Tag Archives: Congress

And into this life we’re born… baby sometimes we don’t know why

In this edition: Playing musical metaphors with Van Morrison, walking on the bright side, America swings like a pendulum do, Tea Party Troubles, “The future is here. It’s just not widely distributed yet.” — William Gibson

The Bright Side of the Road

Lyrics excerpt:

Little darlin’, come with me
Won’t you help me share my load
From the dark end of the street
To the bright side of the road

And into this life we’re born
Baby, sometimes, sometimes we don’t know why
And time seems to go by so fast
In the twinkling of an eye

Let’s enjoy it while we can
Won’t you help me share my love
From the dark end of the street
To the bright side of the road

– Written by Van Morrison (1979)

More of the lyrics: Van Morrison – Bright Side Of The Road Lyrics | MetroLyrics

“Bright Side of the Road” is a song written by Northern Irish singer-songwriter-troubadour Van Morrison and included on his 1979 album Into the Music. It was also one of the outtakes that made up the 1998 compilation album, The Philosopher’s Stone.

Autobiographical note: I have a fondness for the album The Philosopher’s Stone because it was the a gift from my son and possibly the first time that he thought of giving a gift that was special to me (a Van Morrison fan) and reasonably meaningless to him (probably into Ska music or Metallica at that time). The self-awareness of going outside yourself to please another person is an interesting thing to reflect on, especially in the gift-giving season we’ve just gone through, and some people never learn the art of it.

City-dwellers and commuters understand the concept of the bright side of the road (and the dark side) as we are offered the choice almost daily. The tall buildings leave one side shaded and other side lit. The preferred side probably changes with the temperature but nothing that I can think of beats the ability to be warmed by the sun after a long Chicago winter. Now that the solstice is behind us we can start thinking ahead to the Spring once more (and that’s the only way northern weather can be tolerated!)

But of course, the meaning is in the metaphor. We are often presented with difficulty in life. Where our focus goes determines the way that every day looks and feels to us. Morrison writes, “Won’t you help me share my load, From the dark end of the street, To the bright side of the road.” We don’t have to do it alone. Sometimes we are alone, and the rain just won’t stop falling (another metaphor, of course). The answer for the person on the dark side is probably to reach out to someone to share that load. The rest of us have to be available to listen, sympathize, and help where we can putting blame and regret aside. And as Bob Marley reminded us in “So Much Things to Say”, “when the rain fall, it don’t fall on one man’s housetop,” so we know that one day it might be us walking on that dark, dark side and needing a friend.

But I digress…

Morrison was born Belfast in 1945 and grew up in a musical home. His mother sang at social gatherings, and his father collected classic blues and jazz records. He learned guitar, saxophone, and harmonica while in school, and was playing with blues, jazz, and rock bands by his mid-teens. At 15, he quit school, joined an R&B outfit called the Monarchs, and toured Europe with them as saxophonist. Before he was even 20 he’d started an R&B club at a Belfast hotel and played there in the house band, which became the group Them. Them recorded two songs in 1964, one a local hit and one a U.K. hit “Baby, Please Don’t Go” by Mississippi Delta Blues guitarist and songwriter Big Joe Williams. It would take too much time and space to delve deeply into Van Morrison’s biographical journey, but two things further the thoughts here.

Morrison always fought back against classification as an artist and as a person. While many songs speak of spiritual discovery he will not speak much about it. The common theme seems to be forms of mysticism (the direct experience of the divine or transcendent through prayer or meditation). Around the time “The Bright Side of the Road” was written it seems like the basis was Christian Mysticism and this leads to a third interpretation of the song as the choice we make about spiritual “light” in our lives.

Morrison left Ireland in the early days of “The Troubles,” the name given to 3 decades of violence in Northern Ireland that took place from the late sixties to the end of the nineties. In 1921, Northern Ireland was partitioned from the Republic of Ireland, and many in Northern Ireland were strongly loyal to Great Britain. So while the bulk of Ireland is what we consider to be traditionally Irish, Northern Ireland is a mix of cultures from England and Ireland. The conflict was (and to some degree is) between Protestant supporters of Great Britain and a Catholic minority. Beyond religion, the issue is steeped in ethnic and class issues. Morrison was born into a Protestant family and his mother explored the Jehovah’s Witness faith at one point. Part of his prickly nature (and rejection of traditional religion) may well be based on his experiences in the Nationalist/Loyalist divisions of Northern Ireland.

LB_Rule

For me, and hopefully for the reader, thinking about the culture and politics of the sixties is a way to maintain perspective and to avoid falling into the trap of thinking that the dark side of the street (characterized in this day by real ignorance and hatred of all things Obama) is the way the future plays out. We can easily forget that public opinion is like a pendulum. The swing to the Left that started with Kennedy and lasted 20+ years until Reagan begat the counter swing to the right that now seems to be hitting its peak. (The current degree of ultra-conservatism might be unrivaled in terms of scope. The nearest thing I’ve run across was the race-based conservatism of Southern Democrats as noted in the last piece I wrote. Like the civil rights-opposing Southern Democrats of the past, the worst excesses of the anti-Obama era are Southern and at least partially racist.) Even the long rule of Republicans during the early 1900’s featured some pretty progressive thought including high taxation of the wealthy and tariffs on imports. And Reagan and the conservatives of the time would be characterized as liberal or RINO by today’s GOP extremists.

That the duration of the Reagan conservative period is extended may be due to three aspects. First, flat or declining wages and wealth, amplified by the Great Recession, steals power from the economic majority by shifting the balance toward employers and away from employees. Second, the system has energy being added by the push of conservative money from financial firms, energy companies, and individual billionaire would-be oligarchs.  Finally, that same conservative money supports our entire elections system giving corporations the ability to purchase policy by manipulating support of candidates and by providing the actual legislation through ALEC.

At the heart of the current American power imbalance is the fact that people like the Kochs and Waltons are greedier than the Tolkien dwarves. They can’t do with too much, they need to have way too much. Unless you are quite the pessimist, you believe that the majority of people are fair. You understand that we are all in it together. But in every way the greediest among us overplay their hand and gleefully and publicly poop on the concept of fairness. They work to convince people that climate change is a just theory and that renewable energy is not practical but people are figuring out that we’re living in a period of change and the likely culprit is CO2 from our carbon emissions. They work to keep payrolls down (and profits and dividends up) by attacking collective bargaining and efforts to raise the minimum wage, but then they lose out when the consumer can no longer buy their products. They create and elevate Tea Party candidates to lower their taxes and increase corporate welfare, but then the public sees that the Congress is dysfunctional and that the 113th Congress has been the least productive in post-war history, with the House and Senate passing only 57 substantive bills in the Congress’ first session. In this period, the second lowest productivity was 88 bills in 1995. (That makes sense because that was the year that Newt Gingrich’s “Republican Revolution” beta-tested minority rule in the U.S.) In the end, the brand called “Republican” gets smeared, and the brain-damaged zealots unforgivably given access to power are out there describing anyone to the left of Mussolini as Socialist–including Paul Ryan and the Pope.

There’s no reason to believe that we are stupid as a people (regardless of what some in Great Britain or elsewhere might think). There is reason to believe we live in a crazy time of misaligned values. Whether we end up as a divided country facing our own “Troubles” or not is, sadly, a real possibility. I personally believe that the extremes of the pendulum are where the undeniable excess takes place and that this excess is enough to shock the nation back into a realignment of values. Today we face the excesses of Americans blindly believing in jingoism and nostalgia for a simpler world, or those who willfully disregard the founding, enlightenment ideals of the rejection of aristocracy and state-sponsored religion. 30 years ago we faced the excess of liberal social values (yes Virginia, you can have too much “anything goes”) that led to Reagan’s “annointing” as President and the parade of conservative Republican and Democratic presidents that followed.

Is it possible that the relaxation or decriminalization of pot and the widespread acceptance of marriage for same-sex partners represent the first signs of spring in the conservative winter?

LB_Rule

Some chuckling will be found here: https://soundcloud.com/rockymountainmike

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Listen children all is not lost

In this edition: Sorry in advance for 2,000 words.  Whoa-oh “We can make it happen, We can change the world now, We can save the children, We can make it better” and other dreams I have. More labeling on products, less labeling on ideas. Saying goodbye to the 9-11 era–too soon?

Saturday In The Park

Saturday in the park, I think it was the Fourth of July
People talking, people laughing
A man selling ice cream, Singing Italian songs

Can you dig it (yes, I can) 
And I’ve been waiting such a long time
For Saturday

Another day in the park, You’d think it was the Fourth of July
People dancing, really smiling,
A man playing guitar, Singing for us all
Will you help him change the world
Can you dig it (yes, I can)
And I’ve been waiting such a long time
For today

Slow motion riders, Fly the colors of the day
A bronze man still can, Tell stories his own way
Listen children all is not lost, All is not lost
Oh no, no

Funny days in the park, Every day’s the Fourth of July
People reaching, people touching,
A real celebration, Waiting for us all
If we want it, really want it

Can you dig it (yes, I can)
And I’ve been waiting such a long time
For the day…

– Written by Robert Lamm, performed by Chicago, 1972

8 of the 10 songs on Chicago V, the band’s 4th studio album, were written by Robert Lamm who was having an enormous creative surge at that time. Keyboardist Lamm performs the vocals, backed by bassist Peter Cetera. (The album is number V not IV by virtue of the album Chicago Live at Carnegie Hall.) We in Chicago at the time assumed it was about Grant Park in our fair city, but in reality the song’s inspiration, apparently like some brands of salsa, came from New York City and Central Park. Lamm came home from a day in the park inspired by what he’d taken in and wrote the song. Lamm was born in Brooklyn and his family had moved to Chicago when he was 15, so much of his identity might have been tied to his old home town.

Chicago was (and is–they still tour) an amazing band. Multiple vocalists, wide-ranging influences, the ability to incorporate rhythmic and textural complexity into 3 minute pop songs, and the tasty musical choices they favored. The early albums also explore the questions that were being asked in the late sixties and early seventies and to many degrees, today. Another song, Dialogue (parts I and II), from Chicago V portrays a conversation between two young people–one is socially conscious and the other is more or less blindly complacent.

Ultimately, a song like Saturday in the Park is about hope and the ability to rise above daily conflict to embrace joyful living. Friends, history will portray the first decades of this century as time when hope and joy were severely challenged. If we could only recapture this point in time, when change and hope were embraced not denigrated as meaningless slogans, then we might be able to break on through to the other side–and really move forward.

Chicago’s Dialogue (parts I and II) explodes musically at the end with repetitions of:

We can make it happen
We can change the world now
We can save the children
We can make it better

Before continuing, get some inspiration watching this video. Guitarist Terry Kath’s Telecaster work, the rhythmic emphasis the horns add, the interplay of the vocals, the final gospel-tinged finale. Awesome. Note the “natural” haircuts (probably done by girlfriends or in the mirror) and the ubiquitous facial hair, hallmarks of the early 70s.

While not overselling the meme of inscrutable oriental wisdom, this story illustrates perspective. When President Richard Nixon made his groundbreaking visit to Communist China in 1972, he asked Premier Zhou Enlai what he thought about the French Revolution (1789). He replied: “Too soon to tell.” Similarly, we have to wonder how we can put society-shaking events like 9-11 and Great Recession into context with our long-term post-war economic boom, our continuous technological advances, and our current place as a world-leading nation. Is it too soon to tell?

I know this. We are not the same people we were before September 11, 2001. We fear more and we expect less and get it.

America went into a defensive crouch. A response to protect ourselves at any cost was triggered. We suspended our national ideals by:

  • Agreeing to government measures that eliminated the privacy of email and telephones.
  • Creating a large and over-powerful security bureaucracy and gave them the funds to cast a wide net that included much of American’s personal business when looking for bad guys.
  • Torturing terror suspects and publicly defending the notion through the Executive Branch.
  • Running a secretive prison in Baghdad where we abused and tortured Iraqis.
  • Violating all notions of due process for prisoners in our custody with “wartime” exclusions.
  • Re-electing George W. Bush even after he burned a government surplus and lied us into a war for the sake of his and few of his associates misguided ideology.

Following that, the American people were so trusting that we gave financial institutions free rein to gamble our wealth away and paid dearly when the housing and stock market collapses ravenously digested our home equity and nest eggs. We believed the notion that Afghanistan would be a better place to spend blood and treasure than Iraq (correct answer: neither). Then, we gave enough attention and credence to the Tea Party and its ignorant old fart notions that they became a political force that stripped the government of tools to manage the economy, take care of infrastructure, set national priorities, tax appropriately, or do just about anything else that exceeds the import of renaming a rural post office.

Having 20/20 hindsight, I can see that we should never have let airplanes fly into towers symbolic of American enterprise. While I feel sorry for the passengers they were really the only ones who could save themselves. And I think it’s even money that Flight 93 was shot down by the US regardless of the heroic tales that we’ve been told. Intercepting hi-jacked planes may be one of the only lessons we have learned. The financial industry is bigger than ever and more consolidated (if too big to fail then, they are really, really too big to fail today). No laws have replaced the Glass-Steagall Act and the taxpayer-revived financial sector can return to gambling when it deems it sufficiently profit-worthy. The fear and sense of retribution we followed into Iraq and Afghanistan returns anew as we flirt with boots on the ground involvement in Syria supporting rebels that will likely install Islamic rule and join the anti-American Middle East factions.

Today we are shocked that the NSA gets our phone and even e-mail records just by asking. But it should be “shocked” in the sense of Captain Renault’s shock in Casablanca, “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!” Croupier: “Your winnings, sir.” And while it is likely that the metadata only contains who we called and how long we spoke, and in parallel efforts who we e-mailed and cc’d, it violates the established principles of evidence gathering by casting a net far too wide to meet the 4th Amendment standards:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The acceptance of the NSA intrusions ignores another piece of historical perspective. J. Edgar Hoover ran the FBI from its inception in 1935 to his death in 1972. During the time, he used FBI-gathered information to blackmail politicians and public figures like Martin Luther King. Today we may trust the government to be doing the right thing with that data–or maybe we don’t–but are we protected from all possible futures?

Now the hope and change part.

First, we must abandon all thinking based solely on identification with left and right, liberal and conservative. Oh I know, partisanship is a hard habit to break and labels have become so commonplace that we take them for granted. For example, as a progressive, I react against the Keystone XL pipeline. (Won’t be our oil, environmentally dangerous, yada yada.) But the truth is that there will be economic stimulus there. The effect will be somewhere in between the projections of the antis and the pros. Tar sand oil is coming, like it or not. The pipeline has risks but if we use the best possible engineering–sourced on-shore not off–then we could greatly benefit from a big step forward in technologies. There are union and non-union blue-collar jobs to gain, American manufactured pipeline and construction equipment. We could make it work. So if the president (through the Congress) comes out with a plan that trades the pipeline for higher coal-burning emission standards, then we get an incremental improvement that can not be gained in any other way. In a successful negotiation, both parties have to walk away with the sense of having gained something.

As a progressive, I support the idea of whistle-blowers like Manning and Snowden. They do a service by sparking the debate about important issues. But there are two sides to those stories and critical thinking is needed. We should take care in condoning the unauthorized sharing of classified information and we shouldn’t necessarily think we see the whole picture when the information shared is from someone who is struggling with perspective in their personal lives. If you want to see how the unauthorized sharing can work out, in this case sharing by virtue of outing a CIA operative, check out Valerie Plame’s memoir or the excellent film made from it, Fair Game.

Second, let’s abandon support for the politicians who live on uncompromising ideology. In the press and in our discussions with each other the intransigent need to be marginalized. Intransigence is antithetical to a governing structure like ours. Maybe we need a compromise rating system? Factor in voting across party lines? This week’s failure to pass a farm bill is an excellent example of the ideological problem and where it leads.

Lee Hamilton, once a Democratic Congressman from conservative Indiana, served 34 years in the House. He is now director of the Center on Congress at IU.  His common sense hits uncommon sentiments. See this article describing the difference between a functional government and the one we have today. Hamilton writes, “They can be politicians at election time, but once they reach Capitol Hill our Constitution expects them to be policy makers and legislators. So do ordinary Americans. The partisan maneuvering, the compulsion to send a message rather than legislate, and the lack of solid accomplishment have driven Americans’ disdain for Congress to record highs.”

Third, we need to lobby to change the direction of the War on Terror and exclude the military from the picture. For internal security, we should use the FBI and law enforcement to find those who would do us harm at home. The intelligence apparatus should be directed to locate and track our enemies and help us to predict their level of danger. Today we gather so much that individual pieces of valuable intelligence are swamped with nonsense. Terror groups are not foreign armies, they are small groups of people engaged in criminal action. Of G. W. Bush’s many, many missteps, this was one of the worst–framing our responses in terms of war. Let’s reward those who move the conversation from War to Law and push all the hawks and chicken-hawks into the wilderness of outmoded ideas.

It may be too soon to tell, but my sense is it’s time to move on. We screwed up the first decade pretty thoroughly. It’s time to right some wrongs and start moving forward. These are some of my ideas, feel free to add yours.

LB_Rule

I don’t do a lot with Twitter but I’ve been enjoying comic and Viewpoint host John Fugelsang’s feed. See it all here https://twitter.com/JohnFugelsang and sample some of it here:

– And God looked upon his Creation & saw that it was Good. And then His Creation created Anthrax, Auto-tune & Turducken.

– If men could get pregnant not only would abortion be legal, locker room schmucks would brag over who’s had more.

– Wow, Paula Deen hates other races almost as much as she hates everyone’s arteries. Paula Deen is so upset that she’s on the verge of a 2nd facial expression.

– I would call the Congressional #IRS hearings pure theater but actual theater creates jobs. Darrell Issa questioning your ethics is like Michael Lohan questioning your parenting skills.

– Actually quite a few straight people would love it if legalized Gay Marriage could somehow destroy their own. (LB: Ouch. Hmm. Ouch.)

– #NSA notices suspicious 1st-ever rise in sentences that include both “Kim Kardashian” and “Labor.”

– Well I’d hate government too if I totally sucked at it.

– Like Grand-dad always said, “Sex is like pizza. Even when it’s bad, you still have to pay for it.”

LB_Rule

Signs of what’s going on in America. I live in a suburb with a median income of $69,000. The new businesses are all “we buy gold” stores, thrift shops, dollar stores, and banks. The middle class is apparently selling grandma’s rings, wearing another family’s hand-me-downs, supporting Chinese too-cheap-to-be-believed goods, or paying for bank services that used to be free.

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