The Bill Moyers Suicide Pill

I have a running joke with myself (and those few who share my sense of humor) about the perfect selections for hold music on a suicide hotline. Just the notion of being put on hold on a suicide hotline makes me chuckle. In any case, I settled on such gems as “Dust in the Wind”, “Alone Again, Naturally” and “Don’t Fear the Reaper”. In recent months, however, I have discovered another resource not part of my sick imagination but very real that the clinically depressed should steer clear of. It is the PBS series “Moyers and Company“.

Bill Moyers, a participant in and observer of Washington since the days of LBJ is every liberal’s dream documentary host. He wears his heart on his sleeve as he shines a light on various flavors of American injustice. I enjoy him. I find him intelligent and genuinely curious about the world around him. When you watch him interview a guest, you get the feeling he is learning something new right along with you. The problem with “Moyers and Company” is it is long on problems and rather short on solutions. At the conclusion of each installment I find myself shaking my head in despair. Just a sample of episode titles is enough to send you to a shrink: “America’s Political Breakdown”, “How Dollarocracy is Destroying America”, “Zombie Politics and Casino Capitalism” and the recent rebroadcast of “America’s Gilded Capital”.

In “America’s Gilded Capital”, Moyers interviews Mark Leibovich, the author of the Washington expose This Town. In the book (which I haven’t read) and the interview (which I did watch) Leibovich describes a Washington D.C. dedicated to job security. On every Congressman and Senator’s mind is first and foremost how to turn their time in government into some type of permanent gig, whether it be in government via reelection or outside of government in the private sector. The favorite private sector pastime of our elected officials is lobbying. Obama swore he would stop the “revolving door” of folks moving back and forth between government and lobbying firms, but his frequent exceptions have made the promise null and void. Leibovich describes a conversation he had with then Democratic  Senator Chris Dodd who insisted he would never join a lobbying firm but ended up heading up the MPAA which has a strong lobbying entity. Then there is the story of Evan Bayh who left the Senate fed up with Washington dysfunction only to whore himself out to the Chamber of Commerce. And if you thought bipartisanship in D.C. was dead, think again. It breathes deep where there is money to be made, case in point liberal pundit Steve McMahon of MSNBC and conservative mouthpiece Alex Castellanos of CNN who together worked for a company called Purple Strategies and made lots of money helping BP repair its reputation after the infamous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

This installment ended the way most episodes of “Moyers” end. This is just the way it is but we’ve done you a service by telling you about it.  Word to the wise, watch this show with a stiff drink in one hand and a bottle of Prozac in the other.


A few random thoughts: Some of my more loyal readers who disagree with everything I write had some fun with an old post of mine recently. The post was from 2008 and was entitled “America Says Enough”. It was written in the immediate afterglow of  Barack Obama’s election. The RL Blog “regulars” have had some fun mocking the piece in light of the 20/20 hindsight that shows Obama to be a bit in over his head, as demonstrated by his inability to shake off scandals, real and imagined, that have plagued him. Clearly the most recent example of gross incompetence is the botched technical roll-out of the ACA. Add to that the used car salesman rhetoric of “keeping your insurance and your doctor if you want to” and you have a beleaguered presidency that penetrates even the most rose-colored glasses.

With that said, I don’t take back a single word of what I wrote back in 2008. Back then Obama was a blank canvas upon which the right and left painted their worst nightmares and highest hopes respectively. But one thing I wrote in particular will never be sullied by Obama’s lackluster performance:

I can now look at my beautiful black daughter and tell her that she can be anything she wants to be, without exception, without caveat.

It cannot be underestimated just how many blacks like me never thought a dark-skinned man would be elected President in our lifetime. As much as I loved my country, I felt there were barriers that would not be breached for years, if not decades, to come. For anyone not to understand the emotion attached to seeing this barrier broken is to not understand the human condition.  As moved as I was back then, I still felt that if Barack Obama had been Barry Johnson, great-grandson of slaves, he would not have been nominated much less elected. The very exotic nature of Obama (which has ironically fueled the birther movement) made him acceptable to those who might otherwise have dismissed him. Nevertheless the cosmetics of this half-white, half-first-generation-American of immediate African descent, evoked a visceral reaction in many, including me, and I don’t apologize for it.

Cosmetics do not a great President make. With a four-year record to look back on, I wrote a very different piece in November of 2012. In my piece “Three Open Letters”, I offer the President advice rooted in the reality of his reelection and the imperfections of his administration. The piece in 2008 and the piece in 2012 were informed by the facts on the ground at that time and the accompanying emotions. I stand by both pieces.


What I know about the problems in the Ukraine could fill not much more than this sentence but just on the surface, it is interesting to see a country whose leadership looks to “the dark side” (Russia) while its citizens want to align with the West. I’m just throwing darts here but could it be that social media and the democratization of information access makes it harder for a government to sell its agenda to its people?


On Thursday’s installment of “The Daily Show”, Jon Stewart once again proves why he deserves every cent he earns. His take-down of Fox News’ war on Christmas coverage is classic in its humor and its truth. The Fox News coverage is so absurd that it is all Stewart can do to fit all the insanity into one segment. The ten minute segment can be found here and here and is worth a view.

Two unsettling things that Fox’s Megyn Kelly should remember: Santa Claus as we currently celebrate him, is neither white nor black — he doesn’t exist. Second, as Jon says, Jesus wasn’t born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Jesus looked more like Mohamed Atta than a latter-day version of the Door’s Jim Morrison.


And Now For Something Completely Different

Back in the 90’s when the Internet was not what it is now I was everywhere I could possibly be. I was on America Online back when it had no web presence and was only an app you ran on your computer. Same for Prodigy and CompuServe (where I was thrilled to have a personal exchange with the late Roger Ebert). And then there was Delphi which as I recall was so primitive that it had no graphical interface. It was pure line commands.

It was on Delphi that I wrote a “column” that no one read with a name along the lines of “Tales of a Tuber”, playing on the “boob tube” notion of TV and the couch potato (hence tuber) reputation of those who liked TV.  It was my way of acting out my fantasy of being a critic for TV Guide.  Back then, we didn’t blog. I suppose for its time it was a blog of sorts.

Now I have a blog devoted to what I call social commentary but it has become narrowly focused on politics over the years. Every now and then I’ve wanted to take a small break and engage in some pop culture criticism. Until today, I have resisted the urge.  For my readers who crave politics, sorry to disappoint but you’ll have to indulge this one departure.

Beware the Understudy

John_Oliver_2009If the “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central were a Broadway play, over the past few weeks you would have heard an announcer say “tonight the part of Jon Stewart will be played by John Oliver”. Stewart decided to take the summer off to film a movie leaving in charge one of the Daily Show “correspondents” John Oliver as host. I’ve always been a fan of Oliver but I was still skeptical whether this hosting gig was a bridge too far. Oliver has not disappointed.

First, there is an added element of mockery at play when American politics is skewered by a man with a British accent. Sure, Jon did fine with his New Jersey accent, but the British one seems to twist the knife just that much more. Oliver also adds an element of silly that lightens things up such as the night when he asked how we could possibly know when to give “coup aid” if we can’t define when a coup has occurred. As soon as he said “coup aid” the Kool-Aid big pitcher mascot crashed through the wall of the set. It’s almost Pythonesque even if not quite as sophisticated.

The only remaining test for Oliver to pass for me to declare him a fully deserving inheritor of the Stewart crown was to see if he could give a tough interview. That finally happened last Thursday night when the guest was New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. After discussing her pet cause (sexual harassment in the military), Oliver then asked her to put his mind at ease about something. He said it troubled him that the Senator was at the overlap in the “Venn diagram” of politics and big money. Gillibrand stared at him like a deer in the headlights and evaded the question, perhaps not even understanding it as abstractly as Oliver put it. So Oliver took a second crack at it and spelled it out — Gillibrand’s number one donor was Goldman Sachs with JP Morgan coming in at number 2. He asked what she had to do to get that money. With the question asked more explicitly, Gillibrand still hemmed and hawed and God bless him, Oliver took one more shot at it asking whether the Senator’s opinions on big banks get her the money or does she form these opinions deliberately to get the money.  It was a brilliant take down of a bullshit politician and yes my friends, a take down of a liberal politician.

Jon Stewart may have chosen the wrong dude to temporarily take over his show. I am thinking that Stewart’s return in the Fall will actually be a let down. One thing is certain. Comedy Central will have to create a ninety minute block with Oliver hosting his own news show between Stewart and Colbert. John Oliver has earned it big time.

Screw Rock and Roll, I’m a Country Singer

Creedence_Clearwater_Revival_1968There is one album (yes this 52 year old man still says “album”, not CD) released this year that has received totally confounding critical acclaim. I am talking about “Wrote a Song for Everyone” the collaborative work of John Fogerty with a bunch of guest singers who I assume admire his body of work. I say the acclaim is confounding because I don’t see how any self-respecting fan of Creedence Clearwater Revival could possibly listen to this album without lunging for a barf bag. Two songs stand out as worth a listen. The title track (originally from “Green River”) is a nice new take on the song with the addition of a female voice care of Miranda Lambert. The other “Someday Never Comes” (originally from CCR’s last studio album “Mardi Gras”) adds the ingenious touch of splitting the vocal between Fogerty and guest singer Dawes where Fogerty plays father and Dawes plays son  and the tale of generational paternal neglect gets an added dose of poignancy.

After that, you might as well stop listening. The beauty of CCR’s catalog is that many of their hits could indeed have been country songs but for those of us who are not big fans of country, it was like getting medicine with a huge dose of sugar. A great example is “Lodi” from the album “Green River” which has a mournful vocal with a country feel that still has just enough pop to it to go down easy. The remake? OH … MY … GOD.  Fogerty turns it into a country boogie with an instrumental backing that totally contradicts the despondent lyrics.

Bob Seger guests on “Who’ll Stop the Rain” (from “Cosmo’s Factory”) and I swear the piano sounds exactly like Seger’s “Against the Wind”.  Jennifer Hudson does her awful Tina Turner impersonation on “Proud Mary” (from “Bayou Country”) before the song changes pace abruptly and introduces a fiddle.

Oh yes, that damn fiddle. It’s on almost every song making you long for the original recordings. “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” from “Pendulum” starts off with potential until that damn country twang seeps in. Even when Fogerty doesn’t botch his own work with country, he can’t leave well enough alone. While I enjoyed the duet with Lambert on “Wrote a Song for Everyone” I could not understand for the life of me why the song, midway, lurches into a faster tempo so Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine can launch into a rock guitar solo.

CCR’s last studio album “Mardi Gras” foretold Fogerty’s fondness for country music and he’s indulged that fascination in some of his solo work. That’s fine and dandy. If John wants to be a country artist, more power to him. But don’t, I repeat, don’t rape and pillage the classic Creedence catalog by turning it into a hootenanny.


Photo credits: Anthony Maki [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Fantasy Records (eBay itemphoto frontphoto back) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It Takes a Comedian

It is a sad observation that sometimes it takes a comedian to open our eyes to the truth. Last night, Comedy Central’s two resident political comedians, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart weighed in on the latest GOP temper tantrum over Barack Obama rightfully celebrating the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s capture and killing, using that achievement in a campaign ad and correctly pointing out that opponent Mitt Romney might not have gone after bin Laden.

One of Obama’s supposed offenses is “spiking the football”, gloating in an unseemly way about the bin Laden killing. Of course, the GOP would know nothing about such behavior. On The Colbert Report host Stephen Colbert punctures this myth in one dead-on comment:

Presidents don’t spike the football. You do an endzone dance on an aircraft carrier even if you never found the football.

But it was Jon Stewart and his crack research team on The Daily Show who culled enough video to permanently put to rest any claim the GOP has for righteous indignation. Stewart deflates the GOP two prong attack of Obama’s supposed braggadocio and the terrible offense of conjecturing what Romney might have done.

Vodpod videos no longer available. Vodpod videos no longer available.

For those not wanting to watch the videos, the points are:

  1. Bush spiked the football before the game had even started. (Echoed by Colbert.)
  2. Ed Gillespie was outspoken in condemning the President for conjecturing what Romney would have done. Ed said in 2004 “If Kerry had his polices in place today Saddam would not only be in Baghdad but in Kuwait.”
  3. A 2004 GOP campaign ad:  “How can Kerry protect us when he doesn’t understand the threat?”
  4. Obama has repeatedly given credit to those who actually did the dangerous work. “We killed Osama bin Laden.”
  5. At the 2004 GOP convention, George Pataki, an Obama critic, kissed Bush’s ass. “George Bush protected our country.” Mmmm George Bush did? Or did the soldiers? Why didn’t Pataki give proper credit?
  6. Adding to the pile on, is criticism that Obama dissed Romney in front of a foreign visitor. In 2004 Bush disses Kerry in front of Iraqi Prime Minister.
  7. And the bottom line truth of the matter: GOP is just pissed they couldn’t run the current Obama ad.

Stewart allows for the possibility that the Obama campaign ad lacks some decorum. Fred Kaplan on Slate makes no such apology.

Two new investigative reports—a book by Peter Bergen, Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad, and an article by Graham Allison in the May 7 issue of Time—thoroughly rebut that notion. [of a no-brainer decision].

Far from the no-brainer that Romney depicts, the secret, high-level discussions leading up to the raid were fraught with intense debate and uncertainty—and Obama’s final decisions, on both whether and how to attack, went against some of his top advisers’ recommendations.

Vice President Joe Biden revealed a few months ago that he had urged Obama not to mount the assault. Bergen and Allison report that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates joined him in the dissent—and they explain why.

In the weeks leading up to the decision, a group of counterterrorism officials, after conducting a “red-team” exercise of what could go wrong in such an attack, estimated that there was only a 40 percent chance Osama Bin Laden was actually in the compound. The CIA put the odds at 60 percent. Bergen quotes Michael Morell, the CIA’s deputy director, as telling the president that “the circumstantial case of Iraq having WMD was actually stronger than the circumstantial case that bin Laden is living in the Abbottabad compound.”

Once Obama decided to attack, an equally weighty debate took place over how to go about it. Gen. James Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (and widely known at the time as “Obama’s favorite general”), recommended dropping a few dozen 2,000-pound bombs from a B-2 bomber. Others favored going in with missile-carrying drones.

Others, however, advised sending in SEAL Team Six, noting that an aerial attack might kill lots of civilians—perhaps even some in neighboring houses—and, in any case, would preclude certain knowledge that the strike had actually killed Bin Laden. Obama sided with the advocates of the far riskier raid.

Gates, still skeptical of the whole business, had been CIA director Stansfield Turner’s executive assistant back in 1979, when President Carter ordered a raid to rescue American hostages in Iran—then watched the operation go down in flames, along with his presidency, when the Delta Force’s helicopter crashed.

Struck by Gates’ concerns, Obama ordered Adm. William McRaven, the special-operations commander organizing the raid, to throw in two additional helicopters for backup. It was a good thing he did, since one of the assault choppers crashed outside the compound. via Barack Obama’s decision to go after Osama Bin Laden: how the president overruled his advisers in ordering the assassination – Slate Magazine.

Kaplan’s headline puts it succinctly: Barack Obama Killed Osama Bin Laden. Period.

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