Saving Old Glory

Innauguration attendees trample American flags while watching President Obama's address

After witnessing President Barack Obama’s inaugural address, I have to wonder if anyone else within in the sea of millions that the flooded the National Mall in Washington D.C. actually listened to what he said. During his address, he stressed selflessness and sacrifice, a return to common-sense values and a dedicated work ethic so that we as human beings, not just Americans, can halt the damages being done to our world. I was moved, touched by the voice of one of the most inspirational leaders of the twenty-first century, but I was disheartened and dismayed, absolutely appalled, when the crowd began to thin. I was upset because Obama’s address had seemed to fall upon deaf ears, I was upset because the historic, record-breaking crowd of supporters left a record-breaking pile of garbage in their wake, and none of them seemed to care.

One-hundred-thirty tons of garbage, to be precise. 130 tons of half-eaten hot-dogs, gloves, blankets, over-priced hand-warmers, disposable coffee-cups, miscellaneous Obama memorabilia and small American flags blanketed the grounds of the National Mall. One always expects trash during a party, and with 1.8 million people in attendance, this was without a doubt the largest crowd present for an inaugural address, but the plethora of trash left behind behind was absolutely absurd. Under the shadow of the Washington Monument, newspapers blew with the frigid winds like tumble-weeds rolling across an Arizona desert while little reproductions of our national colors were trampled by the mass of tourists and D.C./Metro area residents alike.

I still could hear the words of our new President echoing in my ears as the hordes elbowed their way out of the Mall, “Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.”

So, instead of incoherently screaming the man’s last name like some drunkard at a football game or buying a cheap, bootleg hat from a career crackhead, I looked at my feet and picked up the small American flag that I had been unknowingly standing on and I held it in my hands. It had been ripped in half, it was dirty; full of some mysterious muck that made me grimace in disgust, but I did not drop it. Instead, I knelt down and picked up another even filthier flag.

They were grimy, sullied and soiled; their once majestic white was now an ugly brown. Splotches of black shoe-markings were scattered, in no particular order, across their stars and stripes equally. I was unsure of what to do with them. I didn’t want to carry a couple of nasty looking flags around all day, but I couldn’t just let them fall back to the ground where they would continue to be carelessly trampled upon, or worse, thrown away and forgotten about like common pieces of trash. These were flags.

I looked up at the thinning crowd as I was shoved, prodded, and penetrated, and noticed that these small flags lay all about about the mall, broken, slightly shredded; already forgotten. They had been a symbol of pride and unity for about an hour, only to be be discarded like common pieces of refuse once Obama had finished his Inaugural Address and retreated to the relative safety and warmth of his new Presidential limousine. No one seemed to notice that the Capital now looked like a landfill for our symbol of patriotism, and the cruel ironies only multiplied as the veritable army of media-professionals began to pluck mindless “HOPE”-filled bystanders from the crowd, scrapping the bottom of the quotable barrel to fill a three column spread or a ninety-second televised report.

Just then, something came over me. Call it pride, nationalism, supernatural possession, whatever your word ‘de jour, but I had an armful of ugly little flags before I’d even noticed Aretha Franklin’s skull-devouring hat. Some still had their two-cent wooden poles, a lot of them didn’t; most simply hung by a thread or two. They were all weathered and beaten; my face twisted and contorted in every imaginable position with each flag I knelt down and dug bare-handed through piles of rubbish to rescue. I suppose that they were technically trash, but this trash wasn’t just my treasure, they were our treasures. A flag is a symbol, an image of who we were, who we are, and who we hope to be. Thirteen stripes to represent the original thirteen colonies, fifty stars to show our solidarity as an ever growing union of states that, despite varying locales, still hold the same ideals to be just and true.

I scoured the grounds of the mall looking for anything with red, white and blue. I dove head first into bristled bushes and over-flowing trash cans, scrapped through gutters and the sea of frantic sycophants that had swarmed the MSNBC mobile studio (which easily held the biggest trove of mangled flags and shredded newspapers). Every flattened cardboard box, every poster, every sign was overturned in my effort to collect every last flag I could find. I wasn’t even sure what to do with them all, I only knew that these flags were far from trash and no-one, under any circumstance, is to ever let a flag touch the ground.

“Old Glory” was not the only set of colors that I found that day. A Bahamian flag, a Texan flag, an Iranian flag and a Brazilian flag each found their way in to my collection. I had eventually amassed so many that I began searching for large bag, which I found fairly quickly by simply bending over and reaching deep into sewer drain on Independence Ave. Pretty soon however, my “Bed, Bath and Beyond” bag of patriotism needed to be upgraded too as it became so full of holes from the small, wooden dowel rods that a few of the raggedy flags had begun to simply fall out and float away whenever a strong gust of icy wind would charge down the grounds, forcing me to shield my face and my flags. It wasn’t long until I came across a standard milk-crate, so I carefully set my bag inside and stuffed a few of the more loose flags deeper inside. I then lugged my colorful crate of tattered greatness around in my mission to find any and all flags until I could no longer walk. I fell to my knees and hung my head low, my long hair hiding the over-whelming disparity and filth that were now etched upon my chapped, weather-beaten face.

Over the course of my voluntary quest, I was mocked by soldiers, aristocrats, children, and tourists alike. However, it was these same types of people that would later come up to me during my darkest and filthiest hour (dusk) to personally thank and encourage me to continue on. A few shook my hand, others would ask for a flag, so I would happily look for the cleanest in my collection, a task which more often than not, took several minutes of digging and poking. My numbed, cracked and dry hands were left with an ample amount of splinters that I’ll be picking at for the next several days, but it seemed worth it to when Private First-Class grabbed me by the shoulder, and said, “Thank You” as he plucked a blackened and weathered flag with pride.

I was photographed several times by tourists, a photojournalist, and a woman who called me, “inspirational”. I was told them all that I was just, “doing a dirty job”. At the end of the day though, I still felt just as beaten and tattered as the flags that I cradled. I had collected hundreds of flags, but I still did not know what to do with them, so I resolved return them to the American Legion trailer that sat on the north-eastern side of the Mall, opposite the Smithsonian, as they were responsible for their original distribution.

As I carefully set down my crate of withered flags, I found an aide and asked what would happen with all the flags that didn’t get passed out, as well as those that I’d rescued.

“Oh, we’re probably just going to burn them later,” the aide replied casually as she shoved the remnants a hot-dog in her mouth, tossing its checkered, red and white wrapper to the ground.

The picture above was taken by Jonathan Miano, a photojournalist living in Chicago and originally appeared Jan. 20th, 2009 in the Naperville-Sun Times.
My crate of flags resting in the American Legion storage container at the end of the day.


Prelude to the Inauguration

On Tuesday, Barrack Obama will be elected as the 44th President of the United States and I plan on braving the frigid D.C. cold, 4 million tourists, and an unprecedented display of security and media professionals. Anyone who’s lived in D.C. long enough is used to these things, but I’ve never experienced them all at the same time. Obama is seen as a quasi-political messiah, he’s already got worthless coins endorsed by Montel Williams and cheap plates made by under-privileged Chinese children to prove his messianic authenticity. This coming Tuesday forgot change my address.

Sure, I donated $20 to Obama in February because I liked the calm and collected black guy that had the tenacity to begin running for president a full year before the party primaries had even begun. I’d never donated to a political campaign before; I’ll probably never do it again because I honestly despise getting physical mail, and these pan-handling bastards have more Spam than Hawaii on Christmas. Why the hell do they feel the need to harass me for Dollar after Dollar when the plethora of hand painted, uncirculated Obama coins are actually worth more on E-Bay? Couldn’t I just get a couple of those gold Washington/Obama/Double-Eagle’s and “donate them” to the Democratic Caucus, thereby calling the whole debt “square”? My television tells me that they’re family heirlooms, so that must make them more valuable than the Dollar now, right?

I’ve planned out a fantastic adventure. A trip that will take me in to the heart of the city for a bevy of interviews, videos, write-ups and live-blogs, except I’m not technically invited to anything. How typical. Sure I’m an American, I was born in this country and I even voted for the guy, but just like everything in America (and especially in D.C.) unless you have some serious cash to spend, you can’t really get anywhere.

I don’t mean to crash “the party”, I mean to get my story. I’m sure that somewhere, within the ludicrous number of people stupid enough to come to Washington D.C. in January, the media circus that’s undoubtedly going to antagonize anything with the faintest pulse, and the powerful presence of Police designated to intimidate, that I’ll find something moving enough to bang out about seven-hundred words of eternally useless, literary dribble. I’ll be the really estranged guy, over-caffinated, walking around in tattered leather jacket from a second-rate department store, chain smoking cigarettes without a sunny disposition or press-pass, but still calling himself a journalist, holding a pen and paper instead of video-camera.

Put This In Your Pipe & Smoke It

Barack Obama is the President of the United States and whether or not he plans to quit smoking is not our business. If you spend more than half a second caring about the Presidents smoking habit, or lack thereof, you should be hauled off into a darkened dungeon and shot for attempting to create an Idiocracy (read: High Treason). The consistent reports of people feeling that he needs to set such a healthy example for children is absolutely absurd.

It doesn’t matter if the President smokes a cigarette. If Obama can create peace in the Middle East, I’ll be the first person offering him a smoke and a light. This man is the President, and if he wants to smoke a cigarette because Congress has been dragging it’s fat, lethargic ass on some issue of national importance, you should turn a blind eye. He’s not a child, he’s not your boyfriend, he’s the President and you should excuse him as he’s been busy saving our overly critical asses from psychotic religious fundamentalists who want nothing more than to curb-stomp the civil liberties and personal freedoms you’re taking for granted.

There’s more than 200 years of tradition behind Presidents smoking in the White House. Maddison, Grant, FDR, and JFK were avid smokers. Hell, Grant smoked so much that people actually mailed him cigars when they heard that he was smoking a cigar during the Battle of Fort Donelson. In fact, Grant’s smoking habit was so prominent that it was used as a campaign theme. Due to FDR’s triskaidekaphobia, or fear of the number 13, he believed it to be bad luck to light 3 cigarettes with one match and even chastised a man in Hyde Park for doing so. On the eve of the Cuban embargo, Kenndy had an aide purchase nearly 1,200 H. Upmann Petit Coronas. Even Nixon, who wasn’t a regular smoker, would ritualisticly smoke a cigar with other forgien leaders in a gesture of respect.

Smoking used to be as American as apple pie. It was customary to offer guests a cigarette after a meal, and American Presidents were no different. The Eisenhower’s, in continuing a tradition started by Elanor Roosevelt, would offer coffee and cigarettes to their guests after meals. There were ashtrays, cigarettes and matchbooks embossed with the Presidential Seal, thanks to the Kennedy’s. They were complimentary for guests of the White House, Air Force One, Marine One, with each pack having a location specific engraving. It wasn’t until 1988 that Presidential Cigarettes were discontinued, and later prohibited in the White House by First Lady Hillary Clinton, “because of the atmosphere…and the age of the house, [and] the furnishings.” (a)

While I would certainly love to fault the extreme irony in relation to the Clinton’s and their use of tobacco in the White House, I have to reluctantly admit, that in keeping with the preservation of historical artifacts, we should continue to enforce the indoor smoking ban in the White House. Despite this, however, whether or not the President smokes really isn’t any of the public’s business. The transparency of government shouldn’t necessarily go so far as to tell the President how he is allowed to literally live his personal life. I don’t care what kind of cigarettes Obama smokes, whether or not he uses condoms, or if he prefers apples to oranges, and neither should you because it doesn’t really matter. If the man wants to smoke a cigarette once in awhile, that’s fine because there are far more important things to obsess over than the message he is sending to children when he smokes. If your kid sees the President smoking, tell them the truth: “The President just saved the damn world, but that still doesn’t make it O.K. for you kids to smoke.”

(a) BURROS, MARIAN , Hillary Clinton’s New Home: Broccoli’s In, Smoking’s Out, The New York Times, February 2, 1993
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F0CE7D6143DF931A35751C0A965958260
[12/10/08]
(b) Anthony, Carl Sferrzza, Our Presidents and Cigars: A White House Tradition is in Danger of Disappearing,Cigar Aficionado, Autumn 1993,
http://www.cigaraficionado.com/Cigar/CA_Archives/CA_Show_Article/0,2322,817,00.html
[12/10/08]
(c) “Alex”, Presidential Superstitions, Neatorama, March 10, 2008,
http://www.neatorama.com/2008/03/10/presidential-superstitions/
[12/10/08]

Wind Blows into the District

Change is in the air. The righteous wind that blew at the backs of President Elect Barack Obama and his supporters for the past two years has also sailed the Democratic Party to full control of both the House and Senate. Many still can not believe the momentous historical events that have propelled the Junior Senator from Illinois, who began as a community organizer in Chicago’s South Side, mainly because of the surreal circumstances that have surrounded his campaign.

Obama stood as a true Underdog at the beginning of the race against Senator, and former First Lady, Hillary Clinton. “The Clinton Machine”, as the massive support base for the Clintons’ is commonly referred to, has held an unmatched power in Washington for the past two decades, rallying supporters and unifying Democratic Party members in the media and the various branches of government across the United States. On top of this unwavering support stood a mountain of potential political capital, a run-away money train that could shell out staggering amounts of campaign finances to lobby representatives to a particular cause. When Hillary Clinton announced that she would run for office, few doubted that any other Democratic challenger had a even a remote chance against the seemingly unstoppable “power-base” that already existed in more than just the far corners of the Union: Southern Democrats, Hollywood & media elites, North-Eastern Super Liberals, and the The Beltway Power Circle, already numbering in the millions and they were donating money by the thousands. There was little hope for the Junior Senator from Illinois onthe cold February morning in which Obama announced his candidacy on the steps of the Old State Capitol building in Illinois.

Throughout the campaign, Obama’s lack of Executive experience was brought up countlessly, first, and most notably by Clinton. Her argument that she would be “ready from Day One” was eventually bested by Obama’s message of Change. When John McCain won the Republican nomination he immediately reminded voters of Obama’s inexperience. In fact, many of McCain’s “tactics” involved recycling Clinton’s most successful attacks on Obama, such as her infamous “3AM” ad, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s history with 60’s radical Bill Ayers, and Obama’s penchant for “healthy eating”.

Despite Obama’s lack of traditional Washington experience, many of his supporters found his views more appealing because he appeared to not be a part of the D.C. power circle. His message of bringing a change to the government was seen as more sincere and substantial specifically because his opponents were unable to paint him as just another D.C. Insider. What set him aside from his colleagues was his advocation of working from the ground up. Where Clinton and McCain wanted to change Washington from the inside-out, Obama advocated change from the outside-in. Obama made it clear that we were not just voting for him, we were making a decision to go to work, putting the pieces of a shattered nation and broken world back together for the betterment of society.

The increase of negative campaigning only served to bolster his credentials in the long run. While Hillary Clinton was busy trying to knock Obama’s credibility in the primaries, she only served to give him more when he stood fast and didn’t falter. When she introduced Jeremiah Wright in an attempt to highlight Obama as a typical activist in the vein of Al Sharpton or Jessie Jackson, Obama hit back with a resounding speech on the state of race relations in the U.S. Her plan to paint Obama as just another angry black man backfired, giving him the reputation of being calm and collected, a natural leader with a steady hand whose race served him more as an advantage than as a handicap.

Later, when Obama was pegged as “Pallin’ around with terrorists like William Ayers,” and being called an “arugula-eating-elitist”, it became clear that there was little anyone could do to stop Obama’s mammoth rise to Pop-Culture Icon. Instead of playing to solely to his base, Obama began to campaign in GOP states like Virgina and North Carolina. He even went on MTV and said, “brothers should pull up their pants…You are walking by your mother, your grandmother, your underwear is showing. What’s wrong with that? Come on. Some people might not want to see your underwear – I’m one of them” Despite this resounding fashion advice, it remains to be seen whether or not today’s youth will take his suggestion.

He is the New Blood for a generation of apathetic youth, the down trodden and the forgotten. A living symbol of hope to look to for insight and leadership. Now, as the world looks on with great anticipation, Obama is tasked with what is easily the toughest job in the modern world, leading a society out of its downward spiral and into a new age of hope and prosperity.

Ruminations of a Political Junkie

I’ve been glued to the 24 hour cable news cycle for the past year, anxiously wolfing down super-sized servings of spoon-fed news from the plethora of blathering “experts” that help to fulfill my ever growing addiction to politics and the news. I’ve set up my laptop in front of the t.v. to read blogs, columns and news articles during commercial breaks or sports reports as I know somewhere, someone is saying something worth noting. Since the election, however, I’ve found that the great, interactive reality show that is the news business has begun to slow to a dull and lackluster pace, and I can’t help but wonder what will happen to all the pundits, columnists and news junkies now that there’s no election to cover.

Every morning has been the same, I wake up and I flip on the t.v. MSNBC’s Morning Joe has been the apex of morning news shows, important people saying important things at an ungodly hour of the morning. Deep down though, I can’t stand Joe Scarborough, and would like nothing more than for him to be booted from his own show again, yet I still watch every morning and send anonymous comments to the shows producers. Regardless of my bias against Scarborough, his show is still most entertaining thing on t.v. from 6am to 9am, and it usually contains the most substantive arguments and note-worthy figures of the day.

After Morning Joe, I usually rifle through all the other 24-hour news channels: Fox, CNN (HN & IN), BBC International, and C-SPAN House & C-SPAN Senate. None of them usually have anything new or interesting to say that I haven’t already heard (sans C-SPAN). Unless it’s an exclusive or a breaking story, it’s usually just a rehash of the same crap I just heard, or watered down version of something I’m already reading. Special Reports are old news to me because by the time a network runs the story, I’ve usually already read the most meaty bits on-line. This is usually a standard, bloggers get the story first and make a post, upload it to some sort of News Aggregate like Digg, Reddit, or Yahoo Buzz, the mainstream press then validates it and crafts a legitimate report. The only problem is that by the time a major network runs the story, it seems like old news to me because I’ve already seen the same damn story on the net a week ago.

When the Enquirer ran the story about John Edwards affair with Riley Hunter, the net was already buzzing about it, hours before NBC or CBS went public with the story. When Ron Paul was breaking the Fund Raising records, Reddit & Digg were the first websites to have stories up (to be fair, the links were usually just redirects to the Paul’s website). When Hillary Clinton gave her infamous “sniper fire” remark, bloggers were all over that farce like flies on shit, with links to Youtube videos and archived stories from the Washington Post to prove it.

I have to wonder what this bombardment of information might do to me. The constant vein-slapping injection of news into my brain is accompanied by a tremendous cup of black coffee and a hand-rolled cigarette (a pairing I’ve carefully concocted over several months). Black coffee just works better, there’s more caffeine, there’s more taste, more antioxidants; what used to be a casual jolt in the morning is now like being hit by a run-away freight train. The hand-rolled cigarettes have served as my “zen garden”, with each cigarette being meticulously crafted for the perfect smoke while I wait for the anchors to change and commercials to finish. A smoke-break is one of two forced breaks from my information ingestion, the other being to use the bathroom, respectively.

What really worries me is how the quality of news casts is already changing. Fox has already mandated that it won’t air consistently negative stories about Obama, and MSNBC focus’s almost exclusively on politics now. The only channels with a variety of news reports are the BBC and CNN International, but they are in stark contrast compared to MSNBC and Fox. Where the latter substitute a variety of stories for flashy graphics, and sound effects in between wipes and segways, the former offer typical, bland, monotone reporters with a minimal amount of flare. I have to admit that I value the bland more than the flashy, but it’s the flashy ones that keep me hooked and entertained, feeding my addiction while some freak with a perfect haircut is calmly sending me subliminal messages to “panic” and buy war-bonds.

Guess I’ll have to tune in and find out.