Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Great Debatables

If you tuned into the debate on Monday evening hoping for a major surprise of some kind, you were surely let down. The whole affair was entirely predictable from my point of view. There was no major meltdown on the part of either candidate. And while more-than-a-few untruths were uttered between them, that shouldn't astonish you too much. Politicians lie. That's their job.

I watched the event at the home of my cousin, Kevin Cullen. I'm not hooked up to cable these days. For the better part of my adult life, I've been without broadcast television. If there is a major news event transpiring that I need to see, I usually hightail it over to Kevin's. He's as interested in this stuff as I am.

Hillary Clinton walked away the clear winner but with no major boost to her polling numbers. The most amusing part of the night was Donald Trump denying making the statements he clearly has made throughout this insanely comical campaign - in some instance multiple times. The day a complete lack of self-awareness becomes a human virtue, expect the Donald to receive the Nobel prize. The man is an unintentional hoot. He is now blaming his abysmal performance during the debate on a defective microphone. This is complete nonsense, of course. A close examination of any playback of the debate confirms that he was heard quite clearly throughout - a little too clearly, in fact. He would have come out looking much better off had his mic been completely turned off. Silly bastard
I will be heading for the polls to cast my ballot on Election Day. I'll be voting for Hillary. I will make the effort because I want to be sure that my congressman, Sean Patrick Maloney, is reelected. He's been a pretty decent representative and he deserves the support of everyone who bothers to pay attention.  But for that fact, I probably wouldn't bother. Hillary has been a resident of New York state for the last sixteen years; she'll win this place easily. Thank goodness for Long Island, Manhattan and its surrounding boroughs. But for that area, the Empire State would be decidedly "red". On a recent visit to Albany (which is ninety miles  from where I live) I bypassed the New York State Thruway and made my way north via the small towns and two-lane highways that connect Goshen to the state capital. En route I was amazed and dismayed by the sheer volume of "Trump For President" signs I saw along the way - most of them lovingly hand made. Upstate New York has never been a particular hotbed of progressivism, but this is ridiculous.

How could so many people be so utterly clueless? It makes me wonder. Even in my neck of the woods - the so-called "sophisticated" Hudson Valley - there is enough support for Trump to give rationally-minded folks the heebie jeebies. Walk into any bar or diner that has a television set turned on for the amusement of the clientele, it'll usually be tuned in to Fox Noise. This certainly is an interesting time to be alive.

A mere forty-one days separates us from this moment to when the polls open to the public on the morning of November 8. And while one month and ten days can be an eternity in politics, don't count on any unpredictable scandal that's going to change the fact that Hillary Clinton is going to be the next president of the United States....I hope. Although, as I've said many times, I'm not in ecstasy over the fact that she is the "progressive" standard bearer in this race, the alternative is too horrible to think about. President Trump? If the American electorate is stupid enough to go down that's sure going to be oodles of fun to write about. If the American electorate is stupid enough to go down that road, I'll be the only person I know personally who will benefit.


....but seriously, folks.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY


Here is a YouTube link to watch Stephen Colbert's wrap-up  that was broadcast live immediately following the debate:
As usual, the man is right on the mark.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Bernie and Zephyr Come To Town

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Democrats Must Also Go

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

Will Rogers

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

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

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

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY


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


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

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


How Long Blues
by the Wingy Manone Orchestra

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

How long? Not long.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

No Contest

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

In Memory of Suzanne Hubner Arnowitz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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