Thursday, September 22, 2016

Bernie and Zephyr Come To Town

Photograph by Helen Stubblefield
Jessica Koock
This past Friday, for the first and only time in my life, I finally got to see - up close and in person - two politicians I really do love. Bernie Sanders and Zephyr Teachout came to New Paltz, New York.
For my intents and purposes, New Paltz is the perfect place. Located just thirty-one miles due north of where I live, it's a thriving little college town packed to the rafters with head shops, vegan restaurants, book shops and art stores. You can even buy vinyl records in New Paltz; In other words, it's a place after my own hippie heart. I received the word from my friend, Jessica Koock that Bernie was going to be coming to town to put in an appearance with a congressional candidate from New York's 19th district, an inspiring young woman named, Zephyr Teachout. Bernie referred to Zephyr's campaign as one of the most important in America. He wasn't exaggerating. She told the assembled masses: "When I go to Washington as your representative, you're all coming along with me!" I'm tempted to take her up on that offer. I'm just crazy 'bout that gal. Really I am!
Think about this: The average contribution to Ms. Teachout's campaign is nineteen dollars - eight dollars less than Bernie Sanders' average. Her opponent in this contest is a lobbyist named John Faso. A significant majority of his fundraising comes from two hedge-fund billionaires. Guess whose side he'll be on if elected on November 8? While Zephyr and Bernie were kicking out the jams on one side of New Paltz, Faso was appearing on the other side of town at a much smaller gathering at the local firehouse. He told a reporter from the Times Herald-Record that Zephyr Teachout a "far-left radical" and a "redistributionist".

By the standards of the times in which we live, I guess she could be properly judged as being to the extreme left, much in the same way that Richard Nixon, were he to arise from the dead tonight (What a revolting thought!) would never be able to get the GOP nomination. As conservative as The Trickster was, his policies wouldn't have been extreme enough for the modern-day Republican Party agenda. If she had been alive eighty years ago, there might very well had been two women in the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt: Frances Perkins and Zephyr Teachout. She is  just what the times require.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: FDR was a radical left-winger. His administration was literally oozing with radical left-wingers. Historians generally regard him as being one of the greatest president in the history of this republic. That's not a coincidence.
The 19th congressional district just happens to be where I live. In fact, twelve years ago I was the Green Party's candidate for state senate for that very same neck of the woods. As you might imagine, I got stomped pretty badly on Election Day 2004. It's a different world in 2016. Zephyr can win this thing. You cannot dismiss this brilliant, visionary woman as being on the fringes of our national political conversation (as John Saso is vainly attempting to do). All over the land (with the typical exception of the deep South - of course) people are beginning to wake up to the GOP's scam. That's not a political party. That's an organized criminal enterprise. And just when I am tempted to completely lose faith in the Democrats, along comes Zephyr Teachout. Go figure.
"Zephyr understands that something is profoundly wrong when a handful of wealthy and powerful corporations write trade agreements which work for CEOs of multinational corporations but cost Americans millions of decent-paying jobs."
Bernie Sanders
New Paltz, NY,
16 September 2016
 I will be doing everything humanly possible to make sure that Ms. Teachout Goes To Washington this January. I won't defy the law of God, but I'll defy the law of gravity if need be. We need this woman in Congress. I don't casually make political endorsements. Zephyr Teachout is as good as it's ever going to get for New York's 19th District. A tip of the hat and a heartfelt thanks to Senator Bernie Sanders for reminding us.

Isn't this a time?
Tom Degan
Goshen, NY
Maeve Cullen
"Maeve the Rave"
I would have written this piece days ago, but I was laid low by the unexpected passing, on September 18, of my beloved, twenty-three year old goddaughter, Maeve Cullen. She was the daughter of my cousin Michael and his wife, Norma Brady Cullen. I always called her "Maeve the Rave". She was such a bright, kind and funny girl. This is nearly impossible to comprehend, and twice as hard to accept. There ought to be an ecclesiastical law against parents burying their children. They have yet to invent the words to adequately describe a tragedy such as this; I'm not even going to attempt it.
Almost three years ago, I lost another brilliant and lovely young lady whom I also loved more than my own life. What I wrote about Meghan Marie Sager then now applies to Maeve Mary Cullen:
"She was the personification of a shooting star.
It appears upon the horizon,
rapidly making its way across the night sky,
illuminating the heavens in a brilliant and beautiful light.
Then, in an instant, it's gone."
I've said for years that if I could only bring one child into this world, it would have been a little girl. It's too late for that. Maeve Cullen was the closest I ever came to that dream. 

Mike, Norma, Matthew and Kieron: I'm sorry that I could not be there this morning for Maeve's funeral. Travel has become increasingly difficult for me with the passing of each year. Please know that I can't get any of you out of my mind, and that all of you are loved more than you know.
It just keeps getting darker.
Autumn Leaves
by Eric Clapton
"But I miss you most of all, my darling,
when autumn leaves start to fall."

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Democrats Must Also Go

"I don't belong to any organized political party. I'm a Democrat."

Will Rogers

Here's a paradox about me: In personal relationships my feelings tend to get hurt very easily; it's just part of my inner makeup, I suppose. And yet, when it comes to the public arena, I've got skin of steel - seriously. I've been called everything from "a dangerous left-wing radical" to "a psychologically unhinged demagogue" to "one of liberalism's useful idiots". Truth be told, the invective rolls right off me like rain on a windowpane; in fact,  I get a kick out of it. It's a nice thing to know that one is being talked about - and that one is pissing off all the right people. It reminds me of the possibly apocryphal story about the late band leader, Artie Shaw: Upon learning of the death of Marilyn Monroe, he is said to have quipped: "Good career move." There's no such thing as bad publicity. I'm seriously thinking of going out and getting myself arrested for assault.
There is, however, one thing that is said about me (and it is said often) that really does bother me: when I am accused of being either a shill for the Democratic Party, or a press agent for them. That doesn't merely annoy me - that makes me seethe. 
I left that idiotic party in 1998 - in the merry old Month of May to be precise. I registered with the Green Party, and even ran for the New York state senate under their banner a few years later. Today I am a blank, a man without a party. I tried to re-register as a Democrat early this year (temporarily, I assure you) so that I could vote for Bernie Sanders in the primaries. As it turns out, I missed the deadline for being eligible for voter participation by two months. Other than that isolated incident, I have never looked back.
Now that the complete self-destruction of the GOP has been virtually assured, the time has come to take a long, hard and critical look at the Democrats. There are many reasons I bolted that party eighteen years ago; one of the main reasons was Bill Clinton - and by extension, Hillary. The Lewinsky scandal that occurred in that same year had nothing to do with it. The only reason for my defection is simply that "the party of Franklin D. Roosevelt" long ago forgot that they are just that - or at least that's what they used to be. it's quite easy to gauge how deep into the ideological sewer the Democrats have fallen these past two decades: Show me a party whose most visible spokesman (aside from the president) is a cheap, plutocratic stooge like Chuck Schumer ("the gentleman from Wall Street") and I'll show you a party that needs to be made over (at least) or completely destroyed (at worst).
This is not meant to imply that the party is beyond redemption (unlike the Republicans); the fact that there are genuine statesmen (excuse me: "statespersons") of the stature and gravitas of Elizabeth Warren, John Lewis, Sherrod Brown - not to mention Bernie - is decided cause for hope. But the rest of them need to understand that the time has come for a complete overhaul. This a warning that the Republicans should have heeded at least two decades ago. They neglected to do so and now they're on the verge of disappearing forever. Bye! Bye!

Let's face it, folks: Conservatives in this country have gone bat-shit-crazy. When the Republicans finally do fracture into a million itty-bitty pieces in a matter of a few short years, that will be a real opportunity for progressives to get to work remaking America's badly decimated infrastructure. If the Democratic plan for the future is to continue in their current guise as "Republican Lite", their certain destruction is imminent. By nominating Hillary Clinton in 2016, they are not off to a particularly good start. If the Dems are unable to detect the boiling rage just beneath their traditional constituency's surface, they will detect it pretty goddamned soon enough. You'd better believe it.

As Lenny Bruce liked to say, "There's gonna be a lotta dues, Jim!"

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY


Although the Andy Thomas painting depicted at the top of this piece is excellent, it is not quite historically accurate. It is rather doubtful that Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson would have been any-too-pleased to see Barack Obama being initiated into this most exclusive of clubs. With the exception of John Tyler and Andrew Johnson, they were the two worst racists to ever live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Just thought I'd throw that out there.


Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined nut:
Misadventures in the Counter Culture
by Paul Krassner

Paul Krassner
Paul Krassner is one of the more interesting - and unheralded - figures of the 1960's; sometimes a writer, sometimes a publisher, sometimes a comedian, sometimes a violin virtuoso. He often made perfect sense, and at times was as provocative as a snotty eight-year-old boy. A man of many virtues and a few flaws, he tried to be on the side of the angels, although he himself is a professed atheist. Of interest is his close friendship with Lenny Bruce. I found out a few things about Lenny that I was even unaware of (and I am a scholar on the guy!) His is an interesting story; in fact, putting this book down for even a few minutes was an ordeal.


How Long Blues
by the Wingy Manone Orchestra

This was record was made sometime in the mid-thirties. I love this recording so much, I can barely put it into words. Give it a listen. It's great!   

How long? Not long.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

No Contest

It is unsettling to me when I consider the fact that there are a number of people that I know personally - whose intellects I respect and admire - who are openly supporting the candidacy of Donald Trump. This is a fact that I've found myself wrestling with as the weeks heading up to the November election come upon us. What is it? Could it possibly be a mere anti-Clinton reflex that is as innate as Pavlov's doggies salivating at the bells of doom? Or is it something a little more complicated than that? Whatever it is, I have yet to figure it out.
That being said, I do hope that the people I'm  referring to had a chance to check out last night's candidates forum that was presented by NBC News and hosted by Matt Lauer. I watched at the home of my cousin, Kevin Cullen. After viewing this spectacle, I'm still far-from-convinced that Hillary Clinton has what it takes to be even a mildly competent chief-executive. Quite frankly I'm not brimming over with confidence that she could guide the ship of state through the troubled international waters that define the second decade of the twenty-first century. Maybe a year or two of a Clinton administration will cure my apprehension; maybe not. I remain ambivalent.
Here's where I'm beyond a molecule of doubt: Sending the Donald to the White House would be an even larger, catastrophic blunder than the electoral error that was naively committed by the American people sixteen years ago when they sent Dubya to Washington. This certainty on my part was only reinforced last night. It's almost as if he believes he can cure all that ails the planet with a mere snap of his gnarled little fingers. The guy is so poignantly arrogant that it almost melts the heart. 
To be honest with you, the only person on the stage last evening who made a somewhat of an impression was Matt Lauer - if you can believe that! I have never been sold on the guy's journalistic chops; at a time when television news is pining for another Edward R. Murrow, poor old Matt is really nothing more that a cardboard cutout. My opinion slightly shifted last night - ever-so-slightly, mind you. He still has quite a ways to go before he reaches the mountaintop, but considering the two vague and dodgy candidates he was forced to contend with, I thought he handled the situation fairly well. Perhaps the guy's got a future after all. Then again, if the national political dialogue can get to such a state where Matt Lauer ends up looking as good as he did that night, we're in one hell of a fix.
In addition to the friends of mine who are supporting Donald Trump, there are those who are beside themselves with terror that he might, in fact, manage to get himself elected. I can only say to them, "Relax folks". Not even those blatantly un-constitutional voter ID laws are going to make something that completely weird happen. The only thing that will put The Donald in the White House on January 20 will be a coup d'état. Nothing that extreme is bound to happen, at least not at this point in our history....I think.
Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

In Memory of Suzanne Hubner Arnowitz

I was blessed to call Suzy Arnowitz a beloved friend for nearly thirty years. She finally passed away last Saturday from the cancer that had been in-and-out of remission for forty-one years - from the time she was only a child of seventeen. In spite of that, her death comes as a nearly insurmountable blow to all who loved her, which was everyone lucky enough to have known her. We always knew that somehow she would overcome. I suppose this time Heaven needed her more. Who could blame them?

I realize now that I never knew anyone who suffered more than Suzy did during her short time on this earth, although this realization comes only with the benefit of hindsight. While she walked among us, the only side of herself she presented to the world was filled with love, laughter and music. She was not merely a gifted composer and musician, her voice could only be described as heavenly.

And then there was that smile - that incredible smile one could read at midnight by....

I'm not ashamed to tell you that I was hopelessly in love with Suzy Arnowitz. Everyone was. The heck with Lou Gehrig; her husband, Glenn, is luckiest man on the face of the earth.

In the hours before she left us, Suzy penned this note to her daughters, Kara and Lisa:
“Do you know how much you are loved? I love you everyday and twice on Sunday. You are my sunshine, my joy, my air. Always care for each other and please practice forgiveness, listening and mindfulness. Be happy! Be goofy and make life fun! And like I always say… spread the love around. Be fearless because God is always with you and so am I. I know that you will do great things in this world, my darlings.”

Suzy and I were two months, two weeks, and two days apart in age. That I actually knew this kind, beautiful, talented and lovely woman is almost hard to fathom. There are times when I cannot believe my good fortune.

She was an angel. She still is, you know. She still is.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Hillary Clinton For President


Early this morning, my cousin from Indiana, Margaret, sent me a link to an article that was posted on a website called, "Social Justice For All". The writer of the piece, Michael Hulshof-Schmidt, describes himself as an enthusiastic, former supporter of Bernie Sanders.

"I have had to confront myself with the truth that I bought into a narrative about Hillary Clinton that has been produced, packaged, and perpetuated by mostly the GOP with the help of many democrats and independents."
I have to take gentle issue with that. It was a well-written essay and he made a very good argument why he feels that it is essential that Hillary Clinton be elected in November. My problem with the quote above is simply that, while his apprehension of Ms. Clinton might have been the result of right wing propaganda, mine certainly wasn't. I never, for a half a minute, fell for the GOP's Whitewater fiasco, or the "Travelgate" non-troversy; nor was I susceptible to the complete idiocy of the Benghazi hearings. My trepidation regarding Hillary Clinton (and my support for Senator Sanders) was based upon decades of close study. It has long been my belief that she is, at heart, a plutocrat, more beholden to the one percent than to the regular working men and women of this dysfunctional nation. I didn't come to that conclusion by listening to Rush Limbaugh. Maybe I will be proven wrong on this point. I really hope I am. Nonetheless I will be supporting her whole-heartedly. I'm even going to drag myself down to the local polling place to cast my ballot for her on Election Day. Given the current American political train-wreck, what choice have I in the matter? Seriously.
Let me repeat myself for the record: I've never been brainwashed by any political party. I'm just a wee bit more complicated than that. If I were that susceptible to propaganda, I would still be a Democrat. 
I'm not trying to be Debbie Downer here, ruining the junior prom for everyone by vomiting into the punch bowl. I really do hope that she is remembered as a great president. Eighty-four years ago, when Franklin Roosevelt was elected to the presidency, very few commentators were particularly enthused. Walter Lippman, the leading progressive columnist of the age, memorably said of him:
"Franklin Roosevelt is no crusader. He is no tribune of the people. He is no enemy of entrenched privilege. He is a pleasant man who, without any important qualifications for the office, would very much like to be president." 
FDR's own cousin, Alice Longworth (Theodore's daughter) would contemptuously dismiss him as a "feather-duster". Both Mr. Lippmann and Mrs. Longworth would live to regret their words (or at least Walter would. Alice stuck to her guns until the very end). I'm hoping that in a few years time, I, too, will be eating a heaping, healthy dish of crow. We shall see.

An article in this week's Rolling Stone by Sean Wilentz, leaves me somewhat optimistic - albeit cautiously:
"Hillary Clinton has already indicated what she would pursue in her first 100 days in office: launching her infrastructure program; investing in renewable energy; tightening regulation of health insurance and pharmaceutical  companies; and expanding protection of voting rights. She has also said that she will nominate women for half of her cabinet positions. And not far behind these initiatives are several others, including immigration reform, and raising the minimum wage."
At least I'm not experiencing the kind of panic that  I was feeling four years ago. At this point in the 2012 campaign, I was convinced that the Republicans would be able to take the day - legally or by fraudulent measures. After Obama's second debate with Mitt Romney, I thought it was all over. No such paranoia in 2016! With the exception of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton has got to be the luckiest presidential candidate in American history. Winning the White House for her will be the equivalent of shooting a school of half-witted fish in a leaky barrel. The candidacy of Donald Trump is too good for the Democrats to be true. This sure has been one interesting political year, it really has.

Not to worry: This Bernie Sanders supporter is going to stand by Hillary. As has been noted on this site previously, Dr. Jill Stein is a decent, brilliant woman who has all the qualifications to be president - and not a chance in hell of being elected to that office. Pardon my stubbornness on this point, but the sooner we progressives understand this, the better off we'll be.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

Signing off tonight with this homage to Gene Wilder, who passed away on Sunday. I always thought this was the sweetest song....

He's safe in Heaven with Gilda.
Pure imagination.


Saturday, August 27, 2016

There Will Be Little Change

This is one of those "Best of Times/Worst of Times" scenarios:
Yes, the Republican nominee will be going down to complete, humiliating defeat in this campaign year; Yes, the GOP will lose the senate. Not to sound like a publicity agent for the Democrats, they're obviously a huge part of what ails this sick country. It's like having to choose between terminal cancer and the flu: One will kill you a helluva lot quicker than the other. I'm not at all in ecstasy over the idea that Hillary Clinton will be living in the White House until at least 2021, but the alternative is too frightening to face: It would mean the end of "the American experiment". We can all breathe a deep sigh of relief. The happy news is that a Donald Trump administration is never going to happen. I'm not losing any sleep over the matter. You shouldn't either.
Now the not-so-good news: All available evidence tells us that the House of Reprehensibles will remain in the clutches of the GOP during the years 2017-2019 - and for the foreseeable future. The American people have yet to learn the lesson they should have learned a century-and-a-half ago about the inevitable economic disaster that always comes of right wing governance. But it should be conceded that it's not only the electorate that is at blame: This unfortunate situation is the end-result of years of the unconstitutional gerrymandering of congressional districts in states that are controlled by the Republicans. The key to victory for that disgusting party is, primarily, watering down the black vote. An area in any of these states that has a high percentage of people with dark skin, usually (conveniently) finds itself at the intersection of as many as four or five congressional districts, which are (conveniently) mostly white. As a result, the people most vulnerable get hurt even further by lack of representation. This is not a coincidence.
"Land of the free"? Really?
There's room for optimism - barely. The Democrats will certainly pick up at least a few seats in congress, perhaps even enough to slightly water-down the craziness of the right wing. Maybe between now and Election Day the American people will wake up. Yeah! There's something to hope for!
Please, boys and girls! Wish with me! Wish really hard - and maybe if we all wish hard enough - our wishing will bring Tinker Bell back again! Maybe wishing will make all of our dreams come true!

Then again, maybe not....
I don't like being the one to throw a damp towel on the torch of liberty, but there isn't a whole lot of hope for a people who would happily place themselves into his kind of mess. Lincoln once memorably noted that it is impossible to "fool all the people all the time.". True enough, but it is quite easy to fool enough of the population to keep them subservient, helpless and economically miserable. That is exactly what has happened in the United States. (For more on this nasty topic, buy or rent the new Noam Chomsky DVD, "Requiem For the American Dream").
This past Wednesday, I spent the day on the campus of the state university in Albany, NY (about ninety miles north of me). As is my habit, I avoided the New York State Throughway and charted my route through the small towns lining the two-lane highways and back roads. On the drive up, I was amused by the number of "Trump for President" signs I saw adorning the front lawns (and even one small business). Most of the lawn signs I observed during the trip were obviously home made.
Am I missing something? Am I so out-of-touch that I am unable to comprehend the reasons behind the motives of so many people to support a man whose administration, were it to come to pass (and, again, that's never gonna happen, kids) would mean the assured destruction of the country they obviously love? Am I that out of it? Or are these folks crazy? If there is a "happy medium", I sure as hell would like to know where it is. These are the weirdest of times, absolutely they are.

"Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public."
H.L. Mencken
Indeed. It's fair to say that Donald Trump will not be going broke in this campaign season. In fact, this race may very well prove to be the best investment he ever made. This is not about winning the office of the presidency; it was never about that. This was all about marketing the "Trump brand". He has succeeded beyond all of the wildest expectation of everyone - except Donald Trump. The guy is either a fool or a genius.
The jury is still out on that last one.
Tom Degan
Goshen, NY
Here are a few promo films made by The Weavers in the early 1950's. This was before they were blacklisted for their "un-American" views. Check out a ridiculously young Pete Seeger on the banjo.
The four Weavers are safe in Heaven now. No one can hurt them.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Donald Trump's Secret Plan

For well over year now, I have been joking about how Donald Trump could very-well be the ultimate plant: an espionage agent sent in by the Democratic National Committee to infiltrate the GOP as a candidate and do as much damage to that party as is humanly possible to do. The idea of he and Hillary Clinton being in cahoots with one another is not as wild as it might seem on the surface. Could there be some kind of a plot?

Aw, hell, I wasn't serious; it was all a joke. Now, I'm not so sure.
Mind you, this is all pure speculation on my part. The only evidence I have that the Donald is purposely out to destroy the Republican Party is his own actions, his own rhetoric. As stated in an earlier post, the man has never been one to score particularly high in the self-awareness department; he has always seemed oblivious to how unintentionally comical he makes himself out to be by his insatiable brashness and arrogance. But the time has come to face this unavoidable, undeniable fact: This is a man that does not was to win this election.
I'll admit that my "Democratic conspiracy theory" is a little far fetched. We'll have to wait and see what transpires in the post-inaugural period. If Trump is offered a cabinet post next year by President Clinton, that will be all the proof you need that the fix was in.
Another theory I have is that this was all merely an attempt by Trump to "up his brand", so to speak. As an ex-presidential candidate, he would be able to raise the price of his speaking fees two-fold - or possibly more that that even. There is only one way someone running in the Republican primaries these days can possibly secure the nomination, and that is by stomping around this diseased nation saying a lot of dreadfully cruel and stupid things. Once the prize is firmly in place, the nominee usually slithers toward the ideological center. That hasn't happened in this instance. One month after the convention in Cleveland, Trump has yet to alter the extremist calumny that gives the Tea Party mob goose-pimples - and the GOP establishment the dry heaves. He has made statements recently to the effect that he intends to tone things down a bit, but that has yet to happen.

The Donald is still, unabashedly, the Donald.

Which is  good thing, I suppose. What Donald Trump has done to "the party of Abraham Lincoln" (that sentence is getting harder to write by the day) is that he has forced them to face the writing on the wall and seriously ponder the future of conservatism in this country - not the future of the Republican party, mind you - only the future of the conservative movement. The Republicans have no future. Donald Trump has seen to that. He wasn't the cause of that party's self immolation. He was merely the final nail in a coffin that has been slowly closing for over fifty years now. The destruction is complete. The grand old party is over.

My goodness, I'm having so much fun watching this catastrophic political year. How 'bout you?

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY


Since this month marks the fiftieth anniversary of the passing of Lenny Bruce, I wanted to share this with you. In February of 1966, less than six months before he died, Lenny was invited to the UCLA law school to give a talk. Some of his critics have dismissed his obsession with the law in the latter part of his career as ponderous and boring. I disagree. No matter what period - or the condition he was in - Lenny was always a fascinating monologist to listen to. A tape of that performance has only recently been unearthed. Here is a link to hear it:

Pure Lenny!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The GOP: Then and Now

Please, someone kindly explain to me how we went from there:
"Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."
To here:
Fair scare and starving yours again, our feather-brained farce upon incontinence, a neo notion, deceived in Librium, and desecrated to the prostitution that all mine were cremated awful.
What a long, strange trip it's been.
From Abraham Lincoln to Donald Trump. Would someone please explain to me how this happened? When one takes into consideration what that party stood for at its founding in 1854, how could it self-destruct this completely? What strange historical fluke could conjure a scenario where a political party, founded as it was on the noble idea that human beings should not be subjugated to slavery, destroy itself over the sight of its nation's first African American chief-executive? It's impossible to believe it one-hundred and sixty-two years later, but the Republican party once stood for something honorable and beautiful.
What the hell happened?
"Let me remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me further remind you that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."
Barry Goldwater
Republican Convention, 1964
Extremism in the defense of Librium
I suppose the genesis of the present Tea Party craziness can be traced to Goldwater's acceptance speech at that long-ago convention in the summer of 1964 - which I clearly remember watching on TV with my dad. In the month before I turned six, I was not the incurable political junkie that I am today. The only thing I really knew about the American political situation in that moment was that our handsome and young president had been shot and killed sitting next to his wife the year before. I only happened to watch that speech as it was taking place because I happened to be in the right place at the right time. It was at that convention that the mob of true believers turned on the broadcast news media with such vehemence, for a few minutes NBC's Chet Huntley and David Brinkley feared for their lives. It was that kind of year.

The rancid legacy of the summer of 1964 is that, within less than a decade, most of the racist Dixiecrats who had controlled the Democratic party since before the Civil War would flee, like frightened mice, into the loving arms of the GOP. The "solid south" has been solidly Republican ever since.

I don't remember a thing about Lyndon Johnson's convention in Atlantic City the following month. That would have been the one to watch, particularly Bobby Kennedy's moving tribute to his slain brother that was preceded by an ovation that lasted nearly half an hour. It was such  an emotionally powerful moment, the news media barely took note of the sudden death that same evening of legendary comedienne, Gracie Allen (She had been watching the speech at home with her husband, George Burns, when she was stricken with a fatal heart attack).

In 1964, American conservatism found itself at a perilous crossroad. This was Goldwater's second attempt at the White House. He had gone for the GOP nomination four years earlier and gotten stomped badly by vice-President Richard Nixon. You see, in 1960, the American people weren't quite ready to swallow the right wing's poisoned tonic. By that time in history, the middle class in this country was thriving - and they wanted to continue to thrive. They were not-at-all sold on an ideology that only benefitted the super wealthy and corporations. No, the conservative movement in 1964 was stuck in he mud; it needed a little something more to capture the hearts and minds of the people. A month before the Republican convention, President Johnson signed into being the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A voting rights act was sure to follow. It was at that moment that a huge light bulb went off over the movement's head: Fear! They concocted an issue that had worked beautifully for Southern Democrats for well-over a century:


They couched their argument behind the mantra of "states' rights". It didn't work out too well for them. Although they managed to easily carry the old confederacy, the rest of the country, still stunned by the assassination of JFK, believed that a vote against Johnson would be a vote against their martyred president. It was the second largest landslide in American history up to that time.

In appealing to the racists and crazies in 1964, the Republicans were sowing the seeds of their own demise a half century later.

The Trickster
Four years later, the Nixon Gang were a tad more subtle. Instead of overtly appealing to the racism that was, sadly, inherent in too many Americans (then as now), Nixon's slogan was "law and order". In the wake of the murder of Martin Luther King in April of that year, American cities (almost exclusively in the North) exploded in violence. White America had been shocked to their core at the sight of hundreds-of-thousands of "angry negroes" taking it to the streets. In 1968 the American electorate took the bait and swallowed it whole. Most of them eagerly signed on with Nixon over the more-liberal Hubert Humphrey. It was an electoral choice the country would bitterly regret within six years - but that's another story for another day, boys and girls.

It was in the aftermath of the Nixon administration's implosion, the Republican Party being in such terrible moral and financial shape, that an obscure peanut farmer and former governor from Georgia was able to win the White House. Jimmy Carter found himself at the wrong historical place at the wrong historical time. Events not of his own making would soon overwhelm him. That made it easy for Ronald Reagan to seize the executive mansion in 1980.

For hopeless lefties such as I, it was mourning in America; although I didn't realize it until early the following day. You see, I voted for Reagan that year - much to my eternal shame and regret. My only defense is that I got pretty intoxicated on election night 1980. I learned a hard lesson that year: Don't drink and vote. I was stone-cold sober four years later. I've been so every Election Day since. I can just see myself getting hammered enough this November 8, and voting for the Donald just for laughs. No thank you. 

During the campaigns of 1980 and 1984, in addition to the subtle racism that had worked so well for them in the past, the Grand Old Party's new gimmick to campaign on was "moral values" (or "family values"). The Republicans, it would seem, had cornered the market on all that was good and pure in this grand and glorious land of ours - and a lot of Americans were silly enough to buy into the entire scam. With Reagan came the rise of the so-called "Religious Right". It's been steadily downhill ever since - into to sewer, in fact. The age of Trickle-Down, Supply-Side economics that the Gipper brought into being has only seen the decimation of a middle class that was, at one far-away time, the backbone of this doomed country. And still, most Americans revere the hideous old bastard. Go figure.

During the years of the "Reagan Revolution", it was my belief that Ronnie was as low as that party would ever sink. Forgive my naiveté, but whom among us - in their weirdest and darkest dreams - could have possibly foreseen the utter catastrophe of an administration headed by a moron named George W. Bush? "That's it", I remember saying out loud on the day Dubya was elected, "That's it, they've reached rock-bottom!" I've been forced  to eat those words yet again. Look where we've found ourselves sixteen years later. Bush is starting to look like the epitome of moderation by comparison. Pretty strange, huh? It kinda makes you wonder what they're gonna puke up in 2020.

There are voices from within the GOP, pleading for reform - but it's too late for that. "Reform" is something that should have been implemented fifty years ago. If the RNC apparatus succeeds in nominating a more centrist candidate four years from now, the crazies will form a third party, splitting the conservative vote for generations. They have been consumed by the weirder angels of their nature. That elephant has thoroughly imploded. Again, the question is screaming to be posed:

How did we get from here?

I cannot assure you with any degree of certainty that Donald Trump will be the last Republican nominee; That disgusting party's death throes are almost guaranteed to be a long, drawn-out and amusing thing to behold. What I can say beyond very little doubt (and what I predicted in the very first piece I wrote on this site a decade ago) is that George W. Bush will be remembered, not only as the most corrupt and incompetent chief-executive in the annals of human mediocrity, but as the last Republican president. I don't believe there will ever be another one. The grand old party is over.

On January 20 of next year, for the first time since 1857, one Democratic administration will follow another Democratic administration into the White House on Inauguration Day. I'm bitterly disappointed that Hillary Clinton is their nominee in 2016, but at least I'm comforted in the knowledge that America will survive her....I think.

A long, strange trip indeed!

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY


To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party
by Heather Cox Richardson

No, this book was not written by some snarky, left-wing blogger, drunk on wine obtained from the  schadenfreude vineyards, dancing gleefully over the GOP's funeral pyre (like myself, you may argue). This is a  thoughtful and thorough, scholarly study written by a gifted and qualified historian.   If you need to be reminded that that disgusting party once stood for something noble and proud, this book will do all the reminding you need. Here's a link to order it off of

A great read! Heather Cox Richardson is a first-rate historian.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Donald Factor

"If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the second amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know. But I'll tell you what, that will be a horrible day."

Donald Trump

Okay, time to take a deep breath. The question is begging to be posed: Given the rhetorical precedents that are being shattered daily by what has to be the strangest campaign in American political history, are statements of this kind the new "norm" in our ever-devolving national conversation? Or is this only the dawn of an era that will only get weirder as the years transpire? It makes me wonder.
For a political surrealist such as I, the 2016 presidential campaign has been too good to be true. As I've stated before, I have a theory that Donald Trump has been on an espionage mission; hired by the Democratic Party to go in and inflict as much damage to the GOP as is possible to do. My hypothesis was given more credibility yesterday when Mein Trumph addressed an audience of true believers in Wilmington, North Carolina, and hinted at the possibility that Hillary Clinton could be assassinated by one or more of the gun-crazy-faithful. You really have to take pity on the poor Secret Service. this morning. Their job - difficult as it is - just got harder.
Trump claims that he was merely referring to the "political movement" that surrounds the National Rifle Association. Perhaps. But he must realize that most of the folks who show up at his rallies aren't bright enough to understand these little subtleties. Just a thought.
Which brings me back to my little espionage theory. Unlike Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump is not a senile old fuddy-duddy who should be housed in an assisted-living facility being spoon-fed oatmeal; he's not an imbecile like George W. Bush. He must know the horror by which people with IQs above room temperature view his rhetoric. I'll be the first to admit that the guy has never scored high in the self-awareness department, but he can't possibly be this oblivious! 

"Listen, you motherfuckers, we're gonna tax you at twenty-five percent."
Donald Trump
He was referring to his trade policy with regard to the nation of China in that timely little quote. Do you recall anytime in the history of this republic where a candidate for the office of the presidency, during a public address, referred to anyone in such a  manner? You don't? That's funny, neither do I. Can you imagine Dwight D. Eisenhower coming up with a line that crude? Jack Kennedy never even used that kind of language in private when discussing Khrushchev!

To put things in their proper context, in the ten years I've been writing this blog, that is the very first time I have ever used that word. I have never even quoted it - and I have a tendency of being very profane when I get into a rage (as I tend to be when I write these things). The Donald makes me look like the master of restraint! That should tell you something.
"Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation,
conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all you motherfuckers are created equal."
No, that doesn't work.

It's unsettling to think we've come to this point - amusing, yes - but unsettling to be sure. The clock is winding down; we're on the GOP's death watch. That Grand Old Party started out with such promise in 1854, and proceeded to go downhill within a little over a decade. They had their moment on the mountaintop for the years that Theodore Roosevelt served as their standard-bearer, but spent the last century sinking, inch-by-inch, into the depths of the ideological sewer. As was said on this site a few months ago, Donald Trump is the price that the Republican Party is paying for spending the last fifty years courting a demographic of voter that had historically been ignored by both political parties - the clinically insane.

Abraham Lincoln would not be amused.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

Requiem for the American Dream is a documentary/interview with Noam Chomsky. He explains, logically and dispassionately, what the corporate class has done to this country, and tells us, in detail and example, how they brought the United States to ruin. Please, folks, I cannot emphasize too strongly what an important film this is. Here is a link to order it off of amazon. There is a jolly good reason why Noam is never invited to appear (or is never even mentioned in passing) on the corporate (so-called "liberal") media - not even on PBS. The people who own this country don't want you to even know his name. Everyone needs to see this one.



Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Lenny Bruce In My Life

Dr. Lenny

I'm not a comedian and I'm not sick.
The world is sick and I'm the doctor.
I'm a surgeon with a scalpel for false values.
I don't have an act. I just talk. 
I'm just Lenny Bruce.
Unpublished cabaret card ID
It's impossible to believe: Lenny Bruce died fifty years ago tomorrow.  It's even harder to consider that he's been gone from this earth ten years longer than he walked it. His was a life too short. He was only two-months and ten days shy of his forty-first birthday when, alone and in despair, his career as an entertainer in ruins, he stepped into eternity.
Think about it: If someone as young as Lenny was on August 3, 1966 had died today, that person would have been born one month after Pink Floyd released their Wish You Were Here album. Damn!  That's not a very long life at all! That's way too young, Jim.
The memory is as clear as if it was yesterday: Sitting in the back seat of my father's station wagon, heading for New York City in the late summer of 1972, I noticed a paperback book on the floor with what had to be the most peculiar title I had ever seen in all of my fourteen years: "How To Talk Dirty and Influence People" by some guy named Lenny Bruce. As it turns out, the book had been accidentally left in the vehicle by a local hitchhiker who Dad had picked up. He was always picking up hitchhikers, a trait he passed along to me. The owner had even printed his name on the front page of the book; I can still remember it: "Terry Malone".
Examining the photographs and reading bits and pieces of the text, I got the understanding that the subject of this autobiography was a comedian, and that he had been in trouble with the law due to the nature of his material. I wondered to myself, Why would anyone arrest a comedian for doing his act? I could also see from the epilogue at the book's conclusion, written by his friend Dick Schaap, that the author had since passed away. By this time Lenny had only been gone for six years. "Dad?", I called out to my father at the wheel, "Who was Lenny Bruce?" I'll never forget his answer as long as I live. With a sad lilt to his voice, he replied: "Oh, he was some mixed-up comedian."
Hmm, I thought to my self, Dad  doesn't approve??? This is something that must be looked into! Since he was always referring to me as "a mixed-up kid", maybe this Lenny Bruce character was a kindred spirit. As it turns out, he was, but for entirely different reasons.
I put the book out of my mind and went on with my life. Not long afterwards - it might have been about a month - I was watching the Ten O'Clock News on Channel 5 (this being back in the day when it was the best local news program in New York) when, low and behold, there was the movie reviewer, Stuart Klein, giving his critique on a new documentary called, Lenny Bruce Without Tears.

Lenny's second LP (1958)
Klein's review contained archival film of Lenny doing his act and, so help me, the man was a screaming riot! A few days later I was at the Book And Record store at the long-gone Orange Plaza Mall in Middletown with a few bucks to spend. I headed straight for the comedy section to see if they might have any LPs in stock of this Lenny Bruce guy (I was a comedy nerd even at that early stage). Not only was he in stock, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that they had an entire LENNY BRUCE section! The old adage tells us never to judge a book by its cover; that's not true when it comes to comedy records. The one I chose was called "The Sick Humor of Lenny Bruce" with a morbidly hysterical photo on the cover of Lenny enjoying a pleasant picnic - in a grave yard!
Later that night, my father stopped by the house to check on things (my parents were separated). When he noticed the Sick Humor LP sitting next to the stereo, he put his foot down. "Oh, no you don't!", he told me, "I don't want any dirty comedians performing in my house!"
"But Dad", I said to him, "He's not dirty. HE'S FUNNY! I'll prove it to you right now! Just listen!"
I then proceeded to play for him the "Non-Skeddo Airlines" bit, the one about a guy who blows up an airplane ("with forty people and his mother"). I'll never forget the sight: Dad roared with laughter. Other than the time ten years later, when I played him a videocassette of Fawlty Towers, I never saw him laugh so hard or so loud in all the years I knew him.
Here's where the story gets interesting: Several months later, in around May of 1973 at Saint John's School, the nun who presided over my eighth grade class, Sister Elina, informed her charges that, for our final book report of the year, we had to do an autobiography.
"Any autobiography?" I asked, trying to look as innocent as possible.

"Yes, Mr. Degan", she responded in as condescending a tone as she could muster, "any autobiography."

"Hmm", I said. Let it be noted here for the record that I said "Hmm" an awful lot in those days. I was that kind of a kid.
I guess I don't need to tell you what direction the story goes from here. Sister Elina was a woman legendary for lacking anything even remotely resembling a sense-of-humor. Apparently "How To Talk Dirty and Influence People" was not quite the subject matter that the old gal had in mind. The book along with the "Sick Humor" record (which I had brought along as an audio reference) were tossed into the school's incinerator. Not only was I suspended for several days (a first for that school) I was banned from participating in the graduation ceremonies the following month. That was fine by me. I wasn't quite jumping for joy at the prospect of donning one of those silly caps and gowns. To this day, I am convinced that Sister Ann Daly (who taught the sixth grade) would have gotten the joke.
In the autumn of '73, after a disastrous two-month stint at a Catholic boarding school (St. Francis Prep in Spring Grove, PA) my mother took me to be enrolled at John S. Burke Catholic High School in Goshen, where I was promptly refused admission. The principal, a very nice woman named Sister Margaret Phillips, referred to "the Lenny Bruce incident" as grounds for that refusal. I just couldn't be expected to integrate properly into the hollowed and holy grounds of their beloved Burke High, a school which wasn't named after a saint, by the way, but for the president of B. Altman's department store. How's that for hypocrisy?

"He's a troublemaker", she told my mom in my presence.

So, now you know: The blog you are reading is not my introduction to controversy. I spent the rest of my high school years (or what were left of them - I dropped out in 1975) attending public school, the only member of my family (cousins included) to do so. For good or ill, I have Lenny Bruce to thank for that. The guy had an impact on my life, no doubt about it.
Maybe he had some problems
Maybe some things that he couldn't work out
But he sure was funny and he sure told the truth
And he knew what he was talkin' about
He's on some other shore
He didn't want to live anymore
Bob Dylan
It bugs me when people, to this day, (serious writers even) refer to Lenny Bruce as "a dirty comedian". He wasn't that at all. In fact, it is my belief that Lenny was the closest thing American humor has ever produced to being a free-form poet. That he was profane there is no denying. When one's vocation is to call attention to the sick society we all still inhabit a half century after his death, profanity is unavoidable; in fact, at times it can be essential. Lenny might have been "a surgeon with a scalpel for false values", but sadly, he was never able to provide us with a cure. Fifty years later, we look out upon the landscape to find that this sick society has only gotten sicker in the ensuing decades.
"People should be taught 'what is', not 'what should be'.
All of my humor is based on destruction and despair,
 and tomorrow, if the whole world became tranquil,
without disease or violence,
 I'd be standing on the bread-line,
 right behind J. Edgar Hoover and  Jonas Salk."
I  know a lot more about Lenny Bruce today then  I did in that long-ago summer of 1972. I have spent over forty years closely studying his life and career, more so than most of his biographers perhaps. I know that he was, at heart, a kind and gentle man who was known for his generosity. All of the people he was close to attest to his decency - and to his loneliness; Lenny was, in many respects, a very lonely man. I also know that, despite his reputation as the ultimate hipster of the American night, he was somewhat conservative in his personal views. In his memoirs, Frank Zappa tells the story of the time Lenny refused to autograph his draft card, gently admonishing him: "That's government property!". Lenny Bruce was a paradox.

I also know that Lenny was a troubled soul who, I don't think, was always comfortable being who he essentially was. It isn't possible to expect a man who sees society in all of its stark, hideous reality (as Lenny Bruce obviously did) to be at peace with himself or the world around him. And although there is no denying that, at times, he could be his own worst enemy, the persecution he endured from 1961 until the day he died, in the pursuit of his art, is inexcusable and shocking in hindsight.
"In the halls of justice, the only justice is in the halls."
Lenny at the end
The greatest humorist of the twentieth century spent what should have been his most profitable years being hounded by law enforcement agencies across the land like a common criminal. In the end his persecutors would render him a broken man. He gained a great deal of weight during his last two years - and this once-thriving, ambitious, movie-star-handsome, well-dressed man - began to take on the appearance of a haggared and dark mystic.  On his fortieth birthday, October 13, 1965, he would undergo his final humiliation by having to legally declare himself a pauper. Offers for work had virtually dried up; old friends stopped calling and tried to avoid seeing him all together. Fellow comedian, Dick Gregory, once described what it was like to encounter Lenny Bruce at the end: "It was just so sad".

 On the morning of August 3, 1966, the last day of his life, he received in the mail a foreclosure notice on his home from the Bank of America. On top of that, he was at that moment desperately attempting to appeal a four-month jail sentence for a New York obscenity conviction. The despair he must have felt in the end would had to have been soul-consuming.

And then there was his long and constant struggle with substance abuse....
When a close friend found his lifeless body early that evening, the electric typewriter was still humming in his cluttered office. The final words he typed were an unfinished sentence pertaining to the American legal system that so obsessed him:
"Conspiracy to interfere with the fourth amendment const...."

Constitutes what? Did a sudden realization of the hopelessness of his situation dawn on him then? Did he give up at that moment? Or had he intended on finishing that sentence? We'll never know the answers to those questions.

When the Los Angeles Police Department finally arrived at the scene, they humiliated him in death as they had while he was alive. Against the protest of his friends - and his mother - they allowed photographers and TV cameramen to step up and record images of his dead, bloated body lying naked on the bathroom floor. They never would have done such a obscene thing thing to Bob Hope.
I used to have a reoccurring dream about meeting Lenny Bruce. It always took place in front of the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City - which is weird because that building wasn't constructed until years after Lenny died.  In the dream, it is early in the evening. and he's waiting for a cab to take him to a gig. While we're waiting, we just talk - and it's a pleasant conversation. I always awoke thinking for a few seconds that it had been real - it was so vivid in my memory. I no longer have that dream. Perhaps he has told me all he feels I need to know. If only I could remember the damned conversations....

Where Lenny sleeps
I'm grateful to Terry Malone - a guy I never even met - for inadvertently leaving that book in my father's station wagon all those years ago. I know I would have discovered Lenny eventually (that was inevitable) but it might have taken another two or three years. Yeah, Lenny Bruce had a profound influence on my life, you'd better believe it. He taught me, very early on, that visualizing the world through the rose-colored lenses that were the fashion staple of his day - and ours - is not only futile, it's foolish. The blog you are reading is more his legacy than anyone else's.
This coming October 13 would have been Lenny's ninety-first birthday. He would have made such a hip old man. He's gone, and he's not coming back.

It's just so sad.
Tom Degan
Goshen, NY
How To Talk Dirty and Influence People
by Lenny Bruce
This is the book that got me into so much beautiful trouble all those decades ago. It is being republished tomorrow in recognition of the fiftieth anniversary of  Lenny's passing. Here's a link to order it off of


Here is a link to watch Lenny's riotous appearance on the Steve Allen Show in April of 1959. He seemed to be on his way. Then came the fall: 

A tip of the hat and a raising of the glass to Kitty Bruce for keeping her father's torch burning bright.

And finally, the funniest album cover ever produced:
Cover of Lenny Bruce's 1959 LP, "Togetherness"