Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Shame




The unraveling of the Republican Party feels like a soap opera with John Boehner getting written out of the script.  He has struggled to maintain control of the GOP House members since they regained the majority in 2010, thanks to a wave of new Tea Party representatives determined to overturn "Obamacare."  Boehner did his best to oblige, bringing up a resolution 60 times to appease his fire-eating brethren, knowing full well it would take more than a House vote to do away with the reviled Affordable Care Act.  Unfortunately, folks like Louis Gohmert, Blake Farenthold, Tim Huelskamp and other members of the House Tea Party Caucus do not.  They felt it was enough to will away "Obamacare" and it would be gone.

This unbridled zeal took its toll on Boehner, although he put on his best face on Face the Nation in an effort to show what a loyal conservative he has been, only to be taken out at the knees by "false prophets."  He said he planned to step down at the end of last year when his comrade-in-arms Eric Cantor was ousted in a Virginia GOP primary, but hung on believing there was still work to do.  Of course, he lays most of the blame at Obama's feet, his arch-nemesis, while taking all the credit for the budget cuts these past five years, as if he single-handed brought down the annual deficit one trillion dollars from its peak of $1.4 trillion in 2009.  But, he isn't fooling anyone.  He is reviled by Democrats and Republicans alike as one of the most ineffectual House leaders in decades.

In 2013, he had the golden opportunity to work with House Democrats in getting a comprehensive immigration bill passed, which had cleared the Senate.  Instead, he sat on it, saying he wouldn't bring it up for a vote unless he had the majority of House Republicans on his side.  He claimed he was obeying a rule set by his predecessor, Dennis Hastert, who is now copping a plea deal for trying to hush up misconduct while Speaker of the House.  By the time the 2014 midterms rolled around, no one wanted to touch the immigration bill with a ten-foot poll.  Even those Senate Republicans who had signed onto it, like Marco Rubio, were now withdrawing their support.  This bill could have made a huge difference, but Boehner in his arrogance saw a bill passed in the House with the support of Democrats as a victory for Obama and he couldn't have that.  He had a midterm election to win.

At every turn, Boehner did his level best to obstruct the Obama administration, determined to make the President irrelevant, as Newt Gingrich had tried to make Bill Clinton when Newt was Speaker of the House from 1994-98.  Gingrich similarly stepped down after a failed effort, underscored by his ridiculous attempt to impeach Clinton, which led to the Democrats making big gains in the House in 1998.

The Republicans seem to have averted a government shutdown by working with the White House and the Democrats on a last minute budget deal that will include funding for Planned Parenthood. This is no thanks to John Boehner, who finds himself pretty much a bystander in these negotiations.  The Senate Republicans have done so by shunning the Congressional TP caucus, notably Ted Cruz, who was so adamant in cutting PP funding over abortions, which he has made central to his presidential campaign.  Time and again, senior GOP leadership has had to bail Boehner out of a self-inflicted jam.

You would never know it to hear John Boehner, who continues to blow his own horn.  In his mind, he did everything he could to hold the House together in the face of a Republican civil war.  He never was his own man, either falling back on past failed precedents or letting himself be steered by the TP caucus, rather than trusting his own instincts, assuming he had any.  He should have learned from past mistakes, like Gingrich's attempted putsch, instead of invoking a "Pledge to America" he knew he couldn't keep.  In the end, Boehner made just as many false promises as did the "false prophets" he believes undermined his authority.

John Boehner has only himself to blame for the "dirty barn" he made of the House, and now tries to "clean up" with one last budget bill to avoid a government shutdown.  I don't think he will invoke the "Hastert rule" on this one.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Forever in Blue Jeans




Living in Lithuania, I am amazed at what a pair of Levi's jeans goes for, or for that matter Wrangler or Lee's.  Jeans are still a premium item in Eastern Europe even after all these years of independence.  You will rarely find a pair for anything less than 60 euros, and usually they run between 80-100 euros, which is less than what you would pay for an old Lada.  What is it that makes Levi's so popular that persons are willing to pay any amount of money for a pair?

The demand is so great an enterprising father and son team literally starting mining for Levi's and other pairs of denim jeans and jackets in the old silver mines of California, Nevada and Arizona, where the jeans were commonly worn in the late 19th century.  They can fetch a thousand dollars for just a pocket on eBay.  When the son came across an intact pair of Neustadter Bros. jeans, a rival to Levi's at the time, he was able to fetch $21,000 on eBay.  His father-in-law recently found the holy grail of Levi's, a pair of 1873 jeans from the first year they were made.

The story of Levi Strauss is the typical immigrant success story we have read a thousand times.  He came from Bavaria, set up a dry goods store out West and saw a golden opportunity in a pair of riveted jeans designed by a Nevada tailor, Jacob Davis, and began manufacturing them for miners.  He eventually moved his base of operations to San Francisco, the hub of activity at the time, and the rest as they say is history.

These were jeans that could hold up for a long time and were relatively inexpensive, making them immensely popular among miners.  It wasn't long before other companies began manufacturing similar blue jeans, so I imagine you can find quite a variety of  riveted denim jeans and jackets in those old silver and gold mines out West.  But, blue jeans really didn't take hold of the public imagination until the 1950s when jeans became the pants of choice for young rebels like Marlon Brando and James Dean.



Pre-washed jeans can be quite comfortable if you get a pair that fits you right.  Levi's began to tailor their jeans to suit their customers, especially women.  By the 70s women wanted jeans that snugly fit their shape, a little too snug at times.  The style has never faded, because Levi's have essentially remained the same, while other brands have come and gone.

Blue Jeans similarly took hold in Europe after World War II, and became popularized in the 70s as well.  Pretty soon major designer labels were manufacturing their own versions of jeans, including Armani, who launched his line in 1981.  For awhile, everyone had to have a pair of these designer labels, but customers never abandoned Levi's entirely, and once again they are the "it" pair of jeans to have.

I guess that helps explain why the prices remain high in Europe, while Levi's sell for $20 to $40 a pair in the United States.  With countries like Belarus, Serbia and Ukraine opening up to the West, you can probably fetch a nice trade for your pair of jeans if traveling to Minsk, Belgrade or Kiev.  Levi's aren't the sign of the working class anymore, but a fashion statement.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Pope in America, Part II

Obama's Pope



President Obama along with his family were on the tarmac to greet the Pope as he descended from his private plane at Andrews Air Force Base.  Vice-President Biden and his wife were also on hand, as were a handpicked number of other dignitaries.   For many in the conservative media this was further proof that Pope Francis is Obama's Pope.

Fox and other conservative outlets have been vexed by the Holy Father, who unlike his predecessor, who most persons have quickly forgotten, is a social advocate determined to pick up where Pope John Paul II had left off before being interrupted by Pope Benedict. 

It's not like Benedict was a bad guy, although many in the media thought he was.  He was just more a bureaucrat, concerned with the day-to-day affairs of the Vatican rather than public outreach.  This was perfect as far as the conservatives were concerned, as Benedict for the most part stayed home  (mostly for health reasons), except for a brief visit to the US at the tail end of President's Bush's tenure.  Pope Benedict was similarly greeted by President Bush at Andrews Air Force Base.

The protocol was pretty much the same for both Presidents in treating the Pope to a day at the White House before he went on to tour other cities.  But, the photo ops of Obama, his family and his dog with Pope Francis are getting much more airplay.  Of course, it doesn't hurt when you are much more photogenic than your predecessor, which can be said of both the Pope and the Obama family.

Even the President's dog was blessed

However, many in the conservative media feel the Pope and Obama are in cahoots in creating a new socialist world order.  Case in point, the role of the Vatican in brokering renewed diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba.  It doesn't matter that these negotiations go back to Pope John Paul II, who tried to broker a similar deal at the tail end of the Clinton administration, after his visit to Cuba in 1998.

The basic problem with all these conspiracy theories is that they tend to get confused with each other.  The long running narrative of Obama as a "closet Muslim" is pretty much dashed if you put him in bed with the Vatican in renewing diplomatic ties with Cuba.   For Mike Huckabee, it is part of a charade by the President to disguise his real identity, asserting again on Fox News that Obama is "pretending" to be a Christian.  None of these conservative talking heads will go so far as to say the Pope is pretending to be a Christian, but they criticize and attack him on pretty much the same lines, with Rush Limbaugh going so far as to call the Pope a Marxist.  

If the Pope is a Marxist then so was Jesus, as he was more concerned with the oppressed than he was the Roman oligarchy, which went out of its way to persecute him.  Of course, Jesus was much more the radical than is the current Pope, who hasn't wavered very much from the Catholic doctrine.  From a historical point of view, Jesus' life remains shrouded in mystery, pieced together from a scant amount of primary sources, although many would like to believe the red-lettered sections of the New Testament are direct quotes.  Even if we attribute these quotes to Jesus, we find a very socialist-minded saint who devoted his energies to the poor.  It is very clear that Pope Francis has absorbed the teachings of the New Testament, calling for a greater commitment by countries for the plight of the poor in this world.

It is hard to say that Obama has been that deeply committed to the poor during his tenure.  In his efforts to rebuild the American economy after the 2008 collapse, he catered more to industry than he has the working class, much less the poor.  Obama and Pope Francis are pretty far apart on this issue.  However, it does seem that the President has made a greater commitment in the last two years of his administration in terms of alleviating the income disparity that has reach an absurd gap, promoting a higher minimum wage and greater benefits to workers.

I'm not sure who is leading who in this regard, or if anyone is leading anyone.  Obama seems more concerned with his own legacy, trying to reaffirm the campaign promises he made in 2008, before being sidetracked with the intractable nature of our government, in which power is relatively evenly divided by conflicting political ideologies.  He chose to take the pragmatic route, much to the chagrin of Democratic liberals, who thought he had sold out to conservatives as Bill Clinton did.  With the end of his tenure in sight, Obama is hoping to leave a much more positive legacy than did his previous two predecessors.



Of course, it benefits President Obama greatly to have this meeting with Pope Francis for all to see.  The Pope is the most-liked leader in the world and most everyone wants to have a chance to bask in his papal light.  However, this was just one of several high level meetings Obama had this week, which included a visit from the Chinese President and a rare meeting with Vladimir Putin at the United Nations assembly, which the Pope also attended.  It can be argued that each of these meetings is just as important, especially given our frayed relations with China and Russia.

The Pope is no more Obama's Pope than he is Castro's Pope or any other world leader's Pope.  He is his own man and for the most part chooses to give his time to the afflicted, such as skipping a Congressional lunch to eat with the homeless.  He similarly took time out from his busy New York schedule to eat with the homeless at the Harriet Tubman Women's Shelter, and plans to visit a high-security prison in Philadelphia.  As it turns out, Obama did the same for an episode of HBO's Vice.  He didn't wash their feet, but he did pay the inmates respect.

If conservatives are vexed by the Pope, it is because they don't understand where his heart lays.  They are too busy promoting their own selfish interests to comprehend this message penned by Emma Lazarus in 1883,

Give me your tired, your poor, 
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, 
The wretched refuse of your distant shore.
Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tossed, to me:  

I lift my lap beside the golden door. 

Words that echo those in the New Testament, and obviously words that hold great meaning to the Pope.  Maybe Obama is listening too, as he has raised the number of refugees to be taken in by the United States to 100,000 by 2017.  A small dent in the current refugee crisis, but at least a willingness to deal with the dispossessed the United States helped create with its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.




The Pope in America, Part I

A Kinder, Gentler Pope




The Pope has been treated like a rock star on his tour of America.  People can't get enough of him.  John Boehner was driven to tears when the Pope issued an address in front of Congress.  As a Catholic this was a highly emotional time for the House Speaker.  Pope Francis does reach into a deep emotional well by evoking all that is good in us.  He tried to stir Congress into action on immigration and the refugee crisis by urging legislators to look at these people as human beings not a mass.  The situation in Syria and Iraq isn't much different than it was in Europe during World War II, with many of our parents and grandparents forced to flee the continent because of the violent unrest.

Pope Francis reaches beyond Pope John Paul II, another great humanitarian, in that he truly accepts everyone.  He even assured atheists that they would have a place in heaven.  There is a wonderful sense of humor about him as well, which is what has made him so accessible.

It is pretty hard to find anyone who has a bad thing to say about the Pope, except Rush Limbaugh who believes the Pope is a Marxist.  The folks at Fox have tread a very thin line, preferring to call him "naive," rather than disparage him like Limbaugh. Shep Smith was singled out on Fox as being the one to hit the nail on the head when he said the Pope is not being political, but rather following the teachings of the Bible as he should as the Holy See.

But, we have been beaten over the head, quite literally, with fire and brimstone ministers evoking Armageddon at every opportunity, as they blame gay marriage for the drop in stock prices or the latest hurricane or earthquake, refusing to accept any departure from their very narrow interpretation of the scripture.   You also see the rise of prosperity theology and seed faith, which I'm sure the Pope would cringe at.   He administered to those in the slums of Buenos Aires for many years.  The idea that God only responds to those who plant enough "seeds" in the church, would be anathema to him.

America is a largely Protestant country with many variations within this branch of Christianity.  For the better part of two centuries Catholicism was frowned upon and only became begrudgingly accepted in the later half of the 20th century.  We've only had one Catholic president, although we see six running for the GOP nomination. Even Bobby Jindal is a practicing Catholic.  Of course, Catholicism, like Protestantism, has its deeply conservative streak, with candidates like Rick Santorum openly admonishing the Pope for his position on global warming, among many other issues.

Not that the Pope worries about polls, but it is interesting to see that his popularity in America had dropped over a two-year period, especially among conservatives as he became increasingly outspoken on issues of income disparity and global warming.  He even issued an encyclical on climate change that was largely panned by the conservative media.  Liberals have also soured on the Pope as they don't believe he has gone far enough in addressing issues such as the role of women in the Catholic Church, gay marriage and contraception.

The Pope is indeed effusive in his praise for women, but it is highly unlikely that he will do much if anything to change the Church's position on women's issues.  The same is true with the issue of gay marriage.  He has shown his sympathy for gay couples, but in his speech before Congress he made it clear that he supports traditional marriage.  Once again, John Boehner couldn't hold back the tears.

Basically, what we have is a kinder, gentler Pope.  Those expecting great changes to occur within the Catholic Church during his tenure will be sorely disappointed, as this isn't a Pope determined to rewrite the Church doctrine.  Rather, he is trying to make the Church more humble, more concerned with the poor, the afflicted, and the many others who have fallen through the cracks in our society.  He wants the nations of the world to have greater concern for its' poorer citizens.  He is first and foremost a humanitarian, not a revolutionary.

This will probably be the one and only time we see him in the United States, as he isn't in the greatest of health and wants to save his energy for those who are truly afflicted.  He will leave us to sort out our own problems, using the Vatican as an intermediary in international disputes like he did between the United States and Cuba.

One hopes that he made an impact on others in Congress, like he did John Boehner, but that is unlikely.  House Republicans will go back to their same old ways now that the Pope and John Boehner are gone.  They prefer their fire and brimstone ministers.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Jeb and the Multi-Kulti Blues




For Jeb "multiculturalism" seems to be about "pockets of isolation," not about celebrating cultural diversity.  This seems odd for a man married to a Mexican woman, converted to Catholicism to be closer to her, and has raised three children in a bilingual and bicultural household, where both cultures are celebrated.

Ed O'Keefe tries to make the argument that Jeb was "adhering to the strict definition" of the word. However, there is no strict definition and most people assume it to mean cultural diversity not cultural isolation.  Bush apparently was trying to say that new immigrants should assimilate in American society, like his wife did, rather than live in isolated communities, like "Little Havana," where you can pretty much maintain your own cultural identity.

Rand Paul also stumbled on the issue of multiculturalism when he claimed that native Americans "don't do very well because there has been a lack of assimilation." This was even more shocking as Paul seemed woefully ignorant of all the brutal attempts to assimilate native Americans through the Bureau of Indians Affairs, which sadly still exists.  He also seems to be completely ignorant of the success of many reservations with casinos, golf courses and other Western tourist amenities.  Just because you live on a reservation doesn't mean you live in a tipi.

These were supposed to be two of the more moderate Republican candidates, yet it seems they have tacked hard right in an effort to woo xenophobic voters who believe the "American dream" is being diluted by all these foreigners.  On the social media, it seems the greatest concern is having to Press One for English.

Jeb got scolded by Donald Trump for speaking Spanish, especially when saying bad things about him.  The "smart one" thought it was a joke at first, but later challenged the mean-spirited tweet.  He defended his right to speak Spanish and felt that Trump had once again insulted Hispanic Americans.  But, here is Jeb now saying that if you want to live in America you need to blend into mainstream society, not retain your own particular cultural identity, giving into Trump once again.

Ironically, many white Americans choose to isolate themselves from mainstream society by holding onto their particular cultural identity, usually in the form of religion.  There is no national religion, even if newly elected legislators, governors and presidents are expected to swear into office on the Bible.  Maybe it would be better if they swore on a copy of the Constitution, as this is the law of the land, not the Bible?

Multiculturalism is as much about religious identity, as it is racial and ethnic identity.  But, there are persons like Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee who believe a Muslim shouldn't be President.  Huckabee even went so far as to say Obama "pretends to be Christian" on Newsmax's The Hard Line.   These GOP presidential hopefuls obviously see America as a Christian nation, as does the Republican base, which they pander to with statements like this.

Sean Hannity polled Muslims to see if they would put Sharia law before the Constitution. Yet, we see time and again Christians putting the Bible before the Constitution, as is the case with Kim Davis, who has become the latest folk hero of religious conservatives.  State anti-gay marriage laws, which were recently overturned by the Supreme Court, stem largely from state legislators' interpretation of the Bible, not the Constitution.

The aim of the Constitution is to protect our multicultural society and has been amended 17 times to reflect the ever-growing diversity in this country.  Yet, we see Republican candidates wanting to strip away those rights and impose a singular religious cultural identity on the country.  Jeb and Rand may have meant well for ethnic groups that haven't "successfully" assimilated in our country, but their statements play into the xenophobic fears that pervade the Republican Party and to a lesser degree the Democratic Party, which hasn't exactly embraced cultural diversity in this election either.

Maybe Jeb needs to discuss this matter with his wife and children?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

If only ...



With the very likely prospect of being reduced to the second tier of candidates, Scott Walker quits the Presidential race.  This was the guy the conservative media was fawning over earlier this year and at one time led in the polls, at least in Iowa.  It seems his problems go beyond suggesting a wall be built between the US and Canada.  His campaign began drying up earlier this summer, and he is strapped for cash like Rick Perry, unable to keep his campaign going.  What these GOP candidates are learning the hard way is that it is not enough to have a Super PAC in your corner.  You have to get out and stir up individual contributions and Walker has virtually no "sex appeal" despite the efforts of pundits to make him sound like a political Adonis.

Walker cast his decision to drop out of the race as an act of "selfless sacrifice," urging other candidates to do so in an effort to defeat Trump.  The basic problem is that the anti-establishment Republicans, which Walker was hoping to appeal to, have consolidated around Trump, Fiorina and Carson.  The three command about 50 per cent of the GOP electorate, leaving the other half of the vote to be divided up among 12-13 "Establishment" candidates.  You really can't count Jim Gilmore, who has yet to even register in any polls.   Walker had dipped to a miserable one percent.

The highest polling Establishment candidate is now Marco Rubio, who scored 11 per cent in a CNN poll, not far behind a slumping Ben Carson.  The new "It" candidate is Carly Fiorina, who for some reason viewers saw as the "winner" of the latest debate, and vaulted ahead of Dr. Ben.  Not bad for a candidate who started in the second tier, and barely squeezed into the CNN prime time debate.  Trump still holds the commanding share, but his numbers slipped as well.  This is shaping up to be a repeat of 2012 where Republican voters pick a new flavor each month.  Jeb lurks in the distance at 9 per cent.  Is he the candidate Scott Walker hopes the other candidates will rally around to defeat Trump?

My guess is Kasich, who Walker silently is hoping will rise to the top, but Kasich isn't faring very well either at 2 per cent.  His campaign has similarly failed to take hold, although on paper he would appear to be the best option the Republicans have.  Here is a fairly popular Ohio governor (a crucial electoral state) with slightly more moderate views than his opponents, and has the potential to win cross-over voters.  He actually supported the expansion of Medicaid in his state.  But, Governor Kasich also has almost no "sex appeal."  What is it with these Midwest governors?

Marco Rubio is an accident waiting to happen.  You expect him to pause for a water break at any moment.  Apparently, he had a pretty good debate, and got quite a boost.  Not as much as Carly, but enough to vault him past Jeb.  I suppose there is still a freshness to Rubio that some find appealing, but his positions are all over the place and he hasn't exactly distinguished himself with his rhetorical skills.  Mostly, I think he has yet to register on Trump's radar screen and has managed to avoid the barbs that have stung the other candidates.  Rand Paul took quite a few Trump stings at the latest debate, and finds himself sitting near the bottom of the polls with 4 per cent.

I don't know how these candidates get past Trump.  It seems he has to self-destruct at this point, which remains a very real possibility.  Fiorina is this year's Michelle Bachman, so you can expect her meteoric rise to flame out pretty quickly, especially now that her record at Hewlett Packard is coming to light.  Her surge seems largely predicated on her position on Planned Parenthood, which has become an all too convenient foil for Republicans this election cycle.  She also seems impervious to Trump's barbs.  Maybe the others should ask what she is using as a repellent?

Anyway, Scott Walker will be quickly forgotten except for the poor folks in Wisconsin, which will have to endure him until 2018, unless they mount another recall vote.  Fortunately, he has Lake Superior between him and Canada, but maybe he can build a wall between Wisconsin and Minnesota.  I heard they have a liberal Democratic governor there that has become very popular.  You don't want those socialist policies spilling over into the Badger State, especially after Walker's great effort to strip workers' rights in the state.  You go, Scott!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Ahmed's Clock and Being Muslim in America




For young Ahmed it was quite a week.  In the end he had a personal invitation from Mark Zuckerberg to visit him at Facebook, an invitation to the Google Science Fair and most amazing of all a personal message from the President of the United States to come see him in the White House.  Microsoft decided to make their sentiments more tangible by sending him this impressive gift package.  How did this guy warrant all this attention?

In case you haven't heard, the authorities at MacArthur High School didn't take too kindly to an electronic clock Ahmed made in an effort to impress his Engineering Teacher.  The English teacher mistook it for a bomb, the principal called the police, who marched young Ahmed out of the school in handcuffs and interrogated him for hours without letting him contact his parents.  Even if we consider the English teacher had a legitimate worry given all the wires that surrounded the time piece, there was no excuse for treating the boy like a criminal.

Young Ahmed's story went viral with millions of persons extending their support for the young tech wiz via twitter, facebook and other social media.  Even the Wall Street Journal chose to "Stand with Ahmed."  It was pretty hard not too.  Only the most callous parent wouldn't have sympathy for a young teenager put through an ordeal like this.

The "lamestream media" was quick to cast this as a case of Islamophobia, which of course set the conservative media into hyperdrive looking for any angle to justify the actions taken by authorities at the Dallas-area high school.   Megyn Kelly had the audacity to bring in noted racist, Mark Fuhrman, along with their 13 year-old conservative poster child, C.J. Pearson, to weigh in on the issue.  Both believed something was very fishy about that electronic clock.  The conservative blowhards aren't the only ones questioning Ahmed's motives.  None other than Richard Dawkins has done so as well in a tweet he probably wishes he had retracted immediately.

Islamophobia will destroy you, as the Kinks might sing.  Not everyone who offers praise to Allah is a terrorist in waiting, but this is pretty much how Muslims have been presented in the American media.  Yet, there are roughly 3 million Muslims living in our midst and somehow our country manages to go on just fine.  There are even Muslim legislators, and so far not one of them has called for Sharia Law to be put in place of the U.S. Constitution, unlike some presidential candidates we know, who believe God's Law trumps that of man.

The good doctor took this level of rhetoric one step further by saying he doesn't believe a Muslim should be President of the United States, although he would make an exception for Congresspersons.  I'm sure Keith Ellison breathed a sigh of relief.  Of course, Dr. Ben is just playing to the base of his party, many of whom believe that President Obama is a closet Muslim, as we saw at a Trump rally in Rochester, New Hampshire.  Rather than play down these fears, as Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush have done, Trump and Carson choose to play up these fears, to the point of reviving the Birther movement.  This was Trump's undoing in 2011, and I hope that will be the case for both he and Carson this time around as well.

People have become suspicious and even afraid of Muslims, believing they are part of terror cells in this country.  Americans don't want to accept Syrian refugees because they think there will be ISIS members among them.  But, if we are to believe Rick Perry, ISIS has already found its way into America through our porous border along Mexico.   All the more reason to fear Ahmed's clock.

It is really sad when a large segment of our country devolves to this sort of paranoia.  It is fortunate that all turned out well for young Ahmed and that so many persons chose to stand with him.  But, obviously, we have a problem with institutionalized racism here that cannot be conveniently brushed under the rug as just school administrators and local police doing their job.

Ahmed is not some prankster who planned an elaborate means to get himself thrust into the media spotlight, as Richard Dawkins suggested, putting himself in the same company as Sarah Palin.  Ahmed is a natural-born tinkerer, not to mention citizen of the United States who might one day choose to run for President, much to Ben Carson's chagrin.  His parents came from Sudan and have built a better life for themselves in the Dallas area.  The school finally chose to reinstate Ahmed after the public outcry, but understandably his parents are looking into a transfer.  It isn't easy growing up Muslim in America, but it seems Ahmed has found many new friends.


Saturday, September 19, 2015

Bernie at Liberty




It is hard not to find a parallel between Bernie's rousing speech before the students and faculty of Liberty University and that of William Jennings Bryan 120 years ago before the Democratic Convention.  Bryan's address became immortalized as the Cross of Gold speech, calling on the government to accept bimetalism, and provide a greater free flow of currency for the mass of Americans. He said the farmers, small merchants and workers of this country were every bit as much business men as the New York banker and deserved their fair share of the pie.  He decried the "trickle down" theory, in which "prosperity (supposedly) will leak through on those below."  He called on Democrats to stand up for the working man and demand a fair currency system.

Bernie's speech was more blunt, as his nature.  He tried to reach the students through scripture, quoting Matthew 7:12 in demanding justice for all Americans.  He strongly stated this is a moral imperative, citing the incredible amount of wealth that now rests in the top one-tenth of one percent of this country.  Also noting that 15 persons generated more wealth over the last two years than the bottom 130 million Americans, roughly one-third of our country.  Very little of which has leaked through to those below.

It was an interesting call by Bernie to attend a Liberty University convocation, but as he said it is just as important to communicate with those you don't necessarily agree with as it is with those who you do.  He was hoping to find common ground and so chose the income disparity in this country, which cuts across ideological lines.  While the Republican candidates pay lip service to the working class, Bernie makes every effort to defend the working class in the Senate.  He has put forward new bills for higher minimum wage, paid maternity leave and other fair labor practices to alleviate the burdens of the working class.  On this morning, he spoke in broad tones though, hoping to reach deep into his audience's heart.

Bryan was much more specific in addressing the monetary crisis because he was addressing the convention.  He not only asked his peers to promote bimetalism but the income tax as well, as these were the only way to better distribute the wealth of the country to all levels of society.  Bryan saw it as a moral duty, not just as a Christian but as an American citizen.



Yes, the progressive strain in this country emerged from the religions base of the country.  William Jennings Bryan was a US Representative from Nebraska, who ran for President in 1896.  He secured the nomination but would fall short to William McKinley and the Republicans, but many of themes he stressed would be picked up by Theodore Roosevelt when he acceded to President on McKinley's death.  You look at this electoral map, and Bryan even won the South in 1896 with his message of income equality.  It is just the greater portion of electoral votes lay in the Northeast and Midwest states, which McKinley won.

Bryan was also a devout Christian who firmly believed in the primacy of the Bible, even on the matter of creationism, for which he would be defined 30 years later when he represented the Tennessee school board in the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial.  However, Bryan also believed in the primacy of the Constitution and that all men are created equal.  He was dedicated to social equality and pressed for social reform throughout his life.

Bernie's campaign has gained considerable momentum thanks largely to his determination to make income disparity the central theme of this election cycle, at least among Democrats.  You don't hear the Republicans say much about it, as it seems their base has accepted this two-tier society.  Yet, Bernie has drawn big crowds throughout the Southern Red States and he appeared before the same students many Republican candidates have addressed, as Liberty University has become a favorite stomping ground of conservative candidates.

It was a memorable moment as Bernie did what few Democrats have done, try to reach out to those who don't agree with you.   He upstaged the Republicans on their own turf, two days before their faux debate. He hit on the one issue that should unite Americans, and it seemed to work.  Many of those students may not accept his views on abortion and gay marriage, but they did respond to his message on income disparity.  There were even a few kids wearing Bernie t-shirts, which must have made him smile.

Of course, what is sad is that here we are 120 years later still talking about income disparity and fighting for workers' basic rights in the face of a Republican onslaught that has seen conservative governors pitch Right to Work laws in states that have decimated the labor movement.  Scott Walker is so proud of what he has done in Wisconsin that he wants to take his battle to the nation.  The one reassuring note is that he is sinking in the polls.

William Jennings Bryan would be disappointed to see how the banks have once again monopolized the capital in this country and how Congress has given the rich a steady stream of tax cuts that have once again resulted in great income disparity.  However, I think Bryan would be glad to see Bernie pick up his cause and make it the centerpiece of his campaign and hopefully of the election, as he continues to gain ground in the polls.





Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Trumped




Rick Perry has the ignominious distinction of being the first GOP presidential candidate to drop out of the race.  He used the opportunity to hurl abuse at Donald Trump, and also the Democrats, which he believes clouded his campaign with the Travis County indictment hanging over his head.   Hard to admit your campaign simply failed to gain any traction even with the sporty new glasses, which Trump effectively ridiculed.

Former Governor Rick tried to evoke George W. Bush's "compassionate conservatism," but it was no match for Trump's fierce rhetoric that quickly seized the imagination (what little there is) of the Republican base.  The "Know Nothings" are clearly in control of the party right now, casting their lot for two outsiders, Trump and Carson, who now command 50 per cent of the electoral pie.  That leaves 15 other candidates to carve up the remainder, with Rick getting a measly one per cent, which once again didn't qualify him for the prime time debate.

Jim Gilmore hangs in despite polling zero per cent, and didn't even get an invitation for the warm-up match.  Anyone's guess what he's getting out of this campaign.  Certainly not name recognition, as  Stephen Colbert offered $100 to anyone in his studio audience who knew who he was and he kept his Ben Franklin.

At some point, the now 14 other candidates will have to rally around one candidate to go up against Trump and Ben Carson, because they are currently running away with the show.  It's an interesting contrast in styles, which is finally generating some sparks as the two challenge each other's legitimacy.  Carson questioned Trump's faith.  In turn, Trump questioned Carson's experience, even that of being a doctor.  I don't imagine the good doctor is going to take this latest round of insults lying down, even if he said that he was no longer going to let persons make him angry so that they could have power over his life.



It's an interesting statement because it sums up Trump pretty well.  This is a guy that goes out of his way to incite anger at every level.  I guess he figures that if he can get people all riled up he can control them to suit his purposes.  Look at this crowd at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, which he whipped up into a huge frenzy against immigrants, the media and just about every one he felt was leading this country to ruin or questioning his legitimacy.  He attacked George Will and Karl Rove, who no one listens to anymore, and of course Megyn Kelly, who insulted him in the last debate.  I'm surprised he didn't bash Miss Alabama too, who derisively called him an "entertainer" when questioned about Trump at the Miss America Pageant.  I suppose the Donald is saving his wrath for her when he visits Alabama again.

Adam Gopnik offers this interesting assessment of the Donald in the New Yorker, charting Trump's scorn back to the 2011 White House Correspondents' Association Dinner when President Obama rubbed salt into the wounds of Trump's birther campaign that year.  Gopnik was sitting close enough to the Donald to see his icy stare as everyone laughed at his expense.  Trump is now channeling that anger into this campaign, and garnering the biggest piece of the Republican electoral pie in the process.  If there is anything we have learned about the GOP in recent decades it is that victimhood sells.

By contrast, Ben Carson has considerably toned down his rhetoric, after launching broadsides at the President earlier this year, such as accusing him of lying like a psychopath when it came to the low unemployment figures Obama cited.  The new Gentle Ben no longer attacks his opponents, or if he does he apologizes afterward, as was the case when he questioned Donald's faith.  As a result, he is soaring in the polls thanks to Evangelical voters, who appreciate his kind heart.

Trump doesn't believe in apologies (or confessions) because he is never wrong, at least not in his mind.  He offered up his usual nonsense on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, engaging in an amusing interview where he played his own reflection to Jimmy Fallon's caricature.  As Miss Alabama said, the Donald is quite the entertainer.

Governor Rick should be more upset with Dr. Carson for stealing his "compassionate conservatism," rather than Trump, who gave him every opportunity to display it.  Instead, Rick lashed out at the Donald, allowing himself to fall under Trump's control.  Whatever barb Rick slung at Trump, the Donald would sling back one better.  Just look at Jeb, who similarly found out the hard way you can't win a twitter or instagram battle with Donald J. Trump.



Republican voters are once again expressing their frustration with corporate proxy candidates like Governors Rick, Walker and Jeb and their super-sized PACs.  They want the real deal, they just haven't decided which way to turn -- the loud-mouthed braggart with a well-worn red mop on his head, or the soft-spoken doctor who seems to have the evangelical cure for what ails you.   However, four years ago it looked like it was going to come down to Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain, who likewise held the commanding share of the Republican electorate, only to see their fortunes fade rapidly when the primaries actually began.  Maybe Rick dropped out too soon?

Monday, September 14, 2015

In the Shadow of Two Towers




While most persons were honoring the tragic events of 9/11 last Friday, the Donald used the occasion to promote his Twin Towers II, a failed 2005 attempt to reconstruct the old WTC towers by a group that branded itself the Twin Towers Alliance.   He called the new One World Trade Center "disgusting," designed by an ""egghead architect who really doesn't have much experience in designing something like this,"

Trump lent his name to the misguided venture, as efforts to get the original "Freedom Tower" off the ground had bogged down in petty disputes between Larry Silverstein, the real estate developer, the City Port Authority and the "egghead architect."  Silverstein wasn't happy with the winning design by Daniel Libeskind, demanding more space.  Silverstein had called in David Childs, of SOM fame, to redesign the main tower to better suit his interests.  However, Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Pataki liked the "Freedom Tower" and wanted its spirit to remain intact, in particular its height of 1776 feet, about 300 feet taller than the original twin towers.  Eventually, the dispute was settled with a greatly modified version of the tower more along Childs' lines, but with the height remaining the same.  Silverstein had wanted an additional 300 feet, or about 30 stories.

New Yorkers seem mixed on the new tower, and as usual Trump chose to exploit these feelings.  Most disgruntled, however, is Ken Gardner who designed the Twin Towers II, believing this was the only way to send terrorists a message by making it look like they failed in their mission.  I suppose in Gardner's mind, his new improved twin towers would have served as memorial monoliths to the 3000 who died that day.

The sad part is that the design of the original towers was one of the reasons so many persons died, as the fire spread rapidly through the tubular steel exo-skeleton, distributing the heat quickly throughout the building.  Of course, neither the original architect nor city authorities imagined two planes flying into them one day, but this unique construction is what ultimately led to the Twin Towers downfall.

When the World Trade Center first opened its doors in 1973, Minoru Yamasaki's design wasn't very well received.  Louis Mumford, the leading architectural critic of that time, called the Twin Towers giant filing cabinets.  Ada Louise Huxtable found the buildings disturbing.  They rose over 1400 feet straight from the ground, giving one the feeling of vertigo just looking up at them.  The plaza itself was a barren slab with an abstract sculpture that looked like Atlas holding up the world.  I suppose it was fitting for the new masters of the universe in a building complex that came to represent the financial center of the world.

There were over 5200 entries in the competition held in 2002 for the redesign of One World Trade Center, many of which evoked the Twin Towers.  I particularly liked this entry by THINK, which included Japanese architect Shigeru Ban.  However, it was Daniel Libeskind's design, which appeared to evoke the Stature of Liberty, that won the competition.



It is true that Libeskind didn't have much experience in designing something like this, but that is what engineers are for.  However, the tower is just one element of the overall design of One World Trade Center.  The new plaza is far more interactive than the original plaza was, with the Twin Towers beautifully evoked in twin fountains.  This is all the memory we need of the original towers.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The End of the World As We Know It




Michael Stipe is mad as hell as he's not going to take it anymore.  He literally told Donald Trump to "go fuck yourself" for using the R.E.M hit song, "It's the End of the World as We Know It."  We've yet to hear a fiery tweet from the Donald, as he is currently engaged in a twitter war with Bobby Jindal for comments Jindal made a few days ago regarding Trump's "dead squirrel" sitting on top of his head.  However, we can soon expect Trump to personally answer Michael Stipe, as he does all his harsh critics.

Pirating songs for political campaigns is nothing new.  Trump used Neil Young's "Rockin' in a Free World" to launch his campaign earlier this summer, resulting in a similar angry retort from the Godfather of Grunge, who let everyone know he was supporting Bernie.  In both cases, Trump's campaign manager claimed he had legally secured the rights to use the songs, but through what channels is anyone's guess.  

Craig Rosen dug around to find other songs that have been co-opted by political campaigns over the years without the musicians' consent.  It seems that these politicians regard these songs in the public domain given how freely they have exploited them.  Michelle Bachman considered herself an "American Girl;"  Newt Gingrich felt he had the "Eye of the Tiger;" and George Bush proudly trumpeted "I Won't Back Down" in 2000, from what I don't know.

Bruce Springsteen summed it up best by saying that the Republicans have "mastered the art of co-opting anything and everything that seemed fundamentally American," in regard to Reagan not only taking his song, "Born in the USA," but making it sound like the Boss supported him in 1984.

Typically, Republicans favor country music or 1950 rock icons, like Elvis, who did endorse Nixon.  This is being made into a movie starring Kevin Spacey as Richard Milhous Nixon, which should be fun to watch.  Elvis was a pretty cool guy to have on your side even if at that point in his career, he was so dosed up on narcotics he probably didn't know who he was endorsing.  Compare this to Mitt Romney, who found himself in the company of Meatloaf on the 2012 campaign.  This had to be one of the most ill-advised moves of his campaign.

Ron Paul managed to win over Joe Perry of Aerosmith, and a couple other guitar legends during the last campaign.  Ted Nugent has been an active supporter of GOP candidates, as has Kid Rock.  Both of whom eventually endorsed Romney.  Rolling Stone put together this "pocket guide" to Republican Rockers, which is pretty thin.  I imagine they could find a few more names if they dug around a bit, as Meatloaf wasn't included.

Sadly, if you are a Republican and want a catchy rock tune to highlight your campaign message, there is no other recourse but to pilfer the song.  It surprised me that the Donald or Ted Cruz or Sarah Palin would have any interest in R.E.M.  It was probably some staffer who suggested the song as it fit into the Doomsday scenario they tried to generate over the Iran Nuclear Deal, which has made Republicans so apoplectic.

No sane person wants to be sucked into the same orbit with these guys, so you can't blame Michael Stipe for unloading on Trump.  However, he now makes himself subject to the wrath of the human hair piece, or dead squirrel as Bobby Jindal called it.  Probably better just to write a cease and desist letter as Tom Petty did to Michelle Bachman.  It's just a shame the Republican Party can't do the same with Donald Trump pretending to be a presidential candidate, otherwise it really might be the end of the world as we know it.


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Yet Another Lost Cause




Charting the GOP's Epic Failure to derail Obama's nuclear deal with Iran actually goes back to before Netanyahu's address to Congress in March of this year, and includes some amazing twists and turns like AIPAC arranging for 50 Congresspersons to personally meet with Netanyahu in Israel this past month in a last ditch effort to block the deal.  The Republicans and their Jewish conservative allies did everything in their power to equate a vote for the Iran nuclear deal as a vote against Israel, spending a huge amount of money on the effort.

In the Republican mind, the only other country that matters is Israel, and more specifically the Netanyahu administration.  They conveniently ignored the former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who thought the negotiations were positive, as well as other Israeli leaders who felt that Bibi had grossly overstepped his boundaries.   All we heard were Bibi's objections and that of a handful of conservative Jewish figures saying how bad this deal was for Israel.  The rest of the world be damned, particularly the United Nations Security Council for ratifying the deal unanimously.  The only other major holdout, Saudi Arabia, has since come on board after voicing earlier objections.

Still, the Republicans had the ability to block the agreement if they could convince a dozen Senate Democrats to join them in their latest act of obstruction.  Every effort was made to do so, but in the end GOP Senate leader could only muster four Democrats, not enough to even carry a resolution rejecting the agreement, much less override what most certainly would have been a Presidential veto.

It is a bitter defeat and no doubt one that will resonate this election cycle.  The Republicans were going to have a hard time holding onto their majority in the Senate as it was, with so many Republican seats up for grabs, now they face division within the ranks as they were unable to carry through on their hollow threat to block the president.

This misguided effort was never about the Iran nuclear deal, but rather making President Obama look ineffectual in his last two years in office.  They didn't bargain for a greatly emboldened leader who would use the full power of his executive authority to bypass Congress on major foreign policy issues.  Because of the language of the agreement, the administration didn't need Congressional approval, forcing the Senate to come up with 67 votes to block its efforts, a Herculean task.  The Obama administration used reason, not bellicose rhetoric to convince 40 Democrats and two Independent senators to support the agreement, more than enough to block the Republican majority in the Senate.  In the end, it is the President who looks strong and Congress that looks weak.  Not what you want to have in a Presidential election cycle if the opposing party is tying to get its man in the White House.

This has forced some Republican Presidential candidates to backpedal, saying that they would work with the agreement, as bad as it is in their minds.  Governor John Kasich has the best perspective among the GOP candidates, noting that we have other foreign allies, not just Israel to consider, and that "we've got to get with the program here."

However, I don't imagine the Republican-led Congress will take this defeat lying down, no doubt making its objections heard as loud as possible, so that if any nasty repercussions come from this agrement they can say, "I told you so."

More pressing concerns now await Congress, such as how to deal with the Syrian refugee crisis and its massive spillover into Europe.  The EU is asking the US to take some of the refugees, but given the potential threat of ISIS insurgents hidden within the throng of displaced persons, I doubt Congress will be eager to absorb more than a heavily screened handful of the refugees.  Senate Republicans will no doubt leave it up to the President to deal with the crisis, criticizing him at every turn.

The Obama administration has reached out to Iran and Saudi Arabia to help deal with the Syrian crisis. This was the whole point of the agrement, paving the way for better coordination of international efforts in Syria and Iraq, where ISIS operates.  It is also hoped that the US can better work with Russia to resolve the crisis, as the Kremlin was a major advocate of the Iran nuclear deal and has the most influence with the Assad regime in Syria.  This is what foreign policy is all about, thinking in terms of geographical regions as a whole, not just one entity, such as Israel in this case.  Unfortunately, the Republicans were just too dense to realize it, still harboring past grudges.

I doubt this lesson will be learned by Republicans, except maybe John Kasich.  For them politics is largely about spite, and it is doubtful that GOP leaders like Mitch McConnell and John Boehner will accept this "defeat" gracefully.  They will go after the Obama administration in other ways, forced to have to answer to the ugly underbelly of their political party that brooks no compromise.

Monday, September 7, 2015

She's Back!




Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the circus, Grizzly Mom got free of her chains.  We can thank Donald Trump for unleashing her.  In a recent CNN interview, she imagined herself serving as the Donald's Secretary of Energy because "energy is my baby, oil and gas and minerals, those things that God has dumped on this part of the earth for mankind's use instead of us relying on unfriendly nations (like Canada), for us to import their ... resources."  Yep, hard to argue with that one.  Maybe she considers Canada a part of us?

It doesn't matter that Sarah defies all credulity, so does Trump's soaring poll numbers.  Nothing seems to phase Teflon Trump.  What would sink any other candidate doesn't even ding the Sloop Donald J.  Many critics cited the selection of Sarah Palin as dooming John McCain's presidential bid in 2008, but here is Donald actively courting her, and his fan base loves it.

They both seem to speak the same language, sort of anyway, as Sarah always struggles to get what she means out the right way, like exhorting immigrants to "speak American."  Teabaggers love these unscripted moments.  It shows how genuine she is, just like their Donald, who can switch positions with the drop of a hat and never look back.

Just look at how he changed positions on the Iran nuclear deal.  First, he called Obama a terrible negotiator, saying he would have wrapped up negotiations in one day by doubling down on sanctions.  When the deal was reached, Trump condemned it without even having access to it.  He joined other Republican presidential hopefuls in urging Congress to reject it out of hand.  Now that Obama has the votes to block the Republican Congress, Trump said he would work with the treaty as President because "I love to buy bad contracts when key people go bust and make those contracts good."

I suppose this is what attracts him to Sarah Palin.  He wants to make her Miss Wasilla again, the darling of the Tea Party, who ever so briefly was Governor of Alaska and was going to infuse the Republican Party with badly needed outdoor spirit.   As you may remember, Sarah quit as governor with a cloud of ethics violations hanging over her head to pursue a $10 million book deal that made her a national celebrity.

For a short while, Sarah was everywhere.  Not just Fox News, but hosting her own Call of the Wild in a TLC program on Alaska.  By 2012, all that came crashing down as Sarah's gaffes piled up.  Fox kept her on, but in a significantly reduced capacity.  No Presidential candidate wanted any part of her on the campaign trail, after she had briefly toyed with running for President herself at the peak of her popularity.

It was a hard fall.  Many of us thought that was the end of Sarah, but like a new season of The Celebrity Apprentice here she is again front and center for the whole world to see and marvel at her audacity and unintentional wit.  It just makes one Proud to be an American!




Sunday, September 6, 2015

Hail Hail Rock and Roll


Muddy Waters with Little Walter, Bo Diddley and Phil Chess

Keith Richards recently sparked controversy by calling Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band rubbish, nothing more than a mishmash of tunes which he says the Rolling Stones did the same on Satanic Majesties.  Probably more controversial is his statement that the Stones saved Blues music, noting their appreciation of Chicago Blues.

Not only did they take their band name from a Muddy Waters song, but they made the pilgrimage to Chicago in 1965 and cutting a record with the legendary Chess Records, for whom Muddy Waters recorded.  This scene was highlighted in the movie Cadillac Records, but here's more on that legendary meeting in this 2010 Guardian article by Elijah Wald.



For most young British musicians, Chess records was the Rosetta stone of Rock and Roll.  Not only did the Chess brothers record legendary Blues musicians like Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, but the undisputed King of Rock and Roll Chuck Berry.  They also had the incomparable Bo Diddley and Etta James on their label.  What drew Keith to Mick was seeing some Chess records under his arm, and the rest as they say is history.

The Chess Brothers eventually sold their label, as Blues did seem to be dying a slow death in America.  It couldn't keep up with the new sound that dominated the air waves.  Motown was drawing all the great young Rhythm and Blues talent, putting out a sound that would define American music in the late 60s and early 70s.  For cats like Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf it seemed the gig was over, until they were invited to London in the early 70s.  These were dubbed super sessions as they featured Steve Winwood, Rory Gallagher, Eric Clapton, Bill Wyman among others backing them.



It wasn't a new concept.  The Fillmore concerts which featured the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and the Allman Brothers, often had Blues musicians like Jimmy Reed and John Lee Hooker joining in.  Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker both played with Canned Heat and other groups of the era.  Chuck Berry was backed by the Steve Miller Band at one Fillmore concert in 1967.  So, it wasn't like the Rolling Stones single handed saved Blues music.  They were joined by many other musicians who fully appreciated the music and greatly respected the musicians.  But, it is that 1965 recording date that stands out for a variety of reasons, primarily because it was the first public show of support for what appeared to be a dying music.

Chuck Berry was notably upset when Brian Wilson set the lyrics of Surfin' USA to the music of Sweet Little Sixteen and made a big hit out of it.  To make matters worse, Berry would spend the next two years in jail on what appeared to be trumped up charges of transporting a minor across state lines.  He was at the peak of his career.  Eventually, Berry won a settlement with the Beach Boys, who went onto create their own distinctive Pet Sounds, considered one of the great rock and roll albums.

Other Blues musicians found their music pilfered as well, receiving nothing in the way of royalties.  Led Zeppelin was eventually forced to credit Willie Dixon for Whole Lotta Love, as Dixon claimed Plant had taken the lyrics from his You Need Love,   Dixon wrote a great number of songs for Chess, including Hoochie Coochie Man, which was made famous by Muddy Waters.



But, Chess wasn't the only music label featuring black music in the 50's.  Vee-Jay Records was right across the street, recording John Lee Hooker and Elmore James among many others.  It wasn't like the Leonard Chess was a groundbreaker, as depicted in the movie.  In fact, it was Evelyn Arons who first signed Muddy Waters at Aristocrat Records, which the Chess Brothers bought in the late 50s and renamed.

The real credit, however, belongs to Alan Lomax, who traversed the country in the 1940s recording Blues and Folk music for the Library of Congress, including McKinley Morganfield, later known as Muddy Waters.  Lomax's discography is immense, including the immortal Lead Belly, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, among many others.   This was the second generation of Blues musicians.

There were also Texas labels like Peacock Records, founded in 1949, which recorded Clarence Gatemouth Brown, Big Mama Thornton and Little Richard that are largely forgotten now.  FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, had its heyday in the 1960s recording R&B legends Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett.

Aretha Franklin at Fame Studios

It's a great legacy that is getting its due again in boxed sets.  There were so many labels spread throughout the country that either went bankrupt or were bought by larger labels.  Some of the musicians continued to thrive.  Others were forgotten until renewed interest in these musicians grew in the past two decades to find their songs recast as Hip-Hop melodies and remixed as House music.  The more obscure the better, as it was harder to track, but thanks to Youtube you can usually find the original melody.

Keith Richards deserves a lot of credit, as he has always shown his respect to the original Blues and Rock and Roll musicians.  In 1987 he recreated a super session for Chuck Berry for the movie, Hail Hail Rock N' Roll.


Saturday, September 5, 2015

Black Lives Matter




If you followed the conservative news and blogs you would think Black Lives Matter was a rebirth of the Black Panthers, with these faux news outlets blaming every police death on the movement.  Fox News goes out of its way to find black voices speaking out against BLM, and you find viral videos of kids similarly speaking out against it as well.  Fox News even tried to make a link between Black Lives Matter and the shooting death of Texas police officer Darren Goforth, but then what can you expect from a news network that is still promoting their conspiracy theories regarding Benghazi.

Black Lives Matter formed in the summer of 2013, after the death of Trayvon Martin, which conservatives used in the 2014 midterms to point to the thuggery in the streets. The real thug was George Zimmerman who was carrying a firearm on a neighborhood watch when he got into a confrontation with a black teenager that ultimately led to the boy's death.  BLM arose out of the need to identify these victims and show the country that Martin and others like him are human beings, not thugs you can gun down because they happen to cross your path one night. Yet, we hear the GOP candidates and virtually every conservative news outlet make Black Lives Matter into a militant organization.

Dr. Ben Carson tried to take the high road by saying that All Lives Matters.   However, he misses the point.  BLM isn't saying that black lives are more important than white lives, these activists are calling attention to the highly questionable shootings and detainment of Black Americans around the country that led to their deaths.  The latest being Sandra Bland, who died in jail in Waller County, Texas, over a minor traffic violation.

What's so appalling about the condemnation of BLM, is that Donald Trump and other conservatives are calling national attention to the death of a young white woman who was gunned down by an illegal immigrant, who used a stolen federal gun.  This case has been used to tar and feather everyone from the Obama administration on down to the Mexican government.  It didn't matter that Hillary Clinton similarly condemned the shooting, citing the poor decision by San Francisco federal authorities to release Sanchez from detention.  In Trump's mind, and that of his constituency, it validates his claim that the Mexican government is intentionally releasing its worst elements into our society and the Obama administration is doing nothing to stop it.

Woe be it for Black Lives Matter to question local police departments who shoot and detain persons with no criminal records.  Sandra Bland was a woman about the same age as Kathryn Steinle, the white woman murdered in San Francisco.  Bland had become an activist in BLM, calling attention to incidents of police violence in Texas and Illinois, when she was pulled over for a minor traffic violation this past July in Waller County.  The arresting officer claimed she had assaulted him, which gave him grounds to detain her, but the officer's dashcam later revealed that he didn't follow proper traffic stop procedures.  Three days later she was found hanging in her jail cell.

While Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez, who shot Steinle, has been made into this election cycle's Willie Horton, the cop who arrested Sandra Bland is rarely mentioned.  The conservative press has rallied around other cops like him, namely Darren Wilson, who gunned down another teenager, Michael Brown, last August.  We now have Police Lives Matter, in the wake of the unprovoked shooting death of Deputy Darren Goforth, which President Obama condemned, just like the shooting deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.  Yet, police forces around the country have condemned Obama's "rhetoric" for the violence against cops.

What about Trump's inflammatory rhetoric, which is used expressly to incite unrest and anger among the Tea Party base of the Republican Party?  For the most part, Fox news anchors and pundits have defended his unsubstantiated claims.  You have to read Murdoch's Wall Steet Journal to find criticism of making a bogeyman out of illegal immigrants, who are far less likely to commit violent crimes than are native-born Americans.  It stands to reason, since illegal immigrants typically try to keep a low profile, but all it took was one death to justify Trump's accusations.

We also hear about the 25 cops who have been shot so far this year, but fatal shootings by police reached 400 as of June of this year.  Former police chief Jim Bueermann and president of the Police Foundation in Washington, DC, is appalled by the lack of information available on these civilian shootings, not to mention the number of reported deaths.  By comparison, more persons were killed by police in January, 2015, in the United States than were killed in the past 24 years in England and Wales.  It seems many US police departments have adopted the policy of shoot first and ask questions later.  Add to that the inordinate number of black persons killed per capita, and you begin to understand why Black Lives Matter was formed.

Unfortunately, the so-called liberal media hasn't done much to defend BLM, often presenting the same analogies and drawing the same conclusions as the so-called conservative media.  Black Lives Matter has tried to address this "image problem" but often finds itself butting heads with news anchor and pundits, resulting in shouting matches.  As a result, BLM has become marginalized in the mainstream media.

It is hard to counter the soothing bromides of Dr. Ben Carson or the barbed wit of Bill Maher, who questioned why BLM was going after Bernie Sanders of all people.  Talib Kweli offered a spirited defense that fell mostly on deaf ears.   Black Lives Matter finds itself having to suppress its anger and indignation if it wants to be heard, otherwise it is seen as a militant fringe organization.  Meanwhile, the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Sandra Bland fade into the background, replaced by Kathryn Steinle and Darren Goforth, which is precisely the reason Black Lives Matter was formed.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The barbarity of it all




The Donald's latest Twitter victim is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who had written a scathing editorial on Trump for the Washington Post.  It is what you would expect from the man who thinks his poll numbers justify any comments he makes on the campaign trail.  Kareem singled out Trump's bully tactics in his editorial, noting how Trump refuses to take any criticism from the press.  Even in Iowa, Trump banned the Des Moines Register from his campaign events after the paper called on him to drop out of the race.  Unfortunately, it seems to be working as it is Megyn Kelly and not Donald Trump who has fallen out of favor with hardcore Republicans.

This has emboldened Trump to go after virtually everyone.  He has even gone after the Pope in the weeks leading up to the American papal visit, saying he "would not tolerate any criticism of capitalism."  Yet, the most audacious statement was warning the Pope that ISIS is out to get him, as if to say the Pope should stay in the Vatican.  This is pretty amazing for a man who less than two years ago said he was as humble as the new Pope.

Trump had hoped to bully the President as well by joining Ted Cruz by the gates of the White House to rally Teabaggers against the Iran nuclear deal, but now that the President has more than enough Democrats to block any Congressional attempt to reject the treaty, it is unlikely Mitch McConnell will even call a vote on the treaty, making the rally a lost cause.

Abdul-Jabbar compared Trump to a "frathouse partier" whose buffoonery you enjoy until you wake up the next morning and find yourself sleeping with this guy.  Actually, it looks like Trump is channeling Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian media tycoon who controlled Italian politics for the better part of two decades. Trump himself has said he plans to be a two-term president.

Kareem figures voters will eventually see the light, but Jeb Bush is not taking any chances and has launched a series of attacks on Trump, accusing him of being a closet liberal.  Of course, it doesn't take much effort as CNN already released a 2004 interview with Wolf Blitzer, where Trump said, "I probably identify myself more as Democrat."   It doesn't seem the Teabaggers care what Donald Trump was before, they see him as the only one who can vocalize their sentiments on the campaign trail.

It is hard to see Jeb countering Trump's "barbarities," even in Spanish, as the Donald is the undisputed Twitter king of the Presidential primaries.  Everyone loves a juicy barb and your only recourse is to laugh it off or come up with one better, which so far Jeb hasn't done.  But, Jeb has to do something as his candidacy is tanking.

Chris Christie has similarly tried to take a page from the Trump playbook by shouting down a protester at a New Hampshire rally who had the audacity to quote him.  Of course, Christie has long shouted back at what he deems to be hecklers, unable to defend his positions.  At least, he doesn't kick them out of the room the way Trump did Jorge Ramos, so maybe there is an ounce of civility left in Big Chris.

However, this remains Trump's show and more people will probably remember the Donald's scrawling riposte than Kareem's editorial, assuming they even bother to read it.  With Trump you have to keep your responses to 140 characters or less.  The more caustic the better as this seems to be the only thing he understands.