Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Simple Art of Nader Bashing

Democrats are huffing, puffing, scoffing, snarling and cursing once more about Ralph Nader's (right) third party run for the presidency. The famous consumer advocate's latest comments (just days ago) that Obama is "downplaying poverty issues, trying to 'talk white' and appealing to 'white guilt' during his run for the White House" -- triggered an angry response from Democrats. Nader stirred the hornet's nest even more when he remarked, "There's only one thing different about Barack Obama when it comes to being a Democratic presidential candidate. He's half African-American. Whether that will make any difference, I don't know. I haven't heard him have a strong crackdown on economic exploitation in the ghettos. Payday loans, predatory lending, asbestos, lead. What's keeping him from doing that? Is it because he wants to talk white? He doesn't want to appear like Jesse Jackson? We'll see all that play out in the next few months and if he gets elected afterwards."

With the exception of Barack Obama, who was quite restrained in his response to Nader ("What's clear is that Ralph Nader hasn't been paying attention to my speeches," he said), most of the talking-head Democrats on CNN and the various political talk shoes really trashed Nader for his remarks.

Of course, Democrats are still angry at Nader for being a "spoiler" in the 2000 elections. They should get over it. Al Gore has only himself to thank for losing that election. Had he been more inspiring, had he been more successful in motivating and mobilizing voters, had he not been so intertwined with the scandal-ridden presidency of Bill Clinton, and had he articulated a clearer -- less muddled -- vision of the future, he would've beaten George W. Bush by a wide enough margin that it wouldn't have mattered whether Nader was running as a third-party candidate. Gore, like Jimmy Carter, evolved into a more decent person once he was no longer at the center of a presidential administration. His loss in 2000 was far from the worst tragedy in American history.

Democrats can't pride themselves on being small "d" democrats one minute and then trash Nader for running for the White House the next. A far better approach is to ignore the guy if you don't like him. As a longtime Democrat (both big "D" and small "d"), I'm thrilled that third party candidates such as Ralph Nader and Bob Barr are out there, running symbolic campaigns to give voters more options. They know they don't stand a chance in hell of winning, but they're running anyway, which is an onerous, time-consuming and thankless job. By doing so, they make the democratic process even more open. Too bad they are kept out of the national, televised debates. Ralph Nader and Bob Barr ought to be allowed to debate Obama and John McCain. In the meantime, Democrats would do well to ignore Nader. He is not going to be a spoiler for Obama, just as he was not a spoiler for John Kerry in 2004 (Kerry, like Gore, needed no help in blowing that election.) The White House, in all likelihood, will go to Barack Obama in November because he is the strongest of the candidates, especially when it comes to his vision of how to transform America into a better, more livable nation.

Monday, June 23, 2008


Dear Blog Pals,

I'll be away from the Tiki Lounge for a few days. I'm off taking care of various odds and ends. As good old Gus Chiggins (pictured right) used to say back in the depths of the Great Depression, "Aww, cider sauce!" But please stay tuned! I'll be back in a few days with more news and views from a Jeffersonian/humanist/oddball perspective.


George Carlin 1937-2008

It is impossible to believe that George Carlin -- a man so full of life -- is dead. And he died much too young, at age 71, of heart failure. I owe a huge debt to Carlin and I've never even met the man.

Carlin might scoff at the short tribute I'm about to give him here. He was acerbic, full of rage, a brilliant master of words, and an unrelenting skeptic. He has often been accused of being cynical. He countered the charge by saying, "I don't consider myself a cynic. I think of myself as a skeptic and a realist. But I understand the word 'cynic' has more than one meaning, and I see how I could be seen as cynical. 'George, you're cynical.' Well, you know, they say if you scratch a cynic you find a disappointed idealist."

No other comedian unleashed a fury of words against hypocrisy in America with the same force as George Carlin. He was a one-man hurricane, lashing out against religious bigotry, consumerism, destruction of the environment, grammatical errors, narrow-mindedness, dogmatism, congested freeways, conspicuous consumption, extreme inequality, racism, war, nuclear weapons, shitty TV shows. The list goes on and on.

Carlin's accomplishments speak for themselves. His comedy albums netted him four Grammy Awards -- for "FM & AM" (1972), "Jammin' in New York" (1991), "Brain Droppings" (2000) and "Napalm & Silly Putty" (2001). He starred for a few seasons as Mr. Conductor on Shining Time Station (he took Ringo Starr's place, narrating the Thomas the Tank Engine Stories). His BBC obit noted some of his many accomplishments: "Carlin produced 23 comedy albums, 14 HBO specials, three books, a couple of TV shows and appeared in several movies."

He was born in New York City and raised in an Irish Catholic home by a single mother. He grew up in Morningside Heights, which he preferred to call "White Harlem" because that sounded grittier. Always restless, he dropped out of school early (he once said, "When you quit school in ninth grade and you're smart, you spend your life in some small or large way proving yourself.") He served in the Air Force for a time in the 1950s, became a disc jockey in the early 1960s and moved into stand-up comedy, performing on the Ed Sullivan show and on stage in New York City. At first, his comedy routines were relatively innocuous. He recalled: "I was doing superficial comedy entertaining people who didn't really care: Businessmen, people in nightclubs, conservative people. And I had been doing that for the better part of 10 years when it finally dawned on me that I was in the wrong place doing the wrong things for the wrong people."

By the late 1960s and early 1970s, he had fine tuned his comedy routines and emerged as George Carlin, the counterculture icon/hero. He was an heir to the Lenny Bruce tradition. He grew his hair out long. He also grew a beard and moustache. He experimented with drugs (he'd been smoking dope since his teen years). He developed a routine called "The Seven Words You Can Never Say On TV," and when he was arrested after performing it in Milwaukee in 1972.

Over the years, Carlin made audiences howl with laughter at his often over-the-top rants about American society. What was great about Carlin -- among so, so many things -- was that as he gold older, he got more and more pissed off. The man was a tornado on the stage. But his savage comedy routines concealed -- and sometimes revealed -- a troubled life, full of drug addiction, alcoholism and despair. His beloved wife Brenda died in 1997, the day before he turned 60. In 2004, he checked himself into rehab in L.A. because of an addiction to "Vicodin and wine." He had a long history of heart problems.

I have my own personal Carlin story. Back when my parents were going through a divorce in the early 1970s, I was just a little boy -- only 5 -- nervous, afraid, uncertain of the future. My parents were drifting apart. My world seemed to be unraveling. It was a terribly painful time. One of my most cherished possessions at the time was George Carlin's FM & AM album (right). Sometimes, when I was alone and insecure, I'd put it on the turntable, plug in the gargantuan pair of headphones, and listen away. At that young age, I didn't understand all the humor on the album, but that didn't stop me from doubling over with laughter. Carlin became an old friend at a difficult moment in my life. And after all these years, I've never forgotten how his humor made me feel better. For the next few years, I played that album until I wore it out.

When I had the good fortune of seeing Carlin perform many years later in Salt Lake City, it was like being reunited with a long lost pal.

I still can't believe he's gone. Like Lenny Bruce, Carlin leaves behind a rich legacy of humor. Just before he died, it was announced that Carlin would be the next recipient of the 11th annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. What a fitting honor. Twain, like Carlin, used humor to lash out at the injustices and hypocrisies of American society. Beneath the skepticism of both humorists, one could find an idealism and a little glowing ember of hope that maybe -- just maybe -- America might one day live up to its most cherished ideals.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Andrew the Political Junkie Weighs in on the Democratic Veepstakes

Hi Blog Pals,
Time to weigh in on the Democratic Veepstakes. Rumors are swirling as Senator Barack Obama considers possible running mates. Which ones would strengthen his ticket? Which ones would hurt him? Bloggers from Coast to Coast are voicing thoughts on the matter, so I figure it's time for yours truly to throw in his 2 cents. Without any further delay...

1. Senator Hillary Clinton: For many Democrats, Hillary is the obvious first choice. Clinton and Obama are campaigning together a lot these days, trying to bury the hatchet and put behind them the brutal Democratic primaries. Strengths: Clinton brings so many things to the campaign, as I pointed out in a previous entry. She comes with a large base of support, an army of professional strategists, the respect of many Democrats and Republicans, and the reputation of tough fighter. Weaknesses: Bill "Old Bubba" Clinton hogged the spotlight too often in the primaries. Plus, Senator Clinton is a polarizing figure. Die-hard conservatives will try to marginalize her as a northeastern liberal, which she clearly is not. Her naked (or, at the very least, mostly unclothed) ambitions often get the best of her.

2. The Beltway Boys: Joe Biden, Chris Dodd and Sam Nunn (not to be confused with Manny, Moe and Jack -- or Moe, Larry and Curly): This trio of Democratic Senators -- Biden (from Delaware), Dodd (from Connecticut) and Nunn (from Georgia) -- are all under consideration as possible veeps. Strengths: These guys know how to get things done in Washington. Biden would bring charisma, Dodd a humble dignity, and Nunn a conservative counterbalance. Weaknesses: Outside of their home states and the nation's capital, none of these SixtySomethings are especially famous. Can we somehow blend the three together? Of course, I'm not sure how a three-headed Veep would go over with the American public.

3. Wesley Clark: This former NATO commander and retired general is a serious contender for the veep spot. Strengths: He brings the presence of a balanced advocate of strong national security to the table. Plus he's bright, articulate, handsome and strikingly progressive for someone with his background. He'd help Obama win over independent and moderate Republican voters. Weaknesses: Ran a pretty half-assed campaign in 2004. Some Veep watchers fear that he might not motivate Democratic Party activists, but maybe that isn't such a bad thing. (For the record: I disagree -- I think Clark would actually motivate the activists...)

4. The Governors (Bill Richardson of New Mexico, Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Ted Strickland of Ohio) : All Democratic governors, all highly regarded in their own states. Strengths: All of them will bring impressive political records. They have strong experience as governors and in their previous political careers. These are governors who are accustomed to working across party lines to get things done. Weaknesses: Same as the Beltway Boys: On the national stage, they are not as well known. Of the five, I think Richardson -- a former UN ambassador and energy secretary -- is the most promising.

5. Jim Webb: Virginia senator, former Secretary of the Navy and author of seven novels, Webb is Democratic superstar. Strengths: A blunt-talking moderate and heavily decorated Vietnam veteran, Webb will win over a lot of support from centrists, moderates, independents and Republican crossovers. He is also a renaissance man: a writer, filmmaker and producer. His credentials are more or less spotless. He is also a populist who worries about the fate of ordinary Americans in the age of globalization. He would win over a lot of the same voters that Clinton would attract. And he is solidly against the Iraq War. Weaknesses: He hasn't been a senator very long -- two years this November. His lack of experience in politics at the national level in recent years leaves the ticket vulnerable. If Webb is chosen as Obama's Veep, expect more Republican charges of "inexperience."

6. Chuck Hagel: The Nebraska Republican senator has indicated that he'll give serious consideration to a request from Obama to come on board as his running mate (in the event that Obama asks...). Strengths: Choosing Hagel -- a moderate, anti-Iraq War Republican from the heartland -- will show that Obama truly is committed to a new form of bipartisan politics. To select a Veep from a different party would be a startling move. Moreover, Obama and Hagel are in complete agreement on the Iraq War. Obama needs Republican support to end the catastrophe that is the war in Iraq. Weaknesses: He's pretty conservative on a lot of issues other than the Iraq War. As Mike Madden noted in Salon: "Hagel may be a more attractive candidate in theory than in reality. The buzz about him seems to overlook the fact that he is, despite how much he may like to criticize his own party, a conservative Republican, especially on issues that don’t involve foreign affairs. Politics, the saying goes, stops at the water’s edge. So might the Obama-Hagel ticket."

My Prediction: If I were a betting man, I'd say Jim Webb will be the next vice president, with Hillary Clinton a close second. Stay tuned, Blog Pals...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Rosenberg Execution: 55 Years Later...

The execution of alleged husband-and-wife atomic spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (right) 55 years ago (June 19, 1953) remains a source of controversy, even after the end of the Cold War. To conservatives and Cold War liberals (and a sizable segment of the American public), they were vile Red spies who compromised the security of the United States in the worst way imaginable. By contrast, leftists, communists, progressives and nonconformists championed the cause of freeing the Rosenbergs. And then there were a number of people who stayed out of the polarized debate. Over the years, there have been countless books about the Rosenbergs, from Walter and Miriam Schneir's sympathetic account Invitation to an Inquest (1965) to Ron Radosh and Joyce Milton's The Rosenberg File (1983), which concluded that Julius was guilty and Ethel was complicit in his actions. E.L. Doctorow's 1971 novel The Book of Daniel explored the case and the lives of the Rosenberg's sons from a fictional perspective. A gripping recent contribution was Sam Roberts' The Brother: The Untold Story of the Rosenberg Case (2003). Published on the 50th anniversary of the execution, Roberts dropped the bombshell that David Greenglass, brother of Ethel Rosenberg and the man whose testimony carried so much weight in sending the couple to the electric chair, perjured himself on the witness stand (a fact that Greenglass openly admitted to Roberts during interviews for the book). The Brother is haunting, sad and painful to read.

A heartbreaking documentary (and, in my view, the best account of the Rosenbergs) was Ivy Meeropol's stunning 2004 film Heir to an Execution. If you haven't seen it yet, do yourself a favor: track it down and watch it right away. The film packs a punch as it shows how four generations of Rosenbergs (Ivy is the granddaughter of Julius and Ethel and the daughter of their son Michael) coped with the execution of Julius and Ethel. By the time the credits on the film came up, I found myself emotionally drained after journeying with Ivy on this deeply personal tour of the past. And Ivy Meeropol is incredibly honest about the recent revelations in the declassified Venona Papers (secret Soviet messages intercepted by American and British intelligence in the 1940s) that point to Julius Rosenberg's involvement in atomic espionage.

There is still a great deal of emotion involved in the ongoing debates over the Rosenbergs. Many conservatives still defend the execution as justified and necessary (in particular, David Horowitz's FrontPage Magazine routinely condemns the couple and supports their grim fate). To the left, the Rosenbergs remain martyrs, although a growing number of people who are sympathetic to the Rosenbergs and condemn their execution are starting to believe that Julius, indeed, was involved in some sort of espionage activity (for years, it was virtually verboten within the left to even wonder whether Julius was guilty). But there is also a sense among leftists that the punishment did not fit the crime, and the Rosenbergs were executed chiefly because, unlike David Greenglass, they refused to cooperate with the anticommunist inquisition.

For the past several decades, the Rosenberg's sons, Robert and Michael Meeropol (who took the surname of their adoptive parents) have kept the memory of their parents alive by speaking out against their execution as an unjust act. Watching Heir to an Execution reminds us of what a dark and painful moment this was in American history. Ivy Meeropol's masterpiece ought to be required viewing, especially for those who still laud the violent electrocution of the Rosenbergs over a half century ago. Even if Julius was guilty of participating in an atomic espionage ring, neither one of them deserved to meet such a barbaric end.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

McCain, Obama and Women

Senator John McCain is working hard to portray himself as the candidate best suited to support women and women's causes. He has been crisscrossing the country trying to win over Senator Hillary Clinton's supporters. Most of them are solidly behind Senator Barack Obama, but some of them have gone over to the McCain camp. Maxine Schwartz, 39, of Westfield, New Jersey, told National Public Radio that she went from being a Clinton to a McCain backer because she thinks McCain is a stronger supporter of Israel: "Israel's security is an issue is for me. Either president will secure the United States, but as far as being an ally and friend of Israel, I think McCain is the right person, not Obama."

Israel's security may not be the top issue on the minds of most ordinary American women, but Schwartz is certainly not alone in switching her support from Clinton to McCain. A minority of Clinton's supporters are still stinging from her defeat in the primaries earlier this month. McCain is doing his best to win them over with statements like this one: "Every place I go, I'm told Sen. Clinton inspired millions of young women in this country — and not necessarily young women — inspired a whole generation of young Americans in this country. So I admire and respect her."

Polls show that Obama has stronger support among women than McCain. But a Chicago Tribune report today (June 18) indicated that McCain's aggressive recruiting efforts are making a dent in America's suburbs, where support for him is on the rise with women. So while Obama maintains an edge over McCain, he should not (and most likely will not) take it for granted.

The same Chicago Tribune article said that Clinton voters support Obama over McCain by a 3-1 margin. It quoted former Clinton supporter Lorraine Marino on Obama: "He manages to be strong and clear, but he pulls that off while being inclusive and listening to opposing views. I admire how he approaches problem-solving."

Like McCain, Senator Obama has been stepping up his appeals to women voters. He is taking the issue seriously. He also effectively countered McCain's drive when he noted, "I think John McCain is going to have trouble making the case, when on almost every single issue that's important to women, he's been on the wrong side. You know, he is in favor of judges who would overturn Roe v Wade. He has opposed equal pay. He has opposed the CHIP (health care) program that would make children insured. He has opposed efforts to protect women against some of the discrimination that they experience in the workplace. You know, that's not going to be a track record that I think is going to be very appealing to women."

But Obama needs to tell American women something that McCain is not saying. He has to reassure them that they are not simply the "issue of the day." So far, all indicators appear promising for Obama. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll last week showed that women favor Obama over McCain by 52 per cent to 33 per cent. My question is: Can we have the election tomorrow? And can we ban men from voting? Women had to wait an awfully long time to vote in America. Universal woman suffrage was not in place until 1920. I say it's time for a little payback.

UPDATE: Obama Sock Puppet Controversy Continues!!!

Well, Blog Pals, looks like old Andrew jumped the gun (for the umpteenth time). You may recall my Obama Sock Puppet post from the other day (see below) about David and Elizabeth Lawson of West Jordan, Utah, and the uproar they caused with their monkey puppet of Senator Barack Obama. A headline in yesterday's Salt Lake Tribune said it all: "Creators of The Sock Obama seek new company to produce doll." So it looks like Sock Obama is back. Apparently, the Lawsons are selling him on a new Website called Sock Politicians (click here to see it). Turns out they're also selling a Sock McCain (pictured here). It's hard to say why the Lawsons had a change of heart. In a really, really weird statement, the Lawsons said, "In the good ol' fashion spirit of entrepreneurialism, free enterprise has been censored, and TheSockObama politically plush toy has been discriminated against in the marketplace of the United States of America." Huh??? The statement gets even more bizarre: "Last we heard, a posse of bloggers from back East are on their way over to conduct - how did they phrase it? - a good ol' fashioned KKK house burning party at David and Elizabeth's. Kinda exciting stuff, but this in America?"

What the hell? They lost me at "
good ol' fashion spirit of entrepreneurialism."

Not surprisingly, members of the Salt Lake City branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) are fuming. Charles Henderson, an African American Democratic candidate for the Utah House of Representatives from the town of Kearns, posed the question, "
After you've been told it's not acceptable, why do you pursue this unless it's motivated by financial gain, notoriety or some other more malicious path that you're trying to take?"

Maybe I shouldn't have been so quick to give the Lawsons the benefit of the doubt. And maybe, just maybe, the Lawsons were inspired by those Bloggers who insisted that Sock Obama will one day be a collector's item. Who knows? Interestingly, for you Canadian readers, there is a Canadian angle to the story. Originally, before the outcry erupted, the Lawsons had worked out a deal with Brinkley Custom Toys of Hamilton, Ontario, to manufacture Sock Obama. The folks at Brinkley got cold feet when the poop hit the fan.

Stay tuned, Blog pals. I think Sock Obama just got his second wind.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Attack Ad Pioneer Dies at 88

On June 15, Tony Schwartz -- the media consultant responsible for the famous "Daisy ad" (above) in the 1964 presidential campaign -- died at age 88. Schwartz was a pioneer. His famous ad, in the words of political reporter Dick Polman, was "the first TV attack ad in American political history, and thus blazed a trail for all the negative craftsmen who have flourished ever since." President Lyndon Johnson's campaign hired Schwartz to create the advertisement, a 60-second spot that showed a freckle-faced little girl in a meadow, picking the petals off of a daisy, with blue skies and birds chirping all around her. Suddenly, a ringing voice (with a southern drawl) on a loudspeaker begins counting down from 10. The camera zooms in on the girl's eye and . . . BOOM! A mushroom cloud fills the television screen. Then LBJ's voice comes on and says, "These are the stakes! To make a world in which all of God's children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die." It closes with an announcer saying, "Vote for President Johnson on November 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay home."

The ad aired once (September 7). LBJ's campaign pulled it from the airwaves after facing a firestorm of criticism. But the damage was done. The impact was profound. And for the past 44 years, the advertisement has been studied as a key early attack ad. The ad didn't mention Senator Barry Goldwater (right), LBJ's Republican opponent, but viewers understood the ad's implication: If Goldwater wins, a global nuclear war is inevitable.

And what of its creator, Tony Schwartz? According to a fascinating Washington Post obituary on him, he was a reclusive man who suffered from agoraphobia and absolutely loathed going outside. In addition to the "Daisy ad," he is famous for his use of different sounds in advertising, including nature (hence, the chirping birds in the "Daisy ad"), children's voices and devices such as cash registers and foghorns. At the time of his "Daisy ad," he was with the Doyle Dane Bernbach agency. Since then, he has had several teaching gigs and written two books.

The "Daisy ad" was really his 15 minutes of fame, though. As Dick Polman noted, Schwartz created the attack ad prototype. It was only a short matter of time before Republicans, too, mastered the art and put such ads to even more effective use than their Democratic foes. Up until his death on June 15, Schwartz was proud of his 60-second masterpiece. Indeed, the world of politics would never be the same after his Frankenstein's monster was unleashed on America's airwaves.

Monday, June 16, 2008

How a Little Puppet Might Help America Come to Terms With its Past

Just in case you missed the uproar: A small company based in West Jordan, Utah, recently announced its newest addition: A stuffed monkey sock puppet that is supposed to be Senator Barack Obama. As the advertisement proclaimed: "TheSockObama™ is made with high quality knit materials to capture the nostalgic look of the Sock Monkey that we all know and love. Staying true to his root, he is hand stuffed with just enough filling to give him a firm, but huggable feel. The removable suit jacket offers two looks for this future President - All Business or Hands On."

The Sock Obama (pictured above), as it is called, caused such an uproar on the Internet (especially in the Blogosphere) that the company immediately halted sales of the puppet and issued an apology on its Website: "AN APOLOGY: We are very apologetic to all who were upset by our toy idea. We will not be proceeding with the manufacturing of this toy. Thank you."

The controversy over the puppet illustrated the clear dividing line between anti-racist progressive Bloggers who cried foul and conservative, anti-political correctness Bloggers who accused the former group of being intolerant and excessive.

Not surprisingly, the two sides aren't listening to each other. It's what happens in so many debates these days: Emotions run high. Opponents talk around one another instead of to each other. It's as if they know they can't win their foes over, so they preach to the choir and -- maybe in a best case scenario -- hope to reach out to a few undecideds out there.

The makers of Sock Obama -- a couple named David and Elizabeth Lawson -- seemed genuinely shocked that their toy provoked such an intense reaction. They issued an apology in which they claimed they meant for the toy to be an affectionate celebration of Obama (indeed, they seem to think he's going to be the next president of the United States). Their response to the uproar has made some observers scratch their heads and wonder if these people are really racist or just plain naive. As the apologetic couple wrote, "It is not, nor has it ever been our objective to hurt, dismay or anger anyone. We guess there is an element of naivete on our part. We simply made a casual and affectionate observation one night, and a charming association between a candidate and a toy we had when we were little. We wonder now if this might be a great opportunity to take this moment to really try and transcend still existing racial biases."

It's an eloquent apology, hardly the words of hardened racists. Part of the problem is that America finally has an African American presidential candidate for a major party, but millions of people across the country are going out of their way to avoid a meaningful dialogue about racial issues and race relations. Then something like Sock Obama appears and becomes the spark that ignites the tinderbox. You hear charges of racism and counter-charges of excessive political correctness. And all of it happens in an ahistorical void.

What gets lost is the long and bitter history of racism and the repression of African Americans. Don't think for a minute that we have somehow escaped the shadow of that tragic legacy. Depictions of African Americans as monkey-like creatures (like the one on the right) have been around as long as black people have lived on American soil. And they have served a very deliberate function: To dehumanize African Americans so that when they are subjugated, their oppressors don't feel any anguish or guilt over their actions.

I have no doubt that the Lawsons are sincere in their apology. And I think Sock Obama is the product of a lack of awareness of this tragic history. Had the Lawsons been fully aware of it, and had they been able to internalize it at a deeper level, they wouldn't have made Sock Obama in the first place.

The first step is to educate ourselves. If you get a chance, visit a Website like Without Sanctuary or The Jim Crow Museum and you'll come face to face with the tragedy of American racism in all of its shame and sadness.

Regrettably, public debates and dialogue in post-9/11 America have become too emotional, too heated. There is too much screaming, too little listening, too little genuine compassion. Instead of condemning the Lawsons, who have shown remorse for their actions and taken concrete steps to correct the problem, it is crucial to draw attention to the long history of racism in America. It is not enough that the country finally has a black presidential candidate. Building bridges between different races, ethnic groups, religions, and nations means understanding and coming to terms with history -- the noble as well as the tragic.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Let the Boxing Match Begin!

DING DING DING! LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, WELCOME TO CAMPAIGN TRAIL BOXING! In this corner, weighing in with all the baggage from two disastrous terms of Dubya in the White House, from Arizona, it's John "the Marauder" McCain! (Cheers from the right side of the stadium.) In this corner, weighing in with Republican smear accusations of being a "tax-and-spend liberal," from Illinois, it's Barack "the Gentleman" Obama! (Cheers from the left side of the stadium.)

REF (to the two fighters): Now men, I want a clean fight. No hitting below the belt. No stompin' on each other's feet. No blows to the back. Now, go back to your corners and let the fight begin. DING DING DING!

Announcer: The audience goes nuts! Both candidates step out of the corners sparring.

RIGHT JAB FROM MCCAIN: "There will be change in Washington. The question is what kind of change? Will we enact the single largest tax increase since the Second World War, as my opponent proposes?" (Speaking to small business owners in Washington, Tuesday, June 10, 2008.)

Announcer: Ouch! That stings!

LEFT JAB FROM OBAMA: "I've said that McCain is running to serve out a third Bush term. But the truth is, when it comes to taxes, that's not being fair to George Bush. McCain wants to add $300 billion more in tax breaks and loopholes for big corporations and the wealthy and he hasn't even explained how to pay for it." (Speaking at a campaign stop in St. Louis, Tuesday, June 10, 2008.)

Announcer: That caught McCain off guard! The Marauder is dazed, but not down. He's leaps in on Obama.

LEFT HOOK FROM MCCAIN: "Under Sen. Obama's tax plan, Americans of every background would see their taxes rise -- seniors, parents, small-business owners and just about everyone who has even a modest investment in the market."

Announcer: It stings, but I've seen worse. Obama collects himself and moves in for a deadly hook.

COUNTER HOOK FROM OBAMA: "The way that he's characterizing what I'm prescribing is just wrong. My tax reform plan would cut taxes for 95 percent of workers."

Announcer: Oh man! Didn't even connect! Didn't even bruise McCain! What was he thinking? McCain darts to the center of the ring, fists of fury swinging....

RIGHT UPPERCUT FROM MCCAIN: "I think there are a lot of Senator Clinton’s supporters who will support me because of their belief that Senator Obama does not have the experience or the knowledge or the judgment to address this nation’s national security challenges given we are in two wars." (Speaking in Louisiana, Wednesday, June 11, 2008.)

Announcer: Whoa, that's gotta hurt! Obama clearly didn't see that one coming. The "lack of experience" uppercut nails Obama every time. He's gotta think of an effective move to counter it, folks!

LEFT HOOK FROM OBAMA: "'My opponent in this general election, John McCain – his idea of Social Security amounts to four more years of what was attempted and failed under George W. Bush,' Mr. Obama said, referring to Mr. McCain’s previous support of private accounts within Social Security. 'Yesterday, he tried to deny that he ever took that position, which leads us to wonder if he had a change of heart or a change of politics.'" (From the New York Times, June 13, 2008.)

Announcer: I've seen better. Let's just say: The damage isn't permanent. Now McCain -- the Arizona Marauder -- moves in with a fierce uppercut.


Announcer: The damage is minimal, folks, because most of the people in the arena suffer from historical amnesia and don't know what the hell McCain is talking about. Jimmy Carter? Who's that mofo? Wasn't that the cat who got KO'ed in the fourth round by Larry Holmes at Caesars Palace back in '80?

DING DING DING! End of Round One.

Announcer: So far, it has been a clean fight -- nothing below the belt. Stay tuned, boxing fans! This is just getting good!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

From the Nixon Files: Richard Nixon, Champion of Racial Equality

From the Nixon White House Tapes (May 13, 1971): Richard Nixon discussing welfare and racial issues with John Ehrlichman and H.R. Haldeman.

NIXON: I have the greatest affection for them [blacks], but I know they're not going to make it for 500 years. They aren't. You know it, too. The Mexicans are a different cup of tea. They have a heritage. At the present time they steal, they're dishonest, but they do have some concept of family life. They don't live like a bunch of dogs, which the Negroes do live like.

EHRLICHMAN: The Mexican American is not as good as the Mexican. You go down to Mexico--they're clean, they're honest, they're moral.

NIXON: Mexico is a much more moral country.

EHRLICHMAN: Monterrey, Cuernavaca. Go into slum areas, and by God they come out with clean shirts on a Sunday morning.

NIXON: The church. You find a helluva lot less marijuana use in Mexico than the United States.

Above: Nixon trying his hand at badminton.

From the Nixon White House Tapes (July 11, 1971): Richard Nixon discussing race issues with Assistant to the President Donald Rumsfeld.

NIXON: The second point is that coming out--coming back and saying that black Americans aren't as good as black Africans--most of them , basically, are just out of the trees. Now, let's face it, they are.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Happy 50th Birthday, Jello!

Happy 50th Birthday, Jello! No, I'm not talking about the delightful Kraft Foods' gelatin dessert. I'm talking about Jello Biafra, former lead singer of the Dead Kennedys. For the past thirty years, Jello has been a great innovator: a singer, a songwriter, a spoken-word orator, co-founder and head of Alternative Tentacles Records, and frequent collaborator with the band The Melvins. Jello (real name Eric Boucher) was born June 17, 1958, in Boulder, Colorado, and grew up in middle-class suburbia. As a teenager, he saw the Ramones in concert in Denver and the concert changed him. He formed his own punk band, the legendary Dead Kennedys (DK's). I have fond memories of seeing the DK's play at the Indian Walk-In Center in Salt Lake City back in the 1980s. They blew my mind! Jello sang all the DK's classics -- "Holiday in Cambodia," "Moral Majority," "Nazi Punks, Fuck Off" and "Too Drunk to Fuck" -- and they left the audience absolutely ecstatic. Most of us were confused, young kids growing up in suburbia, right smack in the middle of Reagan's America. We were angry. We were full of rage and teen angst. We slam danced, ramming into each other, butting heads, pushing one another while the DK's performed full throttle. A few years later, I interviewed Jello while the band was on trial in 1986 for violating the California Penal Code. Inside of the Dead Kennedys' album Frankenchrist was a poster by artist H.R. Giger called "Work 219: Landscape XX" or "Penis Landscape" for short. It was a surreal painting showing numerous penises entering numerous vaginas. It was deemed obscene and the DK's were put on trial. The trial ended in a hung jury, and Frankenchrist was banned from a number of record stores for being "unwholesome." During my interview with Jello, I found him to be blunt and full of irony and great wit and passion. He was also friendly and loaded with energy -- good, positive energy.

In the years since then, Jello (right) has been a fearless voice of dissent. His "spoken word" performances are incredibly insightful and he just keeps getting angrier and edgier with age. His anarchism and righteous rage are admirable. Even more laudable is his sense of humor, which is still evident in all his work. Next week, Jello will be performing a 50th Birthday concert in the Bay Area, and his fans are really looking forward. Recently, Jello told the San Jose Mercury about his inspiration: "When I saw Iggy Pop and the Stooges on Iggy's 60th birthday, they were so awesome. I made a vow to myself that I better do something on my birthday. If it's just a tenth as good as Iggy, I'll feel triumphant."

Something tells me Iggy would be proud.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Dispatches from the Teddy Bear Front

Priced to Clear: This just in, Blog Pals: The Vermont Teddy Bear Company (based in Shelburne, Vermont), which makes Teddy Bears that resemble presidential candidates, is knocking down the price of the Hillary Clinton Teddy Bear (right) from $99.95 to $74.95 because Senator Clinton dropped out of the race. Said Vermont Teddy Bear spokeswoman Meg Terrien: "She's no longer part of that trio of candidates, so we put her on sale." According to the Associated Press story (June 11), The Clinton Bear "comes wearing her signature yellow blazer, black slacks, string of pearls and blue 'Hillary for President' button. It's 'a fun solution to finding the perfect gift for any Hillary supporter,' according to the Vermont Teddy Bear Company Website." No word on what the company plans to do with its discontinued John Kerry, Bob Dole and Mike Dukakis bears.

Frontiers of Free Enterprise: A Japanese robotics company called iXs Research Corporation has created a cute, cuddly Teddy Bear with a built-in GPS system (right) that sits on the dashboard of your car and provides you with directions. As Motor Trend magazine points out, "The teddy bear...has six joints in his arms and neck he uses to motion while giving directions." The bear also critiques your driving style (if you hit the brakes too hard, it says, "Be careful, please!"). BUT WAIT -- THERE'S MORE! The high-tech online magazine Gear Live adds, "The teddy also has an alcohol detection sensor in its neck and will admonish you if it smells that last margarita with 'You haven't been drinking, have you?'"

The Teddy Bear That Ate Wichita: Dana Warren of Wichita, Kansas, wants to get into the Guinness Book of World Records for the category of "World's Tallest Teddy Bear." She spent days unloading two semi trucks full of stuffing, then inserted it inside a 55 and a half foot tall Teddy Bear. The bear weights a whopping 3,000 pounds and requires 500 yards of material. Warren cut the fabric in her house, assembled the bear with her sewing machine, and stuffed it in her driveway. Warren first set the Giant Teddy Bear record in 2001 when she built a 51-foot high stuffed bear. Sadly, not too long after that, a competitor built a bigger, longer Teddy Bear, leaving Warren with a non-record setting giant bear. So this time, it's personal.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Next she'll be saying, "I am not a crook!"

Oh my God! Hillary is changing! See for yourself! Her jowls are getting bigger. Her eyes are darting back and forth. She's growing a ski-jump nose on her face. Here comes the five o'clock shadow. She's holding her fingers up into two peace signs. She's becoming... (cue the dramatic sci-fi movie music: "duh duh duh!!!") NIXON!!!

You heard right, Blog Pals. In the tradition of President Richard Nixon, Hillary and Bill Clinton have come up with their own "Enemies List."

Back in the early 1970s, Nixon kept a list of people he considered to be his most outspoken political opponents. The list included members of Congress such as Senator Teddy Kennedy and Representative John Conyers; celebrities like Jane Fonda, Barbara Streisand and Gregory Peck; and for good measure, Nixon's Enemies List even included New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath and a comedian who did bad Nixon impersonations (!!!).

Now, in 2008, Hillary and Old Bubba are now keeping their own list of "traitors" who "betrayed" them in the primaries. "Those Loyal to the Clintons Take Note of Who Was Not," announced a headline in the New York Times. As the British newspaper the Daily Telegraph noted: "Top of the list is thought to be Bill Richardson, now Governor of New Mexico and former energy secretary and United Nations ambassador, who gave Mr Obama a glowing endorsement after dropping out of the race himself, and only weeks after being pictured watching the Super Bowl with Mr Clinton. Other A-List betrayers include James Clyburn, the third-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, Gregory Craig, Mr Clinton's lawyer in his impeachment trial, Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri and various members of the Kennedy political clan."

It's not surprising that Hillary Clinton is becoming more and more like Nixon. When Old Bubba was in the White House back in the Nineties, he exhibited similar behavioral traits. On the campaign trail this year, Hillary's key campaign staff -- especially Sidney Blumenthal -- began to eerily resemble Tricky Dick's old crew: H.R. "Pufnstuf" Haldeman, John "Trench Coat" Ehrlichman and good old Chuck "Blag Bag Op" Colson.

Terry McAufliffe, chairman of Senator Clinton's campaign, assured the media that Hillary keeps an Enemies List for purely practical purposes. "The Clintons get hundreds of requests for favours every week. Clearly, the people you're going to do stuff for in the future are the people who have been there for you."

Sounds like a load of B.S. to me. An "Enemies List" fits in perfectly with Senator Clinton's Nixon-like obsession with gaining power and keeping it. It's only a matter of time before her jowls start flapping, her fingers form peace signs above her head, and we hear her saying, "I AM NOT A CROOK!"

Monday, June 9, 2008

Mudslingers of 1828

Some Americans think that dirty political campaigns are a relatively recent phenomenon. But that is not the case. Actually, mudslinging is as old as the Republic itself. And many historians have described the Presidential Elections of 1828 as the "dirtiest" in American History. The election pitted incumbent John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), son of president John Adams and the candidate of the National Republican Party, against Andrew Jackson (1867-1845, pictured above), commander of the American forces in the Battle of New Orleans (1815) and a prominent Tennessee frontiersman, land speculator and slave owner. This was the second presidential race that featured Adams going up against Jackson. Four years earlier, Jackson lost to Adams in what many of Jackson's followers considered to be a corrupt election. In a four-way contest, Jackson had by far the most votes. But the House of Representatives decided the outcome of the election because none of the candidates received an actual majority of the popular vote, and they selected Adams to be president. Needless to say, the decision infuriated Jackson's followers.

Flash forward four years: Followers of Adams and Jackson believed the 1828 presidential election would be the most important race in the history of the Republic. Adams (left), a staunch elitist, believed it was his destiny to silence "the howl of raving Democracy" by defeating the "egalitarian" Jackson. Meantime, Jackson's supporters established their own political party, the "Friends of Jackson," which eventually morphed into the Democratic Party. Jackson was a lean (6 feet, 1 inch, 140 lbs.) and charismatic man with boundless energy. He journeyed on horseback and spoke to cheering crowds in towns and rural areas, repeatedly boasting, "I am not a politician."

Hatred between the Adamsites and the Jacksonians was intense. Jackson's supporters claimed Adams lived in "kingly pomp and splendor" in a "presidential palace." They insisted he was a monarchist "like his father." In reference to Adams, one Jacksonian noted, "His habits and principles are not congenial with the spirit of our institutions and the notions of a democratic people."

Much of the ugly smear campaigning came from the Adams camp. His followers unleashed a torrent of hateful charges against candidate Jackson. One pro-Adams faction published a pamphlet titled Reminiscences; or, an Extract from the Catalogue of General Jackson's Youthful Indiscretions Between the Age of Twenty-three and Sixty, which -- as the titled suggested -- documented Jackson's alleged duels, brawls and fights. Other Adams backers attacked Jackson from the gutter. As one pro-Adams newspaper announced, "General Jackson's mother was a COMMON PROSTITUTE, brought into this country by the British soldiers. She afterward married a MULATTO MAN, with whom she had several children, of which number General JACKSON IS ONE!!!" It was all lies, but Jackson took it in stride. What he couldn't stand, however, were the numerous attacks against his beloved wife, Rachel (below). Jackson took part in no fewer than 13 duels to uphold his wife's honor. During the 1828 campaign, Adams' followers found out that years earlier, Rachel married Jackson while still married to her first husband, Captain Lewis Robards. It was due to a mix-up: Rachel and Lewis separated in 1790. Soon thereafter Lewis told Rachel the divorce had been finalized. After that, she became romantically involved with Jackson and the two were soon married. Turns out that the divorce had not been finalized, and Robards used Rachel's involvement with Jackson to claim she lived in "sin." When the divorce was finally granted in 1794, Jackson and Rachel had already been married a few years and the couple remarried.

Adams' followers found out about this and went absolutely apeshit. Karl Rove would've been proud. They claimed Rachel was an "adulteress" and a "whore." Pro-Adams newspapers were filled with stories about torrid trysts between Jackson and his married "lover." An anti-Jackson newspaper posed the question, "Ought a convicted adulteress and her paramour husband to be placed in the highest offices of this free and Christian land?" The smear campaign against Rachel was so intense that she soon became physically ill and complained of heart pains.

By early December, newspapers announced that Jackson triumphed in the 1828 elections. "Well, for Mr. Jackson's sake, I am glad," Rachel said. But, she added, "for my own part, I never wished it." Rachel suddenly died just days later.

Jackson mourned her loss for the rest of his life and never remarried. He loathed Adams for not making an effort to stop the dirty campaigning. "May God Almighty forgive her murderers, as I know she forgave them," Jackson said at her funeral. "I never can."

So ended the 1828 campaign, a low point for mudslinging in American history. It's pretty much impossible to say that things have gotten worse.

There's an interesting postscript: Jackson was raised in a Presbyterian household. But by the time of the 1828 election, he hadn't been a churchgoer in years. During the '28 campaign, Rachel urged him to attend church on Sundays with her, but Jackson refused. He told her, "My dear, if I were to do that now, it would be said, all over the country, that I had done it for the sake of political effect. My enemies would all say so. I can not do it now, but I promise you that when once more I am clear of politics I will join the church." Sure enough, after leaving office in 1837, Jackson immediately joined the Presbyterian Church. He attended services every Sunday until his death in 1845.

As Sean Connery's character Malone said in The Untouchables (1987): "Here endeth the lesson."

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Bruce "Utah" Phillips, 1935-2008: An American Original

When newspapers across America noted the passing of Bruce "Utah" Phillips on May 23 of congestive heart failure, they used plenty of words to describe the man, including raconteur, activist, itinerant folk singer, unionist, peacenik, agitator, hobo and even "poet of the railroad." I recall Utah Phillips as a Santa Claus-like, guitar-strumming hell raiser who journeyed from place to place, playing his music free of charge (or for a tiny fee). I heard him twice -- once at a peace demonstration in the 1980s and then at an event for the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.) in Salt Lake City in the mid-1990s.

He sang folk songs about down-and-out people -- men and women living on the edge -- and he sang old labor songs and ballads about the railroads and hard-traveling people. He was the real deal, as authentic as they come. Born in 1935 in Cleveland to labor activist parents, Utah Phillips worked in a number of different jobs growing up. He was also a Korean War veteran. Along the way through life, he learned the art of folksinging from other hard living people. As Phillips told the Boston Globe back in 1999: "I worked with lots of old drunks only fit to shovel gravel. But, they all knew songs, and they showed me how to play them. The reason I wound up doing what I do now, I guess, was that the songs these guys sang were so close to their lives, to what they were experiencing in their work and loves and afflictions."

Utah Phillips' debut album appeared in 1973. Over the years, he recorded numerous songs and several records. He collaborated in the late 1990s with Ani DiFranco and the two of them were nominated for an Emmy for their work together. He was a singer in the tradition of Joe Hill, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. He possessed a purity -- not a self-righteous purity, but a purity of authentic decency -- that showed in the songs he sang. When I saw him, he played for small crowds on outdoor stages, but he performed with the same enthusiasm you'd expect from someone singing their heart out at Woodstock.

Phillips was also a radical. He was a lifelong member of the I.W.W. He was an anarchist and a humanist. He'd be the first to agree with the old bumper sticker that said, "Capitalism is Organized Crime." He knew that the only way that poor and working-class people would see any improvements in their lives would be if they fought like hell to change society for the better. Utah Phillips was colorful, creative, outspoken and fearless. He worked hard his entire life. He made the people in his audiences -- young and old, male and female -- laugh, cry, hope and, perhaps most importantly, he emboldened them. He was one of those remarkable people who wasn't afraid to live on the fringes of society and yet, ironically, there was also something so quintessentially American about him.

Bruce "Utah" Phillips (1935-2008)

Friday, June 6, 2008

Is it time to say, "Adios, Hillary"?

Now that Senator Barack Obama has clinched the Democratic nomination, there is the predictable media frenzy over the question, "What about Hillary?"

"Obama, Clinton Hold Talks in Feinstein's Living Room," cried a CNN website headline about the "secret talks" underway between Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton in Senator Diane Feinstein's Washington, D.C. home. Secret talks? What the hell? Since when did this thing become the Manhattan Project? Now the pressure is on Obama to select Clinton as his running mate. The New York Times announced, "Clinton Says VP is Obama's Choice." A poll taken by CNN found that most Democrats want Obama to choose Clinton to be his vice president.

Is this a wise idea? Aside from political guru David Gergen's famous quip that if Obama selects Clinton to be his vice president he's also going to need a food taster, a lot of pundits, campaigners, political junkies and Democratic bigwigs think Hillary would make an ideal veep.

To be honest, this Blogger has mixed feelings about whether Hillary Clinton would make a suitable running mate. True, she would bring a lot to the campaign: A wealth of connections, a base of support, cunning political sensibilities and an air of experience. She did a lot of things right on her campaign, especially her efforts to reach out to working-class voters. Plus Clinton is a dirty fighter -- and the Democrats need to dish it out a little more effectively to counter the army of Republican Orcs in the GOP Attack Machine who are already crawling out of the woodwork with their eyes on the prize of destroying Obama's momentum. Now that she's on our side, we can use her toughness. In these respects, Clinton would make an ideal vice-presidential candidate.

The negatives of making such a choice are obvious. Clinton is a polarizing figure. Poll after poll shows that a substantial number of ordinary Americans don't trust her, and that distrust cuts across party lines. Half of the voters on the right side of the political spectrum think she's still a flaming Sixties liberal, while many on the liberal/left/progressive side tend to view her as a reactionary warmonger. David Frum, by far my favorite conservative columnist (I read him religiously) weighed in in the pages of the National Post: "Clinton must surely rank close to the bottom of his vice-presidential preferences: too divisive, too 90s, too female, too untrustworthy and too prone to scandal. (Just last week, Vanity Fair magazine published a long story packed with lurid hints about Bill Clinton’s post-presidential sexual and financial adventures: 'No former president of the United States has ever traveled with such a fast crowd …')"

Frum continues: "So if Obama does choose Clinton, it will be obvious to all that he yielded to pressure and threat. That would put a humiliating mark on his candidacy — and offer an ominous clue about his hypothetical future presidency."

Old Bubba (above): Is there any way Hillary can keep a leash on that sucka?
Obviously, I have mixed feelings about Obama selecting Clinton as the Veep. Despite some brilliant moments on the campaign trail, Clinton showed a dark side of herself as a political figure possessing a Nixonian obsession with achieving and holding on to power at any cost. In many respects, she is a classic Machiavellian. How well will it serve Obama in conservative stronghold "Red States" to have a running mate widely considered by voters in those states to be a northeastern elitist who is out of touch with the people? And let's not forget Bubba (Bill Clinton). Man alive, Hillary is gonna have to put a leash on that sucka. Talk about leaving a foul taste in people's mouths. (And to think, I was actually getting nostalgic for Bubba after so many years of Old Dubya running the show.)

Obama ought to consider all the options carefully. But once he has, if he thinks Clinton is the way to go VP-wise, then Democrats will circle the wagons. Democrats are still stinging from the divisions of the primary season. So if Obama chooses Clinton, this Blogger will pick on her a little less (at least until November 5, the day after Election Day).

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Robert F. Kennedy, 1925-1968

First, a confession: For years, I had doubts when it came to Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968). Strong doubts. To me, the ambitious younger brother of President John F. Kennedy seemed to be too cunning, too hawkish, too much of hardened cold warrior, too vicious of a political animal. I was not swept away by Bobby Kennedy-mania like so many people I knew. In graduate school, I shared an office with a fellow doctoral student who kept a photograph of RFK above his desk. At the time, I did not understand his love of Kennedy.

As I grow older, though, I've found that my attitude toward Robert Kennedy has changed. Maybe it's because I've lost the self-righteous edge I had my youth -- the black-and-white sense of right and wrong, the inability to come to terms with ambiguities in people. I've also become better informed, having read such gripping accounts of Kennedy's final years as Thurston Clarke's The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and 82 Days That Inspired America and David Talbot's Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years. I have come to appreciate the complexities, ambiguities and multiple facets of Kennedy.

And the more I read about Bobby, the more I'm struck by what a truly remarkable man he was. In the final months of his life, he was undergoing a transformation. He became a deeper thinker, a more compassionate visionary, and an advocate for the forgotten men and women of American society. His was a voice of peace and reconciliation in a relentlessly trying time of American history. When riots erupted in more than 100 cities following the tragic assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis on April 4, 1968, presidential candidate Robert Kennedy urged calmness, compassion and unity.

Speaking in Cleveland the day after King's death, Kennedy said, "Too often we honor swagger and bluster and the wielders of force; too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of others. We must admit that our children's future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge."

Two months later, the assassin's bullet ended Kennedy's life, too. And a nation plunged into despair.

His life was much too short. Toward the end of it, a new Robert Kennedy was born. This Kennedy was a humanistic visionary poised to lead America toward something better. He courageously -- fearlessly -- reevaluated his most fundamental beliefs. And along the way, he challenged a generation to live up to America's highest ideals. "One person can make a difference," he insisted, "and all of us ought to try."

Moments before his assassination (which occurred shortly after midnight on June 5, 1968), Kennedy told a cheering audience at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles (pictured right), "We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge. We can perhaps remember, if only for a time, that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek, as do we, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can."

Forty years later, those words still resonate.

Watching History

Victory belonged to Senator Barack Obama (left) last night. As he has done throughout this race, he projected confidence and calmness in his triumph. He is the first African American to head the ticket of a major political party. Son of a white American woman and a black Kenyan, Obama has preached the most compelling message of unity of any Democratic candidate since Franklin Delano Roosevelt and -- in the process -- he has repeatedly challenged the dominant race relations paradigm. Standing before a cheering crowd in St. Paul, Minnesota, Obama said, "Tonight we mark the end of one historic journey with the beginning of another -- a journey that will bring a new and better day to America."

Obama, the junior senator from Illinois, entered the race at the beginning of 2007. At that time, most observers were betting that Senator Hillary Clinton would emerge the Democratic candidate for president. For the next year and a half, Obama and Clinton crisscrossed the nation, rallying supporters, debating each other on over 20 occasions and drawing 35 million backers out to the polls. They both stumbled -- Clinton's Bosnia boner, Obama's endless headaches with the outspoken Reverend Jeremiah Wright. And there were moments on the campaign trail when Obama looked discouraged, morose and just plain tired, like he just wanted to crawl into bed and forget the whole thing.

But Obama, the third African American to serve in the United States Senate since Reconstruction, refused to surrender. And he showed remarkable resilience. Last night, in St. Paul, his message resonated with the audience. "This is our time. Our time to turn the page on the policies of the past."

And what about Hillary Clinton? Will Clinton and Obama form a "dream team" (a term that dates back decades that means having equally strong presidential and vice-presidential candidates on the ticket)? Will Hillary take the VP slot? Last night would have been the perfect moment for her to step out of the race, yet she still refuses to budge. Rumors aplenty have been circulating. The Associated Press wrongly announced the other day that she was ready to concede. "And I hereby announce," she said, "I'm hanging around a little longer." She certainly didn't sound like she was ready to give up. The closest Clinton came to hinting that she might end her campaign was when she told her backers, "In the coming days, I'll be consulting with supporters and party leaders to determine how to move forward with the best interests of our party and our country guiding my way." A headline in the Globe and Mail (Toronto) said it best, "The Cost of Clinton's Narcissism." Unless Clinton changes her course, the toll may turn out to be awfully high.

It appears that Clinton wants to take this battle to the Democratic National Convention August 25-28 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. Such a move would only weaken Obama and strengthen Republican candidate Senator John McCain. At long last, Senator Clinton should take a long, hard look at what is at stake and ask herself if that is, indeed what she really wants. Because whoever the winner turns out to be in such a bitter contest, theirs will be a Phyrric Victory. And America simply cannot afford four more years of reactionary and destructive Bushite Republican policies.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

She's a Little Bit Country, He's a Little Bit Rock 'n' Roll

This just in, Blog Pals: Donny and Marie Fever is apparently sweeping across England! Remember Donny and Marie Osmond, the syrupy sweet, squeaky clean, toothy dynamic duo from Utah who stole everyone's hearts in the 1970s? Recently, they attracted huge, screaming crowds of fans all over Britain. It's true. Look it up if you don't believe me. Donny and Marie (both entering their 50s), along with their less famous siblings -- Alan, Wayne, Merrill, Jay and Jimmy (didn't there used to be a Larry?) -- were mobbed everywhere in the U.K. by crazed admirers. A headline in Hello Magazine said it all: "Osmond-fever hits London with the return of the Seventies stars." Wherever the Osmonds went, enthusiastic crowds turned out to greet them. The Guardian described one scene at the packed London concert: "A matronly type in an 'I Love Donny' T-shirt cannot stop screaming the name of the purportedly cutest member of the group. The emotion is heightened by a video of the group's arrival in London in 1972 when they were mobbed by bawling girls, some of whom are undoubtedly here right now." Before sellout crowds, they sang such unforgettable favorites as "Love Me For a Reason," "Crazy Horses," "Puppy Love" and "Paper Roses."

The highly successful British tour is but one sign of the Osmond Family's (pictured left) comeback. Last month, Marie hosted a wholesome reality show on NBC called America's Favorite Mother. Now the brother and sister are conducting nationwide auditions for dancers to be part of their upcoming, six-month gig in Las Vegas. But wait, there's more! A Fiftieth Anniversary DVD (yes, the Osmond Family began entertaining audiences way back in 1958!) featuring the very best of the Osmonds is coming soon to a video store near you. And if you happen to be in Utah on Pioneer Day (July 24), you can catch the Osmonds playing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Sure, America is beset by war overseas, recession at home and global warming, but at least the Osmonds aren't going anywhere. Utah's hottest export is here to stay! Well, actually, Utah's hottest export is the double pastrami cheeseburger with secret sauce with four scoops of Leatherby's Old-Fashioned Strawberry Ice Cream on the side. But by golly, the Osmonds are a mighty close second!