Thursday, August 30, 2012

Who built what?

 We built it.

Memo to Tampa

Yes, we did build it.

We built libraries and courthouses. We built schools and roads. We built bridges and dams. We built water works and mass transit systems. We built armed services to protect you from harm. We built national parks to protect nature from you.

We, the people, have done all that to help you build businesses, or have jobs, and pursue the interests that make you happy. Seems like the least you folks could do is say, “thanks.”

Instead, you brag that you did it all by yourselves.

Instead, you flaunt a loathing for the government that facilitated the building of all that infrastructure. The same government that stands ready to extinguish a fire burning up one of your homes, while y'all are away in Tampa, wearing funny hats and celebrating the awesome power of your collective greed and anger.

Sorry, wrong number.

Both my art and writing have been appearing in print for 40 years. In that time, most of the people who have bothered to speak to me about my work have meant well. The vast majority of the time I enjoyed their comments, even when they disagreed with what I had written or the point of a cartoon.

Then, every now and then, it gets too weird. Such was the case when a man called me on a Saturday night in the early 1990s. We had never met. He’d read an issue of SLANT and said he had to talk with me, right then, because I was such a good writer. Naturally, the man was calling from a bar.

Well, I was watching a movie with my then-girlfriend, so I didn’t want to have a long conversation. It was late and the more this strange-sounding character talked, the less comfortable I felt about having anything to do with him. He said he had a story he had to tell me, a scandal I had to write about.

Then he started babbling about religion. Uh, oh...

So, I told him I didn’t want to meet with him that night, as he had been suggesting. Still, I thanked him for the compliment and told him to call back during business hours, should he want to talk any more. I don’t remember his name, now, but I did when I told the story of his odd phone call to some friends a couple of days later at Happy Hour.

One of them promptly recognized his name. “You remember him,” he said, “that was the crazy guy they found on the Huguenot Bridge, maybe in February, about a year ago. He was bleeding to death.”

My friend said that according to the story in the newspaper, my Saturday night fan had apparently bought into one of those old-world axioms. It was something like -- if thy right arm offends thee, cut it off.

My fan, obviously a religious man, went down to the wooded area north of the bridge. The account said he put his offending arm into the canal water to numb it. Then he chunked his arm into a fork in a small tree’s limbs, took out his hacksaw, and he sawed that bad arm off … just below the elbow.

Everyone at the bar, except me, chuckled.

It wasn’t funny to me, because I was busy wondering why such a madman would want to talk to me about anything? What had I written that had set him off? Would he call back?

It was hardly the first time I’d been approached by a creepy reader, but this one -- he sawed his arm off! -- was especially disturbing.

Blogging and Facebook open the door to all sorts of possibilities. While I am happy to discuss reactions to my posts, there has to be a limit to what I will put up with. The story above is just one of the reasons I won’t suffer fools of a particular stripe but for so long. I won’t put up with bullies at all.

So, I’ve unfriended some people on Facebook, and I’ve even blocked a few. At SLANTblog I've banned about a half-dozen obnoxious people from commenting at SLANTblog (I delete their comments ASAP). 

Furthermore, I urge others to be careful how much you engage unreasonable people who don’t really mean well at all. Some will try your patience, and a few of them may be out of control in a dark way you don’t want to know about.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Oxymoron: Republican civility

Taking their cue from Rush Limbaugh, some Republicans assume they're standing on the moral high ground, as they continue to excoriate pro-choice activist Sandra Fluke as a slut/nymphomaniac/prostitute.

Of course, they will also say it’s silly for anyone to suggest it's all part of part of their War on Women, while out of the other side of their mouths they claim rapes don’t cause pregnancies ... which, of course, means they're saying women are lying about having been raped, if they get pregnant.

Apparently, anything goes when you're on a crusade -- taking your orders from God -- but I say you've got to drink a lot of goddamned Kool-Aid to believe such vulgar attacks on Ms. Fluke, and countless rape victims, are anything more than lowbrow trash talk.

At long last, have these crusaders no decency?  

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Romney as a frat-house bully

Friday's birth certificate quip by Mitt Romney probably doesn't mean he's become a card-carrying birther. What it surely does mean is that he, like so many squirrelly Republicans, thinks any garbage that seems to annoy Democrats is well worth lobbing at them, over and over. It solidifies the base.

So, I expect we will see plenty more of the same tactic as the awkward putative GOP nominee continues to try to energize the hate-wing of his party.

What some Democrats may not fully appreciate is how much some Republicans love it when Romney swells up and acts like a frat-house bully. And, everybody knows bullies don't feel compelled to tell the truth. In this instance, the audience for birther jokes likes Romney's aggressiveness just for the sake of style.

-- Words and art by F.T. Rea

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Time-Warping in Tampa: Romney’s Step to the Right

 …And then a step to the right
With your hands on your hips
You bring your knees in tight
But it's the pelvic thrust that really drives you insane,
Let's do the Time Warp again!

-- From “The Time Warp” by Richard O’Brien

With the Cold War moving from front pages into history books, it was during Bill Clinton’s stint in the White House that ideology began to go out of style in the national dialogue. Clinton was such an unapologetic capitalist and so many people were making money, it was useless to call him a "pinko."

Most of the time Clinton's two-term presidency was rather loosely tethered to what had been traditional liberal thinking in the USA. Likewise, the compassionate conservatives and neoconservatives of George W. Bush's eight years in the White House hardly fit the mold of what conservatism had generally meant during the previous half-century. And, in spite of what some partisans like to pretend, Pres. Barack Obama didn’t really campaign as a dyed-in-the-wool lefty, New Deal/Great Society Democrat in 2008.

But as soon as Obama was elected, along came the Tea Party bandwagon, fueled by raw anger at government and a rabid disliking for the new president. The new wave conservative momentum established by the bandwagon took a couple of years to be assimilated by the Grand Old Party.

Now the eager leadership of 2012’s remodeled Republican Party wants to round us all up and schlep us back across the bridge to yesteryear. Back to before Medicare. Before Roe vs. Wade. Before the Voting Rights Act. Before Social Security.

So, for the first time since the 1980s, ideology for its own sake is back in the forefront of what’s being argued over in a national election. In tapping Rep. Paul Ryan from Wisconsin as his running mate, Mitt Romney -- the former governor of Massachusetts -- took his party's image yet another step to the right on the crooked road to its jamboree in Tampa ... fade out.


...Fade in: As you picture the putative presidential nominee at the upcoming Republican convention the tune in the hall is familiar. Under his perfect hairdo, Romney is in front of a chorus row of superdelegates on a huge stage, all festooned in red, white and blue. Wearing shades and tuxes they are performing a number straight out of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Hands on hips, they're singing, “Let’s do the Time Warp again!”

OK, in all likelihood, the GOP probably won’t use “The Rocky Horror Picture Show" (1975) for its theme in Tampa. Still, it says here that if the Republicans were all outfitted in costumes inspired by that cult movie the convention's TV ratings would be boffo.

Meanwhile, the Republican wish to recapture the commonly shared happiness of the Gilded Age actually has something in common with this musical from the midnight show vault of classics. In part, both are about a longing for a total fantasy -- a world of faux nostalgia that never existed in the first place.

With his pivot to the right Romney’s campaign strategists are saying they believe there are more uncommitted voters for Republicans to win over out on the Flat-Earth fringe than what votes might be found languishing in the indifferent center. The Romney camp must also be hoping the right-face turn will help seal off their candidate's well-documented moderate past in Massachusetts, to retroactively paint Willard Mitt Romney as a lifelong conservative.

Consequently, this fall Republican talking heads will be selling a lot of warmed-over ideology. We’re going to hear plenty about the intrinsic evils of socialism and trade unions. The manly strut of the GOP’s 1964 candidate, Barry Goldwater, will be lauded. Once again, Ronald Reagan will be hailed as a saint.

Speaking of nostalgia, even Ayn Rand‘s ideas are being dusted off.

And, speaking of juvenile pop philosophy, over his long career as a public person, Romney’s flip-flopping, wannabe hunger to have it all his way -- all ways -- brings to mind the unquenchable lust of Dr. Frank-N-Furter in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Frank-N-Furter’s approach to dealing with reality was: “Don’t dream it, be it.”

Which is a twist on what conservatives believed when Goldwater was their nominee in 1964. In that high-contrast era Republicans consistently painted themselves as hard-edged realists and problem-solvers. The Democrats were depicted as fuzzy-thinking dreamers ... fade out.


…Fade in: Now it’s the pragmatic Democrats who seem much more concerned with solving real-world problems than anyone on the other side of the aisle. You don’t have to like Obamacare to see that it was an attempt to solve a very real problem. Solving society’s most vexing real problems doesn’t seem to be important to today’s power-coveting conservatives.

Instead, they invent a problem to solve, as they have with voter fraud legislation in several states. Their answer to global climate change is, “Drill, baby, drill!" Their solution for the economic meltdown that put millions out of their jobs is to unshackle Wall Street's bankers from pesky regulations.

Famously, Romney’s 2008 advice about the automobile industry was, “Let Detroit go bankrupt.”

From today’s GOP, instead of a fresh vision for America's future, we’re just getting more political kitsch. Ayn Rand, indeed!

Yes, it’s the same old song and dance -- let’s do the Time Warp forever.

-- 30 --

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand connection

"The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, 
if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand." 

-- Rep. Paul Ryan

After years of touting writer Ayn Rand's considerable influence on him, it seems that in recent months Paul Ryan has been trying to distance himself from her. We can only guess at what brought about this change of heart in Ryan. And, I have to doubt such a flip-flop bothered Mitt Romney much.

If anyone has to be tolerant of such maneuvers it's Romney, who has twisted himself into a virtual pretzel, distancing himself from various inconvenient aspects of his past.

And, I'm already seeing conservatives vehemently denying the connection between Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand. Now I've got a hunch we're going to see a lot more of that down the road. So here's another link with more background.

Monday, August 06, 2012

No regional cooperation means no baseball stadium

Baseball in the Bottom is back in the news. The zombie of two failed campaigns to build a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom walks again. No doubt, there will be much said about that zombie in coming months.

A commentary piece supporting the concept of building a downtown baseball stadium appeared in Sunday’s Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Absent regional partners, it is time for the city to grab the reins and move the ballpark project forward on its own, in partnership with the business community and the Squirrels. Freed from the prerequisite that the stadium be on the Boulevard, the city should do what is in the best interests of the city, the region and the Squirrels. That means choosing a site that is downtown.
Click here to read the entire piece.

Meanwhile, just because people keep bragging about what a perfect economic driver baseball will be if you put it here, or there, doesn’t make any of it true.

Using minor league baseball to fix the perceived problems of a blighted neighborhood probably won’t work and saying it has worked that way in several other markets isn’t true. Comparing what has happened in minor league cities with Major League Baseball's history is a reach.

Even though some dreamers (who usually are not baseball fans) think having a downtown baseball stadium would be so cool, that’s just not a good enough reason to ask the city’s taxpayers to help with the financing of a far-flung development -- financing designed mostly to reduce the risk for a few land barons and developers.

Let’s face it, as long as the City of Richmond won’t allow Henrico County and Chesterfield County fair representation on the Richmond Metropolitan Authority's board, any talk about regional cooperation to build ANYTHING under its auspices is a waste of time.

As long as people keep chattering about building something that isn't really going to be built, the controversy always kicks up more dust to distract us voters from demanding that City Hall do more to fix the underlying problem -- lack of cooperation with the surrounding counties. The RMA’s board has 11 members. One is a state appointee. Six members represent Richmond. Two represent Chesterfield; two represent Henrico.

The sparsely populated counties went along with this configuration 50 years ago. Now times have changed and Richmond’s refusal to recognize reality and share power more evenly has caused the spirit of regional cooperation to seize up. Mayor Jones would like you to not notice this, so we get more distractions, instead of solutions.

Richmond's next baseball stadium should be built where it will best serve baseball fans, without imposing unduly on neighbors who could care less about baseball. So far, the Diamond's location on the Boulevard seems to work. It may not be the best possible location, if we could literally build its replacement wherever we like. But we can't do that; zombies notwithstanding, we must choose from what's available.

And, like it or not, a good number of the Flying Squirrels fans won't follow them to the Bottom. How will the ball club replace those lost fans? By moving across town can the Squirrels create new fans who will go to games regularly?

Maybe, but without enough baseball fans going to the 70-some home games the Squirrels play every season the team will leave Richmond, no matter what part of town a new stadium calls home.

Then the merchants nestled up to an empty stadium, those that had blithely hopped on the build-it-and-they-will-come baseball bandwagon, will have big problem and so will the chumps stuck with paying off all the money that was borrowed to build it.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Out of sight, out of mind?

President George W. Bush in happier times 

Beyond the burgeoning problem his hidden tax returns are causing him today, a significant sign that Mitt Romney won’t win in November is that he doesn’t want George W. Bush or Dick Cheney at the GOP’s upcoming convention. Remember how denial of Bill Clinton worked out for Al Gore in 2000?

Yet when you look at Romney’s 2012 policy positions it seems he means to return the Bush administration’s ways to the White House. That would be largely the same blind arrogance and set of billionaire-enriching policies that launched a war over a convenient mirage, then drove America’s economy into the deepest ravine since the 1930s.

So, it appears that Romney’s strategy this election year is two-pronged:

No. 1 is to dupe the non-billionaire voters into forgetting the horrible mess Bush and Cheney left for Barack Obama to clean up, by keeping those two inconvenient Republicans in undisclosed locations, nowhere near the convention hall in Tampa.

No. 2 is to invoke misty-eyed memories of Ronald Reagan's "shining city on a hill" every time anyone asks about previous Republican administrations.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

The obvious 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 most of their 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. All year long everyone would be eligible to vote once a month, 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.

America's cities would bid to have the execution, like the Olympics, 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. Big budget commercials would bring in more dough.

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

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: Turn enough money over to the federal government to escape the list of billionaires. That money could go to public education and building a fast train national railway system.

2: If they want to remain a billionaire, then they need to 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

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The sky is falling on Chick-Fil-A

At VCU basketball games I've covered, a couple of times Chick-Fil-A sandwiches were offered to the working press. Yes, on top of the free seat on press row, or in the press box, colleges feed meals to the credentialed media reps for covering their games, IF you get there early enough. The same is true at conference tournaments.

So I know what a Chick-Fil-A standard chicken sandwich tastes like and I can easily live without another one, even if it's free.

But as the story of political chicken sandwiches flaps in the breeze of popular culture lots of folks who ordinarily ignore political news are noticing it. While lovers of the sandwich, or those who want to support anything that bashes the citizens they hate, show their support for Chick-Fil-A, VCU is noticing this brouhaha, too.

So are all the other universities. So are many organizations that care about their images.

The more Chick-Fil-A is depicted by rightwingers as a victim in this game, the more Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Days there are, the longer this story’s legs get.

The more culture war supporters of Chick-Fil-A begin to resemble sign-carrying members of the notorious Westboro Baptist Church the less any organization with any sense of reality in 2012 will want to be identified with the views of Dan Cathy, who apparently speaks for his father’s Atlanta-based company. And, he speaks for turning back the hands of time.

Yes, the enthusiastic supporters of Chick-Fil-A are going to buy a lot of sandwiches today -- cha-ching! -- but by doing so they are enlarging the ugly story, which in the long run isn’t going to help Chick-Fil-A at all.

What's the sound of a cash register not being used?

Forget about the ads depicting parachuting Chick-Fil-A cows dropping into a football stadium. Now Chick-Fil-A is dropping the public relations equivalent of cow pies, instead.

The sky itself is falling on Chick-Fil-A's future at its 1,615 stores in 39 states. It’s going to be way too easy for VCU and the athletic departments at many other schools to order pizzas for the guys on press row.