Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Politics of Fear 2001-2009


Watching George W. Bush at the funeral of Teddy Kennedy yesterday was, to say the very least, amusing. It's always great fun to witness the members of the vast right wing conspiracy confronted head-on with the theological flaws that are inherent in their philosophy. Watching that event with my pal, Kevin Swanwick, we were both mesmerized and just slightly overjoyed to be reminded yet again that the basic tenets of Liberalism are in perfect harmony with our Christianity - our Catholicism: feed the hungry, shelter the poor and clothe the naked. Oh, how I wish the camera would have cut to Bush's face the moment he was confronted with the most famous line (and justly so) from the Gospel according to Matthew:

"I tell you this: whatever you did to the least of these brothers of mine, you did to me."

Jesus of Nazareth

One can only imagine how uncomfortable that passage from the scriptures must have made him feel. Or how about the Sermon on the Mount?

"Blessed are the peace makers
For they shall be called Sons of God."


I imagine being confronted with the words of Jesus Christ might make old George just a tad uneasy. The prayers that were offered up by the youngest members of the Kennedy clan, in Teddy's own words, were the most touching part of the entire day:

"That human beings be measured not by what they cannot do. That quality health care becomes a fundamental right and not a privilege. That old policies of race and gender die away. That newcomers be accepted, no matter their color or place of birth. That the nation stand united against violence, hate and war. That the work begins anew, and the dream lives on. We pray to the Lord."

Lord hear our prayer.

After the mass had ended, and Kevin and I headed into town to get a cup of coffee, I was almost stunned by the good cheer I felt. Ted Kennedy's funeral was truly a joyous event. Truth be told, it was damned-near therapeutic! The politics of joy as opposed to the politics of fear. There ain't nothin' like it in the world, Baby!

Surely Bush and those like him must realize that the teachings of the Prince of Peace are so diametrically opposed to the agenda of the modern-day Conservative movement, that it has gone beyond parody. Seriously, that entire movement has devolved into a gross spectacle sport - the ultimate reality show.

There must have been an audible sigh of relief emanating from the Bush Mob when Senator Kennedy breathed his last breath. The headlines his death was sure to produce meant that - for one brief, shining moment - the public spotlight would be deflected from what had been the major story prior to early Friday morning - that the Bush administration had politicized national security.

The bad news was broken in the form of advance publicity for the soon-to-be published memoirs of Tom Ridge, Bush's former Director of Homeland Security. The most comical aspect of all this are the expressions of astonishment by so many people by Ridge's revelations: that he was instructed to raise the terror alert level at various moments when the administration was in the midst of - shall we say - a "Bad News Week"? How can it possibly be that someone like me - who did not even finish High School - was able to put two and two together while the so-called "Liberal media elite" missed it entirely? What's wrong with this picture? What is astonishing is the fact that in their efforts to terrorize the Amercian people, Bush and company were aided and abetted by none other than Osama bin Laden!

What everyone with half-a-brain understands by now (but what was then apparent to anyone paying attention) is the fact that it was essential for bin Laden's long-term goals that Bush be reelected in 2004. The guy was a virtual poster boy for al Queda recruitment. It didn't take a master's degree in geopolitical strategy to understand that in the videotape released on the eve of the 2004 election, our man Osama was trying to frighten the electorate into voting for Bush. As history painfully shows, his strategy worked beautifully. It is apparent that bin Laden would agree with the assessment of P.T. Barnum who long ago observed that no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.

There are some on the left who are trying to portray Ridge as some kind of heroic figure. Let's be as blunt here: his revelation that he was ordered by then Attorney General John Ashcroft to heighten the terror alert color code in the hours leading up to the '04 election is too little, too late. He should have alerted his country at that very moment what these despicable people were up to. Had he done so,m he would have saved us four more years of what was already the most incompetent, corrupt administration in the history of this republic. Five years after the fact, Ridge is merely exploiting the corruption - which he was a willing participant in - in order to sell a book. He's not fooling me for a minute.

This is merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg. President Obama says America needs to "move on" and has insinuated that an investigation into the crimes of the Bush administration is not in the best interest of the United States. He is as wrong as he has ever been in his life. Were George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney allowed to get away with the crimes they committed against the American people, it would set a precedent too dangerous to even contemplate. It would literally give future corrupt chiefs executive the license to break the law - any law - he or she deemed inconvenient to their particular agenda. As the old, tried and true saying goes, we are a nation of laws - not of men (or of women). Not only is a special prosecutor in order, it is years overdue.

The stark contrasts between the ideals of the Progressive movement and the right wing's backwards and greedy ideology were out in public yesterday for all to compare and contrast at Our Lady of Perpetual Comfort Church in Boston. The differences were so obvious, you could not have missed them had you tried.

Tom Degan
from Room 203 of the Comfort Inn
Goshen, NY

SUGGESTED READING:

Conjectures of a Guilty Bystanders
by Thomas Merton

Speaking of Kevin Swanwick....He has started his own literary blog that you ought to have a look at. Here's a link:


The guy is good!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Teddy Kennedy 1932-2009


"To speak for those who have no voice; to remember those who are forgotten; to respond to the frustration and fulfill the aspiration of all Americans seeking a better life in a better land....for all those whose cares have been our concern, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die."

Edward Moore Kennedy, 8/12/80

The lion sleeps....

I'll never forget the night Ted Kennedy gave that speech at the Democratic National Convention after failing to win his party's nomination for the presidency. I was visiting my old pal, Dan O'Brien, who at the time was living in a one-room kitchenette in Liverpool, NY, just north of Syracuse. It was - and remains - the greatest political oration of my lifetime. Watching the event on a small, black and white television set, I instinctively knew that I was witnessing one of those sublime moments in American history that would be remembered a century into the future. Leave it to O'Brien; he slept through the whole damned thing.

My brother, Pete, woke me up just before two AM with the news. Teddy Kennedy died late last night at the age of seventy-seven with his loved ones by his bedside. I assumed that the end was near when he was unable to attend his sister Eunice Shriver's funeral less than two weeks ago. I know from personal experience that when a person with a brain tumor is no longer able to move around with relative ease, it's only a matter of time.

In a life that is littered with ironies, here's the biggest one of all: His three older brothers - Joe, Jack and Bobby - are eternally frozen in our imagination
as the personifications of youth and vigor (or "vigah"). How poignant that our final image of the baby of that family will be as an old man, frail and mortally ill.

His was the most impressive evolution in American political history. When he first ran for the senate forty-seven years ago, I was all of four years old. Had I been writing about politics then, it is a fairly good bet that I would have vehemently opposed the candidacy of Edward Moore Kennedy. Let's be honest; in 1962 the guy was a lightweight. He ran for the Democratic nomination against another young man, Edward McCormick, whose uncle John was the speaker of the House of Representatives. During a debate McCormick told him that were it not for his name, his candidacy would be viewed as a joke. It was a point well made. It is obvious when looking at film of that campaign that our boy Ted is in way over his head.

Who would have dared dream all those years ago that this punk kid would one day evolve into the greatest senator ever to walk those halls?

An incredible realization just came to me: Teddy represented the state of Massachusetts for forty-six years, eight months and nineteen days. That is nearly three months longer than all the years his older brother Jack lived on earth. Forgive the cliche that is so overused it has become trite, but this truly is the end of an era, folks.

The man who would be president....

It was a horrible automobile accident forty years ago this summer, which ended the life of a young woman, that would forever end his chance to pick up the torch that had fallen due to the madness of two different assassins. I know this might sound strange coming from someone who was such an admirer of the man, but in hindsight I am happy Ted Kennedy lost the Democratic primaries to President Carter. It was only after he lost that race - only when he came to terms with the truth that he would never be president - that he became the lion of the senate that history will justly remember him as.

He probably never would have been able to defeat Ronald Reagan had he won the nomination. The pendulum of American politics was swinging in an unfortunate direction in 1980. The right wing lunacy that has dominated our national conversation since then was inevitable, I suppose. It was only when he no longer had one eye focused on the White House that he blossomed as a senator. Most of the legislation that bears his name - that he will be remembered most for - post-date the year 1980.

We are fortunate that Teddy spent all of those years in the senate, fighting the good fight for the not-so-fortunate. That he was hated and scorned by the forces of weirdness is as much a testament to the man's greatness as any example that I can offer. I am told by someone who is at this moment watching FOX Noise (I'm watching MSNBC) that they are focusing more on the man's shortcomings than his virtues. That is as it should be. They couldn't say enough about staunch segregationist Strom Thurmond when he died. In certain instances you can tell more about a man by his enemies than by his friends. It will be more than interesting to see how the bloviators in the extreme right wing react to his death. Count on an outbreak of foot in mouth disease.

He was given a gift that would be denied to his three older brothers and one older sister: the gift of years. That he would be the only one of those four extraordinary men to die of natural causes - to live to have a head full of gray hair - is something we should not take for granted. No other family in American history would pay a heavier price in the cause of public service than the Kennedys. The fact that for many years he was a heavy drinker and that his judgment was often clouded should be forgiven. Given what he went through, who among us would have emerged from the storm with our psychological make up as intact as his obviously was? After Bobby was murdered in 1968, it's a miracle the poor guy didn't drink himself to death.

His demons notwithstanding, his heart was always in the right place. He was the son of privilege who spent his entire public life working overtime for the poor and dispossessed. I'll take Ted Kennedy over any of his colleagues - warts and all. Truth be told, I would have loved to have gotten drunk with the guy. That would have been really cool!

It has been said too many times that he never lived up to his potential, that he will forever be overshadowed by his two brothers. I disagree. Given the limited time that fate would allow them, their legacies are decidedly eclipsed by their little brother's. As John Meacham said this morning on the Morning Joe program, "He certainly belongs in the company of Henry Clay and Daniel Webster." As legislators, Jack and Bobby aren't even in Teddy's league. It's not even close.

So many "red state Americans" who regarded him with suspicion if not outright hatred, will probably never even realize how much they owe Senator Kennedy. It's kind of sad that a lot of the people Kennedy worked the hardest for despised him with a passion borne of decades of anti-Kennedy propaganda. Nothing was handier for a Republican running in a conservative district than the image of Bogeyman Ted in a campaign ad. It usually worked.

TEDDY KENNEDY'S GONNA GET'CHA IF YA DON'T WATCH OUT!

I wonder how these people would react if tomorrow - just for a day, mind you - every law Teddy Kennedy is responsible for were made null and void. Call it a hunch but I have a strong feeling that more people than you might suspect are going to miss him now that he's gone.

Teddy, they hardly knew ye!

We're a better country because for seventy-seven years Teddy Kennedy walked amongst us. His impact on the country he loved so much will be felt for generations. The loss his passing means to progressive politics in the United States is incalculable. We need him at this moment in history more than we ever needed him before. It's so unspeakably sad. He's gone and he's not coming back. Now he belongs to the ages.

In the good old Irish Catholic tradition, tonight I'll be drinking a toast or two (or twelve) to you, Ted. Sleep well and thanks.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY
tomdegan@frontiernet.net

SUGGESTED READING:

Last Lion: The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy
by Peter S. Canellos

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hush! Hush! Sweet Sarah!


"The America that I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's "death panel" so his bureaucrats can decide, based on subjective judgment, of their "level of productivity in society", whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil."

Sarah Palin
from her Fascism....I mean, "Facebook" page. 

 
The question is literally screaming to be posed: Can this woman possibly get any stupider? I really shouldn't be too hard on her. Sarah Palin has made my life a gut-busting delight and my work so much easier. When one has made his or her name doing what I do - mining the streams of American politics for those choice nuggets of unintentional humor - the former governor of Alaska is the gift that just keeps giving and giving. I really should not get any credit for writing the piece you are now reading. Truth be told, it is writing itself. I am also getting a good deal of aid from my brother, Jeff (photo above).

In a piece that was printed this morning in the Times Herald-Record of Middletown, NY, Richard Cohen made an excellent point - as Richard Cohen has an uncanny habit of doing. He wrote that the term "McCarthyism" should be updated by renaming it "Palinism". Joe McCarthy died in 1957 - seven years before Sarah Palin was born. The dictionary definition that old Joe gave to American politics should be updated because, essentially, he and Sarah are doing the same thing. The only difference between the two is the fact that Sarah, as far as we know, is not a drunk. Said Richard Cohen:

Palin, as wholesome as McCarthy was not, is ready-made for television. Still, she has gone from a 57 percent favorable rating soon after McCain picked her as his running mate to a current 39 percent - a negative landslide of justifiable proportions. Before she fades into fringedom, she will do one bad thing and one good thing - hurt the very people she supposedly champions and expose the appalling opportunism of the Republican leaders."

I have to take issue with something Mr. Cohen wrote in that otherwise excellent piece: I do not want Sarah Palin to fade away into "fringedom" or any other "dom" for that matter. I don't want her to ever go away. Are you kidding me? She is the walking, talking personification of how the Republican party, once the party of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, has been taken over by lunatics and morons. As someone recently remarked, it is no longer a political party, it's a cult.

NOTE TO THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT:

When Jesus healed the sick, He did not disqualify anyone because of a "preexisting condition". A little something I think you might want to ponder.

HELP!! THE DEATH PANELS ARE COMING!!!
You've got to give a tip of the old hat to the American people. What could be the explanation for our positive genius for falling prey to the most blatant and obvious propaganda? I have a possible theory if you're interested in hearing it:

We're idiots.

That is the general consensus among the rest of the world. The fact that an imbecile like Our Miss Sarah can "twit" (an appropriate word if ever there was one) about something as ludicrous as "Death Panels" and within hours it is a serious part of the national dialogue shows you that something is...umm...amiss, shall we say? I think it is almost touching that so huge a segment of the American people are so susceptible to such nonsense - touching but hardly surprising. Let's not forget that these are the same people who just nine years ago were hypnotized into believing that sending a half-witted frat boy like George W. Bush to the White House was a perfectly fine and dandy idea.
Are you surprised that most of the American public are swallowing the bait hook, line and sinker? You shouldn't be. You really shouldn't.

For the first time in our history, we are within grasp of the type of national health insurance that has worked beautifully in merrie old England for over sixty years. Don't let them try to fool you into believing that it hasn't worked Over There. It has. If the British health care system is so bloody awful, why has it been adopted by every other nation (but ours) in the industrialized world? And here's another tasty little question to munch on: why is it that the English live, on average, two years longer than we do? Can it be the fish 'n' chips? I kind of doubt it.

To listen to Sarah Palin and the bloviators on the right put it, Canadians and Europeans despise their health care system. Oh, really? My brother Pete has lived in Toronto for a decade. "Not true", says he. Brother Jeff has lived in Europe for almost twenty years. "Not true", says he. He went into a little more detail exclusively for you lucky Rant readers. Like his older brother, he's a tad long-winded. In Jeff Degan's own words: 



HELL CARE

"As an American who has been living in Europe for most of the last 20 years, one who has visited doctors numerous times in four different countries, whose two children were brought into this world in European hospitals (France and England), who has himself spent a week in a public British hospital, and who underwent an operation in a private British clinic, I think I can say a thing or two about health care in Europe.


"Our out of pocket expenses for the births? Zero. Even though in France my wife spent 5 days in the hospital after the birth of our first daughter, which is standard by the way.

"During the three years we lived in England, we never once paid for medicine for our children. Children get drugs for free in the UK. Visits to the GP are free for everybody.

"My expenses for the week in the NHS hospital? Zero.

"The cost of the operation in the private clinic? Zero, it was covered by my work insurance, as was the post-op physical therapy I needed.

"In Western Europe you would never be forced to sell your home in order to pay for your medical bills, as happens all too often in America when catastrophic illness strikes and the insurance company decides that your condition was 'pre-existing'.

"The quality of the care? Mostly good. French hospitals are excellent, even the food is decent. The food at the NHS hospital was beyond awful, but then again most English food is pretty bad (though they do have great Indian food). At night, they were understaffed, but I am guessing that, apart from that place where Dr. House works, most American hospitals are understaffed at night, too.

"In short, in the US, you pay more, get less, and die younger than we do in Europe. What part of that don't you understand?

"My fellow Americans, you have nothing to fear except those who would use fear to keep you enslaved to the myth of the might of the American health care system."


Jeff Degan

What can I tell you? The guy is a Communist. Not only does he live in France, he actually likes it there. An eternal shame to the good name of the Degan family. Let us boil down his seven paragraphs to their juicy essentials, shall we?

HEALTH CARE IN THIS COUNTRY SUCKS. 


Here is (Excuse me, I meant to say, "Here was") a golden opportunity for real reform and the idiotic Americans are screaming about socialism. Is it any wonder that we have become the laughingstock of the Western world?

In the mean time, our gal Sarah will continue to twit away. That is as it should be, I suppose. She really is doing us a great service when you think about it. She is aiding and abetting her party's complete and utter spiral into irrelevance.

YOU GO, GIRL!

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY
tomdegan@frontiernet.net

AFTERTHOUGHT:

The photograph to the left of this column is of my French-loving, Pravda-reading brother, Jeff. Note the Vladamir Lenin goatee. Shameful.

SUGGESTED VIEWING:

SICKO a film by Michael Moore

For more recent posting on this hideously subversive site, please go to the following link:

"The Rant" by Tom Degan

What kind of Americans are you people for even reading this commie propaganda???

Cheers!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Woodstock Revisited


"I'm goin' down to Yasgur's farm
Gonna join in a rock 'n' roll band
Got to get back to the land
And set my soul free."

Joni Mitchell

The Woodstock Festival did not take place in Woodstock, New York but in the town of Bethel which is sixty-seven miles due west. The second day of that mythic, three-day concert coincided with my eleventh birthday (I am going to be fifty-one on Sunday. Yikes! Where did the time go?). I remember quite clearly my friend Tom Finkle and I riding our bikes up to the bridge on South Street that overlooks Route 17 - a four lane highway which snakes its way into Sullivan County where the great event took place. It looked like a long and narrow parking lot. The New York State Thruway had been shut down. To the best of my knowledge, that had never happened before and has not happened since.

To say that it was an exciting time to be alive almost sounds redundant. Less than four weeks earlier, two human beings had walked on the surface of the moon, a technological feat that will probably out shine every other event of the twentieth century in the history books that will be written a thousand years from now. As future decades unwind, it is a certainty that the photographic image of half a million kids, partying and dancing in the mud, will not continue to sustain the cultural significance that it does for us today. The years will pass by, the people who were lucky enough to be there will one day be no more, and the Woodstock Festival will be erased from living memory; a mere footnote to a very crowded century. But what a freaking party, baby!

This weekend I'll be listening to my copy of the Woodstock Soundtrack LP - on vinyl, of course. The very thought of listening to it on a compact disc seems somehow sacrilegious. Although I could have done without Sha-Na-Na's version of At The Hop, all in all it's a pretty good collection of tunes. I have always envied my cousin, the noted falconer Tom Cullen, who was a witness to Jimi Hendrix's rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. Can you imagine? Canned Heat's performance of Going Up The Country is one of the great moments in rock history; and for the last forty years, whenever I heard Joan Baez singing Joe Hill, I have had to pause whatever I was doing at the moment and concentrate on it - It is one of the most moving pieces ever recorded on tape.

From San Diego up to Maine
In every mine and mill
Where working men defend their rights
It's there you'll find Joe Hill
It's there you'll find Joe Hill....

Here is a little bit of historical trivia for you: Joe Hill was Edward R. Murrow's favorite song. Bless him, I'm not surprised by that!


"If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution."

Emma Goldman 1869-1940

I often wonder what Lady Emma might have thought about the so-called "sixties revolution". There certainly was a lot to dance to, that's for sure. But in the final analysis, I imagine she might have been just a bit disappointed with the Woodstock Generation. To be honest with you, I have always been a bit cynical on the subject of the Baby Boomers. The dirty little secret that no one (as far as I know) has yet dared to write about is that the youth revolt of the 1960s was born of out of the fact that the sons-of-privilege believed that the Vietnam War should have been fought by everyone and anyone but themselves

Two years after Lyndon Johnson escalated the war with the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, the overwhelming majority of American college students were indifferent to what was going on in Vietnam - if they were aware of it at all. Credit belongs to visionaries like the Trappist Monk Thomas Merton, who condemned American involvement in South East Asia as far back as the Eisenhower administration. In 1959 Merton was - as he would remain throughout his life - one of the small numbers of voices-of-reason in a military-obsessed wilderness. The only thing his abhorrence of war ever got him was an FBI file.

As today, there was a noticeable class division in the young men who were fighting and dying - and not fighting and dying - in Vietnam. President Johnson, to his credit, believed that the sons-of-bankers had the same obligation as the sons-of-butchers. It was only when he ended the college deferments that the country exploded and the anti-war movement began to flourish. Can you ponder what might have happened if this situation existed today? The war against Iraq would not have lasted a day.

There were a few ways to avoid fighting in Vietnam without going to prison as a draft evader. If you were lucky enough to be the half-witted son of a certain congressman from Texas named Bush, you got a much-sought-after placement in an elite National Guard unit - despite your utter lack of qualifications. If in the course of your "service" you decided to go AWOL - no problemo! Some people were a little more politically connected than others, you know what I mean?

Many of the upper class young men who partook in "the revolution" of the 1960s did so only because they believed in their hearts something that only a few of them have admitted to date: that fighting the war in Vietnam - or any war for that matter - was beneath them. Leave that nasty little chore to the minorities and the poor white guys.

When the nightmare that was Vietnam finally ended in the Spring of 1975; when the draft was abolished and they were out of danger - the scenario would be drastically altered as you can imagine. The peace sign would eventually give way to the dollar sign; marijuana was overtaken by the three-martini lunch. Uber radical Jerry Rubin would end his life working for Wall Street.

Many of the guys you can see in the film, Woodstock - smoking dope under the stars, dancing in a torrential downpour, and grooving to The Who - would end up as prostitutes for Corporate America - buying BMWs and voting for Ronald Reagan. The mantle of "Peace and Love" was, I believe, merely a convenient front. As balding, middle-aged men, most of them would gleefully support their nation's illegal invasion of Iraq a generation later. By that time, these assholes weren't the ones who would have to do the fighting and dying.

I'm not trying to say that they were wrong not to support American involvement in Vietnam. They were absolutely correct. If only they had shown a little more consistency. They - WE - are the phoniest, most hypocritical generation in the history of the world.

But, damn! Their music was good!

The last time I looked at my videocassette of Woodstock (which was well over a decade ago) I wondered about the fates of the half-a-million gathered on the fields of Max Yasgur's farm in Sullivan County on that distant weekend. The passage of four decades decrees that a third or more of them have passed on. The average age of the attendees was about twenty-two. Today would find them approaching their mid-sixties; the age many of their grandparents were in 1969!

To be sure, some of them were sincere in their desire to make the world a better place for all. There are many good people of that generation who have kept the spirit of the sixties alive - or have tried to anyway. America is not the same country it was forty years ago. 2009 finds us even more polarized than we were during the age of Richard Nixon.

It is no longer merely a "generation gap" that is tearing America apart. The gaps today are almost too numerous to catalog: the political gap; the health insurance gap; the employment gap; the racial gap; the education gap; the class and income gaps. The world is a lot more troubled and sadder than it was in that long ago, magical summer of 1969. Sometimes I feel like a hostage to time. The truth is, for all the technological wonders of the twenty-first century, I just don't like being here.

NOTE TO MY FRIENDS:
No, I'm not going to kill myself. Chill.

Where I come from, Woodstock has a special meaning to people because it happened here - or close enough to count. From where I now sit, Bethel is a mere forty-two miles northwest. According to this morning's local paper, seventy-five media outlets from all over the world will be covering the events commemorating the anniversary this weekend. That's enough of a reason for me to stay the hell away. I'm not as crowd-friendly as I once was. Besides, I would have preferred to attend the real thing forty years ago. That would have been too cool for words!

Nostalgia is a permanent human condition. Each generation is nostalgic for the last. It absolutely boggles the mind to think that the year 2049 will find those of us who survive looking back on these hideous times with tender longing. Given our silly human quirks, that will probably be the case. Still, it's hard not to reflect on the hope that was prevalent in the summer of Woodstock. We want to believe that there is a magical future where, as John Lennon once imagined, there are no countries; nothing to kill or die for. Maybe we will one day arrive at that wondrous place.

Maybe....

We are stardust, we are golden
We are billion-year-old carbon
And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden....

DANCE WITH ME, EMMA!!!

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY
tomdegan@frontiernet.net

Suggested viewing or listening:

WOODSTOCK - the film or the album, man!

Friday, August 07, 2009

The GOP's Little Image Problem


In case you've missed it, the Grand Old Party has been having a bit of a PR problem of late. Maybe I can help them overcome their latest difficulty but (Heh! Heh!) I kind of doubt it. In an article that was posted just this morning on AlterNet (see link below) Francis Schaeffer, a former Religious Right activist who has since come home to Jesus, wrote as follows:

"THE SCORCHED EARTH POLICY: Dick Army and company have been driven mad by their reversal, not just of political fortunes but of seeing that they've wasted their lives. They now know they were wrong: about the country, the free market, war for fun and profit, and what the American people really want. They made their best case and were rejected by the American people -- and by history. Bush was their man and he turned out to be a fool. So now all the the Republican gurus have left is what the defeated Germans of World War Two had: a scorched earth policy. If they can't win then everyone must go down. Obama must fail! The country must fail!"

This is what I've been dreading since last year's election. The loony Right Wing has become even more unglued than their weird history has taught us to expect. They realize that their stupid and twisted ideology has been rendered hopelessly bankrupt by the American people. Then again, their causes always end up in history's trash bin.

From "The Rant", August 9, 2006:

"Conservative causes may look good when viewed through a contemporary prism; but they always - without exception - look foolish, even totalitarian, when viewed through the objective lens of 20/20 historical hindsight. If you don't believe me, look up every conservative cause in American history - starting with slavery! No doubt about it: America is in dire need of a long overdue history lesson, not to mention a course or two in civics."

Now that their cover has been eternally blown, they have no other choice but to encourage "the base" (or what's left of it) into a violent insurrection. That is what has been happening lately at these Town Hall Meetings. Today these people are disrupting Democracy through means of fear and intimidation. Tomorrow it will be by use of firearms. Count on it.

This could very easily be called the Glenn Beck Revolution. The former shock jock-turned FOX News commentator has spent the last several weeks stirring up his clueless masses into hissy fits of rage and paranoia. Beck likes to think of himself as the modern day equivalent of Howard Beale, the character from the classic 1976 film, Network. As I wrote on this site back in June, it's an apt comparison. He's mad as hell.

It really is interesting when you think about it. A person with no journalistic experience whatsoever could hope to find success as a journalist only on FOX Noise. If Howard Stern tomorrow decided that he wanted to change careers and start over as a Progressive commentator on MSNBC, do you really think for one minute that most Liberals would be stupid enough to tune in? If Keith Olbermann tonight called upon the masses to disrupt all public events hosted by Eric Cantor, few if any Liberals, I'm am certain, would follow his lead in blind obedience. Then just what is it with these silly wing-nuts?

By the way, this is slightly off-topic but I have a prediction to make: Eric Cantor will be their nominee in 2012. While he may be utterly lacking in substance, he looks really good on television - the perfect GOP candidate. Here is what their selling point is going to be three years from now:

We made history four years ago by sending a black guy to the Oval Office. Let's do it again by sending a Jew!

Mark my words, boys and girls....

It has always amused and amazed me how easily these people fall victim to obvious propaganda. That is why we are the laughingstock of the entire planet, I suppose. Remember it was only a few short years ago that a large segment of the electorate were hypnotized into believing that sending a corrupt, hideous, half-witted little frat boy like George W. Bush to the White House was a really neat idea.

Beck and his co-conspirators now have a huge segment of Americans believing that if President Obama's plan for health care reform is successful, the elderly will be euthanized. What the hell is the matter with them? The only explanation I can fathom is that they just refuse to believe that what has worked beautifully for over sixty years in merrie old England can be made to work here. They don't know what is good for America. They never have. They never will.

The scorched earth policy that Schaeffer refers to boils down to this one essential and inarguable fact: Some of them at least have bothered to learn American history. They understand all-too-
well the ramifications of Franklin D. Roosevelt's victory in 1932 and the effect it had on their political antecedents. So successful was FDR's New Deal at repairing America's social and economic infrastructure after twelve years of Right Wing plunder, the Republicans would not control the executive branch of our government for twenty years. And other than one brief period, they would not control the House of Representatives for a full sixty-two years. They are absolutely determined that history does not repeat itself.

In order for the Republican party to survive politically, Barack Obama - and, thus, you and I - must fail. This very week, when it appeared that the economy might be on the mend, they were out on the talk show circuit, chanting the mantra. "Oh, no!", they bloviated. "the surge in the economy is not because of the president's policies - but in spite of them." Were we to believe the likes of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, President Obama is the Chauncey Gardiner of American politics.

The days when this country was exclusively run by male White Anglo Saxon Protestants are gone forever - and the kooks and fools on the fringes of American politics refuse to accept this unalterable new reality as fact.

Coming soon to a theater near you - a tale so chilling it will make your blood curdle! A story so horror-laden, few would have dared imagine it only a year ago! Do not see this picture alone - Be sure to bring a friend! DON'T MISS....

ATTACK OF THE NEGROES!!!!

Be afraid, they're telling us. Be very afraid! The white man is no longer in charge. "Those people" are taking over our beloved country. The President of United States (these United States, goddammit!) isn't even an American citizen - he's a goddamned A-rab from Africa! He wants to kill grandma and grandpa! He's plannin' on sendin' our kids to reeducation camps! He's nothin' but a goddamned, latte-swirlin', french fry-eatin', Barbara Streisand-lovin' surrender monkey! Oh, Mammy! Hand me mah smellin' salts 'fore Ah faint!

Those
are the depths to which political dialogue in this country has sunk in the last twenty-eight years, six months, two weeks and two days (Do the math). Long gone are days of reasoned discourse for most of these assholes. They are past the point where they could debate the issues on the basis of their ideas - because their ideas are reprehensible. To paraphrase FDR, the only thing they have to offer is fear itself. Pump the people up with hate. That is their final and only strategy.

Forgive me for pointing out this nasty little tidbit of historical fact, but this is the very same kind of inflammatory rhetoric that was polluting the American political landscape on the eves of April 14, 1865 and November 22, 1963. Need I go into detail? I didn't think so. Hardly a day goes by where I don't pray out loud, "Dear Lord, keep him safe."

That being said, here's a friendly little reminder for Glenn Beck and the hate mongers on the Far Right who are doing so much damage to the body politic: if our president is ever harmed in any serious way, you jackasses will have blood dripping from your idiotic hands. Were something that horrible ever to happen, there would be hell to pay. If I were you folks, I'd start working overtime to ensure that it does not happen. Just a thought.

On that cheerful note....

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY
tomdegan@frontiernet.net

To read Frank Schaeffer's excellent AlterNet piece in its entirety, here's a link:

Sunday, August 02, 2009

The Children of 1977


They were the Young Americans.

On the Fourth of July 2009, twenty-three members of Goshen Central High School's class of 1977 got together
for a thirty-second reunion. The adults reminisced, their kids went fishing and a splendid time was had by all. No marijuana was smoked. Incredible.

I'm always very grateful to be included in
their celebrations because - technically at least - I am not part of the class of '77. I dropped out of school at the beginning of my Junior year, a wasted victim of America's drug culture. I eventually quit the stuff forever the summer after my former classmates graduated - on my nineteenth birthday in fact - which, coincidentally, was also the day that Elvis Presley died. I always like to tell people that Elvis and I quit drugs on the same day, the only difference being that I did so voluntarily. In all seriousness, had I not stopped when I did, I would have died decades ago.

Our high school was not extraordinary by any stretch of the imagination. At the time, my dad was president of the school board. The faculty, to their credit, never gave me pref
erential treatment because of this. Truth be told, that would have been impossible; I was a troubled kid and a bad student. Our principal and vice-principal were named, respectively, Robert Leslie and Andre Assalian. I have no photographs of them to show you, but just picture in your mind Ronald Reagan and Saddam Hussein and you'll get a pretty accurate mental image.

We had a football team that, as I recall, was one of the best in the county. My memory is shaky on this subject because I only attended one game while I was there. Then, as now, I am indifferent to all sports. The reason for that team's success, I am sure, was because of the presence of my beloved pal, Paul Scesa, and the late Tom Losey. I had been tackled at least one time by both of these guys and, quite fr
ankly, would have preferred to have been hit at full speed by a medium-sized pickup truck.

Compare
d to the swinging sixties, our decade was relatively low key. By the time we entered Goshen Central in the late summer of 1973, the Vietnam war was pretty much winding down. Nixon had ended the draft the year before in a bid to get the votes of kids between the ages of eighteen and twenty-years-old - a demographic that was voting for the first time in 1972. As a result, none of us guys had to deal with the nightmare our older brothers had faced; getting an induction notice in the mail on our eighteenth birthdays. Our greatest anxiety was getting busted for possession of grass. There was a lot of marijuana around in those days. On the bright side of things, due to the availability of pot, alcoholism among the class of 1977 was rare. Generally speaking, we were a fairly healthy lot, I think.

But it was also the era of a political scandal which overshadowed anything the sixties had to offer. It was an incident which turned me, at the tender age of fifteen, into a stone-cold political junkie - Watergate. We had grown up believing that th
e men (and they were mostly white men) who represented us in Washington were a fundamentally honest - if slightly goofy - lot. It was the sins of Richard Milhaus Nixon and company - sins which would only be dwarfed by the atrocities committed by the Bush Mob a generation later - which turned most Americans into political skeptics.

The summer before our Sophomore year, political reality would force the President of the United States to resign his office in complete disgrace. Only a pardon by Gerald R. Ford in September would save him from federal prison. It was an in
credible time to be alive - not unlike today.

A year before we entered high school, an African American congresswoman from Brooklyn named Shirley Chisholm sought the Democratic nomination for president.
In 1972 her candidacy was considered an amusing joke even among most Democrats. Last year, the main contenders for the nomination of that same party were an African American and a woman. Only the extreme Right Wing laughed in 2008. Barack Obama is today the president. "Those who laugh last...."

"There's a Star Man waiting in the sky
He'd Like to come and meet us
But he thinks he'd blow our minds"

David Bowie
from the 1973
album
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars


Perhaps the Star Man hidden in the clouds in 1973 eventually realized that he could reveal himself to us without blowing our collective mind. So much has changed in this country - for good and ill - it really is quite breathtaking when you think about it. We have gone to a completely different place and there really is no turning back. Those are causes for both joy and sorrow I suppose. Was it mere youthful naivete that made me feel that the world in the sweet summer of 1975 was essentially a nicer, more hospitable place in which to live than it is in the dismal summer of 2009? Maybe. Maybe not.

The fresh
est memory of that era is, of course, the music. No invention in the history of the world has amazed me half as much as Mr. Edison's talking machine. The ability to reproduce (at the mere click of a button) the sound of a recording session recorded decades before I was born or the sound of a human voice - a century dead - is something I have never taken for granted. Lou Reed will be sixty-eight-years-old on March 2, 2010. But his voice from the evening he walked out on the stage of Howard Stein's Academy of Music in the Spring of 1974 and let loose with a stunning version of Sweet Jane (the Rock 'n' Roll Animal LP) will be forever as youthful and tormented as it was on that long ago night. We may age but our music remains younger than we were all those years ago.

The night of
November 2, 1974 stands out: My father drove Kevin Swanwick, Jeanne Farley, Beverly Cathey, Paul Scesa, Dan O'Brien and I down to Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan to see the opening of David Bowie's Young Americans Tour. It was just Bowie and his back-up band - no special effects, no props - none of that garbage. You see, the music was so good back then, you didn't need all of that stuff. I am not trying to imply that there are no great bands today - there are. But they are no longer main-stream. They're called "Alternative".

Just think of the great albums of that era:

Blood on the Tracks by Bob Dylan
Berlin by Lou
Reed
Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder
The Who by Numbers by The Who
Walls and
Bridges by John Lennon
Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd
Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin
Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road by Elton John
RINGO by Ringo Starr
It's Only Rock 'n' Roll by The Rolling Stones
461 Ocean Boulevard by Eric Clapton
Close to the Edge by Yes
Living in the Material World by George Harrison
Band on the Run by Paul McCartney

I could go on for hours naming them all. Can anyone name for me "an album" or unit of songs o
n a single CD in the last five years that really stands out like Blood on the Tracks? Give me an hour or so and I might think of one. By the way, am I alone or do you miss the 45 RPM half as much as I do? Dammit, I loved those little discs! I do not miss the 8-Track tape, though. Those things were absolutely worthless. Excuse me, I'm wandering off topic....

To comm
emorate our reunion, I transferred to compact disc seventeen songs from my original vinyl collection (with original surface noise!) and gave a copy to all who attended - and more than a few who were unable to. All of the songs encompassed the years 1973 to 1977. As I was listening again to the long-dead, haunting voice of John Lennon singing #9 Dream thirty-five years ago, I was suddenly struck dumb by this fact: That recording is as removed in time from 2009 as Glenn Miller's 1939 recording of Moonlight Serenade was removed from 1974 - thirty-five years. Indeed, it must be conceded that, culturally speaking, 2009 is as different from 1974 as 1974 was from 1939. A damned ocean of water has flowed under that bridge, Buster!

It was great seeing them all in one place again. They were a great group of people to grow into adulthood with. One of the topics of conversation I heard discussed was the fact that our parents might not have been quite as dumb as we had thought them to be when we were still teenagers. Never having had any kids of my own, I haven't quite arrived at that place yet but their point is well made. Only four of us, as far as we know, have passed on. Not bad for a class of several hundred kids who are turning fifty this year! I t
hink the biggest surprise of the day was myself. I could see it in their eyes when I greeted them: Tom Degan can still stand upright! Will wonders ever cease? 

Being with the children of 1977 again was somewhat of a bittersweet experience. Driving away from the event left me with just a small touch of melancholy. One can't help but be reminded of the tragedies that have transpired since then. My childhood hero, John Lennon, would eventually fall victim to an act of cold-blooded murder three-and-a-half years after the class of '77 went their separate ways. The "bright future" that we all envisioned for ourselves in some cases gave way to tragedy and wasted lives; the "Land of Plenty" that America seemed to be three-and-a-half decades ago has fallen victim to corporate greed and plutocratic excess.
But the treasured memories of a time so different than this one cannot be altered. That is what makes each of us human. One wisp of recognition - the lyric of a long-forgotten song or the smile in a faded photograph - and it all comes rushing back again. It did for us on July 4, 2009.

A final messa
ge must go out to Mrs. Warren, who became a grandmother only a few months ago: You're still the prettiest gal in town, Jeanne - and the nicest. My old co-conspirator, Jeff, is the luckiest guy in the world.

"There's a St
ar Man Waiting in the sky
He told us not to blow it 'cause he knows it's all worthwhile
He told me:
Let the children use it
Let the children lose it
Let all the children boogie...."


 Rock on, children.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY
tomdegan@frontiernet.net

AFTERTHOUGHT:

The photograph at the top of the page of the reunion on the Fourth of July was provided by Mark Thompson.

The photo to the left of the column is of the author of "The Rant", aged sixteen, taken in the Spring of 1975. Some people have "bad hair days", I've had a bad hair life.

And finally, the photograph at the very bottom of this piece is of me and the lovely Jeanne Farley, taken by my old pal Paul Scesa in the shed behind his house on Judd place, summer 1974. I imagine the joint still reeks of marijuana. Jeanne - to her eternal credit - never touched the stuff. No wonder I admire her so much!

For more recent postings on this hideous, French-loving, commie blog, please go to the link below:

"THE RANT" by TOM DEGAN

Pray for peace