Thursday, October 26, 2006


I wake each day with trepidation knowing that earlier this month Karl Rove promised an "October Surprise" in a speech to his acolytes, and this is the last day of October. I think the preferred surprise would have been lower gas prices or a new record for the Dow, because these are things within the capacity to manipulate. The lower gas prices are due to the huge sell-off in oil futures by hedge funds thinking the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict would have lasted a few days more. The record Dow is just that; a record for the handful of blue chip stocks that make up the Dow-Jones Average. These are good days to own stock in Pfizer and Bristol-Meyers; not so good if you need the medicines they make and lack either the insurance or the means to buy them.

So if not cheap gas and high stock prices, what could Rove come up with that would be the Republican equivalent of the Rebel Yell? Only this; matters of war and peace. Since Chucklehead threw the phrase "stay the course" overboard, could an announced change in tactics be far behind in Iraq? Any timetable for troop withdrawal would please me, regardless of the cynical timing of the announcement. I've long ago given up the delusion that this government would not trifle with the safety of our soldiers for political gain. Especially when the expected death penalty for Saddam Hussein will be announced on Nov.5, in the face of projected riots. But a troop withdrawal alone will not stem the tidal wave of angry voters heading for the GOP, and something more electrifying than the thought of gays marrying must motivate a disillusioned base.

It is of some note that James Baker,III has returned to the White House as co-chair of the Iraq Study Group, a group of Poppy's Wizened Old Fixers who always kick in the door and take over whenever Junior has lost his way and needs rescuing by the grown-ups. So it wouldn't surprise me if Baker announced a plan for drastic changes in not merely Iraq, but the "War President's" cabinet as well. This may placate some conservatives, but it won't happen until after the election. The spookiest specter of them all is Henry Kissinger wandering around the West Wing, hands forever stained by the blood of Laotians and Cambodians, giving advice to President Cheney. Is there anyone remaining who does not see the parallels to Vietnam, including the very real possibility of a wider war in the Middle East? If not, here is a ghoulish scenario that only the Frankenstinian minds of Cheney/Rummy/Kissinger might have dreamed up.

All month I have been reading reports, the most alarming by former New York Times Middle East bureau chief Chris Hedges,

that speak of a large build-up of US warships in the Persian Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz near Iran. This flotilla includes aircraft carriers, guided-missile cruisers and destroyers, and fast attack submarines. This was done quietly since only tonight did CNN, of all the news networks, announce the presence of US warships in the Gulf for an "exercise to potentially intercept WMD." Would that be coming into, or going out of, Iran?

Bob Woodward has described Dr. Strangelove Kissinger in interviews as "getting to re-fight the Vietnam War" these days. In 1972, he said, "Peace is at hand," and then began secret saturation bombings involving three countries. But while our ships are on an "exercise" off the coast of Iran, I am reminded of how the whole terrible Vietnam War began; with the Tonkin Gulf Resolution of 1964, after an attack on US warships was fabricated by a hawkish Defense Department for political purposes. If the Bush's follow the LBJ mold, which worked once, any provocation, real or imagined, by Iran against our soldiers while they are rattling the administration's saber, will be considered the gravest of threats to mankind. Then when a "Cuban Missle Crisis" scenario is developed and a blockade against Iran is formed, Bush gets to attempt to re-enact a genuine JFK moment while a breathless nation watches on TV and decides to go to the polls and dance with those that brung 'em. With power at stake, anything is possible.

The brink of nuclear war is a sure enough scary Halloween trick, but with the possibility of Congressional investigations on the line, WWKD?(Karl). I hope President Shemp is forced to take the James Baker avenue. Baker, even though he lawyered Bush into the White House, is much less scary than the present occupants of the cabinet. Especially Dr. Evil; Dick "The Merciless". This evening when my doorbell rings, we have chocolate goodies for the trick-or-treaters. But if I open the door and see a group of children dressed as Bush, Cheney, Condi, Rove, and Rummy, I trust my wife will have the portable defibrillator nearby. In fact, with the ghost of Richard Nixon still haunting the White House, it might be a good idea to keep it close all week long. Happy Halloween, everyone. Trick or treat?

Friday, October 13, 2006

Jake "Fredo" Ford

After the last televised debate between the candidates for Tennessee's 9th Congressional District, I was enraged that Jake Ford, the "Fredo" of the Ford family, continues in his race-driven quest to siphon votes away from the rightly elected representative of his party, Steve Cohen. But after watching Jake Ford's press conference on WMC-TV, (the link for the whole thirteen minute mess is here: ,type in search for "Jake Ford"),my anger has turned to bemusement over the Ford Family Follies. In thirteen short minutes, I was convinced that Jake Ford is so slimy that he leaves a grease trail behind him when he walks, like a slug. This would all be a joke if he were not receiving the backing of Rev. LaSimba Gray and other prominent ministers, and leading voices in the community like Walter Bailey.

Don't the Fords believe that Junior has enough of a fight without the embarrassing electoral chicanery of his family? And doesn't Harold Ford, Sr. understand that this election is far too vital to the Democratic Party and the nation without his attempt to further enrich himself and his lobbying business by ensuring a son serves in each chamber, even though one is grossly unqualified? Only yesterday, (10/11), The Commercial Appeal had a front-page story on questions of impropriety between Harold Ford, Sr.'s business clients and their favors to Harold, Jr. Are the Fords so deluded as to believe that the Corker campaign won't go negative on them as well? Ford, Jr. bristles at the mention of his family by his opponent, yet his father is a lobbyist in D.C., his Uncle stands indicted, his Aunt was bounced from the State Legislature, his cousin Joe, Jr. was defeated in the Democratic primary, and now brother Jake threatens a once secure Democratic seat in the Congress with a vanity run. Harold Ford, Sr. is risking the labor of thirty-five years' worth of bi-racial cooperation within the Democratic Party for his personal purposes.

The outstanding Jake Ford press conference quote after admitting he was arrested "about" four times in Washington, D.C. for marijuana possession, ("It wasn't mine!"), assault, and DUI, he claimed, "There was never a conviction because there was never any proof throughout the process I'd done anything criminally wrong." He should have just gone ahead and blamed Clinton. When reporters asked why he didn't come forward sooner with this information, Ford shot back, "It's public information. You all have always had this information, but again, it was my opponent, Steve Cohen, who alerted you to it." Well, thank you Steve Cohen for pointing out a congressional candidate's arrest record. Ford certainly wasn't going to do those reporters' jobs for them. The Republican candidate, Mark White, owned up to the fact that he had been in trouble with the law as well over a tax "dispute" with the Tenn. Department of Revenue. With this bunch, Cohen's campaign slogan could well be, "I've Never Been Arrested."

My friends have accused me in the past of being what's known as a "Yellow Dog Democrat." If you didn't know, it means that I would prefer to vote for an old yellow dog over a Republican. I understand the importance of every single vote for the Senate seat being vacated by "Dollar Bill" Frist. But I have decided that unless Harold Ford, Jr. endorses the Democratic candidate, Steve Cohen, for Congress, or Jake Ford withdraws his candidacy, I will not vote for Ford. I won't be voting for Frist's man Corker either but I might write in Prince Mongo, the perennial protest candidate. If enough people become vocal, perhaps the Fords will come to their senses and realize a Ford in the Senate is better that two Fords working for their daddy's corporate clients until the next election cycle.

And should you believe my enmity towards the Fords is racial, I would point out that Cohen has received the endorsements of both Mayors Herenton and Wharton. In reference to Jake Ford's candidacy, Mayor Herenton said, "His qualifications are nowhere appropriate for him to represent the 9th Congressional District when compared to Steve Cohen." Herenton added, "I'm sick of the Fords." So am I. And should Junior lose to Corker as a result of his father's reckless choices, I will re-double my efforts in two years to see that Congressman Cohen is re-elected to the House of Representatives, and that the Ford political dynasty of Memphis, Tennessee, finally comes to an end.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Ford, Sr.'s Last Trick

I watched the television debate tonight by the three candidates running to represent Tennessee's Ninth District, Democrat Steve Cohen, Republican Mark White, and "Independent Democrat" Jake Ford, and I am upset. Not with my candidate Senator Cohen; he was succinct, knowledgeable, and showed a mastery over the issues; explained how he was the "real" Democrat in the race, and pointed out every falsity the Ford machine has thrown at him, all the while expressing his support for Junior's Senatorial bid. Cohen also refused to rise to the bait when young Ford attempted to distort his record, and Jake "Fraud" could only say in rebuttal, "he's too liberal, liberal, liberal." What a day when a candidate from the Ford family attempts to paint his opponent as "too liberal," for the District.

I backed Cohen in 1996 when he lost the congressional seat to Harold Ford, Jr. and was disappointed at his statements that a white candidate could not get fair consideration in the African-American community. Cohen has said in this campaign that his remarks ten years ago were from frustration and disappointment, but he has never wavered in his support for all candidates fairly elected in the Democratic Primary. After last night's debate, perhaps Cohen's election analysis of 1996 was more accurate than anyone thought. When Joe Ford, Jr. is fairly beaten in the primary, but Harold Ford, Sr. places his unqualified and undereducated son, Jake, in the general election as an independent stop-gap to preserve the family seat, there is something racist and obscene about such tactics that should be harshly dealt with not just from the State Democratic Committee, but from the DNC itself.

The headline of the debate came from Republican Mark White, and it's a slogan Cohen should use for the remainder of this campaign. When asked by Norm Brewer how he felt about Ford's independent candidacy, White replied, "I'm tickled pink that Jake Ford is in this race." And he looked it too, both pink and tickled. Ford claims to be an "Independent Democrat" and he has the backing of a group of ministers as well as some community leaders that actually don't feel that Cohen is too liberal for the district, he's too white. That's the self-admitted excuse for this group's allegiance to Jake Ford's candidacy, and Harold Ford, Sr.'s influence.

I have voted in every election since 1972, and some of those votes were for Harold Ford, Sr., Otis Higgs, D'Army Bailey, Willie Herenton, and A C Wharton. I have never felt these gentlemen were too "black" to represent me, and deserved my vote because of their qualifications. I did not vote for Junior in 1966 and I have been dismayed with the number of times he has voted with the Republican majority. The source of my disappointment in Junior's voting record is that I feel he really doesn't agree with the Patriot Act, for instance, but he does it because he is ambitious and eager to please the conservative voters of middle and east Tennessee. But how are you going to out-conservative a Bush man like Corker? Junior's strategy is to have his more "liberal" voters understand him while he conducts himself like another Joe Lieberman in dealing with the Bush regime, and his true Democratic colors will emerge once he's elected; unless, of course, he begins compromising his values in an immediate run at the Presidency.

I propose a remedy. After Frist, no one wants "Frist Lite." So my plan was always to hold my nose and vote for Ford. But I don't like it, and I am not above withholding my vote for him in the Senate until or unless he backs Cohen for the Congress. Although the latest polls show Ford, Jr. up a few points in his race, I would like for Democrats to insist through their local, state, and national committees, that if Harold Ford, Sr. doesn't cease and desist with his manipulation of the election in the Ninth District by attempting to split the Democratic vote, then real Democrats will withhold their votes for Junior in the Senate. This cynical maneuver to sneak his son into Congress' by undermining Cohen's candidacy is all about Harold Ford, Sr.'s power as a lobbyist in Washington and not for the betterment of the district, but for the family Ford.

In reality, Democrats have their best chance to reclaim power in the House rather than the Senate in November, and Cohen was a prohibitive favorite until the Jake Ford trick. Harold, Jr. has a tougher race and needs all the votes from West Tennessee that he takes for granted that he already has. Every Democrat should demand the support of their party for Senator Cohen. And I don't believe it is too much to demand party discipline for Harold Ford, Sr., who after all, built his political dynasty through the efforts of the Democratic Party. The party should unequivocally back their candidates straight down the line, and if they are too afraid of the Ford machine to act, the voters should take it upon themselves. I favor circulating an online petition, of which I will be the first signee, that says in effect to Harold Ford, Sr. that if you continue to push an independent candidate merely because his name is Ford, I will refuse to vote for another candidate merely because his name is Ford, and I mean Junior. I would prefer throwing the Senatorial election to Corker before I allow Harold Ford, Sr. to be the Ralph Nader of Memphis, and pass off another dubious member of his family as someone who is dedicated to public service, when opportunism is his sole motivation.

The petition should be forwarded to Democratic Party offices and precincts in the entire state. Democratic voters should be aware that Harold Ford, Sr. is using all his influence and power to see that one Ford enters Congress through the front door, while the other enters through the back. I will not stand for it. Neither should you. There are thirty days left to become vocal on this issue. Cohen did his job at the debate. It's time for true Democrats not to just speak up, but shout it out loud, "No support for Cohen? Then no support for Junior."

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Party's Over

It used to be said that the only way to lose your job in this gerrymandered Congress was to be caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy. I think we've nearly reached that threshold. Before the news networks went all Mark Foley, all of the time, the most outrageous comment I heard came from the Republican leadership, including former Speaker Newt Gingrich, that if they aggressively confronted Foley about their knowledge of his conduct with underage boys, they might be considered "gay bashing." What a breathlessly hypocritical remark. The party that every two years campaigns to write discrimination against homosexuals into the Constitution is suddenly sensitive about "gay bashing?"

The e-mails and IMs from Foley to the pages in question are salacious and specific, and if you enjoy fifty year old men asking teenage boys to measure their penises, there are nine pages of similar requests on or at this address:
So, these are not merely "naughty e-mails," as Tony Snow so Victorianly put it, and the shameful cover-up involves the entire Republican Congressional leadership. Mark Foley was allowed to continue as head of the caucus to protect children from internet predators while the party leadership knew he was trolling for teens, to protect their political power.

If you are homosexual, and suddenly your political party launches a faith based, anti-gay jihad; then you become a closeted and repressed gay who ends up preying on boys over which you wielded power. Say what you will about Rep. Barney Frank, and Fox news certainly has, including the claim that he operated a brothel from his townhouse. But of all the smear and charges by his opponents, the only allegation that proved true was that Frank had temporarily chosen an unsavory companion, and who, regardless of sexuality, can deny experiencing that unfortunate reality? But Frank's open sexuality doesn't seem to interfere with his effectiveness as an advocate for his constituents. Only the party of "family values" would try to keep this scandal under wraps until after the election when they were warned about the problem well in advance. Barney Frank's questionable companion was at least a consenting adult. Rep. Foley's wanting "you to know that he is a gay man," is an insult to gay men. Does he believe his admission excuses his arrangements with teenage pages, or his incredible recklessness?

Foley also wants you to know, according to his attorney, that he "is in no way a pedophile." That depends on what "is" is. True, he never solicited a prepubescent on the internet, so the proper term may be "pederast." The word the people need to remember is "hypocrite." So before Mark Foley joins O.J. Simpson, Tanya Harding, Mel Gibson, and Laci Peterson in the 24 hour news cycle's DNA, it's well to remember that Iraq is a slaughterhouse and half the world is on fire. I realize that the paralyzed Republicans will do absolutely nothing about Iraq before the election, short of announcing the total withdrawal of our troops as a last attempt to preserve their power, and the only way we can even begin to put out some of these fires is to elect Democrats to Congress next month. So, if the sleazy story of Mark Foley's liberties with teenagers makes the "values voters" hesitate for just a minute before trusting the Republican Party to protect their cherished beliefs again, then let the media frenzy begin. Dig it all up so we can stare at it like a car wreck.

But voters who have already had enough need to keep their eyes on the prize. Last week, I would have thought that the only GOP supporters left were the Christian right and the social conservatives. This week, I'm not sure if they would be endorsed by NAMBLA. This scandal may be a necessary distraction for those people who haven't placed the Iraq war at the top of their concerns. I'm willing to endure that distraction if it means garnering more votes to elect Democrats who are willing to change course in Iraq and the entire Middle East. Our immediate local concern is electing Steve Cohen to Congress from the Ninth District. It is outrageous that a man like former representative Harold Ford, Sr., who built his family's political dynasty with the support of the Democratic Party, would withhold his support for the elected Democratic candidate. Does he intend to be the Ralph Nader of this race by supporting a candidate that could split the Democratic vote and endanger the seat? Both Fords, Sr. and Jr., need to pay attention when the president says you are with us or with them and pick a side. Then urge their son and brother Jake, (running as an Independent), who is neither informed, qualified, employed, or a High School graduate, to drop out of this race while the Democrats have a real chance to pull the rug from under these corrupt men who have wrecked our government. That is more important than attempting to keep just another average Jake (Ford) in public office after the average Joe (Ford),lost the Democratic primary. The extent of Junior's Democratic support in his Senate race again Bob "Frist Lite" Corker could well depend upon his support of Cohen.

And for the regular commenter to this blog that preaches the Tim Leary "Tune in, Turn on, and Drop out" philosophy; I have no problem with the first two thirds of your thesis. When we were children of the sixties, we had the luxury of dropping out as a protest against war profiteers, consumerism, and a militaristic society. And because we were not just idealistic, but young, we were willing to try alternative living and societal experiments because it seemed as if we had nothing to lose. It is good to remain idealistic, but we are no longer young. The people we now oppose are the same people we opposed in the sixties, only now they are our peers in open revolt against the social advances we already fought for. We are the grown-ups now and we are responsible for our government's conduct in the world. If we "drop out" we are truly lost. If you believe the Democrats' b.s. is the same as the Republicans', at least it's different b.s., and right about now, different will suffice. Leary's slogan needs to be revised to fit the times;
It might be more effective as "Tune In, Turn On, and Take Over."

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Long Live Rock n' Roll

I rediscovered something last week that I hadn't realized I had lost; the redemptive power of music, and particularly, playing music. I was asked to participate in a reunion of musicians that were popular in the "garage band" era of the mid-60s. I had been asked to take part in similar gatherings in the past and respectfully declined, but this time I was asked by Larry Raspberry as part of a free outreach for his local church, Heartsong Church, who's motto is "The Church That Rocks." I have known Larry since we were both 11 year old students of the same guitar teacher, Lyn Vernon. Our teenage competition between the Gentrys and the Radiants and Larry's formation of the Highsteppers and his unequaled live performances made me a fan as well as a friend. So even though I couldn't field a team for the event from a combination of my founding partners being out of town and the loss of four band members in the last 15 years, I agreed to represent the Radiants even before I heard the stellar line-up.

Of news to a particular generation of Memphians that will befuddle everyone else were the announced reunions of Flash and the Casuals/Board of Directors and the first full performance since 1967 of Tommy Burk and the Counts. These are the bands that provided the music for our precious memories before an unpopular war forced the end to our innocence. My eagerness grew when I heard the musicians who were coming in from out of town were dear friends from a half dozen different combinations of acoustic trios to electric bands that I worked with over the last 40 years. Raspberry organized the event from Los Angeles while the church provided the hall, sound, multi-media screens, and house band; Wing and a Prayer, consisting of perennial premier players Dave Smith, Gene Nunez, Freddie Kirksey, and Greg Lundy. I was given an hour to rehearse the afternoon before Rosh Hashanah.

I spoke with Flash,(David Fleischman), about my reluctance to participate in any actual proselytizing for the church, especially on the Jewish New Year, but we were both assured that it was a free show with no strings attached, and besides; George Klein had agreed to MC the event now called "Talent Party Time Travel," for the popular TV show of the 60s that regularly featured local bands. I selected my songs to sing, the band charted them up, we ran through them twice at most and said, "See you at the gig."

It rained hard the day of the show, yet there were still more than 200 people there for the 6:00 PM start. First up was Eddie Harrison, former leader of the Short Kuts, one of the most popular club bands of the era. I first worked with Eddie in 1963, when I was a sophomore at segregated Christian Brothers High School, and Eddie was a sophomore at integrated Christian Brothers College. I've always believed he was one of Memphis' most electrifying singers and I love to sing with him. Unfortunately, I had to follow him because he was booked at a wedding, but we arranged to sing some harmonies to some old Soul favorites and Eddie left to a standing ovation while I stayed in place onstage.

I have not played with an electric band in at least nine years, and had to bring my electric guitar out from under the bed to do it. But there's something about strapping on a Fender Stratocaster and standing with musicians that you admire and in whom you have confidence that is thrilling and empowering. Their professionalism allowed me to concentrate on staying on pitch and the variety of our songs, from original, to the Kinks and the Rascals before an attentive and appreciative audience caused me to remember why I started playing music in the first place; because it was just so damn much fun. My thirty minutes flew by. I had a ball.

Raspberry was up next playing a variety of material including the Gentry's "Keep On Dancin'," which I hadn't heard him sing in 30 years and brought the audience to their feet. It wasn't exactly like one amazing gig I saw him perform with the Highsteppers at the High Cotton Club in the mid-seventies when his combination Southern Preacher-Carny Barker non-stop patter and the bands' continual driving music caused several male patrons to spontaneously rise from their seats, grab their wooden chairs, and smash them over the tables. I saw Larry cause a clubful of people to destroy the furniture. Of course, there was whiskey involved then. The people at the church were just there for the music, but Larry reached them just the same. He was accompanied on keyboard by fabled Memphis producer Jim Dickinson, who also sang his Sun Record from 1965 with the Jesters, "Cadillac Man."

The Flash and the Casuals/Board of Directors reunion was sentimental to me because of old friendships with members of that band. Original drummer John McNulty played; Mark Tidwell came from Nashville to play guitar, and Flash even called up Charlie Fineberg to sing back-up reaching all the way back to 1962. Flash is still a magnetic showman and received his standing "O" for a moving version of "St. James Infirmary Blues." Along with slides and film of a mop-topped Flash on Talent Party in 1966 with George and the WHBQuties projected on either side of the band, the audience seemed transported to that time and responded in kind.

Anyone who did not grow up going to dances featuring Tommy Burk and the Counts can't totally appreciate how heartwarming it felt to see them onstage again. When Flash was a guest on my former radio program, we deemed Tommy Burk, "The Godfather of the Garage." The skinny kid with the prominent Adam's apple is now Professor Tom Burk of Christian Brothers University's Department of Germanic Language. And the rest of the Counts, from Thomas Boggs and Mike Stoker of the Huey's Corporation; to Wayne Thompson, John Greer, and Steve O'Keefe, are all professional men who gave up music long ago. Yet, when they began playing and got into their second song, you could see a spring in their step that the audience's response only encouraged, and by the time they played their signature song, the huge Memphis hit garage band version of "Stormy Weather," the crowd was again on their feet.

Interstate 55 completed the show and continued to play for a jam for all the participants, who were reluctant to leave. The audience's kindness to me personally, left me buzzing for a week afterward. The flurry of e-mails exchanged between all the musicians and singers was universally positive and we agreed to consider the possibility of doing it again. I told Larry that we may well do it again, but we'll have a hard time matching the joy of that night. And for me, the most uplifting part was that money took no part in the equation. I understand that musicians have to sell what they play, but for this one occasion, we did it as a favor to a friend and his good work. And I learned that all Christians are not, by definition, Conservatives. And that there are progressive churches that encourage free expression and the use of music as praise, much like some of the more contemporary efforts of the Reform Jewish movement. And most importantly, I was reminded of that basic tenant of all religions; that the most rewarding work you can do is that which you do for others without expectation of reward. At Heartsong Church, the applause was sweet; the chance to see old friends and musicians and watch them entertain their appreciative audience one more time was sweeter. I was uplifted, invigorated, and proud to be included, and am now prepared to re-enter the fray. Thank you, friends. I think I remember now.
Hail, hail rock and roll
Deliver me from the days of old
Long live rock and roll
The beat of the drums, loud and bold
Rock, rock, rock and roll
The feelin is there, body and soul

Chuck Berry, "School Days"