Banter M Issue 41

In this week's edition of Banter M:

The John Kasich Deception - Bob Cesca uncovers the reality of the Republican's so-called "moderate" candidate, and reveals he is anything but. 

Keep Calm And Don't Carry On - Ben Cohen argues that staying calm and opting out of modern society as much as possible is the only way to keep yourself from going completely insane. You are not the problem -- society is. 

OJ Simpson Obsessing - The OJ Simpson trial is back in the cultural zeitgeist, and Jamie Frevele is obsessed with it once again. Why? Because while we think he probably did it, we still don't really know -- a theme the new hit show brilliantly exploits. 

Dancing Dad Finale - Chez Pazienza concludes his epic visit to Las Vegas for a children's dancing competition that almost ended in arrest and losing custody of his daughter.  



The John Kasich Deception

by Bob Cesca

Embattled NBC News anchor Brian Williams must really, really hate John Kasich, the governor of Ohio and the least insane Republican presidential candidate. The way I know this is that every time Williams anchors MSNBC's primary election coverage, he blurts out the same phrase by rote: "John Kasich: every Democrat's favorite Republican."

By saying this over and over again, Williams is guaranteeing that any Republican within earshot of MSNBC will never vote for Kasich. The number of Republican voters who'd support Every Democrat's Favorite Republican could probably fit into a mid-size, four-door sedan.

It's not difficult to see why Williams keeps saying it. Kasich comes off as a good and affable man. His awkward appearance, his demonstrative hand gestures and his unwavering strategy for appearing reasonable and respectable makes him appear as if Democrats could easily get along with him. I mean, he's not those other guys, so he must be one of the good ones.

While, sure, Democrats could probably spend some quality time with Kasich and his Christmas pants without wanting to punch him in the butthole, he's absolutely not what he seems. Yes, he's providing a valuable service to the American discourse by emphasizing that not every Republican is a short-fingered vulgarian or a baby-toothed demagogue who doesn't understand the upshot of Green Eggs & Ham. He's not nearly as rotten as Trump or Cruz, but few are. At the risk of further dooming his candidacy by praising him from the left, Kasich -- in behavior -- is my personal favorite Republican presidential candidate, but only because he's not a poop-flinging monkey like Trump or Cruz.

That said, John Kasich is, in reality, a demon on policy.

And as president, he'd very likely be responsible for a similarly destructive agenda as his two rivals for the GOP nomination. He wouldn't necessarily be as incompetent as Trump or as slippery and insufferable as Cruz, but in terms of policy, he'd more or less fall in line with both. In this respect, there's no reason, other than the bullshit have-a-beer-with-him qualification, that any Democrat should like Kasich. Simply put: he'd make life miserable for millions upon millions of Americans.

Here's how.

Abortion and Reproductive Rights

Let's start with abortion and reproductive rights. First and foremost, Every Democrat's Favorite Republican completely bought into the series of provably fake sting videos by the Center for Medical Progress, and is using the videos as a springboard for defunding Planned Parenthood in Ohio. Which he did last month. Just because he didn't support a total government shutdown over Planned Parenthood and just because he thinks it's "reasonable" to have exceptions in cases of rape, incest or life of the mother doesn't mitigate the reality that Kasich thinks those horrendously falsified videos are real and that millions of women should be punished by closing perhaps the only healthcare clinic in their region. If he'd look to neighboring Indiana, he'd also see that by shutting down Planned Parenthood, he'd risking exasperating the emerging HIV/AIDS epidemic -- refusing to acknowledge that Planned Parenthood also provides HIV testing and treatment.

Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio referred to Kasich as a wolf in sheep's clothing, "He is—if not the worst—among the worst of anti-choice governors in this country's history."  That's absolutely accurate.

Oh, and by the way, it's not the first time Kasich defunded Planned Parenthood.


Beyond that, Kasich would repeal Obamacare. Even though he expanded Medicaid in Ohio per Obamacare, Kasich vowed to repeal it -- effectively cutting off those new Medicaid expansion recipients, as well as roughly 20 million other Americans who have insurance due to Obamacare, including me. To wit:

He said he believes the ACA “can and should” be repealed, but that opposition to the Medicaid expansion “was really either political or ideological,” adding, “I don't think that holds water against real flesh and blood and real improvements in people's lives.”

He' reasonable? Try "contradictory" and potentially "dangerous," and we can talk.

The Climate Crisis

And what about the most serious health and national security issue of our time: the climate crisis? In spite of vast scientific consensus, Kasich still isn't sure about the science.

“Well I think that man absolutely affects the environment but as to whether you know what the impact is, the overall impact, I think that that's a legitimate debate,” he said.

No, there is not legitimate debate over whether humans have created the climate crisis. That debate ended long ago when 97 percent of all climate scientists agreed that global warming is caused exclusively by human activity. It's Kasich's brand of waffling that will doom us all to a bleak and terrible future of increasingly harrowing climate madness. Also:

“Do I believe there is something called climate change? I do. Do I think that human beings affect it? I do. How much? Not enough for me to go out and cost somebody their job,” said Kasich in Iowa in October, according to a YouTube clip of his town hall speech.

There's no hard evidence that curbing carbon emissions would cost anyone their job, but if the crisis is left to run its course, the only jobs remaining in a hundred years or so will be at Thunderdome events at Atlantic coast beaches -- in Dayton, Ohio.

Everything Else

Elsewhere, Kasich has an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association. Kasich proposed broadcasting Judeo-Christian values as part of a strategy to defeat ISIS. Kasich wants to privatize Social Security with Personal Retirement Savings Accounts. Kasich is also no friend of unions. And while Kasich says we should "love" all LGBT citizens, he refuses to support same-sex marriage.

Back in 2000, Democrats were led to believe Al Gore and George W. Bush were essentially the same person. Even after Bush v Gore, many liberals didn't believe Bush was all that significant a threat. And then 9/11 happened. Liberals shouldn't be cajoled into supporting a conservative Republican just because he's not as crazy as Trump. This is like driving a car without breaks because at least there's a steering wheel. John Kasich isn't your buddy when it comes to policy. Feel free to have a drink with him, but for fuck sake, don't switch sides to vote for him.

Next: Keep Calm And Don't Carry On - by Ben Cohen


This is not living. 

This is not living. 

Keep Calm And Don't Carry On 

by Ben Cohen

Like most people living in the 21st century, anxiety plays an ever present part of my life. With the constant bombardment of the 24 hours news cycle, facebook status updates, paying bills, trying to keep on top of work projects, remembering to call family, meeting up with friends, paying more bills, and generally worrying whether the industry I am in has any sort of long term future, I find maintaining a sense of calm incredibly difficult. 

Nevertheless, I have made a concerted effort in recent times to make this a priority, because as modern life becomes ever more complex, keeping a sense of perspective and inner piece is no longer a luxury, but a necessity. 

Much is written about the crisis of modernity -- the never ending work day, the existential worry about the meaning of it all, and the nagging worry that, well, there is something you should be worrying about. As complexity in our lives increases, so to do our solutions, yet nothing ever quite scratches the itch that tells us something isn't quite right. Apps are developed to make every day organization more efficient. Entrepreneurs create new business models to cut down time spent on any activity you could think of. Need to find a restaurant near you that specializes in east Asian vegan food? There's an app for that. Want to order more toilet paper without getting up from the toilet? There's a web service for that. Need someone to deliver beer at four in the morning? No problem. The tech boom and rapid advancements in machine learning is creating a bewildering plethora of gizmos and web applications that promise to make our lives faster, smarter and less stressful. 

Yet stress levels around the Western world are rising. One-third of U.S. employees suffer chronic debilitating stress disorders, and more than half of all millennials (18- 33 year olds) experience a level of stress causing sleep disorders, depression, and anxiety. If current trends continue, the psychological toll on the population will be incalculable. These disorders have serious physical consequences, increasing the likelihood of a vast array of health issue, including cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks, and strokes

Sadly, those suffering from anxiety disorders do not get the necessary help, or even question why they are so stressed for most of their waking hours. Why? Because they most likely believe that there is something inherently wrong with them. As the author Charles Eisenstein writes, this is a fallacy that must be dispelled:

Depression, ADHD, anxiety, etc. aren’t chemical malfunctions of the brain, nor spiritual malfunctions of the mind; rather, they are forms of legitimate rebellion against life structures that are unworthy of one’s full participation or attention. They are more symptoms of a social illness than of a personal deficiency. 

Eisenstein continues: 

When our soul-body is saying No to life, through fatigue or depression, the first thing to ask is, "Is life as I am living it the right life for me right now?" When the soul-body is saying No to participation in the world, the first thing to ask is, "Does the world as it is presented me merit my full participation?"

What if there is something so fundamentally wrong with the world, the lives, and the way of being offered us, that withdrawal is the only sane response? Withdrawal, followed by a reentry into a world, a life, and a way of being wholly different from the one left behind?

As the philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti once said: “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society." To be adjusted to this society then, would mean an almost sociopathic immunity to human emotion and an obsession with wealth and its material rewards. Given the engine of our society is our capitalist economic system, this constant race towards an unknown goal cannot ever end. Unlimited growth -- a major tenant of industrial capitalism -- relies on hitting an ever moving target. This is a flaw built into the system that creates ecological destruction and serious psychic disorders in human populations. We continue to live by its rules, explicitly accepting that this is the way life must be. 

Of course, it does not have to be this way. 

While I have no idea how one might go about creating radical change in society, it seems to me that at the very least, you owe it to yourself to make some radical changes in your own life. This is far, far easier said than done, but given the alternative, I am suggesting that it is not really a choice. Speaking as someone who regards themselves as innately lazy and undisciplined, one of the first steps to creating a change is to implement a very small amount of discipline into your day, no matter what it might be. It could be waking up and doing 10 pushups, or taking a 5 minute stroll in the afternoon, or doing deep breathing for 5 minutes before bed. Once you have an easy daily routine in place, it can be built on -- and fairly dramatically so -- much to my own surprise. 

I meditate daily (or at least 5 days out of the week), and stick to a pretty religious exercise regime. This did not come over night, but I have found that incremental changes lead to bigger ones over time. Creating this discipline actually frees up  a good amount of time, and I have found myself able to sit back and think long and hard about some of the choices I make. Rather than acting instinctively, I have space to consider some of my habits and make changes that have helped remove me from the insanity of modern life. I cook almost all of my meals at home, don't watch television, don't buy the latest gadgets, almost never buy clothes, and rarely spend money on going out. I have also never had a full time job, and have made do with very little money at various points in my life. I view this as a small act of protest in a system gone mad, and rather than being depressed about not having more of the things everyone else has, I actually feel more empowered by rejecting them. 

Without creating that space to become aware of my actions, I have no doubt my anxiety would be far, far more severe. I still struggle to maintain the discipline, but the knowledge that falling off the wagon in today's maniacal rat race could spell disaster psychologically is enough motivation to keep at it pretty consistently. 

So remember, keep calm, and don't carry on. Because if we don't keep calm and we keep carrying on, we risk turning an already insane system into something truly horrifying.  

Next: OJ Simpson Obsessing - by Jamie Frevele

OJ Simpson Obsessing 

by Jamie Frevele

A lot of my friends of a certain age and I discuss the strange new concept of 1990s nostalgia all the time. We were teenagers or young adults back then, when we lived through MTV activism and the Clinton scandal the first time, to say nothing of the shitty, shitty fashion that has been creeping in by way of the millennial hipster community. (There's a game I like to play while waiting for the G train in Williamsburg, Brooklyn: normcore or actual poverty?) My theory is that the '90s were still modern enough to feel recent, but without the looming, obnoxious presence of the internet and social media bogging it all down. No selfies, no hashtags, no Facebook bullies or fights in comments sections. But still, you know, basic cable, improving interracial relations, slightly less sexism, slightly more tolerance than, say, the 1950s. And while the fashion was terrible, it wasn't as bad as the '80s.

The cultural milestone that we Generation Xers really remember was OJ Simpson. Some of us were a little too young to have grown up with "The Juice" as a sports icon, but we all knew who he was. We all saw The Naked Gun! But when the country stopped in its tracks to watch him sail down the highway in that Bronco, we remember. And then we watched the trial. Court TV was born and my mom made my dad hook up a small TV with a 75-yard cable in the kitchen because back then, we only had one cable box in the entire house and it was in the living room. We called it the OJ cable. And my mom made us watch the trial during dinner. Not because of the legal proceedings or the statement this made on how cops treat black people. Because it was a fucking circus. It was murder, sex, race, celebrity, and I didn't appreciate what that meant at the time because I was a dumb teenager who just wanted to watch old Saturday Night Live episodes and Jim Carrey movies.

And now, thanks to the great storytellers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk (who gave us Nip/Tuck, American Horror Story, and Glee), the OJ Simpson trial is back in the zeitgeist with the fictionalized retelling American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson. And it is glorious. They had an assist from Jeffrey Toobin, who wrote one of many books on the trial The Run of HIs Life: The People vs. OJ Simpson, which is a book I'm going to read the living crap out of when I get the chance. Toobin is serving as a producer on the show, which is giving everyone the perfect, juicy, dramatized side of this American legal entertainment carnival -- it is the sexiest thing on television, if better, 'zazzier versions of the truth told by skilled performers is what you find sexy. And it sure as hell is for me.

Everything about this show is designed to make you obsessed with it. The true story is intriguing enough, but now we have Cuba Gooding Jr. redeeming himself as the clearly brain damaged star of this trial, Sarah Paulson as the be-permed prosecutor Marcia Clark, a waxy John Travolta as the flamboyant Robert Shapiro, Courtney B. Vance as the even flashier, media-hungry Johnnie Cochran, David Schwimmer as hangdog, conflicted Robert Kardashian… and Nathan Fucking Lane as F. Lee Bailey?? I couldn't have come up with this cast in my craziest dreams. Everyone is perfect. And everyone is killing it. (Pun entirely intended.) Murphy/Falchuk have created the perfect witches brew of camp, history, mystery, and suspense out of something that has already been watched, discussed, and covered to death by the media.

We know what happens. But we're watching it with brand new eyes. It's not quite better than true crime, but it's slightly tastier. These are delectable people to watch, and with poetic license, this has been a truly delicious TV series. Who was making the calls to cover the Bronco chase? Were Clark and her co-prosecutor Christopher Darden (played by the endearing Sterling Brown) thinking about getting it on as they grew closer during the trial? Was Robert Shapiro really that much of a brat? Seriously, did no one consider OJ Simpson having brain damage after playing football for all those years? Is this trial the reason the Kardashians became the monster that they are? Can we actually blame OJ for them too?

How much are we watching this vintage story through a present-day lens? It makes the story both fascinating and frustrating to watch because of what we know now and what they major players couldn't have known then.

But now we have something to watch as Monday morning quarterbacks -- or really, Thursday morning quarterbacks -- that is so relateable and familiar and brand new at the same time. Everyone is obsessed all over again because we get to imagine these very distant people as real, live humans with feelings. (Marcia, Marcia, Marcia -- GIRL. I get you.) But even now, despite any conclusions we've all drawn in real life and by watching this fictional show -- we don't know if OJ did it. We might think he did. But Murphy and Falchuk are walking that ambiguous line so beautifully and delicately that we truly don't know what the truth is. And maybe we never will.

And not knowing is so much fun. Not knowing is why we tune in. And really, not knowing is why we wake up in the morning every day. I said it: OJ Simpson is a metaphor for life, you guys. Let's tune in for the next installment as a human race together.

Next:  Dancing Dad Finale by Chez Pazienza


Dancing Dad Finale

by Chez Pazienza

(continued from issue 38 and 39)

The rest of the day will be -- challenging. 

After Inara's astonishing solo, everything was bound to be a come-down as far as I was concerned. So maybe that's why it really does suck that that solo was one of the first acts of the day and I get to spend the rest of my time waiting patiently in a dark ballroom for my kid's group appearances. Nothing's going to quite stack up to watching my child belt out "I Was Born To Entertain" to the parents and judges here at the "Access Broadway" competition in Las Vegas. But given that new, improved, sociable Dad has already met Inara's friends and dance partners and their very nice, very suburban parents, I'm genuinely excited to see not just my kid on her own but all the kids together performing their hearts out. Who the hell am I? Is this what fatherhood is supposed to do to you: turn you into a grinning sap who suddenly expresses more than a passing interest in the Broadway ambitions of a group of precocious 7-year-olds?  

After well over a couple dozen more acts -- more of the same: talented kids singing, dancing, reading monologues, etc., but not my kid so it's hard to be too interested -- Inara's next performance arrives. It's a sketch called "Beware of Princesses," featuring her and her friends -- all girls her age -- prancing around in little princess costumes and gossiping back and forth about everyone not them. It's equal parts adorable, hilarious, and amusingly evil. Inara stands out insofar as her movements are all purposely exaggerated in a more heightened way than the other kids, but overall the whole thing's a hoot. And I now feel I need a drink to cleanse myself of the fact that I just thought something was a "hoot." Still, you get the impression that what you're seeing onstage isn't all that different from actually hanging out with these little girls -- all, in their own way, the very princesses they're playing. 

Inara rushes off the stage and I once again run to her and give her a big hug. The rest of the parents are there to meet their own children and after a quick round of congratulations, the grown-ups discuss lunch, which we all finally get to break for. There's really only one choice: the food court. The food court at the fucking Santa Fe Station Hotel, Casino and Giant Ashtray. I'll once again have to brave the casino floor and its legion of elderly zombies. As I ride the escalator down, the very first thing I see is a deathly skinny old woman literally chained to a slot machine. She has a leash around her neck that's attached to a play card in the machine. Around her head and plugged into her nose is a line attached to an oxygen tank on the floor next to her. She's also smoking a cigarette that's ashed down to the point where it's barely hanging on. This is, without a doubt, the most disturbing image I've witnessed in my 46 years on this planet. This place is just crying out to be wiped clean by a cleansing flood from an angry God. 

The parents and I wait in line for food. The girls sit at a table and begin fighting over one thing or another, leading grown men and women to scramble to try to figure out what the hell's going on and mitigate any hurt feelings. It takes forever to get our food, so long in fact that by the time we get through the line and it arrives, it's just about time to go back upstairs and continue our day and night in the dark. Inara and I only rode in here maybe five hours ago but in this place I feel like I haven't seen the sun in months. I get the impression that if I look in a mirror, one of the creatures from The Descent will be staring back at me. I have to be sallow. I'm not sure I've ever been sallow or really what sallow even means or looks like, but it sounds like something I am right now. That's what this place is: the Sallow Fe Hotel & Casino. 

Before lunch even ends, as we're heading upstairs, the parents and I discuss who's going to be the first one to give in and hit the bar. Everyone has a nice little laugh about it, especially me, as I pretend that I don't already know the answer to that -- like it's even up for discussion. 

The next several hours pass like days. Inara's next performance is in a full-cast act based on the "Monster High" series. It's fantastic, especially considering that my 7-year-old gets to play off the older kids at her studio. The whole cast is explosive, singing and dancing and generally tearing the roof off the place. The judges seem to love it. So does the now-capacity crowd in this place. When it's over, I actually miss Inara heading backstage so I'm left standing off to the side like an idiot. The mother of one of Inara's friends sees me looking lost and asks me if I'm looking for my daughter. When I respond in the affirmative, she turns and heads through the door and into the "backstage" area -- which is basically just a separate conference room next to the ballroom -- and, not thinking at all, I follow right behind her. I assumed she was leading me to Inara but instead I wind up backstage -- surrounded by what I assume are half-naked 16-year-old girls. I say "assume" because once it hits me what I've done -- which is fucking immediately -- I keep my head down and just keep moving forward as quickly as possible until I get to the other side and walk right out the opposite door. Crisis averted. I think. 

I can already hear this getting back to Inara's mother: "He saw the teenage girls naked." Goodbye custody!

It's the last performance of the night for my daughter -- and yes, I've already had a glass of Jack Daniel's Single Barrel. After getting it downstairs, I happened to walk past a couple of the other parents and held the glass up, shaking it a little. "I gave up," I said. My kid and her entire company do "Neverland," a take on Peter Pan. It's again impressive to see Inara interact with kids so much older than her, but it's obvious they've really taken to my daughter. No surprise there -- the child's a little drama queen, in the best possible way. One more performance after "Neverland," and either that drink was spiked with something or the cigarette smoke from downstairs has floated up and ravaged my brain -- because I swear to God, there's a group of children doing The Producers' "Springtime for Hitler." And it's fucking amazing. I honestly can't stop laughing at teens, preteens and kids my daughter's age belting their way through this song, even throwing in the requisite Sieg Heils here and there. It's so ballsy I can't even process it. 

When that's over, though -- finally -- it's time for the awards. It's now midnight. We've been here for 15 hours. Inara's solo earns her a gold medal and, needless to say, I'm just beaming. The rest of the cast productions bring in medals as well, with one getting a special trophy. And when it's all over, a whole series of pop songs begins to blare -- Taylor Swift's Shake It Off, Fall Out Boy's Uma Thurman, and so on -- and every kid in the damn place is going nuts. The whole ballroom is dancing. I have no idea how they're doing it, given that I want to pass out in a corner. Still, despite the adrenaline of winning big and of getting to go completely insane with her friends after a day and night of working their asses off, eventually Inara hits the wall. The crying starts. It comes in a tidal wave for no reason -- and that's when I'm reminded that even though she just tore it up onstage over and over again my daughter is, in fact, 7-years-old. I scoop her up, we say our goodbyes and head back to the hotel.

 That night, she goes to sleep with her medal still around her neck. She deserves to.