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Monday, January 28, 2013

An Open Letter To President Barack Obama (expanded)

Well, here we go into another year of our lives. As I said in my first "Happy New Year" blog entry, I tell people that I'm not really a "new year's resolutions" kind of guy but I really am. And so far, I could have done worse. (I could have done better too, but there you go.) I've stayed on my exercise and dietary programs with reasonable diligence. I've practiced my music. I've played a few gigs. I wish I'd made more art, and written a little more, but there's one thing I've always intended to do that I finally did: I wrote a letter to The President. I even mailed it! Before we go any further, let me just present it to you (since it is an "open letter" after all) exactly as Mr. Obama got it, and then we'll talk about things after you read it:

January 21, 2013                                                                                               

The Honorable Barack H. Obama, President Of The United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama:

The day I voted for you in 2008 and the day I saw you first sworn into office were two of the proudest days of my life as an American citizen. I still remember the people I was with, watching you take the oath of office, and their tears of joy. It was a beautiful day I never thought I would see in my lifetime: a black man elected by the people to fill the most powerful shoes on the face of the earth.

Before you were elected I claimed that if you won you would face greater challenges and more entrenched opposition than any president had ever faced (not to mention outright racism) and I was right. I had high hopes for your first term, but those hopes were tempered by a clear-eyed understanding and a sad knowledge that many American citizens didn't see you as merely a poor choice for President, but literally as the Anti-Christ.

My predictions proved true, and you indeed faced the most bald-faced partisan opposition of any President in my lifetime. You have accomplished much - much more than even your allies give you credit for - and fought hard battles for the good of the American people - even those that oppose you. I know full well that what many people call your "failures" or "disappointing performance" are, in fact, the products of deliberate obstruction by self-serving interests outside your sphere of control. I voted for you again, Mr. President, and today I watched your second inauguration and listened to your speech. They were good words, with their emphasis on "We The People" and our need to face our future together despite our differences. 

I must confess, however, that in recent years I have voted not out of hope but out of fear. Fear that ever-more extreme candidates would gain power, and the freedoms with which so many politicians punctuate their speeches might be eroded or lost. This is not the way for an American of conscience to vote, and that is why I am writing to you today, the first time I have ever written a sitting President. 

I understand that problems with simple solutions never come across your desk, and I understand that your opposition remains more entrenched than ever. I also understand that there are simply some problems you cannot fix, no matter how hard you try. Finally, I understand that you and your staff are more than likely working quietly, without heed to political gain, and we on the street may not always be able even to see, much less acknowledge, your efforts. Nonetheless, my conscience dictates that four years from now I vote third party - or abstain from voting, which I don't want to do - unless I see strenuous and public effort on the following issues:

1) You must begin the vigorous conversion of American energy policy to sustainable sources, for the sake of the global environment and human survival. I hardly have any idea where to begin with recommendations, there's so much to do. You'll face so many invested interests that you may, sadly, make no progress whatsoever. You must try - if our environment is unsustainable, there'll be nothing left to defend. Earth, air, fire, and water belong to no party. I want to breathe!

2) You must begin the disassembly of the Homeland Security / surveillance state. The most important single act you could do to begin this process is to rescind the provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2011 that provide for the (arguably) unconstitutional indefinite detention of American citizens, not to mention citizens of other countries. Democracy is always a balance between freedom and security, but suspending habeas corpus is unnecessary and oppressive and all-too-easily abused. I want my rights back!

3) You must begin the reduction of American military hegemony on the international scene. The most important single act you could do to begin this process is to close all foreign American military bases and bring the troops stationed there home. I know there are other, smaller, countries that require our help to defend themselves. I know we have our own global interests that need defending. We have aircraft carriers. Problem solved. In the mean time, our fighting men and women will be home, which is the biggest thing they need to defend in the first place. I don't want our military to make me fearful, I want them to make me feel safe!

4) You must begin the process of re-legitimizing the American electoral process. The most important single act you could to to begin this process is to - working with sympathetic members of congress - introduce a constitutional amendment that denies the "rights" of personal individuality to corporations. They are not persons, nor should they have the rights of one, much less rights that some of our minorities don't have. I shouldn't even have to say that unlimited financial contributions should stop immediately. I want my vote to count, and I don't want to have to pay for it!

Notice what I haven't mentioned: financial regulation and economic justice; education; violence and crime; drug policy; health care; the ongoing heightened presence of fundamentalist religion in what should be secular public life; women's rights; gay rights; native american rights... I could go on. These are inarguably important issues, but compared to the four points above, they can wait, or at the very least be virtual "hobbies" for you on slow days. (I hope you appreciate my sense of humor, Sir!)

I don't want to live in fear, Mr. President, and I don't know anybody of any party who does. Whether it's the Mayan Calendar or the Fiscal Cliff or Terrorism or any other bugaboo, it feels like the workings of our government (and the military-corporate-banking industry that seems to pay for it) are almost designed to keep us nervous, jumpy, fearful. And fearful people are easy to manipulate for good or ill. Usually, it's ill. 

You have my utmost respect, Sir, and I want to see my country and my neighbors prosperous and happy and healthy and fearless. Please have the strength and bravery to struggle against the usurers and the self-interested and the greedy, and fight for the little ones, the poor ones, the outcast and unheard ones, who voted for you with pride.

Please note that I will be publishing this letter (possibly in expanded form) on my blog. My fellow citizen-travellers might have an interest in my opinions as well.
Thank you for reading my letter and considering those opinions, and I remain
Your humble and obedient servant

R.E.C. Chipper Thompson

Well. I've read it and re-read it and re-read it, and I stand by every word. Still, I feel like expanding on some of my feelings. First of all, here's an opinion for ya: almost all our problems come down to some greedy, self-interested bastard who doesn't want to give up his money and power. 

I'm anything but a communist, but I'm gonna say something that nobody seems to want to say: these people have too much, and they should give some of it back. Whether it's investment bankers or insurance executives or power brokers in the military-industrial complex, they've demonstrated that they know how to play the American Game better than anybody, that they can amass the greatest amount of money in the smallest number of pockets, and now that they've got the cash they can use it to influence the political structure to amass even more money and power. I get it, I really do. As consolation prizes, I'd even be willing to let 'em keep more than one home, more than one Ferrari, all the caviar and single-malt scotch they can stockpile, and a big ol' fat bank account that would sustain all of it for not only the rest of their lives but probably on down to their grandchildren, at least. (But nobody needs more than one private jet, or more than one yacht. Maybe not even one.) In exchange for all the fabulous prizes, they've got to give up all the political power forever and name all the names and confess to all the graft they've ever committed. And if we ever find out they lied - even under these generous terms - we're coming back and taking it all. Don't get me wrong: I want to live comfortably, and I'm well aware that I have a ton of otherwise understanding, sympathetic friends who are gonna smack my face if they hear me talking about winning Powerball again. But these bastards who are bankrupting our country need to be brought down, hard and fast.

And now, with than in mind, to expand on my four main points:

1) The conversion of American energy policy to sustainable sources, for the sake of the global environment and human survival. "Peak Oil" aside, I think we've hit a wall, y'all. I don't want to give up rapid transcontinental travel or electric light (or electric guitars!) or indoor flushing toilets any more than the rest of you, but simple observation of what's before my face leads me to the conclusion that the American Lifestyle cannot continue as it is. The biggest problem is oil. It powers our lives and it's the source material for all the plastic crap that is - along with the putrid, burning fumes - choking the life out of us and the whole world. Let me clarify something: I like cars, I like electricity. The difference between me and lots of other folks is that I don't care what powers all this stuff, as long as it's clean. I don't have a love affair with the internal combustion engine, I have a love affair with travel. If there was an affordable electric (solar-powered?!) car that performed as well as a gasoline-powered one, that's the one I'd want, and I think most people would agree. I'd even be happy to let the "vintage car" enthusiasts to keep the gas engines. There wouldn't even be that many of them, compared to the rest of us. I love being able to travel from my home here in the Great American Southwest to New York or Chicago or Atlanta, but I'd be more than happy - indeed, thrilled! - to do it on a solar-powered, mag-lev, high-speed rail line instead of an airplane. For the first two weeks of this year, it was at least -11 degrees at night here, and believe me I'm happy to have heat in my home that doesn't require weeks of wood-cutting or buffalo-chip gathering, but again: I don't care where the power comes from as long as it's clean. I could go on and on and on and on. You know.

2) The disassembly of the Homeland Security / surveillance state. You know, it should come as no surprise that the ultra-right-wing conservative population of this country lives in fear that someday armed SWAT teams are gonna show up at their door and take all their guns and force 'em to bow to Allah and send their daughters to brothels, but I gotta tell ya, even I'm getting nervous. A good friend of mine - a sober, not-given-to-hysterics kind of friend - recently told me he'd heard that Homeland Security had recently bought billions of rounds of small-arms ammunition. What the hell for? Obviously, I have no idea if this is true. Even researching it on the interwebs would lead me to who knows how many wing-nut sites before I found a grain of truth, and how would I even know which was which? But the point is that I'm uptight about this, and if I'm uptight how do you think the real jittery, edgy types feel? The powder keg's gonna blow someday if we don't take out the fuze, people. I'm tired of seeing security cameras on every damn traffic light. I'm tired of "sobriety checkpoints" that need to see my "papers." I'm tired of being fearful of the local cops. My taxes pay their salaries, by damn, and they're supposed to protect and serve me, not worry about whether or not I'm using my damn seatbelt. Go out and catch some REAL criminals, you bastards! You know, the kind that steal and rape and commit acts of violence. Most of us - even most of the wing-nuts - are never gonna hurt anybody in our entire lives. And most of the "foreigners" and "towelheads" and so-called "terrorists" aren't gonna hurt anybody either. We need to calm the hell down, and stop sticking our noses in each others' business in the name of a false sense of security. Like I said in the letter, it almost seems like somebody wants us to be nervous these days, and I'm sick of it.

3) American global military hegemony. Speaking of being nervous, how do you think the man on the street feels about us in the middle-east? In fact, how would you feel if a joint North Korean-Chinese strike force built a base outside your hometown? Well, I've said it before: that's the way most of the world feels about us. And if you don't want your neighbor with one too many semi-autos in his closet to be jumpy, why not extend that scenario to a tediously shaky regime in some third-world colony that happens to have a nuke? I'm no isolationist, but we need to butt the hell out of other people's countries and get our own people home. If we do, there will be less fear and misery in the world, it'll be way cheaper for us American taxpayers, and our people will be right here on their native soil, which is what they're supposed to be protecting in the first place. Not to mention that the greedheads that make billions off of military spending will start feeling the pinch. About damn time. And if there's a problem somewhere in the world that legitimately needs our military expertise? Like I said: aircraft carriers. Problem solved.

4) American electoral woes. It's probably been true since the beginning of politics that the squeaky wheels get the grease, and those with the most money can squeak the loudest. I know that corporations can afford better lobbyists and more of them than anybody else, so they're gonna get their way more often than not. I know that making laws that reform the deathbed-sick system of election finances won't stop "favors" from being asked and granted. But it's been a long time since I've felt that my vote counted as much as a corporate vote. Corporations are not people no matter what the Supreme Court says, and I want a stop put to this nonsense. I know that many, many others from all sides of the argument do as well. This blatant pandering is a travesty, and it needs to stop.

Goddess, just reading and editing my own blog is making me depressed. The problems are so big, and so entrenched. We're in a world of shit, people. I'll admit it: I'm scared. Like I said in my letter, there's other problems that are arguably just as bad as the issues I seized on. If you've lost your house, you probably feel that banking laws need to be a top priority. If you've been threatened or harmed by gun violence, that's probably on the top of your list. If you want to smoke a little weed and can't for the life of you figure out why anybody gives a damn, well... there you go. If you're gay.... Oh, come on, people. You get the picture. When writing to Mr. Obama I tried to get my own ego out of the way and actually take him to task about issues that I thought would help everybody. I don't know if I succeeded. But I know one thing: 

If I don't see some action on this stuff, and if my life doesn't improve as a direct result, somebody else is getting my vote next time.

And I know another thing: 

For my next blog, I'm gonna write about something fun. I promise.

Thanks and bows of gratitude go out to all my friends who put up with me and sit up too late talking politics, and as always to the late, great Peter McWilliams who's Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do has been such a positive inspiration to me for so long. Not to mention The Reverend Ivan Stang. Praise Bob!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to all of you out there in BanjoSnake Land!

I hope 2012 worked out for y'all... it seems like it was a pretty tough year all around.

I had a decent year... a one-man art opening at the finest gallery in the southwest, (there's still lots of art available... check it out! Tell your friends! Tell anyone you know with money! Shout it in the streets!) a bunch of gigs, lots of beautiful t-shirts (and panties!) with my designs on 'em, and a fair start on a new science-fiction novel didn't hurt. Not to mention eleven pretty "serious" blog posts... more than I've written in who knows when! But we all struggle. Life can be hard. We got to hang in there against all the ugly odds, y'all.

I have a good friend - one of my closest - but she's incredibly pessimistic. Last time she and I got into it over the "state of the world" she threw this at me: "No matter how terrible you think all our human problems are - war, famine, disease, climate change, illiteracy, overpopulation, greed, poverty, on and on and on - all of it means nothing and humanity is toast unless some hotshot genius kid somewhere invents an otherwise-benign bacteria that'll eat all our plastic waste."

Gee, that'll wake ya up in the morning.

She's also pretty pessimistic about all those other problems, too.

I got nothing but hope, y'all. I just can't get up every morning and think that we're living for nothing. I know I'm not gonna be the one that invents the plastic-eating bacteria, or cures cancer, or feeds the starving millions, or gets all the warlords to lay down their bombs and guns. But I can make art, and art makes people happy, and that's something. I saw recent post on "the facebook" that I liked: Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. Yeah. I can do that.

So, to wit: I tell people that I'm not a "New Year's Resolutions" kind of guy, but I really am, I guess. Most of it is the usual quasi-self-deceptive nonsense: I'm gonna lose weight, I'm gonna go the gym, I'm gonna eat better, yadda yadda yadda. But I've got some other stuff in my bag, too: I'm starting on a new CD for the first time in ages... what... twelve years or something? Holy crap! I'm gonna finish that novel. I'm gonna make more visual art. And I've got a few other things that I'm playing close to my vest, but they're gonna be cool, I guarantee it. (And just for the record... I've been going to the gym six days a week, and I've totally given up sugar since the year turned. And I'm going to kendo class... come join us!)

Some days are harder than others. This morning I got up at the crack of dawn in -11 degree weather to go to the gym and the clutch in my truck was a goner. You just gotta roll with it. So stick with me, y'all! I've updated my gigs page for everything I've got so far this year, and I will continue to do so. Just click on the "gigs" button right over there to your left. Get off the couch and come out and see us play sometime! Stray Ravens! Kim and the Caballeros! Bone Orchard! And watch for lots more blogs that I'm working on right now. (An open letter to The President. An update and revision of my piece on our "gun problem." And an epic post about "movies and cars in America" that I may never finish, but it'll be staggering if I do!) Watch for announcements about the new recordings and new novel! And of course, more "Documents," Taos Edge t-shirts, and other visual art!

Keep the faith and see you around in 2013, everybody!


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