Thursday, September 27, 2012

"Split the votes" tactic as a way to electoral victory

Over a year ago I fretted in this space about a means by which our great nation could wind up with a president backed by the Tea Party, which at the time still seemed like a "fringe element" with positions so far out of the mainstream that there was no way they could win majority support in a general election.  It turns out I may have been wrong on that point since the current Republican presidential candidate, a previously "moderate" Republican, had to move far, far to the right, into "Tea Party" territory in fact, in order to secure the his party's nomination.  So the election will tell us if  the Tea Party's positions are acceptable to a majority of Americans.  I'm not going to try to predict the result because I told you, I stink at political punditry.

The scenario that I suggested could produce such a result appears not to be so far-fetched though, at least not as it applies to the Senatorial race here in the great state of Maine.  In fact, it appears that Republicans have settled upon my conjectured scenario as the road to victory for their candidate!

There are three candidates to replace Senator Olympia Snowe, who is retiring due to her frustration with the state of politics and the resulting inability of Congress to pass any meaningful legislation.  The Democrats have nominated a woman who is campaigning as a "progressive" and is widely viewed as not a strong candidate among moderate Democrats and Independents.  The Republicans have offered up Charlie Summers, the current Secretary of State (favored by our Tea Party darling governor) who has taken positions in line with the Republican "base", which is to say the Tea Party.  I honestly do not know which of the two would win a head to head general election.  But of course, that's not the entire field running for the office.

Independent former governor Angus King announced very early on that he would run for the vacant Senate seat, and he immediately became the presumed front-runner for the office.  Early polls showed him leading both of the other candidates by a substantial margin and it appeared he could actually receive a majority of the total votes cast.  And in an honestly run campaign, like we used to have in Maine, that would have been the probable result.  But this seat is too important - it could determine control of the Senate - for the moneyed interests behind the supposed "grass roots" Tea Party to let it be decided honestly.  Angus King, it must be noted, is an Independent candidate whose views on most social issues align more closely with Democratic ideals than Republican.

Here's where the "split the vote" tactic comes in.  Conservative super-pacs and interest groups with huge sums of money at their disposal have started flooding the airwaves with two types of ads simultaneously, one forcefully attacking King and his record as governor with the intent of diminishing his support among moderate voters, and one to promote the Democratic candidate to increase the support she receives among Democratic voters.  The obvious goal is to split the majority of voters who will not vote for Summers so that he will wind up with a plurality large enough to win the seat.  Our governor was elected with 38% of the vote and Summers' supporters are hoping to achieve a similar result through their blatant and despicable efforts to engineer an election result by influencing the way in which the majority of votes are split. 

Of course I am not the only one to have noticed this and many in the main-stream media have sounded the alarm, while some have started to call on Cynthia Dill, the Democrat, to step down in light of the fact that she has not road to victory and clear the way for voters to have a clear choice between King and Summers, a scenario whereby it would in all likelihood be impossible to "buy" the election for Summers.  I hope she heeds the call, preferably sooner rather that later because as long as the special interest groups think they can win by a "divide and conquers" strategy they will continue to buy time to air deceptive, misleading and dishonest ads without saying a single word about their candidate.  That's not how Maine runs its elections - but it will be from now on if they manage to pull this one off for Charlie Summers.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Much has been said about "entitlements" recently, mostly by Republications seeking election by opposing any form of "entitlement program" offered by the government.  Most recently, the Republican presidential nominee was caught telling a rich group of potential donors that 47% of Americans "pay no taxes" and "think they are “entitled to food, housing, health care".  So there is that kind of "entitlement" being debated in the political arena.

There is another kind of "entitlement" that you don't hear much about but that I think is just as important to the national debate as wanting food, housing and health care, and that's the feeling among the super-rich that they are entitled to squander the earth's resources and otherwise do whatever it takes to amass as much wealth as they can for themselves without regard to the consequences on the rest of humanity, and without regard for the well-being of anyone other than themselves.

I was taught, "the world doesn't owe you a living" and I still believe that.  But I also believe that every human is entitled to food, housing and health care, and to the extent they can't, for some legitimate reason, provide those basic things for themselves we as a society, through our government, should provide them for as long as the need exists. 

I was also taught that greed and the need for ostentatious consumption are not characteristics to be proud of.  I believe that the more successful (and let's define "successful" as "rich" for purposes of this discussion) one is, the more they should look for ways to give back to those, including the government I dare say, who made their success possible.

So which "entitlement" is more harmful to our society I wonder?  Or to put the question in more basic terms, who deserves our charity more - those who cannot provide the necessities of life for themselves, or those who would amass unlimited wealth to themselves?  It's not a difficult question.

Maybe it will help if I illustrate the question musically - who is more "entitled" to public assistance, this guy:

or this guy?:

(No insult to Arabs intended - my point is Ahab's wealth, not his ethnicity.  But you have to admit, that is a pretty funny video.)

OK, maybe you still don't understand how the issue is being framed in this election so here's Jon Stewart to try to explain it to you - just click on the link and watch the first segment:

And if you still think ending "entitlement programs" only applies to eliminating or curtailing programs like Social Security, Medicare and food stamps well, you probably have too much money already or maybe you've been watching too much Fox News - either way, I'll never change your mind.

Hey, I'm entitled to my opinion, aren't I?!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I am the grasshopper

I'm sure you know the Aesop fable about the ant and the grasshopper, wherein the grasshopper spends the whole summer playing while the ant works diligently to put stores away for the impending season.  I was reminded of this recently when a friend was telling me all of the work she was doing to get her house ready for winter, while I spent every available hour lounging by the pool without a care in the world.

I thought it would be kind of cool to write about that conversation and use a video of the fable to illustrate the contrast between our attitudes about what summer is all about.  Well, I have to say most of the youtube videos on the topic are pretty lame; the only hopeful one seemed to be a Walt  Disney Silly Symphony from 1934 but that was just a little too dated and involved way too much spitting.

Then, as luck would have it, I stumbled upon a short piece that not only made the point about the grasshopper's laziness compared to the ant's industriousness, but it also puts the whole fable into a context that's relevant to the current times - it's perfect!  Here it is for you to enjoy and to learn the moral (I'll leave it to you to determine just what that is):

It's a comforting thought to me that although I frittered the summer away sitting by the pool drinking beer and getting an all over tan, I really don't have to worry about freezing to death this winter because I, unlike the ant, have a pretty decent government pension to fall back on.  I may be lazy, but I ain't broke and I never will be unless Congress manages to bring the whole federal government to its knees through political mismanagement of its financing.  The scary thing is, that seems like a real possibility right now.

But hey, we grasshoppers will deal with that when the time comes - until then, it's time to make music and play because, you know, that's what we do, dude!

Monday, September 17, 2012

"Southern Maine Community Radio"

I've written here before about WMPG, the radio station of the University of Southern Maine, which bills itself as "Southern Maine community radio",  and now I'd like to elaborate a little on just what "community radio" is all about from the perspective of  one member of the community - me.

I listen to WMPG a lot and one thing I have noticed is that every volunteer DJ (with the notable exception of "the Humble Farmer") gives the phone number (780-4909)  to the station and invites listeners to call in with requests, comments, feedback or whatever is on their minds.  I'm a literal-minded person, so I take them at their word and I often call in to make a comment or request a song.  And the surprising thing is, they (almost) always answer and seem genuinely glad to talk to a listener and they're eager to do whatever they can to please their audience.

So when I called Suzanne while she was hosting The Evenin' Blues show last week and requested a song by Saffire-The Uppity Blues Women, she was sincerely sorry that she didn't have anything with her to play but she promised to play something for me on her next show, which was today.  And she delivered on her promise in "community radio" style!

This afternoon when I tuned in to Suzanne's "Red, hot and blues" edition of the Evenin' Sun I was treated to not one song, but almost an hour's worth of music from Saffire and it's members who have gone off to do their own thing - she played my request alright, but on steroids!  And of course I called her to thank her, because when you're part of a community, that's what you do.

The Fall Begathon, WMPG's semiannual fundraiser, starts soon and you can be sure that I will call Suzanne again with a pledge of support - I hope that you will, too.  Here's some Saffire-the Uppity Blues Women to tell you why you should:

Monday, September 10, 2012

Ray and Ola's

Just a short walk from the high school I attended there was a lunch counter/soda fountain/general teen hang-out called Ray and Ola's named, not surprisingly, after its owners, Ray and Ola. It had a counter with stools, a few booths, a jukebox and a pin ball machine, but mostly what it had was location as it was within easy walking distance from the school so it was a natural place for kids to go to at lunch and after school.  To say that the place was constantly mobbed at those times would be an understatement - it was THE place to go to meet friends, catch up on the latest news about who was going out with whom, and maybe engage in discreet public displays of affection with your sweetie, and you could stay for hours for the price of a cherry-coke.

Ray and Ola's was, I think, the east coast small town version of places like Arnold's, which was the fictional Milwaukee drive-in the gang from Happy Days used to frequent, or Mel's Drive-In, the real life teen gathering place featured in the movie "American Graffiti".  In the '60s teens everywhere, it seems, needed a place to gather, to socialize and be seen, and occasionally, truth be told, to cause a little mischief.

I don't know if such places exist today; it seems teens lives now are more structured with lots of organized activities to occupy them after school and not a lot of time to just "hang out" the way we used to.  I know there is a teen facility operated by the school department in the small town where I now live that is intended to give teens a safe place to go meet with friends, play games and otherwise occupy themselves in their spare time, but somehow it just doesn't seem to provide the same kind of atmosphere that a place like Ray and Ola's did.

I have no idea why I am telling you all this, but at least it gives me an opportunity to post a couple of song's from the era that were likely to be on the juke box at Ray and Ola's. The British invasion was just getting under way in the early '60s and the charts were dominated by the likes of the Beatles and the Dave Clark Five, but at Ray and Ola's you were more likely to be listening to a song about teen love, like this -

or teen angst, like this -

(I seem to remember that the girls picked most of the songs we listened to.)

Whatever the reason it was on my mind, I can never think of Ray and Ola's without being reminded of this song from Jimmy Buffett - I think you'll see why:

I hope Ray and Ola got to enjoy a second honeymoon in Pensacola - after putting up with us for all of those years I'll bet they really needed one - and they certainly deserved it!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Singin' the Blues...

"The blues" covers a lot of territory as a musical genre - there's Chicago Blues, New Orleans Blues, Zydeco, St. Louis blues and lots more, but it seems it's all uniquely American - it tells the story of our sorrow and our hope.

My first recollection of the blues is about a song that's not even real blues, it's a song about "Singing the Blues" - here's Guy Mitchell to tell you all about it:

I was about 10 years old when the song was released and for a long time it was about all I knew about the blues.  I know a lot more now then I knew then but I'm still no expert.  But one thing I have learned is that while "singing the blues" can mean feeling down and out it can also be about hope and joy and the triumph of the human spirit.  And here's Saffire - The Uppity Blues Women to tell you all about that kind of blues:

"Dance with death or dance with life, which one do I choose...?"

And sometimes the blues is just pure entertainment, as the Huxtable family demonstrates in my favorite version of Ray Charles' "The Night Time is the Right Time":

Like I said, "the blues" covers a lot of territory, and it's all good.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Labor Day with WMPG

The fog finally cleared and the sun burst through just before noon so I grabbed my portable radio and a bottle of beer and headed for the pool deck.  Really, I can't imagine a more perfect way to spend a lazy afternoon on the traditional last day of the Summer season.

Amy Goodman came on at noon with an hour long interview with Congressman John Lewis, a pioneer in the Civil Rights movement.  The discussion contrasted current attempts to limit voting rights with the sacrifice made by civil rights activists to increase voter eligibility in the '60s.  It was a moving and insightful program that  put the current discussion of proposed legislation to prevent perceived "voter fraud" in a proper historical perspective.  I hope you will find it and listen to it.

Jeff Wax did an admirable job of filling in for the regular show that follows Amy Goodman by playing and discussing a selection of early rock and roll from the '50s.  What I loved about the show was his narrative about the history of the selections he played, and I called him to tell him so.  Late in the show he played a song from 1954 that was one of my earliest recollections of music from the era ( I was 8 years old) - it's still a great song today, so here it is for you to enjoy, too:

Jeff's show was followed by Ben, who has a regular Monday afternoon show  featuring hip-hop, of which I am not generally a fan.  But maybe because of the spectacular weather, or possibly the beer, I really got into his music this afternoon.  One song in particular caught my attention: HWA, I Aint' no Lady - listen carefully to the lyrics and you'll see why:

Ben's Hip-Hop was followed by Suzanne's regular Monday edition of Evenin' Sun, which she calls Red Hot and Blues.  She did a smoking hot set of blues featuring a Labor Day theme involving work, jobs and money, including this timely entry:

Can you think of a better way to spend a sunny Labor Day afternoon?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

"The Old Man and the Seat"

I've said before that I get my TV news from Comedy Central, principally from "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart, and the episode from August 31 is a prime example of why this is true.

Because I don't generally watch the "lame-stream media" news coverage I was totally unaware of the buzz that Clint Eastwood had caused by his appearance at the Republican National Convention, where he preceded Mitt Romney's moment in the national spotlight with a 12 minute monologue with an empty chair! 

Clint's performance, followed by Mitt's acceptance speech occurred on a Thursday night and when I read about them Friday morning my first thought was, wow - I wonder what Jon Stewart's take on all of that is going to be?  But because "The Daily Show" doesn't normally air on Friday I thought I would have to wait until after the weekend to hear his take on the events.  Happily, I was wrong.

The Daily Show's coverage of the convention was extended to include a Friday show and Jon outdid himself in commenting on the Eastwood performance and Romney's remarks to expose the whole Republican platform for the fraud that it is.  They have no agenda other than to defeat an invisible Barack Obama that only they can see, in order to return America to a past that never existed.

Please, watch for yourself and then tell me, is that not the funniest yet most truthful coverage of the Republican Convention that you have seen anywhere?

I can hardly wait to see what they have to say about the Democratic Convention next week!