Saturday, May 2, 2015

One Night With B.B. King Cost Me $14,000, and Was Worth Every Penny

UPDATE: Since I posted this a short while ago B.B. King has passed away. I first met B.B. King almost 30 years ago. Here's the story of one night I got to spend with the man...

There's been some confusion, so to set the record straight, no, B.B. King is not dead. Soul legend Ben E. King died at 76 on the same day that 89 year old blues legend B.B. King announced on his website that he was in Hospice care at his home in Las Vegas.
Soul legend Ben E. King
B, as his friends and family know Riley B. King, was first diagnosed with Type II diabetes almost three decades ago, after he was found in his Rolls on the side of the road in Vegas in a coma. There were premature reports of his death then, too. I know all too well. I co-promoted his very first show back after recovering, 'Love Comes to Town: A Blues Benefit for the Homeless' at Michigan State University in East Lansing. It was also the first show in 40 years of touring where he sat down. Sitting down, talking to the audience and playing a few songs without his fantastic orchestra became a regular part of his show from then on. It was a brilliant show. B.B. never sounded better. Everything that night went off without a hitch, but that was far from the case for everything that had come before.

Me with Kenny Kinsey, Ralph Kinsey, BB King,Lester"Big Daddy" Kinsey, Donald Kinsey and Ron Prince
From the beginning we had problems. The first problem was the university missed the ticket release date by almost two weeks. It was during this delay that we encountered the second problem: B.B. King's health problems. Because he was initially hospitalized in a coma, premature reports of his death were flying. Some newspapers ran their canned B.B. King obits and radio stations paid homage with special B.B. King programming. Early ticket sales were disappointing, to say the least. Who buys a relatively high dollar ticket to see a dead guy? It didn't help that his management cancelled six weeks worth of shows, every single show right up to ours.

B.B. King with U2 at Sun Studio during the recording of 'When Love Comes to Town'
Traditionally blues shows do bigger walk-up business than other genres, so we were still optimistic that with a strong promotional effort we could sell out the house. B.B was touring on the strength of, ‘When Love Comes to Town,’ recorded at Sun Studios with U2. The single hit number 2 on the US charts. Plus, B.B. King had always done well in Lansing. With the right promotion we hoped we could get his long-time fans to drive the few miles to East Lansing. We hit the barbershops, community papers and community radio stations in the African-American neighborhoods of Lansing and also promoted heavily on classic rock radio, around East Lansing and on campus. Then we were hit with the knockout punch.

Magic Johnson drives on Isaiah Thomas 
 There was no way to know it in advance, but show night turned out to be the same night as Game 7 of the NBA Finals between the Detroit Pistons and the Los Angeles. The Pistons, only 75 miles down the road, had a rabid local following. Compounding the problem, the Lakers were led by Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who was not only a Lansing native, he had taken Michigan State to the NCAA Finals, where MSU beat Indiana State, led by another future Hall of Famer, Larry Bird. Magic was more than just a local sports hero. He was THE sports hero.

Magic John and Larry Bird, 1979 NCAA Final
The crossover between our audience and the audience of the game was too much to overcome. We sold about half of the tickets we had expected to sell. Any one of the problems we could have overcome. Maybe even two. But this was a perfect storm of promoter's nightmares. After expenses, including a guaranteed donation to a homeless services agency, we lost just over $14,000 on the show.

Shortly before he went on B.B. sought me out backstage. There was no way to hide the fact that half of the seats were empty. Or to hide my disappointment. He put an arm around me and pulled me in close for a hug and said, “Sometimes things just don’t work out. Don’t let it get you down. This isn't your fault. It’s just one of those things. What you’re doing here is a beautiful thing. Keep the faith.” It mean the world to me at the time and still does.

I've known B.B. King for many years. We aren't friends; we had a business relationship, but he treats everyone he meets as a friend and I’ll always think of him as a friend. He’s a very humble man. He always has a kind word. He is one of the most giving artists I've ever met, and one of the most giving human beings. He played 150 or more shows every year for nearly seven decades, a touring career unmatched by any other artist. Even in his senior years he would stay after a two hour show for hours more to talk with fans and sign autographs, despite being physically exhausted and often having a show hundreds of miles away by bus the next night.

B.B. King greeting fans and signing autographs after a show
I'll cherish every moment I was lucky enough to spend with this great man. He's far outlived any expectations, and he's lived a life as full as full can be doing the thing he loves the most and bringing joy to millions doing it. B.B King is not going to recover this time. He hasn't left us yet, but this is the last chapter of an amazing life. That's what Hospice care means. But instead of being sad about this, celebrate the life, the art and the humanity of Riley "Blues Boy" King, the true King of the Blues. I guarantee you, that's how B would want it.

Bernie's Run Is Good for Democrats and Good for Hillary Clinton

Bernie Sanders has officially announced his candidacy for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. What chance does he have to actually win the nomination? None, and he knows it. So, why is he running and is it ultimately good for the Democratic Party?

The only other announced candidate so far, Hillary Clinton, begins her 2016 campaign with $229 million in cash left over from her 2008 campaign. There are no FEC reports on 2016 fundraising yet, but she's projected to raise an additional $30 million in the weeks after her announcement. Unlike 2008, where she asked large donors to max out their contributions during the brutal race for the Democratic presidential nomination against Barack Obama, this time she's asking donors to hold back half of the legal maximum to be spent on the general election. Democratic super PACs, most expected to back Clinton, have half a billion dollars to spend, and this is just the cash on hand. The Clinton campaign and Democratic super PACs together are projected to raise as much a staggering $2 billion during the long campaign season.

Bernie Sanders has no banked campaign cash to spend. In an appearance on MSNBC today Sanders told Ed Shultz that he's raised around $500,000 via his website. Put in perspective, Hillary Clinton has 458 times as much cash on hand as does Bernie Sanders, and that's not counting super PAC money that’s likely to flow in her direction. While Bernie Sanders has run successful campaigns on a shoestring before, first for mayor of Burlington, Vermont, then for the House and finally for the Senate, each time besting a well funded opponent with strong major party support, a national campaign is a very different animal. Vermont is one of the smallest sates in the country. It's possible to drive anywhere in the state in no more than a couple of hours and on less than one tank of gas.  With a small population in a small state, what a candidate lacks in cash can be made up by grass-roots organization and pressing the flesh. Put simply, Bernie Sanders does not now and will not have the cash to mount a serious challenge, and he said as much today.

The other problem Bernie faces is meeting the bar for entry to the Democratic presidential debates. The DNC has yet to announce the criteria for candidates to make the cut this cycle, but it generally involves being on the ballot in enough states to mathematically win the nomination as well as having a specific percentage of support according to an average of the polling. Because Hillary Clinton is far ahead in terms of cash and support, and because the DNC has lined up behind Hillary, it's likely she will have quite a bit of influence over the ultimate form of the debates. Another problem for Bernie Sanders is that unlike 2008, when the debates began in the Spring, this time around the DNC plans on waiting until mid-September to mount the first debate. Given his lack of cash and relatively weak support, it’s likely that Bernie Sanders will not be able to last until the Fall.

All of this puts the DNC into something of a debate quandary. If there's only one serious candidate, there may be no contested debates at all. This would not be good for the party or for Hillary Clinton. Debates provide for a way to inject important and controversial issues into the political discussion which might otherwise be avoided. They also provide an important way for voters to get to know the candidates as human beings. This is particularly important for Hillary Clinton, who's running a campaign that's more personal, stressing that she's a mother and a grandmother, and well to the left of her 2008 campaign.

Bernie Sanders knows full well that he has no chance at the nomination, or, for that matter, a spot on the ticket. For one thing, he's not really a Democrat. He's officially an independent, though he caucuses with Democrats in the Senate. He describes himself as a "democratic socialist." America is not ready to elect a self declared socialist now and many never be. No candidate can win a national election without winning a majority of moderate voters, and to the voters in the "squishy middle, just the term "socialism" is anathema, thought they may support policies that are essentially socialist.

Bernie Sanders is running to move the party discussion to the left. He wants to make sure his the issues most important to him - economic fairness, reigning in corporations and reducing the influence of the ultra-rich, addressing climate change and a building a better social safety net - are taken seriously. With almost no money to travel or buy TV ads, the debates would provide the best way for him to do this, but if there are no debates, or he's gone by debate time, he can't achieve this goal. It's a problem for the candidates and the party.

One solution would be to allow Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, as well other high profile Democrats who may wish to participate, to champion their issues in a casual open forum format rather than a formal debate, with Hillary listening and then responding to all of them. This kind of soft debate would go a long way in bringing progressives disaffected by Hillary Clinton on board and energizing them to work on her behalf and ultimately to turn out and vote.

Something along these lines would not only solve the DNC's dliemma, it would give Bernie Sanders a high profile platform to speak about the issues most important to him without having to raise impossibly high mountains of money. Inviting Elizabeth Warren, who's repeatedly said she’s not running, to participate as well would also go a long way towards wooing disaffected progressives back into the Democratic fold by showing that Hillary is sympathetic to progressive issues and has the support of progressive champions. Other candidates of high profile Democrats could participate as well, even if Hillary has sucked all of the oxygen out of the room in terms of fund-raising and popular support. The progressive vote and the youth vote were both vital to Barack Obama's wins in 2008 and 2012 and it will be vital again in 2016.

The biggest strategic concern about a Sanders run is that it will fragment the party. We're already seeing signs of this on social media, where there's been much unfriending and unfollowing. There have been strident, passionate clashes between progressives supporting Sanders and liberals supporting Hillary. Hillary Clinton graciously welcomed Bernie Sanders to the race after his announcement. Bernie Sanders has nothing but nice things to say about Hillary Clinton. It does not appear likely that we will see a repeat of the kind of knock-down, drag-out primary season we saw in 2008. If the two campaigns maintain a positive tone towards each other, the rifts can be healed by November of 2016. In the end, the presence of Bernie Sanders in the race is a good thing for the small "D" democratic process as well as the Democratic Party and its ultimate nominee, whoever she may be.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Hillary Clinton Should Pick One of the Castro Brothers as a Running Mate and Do It Now (Plus which one she should pick)

Joaquín Castro, Hillary Clinton and Julián Castro
Candidates typically don't announce their choice of running mate until just before or at the party convention, but here are six reasons Hillary Clinton should pick one of the Castro brothers and do it now. Let's game this out, but first, a little background on the Castro brothers.

Joaquín and Julián Castro are 41 year old twin brothers from San Antonio, Texas and rising stars in the Democratic Party. They are both highly accomplished and have compelling stories. The twins were raised by their mother, Rosie Castro, who was active in the Chicano Movement and helped to found the La Raza Unida political party. They credit their mother for inspiring their interest in political careers.

The twins attended Stanford together, where they both served in the student senate, tying for the most votes of any candidate. Both earned B.S. degrees in two majors, political science and communications. Both went to Harvard Law School, where they both earned Juris Doctorate degrees. After Harvard both joined Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, a prestigious international law firm anchored in Washington D.C with offices all over the country and around the world. They left Akin Gump to form their own law firm. Both then entered into politics.

Joaquín and Julián Castro 

Joaquín Castro is currently a member of the U.S House of Representatives, where he represents Texas' 20th Congressional District. He serves on the Armed Services Committee and the Committee on Foreign Affairs. Before that he spent ten years in the Texas House of Representatives, where he co-chaired the Committee on Higher Education and served on the committees for County Affairs, Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence and Oversight of Higher Education Governance & Transparency. 

Julián Castro is currently serving in Barack Obama’s Cabinet as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. In 2001 he was elected to the San Antonio City Council, at 26 the youngest person ever elected to the Council. In 2009 he was elected Mayor of San Antonio, the seventh largest city in the United States with a population of about 1.5 million. In 2013 he won his third term as Mayor. In July of 2014 he resigned as Mayor to take his current position in the Cabinet.

Julián Castro throws a first pitch strike at a Texas Rangers game
The brothers came to the attention of a national audience in 2012, when Joaquín introduced his brother at the Democratic National Convention. Julián delivered the keynote address at the convention, an honor reserved for the best and brightest rising stars in the party. In 2004 a little known first term Senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, delivered the keynote address.

So, why should Hillary Clinton pick one of these brothers, why should she do it now and which one should she pick?

1. Picking one of the Castro brothers as her running mate and announcing it now would essentially put an end to the race for the Democratic nomination.

Yes, the primary process is an excellent way to season a candidate and a campaign, but Hillary Clinton has been here before. The beginning of her 2016 race shows she learned a great deal from her unsuccessful run in 2008 and from her two successful Senate campaigns in New York.

In 2008 Clinton’s campaign tried to exude an air of inevitability, but the party was badly fractured. Most of the power players in the party lined up behind Clinton, but the Democratic National Committee, headed by Howard Dean, who made a splash in the 2004 primaries, supported Barack Obama. Obama had adopted Dean’s 50 state strategy of contesting every race in every state. He implemented this strategy by focusing on the ground game, especially in smaller states the higher profile campaigns mostly ignored. He concentrated on generating interest with younger voters and used his ground game to push them to participate in primaries and caucuses, which they did in record numbers.

Howard Dean announcing his run for the 2004 Democratic nomination
It wasn't just the party that was fractured. Deep divisions existed inside of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. These divisions began to leak into the press in the form of bad mouthing and back stabbing, always on background. Clinton herself shifted from trying to remain above the fray to aggressively attacking Obama, who was steadily gaining ground. What was supposed to be a coronation turned into a death match. The deciding factor turned out to be the overall message of the two campaigns. While Clinton emphasized experience and expertise, Barack Obama’s message was hope and change. After eight years of George Bush, Obama’s message resonated with the party base and the electorate in general.

The other common argument in favor of an extended primary process is it allows issues important to the base that might not otherwise get a hearing to come out. The first few days of Hillary Clinton’s campaign show that not only has she learned from her campaign missteps in 2008, she’s also moved to the left with a much more populist, progressive message. In 2008 she delivered anodyne, centrist speeches. She didn't take chances. She never veered from the centrist path.

In her fist day on the trail in this time around she lamented the CEO/worker pay gap and crushing student debt, echoing Obama’s call for free community college for everyone. She called for an end to “unaccountable money” in the political system, even if it took a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. She also called on the Supreme Court to give constitutional protection to same sex marriages. Someone just reading the transcripts might think it was Elizabeth Warren speaking.

Nowhere is the difference in Hillary 2008 and Hillary 2016 more readily apparent than in the video announcements of her candidacy.  The 2008 announcement video was all Hillary Clinton speaking straight into the camera while delivering the kind of inoffensive fodder that all but screamed, “It’s my time!”

We don’t even see Hillary in her 2016 announcement until a minute and a half into the two minute video. Instead, we see a diverse group of people, young, old, singles, couples, white black, Asian, Hispanic, same sex couples, all talking about transitions in their own lives.  Hillary hits some populist notes then says she’s getting ready to do something, too. She’s running for president, “Because it’s your time.” The contrast from the 2008 video couldn't be more stark.

Hillary Clinton is as seasoned a campaigner as she’ll ever be. On the issues she was always well to the left of Bill, and now she’s not afraid to show it. She obviously took her meeting with Elizabeth Warren seriously, and she’s carrying populist, progressive messages into this race. Speaking of progressives, right now many on the left flank are not happy with the prospect of Hillary Clinton as the nominee. The sooner she can essentially end the race, the sooner she can begin to work on party unity and work to win over progressive voters, with the help of progressive standard bearers like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who are sure to support her in the end.

Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren
From a logistical point of view, the race is already over. The days of raising a few million dollars and hand-shaking through the primaries hoping to catch fire and attract donors are over.  In a post Citizens United world, it takes huge piles of cash to compete. Hillary Clinton campaign projects raising $2 billion. No other prospective candidate can come close to this staggering figure. In the post Citizen’s United days, any candidate can stick it out if they have their own billionaire, but so far none of the other Democratic hopefuls have landed a whale. From a purely monetary point of view, no one else can last beyond Iowa and New Hampshire in late January or at the longest, South Carolina in mid-February.

This raises a problem. With the race all but over now, and almost surely over by mid-February, there will be no one left for Hillary to debate. My suggestion would be to do debates, but focus them on the issues, not the candidates. Allow Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and any other high profile Democrat who wishes to participate, to champion their issues in a casual open forum format, rather than a formal debate format, with Hillary listening and then responding to all of them. This kind of soft debate would go a long way in bringing disaffected progressives on board and energizing them to participate.

2. The GOP is already saying, “She’s old.” She can blunt this attack with someone young on the ticket.

In Marco Rubio’s speech announcing his campaign for the GOP nomination, he made references to Hillary Clinton’s age more than a dozen times. Even the theme of his campaign, A New American Century, (this despite the fact that the new American century began 15 years ago) was a jibe at Hillary Clinton.  Because subtlety is often lost on Republican voters, he came right out and said, “Just yesterday a leader from yesterday began a campaign for president by promising to take us back to yesterday.”

Marco Rubio's infamous water bottle moment while,delivering the GOP Response to Barack Obama's State of the Union speech
Rubio was the first candidate to embrace what has so far been a smear campaign championed mostly by the right wing noise machine. Obviously one of the major lines of attack against Hillary Clinton will be, “She’s old,” but only because, “She has a vagina,” sounds worse. This line of attack might seem strange coming from the party that elected Reagan, who was also 68, and nominated John McCain, who was 72, but consistency, like subtlety, has never been a conservative strong point.

Photoshopped images of Hillary Clinton abound in the Wingnutosphere-  "She's Old" has now leaked into mainstream GOP candidate talking points
The easiest way to blunt this attack is to balance the ticket with someone young. The GOP did it in 2008, though the VP nominee they picked had the qualifications of a boiled cabbage. But at 44, she was young and attractive and it did at least temporarily revive a campaign that was covered in cobwebs. Not only are the Castros young and attractive, unlike Sarah Palin they’re also highly intelligent and highly accomplished and they can speak in complete sentences

3. The Hispanic vote.

Barack Obama won 63% of the Hispanic vote in the last election. The GOP knows they need to increase their share of this important demographic if they are to have a chance to win in 2016. Marco Rubio may not be able to win the nomination, but he does have a very good chance of landing the second spot on the ticket, even if Jeb Bush, also from Florida, is the nominee. Under normal circumstance you’d never see both nominees come from the same state, but the only other Hispanic the GOP has on tap is Ted Cruz, and it’s highly unlikely that Jeb Bush, or anyone else but Ted Cruz, would run with Ted Cruz. Also, polls show that Jeb might not be able to deliver Florida on his own. Rubio would go a long way towards winning a big state that has been a linchpin of recent elections.

A Bush/Rubio ticket is a real possibility
Putting Joaquín or Julián Castro on the ticket would assure Democrats not only getting at least the 63% of the Hispanic vote they got last time, and probably more, it would increase turnout among Hispanics, meaning more Hispanic votes overall. This would make the math for a GOP path to the White House very difficult. It would also accomplish something else, which may be the best reason of all, especially for those of us who live in Texas and long for the day the Lone Star State turns blue.

4. It would put Texas in play. Yes, Texas.

No Democratic presidential candidate has won Texas since Jimmy Carter in 1976. No Democrat has been elected to a state-wide office in Texas since 1994. This is the longest Democratic dry spell in any state, ever. The latest polls in the state show Hillary Clinton doing surprisingly well. In head to head match-ups against the top GOP contenders she gets 40-44% of the vote. Add one of the Castro brothers to the ticket and it might provide enough of a spark for Hillary Clinton to win Texas, and with it 38 electoral votes the GOP simply cannot afford to lose.

Adding Joaquín or Julián Castro to the ticket would energize Texas Hispanics to register and vote in record numbers. It would also pry away some older, more conservative Hispanics who have been voting Republican. Finally, it would energize younger voters to register and turn out in record numbers. The combination of these three factors just might be enough to get Hillary Clinton over the hump. Winning Texas would be a stunning achievement, but with the help of the Castro brothers she just might be able to pull it off. At the very least, it would force the GOP to use precious resources in the form of candidate time and mountains of money to defend turf they consider to be their own.

5. It would energize the youth vote.

Not only would putting Joaquín or Julián Castro on the ticket help fight off the negative “She’s old” argument, it would have the positive effect of energizing younger voters. We know younger voters skew heavily liberal on the issues. We also know they are the most difficult demographic to get to the polls. Compare 2008 and 2012, when the youth vote turned out in record numbers and Democrats won from top to bottom, to 2010 and 2014, when young voters stayed home and Democrats suffered record losses. Arguably the single biggest factor in Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 wins was his success in getting young voters to turn out. If Hillary can turn out younger voters in similar numbers, she wins, period.

The youth vote that propelled Barack Obama to victory in 2008 and 2012 is vital to Hillary Clinton's chances in 2016
6. The female vote.

This one is almost taken for granted, but it shouldn't be. In recent national elections women have skewed heavily Democratic. This demographic is likely to skew even more heavily Democratic with the historic prospect of the first female president. This doesn't mean Democrats should take women for granted.

Hillary Clinton will almost certainly win the majority of votes cast by women, but she also needs to increase turnout among women. The way to do that is to address the issues most important to women, including equal pay, glass ceiling discrimination, family issues, social justice issues, reproductive rights and education. It can sound a bit creepy when older men talk about these issues, but a young, fresh face, someone who’s spoken to these issues for their entire political career, someone with a compelling story to tell of being raised by a strong, political single mother, that’s an entirely different matter. Joaquín or Julián Castro would be a net positive with women far more so than anyone else in the running.

Bonus Reasons

There are bonus reasons why picking one of the Castros would be a smart move for the Clinton campaign. Both of them are squeaky clean. There’s never been so much as a hint of scandal around either of them. One of the roles of the VP nominee is to play attack dog and take it to the opposition more aggressively than the presidential nominee can. Someone with a spotless reputation, like the Castros, will come in handy to rebut the screams of, “Benghazi! Benghazi! Benghazi!” that are sure to come from the GOP camp.

Finally, picking one of the Castro twins brings one more advantage no other VP pick can deliver. After the convention the two nominees usually campaign separately to maximize precious time. There are a few major campaign events where both nominees appear, but most of the time they appear at different events on the same day. Picking one of the Castro twins is like having an extra VP nominee. It's as close as you can get to a two-for-one pick.

Which one should Hillary pick?

Joaquín and Julián Castro are identical twins with almost identical qualifications and achievements. Either would make a great choice, but there is one area where one of these brothers has an edge when it comes to anchoring a national ticket. While Joaquín is engaged to his long time sweetheart, Ana Flores, his brother Julián is already a family man, with an attractive wife, Erica Lira Castro, and two beautiful children, Carina and Cristian. A  telegenic family is an asset in any race. Because of this and his experience in Washington, the edge goes to Julián. Joaquín will have to settle for a Senate seat, or perhaps the Governor’s Mansion in Austin. Who knows? Perhaps it won’t be long before we see a Castro and Castro ticket.

The winning Democratic ticket for 2016 is Hillary Clinton and Julián Castro

John Avignone writes about politics for Salon and other outlets.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Palin, Fox, GOP Dishonors All US POWs By Slagging Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl

Sarah Palin, Fox News and the GOP have displayed truly stunning hypocrisy by politicizing the prisoner exchange that freed Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl after five years as a prisoner of the Taliban and attacking Bergdahl himself as a traitor. They've even attacked his family.

Sarah Palin has attacked Bowe Bergdalh personally yet again
Hiding behind her Facebook page,  Sarah Palin again slagged Sgt. Bowe Bergdalh, this time for having difficulties speaking English after not hearing a word of English during the five years he was held as a POW by the Taliban in Afghanistan. She suggested he use Rosetta Stone and learn to speak "KickAss." I refuse to link to Palin's page or promote her hash tag directly, but HuffPo has the story, including quotes from Palin's ridiculous hypocritical attack.
“Sympathizers now tell the media Bergdahl can't be held to account anytime soon because he can't be interviewed ... claiming he's forgotten how to speak English. Really?” Palin asked in a Facebook post Wednesday. “Then # Call 1-800-RosettaStone.”
Palin, and much of the GOP, have already convicted Bowe Bergdahl of disloyalty and desertion at the least and treason at the worst, despite the fact that not one of them knows the true circumstances of his disappearance or what he might or might not have said while a prisoner or whether any statements he made were a result of torture and the threat of death, tactics the Taliban is known to commonly use on prisoners and threats backed up by grisly executions, beheading is their preferred method, posted to YouTube. Some, including Fox contributors Ann Coulter and Ralph Peters, have even suggested that Bergdahl should be executed, though only one American has been executed for desertion since the Civil War.

Bob and Jani Bergdahl

The attacks don't stop with Sgt. Bergdahl. Fox News bashed Bowe's father, Robert Bergdahl, as well. Bill O'Reilly, Brian Kilmeade and other Foxers slammed the senior Bergdahl, saying that because of his long beard, "he looks like a Muslim." In fact, Robert Bergdahl and Bowe's mother Jani are conservative devout Christians who home schooled Bowe and his sister Sky. As a sign of solidarity with his imprisoned son, Robert Bergdahl swore to not shave until his son was returned to him, and for five years he kept that promise. For this patriotic act of honor the idiots at Fox have attacked him for purely partisan political reasons. The Fox Fux have so inflamed the GOP base that the Bergdahl family has received multiple death threats which the FBI is taking seriously...
William Facer, a spokesman for the FBI's Salt Lake City division, said Saturday in a statement: "The FBI continues to monitor the situation in Hailey, Idaho. We are working jointly with our state and local partners and taking each threat seriously."
Not to mention the hypocrisy of these guys with long beards lauded as GOP heroes...

Duck Dynasty Stars the Robertson Family
Apparently Palin, Fox and most of the GOP are ignorant of the fact that American POWs in Vietnam, like John McCain, often broke the US POW Code of Conduct under torture. McCain went much further than most by making disloyal statements, admitting to being a war criminal, condemning the US efforts in Vietnam and providing the VC with valuable military intelligence, all voluntarily and not as a result of torture. Why isn't the Quitta from Wasilla slagging her former running mate?  Most Vietnam POWs made varying degrees of disloyal statements, including many recorded confessions of guilt. Why is the Quitta from Wasilla not slagging them? All of the US sailors captured by North Korea in 1968 signed confessions of spying illegally. Why is the Quitta from Wasilla not slagging them?

Pueblo prisoners admit to illegal spying at a press conference in North Korea
It's not at all unusual for US POWs to be forced into making declarations of disloyalty. In fact, it's common. The military understand this. However, McCain's fellow POWs were particularity upset with McCain's actions. In his autobiography, McCain himself admits telling his VC captors soon after capture, "I'll give you military information if you will take me to the hospital." He did give valuable information and was taken to the hospital. The VC didn't know they had captured the son of the highest ranking Naval officer in Asia, Admiral John S. McCain, Sr. commander of Air Forces for Western Sea Frontier and the South Pacific Force, until McCain told them soon after his capture, in a bid to get special treatment. It worked. Unlike most American POWs, McCain did not endure years of torture at the hands of the VC. After that the VC referred to McCain as the "crown prince" of POWs and gave him special treatment while other POWs were tortured for years.

Phil Butler, who had known McCain since their Naval Academy days, says of him, "John allows the media to make him out to be the hero POW, which he knows is absolutely not true, to further his political goals." Air Force lieutenant colonel John Dramesi, a highly respected career officer who was imprisoned with McCain says of him, This business of my country before my life? Well, he (McCain) had that opportunity and failed miserably." Contrast McCain's behavior in captivity with real heroes like former GOP Senator Jerimiah Denton (R-AL), also a POW in Vitenam, famously blinked his eyes in Morse code during a forced admission recorded by the VC, spelling out "Torture." It is because of the valor of so many compared with the cowardice of McCain that so many former Vietnam POWs despise the man.

The GOP hypocrisy in this case, and particularly the nonsensical ranting of Sarah Plain and the stunning hypocrisy of John McCain, is obscene. America has always done whatever it takes to get back American POWs. Never has the alleged conduct of a POW been a consideration in repatriation. The credo for American troops is "Leave no man behind." Apparently the GOP would like to change this credo to "Leave no man behind, unless Barack Obama has secured his rescue, in which case, screw the disloyal traitor. Let him rot in a Taliban prison." McCain's hypocrisy is even more extreme. Not only was John McCain himself released as part of a prisoner exchange, but just a few months ago when asked about this specific hostage trade deal, trading five Taliban commanders for Bowe Bergdahl, he told CNN's Anderson Cooper...
“Obviously I’d have to know the details, but I would support ways of bringing [Bergdahl] home, and if exchange was one of them, I think that would be something I think we should seriously consider."
McCain, who's political career is littered with flip-flops of political expediency, claims his statement then and his condemnation now of the very same deal he previously supported are somehow perfectly consistent.

One final note. The one and only claim the GOP is making that has any merit is that Barack Obama did not notify them before negotiating a deal for Bergdahl's release, but even this claim is dubious. Putting aside the fact that this deal was widely reported in the media in 2012, senior Republicans, who now claim they were blindsided, knew about this specific deal as far back as 2011...
Obama administration officials first discussed with senior House Republicans the possibility of swapping five terrorism detainees from the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in exchange for the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in late November 2011, according to senior GOP aides. 
The possible prisoner exchange was discussed again during a briefing on Jan. 31,  2012, after senior House Republicans sent two letters to the Obama administration seeking more information on the possibility of the swap, said the aides, who were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. 
...the details of the Bergdahl prisoner exchange, including the release of five specific Taliban commanders, have been public since the spring of 2012.
Late last year, State Department negotiators put together a tentative deal in which five Taliban prisoners would be transferred from Cuba to house arrest in Qatar, where their families could join them. The administration discussed this specific deal with senior Republicans in Congress for YEARS. They moved when they did because the most recent video released by the Taliban showed a gaunt Bergdahl in obvious medical difficulty and a delay might have proved fatal.
Still from the most recent Taliban video shows a gaunt, unhealthy Bergdahl
If there is any one power on which the President of the United States stands on firm constitutional ground, it is the power of the Commander in Chief of all armed forces. The law requiring the president to inform Congress of any prisoner swap 20 days in advance is prima facia unconstitutional, and Obama said so in a singing statement at the time he signed the bill. The Constitution the GOP claims to love also specifically authorizes the president, and not Congress, to conduct foreign policy. The GOP sponsored law and the subsequent squealing is nothing more than smoke and mirrors to obscure a naked unconstitutional power grab.

Update: A retired Marine Corps officer tells me that it's highly unlikely that Bowe Bergdahl will ever face a court martial. Men who have served as POWs are almost never prosecuted. There will be an investigation, but almost certainly no court martial.

Friday, May 30, 2014

No, We're Not a Center-right Nation

No, we're not a center-right nation. That's a lie created and funded by the 1%. In point of fact, polling on the issues proves that we're center-left nation, and far to the left of the well financed dreams of the 1% and their bought and paid for minions in the GOP. On issue after issue the public is far to the left of the elites.

Below are the results a poll of polls commissioned by the Russel Sage Foundation, which has been exclusively dedicated to research in the social sciences since 1907.  The results clearly show a vast disconnect between the priorities of American elites, the 1%, and the majority of the American public. For the purposes of this poll, "elite" is defined as those at or near the top 1% of American wealth holders with an average income in excess of $1 million per year.

These results reflect an average of polling by a variety of leading pollsters, including Gallup, Pew and others. The contrasts between the views of the 1% and the views of the general public are truly startling. Our government is not representing we, the people. It's representing them, the 1%, who line the pockets of politicians with huge piles of sweet, sweet cash.

There is only one way to fight the influence of the 1%. Vote. Don't wait for 2016. Vote in the midterms. At this point it appears that it's a safe bet that Democrats will hold the Senate, especially as the most recent polling suggest an unexpected Democratic pick-up in Kentucky, where Allison Lundergren Grimes is leading Mitch McConnell (R), the GOP Senate Minority Leader. Ousting the Turtle Man would be a particularly sweet victory for Democrats in what appears to be a tough midterm election and would up the number the pick-ups the GOP needs to take control of the Senate to 7, which is highly unlikely.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Photos - First Look at the Wreckage

Here are the first before and after pictures. First up, this is just before being wheeled into the operating room looking surprisingly awake for 6am...

...and this is me shortly after waking up in the recovering room after more than eight hours of surgery and looking considerably less awake.

For the first part of the procedure they placed me on my back and entered through my abdomen. This picture was taken about a week after surgery. There are no visible stitches. Instead, the surgeon used self dissolving internal stitches and surgical glue, aka super glue. BTW, no I did not swallow a basketball. This swelling, known as distention, takes a while to go back down.

The next step was to close the incision in my abdomen, flip me over and work from the back. This image of the incision on my back was taken about a week after surgery. There are no stitches, instead, they used steri-strips. For scale, the tapes covering the steri-strips are just under one inch wide. A vacuum drain was attached through the hole to the right of the incision.