Friday, June 27, 2014

New short story: The Soul Borrowers

Here is an excerpt from "The Soul Borrowers."

"You should be unpacking the kitchen not putting books away. They can wait,” shouted the testy Izzy from the downstairs bathroom.
            The lean, blue-eyed, darkly handsome Matt Ketchum knew she was right, and that’s what irritated him. “Just a minute,” he replied.
            He had pulled out and arranged all but one last book that lay at the bottom of the box. It wasn’t one he’d recalled seeing before. Picking up the aging hardcover, he turned to read the spine. “The Soul Borrowers by Arthur Edward Singletary.” He was about to call out to Izzy and ask if the book was hers when a photograph fell from between the pages and floated to the floor. Picking it up, the first thing he saw was the image of a cherubic little blond girl around three in pajamas standing up in her crib. It didn’t take any guessing to know this was a photo of Izzy as a child, playfully mugging for the camera. Matt made his best educated guess that this was an evening when little Izzy wouldn’t go to sleep and for whatever reason, a harried and sleep deprived Mom decided to take a picture. Then he noticed something in a corner of the room, a shadow that seemed to have the shape of a very tall person clothed in black gauze. He squinted. Pulled the photo closer. At one glance, it was simply the dark corner of the room that the flash did not reach, but at another there was a human shape to the black mass just to the left of Izzy.
            “Having fun?” asked an exasperated Izzy leaning in the doorway, her pale skin glistening.
            He looked at her and then back at the photo. “What is this?”
            She tiredly wiped her forehead and came in to the room, taking the photo from Matt and examining it closely. Her expression subtly transitioned from irritation to confusion to consternation. “That’s me, but…. What the hell is that?” she asked, pointing to the shadow.
            Matt shrugged. “I have no idea, but it’s creepy.”
            Izzy turned the photo over and read the inscription. “’Isabella. July 1987. Duluth.’ I was three. That’s my mother’s writing, but it doesn’t explain anything. Where did you find this?”
            He held out the book. “It fell out of here. It’s called “The Soul Borrowers.” Ring a bell?”
            Izzy took the book from Matt and leafed through it. “Yeah, it does ring a bell. It was one of my mother’s books. She’d only saved a few when she went into the nursing home, but I remember this was one of them. In fact, a few days before she died, she said I should read it.” Izzy looked up at Matt. “She was saying some crazy stuff around that time so I didn’t think anything of it. I just brought it home with everything else she had, which wasn’t much.” She inspected the photo again. “Wow. Creepy is right. Maybe I should read this.”

Read the rest at They're Only Shadows.

Attack of the Greenscreen Fluffer

No, this isn’t a still from the latest horror movie franchise. It’s a real life job, according to Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing:

An actual job is to be a greenscreen fluffer, dressed in a chromakey gimpsuit, hidden in the background for shampoo commercials, tasked with artfully flicking models' hair.

Interviewer: So John, let’s see. Your last job was…greenscreen fluffer.

Me: Correct.

Interviewer: NEXT!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Kim Jong-un promises WWIII if unflattering film is released

In the yet to be released movie, “The Interview,” actors James Franco and Seth Rogan play a talk show host and his producer who land an interview with North Korea leader Kim Jong-un. The two men are then recruited by the CIA to assassinate the mini-tyrant. The real North Korean government is not pleased with the plot, and says that if the movie is released, it would be considered an act of war and that “merciless counter-measures will be taken.”

Kim isn’t the first person who has been upset with his portrayal on the big screen. Here are reviews from a few other personalities unhappy with how they were treated by Hollywood.

“Passion of the Christ is a bloody hot mess. I look like I’ve been run over by a chariot for a good part of the movie. I’m normally a pretty forgiving guy, but this was over the top. Two thumbs down.”

“Why do movie directors have to focus so much on the negative? Yes, some buildings were damaged and a few people were hurt, but that’s not what my life is about. It’s all taken out of context.”

“The nasty little Baggins’s would be nothing without me. Nothing! Yet poor Smeagol's the bad guy.”

“No one told me I was having Satan’s baby. Who’s going to hire the Devil’s mother? My life has been a living hell since that film came out.”
Rosemary Woodhouse

“Homeward Bound was an absolute disaster. I told my agent in no uncertain terms that I am never, ever working with a dog again.”

“I can’t wait to sauté Mr. Demme’s liver and serve it with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.”
Hannibal Lector

“Why did they pick someone to portray me who looks nothing like me? Did they even check with Pitt or Cruise?”
Mahatma Gandhi

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

My wish list for America

I spend a lot of time writing about what I see is wrong with America, but I don’t often go into what I would do to fix things if given a magic wand. So here is my wish list of things I would do to turn this country around and set it on the right path. Is it a practical or realistic list? No. It’s wishful thinking. Shazaam.

1. Campaign finance reform

This is my top priority. We will never have a functioning government responsible to the wishes of the people if the one percent and corporations can essentially buy candidates for office. I would be in favor of getting all public money out of political campaigns, but that seems like a pipe dream. We can get Citizens United overturned and close the many loopholes that allow the wealthy to funnel money to candidates or to media campaigns that obviously help one candidate over another. We should also be able to figure out ways to level the playing field so that we are not being governed primarily by multi-millionaires who have little understanding of the needs of the average American. I also think the federal government should step in to stop states from gerrymandering districts at the whim of whoever has the votes to do it. This practice also skews and twists the will of the people. Instead of making it more difficult for people to vote, we should be doing everything we can to get voters to the polls. Let’s hold elections on Saturdays or give America a day off to vote. Finally, if we don’t start here, none of the other fixes we need as a nation will ever become reality.

2. Stop giving corporate lobbyists and Wall Street undue influence on economic policy

The influence of corporate lobbyists and Wall Street on the economy has led to disaster after disaster, and currently stagnation, and we need to do whatever it takes to curb their control on economic policy. For decades now, policies have been adopted that benefit America’s wealthiest individuals and corporations at the expense of average citizens. The result is gross income inequality and a tiny percentage of the population controlling the majority of this country’s wealth. Even though “trickle down” economics has been thoroughly debunked, it feels as if the government is still operating on the assumption that helping the wealthiest will benefit everyone else. There are economists who have offered alternative approaches to boosting the economy, but their voices are marginalized or drowned out by “free market” fanatics. It’s time we started listening to them.

3. We must take back our government from the Deep State

We the people have lost control of our government to a small cadre of leaders in the military, NSA, CIA and the C suites of our larger corporations who are not held accountable by elections and apparently do not feel bound by the Constitution. They are keepers of the secrets and, I believe, leverage their knowledge to influence Congress and the President. The Deep State that Eisenhower warned us about didn’t originate with George Bush, but he and Cheney and a timid Congress gave it vast new powers after 9/11 and it is now a behemoth operating just beneath the surface gathering data on every American, regardless of whether you are suspected of a crime or not. We need to dismantle the security monster created under the Bush Administration. The dilemma is that once given this great power, it isn’t very realistic to think a person will willingly give up that power and influence. It is going to need to be wrested away from them, and that will require a very strong President and the support of Congress. Obviously, this will not happen anytime soon.

4. Take immediate action on climate change

The longer we wait to do this, the worse the damage will be worldwide. Once again, the influence of corporate interests is stalling action on this important issue. There is virtually no debate in the scientific community about the fact that climate change is real and that human activity is the cause. The only challenge to this is coming from ideological extremists and corporations that spend money to keep stirring the pot and make it seem as if there is controversy. By not taking action now we are condemning future generations to lives of misery and uncertainty as the seas rise and the weather becomes more violent and unpredictable. Millions and millions of people living along the world’s coastlines will eventually be uprooted, forcing them to find new places to live and putting them into conflict with established populations for scarce food and water.

5. Gun control

This is one of the most difficult yet most needed reforms on the list. Every week there is a new mass shooting somewhere in America. It is simply too easy for deranged, angry, violent, psychotic individuals to get their hands on firearms. No other country on earth allows this kind of madness. We need to have the courage to pass serious gun control legislation that will help stem the violence we have unfortunately come to take for granted.

6. Decriminalize drug use (yes, all drugs)

7. Universal healthcare

8. Net neutrality

9. Term limits for Supreme Court judges

10. Government inspired national push for practical alternative clean energy sources that will help us become energy independent

11. A revitalization of public education

12. Affordable higher education

Monday, June 23, 2014

Congress sinks to new low in poll (you probably didn't think that was possible)

The latest Gallup poll shows the American Congress in a free fall to becoming the most unpopular entity in the universe. According to the poll, only 7 percent of those questioned had “a great deal” or “quite a bit” of confidence in Congress. Younger people might be saying, “Hey, Congress has always sucked,” which, from a performance standpoint might be true, but from the perspective of public opinion, it is at an all-time low. In 1973, a whopping 42 percent of the public had a great deal of confidence in Congress, but it’s been all downhill since then.

To put this in perspective, here are fifteen things that are more popular than Congress.
  • Jorts
  • Zombies
  • Satan
  • Colonoscopies
  • Adam Sandler
  • Clowns
  • Paper cuts
  • Lutefisk
  • Dirt
  • Tax audits
  • NSA
  • The Last Airbender
  • Root canal
  • Kim Jong Un
  • Spam

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Cheney's bold move to rewrite history

“Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many.”

No single sentence could so accurately encapsulate the tenure of George Bush than this one.
  • Missed or ignored warnings about potential terrorists plans
  • Worst attack on American soil happens under his watch
  • Makes case for war based on lies and false assumptions
  • Invades country that has no ties to terrorism and no WMDs
  • Kills hundreds of thousands of Iraqis
  • Nearly 5,000 Americans lose their lives
  • Completely misreads post-invasion needs of the country leaving millions in misery
  • Post-invasion American overseers lose billions of dollars
  • Allows torture and indefinite detention without trial
  • Vacuum in Iraq emboldens terrorists and incites sectarian violence
  • Dismisses then stalls investigation into 9/11, then sets up commission with predetermined outcomes
  • Opium production rises in Afghanistan after the American invasion
  • U.S. backed Maliki government mired in graft
The irony is that the above statement wasn’t from some liberal commentator about Bush, but comes from a recent Op-Ed for the Wall Street Journal by Dick Cheney trying to shift blame for the failures of the Bush Administration onto Obama.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Cheney to Obama: “I shit on the floor and you didn’t clean it up.”

This cannot go by without comment. Dick Cheney and his daughter Liz are conducting an all out frontal media assault on Obama for abandoning Iraq and failing to keep the peace. A man who by all international standards of justice should be sitting in jail for war crimes and his little parrot are given air time and column inches to attack Obama for a disaster he inherited. This is not merely madness, it is hubris on a galactic scale. It’s a slap in the face to every American and a thumb in the nose to rest of the world.

And it’s not only Cheney who is being given a bull horn by the media but other nincompoop neocons like Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, members of the Bush administration who were colossally wrong about every aspect of the Iraq war. Still think the media has a liberal bias? Write to the papers that publish Cheney's editorial and call the television stations who air his lies and tell them how wrong this all is.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Pre and post 9/11 history starting to get foggy

There is no doubt that the events unfolding in Iraq today are a direct result of the Bush administration’s wars of choice in the region in order to topple Saddam Hussein and grab control of that country's oil sources. An article in today’s Salon makes that case very effectively, however, the author then goes into a lengthy discussion of how events unfolded in the Middle East after 9/11, arguing that the attacks and everything that followed were all a carefully orchestrated plan by Osama bin Laden to draw the U.S. into an unwinnable struggle on foreign soil that would bankrupt the country. It was a strategy used to great success against Russia in Afghanistan.

So in the author’s assessment, Bush and company essentially got suckered into invading Afghanistan and then Iraq, and the diabolical bin Laden was laughing all the way to the mosque. I think there are serious problems with this narrative and that it disregards historically significant facts.

First, we know that from the very first days of the Bush Administration plans were being drawn up for an invasion of Iraq. Bush was intent on toppling Saddam Hussein. Far from being tricked into invading Iraq, Bush, Cheney and others were drawing up plans for an attack well before 9/11.

We also know that despite what Bush and Rice and others said immediately after 9/11, there were numerous warnings related to terrorists flying planes into buildings. People in the intelligence community and in the administration knew this was a distinct possibility, yet did next to nothing to prepare for it and then lied about it after the fact.

There is also a glaring omission in this article, as there is in many other pieces written about 9/11 and its aftermath, regarding the attitude of Bush and the Neocons in his administration toward the Middle East. Many of Bush’s closest advisors were members of The Project for the New American Century (PNAC). PNAC issued a 90-page report entitled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” in 2000 that outlined the Neocon worldview. At the time, William Rivers Pitt wrote,

“The Project for the New American Century seeks to establish what they call 'Pax Americana' across the globe. Essentially, their goal is to transform America, the sole remaining superpower, into a planetary empire by force of arms. A report released by PNAC in September of 2000 entitled 'Rebuilding America's Defenses' codifies this plan, which requires a massive increase in defense spending and the fighting of several major theater wars in order to establish American dominance. The first has been achieved in Bush's new budget plan, which calls for the exact dollar amount to be spent on defense that was requested by PNAC in 2000. Arrangements are underway for the fighting of the wars.”

In what is perhaps the most chilling line in the document, the authors’ note (again, this is 2000) that their goals would be extremely difficult to accomplish with alacrity "absent some galvanizing event like a new Pearl Harbor."

Contrary to popular opinion even on the Left, Bush and his administration were not dupes fooled into a Middle East trap. They were planning to move against Saddam Hussein well before 9/11, and from their standpoint, the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon just happened to be their new Pearl Harbor. Almost unbelievable how that worked out. Isn’t it?

Monday, June 16, 2014

Shooting the Messenger: New short story

Just posted a new short story at They're Only Shadows. Here is an excerpt:

A banner scrolled along the bottom of the large flat screen TV: “Breaking News: Five dead, six wounded at Keller High School after shooting rampage.”
            “False flag operation.” Andrew Copper looked from the television screen to the man joining him at his table for lunch, Glenn Sumner. Close cropped haircut, neck tats, tight black pants an inch too short, Glenn would probably be picked out of a crowd as a conspiracy fan based on nothing more than his aura. He pulled a sandwich and bag of chips out of his bag and nodded toward the TV. “They pull this kind of shit all the time.”
            “Who’s they?” asked Andrew, a sinewy, handsome, introverted man in his late twenties. He ate a spoonful of chili as he waited for Glenn to stop chewing.
            “The government. Who else? Pushing through stricter gun control is on their agenda, so they stage these mass shootings to sway public opinion. Same type of thing with 9/11, except that was about oil.”
            “But they’re carrying out bodies and—“
            “Paid stooges are carrying out something in a body bag. Probably somebody’s dirty laundry.”
            “You’re saying the people I’m watching here with blood on them and the sobbing parents are all actors? Glenn, you’ve got to move out of your parent’s basement.”
            Wearing a confident smirk, Glenn picked up his iPhone, tapped it several times and then turned the screen triumphantly toward Andrew, who leaned in.
            “What am I looking at here?” asked Andrew.
            “Your government at work. See that woman there? This was taken a year ago at the Akron Elementary School shooting. Now, here’s the same woman at the Boston Marathon. Oh, and what do you know? Here she is at Sandy Hook.”
            “Looks similar, but—“
            “Same thing with this guy. Here he is, a grieving parent at the Iowa State Fair shooting and, viola, here he is dressed as a paramedic in Boston. These are only two of dozens of photos that have been taken of the same people showing up at multiple tragedies all across the country.”
            “That’s just a little too much for me to swallow.”
            “The truth can do that to a person. Take 9/11­—"
            Andrew stood up abruptly. “Almost forgot. I’ve got a conference call at 1:00 so I have to blast. Sorry.”

Your fundamental Constitutional rights are under attack

There are days when I wonder how any observant, thinking citizen can resist taking to the streets to scream in rage. Take this article from AlterNet, Pentagon Preparing for MassCivil Unrest.

“A US Department of Defense (DoD) research programme is funding universities to model the dynamics, risks and tipping points for large-scale civil unrest across the world, under the supervision of various US military agencies. The multi-million dollar programme is designed to develop immediate and long-term "warfighter-relevant insights" for senior officials and decision makers in "the defense policy community," and to inform policy implemented by "combatant commands."”

In other words, the DoD is spending tens of millions of dollars conducting research on how to deal with civil unrest, people taking to the streets in protest. Called the Minerva Research Initiative, the DoD is funding research at colleges and universities to study the dynamics of civil unrest. If we were talking about preparing for violent riots, that would be one thing, but this research includes non-violent and peaceful protests, conflating them with “"supporters of political violence" who are different from terrorists only in that they do not embark on "armed militancy" themselves.”

Our government equates peaceful protests to violent uprisings. We’ve already seen a glimpse of this during the Occupy Movement of 2011 when we learned from formally secret documents that the FBI treated the peaceful organization as a possible criminal or terrorist threat. As Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Executive Director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) stated,  “These documents show that the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are treating protests against the corporate and banking structure of America as potential criminal and terrorist activity. These documents also show these federal agencies functioning as a de facto intelligence arm of Wall Street and Corporate America.

The First Amendment to the Constitution provides for 'the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.'" Apparently, the DoD and the FBI disagree. Instead of spending tens of millions of dollars to address the causes of civil unrest, like poverty, joblessness and income inequality, our government is using that money to figure out how to keep us quiet and oppressed. This isn’t a conspiracy. This is reality and it should make us all mad as hell.

Friday, June 13, 2014

One does not simply join the Tea Party

Dear John,

First, let me thank you for your interest in joining the Tea Party. Despite the lies you’ve heard from the liberal press, we are a “big tent” party and welcome all angry Caucasian English-speaking Christians. As a formality, we do ask those who are interested in joining our crusade to take a short survey to make sure the Tea Party is the right home for you. Thank you.

Man-made climate change is:

A communist plot
An alien mind-control experiment
Al Gore’s revenge for the 2000 election
Illuminati code for “Build conservative concentration camps”
A plot by elite liberal scientists to make you look stupid

Barack Obama is:

A Kenyan-born communist/socialist/terrorist
The spawn of Satan
The anti-Christ
A hologram
An uppity negro

Ronald Reagan was:

America’s greatest president
The greatest human being ever
A leader sent directly from heaven
The first conservative saint
God in human form

The second amendment to the Constitution gives Americans the right to:

Carry guns in day care centers
Shoot scary dark skinned people without cause
Blow up stuff
Enshrine violence as a time-honored American value
All of the above

I would solve America’s immigration problem by:

Building walls, planting mines and stretching razor wire
Requiring all immigrants to have an IQ of 180 or better
Measuring the craniums of all potential immigrants
Requiring the tattoo of an “I” on the forehead of all immigrants

America’s most trusted source for news and political commentary is:

Alex Jones
Rush Limbaugh
Ann Coulter
My cat
Stephan Colbert

America is exceptional because:

We’re the only nation officially endorsed by God
We saved everybody’s ass in WWII
We say so
We invented freedom

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Iraq bearing the fruits of Bush/Cheney invasion

As al-Qaida inspired militants capture key cities in Iraq and threaten to march on Baghdad, the disastrous legacy of Bush and Cheney’s illegal invasion of that country in 2003 becomes horribly apparent. Militant Islamist groups rose from the chaos of post-war Iraq, intent on taking advantage of the vacuum to control territory and impose their radical religious views on the previously secular country.

Our blundering, ill-conceived assault on a country that had no ties to terrorism has created a fertile breeding ground for extremists and potential terrorists. The Plan for a New American Century crafted by neocons in the late nineties and then used as the basis for the Bush administration's Middle East policies was a blueprint for disaster, an ideological veneer thinly covering a belief that the oil rich countries of that region must be under our government’s thumb and the oil fields under the control of American companies.

It was a plan grounded on hubris and greed destined for failure. And yet, no one has paid a price for the murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis, for sending Americans to be killed in a war based on false pretenses or for destabilizing an already volatile part of the world. If there were justice, George Bush should be painting portraits of his cellmate, Dick Cheney.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

My new Ted Nugent line of bumper stickers

Saw a “Ted Nugent for President” bumper sticker on my way in to work this morning. This is America and everyone’s entitled to his or her opinion, but it did set my entrepreneurial gears rolling and now I’m thinking about starting a line of bumper stickers for this niche audience. Here are some ideas.

Honk if you love killing things

I’m insane and I vote

My other car is an AK 47

Angry white tattooed bigot on board

Jesus wrote the 2nd Amendment. It’s in the Bible.

We’re all Cliven Bundy today

I hope you can “Coexist” with my rocket launcher

Guns DO kill people, so back off

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Mass surveillance is illegal and unconstitutional. Period.

There’s an important article today at the Electronic Frontier Foundation that examines the five main arguments made in defense of the NSA mass surveillance by the President and others, with a detailed debunking of each one. What the article makes obvious is that there really is no good argument to justify this type of untargeted mass spying. It exists and it is continuing to be used, but no one has a credible legal justification for the gathering of private communications where no suspicion of wrongdoing exists. Not Obama, not Feinstein, not Clapper. It is illegal and unconstitutional. Period.