Friday, April 30, 2010

You Can't Drink The Kool-Aid If The Well's Run Dry

Conservatives are beginning to recognize that their intellectual well has run dry. Says one:
Every intellectual movement needs to constantly question itself; otherwise it becomes stale. But conservatives have sort of reached a position of intellectual closure. They don’t think there are any new ideas of particular interest to them. Their philosophy is fully formed. The only question is how best to implement conservative ideas in the political debate.
Maybe this is the case and maybe it isn't; I'm not privy to the internal conservative debate, nor do I care to be. But I can say this much: At one time, there was broad agreement across the mainstream political spectrum about the problems facing the country. There may have been disagreement about priorities and obstacles, but the debate was about the means to address the issues.

But starting with the Bush I campaign masterminded by Lee Atwater and continued by Newt Gingrich, Republicans began making matters personal. They impugned the integrity, patriotism, and motives of millions of Americans, polarizing the country in the interests of seizing and keeping power. The right-wing media joined in and created an amen chorus of tender voices such as Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly. Conservatives deliberately courted the anti-intellectual element in the country so far as to make a virtue of ignorance. So, they shouldn't complain that the teabaggers they welcomed into the house have become the face of conservatism.

Moreover, the consensus about the issues facing the country has disappeared. Although the new health care law adopts historically Republican principles, the party has moved so far to the right as to deny the existence of a health care crisis at all. Similarly with climate change, Republicans call it a hoax (why anyone would make a hoax out of climate has never been explained) and offer no conservative solution at all. Banking crisis? What banking crisis? We don't even want to talk about it.

And even when they admit to a problem, doing nothing about it remains the Republican preference. Between the cooperation required between two branches of government and between both houses of a bicameral legislature, competing committees claiming oversight, and a mountain of arcane procedures, it's incredibly difficult for the United States government to pass major legislation. (Health care took 75 years, when you get right down to it). Both parties are masters of delay, and Republicans have flogged and demeaned government for thirty years, ever since Ronald Reagan famously declared it to be the problem and not the solution. Moreover, Republicans have championed the slowness of the process as a civic good, since it prevents the federal government from passing laws willy-nilly.

So it's especially galling when the same week that he refused to introduce climate change legislation because Harry Reid wanted to take up immigration reform first, Republican Lindsay Graham sanctimoniously pronounced the Arizona immigration bill as bad law that reflects "what good people will do" when they have no other choice. He added that immigration reform is "impossible" until the border is "secure" (whatever that means). But would Graham support raising taxes to recruit additional Border Patrol agents and take other security measures? I think we know what the answer to that is.

Immigration reform vexes Republicans because there's really no approach other than one negotiated by the federal government. But the paucity of ideas among conservatives has become so pronounced that all they can do is the blame government inaction and then refuse to take any steps. No wonder the Democrats will move forward on their own. They had to on health care, and had to threaten to financial reform. Why should this be any different? It's not like the Republicans have any ideas of their own...

The New Orleans Ladder is performing a banner job providing links to stories, web sites, and blogs about the  unfolding free-market environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico. From what I've read, the Gulf Coast may have to prepare itself for the possibility that the leak cannot be capped and that the ensuing disaster will be greater than the Valdez spill into Prince William Sound. While British Petroleum operated the blown rig, it's beginning to look to as if the most culpable party may be Halliburton. You may have to go back to the British East India Company to identify a single corporation that has had a more malign influence on the world...

Between predatory bankers, rapacious Wall Street traders, the mine disaster in West Virginia, and the oil spill in the Gulf, you'd think that people have had a belly full of an unregulated free market. We'll see...

Thirty Days Out has a complete 1977 concert by the great NOLA funk group The Meters here...

Timothy Noah asks, if the Republicans are riding so high, how come they're running so scared?...

Seattle Seahawk great Walter Jones retired today. The Seahawks retired his number immediately. Beloved in Seattle, Jones will go down in NFL history as one of the great left tackles ever. A quiet, proud man who let his play speak for him, Jones' teammates loved him and rarely missed a chance to tell the world what a great player he was. Mike Holmgren, whose charges included Steve Young and Brett Favre, said that Big Walt was the best offensive player he had coached. A couple years ago at a Seahawks game, I handed my son a pair of binoculars and suggested that he watch #71 in action. "It's like he's not even trying!" And this was a compliment, believe me. Walter Jones, who started 180 consecutive games and surrendered a little over one sack per season, was that dominant.




William Bell sings "You Don't Miss Your Water" with help from Marvell Thomas on piano:

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Heart of Power: Stirrings

The Heart of Power: Health and Politics in the Oval Office. David Blumenthal and James A. Morone. University of California Press (420pp).
When Franklin Roosevelt became president in March, 1933, he led a nation that was, as he later said, one-third "ill-housed, ill-housed, ill-nourished." He might well have added ill-cared for, as the nation's health infrastructure was skeletal to say the least. Nascent efforts at health insurance had begun four years earlier with the first Blue Cross organizations, public hospitals were few and often segregated, and widespread treatment of illness via pharmaceutics remained well into the future. Indeed, so little was known about the treatment of serious illness that Roosevelt himself had devised rehabilitation for his polio based on the natural hydrotherapy of Warm Springs, Georgia.

It was against this backdrop that members of Roosevelt's early New Deal made the first serious proposals for national health insurance, and it's here that The Heart of Power: Health and Politics in the Oval Office, David Blumenthal's and James A. Morone's essential book about the politics and development of American health care policy, begins. Because of the scope and impact of an issue such as health care, the momentum to achieve reform must come from the Oval Office. Blumenthal and Morone cover the approaches of eleven administrations from Roosevelt to the second Bush with an unexpected twist: They examine the health history of each president for clues to his health policy.

In the course of their research, the pair uncovered a number of surprises. These include the extent of Lyndon Johnson's involvement in Medicare, which was much greater than previously thought, and the policy grasp and political skill brought by George W. Bush to the enactment of Medicare, Part D. Further, they demonstrate that while the Democratic party successfully kept the issue alive across several political generations, the Republicans eventually defined the terms of the debate so effectively that Barack Obama had little choice but to adopt what had once been the lynchpin of conservative thought about health care. That today's Republicans fought him so ferociously only proves the extent to which they moved the debate to the right, a process started by Ronald Reagan and consummated by George W. Bush.

Roosevelt inherited a nation on its knees. He came into office determined to use government as a vehicle for economic recovery, and he was visionary enough to seek ways of cementing economic security into place. The most lasting of these is, of course, Social Security, which he signed into law in 1935. Three times, members of his administration presented FDR with proposals to extend his legacy by way of universal health care, and three times he demurred. In 1934-35, Social Security and the many New Deal programs for economic recovery took priority: Roosevelt would not be the first president to determine that health care reform, while an important need, was not the most important.

His staff tried again in 1937, but by then Roosevelt's court packing plan had eroded his political standing. Moreover, the southern conservative Democrats who comprised a key part of the New Deal coalition sensed that universal health care meant integrated hospitals and objected to government-based program, as did the American Medical Association (AMA), which at the time was a powerful lobby. The AMA's cry of "socialized medicine" became a familiar refrain adopted by one opponent of health care reform after another.

During World War II, a shockingly high number of draft rejections on health grounds prompted administration health care experts to once again recommend health care reform, this time as matter of national security. Roosevelt included the "right to adequate medical care" as part of the economic bill of rights that formed the core of his 1944 reelection campaign, and a bill even made its way to Congress. But Roosevelt himself put his finger on the fundamental problem: "The only person who can explain this medical thing is myself," he said. And conducting World War II consumed all of the ailing president's energies. For a third time, Roosevelt passed.

In the end, circumstance and a lack of engagement with a complex issue conspired to prevent Franklin Roosevelt from pursuing health care reform. But the issue had been raised and raised persistently enough to gain a foothold in the Democratic party. And the failure of the New Dealers to persuade their own president to push seriously for health reform revealed a significant principle for future success: The absolute necessity of the president's prolonged and public commitment to the issue.

Harry Truman, FDR's successor, was an obscure Missouri politician who had been a compromise choice for vice-president. Though personally likable,  Truman seemed ill-prepared for the job of replacing the most iconic president since Abraham Lincoln, a man trusted and beloved by the American people. Most expected a caretaker presidency; Truman surprised the country by turning out to be a fiery liberal with a penchant for quick, intelligent assessment and willing decision-making. He  lead the country through the tumultuous post-war period with partisan fearlessness, developing a major presidency that, among many other things, exposed health care as a potent political issue.

Truman's passion for health care, for that's what it was, drew from his experience in the rough-and-tumble of Missouri politics. He saw a system that took care of the very wealthy and the very poor while leaving the middle class to its own devices. Moreover, he, too, had been shocked by the physical unreadiness of many men for military duty in a time of national crisis. Truman spoke to Congress of the idea of national health insurance immediately after the end of World War II, and became the centerpiece of his extraordinary 1948 campaign:
What did the Republicans do with my proposal for health insurance? You can guess that one. They did nothing. All they said was-- "Sorry, we can't do that. The medical lobby says it's un-American." And they listened to the medical lobbies in Congress.
I put it to you. Is it un-American to visit the sick, aid the affected, or comfort the dying? I thought that was simple Christianity. Does cancer care about political parties? Does infantile paralysis concern itself with income?
Never had a president spoken so passionately about health care; it resonated with voters, and helped return Truman to office in an election that no one other than Harry Truman thought he would win.

But once back in office, Truman never pushed seriously for national health insurance, and the reasons remain elusive. Certainly, any chance of serious reform disappeared in 1950 when the Democrats lost their Congressional majority for the first time since the Depression. Other events bedeviled the Truman Administration, including labor troubles at home and foreign policy crises in Greece, the Middle East, and Korea. Reorganizing the presidency itself, which the Depression and the war had transformed into a sprawling bureaucracy at the heart of American politics, proved difficult and time-consuming. And Truman was, by his own admission, often maladroit in public appearances, when championing this issue called for near perfection.

Harry Truman believed that the gravitational force of history created a progressive tide of events that would inevitably include health care insurance coverage for all Americans. He did not anticipate the direction from which it would come, but his passion on the stump cemented health care as a signature Democratic party issue, proved its political power, provoked the Republican opposition to developing an alternative, and ensured that health care reform would not disappear from the public consciousness....

Next: Part 2 (Momentum and Medicare)

Day of Reckoning: Demographic trends indicate that by 2050, whites will make up a plurality of less than half of American citizens, about 47% of the population. Moreover, whites will be older than other Americans, meaning that young minority workers will support aging whites with payroll taxes. I only wish that I could be here to see the s*** hit the fan...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Breaking News: Republicans Are Hypocrites

Few people have a better nose for hypocrisy than Rachel Maddow. Here, she points out the irony of Republicans excoriating the federal government for letting illegal immigration get out of hand while at the same time refusing to do anything about it:


John McCain's rhetoric blaming President Obama for failing to secure the border is, unsurprisingly, especially egregious. As McCain well knows, a Clinton-era crackdown on illegal immigration into southern California called Operation Gatekeeper diverted migrant traffic to Arizona. Rather than continue north, most stayed in the state, taking advantage of Arizona's strong economy and employer willingness to hire them at low wages. For 11 years through two presidential administrations, McCain kept his mouth shut until 2005 , when he co-sponsored (with the late Edward Kennedy) the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act, which never made it out of committee. The bill, which combined amnesty, guest worker, and border security programs, served as a template for similar bipartisan legislation attempts in 2006 and 2007, none of which succeeded after coming under pressure from all sides of the immigration debate. In other words, after 14 years of opportunity on this issue (longer, if you consider that McCain was first elected to the Senate in 1982), by his own standards McCain's record on this issue is one of silence and failure. And, yet, this is all the fault of Barack Obama, who in 1994 taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago.

Equally brazen are Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and notably execrable Saxby Chambliss (R-GA). McConnell says "I just don't think the time is right" for immigration reform. Well, Mitch, if not now, when? This wouldn't have anything to do with you wanting to be majority leader, would it? After all, immigration reform would help Harry Reid's tough reelection campaign in economically ravaged Nevada.

As for Saxby Chambliss' demurral that "we've" got a lot of work to do, work on what? All the Republicans do is vote no and filibuster. How hard can that be? Ah, the audacity of dopes...

You think Rachel was through? Are you kidding? Yesterday was a huge day for Republican hypocrisy as they piously emoted about the need for financial reform while filibustering debate on the issue. That's right: They want to parade their self-righteous indignation in front of cameras while unanimously refusing to discuss the matter on the Senate floor. The Democrats, though, sense public opinion on their side and plan to pressure the Republicans by forcing a vote every day. At last!...

Songs of innocence...

United States counties protected by levees (Thanks, Editilla)...

Jon Stewart explains the Arizona law so that even an spelling-challenged teabagger who thinks immigrants should larn American can understand it. Read on for the account of a white supremacist opening a youth club in Odessa, KS...

The law polls well, but that's because of the difficulty of devising a neutrally-state question about a hot button issue that is nonetheless complex. I wonder what the poll results would be were the question put like this:
Should a majority ethnic group pass an immigration law with serious fairness, constitutional, and economic implications purely out of frustration with a minority, 80% of whom reside legally in the affected area?

What do these numbers tell you?...

The most sensitive man in America?...

Utterly Hilarious Dept: Like...like...like a quitter...on the roof.

Lazyboy asks the hard question: If everyone grows up with self-esteem, who is going to dance in our strip clubs?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Best Lack All Conviction

It's been long apparent that John McCain has sacrificed every conviction he ever had on the altar of preserving his political skin. If that weren't already evident, his craven and pandering call for President Obama to militarize our southern border confirms the worst: The man who stood up to the brutal tortures of his North Vietnamese captors now runs like a rabbit from the teabaggers and the right-wing crank radio talk show host challenging him for the Senate seat McCain has held for 24 years. Said McCain at a Phoenix news conference:
If the president doesn’t like what the Arizona Legislature and governor may be doing, then I call on the president to immediately call for the dispatch of 3,000 National Guard troops to our border and mandate that 3,000 additional Border Patrol [officers] be sent to our border as well. And that way, then the state of Arizona will not have to enact legislation which they have to do because of the federal government’s failure to carry out its responsibilities, which is to secure the borders.
McCain, who at one time favored comprehensive immigration reform that included amnesty for illegal immigrants, did not note that National Troops are deployed at the discretion of state's governor; that Border Patrol arrests in the Tuscon and Yuma sectors exceed arrests in Texas, New Mexico, and California combined; that from 2002-2006 Border Patrol agents apprehended 1.8 million migrants crossing into Arizona; or that heightened security in California and Texas (Operations Gatekeeper and Hold the Line) diverted the immigrant traffic into Arizona.

Big John speaks loudly but wields a mighty small stick. For one thing, it's hard to see what he expects to accomplish by adding 6000 National Guardsmen and BP agents to the 3000 already in Arizona. The Arizona-Mexico border is 351 miles long. Even filling his request (which would require diverting agents from other border areas, leaving them more vulnerable to crossing) would place one soldier or agent every 205 feet, or two-thirds the length of a football field. It won't take LaDanian Tomlinson to run through that hole.

Not only that, experts argue that an immigration policy based only on security is counterproductive. Directed at the most heavily trafficked points of crossing, security crackdowns succeed in diverting immigrants to remote and dangerous areas. Not only does this result in more immigrant deaths (not that the people who enacted this law care about that), it encourages illegal immigrants to stay put once they are here and to bring their families over.

No matter what the teabaggers and vigilantes think, the United States is not about to round up 12,000,000 people and deport them. The affront to civil liberties and the cost in dollars is too immense to contemplate. Even if Big John and colleagues wanted to spend the money, their own fiscal policy has rendered that impossible.

The fundamental issue is one that any free marketeer can understand: The United States per capita income is $46,400; in Mexico, it's $13,500. Unless and until there's a more equal balance, people from the south will come to El Norte even for low wage jobs that Americans traditionally haven't wanted to do at any pay. Some of them will smuggle drugs along the way, and why not? The supply is there and the demand is here, it pays, and it's not like they're welcomed into this country with open arms. Moreover, we can't expect much help from Mexico because it is a desperately poor country that depends on the money sent back by the migrants.

Some claim that the employment issue has become more complicated. Says one BP agent:
It’s a flat-out lie that illegals are doing the jobs Americans won’t do. American companies are hiring skilled workers at low wages compared to US wages. We’re now catching welders, auto mechanics, heavy equipment operators, even nuclear power-plant workers. The strawberry pickers are a thing of the past. These people don’t live in wigwams. They have stuff, and want more stuff.
Which makes them different from Americans how?

According to the same article, over 8,000 American companies of all sizes have undocumented workers on payrolls. But if this is the case, doesn't it make more sense to go after the employers and not the workers?

One thing I am not is an expert on immigration matters. But I don't see an answer here as long as the income disparity exists. We can initiate an amnesty program for workers already here, but that does nothing to remove the incentive for others to cross the border. And they'll come for the same reason immigrants have always come to America: For the money and the opportunity.

We could try to build a fence, I suppose, but at what cost? A 2006 non-partisan study estimated a cost of $49 billion for 700 miles of fence (the entire border is 1,952 miles long) that would last for 25 years before needing replacement. Another study found that "the $49 billion does not include the expense of acquiring private land along hundreds of miles of border or the cost of labor if the job is done by private contractors -- both of which could drive the price billions of dollars higher." And the price hasn't gotten cheaper since 2006. Plus, a fence is unlikely to work: When you're talking about a 4:1 income disparity, people will figure out ways to go around, over, or through a fence to get on the 4 side. Anyway, do we really want to fence ourselves in? It seems like an expensive idea driven by paranoia and frustration and doomed to failure. Then where will we be?

We are in grave danger of a policy that will be expensive, fruitless, frustrating, and as futile as the War on Drugs. It's time to face facts: If the United States wants to significantly reduce illegal immigration, then it must recognize a national interest in Mexico raising its standard of living. How we go about assisting in that without provoking a political upheaval at home is another story.

If you want to take the long view, we're harvesting the fruits of Manifest Destiny and imperialism. The Mexican War, which was essentially a land grab, established an artificial political border that never took into account the indigenous populations. A young officer named Ulysses S. Grant served in the Mexican War and later wrote that it was "one of the most unjust ever waged on a weaker company by a stronger." Maybe it's true: As ye sow, so shall ye reap...

Nicholas Lemann analyzes the new discipline of terrorism studies. According to Lemann's readings of these books, everything works and nothing works: The same tactic that works in one locale can fail so dismally in another as to be counterproductive...

Robert Creamer writes optimistically that the Arizona of 2010 is the Alabama of 1963, meaning that the obvious injustice of the law will cause decent people to speak out. I wish I shared his optimism. In 1963, white America outside of the south tended to view Civil Rights as a southern problem; that America was never enthusiastic about addressing race issues in its own back yard. Maybe people will see the Arizona law as an outrage; I hope so. But I fear that too many whites will regard it as a necessary step to stemming a brown horde that they see as overrunning the country. As long as it doesn't raise the price of lettuce...

Robert Kuttner thinks it's a good thing that Obama has rejected a bipartisan approach to health care reform. Along with Paul Krugman, there is no better writer about economic policy than Kuttner...

Freddy Fender sings Ry Cooder's "Across the Borderline" (music starts about 1:20 in and includes an effective montage):


Bruce Springsteen's tender "Across the Border" is one the Boss's best songs:

Monday, April 26, 2010

Governor Jan Brewer Explains It All For You

Race-baiting Hispanics and Native Americans protest law designed to protect rapidly eroding Caucasian rights. It's a shame how serious, considered legislation to protect Arizonans from the encroaching brown horde can be misconstrued as a vehicle to instigate racial conflict...

Meanwhile, the reasoning behind Republican Governor Jan Brewer's carefully considered decision to sign the bill into law has emerged:
"She really felt that the majority of Arizonans fall on the side of, 'Let’s solve the problem and not worry about the Constitution.'"
But the right loves loves loves the Constitution, except, of course, when it inconveniences them. Governor Brewer has not explained why this law is the only means of resolving the immigration issue. It is more than past time for the MSM to point out the discrepancies (some might say hypocrisies) between the right's abstract reverence for the Constitution and their disregard of it when the rubber meets the road...

Andres Oppenheimer explains why the law is bad for Arizona and bad for the country:
  1. It won't work because of the income disparity between the United Stated and Latin America.
  2. It will discourage undocumented immigrants from reporting crimes.
  3. It will hurt Arizona's economy via costly costly lawsuits and the exodus of immigrants from the state.
  4. It courts a tourist backlash.
  5. It is "morally wrong and profoundly un-American."
The MSM reported faithfully and often the Republican whine about that the new health care law being a one-party measure, as if the Republicans had negotiated in good faith. I'd like to know how voting for the Arizona measure broke down across racial lines. There's plenty of reason to suspect that it's not a pretty picture, and yet I haven't read a single news story that discussed this, other than one saying that the Arizona Senate vote was largely along party lines. Not that it's conclusive, but no Republican member of the Arizona House or Senate has an Hispanic surname, and if the vote went along party lines...let's just say that if the Republicans could not attract a single Hispanic vote for a bill aimed at undocumented Hispanic workers, it ought to be newsworthy. Or maybe it just goes without saying...

Check out Democracy Central, an open forum for those who can think liberally...

Here's a good blog called My Life in the Quarter, a personal photo blog recording one person's daily life in the French Quarter...

Memories of the Katrina tour bus...

Imagine (thanks, Birdsonawire):
Imagine that hundreds of black protesters were to descend upon Washington DC and Northern Virginia, just a few miles from the Capitol and White House, armed with AK-47s, assorted handguns, and ammunition. And imagine that some of these protesters—the black protesters--spoke of the need for political revolution, and possibly even armed conflict in the event that laws they didn’t like were enforced by the government? Would these protesters--these black protesters with guns--be seen as brave defenders of the Second Amendment, or would they be viewed by most whites as a danger to the republic?

Texas Hill Country and the Willow City Loop...


Nest serendipity...

Wildflowers in the Texas Hill Country: The most beautiful time of the year in one of the most serene places on earth...

I got a feelin', something that I can't explain. Like dancing naked in that high Hill Country Rain:

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sunday Funnies and Arts


























As always, click to enlarge...

San Antonio's Battle of the Flowers parade. I wonder if employers there still give a half day off for this?...

Hate Pride: The Traditional Values Coalition wears the hate group label with pride. Apparently, an important traditional American value is to call homosexuals "sodomites" and "perverted" and to insinuate that President Obama supports the tragic events of 9/11. As is typical with this member of the Usual Gang of Idiots, the TVC obsesses over the so-called homosexual agenda and helpfully offers resources for those stricken with "unwanted same sex desires." TVC also asks the question foremost in all American minds, namely "Do you want men dressed as women teaching your kids?"...

The Art of the Poster: Cool Hand Luke...

JUST A SONG: Martha and the Vandellas go "Dancing in the Street." It doesn't matter what you wear just as long as you are there...

Leonard Pitts remembers Dorothy Height and Benjamin Hooks...

Spring is here and the time is right for partying in Lafayette. But when isn't the time right for partying in Lafayette?...

Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) has delayed the introduction of a bipartisan climate change bill because of what he calls a "cynical political ploy." It seems that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has determined to introduce immigration reform first, and Graham thinks that's because of Reid's difficult reelection campaign and a desire to put Republicans on the spot with Hispanic voters.

No doubt Graham is correct in assuming that a politician has made a political calculus in the determination of the legislative calendar. Call me stunned and shocked enough to become a teabagger. But a cynical ploy? A cynical political ploy is George Bush and Dick Cheney forcing a vote on the Iraq war before the 2002 fall elections instead of waiting for after. I don't recall Graham fulminating about that. And, if the Arizona anti-immigrant bill shows anything, it's that Graham's own constituency believes that immigration reform is a pressing matter. You're hoist on your own petard, Lindsay. Just because you're afraid of heights doesn't mean that a cynical political ploy put you up there...

Despite its awful name, there are 200,000 members of the Coffee Party. How come that's not news?...

Cat's claw vine...

Geogianne Nienaber at Huffington Post previews Lighthouse, Susan Cowsill's upcoming album (thanks again, Editilla!):
In many ways, Lighthouse is a concept album about Hurricane Katrina, the death and rebirth of New Orleans, Cowsill's personal triumph over childhood stardom, celebrity adulation found and lost, and most of all the death of her brother Barry in Katrina's floodwaters. But this is not a calculated compilation. The dramatic arc seems accidental and mirrors life in that manner. Life is uncertain. Embrace the pain and joy. Own it. It is all we have...

The silver pipes of Sam Cooke...

Yellow-headed blackbird...

The Kenyah head hunters of Borneo didn’t like to have more than 30 heads hanging in their homes at any one time...

Earth Day in Ballard Park...

Taking it personal...

Gone fishin' off the I-10 twin spans (thanks, Editilla!)...

The Soul Stirrers singing "I'm A Pilgrim":


Susan Cowsill singing her great Katrina lament, "Crescent City Snow":

Loving It To Death


Unlike many teabaggers, I don't walk around with a copy of the Constitution in my hip pocket. Nor do I claim any particular Constitutional expertise. But, I know what my values are and I know what kind of country I want to live in.

I believe that the law of the land defines a nation in which all are created and treated equally regardless of color, gender, or sexuality; in which political equality is assumed; where health care is a right and not a privilege; and in which economic equality as a way of life is something to be reached for and legislated if needs be.

I believe that "We the people" is not an idle phrase, and that the point of providing for a common defense, promoting the general welfare, and securing the blessings of liberty is to "form a more perfect union," which means that the states united enable a stronger, better way of life than they would as separate parts.

I believe that the Constitution allows "We the people" to form a national government that provides defense, promotes general welfare (which I interpret as intending everybody and not a fortunate few), and secures the blessings of liberty.

I believe that together our people -- no matter what different gods they worship (or not); what part of the country they live in; what color they are; whether they are rich, poor, or middle class; whether they are male or female, young or old -- are a "we," a one people who should look out for each other. I believe that the Constitution encourages this instead of making it more difficult.

I believe in a country that helps one provide for one's family, where you help out the other guy, and where you live and let live. I believe that this is not possible without a government to regulate the excesses of the free market and to guarantee Constitutional rights.

I believe that there is nothing radical or dangerous about my convictions. I don't believe that I have all the answers, and I mistrust anyone who thinks that he or she does.

I don't understand how anyone can love the Constitution and support laws that trample on one of its fundamental tenets: The presumption of innocence.

I don't understand how anyone can love the Constitution and support a practice that would violate the separation of powers and politicize the judicial branch.

I don't understand how anyone can revere the right to free speech and deride anyone who disagrees with their reading of the Constitution as an un-American socialist.

I don't understand how anyone can revere the Constitution while constantly seeking to amend it.

I don't understand how anyone who stands for individual rights can be part of a mob that disrupts public discourse.

I don't understand how anyone can say that they love the Constitution but care only about the Second and Tenth Amendments and their own personal freedom of speech.

I don't understand how anyone can love America and applaud the murder of 168 Americans.

I don't understand how anyone can fanatically oppose so-called Big Government and support the Patriot Act.

I don't understand how anyone can love America and fear it at the same time.

I don't understand how believing all of this means that I hate my country.

But what do I know?...

This guy did a pretty good job, even if he did use a teleprompter...

Fox News: Liar or whipping boy? The Young Turks report, you decide:


Start buying eggs. Now...

The Bruce Springsteen Navigator:
...he still comes across as a working-class guy from New Jersey, putting across a compassionate populism as he sings about jobs, families and everyday life...
The Rush Limbaugh Navigator:
More recently, he galvanized Republican opposition to Democratic plans for an economic stimulus, and said he hoped President Obama would fail...
Which one sounds like a better American to you?...

You Have The Right To Remain Stable: The new Arizona anti-immigrant law could cost billions to a state already struggling with large deficit. But, says Republican Governor Jan Brewer, that's okay because the bill ensures that "...the constitutional rights of all in Arizona remain solid, stable, and steadfast." As for the other 49 states, our constitutional rights are gaseous, teetering, and drunk as a skunk...

Alternative meanings for common words, as in
Pokemon (n) -- A Rastafarian proctologist...
This one goes out to the state of Arizona:

Friday, April 23, 2010

Give Up the (NOLA) Funk!

For some time now, I've been wanting someone to call attention to the burgeoning funk scene in New Orleans. I didn't think that that someone was me because I don't live there, don't know where to see the bands, and have to stay on my toes to keep up with the latest releases. I also can't write with any great insight about the finger-popping bass techniques, minor chord progressions, and other trademarks of funk. On the other hand, I know what gets my head nodding and my feet tapping, so maybe I'm as qualified as anyone else.

New Orleans funk is a mad, cross-racial concoction of what one might think of as traditional funk rhythms augmented with R&B, rock, jazz, NOLA brass band, and even blues. The exact mix depends on the band, and each band appears to plunder merrily from whatever styles suit it. They're all different and they're all connected; the groups I've been listening to include Trombone Shorty, Galactic, New Orleans Nightcrawlers, Big Sam's Funky Nation, Groovesect, and Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk. The first four have all have recent releases that display the dazzling array of influences and emphases on NOLA funk.

Trombone Shorty's Backatown, arguably the strongest of the four, favors brief TNT blasts of music that run into each other and form a coherent whole. The 24-year trombonist and trumpeter is a formidable musician, and leads a powerful septet through a series of ensemble pieces that draw heavily on NOLA brass charts laid over a driving beat. Backatown is the most ambitious of these CDs, and meets its own high standards across the board.

Big Sam's Funky Nation holds court with King of the Party. This time around, the Nation is a stripped down quintet with a sound constructed around the soloing of Big Sam Williams on trombone and Takishi Shimmura on guitar. Of the four albums, King of the Party draws the most heavily on rock; it's unique NOLA flavor comes from the joyous, expansive nature of the improvising. Trust me, a centenarian in an Alaska rest home would get up and dance to this one.

I'm usually skeptical of albums with a roster of guest stars. It often hides weak material behind the neon, and half the time the guest material is recorded in a remote studio. But on ya-ka-may, Galactic takes advantage of the deep and wide river of New Orleans talent -- the album includes turns by Irma Thomas, Glen David Andrews, the Rebirth Brass Band, and sissy rapper Katey Red, among man others -- to unify the many strains of NOLA music around a percussive funk sound. Sprawling and always in danger of losing control, ya-ka-may in the end succeeds in offering a new way of listening to the NOLA music.

The New Orleans Nightcrawlers Slither Slice is at once the most traditional and the most eccentric of these offerings. The Nightcrawlers take the traditional brass band sound and explore blues, improvisatory jazz, and funk. In fact, that funky, second-line step is ever present regardless of what byway these guys explore.

This is a quick, incomplete summary of today's NOLA funk scene. You can download an excellent Dumpstaphunk live set from iTunes. Groovesect began as teaming of graduates from the Tulane and University of New Orleans music programs. Englishman Jon Cleary migrated to New Orleans and formed a jazz-funk ensemble featuring himself on piano and vocals. There have to be more, and some day I'll return to NOLA to personally explore this vitality of this scene. Until then, I listen to these albums and eagerly anticipate the next release...

It's Bobby's world...

It's also Corset Friday...

Sometimes, the good guys win...

Wordless Wednesday...

Don't miss these amazing Eyjafjalljokull photos...

Whatever happened to the Republican party?...

A small community park near the Fairgrounds...

Big Sam's Funky Nation is "Hard To Handle":

Thursday, April 22, 2010

They Were Against Big Government Before They Were For It


Your Papers, Please: Arizona is about to enact legislation that will require aliens (read: Hispanic aliens) to produce their immigration status upon police request. Senator John (I Ain't No Maverick) McCain said,
The state of Arizona is acting and doing what it feels it needs to do in light of the fact that the federal government is not fulfilling its fundamental responsibility -- to secure our borders.*
McCain, who once favored comprehensive immigration reform, did not explain why the issue was multifaceted when George Bush was president but is simplistic now that Barack Obama is in office. I heard McCain on the radio this morning. He addressed the possibilities of racial profiling along these lines: Gosh, but he would hate it if this law lead to racial profiling, but what are you going to do?

Hispanic-Americans comprise 30% of Arizona's population of 6.5 million and 5% Native-American. (Think about the irony of Native-Americans being required to prove their legitimacy.) Moreover, Hispanics accounted for 70% of Arizona's population growth from 2000 to 2006. Are you starting to get the picture? Given that, what reason would a policeman have to think that any Hispanic is illegal (even given the large amount of undocumented workers in Arizona)? There's a 4-in-5 chance of being wrong, so four times out of five an American citizen or a legal immigrant may well have to interrupt their personal business and be haled into a police station to prove their citizenship.

And how is anyone going to know? The U.S. doesn't require us to carry proof of citizenship, a Social Security card is not a photo i.d., and it's certainly not against the law to not have a driver's license. This gives carte blanche to any racist police officer who feels like hassling an Hispanic. What about Hispanic police officers? Will they get pressure from white superiors to bring in suspected illegals? Which begs the question of what besides skin color are grounds for suspicion?

How many innocent people will lose jobs because of missing work while proving their innocence at a police station? I can just about guarantee that this will turn into a Kafkaesque nightmare for more than one poor family. According to John McCain, though, that comes with the territory: If conservative white Arizona wants to dance, innocent brown Arizona has to pay the piper.

The right wingers say they're against so-called Big Government and then get behind something as thoroughly intrusive as this. They claim to revere the Constitution, then trash it by passing a law that requires a presumption of guilt. They call the president a Nazi, then institutionalize a Gestapo tactic. This is really about conservative white Arizona trying to keep the Mexicans in line: When it comes to something like that, the right doesn't give a damn about the Constitution or Big Government. It's disgusting and embarrassing, although nowhere near as humiliating as it will be for the honest people caught up in this racist dragnet. Whatever immigration reform means, surely it's something better than urinating on our most fundamental values.

Immigration reform is a complex issue that will require complex solutions and money, especially if the right wing insists on a security-based solution that involves beefing up the border patrol and walling in the southern border of the United States. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) recently said in response to the likelihood of a mass layoff of American teachers that, while it was regrettable, actually appropriating funds to avoid it was a matter for serious debate:
I wonder from whose schoolchildren we are going to borrow this money, because we have a looming debt crisis in this country and we'll need to debate this.We all want to help our children and our schools, but that is a deep concern.
This small-government proponent has voted against sanctuary cities and for a border fence. Forgive me for thinking that he and his ilk -- so concerned that about the debt that tomorrow's children might inherit from their undereducated parents -- will have no trouble paying for border security technology that has about as much chance of working as robot built by Calvin and Hobbes.

For John McCain, it's simple: You wet your middle finger, hold it to the wind and notice that you've got a primary challenge from your right, sell out your integrity, and give that finger to every Hispanic-American who ever voted for you. For them, it's another matter entirely. But what does he care?

*The United States Border Patrol apprehends over a million illegal aliens each year...

A major failing of the MSM is that they deal with issues discretely and never force politicians to prioritize. Assuming it's the case -- and I fear that it's not a bad assumption -- Lamar Alexander should have to explain why he thinks we have the money for a border fence and not for education. For that matter, I'd like John McCain's opinion on the matter. And if education is one of those things that you can't solve by throwing money at it, why is border security?...

When I say you have B.O., I don't mean Baltimore & Ohio...

The Non-New Orleanians Guide to Treme (thanks, Editilla!)...

PR tips for teabaggers (thanks, Premium T!).  Such as:
Problem: Too many are quick to dismiss the substance of your ideas, in particular your calls for smaller government and less deficit spending. (Boy, that must be frustrating.)
Solution: If you want to be seen as having a legitimate concern about spending and the deficit, let's try something counterintuitive.  How about rather than ranting about a bunch of tax increases that haven't happened, go ahead and flip this one on its head and loudly and vociferously condemn the huge increases in deficit spending that occurred first under Reagan, then under Bush.  Better yet, if you want people to think your goal is to get back to surpluses and pay-as-you-go, then demand a repeal of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and restore the Clinton budgetary guidelines.  Problem solved!  Steal that issue from the Dems and you've got yourself a winner there!
Bill Mauldin gets a stamp...finally...










Tipitina's announces its 2010 Fess Jazztival lineup and how I wish I could be there with the likes of Trombone Shorty, Galactic, Patty Smith, the North Mississippi All-Stars, Dumpstaphunk, George Porter, Jr., Zigaboo's Funk Revue, Eric Lindell, Tab Benoit, and on and on etc. etc...

Green card? I'm from East L.A.!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Bright Star

Bright Star.  D: Jane Campion. Abbie Cornish, Ben Whinshaw, Paul Schneider. (2009). Impossibly lush, voluptuous film about the doomed romance of the poet John Keats and his muse, Fanny Brawne. Director Campion beautifully contrasts the ordered stateliness of English country life and its underlying conflicts with the glories of the countryside. It's as if the former stands as a metaphor for the writing process while the latter signifies the result. The movie is all about the power of art to unify and elevate above petty squabbles and social constraints.

Thus, we listen as the exchanges between John and Fanny develop from the arch flirtations of the typical of the times until they consummate in recitation of his poetry to each other.  Imagery of sexuality and mortality abound -- sometimes together, as with a transcendent sequence involving butterflies. The two leads are up to the demands of their famous parts, from their tentative probings of each others' interests to their inevitable parting, and the direction and cinematography are stunning. Why this film wasn't on the Best Picture 2009 list is beyond me. Highly recommended.

Corner of Laurel and Webster...

How an engineer eats oysters (thanks, Editilla)...

Let me tell you, that Pope Alexander knew how to throw a party!...

Darlene reviews the historical roots of the Second Amendment, including commentaries from Constitutional scholars. Among other things, the arguments show that there is no absolute interpretation of the Second Amendment: Like everything else in the Constitution, it's open to debate...

Why is Hank Williams' stature continuing to grow?...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What's In A Deficit?

The Clinton years were good to George Bush. Thanks to his predecessor's fiscal policy and the dot com boom, Bush inherited a thriving economy and a budget surplus of $850 billion dollars from a president Republicans had relentlessly labeled as a tax-and-spend Democrat. With an array of options before him -- such as fully funding his own vaunted No Child Left Behind plan -- the self-identified compassionate conservative took a page from Ronald Reagan's playbook and ran up defense spending while pursuing tax cuts that disproportionately favored the wealthy. Two unfunded wars, an economic downturn early in Bush's first term and major recession -- brought on conservative free market orthodoxy -- late in his second term combined to leave his successor with a bleak fiscal picture.

It's a standard Republican talking point that the budget deficit has increased more under Barack Obama than all other administrations. This is garden variety demagoguery, intellectually dishonest legerdemain that, among other things, sets aside the realities of the budget calendar, meaning that much of Obama's first year in office was spent operating under the Bush budget for fiscal year 2009. The New York Times analyzed the deficit and came up with this distribution:

Bush Administration
Surplus: $850B
Early 2000's economic downturn: ($290B)
Bush Policies (tax cuts, Iraq war, Medicare Pt D): ($637B)
2008-09 Recession: ($480B)
2001-2009 Bush contribution to deficit: ($1.407T)
Deficit at close of Bush terms: ($557B)

Bush Policies Continued By Obama
Wall St. bailouts: ($185B)
Continuing programs (Iraq war, AMT patch): ($232B)
Contribution to deficit ($417B)
Deficit after Bush terms and continuation of Bush policies ($974B)

Obama Administration
Stimulus ($145B)
Programs ($56B)
Obama contribution to deficit ($201B)
Deficit Total ($1.712T)

What exactly would the Republicans not have done? We already know that they supported Bush policies in lockstep. What about the Bush policies that Obama continued? After the first vote for the Wall Street bailout failed (which was, according to John McCain, the fault of presidential opponent Barack Obama for putting politics ahead of country), it passed in bipartisan fashion. Republicans have supported the Iraq war from the get-go, so if anything they want more money spent there. And no politician in his or her right mind will support repeal of the Alternative Minimum Tax patch.

Why anyone serious about restraining government spending would support a party whose polices led to 1.824 trillion of spending -- more than the deficit itself -- in return for two failed wars and a major recession is beyond me. But that's been the Republican playbook since Reagan: Buy off the middle class with a modest tax cut, give most of the tax cut to the wealthy, then run up the deficit with  increased defense spending to prevent Democrats from funding social programs.

Who can blame the middle class from thinking that they are overtaxed when it does bear a disproportionate share of the tax burden? But the solution to that does not lie in teabagger rallies and it certainly does not lie with the Republican party. The real answer lies in dramatically cutting defense spending and in reducing the influence of corporatism through such means as public financing of elections, lobbying reform, closing tax loopholes, ending corporate welfare, and raising the corporate tax rate, all in the interests of sharing the tax burden more equitably. But, that takes a lot of work, a lot of complex thought, the disengagement of the Democratic party from its Wall Street funders, and for both parties to wean themselves from their addiction to economically inefficient defense appropriations. For too many people, it's so much easier to hold up imbecilic signs of the president while caterwauling irrelevantly about states' rights and nodding sagely while Mitch McConnell accuses the Democrats of plotting more Wall Street bailouts while hopping in bed with the very people who got us into this mess...

McConnell said with a straight face that to assume that his meeting with hedge fund investors amounted to influence peddling was "quite a stretch." No comment...

Robert Kuttner writes that:
We need a drastic, radical simplification of the financial system. That means breaking up large institutions that are too big to fail, and breaking the rice bowl of ones that add nothing to broad economic welfare and efficiency other than an opportunity for the own enrichment at the general expense.
Hendrick Hertzberg hears a sovereignity echo reverberating from Alabama in 1961...

Today could be a great day for music, with new releases from Shelby Lynne, Trombone Shorty, John McLaughlin, Ozomatli, and new old material from Hot Tuna...

This is interesting:


Do you think that Rove and his supporters were equally outraged last summer when teabaggers disrupted town hall meetings about health care? Just asking, is all...

Well, Massachusetts, you voted for him, you got him...

Hey, Scott: Read the bill!...

Talk about a stand-up guy!...

I don't know, Rush. Can I call a cracker a cracker?...

If the teabaggers ever start singing this one, I'll move to Iceland. Or, as Scrooge said, retire to Bedlam.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Race Is On And It Looks Like Heartache

Lately I've engaged some teabaggers in "debates" about race. By now, we've all read Virginia Republican Governor Robert McDonnell's contention that he didn't mention slavery in his recent proclamation because
there were any number of aspects to that conflict between the states. Obviously, it involved slavery. It involved other issues. But I focused on the ones I thought were most significant for Virginia.
Most significant for which Virginia? At the onset of the Civil War, half of Virginia's population was African-American. (I've taken the liberty of counting each slave as a full person and not the 3/5's prescribed by the Constitution.) Today, the state is 20% African-American.

This neatly summarizes the contemporary conservative attitude toward race: It's so unimportant that it doesn't even bear mentioning as a factor in the Civil War.

They've adopted a typically sneaky tactic that involves code words, white resentment, and turning the question back against anyone who calls them on it. Thus, when they say that President Obama is arrogant, they mean arrogant. When they say that the son of single mother who grew up in straitened circumstances is spoiled, they mean spoiled. (What George Bush was, they don't say.) Anyone who says that "arrogant" is a code word for uppity or that "spoiled" signifies a black man who has risen above the station that God meant for him is an obsessed liberal guilty of living in the past and of being the real race baiter.

When it comes to the nastier elements of the picture, well, they didn't happen. A 50-second crowd level videotape proves that no one called John Lewis the N-word. If he says that someone did, the septuagenarian who suffered a merciless public beating as a Civil Rights activist is a liar who apparently doesn't know the N-word when he hears it. And if anyone did say it, that person was a liberal plant who wants to unfairly malign teabaggers as racists.

It would take a field sociologist to prove this point, but I suspect that when the 'baggers refer to liberals, they mean white liberals. At some level, I doubt that they believe African-Americans capable of political thought beyond radical, misplaced resentment. Which, of course, describes where the 'baggers come from, except that the resentment is reactionary. I've said this before of the right: Whatever opprobrium they heap on others is exactly what they are guilty of themselves.

Thus, anyone who raises the topic of race in debate is guilty of playing the race card, except that the card has already been played by the right -- just as it has been doing since first laying it on the table during the constitutional debates over 220 years ago. At least back then the reactionary right had the courage of its convictions. Today, it's merely craven and duplicitous...

Frank Rich offers his take here. Among the many responses was this stunningly myopic comment:
There are citizens in the South who celebrate the courage and independence of their forebearers [sic] in waging war to uphold the self-determination of the sovereign states. Some outside the South, like Mr. Rich, impute base motives to those soldiers -- which were sometimes present and sometimes not.

Likewise, within the civil rights movement of the 1960's there were citizens who marched and struggled for the self-determination and independence that comes from voting rights and equal access to public commodities. Some of those citizens also had hate-filled and base motives for purusing [sic] their own version of the new racial order.

Many Southerners are proud of their great-grandfathers and relatives who gave their last full measure of devotion for the cause of self-determination, and we celebrate that character on Confederate Memorial Day. If you wish to rejoice with us, you are welcome -- if not, you are entitled to your aloofness.

We do not disparage your own celebrations of family and individual virtue by calling your attention to the evil which attended the social movements of which you are proud. It is a common courtesy, that if you cannot celebrate with someone who rejoices in kith and kin, that you remain silent.

Slavery no longer exists in America. There is no "movement to remove it from the history books" as Mr. Rich seems to suggest. If you wish to wallow in the recitation of its misery, you certainly have that right. But to play the part of a moral elite, who knows better than the common man what is the the significance of our common history and the human character of the Southern soldier, is an affront.
I pray that your own family history is never subjected to such unnecessary scorn.

Assuming that this is serious and not a belated April Fools' prank, there's apparently no need to study the causes of the Civil War because they are no longer relevant and to do so might offend someone's sense of family history. Moreover, the basely motivated Civil Rights Movement headed by Martin Luther King was morally no better or different than the glorious Confederacy led by Jefferson Davis (work out that one out, if you can), and both were about free access to public facilities. The Movement of John Lewis was as hate-filled as the opposition of Bull Connor. And the writer even had the gall to quote the Gettysburg Address in support of his position!

I would really like to hear what he supposes the hate-filled and basely motivated "new racial order" to have been. Whatever it was or is, we're meant to live in terror of it, I have no doubt...

These notes on the 2010 Tulane Engineering Forum include an amazing aerial photo of a breached levee (thanks, Editilla)...

This is cool: A rare 1913 silent film about Abraham Lincoln discovered in a New Hampshire barn (thanks, Foxessa)...

Now you know the answer to this question: What material is used to restore books and fly zeppelins?...

Sometimes, the world is a heartbreaking, sad place. The parents who pull this off are heroes, but the ones who don't aren't villains...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sunday Funnies and Arts






















As always, click to enlarge...

It Was 235 Years Ago Today Dept:
I suppose that the teaggers will claim this, too. Well, they can't have it. My father read it to me and I read it to my kids...

St. Vincent de Paul store...

What I'm Listening To is a new feature on the Citizen K. sidebar: It features an album that lately has been prominent in the CK playlist. Click on the picture of the cover to go to the artist's web site or to read a review...

Just A Song: "Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)

Over at Back of Town, guest blogger Sam Jasper says that Treme gets it exactly right...

Photographer Dan Burkholder and The Color of Loss in New Orleans. Yes, these are photographs...

Trombone Shorty talks about Treme, his new album, and supafunk rock. He blows a mean horn, too (Thanks, Editilla):



Whatever the new health care law is, it ain't socialized medicine (alas). Saul Friedman explains exactly why that's the case...

Sol Hurok: The impresario's impresario...

WARNING: Reading this may cause your blood pressure to rise...

Just whose husbands were they talking about?...

El Yuma takes a class to NOLA Super Sunday and finds time to shoot great parade pictures. If you thought those were good, these are even better -- and there's video, too (thanks, Foxessa!)...

Rendez Vous des Cajuns...

A day in Roma...

William Shakespeare: The greatest playwright in the history of the western world, or provincial clown?...

What do Guy Clark, Nancy Sinatra, Elvis, and Tony Joe White have in common?

I've watched this video about 137 times since I discovered it last Friday. The video is grainy, but the performance...Ladies and gentleman, Jorma Kaukonen and David Bromberg play "Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning":