Saturday, July 11, 2015

Winner Lose, Loser Win - Feeling the Bern

Bernie Sanders can't win the Democratic nomination, and he knows it, but by losing he's really winning.




The surest sign yet that Bernie Sanders isn't running to win the nomination is his staffing. Bernie has only 8 full time staffers in Iowa and New Hampshire put together. He has no staff or offices in South Carolina, the third primary state, or any of the other primary states. If the run for the nomination was a poker game, this would be a tell. Bernie doesn't plan to be around after Iowa and New Hampshire.

Despite closing the gap in New Hampshire, which he considers home turf, to 8 points and picking up some ground in Iowa, where he still trails Clinton by 20 points, the "surge" hasn't translated into a groundswell of national support. A month ago Bernie was polling around 12%. Now he's polling around 14%, about even with Joe Biden, who hasn't said anything about running. Overall, he still trails Hillary Clinton by close to 50 points.

For the most part Bernie Sanders hasn't been able to expand his base of support. Master prognosticator and statistical guru Nate Silver has done the math. Sanders does very well with progressive white voters, but fares poorly with other demographic groups, and particularity with minority voters. He's not doing well with the coalition of voters that Barack Obama was able to put together for wins in 2008 and again in 2012.


The latest CNN poll pegs Bernie's support among non-white Democrats at just 9%, while the latest Fox poll shows only 5% support among African-Americans. This suggests that while Sanders could do very well, and possibly even win, in Iowa, where 93% of caucus voters in 2008 were white, and New Hampshire, where 95% of 2008 primary voters were white, he's not likely to fare well in South Carolina or anywhere else. Iowa and New Hampshire are the only states where more than 50% of 2008 primary voters were white liberals. In South Carolina, the third primary, only 43% of 2008 primary voters were white and only 19% identified as liberal. Next up is Nevada, with a strong Hispanic vote, and then Super Tuesday, where the minority vote is a major factor in 8 of the 12 states.


These numbers aren't good, but there's another number that's worse for Bernie. A recent Gallup poll asked voters what kind of presidential candidate they'd consider voting for. In every demographic, regardless of party affiliation, "socialist" came in dead last, behind "atheist" and Muslim." Even among Democrats, only 59% say they would consider voting for a socialist. There's no way to win the nomination of a party when 41% say they wouldn't even consider voting for you. The general election math is worse. Much worse.


In the current political environment, polarization is the keyword. Around 47% of voters will vote for the Democratic candidate, no matter what. This is the 47% Mitt Romney famously dismissed. About the same percentage will vote for the Republican, no matter what. It's the voters in the middle, voters whose votes can be swayed, that will decide this election. Moderates will not vote for a socialist. There's no math where 59% of 47% gets a candidate to 50% overall.


Math aside, there's an even more basic reason that Bernie Sanders can't win the nomination. Rule 1: The Democratic nominee must be a Democrat. A lot people believe Bernie is running as a Democrat. He's not. He's running for the Democratic nomination as an independent. There's only one segment of the party that supports Bernie, unions, and even that is more or less a 50/50 split. The rest of the party machinery is solidly lined up behind Hillary. Superdelegates, made up of senior elected officials and Democratic Party power players, are going to back the Democrat. Primaries, caucus and debate rules are all controlled by the party. It's simply not possible to win the nomination of a party that doesn't want you as the nominee.


Despite all of this Bernie Sanders is still winning, because he knows he can't win. He can and is doing two very important things. After decades of moving to the right, Bernie is succeeding at moving the political conversation to the left. Even trickle down, never met a corporation they didn't like, stash the cash in Caymans and incorporate overseas to avoid taxes Republicans are talking about the vast and growing gap between the 1% and everyone else. Their policies would make inequality worse, but at least they're talking about it.



The other way he's winning is to take some of the sting out of the word "socialist," a label that is political death in American politics. Bernie proudly calls himself a "democratic socialist," While some take pains to point out that this is different from the political ideology of socialism, in practice all socialist nations practice democratic socialism. There are no more autocratic socialist nations. The Gallup poll shows Americans still fear the term, but a likable, avuncular guy like Bernie Sanders makes it a lot less scary. Bernie is channeling the anger and frustration many Americans feel, but he manages to do it in a non-threatening way.



Bernie Sanders' campaign may not last beyond New Hampshire, but his influence will last. He's not a Democrat, but his campaign is good for the Democratic Party. It's also good for the country. In the end Bernie will continue to be a powerful progressive voice in the Senate, where along with other progressive like Elizabeth Warren, he will be at the vanguard of a long overdue progressive sea change of American politics, and that's the biggest win of all. Bernie Sanders is a winner.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Nikki Haley's Tasteless Victory Lap

Nikki Haley tried to grab credit for the Confederate battle flag coming down as Republicans in the House insisted the flag be allowed to fly on federal land.

Am I the only one who was put off by Nikki Haley making the signing of the bill to remove the flag a giant media circus with her center ring? Is it naive to think that a quiet, dignified, closed ceremony with only the families present would have been appropriate? I don't mind her taking a victory lap, though it was primarily the pressure from corporate America and the RNC, not Nikki Haley, that led to this, but to do it at the signing of the bill was tasteless.


It's particularly inappropriate considering that less than a year ago, when she was running for reelection, Haley vigorously defended the presence of the flag at the Statehouse. Her idea of a fix was to sugar coat the reality with  peppy phone greeting.
What I can tell you is over the last three and a half years, I spent a lot of my days on the phones with CEOs and recruiting jobs to this state. I can honestly say I have not had one conversation with a single CEO about the Confederate flag.”
...
“But we really kind of fixed all that when you elected the first Indian-American female governor. When we appointed the first African-American U.S. senator, that sent a huge message.”
Haley said that she had tried to improve the perception of the state by ordering employees to answer the phone with the phrase “it’s a great day in South Carolina.”
It was also a bit weird that she referred to the "actions" of the people massacred at the Mother Emanuel Church multiple times. To my mind it was the actions of the families of the 9 at Dylann Roof's arraignment, expressing forgiveness, not anger, that led to South Carolina finally being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century and being forced to do what it should have done long ago.

“I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you,” a daughter of one victim said. “We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive,” said the sister of another. “I pray God on your soul."
I'm glad they've taken down that rag of bigotry, hate and treason, but Nikki Haley and the government of South Carolina should be apologizing, not celebrating. It's everyone who has had to walk past that flag to do any official business with their state government and everyone everywhere who has chaffed under this symbol of hate who have the right to celebrate. Does the bully deserve a victory lap for finally ceasing to beat on his bloodied victim?

This certainly has symbolic meaning in the long struggle for civil rights, but corporate pressure can't end bigotry. Legislation can't force attitudes to change. Changing the status quo, however, does lead to real changes over time. Succeeding generations grow up in a South Carolina where official displays of bigotry and oppression are no longer the norm.

State troopers remove the Confederate battle flag from Statehouse grounds
Sadly, at the same time Nikki Haley was signing the bill to remove the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina Statehouse grounds, Republicans in the House of Representatives were refusing to do the same for federal grounds. A full blown fracas ensued in Congress, once again exposing deep divisions in the Republican party.
The battle was joined Tuesday night, when Democrats offered a series of amendments to prohibit Confederate flags from being displayed at federal cemeteries, and to stop the U.S. Park Service from doing business with enterprises that sell the flags. These flags are typically displayed alongside the centuries-old tombstones of deceased confederate soldiers.
“This House now has an opportunity to add its voice to end the promotion of the cruel, racist legacy of the Confederacy,” California Rep. Jared Huffman said in a floor speech before his initial amendment was adopted Tuesday.
The measures passed by voice vote.
Outraged Southern Republicans shouted their opposition to the voice vote and chaos ensued on the House floor. All or most of the congressional delegations from Texas, Virginia, Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama, as well as majorities of the delegations from other Southern states, demanded that leadership include language protecting the display of the flag. A representative from California, of all places, Rep. Ken Calvert, R-CA, introduced an amendment to overturn the voice vote and allow the display of the flag on federal grounds, specifically federal cemeteries. Stung by immediate and harsh criticism, Calvert, issued a statement that blamed GOP leadership, and, of course, President Obama.

Rep. Ken Calvert, R-CA
The amendment offered last night to the Interior and Environment Appropriations bill was brought to me by Leadership at the request of some southern Members of the Republican Caucus. The Leadership amendment would have codified existing National Park Service policy set by the Obama administration. Those Obama administration policies prohibit the sale and display of the Confederate flag on National Park Service properties, except when displayed in a historical or educational context. To be clear, I wholeheartedly support the Park Service's prohibitions regarding the Confederate flag and the amendment did nothing to change these prohibitions.
...
Looking back, I regret not conferring with my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, especially my Ranking Member Betty McCollum, prior to offering the Leadership's amendment and fully explaining its intent given the strong feelings Members of the House feel regarding this important and sensitive issue.
It was yet another embarrassing fiasco for a completely dysfunctional GOP House that can't even control its worst, most extreme members. The Confederate battle flag has been taken down in South Carolina, but it's still being waved by Southern Republicans in Congress.

In South Carolina, Republicans had used procedural tricks to stop the bill calling for the removal of the flag before finally capitulating and allowing the bill to proceed. There are two Republicans in South Carolina who deserve credit for removing the flag, and neither of them is Nikki Haley. The son of segregationist Strom Thurmond, Senator Paul Thurmond, R-SC, called for the flag to be removed in a moving speech just days after the Charleston massacre.


“For the life of me, I will never understand how anyone could fight a Civil War based in part on the desire to continue the practice of slavery,” Thurmond said. “Think about it for just a second. Our ancestors were literally fighting to continue to keep human beings as slaves, and continue the unimaginable acts that occur when someone is held against their will. I am not proud of that heritage.”
“Now we have these hate groups and the symbols that they use to remind African-Americans that things haven’t changed and that they are still viewed as less than equal human beings,” Thurmond continued. “Well, let me tell you, things have changed. Overwhelmingly, people are not being raised to hate or to believe that they are superior to others based on the color of their skin.”
...
“I am proud to be on the right side of history regarding the removal of this symbol of racism and bigotry from the Statehouse,” Paul Thurmond said on Tuesday. “But let us not be satisfied to stop there. Justice by halves is not justice. We must take down the Confederate flag and we must take it down now. But if we stop there, we have cheated ourselves out of an opportunity to start a different conversation about healing in our state.”
Despite Thurmond's plea it looked like Republican effort to stop the South Carolina bill, led by  Rep. Rick Quinn and Rep. Michael Pitts, the latter adding dozens of amendments to the bill to stymie any possible progress, would succeed. They might have succeeded, had it not been for the amazing, impassioned, emotional speech from Republican Jenny Horne, that finally shamed Republicans into allowing the bill to proceed.


Many people deserve credit for the flag finally being taken down, including Republicans who called for the flags removal and voted for the bill, but Nikki Haley, who only reversed her support for flying the flag when political pressure mounted, isn't one of them.

Friday, June 19, 2015

NRA Board Member Blames Pastor for Charleston Terror Attack!


I wrote at length earlier about the blame the domestic terror attack at the Mother Emmanuel church in Charleston on everything but racism, domestic terrorism and American gun culture. I hope you'll read that post. But this response is even worse than those I documented and discussed earlier. The word that comes to mind is appalling. Appalling and disgusting. Appalling, disgusting and ghoulish. Even for the NRA this is truly appalling, disgusting and ghoulish.

MediaMatters caught a screenshot of a since deleted post from NRA board member Charles L. Cotten on a message board for Texas gun nuts. Cotton blames Pastor Clementa Pickney for the nine deaths at the hands of white supremacist domestic terrorist Dylann Roof. Speaking about Pinckney, who was also South Carolina State Senator, Cotton wrote...

And he voted against concealed-carry. Eight of his church members who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church are dead. Innocent people died because of his position on a political issue.
Screenshot of Cotten's post

 At the bottom of Cotten's post was an image promoting NRA membership. This isn't the first time Cotten has posted something truly appalling. This is the same shitbag who wrote in favor of corporal punishment in public schools...
"I'm sick of this woman and her 'don't touch my kid regardless what he/she did or will do again' attitude, Perhaps a good paddling in school may keep me from having to put a bullet in him later," he added."
 Cotten has been a NRA board member for a decade. His current term expires in 2017. It's bad enough that these are the sick bastards that make it impossible for America to enact sane gun laws. This kind of rhetoric simply has no place in any civilized society. Sadly, it's the norm for the NRA.

Right Wing Media Machine, GOP Politicians, Rush To Use Charleston Domestic Terrorism for Partisan Political Gain

Never underestimate the lack of class or the pure ghoulishness of the right wing. In the wake of the race-based domestic terrorism attack at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina that left nine dead, right wing media and politicians rushed to use this terrible tragedy for partisan political gain. There are some common threads to these efforts. Nowhere is a motive mentioned. There’s no mention of race. The word “terrorism” is never used. Even the phrase “hate crime” is carefully avoided. Instead, the attack is blamed on gun free zones, not enough religion, mental illness and even speculation about psychiatric drugs. And this isn't just the fringe.

Just hours after the attack assumed presidential candidate Rand Paul tried to pander to a group of Evangelicals by blaming it on, "...people not understanding where salvation comesfrom."
“We had a shooting this morning in South Carolina,” Paul said (the shooting happened last night). “What kind of person goes into church and shoots nine people? There’s a sickness in our country, there’s something terribly wrong, but it isn’t going to be fixed by your government. It’s people straying away, it’s people not understanding where salvation comes from. And I think that if we understand that, we’ll understand and have better expectations of what we get from our government.”
Rand Paul, opportunist jackass
Paul’s unabashed opportunism was both clumsy and tasteless, but it also was also far removed from reality. The vast majority of white supremacist terrorists like Dylann Roof are devout evangelical Christians.

Kerry Picket, a reporter for Tucker Carlson’s ‘Daily Caller,’ was quick to try to link the attack to Sandy Hook and the Aurora movie theater shooting by chanting the gun nut mantra that the attack occurred in a gun free zone.
The Charleston, S.C., church massacre is already drawing comparisons to the tragedies at the Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Conn., and at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. because it happened in a gun-free zone.
The only thing the Charleston attack has in common with Sandy Hook or Aurora is the use of a gun, but gun nuts blame anything and everything but America’s gun fetish. Conservatives talk about mental health and lone wolves, even when it’s obviously not the case. This attack wasn’t the work of some random nut going on a rampage. Dylann Roof is a white supremacist who had a clear motive to terrorize the African-American community. The attack was well planned. The target was carefully chosen. Even the pastor,  Clementa Pinckney, who was also a state senator and a rising star in South Carolina Democratic politics, was specifically targeted.


This isn’t the first race based attack on this church. The iconic Mother Emmanuel, as the church is known locally, was founded in 1816. It’s the oldest AME church in the South, with a long history of racial struggle. In 1822, one of the church’s founders, Denmark Vessey, helped plan what would have been the largest slave revolt in US history, had it not been discovered beforehand. Vessey and five co-conspirators were hanged and the church was burned to the ground by an angry mob of whites. Charleston later passed a law banning black churches, because they were hotbeds of abolitionist activism. Members of Mother Emmanuel met in secret until the church could be rebuilt after the Civil War. Booker T. Washington spoke at Mother Emmanuel, as did Martin Luther King. The church was at the forefront of the fight against slavery and later the struggle for civil rights, and is still a focal point for the African-American community in Charleston and beyond.  But to hear conservative politicians and the right wing media machine tell it, this was anything but a well planned terrorist attack by a white supremacist.
Breitbart chose to quote current GOP Rep. and former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, claiming that this attack is just an“outlier,” and out of character for Charleston and South Carolina.
"This is out of character for Charleston, for South Carolina. It does not make sense. It is an outlier."
 Here in the real world this is completely in character for Charleston and South Carolina, but Sanford is infamous for having only a loose connection to the real world. He’s best known for disappearing from office for five days without a word, then  lying about “hiking the Appalachian trail” when he was actually holed up in South America with a woman not his wife.


Dylann Roof posing with his "Confederate States" license plate
Charleston is a city with a long and troubled history of racial strife in a state that has always been a flash point for virulent racism. Specifically citing protection for the institution of slavery as the primary motive, South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union. The first shots of the Civil War were fired by Confederate troops on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. The Confederate battle flag, the same symbol of racial hate emblazoned on Dylann Roof’s “Confederate States” license plates), which still flies today at the Confederate Soldier Monument, directly in front of the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia.  South Carolina today is at the very heart of the white supremacist movement in the United States.

The Confederate battle flag and Soldier Monument at the South Carolina Capitol
It’s a poignant irony that the Confederate battle flag, alongside the seven star flag of the Confederacy still flies from very near to Mother Emmanuel at Castle Pickney, a Civil War era fort in Charleston Harbor close to Fort Sumpter. Castle Pickney was named for Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, a slave holder and signer of the Declaration of Independence. Clementa Pinckney was a descendant of those slaves.

Confederate flags flying alongside the American flag at Castle Pickney
For its part, leader of the right wing media machine Fox News has avoided any mention of domestic terrorism and has struggled mightily to avoid “hate crime” and “racism” as much as is possible, only briefly mentioning that the Justice Department has opened a hate crime investigation. Fox and Friends set the spin machine in motion the morning after the shooting by claiming it wasn’t a hate crime (no mention of terrorism), but an attack on Christianity. Co-host Steve Doocy stated, “It's extraordinary that Charlestonchurch shooting is being called a hate crime.” What’s extraordinary is that a man this stupid can anchor a show on a supposed leading news network. 

Strangely, on his radio show Rush Limbaugh was one of the few voices on the right to clearly label the attack as terrorism. On his radio show he said, "Keep in mind, there are more people dead, this church in Charleston, South Carolina, than in the Boston bombing.  I'm just trying to draw a comparison here.  It's real terrorism, if you want to look at it."

Rush’s moment of clarity didn’t last long. He quickly pivoted to blaming Barack Obama for supposedly politicizing the tragedy by pointing out the fact that these kinds of mass killing killings don’t happen in other advanced nations, where not any nut can walk into a store at any time and buy as many guns as he wants. In the Wingnutosphere, mentioning gun violence after yet another incidence of gun violence is unseemly and inappropriate, because, as Saint Ronald of Reagan said, “Facts are stupid things.”


Out of all of the opportunistic attempts in the Wingnutosphere to use a tragedy to try to score political points, perhaps the most tasteless, most tone deaf effort comes from the National Review, the publication once considered to be the intellectual foundation of conservatism.  Mona Charen attacks Democrats for politicizing this tragedy by pre-emptively politicizing this tragedy. She only briefly mentions the facts of the case before spending the bulk of her column attacking Democrats, Al Gore, the NAACP, the daughter of James Byrd, who wasdragged to death in Jasper, Texas, and, of course, Hillary Clinton. Presumably she simply forgot to include the ACLU, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Martin Luther King.
Democrats have often used attacks on African Americans not just as opportunities to express their horror at racism or violence, but also to imply that Republicans secretly approve of racism. Al Gore did this in 2000.
...
But in 2000, to support Al Gore’s campaign, the NAACP ran ads featuring the voice of Renee Mullins, James Byrd’s daughter.
...
The point of the ad was not to argue the merits or demerits of hate crime laws, it was to reach down into voters’ psyches and squeeze the chords of resentment and rage.
Hillary Clinton has already dealt this card with her announcement speech urging that Republicans are trying to prevent African Americans from voting. I very much fear that in short order, last night’s horrible massacre in Charleston will be deployed for the lowest kind of divisive politics.

The sheer scope of the irony here is truly stunning. What, if not deploying the lowest kind of divisive politics, is Charen doing with this post? She’s not responding to anything anyone has actually said about this tragedy. She’s just trotting some favorite conservative shibboleths to attack liberals for something no one has done. This post perfectly sums up the very heart of modern conservatism. It’s no longer about ideology. The defining characteristic of American conservatism is paranoia. Fear, real or imagined, has become the driving force. Fear of Muslims. Fear of Hispanics. Fear of African-Americans, and especially young African-American males. Fear of gays. Fear of Ebola. Fear that “their” country is changing and there’s nothing they can do about it. Invading Iraq, a country that had neither attacked the United States in the past nor had the capability to attack us, is the multi-trillion dollar proof of this fear made manifest. Bush and the neo-cons chose to believe the lies fed to them by a single source with no credibility because those lies fit their fears. This justified in their own minds telling even larger lies to the American people, who they needed to be as afraid as they were.

Irrational conservative fear on display
It is this underlying fear that causes conservatives to so often lash out in ways that are breathtakingly inappropriate, even in the face of a terrible tragedy like what happened at the Mother Emmanuel church. The people who were inside that church when Dylann Roof opened fire know the real meaning of fear. Even in the face of that fear, the kind of sheer terror most of us will never know, Clementa Pinckney, the church’s pastor, a state senator carrying the name of a man who signed the Declaration of Independence, a forty-one year old married man with two children, tried to calmly talk Roof out of it right up to the moment he was shot dead. Conservatives could learn a thing or two about true fear, and true courage in the face of fear from Clementa Pinckney. We all could.

Rev. Clementa Pickney
The nine killed inside Mother Emmanuel

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 may 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, even though 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.