Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Brian Williams and Lost Irony

Still attempting to unpack the layers of irony implicit in MSNBC's Brian Williams invocation of a Leonard Cohen lyric ('I'm guided by the beauty of our weapons', from First We Take Manhattan) as he glowingly described the recent US missile attack on a Syrian airfield. Not only was the irony of Cohen's original poem completely lost on the awestruck Williams but he then further compounds the farce by giving a literal reference to the poetic line when applying it to the film footage of the missiles' flight pattern. At this moment, my guess is that Leonard sat up from his grave, gave an ironic nod to the hapless mortal, and gently lowered his head.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The War Is Over

Did you hear the latest?; it came in a dream, delivered by an echo of Phil Ochs; the mindless repetition of murderous folly in our endless war against terror is, at last, over! To this day, the echoes remain: 'pardon me if I refrain'!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Judiciary and The Federalist Society's Vision

As we focus our attention on the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court we also might want to remember that at least one hundred and twenty federal judgeships are set to be filled by this new president.

It is also useful to recall that these vacancies were a result of the concerted efforts by the Republican controlled Congress to block, stall, and otherwise prevent a significant number of Obama appointees from their fair hearing and eventual seating. As Eric Lipton has chronicled in his work with The NY Times, this persistent stonewalling was inspired and supported by the Federalist Society under the direction of Leonard Leo and the substantial underwriting of the Koch Brothers. Not coincidentally, the current nominee for the Supreme Court is a long standing member of this organization whose stated purpose, among other things, is to promote an agenda featuring the elimination of governmental regulation and the reduction of federal intervention into the activity of the private sector. Exercising it's influence through judicial appointments is essential to the Federalists vision of radically limiting the scope of the federal government while advocating a laissez fairer attitude with respect to the affairs of private business and 'free market' forces.

Trumps cabinet and advisory appointments have also reflected this ideological trend. Scott Pruitt's placement as the head of the EPA was preceded by a thorough vetting by Leo and earlier by the late Antonin Scalia and Justice Thomas, both of whom were and are Federalist Society members. Another devotee to this ever influential organization and chief advisor to DJT is Steve Bannon who has orchestrated the philosophical direction of this administration from the beginning and further underscores the decidedly conservative tendency toward an austere and constricted concept of governmental purview. Indeed, Steve Bannon has taken it a step further by publicly declaring his intention to 'deconstruct the administrative state'. He also ominously stated that early efforts at deregulation were only the beginning when he invoked a baseball analogy by saying 'we are only in the top of the first'. While Bannon, Gorsuch, Leo, and the Federalist Society are currently enjoying their moment in the field of play, we can be emboldened by the fact that the rank and file of a newly politically active people in this rapidly evolving and diverse nation will ultimately bat last!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Meals on Wheels and What It Means To Be An American

When considering the recent White House proposal to discontinue certain programs as a 'waste of resources', allow me to remind my brethren that Meals on Wheels is one of the most successful, partly government-sponsored programs in this country serving those who would otherwise be compromised without it.

It really becomes a matter of who we decide to be as a nation...a caring, compassionate, and thoughtful people whose goal it is to provide for the common good; or rather, a self-interested, greedy, and indifferent society dedicated to self-preservation, the perpetuation of a 'zero-sum' mentality and the sanctity of the bottom line.

The Beneficence of Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan's claim that under the new health care plan people will now have the free choice to pick any plan they might desire is a bit like telling the average middle class person that  purchasing a house in San Francisco is merely a matter of personal preference and really has nothing to do with its affordability. Furthermore, when that same person has saved enough through the ensuing years in order to actually afford the minimal down payment on that house on the hill, he is then told that there will be a 30% surcharge on the property because he was not sufficiently wealthy or, for whatever reason, was disinclined to purchase it in the first place.

In the meantime, further up the hill, the privileged few who benefited most from the near $150 billion in tax relief over the next decade will look down in satisfaction as they revue their now inflated savings account balance.

Speaker Ryan will have to find a way to excuse that middle class voter for not giving thanks for the Republican leader's magnanimity and largess as the medical bills increase and his tenuous hold on middle class status rapidly disintegrates.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Musical Explorations of Rich Osborn

For second time, in as many months, Debby and I had the great privilege to be in attendance as Rich Osborn once again mesmerized his audience with an hour long exercise in guitar mastery and deep musical exploration. Last night's venue was The Battery, a rather posh private club located in the historic Barbary Coast district of San Francisco, nestled between the Financial and North Beach districts in the heart of the City.

The concert included such familiar songs as In A Monastery Garden which was again performed with intricate delicacy; the somber and deeply felt Still I Will Be Merry; the beautifully rendered American classic Streets of Laredo; the plaintive prayer of Breton Fisherman's Song reminding us of our relative position within the vastness of the Universe, and the joyous Going to the Beach House which invokes a feeling of release and freedom from otherwise dire circumstance. It was wonderful to hear these songs played again, live, as Rich has an uncanny ability to bring a sense of immediacy to each piece thus creating a completely original experience with each masterful rendering.

Added to the playlist performed last month in the more modest setting of Stranded in the Mission district, were three selected pieces each suggesting a separate yet somehow perfectly connected musical journey. The Open Road was a delicately fingered piece which invited the soul to reach into an invisible space where all things are possible; Cloud Towers paid homage to and was inspired by Bach and was performed by Rich with all the rich complexity of the original master. The highlight of the evening for this audience member was the exquisite rendition of Pasha (in honor and celebration of the bureaucrat!) that Rich introduced while recalling his seminal and favorite concert (performed in front of one solitary man on the side of a road in India) given some years ago. This deeply layered and multi-leveled piece allowed for a listening adventure which I imagined paralleled the artist's own life changing moment as the image of Rich serenading his fellow traveler presented itself to me throughout the song.

Whether performing a familiar melody or introducing a new voice, Rich Osborn succeeds in creating a unique musical experience and takes us on an ever deepening journey, through the sheer brilliance of his virtuosity, into uncharted spiritual territory while applying the same notes we perhaps have heard many times before. This is made possible by the artist's complete and utter commitment to each song, each iteration of his genius, each individual journey which is communicated to the listener as an intense personal revelation simultaneously being experienced by the artist himself. Knowing this helps explains what Rich shared with me after the concert when he spoke of the difficulty he sometimes has in transitioning between songs. His complete devotion to the sanctity of experiencing each piece and to the unique moment of creation in which he becomes so totally immersed while giving birth to each musical moment makes it clearly understandable why this artist might find it difficult to easily and instantly move on to the next journey. On this evening, we all were quite happily rewarded by his decision and ability to do so!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Redefining Liberalism

I'm on board with Webster's definition of the term, liberal: 'manifesting a free and generous heart; exhibiting an enlightened mind; free from narrowness, bigotry or bondage to authority or creed'...less so as practiced by the Democratic Party of the recent past. The liberal/progressive distinction as represented by the respective candidacies of Clinton and Sanders clearly illustrated the widening gap between the two categories. To remain viable, the Democrats must close this divide by embracing the millions of young voices who were ignored by the party establishment in 2016, turn away from the neo-conservative practice of foreign interventionism, renew its focus on protection, preservation and sustainability of the environment, and redefine their relationship with corporate America by severing its dependency on same for its life's blood.

It would be a fatal mistake for the Democratic Party to simply wait for the likely implosion of the Trump regime and then retreat to a default position of reiterating the tired and failed policies they presented during last year's election cycle. To do so would be turning a deaf ear to the unmistakable call to reevaluate the basic assumptions upon which the party has based its platform in recent years. The Sanders' candidacy was a helpful beginning and signaled the direction forward into a new and truly progressive era where liberalism is restated as a term more reflective of the actual will of an active and engaged electorate.