Saturday, July 30, 2011

Last call for Round-Earth Republicans

Before they sign on to forcing the president to use the 14th Amendment solution, as espoused by Richmond's Garrett Epps, Round-Earth Republicans should immediately swear off the Tea Party's lime-flavored Kool-Aid. Maybe they can dry out in time.

Please! Put the glass down ... put the glass down.

Seems to me, it's now obvious that determined elements of the GOP's Tea Party caucus have been wanting all along to force Obama to use the 14th Amendment's, Section 4 language about the national debt. They've been reading about and believing in the inevitability of the president having to invoke the Epps option for months, if not longer.


My guess is their end-game is all about dogging Obama with impeachment, after he moves in an unprecedented way to stave off default and chaos. They have convinced themselves that sort of noise will hurt Obama in his reelection bid, whether or not he is ever really impeached, or convicted.
They think the post-doomsday American voters will mostly blame the president for whatever vexations flow from this scenario.

Of course, the Flat-Earth Republicans will tell you their nefarious caper is all about creating jobs and making children happier and pure-bred patriotism.


Here are some responsible conservative voices who have felt moved to weigh in:

"The Tea Fragger Party" by
Kathleen Parker:
“These people [Tea Party Republicans] wouldn’t recognize a hot fudge sundae if the cherry started talking to them.”
Click here to read the entire piece by Parker.

"The Debt Plan the Republicans Need to Pass" by
Charles Krauthhammer:
“…trying to force the issue — turn a blocking minority into a governing authority — is not just counter-constitutional in spirit but self-destructive in practice.”
Click here to read the entire piece by

Friday, July 29, 2011

Nixon would love this Tea Party caper

In the ‘70s some people thought I hated President Richard Nixon for his politics. Maybe that was partly true, but mostly I hated Nixon for his dirty tricks and profound dishonesty.

This Tea Party debt ceiling caper we are witnessing in plain sight reminds me of Nixon. He would love it.

The drama of the Tea Party's debt ceiling caper has gotten me more aroused by and discouraged with politics than anything has in a long time. In the future we'll see what impression kids and young adults will carry away from it. My sense of it is the Republicans are doing themselves no favors, in the long run.

-- Art and words by F.T. Rea

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Message to Bill Riggs

Every time I read that former-Sen. George Allen’s flack, "Bill Riggs (, has called former-Gov. Tim Kaine “Chairman Kaine,” I am going to post something that recalls the Macaca Meltdown that ruined Allen's reelection campaign.

You see, I'm already tired of Riggs' silly game.

Today’s cartoon is one of mine from 2006. And, yes, it plainly suggests that Allen was shitfaced when he called Sen. Webb’s staff member, S. R. Sidarth, that now infamous word.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The head on a pole solution

If I could show you how to cure some of the worst problems we face today -- including the snowballing national debt -- and not cost the taxpayers a cent, would you be interested?

My plan would call for just one public execution a year. Its purpose would be to cure diseases, educate the poor, prevent wars AND to erase America's red ink problem. To do all that just one richly deserving person would die each year.

Although I'm ordinarily opposed to capital punishment, here's how it would work:

First we would make a list of all the billionaires who live in, or do business in, the USA; their names would then be put on a ballot. The ballots and ballot boxes would be put in convenience stores all over the country. The same ballots would be available online, as would virtual ballot boxes. Each person over 17 years old would get to vote for the bad billionaire they choose once each month. Everyone would be eligible to vote, regardless of their immigration status.

The billionaire who gets the most votes for being the worst billionaire would be arrested by a SWAT team and executed by guillotine on last second of Dec. 31st.

Cities would bid to have the execution, with the money going into the Social Security trust fund. The execution and the mammoth party that would surround it would be carried live on television from the city that wins the bid.

Afterward, the billionaire's head will be put on a tall pole for all to see, where it would stay for one year. Then the new head would go up. Out of respect for the dead, the old head would be turned over to the billionaire's family.

Meanwhile, the rest of the billionaires everywhere would take note, no doubt. They would basically have a couple of choices to keep their head from being selected to be the next one to sit atop the pole:

1: Give the federal government and good causes enough money to escape the list of billionaires. Bonus points for large money donated to reduce the national debt.
2: If they want to remain a billionaire, then use their money to do good works and curry favor with voters who hang around convenience stores, or those stay online all day.

So, if you are a billionaire, let’s say you’ve got $50 billion, you could choose to give away $49.1 billion, to get off the hook, or you could take a chance on spending a few billion on curing cancer, or AIDS. Or, you could throw some large money at feeding orphans, or on bringing peace to the Mideast.

Maybe you’d pick a particular line of work, say all the musicians in a state, and pay their rent for one year.

Busy billionaires would naturally buy lots of ads in magazines and newspapers, to promote what good deeds they’re doing, in order to increase their chances of keeping their heads on their respective shoulders. So, this deal could save our favorite inky wretches from extinction, too.

Accordingly, crime rates would drop. The research for new green-friendly technologies would be fully funded. Better recreational drugs with no hangovers ought to be developed. Every kid who wants a new puppy would get one. And, publishers would have enough money to pay freelance writers a decent fee for their work.

Each year would start out with a visible symbol on top of a that special pole, a martyr of a sort, showing us all why we should be good to one another. Problem solved.

-- Art and satirical words by F.T. Rea

Monday, July 25, 2011

1968: Almost burning down the house

Some say the atmosphere in DeeCee is more toxic than ever. Could 2011 really be the worst year, politics-wise, any of us have experienced? Or, is this year’s debt ceiling crisis merely the most galling contrived emergency we’ve ever seen?

To answer those questions it will probably take some time to get a perspective. But I must admit, the sense that things are coming apart at the seams is intense in this summer's oppressive heat. Yes, with triple-digit heat day after day, there is a doomsday feeling about what is going down inside the beltway this summer.

The first time I can remember fearing that our society was coming unglued was in the summer of 1968, immediately after the riots in Chicago surrounding the Democratic convention. I felt moved to express that feeling in a letter I wrote to the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s editorial page; that was the first time my thoughts about politics received any sort of public airing.

The events of 1968 unfolded the year after San Francisco’s Summer of Love. It was the year before American astronauts walked on the moon and the Amazing Mets won the World Series. It was a year in which we almost burned down the house.


Here’s some of how the political news played out that year, as I remember it:

Jan. 23: The USS Pueblo was seized on the high seas by North Korean forces. Subsequently, as captives, its 83 men endured an ordeal that was shocking to an American public that had naively thought its country was too strong for such a thing to happen.

Jan. 30: The Tet Offensive began, as the shadowy Viet Cong flexed its muscles and blurred battle lines with simultaneous assaults taking place in many parts of South Vietnam. Even the American embassy in Saigon was attacked/penetrated.

Mar. 31: Facing the burgeoning antiwar-driven campaigns of Sen. Eugene McCarthy and Sen. Robert Kennedy, President Lyndon Johnson suddenly withdrew from the presidential race, declining to run for reelection by saying, “I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination...”

Apr. 5: America’s most respected civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, was shot and killed in Memphis. Riots followed in cities coast-to-coast. The bitterness that remained after the dust settled was scary. In Richmond, it ended an era; young adventurous whites who followed music could no longer go in the black clubs they had once patronized.

May 13: The USA and North Vietnam began a series of negotiations to end the war in Vietnam that came to be known as the Paris Peace Talks. Ironically, as a backdrop, France itself was in chaos. Workers and students had shut down much of the country with a series of strikes. The trains weren’t running, airports were closed, as were schools, etc.

May 24: Father Philip Berrigan and Thomas Lewis (of Artists Concerned About Vietnam) got six years for destroying federal property by pouring duck blood over draft files at Baltimore’s Selective Service headquarters.

June 5: Having just won the California primary Robert Kennedy was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan in Los Angeles. The hopes of millions that the Vietnam War would end soon died that night, since it’s hard to imagine that Richard Nixon would have been able to defeat Kennedy in the general election. Just as JFK’s death in 1963 had played into the radical escalation of the war in Vietnam, in 1968 RFK’s death meant it would go on for several more years.

June 8: James Earl Ray was arrested in London. Eventually, he was convicted of murdering Martin Luther King. Yet, questions about that crime still linger today.

Aug. 21: Soviet tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia to crush what had been a season of renaissance. As it had been with the construction of the Berlin Wall and the Cuban Missile Crisis, talk of World War III being one button-push away was commonplace.

Aug 28: In Chicago the Democratic convention that selected Vice President Hubert Humphrey to top its ticket melted down. With tear gas in the air and blood in the streets 178 demonstrators/bystanders were arrested. Many were roughed up on live television. As cops clubbed citizens in the streets, CBS reporters Mike Wallace and Dan Rather were punched on the convention floor.

Nov. 5: Richard Nixon narrowly defeated Hubert Humphrey. Although Humphrey himself was for peace, out of loyalty he refused to denounce Johnson’s failing war policy; it cost him dearly. Also elected that day was Shirley Chisholm from Brooklyn. She was the first black female to serve in the House of Representatives.

Dec. 24: After having its way with them for 11 months, North Korea released the 83 members of the Pueblo’s crew. The U.S. Navy had to just suck up the humiliation.


The Republican Tea Party caucus has been telling us how bad life is with President Barack Obama in the White House. They would have us believe that life in America has never been as bad or scary as it is in 2011; forget history, altogether, or you‘ll be labeled as an “elite,” looking down on some of their lowbrow celebrities. To prove their claim these self-styled patriots/economic terrorists seem ready to put us all on the road to hell, by sabotaging America’s economy.

If it gets much hotter this month that road to hell thing will get all the more believable. So far 2011 isn’t 1968, but we still have five months left.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Gang of Saboteurs

If the Senate’s Gang of Six can break the logjam, it will split the House Republicans. In order to pass anything in the House, to stave off default, sane Republicans will have to split away from Tea Party Republicans and join with Democrats.

Such a scenario would suggest that the Tea Party’s strategy to starve the beast has peaked and accomplished all it can. It would mean that their nefarious plan to tank America’s economy failed and it would make it all look like it was just a stunt.

Having lost the fight and faced with an unhappy future in which they will probably have less sway in the Republican Party, what would the most devout Tea Party hardheads do next?

How many readers think some of the most devious members of the Republicans' Tea Party caucus -- the Gang of Saboteurs -- intended all along to grow their movement inside the GOP, then stage a walk-out over an issue just like this one?

Would Rep. Eric Cantor take a walk on the wild side and throw in with the Gang of Saboteurs, or would he stick with his party's establishment and finally eat his peas? Click here for a clue.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Remember Vance Wilkins?

It's so nice when I can recycle one of my political caricatures that I thought for sure was out of date. Here's my 2002 take on Virginia's once-powerful, once-disgraced Vance Wilkins, who is back in the news.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

GOP's toughest five to defeat

Some Republicans are fascinated with Michele Bachmann’s potential as a presidential candidate. That, while I expect many Democrats would very much like to see her win the GOP’s nomination, because they see her as one of the weakest in the field in a one-on-one match-up with the incumbent.

Of those who have a realistic chance, however small, of being the Republican nominee, I think Bachmann might well be the one who would stand the least chance of defeating Barack Obama.

For various reasons Ron Paul, Herman Cain, Jon Huntsman and Newt Gingrich seem extremely unlikely to win the nomination. Which means they aren't being considered for this list. So, while Huntsman may have the potential to be tough, I don't know what would have to happen for him to get the nomination. And, I doubt anybody can talk Jeb Bush into running.

At this point, the hardest guy for Obama to beat looks to me to be Rick Perry. The next hardest to defeat might be Mitt Romney. After him I’d put Tim Pawlenty, then Chris Christie. To finish ranking the top five, I’m thinking Sarah Palin still has a bigger following than Bachmann.

Therefore, however likely she may be to win her party’s nod next summer, at this point, Bachmann -- with her crazy eyes -- is hardly the nominee Democrats should fear the most.

Did I leave somebody out?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Politics of the Centrifuge

In times not so long ago, to solve this country’s problems America’s federal government still relied heavily on solutions scooped from the gumbo simmering in the culture’s so-called melting pot. Compromise and consensus were integral to the process of governing. Yet, in recent years, we, the opinionated people, have willingly walked away from the notion that finding common ground is even possible.

In some precincts compromise is said to be tantamount to betrayal. Today, instead of politics of the melting pot, we have politics of the centrifuge.

Consequently, in 2011, we Americans are losing our grip on the desire to solve our society’s largest problems through cooperation. The constant whirl of conflicting political messages seems mostly to inflame our grievances, which distances us from even wanting to foster cooperation. It pulls us away from common sense solutions.

The spin pushes our two major political parties steadily toward their edges. The middle ground of a moderate Republican, or Democrat, is routinely portrayed in political commentary as hopelessly sold-out and utterly passionless.

Thus, today’s Republicans and Democrats seem locked in a mutual death grip, trying to move the virtual vacuum in the center of the debate in the direction that suits them. In this game the truth is no longer about grasping reality, or looking deeply into something. It’s mostly about projecting certitude.

Of certitude, philosopher/mathematician Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) made a timeless observation:
The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser men so full of doubts.
Perhaps the biggest irony of the so-called Information Age is that the truth seems to matter to everyday people less and less. Via electronic media, well-financed branding campaigns easily overwhelm subtle truths with shrill voices and strident blather. On top of that is heaped relentless telemarketing and talk-show crackpots; constant accusations; constant denials; aggressive promos and seeping disinformation. When you add them all up, the combination becomes a cacophony that stands like a wall of noise.

With that dense wall in his way, even Sherlock Holmes would have trouble finding the truth.

On the other hand, because it’s easy to find, Americans are tending more and more to focus on the brand of reality they prefer to see. For millions of consumers, it’s as simple as choosing between Fox News and MSNBC, where remembering which personalities and which isms they are supposed to hate is all one needs to follow the newsy soap operas those networks present.

Speaking of hated personalities, many of our elected officials’ staffs save time, too. They depend on focus groups to reveal how best to package propaganda to give it credibility, to dupe a target audience.

Getting caught up in a high contrast mindset may be inevitable in the event of a bloody crisis. In a raging battle, in the midst of all-out war, people must decide instantly whether they are facing friends or foes. However, as a way of life, facing ordinary trials and tribulations, we, the bewildered, aren’t geared to stay in crisis mode forever.

It seems our collective consciousness has stayed locked in crisis mode since 9/11. Whether it was anthrax, or orange alerts, or weapons of mass destruction, or defending torture, or the banking meltdown/massive bailouts, or the stimulus package, or health care reform, it didn't matter. Each episode was presented to the public as if the doomsday machine in director Stanley Kubrick’s satirical masterpiece, “Dr. Strangelove” (1964), would be triggered by making the wrong choice.

The noisy debt ceiling duel of July 2011 is being presented as yet another life or death fork in the road. If anything good comes from this process it will be a miracle. Both sides are hurling doomsday rhetoric into the stormy whirl ... both sides are gambling that more blame for whatever comes from this contrived crisis on Aug. 3 will stick to the other party.

To wind this piece up, here are some apt words on topic from the poet, W.B. Yeats (1865-1939), from “The Second Coming”:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
-- 30 --

-- Art and words by F.T. Rea

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Did Brooks and Epps save the day?

Since I don’t have air conditioning, anything I say in this post might be due to the slow baking effect. So, I’m going to admit up front that I could be wrong … but, of course, I don’t think I am.

While there surely were many factors that played into Sen. Mitch McConnell’s suddenly announced plan to resolve/detour around the debt ceiling crisis, two smart writers may have done more to push McConnell to alter his stubborn stance than all the huffing and puffing of politicians.

A particular David Brooks’ NY Times OpEd piece had to have created a lot rancor within the Republican ranks. It may have stirred things up so much that McConnell and Rep. John Boehner feared an open revolt with the GOP splitting into warring factions. Read Brooks’ piece, “The Mother of All No-Brainers,” here.

Garrett Epps' much-discussed 14th amendment option put an arrow in President Barack Obama’s quiver that no one wanted to force him to use, least of all McConnell and Boehner. Since Epps’ strategy would have the president seizing the moment and perhaps looking like a problem-solver, while the Republicans might look too much like problem-makers, McConnell couldn’t have that.

So, McConnell is trying to make it appear that in the interest of breaking the logjam, he is giving Obama what he already had -- the power to take control if all else fails. Read about Epps’ option, “The Speech Obama Could Give: ‘The Constitution Forbids Default’,” here.

Frankly, I’m amazed. Here we are in the midst of the mid-summer silly season for politics and it appears that cynical politicians may have gotten so frustrated with their convoluted, first-make-the-other side-look-bad games, they have resorted to listening to writers. Is that possible?

Now I’m going to take another shower.

Cantor's practiced sneer

Dana Milbank zeros in on Rep. Eric Cantor’s practiced trademark sneer (as depicted above).
Cantor swung his arm over his chair back and raised his upper lip. “I think behind this notion of ‘We want shared sacrifice’ that they continue to say means, ‘We want to raise taxes,’” he said.
Click here to read Milbank’s entire piece in the Washington Post.

If I am put in charge of Obama's reelection campaign, tomorrow, I hope Eric Cantor's effort to torpedo John Boehner works. Yes, I want Cantor to be the sneering face of House Republicans.

Illustration by F.T. Rea

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Yankee Doodling at the Tea Party

The main character in this story, which is fiction, is a 33-year-old man who lives in Manassas. He normally works at least 50 hours a week, although he only gets paid for 40 hours. He works in a warehouse-like building full of audio visual equipment, which he delivers to clients who rent it for big trade shows and conventions. He is one of 21 employees at the local branch of an AV rental company that has similar branches in seven other cities along the East Coast. He lives in a two-and-a-half room apartment, not counting the tiny bathroom. He has a satellite dish and watches a lot of sports. He is divorced. He makes good on his monthly child support payments to his ex over half the time; she lives in Ashland and has custody of their seven-year-old daughter. The softhearted ex gives him a hard time, but she lets him get away with it. He smokes about a pack of Camel Filters daily. He drinks a six pack of Bud Light Lime every night.

His name is Josh; he's a Yankee Doodle kind of guy.

The two men who own the company that employs Josh are millionaires, several times over. Josh admires them even though neither seems to know his first name.

Like his successful bosses, Josh considers himself a conservative, when it comes to politics. Also like them, Josh’s two favorite sports teams are the New York Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys.

In the company trucks on the road, in the process of driving AV equipment back and forth, Josh likes to daydream about being a wealthy man. He thinks about what sort of cars and boats he’d have. He thinks about watching Super Bowls from inside private luxury boxes. He thinks about drinking expensive Tequila. He thinks about having a beautiful redheaded secretary who travels with him. He thinks about what cigars he’d smoke. He thinks about wearing a Rolex watch and shoes imported from Italy. He thinks about playing golf on the world’s most famous courses and hobnobbing with the other wealthy men.

Josh can see it all in his mind’s eye.

When he’s not imagining how he’d spend his fortune, Josh listens to talk radio -- politics and sports, mostly. He’s a big fan of Rush Limbaugh and Jim Rome. Although he's not religious, Josh admires televangelist Glenn Beck, even though sometimes it's hard for him to tell what Beck is talking about.

Since Josh adores Sarah Palin, now he is a Tea Party kind of guy, too.

Josh wants the Bush tax cuts for everyone, including multimillionaires, to continue. Not only does he believe in the notion that the super wealthy need tax cuts to create more jobs like his, Josh expects to be a millionaire, himself, one day. Josh doesn’t believe in ivory tower theories like evolution or global warming.

Josh would also be happy to deport every undocumented worker in one day, to create jobs for real Americans. Logistics don't concern him. The next day he would close every mosque in the USA and deport every Muslim who isn't a bona fide American citizen, born in the USA.

Therefore, Josh believes elite-acting President Barack Obama should be removed from office and sent to Kenya.

Josh hates elites almost as much as he hates gay men and unattractive lesbians. This summer he’s happy to see the Republicans stand tall against the liberal Democrats taking any more of his pay check in taxes.

Josh thinks abortion doctors deserve to be imprisoned and tortured. The same goes for socialists. He is in favor of public floggings for trouble-makers who choose not to speak in English.

While all of the above is fiction, it appears there are plenty of Joshes out there. With the debt ceiling crisis looming, they are dwelling on their convenient fantasies, picturing Sarah Palin and yanking their doodles.

So, angry Josh doesn’t believe the consequences of America defaulting on its debts will really be all that bad. After all, he’s had to pay plenty of late charges on his bills and that's hardly going to stand in the way of his becoming a millionaire.

Josh's bottom line: Anything that gets Obama out of the White House and back to Kenya is a good thing.

-- The End --

Voodoo economics and table scraps

Ever since the Reagan administration, we’ve been hearing about how making rich people richer creates jobs. But it’s mostly double talk. As much as Republicans like to say trickle down works, it hasn’t. The Bush tax cuts did not stimulate reinvestment … rich people took the money and ran!

The wealthy in America are paying less in taxes than anytime since the 1950s. Still, we hear they are overtaxed. Now we are hearing, once again, that jobs would flow (trickle?) from further tax cuts for billionaires and large corporations that already pay their executives obscene bonuses. Oil companies can't do business without their special tax breaks.

Sorry, Eric Cantor, I still don’t believe voodoo economics have ever helped to enrich the middle class.

If taxes for capital gains and corporations are cut/loopholes protected, I say the tasty windfall will be gobbled up like a feast by billionaires, once again. The servants in the mansion, busy wannabe millionaires who are glad to have jobs, will divvy up the scraps that fall from the billionaires’ table.

Outside the mansion in the cold, with its nose pressed against the windows, the shriveling middle class will be left to swallow more diet pills, to ignore its growling stomach.
It's best hope will be that some of those scraps make it to the garbage can.

Haven’t we all seen this movie before?

Who's afraid of Chairman Kaine?

A George Allen flack, Bill Riggs, sends me email every day. Somehow I got on his list. Every time Riggs refers to Tim Kaine, he calls him “Chairman Kaine.” The subject line today read: In Case Chairman Kaine Missed It …

Apparently, somebody in Allen’s camp focus-grouped the gimmick and came away thinking that it will play against Kaine, who is a former mayor, lieutenant governor and governor. Who knows? Maybe it will.

Maybe Allen's professional propagandists want to remind Virginians that Kaine most recently served as the chair of the National Democratic Committee.

Maybe it's an oblique reference to the classic movie, "Citizen Kane," whatever that reach might be worth. Wasn't the main character, Charles Foster Kane, a failed politician?

Maybe they think it sounds vaguely like Kaine is a secret Chinese communist boss.

Or, maybe they just think it will annoy Democrats to say “Chairman Kaine,” over and over. After all, it's not so different from saying "the Democrat Party," over and over. Anyway, Riggs is doing it and I expect to see others chime in.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Loyalty to a mean-spirited backwardness

In case you missed it, here’s the link to an important OpEd piece, "The Mother of All No-Brainers," penned by David Brooks in the New York Times. Here’s a quote from it:
The members of this movement [within the Republican Party] do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities. A thousand impartial experts may tell them that a default on the debt would have calamitous effects, far worse than raising tax revenues a bit. But the members of this movement refuse to believe it.

The members of this movement have no sense of moral decency. A nation makes a sacred pledge to pay the money back when it borrows money. But the members of this movement talk blandly of default and are willing to stain their nation’s honor.
Republicans who haven’t rotted their brains into mush by chug-a-lugging the bug juice from the Tea Party’s fountain of disinformation should take the time to read what Brooks -- an old-fashioned kind of "conservative" -- has to say this time. He’s talking about reality.

Being a conservative used to be about appreciating hard-edged reality, rather than indulging in dreams and theories. Now, according to the dictates of extremists and opportunists, being a conservative means eschewing all compromise. Now it seems to mean that starving the beast of government is more important than keeping promises or the commonweal.

In 2011 being a conservative is more about loyalty to a mean-spirited backwardness than it is about trying to make the future brighter.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

GOP Used Cars

The salesman stood up and said to the customer, “If that’s your best offer, I’ll take it to my manager and see what he says.”

The customer looked out of the window at the nine-year-old used car he had just test driven. Yes, $5,000 was a little over his budget, but if he could get the car for that price he’d take it. He called his wife to tell her that the search for a reliable vehicle for their daughter, to use while she's away at college, was over.

The salesman was back in two minutes. “The manager is out to lunch, but the assistant manager says we haven’t sold one car yet today. Since you're new in town and we'd like to continue selling you more cars down the road, he said he’ll take your offer.”

“Fine,” said the customer, putting his cell phone back in his pocket.

Of course, for that price, we’ll have to take that fancy stereo out of it, said the salesman. “For no charge, we’ll stick an ordinary radio in it for you.”

“Hey!” said they customer, “That stereo was part of why I picked that particular car. My daughter loves music, and...”

“Sorry, but the stereo system in it now is probably worth $700, maybe $800,” said the salesman. If you could go to say, $5,500, I can probably leave it like it is.”

“OK,” said the customer, "I’ll split the difference with you -- $5,250.”

“You’re killing me,” said the salesman with a practiced chuckle. “We better get this written up and approved before the manager gets back. The assistant manager is a pal of mine.”

Then, almost like it was on cue, the salesman’s desk phone rang. He picked up the receiver and said, “Yo.”

A few seconds later the salesman said, "Yeah, $5,250 ... uh, OK.” Then he hung up and told the customer the manager had returned. A minute later the customer could hear three men arguing in the manager’s office. Then the salesman returned with a sheepish expression on his face.

Gradually, over the next hour the salesman kept coming up with ways to boost the price of the car up, again and again. Finally the customer agreed to $5,975, only if there were no more changes in the price and all the parts on the car would remain in place. He wrote the check and shook hands with the salesman, who offered to have a guy in the shop drive the customer’s car home for him. That way the customer could take his purchase with him.

When the customer got outside all four tires on the car he had just bought were flat. After some angry words were exchanged, it cost him $25 -- in cash! -- to have the tires re-inflated. When he got home, he told his wife the salesman was the worst chiseler he'd ever dealt with. Then there was some more yelling...

Obviously, that poor, new-in-town customer was a total rube. He simply didn't know that’s how they do all their deals down at GOP Used Cars.

Color Radio (1982-84)

On August 26, 1982 Color Radio (or Channel 36) began beaming its signal, via Continental Cablevision’s cable TV hookups, to what its creators hoped would be an eager listening audience in Richmond and Henrico County. It existed as the soundtrack that could be heard when a viewer tuned his television to Channel 36, which was the channel for Continental’s color bars test pattern.

Les Smith signed on with his “Music Appreciation 101,” to launch the station’s existence. In his college days Smith had been a DJ at VCU’s radio station. Then he played the same role at WGOE, the daytime AM station that owned the hippie audience in Richmond for most of the 1970s.

Smith probably had the most on-air experience of the original cast of characters who breathed life into the venture, which was the brainchild of Burt Blackburn.

“In June, 1982 [Burt Blackburn] conceived the idea of a ‘radio station’ utilizing one of Continental Cablevision's empty channels,” wrote Smith in a 2001 remembrance of Channel 36. “He approached Continental’s Virginia marketing manager, Matt Zoller, who liked the idea and encouraged Blackburn to proceed. Zoller himself had been involved in college radio.”

By the time your narrator came aboard as a volunteer DJ, in October of that same year, the station had situated its studio over The Track (next door to Plan 9's old location) in Carytown. My show, “Number 9,” was on for three hours on Thursday afternoons. All the DJs and the staff were volunteers -- but it was really like you had to be asked.

At times Color Radio was cool. At its peak, its programming covered 96 hours a week. At times it was silly and a waste of time, or worse. Always, it danced on the edge like nothing else available to the general public in Richmond at the time.

The handbill above was for a 1983 fundraiser that I booked into Rockitz to benefit Color Radio. The headliner was a group out of Jamestown, N.Y. that was building a following here from appearances at Benny’s and Hard Times. They called their act 10,000 Maniacs. Lead singer Natalie Merchant was 19-years-old then. The opening act for the show was a local group -- Ten Ten.

A few weeks prior to the live show at Rockitz, I taped an interview with Merchant for my radio program. What follows is the beginning of that 28-year-old interview; she starts by answering my question about what it was she and her friends in the band were looking to gain from touring and recording their music. Was it all for fun, did they want to get rich, or what? She laughed.
Merchant: We haven’t yet assumed our adult responsibilities. We don’t have enough income to live away from our parents yet. Sure, I’d like to be independent of my parents. After that, anything ... any success that comes, I’ll accept that. I’m not intimidated by the mass media. I think it would be a great tool to reach more people.

Rea: Reach them with what?

Merchant: With what we’re saying ... with what I’m saying.

Rea: What are you saying?

Merchant: I write the words. Most of what I’m saying is that music should be instructive.

Rea: Instructive?

Merchant: It should teach you something, even if it’s just building your vocabulary and making you realize you feel good when you dance. Anything you can learn ... I don’t know (she laughs). Probably by the time we can reach more people, I’ll be more sure of what I’m trying to say.
Later in the interview I asked Natalie about the name of the band. She said one of the guys took it from a movie, a 1960s low-budget slasher flick. I laughed and suggested the actual name of the film was "2,000 Maniacs." She shrugged and smiled.

We didn't know it then but Color Radio was part of the last gasp of the Baby Boomer-driven freewheeling underground-oriented art and music scene which had been centered in the Fan District for nearly 20 years, from the end of the beat era through the last of the punks at the party.

At Color Radio when the microphones switched on there was no filter. There was no corporate-think limit. It was even wilder than WGOE-AM had been in it rather freewheeling days in the early '70s, before it got busted by the FCC.

Color Radio had no FCC oversight.

The programming at Color Radio was left to the DJs, many of whom were connected to the local live music scene in some way. Several were in bands. Others were Rock 'n' Roll promoters or worked at record stores, etc.

The format, in unrelated blocks, ranged from Rock to Bach and beyond. Some shows were all talk. There were comedy programs and, yes, sometimes things got raunchy, or weird. It was sort of like an offshore station; the ride lasted two years.

Note: The Facebook page for Color Radio is here.

-- Words and art by F.T. Rea

Friday, July 01, 2011

Allen vs. Kaine

Polls say the Allen vs. Kaine heavyweight title fight is tied, one minute into the first round. Does that matter?

Maybe. Putting name-calling and possible meltdowns aside, it seems to me that young voters (under 25) and people who've moved here recently will decide this one. Most of them don't have much history of supporting either one when he was governor.

Most older voters, who are longtime Virginians, already have their minds made up. Either they can live with the candidate's history, or they can't. So, who's at the top of the ticket could make a big difference.

Larry Sabato is probably right that a candidate the likes of Michele Bachmann would not help Allen. Yet, at this point it's easy to believe the GOP will continue its drift to the right for the immediate future.

Ideology aside, which one is more likeable depends on what you like. When the negative campaigning starts and the two candidates' histories are presented to new voters in Virginia that will be a challenge for Allen, because he simply can't ask people to forget about his campaign's free-fall in 2006. In 2012 he will have to handle it very differently for his general approval rating to rise much above where it is now ... but with more gaffes it could go lower.

At this point Kaine seems to be in a good position.

Chasing Dignity

An earlier version of this piece was published by STYLE Weekly in 2006

“…Now once more the belt is tight and we summon the proper expression of horror as we look back at our wasted youth. Sometimes, though, there is a ghostly rumble among the drums, an asthmatic whisper in the trombones that swings me back into the early twenties when we drank wood alcohol and every day in every way grew better and better, and there was a first abortive shortening of the skirts, and girls all looked alike in sweater dresses, and people you didn’t want to know said ‘Yes, we have no bananas,’ and it seemed only a question of a few years before the older people would step aside and let the world be run by those who saw things as they were — and it all seems rosy and romantic to us who were young then, because we will never feel quite so intensely about our surroundings any more.”
– from “Echoes of the Jazz Age” (1931) by F. Scott Fitzgerald

In the summer of 1978, with “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” playing to the delight of a midnight show packed house, a fight broke out in the middle of Grace Street. Insults, rocks and bottles flew back and forth between the two factions of four each: VCU frat boys vs. an Oregon Hill crew.

Their battle was unfolding a perilous 25 to 30 yards from the Cinemascopic, all-glass front of the Biograph Theatre, a Fan District cinema I then managed.

The box office had just closed and the cashier had started her count-up. At the same time a group of my Biograph Swordfish softball teammates was in the lobby playing a pinball machine. As manager, I felt obliged to drive the danger away, so I opened an exit door and yelled that the cops were already on the way, which they were.

That was good enough for the frat boys, who scampered off. Their opposites simply switched over to bombing me. As they advanced rocks bounced closer. A tumbling bottle shattered on the sidewalk. I closed the door, then a piece of brick smashed through its bottom panel of glass to strike my right shin.

When we lit out after them, there were six or seven men running in the impromptu posse of employees and pinball players. The hooligans scattered, but my focus was solely on the one who’d plunked me. Hemmed in by three of us in a parking lot, he faked one way, then cut to the other. His traction gave way slightly in the gravel paving. As he stumbled to regain his balance I tackled him by the legs.

The others got away. With some help from my friends, we marched the captured 19-year-old back toward the theater. I could feel the adrenaline coursing through my limbs. During the trek east on Grace, the culprit said something that provoked one in my group to suddenly punch him. That, while the punchee’s arms were being held.

A policeman, who had just arrived, saw it. He sarcastically complimented the puncher for his aggressive “technique” before the street-fighting man was hauled off in the paddy wagon. In contrast, I told the vigilante puncher he had overreached in hitting the kid unnecessarily, especially while he was helpless.

Surprised by my reaction, my softball teammate laughed.

Which prompted me to say something like, “Hey, we’re no better than the fascist bullies we’ve claimed to deplore if we resort to their tactics.” He disagreed, saying essentially this — that his summary punishment would likely be the only price the little thug would ever pay for his crime. Another in the group agreed with him. Others saw it my way, or they said nothing.

It wasn’t long after that night I found myself poring over an essay by F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Echoes of the Jazz Age.” The excerpt above is the evocative piece’s last paragraph. During that rereading, it occurred to me the shattering glass door had been the sound of the hippie era ending for me.

Yes, as the '70s fizzled away we baby boomers were about to discover that our sweetest day in the sun -- with its righteous causes and rock ’n’ roll anthems -- had been another dollop of time, a period with its look and sound, not unlike others. In some ways, the Roaring ’20s redux.

A month later I agreed to the court’s proposal to drop the assault charge, provided the brick-thrower was convicted of a misdemeanor for breaking the glass and paid for the damage. A payment schedule was set up. As we spoke several times after that, I came to see the “hooligan” wasn’t really such a bad guy. Payment was made on time. Eventually, he asked for the name of the man who’d punched him. While withholding the name, I agreed with him that the blow had been a cheap shot.

About a year later, on a late summer afternoon, a thief snatched a handful of dollar bills from a Biograph cashier, then bolted out the front door. The cashier’s frightened look triggered an alarm in your narrator’s sense of duty/propriety; her face was quite expressive.

As this happened half of my lifetime ago, I was still young enough to think chasing criminals down the street was normal. Quaint as it may sound now, it seemed then that some collective sense of dignity was at stake.

In short, it took less than 10 minutes to discover the thief’s hiding place, then turn him over to the policemen who’d shown up. During the search I received some unexpected help in cornering the thief. As I had run west on Grace Street behind the 20-year-old grab-and-run artist, another young man — a total stranger — had jumped out of his pickup truck to join in the chase.

Later, when the dust settled, I thanked the volunteer and asked him why he’d stopped. He answered that he knew I was the Biograph’s manager, because a buddy of his had once pointed me out. His friend? It was the same Oregon Hill street-fighter I’d tackled a year before.

My assistant thief-chaser also told me his friend assured him I’d dealt fairly with him. Consequently, a favor was owed to me. Before he left, my collaborator said that in his neighborhood the guys stick together. Thus, he’d supported me in my time of need, to help pay off his friend’s debt. We shook hands.

Over the years what connects those two chase scenes has become increasingly more satisfying. No doubt that’s because so many times over the years, in dealing with bad luck and other ordinary tests of character, I’ve done nothing to write home about — even the wrong thing.

At least in this story, maybe, I got it right.

The point?

Dear reader, in spite of the wall-to-wall cynicism of our current age, there really was a time when cheap shots were seen in a bad light. Moreover, returning favors was part of what held things together.

Through the mist of “ghostly rumbles” and “asthmatic whispers,” to some graying hippies, that hasn’t changed.

– 30 –