Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Obamacare: Here to Stay


This reminds me of an uncomfortable political situation that existed nearly eighty years ago. In 1935, just prior to Franklin Roosevelt's Social Security Act (or whatever the hell it was called) being signed into law, the conservatives in this country - within congress and without - went positively apoplectic, warning the populace that such an evil, communistic program would surely be the ruination of this grand and glorious land of ours. It didn't quite work out that way. In fact, eight decades later the ideological descendants of the naysayers of that bygone era would have us believe that they invented Social Security. One of the reasons they dare not come out against it publicly is that to do so would be a form of political suicide. After all, it has turned out to be very popular. The only thing the right wing can do these days is to try to "improve" Social Security - like when George W. Bush attempted to have it put into the hands of privately owned corporations.

Three decades after that, when Lyndon Johnson brought us Medicare and Medicaid, once again the conservatives went ballistic. Ronald Reagan, at that time a washed-up "B" movie actor, even went as far as to record an entire long playing record (on RCA Victor!) warning his fellow countrymen and women on the danger "socialized medicine" posed for the land of the free. He closed out the LP by telling us:

"We are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children, what it once was like in America when men were free."


If you ever get a chance to listen to it, by all means do. It's right up there with The Sick Humor of Lenny Bruce for the title of "funniest record ever made".

Nearly a half century after Medicare and Medicaid came into existence, very few on the extremes of our national dialogue would dare to come out against it - at least not out in the open. We know that they would do anything humanly possible to turn back the clock to the way things were prior the moment that that "crippled bastard FDR ruined this country". Political realities being what they are, they have no other choice but to live with things the way they are. That's life.

Which brings me to the Affordable Care Act. The term "Obamacare" was initially their term of derision. They knew damned well that if it ever became a reality regular working people like us would like it a whole lot - and that's what is happening. As the latest count there are seven million folks who have signed on. If that number gets any bigger (and it's going to get a lot bigger) the plutocracy's handmaidens will be hard pressed to find an excuse to do away with it.

They're gonna try, though. 

Their dilemma is this: How can they do away with Affordable Care without incurring the wrath of the millions of voters who are already benefiting from it? How will they be able to give it the ol' heave-ho without being blamed for it? How the hell will they be able to blame the desired destruction of Obamacare on the liberals?

How indeed. This is indeed a tricky one; I don't envy them their predicament, that's for sure! Maybe they can place the blame on Ted Kennedy. That ploy used to work untold wonders in bygone days. You are missed, Teddy - and not just by us.

In a letter to his brother written in October of 1953, a month before he was elected to the presidency, Dwight Eisenhower wrote that any political party that attempted to do away with the social safety nets put in place to make life a little more bearable for the American people would soon disappear forever.

Now you see them. Soon you won't

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY 

SUGGESTED READING:

Eisenhower: Soldier and President
by Stephen E. Ambrose

My only problem with this book is that biographer Ambrose's obvious hero worship of his subject. At times he gives Ike the benefit of the doubt where no benefit is is deserved. He can be forgiven these transgressions. Eisenhower, with all his flaws, was undoubtedly a great and good man. His foreign policy sucked at times - but hey - who's perfect? It should be remembered that, domestically anyway, he was one of our best post-war presidents. My opinion is that he was the last Republican in the White House of any worth. This condensed version of an earlier, two-part bio is quite readable and enjoyable. 

Monday, April 07, 2014

A System Rigged


The decision is called: "McCutcheon vs. Federal Elections". In the pantheon of horrible judgements handed down by the highest court in the land, this one surely will be right up there with "Dred Scott", "Plessy v Ferguson" and, more recently, "Citizens United". There used to be a limit on how much corrupting cash a person-of-means could dish out to all of the candidates running within a two-year election cycle. That's not the case any longer. Your "democracy" (if you still insist on calling it one) was stuffed last week still further into the ideological shit-hole.

The system has also been stuffed even deeper in the seemingly bottomless pockets of the plutocrats. No one bothering to pay attention was surprised by the results. The Reagan/Bush/Bush appointees made it clear where their hearts are. The corruption of the American political process means not a thing to these assholes. The non-existent "plague" of voter fraud is a different story. Any judgement that will keep the traditional progressive constituency from having their voice counted needs to be "remedied". America just ain't as white as it once was - and it's getting non-whiter by the hour. Rich people tend to be very white indeed, and they have this unsettling habit of filling the coffers of candidates who aren't happy with the prospect of sharing America's treasure. Have you ever noticed that? 

What we have here is a blind panic on the part of the kind of people who have run this nation since its founding. They don't want to let go of the power and they're going to jaw-dropping lengths to retain it. If the result is a dictatorship of the oligarchs all the better. The boom in the construction of private prisons should give every one of you a nasty clue as to where this is all heading. In the years to come a lot of us will find ourselves living in those places. It only stands to reason. As the poverty rate increases, so, too, does the number of crimes committed by people desperate to get by. Our "representatives" whose only role these days is to act as the handmaidens to the uber rich, will be bribed into passing more-and-more punitive laws to ensure that those prisons are packed to the fucking rafters forever. Don't you see where this is going?

This is the same Supreme Court that last year gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Gotta keep them darkies in line, you know? One wonders how Clarence Thomas is able to get a wink of sleep on any given night.

The good news twofold:

First, unless some kind of coup is planned between now and January 20, 2016, the next president (and he or she won't be a Republican - count on it) is sure to appoint judges to that court who are at least relatively moderate in their judicial temperament. 

Secondly, some of the older, more conservative members of that body are looking a bit worst for the wear these days. Having recently had my own brush with death, I'm not in the position to wish anyone (not even Antonin Scalia) an appointment with the grim reaper. I'm just being realistic. As George Harrison once chimed, "All things must pass. All things must pass away."

As was said a long time ago by an obscure Republican:

"....that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Now doesn't that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside?

"A new birth of freedom". We're decades overdue, don'cha think? It's coming. Once again - and very soon - we will "gaze upon the chimes of freedom flashing".  

Cha! Cha! Cha!

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY 

SUGGESTED LISTENING:

In A Lucid Moment
by Michael Holmes

Bing Crosby is the greatest singer who ever walked this earth. Michael Holmes is a close second. I never knew der Bingle. Mike has been a friend of mine for over twenty years. For a long time his friends (myself included) have been bugging him to record an album. I'm happy to report that he has finally capitulated. He is not only a great singer/songwriter; his guitar work leaves this aspiring guitarist envious and in shame. Here is a link to order his CD off of amazon.com:

 In a Lucid Moment by Michael Holmes 

It's a beautiful thing to experience in all moments - lucid or otherwise.

SUGGESTED READING:

Death of a President
by William Manchester

This book, detailing the weekend of President Kennedy's assassination fifty years ago, was on my father's shelf from the time it was published in 1967. After he died twenty-five years ago it was one of the three-or-four volumes I scarfed for my own collection. Inexcusably, I only got around to reading the damned thing this week. I couldn't put it down - a mesmerizing read if ever there was one. Although long out of print, it was such a massive best-seller in its day  obtaining a copy shouldn't prove too difficult or expensive. Highly recommended.

Incredibly, although written at her instigation, Jacqueline Kennedy tried to sue the publisher, Harper and Row, to prevent the book's release. Heaven knows the reason for this. Of the hundreds of books written on this grimy topic it is the most tasteful and, I imagine, the most historically accurate.

Monday, March 31, 2014

When John E. Comes Marching Home


The two King Georges
One can only imagine the torment that John E. "Jeb" Bush feels deep down in the recesses of his soul. His father's reign as chief executive was not a term that historians will be drinking toasts to a century from now. The fact that he was defeated for reelection by an obscure governor - from Arkansas of all places - illustrates better than anything what a dud the poor old bastard was. But if dear old Dad was a blight on the legacy of the Bush dynasty, his dim-witted older brother's presidency pretty much sealed the family's place in history. Dubya is in serious competition with James Buchanan for the title of the most incompetent chief-executive in the annals of human mediocrity. Is it any wonder that Jeb should feel compelled to try and tidy-up the "brand" so to speak?

I'm of a mixed opinion regarding the possibility of a third member of that disgusting family entering the White House for the third time in less than thirty years. My biggest fear is this undeniable fact: recent history shows that whenever any of these assholes come anywhere near the Oval Office, a lot of innocent people with brown skin start to die. Look it up. When the Founding Fathers developed the office of the American presidency two-and-a-quarter centuries ago, they each had differing notions of what was required to lead a nation that they all agreed would be the world's beacon for freedom and democracy. It's a fairly safe bet that not one of them would have put a tendency toward extreme, sociopathic behavior on their list. I have no tangible evidence to back up this little theory of mine. Call it an educated guess.  

And then there are the working people of America. Going all the way back to Grandpa Prescott eighty years ago, this Klueless, Klutzy Klan have never had much of a soft spot for the poor and middle classes of this country. I don't think (as a lot of my fellow lefties believe) that race has a hell of a lot to do with it - if anything. The simple truth is that the Bushes only care about money - and people with lots 'n' lots of it. They have demonstrated this countless times for generations. They still believe, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, that the economy will be just fine 'n' dandy if America's tax burden is shouldered by the people who can least afford to do the shouldering. They still want us to believe  that if we only allow America's treasure to trickle down upon us, we will be led into the Candyland of our most twisted fantasies. Has that peculiar economic theory worked at all in thirty years? Well, yeah - but only of you understand that "trickle down" is merely a quaint little euphemism for getting pissed on. In that sense it has worked brilliantly. 

But I have my own, very sinister reasons for being interested in the specter of a third Bush uprising. True, my feelings in this regard are quite ambivalent; I love America and only want to see it prosper and thrive - and yet I can't help but come to terms with the sick reality that the possibility of Jeb Bush in the White House would be a boon to people like me who make their names commenting on the utter destruction of this nation's social and economic infrastructure. For those of us who blog, a third Bush White House would be the equivalent of a stocking loaded with candy canes - with every day being Christmas. 

Me 'n' Dubya, 10/27/08
I know what you're thinking - and I agree. It's beyond despicable to even fantasize about something as horrible as President Jeb Bush in order to live out one's demented, journalistic fantasies. For those eight, excruciating years that his brother was president, as awful a thing as that administration was to watch, it sure as hell was loads of fun to write about! In the final weeks of 2008, as his reign of terror and error was coming to a merciful end, I publicly fantasized that I would miss George W. Bush - and that's exactly what happened (in an odd and demented sort of way). Within months of his exit from that national spotlight I found myself pining for that warped syntax of his. Life was never again the same for me. This is not meant to imply that Barack Obama hasn't provided plenty of ammunition - he has. The main difference between the two men is that when the current president says something outrageously funny, that's usually his intent. 

If Jeb Bush ever does call the White House Home (and for the record I don't think that's EVER gonna happen) the incidents of unintentional humor won't be as overflowing as they were during his brother's two terms, but I know that he won't be boring - in the same appalling way that Dubya was never boring.  When crazy, unenlightened people wield the ultimate, lethal power it it has this funny way of keeping me on my toes, you know where I'm coming from?

Who knows what the hell will happen between now and Election Day 2016. It's going to be oodles of fun watching Jeb stomp around the country during the GOP primaries - with one foot on a banana peel and the other in his mouth - saying the kind of moronic things that appeal to "the base" of the Republican Party, and then watching him try to ease his way back toward the center during the general election - assuming he get's the nomination. 2016 is going to be a scream. 

Such interesting times: I know not whether to giggle or weep.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

SUGGESTED READING:

House of Bush - House of Saud
by Craig Unger

A riveting and disturbing chronicle of the Bush family's corrupt and destructive relationship with the Saudi royal family. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Seizing the Wealth

LENNON!!!

"You say you wanna a revolution?"
Well, you know,
We all wanna change the world."

John Lennon, 1968

As was the case eighty years ago, one of the the solutions to the economic quagmire we currently find ourselves wallowing in will be a massive redistribution of the wealth of the world - not just the USA - but the entire planet earth. Now there's something to look forward to, ay? The tired  old,worn-out placebo of "trickle down" economics isn't fooling anyone anymore - or at the very least - enough people have become hip to the scam. John Steinbeck once said something to to the effect that a middle class conservative was some poor bastard living under the hopeless illusion that he or she would one day be a member of the ruling class. There used to be a lot of plutocratic wannabes living in that dreamland. They're becoming as rare as Betamax videotapes. More-and-more people these days just want to get by, be comfortable, give their kids a decent education, and retire in moderate comfort. That's not really a helluva lot to expect when you think about it; in fact, it used to be the norm in this country. It will be again.

Am I waging class warfare here? You bet your ass I am. And I ain't taking no prisoners, baby!

The Frankster
Think about it: For the better part of forty years we had a succession of Liberal presidents and a series of predominantly liberal congresses (it ebbed and flowed) and the result was the greatest economy in the history of humanity. Since the early eighties, when this country took a hard turn rightward, the economic security that generations took for granted blew up in our clueless faces. KABOOM!!!

This is not a coincidence, kids. 

I've never been the kind of guy to speak for anyone but myself - and I really hate to be the barer of nasty tidings - but like the old song says, "something's gotta give". The current economic reality we live under is unsustainable. For over thirty years, which class has been doing all the giving? There will be a brief pause while you ponder that question.

QUE THE MUSIC FROM JEOPARDY:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Wi8Fv0AJA4

For those of you who got it right, you win a four year supply of Rice-a-Roni - The San Fransisco Treat.

You can dismiss what I say as the insane ramblings of an unhinged lefty (I get that every day) but the truth of the matter is that I'm a fairly moderate guy. It's only by the standards of these weird times that anyone like me can be viewed some kind of radical. You know you're living in the weirdest of alternate realities when a weak-kneed panderer to the status quo like Barack Obama is perceived by so many as a wild-eyed socialist. It really is funny when you think about it. Why don't I hear you laughing?

Here's some further commie diatribe for your entertainment pleasure: Back in the good old days, people like the Koch brothers paid a whopping ninety percent of their income in taxes. Those days are coming back. The survival of this country depends on nothing less. It's either that or die. There's nothing I love more first thing in the morning than confronting these stark realities. They really wake me up. Hi ho.

And while we're on the subject of "waking up"....

Uncle Bobby once said that a hard rain was gonna fall. It's falling now. Wake the fuck up.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

REQUIRED VIEWING:

Capitalism: A Love Story
A film by Michael Moore

Watch it if you haven't already. It's a few years old so you can pick it up relatively inexpensively. It's worth your time.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Mr. Paul's Nasty Faux Pas


“We have got this tailspin of culture — in our inner cities in particular — of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work." 

So said Paul Ryan on Wednesday
`
“After reading the transcript of yesterday morning's interview, it is clear that I was inarticulate about the point I was trying to make [YA THINK???]....I was not implicating the culture of one community — but of society as a whole. We have allowed our society to isolate or quarantine the poor rather than integrate people in our communities.”

So said Paul Ryan on Thursday

Janis
Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan made those idiotic comments regarding inner-city KNEE-GROW men on Bill Bennett's radio program. Mr. Ryan is not a racist according to his admirers. The proof they offer is the fact that he dated a black gal when he was in high school. This is the same rational that some conservatives use to prove that Mr. Bennett if the hippest of hipsters because he escorted Janis Joplin to her senior prom when Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House. My brother once dated a gal who went on to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. This proves nothing - as he would be the first to admit I'm sure.
`
The strangest thing about these far-right-wingers is that, even when they're talking in front of an open microphone for the benefit of untold millions of listeners - not to mention cyberspace beyond - they oft-times seem to be under the impression that they're speaking from within the confines of a soundproof bubble where only the very dumb are able to infiltrate. The possibilities of the consequences of their words coming back to haunt them seems not to temper their insanity. This is not a rare occurrence. In fact this is something that happens several times a week with these assholes. And consider the fact that Ryan is considered by many to be the intellectual pillar of the Republican party. Isn't that a scream?

There goes Degan playing the race card again!

I don't claim to know what lies deep within the souls of Paul Ryan and Bill Bennett. It would be reckless and unwise for me to accuse either man of being a racist. But here is something I can state beyond any shadow of a malnourished doubt: They aren't particularly crazy about the idea of black people voting. Both of them are on the record supporting those unconstitutional "Voter ID" laws, the sole purpose of which is to deny the traditional progressive constituency (READ: ALL THOSE NASTY BROWN-SKINNED PEOPLE) the right cast their precious ballots. I just needed to clear that up.

But regardless of what lies deep within the hearts of our friends on the loony right, their intentions are pretty obvious. Like Ronnie Reagan's shameful references to "welfare queens" and "strapping young bucks" during that long-ago campaign of 1980, they shamelessly attempt to tap into the very worst instinct of the American psyche. They're so completely void of rational ideas they have no other choice but to reach deep down into their demented, ideological bag-of-tricks for some smoke and mirrors. Let's face the ugly facts, shall we? From the beginning of this republic, race has been a killer issue; the one thing that has always been able to drive even seemingly rational white people stark raving bonkers. In fact, so apoplectic do some of us get with regard to this topic, it's kinda fun to watch at times! Have you ever seen some unrepentant Dixiecrat have a stroke? I highly recommend it sometime. Seriously.

LOOK OUT! They're comin' to git'cha! They're gonna steal yer jobs 'n' take yer money 'n' marry yer daughters! Ya give them KNEE-GROWS an inch 'n' the bastards'll take a freakin' mile! SOMEONE FETCH ME MAH AMMO BOX!!!

But back to reality.... 

Georgie Boy
Race propaganda has always worked beautifully in the past. The problem for the propagandists is simply that it won't be working all-too-well for them for much longer. Within the lifetime of most of you reading this, we white folks won't be in the majority any longer. Those aren't the words of some smart-Alec lefty (as some of you may surmise). That is simply a statement of the cold, hard truth. The white plutocracy knows this and they're beside themselves to do something - ANYTHING, HEAVEN ABOVE! - to stem the sociological tide. But they can't! That's what they cannot see or refuse to admit. To even attempt to stop this unstoppable force would be as futile and silly (and dangerous) as attempting to keep the sun from setting this evening. Why are they getting so bent out of shape over the inevitable? Why not just lie back, groove with the changes, and let nature take its course? What the hell is the matter with these knuckleheads? Any ideas?

Paul Ryan won't be going anywhere anytime soon. His district has been gerrymandered firmly into place thanks to the Republicans' tampering with the electoral process in states they control legislatively. That suits my purposes just fine. I plan on being around a while as well.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

SUGGESTED READING:

That Old-Time Dog Whistle
by Paul Krugman

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/03/17/opinion/krugman-that-old-time-whistle.html?_r=0&referrer

Mr. Paul nailed it in this morning's New York Times. He's good at that sort of thing, you know?

SUGGESTED LISTENING:

Angel Eyes 
by Frank Sinatra

Pardon me but I got to run
The facts uncommonly clear
I got to find who's now the number one
And why my angel eyes ain't here

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0HoodY9pXg

Excuse me while I disappear....


Frank on the mountaintop
This recording is from Only the Lonely (1958), arguably his finest LP. I know enough about Frank Sinatra the man to say that I probably would not have liked him personally had fate ever conspired to bring us together - but I can't say enough about Frank Sinatra  the artist.

Sometimes I get in such a mood. I was feeling that way last night. I usually get in that condition after the sun goes down. Yesterday evening my blues were particularly acute. I used to self-mediate with booze. I no longer have that option. On these lonely nights Frank is my drug.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Fixing the Unfixable


Frank Gaffe-ney
The dirty little secret is out: Grover Norquist, one of the architects of the modern-day conservative movement, is an undercover agent for the Muslim Brotherhood. This is according to Frank Gaffney, columnist for the Washington Times and founder of the ultra-right think tank, Center for Security Policy. Norquist, you may recall, is the rabid, anti-taxation advocate, early disciple of Ronald Reagan, and the man who once infamously proclaimed that his dream was to shrink the government down to a size where it could be "drowned in a bathtub". This little tirade on Frank's part was just one of the hundreds of delightful clashes with the real world emanating out of this weeks annual CPAC conference. I know what you're thinking and I agree wholeheartedly: It rarely, if ever, gets much nuttier than that. My life is quite amusing. It really is.

A DISCLAIMER:

As I've written on this site too many times to count, I am not a cheerleader for the Democrats. I finally rid myself of that worthless party sixteen years ago - and my life has been much happier because of this, thank you very much. This is a party so spineless and impotent that one wonders if Lyndon Johnson and Jack Kennedy would even recognize it today. Of course not all is lost; there is still some hope - molecular though it may be: People like Sherrod Brown and Elijah Cummings remind me that there is still some fight left in the old donkey. And Elizabeth Warren??? No woman since Audrey Hepburn can make me as week in the knees as she. I adore her.

Liz Warren
The problem with the modern day Democratic party (and it's a HUGE one) for every Liz Warren there are at least ten-or-more Chuck Schumers. Any political party with a tired old fuddy duddy like Harry Reid as their leader is in dire need some serious therapy.  

But while there is plenty of reason to despair as far as the Dems are concerned, there are still reasons for optimism. The Republicans, on the other hand, are beyond redemption. On Inauguration Day 2017, one Democratic administration will succeed another one for the first time since 1857. That is not as bold a prediction as it appears. Just take a good look at their "front runners" for the 2016 nomination. 

The Rand Man
About the sanest thing the GOP is able to regurgitate these days is Rand Paul, the man who at last years CPAC hoot chastised his fellow conservatives for not being right wing enough. That should give you a bit of an idea how bad things have gotten for them. If you think that the 2012 primary contests were a riot of mirth and merriment, hold on to your funny bones. 2016 is going to be a scream!I don't take any amount of pleasure in telling you this....Aw, hell, who am I kidding? I'm lovin' every minute of this. Watching this despicable party disintegrate before my very eyes makes me feel like a little boy on Christmas morning. I never dreamed that my luck could get this good. If this is a dream I don't want to awaken from it. I don't get many days as lovely as this. Please don't rain on my parade. 

Last year I congratulated Chris Christie for not being invited to the 2013 CPAC conferences. The fact that he was not acceptable to these clowns could only help him with Americans wit IQ's above above room temperature. That was then; this is now. The New Jersey governor now finds himself mired in corruption and legal investigations. All of the sudden he had become a hero to the crazies who plan these things. In twelve short months he's gone from persona non grata to Man of the Hour. Life can be so mysterious, you know?

Whatever you do, try not to take your eyes off this clown show. When any political organization abandons all pretenses at moderation it only spells certain doom. In the 1960s the Nixon gang courted the racists. From 1980 onward the Reagan people invited into the tent the clinically insane. That is how they arrived at their present, pathetic condition. The Republicans are light years beyond the point where they can even make a a half-hearted attempt to "moderate" themselves. To do so would only invite an ideological chasm that would doom it forever. And to think that this was once the place that Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt called "home". Strange days indeed.

The day of the politics of old white guys with beer bellies and bad breath is coming to a merciful end. Deal with it as best you can.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

SUGGESTED READING:

My report of last year's CPAC spectacle:

It still hasn't gotten weird enough for me.

SUGGESTED LISTENING:

Democracy is Coming to the USA
by Leonard Cohan

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VEDSRP3yNPo

Get the fuck out of the way. 

"It's coming to America first
The cradle of the best and the worst...."

`
I LOVE IT!

"Sail on! Sail on! Sail on!"

Friday, February 28, 2014

Jordan Davis Gets His

Jordan Davis 1995-2012
`
Jordan Davis would have - should have - turned nineteen last week. The only thing he celebrates these days is fifteen months under six feet of dirt. Whoopee. A man nearly three decades his senior stands convicted of firing the shots that ended his young life. The jury in Jacksonville, Florida convicted him on four of the five counts filed against him. The only thing they couldn't agree on was whether or not it was first degree murder.

Only in the American South. 

Michael Dunn
I'm not going to lose much sleep over this one. Michael Dunn, the man accused of murdering Jordan in cold blood on November 23, 2012, will be spending the next sixty years in prison - regardless of whether-or-not he is convicted in a retrial on the first degree rap. The fact that he is now in his late forties guarantees him a life sentence. Whatever happens, I won't be wasting too much time and energy bitching and wailing about the outcome of this sad case. My personal life has been nothing short of torrential these last two months and I need to be focusing my energy and concentration elsewhere at the moment. It's just that there are a couple of things I need to take note of here - my personal distractions aside. 

Michael Dunn and I have at least one, fairly substantial common denominator: We both don't care much for rap music. With the exception of the late Biggie Smalls (AKA: Notorious B.I.G.) most of the rap music I've heard is shit. When discussing the genre I'm sometimes mortified to catch myself sounding like someone's grandfather ("YOU CALL THAT MUSIC???") I'm going to come out on record now: I think rap music sucks. It's a cultural thing to be sure. There is nothing in my experience that causes me to relate to it in any way. Call it the downside of being raised a upper middle class white boy. 

That being said, it never even occurred to me to take out another human being misguided enough to enjoy the stuff. I'm sorry but homicide just isn't my schtick. I'm kinda funny that way, you know?

Mr. Dunn was parked next to Jordan Davis and his pals at a convenience store. He was offended at the volume of the rap music ("thug music" he called it) emanating from the stereo system in the vehicle in which Jordan and his pals were chilling. He asked them (or told them) to turn the music down. They refused. Dunn claims Davis reached for a shotgun - although not one of the eyewitnesses (including Dunn's own fiance) ever saw one and none was ever recovered. He fired several shots into the car. Three bullets entered Jordan Davis' seventeen-year-old body. He was killed almost instantly. 

Throughout his trial Mr. Dunn has projected the contented demeanor of a man quite pleased with himself. This is definitely not a guy with the habit of looking inward. What was it that Socrates said about the unexamined life?

One more thing for the record: I dislike modern country music as much as rap. With very few exceptions (Willie Nelson comes to mind - God bless the old guy) nothing about it strikes me as very original. Like rap, it's merely audible shit to my ears. Hank Williams and Johnny Cash are gone and they're not coming back I'm sorry to say.

Here's what bugs me:

Suppose - just suppose - that the shoe had been on the other foot. Let's say that Jordan Davis had been offended by the sound of Achy Breaky Heart cranking at maximum volume from Michael Dunn's car stereo. What if the scenario had transpired in reverse? What if Jordan Davis killed Michael Dunn in the exact same situation? Do you believe - for a half second - that any Florida jury would have hesitated in finding Jordan guilty of murder in the first degree? The kid would be rotting on Death Row at this very moment. Let's stop kidding ourselves, folks. 

The moral of today's story is short and not-too-sweet:

Fellow Caucasians, there are two sets of rules way down south - one for them and one for us. My message to any young, black male planning on visiting the Sunshine State is as simple as can be: Watch yer step, boy! Stay the hell up north if you know what's good for you. The racial situation is a little better here....I think.

In Florida Michael Dunn took his stand; he "stood his ground". The result was another broken black body, scarcely past childhood. What is called for here is a worldwide tourism boycott of what must be the most overrated peninsula on the planet earth.

Can I get a witness?

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

SUGGESTED LISTENING:

The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
by Bob Dylan

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8C16SpTNbKY

Listen as Uncle Bobby lays it out in chapter and verse.

Mr. Benny
AFTERTHOUGHT:

For those of you who have been kind enough to inquire about my health after my recent illness, I have good news and bad news for you....

The good news is that I'm as a fiddle.

The bad news is that it's Jack Benny's fiddle.

Seriously, though, I'm doing better than the law (and karma) should allow. Thank you so much for all your well wishes and kind thoughts!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

February 9, 1964


And in the end
The love you take
Is equal to the love you make

The Beatles
from Abbey Road, 1969

"They look like Moe from the Three Stooges!"

Tommy Degan, age five
9 February 1964

That was my initial assessment of the most magical phenomenon in the history of popular music. And yet, in spite of my initial befuddlement regarding hair longer than I had ever seen on any man, within less than a minute of the five-beat count-down into All My Loving, I was hooked on the Beatles. That night, for reasons I cannot remember, my brother Pete and I slept on a mattress that was laid out on the floor of older brother Jack's room. Possibly the bedroom we usually slept in down the hall was undergoing renovations. I distinctly remember drifting off to sleep with those incredible harmonies echoing through my mind. They've been echoing ever since. After a half century of constant exposure to the sweet sounds of John, Paul, George and Ringo, I have been diagnosed with diabeatles.

Looking back on the unison harrumphs of the establishment's music and cultural critics, it's astonishing in hindsight to realize how wrong every one of them got it. The Beatles couldn't sing, we were warned; they were lousy musicians; third-rate songwriters - and they just looked ridiculous in those silly, "pudding basin" haircuts. In a year no one would even remember their names, we were pompously assured. These rock 'n' roll ruffians from England were a bad joke. To his dying day, Walter Cronkite, then CBS's most visible broadcast journalist, would laugh at the memory of how he was able to get his two infatuated daughters backstage passes to meet the lads from Liverpool after their performance that night on the Sullivan program. While all this was going on, he was across the street at Lindy's having a drink. "The biggest entertainment story of the century right under my nose and I missed it!", he later said.

These guys were no mere "flash in the pan". The Beatles - two of whose members are long dead - were the best-selling recording artists of the first decade of the twentieth-century. Think about that. Quality is still marketable - five decades be damned.

It was the children who understood. It's always the children who are the first to catch on to anything as magical as the Beatles. Ours was a troubled generation - and the Fab Four - landing on these shores less than three months after the assassination of a beloved president, seemed a gift from Heaven. They not only had the whole world singing a joyous, electronic madrigal, these four, frustrated comedians made us laugh tears of joy. To those of us who suffered traumatic and unhappy childhoods, there was (and still is) a psychic bond with this band that cannot be easily explained. We learned early on that they, too, had had troubled upbringings. This was only one of the ways that made it so easy to identify with them on a gut level. They were indeed a bit like you and me. 

I long ago gave up trying to figure out their sociological significance; I only know that they that they were the best little pop group that ever rocked this world. That's all that matters

Fifty years later we wait in  vain for the music to show signs cultural senility. I'm happy to tell you that the Beatles still matter. I know personally too many young people to count, some born a quarter century after the band ceased to be, for whom the music is a continual presence in the soundtracks of their lives; another happy reminder that talent and substance will defy the passage of many years. The Beatles are the silly and joyful ghosts who refuse to fade into that unknowable, mysterious void. 

John, 1964
For a decade after they went their separate ways in 1970, in a break-up that was marked by its bitterness and rancor, there was always the hope, strengthened with each passing year, that they would one day get back to where they once belonged. That hope was forever extinguished on the night of December 8, 1980, when John Lennon was taken from our midst in an act of cold-blooded murder. Twenty-one years later George Harrison died. The Beatles have been cast out to the ages, forever consigned to memory. Perhaps that is as it should be. Unlike the Rolling Stones, they left us wanting more.

All you need is love. I've always believed it. I'll pass into eternity believing it.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

SUGGESTED READING: 

Four years ago, my brother, Pete, and our old pal, Kevin Swanwick, took a tour of the Abbey Road studios in London, England. Read all about it:

A splendid time was guaranteed for all - and the nice folks over at Abbey Road delivered. It was one of those mountaintop moments that just stays with you, you know?

AFTERTHOUGHT:

I meant to write this piece on February 9th, the actual anniversary of the Beatles' Ed Sullivan appearance. Unfortunately on that day I was stricken with a near-fatal illness while I was attending - of all things - the Annual Festival for the Beatles at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City. Ironies: Life is just littered with them. Have you ever noticed that?

SUGGESTED VIEWING/LISTENING:

There's nothing you can know that isn't known
Nothing you can see that isn't show
There's nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be
It's easy!
All you need is love....
The Beatles on the mountaintop.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

POST #528: Random Observations


That Old Gang of Mine
`
The following demented collage of reckless musings have no rhyme or reason - just a series of random observations from a guy with WAY  too much time on his hands. I'll get a real job soon, cross my heart.

1. The Demented Duck

I don't know the name of the nitwit who writes the Mallard Fillmore strip, but I've been reading it with no small amount of amusement for many years. Last week's series was indeed  eye-opening. This fool was taking note of the fiftieth anniversary of President Johnson's War on Poverty. He was gloating over the fact that it has failed - and it cannot be denied that it has indeed failed. What he conveniently failed to mention was that - for many years - we were on the road to winning that war. Then, in 1980, something incredible happened: The American people foolishly came to the mass conclusion that sending a feeble-minded, failed "B" movie actor to the White House would be a really neat idea. The result was tax cuts for a class of people who already had more money than they could possibly spend in three lifetimes. We are now experiencing an income gap not seen since the Gilded Age. Go back to sleep, Mallard.

2. Electoral Freebasing

As they never tire of reminding us, two years is a lifetime in politics. That may be the case, but it's hard not to imagine Rand Paul as the GOP nominee in 2016. Something that weird would be the final nail in the coffin of a party hellbent on suicide. There are no more moderates. They've all been driven away by the mindless extremism of a relatively small group of people who have lost their marbles. Between now and then we can expect an exodus of voters disassociating themselves from the Republicans. This is too good to be true. 

3. Sid Caesar 1922-2014

Sid
I was sitting in front of the computer yesterday when Josh Mills announced on his Facebook page that that Sid Caesar had died. Josh's mom was Edie Adams, widow of the great Ernie Kovacs. She starred with Sid in the 1963 movie, It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World - probably the only epic comedy ever filmed. I know I should be (and I am) thankful that, despite some very significant odds, he managed to live a long and fruitful life. It's just that a world without Sid Caesar is going to take some getting adjusted to. I'm working on it.

I remember my father telling me that, back in the Fabulous Fifties, your Saturday night did not begin until his program, Your Show of Shows, was over. Dear old Dad was just wild about Sid. So was I. And when one considers the writers he had on that program: Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Larry Gelbart - to name merely a handful - is extraordinary in itself. More-than-one of these guys have said that the words they wrote for him never looked so funny in the printed script. It was only when Sid performed the material that the magic would happen.
 

He was the last of the great comedians of the twentieth century. They're all gone now - all of them. And the tragedy is that too many people born after his heyday have no idea who he was. Even my generation, now in our mid-fifties, remember him primarily as the coach in the film, Grease. Pity. If you're unaware of the phenomenon that was Sid Caesar, I suggest you look him up on YouTube. The guy was a brilliant.

And to think that he would leave this world on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Dad's passing. Life may be funny, but the Great Beyond is even funnier tonight.


4. MEMO TO THE CHRISTIE 2016 CAMPAIGN:

It's over. Strike the tents; pack up the bus; pay the piper, and lock the doors. The fat lady has sung. The cows have come home. Any chance the Man from Jersey had to be the 2016 standard-bearer (and it was never a good one) has been obliterated by the reckless stupidity of his staff - and possibly even the governor himself. Like the old song says: "The party's over. It's all over, my friends." 

5. Desperately Missing Teddy


The Lion of the Senate sleeps tonight. He's gone and he's not coming back. It's almost five years now since Ted Kennedy shuffled off this mortal coil. That the United States Senate is a drearier place without him is beyond argument. Thank God for people like Sherrod Brown and Elizabeth Warren. But for those two I would have tossed to the wind all hope for the Democratic party years ago. Harry Reid is a very nice man, but he is no leader; in fact, he's an embarrassment. Don't hold your breath waiting for the Dems to wake up and remember that theirs is (or was) "the party of Franklin Delano Roosevelt". Teddy Kennedy stood for something. I miss him terribly.
`
Tom Degan
Goshen, NY 

REQUIRED VIEWING:

Here is Sid Caesar on the mountaintop - doing what Sid Caesar did better than anyone:
 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNbT9Lf9xZo


I envy anyone who was fortunate enough to have lived in that time.

AUTHOR'S NOTE:

A. The photograph at the top of this piece is was taken a couple of years ago with with three cherished friends from Goshen High School's Class of 1977. They are (left-to-right): Debbie Dewitt, Lori Baldwin Kuroski, Yours Truly, and Patricia Mueller Seaman.

B. I apologize for the two week lag between the last posting and this one. I recently required a hospital stay following a little brush with death. They're always oodles of fun. I can't even remember the last time I was hospitalized. Eisenhower was president. I'm fine now, I promise.

Friday, January 31, 2014

A Century of Charlie Chaplin


"Soldiers!!! Don't give yourselves to these brutes - men who despise you - enslave you - who regiment your lives - tell you what to do - what to think and what to feel! Who drill you - diet you - treat you like cattle and use you as cannon fodder! Don't give yourselves to these unnatural men - machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! With the love of humanity in your hearts! Don't hate! Only the unloved hate - the unloved and the unnatural!"

Charles Spencer Chaplin
Concluding speech of The Great Dictator 

Charlie Chaplin was one of the the bravest man who ever lived. That speech, more than anything else I can think of, was my political awakening. Think about it: The greatest speech in all recorded human history was not made by a politician. It was not made by a king. It was not made by a queen. It was not made by a prince or a princess. It was not made by a preacher. It was not made by a businessman or woman. It was not made by an old soldier or a young one. It was not made by a billionaire. It was not made by a potentate. It was not made by a senator or a congressman. It was not made by a president....

The greatest speech in all recorded human history was made by a little tramp. Go figure.

In January of 1914 - one-hundred years ago this month - an obscure, twenty-four-year-old English music hall comedian named Charles Chaplin walked through the entrance of the Keystone Film Company in Eden, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. He had been offered one-hundred-and-fifty dollars a week by producer Mack Sennett to have a go at the infant movie industry. By year's end he would be one of the most famous men on the planet.

With Eric Campbell in "The Rink"
My discovery of Charlie Chaplin can be traced to Christmas Day 1968. At a get-together at the home of a Notre Dame classmate of my father's, a bunch of us kids were getting ice-skating lessons on a small pond that adjoined the house. When it became apparent that I utterly lacked any aptitude for the ice, I wondered inside and spied a small television set on a bookshelf. When I turned it on, by accident or destiny, the channel was set to public television - Channel Thirteen. On the screen a little man was wrecking havoc on a pair of skates - this time of the roller variety. What I was watching was a short from 1916 called "The Rink". That was all I needed to see, I've been hooked ever since. 

There wasn't much substance to film comedy prior to the moment Charlie Chaplin entered the international consciousness one-hundred years ago. He proved that it could be viewed as great art - something to be taken seriously by audiences and critics alike. By 1917 he (and his Little Tramp) had evolved from the fast-paced, knockabout mayhem of his early Keystone films, to a more subtle and sympathetic character. The tramp by this time was funnier than he had ever been, but there was a passion and soul that had not revealed itself in his earliest films. Each of the twelve films he made for the Mutual Film Corporation in the years 1916-1917 are the cinematic equivalent of precious gems; twelve mini-masterpieces. 

Toward the end of the silent era, while the quantity declined, the quality of his films was nearly universally agreed upon. All these decades later serious film critics are still in agreement. Chaplin was an artist. One of the greatest of the twentieth century.


The Great Dictator (1940)
The political persecution of Charles Chaplin began in 1940 when he released the bravest film ever made. "The Great Dictator" depicted the story of two very different people (both played by Chaplin) who could be (but are not) identical twins: A timid little Jewish barber and Adenoid Hinkle, the dictator of a fictional country called Ptomainia. The film was a satirical attack on Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime. Toward the movie's end, the two men are mistaken for one another and the little barber is taken to speak at a massive rally that the dictator had called for on the eve of the invasion of an entire continent. The speech he gives, which is really Chaplin's plea to the world for peace and understanding, still resonates across the decades:

"Let us fight for a new world - a decent world that will give men a chance to work - that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfill that promise. They never will! Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people."

On trial, 1942
This was Communistic stuff - at least according to the jackasses on the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). The official forces of darkness went after Charlie in a way that reminds one of the persecution of another comedian, Lenny Bruce, a generation later. Chaplin's FBI file is encyclopedic. Although Al Capone was never a priority for J. Edgar Hoover, Charlie Chaplin was somehow seen as a threat to the peace and security of the free world. Although he was not a Communist, his views on matters social, economic and racial were decidedly left-of-center. In other words, this was a man decades ahead of his time.

No part of his private life was off-limits. When a blood test ordered for a paternity suit proved that he could not be the father of the child he was accused of siring, he was ordered to pay for her maintenance until she reached adulthood nonetheless. On another occasion he was prosecuted for a violation of the "Mann Act". His crime was the fact that he took a grown woman across state lines for the purpose of sex. As Walter Matthau said of the incident many years later, "It was that kind of time in America." 

His 1947 film, Monsieur Verdoux, only added to his problems. Henri Verdoux is a former employee of a bank whose job has been eliminated by a faceless bureaucracy. In order to care for his crippled wife and son, he goes into the "business". of marrying rich widows and murdering them for their money. At the film's conclusion, Verdoux is to be executed for murder. As he offers his final words, Chaplin the humanist emerges from behind the mask of Henri Verdoux:

Monsieur Verdoux
"However remiss the prosecutor has been in complimenting me, he at least admits that I have brains. Thank you, Monsieur, I have; and for thirty-five years I used them honestly. After that, nobody wanted them. So I was forced to go into business for myself. As for being a mass-killer? Does not the world encourage it? Is it not building weapons of destruction for the sole purpose of mass killing? Has it not blown unsuspecting women and little children to pieces? And done it very scientifically! Ha! As a mass-killer, I'm an amateur by comparison." 

I'll say it again: Charlie Chaplin was one of the bravest men who ever lived.

In September of 1952 he sailed with his family to England for the premiere of his film, "Limelight". While on board the ship he was informed by wire that he would not be allowed back into the Unites States. Said one nitwit on HUAC, he had yet to prove his "moral worth". Charlie Chaplin became an exile.

Charlie and wife Oona, 1972
Twenty years later, in April of 1972, Chaplin was invited back to the states to receive a Lifetime Achievement Oscar. Before traveling to Hollywood for the reward ceremonies, there was a gala celebration for him at Lincoln Center in New York City. My brother Pete and I were there for it. We saw Charles Spencer Chaplin in the flesh - and up close - making eye contact with him and even getting a kiss blown at us for good measure. Forty-two years later and that night is as clear as yesterday. It was one of those mountaintop moments that doesn't go away very easily, you know? "Moral worth" indeed.

I always associate Charlie Chaplin with Christmas Day. It was on Christmas Day 1968 that I discovered him. Nine years later, on Christmas Day 1977, it was a bittersweet thing to hear that he had passed away - peacefully and with his family by his side.

In addition to being the centennial of his screen debut, April 16 of this year will also mark the one-hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary of his birth. The legacy he leaves us should be treasured and celebrated. We're indeed lucky that he came our way. He's not coming back.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

SUGGESTED READING:

My Autobiography
by Charles Chaplin

The best show business memoirs ever written. Future scholarship on the man's life would reveal that this book was very accurate and not as self-serving as most autobiographies. A great read - in fact I just might read it again now.

SUGGESTED VIEWING:

The final scene from The Great Dictator (1940)
`
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6FMNFvKEy4c

In my opinion, the greatest speech of all time. Charles Spencer Chaplin on the mountaintop - at the conclusion of The Great Dictator.