Thursday, June 26, 2008

George Carlin 1937-2008


"It's called 'The American Dream' because you have to be asleep to believe it"

George Carlin
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It is an image that stays with you even after the passage of over three and a half decades. I am referring to the night that I first laid eyes on the phenomenon that was George Carlin. As best as I can remember, it was in the spring of 1972. I was a thirteen-year-old kid, watching one of my favorite programs, The Flip Wilson Show, when all of a sudden there he was! I could not believe what I was witnessing! This guy is a comedian?? He had hair that went well past his shoulders....
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"I'm aware some stare at my hair,
In fact, to be fair,
some really despair of my hair"
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....and a beard!
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"Here's my beard
Ain't it weird?
Don't be sceerd
It's just a beard!"
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And man! The son-of-a-bitch was funny! Funnier than anyone I had ever seen in my life. The anti-Bob Hope had arrived:
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"Hey there, kids! Welcome to the Weird Willie West Show on the Nifty Eight-Fifty, Wonderful WINO Radioooo! More hits more often! WINO time: (BING BONG) Five minutes past the big hour of Five o'clock! We've got the new John Lennon record comin' up which, if you play it backwards at slow speed, it screws up your needle!"
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And then there was Al Sleet, the hippie dippie Weatherman:
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"Que pasa! Al Sleet here, your hippie dippie Weatherman, with all of the hippie dippie weather, man! Tonight's forecast? Dark. Continuing mostly dark tonight, with widely scattered light in the morning. The radar is picking up a line of thunder showers.... However the radar is also picking up a squadron of Russian ICBMs - so I wouldn't sweat the thunder showers, you know, man."
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Who was this guy? I thought he was just one of Wilson's many guests making a one shot appearance. But then, the following week, there he was again! A regular??? FANTASTIC! From that point on, I would find myself tuning in for no other reason than to bask in the cosmic lunacy of my new comedic hero, George Carlin. Within a matter of weeks, I found out that he actually had a new LP out called FM and AM, on a label I had never heard of before (and would never hear of again) called "Little David Records". One of my fondest adolescent memories, is listening to that record in the company of my friends and fellow co-conspirators, Jeff Warren and Kevin Swanwick (Hi, guys!) The first track on Side One almost knocked me senseless. Euphemistically titled "Shoot", it was a nearly six minute lecture on the word, "SHIT". ("They can't fool me, man! 'Shoot' is 'shit' with two O's!) He related the story of how the previous year, he had been fired from the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas for saying the forbidden word....
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"....in a town where the big game is called Craps! There's some kind of a double standard! I'm sure there was some Texan standing out in the casino yelling: 'AWW, SHIT, I GOT CRAPS!!' And they fly those guys in for free, man! They fired me. Shit!"
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Although hearing the announcement of his death early Monday morning on MSNBC was a sad thing indeed, it was hardly surprising. Given the state of his health and his history of heart disease, we should consider ourselves blessed (or cursed - depending on your point-of-view) that we had him for as long as we did.
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Here's a little bit of trivia for you: about seven-hundred feet from where I now sit, just off of Craigville Road here in Goshen, NY, is the abandoned campus of the old Salesian Catholic High School, where a precocious and eccentric teenager named George Carlin was educated in the nineteen-fifties. He would eventually be expelled for telling his fellow classmates that he had brought some heroin with him from the city. Classic Carlin!
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The most amazing thing about Carlin's career is that in its infancy, he was just your average, run-of-the-mill comedian. After a brief stint in radio, he got together with another young and aspiring comic named Jack Burns. The comedy team of Burns and Carlin - which obtained a modest degree of success with a couple of bookings in Los Angeles, an appearance on the Jack Parr Show, and a record album that sold about a hundred copies - never had much of a future. It was only after George Carlin discovered a dark and troubled yet screamingly funny iconoclast named Lenny Bruce that he realized he had to set off in an a totally different direction - a direction that the more conventional Burns was ill-suited to go. The act amicably broke up in 1963 and Carlin was on his way. (Years later, Burns would team up with a more traditional comic, the late Avery Schreiber: Burns and Schreiber. Remember them? FUNNY!)
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Looking at videotaped footage of George Carlin's early solo act today, one is immediately struck by his warped view on mid-sixties popular culture and his irreverence with respect to the mores of the time. Even after the passage of forty years, his early satire is still as funny now as it was then:
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"And Now the Seven O'clock Report:
RUSSIA AND THE UNITED STATES ARE AT WAR!
MISSILES HAVE BEEN FIRED FROM BOTH SIDES!
WASHINGTON AND MOSCOW ARE IN FLAMES!....
But first, this word about your breath."

For al
most seven years, although a uniquely original talent, he continued to operate within the accepted realms of traditional stand-up comedy. Footage of him at this time on the Tom Jones and Merv Griffin Programs, shows a straight-laced, likable enough, mainstream kind of guy sporting a tailor made suit and the short hair style which was then fashionable. It was also during this period that he even made a forgettable appearance as an actor on an episode of the sit-com, That Girl, with Marlo Thomas.
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Prior to the nineteen-seventies, the biggest scandal he ever found himself in was on a cold December night in 1962 when Lenny Bruce was arrested for obscenity at the Gate of Horn nightclub in Chicago. After Lenny was hauled off the stage, the cops went into the audience asking everyone for their IDs. When asked for his identification Carlin, who was in the audience and extremely intoxicated, drunkenly told the inquiring officer, "I don't believe in IDs!" Handcuffed and thrown into the back of the patrol car alongside Lenny, the persecuted comedian took one look at his friend and asked, "What the hell are you doing here?" "I got stupid with a cop" said Carlin, to which Lenny replied, "Schmuck!"
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The dawn of the seventies found our hero (and much of the country) going through some major changes - Lenny Bruce was dead; a generation of disaffected, righteously pissed-off children were venting their outrage over the utter futility of a war in which they and their friends were being forced to fight in and die - and that hitherto invisible barrier that had once separated a performer from his or her audience was being shattered. It was at this moment that Carlin decided to take a sabbatical. Whether it was an emotional crisis or simply a matter rechartering the direction of his career is not certain. When he emerged some months later however, a total transformation had taken place. Booked into a club, he sat unrecognized amid an audience of his most hard-core fans, waiting to be introduced. When he walked onto the stage, pony tailed and bearing a six month growth of a beard, it is said that the shock and surprise of the people in that room was palpable. Meet the new George Carlin.
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For five years he was cooking. A series of five comedy albums won him a Grammy and more than a few gold records. He was, without doubt, the most popular and successful comedian in America. An obscenity arrest while performing at a Milwaukee fair in 1973 - the kind of thing that had destroyed Lenny Bruce's career less than a decade previously - only ended up garnering him some valuable publicity. He even became an unwitting part in a landmark Supreme Court ruling when radio station W-BAI in New York City was fined by the FCC for playing a recording of his "Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television" routine one afternoon in the autumn of 1973. Not to any one's surprise, the Supremes sided with the Feds.
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Then, in the mid-seventies, cocaine abuse began to affect the agility of this most brilliant of comic minds. In October of 1975, when he guest-hosted the debut of a new show called Saturday Night Live, the entire ordeal was a disaster for Carlin. Watching that program is still painful all these decades later. At times his lines are greeted by total silence, prompting him to ask the studio audience, "Have you heard these jokes before?" They had. He had lost his comic muse.
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His recovery from a 1978 heart attack seems to have given him a second wind. His 1982 performance, Carlin At Carnegie Hall, which was broadcast on HBO, saw him at the peek of his creative powers, which is where he remained until this past Sunday when he left us at the still far-too-young age of seventy-one.
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In recent years, his observations about the human condition had become dark and deeply troubling; not too surprising given the nature of the times in which we live. On one of his last albums, ironically titled, Life Is Worth Losing, the political reality of life in America was laid bare in a way only George Carlin could do. He simply asked the question: Who owns this country? His answer is brutal, disturbing, honest and, in a way that only he could have made possible, beautiful:
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"The real owners are the big, wealthy business interests that control things and make all the important decisions. Forget the politicians, they're an irrelevancy. The politicians are put there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice. You don't. You have no choice. You have owners. They own you! They own everything! They own all the important land. They own and control the corporations. They've long-since bought and paid for the Senate, the Congress, the statehouses, the city halls. They've got the judges in their back pockets. And they own all the big media companies, so that they control just about all of the news and information you hear. They've got you by the balls! They spend billions of dollars every year lobbying - lobbying to get what they want. Well, we know what they want; they want more for themselves and less for everybody else!
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"But I'll tell you what they don't want. They don't want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don't want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking. They're not interested in that. That doesn't help them. That's against their interests. They don't want people who are smart enough to sit around the kitchen table and figure out how badly they're getting fucked by a system that threw them overboard thirty fucking years ago. You know what they want? Obedient workers - people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork - but dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly shittier jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, reduced benefits, the end of overtime and the vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it.

"And now, they're coming for your Social Security. They want your fucking retirement
money! They want it back so they can give it to their criminal friends on Wall Street. And you know something? They'll get it! They'll get it all, sooner or later, because they own this fucking place. It's a big club and you ain't in it. You and I are not in the Big Club."
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It is my opinion that the man is right up there with Mark Twain. Carlin's advantage is the fact that no audio recordings survive of the author of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. George Carlin's voice will survive as long as the human race. A century from now, he'll be remembered with the same love and critical esteem for which Twain is held nearly a century after his passing. For your own health and safety, don't hold your breath waiting for the likes of George Carlin to pass this way again. He was the last of the great American humorists. They're all gone now - all of them - and they're not coming back.
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Shit.
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Tom Degan
Goshen, NY
tomdegan@frontiernet.net
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NOTE: The photograph of Lenny Bruce to the left of the column has never been published. It is a Polaroid, circa 1963, that was stapled to his cabaret card. And remember, you saw it first on "The Rant", folks!
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SUGGESTED LISTENING:

Take-Offs and Put-Ons
RCA Victor Records
Classic, early Carlin; recorded at the Roostertail Nightclub, Detroit Michigan, November 1966
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SUGGESTED READING:

Napalm and Silly Putty
by George Carlin
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Here is a video link to the Carlin piece quoted above:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gF1Ixo_faas&feature=player_embedded

To read more recent postings on this cesspool of Liberal propaganda, please go to the following link:

"The Rant' by Tom Degan

George would have approved.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Trouble With Cindy


The right wing smear machine went into overdrive this week. Their latest trick is a full blown propaganda blitz, the purpose of which is to transform the image of Michelle Obama from that of devoted wife and mother into an unpatriotic, militant and angry Black Bitch. My advice to them? Don't go there. Don't even think about going there. Have they forgotten the touchy subject of Cindy McCain's little problem with substance abuse a few years back? And you thought that Michelle had baggage? Oh, brother! My prediction is that any attempt to demonize Michelle Obama will only backfire on the candidacy of John McCain in the long run. On second thought: GO THERE.

While I was privately determined never to bring Cindy's past troubles up on this site, recent events have forced my hand. Barack Obama seems determined to keep his campaign above and out of sight of the gutter. Good for him. The American political process has gotten so dirty in recent years. It is a tribute to him and his campaign team that exploiting Cindy McCain's unfortunate history is beneath them. But it sure as hell ain't beneath me:

In 1994 Cindy McCain admitted that she stole drugs from a charity she founded called, the American Voluntary Medical Team. To fuel her addiction and conceal her identity, she would have the prescriptions filled out in the names of people on her staff.

I only mention this because the McCain camp is now in the process of exploiting a statement Ms. Obama inarticulately made in February when she proclaimed, "For the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country." That is a sentence that could indeed be taken out of context; much in the same way John McCain's words could be misinterpreted when he said - on three separate occasions - "I never loved my country until I was parted from her company". He was, of course, referring to the five years he spent as a P.O.W. during the Vietnam War. No serious, thoughtful and intelligent person is questioning Senator McCain's patriotism. Why is it, then, that so many fools on the far right are challenging Ms. Obama's love of country? What the hell is the matter with these people?

On the same morning that found Michelle mixing it up with the ladies on The View, Cindy was telling Good Morning America:

"All I know is that I have always been proud of my country."

Again, they really should be having second thoughts about this strategy. While it's true that all serious minded writers will recognize that Ms. McCain's battle with drug addiction is something that happens to a lot of good people for a lot of different reasons, it must also be remembered that there are disgusting and contemptible hacks, despicable yellow journalists who know that there is no depth too low to which they are perfectly willing - even happy - to sink. These are the type of people, not one of whom could be said to have any sense of fairness and decency. These are the type of people who are not above the exploitation of so tragic an incident for their own, cynical political profit....In other words, people like me:

This woman - who calls herself an American mother - was stoned night and day! Stealing drugs from a charity! A Charity, I tell you!!! All the while she was driving her poor little, innocent and frightened children around - to and from boarding school, doctors appointments, play dates, and private French lessons - under the influence of dangerous narcotics! And this sick, disgraceful, drug-addled, train wreck of a woman is someone the Republicans want representing this grand and glorious nation of ours as First Lady of the land??? NEVER, I say! A THOUSAND TIMES, NO!!!

You get the idea.

The most disturbing thing about the Cindy McCain affair is not the fact that she received no jail time (reasonable enough; it was her first offence....I think). The unsettling thing is that she was never even charged with a crime! Ask yourselves the following question: would Michelle Obama - under the same circumstances - have gotten off without so much as a slap on the wrist? An African American woman charged with stealing drugs? Are you kidding me? Our gal Michelle would have done at least thirty days in the Cook County jail - if she were lucky. I am not being speculative here. There are two different codes of justice for Blacks and Whites in this country. That is an undeniable fact of American life.

Another thing the crybabies in the GOP have been whining about is Michele Obama's college thesis in general and the following paragraph in particular:

"These experiences have made it apparent to me that the path I have chosen to follow by attending Princeton will likely lead to my further integration and/or assimilation into a White cultural and social structure that will only allow me to remain on the periphery of society, never becoming a full participant."

Let's examine that statement, shall we? Obviously, Michelle Obama is not by any means living on the "periphery of society". Obviously, she has become a "full participant" in American life. But it has to be conceded that when it comes to enjoying "the American way of life", most Black people - in fact, the overwhelming majority of them - remain marginalized. Surely she could not have dreamed that she would find herself married to a man who would be chosen to be the standard bearer for his political party when she wrote that paper over two decades ago. Sixty years ago, when people looked at a stunningly gorgeous and intelligent teenager named Jackie Bouvier and speculated that this girl would one day marry a president of the United States, it really wasn't that much of a stretch. To have said the same thing about nineteen-year-old Michelle LaVaughn Robinson, lovely and talented as she undoubtedly was (and is - I think she's a knockout!) would have been dismissed as ludicrous. Although this brilliant young woman had a great career ahead of her, she had every reason to believe that within two or three generations, her descendants would sink back into the grinding poverty and repression that is all-too-common with her people. With the possible exception of Clarence Thomas, Condoleeza Rice, and the guy on the Cream of Wheat box, there is hardly a person of color in this country who wouldn't still empathize with what Miss Robinson wrote all those years ago.

So let's get a grip here, folks. Michelle Obama is the exception; she's not the rule. To imply otherwise is - to be kind - delusional. Although attempting to portray her as a re-booted version of Angela Davis is too silly for words, there are a whole hell of a lot of people out there dumb enough to fall for it. That is what the Republicans are counting on. If you thought their swift-boating campaign of 2004 was reprehensible, as Al Jolson used to say, "You ain't seen nothin' yet". The racist and xenophobic tactics that they are already starting to use - the repeated use of Senator Obama's middle name, "Hussein"; the often stated lie that he is a madrassa-educated, fundamentalist Muslim; the veiled references to his race in order to frighten the less enlightened among us - are a mere prologue to what promises to be the dirtiest campaign since the Thomas Jefferson/John Adams contest of 1796. One of the accusations lodged against Jefferson that year was that he kept a "negro concubine" by the name of Sally Hemmings. Two-hundred and twelve years later, race is still the all-consuming issue in this silly country. What goes around, comes around, ya' know what I mean?

Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain aren't going to be nominated for sainthood anytime soon - that much is clear. Neither, for that matter, will their husbands. Call me crazy, but I have this vividly quaint notion that, instead of focusing on the candidate's wives, we might focus on the candidates themselves. In the long run, Michelle's stand on global warming is irrelevant. Cindy's view on affirmative action won't mean a damned thing in the final analysis. They are not running for president. The tactic of focusing on Ms. Obama's so-called "un-Americanism" is meant only to distract you from the issues that matter - as was my ranting about Ms McCain's former drug dependence. What matters is whether or not this country goes in a desperately needed new direction - not exaggerations and out-right lies about the women Barack Obama and John McCain chose to fall in love with and marry. Spreading false and malicious rumors about a candidate's wife is only the mark of political desperation and nothing more. Anyone who attempts to do so should be viewed with utter contempt.

Now if you'll excuse me, Cindy and I have a date to shoot-up some hard-core, kick-ass Afghan heroin in the back of my van.

Happy trails, kiddies!
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Tom Degan
Goshen, NY
tomdegan@frontiernet.net

Monday, June 16, 2008

Sunday Will Never Be The Same

Tim Russert 1950-2008

"Our issues this week...."
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It really is amazing when you think about it how completely rooted in the working class the icons of American broadcast journalism have been. The very last thing that one is expected to remember when looking at an ancient kinescope of Edward R. Murrow is that the man started off his career as a lumberjack. That was never the case as far as Tim Russert was concerned. His very persona just screamed working class. The suits he wore were never custom-made; they were always off-the-rack. Tom Brokaw once joked that Tim had three tailors: L, L and Bean. He never developed the seemingly cool detachment of so many of his colleagues. His almost childlike wonder and enthusiasm at the circumstances that this native of Buffalo, NY and son of a sanitation worker found himself in - to be a part of history in the making - was the most appealing thing about his personality. And it has to be conceded for the record that he had, without a doubt, the worst haircut of anybody in the history of television - with the possible exception of Seinfeld's Kramer. He really was one of us.
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It was at the NBC News Washington bureau that Russert collapsed and died of a massive heart attack on Friday, June 13, 2008. Like Murrow before him, his career as a broadcast journalist began entirely by accident, having started off as an aid to the late New York senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. The program he hosted for seventeen years should have been renamed the Russert Show. In it's original format which was moderated by the late Lawrence Spivak, a public person was questioned by three or four members of the print and electronic media. It hadn't really been "Meet The Press", so to speak, for years. Tim Russert literally changed the face of the Sunday morning talk show. One-hundred years from today, historians writing of this confused and confusing age will not be able to omit his name from their texts. He was that important to the times in which he lived.
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During Tim Russert's reign, Meet The Press was must-see, essential viewing for anyone who wanted to be able to comment intelligently on affairs of state. As has been mentioned too many times to count during the last four days, between the years 1991 and 2008, the road to the White House went directly past his desk. The candidacies of more than one over-confident politician has imploded before a national television audience for no other reason than their failure to adequately prepare for prosecutor Russert's tough but fair interrogation. It was a program that the self-respecting political junkie missed to his or her detriment.
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Learning of his sudden death on Friday afternoon was enough of a genuine shock to bring tears to many an eye. It took me a minute or two to actually absorb what I was hearing. The reason I always identified so strongly with Russert was because of the similarities in our backgrounds. We were two Irish Catholic guys from upstate New York, educated in parochial schools. He never failed to credit his beloved teacher, Sister Lucille, for instilling in him his love of journalism. This intelligent but mischievous kid's insatiable energy had to be channeled in a positive direction. The good sister decided to take matters into her own hands. She started a school newspaper for no other reason than to make thirteen-year-old Timmy Russert it's editor. That is a story I can relate to. In the sixth grade at St. John's Elementary School in Goshen, NY, I was "punished" after school one day by Sister Carroll and forced to learn Lincoln's Gettysburg Address" by heart. That was the beginning of my life long fascination with the Great Emancipator. It was also my introduction to the beauty of the spoken word. Tim never forgot Sister Lucille's influence on him and was not shy about bringing her down to the NBC News studios in Washington, introducing her to everyone. I am forever grateful to Sister Carroll. Nuns are funny that way, aren't they?
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Whenever a news person writes a book, it usually has to do with that reporter's various journalistic exploits - real and imagined. This guy wrote a book about his dad. "Big Russ and Me" was his memoir of growing up in the nineteen-fifties and sixties, only a couple of steps above the poverty level in working class Buffalo. He told the inspiring story of Timothy Russert, Sr. holding down two full time jobs in order to feed, clothe and educate his family of three daughters and one son. It is a book about values and how the old man was able to instill those values - subtly and not-so-subtly - in his only son. They'll still be reading it a century from now. It is that good. If you haven't yet read Big Russ and Me, you really should. It reminds us, yet again, that a father's influence on a child can have incalculable effect - for good and ill. It is truly one of the great books of the era.
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The epilogue of Big Russ and Me was a letter to his only child, his son Luke:
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"Imagine. When Grandpa was just about your age, he left high school to help win World War II. When the war was over, he came home and took on another mission - raising a family and educating his kids. As you know, for most of his life he worked two jobs and never complained. I have never seen him bitter or cynical about anything or anyone. To this day, Grandpa believes his glass is two-thirds full. Or, as he puts it, 'I'm truly blessed.' And so are you."
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The guy was a gem.
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Recently he had been the subject of some criticism. There were a couple of times on an otherwise delightful Sunday morn, when I would find myself shouting as loud as I could at the TV screen when he would fail to ask a member of this twisted administration a follow up question that - right or wrong - I believed needed to be asked: "Yo! Russert! WHASSAMATTA YOU???" Earlier this year, in a PBS documentary called, "Buying The War", Bill Moyers gently but justly admonished him for naively allowing himself to be used by Dick Cheney in a September 2002 appearance on Meet The Press that "catapulted the propaganda" in the run-up to the war in Iraq. It should be said in Tim's defence that he was not alone. Most of the news media swallowed the lies of the Bush Mob whole. Perhaps it was inconceivable to this patriotic, child of the fifties that his government would deceive its citizens about something as serious as committing American troops to fight and die in a war in a far off land. It really is hard to believe when you think about it. The American press should have learned a hard and bitter lesson from the Pentagon Papers in 1971. Sadly, they did not. Perhaps it is a lesson that each generation of journalists will have to re-learn.
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But, all in all, his was an honorable and distinguished career. This was a life well lived and nobly spent. This was a man with a good and great heart. How ironic it is that it was his own heart that failed him in the end. How sad it is that this man who was nationally known as a devoted son, loving father and husband, would die at the start of the Father's Day weekend. The shock and grief of his colleagues at the network is a testament to how much he was genuinely, deeply loved. That NBC News will have no trouble filling one of his shoes there is little doubt. Good luck to them trying to fill both.
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His opinion had weight. Just last week after the final Democratic primaries, when Barck Obama's nomination at the convention in August became a forgone conclusion, Senator Clinton still refused to concede defeat. I seriously believe that she only succumbed to the inevitability of the moment after Tim Russert announced to the world on MSNBC, "It's over." When someone with the knowledge and the gravitas of Russert tells you that the party has ended, it's generally a good idea to pack up and pay the piper.
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Back in the early nineties when former Ku Klux Klansman David Duke sought the office of governor of Louisiana, he made the serious mistake of sitting down before Tim and an audience of millions. When he revealed that he was unaware of the fact that a quarter of the population of Louisianans lived in poverty, when he could not even name the three largest employees in that state - after claiming that his campaign was about jobs and economics - his candidacy was finished. Tim Russert merely chewed the silly bastard up and spit out the bones. By the way, whatever became of that knucklehead?
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It is instructive that the hate-mongers on the far right were never able to lay a glove on him. The very idea of describing Tim as a "latte-swirling elitist" doesn't even come close to passing the giggle test. For all his worldly success, he could not and never even attempted to separate himself from his humble roots. A devout Catholic, Tim Russert was not afraid to talk openly about his religion and what it meant to him. His absolute passion for life, his joyful love of children - his and everyone else's - and his contagious devotion to his vocation - could only have been the result of a deep-seated spirituality that grounded him and was the core of his very being. Maybe we might all learn from that. Maybe this good and decent man was guided by something so simple and yet so profound that few of us are able to fully comprehend it. I realize that it's wrong to speculate on the judgement of God, but it really isn't that much of a stretch to conclude that the very first words Tim Russert heard after his body hit the floor were these:
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"Welcome to My Kingdom, thy good and faithful servant."
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Forty years ago when Tim was still a senior at Canisius High School, a long-forgotten yet eminently talented pop band called Spanky and Our Gang had a minor hit with a lovely tune that was called, "Sunday Will Never Be the Same". Ain't that the truth!
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I'm sure going to miss Tim Russert.
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Tom Degan
Goshen, NY
tomdegan@frontiernet.net
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Condolences to Tim's wife Maureen Orth, his son Luke, his three sisters B.A., Kathy and Trish, and, of course, to Big Russ.
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SUGGESTED READING:
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Wisdom of Our Fathers
by Tim Russert

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Gentlemen, Start Your Rhetoric

Hillary Clinton was heaved back into the real world on Saturday at noon when she finally - mercifully - conceded that her historic but disastrous campaign was toast and jelly, and that Senator Barack Obama was indeed going to be the 2008 Democratic nominee for the office of president. Her "victory speech" on the night of the final Democratic primaries will no doubt be remembered as one of the more curious events in political history. It was one of those bizarre, Nixonian moments that makes the American electoral process such a weird joy to behold. There our gal was, in a fortified, underground bunker (I kid you not!) two stories below the sidewalks of merrie old Manhattan, in order to insure that none of her wildly cheering, glazed-eyed supporters would get the message on their cell phones that Barack had actually won. It truly was the funniest moment in what can only be described as a surreal political season. By the weekend her own exhausted and embarrassed campaign advisers were telling her that it was all over. One would only hope that they have enough sense to keep her away from sharp objects and window ledges.

Over a year ago, on February 23, 2007, I wrote on this site:
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"Will Barack Obama be the next president of the United States? It's hard to say. But one shouldn't be foolish enough to dismiss his chances outright. We live in desperate and extraordinary times and the American people, if only out of sheer desperation, might very well turn towards an extraordinary candidate. That very fact is enough to put the good Senator over the top. We can only hope. Talk about audacity!"

At the time it was my belief that he had "one hell of an uphill battle ahead of him". After he won the Iowa caucus in January, I wrote,

"You know, I was just thinking: this son-of-a-bitch just might be able to pull this thing off! Wow!"

Back in January, a Barack Obama victory in November seemed to be nothing short of a potential miracle. That is no longer the case. Far from it. From the vantage point of Sunday morning, June 8, 2008, his success should only seem inevitable. But Obama is not a sure thing. As a matter of fact, at the present time, the polls have he and McCain in a dead heat. How can this be so? Times are so bad; John McCain is such a terrible candidate; Obama is such an extraordinary nominee. The only thing his possible defeat will prove is that the American people are nothing more than a nation of incurable yahoos, racists and fools. If he is defeated on November 4, that will be the only plausible, rational explanation.

That was not meant to imply that everyone who casts their vote against the Senator from Illinois is a bigot; certainly that is not the case. There are good and decent people out there who have honest, philosophical disagreements with the Democratic party that have nothing to do with race. I am merely attempting to point out the undeniable truth that the GOP's assault on our government in the last thirty years has done such harm to this once-great nation, a Democratic landslide on Election Day should be a foregone conclusion. We're talkin' a 1936 style victory here, folks. That was the year when Franklin Delano Roosevelt won every state in the union with the lame exception of Maine and Vermont. Or 1972, when Dick Nixon trounced George McGovern everywhere but Massachusetts and the District of Columbia (Goodness gracious! Weeda Peeple really screwed up that year, didn't we?)

The fact that a Democratic victory in the autumn is not beyond doubt at this point in time, given the total corruption and mismanagement of the Republican party since the 1994 "Gingrich Revolution", is kind of disturbing when you think about it. Really, there seems to be no other choice that a nation of thoughtful, informed voters could make. John McCain has said (among other equally stupid things) that we could be bogged down in Iraq for another one-hundred years. How on earth is it that this guy is neck and neck my man, Barack? What gives here? Just look at the kind of campaign Obama has run! One thing that has to be admitted about Barack Obama is that he is organized. Before he got involved with Illinois politics, he made his reputation in Chicago as a community organizer - and a damned good one at that. His campaign thus far has been run like a Swiss watch. He surrounds himself with thoughtful, blunt advisers; not sycophantic "yes" men like Hillary Clinton and a certain, half-witted cowboy wannabe from Crawford, Texas whom we all know and loathe.

The only reason Obama is not a sure bet to win this thing is because he is an African American. That very fact speaks volumes as to what kind of people we are. The only way we will be able to avoid the shame of race playing a role in Barack's defeat (God forbid that should happen) will be if the Republicans nominate some pathetic, reactionary Uncle Tom to run as second on the ticket. Don't dismiss that as a possibility.

Candidate Obama's organization, the men and women he has chosen to surround himself with and run his campaign, are nothing if not impressive. These are the kind of people you want running the executive branch of your government. So many times in our history we have settled for less or, as in the case of 2000 and 2004, much less. We can't afford that "luxury" (if that's what you want to call it) again.

At no other time since 1932 has the need to go in a radically new direction been as obvious as it is in this year. If we foolishly reject the Democratic candidate we will deserve everything that happens to us. So desperate is the Bush Mob to forestall the inevitable, catastrophic economic collapse that is months if not weeks away, they have resorted to sending checks in the amount of several hundred dollars to every taxpayer in the United States. Their intention is to keep the economy barely sustained just long enough to be able to get out of town while the getting is good and blame the coming, unavoidable meltdown on the next administration - an administration they have some reason (although not every reason) to believe will be a Democratic one. What they are in the process of doing may very well serve as a temporary fix, but it will eventually only further deplete our already decimated national treasure. Seriously, has it dawned on you yet how utterly contemptible these people are? I was just wondering.
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There is reason for hope. The inhabitants of this troubled land are starting to pay attention to what is happening to them and they are beginning to understand why it is happening. Recent polling has concluded that eighty percent of the public believes that America is headed in the wrong direction (Yes, dear and gentle reader, a full twenty percent of your fellow citizens are so mind-twistingly stupid, they actually believe that we're headed in the right direction). FOX Noise's ratings are starting to fall. Last week, more people tuned into Keith Olbermann than watched Bill O'Riley. Recently, three Democrats were able to win in special, off-year elections in regions that were previously thought to be Republican strongholds. It has been many weeks since I have heard the name "Brittany Spears" even mentioned in the electronic media. So there is definitely room for optimism here.

Another thing that people are starting to wake up to is what a hideous mistake it was to sign onto the so-called "Reagan Revolution" a generation ago. On January 20, 1981, a feeble-minded, failed "B" movie actor by the name of Ronald Wilson Reagan stood on a podium in front of the Capitol Building in Washington DC, and told a nation of likewise feeble-minded Americans that government wasn't the answer to their problems, government was their problem. Remember this was at a point in our history when the population of this country was fast approaching two-hundred and fifty million human beings. If there is one thing that a quarter of a billion men and women need, it is to be governed - not to be dictated to, mind you - but governance. There is a decided difference. Don't let the kooks and criminals on the far right try to make you believe otherwise.

For almost thirty years, we have passively allowed these clowns to chip away at the very fabric of the social structures that brought the middle class into existence when President Roosevelt ushered in the New Deal era seventy-five years ago. We have seen where the insane philosophy of these hard-line extremists has taken us. What they have been trying to do is bring America back to the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a period Mark Twain called "The Gilded Age" when the the wealthy controlled even more of this nation's treasure than they do now. If you would like an idea of what life was like for regular working men and women in the first decade of the twentieth century, please read the book, "The Jungle" by Upton Sinclair. Written over a century ago in 1905, it is the heart breaking story of workers in the Chicago meat packing plants of that day who were brutally exploited by criminally low wages and then tossed aside like garbage when their injuries on the job left them without any benefits or compensation to sustain them. When Mr. Sinclair died on November 25, 1968 at the age of ninety, his most famous book was all-but-forgotten. It is quite telling that recent years have seen it's resurgence.

Is this class warfare that I am waging here? As the extremely rich Warren Buffett once observed, "If this is class warfare, my class is obviously winning". You're damned right this is class warfare, pardner! As one of the many bumper stickers on the back of my van says: "TURN LEFT AT NEXT ELECTION".

This might seem to you to be an alarmist statement but it really is not: the very future of the United States depends on Barack Obama winning this election. Not only that, we should see to it that George W. Bush is remembered as the last Republican president in history. That party, once known as "the party of Abraham Lincoln", has sold out the American people to the highest corporate bidder. Once the party of Theodore Roosevelt, the GOP has looted and raped the American economy to such an astounding and incomprehensible degree, that our debt is now being managed by China. China!!! That party, which was founded in 1856 with the abolition of human bondage as it's abiding purpose, has enslaved the poor and middle classes in order to benefit a class of people who already have more money than they know what to do with. That party, which has cynically distorted the teachings of our Lord and Savior (okay - MY Lord and Savior) in order to perpetuate their reckless destruction of our American heritage, has curtly dismissed the admonition of Jesus of Nazareth that we care for the poor, clothe the naked and feed the hungry:

"I tell you the truth. Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me."
Matthew 25:40
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That party must never be allowed to govern this country again.
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Pray for peace.
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Tom Degan
Goshen, NY
tomdegan@frontiernet.net

SUGGESTED READING:
The Sermon on the Mount

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Hideous Clinton

Well now....I was all set to wake up this fine morning and write an uplifting piece about what an inspiring and historical event the night of June 3, 2008 was. For the first time in this troubled nation's history, the people had decided to place their trust in an African American and nominate him as the standard bearer for the oldest political party in the world. For all its tumultuous racial history, the very thought that such a thing could possibly happen is a testament to the innovative and progressive heart that has always been the core (if at times faltering) of the American experiment. I was even prepared to offer a tip of the hat to Senator Hillary Clinton. Surely, I thought, as the waning hours of 2008's final primary ticked away into historical oblivion, and it became obvious that Barack Obama's victory was beyond question, she would, for the sake of the country she claims to love so well, do the right thing and concede to the inevitability of the moment.

From "The Rant", Tuesday, 15 March 2008:

"Has it occurred to you yet what a phony and contemptible bitch this woman is? I was just wondering."

For those who have not had the time to pay attention (life is hectic, I know) let me explain to you as concisely as I am able to what is now happening happening to the party of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. The junior senator from New York is determined to hurl Senator Obama's candidacy over a cliff this November. The fact that another four years of GOP control of the executive branch of our incalculably damaged government will destroy this country beyond recognition matters not a bit to her. The only thing Hillary Clinton cares about is Hillary Clinton.

Her motivations here are as obvious as they are despicable. She is determined to destroy Barack's chances to live in the White House on January 20, 2009 so she can have a go at it in 2012. If there is anyone out there reading this who is involved in the Clinton campaign, please show her the following paragraph:

She is never going to be president of the United States. She is not even going to be re-nominated for her senate seat four years from now if she refuses to get with the program really soon. There are a lot of extremely angry progressives here in the state of New York who will see to that. Count on it.

All one has to do is to look at the disastrous way her campaign was run to see what a nightmare a second Clinton administration would have been for America. One historic blunder after another and they expected us to trust that they would have their act together by next January 20? And all of those pathetic excuses! As detailed in this morning's New York Daily News: her rivals were "piling on" her; the media was unfair to her; the debates were unfair to her. My personal favorite is that she was a victim of sexism. Oh, pahleeez! The reason I have been dead set against her run for the White House from the day she announced her candidacy has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that she is a woman. It is because the name of the woman in question is Hillary Rodham Clinton. As I wrote recently, had her name been Eleanor Holmes Norton, a person whom I admire more than anyone in this doomed country - man or woman, black or white - I would today be working and writing overtime for her campaign. The hell with Barck Obama! My opposition to her candidacy from the beginning no more made me a sexist than my support for John Edwards over Obama early in this process made me a racist.

In the autumn of 2002, she blew the most important vote she will ever make in her life when she gave the murderous little thug in the Oval Office the authority to invade the sovereign nation of Iraq sans the constitutionally mandated congressional approval. It was a classic no-brainer that merely required a modicum of political courage - but she had her eye on the 2008 elections. She had to prove that she was as homicidal as any man. To this day, she refuses to admit that her vote on Iraq was a dreadful mistake. She doesn't have the judgement to be a senator from the great state of New York. And now she wants to be president of the United States??? She seriously needs to be heavily medicated and gently carted away from the political limelight in a wheelchair.

She walked into this primary expecting a coronation. During the course of the contest, there seemed to be no depth to which she wouldn't sink in order to slander and malign a man who insisted on remaining positive throughout. He assembled one of the most impressive and thoughtful campaign organizations since Jack Kennedy's Irish Mafia forty-eight years ago. Unlike Senator Clinton, Barack Obama has not resorted to pandering to the lowest common political denominator. She has never tired of saying that she and John McCain have years of experience between them and that all Barack has is "a speech". That December 2002 speech was an appeal to the Bush Mob that they not commit the worst military blunder in American history by invading Iraq. When the invasion commenced three months later, she cheerfully and stupidly cheered Bush on. Over one-million dead men, women and little children later....

This cannot be emphasized enough: sending a second Clinton administration to Washington next year would have been sheer insanity. Nominating her as vice-presidential candidate would have been political suicide. Nothing would better motivate the jackasses on the far right to come out en masse, salivating like Pavlov's dogs, than having the name "Hillary Clinton" on the ballot. Remember all of those silly Republican talking points that they have been spouting for over two two years now?

"Wooooahhh! She's gonna be tough to beat!"
"Ooooohhhh! We're sure scared of her!"
"HILLARY CLINTON??? WE'RE DOOOOMED!!!"

She was endorsed by Rupert Murdoch. She was endorsed by Richard Mellon Scaife. Rush Limbaugh urged his clueless Republican listeners to vote for her in states where cross filing is legal. Her interview with Bill O'Riley on FOX News was a virtual love fest/mutual admiration society. It was obvious that the GOP was just drooling to run against her. Why? Because they know damned well that she is unelectable and that America is sick of the Clintons. And let us not forget the undeniable truth that both she and her husband set progressive politics in this country back a half a century. Why send it back to the stone age?

Another complaint of the Clintonistas is that they were outspent by Barack Obama. Well, yeah, they were. The reason they were outspent is because more regular people - a whole hell of a lot of them - donated their hard-earned money to the Obama campaign. He didn't have to rely on corporate America and well-connected lobbying groups to keep the fight going. It was a grass roots effort, the likes of which is unparalleled in the history of the American electoral process. What we have here is a People's Movement. Just look at the excitement his candidacy has inspired in people between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five! What has been so depressing in the last thirty-six years is the utter indifference that the young have shown toward all matters political. Not since George McGovern's one bright, shining moment in 1972 have they seemed to show any interest in affairs of state. The excitement of 2008 is more palpable than it has been in a very, very long time. The train is moving and it's not going to stop. Get out of the way.

With a wink and a nod to Uncle Bobby Zimmerman, the times they are a'changin'. As was the case with the inauguration of Jack Kennedy in 1960, "the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans", This time, though, that new generation was born in the second half of the twentieth century. That both Bill and Hillary are in extreme denial there can be little doubt. The two of them actually believed they could walk away with this thing and they just can't accept the fact that they no longer control the Democratic party. The success of Barack Obama's glorious quest for the presidency depends on the healing of that party. They cannot continue this charade. If you seriously believe that he can win in November with two wings of the party at each other's throat, I would only ask that you look back to Hubert Humphrey and the convention of 1968. Need I elaborate? I didn't think so.

Bill and Hillary, you need to wake up and face the inevitable and undeniable fact that every era must come to an end. The Clinton Era is over. You are now living in the Age of Obama. Adjust.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY
tomdegan@frontiernet.net

AFTERTHOUGHT:
A few months ago, our local newspaper, The Middletown, NY Times Herald-Record (or the Times Herald-Wreckage, as I'm starting to call it), was purchased by Rupert Murdoch's company. As I expected would happen, that paper's popular and much-loved progressive columnist, Beth Quinn, was fired this week. So much for freedom of the press.