Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Jim Crow: Back with a Vengeance

"This act flows from a clear and simple wrong. Its only purpose is to right that wrong. Millions of Americans are denied the right to vote because of their color. This law will ensure them the right to vote. The wrong is one which no American, in his heart, can justify. The right is one which no American, true to our principles, can deny."

President Lyndon Baines Johnson

on signing the Voting Rights Act
6 August 1965


John Roberts, Chief Justice
Samuel Alito, Associate Justice
Anthony Kennedy, Associate Justice
Antonin Scalia, Associate Justice
Uncle Thomas, Associate Justice

Okay, they didn't actually come out and say it, but the implications were very loud and all-too-clear. So, the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been unconstitutional for all these years? Who'd have thunk?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Summer of Civil Rights

The summer of 1963
"We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the scriptures and as clear as the American Constitution."

 President John F. Kennedy, 11 June 1963

1963 is the first full year of my life that I retain a relatively clear memory of; a bit less dreamlike and faded than the previous years. I turned five on August 16th - in Dayton, Ohio of all places. I spent that entire summer there, living with my uncle and aunt, Bill and Sheila Clements. Uncle Bill taught me how to hit a baseball on that day. Bill Clements would become a respected investigative journalist for the Chicago Daily News and, later, the Sun Times. It was his reporting that sent Illinois governor Otto Kerner to prison. He died unexpectedly in August of 1983 at age fifty. I miss him more than I can even express. To say that he had a big influence on my life would be an understatement.

Degan back in the day
In 1963 I was still too young to appreciate what a monumental year I was living through. The only two news events I can clearly recall are the death of Pope John XXIII in June - and of course - the horrible tragedy that occurred on November 22. And although I have a vague recollection of all the people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in August, the civil rights saga pretty much went over my head. About the only thing of any cultural significance I was thinking about in that moment of time was Peter, Paul and Mary's recording of Puff the Magic Dragon, which I loved. Ignorance is bliss as they say. During that long ago summer of 1963 I was as blissful as a froggy on a lily pad.

2013 is a year that is filled to the rafters with half-century milestones. There is no getting away from the fact that 1963 was a year that changed this country forever, in ways good and bad. 

George 'n' Nick
On June the 11th Jack Kennedy went before a nationwide television audience to confront the moral issue of equal rights for all Americans. On that day, two "negro" kids, Vivian Malone and James Hood, were escorted onto the campus of the University of Alabama by the National Guard. To score a few cheap political points, Governor George Wallace had earlier stood in the doorway of the school, threatening to block their entrance. That was all Deputy Attorney General, Nicholas Katzenbach, needed to hear. In an exasperated but calm voice, he read Wallace the riot act. The District Court - of Alabama, Buster! - had ordered that these two students be admitted. That order was going to be obeyed - whether the governor liked it or not, ya heah?.

George Wallace blinked. 

Medgar Evers
On that very night, shortly after JFK addressed the nation, Medgar Evers, the Field Representative for the NAACP in Mississippi, was shot and killed in an ambush outside of his home. It was that kind of time in America, with events rushing by at the speed of light, or at least that's how it seems in hindsight. Before the summer was over (and less than three weeks after the March on Washington) a black church in Birmingham was bombed by a group of racist bastards who actually believed they were performing some kind of heroic deed. Four little girls were blown to smithereens by these "heroes". Sadly, their names have been forgotten over the course of fifty years. Their martyrdom was more responsible than anything for the passage the following June of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Let us bow our heads, tip our hats and raise our glasses in loving memory of these four little gals. It may be a bit of a stretch to attempt all three of these things simultaneously, but what the heck, let's at least give it the old college try, ay?

Little Martyrs
Addie Mae Collins (age 14)
Denise McNair (age 11)
Carole Robertson (age 14)
Cynthia Wesley (age 14) 

At the time, only one of the four people responsible for this atrocity was brought to justice. He was fined $100 and received a six month sentence for the possession of dynamite - I'm not kidding. In 1977 he would be retried and sent to prison where he died. Two others  were eventually put on trial in 2000 and convicted of murder. Only one of the four escaped justice by conveniently dying. C'est la vie. None of their names are worthy of mention. 

Oh, I wish I was in Dixie
Oy vey! Oy vey!

It was easy to believe, as the twenty-first century dawned, that the mindset that produced this type of horror was behind us. True, we did elect our first African American president in 2008 - but the reaction of a whole lot of people who did not vote for him - particularly in the South and the Midwest - has been "instructive" (to say the least). The other important piece of historic legislation that came out of the nineteen-sixties was the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which guaranteed that no one would be denied the right to cast his or her precious ballot simply because of the color of their skin. The election of the first black guy to the presidency has so freaked out the racists in Dear ol' Dixie, many of them are seeking the repeal of that law. "We'll be good this time", they're saying, "Trust us".

It would seem to me that Jim Crow is hellbent on taking his weird act on a national comeback tour. That is precisely what those proposed "Voter ID Laws" were all about. The GOP has been taken over by the ideological heirs of the racist Dixiecrats of yore - and has been corrupted beyond redemption in the process. The "party of Abraham Lincoln" has devolved into the party of Uncle Fester. They know goddamned well that it has become politically impossible for them to win office on the national level. They need to deny the ballot to as many people as possible - starting with black people. Nowadays the success of the Republicans depends upon the suppression of votes. Think about that.

Unless those voter ID laws are successfully implemented between now and then, a Democratic administration will succeed another Democratic administration on Inauguration Day 2017. Do you know when the last time that happened? When Franklin Pierce handed over the reigns of power to stuffy old James Buchanan on March 4, 1857. It hasn't happened since - check the history books. And it might very well be that the first black president bequeaths the office to the first woman president. The juiciest irony of all is that most of the Democrats of 1857 were ingrained racists and (it goes without saying) sexist. Had they known of this possibility they would have disbanded the party then and there. Life is funny that way, you know?

"Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood."

Martin Luther King, 28 August 1963

1963 still resonates across the decades in every respect - politically and culturally. By Thanksgiving there was a new guy sitting in the Oval Office: Lyndon Baines Johnson, a Texan who would do more for the cause of Civil Rights than any president since Lincoln. LBJ was astute enough to understand that freedom was on the march and there would be no stopping it, baby! The racists might just as well have tried to stop the sun from rising in the eastern sky. On New Year's Eve a previously obscure rock 'n' roll band from England called the Beatles would be the biggest thing on the American charts. You say you want a revolution? So much had changed in America since New Year's Day. 

George Wallace, Nick Katzenbach, Vivian Malone and James Hood are all gone now. Five months and eleven days after he reached out to touch the conscience of a nation, Jack Kennedy went to Dallas. Four and-a-half years after that, Dr. King went to Memphis. Fifty years on, 1963 clings to the American soul. It lights the darkest American night. It won't let go. I hope it never does.

And we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing. Wasn't that a time?

Tom Degan 
Goshen, NY


Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 
by Taylor Branch

The best book I've ever read about the Civil Rights struggle in America (1955-1968) by a first rate historian. 


President Kennedy's address to the American people on the subject of Civil Rights, 11 June 1963:
This was the most important speech made by an American president in the twentieth century I believe. And the incredible thing about this incredible oration is the fact that most of it was delivered extemporaneously.


Puff the Magic Dragon
by Peter, Paul and Mary  

A dragon lives forever
But not so little boys
Painted wings and giant strings
Make way for other toys.... 


For more recent postings on this site kindly go to the link below:

"The Rant" by Tom Degan

Overcoming since 2 June 2006  

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Message from Brother Jeff Degan

Just for today I'll be handing over das RANT to my brother, Jeff Degan. This is only the second time that I have turned this site over to another writer. You may recall the piece that my old pal Kevin Swanwick wrote last Autumn called "Our Hearts of Darkness". This one is just as good. I scarfed it from something he posted on his Facebook page:
Just a few words....
Before we all go and canonize this latest whistle-blower for the heroic stand he has taken in revealing what everyone knew but no one cared to admit (and somewhat ignominiously dumping his exotic-dancing girlfriend in the process), let's wait to find out what were his true motives and, perhaps, who is bankrolling his Hong Kong holiday.

And speaking of Hong Kong, it turns out that that bastion of liberty (read FREE MARKET CAPITALISM) does have an extradition treaty with the United States, unlike dirty old corrupt France, which does not but actually does have something of a tradition of liberty of expression (why do you think they call them “Freedom Fries”?). I am not sure the boy genius spy guy really thought this thing through.

Now let's look at that. I mean, who in their right mind would take a bold stand for freedom and democracy and then jump on a plane for the People's Republic of China? That's right. No one in their right mind.

And speaking of minds on the far right, our hero twice gave money to Ron Paul. Now just because he gave money to a candidate I don't particularly care for does not mean that he loves freedom and democracy and apple pie any less than you or I do. It does, however, mean that he probably has a pretty deep-seated opposition to the current administration and its policies and that fact ought to be borne in mind when evaluating his actions.

And while we are on the subject of opposition to the Obama administration, let us not forget that that is the only thing holding the Republican party together at the moment. If in nothing else they are as one in their determination to do everything and anything they can to ensure that the President fails. At every turn they have tried to whip up any misstep by anyone in the federal government into a Watergate-level scandal that would give them a reason to impeach the President, whom they can never forgive for having the audacity, in addition to being a black man in the White House who isn't shining shoes and being to all appearances a model father, is handsomer, smarter, and a better golfer than pretty much the entire Grand Old Party combined.

Finally, I would just like to conclude by saying that, unlike so many people in Washington, apparently, I am not at all surprised by these revelations. This is precisely what a number of outspoken critics of the so-called Patriot Act said at the time WOULD happen if we passed that particular piece of legislation. So, as egregious and as heinous as these assaults on our individual liberties may appear to us, we really have no one to blame but ourselves for voting these rascals in in the first place and then re-electing them after we saw what they were capable of doing in the name of our freedom.

To steal a line from Edward R. Murrow, who himself borrowed it from the Bard: The fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves.

Good night and good luck.
Jeff Degan 
Well, what did you expect? The guy is a complete commie. An eternal shame to the good name and reputation of the Degan family. Not only does he live in France - AND LIKE IT THERE - he has a French wife and two French daughters! But seriously, folks, I think he gives us something to think about here.
Hugs and kisses to my lovely sister-in-law and my two beautiful nieces. There's no French bashing going on in my house!

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Game Change

"When someone like Sarah Palin can make it as far as she has, it can mean only one thing and it's not a particularly good sign. We are living in a culture that has been custom-tailored for idiots. When a person who can barely put two coherent sentences together without the aid of a teleprompter becomes one of the best-selling non-fiction authors of the decade, that's usually a pretty good indicator that society is spiraling downward at a fairly decent clip. Fasten your seat belts, kiddies!"

-From The Rant, 10 January 2010

Not being a subscriber to cable television it takes me a bit longer to catch on to the choice delights offered by that medium. That being the case, I only yesterday saw the HBO film, Game Change, for the first time on DVD. If you aren't aware of it already, it's about the train wreck that we all remember now as the 2008 McCain-Palin presidential campaign. It's also one of the best political films I've ever seen. It stars Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin and Ed Harris as John McCain.

I'm not competent at film criticism. I'm not qualified to review any motion picture. I can only tell you whether or not I like a movie - and I liked this one - a lot. You will, too; I guarantee it.

I have yet to read the book by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, but it just shot up to the tippy-top of my "to read" list. If we are to take seriously the scenario that is laid out in this film (and there is no reason to doubt it) putting Sarah Palin on the ticket in 2008 has got to be high on the list of historical political blunders. The fact that the movers and shakers within the McCain organization felt that this vain and incurious woman had the "right stuff", that she was just what they needed to appeal to the GOP "base", is more proof than we even need to establish the inarguable fact that this is a party on the verge of oblivion. What the hell do you suppose they thinking? Gotta wonder.

Julianne as Sarah
I can remember so clearly the moment they rolled out Sarah Palin at a campaign rally in Dayton, Ohio. The only thing I knew about the woman was that she was the Republican governor of Alaska. There wasn't even a mental image of her in my mind. When I finally saw her speak, I remember thinking that she reminded me of Sally Field - not Sally Field as Norma Rae - Sally Field as Gidget. I googled her name to do my own background check on her, just to be sure that she wasn't wanted for cashing bad checks or anything like that. 

The first thing that struck me was the date of her birth, February 11, 1964, a day I clearly remember. It was on that day that my maternal grandmother died unexpectedly in South Bend, Indiana. But other than that little coincidence there wasn't much in her resume that impressed me. She had been on the job as governor of a largely rural state for eighteen months. Before that she had served as the mayor of the town of Wasilla, population 10,000. That was the moment when I knew for certain that Barack Obama would be the next president of the United States.

The film is quite funny - in an uncomfortable and unintentional sort of way. McCain's senior strategist for that campaign was a man named Steve Schmidt. It was he who talked the senator into accepting (against his better judgement) Palin as his running mate. McCain had wanted Joe Lieberman to be second on the ticket. The scene where Schmidt (played by Woody Harrelson) realizes that the woman he had championed is (I'll be kind here) "intellectually challenged" has got to be one of the funniest moments in the entire movie. 

Steve Schmidt
In preparing for an interview she is about to give to ABC's Charlie Gibson, Woody-as-Steve asks her to respond to a potential question that might be raised regarding the growing unpopularity of the war in Iraq with the people of Great Britain. That shouldn't be a problem, she says, "The United States has always maintained a great relationship with the Queen and John McCain will continue to do so". When he gently explains to her that Her Majesty is not, in fact, the head of the government in England and has no hand in its foreign policy, Sarah is genuinely surprised. When asked why we are in Iraq she chirps, "Because Saddam Hussein attacked us on 9/11." Poor Steve would soon find out to his utter horror that these nasty little gaffes were merely the tip of an even nastier iceberg. The film is chock full of amusing moments like that one. We all remember how beautifully that Gibson interview worked out:

Gibson: Do you agree with the Bush Doctrine?"

Palin: In what respect, Charlie?

Gibson: The Bush -- well, what do you interpret it to be?

Palin: His world view?

Gibson: No, the Bush Doctrine, enunciated in September 2002, before the Iraq war.

She couldn't answer the question. She had no idea what the hell the "Bush Doctrine" was. And then there was the moment when that evil liberal, Katie Courac (of the Communist Broadcasting System) ambushed her with this horribly unfair GOT'CHA question:

"What do you read? 

For us connaisseurs of unintentional comedy and unintentional comedians, the campaign of 2008 was magical indeed.

After watching Game Change yesterday, I feel less contempt for Sarah Palin than I had before. In fact I feel kind of sorry for the poor woman. In the hours leading up to her one-and-only debate with Joe Biden, the McCain camp was in full-blown panic mode. Being the reflexive supporter of the underdog that I am, at this point in the film I actually found myself rooting for the silly twit for an instant - just an instant, mind you. She was obviously in leagues-over-her-head. Incredibly, during the vetting process, no one had the sense to give her a simple pop quiz on world affairs and current events. Had they bothered to do so, they would have realized in two minutes that Governor Palin was not fit to be Mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, let alone president of the United of the United States. 

"And so Alaska may progress, I will not seek reelection as governor."

-Sarah Palin, 3 July 2009

Yes, she really said that.

Sarah Palin sabotaged John McCain's decades-long quest to be commander-and-chief - for no other reason than to put her "brand" on the market. She did it by "Going Rogue" the title of her 2009 book. She realized that there was a fortune that could be made outside of the Governor's Mansion - which she cheerfully vacated in the summer of that year. She became a highly-paid commentator on Fox Noise and joined the ranks of Honey Boo Boo as a star of reality TV. Fox finally dumped her last year. The revelations in Game Change had rendered her too embarrassing even for them I suppose. 

One can only imagine the torment that McCain lives with each waking hour of each and every day. Who can blame the poor guy for turning into such a grumpy old bastard? He has become the senate's version of Oscar the Grouch, the curmudgeon's curmudgeon. But it should be said for the record that the Arizona senator has behaved quite admirably - both during and after the campaign of 2008 - as far as Sarah Palin is concerned. Whatever his failings may be on a policy level, I think that John McCain is a genuinely good guy. Like Bob Dole, you don't have to agree with the man in order to like him. He has refused to saddle her publicly with any blame in his failure to win the office of the presidency. Who says chivalry is dead? What his private thoughts might be is anybody's guess. We can only imagine. 

Think about it: Had John McCain only chosen a reasonable moderate to be the V.P. nominee - like Susan Collins or Olympia Snowe for instance - he would probably be sleeping in the master bedroom of the Executive Mansion at this very moment. But for Fascist Barbie  and fate's fickle finger....

Sarah Palin has yet to fade away into the well-deserved obscurity that beckons her. For the time being anyway she'll still be around for our amusement and entertainment. This is a good thing, too. I'll end this little ditty by quoting Bill Murray (as Hunter Thompson) from the last line of the film, Where the Buffalo Roam:

"It still hasn't gotten weird enough for me."

Indeed. For a weirdness junkie like myself, Sarah Palin is the gift that keeps giving and giving. I almost cherish the gal. Go figure. 

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY  


Game Change
Directed by Jay Roach

If it's not available from the friendly, independently-owned video store in your neighborhood (like they really exist anymore) here's a link to order it off of

See this movie. We're talkin' "Essential Viewing" here!

David Halberstam

The Best and the Brightest
by David Halberstam

The story of the political and strategic failures of America's political leadership - "the best and the brightest" as they were known - that led us blindly into the quagmire of the Vietnam war. A real page turner by the sorely-missed Mr. Halberstam. 


Watch the comments section as the trolls attack me for my "War on Women". Just you wait. They're coming out of the freakin' woodwork these days.

UPDATE - Comment, 6/8/13, 8:55 PM:
"THIS POST IS JUST ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF THE LIBERAL WAR ON WOMEN. Last week is [SIC] was another woman that Tom attacked, this is really getting boring Tom."

What did I tell you? These people don't even bother to read what I write - obviously this one didn't - otherwise he/she would not have gone out of their way to prove my point. I have gotten criticized in the past for not deleting these knuckleheads. There are two reasons for this: First of all I am a First Amendment purist; Secondly, the errors of spelling, grammar and punctuation usually make them oodles of fun to read!