Thursday, December 11, 2014

So Long, Stephen!

December 18 will mark the end of a TV era. The Colbert Report will end its nine year run, as Stephen Colbert prepares to move on as the new host of the Late Show, replacing David Letterman. And though Colbert will continue on late night television, his Colbert Report persona will be retired.

I've always been a fan of Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, where Colbert worked before spinning off to the Colbert Report. He was always funny on the Daily Show, but when the Colbert Report began, I admit I had my doubts. The idea of a show based on a caricature of a right wing blowhard seemed a bit interesting, but I didn't see how the idea could have any legs at all.

It would seem I was as wrong as wrong could be!

The Colbert Report has been a beacon of biting satire for its entire run. The show has featured writing of such consistently high quality, it became easy to take it for granted. I hope that his team will accompany him to the Late Show, because the immense talent involved should continue to be on display for TV audiences.

It's sad that The Colbert Report is ending. But for the opportunity to step up to the Late Show, I don't think there would be any reason to end the show. It's as fresh and funny as it ever has been. It's certainly going out on a high note. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Pulling The Wings Off of Flies

Children that are found to routinely torture animals have been shown to be so deeply disturbed that they often grow up to be the most brutal and detached of psychopathic serial killers. This sort of pathology is repugnant and shocking. This behavior is completely bereft of the basic values of human decency and morality.

During the war on Al-Qaeda after the 9/11 attacks, the C.I.A. felt that by engaging in this sort of behavior with detainees, that it would be fine because it was being done for purely patriotic and honorable reasons. Leaders in the White House were just fine with it, and Congressional oversight, a laughable term if there ever was one, saw no problem either.

Well, the just released Senate report that describes in detail what actually was done by the C.I.A. in the name of the U.S.A. would not have been out of place in any P.O.W. camp of Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, or North Viet Nam.

We recoil at the brutal beheadings that I.S.I.S has video taped. We accuse our enemies of all manner of heinous and despicable tactics. But, even in our own backyards, American citizens are treated inhumanely, shot dead in their tracks by racist tinged law enforcement.

American society is very, very sick. It shows in how we justify the C.I.A. and their horrific tactics. It shows in how local police departments are rendered immune by protective prosecutors and cooperative grand juries. It shows in how the poor minorities are denied voting rights and economic equality. It shows in how, even now, a major political party is desperate to rescind health insurance for millions of Americans for purely political reasons.

The U.S.A. has lost it's claim to the moral high ground, as if it ever really had it. The notion of "American exceptionalism" is just another symptom of the raging narcissism that has gripped this country for decades.

The Senate report on torture, and the tortured defense of these tactics, gives us all a small peek into the truth of where we stand as a nation. Is it any wonder the we are reviled in the world as hypocrites and cretins?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The World Of Nancy Sinatra, Part 2


Here's another surprising collaboration with Lee Hazelwood. Some true psychedelic 60's bona fides!

And for good measure, here's Nancy living twice with James Bond:


Friday, December 5, 2014

Terminate With Extreme Prejudice

With no end in sight to the continuing assault on blacks by the police, what can we expect to come?

Protests, peaceful and violent, are a given. There will be marches, speeches and with them comes the media coverage that will inflate the events, misinterpret them, mischaracterize them, and sensationalize them in the name of ratings.

That will lead to further protests, and additional violence. Politicians will look to make hay on both sides. Police will hunker down and continue to justify their reckless actions. Then comes spring and summer, and the opportunity to continue the deadly spiral.

When will this all come to a head? What will be the tipping point? No one can say, but to be unaware of the potential for catastrophe is like whistling past a graveyard.

In the middle east, where oppression is a way of life, the favored weapon against perceived oppressors is the bomb. It can be delivered by car, truck, or worn in a fashionable and hard to detect vest worn by someone with only need of a one way ticket.

When will the minorities in this country start to resort to these techniques when they believe that this society has no care or respect for them or their lives? As case after case of police malfeasance and misbehavior is met with no accountability or consequence, it's just a matter of time before the oppressed in this country take a cue from what they see happening in the news and around the world.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Police State

The country is roiling over the lack of indictments in Ferguson and Staten Island and elsewhere. White cops are killing blacks for the smallest of offenses and no charges are being brought against the police. People are angry, and there has been violence, and there promises to be more violence.

I don't live in either place, but I do commute through Penn Station in Manhattan every day. Penn Station is a melting pot, a pulsating mix of commuters heading into the city and out, and a smattering of homeless people, street performers, grab and go restaurants and other miscellany. There is also a very large police presence, as you might expect in the post 9/11 era.

The police presence is more than just city cops. There are a lot of city cops with an occasional table set up so that they can search through briefcases and pocketbooks when the spirit moves them. There are very frequently K9 units prowling the concourses as well. There seems to also be a permanent National Guard unit there too. They are in camouflage garb and have automatic weapons with their fingers actually on the triggers. The jungle camouflage doesn't do much good in the urban landscape of Penn.

In addition to these various levels of law enforcement, lately I've noticed New York State troopers standing guard as well. They wear gray uniforms and those funky hats that look like Army drill sergeant hats, with a strap down over the back of their heads.

That's a lot of cops, and I'm sure that there is some justification for each branch. I just don't feel safe with these guys all standing guard under "See something, say something" PSAs with guns and automatic machine guns. It's become a creepy Orwellian police state within Penn Station, and it's a smothering feeling mixed with fear and suspicion that permeates the entire station.

The USA may never really have been the land of the free and the home of the brave, but it always was a high minded aspiration that the country believed the best about itself, and strove to become. In the years since 9/11, the country has willingly and unapologetically exchanged its freedoms in the face of fear, all in the name of "security".

Has our complete surrender to the police state given the cops a feeling of invulnerability that allows them to gun down minorities with such astonishing frequency? Has the xenophobia that has been normalized by the Fox Newses of the world tapped into the latent, or not so latent, racism of law enforcement that allows predominantly white police forces to treat minorities as the "other", as the enemy?

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Truth is Stranger Than Fiction

What is one to make of the crash in crude oil prices? OPEC has just announced that they won't, or can't, reduce production to support the price of crude oil, that has recently been making multi-year lows.

This sounds like good news. Falling petroleum prices, gasoline prices below $3.00 a gallon, lower heating oil prices, are an unquestioned boon to beleaguered consumers. As the middle class remains under continuous assault by the never content with what they have one-percenters, it's great to get this break on energy prices.

The contraction in oil pricing also has geo-political benefits. Hostile governments that rely on oil exports will be less able to spread their policies of malevolent disruption. Specifically, Russia, Iran, the ostensibly friendly Gulf States like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait,, and even the terrorists of ISIS rely on the proceeds of their oil exports to support their economies.

There is nothing mysterious about the cause of this change in the oil exporting landscape. That cause is increased U.S. oil production. Oil output in the U.S. is at the highest level in years, and the source of these new supplies is the fracking of vast shale deposits within the U.S.A.

It is astonishing that the U.S. have been able to reassert it's position as an important swing producer of oil. Why? Well, in the last few years, after years of relying on imported oil, Republicans have had as the center of their energy policy, a slogan. "Drill, Baby, Drill!" was the extent of their energy policy, and it was relentlessly attacked as an impossible notion. It was argued that there was simply no way that the U.S. could ever "drill" enough to change the county's energy profile in any meaningful way.

That doesn't jibe with what we are seeing now. OPEC has been rendered impotent, and price of oil worldwide has crashed as a result of the increase in U.S. production.

Now, given this set of circumstances, why the absence of gloating from the right wing? Hasn't the state of oil now, and the U.S. role played in the world now, proven the Republican case? Why are we not hearing this shouted from the mouths of all the Republicans at the loudest possible volume? Forget about the paranoid fantasies about Benghazi, this looks like a real, honest to goodness victory. The silence is baffling.

What's a liberal to do?

The flip side of all this good news is the reality that nothing is permanent. OPEC does have a strategy. They are willing to lose profits now, sink the price below the level that is profitable for U.S. drillers to make money, and then re-acquire market share as U.S. producers fall away as their operations become unprofitable.

That may or may not work, but there is another unwanted cost of low priced oil. Alternative energy, solar, wind and others, will suffer as oil becomes more affordable. Competitive pricing has always been a major problem for alternative energy, and progress in these areas will surely decline.

Then we have the 800 pound gorilla, climate change. As oil prices decline, more and more carbon will be released into the atmosphere. Given how many areas are succumbing to more and more violent weather as the average temperature of the planet continues to rise from the greenhouse gasses being released, moves to finally address the problem will become more and more difficult to fund and implement.

So, in the short term, the Republican victory of "Drill, Baby, Drill!" appears to be real. In the long term, it looks like it will be much more of a pyrrhic victory. It will be hard to take seriously the warnings of the same people about climate change, when they have been proven wrong about the ability of the U.S. to increase production of fossil fuels to address the county's energy needs. This same lack of credibility may also tar the very industries that we have to concentrate on in order to avoid the calamities that climate change will wreak. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The World of Nancy Sinatra - Part 1


I've only known Nancy Sinatra from her hit song "These Boots are Made for Walking" and her duet with her father Frank, "Something Stupid". She always seemed to me to be a one-(or two)-hit wonder.

Thanks to internet radio like Pandora and others, I've found that Sinatra has a far wider recording repertoire. She collaborated with Lee Hazlewood (another discovery for me) on several albums that have a quite impressive and unexpected quality.

So, it's an oldie, but new to me!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Votes for Sale

What a boon!

Checks for $350.00 sent to middle class taxpayers in New York State, budgeted for last year, according to the checks themselves, have started to appear across the state. What a great thing in these cash strapped times.

But, what about the social safety net? Good full time jobs with benefits are still hard to come by. Welfare and Medicaid have been cut again and again. Wouldn't that have been a better use of $350 million burning a hole in Albany's pants?

Wait a minute. This is an election year! Could that have anything to do with the timing of this largesse? Of course it does.

Come November, six short weeks away, it would behoove the middle class voters of New York State to remember who's their daddy. $350.00 = 1 or 2 votes.

Thanks Andy C.! You are miles ahead but you've sealed the deal now. After you win the New York State Governor election, on your way to national office, try to remember that winning elections does not equal winning leadership. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Secession Obsession

The latest fashion trend in geopolitics is secession. It's all the rage, all over the world. Sometimes it's peaceable, other times it's violent, but it's the latest and greatest trend facing governments the world over.

Scotland is on the cusp of conducting a vote that would separate them from the rest of the less than United Kingdom. If they are successful in this pursuit, it could very well embolden areas of Spain, Canada, or the remaining elements of Great Britain. No one really knows what to expect if these secessions were actually to happen, but the uncertainty is not blunting the growing enthusiasm for self rule by small groups governed by larger entities.

Ukraine is experiencing the spasms of violent secessionary efforts, and it's nothing new in the Middle East, where tribes have fought against the lingering effects of colonial rule established decades ago. The disintegration of the Soviet Union over twenty years ago looks like it was a precursor to secessionary efforts now underway in even democratic countries.

No one saw that coming, but Quebec might certainly disagree with that.

In the last election cycle in the United States, there were some idiotic comments from some radical conservatives that Texas ought to consider seceding from the USA. Maybe it wasn't merely racist tripe, but just another manifestation of an embittered minority looking to breathe free and control it's own destiny on the world stage.

Well, no, that's not likely. Rick Perry of Texas and the clown car of Republican pretenders were just using the racist code words that played to their confused and racist base. But, leaving all that aside for a moment, what would it mean if the red states were to secede from the union? Unhappy and unwilling to live in a country that would elect a black president, or consider common sense gun restrictions, or provide health care to millions more than ever had access to it before, maybe the blue states should look a bit closer at the prospects of secession.

Without the red states, the blue states balance of payments would be much more in line. The poor red states, always giving lip service to self reliance and "freedom" from government intervention, are net takers when it comes to government support. The education systems of these red states are encumbered with factions of creationists and anti-science lunatics, and are unable to adequately educate their charges with knowledge to survive and thrive in the twenty-first century.

The economy of the blue states would improve without the drag of supporting the backward red states. Social programs would be easier to enact, women's rights would have no opponents of any consequence, and the freedom of safety from the threat of uncontrolled gun ownership would make day to day life more safe and fair.

The polarization of America is growing worse and worse. The Red/Blue divide is not just rhetoric, but a true schism in values, beliefs, and traditions that make the governing of this country a near impossibility.

Maybe the 600,000 deaths from the Civil War will ultimately prove to have been not the exercise in honor that so many look back at that horror and believe. Maybe it will prove to have been all in vain. When Abraham Lincoln sacrificed everything for the Union to persevere, it may be that those that have benefited from it will walk away from it less than two centuries later.

Sometimes trends are hard to spot until it engulfs you. Will the secession trend head our way, and if so, will the decision we make be based on how things are, or how we wish they were?