Monday, November 30, 2009

We get half a subway station back, but somebody owes me a watch -- my latest scorecard in the War on Terror


No, this isn't the Cortlandt Street station that reopened, or partly reopened, Wednesday. This is the other Cortlandt Street station, on the IRT Broadway local line, beneath the World Trade Center plaza, as it appeared in early October 2001 photos taken by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). It had to be demolished.

by Ken

I had an engagement downtown yesterday afternoon which left me within a stone's throw of City Hall (I didn't throw any stones, though; even though that bum Bloomberg wasn't likely to be on the premises on Sunday, I figure he's authorized the NYPD to use lethal force against such terrorist acts), and that a short uptown hop on the BMT would take me near my favorite used CD and DVD emporium. Imagine my surprise to find posters on the subway platform announcing that the uptown Cortlandt Street station -- one of the stations that once serviced the World Trade Center -- reopened just this past Wednesday!

I got pretty excited -- so much so that even when it dawned on me that I was already north of the WTC site, I contemplated taking a downtown train just so I would be able to return uptown and pass through the reopened station. I didn't, though. I mean, it's just a subway station.

And in any event it's the wrong Cortlandt Street station. There are, or were, two, you see. The one for the IRT Broadway local was actually under the WTC plaza, and it was so badly damaged by wreckage from the 9/11 WTC collapse that it had to be demolished, and a new stretch of track built bypassing it, in order to resume service on the no. 1 line below Chambers Street. What the MTA calls a "shell station" was built, which will someday be built into a real station as part of the new Fulton Street Transit Center, a promised "transit hub" being built, slowly but (we hope) surely in the area. Now the no. 1 train simply traverses a long distance between Chambers and the next stop, Rector Street.

The BMT Cortland Street station is on the eastern periphery of the WTC site wasn't nearly as badly damaged, and was actually reopened as early as September 2002, but was then closed again in 2005 for construction of a new level beneath the station as part of the transit hub project. As Wikipedia explains, "MTA posters and flyers at that time indicated the station would reopen in the spring of 2006, and later by spring of 2007. This 2007 reopening never occurred."

Now at least the uptown side is back in operation. The downtown side, which directly abuts the WTC site, remains closed, and is presumably going to have to wait for some later stage in the transit hub development. There's talk of 2011, but then, there was talk of reopening the whole station in spring 2006, wasn't there?

Final score -- subway station: Still hard to judge at this point. Certainly in the September 2001-to-September 2002 period, terrorists win! After that, the ball has been pretty much in our court, and it's a matter of personal judgment how well our team has been doing. If this transit hub ever actually happens, and it works, that could register solidly in the "us" column.


Moving on to more important matters, there's the matter of the watch referred to in the head for this post.

As some of you may recall, last fall my company moved from Midtown, where commercial rents were out of control, to the depressed way-downtown area. ("Downtown depressed" = terrorists win, but cheap, or at least cheaper rents, well, I guess that depends whether you're a landlord or a tenant.) Specifically, we moved into the belly of the beast: the building that abuts the New York Stock Exchange, and is under the watch of the NYSE security operation. Which means that in order to enter the building, we must first go through one of the two checkpoints out on Broad Street (badge check and visual inspection of any bags you may be carrying), and then, once inside it's like an airport check-in -- you go through a metal detector and your stuff goes through an X-ray machine. The only thing is, we don't have to take off coats or shoes.

You'd think by now I would have developed a routine for having all my "forbidden" stuff ready on arrival to send through the X-ray machine, but no, each day I reinvent the process of "disassembling" myself, usually dumping keys, watch, change, cell phone, etc, in a pocket of my briefcase, or maybe the bag with my lunch goodies. Then I don't usually rush to reassemble myself, since anytime I happen to leave the building, I have to go through security again to get back in, so why not just leave the keys and watch and change etc. where they are?

I knew that with all this transferring of stuff, it was just a matter of time before something got lost. And sure enough, some weeks ago, as I was preparing to leave for the day, one on which I hadn't "reassembled" myself, I couldn't find my watch anywhere. Really, the only place I could (or can) think it might have gone is out of a briefcase pocket as it was conveyed through the X-ray machine. I had stayed late, though, and by the time I got down to the lobby, none of the daytime security people were still there, and the people I asked whether a watch, "just a cheap Timex," had been found really had no way of knowing what have happened during the day. The first fellow I talked to may also have been put off by my reference to the cheap Timex, as he also had a Timex -- $30, he paid for his. (I didn't tell him, but I think I paid less for mine.) I really didn't know how to explain that I meant nothing judgmental by the "cheap" reference. Heck, I'm cheap. I tried to stress that I liked that watch. (I did. It looked sort of like the one above, but it didn't have the big numbers.)

But no, there was no trace of the watch, and there hasn't been any since. It was a nice watch. I guess I don't have to worry about replacing the battery now. I traded down to a Sharp watch, $10 at my discount store. It's okay. But the way I figure it, somebody in that War on Terror owes me a watch.

Final score -- watch: Terrorists win!

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Jesus Certainly Had It All Right But The Catholic Church Seems To Have Turned It All On Its Head


- by Mary Jean Collins

Watch out Catholic Bishops, it looks like the younger generation of Catholic elected officials are not going to continue the careful reverence or fear of the hierarchy the last generation displayed. In an act to courage, leadership and defiance, in October, Rep Patrick J. Kennedy (D-RI), called out the hierarchy for their lack of support for the health care reform bill. In an interview with Cybercast News Service on October 21, Kennedy said he could not understand “how the Catholic Church could be against the biggest social justice issue of our time” adding that its stance was fanning “flames of dissent and discord.” Representative Kennedy may feel a unique responsibility for passage of this bill since the death of his father, Senator Kennedy this last summer.

The day after Kennedy’s statements, Bishop Thomas J Tobin, the Bishop of the Providence Rhode Island Diocese called the comments “irresponsible and ignorant of the facts” and also called Kennedy “a disappointment” to the church.

Kennedy did not back down. On November 7, he voted against the amendment sponsored by Bart Stupak- (D-MI 1) and Joe Pitts (R-PA 16) that would prohibit federal funds from paying for any part of a health insurance plan that covers abortion. He was not the only Catholic Democrat to do so. In fact, only 36 Catholic Democrats voted for the amendment while 50 including Kennedy voted against it. Kennedy then voted to pass the Health Care legislation. Six Catholic Democrats voted for Stupak-Pitts and against health care reform. I wonder if they have heard from their Bishops about that vote.
After the House vote, Bishop Tobin issued an open letter to Representative Kennedy criticizing his vote and questioning his faith. Bishop Tobin called Kennedy’s support of abortion rights “a deliberate and obstinate act of the will” that was “unacceptable to the Church and scandalous to many of our members.”

Kennedy then revealed that Bishop Tobin had instructed him not to receive Communion (a central religious practice) and told priests in the diocese not to give Kennedy communion. Tobin admitted that he had written a letter in 2007 asking Kennedy to refrain from communion by denied it was an outright ban. A planned meeting between the Bishop and Representative Kennedy has been put on hold.

On Monday, another Catholic Representative took the initiative to speak out in defense of Representative Kennedy. Representative Patrick Murphy (D-PA8). Murphy stated: “We don’t legislate at the orders of the Vatican, we legislate what is in our conscience and what we think is good for our country." Ironically Murphy was at Harvard to receive a John F. Kennedy New Frontier Award from Caroline Kennedy, President Kennedy’s daughter. 

Murphy also discussed the punishment he had received at the hands of his parish priest when he married his wife Jenni in 2006. The priest refused to bless the marriage because of Murphy’s stand on abortion rights.

Murphy ran for Congress in 2006 as a returning Iraq vet against an incumbent Republican Thomas Fitzgerald. It was a very close race and in the end Murphy won by 1500 votes. I was impressed at the time at the courage of this candidate because he was unfailing in his support of reproductive right and LGBT rights. 

I’ve worked in various prochoice advocacy organizations for over 30 years. Having outspoken Catholic public officials is one excellent way of breaking the Bishop’s hold on Congress. It is long overdue to question whether a handful of Bishops actually speak for the Catholic people. When they go to the Hill it is time to make clear, the people are not following, not in policy and not in elections. The Bishops have hidden behind their support of social legislation to blunt criticism of their holding every issue hostage to the abortion issue. 

Winning health care reform without giving in to the Bishops demands will embolden Catholics, office holders and people to expect a Church that pretends to support social justice to put up or shut up.

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Obama's Leadership Called Into Question By Grassroots Democrats Over Afghanistan


The day after Thanksgiving, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern penned an OpEd for truthout speculating, essentially, whether our leader in the White House is a man of conviction and courage or... something else. He begins with a quote from Col. (ret) Larry Wilkerson referring to JFK's courageous defiance of the Pentagon when he refused to let the determined generals bomb Cuba in 1962, something that could well have ended in a nuclear exchange.
The Cuban crisis was not the only time JFK found himself at loggerheads with generals who thought they knew better and who verged on the insubordinate. Kennedy’s sustained arm wrestling with his senior generals over whether to send more troops to Vietnam was just as tense, and much more sustained.

In the end, he concluded that they had it wrong and decided against them. In short, he opted to behave like a President-- a “decider” (pardon the odd word). His overruling of the U.S. military brass on Vietnam had huge implications, both short- and long-term. This “real history” is highly relevant today.

The 46th anniversary of John Kennedy’s assassination passed by last Sunday virtually unnoticed. The unfortunate thing is this: his legacy on Vietnam is so widely misunderstood that it is easy to miss the relevance of his decision-making in the early Sixties to the dilemma faced by President Obama today as he decides whether to stand up to-- or cave in to-- the Pentagon’s plans for escalating another misbegotten war in Afghanistan.

Faux history has it that President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s infusion of hundreds of thousands, up to 536,000, combat troops into Vietnam was a straight-line continuation of a buildup started by his slain predecessor. Kennedy did raise the U.S. troop level there from about 1,000 to 16,500 “advisers”-- a significant increase.

But as he studied the options, cost and likely outcomes, Kennedy came to see U.S. intervention in Vietnam as a fool’s errand. Few Americans are aware that, just before he was assassinated, Kennedy had decided to pull all troops out of Vietnam by 1965.

The Pentagon was hell bent on thwarting such plans, and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara found it an uphill struggle to enforce the President’s will on the top brass. Senior military officers were experts at “slow-rolling” politicians who favored a course that the Pentagon didn’t like.

When in May 1962 Kennedy ordered up a contingency troop-withdrawal plan, it took more than a year for the military brass to draw one up... Assistant Press Secretary Malcolm Kilduff, to whom fell the task of announcing President Kennedy’s death on Nov. 22, 1963, told James Douglass, author of JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters, that Kennedy’s mind was fixed on Vietnam the day before. Instead of rehearsing for a press conference that day, Kennedy told Kilduff:
“I’ve just been given a list of the most recent casualties in Vietnam. We’re losing too damned many people over there. It’s time for us to get out. The Vietnamese are not fighting for themselves. We’re the ones who are doing the fighting.

“After I come back from Texas, that’s going to change. There is no reason for us to lose another man over there. Vietnam is not worth another American life.”

A month before, during his last visit to Hyannis Port, Kennedy told his next-door neighbor Larry Newman, “I’m going to get those guys out [of Vietnam] because we’re not going to find ourselves in a war it’s impossible to win.”... Obama is surely aware that the majority of Americans are no longer deceived by the pundits at Fox News. Recent polls show broader and broader popular opposition to sending more troops.

The choice, in my view, is between courage anchored in a determination to do the right thing and cowardice cloaked in the politics of the possible. Let me guess what you’re thinking-- “But that’s asking too much of a young President; cowardice is too strong a word; Obama cannot possibly face down the entire military establishment.”

John Kennedy did. So the question is whether Barack Obama is “no Jack Kennedy,” or whether he will summon the courage to stand up to the misguided military brass of today.

Tomorrow evening, President Obama will address the nation and, according to reports, kowtow to the generals and the Military Industrial Complex, breaking with the progressive base that elected him and signaling his status as a weak, lame duck one-term president. So much promise... but his epithet, at best, is likely to be that he was... somewhat better than his predecessor.

Incumbents are under all kinds of pressures in regard to the war and many Democrats-- not just vile, mangy Blue Dogs, but good ones as well-- are bending over backwards to give Obama some breathing room. We, on the other hand, have been most impressed with the 32 Democrats who voted against the war supplemental budget last June and with the 50 Democrats (+ 7 Republicans) who signed Jim McGovern's letter to Obama asking him to resist buckling in to the warmongers. [An 8th Republican, Utah conservative Jason Chaffetz jumped on the "bring the troops home now" bandwagon this morning.] Incumbents are getting tremendous pressure from Emanuel and the White House political team to stick with the president. Donna Edwards-- who was one of the 32 and one of the 50-- already has a machine hack challenging her in a primary. Today, however, let's take a look at what is being said about the escalation by Democratic candidates, not incumbents, who are running for Congress next year.

Marcy Winograd, author of the California Democratic Party resolution to "End the US Occupation and Air War in Afghanistan," is running against Blue Dog Jane Harman, an extremely bad faith player who continues to be an integral part of the Military-Industrial Complex. Marcy summed up one of the most prevalent lines of thinking among grassroots Democrats:
As Americans, we want to feel safe and secure and not awaken in the night to learn
of a horrendous attack on our soil. I understand that. We all do. What I don't understand is why
our President persists in pursuing a policy that history repeatedly condemns. President Obama is listening to the wrong people, those who mistakenly believe that occupation and drone attacks make us more secure, that sending our youth to fight and possibly die in Afghanistan insulates us from terrorism. Quite the contrary. No nation wants to be occupied, to be under the thumb of a foreign power with its eye on a natural gas pipeline or expanding military bases that serve as concrete reminders of "the other"-- "the occupier." When we escalate an indefinite occupation of Afghanistan, when we send in unmanned bombers into nuclear-armed Pakistan, when we build monumental cement fortresses in Iraq, we only engender hatred, create new enemies, and propel a dangerous narrative that we are at war with the entire Moslem world. As a community leader, a student of the Vietnam War moratoriums, I know that all the military might in the world cannot crush the desire for people to control their own destiny. In Congress, I would vote to combat the real enemy in Afghanistan: poverty. I would vote to partner with indigenous NGO's in the region to build schools, not bombs, and I would introduce legislation to require the President to annually seek congressional approval for war. Congress has the power to stop this escalation; we need courageous leadership in the House to exercise that power.

And it isn't just in the House where we need courageous leadership. In fact, we have some courageous leaders there already-- not enough, but with people like Donna Edwards, Alan Grayson, Barbara Lee, Raul Grijalva, Dennis Kucinich, Lynn Woolsey, Keith Ellison, Lloyd Doggett, Maxine Waters... at least progressive solutions get an airing. The Senate, or as many refer to it, the House of Lords, is a much bigger problem. Bernie Sanders, Jeff Merkley, Sheldon Whitehouse, Dick Durbin, Al Franken, Barbara Boxer and Sherrod Brown can use some help in that bankster-owned corporate subsidiary.

In Massachusetts both frontrunners, Mike Capuano-- who already voted against the supplemental war budget last June and signed onto Jim McGovern's anti-war letter-- and Martha Coakley have come out strongly against escalation. Ohio isn't as blue as Massachusetts, though, and this is the kind of issue that separates the wheat from the chaff. The chaff in this race, is a tepid centrist who doesn't ever say what he believes unless he's forced to. We asked him for a statement and we got... crickets. His opponent, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, is a real leader and came out with an inspiring statement this morning:
President Obama is scheduled to address the American people tomorrow about his plans for dealing with the war in Afghanistan, a war he-- and our nation-- inherited from former President George W. Bush.  Neither President Obama nor the American public knew the extent to which conditions had deteriorated in Afghanistan, and those conditions have continued to deteriorate.  And now, as nearly all international forces have withdrawn their troops from Iraq, and with the U.S. deployment there expected to wind down in 2011, the monumental task of squarely addressing the complicated problems of Afghanistan confronts our nation.
At the risk of being called a naysayer, a name I’m not often called because of the “can do” attitude I normally adopt, I believe the costs are too great-- in human lives and economic resources-- to continue along the current path. It is clear to me that America must set a timetable for bringing our troops home from Afghanistan as soon as possible.
The impact of this conflict on the United States, and my home state of Ohio, is unacceptable. As the cost to American and Ohioans’ lives increases, billions are spent each month on the conflict in Afghanistan, ballooning our national debt and diverting resources we desperately need here at home.
So far, of the 4367 military deaths in Iraq and 928 military deaths in Afghanistan, Ohio has sacrificed more than 200 lives in military deaths and $33 billion to fund wars on these fronts-- priceless loss to Ohio’s future and $33 billion from a state with unemployment exceeding 10 percent. Looking just at the dollars, had we invested these funds, Ohio could have funded roughly 6 million Pell Grants, or hired a half million elementary school teachers or provided completely free health care for one year for every woman, man and child in the state. 

Given the increasing death toll in Afghanistan, it is clear that progress in the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban has slowed or worsened. We cannot remedy this by simply sending additional troops, given the conditions and corruption in Afghanistan.

And even in areas of the country thought of as deeply red, Americans are waking up to the folly of the kind of wasteful war that Obama is following Bush into. Right now the entire state of Montana is represented by one rather awful congressman, unhesitant, jingoistic war-booster Denny Rehberg, who never missed a pro-war Bush vote in the past 8 years and has been clamoring for Obama to commit more American troops and as fast as possible. This year Rehberg will face a far sharper opponent than he has in the past, Tyler Gernant, who is also far less likely to rubber-stamp any president's policies, regardless of political party, than Rehberg. And that's especially true when it comes to something as important as war and peace:
We have been fighting in Afghanistan for twice as long as we fought in World War II. Our government has spent over $220 billion since the invasion of Afghanistan eight years ago. The ongoing cost is nearly $1 million a year for every soldier deployed there. The human costs on our troops and their families are incalculable. Despite the additional 21,000 troops that were deployed earlier this year, the country has not seen an increase in stability. In fact, 2009 has been the deadliest year for American troops in Afghanistan. An additional 30,000 to 40,000 troops, on top of the 68,000 that are already there, could bring the total cost of our military presence in Afghanistan to over $100 billion a year and still not bring stability to the region. Our efforts thus far have focused too heavily on providing a military solution to a political problem caused by a diffuse tribal system of government.

Unfortunately, there is no easy solution for Afghanistan. Pulling out completely could further destabilize an already unstable region, but increasing our troop presence is not a solution in and of itself. Until the Afghans take ownership in their own unique system of government, our outside efforts will continue to fail. Our definition of victory in Afghanistan cannot, and should not, be imposing our system of government upon them. In the end, our goal should be to neutralize Afghanistan as a terrorist training ground while providing Afghans with the tools for effective self-governance. To the extent that military force is a part of that solution, our commitment should be limited in time and focused on providing the necessary security so that a political solution can be reached.

Regina Thomas is running in the Democratic primary in Georgia's 12th CD against Blue Dog stooge John Barrow, who has opposed President Obama on every item in his agenda and finally seems to have found something he can support-- more war. As a state senator, Regina fought hard for her Savannah constituents in terms of education, healthcare and a host of economic issues. She told me that she sees her most important role in politics as making sure her constituents have access to rewarding jobs so they can raise their families with dignity. When she decided to challenge Barrow she talked about healthcare, education and, of course, jobs, jobs, jobs. This morning, though, she was still reeling about reports of Obama's acquiescence to the Pentagon to escalate the war in Afghanistan. "Sending more troops isn't the right answer," she told us. "I am and have always been against this war! We are spending money that we do not have, money that could and should be used for healthcare, education, and to help stimulate economic prosperity in our own country. Our troops have fought hard and bravely in an untenable situation; they are worn. Mothers, fathers, spouses, siblings, other family members and friends are tired of waiting for bodies to be shipped back to the USA for burial. If the President wants to spend more money on this war, I cannot support that. In fact, we've seen that the lion's share of all monies sent to war zones have been used for contractors and sub-contractors and only God knows what else. I say "Bring our troops home!" 

Paulette Garin is running for southeast Wisconsin's blue-trending House seat, currently held by a smooth-talking but duplicitous GOP rubber stamp, Paul Ryan. Paulette sees the Afghan situation very much the way Regina sees it: "If President Obama authorizes sending another 30,000 – 40,000 troops to Afghanistan as anticipated, it would clearly be a move in the wrong direction. Our involvement in Afghanistan has been morally suspect and legally questionable from its inception. Who are we fighting? Al-Qaeda? The Taliban? What are we fighting for? The War on Terror? Protect President Karzai and a government of doubtful credibility?
"We have placed our troops and our treasure in an un-winnable conflict at a cost of almost $1Million dollars per soldier per year. Too many lives have been lost on all sides struggling to endure this conflict. Our continued involvement is economically unsustainable. We cannot allow Afghanistan to become the next Vietnam. There is no military solution in Afghanistan. Our military has served us well-- but to no avail-- please bring them home to their families. 

President Barack Obama said in his inaugural address, 'your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.' Therefore, our efforts in Afghanistan should be focused on a political solution and increased humanitarian aid." 

When Charles Pierce interviewed Marine Corps General (ret) Anthony Zinni about the Iraq War for Idiot America, Zinni told him that the Bush era political elite was incapable or unwilling to grasp the lessons of history. His words are no less true today, in terms of Afghanistan, than they were then: "There's a difference in failures based on arrogance and incompetence and ignorance, and mistakes that everybody makes in the course of very involved and complex undertakings like this one." I'm not accusing President Obama of Bush's and Cheney's "arrogance and incompetence and ignorance," but, in the end, what really is the difference-- to the families in Afghanistan and in the U.S. who lose family members? To the increasingly brittle fabric of American security that has been wrecked by a political-military-intelligence establishment fumbling in the dark, and to our reeling economy?

Last week I sat in on an Afghanistan conference call with Bill Hedrick, the Democratic candidate who nearly beat reactionary GOP party-boy Ken Calvert (R-CA) in 2008 and plans to finish the job next year. Hedrick was just back from a trip to Fort Benning in Georgia where he said good-bye to his son, Adam, and daughter-in-law, Natalie, who were deploying for their third tours of duty in Iraq. Another son, Jesse, nearly lost his life fighting in Iraq earlier and another daughter-in-law, served 2 tours of duty there as a convoy driver, "I’m proud of their service to our country and fortunate they have returned home safely from each tour as thousands have not. Right now, well over 40,000 more families like mine are sitting on the edge of their seat while a decision will be made between a variety of viewpoints from military experts and commanders.  Should the U.S. increase our troop presence in Afghanistan?  I say no. That’s a George W. Bush strategy. We have lost nearly 1000 (920) American troops in Afghanistan with that policy. The time is now to set a clear exit strategy, benchmarks, and timeline for drawdown so the Afghan government cleans up and steps up to take responsibility for rooting out Taliban insurgents. Government corruption and a dependence on American troops are preventing the Afghans from stepping up.  Increasing American troop levels does not solve those problems. It only puts more of our brave young men and women at risk and spends taxpayer money half way around the globe while the effects of the Bush recession continue to plague our economy." He continued:
Right now, here at home, people have either lost their jobs or are worried about losing them.  They are wondering how they will afford to pay their mortgage. We have 68,000 American troops in Afghanistan right now at a cost of more than $65 billion this year. Sending 40,000 more troops will cost another $40 billion per year. That’s $1 million per troop per year. 1 million dollars. That’s money we should be spending to help small businesses create good-paying jobs. There is too much corruption in the Karzai government in Afghanistan.  Even Karzai’s brother was quoted as saying he uses his brother’s position to gain influence and power he would not otherwise have.

With an open-ended intervention, they will continue to feed off the American presence.  A line must be drawn. In addition to setting a clear exit strategy that includes benchmarks and a timeline for transition, focusing on senior-level military training and strategic support to root out corruption in the Afghan government are better steps to take than sending in 40,000 new U.S. troops. We should not increase U.S. troop levels. At all.

I asked him if he thought going against both the Republican orthodoxy and Obama determination to do what no one has ever been able to do-- dominate Afghanistan-- might not harm him politically, he answered the way more and more Democrats are handling this inevitable question:
I’ll risk it. When I decided to run in 2007 it was in great part because of my disagreement with the Iraq policy and how it has affected my family. Efforts in Afghanistan match many of my initial concerns with Iraq. We are looking at another trillion dollar war with no assurance it makes us safer. If the decision is to send more troops, there must be a clear exit strategy. We must avoid another open-ended commitment. People in my district, both Democrats and Republicans, are having trouble making ends meet. We need to leave Afghanistan and use those billions of dollars to help people here who can’t pay their mortgage, can’t find work, and need health care.

Doug Tudor, a career naval officer, now retired, is running to represent the Florida constituency being abandoned by Adam Putnam. Doug is battling a Blue Dog-backed reactionary, Lori Edwards, who steadfastly refuses to commit to any positions other than favoring apple pie and motherhood. Ask her about Afghanistan and she says it's complicated and she's studying it. Perhaps she should consider running for office after her studies. Meanwhile Doug has thought long and hard about war and about Afghanistan and says it's a war that should never have happened in the first place. "The mission was to remove the Taliban from power and to kill or capture the leadership of Al Qaida. Without going into the many catastrophic failures of the Bush Administration, we are now at a point where Al Qaida has been severely disrupted. It is time to refocus our mission from counter-insurgency to counter-terrorism, using intelligence sharing, special forces, and tactical strikes to complete the mission. To do so, America and NATO need to rapidly reduce forces, thus encouraging the Karzai government to stand up as we stand down. Americans will not like the brutality President Karzai uses to hold control of his country, but this is an Afghan fight that needs to be fought by Afghans. Counter-insurgency is not worth a single additional American WIA or KIA.”

One of the top DCCC targets for 2010 is likely to be Thaddeus McCotter, a Michigan Republican likely to get a teabagger primary opponent after calling teabaggy hero Jim DeMint "nuts". His Democratic opponent is Natalie Mosher who opposes escalating the war in Afghanistan. "The decision to send more troops to Afghanistan," she told us, "comes seven years too late. The Bush Administration used poor judgment to fight the war on terror in the deserts of Iraq instead of the mountains of Afghanistan. I do not support any troop increases to Afghanistan. Our men and women in uniform are the bravest and most skilled soldiers in history, but the challenge in Afghanistan will not be overcome with the traditional military approach. As such, we should start to bring our troops home now and target terrorist cells on a case by case basis with small, tactical special-forces units that specialize in this type of warfare."

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The New Republican Revolution Leads From Dede Scozzafava To Virginia Foxx?


Will Foxx's extremism lead to the same fate as Robespierre's

For whatever it's worth, the healthcare reform bill wouldn't have passed the House unless the Democrats-- who had to first deliver a majority to get Cao to vote yes-- had managed to elect Bill Owens in a district (NY-23) that hadn't elected a Democrat since Abraham Lincoln's time. Even when their neighbor, Franklin Roosevelt, was sweeping the country and reduced the once-mightly GOP majority to an obstructionist-- albeit completely impotent-- rump of 88 congressmen and 17 senators, northeast New York was still electing Republicans. This year, it didn't look likely to change that ingrained pattern when longtime incumbent John McHugh retired and the local party nominated a popular local legislator, Dede Scozzafava while the Democrats came up with someone no one had ever heard of and whose campaign was mostly about being noncommittal on the most important bills.

But then along came Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Jim DeMint, Sarah Palin, their barely potty-trained teabaggers and a rash of Republican politicians petrified of being on the wrong side of the rising tide of the party's Know Nothing ascendant wing. And they did it-- in the name of political purity they managed to destroy the mainstream GOP candidate-- a guaranteed vote against the healthcare reform bill-- in favor of a colorless third-party wingnut, Doug Hoffman-- who lost the election, let Owens slip in, and saved the day for the healthcare reform bill.

And what did this teach the Republican Party? Clearly to double down on the crazy. They are now in the process of enacting a purity pledge (aka- the Republican Party suicide pact) that will leave dozens of mainstream Republican office-holders on the outside of the pup tent looking in-- or, perhaps, looking somewhere else. The litmus test will instantly exclude, for example, mainstream conservative candidates favored by the NRSC in Florida, New Hampshire, Delaware, Kentucky, Illinois and California and boost the chances of fringe extremists who could well win Republican primaries but would have less chance of winning general elections than Doug Hoffman did.

Yesterday's NY Times pegged South Carolina-- the secessionist state that started the American Civil War-- as the state where the Republican civil war is raging most fiercely. They skip over the long-festering troubles mainstream conservative congressmen like Bob Inglis, Henry Brown, and Gresham Barrett are having with the racist, Know Nothing, Beck/Limbaugh worshipping base and go right to the dichotomy that separates mainstream conservative-- albeit a gay one-- Lindsey Graham and far right extremist Jim DeMint (a very dour one). The relatively moderate Charleston County Republican Party censured Graham, who won their county, while extolling DeMint, who lost Charleston County when he ran for the Senate.
[T]heir contrasting strategies have brought home to South Carolina the struggle over the future of the Republican Party and have put them on opposite sides of important Senate primaries in states like Florida, where Mr. DeMint supports a vocal conservative, Marco Rubio, and Mr. Graham supports Gov. Charlie Crist.

In California, Mr. DeMint supports Chuck DeVore, in defiance of the national party leadership and Mr. Graham, who said he would campaign for Carly Fiorina...

...[the county GOP's] grievance list was long: it cited the senator for calling opponents of immigration law change “bigots,” holding the Republican Party “hostage” by participating in bipartisan maneuvers, voting for the Wall Street bailout and tarnishing the ideals of freedom.

It even criticized Mr. Graham, a Republican and the state’s senior senator, as having “stated on many occasions that his primary concern is to ‘be relevant.'"

It's unlikely that Bob Inglis' war on Glenn Beck is going to help him get re-nominated next year and poor old Henry Brown will also probably lose his primary battle, possibly even to Katherine Jenerette, the "Sarah Palin of the South." And across the country the teabaggers are celebrating their "victory" in NY-23 by challenging mainstream conservatives who they feel are little more than liberals. Even right-wing ideologues like Pete Sessions (R-TX) and, believe it or not, wild-eyed hellion Virginia Foxx (R-NC) are being primaried by teabaggers! There is no list existent of the half dozen most lunatic fringe members of Congress that doesn't include homophobic sociopath Virginia Foxx. I have literally been in strategy sessions where Democrats have said that her bizarre and extremist presence in Congress does them more good than harm and that there's no reason to run any candidates against her since she is probably the single least effect member of Congress and a warning signal to moderates across party lines that, at its core, the Republican Party offers nothing but extremism, fanaticism and a world turned upside down by ignorance, hatred and fear. But she's not crazy and radical enough for the teabaggers. A 49-year old teabagger, Brad Smith, a lifelong Republican, is running a Doug Hoffman type campaign against her! He cites Glenn Beck as his inspiration.
Smith said his primary concerns are excessive federal spending and the lack of jobs in the 5th District, which includes Wilkes, Alexander, Alleghany, Ashe, Davie, Stokes, Surry, Watauga and Yadkin counties and parts of Forsyth, Iredell, and Rockingham counties.

He said excessive federal spending has already essentially bankrupted the financial future of his children and was well on its way to doing the same with their children.

Smith's cards say he is pro-small business, pro-job creation, pro-life and pro-military and gun-rights and that he favors term limits, free and fair trade and smaller, leaner government.

Robespierre and Saint-Just must be smiling... or, more likely, rolling on the floor laughing their asses off.

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

The health care reform coin flip: Heads they win, tails we lose


Howard Dean has already done the job of setting out the case for real health care reform. Now if only we had a national leader -- one who actually believes in real health care reform, of course -- prepared to take on the herculean job of selling it to the American people.

by Ken

By now I shouldn't be surprised anymore, but I often still am, kind of, whenever Howie says -- or, now, writes -- something that turns out to be exactly what I was thinking. It happened again with his post this afternoon, "Is The Healthcare Bill As It Now Stands Even Worse Than Nothing?"

I've been fearing for some time now that the outcome, if the Democrats actually manage to pass what Master Rahm Emanuel would call "a bill" (any bill) concerning health care, is likely to be disastrous in just the ways Howie outlined: It's almost certain to impose huge financial burdens on Americans ill able to afford it, in exchange for crap coverage they better hope they'll never need, while vast quantities of money -- including the inadequate subsidies coming from our tax dollars, is transferred to the coffers of the corporations that have done so much to make affordable health care a pipe dream in this country.

If you think about it for even a moment, it all stands to reason. What would have led anyone to expect any other outcome?

Meaningful health care reform, of the sort that, say, Howard Dean has been talking about, would carve a chunk out of the pockets of some seriously deep-pocketed corporate interests. After all, when we talk about hoping to get control of massive wasted expenditures on health care, there are people to whom that money isn't a waste, it's a bonanza. By and large those people are corporations making money off the health care crisis faster than they can count it. Were we expecting them to stand idly by and wave bye-bye to all that loot? Especially when you consider what an easy remedy they have. Not cheap, but easy: buying up enough members of Congress, the ultimate "deciders" on "a bill," or at any rate renting them.

Only two things give me pause concerning Howie's suggestion that we'd be better off if the various bills now working their way through the House and Senate were dumped and we started fresh next year.

First, there's all that money the insurance companies have been pouring into hard-core opposition to its fun-house-mirror vision of the proposed reforms. This makes me wonder: If they're that dead-set against them, can the proposals really be all bad? I don't know. Could it be a front to make us think they're dead set against the bills? (If nothing else, all that money they're spending tells us how much money they believe is at stake for them.)

Second, there's the practical argument against starting fresh: Is there any reason to believe we would wind up with a better and not a worse result? After all, the forces of corporate greed and selfishness are only just getting their shit together, hitting their stride at organizing to protect their interests. If we give them time to start from scratch with their campaign, would there be any hope of defeating them? And since at present there appears to be no price to be paid by members of Congress who openly pocket massive bribes from their health care industry masters, whereas members who show courage in standing up to them can be fairly easily smacked down, are likely to see more or less congressional independence in starting the process all over?

I'm not at all in the camp of those saying we have to accept whatever, ahem, "compromise" is ultimately hammered out. I think there's a good chance that Master Rahm's "a bill" will indeed be worse than nothing. I just wonder whether the momentum hasn't fatally shifted to the other side, who now look to be doing more than merely retaining the status quo -- they're looking for a giant new payday. Unless, of course, we had a charismatic national leader who could take the case Dr. Dean has made so reasonablyin his bookto the American people and make them understand why it's in all our interests to dramatically change the way we pay for health care.

And what do you think the chances are of that happening? Right!

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Is The Healthcare Bill As It Now Stands Even Worse Than Nothing?


This morning's San Francisco Chronicle pointed up the inconsistencies in comparing the proposed healthcare reforms with the Insurance Industry straw man (Canada and Britain) and the reality of the countries the U.S. system would actually be modeled like: Netherlands, Switzerland (which certainly must be the ultimate hero nation of all right-wingers and teabaggers today) and Germany.
Health care systems in the three nations more closely resemble the U.S. system of insurance-based coverage. Holland and Switzerland rely exclusively on private insurance, and all three rely on private doctors. The three European nations deliver universal coverage and world-class quality at a fraction of what Americans spend.

All of them require that everyone purchase insurance, make sure everyone can afford it and ban insurers from such practices as refusing to cover the sick that are common in the United States.

"We've got something worse than socialized medicine in this country," said Alain Enthoven, a Stanford University economist known as the father of the Dutch system.

"We have doctors causing hospital infections by not washing their hands because the incentives don't punish them for hospital infections, and we've got something that is financially destroying our economy. It's a disaster."

In many ways, the legislation in Congress builds on a broken system, experts said, reinforcing such features as relying on employers to buy health insurance rather than letting workers shop for their own plans.

European health care is universal, but contrary to popular perception, it is not all nationalized. Facing rapidly aging populations, many European countries have gone much further than the United States in using market forces to control costs. At the same time, regulations are stronger and often more sophisticated.

Most of Europe spends about 10 percent of its national income on health care and covers everyone. The United States will spend 18 percent this year and leave 47 million people uninsured.

Europe has more doctors, more hospital beds and more patient visits than the United States. Take Switzerland: 4.9 doctors per thousand residents compared with 2.4 in the United States. And cost? The average cost for a hospital stay is $9,398 in relatively high-cost Switzerland and $17,206 in the United States.

"In Switzerland, rich or poor, they all buy the same health insurance," said Regina Herzlinger, chairwoman of business administration at Harvard University and a leading advocate of the Swiss system. "The government gives the poor as much money as the average Swiss has to buy health insurance."

The Swiss and Dutch buy their own coverage from competing private insurers. Both systems address market failures that pervade U.S. health care: Insurance companies must provide a core benefit package and everyone must buy coverage. Consumers can shop for value and pocket the savings, as opposed to U.S. patients who hand the bill to someone else. Switzerland does not have a public program like Medicare or Medicaid.

Far from leading to poor quality and rationing, both countries and Germany, where government has a much larger role in health care, outperform the United States on many quality measures. These are not just broad measures such as life expectancy that could reflect higher U.S. poverty or obesity. Even Britain, much maligned by opponents of government-run health care in America, has made greater strides in preventive care.

"The data are pretty clear," said Peter Hussey, a Rand Corp. analyst. "Everybody (in the United States) is at risk for poor-quality care."

The Republicans rarely make any sense, and when they do, it's never for the right reasons. Their demand that we scrap the highly flawed healthcare reform package and start anew is because they would like to kill it outright or make it much worse. Their motivation is clearly partisan. Nonetheless, they're correct that Congress would come up with a better bill, a much better bill.

Alan Grayson and many other progressives make the point that this bill will save lives and should be passed for that reason. They have a good point. But is the bill so overwhelmingly and intrinsically terrible that Democrats should make a deal with Republicans to start over again and work to write and pass a more coherent and effective way to cover the healthcare needs of the country? The bill as it stands now is a disgraceful mess of corporate protections, payback from politicians who have been-- simply put-- bought off by lobbyists and corporate CEOs. Many say Obama's "change," at least as proposed in the bills before the House and Senate, is change for the worse, change that will give for-profit corporations even more debilitating and ultimately destructive power over the lives of ordinary American families.

The bill looks like it will force us-- something that will destroy the Democratic Party in the midterm elections-- to purchase third-rate insurance plans that can cost as much as the empowered insurance villains want to charge with absolutely no guarantee of quality. The goals are basically to transfer wealth from the consumer base to the shareholders and to enrich corporate management through unrestricted gouging of consumers. In other words, Obama and the Democrats are doing the Republicans' jobs for them-- having eaten at the same bribery-filled troughs for too long. Even the so-called public option is now so restricted and anemic-- rather than robust and universal-- that it will serve, at best, 2% of Americans. And it does this while serving another GOP wet dream: cutting Medicare and Medicaid.

Is this going to be Obama's legacy-- or this plus Afghanistan? What it says about the Democratic Party is just absolutely shameful. In 2010 and 2012, Republicans will cynically campaign on Medicare Advantage and sweep the Democrats out of power. The Republicans certainly don't deserve to return to power, but the Democrats are, in effect, just as bad. This bill should be scrapped, H.R. 1826 should be fast-tracked and passed, and Congress should start over again on a serious healthcare reform bill.

UPDATE: Black Leprosy Eating Away At The American Experiment

Are we still an experiment? My old friend-- and former Dictator-- Scott Kempner reminded me to read the new Matt Taibbi piece in Rolling Stone Sick And Wrong.
The system doesn't work for anyone. It cheats patients and leaves them to die, denies insurance to 47 million Americans, forces hospitals to spend billions haggling over claims, and systematically bleeds and harasses doctors with the specter of catastrophic litigation... The cost of all of this to society, in illness and death and lost productivity and a soaring federal deficit and plain old anxiety and anger, is incalculable — and that's the good news. The bad news is our failed health care system won't get fixed, because it exists entirely within the confines of yet another failed system: the political entity known as the United States of America.

And that was just the opening-- of a seven page tirade that every member of Congress ought to be reading this week.

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Making A Profit From Teabagging


Not everyone agrees with me-- and I can see, and even respect, the opposite point of view-- but I've always had it in my head that when you really believe in something, it transcends the profit motive. When I was a college freshman, for example, I really, really believed that all the problems in the world would be solved if everyone got stoned. At my campus there was a small hard core of beatnik types and folkies smoking pot, and there was one senior who sold pot, for $45 an ounce. I was always good at arithmetic and soon figured out that if he was buying a pound for $120, that meant he was making a $37.50 profit on each ounce of pot we were smoking, a profit that came to $600.00 per pound. What a capitalist pig!

I organized the emerging-- as yet unnamed-- hippies and said that we should all take turns going into NYC and buying the pound and then splitting it up so that everyone paid $7.50/ounce instead of $45. Cheers all around. I went first. Everyone was so happy. But no one went second. Lazy, scared, whatever. I set the price at $12.50 so I could pay for my train ticket and expenses and get my portion for free, and everyone was really happy. The old beatnik was soon out of business, and so were the other old beatniks all over Suffolk County.

In politics and in religion there have always been people ready to prey on other people's beliefs. They're always the cynical, the sleazy and the corrupt. They take consulting fees off the top without telling anyone, sometimes consulting fees that are absolutely eye-popping.

The epitome of this in our times is Richard Viguerie, although characters like Paul Weyrich, Ralph Reed, Pat Robertson, James Dobson and Jack Abramoff have made out very well plowing these fields in recent times. It's rare, though not unheard of, to find Democrats motivated by the kind of sociopathic greed and narcissism to go down this path. But needless to say, teabaggery was tailor-made for the kind of chicken-plucking this behavior is akin to. Ken Vogel looked at it in yesterday's Politico: Tea Parties Emerge As Revenue Streams. Surprised?
Tapping into the deep reservoir of anger on the right at President Barack Obama and Congress has turned out to be a financial boon to a diverse collection of tea party-affiliated political groups and candidates soliciting donations and raising money from the sale of T-shirts, books and paraphernalia.

The tea party brand has proved to be a potent source of revenue for new for-profit companies funding-- among other things-- an upcoming convention keynoted by Sarah Palin, for established national non-profit groups soliciting small donations and for political action committees and long-shot candidates raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to try to overcome sometimes long electoral odds... [T]he fundraising efforts have also prompted grumbling about the monetization of a local grass-roots movement and raised concerns about whether the money is being used to advance the cause of the activists who burst onto the national scene last summer with marches and town hall protests around the country.

The debate over fundraising reflects the tensions of a movement whose internal stresses have raised concerns on the right about its ability to become a factor in the 2010 elections. Already, there are charges and countercharges that the money that has been raised has not been used effectively to advance the small-government, limited-taxation ideals at the heart of the tea party movement.

“There are a lot of questions about money and where all the money has gone,” said Erick Erickson, editor of the influential conservative blog, which has emerged as both chronicler of and guide for the tea party movement.

Conservative bloggers and activists have at times accused some tea party organizers of poor budgeting, wasting money on flashy initiatives like cross-country bus tours that critics say don’t do much to advance the cause, or-- worse-- using cash raised from activists to pad their groups’ coffers or their own wallets.

...Tea Party Nation, a for-profit company that runs a social networking website for activists and is now selling tickets — at $560 a pop — to what it’s billing as the “First National Tea Party Convention,” has also come under fire from activists. According to the organization’s website, the planned three-day convention in February is “aimed at bringing the Tea Party Movement leaders together from around the nation for the purpose of networking and supporting the movements' multiple organizations principal goal

The registration fee doesn’t include lodging at Nashville’s sprawling Gaylord Opryland Hotel, where the convention is being held. But it does include access to scheduled speeches by tea party heroes Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Palin, whose speaking fee (reported to be in the six figures) was paid by convention organizers.

“If this were a perfect world, we wouldn’t charge anybody, but to put on an event like this, there are expenses that have to be covered,” said Tea Party Nation President Judson Phillips. He explained that his group is hoping to turn a profit from the event so that it can “funnel money back into conservative causes” through a 527 group it plans to set up to get involved in campaigns.

“This is the source of a lot of disagreement within the tea party movement, where a lot of people say money is a bad thing. But the simple fact of the matter is that you are not going to get candidates elected without money,” he said.

“The tea party movement is a grass-roots movement; it’s not a business,” countered Anthony Shreeve, an East Tennessee local tea party organizer who resigned from the convention’s steering committee after a disagreement over finances. “Most tea party activists won’t be there because they can’t afford it.”

Tea Party Nation’s website sells ads such as the one for a book called “Tea Party Revival: The Conscience of a Conservative Reborn,” which bills itself as “an essential guide” to the movement, and also hawks Tee-shirts emblazoned with “Got Tea?”

And all this begs the question about which healthcare-related companies and Insurance giants have been paying for Dick Armey's efforts-- Astroturfing-- to create faux grassroots "movements" of weak-minded and easily deluded angry people to protest against healthcare reform (often while whining about how badly they've been treated by the very Insurance companies manipulating them).

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Sunday Classics: Just for fun -- American treasures


Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue was always a Leonard Bernstein specialty. This is Part 1 of a 1976 performance in which he plays and conducts the London Symphony; Part 2 is here. (The luscious "big tune" finally emerges at 3:03 of Part 2.) CORRECTION: That's not the London Symphony, it's the New York Philharmonic, though in London's Royal Albert Hall. The clarinet soloist is of course our own just-retired Stanley Drucker, already approaching 30 years' service with the Philharmonic back then, with another 33 years ahead of him (to the end of the 2008-09 season). Sorry, can't imagine what I was thinking!

by Ken

No grand propositions to prove this week. Just some deliciously wonderful music, in the Thanksgiving spirit.


George and Ira Gershwin (center and right)
at the keyboard with Fred Astaire

When I first "finished" last night's preview piece, it seemed kind of meager music-wise. By the time I finished filling it out a bit, it had grown into something close to a full-fledged Gershwin post, the notable exception being the way it tiptoed discreetly around the music I expected to include in today's post, either the Rhapsody in Blue (1924) or An American in Paris (1928). We've already got the Rhapsody accounted for, so why don't we just throw in American in Paris? I'm especially fond of two recordings, made at opposite ends of Pennsylvania, the Command recording by William Steinberg and the Pittsburgh Symphony, and Eugene Ormandy's Columbia recording with the Philadelphia Orchestra. I don't have the Steinberg version on CD, so here's the Ormandy.

GERSHWIN: An American in Paris

Philadephia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy, cond. Columbia/Sony, recorded Jan. 5, 1967

By the time Gershwin composed An American in Paris, he was confident enough to do his own orchestration, and I think one and all will concede that it's a bang-up job. Both the 1924 jazz-band arrangement of Gershwin's two-piano original of the Rhapsody in Blue -- which was commissioned by Paul Whiteman for his band -- and the now-standard 1942 full orchestration were done by a longtime Whiteman associate, an expert arranger and a composer of some note in his own right: Ferde Grofé, whose Mississippi Suite was first performed in 1925, with the Grand Canyon Suite following in 1931. Which provides us a natural segue to --

FERDE GROFÉ (1892-1972)

In writing about Sibelius, I mentioned that my very first three stereo LPs, all featuring Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra included two with works by Sibelius plus the Grand Canyon Suite. I loved that Grand Canyon Suite then, both the work and the performance, and I still do. I don't have that Ormandy Grand Canyon on CD, but I do have his 1967 remake, which is almost as good. And we're going to here it complete, after a bit of "tease," or preview.

We're going to hear two of the five movements separately, starting with the atmospheric opening movement, "Sunrise," and then the movement that might function as a scherzo if this were a symphony, the third, the rhythmically irrepressible "On the Trail" (by donkey or mule, of course). Then we'll hear the whole suite; between "Sunrise" and "On the Trail" comes a beautiful slow movement, "The Painted Desert," and the general plan of the final movementsn is well suggested by their titles, "Sunset" and "Cloudburst."

GROFÉ: Grand Canyon Suite

i. Sunrise

Eastman-Rochester Orchestra, Howard Hanson, cond. Mercury, recorded May 1958

iii. On the Trail

John Corigliano, violin; New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein, cond. Columbia/Sony, recorded May 20, 1963

i. Sunrise
ii. The Painted Desert
iii. On the Trail
iv. Sunset
v. Cloudburst

Norman Carol, violin; William Smith, celesta and piano; Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy, cond. Columbia/Sony, recorded Dec. 12 and 20, 1967

AARON COPLAND (1900-1990)

No. 4 of Four Dance Episodes from "Rodeo"

Utah Symphony Orchestra, Maurice Abravanel, cond. Westminster, recorded December 1958

[note: volume level considerably lower than the above] St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Slatkin, cond. EMI, recorded c 1985

We already had our Copland preview Friday night. While Copland wrote a generous amount of interesting music, like a lot of music-lovers I find I listen mostly to the "Americana" works, which represent a small portion of his output. We've already heard the Fanfare for the Common Man, and two of the Copland-arranged Old American Songs. The great ballet Appalachian Spring, one of my very favorite pieces of music, I want to reserve for consideration on its own -- beyond the "Simple Gifts" finale, that is, which we've already heard. This is how we wound up at the Four Dance Episodes from "Rodeo." "Hoe-Down," the last of the four episodes, has been absorbed into the American musical vocabulary; is there anyone who didn't recognize it?

Here's the complete Rodeo suite, conducted first by -- who else? -- Leonard Bernstein. As we noted back when we heard Aaron Copland conduct Lenny's Candide Overture in Prague, the two had a close relationship, and there was no more effective champion of Copland's music than LB. Eventually, of course, the composer himself developed into one of his own most effective champions, and so we're going to hear his version too.

COPLAND: Four Dance Episodes from "Rodeo"

i. Buckaroo Holiday
ii. Corral Nocturne
iii. Saturday Night Waltz
iv. Hoe-Down

New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein, cond. Columbia/Sony, recorded 1960

London Symphony Orchestra, Aaron Copland, cond. CBS/Sony, recorded Oct. 26, 1968

CHARLES IVES (1874-1954)

Symphony No. 2:
i. Andante moderato

Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Neeme Järvi, cond. Chandos, recorded Apr. 29 and May 1, 1995

After hurling Ives's Thanksgiving and Forefathers' Day at you on Thursday (even in David Zinman's remarkably sympathetic performance, it doesn't seem to me one of his more approachable works, but heck, what are you going to do on Thanksgiving Day?), I wanted to plunge you into the composer's sound at what seems to me its most "grabbingly" appealing. Unfortunately, I've never heard anybody but Leonard Bernstein really "get" this potentially haunting opening movement of his Second Symphony, which adds the usual Ives mélange on top of that bedrock of full-throated New England hymn-singing.

I don't doubt that that wonderfully musical Estonian-born conductor Neeme Järvi understands the music, but like so many conductors, he seems afraid to really dig in and make those broad singing lines really sing. Lenny B made it sound like the easiest, most obvious thing in the world, and I won't mind if you cheat and sneak down to his complete 1958 recording of the Ives Second, to my hearing one of the loveliest things he ever did, and listen to just the first movement.

Hey, I'm not the audio-file police. If you want to listen to more than the first movement, who's going to stop you? Especially since Ives meant the broad opening Andante moderato to proceed without interruption into the spirited second-movement Allegro. As it happens, the Allegro had an extra frisson for me, as I got to know the piece amid the granite of New Hampshire as a Dartmouth student. I expect you noticed in the first movement that Ives was very free about incorporating tunes from various walks of American (and sometimes non-American) life. The lovely second theme of the Allegro, played so caressingly by the pair of flutes [first heard at 1:58 of the Andrew Litton performance below], is the old Dartmouth song "Where oh where are the pea-green freshmen?"

At least in my time, Dartmouth was known, at least to its students, for having the dopiest songs in North American academe. The worst example, in those pre-coeducation days, was the first stanza of our "school song," "Men of Dartmouth," which drew to an, er, rousing close with the lines:

They have the still North in their hearts,
The hlll winds in their veins,
And the GRANITE of New Hampshire
[yes, the music actually spat out the word "granite"]
In their muscles and their brains,
And the GRANITE of New Hampshire
In their muscles and their brains.

Is it any wonder there was so much alumni resistance to going coed? What prideful alum would want to give all that up?

But we digress. Um, maybe this would be a good time to continue on to the Allegro of the Second Symphony.

IVES: Symphony No. 2:
ii. Allegro

Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Andrew Litton, cond. Hyperion, recorded Jan. 6-9, 2005

One curiosity: The Litton recording has the movement marking, normally just "Allegro," as "Allegro molto (con spirito)." It's an odd irony that LItton's performance is one of the less spirited I know.

[Parenthetical note: Did you notice that that's two cases in a row of British record companies recording American music with American orchestras; Hyperion in fact recorded all four Ives symphonies with Andrew Litton and the Dallas Symphony. (The Fourth Symphony, which was finally given its world premiere in 1965 by Leopold Stokowski with the orchestra he'd founded in 1962, the American Symphony, is quite a production -- I hope we'll have a chance to come back to it someday -- and if there's one thing Stoky knew, it was how to put on a show. Happily, Columbia made a recording at the time.) In addition, the Zinman-Baltimore Symphony Ives CD featuring the Holidays Symphony and Three Places in New England from which I extracted Thanksgiving and Forefathers' Day was recorded by yet another British company. I guess this is good, unless it means that American companies aren't doing the job.]

It's a wonder that Ives himself got to hear the Second Symphony. Indeed, it's lucky that, despite a lifelong litany of health problerms, he survived to surprisingly near his 80th birthday, because the symphony, written in 1902-10, wasn't performed until 1951, when it was conducted by a brash young conductor then making a name for himself, that name being Leonard Bernstein! By then Ives's Third Symphony (1910) had already been performed, way back in 1946, after a mere 36-year wait, and won the Pulitzer Prize.

So what was Ives doing all that time when his music was busy being unheard? Selling insurance, or rather overseeing the selling of same, having cofounded his own firm, with considerable success. He was by general consent a visionary in the field. He trained seriously in music (he had worked first with his father, a band leader, then studied with Horatio Parker at Yale, producing his (fairly conventional) First Symphony as a senior thesis, but nobody was clamoring to hear his music, and he had to make a living, and he drifted into insurance and discovered he was good at it. Remarkably, he seems to have though of insurance in terms of how it could help the buyer; interestingly, he wound up making a very good living at it. (Hmm.)

Even as his career flourished (with the occasional bump), Ives continued composing well into the '20s, and then found himself unable to continue. We don't know why, but then, it can't be easy to maintain life as a composer when you never get to hear your music performed, and never get to experience other people experiencing it. At the same time, it can't be fun to find yourself unable to continue creating -- and we may guess at Ives's state of mind relative to composition by the fact that he declined to attend that much-belated 1946 premiere of his Third Symphony.

If you look up "labor of love" in the dictionary, or at any rate a dictionary with sound files, you'll hear Lenny B's 1958 recording of the Ives Second Symphony. Columbia Masterworks seems to have been dubious enough about its commercial prospects that it put the record in the "KS" rather than "MS" series, charging an extra buck, which was pretty chintzy for 40 minutes' worth of music. In compensation, they offered a little bonus record with a Lenny talk about Ives, but at some point -- before I bought my copy -- they seem to have stopped packing the bonus record, but not stopped charging the extra buck. Of course at standard discount prices of the era it was more like half a buck, but remember, the buck of those days was worth a lot closer to a dollar.

I don't think digital sound does justice to the tonal intensity of the orchestral playing as heard on the LP. The New York Philharmonic strings were never what you'd call a lustrous group, but on that day in October 1958 they played with a vibrancy that was something to behold. Anyway, here's the complete symphony.

IVES: Symphony No. 2

i. Andante moderato
ii. Allegro
iii. Adagio cantabile
iv. Lento maestoso
v. Allegro molto vivace

New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein, cond. Columbia/Sony, recorded Oct. 6, 1958


For a virtuoso finish, we jump back now to the 19th century, to the days of barnstorming composer-performers, and the home-grown pianist-composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk -- "America's first great musician" to pianist Eugene List, one of his more persistent champions in the later 20th century. By profession if not talent level Gottschalk was a sort of American Liszt, an outsize personality (for all his slender stature) whose brief but adventure-packed life was almost as much a work of art as his music.

Gottschalk was born in New Orleans when the city was still mostly Spanish and French, within living memory of the Louisiana Purchase, which had made this vast swath of central North America the property of the young United States. He functioned as a sort of American good-will ambassador in his tours of Europe and especially South America. For his performing use, he wrote a large quantity of solo piano music as well as music for multiple pianos and assorted other piano-plus combinations. Naturally he was a great connoisseur of dance rhythms from around the world, as he demonstrates in this infectious four-hand "Cuban dance."

GOTTSCHALK: La Gallina (The Hen), Danse cubaine
for piano four hands

Eugene List and Cary Lewis or Brady Millican, piano. Vox, recorded c 1972
[Note: The packaging for the Vox set from which all our Gottschalk musical selections come, while it generously includes both an essay by Mr. List on Gottschalk and program notes by Richard Freed, is skimpy on other information, such as who among Mr. List's supporting artists plays what, or the recording dates. Where I could, I've gleaned (or guessed) such info, drawing on other sources.]

Between 1860, when he first composed the Grande Tarantelle, and his death (at 40) in 1869, Gottschalk seems to have arranged the thing for just about every piano-plus instrumental combination imaginable, but when Eugene List went searching for the piano-and-orchestra version in the '50s, the best he could do was a two-piano version in the British Museum. He persuaded the composer Hershy Kay to produce this 1957 reconstruction.

GOTTSCHALK-KAY: Grande Tarantelle for Piano
and Orchestra

Eugene List, piano; one of two orchestras, either Igor Buketoff or Samuel Adler, cond. Vox, recorded c 1972

Gottschalk wasn't all flash, though. Here is an orchestral piece that has won favorable attention even from some of his detractors, the two movement La Nuit des tropiques (Night in the Tropics), which the composer gave the rather highfalutin designation "Symphony No. 1." On its own terms, though, the piece is a beauty. Annotator Freed evokes Berlioz, and in the sinuous, long-breathed melodic lines of the Andante in particular, I hear what he means.

GOTTSCHALK: Symphony No. 1, La Nuit des tropiques
(Night in the Tropics)

i. Andante ("Nuit dans les tropiques")

ii. Allegro moderato ("Une fête sous les tropiques")
("A Festival Under the Tropics")

Vienna State Opera Orchestra, Igor Buketoff, cond. Vox, recorded c 1972


I can't believe I did a grabbag of American musical treasures, with Leonard Bernstein's name plastered all over the damned place, and even mentioning the Overture to LB's Candide, without including it -- me of all people, having gone on record as admitting it's a piece I can listen to dozens of times in succession.


"Once one dismisses the rest of all possible worlds,
One finds that this is the best of all possible worlds."

-- Dr. Pangloss, in Leonard Bernstein's Candide
(lyrics for "The Best of All Possible Worlds" by John LaTouche)

In my mind, of course, we've "done" Candide, and done it. Oh, I know we've barely scratched the surface, but what was this post about but scratching surfaces? And of course many of you have never read those posts.

So herewith, a little Candide suite: the Overture and the great philosopher Dr. Pangloss (in the person of the late Adolph Green, the distinguished lyricist) teaching his charges that this is "The Best of All Possible Worlds" from the studio recording of the complete Candide that Lenny made at the time of his happily televised (and therefore now-on-DVD)concert performance; and the Candide-Cunegonde duet "Oh Happy We!" and Cunegonde's great aria "Glitter and Be Gay" from the Original Broadway Cast recording, featuring the great Barbara Cook.

BERNSTEIN et al.: Candide


London Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein, cond. DG,recorded December 1989

"The Best of All Possible Worlds" (lyrics by John LaTouche)

Adolph Green (Dr. Pangloss), June Anderson (Cunegonde), Della Jones (Paquette), Jerry Hadley (Candide), Kurt Ollmann (Maximilian); from the DG recording (see above)

"Oh Happy We!" (lyrics by Richard Wilbur)

Richard Rounseville (Candide), Barbara Cook (Cunegonde), Samuel Krachmalnick, cond., from the Columbia/Sony Original Broadway Cast recording,Dec. 9, 1956

"Glitter and Be Gay" (lyrics by Richard Wilbur)

Barbara Cook (Cunegonde), from the OBC recording (see above)

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