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

SUGGESTED LISTENING:

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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EcbyhH3w27E


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:

EQUAL RIGHTS FER NIGGERS??? NEXT THING YA KNOW, THEY'LL BE LUSTIN' AFTER OUR PRECIOUS, LILY-WHITE DAUGHTERS!!! NEVER, I TELLS YA!!! QUICK, ESTHER, HAND ME MAH SMELLIN' SALTS!

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. 

Cowboy
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 there....to 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

SUGGESTED READING:

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 amazon.com:


https://www.amazon.com/Make-Men-Free-History-Republican/dp/0465024319/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1471170615&sr=1-1&keywords=to+make+men+free+a+history+of+the+republican+party

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
`
SUGGESTED VIEWING:

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.

`
https://www.amazon.com/Requiem-American-Dream-Noam-Chomsky/dp/B01BT1VXAY/ref=sr_1_5?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1470740531&sr=1-5&keywords=Noam+Chomsky

Everyone

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 hitchhiker who Dad had picked up. He was always picking up hitchhikers, a trait he passed along to me. The kid 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.
 
Lenny's second LP (1958)
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.

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. 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 it was "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 for many years 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 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 struggle with substance abuse....
 
When a friend found his lifeless body early that evening, the electric typewriter was still humming in his office. The final words he typed were an unfinished sentence:
 
"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 disgusting thing thing to Bob Hope.
 
Where Lenny Bruce sleeps
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....

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
 
SUGGESTED READING:
 
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 Amazon.com:

SUGGESTED VIEWING:

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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oCplnUga0hU 

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"
 



Saturday, July 30, 2016

Shards from the Ceiling's Broken Glass


Okay, progressives, like it or not, it's going to be Hillary. As the old song once implored, "Let's face the music and dance...."

Talk about trepidation. This is not particularly where I wanted to find myself in the post-convention period - but here we are. Hillary Clinton is the runner who will be carrying the progressive torch all the way to Election Day. My dismay is tempered by the obvious fact that the precedent which will be set on Inauguration Day is something to look forward to. It is no longer such a crazy idea that a woman or an African American could be elected to the presidency. The only sad thing is that the reaction of too many segments of the population to the administration of Barack Obama (particularly in dear ol' Dixie) was so completely extreme, I fear it will be at least two generations before a black person is sent to by the electorate to the White House again. We can only hope that, the next time around, it'll be a black woman being sworn in on January 20, 2061.
 
GOOD NEWS: By that time, Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh will be long gone.
 
It's not as if she's the worst presidential candidate in American history - clearly she's not. I know she wants to leave America a better place than she found it, and that she's concerned about her legacy. As I've hesitantly pointed out a few times previously, maybe she'll surprise all of us cranky Bernie Sanders supporters. Maybe in four years time, we'll be grateful toward President Hillary Clinton. We might even find ourselves by that time working overtime to send her back to the White House for a second term. Hey, ya never know!

Wow! I just re-read that paragraph above. Does it sound like I'm rationalizing just a bit, or is that my imagination?
 
But for the time being anyway, let's give Ms. Clinton the benefit of the doubt; and let's not forget the maniac that Republicans all over this diseased nation have chosen to run against her in this positively strangest of political years. I voted for Ralph Nader in 2000. At that moment in time, I was possessed of the crazy notion  that the American people would never be silly enough to elect an idiotic frat-boy like George W. Bush to an office as important as the presidency of the United States. As it turns out, I was entirely correct about that notion. He won simply because, as governor of the crucial state of Florida, his brother was able to remove fifty-thousand African Americans from the lists of eligible voters. I guess poor ol' Jeb regrets that little bit of chicanery! Had Dubya lost in 2000, Jeb might very well have been the nominee today. Isn't that funny? Instant Karma's gonna get'cha, Jebbie!
 
Something to consider: What happened in Florida sixteen years ago could very well happen again this year on a much larger scale. What do you think inspired those "Voter ID Laws" that have been passed in recent years in too-many-states to count? Those are laws that were engineered to combat the non-existent crime of "voter fraud". These blatantly unconstitutional new  rules require voters to purchase identification cards that cost as much as thirty-five dollars a pop. Thirty-five bucks is a luxury that poor people cannot afford, Poor people tend to vote Democratic. Do you see a pattern here? I knew you would. I just knew it!
 
Dr. Jill
Green Party candidate, Dr. Jill Stein, is a very intelligent, decent woman. She's also got as much of a chance of being elected president as I have - which is to say, "no chance at all". I speak from experience here. I was the Green Machine's candidate for New York State senate twelve years ago and I got clobbered senseless at the polls that November, barely registering at two percentage points. Believe me, 2016 is not the year to go whining to the ballot box with a "protest vote". The very future of the country is at stake. That is not an exaggeration, folks. The Republican party has become a fascistic, criminal organization. It is no longer run by responsible persons with the interests of the American people at the forefront of their motivations. Those days are LONG gone! Everett Dirkson, Dwight Eisenhower and Barry Goldwater are dead, and they're not coming back.

Perhaps it won't be so bad....perhaps. (Am I rationalizing again?) The very best that can be said is that I'm cautiously optimistic. She is the cross that must be borne by we who lean left; so why not just grin and bear it? At best we can assure ourselves that, at the very least, the White House will not again be chocked full of nuts, thieves and halfwits - as it was between the years 2001 and 2009 - and we might not find ourselves in four or (Heaven forbid) eight years time looking back on the George W. Bush years as an era of relative moderation....

Nostalgic for Dubya. Can you even imagine?

If the Republican candidate is victorious on Election Day, it's all over. This is one road we don't want to go down again, kids. Trust me on this one. The damage this time will be irreparable.

Ain't I clever? I made a twenty dollar bet with someone that I could write an entire piece without once mentioning the name, "Donald Trump"! I'm soooo proud of myself....

D'OH!

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

AFTERTHOUGHT:

I had to share this with you: In the piece you just read, when I listed the names of three decent and responsible Republican politicians who served in my lifetime, the first two came to my mind with ease. It took about a minute of serious pondering on my part to come up with the name of the third. Can you believe that?

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Progressive Dilemma

A Stand Up Guy makes his pitch


Hedges and Reich
It was an interesting debate I witnessed this morning on Democracy Now between Chris Hedges and Robert Reich. It's obvious that there is as much dissention and conflict on the left this morning as there is among their right wing counterparts. Reich, a former official in the administration of Bill Clinton, had come out early as a supporter of Bernie Sanders. When it became sadly obvious this week that Hillary Clinton would be the 2016 Democratic nominee for the presidency, he publicly endorsed her. Hedges, on the other hand, is of the opinion that all true progressives should commence with a third party uprising that, although it might put liberals "in the political wilderness" for a few years, would pay off big dividends in the long run. Reich called these notions "insane".
 
I wouldn't go quite that far. Chris Hedges is a writer I respect and admire, and I do sympathize with his motivations. If there is anyone out there whose writing is more on-target and revealing about the American train-wreck, I'm not aware of it. In fact, there are few people in public life whom I have more admiration for than both of these guys; it was unsettling to see them so vehemently opposed to one another. That being said, it is with much reluctance that I have to side with Robert Reich on this one. To quote Eleanor Roosevelt in a speech she made to the Democratic National Convention seventy-six years ago, this is "no ordinary time".
 
If the Republican nominee this year had been George Pataki or Susan Collins (the only two I can name that aren't bat-shit crazy) I would be quite agreeable to Chris's idea; it would serve those moronic Democrats right. I might have also been open to Hedges's idea had the candidacy this year been a repeat performance of goofy old Mitt Romney's quest for the White House four years ago. But this is something entirely different; this is sick, ominous territory we've wondered into here. The "party of Abraham Lincoln" has this year nominated a candidate so vile and deranged, comparisons to the rise of Adolf Hitler eighty-three years ago are not only not over-the-top - they're unavoidable (from the blatant racism all the way down to the stupid haircut). In this humid summer of 2016, we have found ourselves standing at the edge of the abyss.

You think I'm being overly alarmist? Fine. Let's all vote for Donald Trump this November and see what happens.

The person I feel the sorriest for this morning is Bernie Sanders. His revolutionary campaign today lies in ruin. Had the main-stream-media and the Democratic National Committee not been in confederacy against him (as I believe they were), had every person who desired to cast their ballot for him been allowed to do so, he would today be the nominee. I also believe that he would have cleaned the Donald's clock on Election Day; every poll had him doing as much. As it stands, Ms. Clinton is now barely neck-and-neck with the guy. What the hell does that tell you?

A lot of Bernie's supporters are livid at the man for "going over to the dark side". This is something he absolutely needs to do. This an example of a person falling on his sword for the greater good. The stakes for this country are too high for him to be throwing a monkey wrench into the process. Ralph Nader's third-party-candidacy sixteen years ago was a noble cause - but its grim aftereffect was eight long and depressing years of the George W. Bush White House. Bernie Sanders loves his country too well to destroy it by being a sore loser.

Did you ever think that you would live to see the day where the United States would become this completely weird? It really is an interesting spectacle to witness.

We have no other choice than to throw caution to the wind. Hillary has gone as far as an American politician can possibly go. Maybe she is through kissing the plutocratic butts she has been forced to kiss these many years to get to where she finds herself today. Maybe if she gets to the White House (not a foregone conclusion - stop kidding yourselves) she'll finally govern as the true progressive she has always claimed to be deep in her heart, and not the wishy-washy, right-leaning moderate she's always enjoyed playing on TV. Unfortunately we have no choice but to cast our lot with her. I know what you're thinking and I agree: This is unfair. That's the way it usually works in politics. A Donald Trump administration would set the progressive cause in this country back two-hundred and forty years. What other choice do we have - Dr. Jill Stein? She's a decent, intelligent person, but you're dreaming if she is your idea of a viable alternative.

I was stricken to my senses recently visiting with friends who are not only voting for Trump, they took me to task for not supporting him. I need to emphasize to you that these are not ignorant, uneducated hillbillies I'm talking about, these are intelligent, otherwise-reasonable people who live in the "sophisticated" Hudson Valley of New York state! That encounter had me tossing and turning for most of the night. I'm not exaggerating when I tell you this. I literally had a hard time sleeping, even after several helpings of vodka and vegetable juice.

The supporters of Bernie Sanders (and don't forget that I am one of them) need to take a deep breath. We'll live to fight another day. The result of four years of Donald Trump might very-well mean that there will be nothing left to fight for.  And as far as the Clinton campaign is concerned, they need to avoid complacency. They've got one hell of a steep hill to climb between now and November. The sooner they understand this the better.

No ordinary time indeed.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

SUGGESTED VIEWING

Here is a link to watch Bernie Sanders delivering his speech to the Democratic National convention of the night of July 25, 2016. This is as good as it gets' folks:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0tVD87cZew

Bernie is one of our greatest living Americans. I don't care if his campaign is over, I'm still going to feel the Bern. Can't help myself!

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Elephants,They Are Imploding

"Mein Trumph". Laura Ingraham seigs a little heil with the Donald
`
It was as unbelievable a spectacle as has been seen in modern politics in a long time: There stood Ted Cruz at the podium of the Republican National Convention, being roundly jeered by the multitudes, for refusing to endorse the candidacy of Donald Trump. The Texas senator is damned lucky he's white. If Dr. Ben Carson had pulled this kind of stunt, there is no doubt in my mind that, given the demeanor of this mob, they would have lynched the poor old bugger on the spot and asked questions later.
 
And yet, there was old Ted standing his ground. It was a brave thing to do - or at least it seemed brave to those who haven't spent the last two-and-a-half years studying carefully this dangerous ignoramus's every move (as I have). Ted is playing his cards just right. He knows damned good and well that the Donald is going to get throttled at the polls come Election Day. He's angling himself to be in the perfect "I-told-you-so" position four years from now when the 2020 Republican primaries come to town. And perhaps that will be the case. The only problem is that, by then, the Republican Party will have been relegated to the fringes of the American political conversation.
 
Still, show me a political party where someone as completely repulsive as Ted Cruz emerges as the hero du jour, and I'll show you a political party that is in one helluva fix.
 
The 2016 Republican National Convention was such a totally surreal sideshow that I hardly know where to begin. My first reaction was to smile and say, "Somebody pinch me!" But this was no dream. This was happening before our very eyes; and the amazing thing is that none of the participants in this debacle seemed to have a clue what international laughingstocks they were making themselves out to be. It was quite amusing - in a pathetic sort of way. Donald Trump is legendary for his monumental lack of self awareness. Or is he?
 
"I was born a poor black child"
Trump is a student of political theater. He has studied the GOP campaign process quite closely, and he understands - as anyone who seriously studies it  can easily understand - that the only way a candidate is able to receive  the Republican presidential nomination these days, is by stumbling around the country - with one foot on a banana peel and the other in his mouth - saying a lot of jaw-droppingly mean and stupid things. The only candidate to come close to the Donald in sheer meanness and stupidity was Ted Cruz. That's why Cruz was the only other contestant left standing in Indiana back in May. It was there that poor old Ted folded his cards. Trump had seen to it that he wasn't going to be "out-stupided", not even by a hideous Neanderthal like Ted.

This political summer is like 1968 all over again (minus all the cool music, of course. There are no Beatles in 2016). In the aftermath of the riots at their national convention that year, some political soothsayers were writing the obituary of the Democratic Party. It only survived because it was inhabited  by enough serious people who desired to be responsible, faithful representatives of their constituents. In the late summer of 1974, in the wake of the resignation of Richard M. Nixon, the Republican Party was in ruins. They managed to carry on because there were still enough serious men and women within that organization to keep it viable. That's not the case with the modern-day GOP.

Now you see 'em. Soon you won't.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

 SUGGESTED VIEWING:

Here's my little musical contribution to the discussion, taped on July 20:
 
https://www.facebook.com/tomdegan/videos/10154261087980729/   

Ain't I a riot?

SUGGESTED READING

Neurotic, Not Psychotic: A Blue Girl in a Red State
by Heather Henderson Addison

My Facebook pal, Heather, has a new blog that shows much promise. She's most definitely on the right side of history - as are most lefties; A contradiction in terms if there ever was one.

https://heathersavann.com/

Drop in and show her some support. She lives in Alabama. She needs all the support she can possibly get!

SUGGESTED VIEWING:

Was at FYE in Newburgh on Saturday and picked up the film, Selma. It's about Dr. King and the events leading up to the march on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965. If you haven't seen this one yet, you really ought to. It's a keeper. The struggle for equal rights and human dignity is all-consuming and never ending.  Here's my review (sort of) from February 11 of last year:

http://tomdegan.blogspot.com/2015/02/selma-in-february.html

Wasn't that a time?

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 21st Century


1891-2016: Same location, slightly different centuries
`
There's only one thing I love better than visiting the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Library and Museum in Hyde Park, NY, and that is bringing people who have never been there before to see it for the first time, particularly young people. This week I had the pleasure of the company of two friends: Nina Saviello and Brian R. Sager (The "R" is to distinguish him from his dear old dad, Brian K. Sager). I've known Nina for three years; Brian I've known since about two-and-a-half years before the invention of dirt. In fact, he probably doesn't remember not knowing me. I can clearly remember not knowing him, though, and my life is better for his presence in it. That goes for Nina as well. Good kids. Lovely families. No criminal records. We're talkin' salt of the earth here.

This is something we had been tentatively planning for the better part of a year. Always, the problem had to do with scheduling - their schedules more that mine. You see, unlike Yours Truly, both Brian and Nina have something vaguely resembling "a life". We wanted to do this late last summer; then in the Autumn. Finally we settled on Sunday, July 10, 2016. I picked them up in the late morning and we were on our merry way (Tra-la-la).
`
Brian and Nina in the Map Room
`
One of the things that bugs me more than anything is how so few Americans in the Twenty-first Century understand and appreciate the debt their country (and the world) owes Franklin Roosevelt. It's been one of my missions to make sure that my generation, and subsequent ones that I may live to see, comprehend this. I cannot tell you what team won the 1932 World Series for the simple reason that, quite frankly, eighty-four years after the fact, it doesn't make a damned bit of difference who won it. I can, however, tell you who won the presidential contest that year. Four-score and four years later, that does indeed make a difference. Very much so. Had Herbert Hoover been re-elected in 1932, this world would be a very different place.

Think about this: On the night of February 15, 1933 - seventeen days before he was sworn in as president - Roosevelt was in Miami, having just returned from a fishing trip with some friends. From the back of his convertible, the president-elect made an impromptu speech to the delighted crowd that had gathered to greet him. Just as he finished talking, several gun shots rang out. None of the bullets hit FDR, but the man who was standing next to the car, Chicago mayor, Anton Cermak, was mortally wounded. He died nineteen days later. Had Franklin Roosevelt been killed on that evening, the presidency would have gone to his running mate, a not-too-visionary bigot from Texas named John Nance Garner. How do you think he would have dealt with the depression that was devastating America at that moment? How do you think he would have stood up to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis in the coming years?
`
The "what ifs" of history: They literally make the imagination tremble.
`
We arrived at the FDR Library and Museum at around noon. The first building one enters is called the "Henry Wallace Welcoming Center", which is named for FDR's second vice-president (He had three of them!) There is a larger-than-life-sized photograph of Mr. Wallace's smiling face at the entrance greeting visitors as they walk in. Do you think that there's a "Dick Cheney Welcoming Center" at the George W. Bush's library in Texas? I would think not. Who the hell in his-or-her right mind would even go near the joint with Chaney's face snarling at them from the entranceway? Would you subject your children to something that weird? I ask you.
`
Taking the tour with these two extraordinary young people, the passage of time came into serious perspective for me. When I was born in 1958, President Roosevelt had been dead for thirteen years. By the time Brian Sager and Nina Saviello came into the world, he had been gone from this earth for half a century. April 12 of this year marked the seventy-first anniversary of the day he died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage at his vacation home in Warm Springs Georgia. That is primarily the reason, I believe, why the legacy of the New Deal is on life support these days. There are only a relative handful of people who survive that have a conscious memory of the living, breathing FDR, and what he meant to the working men and women of this country. The New Deal brought into being a middle class that had been virtually non-existent before. Again, I cannot emphasize this enough: Our debt to this man is incalculable.

Something to ponder: The youngest voters to cast their ballots for Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 would today be 105-years old. My mother was only in the eighth grade when he passed away in 1945. She succumbed to old age last December 12. America has forgotten. I was thinking about this as we paused in the rose garden for a moment of quiet meditation at the spot where today, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt sleep side-by-side.

One thing a visitor to the FDR Library cannot help but notice are the artifacts of his paralysis.  In the summer of 1921, in his capacity as chairman of the Boy Scouts of America, Roosevelt was visiting one of their camps at Bear Mountain, NY (a place which is located less than twenty miles down the road from where I now sit). On this day, the last photograph of him standing unaided was taken. It was at Bear Mountain that the future president contracted polio, possibly by rinsing his sweat-soaked face in a barrel of cold water that had become contaminated by the virus.
`
A week-or-so later, while vacationing with Eleanor and the children on Campobello Island off the coast of Maine, he went to bed early complaining of a chill. The following morning, agonizing pain was pulsating through his every limb; by the next day, he was paralyzed from the neck down. A victim of Infantile Paralysis at the age of thirty-nine, he would never walk unaided again. At that moment, the general consensus among the movers-and-shakers within American politics, was that this one-time rising star was finished. This respected and successful attorney; this former New York State senator from Dutchess Country; this Assistant Secretary of the Navy under President Wilson; this 1920 vice-presidential nominee - was as helpless as an infant, and about as useful to the Democratic Party as one. He would spend the decade of the twenties fighting his way back to health - or a semblance thereof.

The normally stoic Eleanor would at one time break down weeping at the sight of this proud, once-athletic man, determinedly struggling his way up a staircase, one step at a time, by use of his hands and buttocks. His own suffering instilled in him an empathy for the suffering of others that would come to good use as a leader. By the end of the decade, he was living in the governor's mansion in Albany. Four years later, he was living in the White House in Washington. Facing a multitude of odds few human beings would have had the strength to surmount, he defied them all. In 1926, he spent two/thirds of his inheritance founding a center in Warm Springs, Georgia dedicated to the treatment and rehabilitation of people afflicted with poliomyelitis. And yet it goes much further than that. On the night of his death someone wrote:

"Although he never regained the use of his legs - much as he wanted to, much as he tried - he taught a crippled nation how to walk again."
`
We are a better nation because of this guy - you'd better believe it, Buster. He saved this republic from the worst economic catastrophe in its history. And when he was finished saving America? He decided to save the world. Are you impressed? I know I am. Franklin Roosevelt was as good as it gets. Everyone who has sat in the Oval Office since 1945 sits in the shadow of FDR, and they always seem to come up somewhat lacking at best - or seriously lacking at worst. I don't need to mention any names here, do I? I didn't think so.
`
A selfie with The Frankster
It was a nice day, and I'm happy to have spent it with Brian and Nina, two people whom I love and respect more than I can articulate. As I said, I get such a kick out of taking young people to the place where Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born on the night of January 30, 1882, the place he called "home" for the sixty-three years he spent on this earth (I almost said "walked this earth" That would have been a tad awkward) . My two French nieces will be visiting in a couple of weeks, and I plan on bringing them up there as well. I always feel better about America after spending a couple hours there. It's that kind of place.
`
Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

AFTERTHOUGHT:

Sculptures by Carolyn Palmer
`
The two photographs at the top of this piece were taken in the exact, same spot - on the back lawn of the Roosevelt family home, overlooking the Hudson River, 125 years apart. The  1891 photograph is of nine-year-old Franklin with his father, James (both on horseback), and his mother, Sarah (with the family pooch in tow). In the 2016 photo, Brian Sager and Nina Saviello are shown standing in the spot where Mrs. Roosevelt stood a century-and-and-a-quarter before. History, it's almost within our grasp, barely out of reach.

Ghosts.

SUGGESTED READING:

No Ordinary Time
by Doris Kearns-Goodwin

The best book on the Roosevelt White House ever written.


1932