Thursday 28 April 2011

Ryan v Obama - bring back the 90's

A wise Irishwoman once said, “Get to the heart of the issue, then all your problems will seem a lot simpler.”

Though she gave this advice in relation to a romance gone sour I was reminded of her words when reading the competing budget ideas of Rep. Paul Ryan and President Obama.

Both offer starkly competing visions but buried beneath all the trillions was the simple issue, “What kind of America do you want?”

Why do we never have that discussion? Probably because from the moment our politicians gain office they’re running for re-election and would prefer to deal with the immediate – like raising money.

Be that as it may, the deficit appears to be the main political talking point right now. Where did the damned thing come from in the first place?

Well, President Bush was handed a surplus of $231 billion on Jan 1st, 2000. Uncomfortable with this godsend he decided to reimburse us by giving an across the board tax cut.

To the man’s credit, he did promise to do so during his campaign. So, if you voted for him – suck it up! And if you didn’t vote at all, then what were you thinking? Democracy is not for wimps - it calls for commitment.

I didn’t vote for the man because I’m partial to the idea of a financial cushion. I’ve watched too many unforeseen disasters come rolling down the pike.

But Republicans prefer less government and that’s their right. President Bush, however, compounded matters by invading Iraq and granting a costly prescription drug Medicare benefit.

Trouble really arrived during the financial crisis of 2008 causing Mr. Bush to initiate the costly Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

Then, in order to prevent mass unemployment President Obama added his own brick to the hod with his stimulus program. Which roughly puts us where we are now – hocked to the eyebrows to the Chinese Yuppie comrades.

Here’s the deal! If we were to go back to the tax rates of the Clinton Administration we’d reduce the deficit by $800 billion over the next 12 years.

Now I don’t know about you but I was drinking top shelf in Bubba’s days. It’s been all downhill since W and Barry went behind the stick. Clinton’s tax rates might have been a shade higher but I definitely had more shilling rattling around in my pocket.

Putting it baldly, the economy fared considerably better under Clinton’s tax raises than under Bush’s and Obama’s tax cuts.

Of course for a politician to even whisper, “raise taxes” is akin to announcing to your nearest and dearest that you intend hitting the pub with the lads the next ten nights in a row. A veritable invitation to suicide!

Raising taxes alone won’t bring back the Clinton salad days, entitlements like Medicare and Medicaid will need curbing; but hands off Social Security, for mere pennies a week from each of us that great program will run longer than Steve Duggan’s painted greyhound!

The real issue is - do you want a pre-FDR country with little or no social safety net but where you’ll definitely get to keep more of your hard-earned money?

If you’re young, educated and feeling lucky, Paul Ryan’s your man. He’s earnest and affable but doesn’t appear to have much of a grasp of economic history - harsh budgetary cuts in the midst of an anemic recovery is usually a recipe for economic stagnation.

Amazingly, by cutting entitlements while issuing roughly the same amount in tax breaks his plan will make no dent in the deficit but put a lot more people on the street! He ignores the fact that despite all President Bush’s tax cuts the middle class lost ground and the national debt ballooned.

On the other hand, dear President Obama, raising taxes on the rich alone may bring a smile to Rachel Maddow’s lovely face but will barely shave the deficit.

So, “what up?” as the rappers say?

Well, no one likes raising taxes but if we were to get real leadership and the full story, my guess is we’d all pull our weight. Most of us can handle reliving the 90’s, going back to the 20’s is out of the question.

Wednesday 20 April 2011

Say It Ain't So, Bob Dylan

Say it ain’t so, Bob Dylan! After all the years of times a changin’ you go off to China and let the yuppie comrades dictate your set list?

Don’t you know that there are hundreds of thousands of us around the world who would gladly pony up a buck or two to enable you to thumb your nose at them? Jeez, if you caught me after a couple of pints I’d kick in a twenty spot myself!

What were you thinking, man? After fifty years of freewheelin’ you throw it all away and for what?

It’s not as if I don’t have experience of the matter. Back in ‘94 when Black 47 was the hottest thing since fried bread certain promoters would request that we not perform our version of Danny Boy as it celebrated the life of a gay Irish construction worker. Such conduct abruptly ended when it became obvious that we would then definitely play the bloody thing.

Likewise during the war we performed selections from our IRAQ CD every night, losing both gigs and fans in the process. No big deal, if you’re going to talk the talk then you better be prepared to walk the walk.

But what were Mao’s children going to do, Bobby? Throw fried rice at you if you slipped in the beautiful, if somewhat innocuous, Blowin’ In The Wind?

The least you could have done was fire off a blistering version of Masters of War, let them yuppie comrades know they should get their butts out of Tibet.

Still, it’s been a long time since you were overtly political. By the mid 60’s you seemed to tire of the whole idea. It begs the question if you were ever really political or were always just an astute weatherman who could tell which way the wind was blowing?

Be that as it may you have written some of the great protest songs whether by accident or design. That’s because you’re a first class poet, albeit a cruel one. You once accused the great Phil Ochs, a bona-fide politico, of being a mere journalist (ouch!).

Water under the bridge now! But you did write With God On Our Side, perhaps the second best protest song. That you were inspired by numero uno, The Patriot Game, is neither here nor there. Dominic Behan was less than thrilled and tried to haul you into court.

That great day never occurred because it was pointed out that both of you had lifted the melody from the traditional Merry Month of May.

Despite these little pinpricks I still consider you one the great artists of the 20th Century – right up there with Joyce and Picasso. And if I hadn’t heard your voice sneering Like a Rolling Stone from a cloth-covered radio I’d still be sculling pints back in Wexford.

The great thing about you, Bobby, is that after 50 years you’re still relevant. Your voice may now sound like Lady Gaga scraping her nails on a rusty cowshed but you’ve always got something to say. It may be thirteen years since you released Time Out Of Mind but there are some of us still blown out of the water by its enduring depth and magic.

Despite having had the good fortune to share managers with you, and be friends with one of your players and your best biographer, you’re still a mystery to me.

All three of these people testify that you’re a master of the mind game who’ll toy endlessly with people’s perceptions; maybe that’s what your bowing down to the comrades is really all about – a further tinkering with the foundations of our admiration?

Most of your acolytes would have pulled the show from principle or pragmatism. But the mystic joker, as ever, didn’t give a damn.

Ah well, it’s good to know you still matter, Bob. I only have one question for you, “How does it feel to be on your own… still the one and only rolling stone?”

Wednesday 13 April 2011

Michele Bachmann and Powerball

I recently sang a couple of songs in Cooper Union at the centennial commemoration for those who perished in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire.

“You don’t say,” says Your Man up in Pearl River. “We didn’t think you were performing at a Sarah Palin Rally!”

I do have to admit that it was a thrill to stand on the same stage where a rather more stellar Republican, Abraham Lincoln, gave one of his greatest speeches.

Besides, Sarah is auld hat now. Everyone and their granny knows that Michele Bachman is the new inheritor of Margaret Thatcher’s mantle.

But back to the commemoration - I had the unenviable task of following Cecil Roberts, President of the United Mine Workers Union. This was akin to going on after the Rev. Ian at a DUP rally in East Belfast.

Brother Roberts is one hell of an orator. He had the audience crying over the 100,000 US miners that have died from work related accidents since 1930, he had them cheering by declaring that Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin is the best union advocate to come down the pike in decades, and he had them taking to the barricades when he stated that the top 1% in this country who own 35% of the wealth could kiss his union ass.

Hardly, Lincolnesque but effective nonetheless!

Now I don’t blame schoolteachers, cops or firemen for the country’s financial woes; it’s no crime to wish to retire with some kind of financial security.

But the fact is there’s so much anti-union rhetoric currently being spewed out that a certain amount is beginning to stick. If there’s a change in the weather fingers begin pointing at the UAW, while if the Yankees lose a couple of games, it’s likely the fault of the AFT.

All of us, Left, Right and Center, are being manipulated by that top 1%. It’s just that we’re so busy trying to keep our heads above water we don’t have time to stop and think about it.

Consider this! Back in the bellbottom 70’s manufacturing workers were pulling in $15-20 per hour. The recently negotiated UAW contract guarantees new hires $14 per hour. Thirty years of progress!

That great American ineluctable right – or rather assumption – that one can make the middle class is now a mere pipe dream for much of the population.

Many who lost their jobs in the recent financial debacle stand scant chance of regaining their standard of living, for those decent union jobs of 30 years ago have been replaced by low paying service industry positions, if at all. The great factories that I once drove past on Route 80 are now boarded up shells. Buffalo, Toledo, Detroit are graveyard cities, their populations declining by the year.

How did this come about? Well we trusted venal politicians in the pocket of lobbyists employed by the top1% oligarchy. Meanwhile, we allowed ourselves to be divided by a media more interested in selling ads than seeking the truth; and the sad part is - nothing has changed.

Capitalism itself was almost brought down by Wall Street cowboys whose only interest was the bonuses they would receive for their casino-like trading from over-leveraged positions. And now we’re prepared to let their political hacks dilute and shackle the recently enacted Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

Hey, but let’s not get carried away, we all have that infinitesimal chance of someday joining the heady 1%, so don’t rock the boat, baby. Lloyd Blankfein from the Bronx was raised in public housing and will receive $19 million this year for steering Goldman Sachs to the brink and then resuscitating it. Who cares that people are raising families on $19,000 per annum?

So to hell with Cecil Roberts and his unions, later for collective bargaining and regulation too! The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire happened100 years ago and it was just a bunch of immigrants anyway. It’s every man for himself now – every woman too. Besides, there’s always Michele Bachmann – and Powerball

Thursday 7 April 2011

Brian Heron

Brian Heron was a singular man. More like a force of nature, that’s why it was shocking to hear he had passed away recently.

What a character! Grandson of James Connolly, lawyer, revolutionary, musician, organizer, cultural ambassador, founder of Irish arts centers on both coasts - just thinking about him is dizzying.

He had his grandfather’s eyes, though Brian’s were wilder, if less disciplined. Connolly rose up against an empire in an effort to improve the lot of working people. Heron sought to add joy and fulfillment to those same lives, while at the same time resurrecting a dormant ancient Irish spirit. A tall order, perhaps, but Brian gave it his everything.

Another relative of Connolly’s once said, “James might have been a great man but he was always getting people to do things they didn’t want to!”

Brian’s apple didn’t drop far from the tree. I once saw him persuade my brother – a man not known for his left wing sympathies – to hand out flyers for some radical group one freezing night on Seventh Avenue.

He persuaded John Lennon to write songs about the Irish struggle – in particular Sunday Bloody Sunday and Luck of the Irish. Brian, however, was far from impressed with these classics – he had hoped Johnny would create a new form of Rock & Roll Sean Nós.

It was his utter conviction that was so impressive, for Brian, though extremely likeable, never finished charm school.
One evening we acolytes - having fought the good fight at some rally or other – were promised tickets to a John Lennon concert at Madison Square Garden. As usual, we were late and there was no parking; undeterred, Brian drove his old postal van up on the footpath outside the Garden with the words, “Who’s going to tow the US Mail - or ticket it for that matter?”
Sure enough, after enjoying the show from the VIP seats, we found the van untouched and ticketless. Viva La Revolucion!

That van was to play a further role in my life. I was in those years somewhat turbulently involved with a beautiful Irish American Princess from the leafy environs of Westchester. My friends labeled her the IAP, which they less than charitably pronounced Yap!

She was not at all taken with Brian and considered him a bad influence on me. I can’t remember what that night’s particular tiff was about but we had argued until way past dawn when she had stormed off to her good job in mid-town.

Whereupon, as luck would have it, the phone rang - it was Brian urging me to pack my bags for a trip to Kansas City where revolution was in the air and comrades in short supply. Feeling that I needed my space - as we used to say back then - I signed on, wrote a tear-stained letter - that would have done justice to Dr. Zhivago - promising a speedy return, and awaited Brian.

Alas the Left is not known for making trains run on time, much less aging postal vans. Many hours later when I was just about to hop aboard the IAP arrived home from work, suitably penitent and full of affection.

At the sight of Brian and the packed van her mood changed drastically. She informed me that should I depart the locks would be changed forthwith and she would at last be free to bestow her favors on each of my many close friends who had propositioned her behind my back.

With that crushing underhanded blow delivered she sashayed up the front steps of our building in her usual ravishing manner. Brian shook his head sadly; not for the first time had sex bested the revolution. The van pulled off for Kansas City without me.

When I last saw Brian in Tampa we rolled around the floor of the Four Green Fields at the memory.

The last I heard of Brian he was planning a return to Ireland to run for president. That would, indeed, have been a great circle completed.

Rave on, Mr. Heron, you affected so many lives though many still have no notion. What better tribute? Viva La Revolucion!