Friday, February 28, 2020

Emmett's Law

Emmett Till
1941 - 1955

Rosa Parks
It staggers the imagination when one considers the fact that Emmett Till would have turned seventy-nine this July 25. He is eternally frozen in time as a fourteen-year-old boy whose brutal murder in Mississippi in the summer of 1955 was the spark that ignited the civil rights movement. Less than four months later, Rosa Parks, tired after a long day's work, would refuse to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus to a white man, an act of defiance that got her arrested for violating that state's blatantly unconstitutional apartheid laws. Once the ball started rolling it would never stop - even after a man of African descent was elected president of the United States in 2008. The reverberations of the murder of Emmett Till and the arrest of Rosa Parks, two events that occurred three years before I was born, are still being felt today. Although it wasn't readily apparent at the time, America changed forever in 1955; it just took a few years for the rest of America to understand and appreciate the scope of that change.

The "crime" for which Emmett Till paid with his life is still a mystery sixty-five years later. One story had it that he gave a wolf whistle toward the white woman inside the grocery store her family owned. Another said that he was merely behaving too uppity for local tastes. Whatever the reason, it was obvious that Emmett, a Chicago native who was visiting relatives, was unfamiliar with the South's code of conduct with respect to black males and their interactions with white women. The woman's husband and and his half brother found out where the boy was staying and abducted him in the dead of night. They took him to a deserted barn where they tortured and killed him. His body was found in the Tallahatchie River, bloated and disfigured. When his mother made the funeral arraignments days later, she insisted on an open casket. Mamie Till wanted the world to bear witness to what hate had done to her child. It was a profound statement. You can google the image if you want to. I cannot bring myself to post it here.

In the wake of international condemnation, the state of Mississippi was forced to send Emmett's killers to trial. Both men were acquitted of his murder. They have both since died. 
Mamie Till at Emmett's Funeral
Two days ago the House of Representatives FINALLY passed legislation that makes lynching a federal hate crime. It has yet to pass the senate. I hope they do the right thing. This is something that should have been done over a century ago but - better late than never, ay? The fact that it took this long to do what is so obviously the decent thing does not reflect positively on America's history. The fact that Emmett Till today would be pushing eighty had he been bequeathed the gift of time is shocking enough. That apartheid in the south did not end at that moment is unacceptable in hindsight. A statue of Emmett should be erected smack dab in the center of Money, Mississippi where this unspeakable crime took place sixty-five years ago, lest we ever forget.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY


A Very Stable Genius
by Carol Leonnig
and Phillip Rucker

If you don't read another book this year, read this unsettling look inside the Trump White House. If you're not profoundly disturbed and alarmed after you've finished, it can only mean that your reading comprehension level is ZERO. This is a book that historians and educators will still be discussing fifty years from now. It is the most important book to come out in years. Here is a link to order it off of

A keeper if ever there was one!

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

POST #900: Random Observations

At the Clements Family Homestead - South Bend, Indiana, 2/14/20
623 Park Avenue
Nine-hundred pieces in slightly over thirteen and-a-half years: not bad, I guess. In fact the number should be somewhat higher. There have been a few periods when I was unable to write at all - for reasons trivial and serious. Earlier this month I went nearly three weeks without posting a damned thing; so frustrated was I at the very existence of the current administration (and the acceptance of it by such a huge a percentage of the American people) that I threw up my hands in frustration (as opposed to actually throwing up - always an option) and just said out loud, "to hell with it, what's the point?". Apathy has never been an option with me. Like it or not, I'm back with a vengeance, baby! Here are a series of unconnected observations that I've written down recently in my notebook or on Facebook.
1. A Facebook flashback, 2/24/17:
Is the damage done already irreparable? Possibly. It's difficult to imagine the world ever again looking at America through the same lenses when so huge a segment of the voters were unwise enough to elect the Donald on November 8. And it is not a salve on the national consciousness to attempt to rationalize this electoral catastrophe by reminding ourselves that Hillary Clinton did, in fact, win the popular vote. That doesn't matter. It should have been the biggest landslide in the history of the republic - bigger than Dick Nixon's still inexcusable victory over George McGovern in 1972 when he won every state but Massachusetts and the District of You-Know-Where.
This one should have been a no-brainer, kids.
One of the more heartening turn-of-events during the last month has been the reemergence, after a long and blissful slumber, of the American left en masse. If as many of them had bothered to show up at their polling places on November 8, 2016 as I saw out in the street, I suspect that all we would be dealing with today is a wishy-washy moderate in the form of Hillary Clinton rather than what we have now: an obviously reactionary and disturbed guy with the vocabulary of a fourteen-year-old. I would only remind a lot of them that apathy is not the answer. They might want to jot that down on their things-not-to-do list. Just a suggestion.
Idiot Nation.

2. Black History Month:

I am almost convinced that a white person chose February as black history month. The better choice would have been January which is, after all, the month we honor the birthday of Martin Luther King. No black person in his or her right mind would have chosen the shortest month of the year. Just a thought.

3. Harvey and Aaron and Bill (Oh, My!):

In the last few years we have borne witness to the complete collapse of the careers of three men due to their atrocious, private behavior. I refer to the late NFL star Aaron Hernandez, comedian Bill Cosby and, yesterday, the once powerful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. This morning Harvey and Bill rot behind bars. Aaron committed suicide in prison in 2017. What causes people (mostly men) at the pinnacle of power and success to behave so destructively (and self-destructively)? Cosby got off relatively easy. He will more-than-likely walk free in September of next year, but his legacy and career in will remain in ruins. Weinstein, on the other hand, faces additional charges in Los Angeles and will certainly die in prison. What the heck were these guys thinking? The "#Me,Too" movement has scored a well-deserved victory. Congrats, ladies.
4. John Bolton's Upcoming Tell-All:

The Donald is freaking out over the scheduled release next month of John Bolton's memoir of the one year, five months, and one excruciating day he spent as Trump's national security advisor. Without even reading the book, several members of Team Trump are putting out the word that it is filled with the lies of an embittered bureaucrat who found himself in over his head. Let's give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that his upcoming book as wrought with fabrications. If Bolton is as lying a weasel as they are implying, then why are they insisting that the book is filled with classified information? I don't know exactly how to break this to them, but the corruption and incompetence of this disgusting administration is not really a state secret. I'm just sayin'.

5. The Candidate:

It would seem - at least from the vantage point of 25 February 2020 - that the candidacy of Joe Biden is in free fall. What I have yet to hear mentioned by the taking-heads is that Trump's campaign of smear regarding Joe's "involvement" in the imaginary Ukraine scandal has worked out beautifully for him. He feared running against the former vice-president and now Biden appears to have been taken out of the running. Not to my surprise, those idiotic Democrats fell for the propaganda hook, line and sinker. I am of two minds about this: defeating Donald Trump is the most imperative objective facing the Democrats in 2020, and Biden was the one most likely to have handed him a can of delicious Whupp-Ass. The problem is, quite simply, that I'm not sure if Joe, given his age, is up to the taxing rigors that a campaign for the White House would have brought down on him. It's not over yet for Biden. Let's see what happens in South Carolina. 
6. The Other Candidates:

Watching the Democratic primary debate from Las Vegas on the evening of the nineteenth, it was impressing to see Senator Elizabeth Warren knock them out of the park, one after the other. Mike Bloomberg is a joke, Bernie Sanders is beginning to falter, and South Bend's very own Pete Buttigieg, given his youth and sexual orientation, is too much of a gamble when one takes into consideration the proclivities of middle America (although he is the most intelligent and impressive candidate to come along in my lifetime. I won't be that disappointed if he wins the nomination this summer).  If Biden fails, Liz is the one.

7. Fascism American Style:

" 'Fascism' should more properly be called 'corporatism' because it is the total merging of corporate and state power' ".
Benito Mussolini
If you do not believe that is where were heading (in fact, were damned-near there) then all I can say is, "go back to sleep, children". The most important thing we can do on Election Day is to vote as if our  life depends on it - because it does. Reelecting this idiotic, psycho/man-child is not an option under any circumstances. Another term of a Trump White House will mean the ruination of the American experiment - not to mention the irreparable tarnishing of our image throughout the rest of the world. Not all progressives will be satisfied with the eventual nominee. Sitting home in a vile snit on November 3 is also not an option. A lot of them did that in 2016 and the result was Donald Fucking Trump. I was deeply disappointed when Hillary Rodham Clinton won the nomination that year, but that nasty fact did not deter me from heading down to my polling place on Election Day and casting my precious ballot for her. I had no other choice in 2016. We have no other choice in 2020.
And on a star-spangled night, my love
You can place your rights on the fireplace
And by the dawn's early light, my love
Yours constitution's turned to dust
Fascism American style
Tom Degan
Goshen, New York

Eric and Charlie

Have a look at this meticulously restored print of Charlie Chaplin's 1917 film, The Adventurer. It was one of the funniest of the twelve films he produced for the Mutual Film Corporation in the years 1916 and 17. The man who plays Charlie's bearded Nemesis, Scottish born Eric Campbell, was killed in an automobile accident a couple of weeks after the film's completion. He appeared in eleven of the Mutuals and is considered today one of the silent era's greatest comedic villains. Here is a link to watch it on YouTube:

One-hundred-and-three years later and it's as funny as it ever was.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

More Questions, No Answers


Joseph Maguire
In the last couple of days we have received still more circumstantial evidence (as if any more were really needed) that Donald Trump is an asset (possibly paid) to Vladimir Putin's intelligence apparatus. Last week, acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire - and his staff - informed the House Intelligence Committee that the Russians were in the process of meddling in the 2020 election with the goal of having the president reelected. When Trump learned that Maguire carried out what was, after all, his legal obligation, the demented old psychopath hit the roof and came to the conclusion that only someone as unhinged as he could possibly come to: JOE MAGUIRE IS DISLOYAL! He has been given the sack and is being replaced by someone named Richard Grenell, current ambassador to Germany and a man utterly void of any experience in the field of intelligence. Grenell's one qualification (at least in the eyes of Donald Trump) is that he is a far-right Trump loyalist who can be counted on the do the president's bidding - consequences and laws be damned. 

The question that comes to my mind (and yours, too, I'm sure) is this: why would the Donald do something this brazen, right out in the open for all to see? It has become riotously obvious to all but the half-witted forty percent that Trump has two crucial things going against him:

1. He's not terribly bright, and;

2. He's obviously severely - profoundly - mentally ill.

Can it possibly be that the dude is so completely out-of-it that he doesn't think intelligent people will put two-and-two together? This is only a hypotheses on my part but my guess is that, yeah, the president of the United States is living in a Dreamland where reality is denied a passport and kept locked up in a cage.

Even during the turbulent period of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, no one could have seriously thought that the United States would have arrived at where it finds itself during this weird and crucial moment. The Bush/Cheney years were frustrating and heartbreaking in too many ways to count; the era of Donald Trump is something else indeed. And while the rest of the planet looks on at the antics of this doomed nation aghast, it's not-at-all clear that the hideous jackass with the orange complexion will be defeated in 2020 as most of us predicted he would be only two months ago. Putin's machinations managed to get him elected in 2016, and there's not a reason to believe that he won't again be successful come November. Because of the electoral college and the fact that a full 40 to 45 percent of the voters are uninformed enough to believe that the nation is in capable hands with this maniac in power, anything is possible.

We will barely survive four years of Donald Trump. Eight years is not even an option. It is my belief that Putin has been privy to some of our most closely held secrets since the oaf of office took the oath of office a little over three years ago. The damage that an additional term of a Trump administration will do to America might very well be irreparable. Mark my words, boys and girls. Mark my words.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY


I visited the Clements family homestead in South Bend, Indiana last weekend. It's been in the family for nearly ninety years. It's where my mother and her sister and three brothers were raised. They're all gone now. One of my earliest memories is staying here when my grandparents were still alive, in about 1960 or 1961. The door at the top of the stairs was the room I used to stay in when we visited. One of my gentlest, early childhood memories was that, on the wall to the left of the door, there was a framed painting of Jesus that was always lit by a dim light, even late in the evening. I would awake in the middle of the night, sit at the top of the stairs and just gaze at that painting. A sweet. blissful memory that refuses to fade away.
The hallway of bliss

 Loretta and Walter Clements at home in South Bend, circa 1960

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Time to Hit the Reset Button

The Rip Heard 'Round the World
It's been nearly three weeks since I posted anything on this site. It really hasn't been a case of writer's block as much as it's been the uncomfortable and embarrassing fact that I've gotten to the point where I can only describe myself as completely speechless. In the course of three weeks we've borne witness to the president of the United States behaving in a way that will only shame Americans a century from now. There's a dandy reason why Andrew Johnson is only mentioned today in the context that he became president upon the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in April of 1865. Other than that one fact, no one ever talks about the guy anymore. He was a racist and a buffoon, not worthy of our attention or study. If there have been any biographies written on his life in the last fifty years, I'm not aware of them. He's been permanently consigned to the shit pile of history where he rightfully belongs - where the current president will end up in short order.

I think what set me off more than anything in the last three weeks was witnessing Melania Trump drape the Presidential Medal of Freedom over the pudgy shoulders of racist demagogue Rush Limbaugh. I'm not overcome with a giddy sense of schadenfreude over the fact that el-Rushbo has been diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer and that he is probably going to be dead a year from now. Chances are not out-of-the-blue that I might be dead a year from now as well - such is the precarious state of my health. I wish Rush no ill will, just as I hope that he would wish me none. My problem is that it doesn't sit well with me that he is now in the same league as someone like Rosa Parks. That bothers me at such a gut level that I can scarcely articulate my feelings on the matter. Trump has cheapened and redefined - DOWNWARD - what it really means to be a good and heroic American. There is a dandy good reason why I'll never receive the Medal of Freedom: I don't deserve it. Rush Limbaugh deserves it even less than I.

Lock him up....
And now we head into the next chapter in the ever-shocking Trump era. The man has been having an orgy of mercy in the last couple of days, handing out pardons and commutations to a number of people - some deserving, most not so much so. Why now? Usually that sort of thing happens only when a president is on his way out the door in the hours prior to his successor's inauguration. What is he up to? What I love about Donald Trump more than anything is the dude's thin-as-glass transparency. What he's doing is conditioning the inmates of Idiot Nation to the idea of lots 'n' lots of pretty little pardons! When the electorate finally gets used to the idea of all those pardons, he will then issue a line of them to the thugs who carried out his bidding that allowed him to seize the Executive Mansion - Paul Manafort, Mike Flynn, Roger Stone - you know, that crowd. It will be interesting to see if the polling of his half-witted devotees falls noticeably when that happens. I guarantee that it won't.

There is already talk among some of the Democrats that there is enough evidence floating around out there to impeach the Donald before Election Day. They needn't bother. What the Dems need to do between now and then is concentrate on winning the election next November. They have no other choice but to ride this hideous jackass out. Watch them screw this up.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY
Nancy Clements

I took a sentimental journey last weekend to my late mother's hometown of South Bend, Indiana to bid farewell to my aunt, Nancy Babcock Clements. She married my mother's youngest brother, Bob, in the nineteen-fifties. They settled in South Bend where they raised their eight children. Uncle Bob and Aunt Nancy were my godparents. At the time I was christened in August of 1958 they had just given birth to their eldest, Brooke. Since I was in New York and they were seven-hundred miles away in Indiana, the entire affair had to be done by proxy. It's amazing when you consider that I had the talent to complicate family matters even at such a tender age.

Cousin Susan
At her memorial service at St. Patrick's Church in South Bend (the same church that my parents were married in nearly seventy years ago) she was remembered for her kindness and unflinching generosity. Nancy and Bob could easily have succumbed to bitterness and despair, but they never lost their quiet gentleness - even after losing two daughters, Loretta and Susan - the latter of whom died in 1992 through an unspeakable act of murder. Aunt Nancy's passing represents another vanishing thread connected to a childhood that is slowly dwindling away.

Bob, Nancy, Loretta and Susan are together again. There's even more to look forward to tonight. That works for me!

Uncle Bob and Aunt Nancy Clements, 2017

Aunt Nancy's obituary in the South Bend Tribune:

She was a saint.