Donald Trump Desecrates the Memory of Aretha Franklin, an American Treasure

 Aretha Franklin, "the Queen of Soul" (1942- 2018). 

Aretha Franklin, "the Queen of Soul" (1942- 2018). 

You probably did not know it, but the greatest accomplishment of Aretha Franklin’s storied career was not being the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, or winning 18 Grammy Awards, or having more than 100 singles reach the Billboard charts, or singing at Martin Luther King’s funeral, or at President Obama’s inauguration, or her indelible impact on generations of vocalists.  

No, all of the above pales in comparison to what future generations will surely remember most about the “Queen of Soul”:  She “worked” for Donald Trump. Even more impressively, Trump says that she is “a person I knew well.” 

Trump, of course, did not know Aretha Franklin “well” any more than I know Jackson Browne “well.”  Back in 2010, Jackson performed at the Annual John Lennon Tribute, of which I am the producer. We spoke on the phone twice, met at a rehearsal, and chatted for five or ten minutes before and after the concert. Ever since, Jackson has sent me gingerbread cookies for the holidays and I have sent him copies of MAD Magazine, where I was an Editor for over three decades. Actually, wait, I take it back. While I don’t really know Jackson Browne at all, we are intimate friends compared to Trump and Aretha Franklin. 

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There is a publicity photo of Trump and Aretha Franklin, taken in May of 1997, showing them holding a check for the Lincoln Center Corporate Fund. Trump is clearly distracted, looking off to the side, and giving not the faintest indication that he knows who is standing next to him. The photo was undoubtedly shot during the five minutes of his entire life that Trump was actually with Aretha Franklin. By the way, there is a photo of me and Jackson Browne backstage at the 30th Annual John Lennon Tribute, a wonderful memory, though hardly proof that we're pals. 

Aretha Franklin appeared  at a Trump casino in Atlantic City 1988 and at the grand opening of the Trump International Hotel and Tower in 1997. That apparently is what Trump is referring to when he boasts that Aretha Franklin “worked” for him. I guess by that standard Jackson Browne “worked” for me too.  

A few weeks ago, at one of his hateful rallies in Pennsylvania, Trump vomited up this about Maxine Waters: “Very low IQ. Low IQ.” His adoring crowd booed the veteran congresswoman from California, not for vehemently disagreeing with her political views (they have no idea what her political views are), but for being stupid. 

Here are some facts, not that facts matter much anymore: Maxine Waters is one of thirteen children. Raised by a single mother, she worked in a garment factory and as a telephone operator before landing a job as an assistant teacher with the Head Start program. She later graduated from Los Angeles State College with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. What an idiot!

A few weeks after denigrating Maxine Waters, Trump referred to his once beloved Omarosa  Manigault Newman as “a lowlife” and “a dog.”  Why she was spared the “low IQ” insult remains somewhat of a mystery.   

A few days later, following the news of Aretha Franklin’s death, Trump opened a cabinet meeting by lying about their relationship and assuring us “her extraordinary legacy will thrive and inspire many generations to come.”  What an utter joke.  

Trump, who knows nothing about just about everything, certainly knows nothing about Aretha Franklin’s legacy. He does not know that she toured with Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier to raise money for Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1967. He does not know that “Respect” became an anthem for the civil rights movement and feminism. He does not know the stunning voice that moved President Obama to tears when he heard her sing “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2015. 

As a white man, I can’t possibly feel the depth of rage that many blacks and women, and especially black women, understandably feel about our imbecilic racist and misogynist President. One thing is certain: Aretha Franklin, a class act and a true American treasure, never would have betrayed her values by singing at Trump's "White" House. 

When a Man Who Can’t Stop Throwing His Own Excrement Rises to Power

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My original title for this piece was, “When A Toxic, Shallow, Delusional Nincompoop Rises to Power.” On second thought, it seemed too benign.  

My second title was, “When A Hateful, Lying, Unapologetic Misogynist Rises to Power.” Better, I thought, though it wasn’t quite inclusive enough. 

How about, "When A Hateful, Lying, Unapologetic Misogynist-Racist Rises to Power” or  "When A Hateful, Lying, Unapologetic Misogynist-Racist, Sociopathic Narcissist-Autocrat Rises to Power”?  I didn’t like either. Too long.  

My next shot: “When An Asshole Rises to Power,” or maybe “When An Ignorant Asshole Rises to Power.” No, forget “asshole.” It’s too vulgar, too angry. Too much like Trump. 

And then this came to me: “Our Malignantly Dickish President.”  Not bad! 

Clearly, Trump is a cancerous tumor upon the soul of America. The only thing uncertain about the “Trump tumor” is whether it is a Stage 1, 2, 3 or 4, but its malignant nature has been confirmed. Therefore, It cannot be allowed to run its course. It must be surgically removed by congress, the judical system or voters. As with any tumor, the sooner it is eliminated, the better the chances for a healthy recovery. The longer it remains, the more damage it will likely do. 

The most sobering thing about the “Trump tumor” is this:  Even if we succeed at excising it, it has the ability to grow back with more virulent force. That is because the "Trump tumor” itself is a sign of a diseased organism.  Like all tumors, it is more symptom than cause. It grew from a swamp of hatred, ignorance, intolerance and desperation. And the swamp will remain even after the "Trump tumor" is gone. We aren’t sure how to drain the swamp because we live in it. Rather than a tumor, Trump may be seen as the monster who fed off and emerged from the muck. 

You can't reason with a tumor or a monster, or those who relate to them as benign or positive forces. I am thinking of Mike Pence now and the mere thought of him makes me sick to my stomach. He is the sniveling sycophant waiting in the wings to step out behind the Presidential seal with all his ugly piety and smugness should Trump fall. Pence, with his relative normalcy, could perhaps pose an even greater threat than Trump. Still, we would be better off taking our chances with Pence, because it is also possible that he would neutered, as Gerald Ford was following Nixon. 

Here is what we know about Trump: He makes everything worse. He is the gasoline poured on the fires of racism, misogyny and tribalism. He is incapable of empathy. He is empty at his core. He is ignorant, unaware of his ignorance, and destined to remain ignorant. He is incapable and/or unwilling to speak or recognize the truth. He is reflexively antagonistic, full of bombast and bitterness. He is immoral, crude, vengeful, sickeningly vain, in denial of reality, aching for a fight and totally enamored with himself. He is also a clown, a buffoon and a patsy. 

I remember as a kid seeing a movie in which a determined aristocrat takes on the challenge of training a chimp to sip tea with the upper crust at a fancy society dinner. The chimp is dressed in a suit and has impeccable manners and everyone in their finery is impressed. “Why, it’s unbelievable, he has trained the chimp!”  Except not for long. After a few minutes, the chimp starts swinging from the chandelier and throwing its food and feces around. Everyone in the scene is upstaged by the chimp who is at the center of the mayhem. The chimp is hilarious and entertaining, while ruining the event for everyone, which we as viewers delight in. 

Trump is our chimp-president and there are no doubt many people take delight in the destruction he is causing. Like the chimp in the movie, Trump can be trained to a degree. He can be taught to read from a teleprompter or to read a written statement about how he said “would” when he meant “wouldn’t.” But like the chimp, Trump soon reverts to form and starts howling, jumping and hurling his crapola, because that is who he is. We are all characters in the scene with Trump and, like the characters in the movie, we are compelled to deal with him. Expressing indignation and outrage as Trump defecates in the punch bowl is not a solution to the problem. The chimp must be returned to the jungle, or put in a cage and given a banana. 

The problem is that Trump is more like King Kong than a chimp. The reality show he is starring in now, while often ridiculously absurd, is not a comedy and it will not end happily for him or his enablers. That said, we are in unknown territory, with a man who can’t stop throwing his own excrement as the leader of our nation. 

 

Challenging the Teaching of a Carnivorous Zen Master While Floating the Milk River in Canada

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I recently returned from a 10-day/150-mile canoe trip on the Milk River in Alberta, Canada. By my count, the Milk was my fourteenth paddle adventure. What is my fascination with rivers? 

Rivers, I have learned, are the greatest teachers. On a river one learns, quite literally, to go with the flow of life. One sets a course and pushes water behind or back-paddles as necessary, but the river itself shows the way. Paddling upstream against the current is extremely difficult, at times impossible, and is generally not a good idea. Slowing down before entering a dangerous curve is strongly advised. These are good lessons to learn and skills to apply — not just on rivers, but on dry land too. 

The other thing about rivers is that they provide my favorite setting for contemplation, especially when the current is moderate and steady, as it was for much of our float of the Milk. We put in at Whiskey Gap, just four miles from the US border and 84 miles west of the town of Milk River itself. The river cuts through remote and open high prairie country where cattle graze in paradise, blissfully unaware of the gruesome fate at the slaughterhouse that awaits them. Paddling the Milk River then is a kind of meditation on life and death. 

We made our way past hundreds, if not thousands, of happy calves and cows, almost all of whom will be carved up for meat by the fall. I found myself wistfully singing:“I’d rather be a hammer than a nail, yes I would, if I could, I surely would." The cattle mooed along, no doubt more on key than I was.

I wondered about the ranchers and, somewhat to my surprise, found myself thinking of them not with moral outrage, but compassion. Maybe my Zen meditation practice has softened my heart more than I realize. 

On this trip, in addition to the Tao Te Ching, which I never fail to bring with me into the wilderness, I packed The Eight Gates of Zen by John Daido Loori, the revered former abbot of the Zen Mountain Monastery and founder of the Mountain and Rivers Order of Buddhist monks.  

I should mention here that I am an "informal student" at the monastery, by which I mean that I am a regular attendee of monastery retreats, though I have yet to make a formal commitment to Zen practice. I met Daido when he was a guest on a talk radio program I was co-hosting on WDST in Woodstock, NY, not far from the monastery in Mount Tremper. 

In the studio, Daido struck me as intensely serious, too serious for me. I had been interested in Zen since I first read Alan Watts in college, but Alan was entertaining, whereas Daido was all business. I felt intimidated by him and, odd as it may seem, that drew me to the monastery. I attended one of the last Introduction to Zen weekend retreats that Daido led before he died in 2009. I would have liked to talk to him about what I am about to get into here. 

One night in camp, I was reading Daido’s chapter on Zen liturgy, in which he writes: “Every time we receive a meal we consume life; we kill living things in order to sustain our own life.”

My immediate response: What if I have a bowl of fruit for lunch?  Am I taking life by eating apples, pears, and bananas? On a subtle level, I suppose. However, eating the fruits of trees that will continue to live is not analogous to eating a mammal. 

Daido continues: “Buddhism does not differentiate between higher and lower life forms – the cabbage is every bit as holy as a cow.”

Hindus might disagree. Please note: Lord Krishna is not depicted hugging a head of cabbage. Daido’s logic (or Buddhist logic, as the case may be) sounds like that of a carnivore in desperate such of search of a defense.

Assuming that a cabbage “is every bit as holy as a cow,” it does not follow that eating a cabbage is the moral equivalent of eating a cow. While Daido does not say that it is, neither does he make a meaningful differentiation between the two. Therefore, his teaching is incomplete. Call me unenlightened (I am!) and/or insensitive (I am too often!) but my heart does not ache when I consider the fate of a row of cabbages. Coleslaw is not ground chuck, or as Alan Watts reportedly put it when asked why he was a vegetarian, “Cows scream louder than carrots.” 

And yet, somehow Daido sums it up thusly: “Life is life and we must consume it in order to live.” 

Sure, “life is life," but butchering is not farming. Daido’s comment does not sound like Buddhist compassion to me. After all, one of the four great Bodhisatva vows is “sentient beings are numberless, I vow to save them.” And yes, I know that some say that plants and even rocks are sentient beings, but that’s not relevant to the issue at hand. The cannibal chef and vegetarian chef both take life to prepare their supper, but at whose restaurant would you dine? 

We all consume life in one form or another to support our own lives and we must come to terms with that fact. But please, spare me the equivocating “life is life” superficiality, because it is a total dodge of the ethical issue of meat-eating. With all due respect to Daido, here is a revise of his inadequate “life is life and we must consume it to live” teaching:

"While life is life and we must consume it to live, better to eat a grape than a kangaroo burger." 

With that said, I find myself once again wistfully singing, “I’d rather be a sparrow than a snail, yes I would, if I could, I surely would.”
 

By the way, I would be remiss if I did not mention that although Daido “loved his steak,” (as someone who knew him recently told me) — the food served at Zen Mountain Monastery today is exclusively vegetarian with vegan options. Expressing gratitude and appreciation before each meal is an essential part of Zen practice. The meal gatha says “we eat to practice good,” however it is clearly understood that it is considerably more difficult to say that with a straight face while woofing down a double-bacon cheeseburger as opposed to a turnip. Even so, I have never heard from a word of encouragement from a Zen teacher to go vegetarian or eat less meat. 

Some confessions: I married a butcher’s daughter. (I know, it sounds like a horror movie, but it’s true.) While I have been a strict vegetarian for 40 years — I won’t even eat a beefsteak tomato. Still, I am not a vegan and I have caused suffering to animals for my own gastronomical satisfaction. I do not think of myself as morally superior to carnivores, though I confess to feeling an unspoken satisfaction when passing the plate of rump roast along when it comes my way at the holiday dinner table. I bristle at preachy vegetarians (even though I may be accused of being one by writing this), though bristle even more at carnivores who equate killing giraffes with eggplants. 

I can’t imagine that Daido would equate killing giraffes with eggplants, but then again, being an ignorant man, I can’t say that with any certainty. For what it’s worth, the traditional Sunday lunch served at the monastery is spaghetti with Daido’s favorite sauce, and the sauce is a traditional Italian pomodoro, minus the meatballs. Zen students are not served Daido’s favorite cut of meat.   

And now that I have made my main case, there is nothing left for me to do but wistfully sing (and please feel free to moo along): “I’d rather be a forest than a street, yes I would, if I only could, I surely would…”

 

Samantha Bee's Feckless Apology Deserves a 'C'

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As a comedy writer and a liberal, I feel badly that I am not feeling all warm and fuzzy after Samantha’s Bee on-air apology for calling Ivanka Trump a “feckless cunt.” Devoid of humility, her mea culpa came across as superficial and perfunctory. But what bothered me even more was the decidedly mixed message that she expressed. 

In one breath, Samantha Bee acknowledged that she has used the word “cunt” on her show many times, “hoping to reclaim it.” However, this time she used it “as an insult.”  This logic suggests that she thinks she erred not in using the word, but in using it in the manner in which she did. 

However, in the next breath she said, “The problem is that many women have heard that word at the worst moments of their lives. A lot of them don’t want that word reclaimed. They want it gone. And I don’t blame them.”

That is exactly how many African Americans feel about the word “nigger.” Yet, a significant segment of the black community has reclaimed the offending word and made it their own. 

So, does Samantha Bee still want to reclaim the word “cunt,” or does she now think that was a bad idea? We don't know, because she didn’t bother to address the very issue that she raised. 

Note to Samantha Bee: Please figure this out for yourself. If you want to reclaim the word “cunt,” which is something I would totally support (which may not matter to you since I’m a man), you will never succeed at that by using the word as a slur to insult women. If you are serious about reclaiming the word, then you will have to use it fearlessly and without apology, just as actress Sally Field did recently when she tweeted this: 

I like Samantha Bee a lot, but she is flat wrong to call Ivanka a cunt. Cunts are powerful, beautiful, nurturing and honest.   

Whether Samantha Bee has it in her to use the word “cunt” publicly, as Sally Field did, remains to be seen, but I sincerely hope that she does, lest she be seen by some as, well, feckless.

And that brings me to my next problem with Samantha Bee’s apology: Pulling a page out of the Trumpian playbook, she blamed the media for their response to what she said: 

“I should’ve known that a potty mouth insult would be inherently more interesting to them (the press) than juvenile immigration policy.” 

Right, so it’s the media’s fault for ignoring Samantha Bee’s indefensible (by her own admission) use of the word “cunt” and not engaging her in an in-depth discussion on American immigration policy. She did not have the humility to say, “I messed up totally and gave the media good reason to focus on my poor choice of words rather than the important issue that I so want to discuss.”  

I agree with Jon Stewart, who remains the most influential and astute political comedian of his generation, that conservative outrage over Samantha Bee is “a game” that should not be taken seriously. “They don’t give a shit about the word ‘cunt.’ Trump says that instead of ‘please,’ I’m guessing,” he recently said.  As usual, John Stewart is spot on, however just as John Oliver and Bill Maher did on their respective shows, he gave his friend Samantha Bee a comedy mulligan. 

Sorry, but with all due respect, I do not.

Reflections on the (Probably) Soon to be Unemployed Samantha Bee

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As someone who has spent his entire life in humor, both as a comedian and writer, I am utterly flummoxed as to why Samantha Bee would call Ivanka Trump a “cunt,” feckless or otherwise, on her TBS television show. 

Full disclosure: I am a fan of Samantha Bee’s and was employed as a comedy writer and editor for 33 years at MAD Magazine, which is owned by TimeWarner, which is also the parent company of TBS.   

Earlier in the week, Roseanne Barr blamed Ambien for her racist tweet stating that Valerie Jarret, a black former advisor to President Obama, was the product of the Muslim Brotherhood and Planet of the Apes.  She was promptly fired and apologized for making “a bad joke.” Not since Michael Richards destroyed his career with his infamous “nigger” rant (at the Comedy Store in 2006) has a comedian gotten into so much trouble for material that played as flat-out racist. But at least Roseanne thought her tweet was “a joke.”

Samantha Bee offered no such defense in her mea culpa. She apologized for “using an expletive” to describe the President’s daughter and acknowledged that she had “crossed a line.”  But she did not offer her own variation of the traditional “sorry, the joke didn’t work” excuse. Perhaps that’s because upon further review, she realized that her rant was totally devoid of humor: 

"After decades of ignoring the issue, Americans are finally paying attention. Well, most of us. Ivanka Trump, who works at the White House, chose to post the second most oblivious post we’ve seen this week.You know, Ivanka, that’s a beautiful photo of you and your child, but let me just say, one mother to another: Do something about your dad’s immigration practices, you feckless cunt."  

Despite the inexplicably big laugh that followed, there’s not a joke or satiric remark in the script. Minus wit or cleverness, it’s just angry full frontal commentary, and unlike Roseanne’s Twitter diarrhea, it was scripted in advance and loaded into a teleprompter.  

The level of comedy cluelessness at play here is truly astonishing. How could anyone on Samantha Bee's creative team think the best way for her to call attention to the horrors of separating mothers from their children at the border was to call the President's daughter a "cunt" on national television? By doing that, all she did was deflect attention from the very issue that she wants to discuss.    

Unlike the word “nigger,” which has found its way to common usage for a significant number of black Americans, the word “cunt” remains mostly forbidden, even among women. Larry Wilmore (at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2016) jokingly and affectionately addressed President Obama as “my nigga.” However, a female comedian could not address Michele Obama as “my cunt.” That doesn’t mean the word “cunt” is totally off-limits for a comedian, female or male. No word is off-limits! As the master, George Carlin, taught us, "it’s about context.”  So, if a comedian is going to use a word like “cunt” or “nigger,” or any other slur or expletive you can think of, the word must be expertly played. (No one “played” words better than Carlin.) 

Michele Wolf, even after she was criticized by those who invited her, did not apologize for her controversial material at the recent White House Correspondents’ Dinner. To her credit, she stood by her comic point of view, because she instinctually understood that speaking truth to power through humor is the highest calling of a satirist. But that’s not what Samantha Bee did. She lost her comedy way – as once did Don Imus, Gilbert Gottfried, Kathy Griffin and Bill Maher, to name the ones that come to mind now – and when that happens on a grand scale there is a price to be paid, though the price isn't always exactly the same. 

As of this writing, Samantha Bee has not yet been fired, but I don’t see how she keeps her job. The longer TimeWarner puts off what I believe is the inevitable decision, the more pressure the corporation will be under to release her. Autotrader and State Farm have already announced they are suspending their advertising and other companies will surely follow suit. Please note: the main and perhaps only reason that Bill Maker survived his casual “house nigger” comment is because his show is on advertiser-free HBO, which by the way, is also owned by TimeWarner. 

That liberals have remained mostly quiet about this is as unfortunate as it is predictable, and is reflective of blind tribalism that pervades our culture, seemingly more than ever. Imagine, for a moment, if Samantha Bee had referred to Sasha or Malia Obama as “cunts.”  

And so, it is precisely because I am a humorist and a liberal, that I feel a responsibility to call out Samantha Bee. I agree with her point of view far more often than not and I enjoy her comedy. That said, by her own admission, she blew this one big time. More importantly, she would probably benefit from taking a break, if for no other reason than to search for a new head writer.

Sometimes to Take a Stand, One Must Take a Knee

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With their unilateral decree last week that NFL players must now stand during the national anthem, or be banished to the locker room, the white owners of the NFL have caved to the hateful rantings of a white supremacist President. 

Remember, it was last September, just a few weeks into the dangerously long 16-game football season, that Trump launched a vicious and unhinged attack on the players engaged in the anthem protests: "Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’” 

Yes, the President who previously claimed, “I love the First Amendment; nobody loves it better than me,” is an advocate of firing athletes who engage in legal social protest. 

League Commissioner Roger Goodell, who desperately wants us to believe that he and the team owners are uber-patriots, was quick to criticize Trump's comment as “divisive.” However, he also pompously said, “The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture.”  

Say what? Since when do we look to league sports to “create a sense of unity”? Team sports, by their very nature, naturally create bitter tribal divisions, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Cowboys fans and Packers fans aren’t supposed to get along.  But I digress. 

Roger Goodell’s job is to be a compliant mouthpiece for the NFL’s mega-rich white team owners, who settled on the new anthem policy without any input from its players, approximately 70% of whom are African American.  

“We want people to be respectful of the national anthem,” said Goodell, who runs a league that was paid $700,000 to stage “military tributes” during games, still has a team called “the Redskins,” whose cheerleaders were required to escort sponsors and pose topless at a nightclub, and has failed to adequately address its epidemic of concussions. Yet Goodell’s primary mission now is to soothe the fears of his beer, fast food, and erectile dysfunction advertisers, a difficult task when the average viewership for a regular season game dropped 10% last season to 14.9 million people, down from 16.5 million people the previous year. 

By the way, in recognition of his exceedingly tough job, NFL owners awarded Goodell a five-year deal in which he can earn up to $200 million, though they held the line by refusing to grant him use of the private jet he was bargaining for.  But I digress again. 

The NFL owners do not care about the free speech rights of its players, especially its African American players. They just want the protests to go away.  So, in their shallow minds, declaring a "respect the anthem” policy was an easy way to achieve that end. But the move has already backfired, because given the context in which it was made, the policy itself is racist in that it solely squelches the speech of black athletes.

Is the policy legal?  While that remains to be seen, it just might be. The NFL is a private business, and since the rule is part of its game operations manual, it is not subject to collective bargaining. But whether the policy is determined to be legal or not, the NFL has created yet another massive public relations nightmare for itself. The owners have capitulated to a racist President, whose latest chilling commentary on the subject is, “You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or shouldn’t be playing. You shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.” 

So, it is up to the players now. In a show of solidarity, they could all decide to stay in the locker room, though it would be much more effective if they all took a knee in public while the anthem droned on. There is more to protest now than the social injustice against blacks that spurred Colin Kaperenick to action. To take a stand against Trump, the time has come for all of us to take a knee. 

Texas Governor Greg Abbott: The Enabler

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Texas Governor Greg Abbott is an enabler of mass shooters. Of course, that is exactly what we would expect the governor of the regressive cowboy state to be, a mouthpiece for the NRA who labels anyone who dares suggest even the most flaccid gun control measure a threat to freedom. Please note: In Texas, as in a lot of other states in this fractured nation, "freedom" means the freedom to assemble a military grade arsenal and/or walk around pretending that you're a sheriff. 

In the old westerns, only an idiot or a woman would be seen in a saloon without a gun. The booze flowed freely as tough guys played poker and smoked cigarettes. What could possibly go wrong? Fist fights turned into gun fights. "I don't want any trouble here tonight," the bartender would say, usually a scene or two before all his whiskey glasses were shot up and his brains were blown out.  

To Greg Abbott the entire world is a saloon, which is exactly why he defeated his Democratic opponent, Wendy Davis, by over 20 percentage points in the most recent Texas gubernatorial election. The majority of Texas voters think they live in a saloon and, in fact, they kind of do. Over 3,500 gun-related deaths take place in Texas every year. How's that for freedom? Over a third of Texans, about 10 million people, own guns. The average gun owner in America owns eight guns, which means there are likely 80 millions guns circulating in Texas. I'll ask again: What can go wrong? 

Who wouldn't wanted to be armed in Texas? Greg Abbott has proclaimed, "I will sign any gun rights bill that reaches my desk." In his recent speech to the NRA, he boasted about the bill he signed allowing guns to be carried in holsters, ya know, just like a real cowboy!  He waxed poetic about the bill he signed allowing concealed firearms to be carried on colleges campuses. He called attention to his tireless work to assist other states in expanding their gun rights. 

It makes perfect sense then that Greg Abbott is leading a statewide discussion about protecting Texas children from mass shootings. Who better to lead such an important conversation than a hack with an "A" rating from the NRA, who once tweeted a photo of himself at a shooting range in celebration of his signing a law that lowered the state's license-to-carry fee?

Greg Abbott, who has built his entire political persona as a gun rights whore, now says he wants to "step up" to stop school shootings. He wants to hear from students, teachers, concerned citizens, and "those who hold the second amendment in high esteem," by which he means Texans who blame mass shootings on video games, mental illness, removing God from the public square, having too many doors in schools (the harebrained theory of his Lieutenant Governor, Dan Patrick), or anything else, as long as there is absolutely no mention of gun control. 

In America, it always comes back to the second amendment. It is that, more than anything else, that now makes us exceptional among modern nations in the ugliest and most horrifying of ways. More specifically, it is the ultra-conservative interpretation of the second amendment as decided by the Supreme Court in the Heller case that has led us to this current state of terror. America's sick gun culture now has federal law on its side. 

Greg Abbott's meaningless response to the mass shooting was to declare a statewide moment of silence. While his policies continue to enable mass shooters, he never apologies or plays defense. In his shallow mind, Greg Abbott is the one under assault, not traumatized teenagers. It is understandable then that his top priority is to protect himself from the liberals who want to take his precious guns away, something that could happen only in his paranoid daydreams. 

Reality check: No one is coming for Greg Abbott's guns, and if anyone actually did, he would just start shooting at them. 

Reflecting on Mass Murder and the “Most Extraordinary Hats” at the Royal Wedding

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Less than 24 hours after another mass murder at an American high school that left ten dead, the headline at CNN.com proclaimed, “Here comes the bride.” I can watch videos of the Beckhams, the Clooneys, and even Oprah arriving at the festivities, not to mention a live feed of Meghan Markle herself (wow!) on the way to the chapel. Finally, there is some good news to celebrate, even if it isn’t happening here.

What America needs is a royal family of its own to serve up some high quality regal distractions. But alas, we’re stuck with more news of mass murder beyond our capacity to synthesize. And when the story disappears from the news cycle, it’s back to non-stop Trump.

Two thirds of Americans have gone numb, are in total denial, not paying attention, still suffering from presidential election PTSD, or addicted to opioids. The remaining third have somehow come to the conclusion that the country is “on the right track.” 

By the way, since I started writing this, the CNN headline has changed to, ”The Big Moment.” It is indeed! Two people most of us either have never heard of until a few days ago, or just don’t care about, are exchanging wedding vows. Also, CNN has just posted footage of Meghan “walking herself down the aisle.” Note to CNN: She’s not “walking herself,” she's just walking.” And while I have not seen it yet, I’ll bet that she looks smashing!  

A much smaller CNN headline reads “Muqtada al-Sadr coalition wins Iraq election.” Is that a good thing? Sorry, I’m not up on this story. I don’t know about anything happening in the world that isn’t related to Trump, except of course that Meghan and what’s-his-name will now be known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Pretty damn impressive! By the way, in case you didn’t know or forgot, Muqtada al-Sadr is an anti-American populist, so no, the victory of his political coalition is not a good thing, though I will admit that if I lived in Iraq, I might be an anti-American populist myself. A lot of us would. 

Hey, CNN now reports that the happy couple was just married! Yippie! I know that Trump wasn’t invited, though I wonder if Robert Mueller was. He's so busy with his investigation,  he probably couldn’t have made it anyway. In any case, I am certainly grateful that CNN is not bothering me with cliched obituaries of the murdered students and encouraging me instead to focus my attention on the "newly revealed details of the wedding venue, cake and reception." 

Oh, and here’s another really compelling and important headline that is breaking just now on CNN: “The most extraordinary hats at the royal wedding.” 

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As I write this, the morning following the school shooting at Santa Fe High School, the headline story at the websites for Fox News, MSNBC, NPR, Slate, Google News, Yahoo News, the Huffington Post and USA Today all joyously shout about the exceedingly exquisite royal wedding. Finally, we have found a solution, not to gun violence, but to those pesky feelings of upset and sorrow that typically follow a mass shooting. 

I would write more but I have to stop now to look at footage of the happy couple’s first kiss. 

We All Live In Deadwood Now

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In the aftermath of horrific mass shooting after horrific mass shooting – elementary, high school or college students dead, church-goers dead, nightclub patrons dead, policemen dead – the same depressing news cycle plays out.

We are subjected to interviews with friends and family members of the victims and killer(s), harrowing eye-witness accounts of the mayhem, heartbreaking expressions of grief, canned statements from politicians, words of condolence from clergy, talk of justice, healing and resilience, condemnation of anyone who “politicizes” the issue, and, finally, the resurfacing of our bitter national gun-control debate that changes nothing and fills everyone who wants the violence to end with despair.

We are stuck in a nightmarish Groundhog’s Day scenario. Americans are dying on the street every day as gun sales skyrocket. The Congressional Research Service, whatever that is, estimates that there are 300 million guns in America. Those are the guns that can be accounted for. There are unquestionably many more guns than that in circulation. America has more guns now than people and the very word “gun” is part of the problem because it is a misnomer. A mere “gun”– think Wyatt Earp – doesn’t qualify as a slingshot in a country with a citizenry arming itself with assault rifles. And what exactly is an “assault rife”? We can’t even agree on that.

Who and what is responsible for this state of utter madness? There is certainly plenty of blame to go around: the NRA, Congress, the Supreme Court, the media, Hollywood, our primitive violent nature, and the Second Amendment itself, which like the Third Amendment (which forbids the government from housing soldiers in private homes) made good sense in 1791 and no sense in the 21st Century.

I am thinking of what President-elect Ronald Reagan said in 1980, with a stone-faced Cardinal Terrance Cook by his side, when he was asked about the assassination of John Lennon: “What can anyone say? It’s a great tragedy and it’s just other evidence of what we have to try and stop happening in this world.”

The reporter then asked, “Would you stop that with handgun legislation?”

Reagan answered: “I have never believed that. I believe in the kind of handgun legislation we have in California. If someone commits a crime and carries a gun when he’s doing it, it adds five to fifteen years to the prison sentence.”

It wasn’t long before Reagan himself was shot with a Röhm RG-14. Six shots were fired in 1.7 seconds. Had Reagan’s would-be assassin used an AR-15 or similar weapon, the current favorite of today’s terrorists and mass shooters, he would have been massacred beyond recognition. Instead, he survived and to his credit went on to support the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act and the Assault Weapons Ban, which has since expired leading us to where we find ourselves today. And where exactly is that?

We all live in Deadwood now, a kind of futuristic Deadwood in which seemingly everyone has a gun and a smart-phone to record gun violence. I’ll bet it’s just a matter of time before we can download a gun app for our smart-phones and start firing away. Let’s face it, in this environment what reasonable person wouldn’t want a gun? Bill Maher owns a gun. Michael Moore owns a gun. President Obama posed shooting a hunting rifle.

I myself have never held a real gun in my hand, though when I was a kid I did have a squirt gun, which I remember well. It had a nifty manual squeeze trigger and what I considered an ample 10-ounce fluid chamber. I loved shooting at the blouses of girls I had crushes on and making wet marks on them. But these days no self-respecting kid would be seen with such a harmless toy. Squirt guns have been replaced with “super soakers,” “double-drench blasters” and “water cannons” equipped with multi-quart chambers that can saturate a girl, and her teacher too, in mere seconds from 50+ feet away. Okay, I’ll admit, that does sound like fun. The thought of getting the girl of my dreams all wet is a real turn on.

So, I imagine the thrill of holding a loaded gun that can do real and lasting damage is a real turn on too, all the more so because we have fetishized guns, fetishized violence actually. Whether we kill or not, what an exhilarating power trip it is to have the power to kill in our hands.

Let’s not forget, of course, that guns don’t kill people. Also, forks don’t eat food, but they sure do make eating a lot easier. Imagine if there was an assault-fork which allowed the average-Joe to eat 18 seven-course dinners in 51 seconds. You think that might have an undesirable impact the national obesity rate?

The sobering reality is that we have travelled a very long way down a very dark road. Gun control laws won’t stop gun violence any more the speeding laws stop speeding. But speeding laws do reduce speed and keep us marginally safer. In this dangerous country with its sick gun culture, “marginally safer” is the best we can hope for.

When a Lying Lawyer Lies for a Pathologically Lying President

 A lying lawyer, incredulous at his own lies. 

A lying lawyer, incredulous at his own lies. 

When a lying lawyer for a pathologically lying President, with a lying Press Secretary, spews lies, it can be very challenging for the lying lawyer to get his lies straight. 

For example, if the lies the lying lawyer spews are different from the lies the lying press secretary spews, it may cause concern, albeit briefly, that one of them may not be spewing lies. To avoid this, the lying lawyer must carefully coordinate his lies with the lying press secretary in order to develop consistency in lying. However, the task is considerably more daunting than that. 

In these days, it is hardly enough for a lying lawyer to merely coordinate his lies with a lying Press Secretary. A lying lawyer must make certain that he is spewing the lies that the pathologically lying President wants him to spew. Otherwise, the pathologically lying President will soon need to spew lies about the lies that his lying lawyer and lying press secretary spewed. This inevitably leads to the lying lawyer and lying press secretary spewing lies about the lies they spewed about the pathologically lying President’s lies. 

The most important thing to understand about a pathologically lying President is that everything he says of consequence is a lie. 

He spews lies about what he did or did not do, and when he did or did not do it. 

He spews lies about what he did or did not know, and when he did or did not know it. 

He spews lies about what he did or did not say, and when he did or did not say it. 

He spews lies about what others did, knew or said, and when they did, knew or said it. 

He spews lies about his friends, family, cabinet members, judges, members of congress, leaders of other nations, newspapers, websites, journalists, comedians and athletes.  

He spews lies about his wealth, his intelligence, his health, his affairs, his history as a sexual predator, his payment of hush money to a porn star, and his colluding with the Russians. 

He spews lies about his margin of victory, how many people showed up at his inauguration, and how much cable news he watches. 

He spews lies abut the lies he spewed. And then he spews lies about the lies he spewed about the lies he spewed.  

The pathologically lying President spews lies indiscriminately, casually and incessantly, about people of all races, nationalities, genders and sexual orientation.  

More than anything, the pathologically lying President spews lies to himself about himself, consciously and unconsciously. His life itself is such an infinitely gigantic lie that he has absolutely no grounded relationship to the truth.  

Occasionally, the pathologically lying President is correct about something. For example, he might say, “Today is Tuesday,” and it might actually be Tuesday.” However, that is a random occurrence of absolutely no consequence, because the pathologically lying President never intends to tell the truth because he can’t. At his core, the pathologically lying President is psychologically wired to lie.  

This brings me back to the aforementioned lying lawyer and lying press secretary: 

As proficient as they are in spewing lies, the lying lawyer and lying press secretary remain at best novice students studying at the feet of the Master. Despite their sincere efforts to acheive an utter lack of credibility and personal integrity, when compared to the pathologically lying President, the lying lawyer and lying press secretary sometimes come across as straight-talking truth-tellers. Expect them to both be fired soon.