In this issue of Banter M:
Austerity is The Weapon of the Powerful And We Must Fight it - Ben Cohen argues that the Greek crisis is a microcosm of a much bigger battle that must be won if we hope to build a better world to live in.
If You Don't Want to Read About Crazy Racist People, Don't Read This Article - Bob Cesca on why ignoring racist idiots won't make them go away.
Welcome to Flavortown (Part 2) - Chez Pazienza concludes his epic eating experience at Guy Fieri's hedonistic restaurant in Las Vegas.
Austerity is The Weapon of The Powerful And We Must Fight it
by Ben Cohen
The economic crisis in Greece is a microcosm of a much larger battle being fought the world over. While it appears to be about Greece's unpaid debt to Germany, the ECB and the IMF, it is actually a battle between democracy and the ultra rich. It is a battle of ideology - one of respect for human beings and the other of never ending desire for profit. If we want to build ourselves a better future to live in, the fight against austerity and the ideology behind it will be crucial.
One of the biggest lessons to learn from the Greek crisis is the incredibly disrespectful way in which a democratically elected government has been treated as an irrelevancy by European banking bureaucrats. The Greek government has been expected to simply bend to the will of foreign financial institutions, or have its people starved and left to rot in the Mediterranean sun. This bullying is taken for granted, and the German narrative accepted by much of the mainstream media - screw the lazy Greeks, screw the left wing government, and screw the democratic will of the people. The Greeks must get in line and bow to the money Gods who hold the power of life or death over their country.
It does not matter that austerity will certainly ruin Greece's economy in the long run, in the same way Latin America was subjected to decades of stagnation, corruption and ever widening wealth disparity by the IMF and World Bank. It does not matter that austerity is currently causing child poverty to spiral out of control in Britain, or that austerity has kept Spain in a state of extreme stagnation and unemployment for the past six years. As Cambridge economist Ha Joon Chang writes:
Less widespread is the recognition that there is also plenty of historical evidence showing that they [austerity measures] have never worked. The same happened during the 1982 developing world debt crisis, the 1994 Mexican crisis, the 1997 Asian crisis, the Brazilian and the Russian crises in 1998, and the Argentinian crisis of 2002. All the crisis-stricken countries were forced (usually by the IMF) to cut spending and run budget surpluses, only to see their economies sink deeper into recession. Going back a bit further, the Great Depression also showed that cutting budget deficits too far and too quickly in the middle of a recession only makes things worse.
However, no amount of evidence will convince the powerful that austerity doesn't work, and for one very good reason: austerity works very well for them.
It is important to understand what these financial institutions are, and how they operate. The IMF and the ECB are undemocratic, ideological institutions that exist to make money through investment or loans. Investing and lending money is not in itself a bad thing, but when you create financial institutions built on a dangerous economic ideology, the act of investing or lending becomes a lethal weapon of the powerful to gain control of the poor. Neoliberalism is the ultimate weapon of the powerful as it used to stop governments investing in their own people to make way for private, unelected institutions that seek profit, not the social good. The 'medicine' of austerity and the relentless focus on keeping inflation low is a complete fiction, yet it is sold as solid economic theory and rammed down the throats of those least able to defend themselves from it.
Make no mistake about it - the IMF and ECB are now so powerful that nation states bow to their will and pervert their own democracies in order to avoid total decimation. While words like 'austerity,' 'fiscal responsibility,' 'relief aid' are used by these financial institutions, they are in reality predatory lenders looking to gain ultimate control over their customers. Loan sharking is the official policy of the EU now, and to ensure a loyal customer base, the troika is demanding Greece restructure its entire economy, namely through dismantling the welfare state and privatizing wherever possible. The Greeks have soundly rejected this policy after voting in anti-austerity leftist party Syriza, and have repeatedly gone to the Troika and offered to put forward their own plan to pay back their debts. This plan involves less severe cutbacks (but cutbacks nonetheless) and the preservation of key parts of the welfare state in order to protect the most vulnerable. The Troika has rejected this out of hand, demanding a strict adherence to neoliberal ideology that requires severe cuts and mass privatization, believing Greece had no serious leverage to negotiate.
Thankfully, Alexis Tsipras, Syriza and the Greek people have proven them otherwise, holding out till the bitter end and allowing citizens to decide on whether to accept the troika's debt deal. The Greeks voted no, forcing the troika's hand and leaving the economic wellbeing of the EU in their hands. There is still no deal, but the Germans now know that the Greeks are willing to let their country burn rather than being owned by them. And that is proving to be a very powerful negotiating tool.
Just as leftist governments in Latin America are doing, the Greeks are proving that austerity can be fought and can be destroyed. Greek defiance has shown the power of the collective and proven democracy can trump the power of money. Once people band together and refuse to comply, powerful entities can be broken and forced to back down. Neoliberalism and austerity is not necessary, not good and not inevitable, but it can only be beaten when we decide not to comply. We must prove that we will not bend to the will of money, rather it must bend to ours.
If You Don't Want to Read About Crazy Racist People, Don't Read This Article
by Bob Cesca
The other day on the Bob & Chez Show we led the show with a story about a photograph showing serial racist and chocolate bukake foodie Paula Deen posed with her son Bobby. For whatever reason, they were dressed as Lucy and Ricky Ricardo from the classic TV series I Love Lucy. First weird thing: the mother/son duo were playing husband and wife. Strange. Second weird thing: Bobby, as Cuban-born Ricky Ricardo, painted his face brown for the role. Yes, Paula Deen and her son appeared to have no problem whatsoever with the whole brownface thing, even though it was clearly racially insensitive if not outright racist.
That's usually the deal with most racists. They simply don't know. Not only do they end up derping their way into one racially-heated situation after another, but when confronted they can often deny it with a straight face because they're not self-aware enough to realize how racist they are. Such is the case with Paula Deen and, obviously, Bobby Deen. They didn't know. No one around them knew. And the ignorance lasted through the planning stages and the actual photo session, and from we can tell now, no one spoke up and said it might be a bad idea.
Jumping forward to our Tuesday podcast. We've recently started posting the show at The Huffington Post, with modest success. But, of course, the comments were peppered with the predictable refrain: Why does anyone care about Paula Deen? Ignore her! I hear this every time I write about Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Mike Huckabee, Alex Jones, Bill O'Reilly, Ron Paul, Steve Doocy, Dick Cheney, Ann Coulter, the NRA, Sean Hannity, Ted Nugent, Greg Gutfeld -- I'll stop there. It's everyone I write about. There exist people who've been taught or, perhaps, devised on their own the idea that if we ignore bad actors, they'll just POOF! vanish into nothingness leaving nothing more than a green globule.
Perhaps it's the natural pacifism of the left. Perhaps it's just trolling. Either way, ignoring public figures who say and do terrible things absolutely will not make them go away. After being initially flattered that one of my articles boasts enough heft and influence that it could single-handedly boost Sarah Palin's Q-score, I usually descend into a rage whenever I read comments like this because not only is the "ignore theory" entirely incorrect, but I seriously have to question the sanity of a commenter who would click on an article or a podcast then take the time to order me to not write about that particular topic. It's like ordering a Big Mac and fries at McDonald's; eating it; then driving back to the Drive-Thru window to ask the poor bastard on the other end why he serves food that's bad for people.
Anyone who goes around posting brownface pics, or as Ted Nugent did last year, calling African-Americans “subhuman mongrels” deserves to be swiftly and publicly marginalized, delegitimized and exposed as hateful trash. The more effective the marginalization is, the less influence screechers like Palin, Huckabee, Nugent or even Paula Deen will have. As the number of people who take these crackpots seriously goes down, the seriousness of the discourse goes up. Who knows whether this works in every case, but shaping public perception is certainly more effective as a tactic than somehow silencing an overzealous kook.
Getting down to specifics, even though Deen's career is largely over and, let’s face it, barely existed in the first place, she enjoys a considerable fan-base in spite of her reputation. Same goes with Nugent.
The latter crazy person stumped for Texas Republican governor Greg Abbott.
Even after the whole "subhuman mongrel" thing, Abbott defended his celebrity pal, saying, “I don’t know what he [Nugent] may have said or done in his background. What I do know is Ted Nugent stands for the Constitution. He stands against the federal government overreaching and doing what they are doing to harm Texas.” Yeah, as long as you stand up for conservative principles, calling the first African-American president a “chimpanzee” is fine and dandy.
Ignoring him will not make him go away. It’ll only allow him to more freely peddle his hate and animal-death-porn.
Indeed, ignoring the crazies is not unlike ignoring a suspicious mole. It might make you feel better to not worry about it, but it won’t keep it from ballooning into something serious. And yes, I just compared Ted Nugent to skin cancer. With apologies to skin cancer.
Should we care about Paula and Bobby Deen? Yes and no. We don't all have to care, but when it comes to obvious examples of racism, it's probably best if someone cares. And the more the better. The race issue itself is too important. Meanwhile, if you don't want to read about Palin, Deen, Nugent, O'Reilly or Limbaugh, don't click on articles about those people.
Welcome to Flavortown (Part 2)
by Chez Pazienza
When Guy Fieri's Vegas Kitchen and Bar first opened last year, I mocked it mercilessly. I called the place a "food abortion clinic" and claimed that, in keeping with Fieri tradition, the menu defiled not simply different cuisines and styles of cooking but the English language. Fieri doesn't just throw together, say, a burger or some chicken wings. He brings you psychotically over-the-top concoctions with names like the Off-Da-Hook Original Smash Burger topped with Crunchy Righteous Rojo Rings or Parmageddon Wings with Apocalyptic Marinara, so that the menu doesn't sound like a menu so much as the storyboard of a lost Michael Bay movie starring Vince Vaughn. But here's a big secret: I once kind of liked Fieri, back before he was the dominant culinary force in America-- the most recognizable celebrity chef in the country.
There was a time when Fieri, born Guy Ramsay Ferry -- yes, his hyper-articulated Italian stage name is bullshit and his middle name is that of another celebrity chef, albeit one with a few Michelin stars under his belt -- just ran a couple of restaurants in his home of Santa Rosa. He had actually studied cooking in France, so it's not as if he has no idea what he was doing, but right off the bat he decided that his shtick would be to take the basics of haute cuisine and funhouse-mirror them down to Middle-American, casual dining level. He concentrated heavily on the unholy, Frankenstein-style fusion of disparate tastes and cultures and in packaging it all in a way that screamed -- almost literally, screamed -- "America, fuck yeah!" It's this ethos that would eventually draw the wrath of Anthony Bourdain, another classically trained journeyman chef, who says that Fieri's crime against cuisine is that he disrespects food and the cultures from which it came.
Nowhere was that more obvious than within the four walls of one of Fieri's original restaurants, the cleverly named Tex Wasabi's, where you can still get "custom creations from the Sensai of Flavortown!" to this day and whose logo features a cowboy riding a koi. Tex Wasabi's is, predictably, an Asian restaurant for people who are absolutely terrified of Asian food. It's a profane mish-mash of both Japanese and Chinese cuisine designed to be scarfed down by those who can't tell the difference. It's Chinese for people whose only experience with China is watching The Karate Kid and Japanese for people whose only experience with Japan is boasting about how we kicked their ass in WWII. At Tex Wasabi's you can get "Eddie's Mommy" Edamame and Sashimi Won Tacos, Rockin' Lava Shrimp and something called Crouching Tiger/Hidden Salad, which means that at Tex Wasabi's you can begin to understand exactly what Bourdain means about Guy Fieri.
Back in 2000, the original Japanese Iron Chef TV show hosted a young Bobby Flay, who challenged Masaharu Morimoto, a chef who at that time was known pretty much only in his native country. During the battle, Flay jumped up on his cutting board and raised his arms in victory. Morimoto was visibly pissed, the reason being that to the Japanese the tools of a chef are sacred, but here was this ugly, impertinent American douchebag ignoring decorum and literally stomping on the customs of their culture. Morimoto found Flay's actions insulting, but if that's true then what Fieri does every single day and night at Tex Wasabi's is the equivalent of taking his dick out and urinating all over that cutting board.
Fieri flat-out defiles Japanese tradition -- and that of several other Asian cultures for that matter -- and he does it as a matter of practice. And yet, for a while his dumb slobbering bull-in-a-china-shop routine was charming. It was that charm, as well as the fact that he actually can cook, that helped him to take home the prize on the second season of the Food Network's Next Food Network Star competition. Not long after that, he was a household name. And not long after that, he was fucking ubiquitous, the ambassador of American cooking that confirmed every grotesque stereotype about us as a country and a culture -- an Affliction t-shirt with a spatula as willed into thin air by Disney's imagineers.
And now here I am, at his Vegas temple to himself and his view of what food should look, sound and taste like. I've pulled up a stool next to my fiancée at Guy Fieri's Vegas Kitchen and Bar and we're about to experience Flavortown for ourselves, as much as it'll probably kill us a little inside. The bar area is deafening, with the echoes of maybe 250 people talking at the same time bouncing off the concrete walls and high ceilings and the sound of Def Leppard's Pour Some Sugar on Me pounding out of the sound system.
I turn to Taryn and give her an exaggerated smile. She stares directly in front of her like a trapped animal that's finally accepted its fate.
The bartender approaches us from the other side of the bar. He's wearing a 50s-style bowling shirt, black with red accents; he has plugs in his earlobes and his hair is spiked up stiff and blown back so that he looks like either an Italian porcupine or a ticket scalper at a Nickelback show in Jacksonville. To his credit, he seems to immediately understand that we're a couple of wise-asses who are there for no other reason than on a dare.
He has no desire to put up with our shit and this make me respect him a hell of a lot more. I make an immediate decision to be as cool as possible to him and Taryn concurs.
First thing's first: we order a couple of shots. We need them. In honor of Guy's flaming bowling shirt, and because it somehow just feels appropriate, we make them Fireballs. Down they go.
"You guys want any food?" our bartender asks.
"Oh yes," I say, trying to contain my glee.
He plops a couple of menus down in front of us and we begin poring over them, which isn't really necessary since I once wrote a piece mercilessly ridiculing every detail of what's available to eat and drink here. Do we order a Knuckle Sandwich, a Tatted-Up Turkey Burger -- or maybe just a Brutha's Bad-Ass Caesar Salad? So many choices, all of them sounding like the kind of thing that's going to keep the bathroom of our hotel room well-occupied throughout the night.
Taryn and I have so far made this trip about chicken wings, making sure to grab wings wherever we stop for lunch, so the choice here is obvious. There are currently three varieties under the "Ain't No Thing Butta Chicken Wing" part of the Guy's Vegas menu. Since we've already chosen to drink molecular Alien acid rather than eat it, the Fireball Wings are out of the question. That leaves the Double Barrel BBQ wings or the General's Wings (General Tso's done "Guy Style"). We go BBQ, since it comes with Guy's trademark blue-sabi sauce. When our bartender comes back, we place the order. As well as another round of shots. He grabs our menus and as he turns to walk away.
"Also," I say, stopping him in his tracks, "can we get a side order of Donkey Sauce?"
The expression on my face is a second-grader politely asking the teacher if he can go to the bathroom. Taryn stifles a laugh. The bartender just sighs: "Sure."
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The shots are up just a few seconds later. They're down in even less time than that. I'm giddy as Taryn reminds me not to take any of my condescension out on the guy serving us. "Of course not," I come back. "He's suffering enough."
The scene around us is exactly what I expected. This place is basically a high-concept, branded-all-to-hell sports bar packed with every shade of white. We take a couple of pictures and immediately post them to Facebook and Instagram, because this is the kind of thing we just have to share, and after a while our food arrives -- a long plate of buffalo wings that are in reality drumsticks, which is fine. The menu promised they'd be frenched, which means the meat would be cut away from the lower part of the bone, but since nobody here is a classically trained chef the way Guy Fieri secretly is, he just calls them "lollipops." Either way he's full of shit, since these drumsticks are neither frenched nor lollipopped -- nor whatever else you choose to call it. They're just your average "wings."
Still, it's the taste that matters. After marveling at the small dish of Donkey Sauce, which looks like nothing more than a slightly more off-white mayonnaise oversaturated with xanthan gum, we dig in, grab a couple of drumsticks and dip them in the other dish of Guy's legendary blue-sabi sauce. We pause briefly, both acknowledging the moment and bracing ourselves for what may be to come, then take our respective bites.
We say nothing as we chew, each probably afraid to break the silence between us (though certainly not the silence all around, given that the speaker system has switched to that contemporary country song, the one about the pick-up truck, cold beer and the girl who looks so good in tight blue jeans). After a few seconds more, our verdict.
"Actually, not bad," I say, shocked at the words coming out of my mouth.
"No," Taryn responds. "I mean, it's not the best we've ever had, but it's not terrible at all."
The brown sugar is a tasty touch and it's complemented by the slivers of scallions dressing the drumsticks. They've got a decent crispness to the outside and they're cooked nicely throughout. Maybe the biggest surprise: the blue-sabi sauce. Sure, it's a fucking ridiculous name, but maybe that's the tragedy/genius of Guy Fieri: again, he knows how to come up with good dishes when he wants to. He may have branded everything all to hell, but somewhere in there is a guy who can cook, as opposed tothe "Guy." The idea of combining blue cheese and wasabi is clever and shockingly delicious and it doesn't feel like something that defiles an entire culture. (If anything, copyrighting the fucking name is more insulting than simply mixing two benign ingredients.) My attitude when Taryn and I eat out is that if we get an idea for something she'd like to try at home, that's a huge bonus -- and a blue cheese/wasabi combo for the Thai wings Taryn makes sounds pretty damn good.
We plow through our food, as well as a couple more rounds of shots and the small Japanese masu Guy has seen fit to stuff with vegetables. A masu is normally made for sake and the vegetables taste like they came from Sysco -- and come to think of it, so do the wings, but they're cooked decently -- but after enough Fireballs you forgive a lot. And that may be the trick to enjoying Guy Fieri's food: just tank yourself like everybody else is so you don't really give a shit. Although, it needs to be said that there's no forgiving the Donkey Sauce. It tastes worse than it looks.
We don't get much more than that, given that -- big secret -- we grabbed a small lunch not long before heading over here. (Come on, there's no way we were actually planningon setting foot in a Guy Fieri restaurant; it had to be a spontaneous decision.) We pay up, making sure to tip our long-suffering bartender well, and shuffle out into the evening, the sun having finally set. Maybe eating only one dish was no way to judge whether Flavortown really was the Boschian hellscape of food that I'd always imagined it to be, but I'm on vacation and don't want to be sick. No need to push my luck.
Besides, we're hitting Shake Shack before we pull out of town tomorrow. I already know that a simple cheeseburger from there is better than anything at Guy Fieri's Kitchen and Bar. See, when your food is that good, you don't need to brag that your restaurant is Flavortown. It just is.