Friday, December 31, 2010

2010: Good Riddance

Not to end the year on a down note, but I don’t really have many nice things to say about 2010. There were some high points this year, to be sure – not the least of which was the Chicago Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in my lifetime (don’t sell sports victories short; they don’t change the world but they do give people a lift, not altogether unlike art and music, and that’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick). More importantly, we had at least one major civil rights victory in 2010: The repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t tell. That’s something that will, in fact, make the world a better place, ultimately leading, I suspect, to full citizenship rights for our fellow Americans who happen to be gay and lesbian.

Oh, yeah. And my Fighting Illini unexpectedly (a) went to; and (b) actually won a bowl game. So, there’s that.

But for me all of that was overshadowed by the passing of my mother, Margaret Mary Durkin von Ebers, on November 30, 2010. Here’s a tip for those of you who don’t have the same talent for the obvious that I have: Try to avoid losing a parent or other family member during the holidays. That’s the worst.

Moreover, even though the economy picked up slightly in 2010, unemployment remained unacceptably high. According to the latest numbers published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

The number of unemployed persons was 15.1 million in November. The unemployment rate edged up to 9.8 percent; it was 9.6 percent in each of the prior 3 months. …

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult men (10.0 percent), adult women (8.4 percent), whites (8.9 percent), and Hispanics (13.2 percent) edged up in November. The jobless rate for blacks (16.0 percent) showed little change over the month, while the rate for teenagers declined to 24.6 percent. The jobless rate for Asians was 7.6 percent, not seasonally adjusted. …

Among the unemployed, the number of job losers and persons who completed temporary jobs rose by 390,000 to 9.5 million in November. The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks and over) was little changed at 6.3 million and accounted for 41.9 percent of the unemployed.

Worse, if you look the “real” unemployment figure – what the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls the “U-6 measure” of unemployment and underemployment – the “[t]otal unemployed, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force” was 17% in November 2010.

There’s little to cheer about in those numbers; and let’s face it, marginal economic grown and modest gains in the stock market mean little or nothing to people who are out of work, or who cannot find adequate work, in this economy. Until huge numbers of people are able to get back to work and get out of the financial holes they find themselves in, the supposed recovery will have little real-world significance.

So, I won’t be sorry to see 2010 gone. Not by a long shot.

I am, however, really grateful for a host of new friends I’ve made this year through Twitter and other online ventures, principally among them: John V. Moore of Windy City Watch; GottaLaff of The Political Carnival; and Tim Corrimal, who’s been kind enough to ask me co-host his weekly podcast, The Tim Corrimal Show. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention OTOOLEFAN and Liberalchik of Tomfoolery, two of my favorite Tweeters and two of the nicest folks around; Michael Stinson, (@Symbolman on Twitter), co-author of Going Rouge: The Sarah Palin Coloring & Activity Book (thanks, friend, for the personalized copies!); Liz (@Semishark), a stalwart progressive who’s not afraid to challenge heavy hitters on the left or the right, and they’re usually the worse for it; my favorite Canadian, Michelle Matthews (@Tymlee), of Tymlee’s Blog; and @DanVerg, with whom I don’t always agree, but who always gives me plenty to think about, and who’s a genuinely decent person.

And then there’s the outrageous, brilliant HumanityCritic whose blog, The Innermost Thoughts of a Throat-Chopper, is one place where you’ll never find a pulled punch; McMuffinofdoom, who has, perhaps, the best handle on Twitter; DCPlod, my favorite Brit-by-way-of-South-Africa, of Neither Here Nor There; and Oliver Willis (@owills on Twitter), who’s great even though his Red Skins beat my Bears this year. And here’s a non-inclusive, unranked list of other Twitter favorites: @iboudreau; @vdaze; @JeffersonObama, @s_a_cosgrove, @awienick; @domsisti; @msbellows; @dave_in_sa; @DCDebbie; @Karoli (who frequently contributes to Crooks and Liars); @allen_mcduffee of the Think Tanked Blog. I know there are more I’m omitting, and I’m genuinely sorry for that, but I’ll try to highlight other great folks on Twitter in the year to come.

Also, although I’m not one to follow celebrities, I have to mention the inimitable Rosanne Cash (@rosannecash on Twitter), who is one of the nicest and most genuine people I’ve encountered on line. I mention her specifically because she was very kind to me when my Mom passed; I especially appreciate the fact that she took the time to read the blog tribute I wrote for my Mom and to comment on it. I think that’s fairly extraordinary, and so I have to say: Thank you.

Finally, although I’ve known them for several years, I have to express my appreciation for my original online “family” – Jesus’ General and all the folks who comment on his brilliant satirical blog, which was one of the first progressive blogs I came across and still one of the first places I go every day. Aside from the General himself (@JC_Christian on Twitter), there’re my favorite booksellers, Seattle Tammy (@jacksonstbooks) and Seattle Dan (@jacksonstdano) of (Jackson Street) Books on 7th; hockey maven and all-around sports guru Richard Kincaide; Democommie, who’s incorrigible but we wouldn’t have it any other way; MJS of Mortal Jive; and Rev. Paperboy of The Woodshed (another great Canadian, by the way), all of whom are regular commenters and (and sometimes contributors) at the General’s place and all of whom I consider to be real friends. Thanks, you guys, for all the support and all the laughs over the years.

Oh, yeah, and lest I should forget, one more lousy thing happened in 2010. I broke my jaw:

Kids, don’t try this at home.

So, anyways, here’s to a better 2011. There’s no way it could be worse than 2010.

© 2010 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

Your Friday Clash Song: Some Is Rich, and Some Is Poor …

… And that’s the way the world is. “Bankrobber,” originally the B-side of the “Train in Vain” single in the Netherlands released in June 1980, later released as a single in the UK. There’s also a “dub” version on the 1980 EP, “Black Market Clash.” (You can view the original video here, but YouTube has disabled embedding.)

Now, I’m not advocating illegal activity (heaven forefend!), but there’s something about this song that seems, I don’t know, kind of timely in the midst of the Great Recession. Because these days making an honest living seems damn near impossible at times. Nonetheless, as a lawyer I am compelled to say I advise against robbing banks as an alternative.


The old man spoke up in a bar

Said I’ve never been in prison

A lifetime serving one machine

Is ten times worse than prison …

Heh. Maybe so.

Here’s to a better 2011.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Tale of Two Americans

Yesterday my friend John V. Moore of the Windy City Watch Blog alerted me to this disturbing video:

It’s GEICO spokesman, R. Lee Ermey, appearing at a December 10, 2010 Marine Corps Toys for Tots event hosted by Chicago radio personality Roe Conn of WLS-AM Radio. Pointing out the obvious – that “the economy sucks” – Ermey goes on to say:

Now I hate to point fingers at anybody, but the present administration probably has a lot to do with that, and the way I see it they’re not going to quit doing it until they bring this country to its knees, so I think we should all rise up and we should stop this administration from what they’re doing because they’re destroying this country. They’re driving us into bankruptcy so that they can impose socialism on us, and that’s exactly what they’re doing and I’m sick and damn tired of it and I know you are too.

Never mind the fact that “GEICO” is an acronym for Government Employees Insurance Company. From GEICO’s own website:

GEICO has a long history with government employees. The company was originally started to serve their insurance needs, and GEICO’s founder Leo Goodwin made it a point to name the company after them—Government Employees Insurance Company.

They were GEICO’s first customers in 1936 and the strong bond that was formed then remains today.

Smells like … socialism!

Interestingly enough, though, GEICO, despite its warm embrace of government employees (or, at any rate, its warm embrace of government employees’ wallets), seems to have a bit of a double-standard when it comes to the political commentary of its spokespeople. The Bearded Crank reminds us that last spring, GEICO fired Lance Baxter (a/k/a DC Douglas) for leaving a sarcastic message on the voicemail system of FreedomWorks, a major supporter of the Tea Party movement, questioning the Tea Partiers’ sanity; but when asked about Ermey’s bizarre rant at a charity event three weeks ago, GEICO’s reaction was simply this: “Mr. Ermey has expressed his own personal views.” In other words: No biggie.

But beyond GEICO’s double standard, I can’t emphasize enough how deeply offensive it is for Ermey, a successful, undoubtedly highly paid Hollywood celebrity, to politicize a Christmas toy drive; to use an event like that – one of the most benign and innocent charitable events imaginable – to spread base political lies and incite hate. Because, frankly, that’s exactly what that type of rhetoric is. Ermey isn’t expressing an honest disagreement with the President over policy (more power to him if he wants to do that; just not at a charity event for kids). Instead, he’s using the buzzwords that fear mongers like Glenn Beck and disgraced former Tea Party Express leader Mark Williams have used since Pres. Obama was sworn in nearly two years ago. The absurd accusation that Pres. Obama, a centrist at best, wants to impose socialism on America is purposefully dishonest, and folks like Beck and Williams – and now Ermey – spread that lie to defame the President and to undermine honest political discourse. Worse, to say people who have policy disagreements with the President should “rise up and … stop this administration from what they’re doing” – well, you’d have to be willfully ignorant to think that that type of rhetoric isn’t likely to encourage hatred of the President. Indeed, we’ve already seen that Glenn Beck’s rhetoric, which Ermey knowingly parrots, has the potential to incite violence against liberals.

But I guess when you live a cloistered life in the rarified air of Hollywood, living among some of the richest people on the planet, maybe you’re a little out of touch with the rest of us.

It turns out, however, that not all celebrities are so out of touch with reality, nor are all celebrities so callous with their political rhetoric. Take country legend Merle Haggard, a guy who’s been around the proverbial block and has probably seen considerably more hard times in his day than R. Lee Ermey.

Here’s what Mr. Haggard has to say about the hateful rhetoric that’s been directed at our Commander in Chief lately:

“It was also nice to meet Obama and find him very different from the media makeout,” Haggard told [Rolling Stone] magazine. “It’s really almost criminal what they do with our president. There seems to be no shame or anything. They call him all kinds of names all day long, saying he’s doing certain things that he’s not. It’s just a big old political game that I don’t want to be part of. There are people spending their lives putting him down. I’m sure some of it’s true and some of it’s not. I was very surprised to find the man very humble and he had a nice handshake. His wife was very cordial to the guests and especially me. They made a special effort to make me feel welcome. It was not at all the way the media described him to be.”

I have no idea what Mr. Haggard’s personal politics are, and I don’t care one way or the other. It’s worth noting that in addition to his warm comments about the current President, Haggard recently said in an interview in the Washington Post that “the intelligence of [Richard] Nixon was impressive” and that Ralph Nader is “pretty damn smart” too; so he’s an equal opportunity compliment-giver, I suppose.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? Haggard, who’s open-minded enough to praise the qualities of both Pres. Obama and Pres. Nixon – and political outlier Ralph Nader – and who’s lived a pretty hard life for a man of 73, has a certain wisdom that Hollywood insider R. Lee Ermey doesn’t. So whether Merle’s a Republican or a Democrat is beside the point. He’s an American, and he actually acts like one.

Take a lesson, Ermey. You jackwagon.

© 2010 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Programming Note, and a Vindication

I won’t be posting any lengthy diatribes this evening, or any lengthy anything, because against my better judgment the wife and I will be getting together with some friends to watch all or a portion of something called the (ahem) Texas Bowl,” featuring my star-crossed Fighting Illini (who, at 6-6, are “bowl-eligible” only because I’m not in charge of things) and Baylor University, the alma mater of former record-setting-helmet-smashing Bears linebacker (and recently dismissed 49ers head coach) Mike Singletary. Baylor is a Big 12 school – the Big 12, of course, is the conference that will have ten teams next year, while our conference, the Big 10, will have twelve – and that doesn’t bode well for the Orange and Blue. Truth is, bowl games, generally, don’t bode well for the Orange and Blue: They’re 6-9 all time in bowl games, and every one of their nine losses occurred since I started following Illinois sports as an undergraduate in the 1980s.

In fact, the Illini haven’t won a bowl game this century (having lost to USC in the 2008 Rose Bowl and to LSU in the 2002 Sugar Bowl). The last time my Illini won a bowl game was just about 11 years ago, when they crushed Virginia 63-21 in the “ Bowl” (I kid you not) on December 30, 1999. Seems to me, that’s right around the time they started eschewing any pretense and started naming bowl games directly after their corporate sponsors. But I digress.

So, anyway, I don’t expect positive results tonight. But at least the scoreboard won’t look like this when the game’s over:

Probably won’t, anyways.

So don’t expect any lengthy dissertations tonight while I’m watching the potential disaster that is the 2010 Texas Bowl.

One final note, however. That picture at the top of this post? That’s called: Vindication.

A couple of years ago I was heading down our alley on my way to pick up the kids from school, and I was quite certain that I saw out of the corner of my eye a feral parakeet dart out from a bush near our house. That’s right. A wild parakeet here in Chicago. In the dead of winter. I’d heard that there was a colony of wild parakeets in the area – they’re called Monk parakeets – and, specifically, that former Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, who died in November 1987, was quite fond of a group of Monk parakeets who lived in the trees outside his Hyde Park apartment building on Chicago’s South Side. After Mayor Washington died unexpectedly in office, I recall reading literally hundreds of column inches in the local papers about his life and accomplishments, but the thing I found most touching – and surprising, because I had no idea parakeets could survive outdoors in this climate – was his fascination with the Hyde Park parakeets. It was such a sweet thing, really; an incredibly human thing, in the nicest sense of the word. Here was a guy who seemed to live at the center of a political maelstrom, Chicago politics being particularly bare-knuckled in those days; yet he loved these birds living in this completely incongruous setting. There’s some deeper meaning there, to be sure, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.

Anyway, the point is, after I saw that bird a couple of years ago I never saw it again, and I was beginning to think I was mistaken. I began to think that maybe what I saw was not a Monk parakeet, but a female goldfinch (they have greenish feathers on the back and tail, while the males are bright yellow); but the memory was fairly striking: I swore I saw green and blue tail feathers, and a flash of yellow too. And it turns out, I must’ve been right all along – because this afternoon my wife stepped out of her office, which is about a mile or so from our house, and she saw not one but nine Monk parakeets in a tree behind her building. The picture at the top of this post shows six of them, and here’s a close up of a few more:

So who knows. Maybe I’m not crazy … and maybe, just maybe, my Illini won’t embarrass me tonight, either.

Hope springs eternal.

© 2010 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Another Day, Another Non-troversy in the Presidency of Barack Obama

I’ve purposefully avoided discussing the Eagle’s hiring of convicted felon (and phenomenal quarterback) Michael Vick for one simple reason: I am hopelessly, irrationally biased against anyone who harms dogs or cats. Or, maybe it’s more accurate to say I have an utterly irrational love of them. Dogs and cats, that is. Always have, always will, and I make no apologies for it. So, I knew that I’d be skating on some pretty thin ice, bias-wise, if I were to say what I really felt about the matter. Which is: That it bothers me that someone who committed such God-awful acts of cruelty could return to his position as a highly paid celebrity athlete, even though he’s done his time.

But try as I might to avoid saying what I just said, the universe has once again conspired to force me to address a matter I’d had the good judgment to know to avoid for months now. Because this being the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day – the week when positively nothing happens, except for really mediocre bowl games that nobody in their right mind cares about – the media has to find something meaningless to invest with Great Meaning.

And so, there’s this:

Peter King of NBC reported on Sunday that President Barack Obama recently called Jeffrey Lurie, the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, to praise the organization for giving quarterback Michael Vick a second chance.

According to ProFootballTalk, Obama told Lurie that “a level playing field rarely exists for prisoners who have completed their sentences.”

King also tweeted that Obama “said too many prisoners never get fair 2d chance.”

The Eagles signed Vick after he spent 18 months in prison and two months of home confinement for being convicted of running a dogfighting operation.

Cue the outrage …

For example, take a look at the comment thread on the Huffington Post article cited above. The comments rage from things like (I’m paraphrasing here) Pres. Obama could’ve picked a better example of an ex-con getting a second chance (not a bad suggestion, by the way), to Obama’s wrong because Michael Vick is the moral equivalent of Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer and cannot be forgiven – let alone employed – under any circumstances (dubious, even to an animal lover like me). Elsewhere, commentators from Ann Althouse (who cares) to Allahpundit were nonplussed by the President’s apparent praise of Lurie for giving Vick a second chance. And I even went so far as to unfollow a fairly prominent left wing blogger over on Twitter who quipped (paraphrasing again) that Obama only cares about the human rights of prisoners when a guy like Michael Vick needs a job. (I won’t give that person the satisfaction of my linking to her, thereby promoting the cheapest of cheap shots. Nope, not this time.)

Okay, but, anyway, the criticism directed at the President over his Michael Vick comment seemed to focus on two things: The horrific nature of the crimes themselves, and the fact that Vick, being a celebrity, is a poor example of someone in need of a second chance. As to the first argument, biased as I am in favor of dogs and cats, I’m going to weigh in nonetheless. Because even though I have a profoundly visceral reaction against the kind of thing Vick did, I’m constrained to acknowledge that if a person has been convicted of a crime and has served the amount of time the law prescribes for the crime he committed, he ought to be able to get back into society, to go back to work, and to live more or less a normal life. For the most part, that’s true of all convicted felons, regardless of the nature or severity of the crime – once their sentence is up, they are free to live where they choose and ply their chosen trade, more or less without restriction. Unless they’ve committed certain sexual crimes; but that’s a subject for another day.

The second argument, though, has some traction. Because although I agree that everyone deserves a second chance after serving time in prison, I tend to think that having a second chance means having the chance to work for a living and get back on your feet – not returning to the limelight as a highly paid celebrity athlete. Why, in Vick’s case, should a “second chance” mean “return to being a multi-millionaire with a cushy life”? Of course, the answer is, because he can. He has the skills to be an outstanding quarterback in the NFL, he’s done his time in prison, and there’s no legal reason why the Eagles or any other NFL team can’t hire him and pay him handsomely.

That’s called capitalism, my friends.

More to the point, as unsavory as it may be for Michael Vick to go from being in jail for hideously abusing dogs to potentially being the league MVP (and likely signing another, bigger, more lucrative contract after this season), the general point Pres. Obama was making is, in fact, a really important one. As Ezra Klein noted in today’s Washington Post:

Patting [Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey] Lurie on the back for playing Vick might give the White House communications shop some headaches, but it’s also worth doing: About one in 100 Americans are currently behind bars, and more were behind bars at some other point in time. And as this Pew report (pdf) shows in grim detail, the punishment doesn’t stop when convicts leave prison:

“Serving time reduces hourly wages for men by approximately 11 percent, annual employment by 9 weeks and annual earnings by 40 percent.” And those numbers hide a serious racial tilt: “Incarceration depresses the total earnings of white males by 2 percent, of Hispanic males by 6 percent, and of black males by 9 percent.”

Then there’s the downstream effects on children and families (“Even in the year after the father is released, family income remains 15 percent lower than it was the year before incarceration”), and on cities with a high population of ex-convicts, and so on. As you might expect, the recession is making all this even worse.

Why Mr. Klein thinks it’s odd or, to use his term, “Carteresque,” for the White House to explain that Pres. Obama made the Vick comment during a conversation about the Eagles’ use of alternative energy sources in their stadium, I cannot say. The conversation between Pres. Obama and Mr. Lurie was a private telephone call; it only became public when Mr. Lurie disclosed it to NBC’s Peter King. But anyway, Mr. Klein is correct to say that the underlying issue – giving ex-convicts second chances – is a real issue and one which the President should be talking about.

So, whether or not Michael Vick is the best example of a guy deserving a second chance – he’s not – it’s an issue about which President is correct. And it’s an issue about which this President is, and his predecessor was, quite passionate, even when the media isn’t listening:

That President Obama called Lurie to gush about Vick shouldn’t be surprising. Since George W. Bush’s presidency, the White House has strongly supported prisoner re-entry programs. Noting that 650,000 people are released from state and federal prison annually, Bush thought that the need for re-entry programs was so great that he mentioned it in his 2004 State of the Union address.

“America is the land of second chance, and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should be a better life,” Bush said in advocating for his four-year, $300 million program that helped expand job training and placement services, transitional housing and other help to newly released prisoners.

Obama has sought to expand prisoner re-entry efforts, spending hundreds of millions of dollars in his first term on prisoner re-entry programs and on the government’s Second Chance Act.

(You can read more about the Second Chance Act here. Impressive stuff, actually.)

In other words, while there are better examples than Vick to illustrate the point, the President was making a point worth making. Yet the story, predictably, became not Hey, the President’s talking about something important, like giving people second chances, which is something we should, you know, do; but Hey, the President gave us another reason to complain – this time about that jerk, Michael Vick.

Another day, another hypersensitive overreaction that misses the point.

© 2010 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Firing Up the Jon Stewart Love Machine

Imagine my confusion. Last October 30, I watched Jon Stewart’s and Stephen Colbert’s combined Rally To Restore Sanity and/or Fear and I thought it was mildly amusing. Other than the incongruous choice of Kid Rock as a musical guest (what was the point of that song, anyway?), the Stewart/Colbert production was pretty much what I expected it to be: A less outrageous version of their Comedy Central television shows.

But after the Rally, I learned that many of my fellow lefties were irritated with Stewart – the left never goes after Colbert, largely because Colbert’s shtick is faultless; he rarely wavers from the conservative-parody character he’s perfected – because Stewart, who doesn’t play a character on The Daily Show like Colbert does on The Colbert Report, wasn’t sufficiently partisan. I suppose because the Rally occurred three days prior to the 2010 midterm Congressional elections, some on the left expected Stewart to all but force his audience to go out and reelect Alan Grayson and Russ Feingold. At the same time, I heard a lot of people on the left insisting that nobody should’ve been watching Stewart and Colbert the Saturday before a hotly contested election in the first place; instead, we all should’ve been out knocking on doors and making phone calls … and all but forcing people to reelect Alan Grayson and Russ Feingold. (Yes, because we all would’ve been doing exactly that if we hadn’t been watching the rally.)

So, anyway, after the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear and the subsequent Democratic electoral losses the following week (you know, post hoc ergo propter hoc and all that), I thought the memo went out that Stewart was just another corporatist-centrist-right-wing-enabling-compromising sell-out, just like Barack Obama, and we on the left weren’t supposed to love him anymore.

That is, until I saw this bit from yesterday’s New York Times ricocheting around the left-wing internets:

In ‘Daily Show’ Role on 9/11 Bill, Echoes of Murrow

Did the bill pledging federal funds for the health care of 9/11 responders become law in the waning hours of the 111th Congress only because a comedian took it up as a personal cause?

And does that make that comedian, Jon Stewart — despite all his protestations that what he does has nothing to do with journalism — the modern-day equivalent of Edward R. Murrow?

Certainly many supporters, including New York’s two senators, as well as Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, played critical roles in turning around what looked like a hopeless situation after a filibuster by Republican senators on Dec. 10 seemed to derail the bill.

But some of those who stand to benefit from the bill have no doubt about what — and who — turned the momentum around.

“I don’t even know if there was a deal, to be honest with you, before his show,” said Kenny Specht, the founder of the New York City Firefighter Brotherhood Foundation, who was interviewed by Mr. Stewart on Dec. 16.

That show was devoted to the bill and the comedian’s effort to right what he called “an outrageous abdication of our responsibility to those who were most heroic on 9/11.”

There have been other instances when an advocate on a television show turned around public policy almost immediately by concerted focus on an issue — but not recently, and in much different circumstances.

I wasn’t on Twitter much today, but I was on long enough to lose count of the number of times I saw that link tweeted, prefaced, in almost every case, with a certain triumphalism that said, in effect, “Jon Stewart all but forced the GOP not to filibuster the 9/11 first responders bill …” Even Huffington Post picked up on the New York Times story; and if there were any doubt that Stewart is now back in the good graces of the left, Daily Kos featured a post last week titled, “Help Nominate Jon Stewart and TDS for a 2010 Peabody Award” (you guessed it – “for their final broadcast of the 2010 season that focused on the James Zadroga Act.”)

So, I gather we love us some Jon Stewart now.

Which is fine with me, because (a) Stewart was on fire when he went after Republicans for threatening to block the 9/11 first responders bill; and (2) I never understood why we decided to hate on Jon Stewart in the first place. Yes, I understand that Stewart had the temerity to criticize Keith Olbermann, incorrectly suggesting that Olbermann engages in the same type of disingenuous fear-mongering as right-wing extremists like Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. But that is, after all, a difference of opinion; and even though Stewart’s opinion was misinformed in that particular instance, it turns out that Keith Olbermann isn’t right all the time either.

Look, I like Keith Olbermann, and I like Rachel Maddow, too, and I like the fact that they refuse to carry water for Pres. Obama or the Democratic Party. Last Summer Olbermann famously said, “I am not, have not been, will not be, and am not supposed to be any politician’s, or any president’s, spokesman.” And he was exactly right. It isn’t Olbermann’s (or Maddow’s, or Stewart’s) job to mindlessly support the President – but neither is it Jon Stewart’s job to mindlessly support Olbermann or Maddow or MSNBC.

Or to mindlessly support people who, like me, are pretty far to the left and make no apologies for it.

But it’s worth nothing that even when one of them is wrong – whether it’s Stewart or Olbermann or Maddow or any other prominent voice on the left – more likely than not he or she will be right the next time, and the next time, and the next time … Because they – Stewart, Olbermann, Maddow – are right far more often than they’re wrong.

Which is not to say we should keep our mouths shut when one of them says something we disagree with. Speaking only for myself, my mouth has no “shut” position as far as I can tell. I just think maybe we should hyperventilate a little less when disagreements happen, is all. But, hey, that’s just me.

© 201o David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Your Friday Clash Song: The Band Went In and Knocked ’Em Dead in Two Minutes Fifty Nine …

“Hitsville U.K.” from Sandinista!

No slimy deals, with smarmy eels - in Hitsville U.K.

Lets shake ’n say, we’ll operate - in Hitsville U.K.

The mutants, creeps and musclemen

Are shaking like a leaf

It blows a hole in the radio

When it hasn’t sounded good all week

A mike ’n boom, in your living room - in Hitsville U.K.

No consumer trials, or A.O.R., in Hitsville U.K.

Now the boys and girls are not alone

Now the hitsville’s hit U.K.

The Clash may have been the best punk band ever – no, the were the best punk band ever – but what really set them apart was the fact that their music wasn’t constricted by that label. From the very beginning, they combined punk, reggae, traditional rock ’n roll, country, blues … just about everything other than what a friend of mine used to refer to as “BostonKansasStyx” – you know, that indistinguishable, synthesizer-and-overly-produced-guitar music that dominated mid-1970s radio, six or seven minutes at a time.

It’s easy to think of punk as some revolutionary form of music that set out to destroy rock ’n roll in the ’70s, but in reality what most good punk bands were trying to do was just the opposite: they were, as the Ramones said, trying to save rock music “[b]efore rock’s just part of the past.” What the Ramones and the Clash did was to re-energize rock music, not destroy it. It’s not accidental that a lot of punk bands covered older songs, like the Clash’s version of the Bobby Fuller Four classic, “I Fought the Law,” or the Ramones’ cover of “Do You Wanna Dance.”

So, anyway, I love “Hitsville U.K.” because it’s completely unique among Clash songs, but also because it’s an homage to the great, unalloyed rock and soul music coming out of Detroit in the 1960s. They got it; they understood what made rock music great in the early days when most musicians and record producers were making their own rules, not necessarily inventing the music from whole cloth but just doing what sounded good to them. That’s what the Clash were doing in the late ’70s when nobody else seemed to care what rock ’n roll was all about.

“It blows a hole in the radio, when it hasn’t sounded good all week.” That’s why you love the Clash.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Greatest Rock ’n Roll Christmas Song of All Time, and a Movie Recommendation

The fantastic Darlene Love with “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” the greatest rock ’n roll Christmas song of all time. It’s an annual tradition on the “Late Show with David Letterman,” and tonight’s the night she’ll be on with Dave and singing it again. Always worth tuning in to hear.

But, so, anyway, if you watch A Christmas Story tomorrow on TBS (as we do every year – usually while we’re wrapping those last few Christmas presents after the kids have gone to bed; and by “those last few” I mean “most of,” of course), here’s another film you might want to check out: Fred Coe’s A Thousand Clowns, starring Jason Robards and Barbara Harris. It turns out – and I only found this out a few years ago – that A Thousand Clowns is based loosely on the life of Jean Shepherd, who wrote and narrated A Christmas Story. It also turns out that A Thousand Clowns was one of my father’s favorite movies, and Jean Shepherd was born in the Chicago area two days before my father, on July 26, 1921. And another sort of odd coincidence: Jason Robards, who plays Murray, the Shepherd-inspired main character, was also born in Chicago, also on July 26, but a year later in 1922.

Anyway, I love the movie, too (A Thousand Clowns, that is), because it’s all about trying to figure out how to deal with the idea of making a living when what you do for a living (in Murray’s case, being a struggling writer who has to work in children’s television in New York) feels like a waste of your talents and challenges your idea of personal integrity. It’s also about being an outsider, seeing the world in a way that other people generally don’t see it, and I think that’s probably why it appealed to my dad. But it’s mostly about living up to your responsibilities, in the end, but finding your own way to do it. I still can’t figure out if the ending is uplifting or sad, and I’ve seen the film probably a dozen times.

Oh, and another thing: A Thousand Clowns is hysterically funny.

Another interesting thing about Jean Shepherd. He was one of those guys who later in life made a living as a raconteur, when “raconteur” was an actual job description. I was unaware of that, too, until my good friend/sports maven/hockey guru Richard Kincaide, of Everybody Wants to Read My Blog, sent me this link to an NPR story commemorating the 40th Anniversary of Martin Luther King’s March on Washington, which included excerpts of Shepherd’s recollections of taking a bus ride from New York to Washington to attend the March. It’s pretty remarkable, although I cringe when he uses the word “colored”; but you can tell from the context he’s genuinely enamored of the protesters he met. In any event, it’s a fascinating slice of history told by a genuinely gifted story teller.

So, there you go. The greatest rock ’n roll Christmas song of all time, and a movie recommendation. It’s my Festivus gift to you.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Behold My Totally Awesome Criticism of Pres. Obama

Now, watch what I do here. I’m going to do something that’s never, so far as I know, been attempted.

I’m going to criticize Pres. Obama without engaging in hyperbole or personal attacks. I’m going to discuss an important policy matter over which I disagree – even strongly disagree – with the President, without calling him a sell-out or saying he’s stabbed me in the back, and without inadvertently (or not so inadvertently) repeating tea-party-inspired tropes like creeping fascism! or tyranny!

And I won’t say he’s “no better than Bush.”

It’ll be awesome.

So, here we go.

I disagree with the Obama administration over this:

Yesterday, the Obama administration indicated to reporters that long-awaited action codifying the Bush-era policy of indefinite detention for suspected terrorists would be put in place through executive order.

The Obama administration proposal differs from the Bush administration detention review process in that it would be more adversarial -- detainees would be represented by a lawyer, and the boards would be made up of more than just military officials. The process would be, as the New York Times’ Charlie Savage describes it, basically a kind of “parole board” for suspected terrorists.

The problem, as Adam Serwer correctly says in the piece quoted above, is this:

The use of indefinite military detention in armed conflict is well-established, but it’s not clear whether those who would be detained under this policy are actually “battlefield captures,” or whether military detention is a mere smokescreen for holding people indefinitely who should be charged with a crime or released. Complicating this is the reality that the fight with Al Qaeda has no defined endpoint.

Allow me to translate from Mr. Serwer’s more or less plain English to my native tongue: Legalese. The laws of warfare generally allow the warring factions to capture members of the enemy’s armed forces and to hold those combatants – in humane, non-punitive conditions – indefinitely while the underlying conflict goes on. In America, the laws governing capture and treatment of enemy combatants go back at least as far as the so-called Lieber Code adopted by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. After World War II, the international community – largely at the behest of the United States – adopted the well known Geneva Conventions which essentially codified existing laws of warfare, including Common Article III which provides the baseline for treatment of individuals captured during warfare even if they don’t meet the legal requirements for prisoner-of-war status. In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 548 U.S. 557 (2006), the United States Supreme Court held that Common Article III of the Geneva Conventions applies to detainees in the “war on terror,” including those held by the United States military at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

While Common Article III deals with, among other things, the conditions of confinement, it does not deal with the conditions for release from confinement, nor does it generally describe the length of time an enemy combatant can be detained. Which makes sense, because the purpose of taking an enemy soldiers captive isn’t to punish them but to incapacitate them – to take them out of circulation, so to speak, so they don’t have the opportunity to shoot or kill your soldiers. So, as a general principle, once a member of the opposing armed forces is captured, he or she can be held for the duration of the conflict or until the capturing force decides that the captured soldier no longer poses a threat. Often even in the midst of a conflict, opposing armies will, as a gesture of goodwill or out of humanitarian concerns, exchange prisoners. But there is not, so far as I know, any legal principle that compels one warring faction to release its captives until it, in its discretion, deems it safe to do so.

However, the legal parameters I’ve describe above assume that the conflict is a discrete and clearly defined conflict against a discrete and clearly defined enemy. If you go to war with Nazi Germany, you know whom you’re fighting and you know when you’ve defeated them. So you know when it’s safe to release the Germans you’ve captured along the way. Which is why one should not, as a general rule, go to war with ordinary nouns, like “terror”; one should instead always go to war with proper nouns – ideally, proper nouns that are country names, or at the very least, the names of organizations that function like military forces, like, say “Germany” or “Afghanistan,” or, at the very least, “al Qaeda” …

But when you go to war with “terror,” how do you know when it’s over? You don’t, and so you could argue that once you’ve captured a “terrorist,” you never have to let him or her go because you can never really defeat “terrorism.” One could also argue that you can never really defeat al Qaeda, because it doesn’t belong to a place or country, it doesn’t have brick and mortar institutions, or territory, or even much of an organization at all; it seems to be comprised of whatever extremists want to call themselves al Qaeda wherever they happen to be located. But theoretically, at least, you can determine when you’re done fighting al Qaeda and then, presumably, it’d be safe to release the various al Qaeda members you’ve taken into custody in Iraq or Afghanistan.

On the other hand, the government claims that some of the people held at Guantánamo are not just combatants in the traditional sense; they’re dangerous extremists who’ve engaged in acts of terrorism, killing innocent civilians and civilian authorities. But if that’s so, there’s a word for those people: They’re war criminals. Okay, that’s two words. The point is, if we’re holding individuals who did more than simply fight our military on the battlefield – people who were involved in the 9/11 attacks, or attacks against civilians in Iraq or Afghanistan, or even the attack on the USS Cole (unilateral, unjustified attacks against military forces can be war crimes, too) – those people should be tried as war criminals, with all due process rights afforded by our laws, and either convicted or acquitted. If we were able to afford Nazi war criminals due process, there’s no reason we can’t afford al Qaeda terrorists the same.

So that’s where the problem lies – the problem that the Pres. Obama’s new Executive Order won’t address. We have an obligation to determine which detainees are subject to prosecution for war crimes and which detainees are mere combatants being held not because they violated the laws of warfare but because they were simply captured in battle. As to the former, the solution is simple: Put them on trial. As to the latter, the decision has to be made whether it really makes sense to hold them until the war is over or to let them go now.

The proposed Executive Order, apparently, will require a periodic review of the detainees’ status, but that, it seems to me, is just pushing the problem down the road, and the review, even if it’s “adversarial” in nature, doesn’t provide the kind of due process rights detainees are entitled to, as the Supreme Court has recognized in a long line of cases from Rasul v. Bush, 542 U.S. 466 (2004), to Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 548 U.S. 557 (2006), to Boumediene v. Bush, 553 U.S. 723 (2008). Some review is, of course, better than none; but it’s no substitute for what the law requires. If these folks are guilty of crimes, try them. If not, why are we still holding them?

So, there you go. Pres. Obama is wrong to continue the Bush policy of indefinite detention of Guantánamo detainees, and the Executive Order we’re about to see will exacerbate, not solve, that problem. I disagree – vehemently, even – with what the President’s doing here.

But I keep looking over my shoulder, and I don’t see a knife sticking out of my back. I see a real difference of opinion, and an important one at that, but I’m not exactly wracked with despair because I happen to think the President is wrong this time.

See, wasn’t that awesome?

© 2010 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

Welcome to America

President Obama’s remarks on signing the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010. Via The New Civil Rights Movement.

As I’ve mentioned before, my dad was a World War II combat veteran. If he were alive today, he would be proud of his President and his country.

We’re one step closer to America.

© 2010 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sarah Palin’s Hypocrisy Is Bad For Your Health

Oh, sure. I know it’s just politics. I know former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is purposefully divisive, using the stage she’s been given not to edify the public or to advocate for the good of the country but to whip her base into an anti-Obama frenzy – maybe to increase her chances to win the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, maybe just to line her own pockets. But either way, it’s nothing personal. Right?

But is that really the way we want our political leaders to behave? Or perhaps I should ask, is that the way we want our media phenomena to behave, since that’s an apter description of the woman who quit her one term as Alaska governor half-way through to sell books and do reality television. Because sometimes the way political creatures like Sarah Palin behave can be harmful to your health.


(CNN) – Sarah Palin is again taking aim at Michelle Obama over her anti-obesity campaign, taking the opportunity in Sunday’s “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” to land a diss against the first lady’s efforts to improve nutrition.

While making s’mores at one point during Sunday’s episode, the former Alaska governor proclaims the marshmallow and chocolate treat is “in honor of Michelle Obama, who said the other day we should not have dessert.”

It’s not the first time Palin has taken a job at Mrs. Obama over her campaign to discourage fattening foods, especially from public schools. The former vice presidential nominee told conservative talk radio host Laura Ingraham last month that “the first lady cannot trust parents to make decisions for their own children, for their own families in what we should eat.”

Palin also hand-delivered cookies to a Pennsylvania school last month before delivering a speech there, saying: “Who should be deciding what I eat? Should it be government or should it be parents? It should be the parents.”

Of course, one might ask when, exactly, did Ms. Obama suggest that the government should tell parents what to feed their children – because she hasn’t. Ever, so far as I can tell. She’s tried to educate kids and their parents about nutrition and exercise so that they can make better individual choices about what they eat and how they live. And she lobbied for the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, the purpose of which is to require school districts to provide healthier food for kids so that if parents choose to have their kids eat school lunches, or if parents can’t afford to provide lunches to their kids and have to rely on the meals provided by their local schools, their kids have healthier options. So, in fact, all Michelle Obama’s ever done is to give parents information so that they can make informed decisions about diet and exercise, and to give them healthy options for school lunches so that they can choose to have their kids eat healthier meals in school. All of which is about choice – the very thing Sarah Palin claims to believe in.

It’s odd, really, that Sarah Palin and her fellow conservatives attack Michelle Obama over her childhood obesity and healthy eating initiatives, given that it was Republican Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower who created the President’s Council on Physical Fitness way back in 1956. That’s right, it was a Republican who first thought to use the bully pulpit of the White House for the purpose of “encouraging American children to be healthy and active,” creating what was originally known as the President’s Council on Youth Fitness (imagine how it would’ve made Sarah Palin’s head throb if it’d been Pres. Obama who came up with a name like that!). Oh – and guess who was the first Chairman of the President’s Council on Youth Fitness. Why it was none other than conservative Republican icon Richard Milhous Nixon. And later, Pres. George W. Bush – you remember him, the conservative Republican who was president from Jan. 2001 to Jan. 2009 – created the President’s Challenge website and introduced the President’s Active Lifestyle Award.

Yet I’ve never – never – heard anyone on the right (or the left, for that matter) complain about the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, or the President’s Challenge, or the President’s Active Lifestyle Award. Ever. All those years when I was a kid in the 1960s and ’70s, when we had to take those President’s Physical Fitness tests, counting how many sit ups and push ups and pull ups we could do, no one ever suggested Pres. Nixon or Ford or Carter was trying to dictate anything to our parents, or trying to deprive them of their right to make decisions for their kids. Because they weren’t; Pres. Nixon and Ford and Carter weren’t doing anything nefarious at all – they were doing the one thing Americans once uniformly agreed the president ought to do: Encouraging, not dictating, good personal habits.

But now that a moderately liberal (and African American) President and First Lady occupy the White House, all of the sudden, out of the clear blue sky, the idea that the First Lady would use her public position to encourage kids to eat healthy and to exercise – now it’s a reason for Sarah Palin and other conservatives to cry foul. When nobody ever complained about any previous administration doing essentially the same thing through the President’s Council on Physical Fitness. For more than fifty years.

That’s some world class hypocrisy, my friends.

And don’t kid yourself. It’s hypocrisy that’s not without serious consequences.

Earlier today I mentioned Sarah Palin’s attacks on Michelle Obama to my wife, who’s a food blogger, and she quickly referred me to the Trust for America’s Health, an organization that gathers health statistics from around the country. The Trust for America’s Health reports that 30% of kids in 30 U.S. states are obese, and 75% of kids who are overweight as kids will also be overweight as adults – which will cost something like $145 billion a year in healthcare costs for people who are overweight. But that doesn’t stop Sarah Palin from attacking Michelle Obama’s efforts to reverse that trend. And she – Palin – does it for base political purposes. Or self-aggrandizement.

My wife’s conclusion? “Sarah Palin is insane.”

Yeah. That’s kind of what I thought.

© 2010 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.