Wednesday, November 30, 2011

MANGLED AT MACYS, KO’D AT K-MART


November 30, 2011

Black Friday is but a dark memory already, thankfully, because I’ve seen the light. What a relief to be able to hunt for good deals now without getting a sudden painful elbow in the gut or a handbag in the schnozz.
I’m giving the apres-Thanksgiving bloodbaths a miss after this year: no wish to spend a freezing night outside some store in order to emerge with nothing but high-heel-shaped indentations in my back. Or even engage in what one might call Intense Shoulder Jousting with other frenzied shoppers.
“You went to Macy’s? What’d you get?” Maced. Some police lieutenant pepper-sprayed me to clear himself a path to the doughnut counter. Can you imagine? And I was only on my way to Men’s Shoes!
I don’t need anything that badly. Or if I do it’s not worth battling the enraged bull grannies and being slapped around the face with that underarm female flab the British call bingo wings. We’ve all seen the news footage of bargain-hunters foaming at the mouth as they wrestle over garments and toys, and the videos of crowds actually breaking down the store doors, physically.
Onrushing hordes can kill. Rabid New York shoppers smashed a Walmart front door down and trampled a greeter, and at a California Toys R Us two guys whose wives were fighting shot each other to death. Women shoppers have been paralyzed, had miscarriages and other serious injuries.
Those crazy closeouts are tumultuous free-for-alls with women the most lethal. Normally demure ladies become fevered wolverines at the merest whiffette of a bargain. I’ve known quite a few like that; they crook their little pinky when they take tea in dainty flowered cups, but then... who’s that dragon at the big sale? It’s a transformation that Dr Jekyll would envy.
Even at the smaller clearance events you cannot let these femmes off the leash in a mall. Notwithstanding, it would be most rewarding to see teenaged thugs run for their lives before such an onslaught.
The physical danger is far less at the January sales with granny stampedes only rare these days. But the downside here is that you wind up buying more than you intended; you want to snap up all the goodies. And yet, are sale items worth the hassle? They’re often end-of-the-liners, about to be overtaken by the new model, but sure, there are bargains to be had.
Am I being age-ist? Perhaps sexist in singling out women as the most violent? Maybe, but Rudyard Kipling knew that in 1911 when he wrote: “The female of the species is more deadly than the male.” He wasn’t just talking about she-bears and I’m not singling out grandmothers: it’s just that that is the caricature.
The original Black Friday was on a previous week, November 18, 1910 and in England. It featured determined women too: these made up a 300-strong delegation of Suffragettes petitioning Parliament for voting rights who were met instead with police violence. Two women died and 200 were arrested.
I’m through with the annual struggle, though. In fact I’m never going to attend those kinds of sales ever again. In my diary Black Friday is blacklisted, even though many stores are now opening at midnight, or even late on Thanksgiving Day itself. And here’s my beef about that: what about the poor souls of low end retail who’re now forced to work on this, one of America’s most treasured holidays?
It’s our old friend Greed. One of the seven deadly sins and so prevalent in our present-day society. The merchants covet more money, so they “invite” their store clerks to work on a day they themselves share with their relatives.
Macys, Best Buy, Kohl’s, Target and many others opened at midnight, their clerks required to come in at least an hour before. “Sorry, Mom, I know you got here yesterday and you need to go back tomorrow. Yes I’m aware it’s a 2,000 mile round trip just for Thanksgiving with me and the kids, but I have to go to work. I really need this job.”
Point made.
Let’s now look at whether it’s even worth a dirty, shivering night on the sidewalk to get a good deal and the answer is no and here’s why.
Advertised items are sometimes nowhere to be found, a tactic of the bait-and-switch variety. Among the cheap-and-nasties and the cheap-and-cheerfuls on offer are other items that have been reduced hardly at all in price, often TVs that those crafty retailers are trying to deceive you into buying. They also impose stricter rules on returns and therefore it’s vital to ask for an individual gift receipt for each item.
Doorbusters don’t mean freebies, as many will have discovered this year. Cyber Monday is to Black Friday what turkey sandwiches are to turkey – with higher prices. And Black Friday prices themselves are almost always beaten during the year. But the advice I follow is to go online, because it’s all available there. Year round.
So in future I think I’ll pass on this opportunity to be flattened a la Tom & Jerry by a trundling herd of baying belles.
However were someone to put out a $5 video of these skirmishes I’ll buy it. Hopefully with titles like Bargain Babes vs. Checkout Chicks, Dropkick Hotties Of Blood Mall and Clash of the Bingo Wings.

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© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

GIVING THANKS TO OUR WARRIORS


November 23, 2011

So we sent 4,500 of our young people off to their deaths. We killed 100,000 citizens of a country that had done nothing to us except stick out its tongue and call us names. Our giant oil companies tried and failed to purloin that nation’s natural resources. In all, the Iraq war has been a total disaster. But Yay! We... showed... ‘em?
Did we really? Because now it’s over we’re worse off than when we started.
It’s our own fault for never questioning the lie from Mssrs Bush and Cheney that Iraq already had terror weapons and was about to go nuclear.
While we’re all paying now for their duplicity, those who pay the most are the people we sent to fight. We cheered them on, but only to the point where they epitomized all that was wrong with this war. And then we turned our backs on them: today 32,000 veterans are wounded and 30,000 homeless and there’s a backlog of a million disability claims..
You’d think this nation would reward its servicemen this time around but do we?. Not in 1975 either. Vietnam was another hopeless involvement in which 58,000 true Americans gave their lives. Those who returned? We spat in their faces
Today we slash benefits. That’s the reward our heroes get instead of a faceful of phlegm. Writing for this newspaper, retired Colonel Allan Shapiro spotlighted the latest insult. The government plans to claw back $27 billion by increasing military folks’ annual health deductibles tenfold to $3,000 and tacking on heavy co-pays and “enrollment fees”. Medical treatment and retirement pay also face cuts.
The country can’t afford it, is the excuse. Why wasn’t this mentioned before invading Iraq?
And demanding greater sacrifice from those who already give so much is a less than compelling recruitment tool; no wonder the rookies are staying home in droves.
Our warriors past and present champion an America where there’s hope. They crave a home and a job; instead we give them medals, yellow ribbons, empty words of praise, cuts...
And also scorn. Listen to the Republican debate audience in Orlando booing soldier Stephen Hill, stationed in Iraq, because he says he’s a homosexual. Silence from all nine candidates; only when pressed afterwards did two, Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman, give a tepid whisper, calling the booing “unfortunate”.
The guy – no matter his sexual preference – risks his life for America and this assemblage of overfed oinkers jeer him? He’s more man than any of them. Similar cowards found a way to disparage John Kerry for his Purple Hearts.
Our yellow-bellied patriots are now talking of making war on Iran. The very people who got us into the current conflicts, who themselves weaseled out of Vietnam duty. Dick Cheney, worth $100 million, with his five hardship deferments, saying he had “other priorities”, Karl Rove’s fancy footwork hiding behind school after school, and George W. Bush whose Air National Guard records – those that weren’t “inadvertently” destroyed – show major irregularities.
The draft dodgers should be named. They include Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, Rudolph Giuliani, Phil Gramm, Tom DeLay, Trent Lott, Dennis Hastert and oily Tea Party agitator Dick Armey. John Boehner’s bad back got him out of the service after just weeks, as did Mitch McConnell’s blurry vision. Of the presidential hopefuls Newt Gingrich played the “flat feet” excuse and Mitt Romney slipped over to France as a Mormon missionary.
And there’s good ol’ Saxby Chambliss, whose professed “bum knee” was nimble enough to sidestep the draft and hasn’t harmed his golf game. He’s the guy who so despicably smeared as unpatriotic his rival and contemporary Max Cleland, a decorated hero who lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam.
Other “Great Americans” include banks like JP Morgan Chase, that swindled 4,500 active service families, illegally foreclosing on some while the breadwinner was on the front lines. Chase’s response, in essence, was: “very sorry and we promise not to break the law again.” Apology accepted by a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and a Congress full of folks who are firmly in the banks’ pocket. No penalty. Why do we give these loathsome people a pass?
Walton County’s new congressman, Paul Broun, tried to take away the soldiers’ girlie magazines. They could die tomorrow but his concern is their mental purity.
So we’re broke. Iraq, which was once the chief enemy of an increasingly crazy and dangerous Iran, is now that country’s best friend. What was achieved? And at what terrible cost to those who love our nation more than we do? But what country is that? Surely not the one of abject greed and callousness we’ve allowed it to become.
You lose an arm for America and your country then twists your remaining arm. If I were a one-legged veteran I’d use my other foot to kick out at a society that’s happy to have me absorb the pain both abroad and now also at home. We are the enemy of our own military. Absurdly, they would have a moral case to make war on us!
To my mind the men and women of our armed services stand head and shoulders above all the rest of us – and in particular the lowlifes at the top who use them so callously.
It’s Thanksgiving. We thank God for our bounty, those of us who still can. But the earthly people to whom we should be giving the greatest thanks are our long suffering military.

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© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

OLD SWEETHEARTS AND GRANDPA’S IRON GRIP


November 16, 2011

You’ve got to hand it to Gramps. He might dodder and forget things, but when it comes to handshakes his is the firmest. It’s an ‘old man’ phenomenon and just trying to extract your paw from that geriatric’s grasp can leave you exhausted. It’s trapped until the old coot himself decides to relax his crushing hold.
Funny, that. Before they up and die, enfeebled old men develop this final burst of ferrous power in their metacarpus. Supergrip. It’s as though they’ve channeled all their earthly strength into that one extremity.
Every now and again you’ll shake a young guy’s hand and recoil instantly because it’s clammy. Fernando the milquetoast Mexican put a mackerel in my mitt. Could’ve been a herring. But the geezer whose right arm terminates in a vise? I’d rather have my hand mangled by him any day.
The firm handshake conveys a sense of sincerity, of trustworthiness, although compression as a strenuous attempt to turn the other guy’s hand to jelly is to be frowned on. Or winced at.
There are guys who stretch their arm out, palm facing down, in a different demonstration of power, one of domination, and that’s the signal to be on your guard. The right half of one’s clapping equipment should be proffered in an orderly fashion, fingers perpendicular to the floor.
Too often I see men extending their hand to a lady. Uh oh, not etiquette because it should be up to the damsel herself whether or not she wishes to initiate bodily contact. And about the only place I notice guys doing the gentlemanly thing in this regard is down here in Dixie, where, frankly my dear, some of the genteel old ways still apply.
Deals, some of them involving thousands, are still made here on a handshake; I’ve even known vendors to take offense when I’ve offered a cash deposit ahead of time.
My painter friend Mike clued me in on the Southern man’s greeting. Long before the handshake stage there’s a mild passing salute which is used to acknowledge a fellow occupant of these Southern states. It’s a swift and silent nod; no smile, not even the hint of anything more than registering the other person’s existence. Somehow, it’s reassuring, though. Comforting. And since then I’ve seen it done many times, had it done to me and now I’m a nodder myself. Call me Noddy.
Many are also interested in one’s wellbeing. As they nick their head, they’ll also inquire mumblingly: “Huzzagoan”, the correct response to which is: “Hey!” I have to warn our British visitors. Do not stop and tell the guy exactly how it’s going, especially if your wife just left you, your car blew up and your last dime turned out to be counterfeit. Just say “Hey!” Quietly.
And then there are the wavers; strangers who greet you as you drive by. You’re thundering along a dirt road, burnin’ rubber with the police in hot pursuit and, hearing the sirens, a guy pruning his roses gives you a friendly wave. Jes’ bein’ neighborly.
The handshake is said to have begun as a way for gentlemen to demonstrate that they don’t have a dagger at the ready. Nonsense! Watch out for the left-handed fellows.
Which brings me to the serial gladhanders: the politicians, with the insincere smiles. Oh, let’s not dignify them with inclusion in this article. There are others infinitely more genuine, more human. These are the Old Sweethearts, usually favorite uncles, although grandfathers also qualify. Not mine on my mother’s side, however. He was a dour and nasty German with a permanent tobacco stain down his beard who made the most revolting gurgling sounds through his pipe. Strange as a Mullah’s jockstrap and the antithesis of warm and fuzzy, he kept saying stupidity was a crime... that needed to be punished!
He wasn’t an Old Sweetheart because, apart from the draconian ideas and those liquid tobacco sounds, this testy old Teuton lacked the major distinguishing mark of the breed: the missing finger.
Oh yes, the real old honeys are mischievous guys deficient in either a digit or part of one. And when you’re seven or eight years old those crazy galoots take enormous delight in tormenting you with the stump: a handshake, a tickle under the chin...
Old Sweethearts also have one other characteristic: a twinkle in their eye. Operatic baritone Carl Colluccini and actors Chief Dan George and Pat Morita qualified with their industrial-strength eye twinkle even though their hands contained a full complement. But Three Finger Brown, aka Gaetano Lucchese, who headed one of New York’s five Mafia families, overdid it by losing a thumb as well as a forefinger when he was 15.
That’s about the age at which my own index finger was shortened when my brother mowed it off on the lawn. So: no fingertip, hefty age... I’m working on the sweetness.
I aim to be an Old Sweetheart with an iron grip when I grow up - if I ever do. No high fives or jiveshakes for me.
Incidentally, I’m not sure you can have female Old Sweethearts. Wifey thought she might just qualify after she broke her middle digit and the doctor set it back askew. Were she ever to be as unladylike as to shoot folks a bird with that crooked digit they’d get only a rough idea of what she’s telling them.

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© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

PREOCCUPIED: A HISTORICAL DEJA-VU


November 9, 2011

They were out in the streets. They waved placards, hollered slogans. A clique of greedy people were hogging all the wealth and these folks were angry about it. They were our countrymen, ordinary Americans insisting they, too, should be permitted a chance at the American dream, one being denied them by those who controlled America’s riches.
A smug upper class was being challenged by a population The authorities first warned these poor people, then hit them hard. The victims included many who’d just been fighting for their country.
And so their numbers grew. Each time force was applied the protest swelled until it reached a pivotal moment.
There were those who shrugged them off. One of the country’s richest, John Dickinson, admonished the populace: “Behave like dutiful children who have received unmerited blows from a beloved parent.” In other words, like it or lump it, shut up and take it.
They didn’t. And the result was the United States of America.
Historical note here: The War of Independence was never a sudden spontaneous uprising against the mother country. It evolved gradually from dissatisfaction among the Out Of Doors People, as the jobless and homeless called themselves, largely on the Boston waterfront. Historian Russell Bourne explains that the ordinary folk “were going to strike back at those who held them down, be they British or Boston elite.” Eminent author Robert Harvey traces riots against the colonial rich back to 1750.
We can draw a parallel with today’s events.
Now, as then, those who were holding the Dream hostage fought to keep the hapless and hopeless “in their place”. Power and money belonged to the venal politicians, the monopolist merchants. In 1771 tycoon Samuel Cornell paid for a 1,000-strong militia to tackle an enormous crowd complaining of corruption: it culminated in the seminal Battle of Alamance.
Today’s marchers prefer civil disobedience, a peaceful tactic that has proved immensely effective ever since Gandhi’s India.
In his “tree of liberty” letter that the gunslingers like to quote at Tea Party rallies, Thomas Jefferson hinted at frequent rebellion as a means of giving government a remedial kick in the pants. He appears even to call for violence, although that is hardly what’s been in evidence with the Occupy crowds – except from a few infiltrated saboteurs, fifth columnists. And from the police. Can there be any justification for yanking back the head of a guy sitting on the ground and pepper spraying him point blank in the eyes? It happened in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on November 1 and the image is abhorrent.
True, demonstrators often goad cops in riot gear to abuse them physically. But words and disobedience do not constitute an assault, nor do they merit one from the authorities. Pepper spray is for use against individuals posing a clear and present threat, not passive protesters.
And so there is more violence. Masked anarchists and agents provocateurs infiltrate the crowd and smash windows. And this begets more viciousness. And so the movement grows with even greater public outrage as a second Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran now lies in intensive care thanks to a police beating.
Our military personnel fight in foreign lands championing the cherished American right of free speech only to have it brutally stifled back home. Can anyone see the irony in that? Or that some of our demonstrating military veterans are also policemen, so they could find themselves being painfully “protected and served” at the end of a fellow officer’s nightstick!
We’ve seen the weirdest Occupy characters paraded onto our TV screens and we’ve heard the epithets. How easy to dismiss these mostly sincere and educated middle class young people as “the great unwashed”, morons with bad breath and herpes. Similar derision met those at the start of the American Revolution whose complaints were so like today’s.
Naturally, the cunning mouthpieces of a certain network we might call vulpes vulpes, cherry-pick the most bizarre demonstrators to make viewers believe this is an entire rabble of misfits. It is not. They’re our neighbors.
The exceptions? How about the groanworthy appearance among the Wall Street demonstrators of integrity-challenged opportunist Jesse Jackson. Or disgraced congressman Charles Rangel. Or indeed any of Washington’s denizens: these people are as responsible for America’s mess as are the bankers.
And when I hear some Occupy extremists attacking “capitalism” my hackles go up. These twits have no idea. No way is America looking to become an egalitarian state, but taking the money out of politics is essential to give us our voices back. Lobbying should be outlawed. And then there’s that recent Supreme Court decision allowing corporations to pour unlimited funds into elections. Washington is bought and paid for.
In a democracy all the people have a say. This is clearly not the case today, nor was it before Jefferson included the immortal declaration that “all men are created equal”.
Until this becomes true again we have some soul searching to do. Prior to even tackling the most desperately urgent issue facing the country - that of jobs – we need to define just how much liberty we actually do have.
We must ask ourselves some simple questions. Here are three. Is the corporate voice the only one allowed to be heard in America today? Do local city ordinances override freedom of speech? The First Amendment guarantees us the right to assemble to air our grievances, but did the Framers say we could do this only during business hours?

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© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT AND EAT!


November 2, 2011

The State of Georgia thinks we’re all Victorian children who mustn’t talk at table: complain about your food and you’ll be punished. That’s exactly it. Think we have First Amendment rights? Think again..
It’s illegal for anyone to criticize a food product. If you get sick after that tasty-but-tainted taco or realize the fried chicken they’re selling you is nothing more than breaded bones just eat up and shut up.
Dare to warn your fellow Georgians and you stand to lose big time: you’ll pay restitution, punitive damages and everyone’s costs. A less than palatable outcome.
This is one of the most dishonest laws ever to be passed. It shields the food industry against censure, even when justified. It’s a perfect example of how the politicians we elect work against us and cozy up instead to the big corporations.
What is this, some kind of cockeyed capitalist communism? With his warped bill, Comrade Henry Reaves, Democrat from Quitman, Georgia decided it’s in our best interests to be gagged. That was in 1993, and since then not a single state politician has sought to reverse Henry’s subversive law.
Freedom of speech? Pah! Such an old-fashioned idea. Good for those guys in the wigs and the knee breeches but we sure don’t need it today – at least we the regular working American people aren’t deemed worthy of it. The only time we’re allowed to open our mouths is to insert their stuff they’re calling “food”. Once a disgruntled eater speaks out they’ll make him eat his words for dessert; better to quietly swallow your pride along with the junk you bought, then keep your pie-hole firmly shut.
And by junk I mean all the chemicals and other harmful or unhealthy substances they inject into what they’re selling us as sustenance. Puke city.
I’m confounded: how can our legislators pass a bill in the full knowledge that it so clearly contravenes the Constitution and takes away our most basic freedom, the most precious inalienable right? That of free speech.
I don’t know how but I suspect I might know why. Anything to do with golf vacations and backhanders and sumptuous dinners and political back-scratching perchance?
My wife got salmonella poisoning from fast food chicken bought locally. Now that I’ve written that sentence will I be dragged into court? If I name the outlet will I lose everything?
So:
Dear Chicken Cabin,
Yours was the tastiest salmonella my wife ever nearly died from. For the sake of our 14 children please don’t sue me.
Up yours sincerely,
Freddy.
Georgia’s Veggie Libel Law, officially 2-16-3 Disparagement Of Perishable Food Products Or Commodities is phrased in such a way as to stifle any denunciation, especially in the media. Who needs a free press anyway? The Commies never had one so why should we?
It talks about “willful or malicious dissemination to the public of false information” but it spells out the “false” as any that isn’t backed by scientific data. And a company can decide that any accusation about its product is willful or malicious, whether or not that’s really the case.
Now you’re in court. You’re no scientist. All you know is 14 family members suffered food poisoning after eating the same vittles you bought at the same supermarket on the same day and so you wrote that, perhaps in a published jeremiad. Goodbye life’s savings, maybe goodbye house and home. For daring to warn others the Food Nazis will gitcha!
Legally, you can’t say beans about bad food. However - and here’s why this law is so vile - the main purpose is not to see it litigated. A lawsuit would draw attention to the very problem Mr Ordinary Georgia Citizen might be describing, something the food people do not want widely known. It’s the threat of prosecution that silences those with legitimate complaints and that’s why Commissar Reaves and the Georgia corporate politburo passed that law and why they maintain it. The sword need not even be raised - just mentioned.
So now we’re afraid to speak up. How is this different from dictator states like Cuba with the population cowed into silence. I’ve seen that way of life first hand behind the Iron Curtain; why now here?
There’s an actual legal term to describe this abomination; it’s called “chilling effect” and it makes me shudder. Lawyers intimidate folks all the time. But now the food manufacturers have bought themselves a bunch of enforcers in the Georgia Legislature.
Among others, I blame the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the state’s most powerful newspaper that should be fighting for citizens’ rights. Why hasn’t this rag taken up the cudgels on our behalf? What is a newspaper’s purpose if not to serve the interests of the people?
It’s time to end this curse on our freedom. We need the media to be our watchdogs. Take off this muzzle.
I may be Brash Brit, as the Walton Tribune once dubbed me, but in reality I’m just a small voice against Big Food and its anti-American way of doing business.
Persecuted for telling it straight? The cast iron defense in any libel suit is that what you wrote was true. Truth trumps all. But not in Georgia.

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© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.