Friday, July 31, 2009

Honk if you heart Omaha

When I moved to Omaha in 1988, the first thing you saw driving across the Missouri River into downtown was a lead smelter.

That and some mostly abandoned historic warehouses.

That's not today's Omaha riverfront.

Today's downtown Omaha riverfront is a state-of-the-art arena. And a pedestrian suspension bridge.

And the Lewis and Clark Landing where the lead smelter used to be.

Today's Omaha riverfront also is the Heartland of America Park -- featuring walking trails, boating on a lake, picnic areas, a river overlook . . . and geese. Lots and lots of geese. (And a lonely mink I spotted.)

It really is amazing the aesthetic -- and economic -- progress a city can make when you have the basics for a strong community in place, then add a solid master plan and the civic will to make it happen.

So, I hope you enjoy these photos I shot last Sunday while the missus and I spent a picture-perfect summer evening in one of the city's picture-perfect green spaces.

OK, so I'm a sucker for skyline shots at sunset. And, yes, it's a pretty big lake.

Likewise, I'm a sucker for pictures of kids feeding waterfowl.

And the Deep South is not the only place you'll find cypress trees . . . and cypress knees.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Blame the TV Lady

Would you like to know why, in New Orleans, this poor woman is screwed?

Why no one is going to listen to the people advocating for the right of all poor people to have decent housing?

Why, no matter how plain the moral scandal -- no matter how many vulnerable people die squatting in fetid Crescent City heaps for lack of affordable housing -- no one will care, and they will feel morally justified in not caring?

Two words: Sharon Jasper.

THIS IS HER. Sharon Jasper, a.k.a., "the TV Lady."

The woman whose Section 8 housing is nicer than my house, but not good enough for her to refrain from decrying it as a "slum house" almost two years ago.

The woman who can't afford to pay full rent
but who can afford to have a 60-inch television.

The woman who spent her time protesting the demolition of rundown, crime-ridden public-housing slums so the city could replace them with mixed-income developments, designed to provide better housing while breaking up concentrations of poverty and violent crime.

The woman who, with a cadre of angry local and out-of-town "activists," spent her time protesting, yelling "Shut up, white boy!" during city council meetings and getting arrested for allegedly bopping a cop.

All this despite local housing officials' assurances there were more than enough subsidized-housing units for residents who would be displaced.

In a New Orleans Times-Picayune story this week, the head of a group that assists the homeless said hers is a race against death in some cases:

UNITY head Martha Kegel explained that the homeless people they met were placed on a waiting list and given priority according to how likely they were to die without housing. Quite a few already had died waiting for housing, she said.

"Is there a quick way to house people so that they're not dying on a list?" Farha asked. "What is the policy answer to address the immediate need?"
WELL, one policy answer might have been for local activist groups to not to jump on board the Sharon Jasper Express, which went full-steam for the right to live not in decent housing, but instead in a hellhole named Desire . . . or St. Bernard . . . or Lafitte. That is, before it jumped the tracks.

At top, Grace Bailey sits in her squat, as captured by Times-Picayune photographer John McCusker. In 2007, Sharon Jasper thought her nice Section 8 apartment with the 60-inch TV was a "slum house." I'll bet Bailey wouldn't mind trading up to Jasper's "slum" abode.

But she won't get to trade up to a house where she doesn't fall through the floor and where the mosquitoes don't swarm her as she sleeps. Justice -- and housing -- for the poor has been thoroughly discredited by many of those claiming to be their advocates.

Nowadays, the greedy and the callous in New Orleans can blow off "the least of these," and their cause, with three little words.

"The TV Lady."

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Extra! Extra! You won't read all about it!

I think the one thing undergirding the decline and fall of newspapering is that, by and large, newspapers lost touch with their audience and communities long ago.

No, let me put it more strongly.

Most papers -- just like most of radio, another dying industry -- fundamentally have broken faith with their now-former readers.

They no longer are “in touch,” they haven't kept up with the times -- or with new
methods of communication -- and they now find themselves with their butts in a serious crack. Something drastic needs to be done, and needs to be done pretty quickly.

UNFORTUNATELY, big-city papers have become utterly bureaucratic and wouldn't be able to move quickly enough to adapt even if the "powers that be" had any idea what to do. I don't know that I know exactly what to do, either, but I think it would revolve around making my paper's website absolutely indispensable for my community -- and not just for "news."

"Adapting," I think, also would involve revenue streams with little to do with traditional advertising. Advertising salesmen are going to have to morph into something akin to an ad rep/event planner/public-relations agency for clients, helping them craft a total communications strategy.

The ad-rep thing is not my original idea, but that's OK. Lots of people have good ideas about what to do, and they've posted them all over the Internet.

Not that anyone in the newspaper industry cares to compile them and cobble together an action plan not involving retooled, already-failed schemes to soak what readers they still have for content that's been free on the Internet for 15 years. It's a demonstrated fact that most people won't pay for Internet content unrelated to nekkid women doing nasty things.

If you put stuff behind a “pay wall,” some smart organization -- like National Public Radio does now, like ESPN will be doing in a city near you soon enough -- will offer equivalent content for free. Their free audience will grow; your paid audience will shrink. And when your paid audience shrinks, you're also destroying your advertising base.

No, the revenue you get from subscriptions will not begin to make up for lost ad revenue.

THE INTERNET, as the public perceives it, is like traditional radio and television -- a free service. Some argue people will pay for HBO and cable, but they don't realize that paying for cable (again, in the public imagination) is akin to paying for Internet access.

They grudgingly pay for movie and sports channels only because that's the only way to access "premium" content. Yet, only a certain percentage does.

The "make 'em pay" camp also doesn't take into account that television -– both free and cable -– no longer is a true growth industry. Kids aren't watching so much anymore . . . at least not on TV. They watch on their computers, mostly for free.

Maybe they'll pay a little something to get a popular show on iTunes, but they're not going to pay for cable when they can get just what they want -- à la carte -- for pennies.

This is much like how people won't pay for The New York Times if they can get The Washington Post for free.

THE KEY to newspapers' survival in any form is this: Newspaper websites are going to have to pick up where radio and TV left off when broadcast media decided serving their local communities was for suckers.

Think podcasting. Think creating a LOCAL, LOCAL, LOCAL web-radio station. I don't think you need to hire a million full-time people to pull this off. I do think papers need to partner with local organizations and schools to pull it off -- make it, for example, partly a training ground for high-school and community-college students.

Newspapers also need to embrace four beautiful words as a way of tapping into their communities: "High school sports webcasts." Webcast local schools' games live -- preferably a videocast . . . the technology is there to do this cheaply and easily -- and sell a boatload of commercials.

Newspapers also have to get into the advocacy-journalism business again. It used to be that lots of them were good at that.

HERE'S A CASE STUDY in what should have been. The place: Omaha, Neb. The newspaper: the Omaha World-Herald. The time: a couple of months ago.

Omaha now faces the same kind of financial crisis most cities grapple with these days. When sales-tax revenues fell off the charts for fiscal year 2009, one of the city fathers' crisis actions was to gut the library budget -- to the tune of $100,000 right at the end of this fiscal year. This resulted in the kind of institutional mayhem you'd expect, including drastic cutbacks in hours.

The World-Herald ought to have -- within a week -- partnered with the Omaha Public Library, local business leaders and other local media on a citywide fund-raising campaign to make up the shortfall and add major dollars to the library foundation's endowment . . . insulation against future cuts.

The Omaha daily ought to have been running a front-page story a day about how the Omaha Public Library impacts the community. About how the cuts are hurting employees, kids and the public.

Finally, the newspaper ought to have editorialized in favor of an "Adopt-a-Library" program just like businesses have adopt-a-school programs.

Things like that -- actually embracing the notion of "the public good" -- is how newspapers demonstrate they are integral parts of their communities. It's how they begin to radically reconnect with people who ought to be readers, either of their print editions or online.

INSTEAD, you now have papers like the San Francisco Chronicle firing 230 pressmen, contracting out its printing to a state-of-the-art, third-party plant and touting how "advanced print technology" will help it compete against the Internet.

It won't work, of course, but I still want some of what the Chronicle poobahs have been smoking.

Newspapers just need to get with the program -- forget setting up a study committee, just do it. Webcast high-school sports. Start a truly local Internet “radio station.” Beef up coverage. Become LOCAL, LOCAL, LOCAL.

And it all had better be on the website . . . and the website had better be good.

Why? Like I said, ESPN is coming. ESPN local-sports websites -- the first one has been up and running in Chicago for a few months, and it's getting more traffic than the Tribune's website.

IF NEWSPAPERS can't own their local sports, right down to Little League and junior high, they're going to take a shiv to the gut sooner or later. And that's just for starters. ESPN will be one of many future “Craigslists.” Craigslist is where all newspapers' classified advertising went, by the way.

If I were a publisher, I'd trade out advertising for a Winnebago, turn it into a rolling promotion for the newspaper, make the inside a functioning newsroom with wi-fi and a Verizon (or whatever) mobile-broadband link, and I'd roll that sucker into a different town every Friday of football season. I'd put together a special web page for the local school's big game and do a webcast of it.

And I'd put together the sports section from the Winnebago, have local high-school journalism students write stories for online and let the whole damn town watch it come together.

The concept could work for a lot of things. That's because the key is in getting your audience involved. The key is in demonstrating solidarity with ordinary people . . . in showing you care about them.

It's all about loyalty.

NEWSPAPER PUBLISHERS –- hell, all American business leaders -- for far too long have thought loyalty was something consumers (or employees) automatically give them. Reality now is demonstrating they have been catastrophically wrong.

Loyalty is a two-way street. Always has been. It's time to relearn that.

What we do on the Big Show

Like the playlist for the latest edition of 3 Chords & the Truth says . . . "what we do!"

What we do is put together one of the most eclectic shows anywhere.

What we do is put together some of the most thoughtful sets of music anywhere.

What we do is enjoy the music.

What we do is have a little fun.

HERE'S WHAT WAS ON that playlist from the Big Show, available for download here (and from the player on the right side of this page):

Click to enlarge.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Katrina, poverty and America's Big Lie

What's the difference between the United States and a lot of banana republics where the rich get richer and the meek inherit not the land, but troubles and sorrows instead?

Pretension and self-delusion. Most banana republics, I would wager, have no real illusions about who -- and what -- they are.

America, on the other hand, has a grand national myth to uphold. Liberty and justice for all . . . Horatio Alger . . . rags to riches . . . the glory of the free market, and all the rest of that convenient rot allowing our hearts and our consciences to remain relatively unmolested.

AND TO THOSE Americans who hold fast to our national delusions -- to those who believe the Big Lie for the sake of an untroubled life of relative ease and conspicuous consumption -- I say let them come to New Orleans.

Or, at a minimum,
read this story in the New Orleans Times-Picayune:
Mickey Palmer, who traveled the world for 20 years as a merchant seaman shipping out of the Port of New Orleans, welcomed international visitors on Monday morning to his home, an abandoned building scattered with Katrina-era debris.

As a cool wind blew through a large open window, Palmer, 57, puffed on a cigarette and tried to stay positive.

"This is a good place to squat, as we call it, " he told international housing expert Leilani Farha, who led a small entourage to New Orleans this week to interview people who have lost affordable housing and others who may lose their homes.

Farha, who leads a low-income-housing advocacy group in Ontario, Canada, is part of an advisory group that reports to UN-HABITAT, the United Nations agency charged with monitoring poverty and housing. The group spent Monday morning with outreach workers from UNITY of Greater New Orleans who tromp through blighted buildings searching for disabled people who need help. The group will publish a report online after their visit.

Representatives of the United Nations have shown special interest in New Orleans since Katrina, with some U.N. officials using the storm as an opportunity to critique the U.S. government's policies toward poor and minority groups.

The group's forays haven't been without controversy. Last year, two U.N. specialists attracted international attention when they said the federal government's response violated an international treaty on racism. But the authors of the resolution also acknowledged they hadn't visited New Orleans since the storm.

On Monday, UNITY officials told the latest U.N. visitors that they believe 6,000 squatters may live in the city's more than 65,000 abandoned structures.


In a nearby decrepit house, two other homeless women cited similar medical woes. Peaches Jackson, 42, suffers seizures because she lost 20 percent of her brain in an accident 10 years ago, she said. Charlene Stewart, 35, is scheduled for abdominal surgery next week for a bacterial infection.

Bailey walked back to the room she sleeps in. She keeps the window there closed at night or else mosquitoes devour her, she said. When it rains, the roof leaks generously onto the rotting floorboards.

She didn't always live like this, she said quietly, talking about her work in the service industry and the low rent she'd paid nearly all her adult life.
TO THE EXTENT the average citizen can look at this and spout platitudes about free markets, bootstraps and "U.N. socialists out to get the United States," God will -- and should -- damn America. That human beings live like this in the richest country on earth -- live much as the biblical Lazarus did right under the nose of the rich man, begging for crumbs off a table of plenty -- should be as much a scandal to us as it was to Jesus Christ two millennia ago.
"There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day.
And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,
who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man's table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.
When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried,
and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.
And he cried out, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.'
Abraham replied, 'My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.
Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.'
He said, 'Then I beg you, father, send him to my father's house,
for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.'
But Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.'
He said, 'Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.'
Then Abraham said, 'If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.'"
IN THE WORST economic times since the Great Depression, there has been much talk about "stimulus packages."

The bottom line is that people need work. People need decent places to live. People need dignity and a sense of their basic worth. That's the "stimulus" we need.

President Obama, I have a "stimulus" package for you. The trial for this new stimulus program can be conducted in New Orleans, where many American citizens are living in Third World conditions in the wake of Katrina. (In fact, many were living in Third World conditions before Katrina.)

HERE'S THE STIMULUS: Put New Orleanians to work providing decent housing to people like the ones being surveyed by the United Nations. That such a survey is necessary is a national scandal -- but that's not important now.

What's important is eliminating the scandalous conditions.

And I don't see how it should take that much effort to make this project "shovel ready" -- or "saw and hammer ready," to be precise.

Take stimulus funds, hire unemployed and underemployed tradesmen and women -- hell, train "unskilled" workers for the job -- and salvage the abandoned housing stock in New Orleans. Turn it into livable residences for low-income people.

IT HAS BEEN four years since Katrina (and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) laid waste to New Orleans. If properties have not been razed or rehabilitated by now, it probably is safe to assume they won't be. At least not by the owner. Those property owners should be given 30 days to reclaim -- and remediate -- their property or forfeit it to the city.

If there are "legal impediments" to that, change the law. Property rights are important, but they are neither inviolable nor limitless.

Houses that can be saved should be. Those that can't should be torn down and replaced with "Katrina cottages" or new "green" construction. Most of the housing should be owned and administered by the Housing Authority of New Orleans as "scattered site" housing.

Some, say a quarter or a third, should be turned over to Habitat for Humanity and made available for purchase by eligible families.

DAMN IT, this is America. We don't "do" the Sudan -- or Haiti . . . or Somalia -- here. That's the party line.

It would be nice if that weren't just another damned lie in a world clogged with too many damned lies.

We say we are a great nation. But our collective inaction is that of small men and women.

Wheelbarrow garden 1, Wascally Wabbits 0

Just came in from the big vegetable garden, where the tomatoes -- as usual -- are outstripping the space allotted and the sticks that are supposed to hold them up.

The big backyard garden also is where stuff -- meaning dogs and other critters -- messes up the mulch carefully placed around the peppers, which otherwise seem to be doing fine. Fine, thanks to the copious amounts of water I put on the garden every day or two.

We seem to have slipped into another dry spell here in Omaha, by God, Nebraska.

THESE PICTURES, however, are of our wheelbarrow garden, designed to keep the critters -- and that means you, Bugs -- out of the greens, green onions and cucumbers. I have another bell pepper in there, too, but I'm probably going to transplant that into a pot.

The idea came to me when I saw a web page devoted to building a tabletop garden bed. It looked like a lot of trouble, building it out of lumber and all.

One of the advantages was supposed to be the ability to move it to a shadier spot in the heat of August, so as not to burn your greens up. That would be a two-man job, and Mrs. Favog, I am sure, would tell me she was not that second man.

Thus, my idea for the wheelbarrow garden was born. It's deeper, I didn't have to build it from scratch, and I can roll it to where the sun is.

Or isn't, as the case may be.

The mustard greens seem to be doing quite nicely this week . . . and that's after I cut a mess of them Saturday. Had them last night -- tasty.

This ends your Revolution 21 gardening tip of the day. Thank you.

Monday, July 27, 2009

'Patriots' ain't what they used to be

If you know how to use a web browser, you've probably seen the appeals -- usually with large parts WRITTEN LIKE THIS!!!!!! -- to individual choice, freedom and the memory of the Founding Fathers.

This is a sure sign, like yellowing foliage and the first nip in the air are harbingers of autumn, that the Great Conservative Freakout continues at no petty pace.

Another sure sign is the appearence of hateful and racist "artwork" passed off as satire or humor, and scores of people who can't see that dreck such as sits atop this post is neither.

As near as I can tell from reading the Internet as one might read the autumn leaves, it seems that one Barack HUSSEIN Obama (who apparently has usurped the presidency of the United States despite being a Socialist Kenyan national) is trying to shove some Liberal Communist -- as opposed to Libertarian Communist -- scheme called ObamaCare down the throats of Real Americans (TM). This will, in turn, transform America into a socialist police state, and road signs will be only in Spanish and Swahili.

THE RUN UP to ObamaCare already has been marked by police repression of Patriotic Americans (TM), who merely have been exercising their constitutional rights to overrun photo ops in favor of Communist Socialism and turn them into shouting matches.

The Liberal Mainstream Media have been trying to tilt public opinion against Pro-Capitalism Patriots (TM) by pointing out that the defenders of "health-care choice" actually spent a lot more time
demanding to see the president's birth certificate than they did defending the Americanness of U.S. medicine.

One "Tea Party" member in Baton Rouge, La., has countered the socialist tendencies of The Advocate by posting a YouTube video of What Really Happened (TM), which excises all the day's events except for pro-Obama black people looking displeased and black Baton Rouge cops telling white Patriotic Americans they can't do stuff.

"HELP! HELP! I'm being repressed!"

Of course, if you try to "have a civil conversation" about health care with many of these pro-freedom fighters of ObamaCare -- that is, if you're not on a Tea Partier's web video -- expect to be shouted down, accused of being a socialist, called an idiot and be told to go to Europe with all the other pinko commie libs.

Happened to me on Facebook, and I think the Democratic health-care plans in Congress are a Rube Goldbergian mess. My mistake, however, was suggesting that the United States might want to look at the health-care system ranked as the world's best -- France's -- and set about trying to adapt it to our circumstances.

Little did I know that the World Health Organization is just another communist plot -- and out to destroy American capitalism. That's what I get for being an "idiot."

I suppose it's my idiocy that causes me to see the irony of a bunch of people who used to carp and whine about lefties' "Bush Derangement Syndrome" doubling and trebling the fear and loathing once the Democrat Obama took office.

And Obama hasn't even committed a war crime yet. Oh, wait. . . that's apparently part of his problem.

APPARENTLY, what passes for "patriotic Americans" today is a bunch of really, really angry people -- formerly angry at other angry people -- who have let their anger so take control of their hearts and minds that they're half a step away from becoming a lynch mob.

We have faced such phenomena at various other times in our history, and I don't think those instances ever ended particularly well.

The night of Nov. 22, 1963, NBC's Chet Huntley commented on one of those times. I'll let him have the last word.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Video of the Year

Watch it. Commentary would be pointless.

How to stay hip

Don't change. That's how to always be cool and on the cutting edge.

If you don't change, popular culture will keep coming back around to where you already are. For example, I looked like Nirvana a good decade before Nirvana looked like Nirvana and helped usher in "grunge."

AND KIDS keep complimenting me on my Chuck Taylors. I don't think they're being sarcastic, being that they're wearing them, too.

So we now have the above report from
Today, part of the continuing rediscovery of vinyl. As in records. LP's. Phonographs, not CD players or iPods.

I have three turntables -- two of them quite vintage and quite nice. I quit counting how many LPs I had about 15 years ago, when the number passed 1,000.

And now. . . .
Dude! I'm cool!

Not bad for a 48-year-old relic.

3 Chords & the Truth: As seen on '60s TV

This week's episode of 3 Chords & the Truth has a lot to do with this. "This" being the video just above.

Of course, "a lot to do with" doesn't mean the Big Show is about nothing but the old Red Skelton Hour on 1960s television.

That's just our jumping-off point.

For instance, this week's program also could be said to have much to do with this:

OR PERHAPS this instead:

AW HELL, it's 3 Chords & the Truth, which means this week's episode could have something to do with most anything. That's just the way your Mighty Favog rolls.

Give it a listen and find out what's in it for you today.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Stop socialized space travel!

I miss the Soviet Union.

Without the Red Menace to push us and scare us -- without the dadblamed commerniss Russkies to goad us into transcending our inherent pettiness and whackjobbery to achieve greatness purely out of spite -- it's no wonder we can't get a damned thing done in this country nowadays.

In the 1960s, we had "dominoes" falling, commies lurking, nuclear war looming and college campuses overrun by Red-loving pinko freaks. In that most tumultuous of decades, national humiliation was just one cosmonautical feat of derring-do away.

Our response to all that psychic trauma was to send Americans to the moon and bring them safely home again.

The Soviet Union, however, fell apart in 1991. Damn.

NOW, THERE'S NOTHING -- no common enemy, at least -- to keep our all-American whackjobs on the reservation. In this country, somebody's always going to be looking for Reds to bait, and without a large, reliable foreign Red Menace supplier, homegrown paranoiacs are turning against their own government and president.

For example,
this was the scene a reporter for The Advocate found in Baton Rouge, La., yesterday:
On the day after President Barack Obama asked the nation to back his planned revamp of the $2.4 trillion system that pays for health care, opponents and supporters squared off Thursday on the sidewalks surrounding the U.S. courthouse in downtown Baton Rouge.

Police officers kept the two groups — which police estimated to be about 125 people — apart as the sides shouted at one another.

The gathering was largely peaceful — police reported no arrests — but points made on health-care plans soon were overshadowed by arguments of whether the president is an American citizen.


Steven Walker of New Orleans, state director of Louisiana’s Organizing for America, said he wanted a handful of people to share their struggles caused by inadequate health-care insurance.

Obama’s plan would lower costs and free up options for people with insurance while giving people without insurance access to policies, said Walker, whose group is affiliated with the Democratic National Committee, which is promoting Obama’s agenda.

Walker said Obama’s plan would allow individuals greater choice.

“But this is a campaign of smear and fear,” Walker said pointing to an opposition sign that condemned the president as a communist.

“These people are anti-Obama,” he said.

A few feet down the sidewalk, on the other side of a cordon of police officers, Kurt Wagner, a Port Allen insurance sales manager, asked the crowd: “Is he rightfully the president?”

“No,” responded his listeners.

TO WHAT'S LEFT of the conservative base, President Obama not only is a "socialist," he's a Red pretender who isn't even American. Even amid the Great Clinton Freakout -- which at least had Whitewater, a high-level suicide and bimbo eruptions to hang its hat upon -- nobody for a minute questioned whether Bill was anything but an all-American, skirt-chasing, not-inhaling, draft-dodging pinko scalawag.

This won't do.

We need the Soviet Union back. We need a credible existential threat -- at least until al-Qaida proves it can take out midtown Manhattan -- to help us get over ourselves and get our rears in gear.

Otherwise, Allah only knows (Obama the Muslim made us all convert) how long we'll be letting the lunatics drive the agenda. Picture Toonces.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Your daily dose of surrealism

I think moments of supreme awkwardness on television all through the '60s must have shaped my generation somehow. We acquired a certain je ne sais quoi from watching old people on nationwide TV act strangely in the presence of youth.

A NOV. 10, 1964 episode of the Red Skelton Hour (embedded above) is a classic of the Establishment Doesn't Know What to Make of Youth Today genre. Kids, watch this and have a few things you've wondered about Mom and Dad suddenly make sense.

With that brief preface, I present for your squirming (and/or nostalgic) enjoyment, Red Skelton meets the Rolling Stones.

Mahna mahna!

I remember this song being in a "moon creature" sketch on the Red Skelton Hour from the fall of 1969. Unsurprisingly, all things "moon" were big that year.

This version, performed by the Muppets on the Ed Sullivan Show, is also from that mooniest of years, 1969. But I sure would like to see the Red Skelton version again after 40 years.

Mahna mahna!

Of 'abortion mandates' and political stunts

Sound the alarm!

Powerful abortion industry lobbyists and Wasington
, D.C., politicians have just launched a massive effort to mandate taxpayer-funded abortions as part of their proposed trillion-dollar healthcare takeover.

This political power-grab is an effort to implement one of the cornerstones of the "Freedom of Choice Act" (FOCA), and could lead to a massive abortion industry bailout -- something the overwhelming majority of Americans oppose, and certainly cannot afford in these tough economic times.

"Sound the alarm"?

"Proposed trillion-dollar health-care takeover"?

"Political power-grab"?

Why am I thinking the organizers of this protest against public funding of abortion as part of health-care reform may be just as undone over "socialized medicine" as they are about paying for killing unborn babies?

YES, I REALIZE Democrats for Life is part of the protest effort -- and good on it for opposing the "abortion mandate" -- but the pro-life Dems aren't in the driver's seat on this one. Note all the red-meat conservative code words on the website.

I wonder why that is?

According to a "whois" search,, is registered to Students for Life of America, and the administrative contact for the domain is the group's executive director, Kristan Hawkins. Hawkins -- author of a recent op-ed piece opposing any "nationalized healthcare system" as a virtual death sentence for her son, who has cystic fibrosis -- is an alumna of Bush/Cheney 2004 and also has worked for the Republican National Committee.

And the Students for Life home page directs visitors to "SFLA’s new website dedicated to exposing the facts about national health care and how it will hurt all Americans." Unlike how, I suppose, having no health care . . . or losing one's health care with one's job . . . or being denied coverage for pre-existing conditions . . . or being denied coverage for lifesaving-but-expensive treatments apparently does no harm whatsoever to Americans now.

MEANWHILE, the Students for Life domain is registered to Josh Mercer of Ann Arbor, Mich. Mercer, a board member of Students for Life of Michigan, is an alumnus of the conservative Hillsdale College where, in 2000, he belonged to the College Libertarians and was its contact with the Libertarian Party of Michigan.

Mercer, communications director for the Catholic advocacy group Fidelis, also was a member of the anti-tax Club for Growth from 2001 through at least 2004.

The anti-mandate site's self-parodying scare language is the stock and trade of PAC attacks across the political landscape, and thus set off my BS detector. Trolling the Internet for information on who, and what, is behind the "URGENT nationwide webcast event" merely serves to confirm one's suspicions.

Which leads to an important question: Is this about principled opposition to an "abortion mandate" in health-care reform, or is it about partisan political posturing aimed at turning this most contentious of issues into President Obama's "Waterloo"?

Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan is one of 19 Democrats publicly bucking their party's leadership, declaring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi they will oppose any health-care reform measure that doesn't explicitly reaffirm standing congressional strictures against taxpayer funding of abortion. That is principled opposition to objective evil -- the evil being the taking of innocent human life in the name of "health care" -- and you can be sure those pro-life Democrats have paid, are paying and will continue to pay the price for their stand.

But Republicans shedding crocodile tears over an "abortion mandate" in a plan they'd be deriding as "socialized medicine" and a "political power grab" even if Mother Teresa were brought back from the dead to administer it? That's as disingenuous as it is cynical.

That organizations such as Priests for Life -- and even Democrats for Life -- have been suckered into being "useful idiots" for the Party of Greed's continuing war against ordinary Americans' economic and medical interests is damning testimony to the dysfunctional, codependent nature of our politics.

LET ME be unequivocal here -- abortion is evil. It is homicide directed against the most innocent and defenseless members of the human family. Financial support of this repulsive practice has no place in a health-care reform package.

Not only that, the presence of public subsidies for killing the innocent is philosophically incompatible with "reforming" a broken system that fails to affirm that medical care -- even life-saving medical care -- is a right based on one's humanity rather than a privilege based on one's ability to pay.

Both the deliberate taking of innocent life and the refusal to structure civil society so it values human dignity and worth over corporate profit and "the free market" are but variations on the world's oldest dodge. And we've been hemming and hawing on that count since Genesis, when God asked Cain a simple question and got a research paper from a PAC-funded think tank in reply.

Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let us go out in the field." When they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

Then the LORD asked Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?" He answered, "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?"

ONE WONDERS whether today's conservatives would be upset that Cain slew Abel if they weren't convinced that Barack Obama or Nancy Pelosi put him up to it. One also wonders whether liberal Democrats could bear to inhabit a world where Eve slaying Abel in the womb would be just as unthinkable as Cain doing the deed some years later in the field.

It seems to me, however, that "abortion for all" Democrats and free-marketeer "pro-life" Republicans are more kindred in spirit than either side cares to admit. What it really boils down to is whether one prefers death by commission or by omission.

Legal abortion is one of the more obvious indicators of the "culture of death." But even if elective abortion disappeared tomorrow, the United States could not be considered a "pro-life" society so long as health care -- so long as treatment of serious and even life-threatening disease -- remained dependent upon one's ability to pay.

If Americans ended abortion today but still denied critical treatment to those who couldn't pay, we still would be sinning against human dignity. "Pro-life" nations don't make sick, old people choose between medicine and food.

Nations committed to justice don't have people with insurance still going bankrupt because of a serious injury or major illness.

IN TODAY'S "URGENT nationwide webcast event," we're going to see a variety of groups come out against "the abortion mandate" in congressional health-care reform bills. Great . . . we know what they're against. Heck, I'm against it, too.

What they won't be saying, though, is what they're for. Are they for equal access to medical care for all Americans? If "socialized medicine" is bad, what's their solution? Or are some Americans just more equal than others?

And since we're all into big "Stop the Abortion Mandate" events, it certainly is reasonable to ask whether the next "nationwide webcast event" will be a protest against the 86 percent of work-based health-insurance plans that pay for abortion services already.

Check that. Employment-based insurance that compels you to pay for elective abortions through your premiums.

Really, where are the protests against the massive -- and successful -- effort to mandate consumer-funded abortions as part of a corporate power-grab?

Does the present health-care system's free-market roots (and that it will likely leave 52 million Americans out in the cold by next year) mean we somehow haven't already been made accomplices in mass homicide? Or is killing somehow just a lot more icky when it's "socialized"?

ONCE UPON A TIME, John Lennon put it quite directly:

I'm sick and tired of hearing things
From uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocrites
All I want is the truth
Just gimme some truth

I've had enough of reading things
By neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians
All I want is the truth
Just gimme some truth
What he said.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Calling out the wackos

Visit for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

He's loud. He's bombastic. He looks like he's on the verge of drooling on himself or, perhaps, spitting all over the MSNBC cameras.

He's Chris Matthews of Hardball and, bless his heart, somebody had to look at the "Obama's not an American" wing of the Republican Party and call a bunch of loonies a bunch of loonies. Because the longer these nutjobs roam free from the attic where crazy aunts and uncles normally reside, the dangerouser it gets for the GOP and the USA.

Right now -- despite all the signs telling people not to feed the animals -- the Republican Party is throwing Twinkies to the baboons. And we all know how that worked out for Dan White once upon a time in San Francisco.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Omaha can't rely on cuts . . . or Erin Andrews

If you're running a mid-sized city and you're looking at starting the new fiscal year at least $11 million in the hole, you're pretty much looking at just three things you can do.

You can gut city services that already have been cut and cut again, thereby destroying your community's quality of life.

You can raise taxes.

You can sell nekkid pictures of Erin Andrews. And by that I mean not unclothed pictures of the ESPN sideline goddess, but rather pictures of the ESPN sideline goddess unclothed.

To his credit, Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle -- in a budget address that was anything but subtle -- rejected the first option out of hand, declaring it a supremely bad idea. Likewise, he recognized there's no way out of the second option -- that citizens face a choice between horrible and unpleasant, and sometimes you have to suck it up and fork over a little more to the community chest.

As for that last option (though it would be an exceedingly lucrative sideline for Omaha city government), the reality is that Erin Andrews' chest does not belong to the community . . . and neither do photographic representations thereof.

SO, IT LOOKS like the Omaha City Council will have to either like or lump what the Omaha World-Herald reports the mayor set in front of it this afternoon:
Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle wants to raise property taxes and impose a new tax on restaurant meals, movies and other entertainment to help the city climb out of a projected budget shortfall for 2010.

Both the property tax increase and new entertainment tax are part of Suttle's 2010 budget proposal, which he presented Tuesday to the Omaha City Council.

The 2 percent entertainment tax would affect anyone who sees a movie or goes out to dinner in Omaha. The tax would bring in an estimated $10.3 million at a time when the major revenue sources for city services — sales taxes and property taxes — are projected to remain essentially flat. Meanwhile, health care and other costs are projected to rise.

The proposed property tax hike would amount to an extra $36 a year for the owner of a home valued for tax purposes at $150,000. The $6.2 million in revenue would be used to pay off debt from the Qwest Center Omaha.

Whether either tax is approved ultimately will be up to the City Council. Omahans will get their chance to weigh in during a public hearing Aug. 11.

Suttle includes some new spending in his 2010 budget, including restoring the public safety auditor's position, as he had promised to during the campaign, and buying 44 police cruisers. His plan also includes some cuts to help address an $11 million shortfall, such as closing Westwood Golf Course and spending less money on street resurfacing.

Council President Garry Gernandt has said in the past that the council would be cool to the notion of increasing taxes and wants to look for further spending cuts.

But Suttle warned of the consequences if the council fights the tax proposals. The city would not open any pools next summer, he said, and libraries could close as well. He said both possibilities would be “a gross mistake.”

“If the council says no, then we've got problems,” he said. “There's just no place else to go (for cuts).”
LISTEN, tax hikes are going to be unavoidable. Not unless you relish life in a city remarkably less "user friendly."

But I have problems with the tax Suttle seeks to implement -- an "entertainment tax." Such a levy has the potential to hurt a local industry (encompassing everything from sports franchises to restaurants to concert venues) that's already being buffeted by people's lack of discretionary income amid economic hard times.

Obviously, the mayor wants to impose a tax that won't hit everybody . . . and one that has maximum "soak the out-of-towners" potential. There's three problems with that, though.

First, would it cause people to attend even fewer shows, skip the ballgame or decide to eat in rather than eat out? Second, would it make Omaha hotels and restaurants less competitive for the tourist dollar? In this tough economy, do you really want to roll the dice on that one?

And third, fiscal experts looking at Omaha's tax structure have said the city already relies too heavily on sales-tax revenue. That's what has bitten the city in the rear during this present downturn. Do we really want to increase that dependence, particularly on something as regressive as a sales tax? After all, an "entertainment tax" is nothing more than a targeted sales tax.

Better to just take the hit straight up, no chaser. Raise property taxes enough to cover both the shortfall and the Qwest Center debt -- the hike still wouldn't be exorbitant.

Of course, there's one thing Suttle could do tomorrow without council approval. He could implement the occupation tax on the books since the recession of the early 1980s. Denver and Kansas City already have.

Maybe that's Suttle's last-resort ace in the hole with the council. Or maybe an occupation tax is what's going to stave off municipal bankruptcy in the looming fire-and-police pension implosion.

Stay tuned.

Reeling in the years. . . .

I've saved this old copy of the Baton Rouge State-Times -- carefully wrapped by my 8-year-old self in a garbage bag labeled "20th century" -- for 40 years now.

THE NEWS of July 22, 1969 reflects an undertaking of historic, transcendent wonder amid a world in chaos. At least people then had enough perspective to recognize wonder when they encountered it.

This probably was because the Internet -- and right-wing talk radio -- did not yet exist. If it did, the moon landing probably would have been roundly condemned as a budget-buster conceived by a member of the evil Kennedy clan, the youngest of which had just driven Mary Jo Kopechne off a bridge and into a watery grave near Martha's Vineyard, Mass.

THE LOUDEST dissenting voices probably would have been the parents of these yahoos in Delaware.

Of course, it's important to remember that the stupidity we find ourselves awash in these days is not the exclusive domain of the red-meat right. The left has its nuts, cranks and flakes, too, and they likewise have access to the Internet and other forms of mass media.

Like the ABC Television Network.

Verily, Whoopi Goldberg is proof positive that one can fall out of the stupid tree, hit every branch on the way down and still manage to cobble together a successful career in "entertainment."

I HOPE Walter Cronkite -- somehow, somewhere in the Great Beyond -- has some idea of how much he will be missed.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Greatness: Much cheaper than avarice

When I was two months and one day old -- May 25, 1961 -- President Kennedy declared that the United States would shoot for the moon. Literally.

The goal was unimaginably complex for all its stated simplicity. Kennedy declared the country should "commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth."

What American, in the midst of an existential struggle with the Soviet Union, could be against beating the Russkies to the moon? To achieving mankind's greatest feat?

A STORY TODAY by The Associated Press answers that question:

"I thought he was crazy," said Chris Kraft, when he heard Kennedy's speech about landing on the moon.

Kraft was head of Mission Control. He was the man responsible for guiding astronauts to orbit (which hadn't been done yet) and eventually to the moon. Kraft first heard about a mission to the moon when Kennedy made the speech.

"We saw that as Buck Rogers stuff, rather than reality that would be carried out in any time period that we were dealing with," Kraft recently told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Houston.

Less than three months later, Kraft was in the White House explaining to the president just how landing on the moon would be done. Kraft still didn't believe it would work.

"Too many unknowns," he said.

It was the Cold War and Russian Yuri Gagarin had just become the first man in space. Kennedy chose landing a man on the moon because experts told him it was the one space goal that was so distant and complicated at the time that the United States could catch up and pass the Soviet Union, Kennedy adviser Ted Sorensen said.

The idea in a world where American capitalism was pitted against Soviet communism on a daily basis was "to prove to the world which system was best, which one was the future," Sorensen said.

"It's not just the fact that the president wanted it done," Sorensen recalled. "It was the fact that we had a specific goal and a specific timetable."

In another speech, Kennedy famously said America would go to the moon and try other tasks "not because they were easy, but because they were hard. Because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills."

They weren't just skills with rockets and slide rules. Bringing together countless aerospace companies, engineers, scientists, technicians, politicians and several NASA centers around the nation was a management challenge even more impressive than building the right type of rockets, said Smithsonian Institution space scholar Roger Launius.

And it cost money. The United States spent $25.4 billion on the Apollo program, which translates to nearly $150 billion in current dollars — less than the U.S. spent in both wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007.
IN TODAY'S MONEY, it cost us $150 billion to figure out how to get to the moon and back, then actually get to the moon and back. Several times. That first moon landing, during the mission of Apollo 11, came 40 years ago today.

The greatest feat humanity has ever pulled off, to put it another way, cost 3.19 percent -- again, in today's dollars -- of what it has cost us so far to bail out this country's financial sector. The financial sector. it must be noted, that precipitated the worst economic crisis the world has endured since the Great Depression.

The Apollo program . . . $150,000,000,000.

Bailing out a bunch of Wall Street swells who, of late, have taken taxpayers' money and gone back to business as usual: $4,700,000,000,000.

I think that says about all there is to say about the kind of country we were 40 years ago -- and the kind of country we are now.