympathizers. It would be negligent if the FBI did not place an informant in the campaign. Both men have pleaded guilty- Papadopoulis for lying to the FBI, and Page for "conspiracy against the United States." Both are co-operating with the Mueller investigation and are awaiting sentencing. And this is the low-hanging fruit. Both the GOP led House of Representatives' investigation and Trump's personal porch ghoul, Rudy Giuliani, have declared the Trump campaign to be completely blameless. Nothing has been proven, they say, so the Mueller probe should be shut down immediately.

In one year, the Mueller team has indicted nineteen people, including thirteen Russian nationals and three Russian companies, and obtained five guilty pleas. Former campaign manager Paul Manafort, in a twelve-count indictment, is charged with, "conspiracy against the United States," being an unregistered foreign agent, and making false statements. New charges were brought in February claiming Manafort laundered over thirty million dollars, failed to pay taxes for a decade, and used real estate holdings to fraudulently obtain twenty million dollars in loans. That's why Manafort is wearing two ankle bracelets while he awaits trial on charges that, if proven guilty, could land him in prison for three hundred years. Manafort's deputy, Rick Gates, has pleaded guilty and is co-operating with the Mueller investigation. Former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, plead guilty to charges of lying to the FBI about his discussions with Russian contacts over removing Obama era sanctions for annexing the Crimea. The overzealous Nixon lover, Roger Stone, said he is "prepared to be indicted" over his communications with Russian hackers and WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange. If this is the "witch hunt" that Trump claims, the brooms are beginning to stack up in the corridors of justice.

We had yet to mention the Trump Tower meeting between Don, Jr., Jared Kushner, and a cauldron of Russians, when new information emerged about a heretofore unknown gathering in the Tower between Don the Lesser and emissaries from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia looking to help Daddy. Trump tweeted, "The Witch Hunt finds no Collusion (sic) with Russia- so now they're looking at the rest of the World. Oh' great." Too bad they didn't teach grammar and punctuation at the Wharton School. Every time Trump sends out a tweet, somewhere an English teacher has a cardiac infarction. Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, said he would take a bullet for the President. He might have to. There's not room in a single article to discuss Stormy Daniels, the China bribery, obstruction of justice, personal enrichment, cronyism, nepotism, bank fraud, cover-ups, bribery, extortion, and abuse of power. Next up is a defamation lawsuit filed by former "Apprentice" contestant and alleged victim of sexual abuse, Summer Zervos. Trump said Zervos "made up" a "hoax" to aid Hillary Clinton. Several of the other sixteen sexual harassment accusers have said they are willing to be deposed. Most concerning, Zervos' attorney has subpoenaed recordings from "The Apprentice" that show Trump speaking of women "in any sexual or inappropriate manner." I think I just heard that other shoe hit the deck. If all this causes you to despair, consider the words of porn-star attorney and Trump antagonist, Michael Avenatti, who stated, "Mr. Trump will not serve out his term. No way. No How. He will be forced to ultimately resign." Thanks Obama.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Show Biz Confessions

Several months ago, The Memphis Flyer featured a cover story about local musicians recounting their "Worst Gigs Ever." I wish somebody would have asked me. I have so many horror stories, they have to be categorized by decade. I've been in other bands and played as an acoustic soloist, but most of my performing career has been with the Radiants, a "rock n' soul" group that lasted from my teen years in the sixties until our final show two years ago at Lafayette's. In a 2011 Flyer issue, I wrote about being punched out by the bouncers at Club Clearpool, only to be vindicated by Sputnik Monroe. You could look that one up if you're curious, but first let me tell you about a gig that still gives me the creeps. I was in a band out of Knoxville called Rich Mountain Tower. We had a production deal and were on a mini-tour opening for Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Our bass player, we'll call him Todd, was going through some serious psychological problems resulting from an LSD-fried brain. He had that thousand yard stare without ever going to war. When we played Charleston, West Virginia, Todd paused and spoke to the audience. Backstage, I asked what he had said and he told me that he "asked the audience's forgiveness for being a coward all my life." The next night's gig was at the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis. We set up shop at the old Downtowner Motel, across from the Peabody, where we returned after the concert. I was chatting with friends when I heard shouting and screams for help coming from the next room. I ran next-door to witness Todd, standing on the edge of an open window on the fifteenth floor, with our guitarist sitting opposite on the window sill, bear-hugging Todd's mid-section to prevent him from jumping. We succeeded in pulling Todd back into the room, but he was on a bus at the crack of dawn, leaving for his home-town and psychiatric help.

I had been playing at various joints around Knoxville when an agent booked me and my singing partner, Bob Simon, for a show in Middlesboro, Kentucky at an Elk's Club gathering. Or it could have been the Lions Club, I forget. I was dressed in my hippie finery- bell bottoms, flowered shirt, boots, peace sign, and long hair- while we waited in the kitchen for their program to end. Bob looked  at the crowd of rural, middle-aged men in coats and ties and refused to go out there. I was in the middle of berating him when we were introduced. He agreed to come out, only after I had sung the first song. When I entered with my guitar, the room exploded with laughter. I don't mean snickers or giggles, these were howls and belly laughs at my appearance. I stood in front of the microphone, but the laughter went on and on. As I looked out at the rowdy crowd, waiting for their derision to subside, I felt like Edwin Booth taking the stage just months after his brother had killed Lincoln. I sang one, introduced Bob, and the room erupted again. Bob's face turned beet red. We changed our entire set and sang one country song after the next until they finally gave us some begrudging applause. We cursed our agent all the way back to Knoxville and learned the benefits of knowing your audience in advance.

Many years ago, there was a motorbike dirt track, out near Lakeland on I-40. They occasionally staged races and competitions or whatever the hell dirt-bikers do, and I was booked to play an outdoor concert with a crack, four-piece band cleverly named The Hired Hands. We assumed that we would play in a break in the action or after the race. I never imagined they wanted us to play while the race was taking place. We'd start a song and every thirty seconds the whine of a dirt bike would drown us out. It was not only a ridiculous situation, the bikes were kicking up so much dust that I was literally eating dirt while trying to sing. We were coughing and sneezing on our flatbed truck, parked hard against the track while the motorcycles whizzed by, covering the sky in particles of soot. While wiping my tears when the gig was mercifully over, the track's owner gave me a check. It bounced. The owner assured me the account was solvent and wrote me a second check. It also bounced. When I drove out to the track, it had closed. It was the only time, in a lifetime of performing, that anyone ever stiffed me with a bad check.

The Radiants were playing a gig at an after-hours nightclub in North Little Rock  called The Apartment Club. It was a seedy place filled with drunks with nowhere else to go. A scuffle broke out in the crowd and the band went on break. I've seen a lot of fistfights. I've seen brawls roil from one side of the room to the other while the band continued to play, but this felt different, maybe more menacing considering the clientele. I was standing outside with the bass player when the front doors flew open and a gangly, drunken redneck tumbled onto the ground followed by two huge bouncers. The drunk staggered to his feet, lunged at the bouncers and threw a punch. Suddenly, a handgun appeared and we dove for cover. While one bouncer held the gun in the air, the other pulled out a blackjack and started pounding this guy in the head shouting, "You done fucked up now Bobby Gene." The intoxicated Bobby Gene refused to go down and received a Rodney King-like beating until he finally succumbed to the blows to his head and slumped to the sidewalk. He laid there bleeding for a while but made it back to his feet. He stumbled towards a pickup truck, but for good measure, received one last sweeping kick to his ribs that dropped him to the gravel. The band had to regroup while the crowd was visibly shaken by the episode. Things seemed to be calming down a bit when someone ran in screaming, "Bobby Gene's back with a shotgun." Everyone froze. We were instructed to continue playing while somewhere in the parking-lot, an armed Bobby Gene was fighting with the police. He lost, but all we heard was "Keep playing boys, that's what we pay you for."

I could tell you more- a lot more- because I sometimes wonder if all those awful gigs I endured were worth it just for the anecdotes. Show Biz ain't for sissies, folks. If you're unable to tolerate a constant barrage of bullshit and humiliation, there's probably too many singing guitar players out there anyway.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Forward March

Before what Life Magazine called, "the largest expression of public dissent ever seen in this country," President Richard Nixon said, "As far as this activity is concerned, we expect it, but under no circumstances will I be affected whatever by it." The delusional traitor Nixon had previously referred to anti-war protesters as "bums," but half a million people were about to descend on Nixon's front yard in a massive march called "The Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam." On November 15, 1969, hundreds of thousands of anti-war protesters began marching down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Washington Monument. The morning was damn cold. I know because I was there. We listened to speeches by Senator George McGovern and Dr. Benjamin Spock and joined in with Pete Seeger singing John Lennon's tune, "All we are saying is give peace a chance." Nixon spent the day secluded in the White House watching college football but his venal Vice President, Spiro "Ted" Agnew, called the protesters "an effete corps of impudent snobs." The work of several anti-war organizations, plus two hundred-fifty student government officers and student newspaper editors were necessary to draw the massive number of people to Washington. What these young adults from Parkland High School managed to put together last week was nothing short of miraculous.

We are in the midst of an historic moment "and a little child shall lead them." These committed students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are an inspiration, and if you're too old, or too cynical, or too oblivious to grasp the significance of the "March For Our Lives" against gun violence, you fall in the same category as the cadre of dead-enders that sat on their couches and cheered on the Vietnam War- on the wrong side of history. These survivors of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, were poised and eloquent beyond their years. There were a few celebrities in attendance, but the march and the program were organized by the students who witnessed this horror. Their impassioned and heartbreaking testimonies brought on more than a few tears in our house. When Jennifer Hudson, who lost her mother, brother, and nephew to gun violence, sang "The Times They Are a-Changin'," that did it for me. That brought me full circle. Back when I heard Bob Dylan sing it, I didn't have to go through half a box of Kleenex. 

These high school kids have started a wave of indignation about this country's gun violence that appears unstoppable. I don't know what the popular term is for this generation, whether its Millennials or Gen Z, or whatever the hell it is, but they are about to affect some real change. Politicians purchased by the NRA have been put on notice by this generation, larger than the Baby-Boomers, and they will vote. The National Rifle Association's venomous response was predictable: "Gun-hating billionaires and Hollywood elites are manipulating and exploiting children," while referring to the event as the "March for Their Lies."  Videos of their well-paid lackeys Dana Loesh and Wayne LaPierre, contempt and vitriol dripping from their lips, were regrettably televised. Hatemongers called them "crisis actors." The students were not intimidated. Gun laws will change the moment politicians realize they must face their voting-age children's scorn. Enormous marches were held in hundreds of cities in solidarity with the students from Parkland, including Memphis.

If I were a football game, I'd be in the fourth quarter. I haven't hit the two minute warning yet, but I can see it out there on the horizon. I figured I had one more march left in me, so (wife) Melody and I headed downtown. We gathered at the Clayborn Temple and marched the short distance to the Civil Rights Museum. I'm not good at estimates so I'll just say the crowd was enormous. Young students gave testimonies about their first-hand experiences with gun violence that were both emotional and wrenchingly personal, since Memphis is no stranger to firearm violence. The encouraging takeaway was the determination of these young people to affect change. I did notice a whole lot of gray hair in the crowd and was pleased and proud that everyone's knees still worked. Old hippies never die, they just march on. The Memphis march was great. What was hard was the walk back, trying to find where we parked the car. We marched about four blocks longer than we had to. My calves are sore and my back hurts, but I'm happy we attended. As for policy, I agree that the Assault Weapons Ban should be reinstated. The opposing argument is there would still be millions in circulation. Maybe so, but there wouldn't be any new ones for sale so some vengeful teenager with a chip on his shoulder could legally buy and shoot up his school. If you believe that the Second Amendment entitles you to own a battlefield weapon, where does the right to your firepower end? Grenade launchers? Mortar cannons? Nobody's coming for your guns. Keep your handguns and your long-guns. Go have fun at the range and protect your home. Just spare the life of my child.