Monday, August 21, 2017

Eclipse Day

I'm not going to say any more than that the total solar eclipse over the United States that everyone has been waiting for today, so I'm going to be out to see it.  With the proper eyewear. 
I'll see you on the dark side of the moon. :-) 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

What Exactly Do You Mean By . . .

In the spirit of Jake Tapper, when he asked Martin O'Malley what exactly he meant by "fight" when the former Maryland governor vowed to fight against the alt-right when Donald Trump became President (and did Tapper finally figure it out?), I'd like to ask Trump a few questions about what he meant by what he recently said about Charlottesville.
Both sides were responsible for violence?  What exactly do you mean by "both sides" here, Trump?  How were the counter-demonstrators responsible?  Because they were simply there?  Because they were asking to be attacked by merely demonstrating peacefully?
The alt-left?  What exactly do you mean by "alt-left" here, Trump?  An alternative left?  That's a redundancy!  The center of American politics has been moved so far toward conservatism that all of the left is alternative!  That's why the most liberal Democrat isn't even a Democrat - he's Bernie Sanders!  
You're upset that there are beautiful statues being removed because they honor Confederate leaders?  What exactly do you mean by "beautiful statues" here, Trump?  They're an embarrassment to this country by celebrating a would-be nation founded on the premise of preserving slavery.  They are not beautiful landmarks.  The Bonwit Teller store in Manhattan - now that was a beautiful landmark!  Too bad you had to destroy it to build your ugly tower!
Some of the people who went to Charlottesville to out to protest the removal of its Robert E. Lee statue were "fine people?"   What exactly do you mean by "fine people" here, Trump?  They were Klansmen and no-Nazis!  They were white nationalists carrying torches on the University of Virginia campus - and I don't think they were trying out for an Olympic torch run!  People like that are not fine people!  They're not even human!
Steve Bannon is a good person?  What exactly do you mean by "good person" here, Trump?  He is a contemptible person who sowed all the seeds of hatred in this political climate! If he's such a good person, why did you fire him?  
You actually said also, and I quote, "I own actually one of the largest wineries in the United States, it is in Charlottesville."  What exactly do you mean by . . . any of that, Trump?  No one cares about your damn winery!  A young woman, Heather Heyer, is dead for demonstrating against you, and you're talking about . . . wine?  
Trump, please resign the office of the Presidency effective immediately!  And you know exactly what I mean by "immediately" here. 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Barcelona

I'm getting disgusted with having to acknowledge attacks like this . . .
In Barcelona, Spain, a vehicle plowed into a bunch of people, killing at least thirteen people and injuring more.  The seaside city, known for its spectacular beaches and its vibrant nightlife - the city that hosted the first Summer Olympics after the Cold War ended - has been rocked to the core.  The Islamic State claimed responsibility.  As that group gets squeezed out of the territory it conquered from Iraq and Syria for its would-be caliphate, it's lashing out in Western cities.  Who knows who will be next?
I'm feeling lousy now . . . I have a friend who lives there. :-(
Not in much of a mood to write a lot here today.  Sorry . . ..   

Friday, August 18, 2017

Loose Bannon

Steve Bannon is out.  Fired.
The dark knight of the Trump White House may be gone, but Donald Trump's Presidency could be in even greater trouble.  Because Bannon has long since indicated that he could be more of a problem spitting into the tent than spitting out of it.  And he demonstrated that by, in the style of Anthony Scaramucci, talking to a reporter when he thought he was speaking off the record.
At one point in his talk with  Robert Kuttner, co-founder of the liberal American Prospect magazine, Bannon said tht white supremacists were a "collection of clowns" whose anger could be harnessed to help Trump, thus producing a double-edged sword that he ended up falling on - both edges.  Bannon dismissed Trump's tough talk on North Korea as just that - talk.  Bannon says that the White House knows that any attempt by Trump to make good on his threats against North Korea will lead to a war that no one really wants. 
"Forget it," Bannon said about the North Korea crisis, calling it a sideshow. "Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don't die in the first 20 minutes from conventional weapons, I don't know what you're talking about, there's no military solution here, they got us."
Gee, thanks, Steve.  I suddenly feel a whole lot better. :-p
But here's something else Bannon said that Democrats should take note of about the Democratic Party's pre-occupation with identity politics - the idea that a racial, ethnic or other sort of group's unique concerns are more important than the concerns of the general population.
"The longer they talk about identity politics, I got 'em," Bannon said.  "I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats."
I want the Democrats to talk about racism every day, too.  But that's not all I want them to talk about.  I want them to talk about the economy, infrastructure, income equality - everything Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley have talked about.  Bannon is no longer there to help Trump crush the opposition, but he was right in saying what others had said in the past - that if the Democrats keep focusing on ethnic or cultural identity to the point where they disregard issues that affect everyone, they're never going to work their way back to anything resembling real power.  I was flabbergasted when Hillary Clinton's supporters bashed Bernie Sanders and his supporters for focusing too much on income inequality and called it an issue that white men were "privileged" to focus on because they didn't have to worry about being oppressed.  I explained back in May 2016 what an asinine argument that was, but it was an argument that the Hillary Clinton campaign evidently embraced at her own peril in the general election.  Democrats are already hoping to nominate another non-white and non-male presidential candidate in 2020, though that could easily put a non-white centrist like Cory Booker ahead of a white liberal like Sherrod Brown for the Presidency at at time when the Democratic Party has to return to its progressive origins and not care about the race or sex of the presidential candidate who could lead the party back there.  Just remember . . . it was a privileged white male - Franklin Roosevelt - who initiated the New Deal, and it was a white male Southerner - Lyndon Johnson - who initiated the Great Society, the centerpiece of which was civil rights legislation.
And what was it I pointed out in discussing Martin O'Malley's presidential prospects for 2020, back in March 2017?  "If the Democrats are so obsessed with identity politics that O'Malley has even less of a chance for the party's presidential nomination in 2020 than he had in 2016, then they deserve to go the way of the Whigs."  Bannon knows that.  And, more importantly, he's let on that he knows that.
And now that he's left the Trump administration. he could let on a lot more that Trump doesn't want you to know.
Spitting into the tent . . .
So good riddance  But in some respects, it's too late; he did the worst damage he could ever do when he stoked racial animosity and also when he convinced Trump to pull out of the Paris climate change agreement, thus restoring America's place as the world's toxic idiot.

Music Video Of the Week - August 18, 2017

"Brain Damage / Eclipse" by Pink Floyd (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Out of Business

Donald Trump just pulled the plug on his business advisory councils.
It seems that so many people on his American Manufacturing Council and Strategy & Policy Forum were quitting them in protest against his erratic and utterly irrational efforts to explain away Charlottesville that he decided to terminate the councils rather than see more people bail out.  This is the equivalent of throwing a chessboard and all the pieces against a wall rather than accept a checkmate.  But Trump isn't even bright enough to figure out how to win at checkers.
It became obvious that these councils were in trouble when Merck CEO Ken Frazier, who is black, quit the American Manufacturing Council when he could no longer tolerate Trump's tone-deaf attitude toward race. Trump petulantly dismissed Frazier's departure, saying he could now lower "ripoff" drug prices.  Maybe he can develop a breakthrough anti-cancer drug like he's done before, eh, Trump?  Because Frazier, I understand, is driven to push for life-saving drug research by the same impulse that caused him to leave Trump's stupid council: principle.    
Trump's not only unhinged, he's flying off the doorway.  He can't accept the fact that the most despised and feared groups in these United States are sustaining him.  That would include the Republican rank and file - four out of five Republicans approve of his job performance as President.  And while it is true that not every Republican is a bigot, most bigots are Republicans.
And equating Robert E. Lee with George Washington and Thomas Jefferson in the fight over removing Confederate statues and momuments doesn't even make good nonsense.  I say, take down all the Lee statues, already.   We don't have statues for Benedict Arnold.   Norway doesn't have statues of Vidkun Quisling.  France doesn't have any statues of Pétain.
Now that Trump's business councils have been terminated, we should concentrate on terminating the Trump Presdiency.
As Martin O'Malley would say, now we fight.
And you know what I mean by "fight" here, Jake Tapper.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Mueller's The Word

You know what's funny?
I'll tell you.
There's been so much media attention on Charlottesville and North Korea in the past several days that special counsel Robert Mueller (above) has been able to investigate Trump's Russia connections without a great deal of media attention.  Not since the spring of 1987, when the media's coverage of the Iran-contra affair was overshadowed by coverage of the PTL ministry scandal and the Gary Hart sex scandal, has something so paramount been an afterthought of a story.
Although it looks like things may be picking up again.  I just saw a story about how Mueller wants to talk to former Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus.
Shhh!  Let's move on to something else.  Let Mr. Mueller do his work without any media attention, so Trump won't notice!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

After Charlottesville

Charlottesville may very turn to be the tipping point for the man Martin O'Malley called "that racist, immigrant-bashing carnival barker, Donald J. Trump.  The melee in that Virginia town over the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue that led to the death of anti-Trump protester Heather Heyer won't convince many of the people who voted for Trump in November 2016 to change their minds about him - in fact, it may make them more fervently for him - but it could finally put some teeth and muscle into the so-called "resistance."  It may very well energize those of us who can't bear to have Trump in the White House or the Republicans in charge of Congress and two-thirds of the states and make us even more determined to reverse a tide that is currently drowning us.  The energy is already showing up places like Lexington, Kentucky, where Mayor Jim Gray - who unsuccessfully challenged Rand Paul for his Senate seat in 2016 - made a move to get all of the city's Confederate monuments taken down immediately.  
Never mind the Democrats and their better deal.  This goes beyond party.  If the party of Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy isn't up to the task of stopping Trump, we're going to have to go it alone.  If we can use what's left of the Democratic Party as a vehicle for taking our country back from the Breitbart crowd, that's fine.  But we're going to have to be prepared to find another outlet if that doesn't work out.  
So call a convention.  Get a new movement started.  Get behind someone who wants to run for office that you believe in.  Run for office yourself, if you're so inclined.  But just remember, taking down statues of Lee and Jackson (Andrew or Stonewall?  you make the call) and renaming parks and streets is the easy part.  Health care, equality, criminal justice reform, and so many other concerns are at stake here.  Speak out on a blog.  Organize.  Do something!       
And quickly, before World War III breaks out in Korea. :-(

Monday, August 14, 2017

Gimme Some Money

Recent articles from Vox.com's Jeff Stein and Politico's Michael Whitney and happened to catch my attention.
Stein reported on Vox that the Democrats are, at this point, within striking distance of taking back the House of Representatives by winning 34 seats - ten more than they need - in 2018, according to recent polls.
But get this.  According to Whitney, they're also having trouble fundraising.
While it's inevitable in this age of the Citizens United decision that the Republicans would have more money than the Democrats, and fundraising numbers from both parties show that the GOP has twice as much money as the Democrats, Whitney notes that the Republicans are actually getting more money from small donors - $33 million compared to the Democratic Party's $21 million.
"This isn’t just about money," Whitney wrote. "Small-dollar donors are an important measure of how much grass-roots enthusiasm a campaign or organization has. They are the supporters who will show up to knock on doors, make phone calls and get out the vote. And since they don’t donate enough to reach campaigns’ individual contribution limits, you can return to ask them for money time and again - which frees campaigns from continually being on the hunt for new, deep-pocketed donors who can max out."  And since the Democrats lack such support, Whitney added for good measure, that only "threatens to prevent major gains by the party in 2018 and beyond."
The reason?  Messaging.  Whitney also said that Donald Trump has been masterful in giving voters a message of empowerment, promising to restore America's greatness and promising to restore American jobs.  He's speaking to a base that feels that power has shifted from under their feet and wants to hear a message that they can get their mojo back.  And that's exactly the message he gives them.  Progressives, both inside and outside the Democratic Party,  have offered a similar message; while Whitney has cited Bernie Sanders and his promise of a "revolution," I can point to Martin O'Malley and his pledge to "rebuild the American Dream."  But the Democratic National Committee doesn't use messaging like that; its e-mails asking for money only react to Trump's agenda without offering a positive message of their own.  Also, the party has been using scare tactics to get small donors to cough up a few bucks by saying that if you don't contribute to the Democrats, the Republicans will become even more powerful and everything you cherish and hold dear will be taken away from you.
The problem is that everything Democratic voters cherish and hold dear has been taken away from them - their livelihoods, their communities, their health care (not everyone can get coverage under the Affordable Care Act), their children's future.  You can't scare small Democratic donors in to giving money because most if not all of their fears have already been realized.
The right message makes all the difference.  Sanders got that in 2016.  O'Malley got it.  For all I know, Lincoln Chafee got it.  But Hillary ("Stronger Together"; "Love trumps hate") certainly didn't, and Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez doesn't seem to get it either.  The fact that the Democrats have a chance to take back the House (is anyone paying attention to governorships and state legislatures) is academic at this point, since the 2018 midterms are fifteen months away, and things could change.  But yes, they do have a chance.  A chance, however, only provides an opportunity when you take it.  Perez doesn't even seem to be trying to.
Right now, people are hanging their hats on Russia investigations or the possibility of brinkmanship with North Korea and wondering how much longer will be before Trump loses his job.  I have a feeling that Tom Perez will lose his first. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Charlottesville

What have we come to?
The far-right demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia yesterday wasn't so much a rally as it was a mob.  The white nationalists who marched to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee weren't looking for trouble, they were there to cause trouble.   That they did.  The showed the ugly hatred, bigotry, and intolerance that Donald Trump has stoked for the past two years.  There were Southern Crosses and Nazi flags on display along with the hateful rhetoric against people of color, non-Christians, secular humanists, and anyone else that offends the American far right.  When counter-protesters attempted to be heard, one right-winger responded by driving a car into the anti-Trump crowd, as much an act of terror as flying panes it buildings.  Three people are reported dead.  And all this at the home of the University of Virginia, founded by Thomas Jefferson as a parting git to his state for the pursuit of intellectual and analytical rigor.      
To think that Bill Maher was cracking jokes about this scheduled rally the day before it took place.  But it's no laughing matter now. 
While Trump has noncommitally condemned the violence in Charlottesville and refused to aim his comments directly at the reactionaries who instigated the melee, Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe has declared a state of emergency.  This is happening as Trump plans to face down North Korea and maybe start a war with Venezuela.
Love trumps hate?  No more reconciliation with the alt-right.  "Now is not the time for reconciliation," Martin O'Malley said back in January 2017. "Dietrich Bonhoeffer didn't reconcile with the Nazis. Martin Luther King didn't reconcile with the KKK."
Now we take a stand against the forces of darkness.  

Saturday, August 12, 2017

You Haven't Resisted Nothin!'

I recently saw this wonderful video that contextualized Stevie Wonder's "You Haven't Done Nothin'" - originally written as an anti-Nixon song - as an attack on Donald Trump, interweaving the original record and Trump's own words about black Americans with several black people singing "Donald Trump, you haven't done nothin.'"


But if Wonder's song fits Trump perfectly, it also fits the Democratic elitists who claim to "resist" him.
A good deal of the so-called  resistance against Trump is a bunch of mostly disgruntled Hillary Clinton supporters and establishment Democrats who helped Trump win in the first place by not nominating someone other than Hillary for President.  How many times do I have to remind you all that Hillary promoted Trump when she as a candidate in the Democratic presidential primaries because she knew she'd get the nomination and she had a feeling that she'd lose against John Kasich or Marco Rubio if the Republicans nominated either one of them?  How many times do I have to point out that her candidacy was based on family entitlement and gender identity politics and not on connecting with angry voters in the heartland who lost their jobs?  I recently saw Fareed Zakaria's CNN special on how Trump was elected, and Zakaria explained that the Democrats had become the party of white-collar professionals who lost touch with everyday people and ignored the warning signs that middle-class and working-class people were with both parties and how Trump cut through all that and exploited that anger.  The Democrats helped realize this nightmare by not fighting with fire with fire and not nominating someone who talked about jobs and the middle class and could take on Trump on those same issues.  They nominated Hillary instead. And these elitist Democrats are going to resist Trump?
They haven't resisted diddly-squat.  As PBS's Jeff Greenfield pointed out, they haven't stopped Trump from dismantling the Environmental Protection Agency, placing Neil Gorsuch and other young right-wingers on the federal bench for lifetime appointments, or pursuing racist law-enforcement policies.  All they did was get steamrolled.  What have they stopped?  What?  Repeal of Obamacare?  The Democrats didn't stop that; the Republicans did by trying to do it.  Which is why I'm sick and tired of hearing a bunch of white bourgeois Democratic elitists who think that hanging out with pop stars is the same as connecting with the common people say that they'll make right out of wrong.  
And by the way, the party's Clinton wing is already trying to figure out how to anoint one of their own (the identity of said Clintonite to be determined) as the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee in waiting.  Democrats, you're going the way of the Whigs, and you brought this nightmare on yourself.
Why must you go on saying you'll fight . . . to take what's wrong and make it right?  'Cause if you really want to hear my views . . . you haven't resisted nothin'!  
Sing along with me! Whigging out!  Oh, wo ho, Whigging out!  Oh, wo ho, Whigging out!  Oh, wo ho, Whigging out!  Oh, wo ho, Whigging out!  (Sing it loud and for the people!)  Say, Whigging out! Oh, wo ho, Whigging out! Oh, wo ho, Whigging out . . . 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Music Video Of the Week - August 11, 2017

"Gentle On My Mind" by Glen Campbell and John Hartford (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Fire and Rain

The sanctions against North Korea to deter its development of a nuclear weapon this past Sunday came too late, as Kim Jong Un's government reportedly miniaturized a nuclear device to fit onto one of its missiles, which was reported on Tuesday.
The dear leader promised "fire and fury" against his adversary like the world "has never seen before."
Kim said that?  No, Donald Trump!
Later it was reported that North Korea was considering an attack on Guam.
As dangerous as Kim and his paranoia toward the United States are, Trump's airheaded machismo is exponentially worse.  The only way to deal with North Korea at this point is to try to find a diplomatic solution to avoid a military confrontation that could lead to a full-scale war worse than the one on the Korean peninsula in the early 1950s.  Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been making one declaration after another that the U.S. has no intention of removing Kim from power and uniting Korea under the government in Seoul, and now Trump has undermined him by answer Kim's nasty rhetoric with even nastier rhetoric.  With North Korea promising to rain fire down on the United States - including the East Coast! - those fallout shelters I used to see as a kid are going to have to be put back into service.  
And the Mormons can be expected to congregate en masse along the banks of the Missouri River for the Second Coming when Moroni blows his horn. :-O  
And remember, South Korea would be annihilated by a North Korean attack and and Japan is under greater threat than we are by virtue of its proximity to Korea.  South Korea's forces are too small to beat back North Korea alone, and Japan doesn't have much of a military to begin with these days.  Guess who's expected to step into the breach.  Guess.
Oh yeah, only 37 percent of voters approve of the way Trump is handling the Korea crisis. Good news, until you realize the 37 percent are the same voters that Steve Bannon wants to keep Trump connected to.
With hopes for a negotiated settlement with North Korea slipping away, we have to pin our hopes on the President . . . of China. Xi Jinping is the last person who can talk Kim Jong Un of the ledge over self-destruction.  Kim is, somewhat ironically, interested in survival, and if Xi can convince his fellow Communist leader that restraint in handling nuclear arms is his best recourse, that will help a lot.  But I don't see how he does that.  I don't even see how anyone keeps Trump restrained.
In the meantime, we have Trump trash-talking a guy who might be able to take out Los Angeles in a few months and take out Guam sooner.  I've never been afraid of nuclear war in my entire life, not even when Reagan was President, but I am now.  Even with Secretary Tillerson saying that Americans can "sleep well at night."  
And deciding to hold three consecutive Olympiads in the Far East has turned out to be a really stupid idea. :-( 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Murphy's Law of Justice

The Democrats hoped to gain one governorship this year by holding the governor's office in Virginia and taking the governor's office in New Jersey, where Republican lame duck Chris Christie is historically unpopular and where Democratic gubernatorial nominee Phil Murphy leads his GOP opponent, Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, by double digits in the polls.  But even if they do both, the party's net gain will be zero.  That's because West Virginia Governor James Justice, elected as a Democrat in 2016, just became a Republican.
Justice, the governor a of state dependent on coal mining and a coal magnate himself, said he could no longer serve his constituents as a Democrat when the Democratic Party seems hell-bent on destroying the coal industry (actually, market forces are destroying the coal industry, but let that pass).   His defection to the GOP comes after Donald Trump won West Virginia by two to one over Hillary Clinton.
To those who suggest that this could be a foolish move for Justice if Trump doesn't get West Virginia's economy moving again by 2020, when both men are up for re-election, and if Trump's popularity tanks in West Virginia as it already has nationally, you're the fools.  No Democratic presidential candidate has carried West Virginia since 1996.  Republicans have made serious inroads in state and local politics in the past twenty years.  Senator Joe Manchin, the only West Virginia politician of any relevance with a D after his name, could be in trouble when he runs for re-election next year; Shelley Moore Capito, the state's Republican U.S. Senator, faces no apparent difficulty when she, like Trump and Justice, is up for re-election in 2020.  Even if Trump loses his bid for re-election in a landslide, he'll still carry West Virginia.  Justice knows that.  
(Pointless historical aside I couldn't resist: It was a Republican administration - the first, Lincoln's administration - that brought West Virginia into the Union in the first place.  When Virginia, of which it was a part, seceded in 1861 at the outbreak of the Civil War, the western counties nullified the secession ordinance and remained loyal to the Union.  The Union Army occupied the region almost immediately and helped the locals form the new state of West Virginia, admitted to the Union in 1863.)     
Now it is more crucial than ever for the Democrats to hold the governorship in neighboring Virginia and win back the governorship in New Jersey.  I don't know what's going on with the Virginia campaign, which is for an open gubernatorial seat due to a one-term limit, but in New Jersey, voters are so sour on state politics that they don't think much of either candidate, despite Phil Murphy's huge lead.  And his lead may not be as big as it appears; one of Kim Guadagno's internal polls shows her to be behind by only nine points, meaning that her emphasis on lower property taxes could be paying off.
If the Democrats can't win back the governor's office in New Jersey even after eight years of Christopher James Christie, than the party will likely go full Whig indeed. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Irritation Men

Donald Trump's new immigration proposal - backed by a bill from two Republican senators from, you guessed it, the South - is carefully constructed to appear like it helps our economy but is designed in fact to delay or prevent the day that non-Hispanic whites become less than 50 percent of the population in These States.  It would only allow nuclear family units and not extended family members to come here, and they would have to be highly educated and be able to speak the American language.  Well, I'm certain that they would be highly educated, if they can speak Cherokee.   
Ha ha!  I mean English, of course.  This bill would obviously be partial to English-speaking immigrants, meaning it would be partial to countries like Great Britain, Ireland and Australia, where English is widely spoken, but the education requirement would keep out folks from Third World English-speaking countries such as Jamaica and Nigeria - from which people come to study in the U.S. because higher-education opportunities back home, shall we say, leave a good deal to be desired.  And families couldn't be reunited, although bringing families together has been the cornerstone of American immigration policy since 1965.
If these restrictions had existed in the early 1920s, just before the racist 1924 Immigration Act restricting immigration to those northern Europe was passed, my Italian maternal grandfather wouldn't have been able to come here.   
Trump and his nationalist adviser Stephen Miller defended the proposal, and Miller was very irritable and irritating with reporters who found the bill exclusionary, defending it as a bill that would be economically advantageous, not racially disparaging.  He insisted that the bill would benefit the economy for all Americans, and he even said he was insulted by the suggestioin that it would keep out people from non-English-speaking countries because such a suggestion assumes that people from such places can't speak English.
By the way, "Miller" is a nice Anglo-Saxon name.  It's also a nice German name (most immigrants in the mid-nineteenth century were German and spoke the language even after they became assimilated).   It's also a nice Jewish name . . . and Stephen Miller just happens to be Jewish.  Eastern European Jewish, to be exact; his own great-grandfather came from Belarus, where English is not widely spoken.
By the way, Donald Trump's own paternal grandfather - who changed the family name from Drumpf - could not have gotten into this country from Germany under such restrictions.  And non-English-speakers from non-English-speaking countries are more common than Miller thinks; did he ever notice that Germany's own chancellor doesn't speak the language of Shakespeare?
The irritating Tom Cotton, the  Republican U.S. Senator from Arkansas who is co-sponsoring this immigration bill with Senator David Perdue, a Republican from Georgia, ironically divulged the true intention of the bill in defending it on economic grounds.  Cotton said that allowing only highly skilled immigrants would protect unskilled American workers from foreign-born competition from low-wage jobs.  Well, if you really wanted to help the economy, why not provide more skill training  opportunities and increase wages for lower-paying jobs through minimum-wage laws?  Because improving the lot of workers is the last thing Republicans (and many centrist Democrats) want to do.
So much for the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.  That line came from Emma Lazarus, of course - she was of German-Portuguese Jewish ancestry. 
The bill has no chance of passage, as most Senate Democrats and many Senate Republicans oppose it.  But that's not the only reason it will fail.  Trump may not be in a position to promote it for much longer; special counsel Robert Mueller, who has been irritating the White House, has expanded his investigation into Trump's business dealings, and he has called a grand jury as part of his investigations.
By the way, "Mueller" is a nice German name . . . ;-)

Monday, August 7, 2017

Forty Winks

I give up.
I thought we'd make it this time.  Up to this past Wednesday, we hadn't had a single electrical blackout in our house since November 2016. It looked like we'd get through the entire year of 2017 without an outage - or at least get through this November without one.  Think of it . . . a full year without an outage.
Then we got two outages.
The power went off this past Wednesday night for a moment and then it came back on.  Then it went off for more than a moment, maybe about a minute or so - before going back on again.  Outage number 39 . . . and outage number 40 since November 2009.  Forty winks.
I now officially surrender.  My mother and I will never again have a whole year, calendar or otherwise, without an electrical blackout.   And I'm going to have to get used to resetting the clocks more often than twice a year (due to Daylight Savings Time). 
This past Wednesday afternoon, a severe thunderstorm hit my neighborhood and warranted an official warning from the National Weather Service through 2:15 PM, but the power stayed on, even if the cable service went out for about five minutes.  (We got through more than a full year without a cable outage, at least - one year, one month and one day to be exact, so that ought to count for something.)   So I can't figure out why it would go out momentarily - twice - close to 11:00 PM, long after the storm - and the steady rain it ushered in - had passed.   Maybe it had to do with the 2.6 inches of rain my area got in under ninety minutes that afternoon, which may have compromised things.  Maybe it was a wayward tree branch.  Maybe it was just the electric company's incompetence.
I don't have time for more conjectures, because the forecast calls for it to be rainy and stormy today . . . and to leave it at that would be like saying that Scarlett Johansson has pleasant features.  We're getting a day-long rainfall that could include heavy thunderstorms, and the Storm Prediction Center has already put New Jersey in a severe-thunderstorm risk zone for today.  We were in a marginal-risk zone this past Wednesday, and even the smallest risk turned out to be a big deal.
If there's a silver lining here (and believe me, I know I'm grasping at straws), it's that we are expected to get about an inch of rain over the whole day, not double that and half again in a few hours.  Of course, a heavy thunderstorm could give us extra rain if it hits at the right time, and the ground may still be very saturated from Wednesday's storms, so I think we're in trouble again.  We could lose our electricity again today, and maybe for more than a moment.
It's over.  I no longer have any hope of having uninterrupted electricity for at least a year.  Especially with climate change, which causes the weather that gives us blackouts, in the offing.  And I hope Steve Bannon goes straight to hell for getting Trump to reject the Paris Agreement (more about that later).  

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Unplugged

Big news: The electric guitar is in decline.

In other news, water is wet.
No, this story is no surprise, although the PBS Newshour's Web site and the Washington Post have both dedicated stories to it.  What fascinates me is how many people are struggling to explain why sales of electric guitars have been steadily falling over the past few years.
Why?  Why?  Have you heard the latest hits on the charts?  All you hear are synthesizers and electronic noise.  Computerized music has been the bedrock of early-twenty-first-century pop, and electric-guitar music has been pushed aside.  Some folks have blamed the failure of the record business in the age of digital downloading that has all but rendered vinyl records and compact discs obsolete.  But other forms of music are thriving in the age of digital downloading; in fact, downloads of hip-hop are now outnumbering downloads of rock tracks.  A better explanation is that not only are kids today more into the new technology that produces new sounds and provides new ways to access them, they themselves would prefer to make music with computers because learning how to play a Fender or a Les Paul is "too hard". . .  and besides, the electric guitar takes so damn long to master.  Why take all that time to play a traditional instrument when you can program a computer to make music instantaneously?    
Then there's the coolness factor.  Rappers like Kanye West have promoted their "music" as rock and roll and have declared their sound to be relevant and fresh, implying that guitar rock is neither of those things. Old-fashioned rock and roll music played on a Fender or a Les Paul is dismissed as "dad rock," something your dorky father listens to.  Kids can't be bothered with the real genius of an Eric Clapton or a Duane Allman.  And yes, there's the racial issue - traditional rock and roll is laughed off as "white guys with guitars," ignoring not only the legacies of Hendrix and Prince but also ignoring current black rock guitarists like Gary Clark, Jr.
As hip-hop has gone on the offensive, defending traditional rock and roll in general and electric-guitar rock in particular can get you into trouble.  Remember when, in 2008, then-Oasis member Noel Gallagher criticized organizers of the annual Glastonbury Festival for booking Beyoncé's husband, Mr. Shawn Carter, as a headliner for that year's show?  I talked about this before on my blog.  Gallagher's objection was based on the the tradition that Glastonbury had been a showcase for guitar music.  But Mr. Carter himself would have none of that.
"We don't play guitars, Noel," he said of himself and other rappers, "but hip-hop has put in its work like any other form of music. This headline show is just a natural progression. Rap music is still evolving. From Afrika Bambaataa DJ-ing in the Bronx and Run-DMC going platinum, to Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince winning the first rap Grammy, I'm just next in the line. We have to respect each other's genre of music and move forward."
We all know what happened at Glastonbury in 2008, and it took awhile for Noel Gallagher to recover from the backlash he got.  It was also in 2008, incidentally, that MTV personality Matt Pinfield made his effort to launch rock station WRXP in New York.  You know all about that as well.  :-(   
And prospects for the electric guitar are unlikely to get better as more kids become entranced by electronic music.  Even Paul McCartney has conceded as much, saying that there's just no new electric-guitar talent (not even Gary Clark, Jr.?) to inspire the youth of today.  Paul McCartney, by the way, first experimented with electronic music in the 1960s, and with far less technology at his hands then than some kid with a laptop has now.
Guitar music will survive - just not the electrified sort.  In a bizarre twist, thanks to the popularity of country music and thanks also to singer-songwriters like Taylor Swift, sales of acoustic guitars are up.  
That should be good news for people whose first career choice - say, politics - doesn't pan out. 
Martin O'Malley, you do indeed have a future.
(P.S.  Although I am obviously so disgusted with where popular music has been heading that I haven't published any record reviews on Sundays in this space lately, I hope to write some more soon.) 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Yet Another Open Letter to Janet Evans About the 2024 (and 2028) Olympics

The latest news about where the next two - yes, the next two - summer Olympiads are being held requires me to once again write an open letter to Olympic swimming champion Janet Evans, in her capacity as Vice Chair of the Athletes Commission for Los Angeles' bid for the 2024 Olympic Games, as I now have reason to assume that she is in line for a major role in an official 2028 Olympic organizing committee.
Dear Janet:
Okay, I was wrong.  No sense in trying to approach this evasively, but yes, I'm coming out and saying it - I was wrong; Los Angeles is getting the Olympics.  But in 2028, not 2024, as the decision has been made to award the Summer Games after Tokyo to Paris, and then the Olympiad after that to LA.  But I still say that you and your fellow southern Californians have to wait four years longer than you wanted to in large part because no one wanted to take the chance of Donald Trump somehow getting re-elected President in 2020 (which could still happen) and officiating at the Olympics in the last year of a second term.  I guess Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti's efforts to honor the Paris Agreement - the agreement about climate change, which Trump won't support, not the one about the Olympics, which lets Paris go first - got LA some brownie points after all.
So, congratulations.  But bear in mind, Janet, that the bid committee you have proudly served will have to re-adjust the costs for Los Angeles to host the Games, because, as the New York Times reported, the original cost estimates were based on a seven-year, not an eleven-year, forecast, and that the time difference will render the cost projections becoming exponentially higher even by conservative budgeting.  Also, Rick Burton, a former chief marketing officer for the United States Olympic Committee, admitted that some LA sports venues may need to be upgraded with new technology, and that new venues may be needed altogether if more events are added.  And I think he said something about the possibility of a severe natural disaster like an earthquake, which is always impossible to predict.
But then, New York bid for the Olympics once, and Hurricane Sandy proved that natural disasters could affect a hypothetical Olympiad in the Northeast.  And you, Janet, like most southern Californians, know how to deal with an earthquake.  We in the Northeast still haven't completely recovered from Sandy.  I just hope you don't get another drought a decade and change from now.
But you guys did get a sweetheart deal for the Games, didn't you, Janet? The International Olympic Committee has promised to grant $1.8 billion - billion, with a b - to the Los Angeles organizing committee and $180 million in advance payments for the extra four years to prepare for 2028 - and even some money for youth sports programs now instead of later!  How did you swing that?  I'll bet you yourself had something to do with the negotiations, huh, Janet?  Because you can charm anyone with that chipper Southern California accent of yours!  You could sell ice cubes to an Eskimo!  (Not that you would sell ice cubes to Eskimos . . . )
What surprises me, apart from this deal that leaves Paris and Los Angeles both big winners, is that this wasn't - and isn't - going to be official before the meeting of the International Committee (IOC) on September 13, and IOC president Thomas Bach just couldn't wait that long to announce it.  When he stood with Eric Garcetti and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo to make the announcement, he looked like he owned the earth.  Well, he does, at least the part of the earth where international sports are played.  And the Los Angeles City Council and the United States Olympic Committee still have to approve this, I understand, but, don't worry, Janet, I'm sure they will.
Having said all that, Janet, my criticisms about Los Angeles from my open letter to you in July 2016 still stand.  Los Angeles has already hosted the Games twice.  Also, it's more of a suburban-sprawl settlement than a city,  it doesn't have a vibrant cultural life, and it's too dependent on car travel (however, I award LA points for trying to expand its rapid transit service). It's nothing personal, it's just that I'm from the Northeast, and we roll differently out here.  Besides, as Will Smith once observed, you can't even get a decent Philly-style steak sandwich in LA.  And of course, I, like Will Smith, I'm sure, would have loved to see the Games in Philadelphia.  Oh, well, maybe Philly will get the Pan American Games one day.  And if the City of Brotherly Love ever does bid for the Pan Ams, I hope you will be supportive.  And I highly recommend that you visit Philadelphia one day if you haven't already.
I recommend Pat's Steaks for a good steak sandwich. Cheese is optional, but onions are de rigeur.  Just be careful with the grease - you hold that sandwich the wrong way and it will slide right out of your hands.  And if you get any grease on your sundress, well, I'm sorry, Janet, there's no detergent strong enough to get it out.  It might even eat a hole into the fabric.
Sincerely,
Steven Maginnis
P.S.  As always, you know I still love you, right?  I must, since I gave you fair warning about Philly steak sandwiches. :-D 

Friday, August 4, 2017

Music Video Of the Week - August 4, 2017

"Ain't No Mountain High Enough" by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand-corner.)

Thursday, August 3, 2017

WHO?

An 54-year-old Irish-American Democrat from Maryland just announced that he is, in fact, running for President in 2020.  But it's not this guy.
No, Martin O'Malley hasn't announced his intentions for 2020 yet.  (He's currently in the Andes, hiking with disabled mountaineers.  He never ceases to amaze me. :-) )  The guy who just announced his bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination is U.S. Representative John Delaney of Maryland's Sixth U.S. House District.
He's so obscure, even I have never heard of him.
I guess it was inevitable that someone would announce a 2020 run for President so soon, with Donald Trump so spectacularly unpopular.  But who is this guy?  And why should we care?
I can answer the first question better than the second.  John Delaney has been a congressman since 2013.  Prior to that, he was a businessman who in the nineties co-founded a company to help small health care service providers get loans.  Delaney doesn't want to be called a centrist, but that's what he is.  He was for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, he supports looking at possible "reforms" to Social Security, and he was the only Democrat in Maryland's U.S. House district that the AFL-CIO wouldn't support in the 2016 congressional elections.  Delaney is also sensitive about attacks on the banks, saying such rhetoric "won't win the day."
Which is understandable, considering that, in 2000, he founded . . . a bank.
Oh yeah, that's really going to appeal to the progressive base.
Although Delaney says he has socially progressive beliefs, he also says he envisions "a future where responsible businesses work with our government to lead the world not only in growth and innovation but also in positive societal change."  And while Delaney says he is "a big believer in the private economy and market forces," he also wants to make it clear that he believes that "there’s a role for government in setting the rules of the road and helping take care of the most vulnerable."
This is the same rhetoric that Hillary Clinton gave us, the same rhetoric that led to half of the American electorate to stay home on Election Day.  Enough said?
And now Delaney wants to run for President . . . I keep expecting Jake Tapper to tweet to him, "What exactly do you mean by 'run' here, Congressman?"    
Delaney may be a middle-aged Maryland Democrat like Martin O'Malley, but there the similarities end.  O'Malley has more than fifteen years of executive experience in government; Delaney's executive experience is confined to the private sector, and Trump has already proven how that kind of experience works.  And while Delaney is clearly a centrist trying to appear to be liberal, O'Malley has a liberal record as governor of Maryland from 2007 to 2015.  (The Baltimore Sun dismissed O'Malley as a centrist trying to appear to be liberal, but then the Baltimore Sun isn't exactly a friend to the former governor.)  And there are other issues.  No incumbent U.S. House member has been elected President since James Garfield in 1880, and Abraham Lincoln is the only private citizen whose prior elective office was a House seat to win the Presidency.  And this guy ain't no Lincoln.
And unlike Martin O'Malley (and like Dan Quayle), he's no Jack Kennedy.
I don't know if I'll vote for John Delaney if he is the 2020 Democratic nominee, but that's a situation I likely won't have to face.  This blog, as you might have guessed, remains resolutely pro-O'Malley.
I'm ready for old new leadership. ;-) 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Communication Gap

Anthony Scaramucci is out of the White House after only eleven days.  William Henry Harrison actually served longer as President in 1841.  His firing is the biggest shakeup in the Trump administration since Friday.
Scaramucci pretty much did himself in with his off-the-record talk with the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza that turned out to be an on-the-record interview because he never actually told Lizza not to report on it.  In that interview, he used foul language, spoke disparagingly of other White House staffers, and displayed a bad attitude.  But even without all that, he went around promoting his own dubious self-worth and tried to make himself the star of this presidential reality show.  Trump was deeply offended by that.  After all, such behavior is . . . his turf!  
So, with John Kelly in as the new White House chief of staff, Scaramucci, who offended Kelly's sensibilities, wasn't going to last very long.  A lot of people believe that Kelly can now get some order established in the administration, and this can only help Trump get his agenda through Congress (watch out, the Republicans are still trying to repeal health care!) and increase his approval ratings.  This sounds very ominous to the opposition until you realize that, at the end of the day, you're still talking about Donald Trump.  
As for Scaramucci, the joke   - and I wish I'd thought of it - is that he was in and out so fast that the cast of "Saturday Night Live," which doesn't come back until the fall, didn't even have a chance to decide who was going to play him.  Scaramucci, though, didn't need a comedian to parody him, because he parodied himself.  Italian-Americans (I'm half-Italian) are now breathing a sigh of relief because of how he played up to every negative stereotype about the ethnic group.   Listening to the foul-mouthed bullying of Scaramucci, people would think that all Americans of Italian origin are, well, foul-mouthed bullies.   
And we'd hate for that to happen.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Bride Wore Black

Jeanne Moreau, who died yesterday at 89, was the greatest French actress of the twentieth century, and her greatness is based on only one role - the elusive, mysterious Catherine in the movie Jules and Jim.  Catherine, a woman no man could truly possess in the traditional sense, was, despite the movie's title, the real lead character of François Truffaut's 1962 masterpiece, the woman who brought two friends closer together and ultimately tore them apart.  (How?  Well, I'd rather not spoil it for you.)
Of course, Mademoiselle Moreau's immense talent was not limited to just one movie.  She shone in several other pictures, impressing directors such as Orson Welles, and her second movie with Truffaut, The Bride Wore Black, demonstrated that she could convey suspense and dark humor at the same time.  
And she could sing.  "Le Tourbillon" ("The Whirlwind"), a song Moreau sang delicately in Jules and Jim, sounds inconsequential when you hear it, but you realize almost immediately that it's as essential to the movie as the choppy editing of its early scenes or the panoramic vistas of the Pyrenees Mountains; it tells us just what the movie is about, even if you think you already know.  As such a force of nature as an actress, Jeanne Moreau was and is a necessity in understanding French cinema at its peak, and her death leaves a big void in France's cinematic heritage.  RIP.  
And with that . . . Here's a clip Jeanne Moreau singing "Le Tourbillon" in Jules and Jim.

Monday, July 31, 2017

By the Time I Get To Portland . . .

. . . it will be as hot as Phoenix.
The National Weather Service has issued an excessive heat watch this week for Portland - Portland, Oregon, not Portland, Maine.  Apparently there is a ridge in the jet stream that will allow super-hot air from the Southwest  up to the Pacific Northwest region that will send temperatures above one hundred degrees Fahrenheit for three days in a row!
Those aren't heat indices, either - those are actual air temperatures!  Seattle will only be slightly cooler, in the upper nineties! 
It's rarely supposed to get above eighty degrees Fahrenheit in the Pacific Northwest in the summertime.  This is practically the flip side of the polar vortex that froze the East for two or three winters in a row.   This is more evidence that climate change is real.  Not that Donald Trump will admit to it.  We've just had a spell of cool weather in the Northeast Corridor; he'll likely point out that, if there's global warming, why is it so cool in the Northeast in July?
Because it's not global warming.  It's climate change.  Difference.
And there is a special place in hell waiting for Steve Bannon for getting Trump to pull These States out of the Paris Agreement.    
In the meantime, let him get a taste of the afterlife by having him go to Portland this week.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Bet You Didn't See That Coming

The week gone by in review:
Republican Senators Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) couldn't bear to see any form of repeal of the Affordable Care Act passed, and they couldn't count on at least one Republican to join them in defeating the repeal bill in the Senate.  Then one courageous senator joined them - Arizona's John McCain, just back from brain surgery.  Bet you didn't see that coming.  
After a slew of numerous deaths of black Americans at the hands of trigger-happy police, Donald Trump suggested how police could do a better job of arresting criminal suspects - namely, rough them up and stop worrying about being so brutal with them.  Even for Trump this is beyond the pale.  Bet you didn't see that coming.
Despite having placed himself on the side of gays, lesbians and bisexuals in the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump tried to get transsexuals thrown out of the military, only to be met with resistance - real resistance - by the military and by Republican members of Congress as well as Democratic members of Congress.  Bet you didn't see that coming.
I used the word "transsexuals" instead of "transgender" because "gender" is a literary, not a anthropological, term.  Bet you didn't see that coming.
Anthony Scaramucci, the incoming White House communications director, used vulgar language while talking with Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker, and his comments got published because he failed to make clear - he failed to communicate -  to Lizza that his comments were off the record.  Bet you didn't see that coming.
After all the scuttlebutt about Trump possibly forcing Attorney General Jeff Sessions out of his job for failing to back Trump in the Russia investigation and for making it impossible to stop the investigation - and rumors of Trump possibly replacing Sessions with Chris Christie! - Reince Priebus found himself forced out as White House Chief of Staff and replaced by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.  Bet you didn't see that coming.  
Trump said he would sign the Russia sanctions bill passed by Congress, mainly because it included tough sanctions on Iran.  Now Putin hates him.  Bet you didn't see that coming.
The only senator other than Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky to vote against the Russia sanctions bill was Vermont independent Bernie Sanders, but he did so because of the Iran sanctions that were included, saying that "following Trump's comments that he won't re-certify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear agreement I worry new sanctions could endanger it."  Bet you didn't see that coming.
Also . . . the U.S. men's soccer team won the 2017 Gold Cup, defeating Jamaica 2-1.
Bet you didn't see that coming.   

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Motor City Mobility

Back in 1987, the year of the Iran-contra hearings and Gary Hart's fatal cruise to Bimini, the city of Detroit opened its first light-rail line since the city's original streetcar system was retired in the 1950s.  The "People Mover," as it was called, is an elevated light-rail system using driverless trains that encircles the downtown area on a track just under three miles long, just as the elevated heavy-rail train lines in Chicago encircle that city's central business district, known affectionately as the Loop.  But while the the train lines encircling downtown Chicago serve as a hub for other elevated lines that transport people from other parts of the city into the Loop, Detroit's People Mover - which borrowed its name from a similar train once used at Disneyland in Anaheim, California - only serves the city's downtown area.  The idea is to use it to get from one location in the central business district to the other, but the area it encircles is conveniently navigable on foot - meaning that it's easier to walk, which is why the few people who frequent downtown Detroit prefer to do so.  Ridership on the People Mover (below, seen passing the so-called Renaissance Center) is so low - 2.5 percent of its daily peak capacity - that it's been called a "ghost train" . . . a ghost train for a ghost town.
Now, however, there is a new effort to bring back at least some of the conventional streetcar system that served Detroit in the first half of the twentieth century . . . but that too has its problems.              
This is the new streetcar line along Woodward Avenue, the main drag through the center of Detroit.  Plans for the line go as far back as 2006, when the city expressed interest in bringing back rapid transit after the last of the original surface streetcars ran in 1956, and it initially got support from the federal government.  The line was to run on Woodward Avenue for about nine miles.  In 2011, though, Washington withdrew its support for the proposed M-1 line (so called because Woodward Avenue is part of Michigan State Route 1, or M-1 for short) when then-U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, then-Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and Michigan governor Rick Snyder decided it would be better to promote a bus system connecting the city and its neighborhoods with the suburbs.  Yet the desire for a streetcar line remained, and private investors, who had supported a shorter line, got such a line going.  The home-mortgage lender Quicken Loans, a Detroit business, was a main supporter of the project, and the M-1 line was named the QLine when Quicken bought the naming rights to it.  It opened in May 2017.  The QLine runs three miles and connects the downtown area with Grand Boulevard to the north.  Sounds pretty good, right?
Wrong.  The Woodward Avenue streetcar is efficient, and it uses conventional technology not unlike the streetcar lines in European cities like Brussels and in American cities fortunate enough to have street-surface light rail, like Philadelphia and Portland, Oregon.  But only ten percent of Detroit's residents live within a reasonable walking distance of the QLine, meaning that most Detroiters are unlikely to use it.  It doesn't work in concert with the city's buses, either, as there's no transfer system between the buses and the QLine.  Therefore, the QLine is no more effective as a serious urban public transit line than the People Mover.
Ironically, the city that put America in automobiles has a proud streetcar heritage.  In the 1920s, Detroit's streetcar network ran 534 miles through the city's neighborhoods, and it was the most effective and most cost-efficient way to get to work at the car factory or at the office downtown.  Bear in mind also that Detroit's public light-rail system was one of the first such systems to become public in the truest sense of the word; the city purchased it in 1922 from Detroit United Railway (DUR), the private company that had built it, but the sale had been anticipated by DUR long before it happened, so the company deliberately underinvested in it.  Nevertheless, the city kept the streetcars running for 34 years after the purchase, ultimately giving in to the transition to city buses, a move promoted in cities nationwide by General Motors.  (General Motors made new buses and and sold them to cities, all right, but it also sold more cars, as most people didn't want to ride buses.)  The new QLine is both a shadow of the old streetcar system and an insult to the efforts of men like Hazen Pingree, Detroit's mayor in the late 1890s, who had championed public ownership of urban transit.
But there's another wrinkle.  Dan Gilbert, the founder of Quicken Loans and a native Detroiter, relentlessly promoted the QLine - which somehow got $30 million in public funds - for a reason, and it wasn't because he wanted to help the city come back from the dead.  Apparently, a good deal of land near the Woodward Avenue corridor is ripe for redevelopment, and any mortgage lender, especially a notoriously unscrupulous mortgage lender like Gilbert, will tell you that when you build a public rail transit line through such an area, real estate values increase exponentially.  And guess who owns a large number of downtown properties near the new streetcar line.  If you said "Dan Gilbert," congratulations - you win the $64 jackpot prize!  (I'm only kidding . . . about the $64.)
Which is ironic, considering all of Gilbert's sports-franchises investments in . . . Cleveland.  (He owns the Cavaliers basketball team, among other teams in various sports and leagues.  So, LeBron James works for him, essentially.) 
Sean Tobin of Progress Michigan explains why this is a big, fat hairy deal.  "It is plain to see," Tobin wrote in March 2016, "that this rail is a private venture, hijacked by private dollars, and is not meant to support rebuilding Detroit but rather pad the pockets of predatory home loan maker Dan Gilbert, all the while leaving tens of thousands of Detroit bus riders in the lurch. The fact that the rail should be renamed to honor a company that sold the city on derivatives and profited off of so many on bad mortgages - both of which are widely accepted as main causes of the Detroit bankruptcy - is like feeding the wolf that is going to keep biting you."
But - and there's always a "but" when talking about mass transit - there is an opportunity for the Woodward Avenue streetcar line to succeed.  For starters, it connects the downtown area to another part of town instead of literally going around in a circle like the ill-fated People Mover.  Also, it connects Detroit's Amtrak station at Baltimore Street directly with downtown, providing a rail lifeline between the two points that hadn't existed before, which will make Amtrak travel into the city from Chicago more attractive (Amtrak also connects Detroit with Pontiac in Oakland County, Michigan).  The QLine has potential.  There are actually reasons to use it.  And success breeds success, so once the Woodward Avenue corridor does become more populated, as more people and businesses move into the area to take advantage of the streetcar, there should be an incentive to get the QLine's backers to figure out how QLine riders and passengers of local bus lines can transfer between the streetcars and the buses.  And once everything does fall in to place, the biggest question in Detroit will not be, "Why do we need a streetcar that doesn't serve my neighborhood?"  It will be, "When is the streetcar coming to my neighborhood?"
And hopefully by then, someone other than Dan Gilbert - say, the folks in City Hall - will be able to answer that question.              

Friday, July 28, 2017

Music Video Of the Week - July 28, 2017

"Panic in Detroit" by David Bowie  (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Scout's Dishonor

A Boy Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. Donald Trump is none of these things, but he is the President of the United States (don't remind me), and so he got to address the annual Boy Scout jamboree this past week in West Virginia.  And what transpired was a speech that many observers said was not unlike the sort of speech Adolf Hitler used to give boys in the Hitler Youth, the Third Reich's version of Scouting.
Trump, in short order, bashed Barack Obama and attacked his predecessor, a former Boy Scout, for not addressing a jamboree in person (Obama addressed the 2010 jamboree by remote), and he also coaxed the boys into booing his arch-nemesis Hillary Clinton, giving children with Y chromosomes license to lash out at adult without one.  And the hated Democrats weren't the only targets of Trump's barbs.  He chided Attorney General (and Eagle Scout) Jeff Sessions for recusing himself in the Russia investigation and not backing up the President - not by name, but by riffing on the Scouting credo.
"As the Scout Law says, a Scout is trustworthy, loyal - we could use some more loyalty, I will tell you that," Trump said as a veiled reference to Sessions' rare moment of integrity.
The Boy Scouts certainly weren't prepared for this.
But Randall Stephenson, president of the Boy Scouts of America, should have been.  Stephenson, who is also the chief executive officer of AT&T, knew that Trump couldn't keep politics and petty grievances out of his speeches, yet he invited him to speak anyway.  Needless to say, the Boy Scouts - already regarded as an organization out of step with the times for its culturally conservative values - are under fire for letting Trump come and speak to "the little fellows," and some parents are threatening to pull their little fellows out of the organization.   
Camp Fire USA, lads?     
The Scouts have survived - barely - charges of homophobia and the controversy of support from the Mormon Church (which has recently pulled support for the Boy Scouts' teen programs in response to, of course, the Boy Scouts' efforts to accommodate gays).  They're going to have a tough time recovering from this. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Star-Crossed Mayor

He was a charismatic, ambitious Irish-American politician who first gained notoriety when he was elected mayor of one of America's largest cities while still in his mid-thirties.  His mayoral administration was dedicated to improving the quality of life in his city and increasing the effectiveness of the police department.  He made efforts to address persistent problems within his city's large black population.  Many people compared him to John F. Kennedy, and some pundits declared him a rising star in the Democratic Party who might one day become President of the United States - the first President to have served as a big-city mayor since Grover Cleveland.
Unfortunately, a riot stemming from a heavy-handed policing incident in a black slum neighborhood doomed his ambitions for higher office.
No, I'm not talking about Martin O'Malley of Baltimore . . .

. . . I'm talking about Jerome Cavanagh, who served as mayor of Detroit from 1962 to 1970.
The resemblance between the two is striking, though, to say the least.  Both Cavanagh and O'Malley set out to prove that a major American city could still be governed competently in spite of systemic machine politics and continued middle-class flight to the suburbs.  Cavanagh was quick to reform the Detroit police and push affirmative-action programs to get more blacks in municipal government, even as his Newark, New Jersey counterpart, Hugh Addonizio, did little to involve blacks in his administration, and Richard J. Daley ignored the need for urban-government and civil-rights reforms as mayor of Chicago.  As mayor of Baltimore in the post-civil-rights era after Baltimore became a black-majority city, O'Malley concentrated on using the CitiStat management program to improve city services and to pinpoint violent crime to get as many criminals off the streets and make black as well as white neighborhoods safe.  The program also helped to spur investment in Baltimore and get people to move there.  O'Malley later claimed that he had reduced violent crime in Baltimore by 39 percent by the end of his two terms, though some crime reporters and O'Malley's political opponents found his methodology to be flawed.  But both men established themselves as mayors who could get things done.
In addition to his reforms, Cavanagh was quick to make Detroit a showcase for smart urban renewal by getting his city to participate in the now-defunct Model Cities program.  This program was an initiative set up by President Lyndon Johnson's administration to find ways to fight urban poverty and improve infrastructure while promoting new development in the form of new skyscrapers and public buildings. Cavanagh secured money to aid economic growth for the city and promote downtown property values.  
It was the bugaboo of race, however, that cast a shadow on their respective careers.  Cavanagh's policies in Detroit failed to address the growing disparity between the city's poor black residents and the number of jobs in the auto industry, as the automakers were beginning to invest more in the suburbs, to which many of the city's white middle class residents were relocating.  The Big Three needed more lateral space than what was available in Detroit proper, and middle-class whites simply wanted lower taxes, better schools and bigger lawns.  Also, affordable housing got short shrift at the expense of the mayor's grandiose plans, and Cavanagh failed to see the growing resentment of the black underclass - this at a time when Detroit was hailed as a model for urban racial harmony.  The 1967 riot dispelled that.  As for O'Malley, his zero-tolerance criminal-justice policy was seen as a contributing factor to the 2015 death of criminal suspect Freddie Gray while in police custody, and the riot that followed Gray's death adversely affected O'Malley's presidential ambitions before he even announced his candidacy for the Presidency.  When the Freddie Gray riot started, O'Malley immediately returned to Baltimore from a vacation in Ireland to stand with black residents in the city's riot-torn neighborhoods (below), despite the fact that he was no longer mayor, but many of the residents refused to interact with him and some of them verbally and virulently scorned those who did.  O'Malley's reconciliatory efforts satisfied few if any Democrats looking for an alternative to Hillary Clinton as the party's 2016 presidential nominee.

The taunts against O'Malley came swiftly and quickly, especially from black figures.  Baltimore City's state attorney, Marilyn Mosby, squarely blamed O'Malley for Gray's death and the subsequent riot in spite of the fact that he had left the mayor's office eight years earlier, and professor and pundit Michael Eric Dyson laid into him, declaring that O'Malley had a lot of explaining to do for what Dyson judged to be a racist criminal-justice policy.  Dyson later endorsed Hillary Clinton for President, insisting that she could deliver on the promise of civil rights where Barack Obama had failed.  (Yeah, right.)  But "Daily Show" host Trevor Noah may have given O'Malley the ultimate kiss of death when he had O'Malley on his show: "I loved you in 'The Wire,'" he said to him.  Noah, of course, was referring to the fictional Baltimore mayor Tommy Carcetti on "The Wire," the crime series developed by O'Malley critic David Simon; Carcetti was a composite of real-life Baltimore politicians, including O'Malley.
However, and this is crucial to remember for those of us who may be pessimistic about O'Malley's future presidential ambitions, there are differences between him and Detroit's Cavanagh.  The 1967 Detroit riot happened on Cavanagh's watch, and he was ultimately responsible for failing to handle it, which Cavanagh himself acknowledged; as noted, Freddie Gray's death and the subsequent riot in Baltimore occurred long after O'Malley had left City Hall, which begs the question as to why his successors as mayor weren't able to correct his criminal-justice policy's shortcomings.  Cavanagh had had the federal government invested in his mayoralty; O'Malley had no such support.  Cavanagh failed at his later bids for U.S. Senator and governor of Michigan; O'Malley became a successful two-term governor of Maryland.  One key thing they both have in common, though is this:  Cavanagh (who died in 1979) was not and O'Malley is not racist.  Both Cavanagh and O'Malley did the best they could to ease urban racial animosity, which is like sweeping back the ocean with a broom.  And Michael Eric Dyson, like so many of O'Malley's critics, is guilty of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good by shunning O'Malley, a civil rights supporter and a tireless advocate for the rights of Hispanics, Muslims, and immigrants, in favor of the utterly clueless Hillary Clinton, whose nomination for President by the Democrats led to the election of Donald Trump. Oh, that's better.  
While O'Malley, like Cavanagh in Detroit before him, didn't have the sort of tension with his city's black population as mayor of Baltimore like Daley in Chicago and Addonizio in Newark did, I must admit that fear his compromised reputation among blacks in his adopted hometown will always be a problem.  Case in point:  When John Lewis, the civil rights icon and Georgia congressman, said in January 2017 that Trump was an illegitimate President because of Trump's possible ties to Russia, O'Malley tweeted support for Lewis, saying, "John Lewis is right. Trump wasn't popularly elected. A fascist candidacy based on racist fears [and] Russian help should never be legitimized."  I kept waiting for someone to go after O'Malley by saying that someone who, as mayor of Baltimore, disregarded civil rights by having so many black men in that city arrested by the police (many of the arrests under O'Malley's mayoralty were in fact repeat-offense arrests) had no business expressing solidarity with Lewis.  To the best of my knowledge, that did not happen.
On balance, though, O'Malley is in better position for a comeback than Jerome Cavanagh ever was.  He has a more solid record for getting results and for being committed to public service as a vehicle to advance the greater good.  His leadership qualities are bound to be reappraised and positively appreciated.    

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Going For the Gold Cup

After an uninspiring game or two in the CONCACAF Gold Cup men's soccer tournament, the United States  scored an impressive victory over Costa Rica this past Saturday to make it the championship game.  Our guys will play Jamaica tomorrow in what could be the prelude to the most exciting World Cup ever next year.  (Jamaica upset Mexico to win its championship berth.)  The United States, contrary to its reputation as the ninety-five-pound weakling of men's soccer, has in fact won five Gold Cup championships, and the team has shown obvious improvement of late.  Could this be the setup for our boys' best-ever showing in a World Cup come 2018?  Could they even be a . . . Cup favorite?
We'll find out soon enough.  I'll certainly be watching the Gold Cup championship game tomorrow night.  It'll be a refreshing diversion from what's going on in Washington, particularly the Russia story.  Ironically, the 2018 World Cup is taking place in . . . Russia.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Can't Find a Better Slogan

I mean, have you seen these guys?
The Democratic Party, having tried out different taglines for the upcoming 2018 midterm elections, finally thinks it has a winning slogan, and, tellingly, it's not one of the slogans the party offered its members to vote on earlier this month.   It's better than those four would-be slogans, so it's appropriate that it uses the word "better" four times.  Here it is: 
"A Better Deal: Better Skills, Better Jobs, Better Wages"
So okay, it has a subtle reference to Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, and the message, as Bill Clinton might have said, focuses on the economy like a laser beam.  So far, so good - or, so better.  Well, what's not to like?
Quite a few things, actually.  For one thing, the slogan doesn't tell us how Democrats are going to provide a better job market.  Doing something about income inequality would be nice, but the Democrats can't say anything that would offend their Wall Street backers, even though they've lost most of them to Donald Trump.  Second, it doesn't tell us what kind of superior jobs the Democrats want to provide.  Maybe jobs building and running a modern national passenger railroad?  Maybe bringing manufacturing jobs back from China?  Who knows?  Thirdly, it doesn't say how they plan to provide the skills; maybe bring Gary Hart's "Strategic Investments" policy proposal from the eighties out of cold storage?  More likely, they expect you to figure out how to get the skills, which sounds like a Republican proposal.  Fourth, the slogan only mentions economic issues and doesn't say diddly-squat about quality-of-life issues - nothing about schools, no mention of climate change, and no stand on gun control, the issue that nasty woman Hillary Clinton disregarded when she cackled at Martin O'Malley to "get a grip" after he spoke passionately about it in a presidential debate.  And oh yeah, no mention of the issue that the Republicans have forced us to face - the fate of the health care system.
But the last and most damning flaw of this slogan is its comparative-degree language.  The slogan doesn't say that the Democrats can provide a superb or an excellent economic program, or even a good one - only a better one.  Better than what?  The Republican economic program?  Well, yes, the Democratic economic program is better, I guess.  Providing hundreds of thousands of dead-end jobs is better than providing tens of thousands of dead-end jobs.  A modest tax increase on the wealthy is better than a tax cut for the wealthy.
And Cleopatra was a better movie than Heaven's Gate.
The simple truth is that while Republicans haven't exactly set the bar very high, neither have the Democrats.  Both the Clinton and Obama administrations improved the economy, but many people were still left out, and the fact that the Republicans controlled the House of Representatives for six of the eight years of each of Clinton's and Obama's two terms in office only goes so far to excuse both men. Clinton was instrumental in repealing the Glass-Steagall Act separating investment and commercial banking, and Obama did nothing to prosecute the bankers who took advantage of the law's repeal and caused the Wall Street financial crisis of 2008.  Simply being better isn't enough.  This slogan was supposed to have been worked out with a Bernie Sanders supporter, but it sounds a lot like the banter of then-Virginia governor and now U.S. Senator (and 2016 Democratic vice presidential nominee)  Tim Kaine, below, in his official Democratic response to President George Walker Bush's 2006 State of the Union address.      
Every other sentence of Kaine's remarks seemed to be, "But there's a better way."  Jon Stewart, then the host of "The Daily Show," quite smartly mocked him for never explicitly saying what the better way was. Jay Willis of Gentleman's Quarterly, meanwhile, summed up the problem with the new Democratic tagline better than I ever could:  
"Voters want better skills, and better jobs, and better wages. (And better health care, and a stronger social safety net, and a fairer tax system, and so on and so forth.) But the party desperately needs to decide which policies it plans to support in order effectuate these outcomes, even if some of the more tantalizing possibilities - single-payer health care or a federal minimum wage hike or whatever - are more aspirational at this particular moment in history than anything else."
Incidentally, this new slogan from the Democrats led many folks to compare it (unfavorably) with a similar slogan from Papa John's Pizza:  "Better Ingredients, Better Pizza."  Which is ironic, since Papa John's founder John Schnatter built his empire on paying his employees low wages and used his millions to build himself a mansion in California so colossal that even William Randolph Hearst would have scoffed at its opulence.  The slogan recalled for me the use of comparative-degree words in those old Napier costume jewelry ads, as the Democrats' promises are just as authentic and as serious as costume jewelry.  But at least the comparative-degree adjectives in those old Napier ads had a purpose - to ensure the correct pronunciation of the brand name.

And at least those Napier ads featured hot models like Kelly Emberg (above) and Jane Hitchcock. 
 All the Democrats have to offer are Charles Schumer and Tom Perez.
And they're not exactly GQ material.
The voters are not stupid.  They know that there's something better.  But they don't see anything out there that's good
And if the Democrats need another slogan in the near future, perhaps they can consider this one . . .