Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Helium Gas Shootout

Nothing like Thanksgiving and the advent of the holiday shopping season to put troubled times behind us.  A few citizens tried to stage protests at shopping malls around the country, in response to the grand jury decision in St. Louis, but for the most part it was business as usual, as crowds thronged to take advantage of "Black Friday" deals.

Despite its retail struggles, Macy's still stages its annual Thanksgiving Day Parade, but it looks more and more like a dinosaur.  The era of the big department store seems all but over as most persons shop by Internet these days.  Count me as one of those.  I have no desire to fight crowds at shopping outlets, no matter how good the deals.  But, Americans still like their consumerist traditions.

I thought one of the funniest moments was Seattle enjoying the turkey repast at the 50-yard line of the new Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, after whipping the San Francisco 49'ers.  The turkey dinner was a new wrinkle in interviews with the stars of the game afterward, but former 49'er great, Jerry Rice, was none too pleased, as were the owner and managers of the team after their poor showing.  They felt it was adding insult to injury.

Football is an indelible part of the four-day weekend with big games at the college and professional level scattered over all four days.  This tradition goes back to the advent of the National Football League in 1920, but the concept stretches back even further to 1876 when Princeton and Yale took to the field in the inaugural Turkey Day gridiron match.

Princeton, 1876

It used to be that Texas and Texas A&M squared off during the weekend, with the winner earning a trip to The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, but since the Aggies jumped to the SEC, this long-standing rivalry has been lost, with Texas suffering a humiliating loss to the Horned Frogs of Texas Christian.

Just to remind us once again, five St. Louis Rams players came onto the field holding their hands up in tribute to Michael Brown.  There were protests outside the stadium as well.  The St. Louis police were not happy with this gesture of solidarity.  If there is any consolation for the SLPOA, there probably weren't too many persons watching this game, as the Rams pummeled the lowly Raiders.   It will be interesting to see if the NFL takes any action.  After all, it has an "image" to protect.

The world is changing right before our eyes.  There isn't much we can do about it, but we still cling to our traditions as silly as they may seem to the outside world.  One of my favorite movie scenes is in Broadway Danny Rose, when Danny gets stuck with the gangster's moll in the hanger of the Macy's floats outside New York, better known as the Helium Gas Shootout.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Ferguson and beyond

The promise of Civil Rights deferred

Ferguson 2014
With riots spreading throughout the country, the story in Ferguson has resonated in the international media.  The lack of an indictment has been widely disparaged.  Ever since the incident was first reported in August, journalists from around the world have used the shooting to illustrate that the United States has yet to overcome its racial differences.  A Russian newspaper even dubbed the situation in Ferguson "Afromaidan," an all too obvious response to the way the US media has portrayed the events in the Ukraine, as protests have been ongoing in Ferguson since the incident first took place three months ago.

Yet, a large segment of American society seems inured to the events.  Robert P. Jones opins that this is in large part due to the self-segregated communities we live in, unable to appreciate, let alone understand, what it is like to live in black communities like Ferguson.  Decades of desegregation attempts have failed to achieve the desired result.  We still live in a largely segregated society, mostly of our own choosing, and to a large degree shut everything out that doesn't directly concern us.

Many Americans conveniently accept the stereotypes of each other.  Some even take pride in their own stereotypes, especially when portrayed in the ubiquitous reality shows.  Politicians take advantage of the racial divides in their voting districts, especially in the way these districts have been gerrymandered to favor one political party or another, all too often along racial lines.

St. Louis County is little different than any other metropolitan area in the country in the way it is split demographically, with these racially divided communities having little contact with each other at a social level.  Like many Midwest cities, St. Louis attracted Blacks seeking better opportunities in the wake of Jim Crow laws in the South, only to find themselves segregated from the mainstream of society in much the same way.  They settled into racially-defined communities with little representation in local government.

Over the years, the percentage of Blacks living in St. Louis County has increased to nearly 25 per cent, but they still find themselves largely marginalized in local politics.  Even the Ferguson police force, overseen by the county, is mostly White in a community that is predominantly Black, which sadly echoes the plantation system.  Protest becomes the only form of political recourse, evoking the Civil Rights movement.

Birmingham 1963
This is what has captured the attention of the nation and the world.  Ferguson has become a symbol for what is largely seen as a failed promise of civil rights in this country, despite a Black president.  Many see Michael Brown as a martyr.  Conversely, the Ferguson Police Department is seen as the Birmingham police, ca. 1963, led by Bull Connor, who would use any means necessary to quell the protests.  Jay Nixon, governor of Missouri, finds himself in the role of George Wallace sending in National Guard and state police reinforcements.  Like it or not, the stereotypes persist, largely due to the insular worlds we live in.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Who Established Thanksgiving Day?

It seems Peter Michael's book on John Hanson gets about as much attention as Hanson gets in history.  Part of the problem is that Hanson had little authority as President under the Articles of Confederation, as did his seven successors.  Most of the power remained vested in the states, with a Confederation Congress that rarely met during its tenure from 1781-1789, before the US Constitution became the law of the land.

Nevertheless, Hanson played a pivotal role in the formation of a federal government, creating a nascent cabinet that included departments of treasury, war and foreign affairs, which led to the successful removal of foreign soldiers and flags from the 13 states and their western territories.  He also promoted the statehood of western territories on the other side of the Appalachians.  But, what gains him most attention each year was his recognition of Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November, which we still recognize today, although it didn't become a paid national holiday until 1942.

The Confederation Congress took over the duties of the Continental Congress, which first met in 1774 and was presided over by Peyton Randolph, who you can argue was the first President just as much as Hanson.  However, this Congress only met twice between 1774 and 1781.  Philadelphia served as the capital of the fledgling United States, but most of the decisions were made on the battlefield during this time.

You can challenge your friends and family at the table to name the founder of Thanksgiving.  You can even hint that he was the first President, of the Confederation Congress anyway.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Night of Reckoning

For the better part of three months a St. Louis County Grand Jury poured over evidence, statements, the rambling testimony of Darren Wilson, and determined that there was no probable cause to indict the Ferguson police officer for the shooting of Michael Brown.  This was a formal charge, mind you, not whether or not Wilson was guilty of involuntary manslaughter, the least of the possible charges the jury could have rendered.

All a bereaved mother could do was break down in tears and be carried away upon hearing of the decision in front of a large gathering in the streets of Ferguson.  Soon after, the town erupted in flames with St. Louis County mobilizing large forces to break up the crowd.

There hadn't been anything quite like this since the Rodney King verdict in 1992.  However, in that case the four police officers, who brutally apprehended King after a high speed chase, were at least charged for using excessive force, albeit acquitted.

In Ferguson, it only took four jurors to cast doubt on this indictment.  I don't imagine we will get an accounting of how the jury voted.  However, the grand jury has decided to release Wilson's testimony and other key documents following their decision, which apparently it wasn't required to do.  The chief prosecutor claimed there were conflicting eye-witness accounts, some of which were "making it up."  Wilson's own testimony raises at least one red flag, claiming he called the dispatcher and learned that Brown was identified as a shoplifter in a cigar shop just minutes before.  Wilson has been known to fudge accounts before.

Those reports about Wilson having suffered serious injuries also proved false.  He suffered little more than a slight bruise to his cheek and back of neck, but apparently there was "reasonable belief" that Brown could do more serious damage to him, which impelled him to pull out his gun and shoot him.

Eric Holder is not satisfied with the decision.  He has said he will continue to pursue the case independently, but the burden of proof is much more rigorous at the federal level.  In the meantime, Darren Wilson can be reinstated in the notorious Ferguson police force, which is facing separate discrimination charges.  The Brown family can also file a wrongful death suit against Wilson.

However, this offers little solace for a community that has faced pervasive police discrimination for decades, Surprisingly, Ferguson police are not required to have body or car cameras, pointing to a larger issue with St. Louis County in patrolling its cities' streets.  After all, Michael Brown's only "crime" when Darren Wilson chose to drive up beside him and a friend was jaywalking, as the two teens were walking in the street.

More troublesome is the way this case has broken down along racial lines, much like the Rodney King incident.  Whites overwhelmingly support Wilson, whereas Blacks solidly support Michael Brown.  The grand jury had 9 Whites and 3 Blacks for a case that took place in a predominantly Black community.

The media has similarly taken sides in this case, with conservative outlets overwhelmingly presenting news stories in Wilson's defense, and liberal media similarly favoring Michael Brown.  News channels like CNN try to straddle the fence, only to get rocks thrown at its reporters.

Prosecuting attorney Robert McCulloch blamed the media for making it difficult to present the case unbiasedly, but Kevin Curran, president of the Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, questioned the way McCulloch presented the case -- burdening the jury with a huge volume of evidence, much of it confusing, that very easily led them to question the findings.

One can only hope that the federal investigation will be more thorough, and address what appear to be gaps in Darren Wilson's testimony.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Shame on Us as Republicans

or The Demented World of Lindsey Graham

It seems that Republicans aren't getting a chance to enjoy their midterm victories.  No sooner does Obama seize the upper hand on immigration than the GOP-led House intelligence committee on Benghazi absolves the President of any cover up, leading a visibly frustrated and angry Lindsey Graham to blast his own party for its inaction on immigration, and dismissing the Benghazi report as "full of crap."

Lindsey is a product of the 1994 Contract with America, winning a seat in the House that year and parlaying it into a Senate seat in 2003.  The whiny senator from South Carolina is an easy target for The Daily Show.  As Stewart shows in the series of clips, Lindsey seems to live in a state of perpetual fear, fueled by demons that appear to be living under his bed.  He now thinks our country is so far gone that he is actually considering running for President!

What seems to have really gotten his goat is that the Republicans in the House couldn't find any dirt on the President regarding Benghazi.  The poor man was apoplectic that the House Intelligence Committee, led by Republican Mike Rogers, came back with nothing.  There is still the ongoing investigation by the House Select Committee, headed by fellow South Carolinian Trey Gowdy, but so far they've turned up nothing either.

This was supposed to be the dagger the Republicans could finally drive through the heart of Obama, using it to launch impeachment hearings.  Now they turn to what they regard as his "unconstitutional" actions on immigration reform, which the House has dragged its heels on for a year and a half.  Seems Lindsey, like so many Republicans, views himself as the great defender of the Constitution, and has established himself as the point man on immigration, whether anyone asked him to be or not.

Lindsey has always been a favorite of the talk show circles, sure to stir things up at the political round tables, but unfortunately has been a rather inconsequential legislator.  He's been upstaged by Paul Rand and Ted Cruz in the Senate, and found himself being challenged on the right in the primaries by no less than six challengers.  He easily fended them off, but it is clear that whatever popularity he held in South Carolina has waned.  As far as a national figure, he is largely seen as a comic muse.

The shame is that the Republicans have done nothing this past six years except stir up unrest and use it to fuel voter frustration.  To Lindsey's credit, he voted for the Senate comprehensive immigration overhaul bill in June, 2013, and hasn't backtracked on it, as other Republicans who had similarly voted for it.  But, the GOP Senators were unable to convince their fellow legislators in the House to bring the bill to a vote on the floor.  Now, these Senators vent their frustration on the President for carrying out immigration reform as much as he can through executive orders.

Yep, it seems like this new Republican majority is going to be very short lived.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Passion of Cicero

The reaction to Obama's speech last Thursday ranges from the predictable to totally outrageous.  For whatever reason, CNN has made New Gingrich one of its political commentators, and his rebuttal to the president's address has quickly spread through the conservative blogosphere, making you wonder who CNN is serving these days?  It appears to have become a light version of Fox News, hoping to break into its conservative audience.

Gingrich disingenuously claims that Obama's "fine speech" doesn't match the executive orders he plans to carry out.  Newt cleverly ties in "Obamacare" with "Obamagration," making it sound like the President is purposely misleading Americans with his deeply flawed policies, calling it another "Gruber Speech."

This, however, doesn't compare with Ted Cruz's rhetorically charged rebuttal, in which he paints Obama as Catiline from Cicero's famous speech over 2000 years ago.  Cruz apparently wanted to take the high road by referring to a classic text, evoked by Harry Truman and Thomas Jefferson (both Democrats by the way) in the past.  The only problem is that Cruz seems to know Cicero about as well as he does net neutrality, misrepresenting the context of the speech and blurring the lines to justify his own argument.  Easy enough to do with an unsuspecting conservative audience, who probably had to google Cicero if they bothered at all to find out who this Roman senator was.

Roman society was class based.  There was little room for firebrands like Catiline, who threatened the aristocratic order of society by appealing to the masses.  Maybe this is how Cruz sees American society?  But, throughout his tumultuous first tenure as a senator he has taken the conservative "populist" line on almost every issue.  Whatever the case, Cruz explicitly accuses Obama of treason by defying the US Senate, which he claims to represent, even though members of his own party have openly chastised him.

By saying that Obama has dishonestly presented his immigration reform policies, as they claim he did the Affordable Care Act, or worse that he is committing treason, these Republican spokesmen are setting up impeachment hearings by accusing the President of "high crimes and misdemeanors."

It doesn't matter that the President has a legal team that has studied the Constitution and has crafted his executive orders in such a way that they don't overstep his authority.  In fact, more than once during his speech he referred to the Senate immigration bill that has been sitting in the House of Representatives for over 500 days because the House Speaker has refused to put the bill to a vote on the floor out of fear that there might be just enough Republicans to help Democrats carry the bill, as they represent districts that want immigration reform.  This handful of Republicans, like Geraldo Rivera said on Fox News, know that immigration reform is necessary, even if they don't trust the President.

Rivera embraces his immigrant past.  Ted Cruz does not.  Cruz would like us to think that his American roots go back as far as Jefferson.  Maybe his mother does, but his father immigrated to the United States after Castro had assumed power in Cuba.  Dear old Dad denounced his socialist roots and became a religious zealot, prone to racist statements.  Ted has become the darling of the Dominionists, which should give any suspecting American citizen great pause, as these persons actively promote the "End Times."

Gingrich just wants Obama out, much as he wanted Clinton out.  Ted Cruz seems to want a public hanging, working on the basest fears of his deeply conservative audience -- a very dangerous form of rhetoric that is far more threatening to our society than is immigration reform.

Friday, November 21, 2014

I understand that it is "ratings sweeps" month but given the great anticipation for Obama's speech on immigration reform you would think all the networks would carry it live.  Alas, the "Big Three" networks, CBS, NBC and ABC, chose not to, opting for their regular programming instead.  In case you are wondering that is The Big Bang Theory, The Biggest Loser and Grey's Anatomy.  Fox carried the speech live on its cable news network.

The speech lasted a little over 15 minutes, hardly long enough to throw the timing off significantly, but it was apparently too much for these stations, who rely on public airwaves, to consider disrupting their regular programming.   After all, Republicans would have demanded equal air time for a response, and the networks' news staffs would have felt obliged to comment.  The end result, we would have missed Sheldon bid a sad farewell to his "Fun with Flags" podcast.

In these network's defense, I suppose most Americans turned to CNN or Fox News for the live broadcast.  After all these are news channels.  The major networks are principally in the business of entertainment.  But, immigration is something that affects us all, and you have to wonder how many illegal immigrants are working in Hollywood.

Not surprisingly, Univision carried the speech for its Spanish-speaking audience, even though it momentarily disrupted the Latin Grammy Awards, but such award shows last all night anyway.

Immigration had been the touchstone issue throughout the midterm elections.  All the networks generated great fears over Obama's potential executive orders.  The Republicans have been threatening everything from a government shutdown to impeachment and even five years in jail if President Obama carries through on these executive orders.  As it is, they are scrambling to find ways to block them, including another lawsuit.

In typical fashion, Obama addressed the issue calmly and succinctly, with a moving closing in which he reminded us that we are a nation shaped by immigrants.  A bit of a letdown for all the media-generated fears leading up to the speech.  I suppose it was the dreaded anticipation more than the speech itself that boosted ratings.  Now, we will see the same networks slice and dice the speech and tell us all about the consequences in the most dire terms imaginable, as there is still a week left in the "ratings sweeps."

Thanks New York Times and other major periodicals for carrying the speech live without commentary.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Welcome to the New Pipeline Crossroads of the World

I was curious to see if the Republicans were really gaining any ground in the Senate on Keystone, and it seems they will be picking up three seats.  Five of the Democrats who voted for Keystone are being replaced by Republicans, so no gains here.  The Republican will pick up West Virginia, South Dakota and Colorado, where outgoing Democratic senators voted against the bill.  Assuming the Republicans keep the remaining Democrats on board for another vote early in the new year, they will have enough votes to carry the bill, but not enough to override a veto, lest they convince five more senators that Keystone will make America more beautiful.

As Paul Waldman notes, you have to wonder why Democrats Mark Warner, Robert Casey, Michael Bennet and Tom Carper voted for Keystone, since it doesn't affect their states and they are relatively secure in their seats.  Maybe they thought it was actually good for the country despite everything that has been said against Keystone, or that one way or another this pipeline is getting built whether Obama accepts it or not.

The southern leg of Keystone is already open for business, supplying tar sand oil from Cushing, Oklahoma, to Port Arthur, Texas, for refinement.  TransCanada has already considered bypassing the contested areas, even if it brings additional costs.  One way or another, this pipeline will be built, so why are the Republicans so determined to get this bill through Congress?

I suppose it is a way to prove to their political benefactors that they can override the President, setting up a big showdown next year.  There are also tax subsidies attached to the bill, making it more lucrative to the refineries associated with the deal.

However, Obama no longer seems interested in a deal.  There was a time the Senate Republicans could have gotten the President to sign onto Keystone had they been less determined to block his initiatives, administrative and judicial appointments.  Price you pay for trying to make Obama a "one-term president."

Such deal-making used to be part and parcel of the Congressional process, but today's Republicans worry too much how these deals sit with their deeply conservative electorate, as it leaves the door open to being teabagged in the primaries.  Can't have that.  So, you can expect another threatened shutdown of government (blamed on Obama of course) in an effort to get the President to see the light so that they don't have to muster the additional votes for an override.

It's a rather sloppy game plan, but then it worked this last time around.  The electorate seemed to forget the shutdown the Republicans engineered at the end of 2013 thanks to all the unrest in the Middle East.  Almost makes you wonder who really is behind this Sunni uprising?  It wouldn't be the first time Republicans stirred a hornet's nest in the region for their own political gain.

Whatever the case, Keystone now seems a part of our landscape whether we like it or not.

The Republicans' New Century

You have to hand it to the GOP for thinking big, but a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee said Rep. Greg Walden (R-Oregon) meant the biggest House majority in the last century, since 1964 anyway.  Well, I think Walden meant what he said, because the Republicans have no intention of giving up the House anytime soon, and the way state voting districts are currently gerrymandered that may indeed be a long time.

Chuck Todd thinks the current GOP majority is good for another eight years, at least until 2022.  Of course, a lot could happen between now and then.  The Republicans felt very smug following their 1994 electoral mandate, which gave them the majority in the House for the first time since the Truman era, 1954.  But, their fumbling of the economy led to a Democratic victory in the 2006 midterms.  Unfortunately, this victory was very short-lived, as the Republicans regained the House in 2010, largely thanks to the electorate's bad memory.

Since then, Republican legislatures in key states have gone out of their way to gerrymander voting districts to ensure a perpetual Republican majority even in traditional Democratic states like Wisconsin.  The way districts are now aligned in many states, Democrats can outvote Republicans statewide, but not overturn state legislatures or Congressional House representation in their state, as was the case in North Carolina in 2012.

Sadly, these days Democrats can't even win statewide gubernatorial and Senate races because of their inability to get out the vote.  Defeatism has once again crept into the party and that will be pretty hard to overcome if you feel the deck is stacked against you in so many states.

However, 100 years is a very long time.  The longest stretch any party has held onto the House is 1955-1995, a Democratic reign which saw sweeping legislative changes including the Civil Rights Act.  It was a majority that withstood five Republican presidents, but ground to a halt in 1994, largely under its own weight, and what many critics felt to be major missteps by the Clinton administration.

The Republicans have controlled the House 16 of the last 20 years, which in itself is an impressive feat, especially when you consider how badly they have managed the House these last four years.  There is so much strife within the party.  That unified feeling coming out of this year's midterms may be very short lived, as you have the neocons and religious conservatives fighting for the "soul" of the GOP.

But, one can forgive Rep. Walden for his hyperbole.  It is only natural to boast in the wake of such a sweeping victory, even if only 36 percent of Americans turned out to vote.  Oregon voters at least showed up at the polls with a turnout of 52 percent, but his state has been reliably "Blue" for decades and recently passed a referendum to make marijuana legal,which probably was the most impelling reason to vote.

Unfortunately, Walden, like so many Republicans, finds himself on the wrong side of many issues, which doesn't bode well for the GOP in the future.  But, Republicans hope that Democrats will be too dispirited to reclaim the House anytime soon.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Lincoln at Gettysburg

Seven score and 11 years ago today, Abraham Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address, recognized as one of the finest speeches in American history.  He not only commemorated the battlefield, but defined the scope of the Civil War in 272 words.  Far fewer than the famed orator, Edward Everett, who preceded him.  Had Everett not chosen to include Lincoln's address in his 1864 book on the event, this deceptively simple speech may have been lost in history.  The address has been poured over many times since.   Garry Wills speaks of its profound importance in this 2011 essay for The Atlantic.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Saving the Whale

Moby-Dick turned 163 years old last week, since its first American publication in November, 1851.  That's a pretty long life span for a sperm whale, which typically live about 70 years, but who knows for sure.  These reclusive creatures haven't been studied thoroughly, even though their numbers have greatly rebounded since the whaling days Melville described.  You don't even have to go all the way to the Pacific to find one.  Sperm whales have been spotted in the Gulf of Mexico.

This Great White Whale was doomed to extinction until literary critics re-evaluated the novel in the 1920s and began to cite it as one of the great American novels.  It had been panned by British critics upon its initial release, with few copies sold in London.  It did slightly better in the States, enjoying a second printing, but lackluster sales left it on the back shelves.  That all changed with the Modern Library edition in 1926, which fetches a pretty good penny today.

Laurie Robertson-Lorant gets into the publishing history of the novel in her biography of Melville, noting that it was his wife, Elizabeth, who was instrumental in keeping his books in circulation after his death.  He had consigned himself to administrative work in the New York Customs office after publishers were no longer interested in his work, focusing on poetry in his later years.  He died in 1891, the same year as Walt Whitman, but there was no fanfare for him, like there was Whitman.  Most Americans no longer had any idea who he was.

It is hard to say how many times Moby-Dick has been reprinted since 1926.  It can be found in virtually every language and in every country around the world.  It's even been translated into Emoji.  It has been recast as a movie several times, the most memorable still being John Huston's 1956 film starring Gregory Peck as Ahab, but somehow these cinematic versions miss the boat, as Melville was striving for something far bigger than a whale's tale.  It is a book that demands to be read, not seen.

Melville was most notably influenced by Shakespeare.  Apparently Charles Olson was the first to recognize the profound influence the Stratford Bard had on Melville in his 1938 essay, Lear and Moby-Dick.  I would venture to say Melville was also influenced by Othello.  Olson felt that Melville saw Manifest Destiiny in Ahab's hunt for the great white whale, and would later use Moby as his own metaphor for the Cold War.

Whatever the case, there is no denying the power of this novel.  Happy Birthday, Moby!

The New Pamphleteers

You ever wonder how all those conservative pundits get so many books in the bestseller lists?  It turns out bulk buying vaults books like Mark Levin's Liberty or Tyranny to the top of the charts.  The books are later handed out at events or simply tossed into book bins around the country where they go for a buck after whatever interest in this pulp non-fiction subsides.

This type of bulk buying is nothing new.  Ann Coulter (remember her?) was similarly getting pushed by conservative book clubs 10 years ago when she was at the peak of her popularity.  These book clubs would purchase her books in bulk then unload them as part of promotions for a dollar each.  It was a great way to boost sales of your favorite conservative talking heads.  Once these conservative hacks made names for themselves, bigger publishing companies would pick them up under imprint labels, trying to cash in on the authors' new found celebrity.

It's not to say other bestselling authors haven't benefited from such promotions.  The Book of the Month Club has been around since 1926, peddling popular authors like Tom Clancy in much the same way. Conservative Book Club adopted the same strategy to promote its best recognized pundits like Charles Krauthammer, whose Things That Matter has been sitting at the top of best seller lists for months now.

What's good for the goose is good for the gander, but when a conservative group shells out $427,000 to buy up Mark Levin's "Conservative Manifesto," this is nothing more than cooking the books, and should be called out.  Funny enough, it was a Republican whistleblower for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, who spotted this flagrant foul and has since been vilified by Levin and others for the red flag.

Apparently, it is not enough to be a popular radio and television talk show host.  The only way to gain "legitimacy" is to put your thoughts to print in a hardback that draws critical attention, good or bad.  It's just amazing how many books these right-wing pundits spit out each year in what appears to be no more than blatant self-advertisement, as their photos usually adorn the covers in book racks across the country.

Many of them have ghost writers, since they are unable to string two comprehensible sentences together on air, much less in print.  Baba O'Reilly employs Martin Dugard to do the research work for him, then gives these historical fictions his own spin, as in his latest serial killing effort, Killing Patton.  Because of these pundits' popularity, they command six and seven figure advances.

Sarah Palin at the peak of her popularity in 2009 commanded a book deal reportedly worth as much as $10 million, which led her to step down as governor of Alaska amid a whirlwind of ethical violations so that she could cash in on her new found fame.  Her star has since faded, but she is still churning out the books, like last year's Good Tidings and Great Joy, telling us all about the meaning of Christmas.

In an odd way, this type of publishing and promotion is a throwback to the old pamphleteering days of the American Revolutionary era, but sadly not as erudite.  Glenn Beck was shrewd enough to pick up on this, by copping one of Thomas Paine's titles, Common Sense.  Beck is one of the most prolific conservative authors with no less than 18 titles to his credit.  He has also set up his own publishing company, Mercury Ink, to promote himself and other aspiring conservative writers.

Seems if you want to succeed in the book industry today, write some conservative screed or a book attacking Obama or both and you are likely to find a publisher.  It seems to be the fastest growing sector next to teen fantasy and supernatural books.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Last Days of the Blue Dogs

Even after a record $4 billion spent on the midterm elections, the national voter turnout was the lowest in over 70 years -- 36.3 percent. Typically, the midterms draw 40 to 42 percent, still well below the presidential election years, which is typically 60 percent.  Yet, the Republicans consider this vote a mandate of their beliefs.  Whatever they are?

With so much apparently riding on the line, you would have thought voters to come out in droves, instead they seemed to be battened down in their homes after a media blitzkrieg like none ever before in midterm elections.  Campaign spending in 2014 dwarfed that in 2010, when the Republicans similarly swept the country in midterm elections, retaking the House of Representatives in unprecedented fashion, as well as key governor races.  

Texas had an abysmal  28.5% voter turnout, in what had once been seen as a hotly contested governor's race between Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott.    Wendy failed to ignite the electorate even with The Daily Show making a special appearance in Austin in the run-up to the election.  Unfortunately, for the woman in pink Mizunos it was a "Democalypse," as it was for many Democrats across the country.

Now, the surviving Democrats all appear to be tacking right in Red States, like Claire McCaskill in Missouri, who the Democrats spent big bucks on to keep her Senate seat in 2012.  Apparently, she now has eyes on the governor's mansion in 2016.  The Blue Dogs appear to be uniting around Keystone, a show of faith, if you will, to their electorate that they are willing to work with Republicans.  

Of course, that has always been the case with Blue Dog Democrats.  It is a term that dates back to 1995 when Texas Democrat Pete Geren felt he was being "choked blue" by Democrats on the Left, and threw his support behind Republican bills in Congress.  He was eventually rewarded for his efforts by the Bush administration, which made him US Secretary of the Air Force.  

By 2010, the Blue Dog Coalition had pretty much been replaced by Republicans in Congress, making you wonder how it held together.  Obviously, it didn't pay to be a Democrat in red states even if you were willing to cast your lot behind conservative causes, and local Democrats viewed these "Blue Dogs" as little more than sellouts.  Still the Democratic National Committee (DNC) tried to hold onto these seats by pouring money into their campaigns.  There are still enough of them left to turn votes in the Senate, which is what Mary Landrieu is desperately trying to do on Keystone, but most likely she will be gone by January, replaced by a Republican.

Mercifully, this Republican majority may be short lived come 2016, as they have planted themselves on the wrong side of key issues and Presidential election years don't usually bode well for them in Congress.  Plus, they have 24 Senate seats to defend, whereas the Democrats have only 10, not counting potential retirements.  For once, an election favors the Democrats.

Unfortunately, Democrats have shown themselves time and time again to be their own worst enemies, as this incredibly low turnout shows.  Had they presented a united front, building their campaigns on a resurgent economy, a successful health insurance exchange program, and meaningful immigration reform, I'm sure they could have turned out more voters.  Instead, they played right into the Republicans' strategy of presenting the United States as a country in chaos by challenging their own President on everything from immigration reform to his policy in the Middle East.  

Maybe "Fair Weather Democrats" would be a better name for these Blue Dogs, as they only seem to identify themselves as Democrats when it suits their interests.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Keystone Cops Ride Again

Senate Democrats are looking like the Keystone Cops these days, as they try to work out a last session deal with the Republicans to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, over Obama's veto if necessary.  Keystone Mary is leading the charge in a last ditch effort to hold onto her Senate seat , but Republicans have already promised her opponent, Bill Cassidy, an energy panel seat should he win.  Too little, too late, Mary.

Harry Reid blasted the pipeline deal last month, but it seems he is open to some kind of deal that would free up the backlog of presidential administration nominees without having to resort to the "nuclear option."  Obama has already made it known he wants to clear the slate before January, notably the confirmation of his attorney general nominee, Loretta Lynch.  However, the Republicans want Lynch off the table, no doubt planning to make a big show trial next year over this contentious nominee.

Reid is also a marked man.  The GOP has made it a top priority to oust Reid from the Senate in 2016, so you would think Reid wouldn't make it any easier on the Republicans before then.  However, Harry is the consummate politician, always ready to deal, especially if he thinks it will help him hold onto his seat.  How else to explain giving both Elizabeth Warren and Jon Tester greater roles in the Senate, when the two represent totally different interests.

The Democratic Party once again appears to be splitting itself.  The Republicans hope to cleave off enough Democrats to gain a filibuster-proof majority in the new session, which would reduce Harry Reid to a hollow voice.  This is what the Democrats tried to do back in 2009 when they lured Arlen Specter over from the other side to carry the vote on the Affordable Care Act.  However, that move blew up in Harry's face as the Republicans took 7 Senate seats in the 2010 mid-term elections and have been blocking Democratic legislation ever since.

Alison tried to call attention to Filibuster Mitch in her campaign against him, noting the 413 times McConnell blocked Senate bills in one way or another, not to mention the countless number of presidential administration and judicial appointments.  Obviously obstruction works, as Mitch held off pesky Alison and the Republicans overtook the Senate with a potential turnover of 9 seats this time, pending the Louisiana Senate runoff.

Keystone has always been an utter waste of time.  This pipeline would do little to boost the economy, which is already booming as far as oil and shale is concerned.  Gas prices continue to drop throughout the country.  The only real benefit of Keystone is to Canada, which would have direct access to the ports of the Gulf of Mexico, and to the various American interests who have invested in the pipeline.  These interests are the one's bankrolling the Republican Congressional campaigns.

Landrieu comes from a state that relies heavily on oil, so it is no surprise to see her pushing this bill.  You can expect Jon Tester, Joe Manchin and other Blue Dog Democrats to join her.  That's Big Joe behind Mary.  It appears Dirty Harry has acquiesced to a floor vote, despite his once stern opposition to the pipeline.  However, it is doubtful it will save Keystone Mary's seat, or even Harry's in 2016.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


When most persons think of Kansas they probably think of Dorothy, given how many times the line "We're not in Kansas anymore" has been used.  It's even found in the Urban Dictionary.  It represents that eerie feeling when you know you're in the wrong place and can't do anything about it.  I think that's the way many Kansans feel today after being "teabagged" in 2010 and forced to live under Sam Brownback, who acts like the Great and Powerful Oz.

It wasn't that long ago, 2008, when a much more level-headed governor presided over the state, Kathleen Sebelius, who was able to reach out to persons across the state regardless of their political differences.  For six years she provided a steady hand, winning two terms by resounding margins.  She is a Democrat, if you can imagine that!

But, somehow the state got all lit up during the Tea Party revival and seems on a collision course with destiny, much like Dorothy was when her house was yanked up by the foundations and tossed into the World of Oz by a tornado, forced into battle with a nasty old witch and her gang of flying monkeys.  It's amazing how quickly the political landscape can change!

This was also the case back in the 1850s when Stephen Douglas got the bright idea to split Kansas and Nebraska, introducing a bill in 1854 to open up new lands for settlement and leave it up to white land-grabbers to determine the fate of the two territories as far as slavery goes.  A blood bath ensued known as Bleeding Kansas, where pro-slavery elements from Missouri tried to settle Kansas.  John Brown led a band of anti-slavery "Free-Staters" (later known as Jayhawks)  to try to claim the state for the abolition movement.  Things got so violent that even Congress was up in arms, as Preston Brooks attacked Charles Sumner on the floor of the Senate.  Sumner never fully recovered from the caning he took, as other senators watched aghast.  Brooks became a hero of the pro-slavery element.

Out of that rough and tumble history, Kansas became a state in  January, 1861, shortly before the United States erupted into Civil War.  South Carolina had already seceded from the Union and other Southern states soon followed.  Kansas remained in the Union but found itself on the battlefront, as pro-Confederate Missourians tried to reclaim the state during the war.  Quantrill's Raid, or the Lawrence Massacre, is probably the best known battle from the era.

Kansas would later find itself at the center of the Civil Rights struggle, when Oliver Brown sued to have his child admitted into a Topeka all white school.  This seemed a bitter irony for a state that had survived the Civil War as a "Free State." Segregation had crept across the border like it did in many parts of the Midwest, and the case was taken all the way up to the Supreme Court, where a unanimous ruling opened up all schools for access to all minorities.  100 years later, almost to the day, Kansas once again found itself at the epicenter of a civil war, as the push for Civil Rights spread throughout the South, as a result of Brown vs. Board of Education.

All it takes is a little dust-up to get things riled up in Kansas.  Frank Baum actually lived in South Dakota, which was still a territory at the time, but seemed to understand the Kansas situation well.  He had tried his hand at the newspaper business, but in 1900 got the idea for the The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which he imagined being made into a Broadway play.  The book became a bestseller, spawning sequels, with numerous political references.  By the time the book was made into a movie, first in 1925, much of that political satire had been squeezed out of it and we were left with the classic children's tale we all know so well from 1939.

Yes, Dorothy, we aren't in Kansas anymore.  Who would think that such a seemingly mild-mannered state could be so easily torn asunder time and time again.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Find the Cost of Freedom

It doesn't seem like we need Veterans Day anymore as everyday has become Veterans Day judging by how often Americans pay deference to soldiers having fought in this protracted War on Terror.  Hardly a day goes by where someone isn't paying tribute to military personnel on facebook.  Memes abound, as we are continuously reminded of their brave service, particularly elite forces, which have increasingly become the subject of books and movies and even reality shows.  I don't knock these fearless warriors, but I have to wonder about the extent of this idol worship.

They certainly aren't protecting my freedom, as is so often noted.  What goes on in the Middle East pretty much stays in the Middle East, despite all the dire warnings.  These Islamicists are doing no more than what religious conservatives would like to do in the United States -- create a theocracy.  As far as I'm concerned it is up to Iraqis and Afghanis to fight their own wars.  We would be far better off not getting in the middle of these conflicts, yet we have been aiding and abetting one side or the other for more than 60 years now.

It seems what we are protecting is a vast military industrial complex.  Literally, a trillion dollars is spent each year on the defense industry.  The F-35 fighter jet has cost $1.5 trillion alone.  The contract to build this "state of the art" jet was signed 18 years ago, and only now have the first prototypes been tested.  It is already obsolete as the Chinese have had plenty of time to develop their alternative version, the J-31, which was shown off at an air show during the APEC meeting President Obama is attending.  It came in at a fraction of the cost of the F-35.  Republicans decry what they consider profligate spending on domestic programs, but don't bat an eye at the cost overruns on this colossal failure, which they pushed through Congress during Clinton's administration, claiming we needed to upgrade our Air Force.

Maybe Congress should be thinking more about the veterans they want us to extol, many of whom find themselves living below the poverty line.  Even enlisted soldiers increasingly have to rely on food stamps to make ends meet.  Yet, Congress continues to appropriate money for the military's latest gadgets while many returning soldiers struggle to find the treatment and health care they need back home.

George Bush makes a big show of entertaining wounded warriors at his Crawford Ranch in Texas each year.  We are supposed to think of Dubya as a great guy because he does so much work with these veterans now that he too is retired.  If he had such a "profound respect" for these men and women he never would have engaged us in Iraq and Afghanistan in the first place!

Alas, we are supposed to ignore such things on Veterans Day and pay our respects to those who have served this great country in battle.  If we really had that much concern we would do more to end war, not continue to perpetuate it in the defense of our military industry.

Any little uprising is a call to arms these days, as witnessed in the Sunni rebellion.  The venerable John McCain, who seemed to suffer inoperable brain damage during his time in a Vietnam POW camp, will mostly likely be serving as head of the Senate foreign relations committee next January, no doubt pressuring Obama even more to send troops to quell this uprising.  As it is, Obama has already committed 1500 troops to be redeployed in Iraq.  It's like Catch-22.

Americans seem to live vicariously through our soldiers, oblivious to the hardships, the traumatization, and neverending medical costs these veterans incur after two, three, or more tours in the Middle East.  We don't seem to question the political motivations like we did in the 70s when Vietnam lingered on for 10 years.  We just accept it as part of "the cost of freedom."

Our Man on China

Seems Jon Huntsman is the go-to guy on China these days.  I saw him on CNN last night offering commentary on Obama's APEC appearance, a combination of praise and criticism over the President's position on China.  Huntsman served as Ambassador to China from 2009-2011, and his fluency in Mandarin is often cited in the press.

One of the President's first executive moves on immigration is to extend the time on visas for Chinese businessmen, tourists and students.   This was generally seen as favorable in the press (Huntsman included), but of course there are those opposed to it, seeing it as a "warning sign" of greater executive action to come.  Republicans have already warned Obama of the "consequences" should he try to take the matter of immigration into his own hands, but to his credit he didn't fall for the bluff.

Huntsman is an odd Republican cookie in that he favors more immigration not less -- legal preferably.  As he notes in this op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal, immigrants are twice as likely to start a business than are natural-born Americans.  He places the onus on Congress to pass more inclusive immigration reform legislation that doesn't repeat the mistakes of the past, noting the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which placed severe restrictions on Asian immigration.  I guess once the major rail lines were built there was no more need for cheap Chinese labor.

It's nice to see there is at least one Republican who reads his history and has some awareness of contemporary issues that affect America.  It used to be Republicans prided themselves on foreign policy.  Huntsman alluded to Nixon's engagement with China in the 70s on CNN, saying that the Obama administration lacks the "grand vision" in its relationships with the current Chinese government that other American administrations had in the past.

I suppose it is because much of that "grand vision" has come to pass, and now it is more a case of tweaking policy than it is re-inventing policy, at least in terms of business and cultural trade.  We continue to turn a blind eye to China's questionable human rights record, its suppression of Tibet, and its continued support of the North Korean regime.

Huntsman seems to be grooming himself for a presidential run in 2016, hoping that Republican voters have forgotten that he once served Obama, and that maybe they will be ready for a nuanced approach to politics.  As I noted earlier, he is co-chair of No Labels, a pro-business lobby that tries to offer "solutions" to the most pressing problems today.  China is key to any global business strategy and Huntsman seems to have a better handle on the situation than any other Republican, which is why he is so often invited to render his opinion.  Good luck, Jon.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Re-imagining the Race Card

One of the funniest things about House of Cards is the idea of Francis Underwood as a White Democratic representative from South Carolina, let alone "majority whip."  This is a dying breed in the Deep South, where Dixiecrats long ago turned Republican in the wake of the Reagan Revolution and have taken over state legislatures and most US Representative seats in Congress.

John Barrow had been able to hold onto his Georgia seat for 10 years thanks largely to his sense of humor and lack of any real Democratic conviction.  He only voted the Democratic line 35% of the time these last two years.  But, even that was too much for Republicans to take, who finally managed to oust Barrow, thanks to the deep pockets of Rick Allen, who bankrolled his own campaign.  Barrow was the last of this dying breed.

I guess the Republicans didn't want to take any chances that Barrow might realign himself with the Democrats in 2016.  After all, he had thrown his support behind Barack Obama in 2008 only to step back further each succeeding Congressional term.    He also moved twice to avoid being gerrymandered out of Congress, leading the Augusta Chronicle to state in 2010 that he was "perhaps the most shameless, duplicitous, self-serving politician of his era."  Seems to me he is just a survivalist like any other politician.

However, in this day and age there is no wiggle room left.  You are either with us or against us in the Republican world, and unless Barrow was willing to change parties, like Zell Miller,  his fate was sealed.

Meanwhile, the GOP is busy promoting women and persons of color to offset their image as a "White Man's Party."  They are quite proud of the victories by Tim Scott in South Carolina, Mia Love in Utah and Joni Ernst in Iowa.  The Republicans desperately want to break down the last line of defense the Democrats have on gender and racial politics, especially since it was a big issue this election cycle.

I'm not sure if Tim Scott is ready to become the GOP's anti-Obama, but he has adopted the same groupspeak of the Republicans when it comes to chastising the Commander-in-Chief, even threatening impeachment, as he did back in 2011, when he served as a US Representative from South Carolina before being promoted to the Senate by Niki Haley when Jim DeMint decided to step down from his high-ranking seat.

It is important to have a black face to counter a black face, which is why Republicans are so enthralled with Dr. Ben Carson, who compared the Obama administration to Nazi Germany.  Tim wouldn't go that far, at least one hopes.  This kind of rhetoric doesn't bring about the "harmony" the good doctor imagines, it only further increases the animosity that has become so much a part of politics today.

Mia and Joni are the Republicans' answer to Nancy Pelosi and Diane Feinstein, women universally loathed by conservatives for their "gender politics."  Neither Mia nor Joni have much of a track record.  Mia last served as mayor of a small Utah town before being handpicked by the GOP to run for US Representative.  Sound familiar?  Joni is a retired Lt. Colonel who served for two years in the Iowa State Senate before running for the US Senate.  Both were actively promoted by "Mama Grizzly."  Mia had barely lost in 2012, but added Republican support put her over the top this time around.

The Democrats have their work cut out for them in 2016.  This is an emboldened Republican Party that now sees itself as the "Party of Civil Rights," replete with attempts at pithy commentary in the National Review.  With these bright young faces to promote its new found sense of political equality, Republicans feel that Democrats can no longer use the race or gender card against them in elections, even though Blacks have less representation throughout the South than demographics should warrant.

If we look at South Carolina, Blacks make up 30 per cent of population but only 20 per cent of the state legislature.  Jim Clyburn is the lone African-American in the US House of Representatives.  The five others are all White Male Republicans.  I don't think Jim Clyburn is fooled by this new embrace of "Civil Rights," having lived long enough to see the Civil Rights movement first hand and know that contemporary Republicans are speaking out of the side of their mouths.

It wasn't that long ago that Clyburn, John Lewis and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus were shouted down in the ugliest terms imaginable at a Tea Party rally on the steps of Congress.  Emmanual Clever was even spat upon by one protester.  The Republicans still have a long way to go if they want to be the "Party of Civil Rights."

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Politics of Mass Deception

Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, got into hot water when his organization, No Labels, supported Cory Gardner, a Republican, in the Colorado Senate election.  Seems like Manchin and his buddy Jon Hunstsman are trying to create a new political movement that breaks down party affiliations by supporting political candidates who shun traditional party politics.

No Labels appears to be Libertarian in nature, calling it "The Politics of Problem Solving," although they are rather vague when it comes to outlining the positions they would take to break the gridlock in Congress.  I guess we have to wait until October, 2015, for the full version of their National Strategic Agenda.  Similarly, it is hard to find who their 100 allies in Congress are, other than Huntsman and Manchin, although they have lent their support to candidates who apparently expressed interest in their bipartisan cause, like Gardner.

Cory rode the Tea Party band wagon into Congress in 2010 and has served as US Representative from Colorado these past four years.  He represents the young face Republicans want to project for the future, given the hits their older incumbents have taken in primaries since 2010.

Judging from his record on wiki, he looks like a straight-up Republican, but has a pleasant demeanor and apparently is open to dialog, which I guess is what attracted No Labels.  The young Senator-elect wants to streamline environmental regulation policies to speed up oil drilling and fracking permits.  While serving in the House, he supported Paul Ryan's draconian deficit reduction plan, which was a non-starter these past four years in terms of bipartisan budget talks because of its massive domestic spending cuts.  To Cory's credit, he was one of the few House Republicans to vote for the Senate-revised Violence Against Women Act, which allowed it to become law, but at the same time co-sponsored "personhood" legislation known as the "Life Begins at Conception Act," essentially nullifying a woman's right to choose  between abortion or to carry her fetus to full term without facing criminal actions.

I'm not sure how No Labels plans to build its bridge across party lines, other than to find a handful of Democrats who essentially agree with the Republican platform, and see if they can break the deadlock on key votes that suit their agenda.  Manchin comes from conservative West Virginia, a coal state, so I guess he fits the bill.  Senate Democrats were notably upset that he could lend his name to an organization that would knock one of their own, Mark Udall, out of Congress.  Manchin has since stepped down as co-chair of No Labels to avoid any further conflicts of interest.

I've seen these kinds of organizations before.  They are really nothing more than a front for big industries like oil and coal.  Gardner, like Manchin, supports Keystone XL, and so it is very likely the Republicans will get the votes they need in the Senate this time around to get Keystone passed.  No Labels claims to be nonpartisan, working for "solutions," but the financial backers are the same groups who have managed to get fracking and deep water oil drilling permits, despite all the environmental concerns.  Keystone directly benefits the Koch Brothers, the major underwriter of Republican campaigns throughout the country.

These organizations invariably claim these energy industries create jobs, but they do so only on a small scale.  Coal employs less than one percent of the Kentucky and West Virginia labor force.  It would make much more sense to invest more heavily in solar, wind and geothermal energy, but there isn't yet a big enough lobby in Congress promoting sustainable energy.  These lobby groups (for that is what they are) also promote tax cuts for the same big energy industries, supposedly to stimulate the economy, but the consumer sees little in the way of benefits.

No wonder voters are confused and frustrated.  You vote for a guy like Cory Gardner thinking he will be a fresh new voice in Congress, and he ends up being a younger version of the old cronies who have been dominating politics for decades.  Thirty years from now, a new generation of teabaggers will be trying to vote him out in the primaries.

It is very disappointing because we sit on the cusp of a new energy revolution and we see the old industries protecting their monopoly on the energy market through Congress.  Solar, wind and geothermal energy will open the floodgates for start-up companies that would truly create more jobs, but alas would threaten big oil and big coal's control of the market.

You can forget the candy coating, No Labels offers the same bitter pill, and I doubt will have any "national strategy agenda" to present next Fall.  They promote their stale ideas on Sirius XM, the same satellite radio company that brings you Howard Stern, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity.  No Labels just lends an air of "respectability" to this tired old banter under the false guise of "nonpartisanship."

Old man take a look at yourself

When I first saw the video for one of Neil Young's new songs, When I Watch You Sleeping, I thought that was Pegi peering through the glass at the studio session, as Neil sang with a full orchestra.  After all, he lovingly wrote of her many virtues in Waging Heavy Peace and how much she had inspired him the 40 years they had been together, especially her commitment to their son Ben, who was severely crippled from cerebral palsy.   The Bridge School grew out of this loving association.  Well, turns out Neil filed for divorce this past summer and has been palling around with Darryl Hannah, who was more likely that blonde woman peering in on the recording.

Croz was notably upset when he learned of this development, lashing out at his old friend, and throwing a proposed reunion of CSNY into disarray.  Neil had cancelled an appearance with his wife at Farm Aid, which had led many to wonder what was going on.  Graham Nash tried to be the diplomat, as Young was furious that David Crosby could speak out against him that way.  No word from Stephen Stills.

It does make you wonder about the honesty of Young's autobiography if he can end a marriage like that over Darryl Hannah. He had several relationships before meeting up with Pegi in the early 70s, notably Carrie Snodgrass.  He describes Pegi as a bartender in a small town in Northern California, where he bought a farm which the two reshaped into their ranch.  To read the book, Pegi was the light of his life, and Crosby thought there was something really special between them that would never break.

Throughout the book, Neil sounds like a man at peace with himself and the world after a long turbulent career in rock music dating back to his early collaborations with Stephen Stills in 1967 and eventually Crosby and Nash in the early 70's.  CSNY set the music world on fire with their album, So Far, and over the years have gotten back together several times.  Young recounts those days with fondness, particularly his time with Stephen Stills, who he viewed as a musical soulmate.

Neil has had a remarkable ability to split his interests in any number of ways.  When he tried to do something new in the early 80s, recording an album Trans, in which he says he was trying to envision how his son Ben saw the world around him, the record company sued him for music "uncharacteristic of Neil Young."  He also did a brief stint with the Shocking Pinks, a retro rock group that didn't please David Geffen either.  Neil would return to form, but he didn't want to be pressured into doing so, breaking with Geffen Records.  Through it all he never seemed to let go of two things, Pegi and Crazy Horse.

Well, who am I to say what drives Neil Young?  But, for a man who has put himself out front so many times you expect more from him, not only in his music but the way he presents himself as well.  Maybe this is just one of those bumps in the road and Neil was thinking of Pegi would he sang that beautiful lullaby.  I just think Neil has to take a look at himself like he did in this powerful song.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Bourbon with Beer Chaser

Apparently, the Bourbon Summit didn't go so well, or maybe this will come later, after both sides have had a chance to calm down a little.  I like a good Bourbon as much as the next guy, but it is hard for me to see anything coming out of these meetings.  Nothing good came from Obama's Beer Summit back in the Summer of 2009.

Being a good sport, Obama tried to keep to issues that both sides could agree on, notably emergency funding to combat Ebola and appropriations for the ongoing war against the "Islamic State," but now that the election is over I don't think these will be high priorities on the Republican agenda.  They got the mileage they wanted out of these issues during the campaign, expect to hear little more about the "great plague" or ISIS warriors slithering in through our porous borders.

I'm not sure what "jobs bill" Boehner is promoting, other than yet another effort to push the Keystone XL pipeline through Congress, which would benefit the Koch Brothers, who underwrote the Republican "perfect shit storm."  They've been after this approval since 2010 when the Republicans retook the House.  They've long promised us "jobs" out of this multi-billion project, but it is nothing more than an environmentally disastrous way to bring Canadian crude oil to the refineries of Texas.  You can buy a lot of oil tank trucks for that price, but of course Obama is being blamed for the increase in cost due to his delays.

Throughout the campaign, we heard little in the way of concrete ideas from the Republicans.  They have little to point to that actually worked.  Austerity measures in states like Kansas, Wisconsin, Michigan and Florida didn't result in the great economic booms these state governors were imagining.  What did help was the infusion of federal money via the Stimulus Bill, which none of them liked to talk about.  Even still, these states continue to struggle, while others, which took a more pro-active approach to the economy, have succeeded.  New oil discoveries and fracking have also boosted state economies like North Dakota and Oklahoma, but then so too has the rise of solar and wind electricity generating plants in states like California and Nevada.

Unfortunately, the Republicans tend to be very one-dimensional when it comes to economic stimulus ideas.  They still work from the badly dated Reagan playbook that was a resounding failure in Kansas these past four years.  The GOP doesn't seem to realize that the economy is constantly evolving and needs new ideas to keep it moving into the future.  Not that the Democrats have been particularly enlightening in this regard, but if you look at the business sector the fresh ideas are coming from the more liberal-minded left, not the conservative-minded right, which still seems to think that tax cuts are the answer for everything.

Obama tried to soften things at the end of the luncheon with his White House Ale, but I don't think that is going to win over the new Republican-led Congress.  Basically, they are going to try to pressure him into decisions he doesn't want to make, now that they believe they have the "voice" of the people on their side.  Stand tall, Barry!  Don't let these guys push you around the next two years.