Monday, March 20, 2017

Welcome to Rock ‘n Roll Heaven; Your Throne Awaits

It was with great sadness, this weekend, that I learned of the passing of Chuck Berry.

There is no possible way to over-estimate the influence of Chuck Berry on rock and roll.  He pretty much invented it, Elvis and Bill Haley be damned.

If it wasn’t for Chuck, the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame would be nothing but an overly-stylized greenhouse.

I know for me, none of my favorite groups would have been my favorite groups, or likely anyone’s favorite groups, without Chuck Berry.

The Stones, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, AC/DC, George Thorogood, Joan Jett, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, Johnny Winter, Eric Clapton, The J Geils Band, ELO, Aerosmith, Guns and Roses, Motley Crue, The Kinks, Huey Lewis, and practically every rock band that featured an electric guitar, owe their careers to Chuck Berry.  Hell, Angus Young practically stole Chuck’s whole act.  (Although I’m pretty sure Chuck never wore an English schoolboy suit.)

Someone once asked George Thorogood why he didn’t write many of his own songs.  George replied, “Because Chuck Berry already wrote all the good ones.  On his 1990s live album, Thorogood called Johnny B. Goode the “rock and roll national anthem.”

With the latter quote in mind, I had a thought on Sunday, as the Penguins regular anthem singer, Jeff Jimerson, stepped onto the ice:
That might have set off a scandal amongst this country’s “true patriots,” though, who are against anything but dewy-eyed reverence when it comes to the anthem, and the NHL doesn’t need that kind of bad PR.  Maybe they could have done it along with the regular anthem like they do when a US team plays a Canadian team and they do both anthems.  Would have been awesome!  Without Chuck, few of the bands they use in hockey arenas would even exist.

Johnny B. Goode is one of the most “covered” rock songs in history; any garage band worth its salt has a version.  Besides Thorogood’s, Johnny Winter’s version is my favorite.
It’s no accident that the Back to the Future scene where Marty McFly has to play for a 1950s dance, they used JBG.  Not Elvis, not Jerry Lee or Bill Haley, but Chuck Berry.

That’s what gave the scene resonance; if Chuck Berry wasn’t the root of modern rock music, that bit falls flat.

In the last verse of Bob Seger’s Rock ‘n Roll Never Forgets, he name-drops Chuck Berry:

Well all of Chuck’s children are out there, playin’ his licks
So get into your kicks.
Come back baby, rock ‘n roll never forgets.”

I think the musician most closely associated with Chuck is Keith Richards.  It was Keith who was the driving force behind the feature film “Hail Hail Rock and Roll,” which was part documentary, part concert film. 

Keith had a camera crew follow him around as he convinced Chuck to do the project, put a band together (including forging a peace between Chuck and his old piano player, Johnny Johnson), and rehearsed the show.

There’s no question that Chuck was a ball-buster.  The film shows Chuck and Keith going nose to nose when Chuck doesn’t like the way Keith is playing a particular lick and makes him do it again and again.  And Keith takes it, as a show of respect for Chuck. 

That respect is probably the only thing that kept Chuck out of the hospital, on another occasion where he punched Keith right in the face.  See, Keith picked up Chuck’s guitar, which is something he allowed no one to do, ever.

"If that was anybody else," Keith said later, "I'd have slit his fuckin’ throat.” 

Chuck had several quirks that were known throughout the music business.  From at least the 70s on, he never had a permanent backing band.  He’d just roll into town and the promoter would have a local band play with him.  It was a given that they all knew his songs.  Whether they could agree on a key to play them in, was another story.

Chuck insisted on being paid in cash, following his shows.  He did all his business on a cash basis.  And after the royal screwing black musicians got throughout the 50s and 60s, from record labels and businessmen, I don’t blame him.  Those guys got screwed dry by the very machine that made them famous.

There’s one thing that always bugged me:  Out of all the huge, timeless, inspirational hits… Johnny B Goode, Roll Over Beethoven, Livin’ in the USA, No Particular Place to Go, Maybelline… his only number one Billboard hit was a ridiculous 1972 novelty song called “My Ding-a-Ling.”  

Just goes to show that there’s no accounting for taste.  (Sure, I liked it at the time, but I was eleven, for cryin’ out loud.) 

So, the next time you find yourself jamming to some glorious, blues-drenched, three-chord rock ‘n roll, give a thought to where it all came from and remember Chuck Berry.

Rest in peace, Chuck.  And just wait till you get a load of your new backup band!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Repealing the ACA

I have never seen so much “pretzel logic” as I have surrounding this ACA repeal.  Politicians on the right are twisting themselves in knots trying to sell this shit sandwich as something positive for America when it is clearly only positive for the super-rich people who are getting their taxes slashed.

As soon as the Republican Insurance Plan (or RIP*) became public, Republicans began a campaign to discredit the Congressional Budget Office (or CBO) because they knew this independent, bi-partisan bill evaluation committee would depict their health care bill accurately.  They knew it would be bad PR because they absolutely knew their proposal does very little to help lower and middle-class Americans.  The last thing they want is the truth getting in the way of their rosy narrative.

Director’s DVD Commentary: Yes, I know that they actually call the bill the American Health Care Act, (or AHCA), but I think the RIP is a much more realistic name.  Actually, they should have called the bill the American Crisis of Health Edict, or ACHE.  Truth in advertising, right?

 The funny thing about this CBO report… Trump spent all last year slamming Obama by using CBO projections.  They seemed pretty accurate to him then, right?  And since his election, the CBO is led by one of his own appointees.  But now their projections are “unbelievable, wrong and virtually impossible?”  Please.  It’s just one more example of the GOP making up claims out of whole cloth and attacking anyone who rebuts them.

OK, it’s a different subject but the same principle.

It’s obvious this bill is nothing but a gift to the rich… look who’s lining up against it: The AARP, the AMA and other doctor and nurse organizations, an array of hospital groups, and then the usual assortment of liberal interest groups. 

And then there are a number of conservative groups who are also against it, albeit for vastly different reasons.  The Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks and the Tea Party Patriots think it still gives too much away to all those wretched poor people.  But it might be enough to kill the bill.

And that’s what Trump seems to want now.  He’s asking why they don’t just let the ACA implode on its own so they can blame the Democrats.

That’s akin to the Democrats launching a giant balloon, which the Republicans shoot down and then blame the Democrats for the crash because it’s their balloon.

Of course the ACA will die if insurance companies know it won’t be supported by the government.  They’ve got no reason to work with a system that’s going to be abandoned at the first moment it is politically expedient to do so.  That’s why it’s been going down the tubes in the last couple of years.  Republicans have been causing uncertainty over the program, taking symbolic vote after vote to repeal it, and generally showing hostility.  But now those votes to repeal won’t be merely symbolic.

And Republicans have become expert in shifting blame… all they have to do is keep repeating “It’s the Democrats’ fault, it’s the Democrats’ fault.”  Their minions at Fox “News” and on talk radio will provide the echo chamber and soon, “everyone will know” that the Democrats are to blame.  They don’t even have to blow the smoke from the barrels of their guns.

The only thing we can do is be unrelenting with the truth and call “foul” every time they try to shift the blame.  Republicans killed the ACA in its crib through abandonment, neglect and withholding remedies, all because it costs the richest Americans some tax dollars, without which they are STILL the richest Americans.  But yeah, now we have the “freedom” not to have to purchase insurance, so we can die off that much faster and leave an even greater slice of the pie to the wealthy.  That’s a win/win for them.

There are no protests or petitions or speeches that will change any of this.  They absolutely don’t care what the average American has to say.  They listen only to their political benefactors, who finance their campaigns.  They do not dare displease their sugar daddies, or else they’ll find themselves facing a tough primary challenge, as the money guys buy someone else to do their bidding.

The only recourse is to vote the bastards out.  We must make our voices heard at the voting booth and proclaim “you will do OUR bidding instead of that of your corporate overlords.”  We must REMEMBER what’s going on right now and who is robbing people of their health care.

Granted, I’m not hopeful.  By the time November of 2017 rolls around, Republicans will have come up with a new distraction or outrage, designed to divert our attention from those who pull the strings of government; leaving them free to push our tax dollars into their bulging coffers.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Hypocrites

One of the things that bothered me about the Republicans for the last several years is the staggering hypocrisy they exhibit.  Now I know politicians lob that bomb back and forth across the divide constantly, but I’m going to demonstrate my point with specifics… a lot of them.

Obstruction
Republicans obstructed everything Obama wanted to do for his entire eight years, although they were most effective during the latter six when they had control of the House and eventually the Senate.  They filibustered any bill they saw fit, meaning anything that was important to the president or Democrats.  They held up judicial appointments until there was no more than a trickle, leaving hundreds of spots on the bench unfilled.  Most famously, they held up Obama’s last Supreme Court nominee for 10 months, for no good reason other than they didn’t want any Obama nominee (who might upset the advantage they’ve enjoyed for the last 40-odd years.)

Now, even with control of both houses and the presidency, they complain about the Democrats slowing down progress on Trump’s cabinet nominees.  The Kings of Obstruction complain about the Democrats obstructing.  That’s hypocrisy.

Goldman Sachs
Trump and the rest of the GOP contenders relentlessly hammered Hillary Clinton because she gave a speech to Goldman Sachs executives.  “How could middle-class Americans trust her if she’s so close to these Wall Street guys?” they asked.

Then their guy gets elected and packs his cabinet and advising staff with six guys from Goldman Sachs.  They complain about her giving a speech to these guys, then put six of them in the White House.  That’s hypocrisy.

Adjacent note: They also complained about Hillary getting paid for her speeches… as if Republicans are beyond paid speaking gigs.  Total hypocrites there too.

Wall Street
The GOP presidential nominees seemed to think that Hillary’s closeness with Wall St (in general) was a major liability.  “How could she represent or understand the needs of the poor or middle class when she’s so cozy to Wall Street?” 

Republicans are currently working on a bill that defangs “Dodd-Frank,” which was enacted to prevent the kind of financial collapse that happened in 2008.  Part of that defanging is defunding, eliminating, or removing the independence of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, whose only job is to protect Americans from getting conned, misled, and generally screwed by Wall Street banks. 

This is essentially a big gaudily-wrapped Christmas present to the banking industry, who will now be able to get back to the business of deceiving its customers, in search of greater profits.  They didn’t really mean any of that about it being bad to be so tight with Wall Street because they’re hypocrites.

Another adjacent note: Trump also signed an executive order eliminating “The Fiduciary Rule,’ which stated that brokers are required to put their customers’ financial interests before their own.  Republicans apparently think that brokers cannot function without permission to steer clients into investments that lose money but earn the brokerage high fees and bonuses.  That’s because they’re hypocrites.

Information Security
Republicans spent years investigating Hillary’s use of a private email server, pretending that it was some kind of great crime and a risk to the nation.

President Trump uses his standard, unsecured, civilian-issue Android cell phone to call, text and tweet.  Members of his cabinet all use a private server set up by the Republican Party.  Nobody cares about information security anymore.  Obviously, it only applies to Democrats, which makes them raging hypocrites.

Travel and Leisure
Obama was castigated any time he was seen on vacation.  In fact, Republicans criticized him pretty much whenever he had to travel, for whatever reason, for wasting the taxpayers’ money.  Any time he played a round of golf, the GOP was in uproar.

Trump has played 8 rounds of golf in 6 weeks, commandeers Air Force One to take him to Florida so he can play his own golf course, and stay at his own resort… all at taxpayer expense.

The black guy and his family are expected to work around the clock, 24/7.  But it’s perfectly fine to subsidize the white guy so he can funnel money into his own investments… because Republicans are hypocrites.

First Ladies
Michelle Obama was raked for anything she did, however benign, from planting a garden to daring to wear sleeveless dresses, which were deemed insufficiently classy.  She was called all manner of racist, repugnant names and held to a standard not asked of any past first lady and especially not the present one.

The internet is full of naked pictures of Melania Trump, but no conservative has dared to criticize her or call her classless.  And if Michelle Obama forced the taxpayers to foot the bill so that she and the girls could stay outside the White House on a semi-permanent basis, there would have been Tea Party riots in the streets.  The Tea Party was supposed to be all about eliminating waste and balancing the budget, right?  Where’s the outrage over the million bucks a day it takes to secure the first lady in Manhattan?

There isn’t any because the Tea Party is full of hypocrites.

Decorum
Obama was criticized for not wearing a jacket in the Oval Office, from time to time (just like every other recent president).  Republicans felt such informality was beneath the dignity of the office.

Kellyanne Conway was photographed sitting on her knees on an Oval Office couch, during a gathering of presidents of traditionally black colleges, like she was hanging out at in her bestie’s family room.  No one from the right said jack shit about it… because they’re hypocrites.  Only Democrats have to meet these arbitrary standards of decorum.

The thing is, these last couple of issues are completely unimportant.  I only highlight them here because they were set up to be standards that Republicans refuse to acknowledge for themselves.  They’re very good at establishing lofty, unrealistic and unattainable goals for their opponents.  But when it’s their turn, we have a case of conservative mass-amnesia.  

This is what we have to keep in mind for future campaigns:  The Republicans don’t really care about what they use to criticize Democrats.  The only goal is to get you mad about it, or afraid of it.  They don’t care if it’s true, false or indifferent, and they have zero plans to live up to the same standards.

It’s all about getting you to vote for them, in most cases, against your own financial interest.

They actually convinced 23% of America (in the right places) that the rich real estate heir cares about Joe Sixpack and would look out for him and all his little half-pints.

And as soon as he got elected, the Republicans flipped everyone the bird and went on with directing federal money back to the wealthiest people in the country, which is what they planned to do all along.

Because they’re all fucking hypocrites.

Monday, February 27, 2017

An Update From Cloud Nine

It’s been about a month since I dropped that little happiness bomb and told you about my new honey.  In addition to being tired of complaining about the new regime, I figured it’s about time for an update.

All I can say is “so far, so good.”

But because that would make way too short of a post, I should probably flesh it out a bit.

We’ve been getting together once during the week and then spending most of the weekends together.  It’s been really great.  She’s such a calming influence on me… very chill.  She has an aura that says, “It’s all good, just relax and enjoy.  Everything’s OK.

I really need that, because I tend to over-analyze things and get worked up over minor details.  She just lets me go off and then reels me back in again.  Always with a smile.

She’ll probably laugh when she sees this because she’s always telling that between her dog, her live-in relative and her friends that pop by most every night, her house chaotic.

And she’s right, but it’s also where I find my peace.  It’s been six weeks and we’ve barely had a disagreement, let alone any kind of spat.  Maybe it’s because as a teacher, she’s skilled at handling small children, I don’t know…

Friday Night Dance Party takes place most every week.  She cranks up the Motown and other fun music and she and her friends drink and dance and carry on.  Best of all, they seemed to have accepted me into the tribe.  What’s not for me to like? 

She’s an amazing cook, too, and remarkably enough, even my well-documented culinary idiosyncrasies haven’t prevented her from feeding me like a king.  She gets me.  She thinks I’m funny and loves the way I put things, in my often-unusual way.  She doesn’t necessarily understand my spreadsheet fixation, my penchant for keeping lists or need to wear game jerseys while watching sports events on TV; she just accepts it and gets out of the way.

Unconditional acceptance is a beautiful thing.

Anyway, meeting her friends was a breeze.  Meeting her dad, however, was unexpected and a wee bit stressful.

It was Super Bowl Sunday.  We planned on doing our own things that day; she was having Dad over for an early dinner because he wanted to be back home in time for the game.  I was going to go to my usual sports bar and watch the game there.  Not expecting a huge crowd, I was planning on getting there about an hour before kickoff, about 5:30, to make sure I got my regular spot at the end of the bar.

Around 5:00 I was just stirring from my afternoon nap and getting ready to jump in the shower, when she texted me, wanting to know if I was at the bar yet.

Do you want to meet Daddy?”

At first, I thought she meant that they’d drop by the bar.  I asked for clarification and she said… well, let me show you…


You come now here.”  That didn’t sound like a suggestion.  In fact, I don’t know what that sounded like… maybe Arnold Schwartzenegger after too much wine.

Anyway, at that particular moment, I was thinking, “Oh HELL no…”

I mean, I was all set to watch the game at the bar and had planned on getting there at just the right time to get my usual seat.  I’ll admit that I don’t adapt to changes of plan very easily.

I hadn’t stewed on it too long before I had a moment of clarity: “Dummy, when your new girlfriend wants you to meet her dad, you get your ass over there.  Period.” 

Thus, I went from an internal debate on what I should do to a planning session on how I should do it.  So I accepted and let her know I had to catch a shower and then I’d be on my way.

Shortly thereafter, she informed me that “Dad left gum.”

I had no freakin’ idea what that was supposed to mean, other than I wouldn’t get there in time because he’d left already. 

Later, we agreed that it had to be an auto-correction, but she had no idea what she was trying to type.  It’s been a running joke between us ever since.

Anyway, it went fine with her dad.  I just had to keep a lid on my liberal attitudes, which I knew going in, even before I saw his bumper sticker proclaiming the value of both Jesus and guns.  (It told me I should pray to Jesus that I don’t get shot.)

Even though I was wearing my “Six Times Super Bowl Champion Steelers” hat, we found common ground that we were both rooting again the Patriots.  I’ll take the win wherever I can get it.

After he left, she and I sat and watched the pregame festivities together while I simultaneously kept an eye on my watch, wondering when I should make a break for it and run out to the bar.

Just before kickoff, I had a second moment of clarity.  This one told me, “Why on earth would you go sit on a bar stool surrounded by a bunch of drunks, as opposed to watching the game all curled up on a couch with a beautiful girl?”

Needless to say, I let someone else fill my bar stool that night.

***

I learned something else while I’ve been visiting Sweetpea… Did you know that guys and gals stock their refrigerators in completely different ways?  Here, try this test:  One of these is hers and the other is mine.  Guess whose fridge is whose.

Fridge #1

Fridge #2


Wait, are you sure you don’t want to think about it some more? 

OK, OK, right… mine is #2.  Cheese sticks, olive cups, a jar of gravy and cocktail weenies (in the plastic container); that’s the extent of my food.  Although if you count the condiments in the door, I’m stocked to the gills!  And my freezer is full too, for what that’s worth.  But she’s got a veritable produce department in hers, as well as a vast assortment of meats and cheeses.  YES, including cheese sticks!  (But they’re for the dog.)

We also differ as to what we consider a “find” in the store.

Last weekend, we went out to a local “overstock” store named Ollie’s.  It’s one of those “Big Lots” kind of places where you never know what you’ll find in there from week to week.

While she was consulting the Great Wall of Dog Treats, I went in search of my own treats, which led me to the Pop Tart aisle.  Have you ever seen these before?

I’ve never heard of Pumpkin Pie Pop Tarts before… I wasn’t exactly coveting them; I thought it was merely a curiosity.  Didn’t see how they could possibly be any good, not without whipped cream, anyway.  But then I heard someone call out from another aisle, and what he said caused me to investigate.

Maple. Bacon. Pop Tarts.

Holy crap, it’s the Holy Grail.  I could hear a choir of angels as I gazed upon the box.  Again, I’d never even heard of these things before, yet I knew I had to try them.  Sweetpea thought I was nuts, and indicated such by making gagging and retching noises.  Undaunted, I put them in the cart anyway.  I figured I owed it to YOU, my bacon-loving friends, to determine if Maple Bacon Pop Tarts are the real deal or just another lame stab at the bacon craze.  (Plus... a dollar ninety-seven!)

Then I also came across these:

Off brand Fig Newtons, made with blueberry instead of fig.  Worth a try, right?  Mom always told me I was obsessed with blueberry Pop Tarts as a kid… when I could get them from Grandma! 

Cut to Sunday morning, as I conducted my food experiments. (Or in other words, ate breakfast.)  Here is what I concluded.

While warming up, the Pop Tarts smell like a Denny’s… a combination of maple syrup and bacon.  So far, so good.  But they actually tasted like a regular brown sugar cinnamon Pop Tart.  So essentially, the Maple Bacon Pop Tart is a brown sugar cinnamon Pop Tart wearing bacon cologne.

As for the blueberry faux Newtons; they’re pretty good.  Not overwhelmingly good, just pretty good.  They’re only marginally different than regular Fig Newtons.  Maybe they just dyed the filling blue.

So that’s the news on the home front.  All systems: Go.  Next week, I’ll be back to bemoaning the state of the Executive Branch.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Debunkery - The Mismatched Fruit Edition

I often get the urge to “unfollow” friends who keep posting “alternative facts” on Facebook, but then I remember that I’d be cutting myself off from an endless source of blog material.  So much better to copy the meme and then tear it apart here.

This one’s too easy.  Ahem… Who says we’ve spent all our infrastructure funds?  We haven’t… as if there is any such earmark for this sort of thing.  Congress can spend money on anything they please.  The only thing keeping the money from being spent on repairing roads, bridges, and dams is the Republican congress who would rather front 20 billion for a wall.  Or the Republicans who voted down infrastructure spending bills for the last six years while they controlled Congress.

Notice how Republicans only seek spending offsets (cuts to counter proposed spending) when the spending in question benefits the general public.  No one ever mentions offsets when passing bills that benefit big business or the defense industry. 

Funny how they always look for the offsets in those tiny little orange slices.

Instead of taking potshots at foreigners and the downtrodden, this meme should really say, “That awkward moment when you realize that the wall you’re building to keep the Mexicans out should have been built around Oroville, to keep out the floodwaters from the neglected dam.”


Right, because that’s the real tragedy… the handful of Americans killed by illegal immigrants.  Because we’re all fine with the tens of thousands killed by native-born Americans every year.  We obviously can’t do anything about those, or else the gun fetishists might not be able to get their hands on military-grade assault weapons whenever they get the itch for a new fix, without the crippling inconvenience of waiting a few days.  Or without being told, “No, because no civilian needs a gun that shoots 16 rounds per second.”

Someone wake me up when it’s time for the telethon to benefit those killed by pasty, squinty-eyed, racist, ex-military white men.  I’m pretty sure it won’t be carried by Fox “News” though.


Another complete "apples to oranges" comparison, which should have come with the hashtag, #IdiotLogic. People coming up with arguments like this are either too stupid to know any better or willfully ignorant of the details.  Or just a partisan hack bent on persuading poorly educated people.

The president (or his shills) telling you to buy his family’s line of clothing is a conflict of interest as described in the Constitution.  Said purchase benefits only the product owner and the person who buys the clothing. 

Same with creating the scenario in which foreign delegations throw business to a chain of hotels owned by the president and his family to curry favor with the administration.  It’s blatantly unconstitutional and if it was a rich Democrat hotelier in power, Republicans would be screaming bloody murder about the conflict of interest and threat to national security.

Being compelled to buy health insurance is one piece of a larger puzzle in which in return for paying premiums, customers receive health insurance and those in need of coverage avoid being declined.  The whole system saves money for the population in general.  Poor and uninsured people using the ER for general medical assistance and then not paying the bills cost the taxpayers money, in addition to clogging up the ERs.

If the GOP-controlled states would have genuinely participated, instead of refusing to get involved because of partisan politics, the costs would have come down over time.  More customers beget more insurers in the game, which begets competition, which begets lower prices. 

Also, I’ve mentioned this before, but where are the complaints about the same government FORCING US TO GET CAR INSURANCE?  It’s the same deal… you’re required to have car insurance so that the taxpayer don’t have to pay for your accident.  Just like with the ACA, you have to buy health insurance so that the taxpayer doesn’t have to pay for your treatment. 

Sure, you can refuse to own a car and get out of the insurance requirement.  But we all have a state of health and that will continue right up until the time we needn’t worry about insurance (or anything else) ever again.


This wasn’t a Facebook meme; it was a letter to the editor in the Baltimore Sun this morning.  Here, the writer proposes another "apples to oranges" comparison, because it leaves out one very important point:  When Obama made the comment about having more flexibility after his election, he was talking about his second election.  He was already the president!  He was indicating there was room for agreement once he didn’t have to worry about how the opposition party was going to skew the news.

That is a situation light years from the one with the Trump administration-to-be.  Foreign powers deal with the executive branch, there can only be one chief executive at a time and Trump wasn’t it yet.  Then, of course, there was that whole “cover-up” thing and “lying to the VP” thing, but why quibble?

But yeah, sure, the two situations are exactly alike, and it’s only biased reporting that keeps the problem from coming to light.

Sometimes I think the newspaper only runs letters like these just to show the void of political thought from the right.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Debunkery - The Freedom Edition

I had no idea what I was going to write about today, but luckily Facebook came to the rescue.  I can always count on my conservative friends to provide some alternative facts in need of a good debunking.

Short answer: No, not unless we’re trying to become a theocratic dictatorship.

Why is it that for as much as they condemn Middle Eastern theocracies, conservatives usually want to do the same things that they do.  They want to pass laws banning enactment of Sharia law, (as if that’s even possible, under the Constitution, to enact), all the while pushing for more Christian influence over government activities.

The religious right is all for “religious freedom,’ as long as it’s THEIR religion.

It’s also worth noting that there’s a large swath of the Bible belt that would like the outfits in the top picture banned as well.  Or at minimum, pixilated.  (Even in real life.)


Another attempt to bolster the legitimacy of their asterisked President. 

Republicans have a vested interest in keeping the Electoral College for no other reason than it has given them two of the last three presidents.  It’s in their own self-interest.  And I guarantee that if it went the other way around, they would be itching to scrap it.

For some reason, conservatives seem to think that their loss in the popular vote can be mitigated by trying to separate California from the rest of the states.  But it really boils down to this: “Yeah, Trump would have won the popular vote if only you didn’t count all the people who voted for him…”

Democrats could say the same thing… “Without Texas and Oklahoma, Trump loses the electoral vote.”

When it comes to the presidency, the state by state breakdown shouldn’t really matter that much.  The president represents the whole country.  It’s Congress that was designed to level out the non-uniform population of the states.  That’s why we have a House of Representatives that is tied to population, a Senate that provides the same level of representation for every state, and every law must pass both houses before being brought to the president.

How people are arranged throughout the country should not be a determining factor in a presidential election.  Major cities have more population than the entire state of Wyoming.  States that contain these cities should have more of a say than a state where people are outnumbered by cows. 

A vote is a vote and Trump lost by almost three million of them.  There’s no way to massage the numbers to make it not so.  (Well, other than to claim they were 3 million fraudulent votes and they all went to Hillary, and then provide no proof whatsoever.)


This one came with a plea to just give the man a chance.

Right.

We’ll give the man the same chance Republicans gave the previous president.  Which is to say, “None.”

Let’s take this one line by line, shall we?

“He didn’t say you couldn’t have an abortion, he said you have to pay for it yourself.”

If that was true, then he didn’t have to say anything at all, because that’s been the way it is for years.  There are no public funds used for abortions.  Zero.  Yet he’s joined the Pence push to defund Planned Parenthood, which means they’re really preventing money from going to reproductive health care and birth control, the latter of which is the number one way to lower the need for abortion.  If Republicans were serious and genuine about reducing the number of abortions in America, they’d double or triple the funding for Planned Parenthood. 

He didn’t say refugees were not welcome… he said let’s make sure they are not here to harm us before we let them in.”

Refugees already had a 2-year vetting period, wherein the government made the determination that they (meaning the mostly women and children) were not a threat.  Stopping all visa and green card holders, many of which had already been living here peacefully for years, is a knee-jerk reaction to white people’s sense that they’re losing their influence.  If this were really about safety, why were the countries who supplied all the 9/11 terrorists exempted from the order?  (I mean, besides the fact that Trump and a bunch of oil execs/big GOP donors have substantial business holdings in those countries.)

He didn’t say Mexicans couldn’t come in… he said come in the right way, not through the back door.”

No one debates that we should try to prevent illegal immigration.  But he’s spending 20 billion dollars on a wall to try to keep them out, even though it’s the most ineffective deterrent available.  With the same kind of executive order, he could decree that there be stiff penalties and jail time for hiring undocumented immigrants and send the justice department out to find violations.  The jobs would dry up and thus the flow of illegal aliens.  Granted, a salad would cost us $25…  But the GOP is not going to do anything to stymie business owners.  Better to blow all that money on a wall. 

Meanwhile, conservatives moan about how we can “pay for refugees but not war veterans.”  

It's not an "either/or" proposition.  We can do both.  But I think the Republicans prefer to keep the veterans issue as a political bludgeon.  If they were interested in solving that problem, it would be done.

He’s not taking away anyone’s freedom, he’s keeping us safe and unfunding things that should never have been funded in the first place.”

This one’s hard to dissect because it’s so vague, I have no idea to what the author refers.  But I can see several freedoms Trump and his moralistic “advisors” are seeking to remove:

·        Freedom to choose if and when to reproduce, by seeking to defund (and therefore close) the most common places to obtain an abortion (or long-term birth control.)

·        Freedom to vote without jumping through expensive hoops, designed with “surgical precision” to prevent non-Republicans from voting.

·        Freedom to come and go from this country as we please. (The “we” being limited to anyone born (or whose parents were born) in select Muslim countries.)  Contrary to the prevailing conservative wisdom, the Constitution applies to everyone within our borders, not just citizens.  So sayeth the courts.

·        Freedom of the press to report on matters of interest to the people of the United States.

·        Freedom of LGBT folks to marry who they choose.

So far, the only freedom the right seems to be promoting is the freedom to discriminate based on one’s religion.

Then there are the things they’re trying to “unfund,” like:

·        Planned Parenthood, the most important source of health care for low-income women.

·        National Endowment for the Arts, the cost of which can only be seen with a microscope, when compared to the defense budget or oil company subsidies.

·        The Affordable Care Act, which SAVES money for the country over time, by providing preventative care and staves of using the ER as a primary care service, often at taxpayer expense.

·        Public schools and the EPA.  Both departments had cabinet members appointed who have stated intentions to blow up the institutions they now run.

That’s simply the way I see it… if I’m wrong, please correct me.”

You’re wrong.  See above.

Monday, February 6, 2017

How Does This Serve the American People? (Updated)

OK, enough with the happiness that has descended over my life and continues unabated.  Let’s get back to how this country is swirling right down the tubes.

We know Donald Trump campaigned aggressively about “draining the swamp” and reining in Wall Street influence over the financial policy.  And now we know how hollow those promises were, as he promptly installed a series of billionaire bankers and Goldman Sachs executives into cabinet and senior advisory positions. 

Now he just signed an executive order to look into unraveling the Dodd-Frank banking regulations law, which was passed in the wake of the Bush financial crisis and recession, to ensure that bankers can no longer place high-stakes bets with taxpayer money to bail them out.

Such a law seems like a no-brainer, right?  Protect The People from reckless banking schemes?  You have to ask, “Who does it serve to strip Dodd-Frank of its bite?

Well, it serves the bankers, who would love nothing more than to go back to the way things used to be, when they could do as they pleased, with no oversight or social conscience.

Trump stated, “We expect to be cutting a lot out of Dodd-Frank because, frankly, I have so many people, friends of mine, who have nice businesses who can’t borrow money. They just can’t get any money because the banks just won’t let them borrow because of the rules and regulations in Dodd-Frank” 

Seemingly within minutes, former congressman Barney Frank called him out as a liar.  The congressman, who is the “Frank” in “Dodd-Frank” co-authored the bill and said that there is nothing contained in the bill that applies to preventing companies from obtaining loans.  He said, “There are no restrictions on lending in this bill. There are restrictions on the manipulation of derivatives of complex financial instruments like the ones AIG used that got people into serious trouble.”

This seems to be the theme of Trump’s first weeks in office.  Who, exactly, benefits from these executive orders?  Doesn’t seem to be us…

The House Republicans also wrote plans to eliminate the rules designed to keep guns from people with severe mental disabilities.  Jesus, isn’t that exactly who we don’t want running around with guns?  Same with known terrorists… no wait… they already killed plans to check the Terror Watch List before allowing a gun sale, during the last term.

Someone explain to me how the public is served by allowing terrorists and people with severe mental health problems to own the lethal firepower of their choosing because I’m at a loss. 

Whenever there’s yet another mass shooting, everyone says, “We have to do a better job at treating those with mental problems.”  Can’t we do that first, before we suit them up with a semi-automatic rifle?  (Of course, that’s only if the shooter is a white guy.  If it’s a brown person, the only answer is to close the borders.)

Congressional Republicans drew up and passed a bill to kill anti-bribery and environmental regulations.  How, exactly, does the American public benefit from making it easier to bribe energy company officials?

And speaking of the energy business, last week the House GOP voted to eliminate regulation that prevents mining companies from dumping coal mine waste into nearby streams.  Who exactly thinks that streams are a good place for mining waste?  Besides coal mine operators?  This is another example of Republicans being indifferent to even the most basic environmental concerns if there’s money to be made.

It’s not like we’re talking about killing construction projects because they threaten some fish that no one’s ever heard of.  It’s dumping toxic chemical and mineral waste into running streams.  You do know that water ends up somewhere, right?  How does the American public benefit from poisoning our waterways? 

They don’t, obviously.  Only coal companies do… companies who give big to Republican politicians, who they count on to remove any disincentive to mining in the least expensive way possible.  (“Screw the worker safety precautions!  We’ll just get more miners!”)

Was this really what Trump’s voters wanted?  I mean the “rank and file” voters, not the big business voters who supplied all the ad money.  Obviously, it’s exactly what THEY wanted.

He didn’t run on propping up big business, he ran on a populist agenda to help the average American.  Granted, “average Americans” who believed him are guilty of wearing the rosiest of rose-colored glasses. 

At no time was Trump ever interested in doing anything for people who aren’t filthy rich.  He just played to everyone’s prejudices and fears in order to get their vote and then turned on a dime once elected. 

This will be an ongoing point I’ll be making for the next four years: how are the president’s actions benefitting the American people?

I’m pretty sure you’ll see that any correlation between a new Republican-sponsored law or executive action, and a benefit to the average American, will be coincidental at best.  But each and every one will benefit the rich and powerful.

Other than the anti-gay/religious freedom stuff.  That’s earmarked as bones to be thrown to the Pence/Evangelical voters who got Trump the presidency.  Trump gives less than a fuck about gay rights or religious freedom, but Pence does.  Trump will go along with it because it doesn’t really cost the rich anything, plus it keeps the rest of us distracted from his real plans.

Stay tuned.

Late Update
I saw in Tuesday's newspaper that Trump signed another executive order which delayed the implemenation of an Obama rule that would change how brokers advise their clients.  From the Baltimore Sun:

"Under the rule, proposed by the Obama administration last February, brokers who sell mutual funds, stocks, bonds, annuities and other products must meet strict standards requiring them to put their clients' best interest above all else when giving investment advice."

I ask you, in what way are the American people served by eliminating a rule that makes brokers serve their clients' best interest??  I mean, it's amazing that such a rule is even necessary.  But Republicans want it gone and the only conclusion one can draw is that they are eager to let brokers continue to use their clients as suckers upon whom they can sell whatever goods will bring back the biggest bonus.

Republicans are not on our side; they care only for their rich benefactors and this executive action shows that clearly.

But everyone was worried about Hillary's ties to Wall Street, right?

Nice analysis there, America.  You deserve every screwing this administration heaps upon you.

Monday, January 30, 2017

And Then Suddenly, Out of Nowhere...

We take a break from this week’s furor du jour to actually discuss something good that happened to me.  Amazing, even.

I met someone.

Not just anyone; SOMEONE…   And I’m just over the moon about it.

It all started on Sunday, January 15th, the day the Steelers played the Chiefs in the NFL playoffs.  I was at my local sports bar late that afternoon, watching the Cowboys/Packers game which preceded the Steelers.  Unbeknownst to me, there was a woman at the other end of the bar who liked what she saw.  (There’s no accounting for taste, I know.)

I didn’t know this until later, but she actually texted a friend of hers, another “regular,” to see if he knew my name.  He did, but it was the wrong name.  He thought my name was “Brian.”

It didn’t matter because eventually, she came up to the waitress station to order a drink (right beside my usual seat) and commented on my Steelers jersey.  We struck up a conversation from there.  Judging from my mug, she saw that I was a regular and asked when I usually come in. 

I said “Fridays for happy hour and Sunday afternoons for football.” 

There was no question that she was interested.  I was getting the full-on googly eyes.

She said, “Well, I hope I get to see you here again,” and began to walk toward the door.

Knowing that there were only two “football Sundays” left in the year (including the Super Bowl), I decided not to leave it to chance, so I did something bold.

I took her hand and said, “Look, why don’t we just go out?”

She was like, “OK!” and asked for my phone number, which I wrote on a napkin.

She asked me a few direct questions… Was I married?  Where did I work?  Stuff like that.  I was impressed.  I like “direct.”  I do not like hinting around.  And it also gave me the chance to get the same information from her.

After talking for a few more minutes, she left, leaving me sitting on my barstool going, “WTF just happened here?”  I couldn’t believe my good fortune.  I sat there grinning like a monkey.  I told the bartender, (who has been tending to my bar needs for as long as I’ve been going there), “I think I just got a date!”  She was very happy for me.

I couldn’t believe I didn’t let her get away.  Asking her out like that is just not something I would have done ten years ago.  I chalk it up to being over 50; I don’t have the time or patience to do the dance anymore.  The last thing I wanted to do was to keep showing up there, wondering if I’d ever run into her again.  Later on, she told me she really liked that I didn’t let her go.

So, you probably want to know what she’s like.  Now she’s very private and doesn’t quite understand why people like me put their lives out here on a blog, so I promised I wouldn’t give away too much.  But here are a few things…

She’s a couple years younger than me.  She has brown eyes, long black hair, and is tiny!  Without heels, she only comes up to mid-sternum on me.  She’s a teacher who has taught from kindergarten through 2nd grade.  She has her own house and a 4-year old yellow lab.  Never married, no kids.

For purposes of this blog, I will call her Sweetpea.  (Remember, peas are one of the few vegetables I like.)

She started texting me a little bit later, so I could capture her phone number and engage in a little more Q and A.  She asked my last name, which I provided, and told her I was Italian.  She gave me hers and said she was of German descent.  She said she was raised Catholic and asked if I was.

[Gulp.]  I said “Yes, but I’m much better now.  I usually call myself a ‘Recovering Catholic.’  Or a heathen.”

Then about three minutes of radio silence ensued.  I was sure I’d just blown it.  But I gotta tell it like it is, don’t I?

She finally texted back, saying, “Ha!  Perfect.”

Phew… Calamity avoided.

We decided to meet the next afternoon; we were both off for MLK Day.  We ended up coming back to the sports bar, where we had a nice three-hour lunch and began rolling through our stories.  (And as you may know, I have a LOT of story.)

The only downside was that I had intended to bring my nephew’s birthday present out to his house on Monday, but that got scrubbed.  I told him the news via text and then said, “I figured you have a birthday every year… but how often do I have a DATE?”  Lucky for me, the boy was understanding.  (Happy birthday, Daniel!)  I probably ought to stop calling him “boy.”  Young man just turned 18.

Daniel was the first person I told and only because it was necessary.  I think new dating prospects are like pregnancies.  You don’t want to tell anyone until you know it’s going to “take.”  No sense suffering a loss in front of any more people than need be if things end too soon.  So only a very few people knew what was going on.

Before we ended lunch, we made plans for dinner the following Saturday and had another multi-hour conversation.  Sadly, she had a bit of a cold that night, so no kiss goodnight.

The next Tuesday, she invited me to her place for dinner and the meeting of the dog.  (aka The Beast.)  She’d already told me that he didn’t much like men and barked at them whenever they addressed him.  As a solution, she taped a baggie of dog treats to give to him upon my arrival.

It worked out well; the beast likes me just fine.  I thought it might have been the treats, but then she later said that she’d told him all about me before I got there.  Never underestimate what a dog understands.

Anyway, I got my goodnight kiss… lasted about two and a half hours.

She had me over for dinner again the next Friday, where I met a neighbor of hers and her dog.

By this time, I knew it was time for a night on my turf, so I had her over for dinner at my place on Saturday night.  I was up early, though, and poised to leap into action to straighten up a little, do some shopping, and create a pot of my fabulous bowtie pasta and sauce.

First, though, I saw she accepted my Facebook friend request, so (with prior permission) changed my relationship status to “In a Relationship.”  I thought I’d be able to keep it just as a piece of personal data, but apparently, relationship statuses have to come out as a post.  I thought there was a privacy setting to prevent that (I know there used to be) but it’s not there now, so I was a bit alarmed when the post appeared in the news feed and began drawing “likes.”

But first I wanted to check my own timeline, to see what kind of stuff my new girlfriend was going to see from me.

Two hours later I managed to claw my way out of the rabbit hole when I thought, “Shit, I guess I better call the parents and let them know, so they don’t hear about this when Dad logs onto Facebook.”  (Luckily he hadn’t seen it yet, so I got to give them the good news personally.  But that was another hour gone.)

While we were talking, they asked if I’d done a house cleaning.  I said no because the place looked to be in pretty good shape.  But then I looked up at the bird ornaments hanging on my dining room chandelier and thought, “Hmm, I should probably dust those.”

As I gave them a quick once-over with my Swiffer duster, I remembered that there was some dust on my dark wood bookshelves too.  Next thing you know, I’m dusting every vertical and horizontal surface in the apartment, like a Swiffing tornado.  For a place I thought looked pretty good, the duster looked like I’d just cleaned the inside of a coal mine.

Right as I was finishing with that, she texted me, wanting to know how the sauce was coming.

Gah!  Now I really had to start that leaping.  I cut off my plans to go all the way out to the Wegman’s (20 minutes away) and went to my local grocery store (five minutes away) instead.  I zipped through the aisles, then zipped through the adjacent deli/liquor store for some wine.  Then I bee-lined back home, stowed the groceries and hopped in the shower.

Newly freshened, I made for the kitchen to start browning the ground beef for the sauce.  Before I can even flip on the burner, the phone rang… it’s my buddy the VP of Hell No, wanting to know about my new squeeze.  Understandable.  And I wanted to tell him all about it, but I had to limit it to the Reader’s Digest version. 

From there, the sauce went together perfectly and the bowties were al dente. 

There was still plenty of time for the sauce and pasta to simmer, while I gave Sweetpea the Grand Tour around the premises.  (As you may recall, I have a lot of things to see in there, from music business trophies to great works of art. (Snicker.)


She was sufficiently impressed, which is to say, she didn’t hate it.  The Hat Wall amused her.  The only negative of the night was when she softly told me, “I like everything in here, but I don’t think I can look at that Terrible Towel all the time.”

Sigh… yes, she is a Ravens fan, but she doesn’t seem too rabid about it.  But it was a good thing I didn’t have all my Championship Towels up on display.  I did have some Orioles stuff up, so I hope that bought me some good will.

When the tour hit the kitchen, I showed her my cyclamen.  Seems a small bud formed right about the time we met and just began blooming the day before.

A good sign.

I went back to her place Sunday afternoon and killed the rest of the day there.  That made six dates in two weeks.  I have a pretty good feeling that this one is going to “take.”  At least I’m going to do my best to make it so.

Wish me luck!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Protests

It’s ironic that the mid-Atlantic is being buffeted by high winds today; the winds of change are definitely emanating from the nation’s capital.

Our new leaders are barely even pretending they intend to serve the country.

Congress has made it plain that they don’t listen to us, they listen to the rich people who pay for their campaigns, and the rich people want the ACA gone so that they get a break on their taxes.  The fact that they ignore the popular support for the ACA and try to hide the ramifications is all the proof you need. 

If they cared what the American people thought, they would look at national polling and obey the will of the people.  That didn’t happen, did it? 

Of course, they will say, “The American people voted for Trump, who campaigned on eliminating Obamacare.”  And they’re right, to a point.  He did get elected. 

But look at the people coming out of the woodwork now, who voted for Trump but don’t want their health care taken away.  Some of these brain surgeons didn’t realize that the ACA WAS Obamacare.  They just believed it when Fox “News” told them Obamacare was bad, because, you know… Obama.  Republicans are nothing if not highly skilled at getting people to vote against their own best interests.

I was heartened to see the vastness of the Women’s protests on Sunday.  Unreal crowds all over the country and the presence in DC dwarfed the showing for the inauguration.

The protests are nice and all; inspiring even, but they won’t mean anything unless people mobilize to take back the House and Senate in 2018.  I think the protests are kind of a feel-good thing and the participants get to feel like they contributed.  At best, I think they demonstrated that they have numbers to be ignored at one’s own peril.

But in order to make any kind of tangible change, those numbers are going to have to manifest themselves through the voting booth.

That’s going to be a long shot both ways. 

The House is so effectively gerrymandered; it would take widespread philosophical conversions from Democrat to Republican to convert current GOP districts.

In the Senate, there are far more Democratic seats up for grabs than there are Republican ones so there would have to be a Democratic landslide to change the balance of power there.

I think the best case scenario is for a bunch of those marchers decide to run for congress.  We need competent candidates to represent a liberal or humanist agenda.  Then go out there and convince people, across the district or state, that their ideas are right and their opponents ideas and actions are wrong.  Hang them with their own words and deeds.  In two years, a lot of these congressmen might be ripe for the picking, depending on how far down the toilet the middle class has swirled.

Meanwhile, the Trump Administration, just to avoid getting off on the right foot straight out of the gate, is already lying to us.  Obvious, blatant lies, like the inflated figures regarding attendance at the inauguration.  And they’re blaming the media, (as always) for factually reporting these falsehoods.

“Seriously!  The shot on the right actually has more people!  Come on, I mean it!” (Source)

Press Secretary Spicer’s point in a nutshell: “Who are you going to believe, me or your lyin’ eyes?”

Have you ever heard President Obama talk about the attendance figures for his inauguration(s), or ANY appearance, for that matter?  Ever hear him talk about ratings?  Any other president?

Of course not.  A president should be above these petty concerns.  But not this one.

This kind of stuff is not normally important, but Trump’s incessant crowing about his popularity and focus on ratings makes it newsworthy.  Obviously, size really does matter to him.

And now his favorite spokesweasel, Kellyanne Conway, defiled the English language, as well as common sense, by claiming the President is entitled to “alternate facts.”

Really.  Like that’s a thing.

“Alternate facts” are not facts at all; they’re just lies Republicans desperately wish were true.

So look at it.  Look how easy it is for them to lie to us.  They just toss this stuff out there; things that are easily proven false with no more than a cursory review, and expect us to believe them.  And then they blame the media as if it’s their fault for providing actual “non-alternate” facts to prove them wrong.

Did you ever notice that the first thing a despot does upon seizing power is control or neuter the press?  It’s no accident that it’s already started here.  And just like with the rest of the GOP bullshit, they know if they keep repeating it, their sheep will come to believe it. 

As I’ve repeated here often, it is the press’s job, their very reason for existence, to ask hard questions to those in power and seek the truth.  (The real truth, not some alternate truth.)  They’re going to have their work cut out for them because with the Republicans in control of both houses of Congress and the executive branch, they’re already putting up walls to keep us from seeing what they’re up to.

In just the last week:

·        They voted to eliminate the Department of Congressional Ethics, so no one will ever be held accountable for their misdeeds.  (Yes, it was reversed, but only after considerable protest.  But why do you think they thought it was a good idea in the first place?)
·        They also threatened the Chair of the Ethics Committee, telling him how he’d better pipe down if he knew what was good for him.  “Ix-nay on the Ethics-ay.”
·        They arranged high profile nomination questioning simultaneously, so to divide the opposition, and enforce strict time limits on questioning, to provide an atmosphere where the nominees could say as little as possible and get out the door without having to actually take a stand or say what they plan to do.
·        They are already tearing out the basic protections afforded by the ACA, without so much as a plan, for how to replace it.  At least, nothing they’ll publicize.

So yes, protests are good… they’re fine… but they don’t change anything without political action.  The only way to achieve what the people are protesting for is to replace the people with whom they disagree on policy.  Because these guys in office now?  They don’t give a rat’s ass what you want.  They answer only to those who put them in office; the wealthy upper-crusters who bankrolled their campaigns, and in effect, bought them lock, stock, and barrel.