Friday, February 29, 2008

No Depression, no more

I missed the announcement in the current issue, but Lucy told me she heard the report on NPR, and it's, of course, depressing, with a capital "D." No Depression will cease publication after its next issue.

I've been reading No Depression from the beginning, and so I will miss it. It informed, enlightened, maddened and delighted me for the past decade. There is no other such repository for roots and Americana music.

I was reading No Depression a few years ago on a flight out West, and a stewardess sat next to me and proceeded to tell me, at length, about her brother who suffered from depression. I listened politely, and sympathetically, and didn't figure out why she had chosen me, until she asked me why I was reading No Depression. Under other circumstances it would be a laughing matter.

The magazine title comes from an old Carter Family song (and an Uncle Tupelo cover of said song).

Are they making fun of Ralph, or making fun of the people making fun of Ralph?

This video, a parody of a video condemning Scientologists is making the rounds of the internet.

Connecticut Bob, is only the most recent to post it. But I think you anti-Ralphites might be reading the joke wrong.

Oh, that kind of flag-wearing, finger-pointing patriotism

From Talking Points Memo, Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia represents the party of the ass.

Earle at the Calvin

Steve Earle performed live, mostly solo, and with just a little help from his wife Alison Moorer on vocals, and with some assistance on electronic rhythm machine.

Earle plowed through two dozen songs, most of which came from recent albums (though The Revolution Starts....Now was largely ignored). Earle was not chatty, until the end of the show, concentrating on delivering lots of music over the two hour range of the show. His audience singalong on Lay This Hammer Down and his intro to Jerusalem were the only occasions when he allowed himself to be a bit expansive, and a bit political.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Willie P. Bennett RIP

Old news, by a week and a half, to all the Fredheads (Eaglesmith) who loved Willie P. Bennett, and heard of his passing away, unexpectedly in Ontario.

Preferring life as a sideman, Willie was impressive when he was out front.

George Bush's worst nightmare

A respected Air Force colonel, former advocate of the Military Commissions system, a dogged prosecutor, and now, a vociferous opponent to the "rigged" trials of Guantanamo terrorists.

Soon, we'll be hearing from the Pentagon and the White House about Colonel Morris Davis' mental breakdown from post-traumatic stress, or some other smear campaign in their attempts to create a smokescreen.

The newly revealed photos from Abu Ghraib, out today, prove again that we are not the noble nation we believe ourselves to be.

Is Russert a racist?

Tim Russert hammered Barack Obama during the debate Tuesday, demanding that he publicly denounce the support of Louis Farrakhan. Obama had no trouble with the denunciation since he had, in the past, provided just such a denunciation of Farrakhan's repulsive viewpoints.

But as Glenn Greenwald points out, Russert has never confronted Republican candidate John McCain because of the support he receives from the powerful zealot Christian, Pastor John Hagee, whose anti-Muslim, anti-gay biases have been well-documented. Even our own Creepy Joe™ Lieberman courts the support of Hagee.

I don't think it's about party. I think its about skin color.

In denial

(CNN photo)

George Bush held a news conference today to demand recognition of his delusional world.

Bush said he didn't think we were headed into a recession. Maybe he meant that we were already in one, as hundreds of economic experts have suggested, but no, he confirmed that we were in a "slowdown."

Bush said that allowing lawsuits against the FISA abuses by the government and telecom companies would be "unfair." Of course, not unfair to individuals who had been abused, but to the poor, poor corporations who colluded with a criminal government.

While he seemed to acknowledge that his refusal to compromise on FISA was all about telecom immunity, he failed to acknowledge that he alone was responsible for refusing to sign an extension of the Protect America Act, which would have staved off the frightening, monstrous terrorists he continues to conjure.

And he acknowledged he didn't know what a gallon of gas might cost this summer. That's because he's never had to worry about pumping it himself.

When you don't know what a gallon of gas, or a gallon of milk costs, you have no right talking about understanding what the American people want.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Englehart makes the point, inadvertently

Poor pitiful editorialists who can't think of anything better to do than to chide Ralph Nader for telling the truth. You'd think they'd embrace someone who is not part of the mainstream, not pre-packaged, not prone to handing out boiler-plate PR packages for lazy journalists to reprint.

But, no.

See, Englehart's cartoon is not funny. Englehart's cartoons rarely are. But in this one, he's correct. Ralph Nader is running, not to win, but to get people to pay attention to him and his ideas. All of which are good for America. Imagine, repecting the individual, honoring freedom of speech, opening the political process to all and not just the powerful, keeping people safe and healthy. Radical ideas, eh? And Englehart even portrays him as the ultimate outsider - a madman.

Would that all our leaders were so mad.

The Courant printed a respectable, and I'd say respectful, article by Jesse Hamilton which began on page 1, this morning, which gives Nader the chance to express himself. It also gives his critics room to carp.

Most surprisingly is the dismissal of Nader by Chris Dodd. He just went down a peg in my book. Dodd feigns ultimate respect for the constitution, but he dismisses Nader as a nagging egoist.

Still, Nader gets the best of Dodd when he says:

"Dodd's silence on Lieberman is really amazing."

Lieberman, who describes himself as an "independent Democrat," has been campaigning for the Republican front-runner, Sen. John McCain. Nader said Dodd is willing to openly criticize him (Dodd also called Nader's announcement "somewhat of a yawn") but not his fellow senator. "Why doesn't he look at Lieberman as imperiling the prospects of the Democratic candidate? It's political bigotry."


Politicians don't understand Ralph. Politicians feel the need to be loved by everyone. Politicians deal in manipulation and compromise.

Ralph Nader doesn't care if you love him. He just wants to see progress made. He wants something to get done.

So, former Congressman and Nader Raider Toby Moffet thinks Ralph is a "tragic, islolated figure?" Maybe the Courant should have identified Moffet as a senior counselor for the Livingstone Group, a lobbying firm which represents the very kind of corporate powers which Nader fights against.

I doubt Nader will lose sleep over Moffet's criticism.

Not in my back pocket

Larry McHugh, Middlesex Chamber of Commerce president, has posted an interesting article about opposition to development, and the NIMBY (not in my backyard) effect.

One paragraph, in particular, makes a very good point about balance:

If positive development is to take place it must involve a collaborative process which includes emphasis on preservation, protection and creativity. Our minds must shift to seek better solutions rather than better obstructions regarding opportunities for investment in our communities. We must think of the good of the whole – the good of the region and the state at the same time we think of the impact of development on our limited personal interests.

One can't argue with that sentiment. An as ideal, it's certainly one for which we should aim.

Still, while the NIMBY attitude often has its roots in fear of any kind of change, there often is real truth that certain major developments should not be placed in certain backyards. The NIMBY attitude also has its roots in bad development, faulty municipal oversite, corruption, developer greed, bad planning, bad communication and honest difference of opinion and philosophy.

As an opponent to the proposed big box store in center city Middletown, I can think of dozens of well-reasoned arguments why a big box is not good for a center city, and a large portion of the community agreed. Yet that was a project supported, even sheparded, by the Chamber of Commerce. The proposed Army Training Center in Maromas is another such bad idea. Sure, neighbors were outraged to hear that a base would be down the road from them, but the Army was, and is, completely wrongheaded to think that building a base in untrammeled nature was a good idea, and the community agreed (though the Chamber of Commerce did not). In fact, the arguments for continuing to place the Army Base in Middletown remain just as specious. The jobs and business increases have to be balanced against the obligations and costs of the projects.

I think NIMBYism is perfectly reasonable in many situations, and development for the sake of development is, simply, stupid. Smart development, with community involvement, guarantees taht the economy will prosper and the community will thrive. Development as a result of back room deals, payoffs, corporate or government bullying, will likely always end in a bad result.

I know that Larry McHugh has an obligation to encourage development, commerce and an increased tax base. But as he writes in his article, it's balance which will achieve the best development.

H/T Catherine Johnson.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Remind us. Which candidate is for corporate greed? Pentagon waste? Bad health care?

So asks Eleanor Randolf in an Editorial Notebook blog for the New York Times.

She is asking with a pen full of irony. The non-ironic answer is "all of them." Not one of the candidates has fully denounced, in word and action, the role of corporate power in politics, nor has voted to reduce the Pentagon budget, nor has introduced a single-payer universal health care plan (because that would harm the insurance companies, you see).

What is so scary about Ralph Nader that a competent candidate (and I believe Barack Obama is one) would have trouble addressing. Hell, I'd invite Obama to debate Nader just to get the issues on the table.

The Hartford Courant offers the opinions of Trinity's Adrienne Fulco on the topic, and while her essay is carefully considered, and far from the previous adolescent Nader name-calling on the Courant's editorial page, the headline screams something that's not stated in the article (Nader Crashes Party Again, Should Quit Race).

If I read another bad pun in an anti-Nader piece about Nader's nadir, I'll puke. I don't need to know, once again, that he's a 74 year old, over the hill hero who is soiling his own legacy. Why not write about a legacy that's spoiled from the start, like that of George Bush or Karl Rove?

Finally, I'll remind editorial writers, that every piece about Nader brings more attention to his candidacy (Mark Silva of the Baltimore Sun realizes this) and the ideas he has about American politics, the American economy, and American liberty and freedom of expression.

So keep on writing. Keep on writing.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Can't get Meiers, can't get Bolten, can't get Rove, can't get Cheney, so let's get Clemens

The spineless Congress which has failed repeatedly to stand up to the criminal activity of the Bush administration, but by gum, they're going to stand up to those bad, bad baseball players.

Hard to imagine with so many things going wrong in the world that Congress is even spending a minute worrying about over-paid athletes injecting themselves with HGH.

Is it any wonder that their approval numbers are in the dust?

Trolleys to return to Middletown?

There's a persistent rumor about town that an innovative, though a thoroughly retro, solution to transportation and parking problems is on the table in Middletown Connecticut.

At a recent meeting of the town's Economic Development Committee, at which the need for a quick parking fix was discussed yet again, a member of the public suggested an old idea. How about a trolley line down the center of Main Street connected to plentiful parking in a lot on the outskirts?

The members of the committee grumbled, and Council member Bob Santangelo trotted out his usual feeble excuse that modern cars were not designed to drive regularly over rail lines embedded in roadways (I guess that's why people can't drive cars in San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia, Denver, Salt Lake City - shall I stop now, Bob?). But the idea, apparently has sunk in.

There is word that leading members of the majority party in town have begun to investigate the idea, and to develop a plan, and that actual drawings and plans are being developed in the town planner's office.

Trolleys? Streetcars? Light rail? In Middletown? Is it possible?

(drawing by C. Johnson)

Yes, and here's why?

A deadline looms for the town to submit a plan for parking and transportation development or lose $15 million in federal dollars that is currently on the table. Right now, despite a claim to the contrary by some town leaders, there is no consensus for a parking plan, or a parking study which has carefully feigned but studiously avoided public input.

What are the advantages?

- Another huge parking edifice could be placed outside the confines of the center city
- A jerry-rigged reconfiguration of the current bus station could be avoided, and it too could be placed outside of the core retail district
- The federal government would happily embrace a proposal which included innovative mass transit plans
- The political figures who produced the plan will be showered with public acclaim for being innovative and creative

But how would a return to a trolley line help Middletown?
- As a first in Connecticut, it would make downtown Middletown a destination for shoppers wanting to ride the rails
- As a first in Connecticut it would garner a huge amount of free publicity for the city
- As public transportation it would provide cheap, clean service for those who need it
- It would connect the entire run of Main Street from North to South
- It could decrease traffic congestion
- It would increase retail traffic and have a huge economic impact on Main Street
- It's an environmentally-sound solution to transit
- Middletown's broad Main Street is the perfect layout for center-line light rail
- It could be the beginning of a light rail system which could connect Middletown to Hartford and New Haven, and perhaps Middletown to the shoreline

With all the advantages, it's no wonder that some of the local leaders are beginning to see it as a winning solution to a decades-old problem.

The Ralph bashing begins

Even people who consider themselves liberal thinkers, progressive advocates and who would agree nearly unanimously with every plank of his platform, are beginning to shriek inanities about Ralph Nader's run for president.

Nader, never forget, is brilliant, and he has already begun to get exactly what he wants.

Does anyone think that Nader himself harbors any hope of actually winning the election? At this point, Nader has stated bladly that it would take complete incompetency for the Democratic party to blow the election of its candidate (which he assumes will be Barack Obama, whom Nader has praised as running a brilliant campaign), against the shrill war cries, and the fear mongering of the Bush-mirror-image McCain campaign.

So what's Ralph want?

He wants to be heard. He wants the voice and the concerns of political dissent, the kind of political dissent which created this country, to be heard in the election. He wants to ruffle the feathers of the two party system. He wants a complacent Democratic party to be less about party leaders, political insiders and corporations.

And so far, he's on his way to getting what he wants.

For a crank, a pathetic narcissist and a perennial loser, he's sure gotten a lot of attention. NBC had Nader announce his candidacy on its top Sunday morning talk show. Every newspaper in the country will print the announcement.

He's made his first point, whether frightened liberal Democrats want to hear it or not. Nader is proving that some iberals will abandon their principles hastily when threatened by some of their own ideas. Liberals ought to be working against radical conservatism. Democrats ought to be worried about Republicans.

And Ralph. His goal is to get Barack Obama to begin talking about the things a change-minded, liberal-thinking, Democratic presidential candidate ought to be talking about - true universal health care, civil liberties, international justice, economic stability and justice in trade. And maybe, just maybe, Ralph will get the ear of a now skeptical Obama.

It has happened here

In case you missed the story about the political persecution of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman on 60 Minutes, here it is. Apparently the signal was mysteriously blacked out in parts of Alabama.

If you're not convinced of the criminal status of the current administration in the White House by this story, then you are conveniently deaf, dumb and blind.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Dissent is the mother of ascent

This is why Ralph Nader is necessary.

As you know, Nader declared his candidacy for President on Meet the Press today. The backlash has already begun, with other candidates, including Barack Obama who dismissed Nader's analysis of the parties by saying;

"He thought that there was no difference between Al Gore and George Bush and eight years later I think people realize that Ralph did not know what he was talking about."

Unfortunately, Obama is not looking carefully at the failures of the DNC, the Democratic controlled Congress, or the way that the media treats marginalized candidates.

Let's set aside Nader's truly heroic stature (which BTW Obama recognizes), and try to understand that the elected offices of the United States are not guaranteed only to members of the Democratic and Republican parties.

Nader defends himself well on his Meet the Press appearance (all the segments, available on line are worth watching ,and BTW excuse the Boeing sponsorship ads), but his critique of Obama makes it clear to me why I must remain a reluctant supporter of the Senator from Illinois.

I don't know that I'll vote for Nader in the general election. I certainly will sign a petition to get him on the ballot in this state, and I may even volunteer to pass one of those petitions around.

Your flag decal won't get you into heaven anymore

One of the many highlights of John Prine's debut album, oh so many years ago, was a little song about the kind of "patriot" who feels the need to display his flag on his sleeve.

Now the Barack Obama swiftboaters are barking about his lack of patriotism
because he sang the national anthem without his hand over his heart, and he actually doesn't wear one of those ridiculous flag lapel pins.

These patriotic critics are the same ones who will willingly shred the Constitution whenever it doesn't meet the criteria they've set for protecting their wasteful way of life.

Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore

While digesting Reader's Digest
In the back of a dirty book store,
A plastic flag, with gum on the back,
Fell out on the floor.
Well, I picked it up and I ran outside
Slapped it on my window shield,
And if I could see old Betsy Ross
I'd tell her how good I feel.

But your flag decal won't get you
Into Heaven any more.
They're already overcrowded
From your dirty little war.
Now Jesus don't like killin'
No matter what the reason's for,
And your flag decal won't get you
Into Heaven any more.

Well, I went to the bank this morning
And the cashier he said to me,
"If you join the Christmas club
We'll give you ten of them flags for free."
Well, I didn't mess around a bit
I took him up on what he said.
And I stuck them stickers all over my car
And one on my wife's forehead.

Repeat Chorus:

Well, I got my window shield so filled
With flags I couldn't see.
So, I ran the car upside a curb
And right into a tree.
By the time they got a doctor down
I was already dead.
And I'll never understand why the man
Standing in the Pearly Gates said...

"But your flag decal won't get you
Into Heaven any more.
We're already overcrowded
From your dirty little war.
Now Jesus don't like killin'
No matter what the reason's for,
And your flag decal won't get you
Into Heaven any more."

Hiatt and Lovett at the Calvin

Thanks to a wandering gallstone, my musical forays were limited this week, but I did get to the amazing pairing of Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt at the Calvin Theater in Northampton Mass on Saturday night.

These are two of my favorite American songwriters, and the solo acoustic trade-a-song approach highlight the songwriting and performing ability of both.

Of the two, Lovett seemed a bit more adventurous in his song selection, choosing lesser-known, but deserving to be better known songs like, Creeps Like Me and Last of the Family Reserve. Hiatt hit his high points, and even tried out a few from his new album Same Old Man.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Turd blossom stinks like its source

60 minutes investigates the political persecution of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman who had the temerity to face an investigation, find vindication then decide to run again, until the feds cracked down again. Now Karl Rove has been fingered in the invetigation. Forty former US Attorneys General have asked for a congressional investigation. Somehow, until Sunday night's show, the story of this political prisoner has been kept out of the national press.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Creepy Joe's™ bogus diner reality checks

I could understand a politician, especially a controversial politician, who would not want to announce unexpected appearances at local eateries so he could get to know the "real" people who dine there.

It all amounts to a balogna sandwich when the "unannounced appearance" happens to coincide with a visit from a gaggle of reporters and photographers. The "unannounced appearance" instantly becomes yet another photo op that was indeed announced to the press, but not to the public.

For if it had been announced to the public, Creepy Joe™ Lieberman may have found that he was not greeted by grandmothers who he could sing "happy birthday" to, but angry constituents who feel betrayed by his embrace of a Republican presidential candidate, his support of a failed and criminal misadventure in Iraq, his embrace of constraints on civil liberties, and his vote to protect giant telecom companies from prosecution for the laws which they broke.

When a Senator arrives in a surprise visit to a diner with cameras and reporters in tow, most polite folk will not speak their true minds. In interviews with the diners, most demurred about their support, or lack thereof, of the party-straddling Senator.

In his recent visits to the state, Creepy Joe™ Lieberman has been very careful not to alert the thousands of state residents who would love the opportunity to give the old mugwump a deserved piece of their minds.

Still, it's another bit of publicity for the renovated O'Rourkes. And that is the silver lining to the visit by the Senator from the party of one.

Maromas still threatened by Army Base

Leave it to our town planner and town fathers to come up with a solution to a problem which still invites the Army Corps of Engineers to pour acres of blacktop over undeveloped real estate (this was reported in the 2/22 Hartford Courant, but does not appear on their website right now - though the Lieberman visit to Middletown story is listed four times)

Let me begin by listing my prejudices. As far as I'm concerned, the Army can go to some other town to build their facility. I consider myself a patriot, and a realist, but I mistrust nearly every concept devised by the Pentagon at any level. Also, this Army Reserve Training Center offers not a single advantage to Middletown. The monetary gains are questionable when measured against the costs we will face over the years. And, once the Army is in place we as a town have absolutely no authority to tell them what to do there. So if they decided (and I'm not suggesting they are) to open an extreme interrogation training center, we could do nothing to prevent it.

So, everyone agrees that the facility shouldn't be on Freeman Road. But if we replace the auto graveyard (in Maromas), or put it next to the planned power plant on River Road (next to the river and in Maromas), we are somehow doing something more preferable? I, for one, don't think so.

There is no inspiration in the town planner's suggestions. Why not build on the old Nike site, or on some other brownfield far from the Connecticut River. Why not suggest that the Army find another town, considering the burdens we face from our mental health and prison facilities?

Are town councilors, and the mayor afraid to appear inhospitable to the military? Afraid of being called unpatriotic, or soft on terrorism?

What are the real motives? The site on Saybrook Road will allow the feds to put sewer and water lines down Saybrook Road and further open that thoroughfare to development (likely a welcome thought to the Chamber of Commerce). On the other site, we'll have yet another quasi-industrial parcel directly on the river, a 19th century concept if ever there was one. But maybe we'll be able to sell the Army some aquifer water from the pump we're being granted by the power company who gets access to the aquifer in the deal.

It's great that townspeople, environmentalists, Freeman Road residents and open space advocates got together to get the Army to reconsider its siting plans. Let's hope the coalition sticks together to prevent some other equally ruinous placement for the training facility.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

I guess that answers that

(Hartford Courant photo)

I was lying in the ER at Middlesex Memorial Hospital this morning, recovering from a bout with severe abdominal pain, three shots of morphine and two CAT scans when the nurse gave me eating instructions for a bland diet today.

I turned to Lucy and said, "I guess we can't stop at O'Rourkes."

Little did I know that Senator Creepy Joe™ Lieberman would be stopping there this morning for his first visit since the diner was resurrected, and would use the opportunity to defend John McCain against charges in a New York Times article.

Declaring the story "untrue" Lieberman shows the kind of blind loyalty to McCain that he never showed to the Democratic party or Bill Clinton.

I'm sorry I missed his visit. I have a question or two.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

What will Holy Joe (Creepy Joe™) say?

Breaking news in the New York Times has linked Republican presidential candidate John McCain with a lobbyist during his run for President in 2000. The story is short on details, except for denials from both parties that there was ever a romantic relationship. There is a hint that McCain went to bat for this particular lobbyist.

The story has been floating around in the beltway for several weeks, and the fact that the New York Times has broken the story now, has raised a lot of questions.

What are the details?

What else does the New York Times have?

How will it affect McCain's candidacy?

Who leaked the story to the press and why?

Why has Rush Limbaugh been so strident in his criticism of McCain, the assumed conservative Republican candidate? (I smell a rat.)

Why did Mitt Romney only "suspend" his campaign and not officially concede? (I smell another rat.)

Why has Huckabee hung on so long in the face of debate? (It's beginning to smell like a rat family.)

Why did Karl Rove predict "surprises" in the campaign? (King rat.)

Where are those swiftboaters?

But my question is for Creepy Joe™ Lieberman, who acted the pharisee during President Clinton's indiscretion and castigated the President from the floor of the Senate, is, what are you going to say about your principled buddy McCain. And what will you do if he's not the candidate in Minneapolis?

Susan Campbell on the real meaning of supporting the troops

Question for the Hartford Courant: why is Susan Campbell's column so damned hard to find in the web version of your newspaper. Click on "columnists" and her name is absent. Search in vain for the online version of the, ahem, Living Section, and it's absent. Each Wednesday morning as I scan the site from the radio station computer I have to enter her name as a search item to find the column (So you know, I'm a subscriber, but the paper doesn't reach the house, or the honor boxes in my neighborhood, until well after I leave at 4:50 a.m.)

Once you find the column today, you'll also find it's well worth reading, and reading aloud to any semi-literate, tunnel-visioned, conservative radio talk show host you think will listen.

Campbell is on the money about the pathetic way our country, and our government, treat the men and women who serve dutifully, and then return, not as whole or sound as they once were.

CT vote in national election at risk

In yesterday's New Britain Herald, Rick Guiness reported on a major problem with the state's new Centralized Voter Registration System.

It seems like important news, and kudos to Guiness for reporting it, but why isn't anyone else concerned?

On February 15th, 2007 in testimony before the state legislature's budget appropriations committee, Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz was bragging about the creation of the Centralized Voter Registration System:

The 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA) also mandated that each state have a central voter registration system in place by 2004. Connecticut was a national leader in establishing a voter registration system that protects the rights of voters and also guards against potential voter fraud. This new statewide system, known as Centralized Voter Registration (CVR), was established to protect the sanctity of every vote and to assure citizens that the precious right to vote is not compromised by fraud. I led the way in developing our CVR in 2003, in compliance with Connecticut 2003 state law and a year ahead of the HAVA deadline. Again, I must commend the local election officials and municipal leaders for their assistance in meeting this federal mandate.

A year later Bysiewicz has sent a somewhat panicked letter to the governor to solicit funds to fix the system after several crashes in the days before the recent primary:

The problem, Bysiewicz says in the two-page letter, was that the Centralized Voter Registration System “crashed several times on the day before the primary, and has not yet been completely restored.”

Bysiewicz says her staff has worked with the state Department of Information Technology on the problem “and although numerous explanations were given and several ‘fixes’ attempted, we do not believe that issues have been addressed in a way that would reassure registrars that they will have what they need in November.”

The system is manufactured by ElectioNet (one of those annoying, mid-word capitalized letter product names), which claims:

With the Election Reform Bill being passed, you need a high-performance voter registration system designed to provide data in real-time and comprehensive support for your election processes. You want the flexibility of a modular, integrated system. The solution you choose must meet these standards. The solution that satisfies these requirements is ElectioNet's™ Centralized Voter Registration System. It is the leading solution for voter registration and election management...


Connecticut replaced their legacy system with ElectioNet™ and became the first installed site for our product to support their two million registered voters in 169 towns for 600+ concurrent users and 718 polling places.

Unfortunately, it crashed. Am I the only one, besides the Secretary of State, who's a little nervous about the reliability of our state's electronic voting and registration systems?

Farm boy

A new mini-site has been launched for the new Billy Bragg album, Mr. Love and Justice. It's out in Europe in a week, and in the US, it'll be out in April on Anti. The site has four new studio videos with a total of 14 promised.

A damning indictment from an insider

It's been a busy week so far, and it was only last night that I got to the Sunday New York Times Opinion section.

One of the most powerful criticisms of imprisonment, torture, and prosecution of terrorists held in Guantanamo is offered by Morris Davis, a former Air Force colonel and chief prosecutor for military commissions at Guantanamo.

Morris had the moral courage, and the respect for the letter of the law to retire when asked to use testimony acquired through the use of torture, and he refused. He was also placed under a gag order and ordered not to testify, when requested, by a Senate committee.

This speaks volumes to the moral vacuum of this administration, the Pentagon, and our country has fallen into.

The military is about to conduct show trials, well, not trials, but kangaroo courts, to try accused 9/11 attackers. The verdicts reached, will be forever tainted by the injustices meted out by the United States.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Beating down a straw man

By now, it's clear that Barack Obama's message of change and hope scares the bejabbers out of conservatives. So the attack is on. Obama's a inspirational speaker but there's no substance, they say. Obama is bringing new voters into the process, but he's got no experience, they say. Obama's appealing to fed-up Republicans, but they aren't real Republicans. All nonsense of course.

The measure of their fear can be found in David Brooks New York Times commentary today, entitled, When the Magic Fades. In it, Brooks sets up a mystical straw man who is only superficially similar to the candidate, so that he can knock this scarecrow god from his pedestal, and tear him apart.

Brooks doesn't relegate straw-man manufacturing for the candidate, painting supporters as some kind of addicted mob. He writes:

Up until now The Chosen One’s speeches had seemed to them less like stretches of words and more like soul sensations that transcended time and space. But those in the grips of Obama Comedown Syndrome began to wonder if His stuff actually made sense.

Of course, there is no evidence of this flagging support, save in a press that has built a candidate, and now wants to tear him down. This "candidate remorse" is a fiction created by a jaded, and conservative press.

He writes:

Barack Obama vowed to abide by the public finance campaign-spending rules in the general election if his opponent did. But now he’s waffling on his promise.

The minute Obama decides not to abide by public financing, this argument will be legitimate, until now, it's a nasty attack about something that hasn't happened.

He writes:

If he values independent thinking, why is his the most predictable liberal vote in the Senate?

This is, of course, the vaguest kind of criticism. What does "most predictable liberal vote in the Senate" really mean. Predictable by whom, and about what? Brooks should know that the most predicatable vote in the Senate is any Republican, because they vote lockstep, as a block, to counter ever bit of legislation that comes before them. Remember that "liberal" Senator Creepy Joe™ Lieberman? I'd wager his vote is far more predictable than Obama's.

Brook's column is filled with these imaginary sins. But you'll hear more about them. Just turn on any conservative talk radio show between now and the election. The list of outrages will be long, and the charges rancorous, but the actual facts will show that most of the charges are fairy tales.

When the magic fails? Magic is sleight-of-hand, Mr. Brooks, and the master of misdirection only has a few more months in the White House. If you're talking about failed magic, maybe you should direct your observations to the abracadabras of terrorism, patriotism and the free market.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose

So the headline in the New York Times, which reads:

Sense of Freedom Follows a Career Crisis

and describing CT Senator, Creepy Joe™ Lieberman, is not much of a surprise.

The surprises in the article are:

- that Lieberman was a mentor to Barack Obama (don't think we'll hear that in one of Obama's stump speeches)
- that Lieberman had as campaign volunteers two Yale law school candidates named Bill and Hillary
- that Bill Curry describes Democrats as "volcano worshippers" in their treatment of Lieberman (a very funny, and apt analogy)
- that CT Democratic chair Nancy Dinardo has put Lieberman's portrait in the closet since he endorsed McCain (funny she waited so long since he abandoned CT democrats so many months ago)
- that Creepy Joe™ feels he "went over to the other family (you know them, they're the ones who hang terrorists from the clothesline)

See what I mean?

H/t to SF Hansen.

A helluva week for music

Every once in a while, there's a week like this:

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
Will Hoge
Toad's Place, New Haven
Tuesday Feb. 19, 8 pm

Hoge and Isbell are two or the best young Southern songwriters in a crowded songwriting city. Hoge, is a rocker from a city of country singers. He's been compared favorably to the young Springsteen, and he's not afraid of some old-fashioned rock and roll. Isbell presided over the quintessential modern Southern rock band when he was songwriter and singer for Drive-By Truckers. He rocks as hard with the 400 Unit. Singer-songwriter Dawn Landes opens.

Red Stick Ramblers
Iron Horse Music Hall, Northampton, Mass
Tuesday Feb. 19, 7 pm

As talented a bunch of boys who have ever come out of Louisiana, this combo crosses the lines from Texas swing, to Cajun to gypsy jazz, and they do it all well. What's more, they make you want to move. This is not some academic dissection of musical genres. This is fun.

Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys
Iron Horse Music Hall, Northampton, Mass
Thursday, Feb. 21, 7 pm

Riley and his crew are as comfortable with straight-ahead, Cajun traditional dance music as they are with re-interpreting swamp-pop, zydeco and creole music. Riley is a genius on any kind of accordion, and fiddle, and his longtime partner David Greeley is his match.

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
Toad's Place, New Haven
Friday, Feb. 22, 8 pm

If you haven't rocked to a Vermont band since Phish kissed the arenas goodbye, this band will give you the opportunity to feel like you're back and kicking. Favorites on the festival scene, Potter and band stick to the essentials, and have re-discovered the power of rock and roll.

Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt
Calvin Theater, Northampton Mass
Saturday, Feb. 23 8 pm

These estimable songwriters and singers have toured together before. This time Guy Clark stays at home, but all the more room for Lovett and Hiatt to stretch through their back catalogue to find the many polished gems.

Mardi Gras Ball with:
Red Stick Ramblers
Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys
Keith Frank and the Soileau Zydeco Band
Rhodes-On-The-Pawtuxet, Cranston, RI
Sat. Feb 23, 6 pm

This yearly fundraiser is a bit of a "tardi Gras" celebration, but who sticks by the rules when there's so much fun to be had. Always a fundraiser, this year teams the abovementioned Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys with The Red Stick Ramblers and zydeco giant, Keith Frank. It's always an amazing night in the splendid confines of the restored dance hall in Rhode Island.

Erin McKeown
Music for a Change
Wilde Auditorium, University of Hartford
Sat. Feb 23, 7:30 pm

We at WWUH would like to think of this as a homecoming of sorts as we were among the first to recognize the outrageous talent of this talented singer, songwriter and performer. McKeown was precocious, and now she's just outrageously talented.

And now, no you can't

The power of a great video clip is affirmed by the number and quality of its parodies.

Whipping up a froth of fear

You may count me as among those who are hopelessly naive as to believe that secrecy should be kept to a minimum in a Democracy.

Secrecy, inevitably, and proven historically, breeds corruption, lies, and a tendency toward autocracy.

So the fact that we have an FBI, CIA, NSA, Homeland Security and god knows what other kind of super-secret organization spying on you, me and the rest of the world, is enough for me to doubt that the people at the top are abiding by agreed-upon laws, and protecting liberty.

So the fact that the Protect America Act has expired fills me with nothing less than joy. I don't believe the threat of terrorism is quite what it's made out to be. I don't believe the threat of militant Islamics is any more scary than the threat of militant Christians. I'm not nearly as scared as the President would like me to be.

Should we have any clandestine operations? Surely in a time of war, real war, we ought to practice counter-intelligence. Maybe, but only maybe, we ought to have standing investigative branches, but they should be limited, there should be strict oversight, and there needs to be an absolute time limit (five years, ten years), after which all secrets will be made public - no exception. That, in and of itself, will prevent agents of our government from doing things they might regret later.

Right now, the President, and his minions, are breathing fire about the terrorist threat, and the expiration of the Protect America Act. It's a sham. The terrorist threats that he rants about are as likely figments of his imagination as are those he's "revealed" in the past. He says that the NSA is hamstrung in its ability to wiretap. Wrong again, the original FISA law enables them still to do just that, with a court order (after-the-fact if needs be).

So what's all the bellyaching? Got to protect the telecoms. Mike McConnell reiterated that fact this weekend. And why? Well, if the telecoms get dragged into court, so does the administration. And if the administration has to reveal their wiretapping secrets, well, then the shit hits the fan.

The Army's back for more, sir

Thursday, the Army will once again make an appearance at Middletown's City Hall to present, one would hope, alternative choices for the Army Reserve Training Center, most recently proposed for a site on Freeman Road. The dog and pony show begins at 7. A good turnout will keep the Army on its toes. No early indications about which site they've chosen, but a great letter from a Freeman Road resident appeared in Sunday's Middletown Press:

It seems that being a part of the federal bureaucracy means you never have to say you're sorry. Just about everybody in town agrees that the Department of the Army made a bad decision about planning a military facility for the Freeman Road meadow and woods. Instead of acknowledging that the decision was flawed both in its process and in its conclusion, the Army put on an arrogant performance two weeks ago at a public meeting here and stubbornly maintained that the Freeman Road plan was a good one.

Spending taxpayers' money to bring several persons involved in the planning to Middletown and flanking them with soldiers dressed in fatigues, the Army PR person, designated as a Project Manager, ignored logic and facts to insist that Freeman Road is a suitable site. As one member of the overflow audience commented, "Couldn't the Department of Defense have used the money (for the presentation) a lot better in Iraq?" And the Army still will only say that they will "consider other possibilities." They are planning to return to Middletown soon, possibly with a similar road show, to announce their current choice for a site. It may not be Freeman Road, but they may well covet another site in Maromas.

There still are some in town who don't understand that the objection to the Army's plan is not simply a matter of residents not wanting a big military base in their backyard. At the meeting, over 200 citizens from all parts of the city demonstrated their strenuous objection to the destruction of open space in any part of Maromas. It seems to me that the persons who prize commercial development above everything else are the ones pursuing selfish agendas. Those who would start the domino of commercializing Maromas are salivating over the presumed benefit of short-term jobs. But for Middletown to prosper in the long-term, it must remain an attractive place for people to live. Replacing open land in Maromas with sprawl is not the way to do this.

Paul Torop
Freeman Road

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The problems with reporting polls as news

Is that lately, they have frequently been wrong.

Karen Hunter, reader representative at the Hartford Courant, examine that fact today in her column.

Interestingly, she concentrated on a UCONN poll managed by Monika McDermott, which turned out to be spectacularly wrong in it's projections. Apparently, defensively, McDermott explained how the poll could have gotten it so wrong, but she blamed the media for misrepresenting the facts of the poll by concentrating on two question, which, she says "sell newspapers"

I'm afraid no one today knows what sells newspapers, or more of them would be sold. McDermott is partially right. Newspapers and other media like to concentrate on the simple facts of a horse race, and abandon the complexities of a campaign. The media likes to sell poll results as facts, but unfortunately, polling companies market the most sensational elements of the polls they conduct.

In fact, McDermott herself was on the Colin McEnroe show making projections, based on her poll, that were more in the realm of opinion then they were anchored in any kind of fact.

The two big problems are that pollsters are trying to make money by predicting how an entire population feels, or will act, based on a small sample (and it's now clear that they can be wrong well beyond their predicted percentages). And the pollsters themselves get a little starry-eyed when being interviewed as if they were some sort of seers. For their part, the news organizations have treated poll results as if they were actual facts, instead of what they really are, guesses.

In a perfect world, pollsters would retire to the back rooms of phone banks, computers and statistics, and news organizations would print poll results on page 29, for what they are, pretty good hunches about what might happen.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Why quibble about a few moments of terror when an election's at stake

Creepy Joe™ Lieberman is a man of principle, though his principles seem to shift as opportunity dictates. In the past, he's said "Torture, bad." Now he says, "Torture, good."

Friday, February 15, 2008

Olbermann uses f-word on Bush

Fascism, that is. Keith Olbermann called George Bush a fascist for demanding that a law be passed to protect telecom corporations from lawsuits for breaking the law. It's a comprehensive, and pithy commentary, but complex. The advice I'd give Olbermann is to consider eliminating a few of the descriptive adjectives, the colorful nouns, and the flamboyant verbs he uses to describe the president and his actions, because, sometimes the message is hard to follow.

When Olbermann calls Bush's argument, "crap" it says it all.

Bush has been using fear as a stick to beat timid lawmakers into submission. He's been using fear to scare Americans. And it's crap, plain and simple. He, and the NSA, CIA and FBI have all the tools they need to spy on terrorists, legally. And even when they had those tools, they broke the law, and now they want absolution for themselves and for the corporations.

Crap, indeed.

And when lawmakers stand up to Bush, the press notices. And that's good.

The "conscience of the Senate" likes a little torture now and again

Creepy Joe™ Lieberman couldn't abide a blow job in the oval office, and he said so from the floor of the Senate. But torture, well, that's as American as detention camps, slavery and burning witches.

Joe Lieberman stated yesterday that torture is necessary to squeeze information from reluctant prisoners. And he says that the president (does he realize who's in charge now?), should have the right to make that decision.

If a nuclear bomb is about to go off in a U.S. city, and the government has a person in custody who has vital information, he said, "You want to be able to use emergency techniques to get the information out of the person." He thinks the president should be able to, in only those extreme cases, authorize the use of waterboarding — a technique that makes a person feel as though they are drowning.

He said the record shows it has been successful and doesn't believe it constitutes torture under the Geneva Conventions.

"I think that we have to allow the president to allow the toughest measures to be used when there is an imminent threat to our country," he said. But in most cases, he said, a more standard regime of persistent and non-physical interrogation should be used.

Oh, if a nuclear bomb were about to go off. Isn't that one of those "hypotheticals" that politicians are so reluctant to discuss. Maybe he's been watching one too many episodes of "24."

He says hot coals against the skin would not be okay. (How about beatings with rubber hoses?) But making a prisoner think he, or she, is going to drown, is swell. It's just "psychological" torment. Creepy Joe™ says it leaves no permanent scars. Maybe he's never talked to a veteran about post-traumatic stress syndrome. If he had, he might not be as gung ho about sending soldiers off for extended tours to an unjust war.

It's more chickenhawk talk. And I'd wager that if one US soldier underwent waterboarding by Iraq insurgents, Creepy Joe™ would readily condemn them. But I guess now that his buddy John McCain has abandoned his principles when it comes to torture, it's okay for Creepy Joe™ to get in on the pig pile, Abu Ghraib style.

Officially over, and officially begun at O'Rourke's

The renovation is complete, and the diner is open for business once again. The official ribbon cutting for O'Rourke's diner was held this morning, to honor the opening, Brian O'Rourke, and all those who worked to make the revival of the diner possible.

Attorney Jane McMillan, my mother-in-law, who headed the fundraising effort, led the event and spoke admiringly about all those who had pitched in, from the $10 donations from throughout the country, to the single anonymous donor who gave $20,000.

Mayor Sebastian Giuliano and chamber-of-commerce president Larry McHugh both spoke of how happy they were to have O'Rourke's back, how great it is to have the foot traffic on this important corner of the North End, and how amazing the Middletown/Middlesex community is, and has been in its effort to restore the diner.

Wesleyan President Michael Roth said that wherever he's spoken at meetings around the country, Wesleyan grads didn't want to know about the new arts programs, or the new buildings on campus, "they wanted to know when O'Rourke's was going to reopen."

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Putting a face on torture

Sit down, cut yourself a piece of apple pie, hum the national anthem, kiss your mom, wave your flag, and read Nick Kristof's op-ed in the Times.

Still proud to be an American? Explain it to Sami al Hajj.

Sam al Hajj is well-known in his home country of Sudan, where a documentary, Prisoner 345, has become the focal point of a rallying cry to free him before the hunger strike he is on, kills him.

Here's your hat, what's your hurry?

And stay out.

Oh, poor Republicans. After using Congress for its own political purposes for eight years, Republicans are offended that the House has issued contempt citations for two White House staffers, and will not, repeat, will not pass a FISA bill including telecom immunity, without proper considerations, the Republican walked out.

If they can't have their way, they're taking their ball and going home.

It's not like they don't have a quorum. See you later.

Concerts of the week

The Primate Fiasco
Perform Sgt. Pepper's
Sat. Feb 16, 7 pm

Iron Horse, Northampton Mass

Down in New Orleans, the jazz bands have been doing a mash up with jazz, funk, rock and whatever for years. The young bands have always understood that the boundaries between musical genres are fragile and breakable. The Primate Fiasco are a Northeastern and white version of their funky brothers in the City that Care Forgot. Boundary breakers they are too. You might hear Satchmo or Jelly Roll, then again, it could be the doors or Sublime. If you've seen them, you'll understand. If not, their concert at the Horse on Saturday should be a convincer. Think four Liverpudlians dropping acid in Treme.

Sun. Feb. 17, 7 pm
Iron Horse,
Northampton Mass

Many years ago I was writing an article about Green Linnet Records for FolkRoots magazine, and as I was leaving after a long interview with label-cofounder Wendy Newton, she handed me a white-label pressing of an LP which she insisted I had to hear. I asked who it was, and she told me Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh (if she passed through Ellis Island, we might call her Mary Mahoney) and Frankie Kennedy, who were just about to form a band called Altan. It was an earshattering experience. I loaned the LP to the late Bill Domler, who left it in his car on a hot summer's day, and well, life is ephemeral. Frankie Kennedy died 14 years ago, but his widow, Mairead, and the band keep making wondrous music.

I keep faith

On his last, and abbreviated, tour of the US, Billy Bragg introduced a new song as one he had written for all his fans. As Dick Gaughan might say, I Keep Faith is a love song of a different kind. Bragg sings encouragement to all those who have been involved in trying to change the world in one way or another. You can hear the song as a preview to his new album, Mr. Love and Justice, on his myspace site.

You can also pre-order the new album at his website, and as a bonus, get a download of a song that won't be on the album.

And don't forget, there are still some tickets left for the March 16 NYC Roseland show with Bragg and the Pogues.

You're frightening the children

It's a bit of a walk through the fun house with our president. If he doesn't get his way, he invokes the monster around the corner, the specter in the old chest, the beast beneath the bed.

When the House of Representatives refused to his demand to immediately pass legislation which broadens the power of the government to spy on its citizens, and protects, retroactively, telecom companies which broke the law at his behest, he conjures up the scariest image he can imagine:

“At this moment,” he said, “somewhere in the world terrorists are planning new attacks on our country. Their goal is to bring destruction to our shores that will make Sept. 11 pale by comparison.”

Oh, mommy.

Bush has usually reserved these scare tactics as misdirections for the various feeble attacks the press has made on his lawless administration. Or he's pulled a boogeyman out of his hat when he needed to bolster votes to support his futile and endless war in Iraq.

Remember the planned attack on the tallest building on the West Coast (he mentioned it again this year in the State of the Union address)? Bogus.

The plot to attack Fort Dix. Ridiculous.

The cheese bombs? Ludicrous.

The gas line hit at JFK? Idiotic.

And now he expects us to buy this. And undoubtably, some of us will.

But remember, the boy who cried wolf was inevitably devoured by one.