Sunday Silliness: Bad Romance – On The Rocks

I’m just about old enough to be yelling at clouds and telling those darn kids to get off my lawn. You know. The age when you start thinking all the good music was written thirty years ago.

Of course I know better. There’s good new music out there all the time. It’s just that the vast majority of it flies under the radar and comes from acts you’ll never hear on the radio unless you listen to obscure college stations or are into communities where people will recommend stuff to you based on what they know you already like.

So given that I don’t listen to commercial radio these days and my perceptions of what I think I’m going to like are based on attitudes acquired through decades of listening to music,  I’m always pleasantly surprised when I find something I didn’t think I would like and I’m wrong. I’m not into hip-hop or rap, and most of it leaves me cold or rushing for the channel knob, but some of Eminem’s stuff is surprisingly good. I really got into his Mosh video for the 2004 elections, for instance.

Or take Lady Gaga. How can a guy like me connect musically with a 24-year-old who has a persona that requires a name like Lady Gaga? Well . . . I’m still not a big Lady Gaga fan, although I approved of her choice of escort for the VMAs. But based on the clip below, I think I could be a fan of her songs.

Or at least one of her songs, the way it’s done by On The Rocks, an a capella group from the University of Oregon:

These guys are good. I’m still not crazy about all of the lyrics, but let’s face it, some of the stuff from the Sixties was just about as provocative in its way. And the harmonies and showmanship are first-rate and underscore the fact that this is a well-built song. I can see why she’s popular.

Just don’t expect me to be moving my Lawrence Welk LPs over in the rack to make room for her stuff.

Posted in Songs | 1 Comment

Sometimes It Sucks Being Right

I got into a conversation with a friend at the beginning of the year. I told him we as a country were in trouble (“screwed” might have been the word I used) thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. I predicted that because of this decision there was nothing stopping foreign companies, or even governments, from throwing money around to influence American elections.

My friend called my argument simplistic and naive.

I told him he was in denial if he thought those who were given this newly-found superpower would exercise restraint in using it.

Damn, but sometimes it sucks being right.

Karl Rove’s American Crossroads group has pledged to spend $50 million this year to influence the election. I’m sure Mr. Rove and Ed Gillespie, the former chairman of the RNC, enriched themselves handsomely during the Bush years, but I doubt they did it to the tune of $50 million. Indeed, we know of three billionaires who helped to contribute to that sum. The rest of their donors? Citizens United says American Crossroads doesn’t have to disclose their donor list.

The national Chamber of Commerce has been busy as well. They are pouring $75 million into the coffers of candidates who they deem to be business-friendly. Like American Crossroads, the Chamber of Commerce’s funding method is mostly opaque. We know the money is coming in, but we don’t know from where or whom. Unlike American Crossroads, however, we know that the Chamber of Commerce actively solicits donations overseas.

According to the Chamber, they have an internal process set up to keep the money collected overseas from money collected in the US, but they will not disclose what that process is. The money for their political activities comes out of their General Fund; it appears the money they solicit from foreign interests goes into that fund as well. This seems like a cook telling us that half of the soup he’s cooking does not have salt in it, so if you’re on a low-sodium diet you can trust him, he has a process to keep salt out of that half of the soup.

The only way I know of to keep the salt out of half of the soup is to never put it in the soup in the first place. If you want both salted and salt-free soup, you keep the salt-free part separate from the salted part. The same would on the face of it be true for donations to the Chamber of Commerce’s General Fund. Unless there are two different funds, who is to say whether their foreign contributions are influencing American elections? All we have to go on is the Chamber’s word. I’d rather it could be independently verified. As the man said, “Trust everyone, but cut the cards.”

My friend also pointed out that unions and other organizations were also freed by Citizens United to spend unlimited amounts of money to advocate for candidates. That is technically true, but I don’t know of a union that can match the political clout of a determined pack of billionaires. Not the Teamsters, not the SEIU and not the AFL-CIO, much less any of its members.

No more proof needs to be offered that American politics needs to be separated from money. But like most other ideas in politics, this isn’t as easy as it sounds. For one thing, those with the money are sure to inform the legislators who would need to vote such a provision into law that it’s in their best interest to vote against any kind of restraint on campaigning, For another, how would you implement such a provision? If I were running for Congress as a Socialist, what hurdles would I need to clear to qualify for public campaign financing?

I don’t know the answer. I can only hope the voters of America can see through the attempts being made to buy their vote and do something about it before it’s too late and we begin to see congressmen from Boeing, Monsanto and HSBC instead of Oregon, Texas and Pennsylvania.

Posted in Current Events, Socialism | 1 Comment

Try It, You Just Might Like It

My granddaughter loves Marc Brown’s series of stories about Arthur the Aardvark and his family. One of her favorites is called “D.W. The Picky Eater” in which for most of the book Arthur’s little sister D.W. refuses to eat most of what’s put in front of her, especially if it looks anything like spinach — right up until she goes to Grandma’s birthday party at the restaurant and she finds out the delicious dish she wants the recipe for is a spinach pot pie.

We are probably all guilty of something like this at one time or another. We decide based on perceptions, or the opinions of others, or no good reason that we don’t like something, only to find out that we were wrong. The plain-looking girl that no guy in your group would consider dating turns out to know more about cars than you do. The book everybody pans is actually a rollicking good read once you get into the covers. Call it the “Green Eggs And Ham Effect” if you will.

A couple of weeks ago a blogger named Grant Lawrence produced a piece called “A Socialist Explains Socialism — Warning You May Like It.” He quotes an emeritus professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Richard D. Wolff, at length, ending with this summation of Dr. Wolff’s position:

So socialism here in America would mean that the government would actually represent the people of this country and would try to make sure that the people could prosper in health and safety.

That doesn’t sound evil to me. In fact it sounds like a pretty good deal. A lot of Americans might go for something like that.

That premise is reinforced by a study done in 2005. Over five thousand Americans from 47 states representing all political leanings and income levels were surveyed. The methodology was slightly different, using pie charts instead of actual questions, but the two main questions of the survey boiled down to:

How much of America’s wealth do you think the wealthiest 20% of Americans controls?

How much of America’s wealth do you think the wealthiest 20% of Americans should control?

Answer those two questions for yourself, and then continue reading.

The results may surprise you. On average, respondents thought the wealthiest 20% of Americans controlled 50% of the country’s wealth. The real number is closer to 84%. They thought the upper crust should control about 32% of the wealth. This number is quite close to the way income is distributed in Sweden, which has a reputation for being one of the most socialistic countries in Europe.

The authors of the study don’t try to draw any conclusions about what, if anything, should be done to address the income disparity. They did note, though, that the study’s repsondents didn’t indicate a preference for a classless society with no income disparity. They seemed to be fine with 20% of the people controlling more than 20% of the wealth. And that’s fine. But just think of what the people of this country could do if the wealth were spread just a little more evenly.

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And It’s About Time, Too

Let me set this up with a story:

I was doing a gig in Chicago, and I was just putting my guitar away when this little short guy walks up to me. He says, “Arlo, I’d like to sing you a song I wrote.” I said, “No, man. I don’t want to hear no songs. I don’t even like songs. I don’t even like my songs.” I was just tired and grumpy.

But he persisted, so I said, “Tell you what. You buy me a beer, and while I’m drinkin’ that beer, you can do whatever you want.”

“That sounds like a good deal.”

“It does!?”

That beer was undoubtedly one of the best uses ever of Arlo Guthrie’s time. The song, “City Of New Orleans,” was Arlo’s biggest commercial success.

The dollar or so it cost to buy that beer was also undoubtedly the best investment Steve Goodman ever made. Not only did Steve and Arlo become life-long friends, the songwriting royalties allowed Goodman the independence to pursue a career as a full-time songwriter and performer. He paid his debt forward, mentoring musicians like John Prine. When Henry “Homer” Haynes died, Goodman adopted Haynes’ partner in crime, Ken “Jethro” Burns, bringing Burns out from behind the facade of corn-field humor Homer and Jethro had built over several decades and introducing the world to one of the best jazz mandolinists ever. (Burns and Haynes had done some critically regarded jazz work with Chet Atkins; Goodman just brought Burns to a wider audience.)

Steve GoodmanGoodman had already made a name for himself in Chicago before “City Of New Orleans” hit the national airwaves. His song “Lincoln Park Pirates” was credited with shutting down a notorious and corrupt towing operation, and he was a fixture at New Years’ parties at The Earl Of Old Town folk club. “City Of New Orleans” just helped to acquaint the rest of the world with the guy who called himself “Chicago Shorty.”

He also called himself “Cool Hand Leuk.” At age 21 he was diagnosed with leukemia, which he battled for fifteen years. He always handled the disease with good humor, making the most of whatever opportunities came his way.

Wherever Goodman went and whatever he did, Chicago was home. He was a lifelong fan of the Chicago Cubs, and he satirized his own eventual demise with a song called “The Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request” in which he calls for a double-header funeral at Wrigley Field. The Cubs’ general manager called the song “depressing,” and Goodman reacted by writing “Go, Cubs, Go!” which is still a staple at Wrigley. I was personally disappointed when I found the rumor that Goodman had had his ashed buried under home plate at Wrigley to be untrue; however, he apparently did have at least some of them scattered there.

I bring this up because this news comes from that promoter of all things Chicago, Roger Ebert: If it hasn’t happened already, a post office building in Chicago will soon officially be named for Goodman. The bill approving the name change passed through Congress and was signed by another famous Chicagoan about six weeks ago. Once the plaque making the change official arrives, some of Goodman’s friends from Chicago’s Old Town folk scene, including John Prine, will hold a concert to mark the occasion.

And the best part of the whole story?

The Post Office building named for Goodman is the one that serves Wrigley Field.

Edit: Since I needed to correct the name of “The Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request” anyway, I cleaned up a couple of little things and added a picture of Goodman.

Posted in Current Events, Songs | 1 Comment

What A Real Pledge To America Would Look Like

Well, the Republicans’ Pledge To America is out, and to almost no one’s surprise it looks a lot like what they’ve been doing for the last two years. I had a draft of a point-by-point analysis ready last night, but really, what’s the point of that? The Republicans’ Pledge To America can be summed up with a few simple phrases:

  • We pledge to continue to obstruct anything the President and Democrats do or say, even if it’s something we proposed or said only last week.
  • We pledge to cut taxes for the rich and exploit the poor and middle class.
  • We pledge to piss on your back and then tell you we’re the only ones who can keep you dry.
  • We pledge more security theater instead of more actual security.
  • We pledge to kill or at least privatize Social Security and Medicare.
  • We pledge to make America one nation under God. Our God. Sorry about yours.
  • We pledge to become a subpoena mill, burying the legitimate functions of government in time-wasting bureaucratic minutia.

I didn’t actually see those last two bullet points in the document, but the Republicans have vowed to do exactly those things. I’m sure you can add to this list.

That isn’t really a pledge to America. It’s yesterday’s leftovers, without even gravy or cranberry sauce to make them palatable. A real pledge to America would look something like this:

  • We pledge to create two million jobs in the next two years, through direct government action if necessary.
  • We pledge not only to retain Social Security and Medicare, but to strengthen and expand them.
  • We pledge to ensure that every American has access to safe food, clean air, and clean water.
  • We pledge to reduce our national carbon footprint by 5% over the next two years.
  • We pledge to fight domestic terrorism.
  • We pledge to fully fund our armed forces and to keep the promises we made to our men and women in uniform after they have fulfilled their service obligations.
  • We pledge to invest in the national infrastructure, including high-speed rail, a smart, clean energy grid, and broadband internet access to every home in America.
  • We pledge to protect and enhance our national parks, forests, waterways, grasslands, monuments and other public areas.
  • And finally, we pledge that if we do not at least make an honest effort to do these things in the next two years, we will step aside and let someone else take our place.
Posted in Current Events, Socialism | 1 Comment

Infiltration And Subversion

In the late 50s and early 60s conservative Republicans were unhappy with the direction their party was headed. Dwight Eisenhower was a popular President, but he could hardly be called highly conservative. The platform of the 1956 Republican National Convention reads like it could have been written by Democrats. Eisenhower warned about the “military-industrial complex” gaining power in the country — in fact, he coined the word.

Conservative activists within the Republican Party were looking toward figures like Barry Goldwater to move their party in the direction they wanted. So, they decided to do something about it. They started talking to friends who felt the same way, both locally and around the country. They organized. They planned.

And they went to precinct committee meetings. Many of these committees had become moribund over the years the Republicans were out of power in Congress. It wasn’t hard to get active in local precincts and get themselves elected to committee positions.

Once they were in position, they started attending district and county committee meetings where, in concert with other activists from around the district and county who were doing the same thing, they again managed to get control of the committees that sent delegates to the state conventions. From there the process continued at the state level, with these conservative activists gaining access to the National Committee and the process of nominating their candidates to state and Federal offices.

Goldwater and Nixon notwithstanding, the first big test for these conservative activists was in 1976. Gerald Ford was President and had gained both the majority of the popular vote in the Republican primaries being held around the country and the number of delegates, but he still didn’t have a majority of delegates. Former governor of California Ronald Reagan was seen as having a shot at winning the nomination, and both candidates worked hard in the runup to that year’s Republican National Convention to woo uncommitted delegates. Even after the convention started in Kansas City, it wasn’t clear who was going to win.

Reagan had already chosen his running mate if he were to be nominated, and wanted Ford to do the same. Ford didn’t want to, so Reagan’s staff proposed a rules change for the convention requiring potential nominees to choose their running mates before the vote was taken. This move was seen as a proxy fight for the nomination; whichever side won the vote was likely to win the nomination. Ford won out in the end, barely edging out Reagan, and was nominated for re-election.

The conservative activists got what most of what they wanted, though. They had shown that they had some clout and were poised to strike. It helped that Reagan gave a stirring speech praising Ford, winning many delegates over. (Some even reportedly wondered after the speech if they had voted for the wrong nominee.) Ford of course lost to Carter in the general election, who in turn lost to Reagan, who gain the nomination in 1980, thanks in no small part to those conservative activists.

So. Why am I taking this walk down memory lane?

I have often gotten into it with people who insist that if progressives or socialists are to get their voices heard and ultimately to win, they have to form a third party. I do not agree with this. No third party since the Republicans got their man elected President in 1860 has made much of an impact on American politics. Oh sure, parties like Theodore Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party or George Wallace’s American Independent Party carried a few states in their presidential elections, and occasionally a third party will have some small influence on one or the other of the two major parties, but for the most part third parties in this country are non-entities. About the only effect a third party has had on presidential elections since 1968 was the debatable claim that Ralph Nader’s Green Party bid for President robbed Al Gore of votes in 2000, thereby helping to throw the election to George Bush. In 2008 the total of all third-party votes cast in the presidential election came to less than 1.5% of the total.

The deck is stacked against any kind of third party candidacy. The two major parties like it that way, of course. In order to make a third party candidacy viable that third party would have to convince a substantial number of Americans that they were worth voting for. I put that number at about 30% of the electorate. That’s just a scientific wild-assed guess, but if that 30% came equally from support of both major parties, it would give them a chance at winning. Polls are showing the Tea Party gaining that much of a favorable rating among Americans, but the Tea Party movement is benefiting from a great deal of media hype and voter frustration (not to mention behind-the-scenes support from people with lots of money), not all of those 30% will vote for any particular Tea Party candidate, and in any case the Tea Party isn’t an actual political party.

In the absence of media hype or voter frustration sufficient to turn the voters against both political parties, a third party would have to have charismatic, electable candidates, and it would need money. Lots of money. Nothing gets done in politics in the United States without bucketloads of cash. The candidates would be the easy part. Raising the money? Not so much.

This is why I advocate that progressives, socialists and others who genuinely feel that moving the country to the left is necessary to move America forward need to get involved with their local parties. They need to find like-minded individuals all through their precincts, districts, counties, states and country to move into positions of power within the Democratic Party, where they are in a position to influence elections. Once inside the party they will have access to infrastructure, volunteers and money they wouldn’t get as a breakaway party. These are all important in winning elections.

Would I like to see a viable Democratic Socialist party apart from the Democrats? Of course, but I am also a pragmatist. If there’s an easy way and a hard way to accomplish the same goals, why take the hard way? That’s not to say that the easy way is going to be easy. It took the conservative wing of the Republican Party about 20 years to elect Reagan and another 20 to elect George W. Bush. But we know it can be done, because it’s been done before.

Posted in Current Events, Socialism | 1 Comment

Sunday Silliness: Talk Like A Pirate Day

Avast, maties, belay yer everyday routine, ’tis Talk Like A Pirate Day!

I had a big long post ready to go this morning, but chuck it, this only comes around once a year. I mean yarrrrrr. So here is my friend Tom Smith with the official song of the day. Yo-ho!

Posted in Humor, Songs | 1 Comment