January Convention Appearances

January is not usually a big convention month for me, but in 2014 I’ll be a guest at two.

First is ChupacabraCon on January 17-19. This is a new convention in Austin and Green Ronin will be well-represented, with Steve Kenson and Donna Prior also in attendance. I have not been back to Austin since leaving Vigil Games (which subsequently ceased to exist when THQ went bankrupt). It’ll be nice to see friends, eat good BBQ (!), play games, and do seminars.

The following weekend, January 24-26, I’m traveling all the way to Cork, Ireland for WarpCon! I’ve heard John Kovalic and other industry pals wax enthusiastically about Irish conventions for ages and now I’m getting the chance to see for myself. This will also be my first trip to Ireland and I’m excited to visit.

My step-daughter Kate just turned 18 and she was keen to come along, so it’s going to be a family affair. Kate asked friends and family for money to fund the trip for her birthday and Xmas this year and she’s just about paid for her ticket so far. This will be her first trip to Europe and I’m glad Nicole and I can share it with her. She was quick to point out that she’s old enough to go to pubs. Funny thing is, she is not interested in drinking (she got the straight edge). She’s just happy she can come out with us (something she can’t do at bars during GenCon, for example).

If you are local to Austin or Ireland, maybe I’ll see you next month!

The Time War in New Who Was Always a Terrible Idea

When Dr. Who came back on the air in 2005, I was as excited as anyone who had grown up watching the show. Tom Baker on WGBH in Boston–that was where it started for me as a kid in the 70s. I liked Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor a lot and was a ticked off when he quit after one season (seriously, don’t take the role if you can’t commit to a few years; you know what you are in for). What I instantly hated though was the idea of the Time War. As that was the subject of the 50th Anniversary show, I’m going to unpack that a bit.

Spoilers for new Who and Day of the Doctor follow.

When new Who started, we learn that the Doctor is the only remaining Time Lord. Not only are all the others dead, he killed them (along with their mortal enemies, the Daleks). This was always a terrible idea and here’s why.

  • First and foremost, it is totally out of character for the Doctor to resort to violence like that. In episode after episode, he always tries to find another way. It’s one of the core things that make the Doctor the Doctor. Yet we are told that not only did he use violence on a massive scale, he also committed genocide. Worse, he murdered his own people. This would be like a reboot of Willy Wonka in which we learn the eccentric chocolatier had dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. 
  • Even leaving aside the moral side of this, it was a poor choice from a story point of view. It removed an entire type of Dr. Who story–the Doctor gets involved in the politics of Gallifrey. I liked those episodes in the Davison era and it was a shame they were lost in new Who. I guess we had to make room for more episodes in which the Doctor investigates the mysteries of 20 something year old women.
  • It was also a bad idea to get rid of the Daleks, as they were the classic Dr. Who villain. But of course they didn’t, did they? It wasn’t even one season before Daleks were back in the series. This was even worse, because it meant the Doctor committed genocide for no reason at all! The Daleks survived, but billions of his own people were dead by his own hand.

As you might guess, I was happy with the giant retcon that happened in Day of the Doctor. I’m glad–8 years later–they had the Doctor act like the Doctor in the defining moment of the character in new Who. It’s just too bad Day of the Doctor wasn’t better overall. The performances were good and there were some nice character bits, but the plot fell short for me. The saves-the-day idea was something out of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. At least they ended up in the right place though, with the idiotic conclusion of the Time War erased from history.

Art of RPGs Gallery Show Looking for Artists!

Krab Jab

Last year I co-curated a show at Krab Jab Studio (my “office”) here in Seattle called The Art of RPGs. It featured a lot of great art and was our most popular show of 2012. This year we are doing it again. The basic info is below. We do an opening reception as part of the Georgetown Art Attack and artists are encouraged to attend if they are in the area. If you are an artist and you’d like to participate, drop me a line at pramas [at] gmail [diggity dot] com.

November 2013: The Art of Roleplaying Games

Description: Salon style exhibition of art from RPGs. Art must have been published in a game or a game periodical (such as Dragon magazine). Interiors and black/white work is acceptable. Digital work (in the form of giclee) is acceptable.

Confirmation Deadline: September 30th

Art Dropoff/Ship Deadline: November 4th

Curators: Julie Baroh and Chris Pramas

Dates: Opens November 9th, thru December 5th

Commission rate: 20%

Let me know if you have any questions. And feel free to share this info with any artists you know who might be interested. 

My GenCon Schedule

It’s that magical time of year again: GenCon! This is my 25th GenCon in a row and I still get excited every year. If you are looking to talk to me, my public schedule is below.

The easiest place to find me is the Green Ronin booth, #1703. We are right by a front entrance this year, which is great. Mornings are a good bet, but I’ll be around in the afternoon too unless I’ve got meetings or a seminar.

Thursday

5 pm: A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying and the Chronicle System

Convention Center, Room 242

Based on George R.R. Martin’s Westeros, A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying allows you to play out the intrigues of this rich setting. We’ll also discuss the Chronicle System materials, which expand the scope of the rule set.

Friday

8:00 pm: ENnie Awards

Union Station Hotel, Grand Hall

Green Ronin is up for several awards and our crew will of course be there for the ceremony!

Saturday

Noon: Dragon Age Roleplaying and the Future of the AGE System

Crowne Plaza Hotel : Victoria Stn A/B

Bioware’s world of Thedas is the setting for our Dragon Age tabletop roleplaying game. Learn devs Chris Pramas’ and Jack Norris’ plans for the setting and the development of more AGE system games.

2 pm: Emerald Spire All-Stars Seminar

Convention Center: Room 231

Join a panel of the game design superstars behind the Pathfinder Emerald Spire Superdungeon. Panelists will discuss their original dungeon levels, followed by a Q&A and signing. Join a jaw-dropping panel of the game design superstars behind Paizo’s Emerald Spire Superdungeon. Panelists will discuss their original dungeon levels and share dungeon-themed anecdotes from their career in gaming, followed by a Q&A and signing. Panelists: Ed Greenwood, Frank Mentzer, Richard Baker, Wolfgang Baur, Mike Stackpole, Jordan Weisman, Chris Pramas, Lisa Stevens, Erik Mona, F. Wesley Schneider, James Jacobs, Jason Bulmahn, Sean K Reynolds.

See you all in Indianapolis!

Black Flag at El Corazon, 7/19/13

So…Black Flag. It was a good show but not a great show. Ron Reyes was a  fierce frontman and the song selection was heavily weighted toward’s their first 5 years (ie the good stuff). A couple of things dragged it down though. First, the new drummer could not hold a candle to Robo. He didn’t even attempt stuff like the fills on “Depression” and just was a weak link all around. Second, Greg Ginn could not help from throwing in several long, tedious songs towards the end of the set, during which he abused a theramin. One of them (“Can’t Decide” from My War) is even a song I like, but they did a 3 or 4 minute intro with theramin to what was already a 5 minute song and then threw in an extra long guitar solo to boot. Then closed with a 5+ minute version of Louie Louie. As I commented to Nicole afterwards, it was like two-thirds of a great show and one third self-indulgent nonsense.

Why I Probably Owe You an Email or Something

The last couple of months I have been slow in responding to emails and late in getting things done. If this has affected you, I’m sorry about that. My deepest apologies go to the Dragon Age fans, who have been waiting for Set 3 long enough already.

The trouble began at the end of April when I woke up with a sore shoulder. I thought I just slept on it badly and it would right itself in a few days. A week later I went to get a massage because it had not gotten better and I was sleeping badly. That did not help, so I went in to see my doctor. She thought it might be my rotator cuff and referred me to a physical therapist. She also had me take 12 Ibuprofen a day for one week to see if that’d relax the muscles.

The therapy and exercises seemed to help for a couple of weeks. I still had to sleep on the couch though, as I could not lie flat in bed without pain. Then one Sunday the pain came roaring back. That week I could find no position–standing, sitting, or lying down–that was without pain. My thumb went numb and I started to get shooting pains up and down my arm. I could not sit at a computer for longer than 15 minutes. Sleep was horrible and I began to dread each night.

I went to see my doctor again and she made what turned out to be the correct diagnosis: I had a pinched nerve in my neck. She gave a 5 day course of steroids and a small amount of Vicodin for the pain. I also continued to see my PT. The steroids ended the worst of the pain but then things just plateaued. She told me to do another week of 12 Ibuprofen a day, and I hoarded the Vicodin so I could take one pill before bed (well, couch).

My physical therapist told me to alert her if things didn’t get any better and she would escalate my case. By this Monday I was still in pain all the time, so I sent up the Bat Signal. I went to the Spinal Clinic on Monday and was diagnosed again by a different PT and a new doctor. They agreed that the culprit was a pinched nerve. We scheduled a MRI for the next day and then a steroid injection by my spine for Monday. He gave me more Vicodin (hooray!) and some Valium to help me get through the MRI.

So yesterday morning I went in for the MRI. Since I had been unable to lie flat without pain for two months now, the idea of having to do that in a narrow tube did not thrill me. I followed the doctor’s instructions and took a Valium and Vicodin when I woke up. Then I took two more Valium before the MRI. Nonetheless, when they strapped me in, there was searing, stabby pain. When they are giving you a MRI, you can’t move or you ruin the imaging, so all I could do was lie there and suck it up for 15 long minutes. Goddamn, that was hurt but I did it. The tech said I was “awesome at laying still.” I hope the images are worth it.

Monday I go in for the steroid shot. With a needle near my spine, I don’t expect it to be pleasant, but if it works I will gladly suffer through it. By bathing that area with steroids, hopefully the muscles will finally relax and unpinch my spine. Then a little more PT should take care of it. With GenCon coming up next month, I really want to get back into fighting shape. I also have a ton of work to do, on Dragon Age, Freeport, and more. I’ve lost enough time already.

And hey, Spine? After this let’s never fight again.

Freeport Kickstarter: Why $50,000, Why a Deluxe Book?

FPlogo01

We’ve got five days left in the Freeport Kickstarter and we are still over $16,000 short of our goal. Throughout these last weeks, I’ve been reading your feedback and adding to or changing the campaign in response. People said they wanted more new content, so I added the Return to Freeport adventure series. I’ve also done things like offer a book-only reward level, and a way for Canadian backers to get more affordable shipping. The most common reason given for not backing the Kickstarter, however, is that the physical book is too expensive. I’d like to take some time to explain why I chose this format for the project and why our initial goal was $50,000.

Freeport is important to me because Death in Freeport is what put Green Ronin on the RPG map back in 2000. It sold like crazy and won an Origins Award and the very first ENnie Award (given to me by Gary Gygax, no less). I had originally conceived of GR as a fun side project and I didn’t expect it to be my full time job, but due to the success of Freeport and other d20 lines it became just that in March of 2002. Freeport was also the first commercial setting I created that was always fully under my control. No business wonk or brand manager could tell me what to do with it. You can understand, I hope, why Freeport means a lot to me.

During Freeport’s fallow period, it was always my intention to go back to it. The questions were when and how? Once Kickstarter began to change the face of RPG publishing, I of course thought of the City of Adventure. The way we used to publish, I would not have tried to do a 512-page full color hardback. It would be too risky and if it failed, could really hurt Green Ronin. That sort of calculus went into how we did the original Freeport hardback and its successor, The Pirate’s Guide to Freeport. The former was 160 pages with a black and white interior. The latter was nearly 100 pages longer but only 16 of its 256 pages were in color. Kickstarter thus seemed like a way to do the Freeport book I always wanted to do: big, sexy, and full color throughout.

I considered doing the new book without any game specific info, as we did with The Pirate’s Guide to Freeport, but sales data suggested that wasn’t the best approach. From what we could tell, the biggest segment of our d20 fanbase was now playing Pathfinder so using those rules seemed to make the most sense. We had previously published a Pathfinder Freeport Companion of 160 pages. Combine that with The Pirate’s Guide and our starting point was 416 pages. We certainly did not want to just slap them together and call it a day though; there had to be new material. That’s how the book ended up at 512 pages in our pitch. We wanted at least 100 pages of new material (and at this point it’s looking like at least 150 pages). We also wanted to revise and expand the material in the Pathfinder Companion to make sure the rules material was as up-to-date as possible.

When picking the goal for the Kickstarter then, I had to bear in mind the following costs:

  • Art Budget: a conservative estimate for quality interior art and a new cover is $15,000.
  • Print Budget: we are looking at least $25,000 here, since full color hardbacks are expensive to print.
  • Content Budget: writing, revising, developing, and editing a book of this size—even starting with previously written material—is going to cost us upwards of $10,000.

So that’s $50,000 right there and that leaves us no profit at all. That just makes the book. Our plan is to do larger print run than the Kickstarter requires and then sell the rest of it through distributors, retailers, and our online store. That’s where our profit would actually come from if we only reach $50,000 with the Kickstarter.

I’ve been asked how much the book will cost at stores after the Kickstarter. Our estimate right now is $75. That makes the Scurvytown Special, in which you get the finished PDF and the book shipped to you, a pretty good deal at $80. At $100, of course, you get a whole lot more (like the Return to Freeport adventure series and the serpentman promo miniature).

Some people have suggested that we should have started smaller and built it up with stretch goals. Maybe so. Frankly though, I didn’t want to play that game. I wanted to clearly lay out my dream Freeport book and try to make a reality, and Kickstarter makes that possible. It tells you how much interest there really is in your project before you spend a lot of money on it. If this campaign fails, it will still have served a purpose. I will know this was not the right project at the right time. I will also have tried to give the Freeport fans something new, which they’ve been patiently waiting for these past few years.

But we aren’t done yet. We have five days to get Freeport: The City of Adventure funded and I think we can do it. We’ve already gotten some great promotion from our friends at Paizo and Steve Jackson Games, as well as game sites, podcasts, and fans the world over. Thanks to each and every one of you. We just need a final push to get the word out, to find old Freeport fans and make new ones. So tell your friends, tell the internet, and tell your old gaming pals that Freeport is looking for a new generation of buccaneers! Let’s hoist the skull and bones, spread the word, and find this booty for Freeport!

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Review

 

I took Nicole and Kate to see The Hobbit last night. I had been looking forward to it for a long time, and had attempted to learn as little as possible about the production beforehand. Only when we saw Skyfall last month did I even see a trailer. I wanted to go in fresh without preconceptions. I also made sure to re-read the novel beforehand.

My verdict: it was…good. I wish it had been great though.

Spoilers for Book and Movie Ahead!

I should say right away that I do understand the problems faced by Jackson and his writers. The Hobbit is very different in tone than the Lord of the Rings. It was a children’s book after all. If they did The Hobbit as written, it would have been a lot more light-hearted and well, goofy than the previous three films. Tolkien was a serious world builder though, and the story of The Hobbit has an important place in the history of the Third Age of Middle Earth. What Jackson and crew were trying to do was put the story in its proper context by bringing in a lot of material from Tolkien’s other writings. Obviously, they want these three new movies to serve as a lead-in to the original three to form a larger epic. I don’t have a problem with this approach. In fact, as a Tolkien nerd, I applaud it but it did have some consequences in the way they changed things.

As you watch The Hobbit, it’s hard not to notice the way the film is similar to Fellowship of the Ring. Thorin is in the Aragorn role. The actor they picked and the hairstyle they gave him reinforce the point; he looks like mini-Strider. In the Fellowship, Jackson and his writers created a new villain specifically for the film: Lurtz, the Uruk-Hai leader. His purpose was to give the climax of that movie a villain that could be overcome. The audience could thus have a little satisfaction at the end of the movie, even though the Fellowship was broken and the heroes’ fates uncertain.

In The Hobbit, they use Azog in this role. He is not in the novel, and for very good reason: he’s dead. Azog, you see, was the King of Moria and he did lead the orcs against the dwarves in the Battle of Dimrill Dale as depicted in the film. However, Thorin’s cousin, Dain Ironfoot, beheaded Azog in that battle. It’s Azog’s son Bolg who appears in the novel and leads the orc forces in the Battle of Five armies.

I find it strange that in order to give the broader backstory of The Hobbit, Jackson changed the story simply so he could have his Lurtz for the movie. Lurtz himself was a made up character and few people minded because adding another Uruk war leader didn’t seem like a stretch. It would have been wiser to follow that lead here than muck things up so badly with the lore. Bolg is King of Moria in the novel. Will he just be shoved aside by Azog in the next movie? If not, why is he king when his father still lives? And why let Thorin steal Dain’s thunder when he’s likely to be an important character in the next two movies?

We see more echoes of Fellowship in the Rivendell sequence. In the novel here’s what happens there. Thorin’s company arrives and the elves feed them and their ponies. Elrond identifies the swords from the troll lair and reads the moon runes on the map. The elves give them fresh provisions and wish them farewell and good luck on their quest. That’s all. In the movie, however, there’s a whole subplot about how Thorin doesn’t want to go there and doesn’t trust the elves. Elrond doesn’t think their quest is a good idea, just as he had doubts about Aragorn in Fellowship. I did not mind the impromptu meeting of the White Council (as this helps set up the action in Dol Guldur that’s presumably happening in movie three), but changing the original story again to echo Fellowship seemed unnecessary.

My other major problem with the movie the inclusion of many scenes of big things crashing into other big things while people leap like gazelles through the wreckage. This was  the sort of stuff that made King Kong tedious. He takes one paragraph from the book in which stone giants are throwing rocks at each other as a game and turns it into a 10 minutes action scene with mountain peaks swaying this way and that. Then it’s “crazy bridges” in Goblin-town, whereas in the book Gandalf simply slays the Great Goblin and all his minions freak the hell out. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a good fight scene and some of the bits were cool, but those sorts of scenes are to Peter Jackson what white doves are to John Woo.

All my annoyances came together in the climactic battle. The scene that takes place in a forest in the novel is re-positioned on a crag so now trees can crash into each other until one (populated, of course, by all the protagonists who have just leaped from tree to tree!) hangs over the edge. Azog the already dead arrives to kill Thorin and then we don’t even get the satisfaction of having the mini-villain killed. The whole climax was a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. At least there were giant eagles though.

I suppose this all makes it sound like I hated the film but I didn’t. Much of it was enjoyable and if you are not a lifelong Tolkien nerd like me, you won’t really give a shit whether it’s Azog or Bolg in the Battle of Five Armies. I will say I thought the riddle sequence with Bilbo and Gollum was terrific. And man, Gollum technology has advanced a lot in 10 years. I must note though that Jackson and his writers do in fact make Bilbo a thief. In the novel, he finds the ring by accident while stumbling around in the dark. In the movie, he sees Gollum drop it and then picks it up. This actually gives Gollum a moral leg to stand on, which he certainly did not have in the books.

In the end The Hobbit is a good fantasy film, certainly better than the shit we endured in the 80s. I just think the choice, conscious or not, to pattern it on Fellowship of the Ring was a mistake. Now granted, I haven’t seen parts two and three. Seeing the trilogy in its totality may change my mind. Right now, I can’t see why certain things were done to the story but maybe that’ll be made clearer in the next two.

That’s my basic review. Now I’m just going to toss out a few nitpicks that only the hardcore Tolkien fans will have any interest in. You can stop reading now if you want; I won’t be offended!

  • From the moment Balin came I screen I thought he looked too old. This is the dwarf who’s going to lead the Moria expedition decades later. In the novel Thorin is actually older than him. You would not guess that in the film.
  • Elrond going on an orc hunting expedition? Sorry, but no. That’s the sort of thing his sons Elladan and Elrohir do.
  • Glamdring and Orcrist also glow blue blue when orcs are near but did not in the movie.
  • Radagast is not described in great detail by Tolkien, so the film’s depiction of him isn’t wrong per se. The wacky factor was amped way up though.

Forgotten Soldiers

The 26th Cavalry Regiment of the Philippine Scouts. They made the last mounted charge in the history of the US Army.

This past Saturday I went to the Museum of Flight for a special screening of a documentary called Forgotten Soldiers. It tells the story of the Philippine Scouts, US Army soldiers recruited from native Filipinos and led mostly by American officers. The Philippine Scouts were some of the first US soldiers to fight in World War II, since the Japanese began their invasion of the islands on Dec. 8, 1941 (the day after Pearl Harbor).

Forgotten Soldiers is competently made, akin to something you’d see on the History Channel. What makes it rise above such fare is the story itself and the number of surviving vets who tell their own stories. I’ll happily overlook rough transitions and overuse of reenactor footage if the story is compelling and it certainly is.

When the Japanese invaded, the Philippines was in the midst of an 11-year transitional period to full independence as a commonwealth (which was completed in 1946). The raising and training of the Filipino Army went slower than planned, so when the fighting started it was the Philippine Scouts who were the best trained and equipped troops available. They went into action quickly, blunting the Japanese attacks. They then fought a series of rearguard actions as General MacArthur ordered his forces to retreat to the Bataan Peninsula. The fighting was furious. The first 3 Medals of Honored FDR awarded during World War II were to men of the Philippine Scouts for actions in this campaign.

The Scouts then defended Bataan for four months with other American and Filipino troops. In this period, their 26th Cavalry Regiment made the last horse mounted charge in the history US Army, successfully recapturing a village from the Japanese. The food situation was so dire on the Bataan Peninsula though that the regiment was order to hand over its horses for slaughter shortly after their epic charge. This is one of the most poignant moments in the movie actually. Over 70 years later the vets are still broken up about the horses who had served them so well meeting such a fate.

The troops on Bataan waited for a relief convoy that was never dispatched. After the Japanese brought fresh troops and mauled their defenses, US Major General King surrendered 75,000 Filipino and American troops went into captivity, including the Scouts. Although exhausted and starving already, the troops were sent on the soon infamous Bataan Death March. Thousands died on the way to an overcrowded prison, where more died of disease and starvation.

About a year later the surviving Filipinos were released from prison, providing they signed a pledge not to attack the Japanese. At this I would have considered my duty done, but many of the Scouts joined guerrilla bands as soon as they regained their strength. They fought their occupiers until MacArthur came back and defeated the Japanese. Then many of the Scouts returned to formal duty and served on subsequent campaigns until the Japanese surrender in 1945. The Filipino veterans were offered American citizenship in recognition of their efforts and many came to the US and settled here.

So yes, great story and one worth telling. The early events of America’s war are often glossed over quickly because people don’t like to dwell on defeats. The bravery and endurance of the Philippine Scouts is worth recognition though, so I hope Forgotten Soldiers finds a wider audience.

I would have been happy enough to just see the movie, but there was a panel afterwards put together by The Philippine Scouts Heritage Society. The President of the group, Jose Calugas Jr., was there. His father (Jose Sr.) won the first Medal of Honor in WWII and passed away in 1999. The greater surprise was the presence of Dan Figuracion, one of the Philippine Scout profiled in the movie. He survived the war, stayed in the army, and then fought in Korea and Vietnam. He’s 93 and lives in the Seattle area.

A Q+A followed. I got to ask Dan something I’ve wondered about for a long time. Namely, how did the troops feel when Gen. MacArthur took off for Australia and left them behind for capture, brutality, and privation? “I have returned,” is a great tale, but I figured it didn’t look so noble to guys on the ground. Dan’s answer? “I didn’t even know he was gone! I didn’t hear anything about MacArthur until he came back.” Ha!

A few minutes later this women in the audience took the mic and introduced her father. He was 95 and also a former Scout. He had been in one of the engineering units. The guys on the panel waved him up and he joined them onstage. It was a surprising and touching moment.

I’m glad I had the chance to go to the screening. The Museum of Flight is a great place and I’m happy I’m a member so I hear about events like this. If you are a history nerd like me, seek out Forgotten Soldiers.

 

Election 2012: A Progressive’s View

Most of the time, I try not to post about politics too much. I will post a link or make a comment or tweet sometimes, but I try not to make that the majority of my online presence. For one thing, most folks follow me because of gaming and not politics. For another, it’s easy to tune out the person who relentless beats the same drum every day and I don’t want to be that way.

This essay has been building for a long time and I decided that the day before the election was the best time to post it. Before I get into it, let me make two quick points. First, this should not be construed as the political statement of Green Ronin Publishing. Our staff has diverse opinions and we work with freelance writers, artists, and editors from across the political spectrum. If you want to hate me, that’s fine. Just don’t take it out on the folks who work for GR. Second, I’m going to say some very unkind things about the GOP. If you are a Republican, I want you to understand that my anger is not directed at you, but the current leadership of your party. America can and should support many political points of view and I’ll fight for your rights to believe what you want. I will not, however, stand mute while all the progress that was achieved at such cost in the last century is undone.

Honest Debate

One of the things that is most frustrating about the current mediascape is that there is little room for honest debate. We go from fake outrage to fake outrage and rarely get at the underlying truths. We can’t have an honest discussion about what’s been going on in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip because no American politician will give Israel less than 200% of their unconditional support. We can’t have an honest discussion about guns because of the massive power of the NRA and complete unwillingness of modern Democrats to even engage on the issue. And most ridiculous of all, we can’t have an honest discussion about President Obama.

Like many progressives, I am indeed disappointed in Obama. If we could have a critique of his performance that was based on reality, he would have faced a primary challenge from the left. My biggest problem with him is that instead of drawing a hard line between the Bush administration and his administration, he continued some of Bush’s most shameful practices. I wasn’t some wide eyed optimist in 2008 but I thought there was a reasonable chance we’d see a clean break from W’s disastrous presidency. Turns out not so much. While Obama did ban the use of torture and say the CIA black sites were going to be closed, the practice of rendition has continued. Instead of refuting the Bush era power grab of “executive privilege,” Obama went even further with the creation of  “kill list” and the execution of American citizens without trial. And he has presided over a drone war which is presented to Americans as focused and surgical but in fact has terrorized the whole border region of Pakistan and killed hundreds of innocent people.

All the while the Obama Justice Department has done nothing to bring Bush era war criminals to justice. Men who lied us into war in Iraq, got thousands of American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians killed, and squandered billions of dollars are not in jail where they belong. They are writing books, giving speeches, and appearing as pundits on TV. Obama said we should look forward not back. Well hey, I’m going to try that defense if I’m ever arrested. “Sure, I did those crimes but we should look forward, not back. Now where’s my book deal?”

These are all legitimate reasons that Obama should have faced a serious challenge for reelection. Instead of having that debate on what he’s actually done, the right wing noise machine has been fear mongering about Imaginary Obama (or IO). IO is a shared hallucination of the right, a bogeyman they have created that has little in common with Actual Obama (AO). He’s a dangerous radical! He’s both a communist and a Nazi! He’s a secret Muslim from Kenya! He’s going to create death panels and brainwash your children! And all his crazed plans will come to fruition unless we rally together and give the ultra-rich more tax cuts!

IO has been a real growth industry. It’s hardly possible to keep up with all the baseless scandals that have been whipped up and repeated ad infinitum on Fox News, talk radio, and so on, but the truth about AO is surprisingly ordinary: he’s a corporate friendly centrist who is left of Bush but right of FDR and sometimes even Reagan. Hell, even his supposedly socialist health care reform was birthed in a conservative think tank and first implement by Mitt Romney in Massachusetts. Do you think that’s what any progressive really wanted? We wanted the public option (AKA Medicare for All), but the Democrats (the world’s worst negotiators) took that off the table before the negotiation even started. Nice job, AO!

As I hope is clear, I have serious problems with Obama. I would have liked a different choice, but in our two party system he’s my leftish option. So am I going to show my disaffection by switching my vote and going for Romney?

No. In fact, hell no! Let me tell you why.

The Madness of the GOP

I have some friends who are not going to vote for Obama or Romney. They are either voting for a third party (like I did in 2000) or not voting at all (like I did in 1996, when I felt Clinton was not sufficiently progressive). There’s an article about this very thing in the Atlantic called “Why I Refuse to Vote for Barack Obama.” Many people are so disgusted with politics generally and with Congress in particular that they feel that both of the major parties are the same so they refuse to vote for either.

Believe me, I’ve been there. I’ve laughed along to Bill Hicks talking about the puppets on the left and right. If you’ve paid attention to politics at all in the 12 years, however, you have to know that there is a difference. If you don’t vote at all, you reward the worst actor (the GOP in this case). If you vote for Romney because you are disappointed in Obama, you baffle me. It’s like saying, “This coffee I ordered is lukewarm. Give me a cup of poison instead!”

Americans, it seems, don’t like to remember how we got here. Conservatives have taken this to new heights with full on amnesia about the years 2000-2008. It’s the only way Mitt Romney can possibly say, “Are you better off now than you were 4 years ago?” with a straight face. Certainly Mitt and his super rich friends shouldn’t be complaining: 93% of the growth from the recovery has gone to the 1%. And the Wall St. bankers who almost blew up the world economy with their reckless gambling and huckster tricks? They are not only escaped jail, they are making money hand over fist.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

As soon as Obama became president, the Republicans became very concerned about the deficit. Why, this deficit was outrageous and it was all Obama’s fault, with his tax, borrow, and spend liberalism! What they fail to mention is that Clinton left office with a surplus and it was the Bush administration who piled up most of this debt. Two disastrous sets of tax cuts for the rich and two unfunded wars together with a recession that was almost a depression account for most of our debt. Take a look at the chart here that spells it out quite clearly. Yes, GOP, you truly built that and throughout the Bush administration you didn’t give a shit about the deficit. Dick Cheney famously said, “Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter.” He should have added, “when Republicans are in charge.” When a Democrat is president, they miraculously become super important again.

You’ll note the enormous effect that Bush tax cuts have had on the economy. And yet in 2010 and again this year the Republicans have fought tooth and nail to extend them and hope to make them permanent. Obama and the Senate had a perfectly reasonable plan to keep the middle-class tax cuts during the recession but let those for the rich expire as they should have two years ago. But the GOP said in essence, “Screw the middle class. Rich people get tax cuts or no one does!”

This was a revealing moment. This was the GOP fighting for its real constituency: the super rich. The big corporations and the greedy billionaires pay them very well to do so. And fighting so hard to protect and enrich the 1% by advocating policies that are a detriment to 99% of Americans? They call that patriotism.

The root of this, and it can’t be repeated enough, is the zombie lie of trickle down economics (AKA supply side economics). In a rare moment of truth telling, Bush the Senior called it “voodoo economics” and he was right. This is not an economic theory but a charlatan’s trick. If only we give the rich more and more tax cuts, money and jobs will rain down on the rest of us! We’ve seen little but this sort of magical thinking for the past 30+ years, so where is the promised utopia? Well, what do you know, it turns out most gains went to the super rich! Who could have predicted?

The increase in worker compensation from 1978 to 2011 is 5.7%. Think about that for a minute. How much more expensive is every goddamn thing in the world now than it was in 1980? Wouldn’t it be nice if wages kept pace? Well don’t worry because the increase is CEO compensation in the same period was a whopping 726.7%. Yes, you read that right: 726.7% growth for CEOs vs. 5.7% for workers. Suggest in any way that this is unfair and you are accused of class warfare. Well, my not so wealthy conservative friends, I’ve got news for you: the 1% and your party’s leadership have been engaged in class warfare for decades and we the people are losing.

All that is stark enough, but the real lunacy comes in the realm of social issues. The Christian Right, including the frightening Dominionists, have come to the fore here and all of a sudden we are re-litigating fights that the rest of America thought were settled.

Unable to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the GOP has opted to try to make it as hard as possible for women to have a medical procedure that has been legal in America since 1973. The hypocrisy here really shines. The party that says it wants government off our backs has been passing or attempting to pass a series of laws in the states that mandate a transvaginal ultrasound for any woman wanting an abortion. This is an invasive medical procedure that they want women to go through for no medical reason. This is bullying and intimidation pure and simple.

But wait, there’s more for you, ladies. There are pious nutjobs like Rick Santorum who not only want to end a woman’s right to choose, but also want to ban contraception. If you have a baby, well that’s just God’s will! Then there are the increasing number of GOP rape enablers. There have been so many of these frightening statements from the mouths of Republican politicians, you’ll need to consult this handy GOP Rape Advisory Chart to see them all.

The Elephant in the Room

At last we come to the Tea Party, the supposedly grassroots movement that is of course nothing of the sort. I clearly remember, though the media does not, that at the very first Tea Party rally in DC Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks was ready with buses too transport protesters to the capital. Yes, nothing says grassroots like a corporate lobbying group “guiding” your movement.

I feel bad for the Tea Party people. I really do. Most of them are poor and middle class folks who’ve been fed a steady diet of lies so they march in the streets for their corporate masters while cutting their own throats. This is a movement that is outraged by high taxes (Taxed Enough Already) when taxes are at their lowest rate in 30 years.

Rather than fight tyranny, what the Tea Party has really done is let the most extreme elements of the right take over the GOP agenda. They have welcomed back with open arms paranoid conspiracy theorists like the John Birch Society, who were famously kicked out of the conservative movement by William F. Buckley. Their leader, Buckley said, had views on current affairs that were “so far removed from common sense.” The right likes to present the Tea Party as something new but it’s not. They are recycling the same nonsense the lunatic right has been peddling since the early 60s. The difference is that the Republicans have no one like Buckley to tell them they’re full of shit. The GOP thought they could use these people but the joke has been on them.

In 2010 the Republicans took over the House of Representatives, and a wave of of new Tea Party candidates came into the government. Naturally they all signed loathsome toad Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge. This pledge, which most GOP Congressmen–and one Mitt Romney–have signed, says that signers will never vote to raise any tax for any reason. Now remember that the GOP is also the party that says the government should be run like a business and that’s one reason Mitt Romney is supposedly a great candidate. So taxes are how the government raises revenue to run the country. How would you react if the members of your company’s upper management signed a pledge to never increase the amount of revenue the company brought in? And if they told you that, better yet, the company should strive to bring in less revenue? Makes no sense at all, does it? And yet, Norquist and his allies have used this pledge to prevent Congress from doing anything sensible in the face of the financial crisis. Remember, the hallowed saint Ronald Reagan himself raised taxes 11 times.

The GOP takeover of the House better enabled them to execute on what had been their strategy from Day 1 of the Obama presidency: hysterically oppose anything Obama proposes–even when he tries to adopt Republican ideas–and work for a continued economic disaster for most Americans so they can take back the presidency this year. Or as they call it, patriotism.

Republican Senator Mitch McConnell said, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” That’s the game in a nutshell. They have massively abused the filibuster rule in the Senate to block a long stream of bills, including the American Jobs Act. They cry about the deficit while refusing to allow the government to raise new revenue. Instead, they demand that we cut more social programs because austerity is the only solution. Yes, so convenient that they want to save money by getting rid of things they hate (like funding for Planned Parenthood and PBS, even if the “savings” would be paltry) while demanding even more money for the military (even when they say they don’t want it).

Meanwhile in the house, Speaker John Boehner “relentless focus on jobs” looks an awful lot like an attempt to set the social clock back 100 years. Lots and lots of bills about repealing health care reform and controlling women’s bodies, but very little on the job creation front. You can see their laser-like focus here.

Enter Mitt Romney

Honestly, I’m not going to waste too much time on Mitt Romney. He is probably the worst candidate the Republicans could have picked for this election. He’s a Yankee, formerly pro-choice governor from Massachusetts whose signature achievement–Romneycare–he must disown because it was the template for evil socialist Obamacare. He’s also the living, breathing embodiment of the 1%. The GOP might as well have nominated Richie Rich. His vaunted business experience was the predator capitalism of his company Bain, which destroyed companies–often previously profitable companies–by loading them up with debt and then riding off into the sunset with millions of profit. You want to see that template applied to America? I sure don’t.

On top of all that, Mitt is the lyingist candidate I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to say anything about Mitt except that he really likes, money, power, and Mormonism. Other than that, what does he really stand for? He acts like a businessman, telling each crowd what they want to hear. The Mitt we saw in the Republican primaries was a completely different guy than the one who appeared in the presidential debates. All politicians do exaggerate and lie to some degree, but 616 verified lies in 30 weeks? That’s some kind of record. Just recently while campaigning in swing state Ohio, Romney claimed that Chrysler was going to send American jobs on Jeep to China. Only problem with that claim: it’s totally false. This has not, of course, stopped Mitt from repeating it, just as he repeated the lie that Iran needs Syria for access to the sea line many times (most recently in the debates).

Mitt promises real change but that is nonsense. His policies and his advisers all come straight from the Bush administration. Mitt and his allies want you to forget that the GOP is responsible for the terrible shape of the country. They want you to forget that they have done everything in their power to prevent an American recovery because they’ll be damned if Obama gets credit for fixing their mess. Are things great now? Absolutely not, but things have improved since the the worst president in US history (that’s George W. Bush to be clear). Do you want a do over? Do you want to invade Iran this time? Or maybe you prefer different unfunded wars? Do you want more tax cuts for the rich? I sure don’t.

Vote Because They Don’t Want You To

This is all a long way of saying that Democrats and Obama have their problems, but they are by far the lesser evil. Please go out and vote, no matter what your party or views. When you vote, you are exercising your democratic rights and that is always important. You should also vote because fundamentally, the GOP doesn’t want a high voter turnout. Historically, high turnouts favors Democrats and low turnouts favors Republicans (that’s why they won in 2010). So in addition to all the other corrupt and morally bankrupt things they’ve been up too, the GOP has been busy trying to disenfranchise voters across the country.

The Republicans made up a phony threat–in person voter fraud–and then passed a series of voter ID laws to restrict voting. Actual number of verified in person voter frauds since 2000? Seven. Seven! Number of citizens they want to deny the vote to? Possibly more than 5 million, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. In Florida Governor Rick “Crypt Keeper” Scott refused to extend early voting hours and attempted a voter purge earlier this year. Republican Secretary of State in Ohio John Husted made an 11th hour rule change that may lead to countless provisional ballots being thrown out. In person voter fraud is bunk but voter suppression is very real and one party is behind it: the GOP. This a direct attack on our democracy and we should not stand for it.

Get out out there and vote to end this madness. I lived through 8 years of Bush and I don’t want to go back there. I want Obama to win and then in 2016 I want a real progressive to become president. I don’t want big government or executive privilege; I want good government. I want a government that doesn’t try to impose its will on other nations without just cause (and without sidestepping a formal declaration of war). I want a government that ends the bloated budget of the Pentagon and makes a leaner, smarter military. I want a government that will build and maintain infrastructure like roads and bridges, and plan for the effects of climate change. I want a government that will invest in science and education and leave religion where it belongs: in churches. I want a government that ends the disastrous and ineffective War on Drugs and the prison industrial complex that’s grown up because of it. I want a government that prosecutes war criminals and white collar criminals with vehemence, so we end the abuses of Wall St. and stop something like the Iraq War from ever happening again. I want a government that reforms the tax code so it’s truly progressive and easy to understand, with no tax special tax rates, loopholes, or deductions for the super rich. I want a government that is interested in social justice and the prosperity of all.

Let’s make it happen, Americans. Step one is not just defeating Romney but sending the Republicans in the Senate, House,and (very importantly) the State Houses packing as well. They have earned our contempt: let’s show it to them.