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Thursday, October 30, 2008

WE WIN!!!!

I'm going to share something with all of you. Yes, I know it's been months since I last posted, but I think I need to tell you all something.

As a baseball fan, tonight, I am a golden god.

My matriculation to deity happened about 4 1/2 hours and 6 beers ago, when the Phillies won their second World Series title and first since 1980.

Brad Lidge strikes out Eric Hinske for the final out, and for a brief moment in time (at least until April) all the pain, anguish and torn hair caused by being a lifetime fan of the Philadelphia Phillies disappears under a hail of shouts, screams and a touch of alcohol.

I live in Milwaukee now, but damned if I'm not going to spread the joy, beginning with this blog post. As a fan humbled by their excellence, I'd like to personally thank every member of the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies for giving the last 28 years meaning. For all the dreams shattered, for all the almost-was-es to today's celebration, may all of you walk together forever. As a fan, when I'm 80 and soiling my underpants, I shall remember your names, and I shall smile. May the magic never wear off.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

So It's Been Awhile

Oh the places I've gone.

Since we last left our readers you can count on one hand, I've changed jobs, watched my beloved Penguins lose the Stanley Cup, and officially become a recording artist.

First the job. I'm now a Compliance Officer for a local medical billing firm. I love this place! Imagine starting every work day with a clean slate and finishing a daily project all the same? This may be the job I've always wanted. I know I've thought that before, but this time it may be the whole shooting match. I go to work and create, and then I return home and create. I'm not sure what I should do with myself and my creativity...

Until this past weekend. I drove the 800 miles to Marietta, Georgia for the release of To Whom, Etc., the debut album by my old friend Steve Whitworth. I contributed vocals on 5 tracks on the 9-song album. We played live, and Steve and his good friends in his band Absolute Jack killed. I would have liked to hit better notes, but I received many second-hand compliments over the 24 hours after the gig while I was either preparing for or completing the drive home. Steve and I are already talking about recording the follow-up. I look forward to my eventual return down South for just that purpose.

Meanwhile, back in the land of Beer and Sausage (and Cheese, but I hate cheese), my own collective, The Jumping Frenchmen of Maine, prepares for a show this Friday at Smokin' Joe's in West Allis, WI. That will be followed up with a show at The Chancery in Waukesha on August 30th. Busy, busy, busy.....

Monday, May 12, 2008

Ed Snider's Reign Of Terror Continues Unabated

I’ll start this post with a question. What do Ed Snider and Fox News have in common?

The answer is that no intelligent person believes a word coming out of either entity, and yet both really don’t care. For you see, the people that Ed Snider and Fox News lie to on a daily basis aren’t intelligent human beings. The people they lie to are their rabid fans.

The ongoing horror that is Fox News continues uninterrupted despite over 80% of the country disagreeing with them on a daily basis in George W. Bush’s United States. I’ll let the reader find a first-tier source to document those particular atrocities. For Ed Snider and the Philadelphia Flyers, look no further.

I am now and from this day forward a Pittsburgh Penguins fan. I have been since 2001. I used to be a Flyers fan, but I got sick of flogging a dead horse.

The first hockey game I ever watched was the first game of the 1974 quarterfinals between the Atlanta Flames and the Flyers. I was 8 years old, and my family had just moved back to the greater Philadelphia area. I just happened to have turned on an old black and white TV that was showing the game. The Flyers won that game 4-1, skating and shooting rings around Tom Lysiak, Eric Vail, Phil Myre, Brian Hextall and the rest of the Flames. The Flyers went on to win the Stanley Cup that year and again in 1975. They’ve never won one since.

As a child and far too long into adulthood, I believed in another Stanley cup victory that never happened. Sure, they came close. They lost in the finals to the Islanders in 1980 due to a bad offside call by the ever-deplored Leon Stickle. They lost to Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers in 1987, and again to the Detroit Red Wings 10 years later. In reality, all three teams overachieved, and continued to miss the key elements that would put them over the top. Further, it can be argued that if the two teams that had won the Stanley Cup in the ‘70’s had had to face the Montreal Canadiens in the playoffs in either of those years, they may never have won a cup at all. They finally did run up against the Canadiens in 1976, and were swept in the finals.

And yet, the Flyers faithful continue to pay the ever-increasing ticket prices to watch a team that last won a championship in the abbreviated Gerald Ford administration. The Flyers brass, led by aging owner and perpetual excuse dispenser Ed Snider, continue on the same outdated course that has now lasted longer on this earth than Jimi Hendrix did, and falling far short of the fireworks from the solo in “All Along The Watchtower”.

As I watched my newly-beloved Penguins take a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals last night, I saw the Flyers again choose brawn over brains with the addition of Steve Downie to their lineup. On the final one of his few shifts of the evening, Downie coughed up the puck in his own zone, leading to the game-winning goal being scored by Maxime Talbot, the Penguins fourth-line center. To review, the other centers in Pittsburgh have the last names of Crosby, Malkin and Staal. All three are known for goal scoring. Max Talbot is a fourth-line center nursing a broken foot.

This type of soul-searching in the clutch has been a hallmark of the Philadelphia Flyers every time they get this deep into the playoffs over the last 20 years. While some allowances can be made for injuries on the blue line to Kimmo Timonen and, as of last night, Braydon Coburn, the Flyers continue to be the bulls in the proverbial china shop. They’re great at throwing hits and knocking things over, but the puck has to enter the other team’s net more often than your own. That is what wins hockey games.

It’s not as if the Flyers lack talent in this area, with Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Daniel Briere in their lineup. However, the balance of their forwards are all what I like to call “Bobby Clarke types”, two way centers for whom skating is for the most part a secondary skill. This may very well be the Achilles’ Heel of the whole franchise. Every year, on draft day, when faced with the choice between a proven scorer and a plugger with an attitude, they choose the latter. They proudly assign the moniker of “a guy who plays Flyers Hockey” to whoever that poor, misguided soul might be, and they once again rise to the not-so-ethereal heights of the first circle of Hockey’s Inferno, which is forever reserved for also-rans. The irony of Daniel Briere now being a Flyer is that the Flyers could have drafted him the year he became eligible. Apparently, Briere didn’t play “Flyers Hockey” in junior, as he had the audacity to actually score points in Quebec Major Junior. The Flyers instead drafted Dainius Zubrus, a now-journeyman center and only the second Lithuanian ever to play in the NHL. Now that’s Flyers hockey.

If the ineptitude of the front office were only evident on draft day, that would be one thing. The Flyers have also been burned with free agent signings over the last decade. Veterans who were supposed to be the missing piece of the puzzle for a championship populate their recent history. People like John VanBiesbrouck, Jeremy Roenick and Sami Kapanen have all arrived in Philadelphia past their expiration dates. Others that looked good on paper, like Chris Gratton, were spoiled by a series of coaches with either little to no NHL coaching experience (Bill Barber, John Stevens) or long tenures with no championships (Terry Murray, Roger Neilsen).

The reward for continuing and stubborn mediocrity has been an economic windfall for Ed Snider and the Comcast Corporation, as the con game continues between the Flyers marketing department and the fans that populate the Wachovia Center. Ed Snider is a millionaire many times over, and as a veteran of the ownership group that hired Gary Bettman, pulls a lot of strings behind the scenes in the NHL. Is it any accident that the Comcast-owned Vs. Network, the acknowledged cable home of bull riding and sport fishing, is now the official cable network of the NHL in America? Of course ESPN is the preferred home of any sport that calls itself respectable, but respectable doesn’t line Ed Snider’s pockets quite enough apparently. It is this kind of self-serving decision making that leaves the NHL behind pro football, college football, baseball, the NBA, college basketball and NASCAR in the pecking order of American sports. More people watch the NFL Draft than the Stanley Cup Finals in the United States. That borders on treasonous.

The Flyers continue to hike their ticket prices, which does not include the money shelled out by their fans for gas, food and parking. The fans, delusional as ever, in all their best Kevin Bacon regalia, bend over, get hit by the paddle and say “Thank you sir. May I have another?” WIP, the popular local sports radio station, calls Flyers fans “Stepfords” and for good reason. The Flyers are a cult like no other in professional sports. Former players that are forever referred to as “the Flyers Family” infect the front office of the Philadelphia Flyers. There are Amish families 50 miles to the West of Philadelphia that exhibit more diversity than the Flyers’ brain trust.

It’s often said that being a fan of the New York Yankees is like rooting for the House at a blackjack table. The Flyers will continue to pay exorbitant amounts of money on big name players that are past their prime, throwing bait to their free-spending fans, deceiving them into thinking that this one new player is the one to put them over the top. The Flyers follow the Yankee model, with the only difference being a lack of success on the playing surface.

As we prepare to see signs in the crowd tomorrow night at the Wachovia Center from the Flyers fans that call Sidney Crosby a crybaby, it won’t enter the minds of those 20,000 fans in attendance that the only way they’ll ever see a guy with the skill set of a Sidney Crosby in the Flyers’ lineup is by a fat contract when he’s past his prime. The Flyers model is tired, robotic and not about to change. As long as the cattle stream to Broad Street, money in hand, accepting at face value the pronouncements from on high, it will be a case of good money after bad. A little ignorance of the way things could be goes a long way.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hillary Clinton's Fight for Relevance

Today is primary day in my former homeland of Pennsylvania. While Hillary Clinton is expected to come away as the victor in this particular contest, going forward she carries on her back the hopes and dreams of a group within the Democratic Party who with each passing day become more and more an irrelevant anachronism.

The Democratic Leadership Council was brought forth in the age of Ronald Reagan as a response to Democratic candidates whose views were seen as too far to the left of the country as a whole. Bill Clinton, Joe Lieberman and others felt it was their collective duty to lead the Democrats to the White House by staking a claim to what they believed was the middle ground that all Americans sought. In 1993, the world was their oyster. Having just taken the White House and holding a majority in both the Senate and the House, it seemed like the DLC way was destined to be the new way forward.

In actuality, the DLC way was doomed from the start. When the differences with Republicans across the aisle appeared to be semantic more than substantive, parts became interchangeable in the eyes of the independent voter. The base of the Democratic Party becomes disinterested in voting for candidates that didn’t share their views. It also didn’t help that the early 90’s saw the ascendancy of right wing talk radio and Newt Gingrich, two entities that were more interested in verbal bomb throwing than responsible governance. In eight short years, Clinton found himself impeached for something far short of a high crime, and George W. Bush, the perfect symbol of all that is wrong with the United States, became the president.

The DLC’s last stand now presents itself in the guise of Hillary Clinton. She stands seemingly as the last great believer in the right-leaning triangulation that propelled her husband to the White House 16 years ago. Facts such as Ross Perot taking 19% of the vote in 1992 and propelling Bill Clinton to the White House with far less than a 50% majority of the vote are conveniently left out of her narrative. For Clinton, she is fighting not just for the presidency, but for future relevance for herself and her brethren.

The DLC is having enough of a hard time without a Clinton loss further kicking sand in their face. The DLC’s current chairman, Harold Ford, endorsed Christopher Shays, a Republican, in his current reelection bid to the House of Representatives. When he’s not endorsing Republicans, he’s sponsoring conventions on the DLC’s behalf that feature a lot of empty chairs. Joe Lieberman, fighting his own ongoing battle with irrelevance, turned in his DLC card years ago.

For Hillary Clinton, she only needs to look across the aisle at her Senate colleague from Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy, for a glimpse into her future as a losing presidential candidate. Ted Kennedy says all the right things nowadays and is a reliable Democrat on a host of issues, but his speeches only serve to recall a time when his personal possibilities, based on his name and his position, seemed less limited. His relevance on a national scale is minimal at best, despite his surname and the power that once summoned.

All of this should be taken into account when you listen to Hillary Clinton trash, or talk about using nuclear weapons on a sovereign nation, or having her subordinates argue that any states with fewer than 15 electoral votes that she happens to have lost are full of latte-drinking elitists. Hillary Clinton currently gazes into an abyss of future irrelevance, buffeted only by millionaire donors making veiled threats and the hope of getting enough Democratic superdelegates to ignore the popular vote. Maybe she and Ted will get together in the Senate commissary someday and discuss their twin fates, even if by Hillary Clinton’s latest words and deeds they have nothing else in common politically.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Help Me Not Be A Drain On Society

"…promote the general welfare…"

I’m not a constitutional scholar, and would never pretend to be, but as an American, whenever I think about the potential of the land of my birth, I go to the preamble to our Constitution. Those 52 words ratified 221 years ago hold great promise, neatly summarizing the goals of a new country.

The first four words of this post affect me more than any other. I’m employed in the healthcare industry. No, I’m not a doctor or other specific caregiver, as that would define me as "useful". I’m on the administrative side. I represent that portion of the American healthcare system that drains much-needed resources from things such as providing timely medical care to patients and educating the public on risks to health.

Without being too specific about my daily job functions (not that I’m hiding; hell my name is right there in my ID), I am a certified medical coder. As briefly as possible, I’ll try to describe what that is. Every medical test, service, procedure and patient condition has a numeric equivalent for governmental reporting and insurance billing. I’ve been trained to determine what numbers go where on which bill for which patient for what service or condition. For this, I make a healthy wage in a recession-proof industry.

I’m going to ask something of you that may come as a shock, but I’ll do it anyway.

As quickly as you can, please put me out of a job.

Though I do not work in a doctor’s office on a daily basis, trust me when I tell you that I’m on the front lines and the American healthcare system is broken. We need single-payer healthcare yesterday.

I started on the insurance side of this industry in 1989. I was a medical claims adjuster for a little over 6 years. The time I spent on that side of the fence gave me incredible insight into the mind of the person adjudicating your medical insurance claims. Specifically, some of these people really get their rocks off denying services. I wasn’t one of them. I can remember an instance where I was forced by the terms of a patient’s insurance policy to deny a $92,000 hospital bill for a 4-year-old girl with lymphoma. I also remember the hangover I had the next morning from trying to drink my guilt away.

"…promote the general welfare…"

I’ve had my share of stops in this industry. I now find myself on the physician side attempting to educate physicians and other practitioners on documentation for services. I feel that this only slightly helps the treatment outcomes for the patients. What I really feel is that I am employed as a defense mechanism against Medicare and insurance regulations designed not to compensate physicians for the fair value of their services. Meanwhile medical mistakes are on the rise in hospital settings, much-needed treatment is being withheld due to cost to insurers and the amount of a typical healthcare dollar spent on jobs like mine keeps going up.

I realize that I can’t speak for everyone in my sphere of the healthcare industry. I can only speak for myself when I tell all of you to put me out of work. I’ll find another job. I’m reasonably intelligent and have the innate survival skills to find something else to do with the 25 years (give or take) I have left in the working world. I can even write and sing a song or two. Who knows where that might lead?

A society that cares about the fate of all of their citizens would have moved to a single-payer healthcare system years ago (some enlightened countries have already). I currently exist as a symbol of everything that’s wrong with America’s approach to its own citizens. Do the country a favor and politely send me packing.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Casey Endorsement of Obama Only a Temporary Favor

As a former resident of Pennsylvania, I can tell you that when it comes to voting, the Keystone State is an odd place. There are blue areas around the state, mostly Philadelphia and other urban centers, but Pennsylvania is still a place where a good candidate, no matter what party, can rise to the top and become a force. Pennsylvanians tend to look at each individual candidate not so much for party affiliation, but for stands on individual issues.

Pennsylvania has the highest population of voters over the age of 65, mainly because the benefits of being old in Pennsylvania are many. As one example, all proceeds for the Pennsylvania lottery go to programs benefiting senior citizens. The late Republican Senator John Heinz, nicknamed "Senator Landslide", was one of the bigger advocates of issues affecting seniors during his tenure in the Senate. Pennsylvania is also roughly 30% Catholic, a great many of whom vote only based on a candidate’s stand on abortion.

Into this backdrop comes freshman senator Bob Casey, Jr., who today announced that he is endorsing Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination for President. Like his namesake former governor father, Casey’s power center is mostly in Western Pennsylvania, and his name and endorsement will do nothing but help Obama in the red and purple parts of the state.

Now relocated, I haven’t had a chance to see Bob Casey Jr. enough to form an opinion on his political career, but my opinion of his father is carved in granite. I was taught not to speak ill of the dead, but in Bob Casey Sr.’s case, I’ll make an exception. He was a scumbag. The biggest reason he won his first gubernatorial campaign was because of a TV ad now referred to as "The Guru Ad". The ad was run in the western and rural parts of the state against his Republican opponent, Mark Scranton. It showed pictures of a long-haired Scranton in the early 1970’s as a threatening voice talked about his living for a short time on a commune under the leadership of some questionable cult-like figure now lost to the sands of time. The insinuation of the ad was clear. Do you trust Casey, anti-choice establishment Democrat, or some now clean-shaven hippie? The ad was considered so toxic at the time that it never ran on any station anywhere near Philadelphia, as it was thought that the ad would cut into Casey’s Democratic base of support there. Casey ended up racking up big numbers in the rural part of the state that carried him to the Governor’s mansion.

When Casey Sr. was in declining health in the mid-90’s, he was able to get a heart-lung transplant by magically appearing at the top of the transplant list. No one ever provided a reasonable explanation for how this happened.

Bob Casey Jr., much like his father, is a Democrat more for political expediency than for any other reason. The Casey family is adamantly anti-choice and they are very comfortable seeking the middle ground when the Republican wagons begin circling. It’s hard to blame them for this behavior, given the split personality of the Pennsylvania electorate. Casey will have a long career in Pennsylvania politics because the Republican Party in Pennsylvania is currently drenched with people like Curt Weldon, Joe Pitts and Pat Toomey. Arlen Specter, as silly as he is in all his camera-mugging glory, is truly the best the Republican Party in Pennsylvania has to offer in the post-John Heinz era. In any other state, a guy like Bob Casey would either never make it past the local level, or he would be a Republican in the mold of a John Danforth. I gave him my support from afar in the last Senate election because like many others I observed that Rick Santorum was a cancer on the body politic and needed to have his revolting back side booted back to Virginia, where he actually lives.

Bob Casey Jr. endorsing Obama is good for Obama in the short term, but Casey is not a guy with a lot of credibility with the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. Given Pennsylvania’s political intricacies, this endorsement is stunning. On the surface, Casey would seem to have more in common with Hillary Clinton than Barack Obama. In a state like Pennsylvania, where KKK membership is higher than any other state in the union (you truly have to see parts of Central Pennsylvania to believe it), Casey endorsing Obama won’t do him any favors in 2012 if he runs for re-election to his Senate seat. I commend Bob Casey Jr. for the courage of his endorsement of Obama, but it is with the realization that it doesn’t do Obama any favors with his core constituency in other parts of the country.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Clinton Victory By #6 Combo

It has been a week since I first put forth a proposition to the campaign of Hillary Clinton for President.

By any reasonable mathematical equation, Hillary Clinton cannot win the presidency without cajoling or making wild and unwieldy promises to the sizable swath of uncommitted superdelegates in the Democratic Party. She has currently won fewer states, has fewer pledged delegates and yes, she also trails in the popular vote, unless you apply what I call the Lieberman Theorem. This theorem posits than when you finish anywhere but where you expect to finish, it’s best to call it a tie, such as a three-way tie for third when you finish fifth in New Hampshire. There’s no such thing as a statistical dead heat when all the votes are counted. Either you finished first, or you lost. Hillary Clinton is currently in second place. The only entity that reverses the absolutes of voting mathematics is 5 extremists in black robes on the Supreme Court.

Being an Obama voter from the state of Wisconsin, I have made my voice heard in this election. I voted for Obama and hope he is the eventual nominee. In the face of the current mathematics, if he isn’t the nominee, I will immediately declare myself to be a supervoter, with carries with it all the expectations of cajoling, wild promises or perhaps bribery that the superdelegates currently hold.

As a supervoter, if Hillary Clinton wants my vote, I want a number 6 combo from Wendy’s, plain, biggie sized with a Hi-C. In addition, Bill Clinton has to sit with me as I eat it, and Eddie Vedder has to join him, as my wife is a Pearl Jam fan and she missed their last concert in Milwaukee because she was giving birth to our son.

There is no doubt in my mind that if Hillary Clinton wins the nomination, she’ll spend about 2 ½ months of time between the Democratic Convention and the general election showing up on campaign stops next to superdelegates running for re-election as a thank you for giving her the Democratic nomination. Absent that, her big money donors, (the ones currently blackmailing Nancy Pelosi Don Corleone-style by tersely worded letter), will more than likely start throwing their money around into the campaign coffers of superdelegates who back Clinton at the convention.

If a superdelegate’s vote for Clinton carries enough weight for a series of quid pro quos, so too does the vote of a supervoter. We all want something. She wants a vote. I want lunch. My wife wants to meet Eddie Vedder. Everybody’s happy, and it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than a campaign stop and much friendlier than a reading from the Book of Threats.

I’m hoping that there are many more like me. I want to start a supervoter movement. Picture if you will the last scene of the movie "Billy Jack". Instead of an upraised fist, imagine that all the students of the Freedom School held a spicy chicken sandwich in their hands? Billy is driven off in the back of a police car (substitute Bill Clinton in the back of a limousine) on a road lined for miles by people holding sandwiches aloft. The slightly clouded Southwestern skies dotted not by the red painted mountains of the desert, but by God’s most perfect creation, the Wendy’s spicy chicken sandwich in the united hands of humankind. It is this kind of rampant idealism that shapes me as an American. My dream of a spicy chicken sandwich has now replaced thoughts on policy as we approach the general election.

I’ll make a promise to all of you. If Obama wins the nomination, come to Milwaukee, introduce yourself by your Daily Kos ID, and we’ll celebrate with a stop at my favorite Wendy’s at the corner of Chase and Oklahoma in Milwaukee. If Clinton wins the nomination, I hereby promise that I shall not eat a beloved spicy chicken sandwich until Bill Clinton and Eddie Vedder come to Milwaukee to eat one with me. Bill’s buying, so it’s not like I need to scrape up the money.
As a supervoter, what I ask for is much less than what is being offered to superdelegates currently. This isn’t a $100 a plate dinner we’re talking about here. Throw in a chocolate frosty and we’re talking about maybe $10, plus the cost of tranportation to Milwaukee. Transportation is negligible though. If Hillary Clinton wins the nomination, someone who represents her is coming to Wisconsin, also known as "a much-needed swing state". My Wendy’s is about a ten-minute drive from the airport. Bill and Eddie could swing by, eat with the jpspencers after local drive-thru maven Ron gives us all our food perfectly matched to our order, and be done in about 45 minutes tops. Then it’s on to Marquette, or UWM or some other high value destination within the city limits where ralliers await (possibly with chicken sandwiches in hand; you never know). You can even bring a camera crew along. I’ll endorse Hillary and take a bite of my chicken sandwich, instantly creating an image for the ages (don’t worry; I weigh 196). And, what the hell, Eddie can have my fries!

A chicken sandwich is such a small price to pay for knee-capping the preferred candidate. A political hit requires a karmic price. As a supervoter, I demand my tribute. E Pluribus Pulli, Unum! GIVE ME SPICY CHICKEN OR GIVE ME DEATH!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Buckminster Fuller and the Subprime Mortgage Crisis

As the effects of the banking and mortgage crisis become more apparent, it offers all of us an opportunity to look at some of the less visible reasons behind it.

The primary reasons for it are obvious at this point. We have the adjustable rate mortgage, which may very well be the greediest lending avenue ever devised by humankind, automobile leasing being a close second. Some of the percentage increases now former homeowners were faced with when ARM’s reset at higher interest rates were staggering, so much so that many homeowners have chosen to send house keys to the bank rather than pay an inflated mortgage on a home that’s losing its sales value. Add to this fact that there are many mortgage brokers rewarded not so much for minimizing risk to their lender employers, but for getting a signature on the dotted line, and the ingredients for disaster begin to congeal.

This is where we come to the less obvious reasons. We clearly have a certain percentage of borrowers living beyond their means. While it may be fashionable for someone with a good job to desire a house worth $750,000 or more, very few members of our society can reasonably afford a dwelling at this price. With each new McMansion style development that swallows open land space and existing resources, people begin to measure wealth by the square feet inside a dwelling, rather than the value and efficiency of that living space to themselves and their immediate environment.

Modern housing developers cater not to needs, but desires. Denizens of cities and their immediate suburbs dream of the great big house in the country. If we take the example of greater Atlanta, the future effects of this desire have arrived in an ugly fashion, as Lake Lanier, the water source for Atlanta and suburbs as far as 40 miles away is running dry. While lack of sustained rainfall can share some of the blame, the bigger culprit is the sprawling, overpriced cul de sacs that ring Atlanta in the far suburbs. I have a friend who lives in Marietta, GA, which is roughly 30 miles north of Atlanta. When I visited him recently, he drove around his immediate area and pointed out what used to be farms two decades ago, now gone. In their place are gated communities, with prices on individual homes behind the gates going up to 7 figures and beyond.

There are now over seven billion people on the planet. While human potential is infinite, the amount of ground available to human beings is not, and the open spaces are disappearing. With each farm that disappears under the weight of obscenely overpriced and oversized housing comes the realization that one small source of food evaporates along with it. This fact alarmed Thomas Malthus. R Buckminster Fuller saw it as an opportunity to rethink and redesign man’s immediate needs and environment with attention to design and reuse of existing resources.

With this in mind, Fuller brought forth the Dymaxion House, a four-dimensional house built around one pole with sufficient space for a family of four and all modern conveniences. The unique design would allow for a constant suitable temperature in all seasons, thereby conserving dwindling resources such as natural gas. Unfortunately, it was derided as a "tin can" and under the weight of the failure of his business, Fuller was only able to erect one temporary Dymaxion House in Kansas.

Sixty years later, Fuller’s grand designs warrant a second look. While not perfect, the though process that brought them forward had the best of intentions. This cannot be said of the modern land developer, who puts profit motive ahead of reasonable use of space. Municipalities, eager to expand the existing tax base in an American economy no longer invested in domestic manufacturing, happily sign over the land for unneeded and unnecessary new development.

With an increasing percentage of this type of housing now sitting empty and seeing stark devaluation, we have now reached a watershed moment to reassess what it means to live "comfortably". Does comfort means that each member of a family of four deserves 1,000 square feet of space under one roof? Given the direct environmental impact of an affirmative answer to that question, does a 4,000-square foot family have an obligation to break it to fellow citizens within their immediate geography that they must go without space and resources for the sake of the comfort of 4 people out of seven billion?

Comfort and affordability need not be mutually exclusive. The operative principles exist to utilize space and resources for all to live comfortably. With the number of McMansion foreclosures slowly rising, it is time to change our perception of these homes from one of overvalued vacancy to one of suburban blight. With a combination of reason and political will, we can insure that now is the time to send these developments back to the drawing board to be replaced by the kind of shelter that benefits a higher percentage of the population and the resources at all of our disposal.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Bigger Fight behind the Sirius/XM Merger

For purposes of full disclosure, I must state that I am not only a subscriber to Sirius Satellite radio and have been for two years, but I also am currently a holder of 100 shares of Sirius stock. While this is not a large amount, I can be reasonably judged to have a vested interest in what I write about. I disclose this because it’s the right thing to do.

With that out of the way, I’d like to join the chorus of those in the world who aren’t legislators and government "regulators" being bought off by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), a front group for the Republican-leaning Clear Channel Communications. There is absolutely no reason in the world why the Sirius/XM merger should not go through. Anyone who says otherwise is on the take and not arguing the point honestly.

The main thread of argument is that the combined company represents a satellite radio monopoly. This is absurd. The combined company would represent slightly more than 5% of the entire audience for all broadcast radio. This number does not include broadband streaming of FM stations, which presumably decreases the percentage for satellite radio if included. Satellite radio currently does not compete against itself. It competes against terrestrial radio, MP3 players such as the IPod and CD’s. With such a small percentage of the total listening audience, the combined company wouldn’t cease to be a fly on most windshields, but rather it would become a rubber fly that could bounce and compete on its own merits.

The NAB is paying legislators, including Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Roy Blunt (R-MO), to put forth the monopoly argument because anyone, like myself, who experiences satellite radio for 15 minutes knows that they never want to listen to terrestrial radio again. If the NAB could be honest and argue that they want to see satellite radio die because it’s cutting into their action, I could be persuaded to listen. Lying doesn’t get my attention.

Yet there is a bigger reason why everyone in this community should be fighting tooth and nail for the Sirius/XM merger to go through.

It is currently being argued by the usual suspects (such as Michael Smerconish) that talk radio leans heavily to the right due to overwhelming demand for that kind of opinion on terrestrial radio. All one needs to do is look at the ratings Al Franken drew in New York City when he was up against Bill O’Reilly to see the right wing argument for the lie that it is. Left wing talk is buried because Clear Channel wants it buried.

Air America Radio, begun with the best of intentions, is still for the most part sequestered in smaller radio markets. I live in Milwaukee and the closest Air America station is in Madison. Unless I turn up my AM radio in my car to volume 43, I’m not hearing Air America Radio.
Enter satellite radio. I can’t speak for XM not being a subscriber, but Sirius channel 146 supplies 24 hours of left wing talk radio. I realize that it is mostly a work in progress, as it’s currently populated by DLC types like Bill Press and Alex Bennett, who spend far too much time taking cheap shots at progressives to stroke their own egos. Lynn Samuels in the afternoon, while funny, is the human vocal equivalent of a horse getting a pitchfork suppository. Having said that, it’s nice to know that the channel is there and thriving. Air America Radio is currently on its third ownership group, tilting at the Clear Channel windmill on terrestrial radio while constantly downgrading the on-air talent and cutting costs.

I’m particularly annoyed with Louise Slaughter on this subject. Anybody with half their hearing notices that progressive voices are being shut out of terrestrial radio. Why empower these people further by killing one of the few national outlets for progressive talk in the country? Is $1,000 really the financial threshold for stabbing your own constituency in the back? The Pharisees would have loved Louise.

John Conyers isn’t immune from criticism on this. The people in his district have contacted him in large numbers telling him the obvious, but he appears to be in Clear Channel’s pocket as well, as he is putting forth the monopoly straw man at every opportunity. Decades of independence and fighting for progressives shot to hell. Way to go, John!

It surprises me little that Democrats constantly vote against their own beliefs. With a wide swath of broadcast media lined up firmly against them, they worry more about appearances and appeasement than standing up for what they believe in. Cowering in fear is the new bravery in the Democratic Party. This thought process gave us the rogue regime we currently have in power in the White House. The only question to be asked, as we have asked it with net neutrality, the Iraq War, telecom immunity, the Justice Department scandal and other scandals too numerous to count is "With the president at a 19% approval rating, why cave"?

If you insist on shutting down one of the few outlets to get your side heard for the convenience of a little money, why not just sever your own vocal chords and get it over with? Think of the windfall!

One last point. Sirius isn’t completely immune from criticism. Sirius 146 is called Sirius Left. The right wing equivalent (I don’t know the station number for obvious reasons) is called Sirius Patriot. I happily call bullshit on that, but at least Sirius Left is in existence. It should stay that way. It has now been over a year since the merger proposal was put forth. Sirius and XM have expanded their own deadline for the merger to go through thanks to the NAB’s money gumming up the wheels of the decision making. Enough already!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The “Stimulus Package” Still Makes Me Angry

As someone who is part Italian and part Irish, I learned at a very young age that I needed to do my best to keep my genetic predisposition towards hyperanimation and anger in check. The presidency of George W. Bush has severely tested the limits of my personal patience. In most cases when I visit here, I have done my level best to be civil and to bury the more guttural speech that was part of my upbringing in Philadelphia.

Yes, the war, the constant stream of lies emanating from the White House and the eunuchs in Congress who call themselves Democrats all made me extremely angry to varying degrees, but I calmed down by telling myself that in the current climate in America, self-determination is the prevailing power. At the end of the day, I had the wherewithal to take care of myself with minimal interference. After all, fundamentally, this was still America.

Then came the "stimulus package", or as I now call it, that FUCKING stimulus package.

With this action, the powers that be in Washington, D.C. have now completed their conversion from freely elected representatives of the people to an Americanized House of Lords.

Let me start at the beginning. Whoever the person was who came up with Adjustable Rate Mortgages should go into the Legalized Grifting Hall of Fame, right next to the sonofabitch who invented auto leasing, which is basically selling the same car twice for its sticker price. Never mind the fact that the moment it gets a mile from the dealership, the car has lost 50% of its stated value. By all means, everyone needs an eternal car payment.

The mortgage industry peddled the American Dream to people who couldn’t afford it. The reason for this had nothing to do with altruism or building a better country or community. It had everything to do with bonuses to the individual mortgage brokers for getting a signature on several dotted lines.

Thanks to the changes in bankruptcy rules requested by the major banks that were fast-tracked through Congress a few years ago, the banks are now surprised to find that people are more than happy to abandon the houses that are plummeting to values below the purchase price. If you can’t afford the mortgage at an adjusted rate, the cost of that mortgage is more than the value of the home and bankruptcy protection is now off the table, why wouldn’t you abandon the house?

The fundamentals of the economy, thanks in large part to the upending of the mortgage market, are still a train wreck. The FDIC currently is making preparations for the failure of roughly 200 banks. In addition, they are making it known that they are looking for a separate entity to take care of the portion of bank failures that deals solely with mortgage losses. None of the banks are talking about the true indemnity of their mortgage debt, fearing a run. The brokerage houses that repackaged the lousy mortgages as now-worthless collateralized debt obligations are being propped up economically by China and other foreign "investors". The beginnings of the effect on credit card payments and car loans are now being realized, as the default rates for both are now climbing.

The solution of the Lords on High in Washington, D.C., after about 20 minutes of serious deliberation, is to throw money to the peasants so they can buy things they don’t need. This is apparently the panacea to all of our economic problems.

I am not a serf. I am not a person who needs to be taught how and when to spend my money for the sake of others. As an American citizen, it’s really fucking insulting that the leaders of my government now consider me as little more than an urchin in an orphanage who needs a handout. I never asked for charity, mainly because I DON’T FUCKING NEED IT!

My lack of spending is not the problem here. How about CEO pay? How about business regulations? How about the fact that whenever business leaders want a new perk or a fresh public mouthpiece, all they need to do is write a check to a legislator’s campaign fund and it’s blow jobs ahoy?

The people at the bottom of the poverty scale are getting $300, or as I like to call it nowadays (after a stop this morning on the way to work), 9 fill-ups of a compact car’s gas tank. For most people, that’s not even ½ of a month’s rent in an apartment. If it’s a mortgage you’re paying, $300 is about as potent as a fart in a football stadium.

In a previous diary about this same topic, I received many suggestions regarding what to do with the money, from charitable donations to political contributions (fat chance!) to those who agreed with me that the best way to stick it to the man is to deposit it and collect interest. My wife and I are slated to receive $1500, thanks to a combination of our wedded bliss and our 19-month-old son. In the end, my wife does the books, so odds are that she has an idea for the money that will trump any of my ideas. Wedded bliss; CATCH IT!

I do have a 4th option now though. If you can afford it, put it towards investments in other countries. Buy stock in a foreign country. My 401(k) offers me the option to invest in a mutual fund that puts 96% of the fund’s money in Canadian companies. Or better yet, invest in a social activism fund that shies away from companies that are bad for the environment or who sell things like tobacco products.

Why invest in a country that treats you as if you should be grateful that the Lords are borrowing against our collective tomorrows to throw you a few crumbs? The sweetest revenge is to send the money packing and find a way to make sure that it never ends up back in their grubby little hands.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Facts to Consider for Choosing A Running Mate

While the race for the Democratic nomination for president has yet to be decided, the choice of a vice-presidential candidate will soon be upon us. Unlike other topics lately (Clinton vs. Obama, Ralph Nader, "my candidate can beat up your candidate"), the few discussions undertaken thus far in this forum regarding potential running mates have been fairly civil, with many good ideas.

The purpose of this diary is the encouragement of a brainstorming session to put forth the pros and cons of potential Vice Presidential candidates from different segments of the Democratic Party. For purposes of organization, I have tried to put the groups in three categories, starting with:

Senators – The biggest positive to considering a Senator for your running mate is safety. There’s a clear voting record on issues that can be weighed easily as a positive or a negative. There is also a long list of senatorial running mates on the Democratic side, as every running mate going back to 1988 was a Senator at the time of their initial elevation to the ticket.
The big negative these days is the dire need for 60 Democratic votes in the Senate, and how taking a Democratic senator out of the mix affects those numbers. As it stands right now, we have two Democratic senators battling for the nomination. If one of these candidates wins the presidency, that creates a seat that will more than likely need to be defended within one year of the 2008 elections (I’m unsure of the state laws of Illinois and New York pertaining to this; I’m happy to accept help in this area). If either Clinton or Obama choose a sitting senator as the running mate, that creates two seats.
One name that is brought forth from this category is Jim Webb, a Democratic senator in a state that is narrowly Republican who has been a senator for all of 14 months. If the goal is 60 Democratic senators, it doesn’t make much sense to put Virginia back in play so quickly after a tremendous victory in 2006.

Governors – The last two candidates for president coming from the Democratic side that were declared the winner of a traditional election were both governors. This time around, the Democrats will once again have a senator at the top of the ticket. This is a unique time in that the majority of our current crop of Democratic governors offers some attractive choices for the VP slot. The positives are similar to choosing a senator for a running mate. Governors have a voting record that’s easily assessed, with the added advantage of a governor having once been a chief executive of a state. The fact that governors act as executives independent of Washington, D. C. gives them a unique appeal.
The one thought that gives me pause is the timing. 2010 is a census year, meaning gerrymandering and reapportionment are right around the corner again. While this process has become convoluted in the past ten years with Tom DeLay’s shenanigans in Texas, having a Democrat in a governor’s chair goes a long way in drawing districts that are favorable to Democratic house chances for the next decade. It’s great to get better Democrats in U. S. House seats, and nothing gives them a leg up better than a district drawn in their favor post-census.
All of my personal "sleeper" candidates for VP come from this category. I like Brian Schweitzer and Janet Napolitano, but I realize that they are way down the list of possible running mates that have been discussed.

The Sympathetic Unelected – These are defined as people well known in the party who don’t currently hold elected office. The two biggest people in this category are John Edwards and Wesley Clark.
The positive aspect of choosing an outsider can’t be dismissed in a year when the presidential candidate for the Democratic Party will be a sitting senator. The element of surprise tends to rear its ugly head from this group, as every fuzzy speech recorded on video before any trade group becomes fodder for criticism. People from this category would be chosen because they are so good a compliment to the top of the ticket, they can’t be ignored. Edwards and Clark both fit that description, though Edwards didn’t fare very well in this slot 4 years ago.

Everyone here has someone in mind. As long as we don’t make the Joe Lieberman mistake again, virtually any of the names flying around for Vice-President are well qualified and will be better than anyone John McCain pulls out of his ancient head. With the damage that George W. Bush has done to this country, and the work it will take to correct these same mistakes, there are now many more reasons to choose the Vice Presidential candidate wisely.

Monday, February 18, 2008

WI Primary: One Vote for Obama Tomorrow

It has been snowing off and on in Milwaukee since December 1st. Portions of the sidewalks here are now icy, thanks to a brief melt of snow yesterday. How this affects turnout for the Wisconsin presidential primary tomorrow in this area remains to be seen. I can tell you that speaking as a person who is 41 and whose polling place can be seen from his front door, I can predict one solid vote for Obama in tomorrow’s primary.

I’m a John Edwards guy. I have been ever since he announced his candidacy for Senate in North Carolina in 1998 against Lauch Faircloth, the guy who brought us Ken Starr. Edwards didn’t have traction, and thus he’s on the sidelines delaying an endorsement so as to play both sides of the fence until the voters have clearly chosen a candidate. I’m not waiting for the Edwards imprimatur. I’m now in Obama’s camp.

My wife is also voting for Obama, as is my sister-in-law, who shares the duplex we live in. Among my voting age friends who are actually registered to vote and are politically active, it appears to be a clean sweep. The balance of my voting age friends here are musicians, who either don’t care or have a philosophical objection to voting (PLEASE don’t ask me to explain that on their behalf; it makes my head hurt).

How my informal poll of the voters I know will affect the outcome in the rest of the state remains to be seen, but I feel safe in predicting at least a 5% margin of victory for Obama in Cheeseland tomorrow.

Obama was in town this past Friday at a rally downtown on one of the local college campuses. I was unable to attend due to my work schedule. Two of my friends in their early 30’s attended and reported that they seemed to be the oldest people there, which was not thoroughly unexpected given the locale. The energy level in the room was apparently inescapable. Later that night, they introduced me to the "Hope-O", which apparently consists of holding your arms above your head in the shape of an O, signifying Obama. This reminded me of a less-drunken version of the "E-A-G-L-E-S EAGLES!" chant from my days in Philadelphia, but it was charming nonetheless.

There are many different reasons as to why people I talk to prefer Obama, but a recurring theme is "we need someone new". Part of my initial reservations about Obama had to do with the idea of "how new is too new". Yet with Edwards out of the race, in my case, Obama was a natural second choice.

Hillary Clinton represents to me a walking and talking last hurrah for the Democratic Leadership Council and a generation of Democrats who came to power by acting like Republicans. In retrospect, who could blame them for inventing that model? Three lackluster presidential candidates in the 1980’s had all been trounced, as America (not me) embraced the senile daydreams of Ronald Reagan.

Thanks to George W. Bush, America’s view of Republicanism, to put it mildly, has changed dramatically. Despite his eternal POW status and the adulation received by him in the mainstream media, John McCain has a long legislative and quote record that flies in the face of virtually everything he delivers in his stump speeches. Add to that his advanced age and unevolved temperament and you have a recipe for a Democratic winner later this year.

Hillary Clinton now finds herself as a Democrat searching for a vision of a political moderate that no longer exists. Only the 25% that still backs Bush and Cheney want to talk about things like the evils of mass entertainment. When Clinton went after the video game industry last year, I wondered if her home in Chappaqua was actually a cave. After 12 years of South Park and about 10 years of Grand Theft Auto, the entertainment scapegoat has long since escaped from the corral. There are no Pavlovian dogs listening for that bell anymore. People now realize that those types of arguments are meant to distract from the fact that there has been a catastrophic redistribution of wealth in this country going on unchecked since Reagan took office in 1981.

If that wasn’t enough, the recent rhetoric coming out of the Clinton campaign regarding what is and what is not an important primary state is truly appalling. If I’m looking for an inclusive candidate, this is not the ideal message to be communicated.

As I slip down the icy pavement to my polling place tomorrow to retrieve a ballot from the nonagenarian poll worker sitting behind the table, I shall think of the ease of this decision. I had voted for third party candidates going back to 1984 until George W. Bush became the Republican nominee in 2000. The thought of Bush as my president was enough to vote for Al Gore, and then John Kerry 4 years later. Barack Obama is a candidate I can vote for enthusiastically, rather than the lesser of two evils. I respect those that would choose Clinton over Obama. I simply see the situation differently.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

If You Can, Put It In Your Mattress

So, here we are. The economy is crumbling into a recession created from a unique stew of governmental malfeasance, corporate greed and investor myopia.

George W. Bush’s all-purpose "solution" is the same play book we’ve seen since those heady early days of 2001; give businesses ridiculous tax breaks and send the poor a check equivalent to a fraction of the monthly rent.

No one in his or her right mind can actually believe that this is going to do anything worthwhile to stimulate the economy. The banks are busy cooking the books to hide their true exposure to failing mortgages. The brokerage houses are firing people they’ve already given 7-figure bonuses to for doing an abysmal job. Warren Buffett is offering to prop up the same banks and brokers by insuring their most valuable assets, because we all know that investing is no fun until one man is worth as much as 20 central African nations combined. With economic fundamentals this bad, a $300 check to a taxpayer is obviously not a panacea.

I write this knowing that I’m currently one of the lucky ones in this economy. I have a fixed-rate mortgage, no credit card debt, no outstanding medical debt and a healthy sum in a savings account. The stimulus check coming to my wife and family is welcome, for who in their right mind who’s not dressed in flowing robes would turn down a check for (I believe it’s going to be, with one child) $1500? (OK, maybe the Polyphonic Spree). Yet, we’re not hemorrhaging like so many others. Just because the government is stupid enough to bankrupt our country further by sending me a check doesn’t mean I should invest it in that same country’s economic infrastructure. I stopped buying U. S. savings bonds years ago for the same reason.

What I’m attempting to talk my wife into doing with our little slice of national economic mutilation is to put the money in our savings account. Rather than spending our money on a crappy product made in a Chinese prison, I’d rather that this check be the gift that keeps on giving. Before the banks go under due to their bad mortgage debt obligations and there’s a nationwide run, I’d like to squeeze a few dollars in interest out of the monocle-clad Monopoly guy that runs my bank. Nobody in his right mind is investing bank money in real estate ventures right now, so my bank will use that money as a tangible asset on the books until the bill comes due. When the real damage is revealed, I’ll make my withdrawal and stuff it into my mattress.

I fully realize that I am fortunate enough to do this, and that there are many people who will use the stimulus check to pay a circling creditor before they become carrion with a damaged credit rating. I would encourage those of you like me who can to hold onto the stimulus money as long as you possibly can. In this country, giving money to a consumer is equivalent to giving a junkie heroin. It’s time to go cold turkey. Ideally, I’d like to hold the money until January 20th, 2009 at 12 Noon when a Democratic President takes power. I’m not naïve to think that things change in five minutes on that date. I simply don’t want Bush to get any kind of boost whatsoever in the sunset of his mine shaft collapse of a Presidency.

If you have the economic wherewithal, think of yourself and that stimulus check in the same way as a horny but hopeful teenager with one wrinkled and aging condom in a wrapper in his wallet that has indelibly shaped an "O" into the leather. It’s been there awhile, and you don’t need it this minute, but just in case…

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

If Rules Are Rules, Hillary's Cheating

The world woke up this morning to the knowledge that Hillary Clinton won the Florida primary for the Democratic Presidential nomination. If we are to believe the Democratic National Committee and Howard Dean, this Clinton victory, like Michigan before it, is meaningless, as the delegate slates will not be seated at the Democratic Convention. This is as a punishment to those two states for cutting into the established line of primaries set forth by the DNC, and agreed to by all the candidates for the nomination.

So why is Hillary Clinton smiling?

The first reason is obvious. Just days after Barack Obama handed her her backside in the South Carolina primary, any good news for the Clinton campaign is welcome. One year ago, it was presumed that Clinton would have solidified her hold on the nomination by this time in the primary/caucus process. Now the Clinton camp finds themselves in the fight of their lives against Obama, with every sanctioned race highly contested between the two candidates.

Securing the nomination is all about delegate counts. With a close two-way race, the unseated delegates in Florida and Michigan may very well prove to be the margin of victory. If they are seated, which the DNC is currently stating that they won’t be.

The Clinton camp is currently working very loudly behind the scenes to browbeat the DNC into seating the delegates from Michigan and Florida. Thanks to her attempted end run around the current nominating rules, Howard Dean is now placed in a no-win situation. If he seats the delegates, he risks the wrath of the large number of new voters that the combination of Barack Obama and the malfeasance of George W. Bush have brought into the nominating process. If he doesn’t seat the delegates, it will more than likely start a fresh wave of criticism from James Carville and the other DLC types who opposed him as head of the DNC in the first place, and who are now mostly in Clinton’s camp.

After polls closed in Florida, Hillary Clinton mysteriously appeared in the state. Despite the fact that all candidates had agreed not to campaign there, the Clinton camp took the strategy that since the polls were now closed in Florida, it wasn’t technically "campaigning". This is the same attorney-like parsing she uses on the campaign trail attempting to explain her vote to authorize the Iraq War. It also bears a striking resemblance to "it depends on what your definition of is is". And she criticizes John Edwards for being a trial lawyer? That’s rich.

Ever since I was a boy and engaged in contests ranging from tag and kickball to Monopoly and Battleship, there has been a word for people who attempt to change the rules in the middle of the game. The word is cheater. By attempting to amend the rules of the nominating process to which she agreed, Hillary is trying to cheat her way to victory just as much as my brother was whenever he tried to move his aircraft carrier in Battleship after the game started.

On January 20, 2009, we will have somehow survived (if we’re lucky) 8 years of this kind of behavior emanating from the current denizen of the Oval Office. Putting a Democrat in the White House shouldn’t be about subsidizing the underhanded for the sake of the Executive Branch operating under a Democratic banner. It should be about real, honest change in direction and policy for the country. Replacing one cheater for another guarantees that the only change will be on the nameplate on the door.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

An Edwards Voter's "Plan B"

It’s barely the end of January, and I already hate the 2008 election season.

I’m an unabashed supporter of John Edwards. I’ve been a supporter of his going back to when he originally won his Senate seat in North Carolina. Since the New Hampshire primary, I’ve had to accept the reality that he’s once again not going to be the nominee of the Democratic Party for President of the United States.

When one connects the dots, one realizes that a candidate like Edwards, with a pro-worker, anti-corporate message, has little chance for the White House when multinational conglomerates like GE, Viacom and Time Warner run some of the main media outlets. Given this, perhaps my endorsement of Edwards’ candidacy can be construed as naïve, but if ever there were a time in America for optimism, the final year of the Bush Administration would certainly qualify. I felt that Edwards gave America the best chance at a recovery from the bottom up. It looks increasingly like this once again isn’t his year, and that’s truly a shame.

So I’m left – stuck with? - Obama and Clinton.

The debate a few nights ago in South Carolina bluntly reminded me why I never liked Bill Clinton and voted for Perot twice back in the ‘90’s. Hillary Clinton, like her ex-president spouse, has a tendency to speak for a long time without saying anything. Based on the amount of damage George W. Bush has done to this country over the last 7 years, this election more than any other requires forceful leadership. I’m not looking for a lot of big words and amorphous ideas. While Obama and Edwards gave what sounded a lot like a plan to end the Iraq War by the end of 2009 in the last debate, Clinton hemmed and hawed and gave us all a "maybe if" scenario. In the absence of a plan, I assume that the war continues under Hillary Clinton for a long, undetermined period after January 20, 2009 if she’s elected. For a debacle as enormous as the Iraq War, any person with a conscience shouldn’t have to think twice about ending this war as immediately as possible upon taking the White House. Hillary Clinton isn’t even in the proverbial parking lot of the stadium that houses this idea.

Add to this that the Clintons still have a lot of explaining to do regarding globalization and the adoption of NATFA under their watch, and I find myself rooting against Hillary Clinton, tears and all. Too often, when the economy is explained to Americans, the first phrase coming out of someone’s mouth is "We’re in a global economy now, and to remain competitive……". This is usually followed by a twisted rationalization for why more American jobs must be sent overseas. What it really is is a war chant for more corporate greed and continued concentration of wealth in the hands of the few.

Like many Americans, I think there are better ways for the United States to stay engaged in the global economy without Americans losing their jobs and CEO’s getting 8-figure salaries and benefits packages. While the Clintons didn’t invent this behavior, they certainly enabled it when they last occupied the White House. One visit to any number of dying towns in America with an abandoned and shuttered factory tells you all you need to know about who’s losing under the current set of rules. I’m convinced that these rules won’t change under a Hillary Clinton presidency.

For Obama, my reservations about him come from the fact that he hasn’t been on the national stage very long. I also remind myself that he got on the national stage by beating Alan Keyes by 50 points in an election, which is about as difficult a task as boiling a pot of water. However, the election results thus far have forced me to listen to what he is saying. I’m not particularly happy with Obama’s idea of bringing Republicans and Democrats to the table together, as Republicans haven’t demonstrated that they can compromise on anything for the last 15 years. "Be reasonable, do it my way" is not how one reaches consensus. The best solution is to leave the Republicans out in the cold for a time based on the amount of unfettered damage they’ve done to this country. From what I’ve seen, roughly 70% of the electorate would agree with this approach. While still not as compelling a message to me as that of John Edwards, Obama goes far enough into my sphere of belief that I can be counted in his camp if Edwards drops out.

The Wisconsin primary is scheduled for long after the eventual nominee is probably decided. If Edwards is still on the ballot or has staged some kind of miracle comeback by then, he’ll get my vote. I will state that if this year’s Democratic Convention becomes brokered, I would hope that the Edwards delegates have the good sense to go with Obama, for the good of the party and for the good of the country going forward.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Mental Jambalaya For The Political Season

In the last week, I’ve had several ideas for diaries, but being a part-time musician, I have so many sounds in my head at any given time that I can’t pick just one to contemplate. With that in mind, I’m just going to throw out these random thoughts for your perusal. Feel free to pick one or more to comment on, and know going in that these are mostly incomplete thoughts smashing together to make one big pot of……..something. I can’t even begin to think of what color this would look like if it took physical form and sat in a cauldron.

  • Campaign Financing – I recently arrived at the conclusion that politicians are going to continue to suckle at the money teat until such time as they become scared to take money from an individual or corporations. It’s obvious that corporate money and the vampiric leadership behind it doesn’t scare them, and currently, individual contributions are more than welcome. Public financing of campaigns can’t get a fair hearing in this environment. Thinking about it, I’ve decided that the only way to make politicians think twice about public financing is to out the personal and professional peccadilloes of individual donors. If you’re interested in campaign reform, go to the FEC website, pull up any candidate and their individual donors and start searching. If you know that one of the donors is having an extramarital affair or runs a floating high-stakes poker game or is a bed wetter, share that knowledge with the world. At the point where every individual check received is a potential scandal, public financing of campaigns should grow some legs. Oh, and don’t bother; I haven’t donated to a candidate in quite a few cycles, so you’ll never know about my underground porn vault….OOPS!

  • New Hampshire Results – The Granite State once again showed the country that if States were people, New Hampshire would be the 89-year-old man in the corner who’s full of piss and vinegar (and it used to be just vinegar; Abe Simpson said that). While he doesn’t know it yet, I think what we witnessed on Tuesday was the last hurrah of John McCain. Mike Huckabee is going to crush him in Republican strongholds in the Deep South, starting with South Carolina. As the obvious begins to show itself, ("Wait a minute….he’s 71 fucking years old!") the bloom will fall off McCain and his accompanying 100-year plan for the Middle East. I am disappointed by John Edwards’ third-place finish on the Democratic side, but I offer my congratulations to Sen. Clinton for her victory.

  • Demographics – Bill Richardson is dropping out of the race, if all reports are to be believed. While he had a poor showing for the Democratic presidential nod, I wish him luck in the future. Any way you slice it, this is going to be a year when the true face of America was displayed solely in the Democratic Party. An African-American, a woman and a Mexican- American vying for the same nomination is something for which we can all look to with pride. As a counterpoint, the Republicans brought forth a series of white males who proudly wore their prejudices and their contempt for the Constitution on their collective sleeves. As demographics in America shift over the next 100 years away from an Anglo-Saxon majority, the historians will look to 2008 as the year when Republicans began a slow and steady descent to the depths currently occupied by the Whig Party.

  • Ice Hockey – A slugger hits a home run on HGH, and it’s unbelievable. Two guys drop their gloves and beat each other senseless? DAMN! Now THAT’S reality! So far for the NHL, over 3000 tests for steroids and only one positive test in the bunch, but players have a habit of loading up on Sudafed before a game, for which there is no current testing. And you thought speed freaks with bad teeth were exclusive to Rural America? For shame!

  • Chris Matthews – Sexist douche bag. Need I say more after his despicable performance on MSNBC so far during the campaign season? It’s people like Matthews that make me ashamed of being from Philadelphia. However, I must admit that it’s been awhile since I had a good chicken cheese steak in Milwaukee.

    This is a but a small cross-section of ideas and thoughts currently squatting in my head. The balance of its contents are mostly song fragments, bristly resignation at having to be on a diet and assorted bits of taproom trivia. These will have to wait for another appropriate time and place. Have a good evening.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Choice 1 is Edwards; Choice 1A is Every Other Democrat

I tend to stay out of Three Stooges-style pie fights. For this reason, I have tried to stay away from getting into a discussion about which candidate I prefer from the Democratic field to be the presidential nominee.

The eve of the Iowa Caucuses has me feeling bold as a cold snap embraces me in Wisconsin, a state without a true say in the presidential race. For what it’s worth, I offer that as it was in the 2004 election, my primary choice to be the Democratic nominee is John Edwards.

Since he entered the national stage, Edwards’ mantra of "Two Americas" has resonated with me. Our country, through a series of governmental moves friendly to large American corporations, is coming apart at the seams. Edwards is the only candidate in my belief with a long and well-documented history of fighting for the poor and middle class. While I would have liked to have seen him fight to retain his former Senate seat in North Carolina rather than run for president in 2004, I was with him then in both his presidential and vice-presidential runs, and I have seen no reason to reverse my original decision.

I did take into consideration that fact that he voted for the authorization to use force in Iraq. I like the fact that he has come out and stated that he was flat wrong, rather than mincing words about how George W. Bush corrupted the UN Inspections process. I don’t hear politicians admitting when they make mistakes. While this was a fairly huge mistake, I like a person who sincerely admits his mistakes and learns from them. In my mind, Edwards has done that.

For me, it was also a process of elimination. Mike Gravel is an important man in the history of this country for his leadership in cutting off funding for the quagmire that was the Vietnam War, and his value system remains intact. I believe that anyone who wants to run for president should have a chance to be heard. Because of the orchestrated "debates" conducted by the various news outlets, Gravel barely got a word in. Perhaps because of that it’s pretty clear from poll numbers that he has no traction, so I wrote him off.

The same goes for Dennis Kucinich. From a policy standpoint, I agree more with Kucinich than any other candidate in the race. He didn’t have traction in 2004, and he still doesn’t today. It looks like he may disappear completely from the public eye in the next year, as he’s being primaried in his district in Ohio. So, Kucinich gets scratched off my list.

I was willing to listen to Bill Richardson up until the moment he stated that Byron White was his ideal Supreme Court justice. It’s a shame, because he has more foreign policy credentials than anyone else in the race. Next time, Bill Richardson should remember the name Harry Blackmun. Off you go, Bill!

Then there’s Joe Biden, a windbag with a great deal of useful and insightful knowledge, but a windbag nonetheless. I had my fill of Biden when I lived on the Delaware border on the Pennsylvania side. He should go back to the job of grooming his son to be his successor. Someday, he’ll be remembered as a visionary when I look at a map and see three countries where Iraq is now identified. He just won’t be remembered as a president.

Chris Dodd came close. He has done everything right in the latest congressional session. I agree with a number of his stands on important issues and, unlike his fellow Senators in the race, he’s showing real leadership on the floor of the Senate. Then he appeared on Don Imus’ new radio show on the first day that the old weather-beaten bigot was back on the air. This is an incredible lapse in personal and professional judgment. It has the smell of political calculation and has become a deal breaker for me. Dodd remains my second choice among the field behind Edwards, but I don’t think he has a chance.

Then there’s Barack Obama. I don’t have anything against Obama politically, and I do admire his purity with regard to his consistent opposition to the war in Iraq dating back to 2003. He has moments when the substance of his stump speech reaches inspiring heights.

I have three problems with Obama, two of which become one big problem. For one, Obama is very new. For people like me who have been stumbling in the dark for a long time in search of someone politically palatable, Obama’s born-on date has a lot of appeal. And yet how new is too new? As a junior Senator, I’ve yet to see him grab the saber and charge up the hill for something he believed in. This goes hand in hand with the fact that the only election Obama has won on a national stage was a 50-point drubbing of Alan Keyes to win his Senate seat. To be blunt, a trained musk ox wearing a Brooks Brothers suit could beat Alan Keyes by 50 points. The third reason is Obama’s recent embrace of right-wing talking points, such as pot shots at "trial lawyers" and the last two standard bearers of the party from 2000 & 2004. Throw in his rather alarmist view of Social Security, and I have to conclude that Obama, while new, simply isn’t ready for the new political realities that surround him.

Bringing up the rear is Hillary Clinton. I am rather unique in the world at large, as I am a two-time Perot voter. I didn’t vote for Bill Clinton. I’ve always been a left-leaning independent, but there was something about Bill Clinton that I never truly embraced. Based on who the Republican nominees were in 1992 and 1996, history has mellowed me into saying that Bill Clinton was a hell of a lot better than the Republican alternatives offered. I do feel that he has a lot of explaining to do with regard to globalization in general and NAFTA in particular.

As much as Hillary Clinton wants to be regarded as her own person, neither Bill nor Hillary has adequately explained how her presidency would be radically different from what we saw with Clinton Version 1.0. If there was nothing compelling to me about the message the first time around, what is the difference with Version 2.0? I will concede that most of the low points of the Clinton Administration were the product of manufactured right-wing outrage. Economically, with the salient exception of some segments of Silicon Valley, the economy as a whole was in incredible shape compared to now. Yet I didn’t want Bill Clinton then, and I still would rather not have Hillary Clinton now. If I want a good package deal, I’ll go to my local Wendy’s and buy a number 6 combo.

My distrust of all things Clinton is rooted in the belief that these two represent Big Business more often than the people who truly need help in America. The Clintons have always talked a big game with the "It Takes A Village" sales pitch, while at the same time putting American villages out of work as a result of globalization. If you’re looking for someone to stand up to Corporate America, Hillary Clinton isn’t the go-to general for the planned assault. For these reasons, Hillary didn’t make my cut.

Having said all of the above, I can at the very least state that in the absence of a nude picture of the nominee with a farm animal, my vote for President in November will be for the eventual Democratic nominee. Any one of the people above is miles above the unvarnished insanity that passes for the Republican Party. Although I am now a registered Democrat (thank you George W. Bush), I still value my independent streak. I value it so as to not want to sully it with a vote for Michael Bloomberg or any other stiff exhumed by the hacks in Unity ’08. The Democratic Party with all of its flaws still offers the best hope for improvement in the American Condition.

The NHL Winter Classic: Postmortem

Like hundreds of other Americans, I watched the outdoor NHL game yesterday between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Buffalo Sabres. You would think that having done this once in Canada a few years ago, the NHL would have been better prepared for the game. Instead we got 6 10-minutes periods, constant maintenance to the ice surface and a game that lasted over 3 ½ hours.

If there is a next time, how about four 15-minute periods to counteract wind direction, allowing more lead time before the game for actual ice to form and two zambonis that will work for the duration of the game?

Mmmmm......Bettman. Smells just like fiasco.