StreetLegalPlay by Kyle Thomas Smith

CAVE!

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on March 26, 2010

What the fuck happened?!

I mean, don’t get me wrong. I couldn’t be more pleased with the results, but…

What the fuck happened?!

The Republicans caved!  They CAVED!

We thought they’d drag the reconciliation package out for months, right up to November.  They did actually get the package sent back to the House yesterday morning.

But all the fixes passed last night at about 9 pm. Nancy Pelosi banged the gavel at a 220-207 vote.

What happened?  Did we wear the Republicans down?  (I mean, for now…)

Is Obama the Judy Garland to the Republican Wicked Witch?

For a long time, I’ve written about how Obama was so naive to think a bipartisan bill would be possible. Now I’m thinking he knew from the start that it would be impossible, but he wanted to to prove it to the American people once and for all before passing healthcare reform and enacting what will hopefully be a whole panoply of reforms. Well, now, all those “next Jimmy Carter” predictions have been wiped clean off the map.

He’s just signed off on a landmark arms accord with Russia. Next up, immigration reform!

But shouldn’t we be working on a massive job-creation package first? Not even the Tea Partiers could reasonably justify opposing that. Not that the Tea Party could ever be accused of being reasonable. Death threats aside, they say they oppose big government but they want the government to create jobs, guarantee their mortgage deductions, continue public education, and build and maintain roads and highways. Maybe it’s like how the Republicans say they love democracy but evidently they don’t like elections (when they lose) or majority rule in congress (when they lose).

But, whatever, the reconciliation package has passed with unforeseen speed! And maybe I’m speaking too soon, but it seems that the Democrats are starting to find their spines.

And HAPPY BIRTHDAY, NANCY PELOSI!

No spankings for you today. You’ve kicked more ass than anyone.

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Victory!

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on March 22, 2010

Many years ago, when I was working for the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities, I helped arrange for Congressman John Lewis, one of the greatest heros of the civil rights movement, to receive the Founder’s Award at our 35th Anniversary luncheon. (Chicago’s own Barack Obama would win it the following year and speak at our luncheon.) I had the honor of being his valet for the day. He was an unaffected, salt-of-the-earth guy with a hearty laugh. But when I sat at a pre-luncheon roundtable with him and 10 other people from my generation, his eyes had a fiery intensity born of bitter experience that people my age, weened as we were on the complacency of an escapist entertainment industry, had rarely if ever witnessed.

Lewis talked about how he’d been hit over the head with a hammer on a march through Montgomery. He talked about the many times his community of activists had been thrown in jail, jeopardizing their already scant prospects to secure rights that the status quo was only too content to withhold from them. He talked about how he’d come through it all to be one of the most influential members of congress.

When he was done talking, he opened the floor to questions. Everyone was too stunned to talk. So he looked around until his strongest eye settled right on me, making it known that, if anyone was responsible for keeping this discussion going, it would have to be me, the guy who arranged it all. I didn’t know what to ask besides: “Well, God, did you ever think about giving up?”

John Lewis looked at me incredulously. He told us giving up was the furthest thing from their minds. There was too much to fight for and live for. If they died, they died, but the fight would go on.

This past Saturday, as John Lewis marched with his fellow congressmen to pull in the last units of support they’d need to pass healthcare reform, Tea Partiers called him n@%ger. Some even spat on Lewis’ fellow civil rights crusader Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver. They screamed “faggot”* at Barney Frank and mocked his lisp. Another congressman and civil rights pioneer, Rep. James Clybourn, said he hadn’t witnessed this level of hatred since South Carolina in the 1960s – and that’s saying something! But all four men soldiered on through Longworth Hall to make history this weekend.

This was a HUGE comeback for Barack Obama. This bill alone – rudimentary though it is – is enough to enshrine Obama’s name in presidential history. As I watched the number of votes tick to 219 last night without a single Republican Yay, I remembered Dylan’s line: “You didn’t know it, you didn’t think it could be done/In the final end, he won the wars after losing every battle.”

I was so afraid Obama had given up on healthcare, just as Clinton had in his presidency. Yet Nancy Pelosi and Al Franken were both instrumental in putting him back on track. At a party retreat at which Obama spoke in February, Franken, the freshmen senator, chastised his fellow democrats for all but scuttling the bill after the Scott Brown election in Massachusetts. Pelosi met privately with President Obama telling him that if she and Harry Reid were going to put their necks on the line for Obama’s foremost priority, he had better muscle through to the finish with them. At long last, Obama was no longer afraid to make waves. He hunkered down, wrangled in every stray bit of potential support, made his most impassioned speeches and, much like on his own election night, he clocked in a victory at about 11 o’clock (EST) last night.

Naturally, losing didn’t keep the Republicans from lying. They disowned responsibility for the Tea Partiers’ behavior even though they’d rallied them, led them in chanting “Kill the Bill” and applauded one protester for breaking into congress and shouting down democrats. Then, after the vote came down, Republicans ran their mouths about how this bill would increase federal funding for abortion, even though it is expressly written all over the bill and the executive order that such funding is strictly prohibited. (For the record, in countries where there is government funding for abortions, abortion rates are at least 20% lower per capita than in the United States. Such facilities provide ample contraception and information on safe sex, free of charge, thus greatly reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies without abortion.) But that didn’t stop the Republicans’ lying gums from flapping.

I would write this off as sore loserhood but it is in fact a calculation to rile Tea Partiers into an insurgency that the Republicans will stamp out the minute their party regains control of congress and/or the White House. (Funny how we don’t hear much about Big Government once Republicans are the big government, much like we didn’t hear a peep out of the Republicans about the deficit once they ran it up with war debts and Bush tax-cuts. Now, it’s just about all they talk about.) The Republicans should be publicly hauled out and censured for the  distortions they promulgated on the house floor last night.

When Bart Stupak, the Republicans’ great white hope, got up to make his speech in favor of the senate bill – which he demanded be sealed with an anti-choice executive order – a Republican congressman screamed, “Baby Killer!”

I’m glad Stupak cast his vote for the bill after all his vamping on TV this month, but I still want his ass run out of office. We don’t need democrats like him or Blanche Lincoln and Dan Lipinski. I’m waiting for those MoveOn emails to come asking us to drive out these conservative democrats, who stand in the way of progress every bit as much as their Republican colleagues.

All that aside, though…I gotta say, Ms. Palin…this hopey-changey stuff is really starting to work out for us!

______________________

* To me, the word “faggot” is just as offensive as the n-word, but unlike the latter epithet, I spell it out in full to avoid confusion with the other word known as the f-word, which I find infinitely less offensive.

Deem and Pass?

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on March 16, 2010

I don’t understand what Pelosi’s doing here. Not that I don’t condone it. I just don’t understand it.

I’ve been reading several articles and still don’t know why it’s just now that we’re hearing about the “self-executing rule” that Pelosi has had in her back pocket this whole time. Why doesn’t she just do a simple up-and-down vote? It looks like she’ll have the votes. This way she could secure her place as the best Speaker of the House in American history. She doesn’t have to resort to sleight of hand.

As for Kucinich, I respect his principled stand, but why can’t he come around to seeing this woefully inadequate bill as purely foundational? We can improve upon it later. Neither social security nor medicare were strong at their inceptions. It took many years to bolster them. But at least we had them signed into law.

Also,  let’s not forget that Kucinich is the same man who wrote and subsequently voted down his own bill to impeach George W. Bush, a measure which warranted no contention whatsoever. (Much as I admire Pelosi, she has never given adequate explanation for why she took impeachment off the table. Did the Republican congress do Clinton the same courtesy for infinitely less heinous crimes?) If Kucinich could go back on his principles then, to the detriment of a nation, why can’t he go back on them now to save tens of millions of lives?

BUSTED!

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on March 5, 2010

Politico got hold of a fundraising strategy that the RNC was putting together to drive even more fear into the hearts of major donors. In the PowerPoint presentation, they refer to their very own donors as “ego-driven” “reactionaries.”

The presentation depicts Obama as the Joker, Nancy Pelosi as Cruella De Ville and Harry Reid as Scooby Doo. The red-scare buzzword plastered all over the document: “SOCIALISM”!

Michael Steele called the strategy “indefensible” and said that the RNC will be handling investigations of this scandal internally.

Um, this memo was developed internally under RNC finance director Robert Bickhart and no one believes Steele didn’t know about it. Tea Party rhetoric is simply too fashionable for the RNC not to appropriate.

This is sick, sick shit from sick, sick people.

In the meantime, it looks like Nancy Pelosi is on the brink of a glorious victory for healthcare reform! Then it goes back to the senate and unfortunately Harry Reid* is no Nancy Pelosi.

I just try to keep the faith by watching Rachel Maddow**, who assures us every night that healthcare reform will happen no matter what Stupak and “The Family” on C Street say or do.

________________________________

* This is somewhat off-topic but I want to go back a few months to when John Heilemann and Mark Halperin reported in Game Change that Reid had referred to Obama as “a light-skinned African-American with no Negro dialect.” This was a hideous thing to say as Reid himself admitted in his apology.

But William Bennett, former Drug Czar under the Bush administration, got on CNN and started demanding censure for Reid, even though Bennett had infamously proclaimed on his Morning in America radio show that aborting all African-American babies “would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but the crime rate would go down.” For some reason, Anderson Cooper didn’t tell this racist and homophobe to take the log out of his own eye – so much for “Keeping Them Honest.” (But then Anderson Cooper has to stay impartial, which means he must stay in the closet while everyone else on staff can feel free to mention their opposite-sex partners.) Where do these hypocrites get off! And the Republicans in congress are embarrassing themselves left and right these days, denouncing proposals in democratic packages that they themselves had authored and decrying the reconciliation process that they themselves had not only endorsed but used over and over again under the Bush administration.

**Why is msnbc the only station that’s exposing the Republicans for what they are? I hope more truth leaks out.

UPDATE: A right-wing website called Obama’s Snafu has been referring readers to my blog!  Don’t they know that this is the domain of a flaming liberal?!  Did they even read a thing I wrote?

A Man of No Importance

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on March 3, 2010

Crapper's Valveless Waste Preventer - Hazlitt's Hotel, London

This is how the name on the water basin above our toilet at the Hazlitt’s read.

It about summed up how I was feeling on Saturday morning. I’d just found out I’d lost a writing competition. I won’t even say which one, it’s too embarrassing. The story I submitted didn’t even make the second round! The panel didn’t even read it! For the first round, all they do is skim the synopsis to see if it’s anything that might interest them. From there, 1,000 entries are chosen for the second round. How can you go about envisioning a future for yourself when you don’t even make the top 1,000!

The night before, Julius and I had gone to our friends Neil and Matthew’s house in Islington. Rachael joined us. We were celebrating Neil and Matthew’s engagement. They’ve been together six years. They’re having a civil union in South London on July 3rd.

Matthew is a lawyer at the Bailey like Rumpole. The only thing I envy about lawyers is that, unlike me, they picked a sensible profession. And Matthew does good work defending juvenile offenders and negotiating more humane sentences for them. Even so, Matthew is welcome to his job.

But Neil, I envy. He doesn’t even know I envy him. He’s too humble and lovely a guy to think anyone would ever envy him. But I do. Besides being able to hold down a job as deputy editor of a top design mag, he writes and sells many of his own TV and radio scripts to the BBC. Alan Cumming acted in one of the short films he wrote. Unlike me, he’s temperamentally suited to succeeding in the regular workforce while steadily making his name as a creative writer. Yet his modesty and overall graciousness keep me from wishing him dead.

Which was pretty much what I wished for myself the next morning when the email came, announcing the contest results. I stood back, stared at Crapper’s water basin and compared myself unfavorably to Neil.

Julius and I had big plans for the day. My friend Rose, a writer whom I first met through Rachael, was hosting The Book Club Boutique, a writer’s salon at Black’s Members’ Club on Dean Street. By now, I wanted to back out of it. Most days, it’s just me and my laptop or notebook and I get to thinking I’m the only one in the free world doing what I’m doing. Then I go to some place like Black’s and see I’m, as the Brits would put it, “ten a penny.” But Julius did an admirable job of talking me down from my wounded-diva dirge, so I forged ahead with our plans.

First we had to go buy our tickets to The Real Van Gogh: The Artist and His Letters at the Royal Academy of the Arts, though, and then we were going to walk over to Somerset House on the Strand to see Michelangelo’s Dream, a series of drawings from the Renaissance master. Nothing like Michelangelo to make you feel like even more of a nano than you already do!

As ever, Michelangelo proved himself incomparable. I was just about to sink into a corner and go from comparing myself to Neil to comparing myself to Michelangelo, but some angel must have tapped my shoulder. For a minute, instead of beholding all the humbling sketches, I turned around and looked at the other onlookers. They looked like nice people. Some were old and weary. Some were young and healthy. But nobody looked exceptional. I asked myself if I would wish on them the grief I was giving myself. Would I have wanted each and every one of them to go home – especially the parents with the teenage boy with Down Syndrome – and rip themselves to shreds for not being Michelangelo, or anyone else for that matter? Well, no. I’d be horrified to see anyone do that to themselves. So why was I doing it to myself?

This brief meditation made all the difference. I stood back and appreciated Michelangelo’s drawings and then moved on to the other rooms and appreciated the Degas collection and the handful of Van Goghs.

We went to Black’s. We didn’t get there until the afternoon readings were over. Probably another blessing. I didn’t want to revert to my old Neil-and-Michelangelo pattern with the other writers grabbing the mic. Instead, we just went upstairs and each had a Foster’s Lager. The vibe of the place felt mod with a beatnik twist. Lots of Northern Soul playing and Mississippi blues. The walls were black and sometimes a white wall frame would make an appearance, Tudor-style. 45’s were nailed to the wall and used paperback poetry books from authors as diverse as Baudelaire and Bukowski were laying all around the mantlepieces and ledges. Julius and I sank back into one of the couches and all around the room, people were lounging on beds or sofas or sitting on toadstools. I ended up talking for a couple hours with a guy named Nolan, who manages images for an art library. He wanted the inside scoop on what Obama’s up against and of course I had loads to say – and I told him about how I have non-sexual crushes on Rachel Maddow, Keith Olbermann, Kirsten Gillibrand and Nancy Pelosi, none of whom he knew, and how I dream of having a non-sexual five-way with them. Julius was talking to a writer named Vivian, a young London author who’s co-writing a book about the current Americanization of England. She remarked on how lucky I am to have a partner who is so supportive of my writing endeavors, and I couldn’t agree more.

We could have gone all night talking to the two of them but we had to head out to our show. We had tickets for A Man of No Importance at the Arts Theatre. I remembered when the movie came out in the early 1990s but I didn’t go see it. I knew it was about a bus driver in early Sixties Dublin who wants to stage an Oscar Wilde play. I’d also read in a review that he’s having a gay identity crisis. One would think a movie like that would have had my name all over it, but at the time I was so repulsed by how so many Irish had sacrificed so much of their happiness on the altars of the Catholic church. I’ve seen it happen a million times over and, as far as I’m concerned, it’s all for nothing! But Stephen Fry, whom I love, gave this musical-theater version of A Man of No Importance his seal of approval and I’d since been to Dublin and found it to be a dynamic, cosmopolitan city, so we got tickets.

Unfortunately, the play showed us the old Dublin (1963) up close and personal. Everyone goes to church and says rosaries. Vanity was an even bigger sin than blasphemy (the Irish do more than their share of that, mostly by accident), so everyone dressed in tweed and chintz, fashion being a byword.

The lyrics are packed with obscure saints’ names. Everybody in town is putting everybody else (except the clergy) down, which just goes to show the old culture’s level of self-esteem. The bus driver, in his fifties, lives with his spinster sister who is driving heaven batty with her prayers that a good lassie will come along so she can marry her brother off. Lo and behold, not a single lady turns his head! And since his kind of love dare not speak its name, he holes up in his room reading poetry and occasionally making up for the gloom by staging miserable short-runs of Oscar Wilde plays in St. Imelda’s basement. This is what Irish families expected – and many still expect – their gays to do. Happiness is for the afterlife.

It brought back too much of the paradigm that blighted my own clan of origin. The production did an exceptional job of underlining the drabness of the locale, though, not to mention its artistic offerings. The acting wasn’t bad either. Still, I’d like to someday see a piece where Ireland shuffles off the old yoke.

The next day we went to see the Van Gogh exhibit, which I’m covering for WhiteHot. I’ve been reading lots of biographies on Van Gogh. It’s amazing when you put his output up against his reputation in his living years. Before he left for Arles, he was producing a large body of work in Paris alongside his friends Paul Signac, Henri de Toulous-Lautrec, and Emile Bernard, none of whom thought Van Gogh had any potential for greatness. In Arles alone, he produced over 200 paintings. He’d worked himself into exhaustion. He went mad.

Two months before his suicide, Van Gogh wrote to his younger brother Theo, an art dealer who supported him financially and with whom he had a regular correspondence, and said he felt like an utter failure. Yet he’d painted over 70 canvasses in his last nine weeks of life alone when he lived in the Yellow House in Arles with Gauguin. Yet Theo could sell Gauguin’s work. At most, collectors winced at his own brother’s achievements.

The exhibition is radiant. You can see why Barbara Ueland summed up Van Gogh’s life as follows:

During [Van Gogh’s] life, he made only 109 dollars in all on his paintings…He had a terribly hard life – loneliness, poverty, and starvation that led to insanity. And yet it was one of the greatest lives that was ever lived – the happiest, the most burningly incandescent.

But his suicide casts a pall over all the hope that beams off his canvasses. Would things have turned out differently if he’d stuck around longer? I don’t know. There is a story of an out-of-work actress in the 1930s who became so discouraged over not getting parts that she hurled herself off the Hollywood Sign’s H. Two days later, her uncle received word from the Beverley Hills Playhouse that they were offering her the lead in their biggest play ever. Van Gogh paintings are of incalculable worth today, but it took until about ten years after his death for the pot to start boiling.

So I guess the point is to keep going.

We saw Un Prophete after Van Gogh. It’s nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards this year.

Good mafia/jail movie. I wish it didn’t end with no karmic retribution for the killer, but I guess I’m just unsophisticated. I wondered why the film is called “A Prophet,” other than for its Islamic overtones. Julius says that a prophet typically emerges as a leader after a period of isolation. I won’t give too much away but this isolation is what the character Malik experiences to varying degrees in jail.

It’s what Van Gogh experienced in Arles. It’s what I’ve experienced any number of times in my life. So I guess the message, once again, is to keep going.

(Not that I have aspirations of being a prophet. But a fan base would be nice some day! In the meantime, I’ll keep my eyes on the prize and off the Crapper.)

Update on My Apolitical Status

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on February 5, 2010

I just clicked on to Yahoo! news and saw this Associated Press article: “Obama Admits Health Care Might Die on the Hill.

This is a crying shame! This is pathetic!

I think Nancy Pelosi was right when she said that there’s no piecemeal solution to healthcare. (I’m one of the few Pelosi fans out there. If only she’d be appointed to manage both the house and senate, we might be able to get something done. Nancy, I think you handled health-care beautifully and you’re stronger than any man on Capitol Hill!) If only the Dems could have taken a stand! But even Obama is prepared to concede.

So I have an update to the post I wrote last week, “How to Be a Happy Liberal in a Center-Right Society,” where I rued the day I’d recently forked more money over to the DNC even though they’re clearly not doing their job.

Well, they called back from their San Francisco offices last Monday! They want even more money out of me!

They started in with scare tactics about how, if the republicans win more seats in congress, we’re not going to be able to get anything passed.

I cut the spokesperson off and said, “With the exception of the hate-crimes bill, the democrats haven’t gotten anything admirable passed in two years – even with a supermajority! With all due respect, you can’t assume that you’ve got my support just because I support a progressive agenda. I’m sorry, I pay for quality of work, not panic-peddling.”

She said, “I understand your attitude (she used the word ‘attitude’), Mr. Smith. Thank you for your past support.”  With that, she hung up.

Never will I understand why anyone votes republican.

But I sure as hell understand why they don’t vote democrat.

R.I.P. Healthcare Reform

P.S.: I still like Obama. Matthew Norman recently wrote a brilliant article about the fate of his presidency in the British newspaper, The Independent in which Norman says the following:

“[The Founding Fathers] righteous obsession with building a power counterbalance between President and Congress into the Constitution, as a check against tyranny, creates such stasis that, at times like this, benign dictatorship seems alarmingly attractive.”

Hey, congress! Why you gotta suck so freakin’ bad, morons?!

Total Failure? Maybe. But Let’s Take the Log Out of Our Own Eye First.

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on July 18, 2008

This week George W. Bush criticized the Democratic-led Congress for moving into the last three weeks of legislative session without passing a single government-spending plan.

At long last, Nancy Pelosi made bold to laugh at Bush on CNN, saying:

You know, God bless him, bless his heart, president of the United States, a total failure, losing all credibility with the American people on the economy, on the war, on energy, you name the subject…Challenging Congress when we are trying to sweep up after his mess over and over and over again.

Great comeback, Nancy! But why were you saving all this up until just now? Because the coast is clear? Because he’s out of office in six months?

In 2006, didn’t you tell us that impeachment was “off the table”? Did the Republican-led Congress offer Bill Clinton the same courtesy for infinitely less heinous crimes in 1998? Didn’t you put the kibosh on Dennis Kucinich’s articles of impeachment against Bush? (Note: in typical new-guard Democrat fashion, Kucinich voted down his own bill!)

Bush may be a blight on our nation, but was he wrong to call out a patently ineffectual Congress? Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid joined Pelosi’s jamboree against Bush with the words: “Who would be afraid of him? He’s got a 29% approval rating.” Yes, but let’s also recall that Congress now has an 18% approval rating – a low grade that it has dutifully earned.

I know that “a house divided cannot stand.” I know that conservatives love to see liberal eat liberal, and I don’t want to play into that trap. However, I can’t think of a worse period in history for Democrats to perform so poorly. Why are they constantly snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory? Remember John Kerry’s 2004 campaign? (Of course I voted for him, but I was more voting against Bush.) I hate like hell that Rush Limbaugh was right about how Republicans uphold their own positions and Democrats don’t. Like I said in an earlier blog, after the last battery of capitulations in Congress, I officially left the Democratic party and declared myself an Independent.

Now, Barack Obama is a great beacon of hope. I am voting for him even more than I’m voting against McCain. But this Congress better get its act together and defend its own ideals and values, rather than, in effect, saying, “Oh, we do uphold these ideals and values. And we will vote to enforce them. When it’s more convenient.”