Tuesday, September 2, 2014

"Save The Elephant!"

"Save The Elephant!"

A 7 Step Reboot for a Grand New Party
(And Other Dreams for a Summer Day)…

             I open by saying the unmentionable: I think the GOP as a party is facing extinction if some changes aren't made and soon. This is going to be pretty hard to sell, especially in view of the fact that Republicans have a little run of good news lately. The first one, of course, has to do with the latest polls showing Barack Obama having stumbled to a 38% approval rating. And the other obscure poll that has him nosing out George W. Bush as the worst U.S. President in history. (The Bush who created the most bloated bureaucracy since the Great Society of Lyndon Baines Johnson. Yes that Bush!)

            The GOP also had some rather fascinating if confusing outcomes to recent state and local elections in what is amounting to the power struggle going on inside the party between the “old guard” Republicans and the morally aggressive Tea Party, along with some bold predictions of a Senate majority for 2014, which means they might soon be running both Houses of what is proving to be the most dysfunctional Congress on record.

            All of these are wins in an off year election cycle and what I can almost assure you is a False Spring for Republican hopes in 2016.

            I say this because The United States of America has now officially entered the Era of the Demagogue. It is an arena now replete with “haters” on both sides of the political spectrum and is supported by political cannibalism on a scale never before seen in the history of this young Republic. I will back up all this seeming hyperbole with hard cold facts. But, before I do, let me hit you with a statistic:

            40% of the voting American public now lists its political affiliation as “Independent.” That is not a majority, but it is a plurality. That means there are more of them than anyone else—31% of the population now registers as Democrat followed by an anemic 27% that list themselves as Republican [with 2% docking-in as Libertarian].

            That would prompt even the most cynical political hack to sense the opportunity here. But let’s speak frankly shall we? Most independents have declared themselves to be so because they’re embarrassed to be affiliated with the bankrupt credibility of our major political parties. And the one that has suffered the most from this has been the GOP, mainly because it has impaled itself on its own archaic sense of the public will and an almost suicidal refusal to adapt to modern times.  

            As a lifelong Republican I have to ask why? And yet even as I do so I know the question is rhetorical, because anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear knows that the Grand Old Party is currently on its own crash vector set by the Christian conservatives, talk-show hosts, big money corporate sponsors, old Guard Republicans (who seem to have garnered the contempt of anyone with a pulse) and the well intended Constitutional Constructionists of the Tea Party.  

            One may argue the validity of former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s statesmanship for the next century, but even his most severe critics would agree that he was a savvy politician. At least he knew how to interpret a public opinion poll, and was dead right in his observation that “America is a centrist nation.” It may tilt center left or center right, depending upon the shifting political winds of the time…assuming those times may be described as ordinary.

             Unfortunately, these times in 2014 have moved to extremes. We are a world locked in an undeclared war with Radical Jihad (compounded by ISIS latest incursions), caught in an environmental crisis—not from climate change, but from something approaching a critical mass food-shortage—and we are sitting on an economic bubble that is destined to burst once the $2 Trillion in quantum-eased currencies now held captive by the Fed are unleashed into world markets.

            Political implosion always collapses from the middle. So, it is the measured but emphatic responses of reasonable people that these times cry out for in silent desperation. If they are silent it is because of the vocal extremism and the blog blizzard of half-truths leaves them without either source or counsel among either political party.
            The philosopher Edmund Burke once said: “Always remember, that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

            I maintain that in today’s political climate that “good man,” were he to stand in the center of the Republican Party, especially when trying to run for the highest office of the land, would be stricken down and devoured by a kind of incestuous anthropophagism that is unprecedented in conservative politics.
            Case in point: Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Young, dynamic, articulate and seemingly fearless, Rubio rose to power on what amounted to the (overstated)  “Tea Party Sweep” of the 2010 Congressional Races. While doing so, he passed every conservative checklist for being a political comer with an eye to the 2016 Presidential Election clearly in his sights. (He was even of Cuban-American descent. And how safely cross-cultural can you get?)
            Then Rubio did a terrible thing. He had an original thought—about Immigration Reform, of all topics!

            In the first place, Immigration Reform defines the term, political conundrum. It is an unwinnable argument. As such, it is death to any serious conservative Republican candidate for any major office who might actually be trying to forge a reasoned “compromise” to deal with it. (This is especially true since we have over 200 major urban hubs in the United States— including New York, Denver, Dallas, Miami and the entire State of California—that are self-declared “Sanctuary Cities” and, as such, have spat in the face of federal law, our Constitution and our requirements for citizenship.)

            And, as usual, this kind of moral/political Rubix twists into the perfect mosaic for Democrats who are willing to suck up all the social detritus of any partisan position, the vast army of the disenfranchised and every cause celébre of the non-minority minorities, bringing them all in to suckle at the warm milky nipple of the Nanny State.
            This single issue alone defines the Republican dilemma. Because anyone with half a mind knows that, where immigration is concerned, you simply cannot put the Genie back into the bottle. It is not news to announce that we have somewhere between 11 million and 14 million “undocumented workers” in the United States.  And all rhetorical railing to the contrary, it would be impossible and even economically disastrous in some areas to send all of them packing. 

            Attempting to deal with this political hand-grenade as far back as 2006, George W. Bush had in place a viable Guest-worker program (after the Canadian model). But hey! It was “W!” And everything he tried to do in his last two years in office became a mandate from the Leper Colony. Besides, the Bush initiative required that the “guest workers” actually earn citizenship on a capital payback system, while the Democrats just wanted to give it away. So the entire bill languished in Committee and ultimately died there. Apparently, Barack Obama thought it was a pretty good idea though, because five years later he adapted it, repackaged it, renamed it his Immigration Reform Initiative, and claimed it as his own. Republican Senators, led by Rubio, actually admitted it was something they could work with.

            That, in this gridlock of a Congress and the vernacular of the vocal extremists, was tantamount to sedition. And the political Harpies from the right wing descended upon Rubio with a vengeance. In an age when working across the aisles of the U.S. Senate to accomplish anything is walking a metaphorical tightrope across the Grand Canyon, Marco Rubio quickly found himself being labeled a turncoat, a sellout, and that political hemlock of all descriptions, a RINO, Republican In Name Only!

            Being the adroit politico that he is, Rubio immediately trotted out his well-honed conservative credentials, making assurances to one and all that he met all the other criteria on the Tea Party Checklist, and promised to emphasize “security first” in any new carefully-staged immigration reform package…if one were viable at all.

            In the wake of recent events, we can now put that entire contretemps on the back burner, since Barack Obama publically announced a broad-sweeping, open-gate Amnesty to all “children” in 2012, virtually offering Carte Blanche to the imperiled youth South of the Border to come flooding into America—to the tune of more than 250,000 in the last 6 months. And, typical of this Zeitgeist of the new national detriment, Obama refuses to take one scintilla of responsibility for this debacle he has helped create.

            Now, as usual, it is left for the Republicans in Congress to hold up their hands and say: “Stop! We are a nation of Laws! We must enforce these laws.” An honest, if simplistic, approach to the dilemma that the Dems are more than willing to portray as knee-jerk, draconian measures so characteristic of the GOP.

            This goes far to define the naïveté of the Republican political psyche because, in trying to do the right thing you, dying Pachyderm, are talking to a generation of über-entitled, TMZ trained Gen-Y Millennials who have only glanced up from their iPads long enough to determine that these children, escaping the tentacles of drug lords and sexual slavers in their own countries are political refugees and therefore a “humanitarian issue.” And if something isn’t done to help them, we are ignoring our responsibilities as the most compassionate nation on earth. So, sending these tiny vulnerable creatures back—in terms of Government policy shapeshifting and mainstream media spin— would be akin to drowning puppies. 

            Of course the volume on all this is being turned up on the Left by the unvetted demagoguery of Nancy Peolosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who have been depicting this as some kind of Children’s Crusade, while the GOP’s strategy for rebuttal is a steadfast insistence that “We must obey our immigration laws,” and send them all back. Meanwhile, Governors like Rick Perry call a token National Guard down to the Texas border that is so anemic it couldn’t blockade the parking lot at Disneyland, and California’s Jerry Brown blatantly declares that California no longer has borders or immigration restrictions: Bienvenidos a todo el mundo.

            Therein lies your dilemma, dear Elephant. You are politicians without a true understanding of politics, because at the moment, your sole application of strategy is “preaching to the choir.” By standing firm in principle and wrapping yourself in the Constitution cloaked in the “dolma” of fiscal responsibility, you have become a big, fat, slow-moving doctrinaire target—perceived as old white guy mouthpieces for the Military/Industrial complex, Bible-thumping fundamentalists and international Food and Pharma cartels.

            You may also forget about the “Big Tent” approach to any Republican campaign because you are competing against Shockley’s Law. By definition, Shockley’s Law (also known as the Law of Dysgenics) states that, “Problem causers reproduce in far greater numbers than problem solvers.” And since Democratic Party is the Circus Barker for the social slag of this nation, anyone with an agenda or an axe that needs grinding is welcome under its roof. Gay, lesbian, transgender, ethnic minorities (particularly those persecuted in the past), political radicals, “undocumented” workers, single mothers and anyone on welfare, Medicaid or unemployment benefits, owners of Obama-phones, super entitled celebrities who know it’s “cool” to be liberal (and a career-killer not to be), the AARP, every labor union, the medically uninsured, environmental activists, any government employee, anyone who hates success, socialists, anarchists, nihilists, Green-party dropouts, and anyone needing a grant for anything—all these and more will be seductively guided under the golden dome of the Democratic Big Top. It is a party that is quick to embrace, quick to forgive, and one—by the way— that enjoys a reputation for taking care of its own.

            Then there is the Republican Party with its innate sense of Constitutional clarity, Christian principles and moral superiority—“the few, the proud, the brave...” the vanishing. That laudable description works if you are a U.S. Marine or happen to have been with Henry V at Agincourt. 

             By now, it should be obvious to all but the most die-hard ideologue that the modern GOP is a party that has lost all sense of itself. The Tea Party (with some pretty solid ideas really) has openly declared its disgust with the “sold-out” Republican Establishment that has shown no ability to repackage its tarnished crony capitalist image. So there is literally a mad scramble for the Republican Soul that no one inside the party elite can seem to find with a GPS, mainly because it long ago made a Faustian pact with the Religious Right that has finally come to a reckoning. We have reached a Tipping Point, and the situation has become critical…but not terminal, yet!

            Some fresh new thinking about our country and our role in its stewardship could prove to be the panacea. The challenge will be getting the GOP itself to swallow the medicine. So it is here that I offer my somewhat outspoken 7 Step Reboot for a GNP (Grand New Party)…for the 2016 Presidential Race, when it really counts.

            Step 1: Embrace a positive political Buzzword that defines the who we are… like “Realists.” About 100 years ago, the Democrats rather cunningly coopted the term, “Progressive,” and have since proudly displayed that progressive banner to define their liberal agenda … even though it is code for “Anything, for anyone, anytime: Let’s make a deal.” And that’s where they have seized the advantage, Elephant, because the term, progressive, when used to describe most forms of human endeavor immediately evokes an image of being an agent for advancement, growth and improvement, implying something that is always “ahead of the curve.”
            Francis I is a progressive Pope. Seattle Seahawk’s Pete Carroll is a progressive football coach. Apple is a progressive tech company. Progressive jazz offers new and innovative music forms. Progressive architecture is something that challenges the stolid norm with daring new structures. (Then there is Progressive insurance.)
             So what’s the antonym of “progressive?”  Regressive (been accused of it)? Traditional (fine if you’re a Brooks Brothers sweater or a dorm at Princeton)? Constitutional (which is now synonymous with rigid)? So, how about being the party of Realists? Your credo could be “Get Real!” Realism is also synonymous with acknowledging the truth when you see it/hear it, recognizing changing times when you encounter them, and exerting some innovation when it is required… without being dubbed “a traitor to the cause.”  It’s called modernizing.

            Step 2: Have just one creative thought about the environment. First of all, The Year 2014 underscores the climatic conundrum. The Polar Vortex just created the coldest winter in a century. And yet NASA photos revealed last week that Greenland—the largest non-polar ice-mass—just melted. The truth is, no one has conclusive proof that “climate change” is a reality.  Studies that show the planet is heating up are, more often than not, skewed by the sponsors. (And junk science does prevail here because CO2 is plant food, and CO2 concentrations in controlled studies have consistently done nothing more than make larger plants.) Besides, most harmful industrial emissions come from sulfur dioxide and mixed emission cocktails like the deadly “China Gas” that comes wafting over from Asia to pollute our West Coast every 48 hours.
            Just a thought though Conservatives: How about acting as if you actually gave a damn about air and water pollution and do something about controlling them? Start with slaughterhouse waste, spilloffs from the rapaciously invasive coal industry (that have already destroyed Lake Erie and parts of West Virginia), and water cleanups in our rivers and off our coastlines that are wiping out things like our entire salmon industry? Finally, why not completely dismantle and restructure the EPA (now engaged in rogue mandates and secret seizures without Congressional approval)? Establish instead a new Environmental Development Administration (EDA)? Empower the private sector to repair our ecology by promoting something called Environmental Commercialism. How about offering tax incentives to industries that effectively go green? Environmental Commercialism, intelligently developed, is a trillion dollar industry in the making. Young, innovative environmental companies are springing up everywhere. What about a little venture capital for these guys? Isn’t what the GOP has been known for: promoting business and industry?
            Finally, we’re supposed to be conservatives. Conserve something…anything! How about becoming the spearhead in planning for and preventing the imminent global food shortage—one that will see about 1/5th of this planet hit starvation proportions by 2016? Did you know that the world wastes 30% of the food it produces; and America wastes 40%? Why not lead a food conservation, farm-to-market program? Then you could actually beat the Dems to the punch on positive environmental activism that would reflect some fiscal responsibility where it matters—in feeding people, making America the world leader in conservation, and lowering the cost of our food bills without churning out more GMO garbage?  

            Step 3: Stop Crony Capitalism…and start applying The Inca Factor. The terminal Tipping Point that laid waste what remained of Republican credibility came with the trillion dollar financial meltdown of 2008. Triggered by the critical mass of financial giants such as Goldman Sachs, AIG, Lehman Brothers, Chase and others, this crisis was brought on by an intricate set of financial speculations, interest hogging, stock manipulation and lowered credit horizons with virtually no effective oversight…and both political parties were guilty of complicity and looking the other way until it was too late.
            The problem was that it happened on the Republican watch…and virtually no financial institution was held accountable.  Make them accountable. Stop defending these felons in pinstripes.

            If corporations are going to lobby to be treated as individual citizens, then the knife should cut both ways. By job description, CEOs are criminally liable for the illegal conduct of the companies they run, but the law is seldom enforced. If only Nixon could go to China, and only Teddy Roosevelt (the progenitor of 20th century Capitalism) could “bust the trusts” and end US Corporate monopolies, then be those guys. If CEOs like Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs break every law of stock fraud and financial double-dealing and are still walking the streets of America, bust them! If General Motors and Toyota build cars that kill people and knowingly hide the findings from the public, their CEOs should be prosecuted. And fining them a billion dollars is pocket change and an insult to an American public silently screaming for justice. It’s time to start making corporate heads criminally liable. Your predecessors did. It worked In Iceland. And it works anywhere where heads of financial megaliths are held to the highest account.

            I call it The Inca Factor. In the Empire of Peru when the Inca nobles, gifted with wealth and privilege from birth, committed a crime, their punishment was far more severe than the peasant who committed the same crime. (In this case, “From those to whom much is given, much is required.”) The Inca Factor. Apply it. It would restore credibility to our Government and our Party as someone who actually walks its talk.

             Step 4: Please! Please! Please! Loosen the stranglehold the Religious Right has on the GOP. Upon these points hang the true paradox of modern Republicanism, because this low antigen virus once called “Christian Conservatism” has so insidiously, yet so entirely insinuated itself into the political cellular structure of America that the host body no longer realizes how deeply it has become infected.
            Frankly, I knew the GOP was in trouble during the 2012 Republican primaries when all 6 of its leading candidates—from Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich to Rick Santorum and Rick Perry—conveniently expressed the religious conviction that the world was created 6500 years ago. (I love my God as much as any man, so the thought of placing such limitations on the creator of the Universe never occurred to me. But fundamentalists feel very differently.) Of course, there’s really nothing wrong with having a fundamentalist belief system except for the fact that it is, by its very nature, dictatorial and repressive.  It demands narrow archaic creationist logic and punishes deviation from the norm. That “norm” includes a party platform that, in its 2012, has 10 references to God, 19 references to faith and an “attack upon faith,” and no references to human rights, except the right to religious freedom, opposition to “non-traditional” marriage and condemnation of abortion.

            This may not seem unusual, except when compared to the Republican Platform of 1972, which had one reference to God and 24 different references to human rights, it is safe to say the heart an soul of the Party has been retooled over the years without even realizing it. In fact, Christian Conservatism has so entirely subsumed the consciousness of the Republican Party that it has slowly eviscerated its independent will from the inside out. And it is symptomatic of the fact that any Republican political candidate lives in dread of offending the Religious Right because they have gotten quite good at “withholding” their approval, especially if they don’t like someone’s religious affiliation. Just ask 2012 Republican torchbearer (and Mormon) Mitt Romney, the recipient of a shocking 3 million “vanished votes” drop-off on election day.  

            Barry Goldwater, the conservative’s Conservative, warned about the Religious Right back in the 1960s and 1970s when he observed, “I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in A, B, C, and D. Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me … Religious factions will go on imposing their will on others unless the decent people connected to them recognize that religion has no place in public policy … Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem.” Goldwater understood the meaning of separation of church and state—while realizing that this was a nation founded upon a premise of Freedom of Religion. Not just Christianity; all religions! As such, he recognized the vitiating effect of fundamentalist fanaticism in the mainstream of American political expression.
            Now virtually every credo inside the Republican platform—from fiscal responsibility, Second Amendment Rights to bear arms, enforcement of our immigration laws, and a belief in a free market economy—all appear to be springing from the Fountainhead of some dark fundamentalist agenda that attaches its Seal of Approval on everything conservative. True or not, it has turned out to be the ultimate political kill shot. It savages dissent, blocks diversity and horsewhips anyone inside the party that does not fit neatly inside the far right conservative cookie cutter. Like it or not, that’s been our brand for the last 20 years, and we have to move away from it.
            The irony of ironies lies in the fact that about 73% of the American people have stopped buying it…more if you listen for the silent dissent inside the GOP itself. What the Republican leadership—at least the ones who still have some semblance of self-respect—needs to do is put its ear to the ground and listen to the distant drum of reasoned response and the ghost of Barry Goldwater.
            Step 5: Understand the human need for Common Sense Conservatism. And for God’s sake, somebody learn how to read a poll! How hard can it be, GOP, to understand your strengths and weakness, win the fights you can win, and stay away from social issues that are plainly hemlock to our integrity of purpose?
            In characteristic political hypocrisy, the radical wings of both Democrats and Republicans claim to be defenders of human rights and the elusive “freedoms” defined by the first Ten Amendments to the Constitution. In truth, neither political party has any problem infringing on our individual liberties when it comes to advancing its agenda.
            The far right wants to tell women what they can do with their bodies. They think it’s OK if some nut job who hasn’t been licensed, tested or qualified (and who may not like the way I eat my popcorn in a movie) can pack heat on the street if he wants to. They want to tell us who can marry whom and what constitutes commitment, and would—if they could—create an unofficial Christian Caliphate to run America.

            The far left wants to get our guns, control what we put into our mouths, including what we feed our children at school (but send them home for wearing religious symbols) and blunt our right to pray in public. They want to bust us for smoking in our own front yards, force small entrepreneurs into employment practices that will bankrupt them, and extend civil rights to illegal aliens that we deny to our own people. And God help anyone who still believes that the First Amendment is not under direct assault by Liberal Vigilantism, including that most insidious of all social mechanisms—Political Correctness. Although the PC Vigilantes can’t enact laws to shut down Freedom of Speech—including an individual’s God-given right to make an ass out of himself—they can trot out the media Thought Police, the “tweet” posse, and the weight of the vocal minority to drive out of employment or public forum anyone who does not conform to the rigid vernacular of the verbally benign.

            Please, dear Elephant, just take a look at what’s really going on. And quit breaking lances on the Windmills of changing times. Some arguments are already lost. Some are already won…while others are just stupid and best left to the Democrats. Examples: 85% of the GOP base now believes in a woman’s right to choose. That’s not the national base of all parties: that’s the Republican base. The fight is over! It’s over! So why is Right to Life even a plank in the Republican platform? Could it be the fundamentalist tail is wagging the dog? (I grant you that 3rd trimester abortions are tantamount to murder. So common-sense legislate against that. Otherwise leave it alone.)

            On another issue, 83% of the American People strongly believe that the Second Amendment contains the individual’s right to bear arms. That argument is won. We are victorious. And, unless we are stupid enough to let the vocal minority shout down reasonable people, this is a public sentiment is not going to abate. We’ve won! Move on.

            Another battle that we are winning is the left-hand media spin in the press that 77% of all Americans now find lacking in credibility and they believe are rapidly becoming goons for the government agenda. This comes from a Gallup Poll, folks! One of the few that maintains its reputation for objectivity. [A media, by the way, that has been shut out of most White House activities and almost all press conferences involving Barack Obama—he of the transparent Administration and a new era of “openness.”]
            All the above are landslide figures pointing to the fact that these issues are decided. Most are done so because the common sense of a cross-cultural, highly motile, futuristic America has been forced by circumstance and an expedient media morality to decide on its own what is relevant and what is not. It’s also an indication that facts, more than the strident cries of the demagogue, are once again starting to make an impact, which leads to emphasis on our next important point…
            Step 6: Set up a “Fact Bank” to antidote Jackass Knowledge.  Come up to times Elephant. There is a wonderful new term out there that plays right into your political wheelhouse. It is called “Jackass Knowledge.” It was started by a magazine concept called Modern Jackass (in 2005) and refers to someone who gloms onto a few tidbits of information about any subject and suddenly starts expounding like an expert—on everything from GMO to the origins of Capitalism. Of course, the deeper they go into the subject the more quickly they display their ignorance—that is if they are challenged by an intelligent informed opposition.
            Unfortunately that informed opposition too often comes from conservative radio and TV talk show host who, though they often do a credible job of fact checking, are tainted out of the gate by their brand. Besides, all you need to do to condemn a cogent conservative perspective these days is to say it came from FOX News or Breitbart and it’s (unfairly) DOA with a majority of viewers.
            On the surface at least, the deck seems stacked, because the large body of the press generously covers the diatribe from the Democratic camp and lays it on like jam to a gullible public without vetting a single half-truth that comes spilling out of their propaganda banks. The glorious irony in this is that, by now more than 3/4th of the informed American public looks upon their spin as tainted and lacking in veracity. 
            So that news void longs to be filled by facts and figures and live experiential reporting from credible sources armed with statistics and somehow able to qualify as disinterested parties. Republicans, if they’re truly smart and respond to the demagogic spin with hard facts referenced to the nines, could actually turn public sentiment in their favor. But it would require a relentless pursuit of the truth, loaded with credible sources, and to date neither party has been very responsive with either. So, seize the Truth initiative, Elephant! If we were immediately able to wrangle all the facts (from impeccable references) and do so on a timely basis, we would bring the world back to realize again the Freedom of Information for which we so valiantly battled over the last 20 years (and for which we received virtually no credit).  
            Step 7: Retool the Political Gene Pool. And Expose “Celebrity Fascism” for the Contagion that it is.  I know this seems superficial to note that Politics always amount to a beauty contest. It should also be self-evident.
            Unfortunately more than ever, perception is reality. And even though there are some truly lovely, intelligent, profoundly dedicated Republicans, most of them are under cover for an number of reasons. Frankly, most politicians these days are not the “intellectual aristocrats” who founded this country or even the ones who made it great. In fact, the political gene pool has been so badly watered down in the last 25 years that POTUS Bill Clinton is still the hottest political commodity in America. He is followed closely by Barack Obama. (Tarnished though he may be, he is still the darling of Gen Y and most Millennials.) And Hillary, the clear Democratic frontrunner for 2016, is quite the rave with American women, 67% of whom think she would make an excellent President.  So the Dems for 2016 enjoy a mediagenic acceptability factor going in. And in a nation increasingly drawn to style over substance, this is formidable opposition.

            As an additional point of leverage and a powerful one at that, swing voters daily behold a glitz and glamour entourage from the Broadway and Hollywood elite batting from the left side of the plate and proudly proclaiming their egalitarian Democrat heritage. Everyone from George Clooney to Lady Gaga, from Brad and Angelina to Oprah, from Meryl Streep to Matt Damon, plus Stephen Spielberg, David Geffen, Harvey Weinstein and every major power broker in entertainment—all chime in their very vocal support of Democrat candidates, especially for the highest office in the land.
            So what does the GOP get to trot out as “celebrity” standard bearers—Donald Trump, Rush Limbaugh, Duck Dynasty, Ted Nugent and Sarah Palin?

            Meanwhile, every Republican in film, television and entertainment is forced, like the Christians in Ancient Rome, hide his or her political affiliation —resorting to the use of sacred symbols, coded conversations and secret societies such as Friends Of Abe, FOA, with Chapters in LA and New York … that hold meetings at hidden venues (and fend off the IRS). They do so in peril of their careers, because—although no one dares declare it publicly—people in film and television get fired for claiming to be Republican or even expressing conservative views. Unless you are a Clint Eastwood, a John Voigt or a Robert Duvall—and too powerful and long-standing to be unseated—you must tread carefully in the very Orwellian realm of Hollywood, Broadway and every broadcast communications center west of Mogadishu.  (This is particularly true of pink ghetto jobs such as casting, stylists, gaffers, film and television editors and well-paid expendables in the profession as well as any actor not on the “A” list.)

             I call it “Celebrity Fascism” because this is clearly what it is. Along with left spin media bias (recently “outed”) it is one of the most subversive invasions of personal liberty in a profession that so proudly proclaims itself to be a bastion of freedom of expression. Nothing, in fact, could be further from the truth.

            The ultimate irony of this Liberal entertainment Cabal is that—were these closeted Conservative professionals gay or women or black or Buddhists and being persecuted for their lifestyle, their beliefs or their gender—it would churn up the biggest civil rights scandal in modern times. And yet Republicans and conservatives throughout the business endure this kind of vicious discrimination with almost stoic grit invariably suffered in silence.

            Therein lies the paradox of the Pachyderm. Republicans have, somewhere along the way, cultivated this proud and dignified (but silent) defiance of the crass public norm, when what we should really be doing is rolling up our sleeves and taking the fight to the Democrats. Start by defending our own who are being bullied and driven under in the world of entertainment. Expose Celebrity Fascism and Liberal Fascism in general for what it is—a suppression of human rights and an attack on the First Amendment.  

           So, let's put our shoulders to the task, Elephants. Have the sand to denounce the political repression that is going on right in the backyard of our Creative Brain Trusts in film and entertainment. Bring some of our best and brightest out of the closet and into the light of day. (You might actually be surprised at who stands up to be counted once you do.) 

            Return to what you were GOP, a champion of the average man. The Democrats are masters of depicting themselves as the heroes of the working class, when what they are doing is using them for fodder—for votes, the collective embrace of big Government and a loss of the individual will.

            Once the GOP was the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower, Reagan, Teddy Roosevelt, Henry Kissinger, Nelson Rockefeller, Barry Goldwater and Eliot Richardson. This was once the haven of John Wayne, Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope. 

            Let’s get back to basics, Republicans. There are a lot of good, young, energetic intelligent aspirants in the Republican camp right now. Just cut them a little slack. Rather than try to pound them into shape so they can fit inside the far-right conservative cake pan, allow them a little individuality. Return to what this party once represented—diversity with a moral compass, strength and the ability to be impeccable to our word.
            And have a nose for the future, Elephant. Carl Sandburg was right: The past is a box of ashes.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Celebritization of Evil

Welcome to the Cult of “Villainy Chic”

O.K. I’m not burying the lead on this article, because I support a thinly held theory about the real cause of pandemic violence in America that is finally gaining traction. And those intent on “getting the guns” won’t like it one bit, because it immediately goes to the point that other countries such as Israel, Switzerland, and United Arab Emirates have very high percentages of gun ownership, very low crime rates and virtually no mass shootings. In fact, the top eight nations with high gun ownership, except the good old USA, have low proportionate crime rates. So, I think it’s high time we got into what’s really at play here—the dark and murky soul of the human ego.

            Even out of the gate, I’d like to personally thank the most recent “Craig’s List Killer” Miranda Barbour for lending even more credibility to my construct by coming out this week with claims that she and her fiancé have “offed” over 100 victims (mostly men) in a crime spree that would make Natural Born Killers look like The Velveteen Rabbit. I personally believe her pronouncement is an utter fabrication born out of some demented need for “stardom,” (and fact checking will eventually bear this out). But it does dovetail perfectly into my argument.

            I call my axiom The Celebritization of Evil, one for which I will provide postulate evidence—draw your own conclusions. So let me tell you how I arrived at mine…

            So here I am last night, catching the final ceremonies of the the Sochi Winter Olympic in all its icy splendor when I realize that I’m actually approaching it with a sense of relief because, for the last two weeks, this spectacle has deprived me of the only TV show I watch on a regular basis—The Blacklist. To jostle my awareness even further, I realize that it actually caused me to experience certain addictive withdrawal symptoms for having been denied access to this murky masterpiece of an “everybody’s dirty” spy series starring that picaresque scoundrel Raymond Reddington (“Red”), brilliantly rendered by James Spader...when it finally strikes me numb. Good heavens! I too have fallen into the thrall of a murderous scumbag—albeit a suave, brilliant, highly sophisticated, murderous scumbag with a genius IQ and an etched-in-stone personal code of honor that somehow renders him sympathetic and occasionally just. Well, there you have it: I’ve been programmed, as we all have, not only to find evil acceptable but also, through some glitch in human decency, to be seductively glamorous—one that is well-woven into the fabric of an American cult conjuration that I refer to as “Villainy Chic.”

            I punctuate that opinion in a thousand ways, starting with an oddly ill-timed Holiday Season launch of that three-network miniseries, Bonnie and Clyde. For some reason, venerable Australian director Bruce Beresford decided to reinvent the wheel by reworking the 1968 Arthur Penn, Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway classic with this Emile Hirsh, Holliday Granger “rebake,” deliberately over-stylized to make these homicidal sociopaths come off as the envy of the Beau Monde. Instead, it turned out to be nothing more than a boring, bloody fashion show where some very pretty people, dressed like a Tamara de Lempicka art-deco mural, shoot up the scenery, rob a bunch of banks, kill people indiscriminately and then pay tribute to themselves in a spate of subliterate sonnets published in the national press.

            The irony of this pair of miscreants now lifted to the status of American cultural icons by virtue of shiny people portraying them lies in the fact that, in their time, Bonnie and Clyde were looked down upon, even by their peers, as murderous trailer trash. At that time, in what amounted to a Depression era epidemic of crime, we had much flashier outlaws like John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd who made infinitely more compelling copy as “true folk heroes” in their own right. All of them, it seemed, were portrayed as the unfortunate asocial progeny of a dysfunctional society who somehow managed to capture a sizable gallery of devoted followers because they robbed banks. And the entire nation was still chafing under the devastation of the pre-FDIC collapse of our financial institutions followed by an orgy of foreclosures, yet another financial rape of the average man, and a 1930s global monetary meltdown.

            Then, as now, it seems it has never been the individuals themselves but “The System” whose malevolent opacity is clearly to blame. Of course, the cliché holds true that every villain is the hero of his own story. That alone is fodder for the twisted minds and broken psyches of sociopaths everywhere—that it is our free society that is the real Matrix of Malevolence. So in some oddly self-justifying counterpoint, their brief spurts of brilliant violence amount to acts of poignant protest, rendering them both original and daring. (And as art invariably imitates life, the 1930s in particular saw a surge in Hollywood Gangster epics such as Little Caesar, Scarface, and Manhattan Melodrama that starred the biggest “A-List” actors from Jimmy Cagney and Edward G. Robinson to Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable, all dressing to the nines, mowing people down and garnering what, at the time, were astronomical box office numbers).

            Now we fast-forward to present time and a need to feed the jaded masses with a well-defined cult of Thug Worship that is striking us down as a society without our even knowing it. We have grown up loving our colorful antiheroes from Tony Soprano to Walter White in Breaking Bad—all of whom have either a family tradition or some unfortunate set of circumstances that have propelled them into going sideways with their social contract. Talented directors like Quentin Tarantino and the legendary Martin Scorsese have built entire career franchises out of rationalizing the manipulations of their twisted protagonists with irresistible appeal. Kill Bill and Goodfellas, Reservoir Dogs and Casino have brought us such a tapestry of confusing ethics and violent response that we have stopped going through the shock of trying to determine right from wrong, and simply accept “wrong” in all its mucky shades of gray as the way things really are. 

            The latest media phenomenon is the impossibly popular Showtime series, Dexter. Dexter—handsome, affable and 30-something of course—just happens to be a serial killer whose perverse talents for murder and mayhem have, through some evacuation of logic, been transformed into a useful purpose: assassinating international criminals, sex perverts and big-time terrorists that all the institutional minions of our intelligence agencies are somehow unable to wrangle in by any other means. To be sure, Dexter had a troubled, abusive childhood (which seems to justify everything these days). Besides, he is charming, charismatic and a genius with an off-the-hook Forensic IQ…and (yet again) a code he lives by. As such, he follows in the footsteps of that other über-archetypal sociopath, Hannibal (the Cannibal) Lecter.

            Popularized by the book and the film, Silence of the Lambs, this somewhat overrated Oscar winning “best picture,” surrounds the mental and emotional manipulations of an FBI apprentice by an arch-villain so badly overcooked by Anthony Hopkins that, at some point, the performance takes on the aroma of well-hung pork. Not to worry though, because the majority of audiences everywhere seem irresistibly drawn to cannibalistic, skin-flaying psychopaths—so much so, that there have not only been three sequels/prequels, but also a website and a fan-club called “Loving Lecter.”

            Why be surprised, when you think about it? Real life cannibalistic pedophile and deceased serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer has a fan club. Charles Manson has a fan club and a website. So does Vlad Tepes, the original Dracula. So does Adolph Hitler (one naturally created by people who claim the Shoah never happened). And of course Satan himself has several, including a couple of churches and a blog.

            If this seems to be taking negative role models to the extreme, when you think about it we really had nowhere else to go. The Godfather, a portrait of a Mafia family has been lifted to the status of a cultural legend and (ironically) stands as the No. 3 most popular film of all time. Also in the all-time top five favorite films, The Dark Knight Batman series really rises out of itself to offer praise and fascination for that self-celebratory schizophrenic, The Joker, in an Oscar worthy performance by Heath Ledger. Rounding out America’s most popular quintet (all violent films) is the irrepressible Pulp Fiction, a film so layered with drug dealers, killers, sex perverts and addicts that we must either walk out on the film or accept the charm of their uncaught moments and the slim veins of human frailty that they almost deliberately pause to reveal. (Ah! The hitman with the poetic soul and a mastery of Biblical verse! How utterly irresistible…and the perfect crossover into reality.)

            In case you hadn’t noticed (and by all indications, you haven’t) America has a built a culture of adoration around the wrong kind of heroes. Our fascination with villains and “Sympathy for the Devil” actually goes back for decades, if not centuries. It has become interwoven into the psycho-sociological DNA of the American mindset that it has become our virtual social signature to the world.

            We are “the gunslingers.” We are the “gangstas.” We are the Terminators, the bandolero bedecked, AK47-toting Marines who can wipe out entire battalions with a blast from our .50 caliber automatic canons. We (the collective “we”) have just managed to turn every bit of this into an art form, and it is now an art form that has managed to cut across all ethnicities and cultures in ways that seem to deliberately persuade the young disenfranchised minorities of America that crime and violence are viable career options on the way to seizing power and assuming a mantle of social significance.  

            One needs only review the cult-classic stature given to films like New Jack City, The Crow, Menace II Society, and American Gangster (based on real-life drug lord Frank Lucas) to lay across the indelible, if morally ambiguous, message that minority youths actually have a shot at a life of luxury, adventure and even celebrity if they follow some very well-established guidelines to rise in the hidden world of gangs and the gang culture itself. And who doesn’t enjoy the rags to riches success story of that Marielito reject, Tony Montano (Scarface) portrayed with paradoxical hubris by Al Pacino?  Tony Montano, the vile “Mini-me” Cubano gangster who harbors an incestuous obsession for his own sister. Tony Montano who snorts more cocaine than a Charlie Sheen icebreaker and then blows up himself and everyone else in his world.
            Meanwhile, we have pressed the pedal to the metal over the last 30 years not only to accept violence, especially violence where bad guys seem to thrive, that we are now faced with “action-adventure” films that have no chance of attracting young male audiences unless they are scored in mega-deaths.

            Somewhere along the way in the last 20 years we have managed to license and market legions of video games (85% of them violent or include violence) that have reached nearly $30 billion in revenue, involving 93% of alternate reality possessed Millennials (between the ages of 2 and 32) pounding away at some target with a kind of whack-a-mole mastery that no one over the age of 40 can possibly hope to imagine. And of course, high scores are directly proportionate to whatever number of the enemy we are able to neutralize by any means available to us. To be sure, the kill ratios number in the thousands. Though estimates vary, 78% of all video games played by boys from 3 to 18 charge-in with an average of 45 acts of violence in the first 10 minutes and more than 5,400 kills in a single month. In each game there is no sense of right and wrong; there is no special leverage given to heroes over villains. Winners are determined purely in terms of skill. And in a majority of the cases (over 61%) the bad guys win.

            What this manages to accomplish is an extended zombification of the relationship between predator and prey; so there is no virtually accountability other than some thinly measured success for the vast unwashed. Compound that by the fact that, hero or villain, the mechanics of slaughter dictate that we have ramped up the graphic violence to such a point that the mostly young male audience walks away disappointed should we not blow up the entire universe, or (a la Resident Evil, Underworld and Spartacus, Blood and Sand) splatter so much stage blood on the screen that you need a half-gallon of Windex to wipe it off.

            Accountability, of course, is what is missing from all this. Everything in the sociopathic scenario is a matter of raw material—a kind of macabre “scoreboard.” This is perpetuated by the producers and purveyors of violence from Hollywood who look upon each explosion as a return on dollar and piled-up filmic “corpses” as cash registers. (They do this out of one side of their mouths while they are campaigning for “gun” laws and supporting restrictive enforcement statutes out of the other.) I need not underscore the moral hypocrisy of all this except to point to a recent chart where BOQ (Box Office Quotient) and body count seem to have a rather symbiotic relationship that makes the term, “strange bedfellows,” come to be an understatement.
            It is both appalling and yet predictable to note that so many of our heroes (and crossover characters) are actually listed in the Top 10 all time action-adventure draws according to “screen kills.”  Our man and favorite Marine/cowboy/Dirty Harry stud, Clint Eastwood, tops the list with nearly 700 kills. But such luminaries as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Steven Segal and Dolph Lundgren all check-in at Numbers 2 through 6 at well over 400 kills each.

            I’m trying to digest this “kill ratio” rating system and how it drives filmmakers and marketers toward the way they will structure their promotional P&A (Prints and Advertising), when I realize it is all a part of the film marketing Matrix…and the fact that we have so entirely blurred the lines between good an evil that there is no longer a distinction.

            I think about the current list of top films and TV Series More recently, we witnessed the close of a fifth season of Boardwalk Empire. Arch criminals, historical Mafia legends, hookers, black gangstas and crooked politicians all conniving, torturing and killing their way toward their attempted monopoly on vice…and questionable company of people even more twisted than they.  This 4-year run was supposed to offer some level of credibility because it dealt with historical characters such as Charles “Lucky” Luciano, Arnold Rothstein and Al Capone who ended up turning into what they always seem to become in scenarios such as this—a gaudy pastiche of the originals.

            Or do they? Does villainy get a get-out-of-jail-free pass these days? Now, we seem to accept it almost as our daily bread.

             I point to the recent Whitey Bulger trial and sentencing as the explanation point on that rhetorical question. It’s not enough that this man is a consensus master villain and unrepentant mass-murderer, he has by every social mechanism at his disposal proved phenomenally durable, achieving his wicked longevity with the apparent complicity of all our intelligence agencies.

             What better fodder for filmic fiction than this man? After all, Bulger had already been lionized in books and film and has somehow come off as this outside-the-lines criminal mastermind given a pass to continue his one-man crime spree with the help of the FBI, the NSA (and God only knows who else) and top it off by getting his own roman a clef biopic. Not just any film, mind you: The Departed—an Oscar “Best Picture” Martin Scorsese crime drama with the iconic Jack Nicholson playing Bulger’s celluloid self in an utterly captivating way, as only Jack can do.

            Bulger, acknowledged as one of the most execrable mobsters in U.S. History, is a brutal killer and duplicitous stool pigeon to boot. And yet we observe him with a knowing nod and a wink toward the real bad guy behind the curtain—some “suit” in a U.S. Government intelligence agency office (pick one) pulling the strings on evil puppets such as he.

            So, in his way, Bulger, despicable and horrid though he may be, is no more contemptible than the system that created him and allowed him to flourish for nearly 40 years. And, rest assured, he will continue to flourish…in some federal prison where he will wile away his dotage, holding court with a coterie of adoring felons and some back-door book and film deals that, despite our denials, still go on. (If you doubt this for a moment, you need merely reference a recent IMDB filmography where a new Ben Affleck directed film is in development, starring his old friend Matt Damon to play Bulger. Welcome to crime as Media Empire!)

            Media in all its forms are the willing accomplices to this, before and after the fact. The real trigger came last summer with the Rolling Stone cover unleashing a photo-portrait of [alleged] mass-murderer, part-time social parasite and full-time sleeper-cell radical jihadist Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as he stood posed rakishly against a wall, curl dropped down with that cute little “bad-boy” pout in the tradition of the Doors Jim Morrison (circa 1968).  Catching a glimpse of it as it flew out at me from a half-dozen different blog-sites, I couldn’t help but notice the engaging, if not somewhat callow, expression on this young punk’s face. So, “boy next door!” So humanizing! In fact, it momentarily created the intended result— offering a striking rockstar resemblance to Josh Groban, or even (dare I say it) Ryan Gosling—a kind of incidental allure that made him somehow…acceptable.

            Then came the headline, “The Bomber.” Well, I thought, perhaps they’re doing an article on former Heavyweight Boxing Champ, Joe Louis (The Brown Bomber) or Yankee slugger Babe Ruth, the original “Bronx Bomber.”  But no: This glamorous little banner was referring to Tsarnaev and his wiping out 114 people at the Boston Marathon, featuring him as a good boy somehow gone bad, let down by his family, his friends and our [apparently corrupt] American society. And, to be sure young Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has his own website, fan page, groupies and even a caravan of Hummers and sexy, black Chevy Suburbans whenever he shows up for arraignments and hearings preceding his pending trial.

            One can’t blame Rolling Stone entirely. They have never been known for journalistic ethics in the first place, and had to pick this monstrous low-hanging fruit to help bolster their flagging subscriptions. But they—and all the press—remain a major part of the problem.

            The more we study real life villains such Bulger and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, we find they constantly had highly publicized role models they admired either from real life or fiction. Bulger adored any stories about the escapades and accomplishments of his hero Al Capone. Tsarnaev thrived on the teachings and media savvy of longtime Al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi up to and including his final assassination.

            We know, historically, that so many assassins, would-be assassins and serial killers are intent upon, if not obsessed with, their own celebrity. John Hinckley Jr. purportedly shot up President Ronald Reagan’s entire cortege including Reagan himself because he was trying to score points with (then) starlet Jody Foster. More recently, Colorado mass murderer James Holmes had created his own personal cult surrounding The Dark Knight [Batman] film series and even died his hair bright red to more closely personify his arch-villain role-model, “The Joker.” In their private memos, Columbine killers Dylan Klebold and Eric David Harris were self-described “Natural Born Killers,” cloning themselves after the very twisted eponymous Oliver Stone celluloid homage to violence in America. Charles Manson and his entire murderous clan had their own twisted connection to hit songs by the Beatles and, to this day, are noted by the simple sobriquet, Helter Skelter.

            Ultimately, it is not the fact that these icons of violence exist, or even our idolization of them, that is the real cultural culprit here. So, at this point, I have to pose the social syllogism: If this kind of demented evil feeds on notoriety, does it not logically follow that we declare moratorium on these guys? Once their heinous acts are recorded and they are noted for public record in the press, why not ban them from press coverage and deny them the celebrity status they so obviously seek? The answer is as certain as the question is academic: there’s just too much media money in it. So we must milk it for all it’s worth, while claiming to honor the First Amendment rights from which the press profits and the gore-obsessed public is entitled. All decisions, after all, come down to economics.
            Of course, we now have cases in point where so called “sane” citizens are gunning people down for texting in a movie, playing their music too loud in their own SUV or just walking through a neighborhood wearing a hoodie—and then hiding behind the obscure tenets of an equally idiotic initiative called “Stand your ground.” Once again, the benchmark by which the self-appointed cowboys use to separate themselves from the villains in society are so thin that it becomes impossible to tell the good guys from the bad guys, simply because these asocial nut jobs somehow consider themselves ersatz versions of Mel Gibson in Edge of Darkness, Charles Bronson (in Death Wish) or Michael Douglas in Falling Down, “entitled” to enact rash, macho reprisals against the evils of a permissive society and using “kill-ratio” icons to cloak their own cowardice. Now they have a statute that, unless it is interpreted in the strictest sense, can become a license to kill. So, we are caught in the middle between marginal role models on both sides of the argument.

            Ultimately, we come down to the conundrum of the Sandy Hook School shootings in Newtown, Connecticut and that conduct of the slaughterer of innocents, Adam Lanza. Here we have the perfect storm of an ordinance-fixated mother and an autistic son with access to an arsenal some small countries would covet. Naturally, when you have a militant and single parent martialing her rather parallax perspective of social justice around an Asperger Syndrome offspring with serious abandonment issues and an intense jealousy of anyone who took away mom’s attentions, you have the Perfect Storm for a scenario where violence and mayhem are waiting in Act III.

            And yet there is so much more. Lanza, 20, eerily akin to the psyche of Norman Bates, was fixated not only upon an entire filmography of man-to-boy pedophilia but also intensely obsessed with an underground video kill game called…”School Shooting.” (Yes, they [the collective ‘they’] have a violent, disgusting video game for just about everything, and this is no exception.)

            I will resist the temptation to propose the legislation and even prosecution of such viciously exploitive and tasteless dreck, because that is the peril of privilege in a free society with a First Amendment of the Constitution that must be protected at all costs. Or is it?

            Film star Bruce Willis (no stranger to violent films himself) once observed that, “You cannot possibly legislate insanity.” And though my instinctive response as a former Marine and a 2nd Amendment advocate is to nod my head and say, “Amen,” there is some abnegating angel in me who must stop and say: Enough! In doing so, my dissent takes a form I might have never imagined before, and so I ask us all to think about it.

            We legislate and restrict the distribution of porn, both in publication and on the Internet. We prosecute purveyors of graphic pedophilia and snuff. We restrict the times and networks through which sexually explicit material is shown to the public at large. Might we not at least try putting a leash upon that most obscene of all public lewdness—bloody, gratuitous violence? In certain countries in the EU, TV networks follow a code that limits the showing of truly violent films and TV series to later at night, after young children have gone to bed. 

            Our children—in this high-tech, low touch single-parent electronic reality video game universe—are too often taught win-lose before they are taught right from wrong…before they are taught good from evil, before they are given a system of values. In this newfound paradigm of moral relativism they, too early-on, lose the ability to measure the subtle shifts between power and reckless disregard. The redemptive grace in all of this is that at some level even our young children know it.

            To underscore that point, I return to the fallout from what has proved to be the most senseless and tragic mass murder certainly in the last half century, the one that punctuates all others before and after: the slaughter of those 20 innocent children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook.

            In an ABC television broadcast about a week after the event, Nightline news commentator Bill Weir interviewed a gallery of 24 boys and girls—ages 9 through 11—to get their feedback on the real problems underlying the shootings at that Newtown school and other tragic events like it. The default opening question from the host came as no surprise: “Do you think it’s the guns? Is it the easy availability of firearms and weapons that is at the root of terrible events like this?”
            What was surprising, if not stunning, was the response from this panel of children. Without exception, these 9-11 year-olds answered with a resounding “No!”

            The real problem, in their opinion, was all the violence in film and television—all the violent video games, “and all the people killing people all the time in movies.”
            “There are also a lot of people who think being bad is cool…” added one boy. And the summary of this very young but very wise panel was—less violence and more of the good things of life, fewer bad guys and more positive role models—would make a difference…perhaps a tremendous difference.  

            Out of the mouths of babes…or is it just common sense? In view of all this, I have to ask you just one question, in the words of the immortal Jeff Foxworthy: “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?”

            Well…are you?