Sunday, January 31, 2016

Damn! More Than 1,000 Songs!?!

In the midst of all of the hoopla surrounding pop music — Hall of Fame, million records sold, yada yada yada — there stands the quiet legacy of John Herndon "Johnny" Mercer. Black magic, indeed. If this is (fair & balanced) greatness, so be it.

PS; For a Johnny Mercer medley, click here.

[x Oxford American]
That Old Black Magic
By John Lingan

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Supposedly, in a moment of frustration in the early 1950s, Sam Phillips told his business partner, “If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars.” Only a few years later, Phillips would record Elvis Presley and more or less prove the point. But for all the savvy of his label boss, the King wasn’t the first white boy to bring a firsthand love of black culture to the American musical mainstream. A generation earlier, another Southerner—this one entirely un-Presley-like in his sound and upbringing—drew from the same tradition and made, if not quite a billion dollars, certainly an inexhaustible fortune, and left behind a half-dozen of America’s most indelible melodies besides.

Johnny Mercer arrived in New York in 1928, at the height of Tin Pan Alley. George Gershwin had premiered “Rhapsody in Blue” four years prior, and Cole Porter was at work on what would become his first hit musical, "Paris." The Roaring Twenties were American music’s debutante ball, the historical moment when urbane sophisticates wed jazz idioms and orchestral ambition. Before, the young nation boasted only regional music: minstrelsy, Dixieland, cowboy tunes, shape note. Now it had the Great American Songbook.

Mercer was eighteen at the time and had listened to songs by Gershwin, Porter, Irving Berlin, and their New York colleagues for years during his rollicking yet privileged adolescence in Savannah. But coming from a moneyed Georgia family, with ancestors who fought in both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, his musical background included more than just their pop hits. In an unpublished memoir—written in 1973, three years before his death—Mercer begins his life story with a description of the commute to his family’s summer home in the country: “The roads were still unpaved, made of crushed oyster shell, and as they wound their way under the trees covered with Spanish moss, it was a sweet, indolent background for a boy to grow up in.” Even more than the rural Georgia scenery, he recalls “the help,” who lived in nearby houses on the property and came over regularly to do their own domestic upkeep—laundry, cooking, bathing—in addition to serving the Mercers:

Having all those colored people around meant having a lot of music also, and not only did we get the traditional lullabies and work songs, but we’d get to hear their church services upon an occasional Sunday. As a matter of fact, I can hardly ever remember there not being music, in town or out. My Aunt Hattie swears I hummed back at her at the tender age of 6 months, and she always used to take me to see the minstrel shows which were so popular then in the South as well as the big Northern cities.

At the country property, on the banks of the Vernon River—a landscape that inspired “Moon River,” for which Mercer would later win the third of his four “best original song” Oscars, in 1961—he heard these same black families speak Geechee, the Carolina dialect that Gershwin appropriated for "Porgy and Bess." But Mercer’s cross-cultural education was fostered in the city as well. His father, a banker who lost his fortune right as Johnny set out for Manhattan, sang along to his sizable collection of race records at home. As soon as Johnny was old enough, he did his own record shopping, showing a particular appetite for Louis Armstrong. With his parents and brother, he was a regular attendee of the famed Savannah Easter parade, a vibrant showcase of black dance, music, and fashion. His black nurse sang him spirituals in between lullabies. (Decades later, Mercer would pay to repair the roof of her church.) As a boy, he took regular walks through town, peeking in the city’s black churches, grabbing a seat if a pew was open. His regular stops included the United House of Prayer for All People, where he heard the controversial Charles Manuel “Sweet Daddy” Grace preach during the faith healer’s regular trips to town.

“George Gershwin could go up to Harlem to hear jazz and blues,” wrote biographer Philip Furia, but “Johnny Mercer, alone among the great songwriters of his generation, was, from the day he was born, influenced by the music of blacks.”

Relative to Elvis, Mercer’s most famous songs bore little of that influence on the surface. He wrote the lyrics for an unbelievable run of hits in the late 1930s and ’40s, often recording his own popular versions as a vocalist: “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby,” “I’m Old Fashioned,” “Too Marvelous for Words,” “One for My Baby (And One More for the Road),” “Laura,” “Fools Rush In.” But his very first commercial success, a lesser-known 1933 Hoagy Carmichael collaboration called “Lazybones,” which was a hit for Mildred Bailey (and later Louis Armstrong himself), was a direct homage to the voices he’d heard as a boy:

Long as there is chicken gravy on your rice,
Everything is nice.
Long as there’s a watermelon on your vine,
Everything is fine . . .

Lazybones, sleepin’ in the shade,
How you ‘spec’ to get your cornmeal made?
Never get your cornmeal made,
Sleepin’ in the evenin’ shade.

“Lazybones,” recorded the same year that Gershwin’s Geechee opera premiered, depicts “taters” in the ground, the hot noon sun, and a fishing line hanging in the water—a Southern pastoral so Edenic that it’s nearly pastiche. It’s also, despite black artists’ embrace of the song, a borderline-racist depiction of Southern blackness, a cousin of Disney’s "Song of the South," from the next decade. But “Lazybones” is of a piece with Mercer’s better-known, more universal compositions, which, while always clever, were never more complicated than they needed to be. His melodies don’t leap and dash—they glide along conversationally, as if he made them up on the spot. Lyrically, he never used two syllables when one would do, and he returned to Southern nature scenes over and over again, letting his images quietly speak for themselves. In “Skylark,” one of his most-recorded songs, he asks the title bird,

Have you seen a valley green with spring,
Where my heart can go a-journeying?
Over the shadows and the rain,
To a blossom-covered lane.

And in my favorite of his songs, the 1939 Jimmy Van Heusen tune “I Thought About You,” he finds uncommon emotional complexity in an uneventful nighttime ride:

I took a trip on a train
And I thought about you.
I passed a shadowy lane
And I thought about you.

Two or three cars parked under the stars,
Winding stream.
Moon shining down on some little town,
And with each beam, the same old dream.

Is the singer sad or happy, regretful or horny? He claims to feel blue, but that’s as much as we’re told about his internal state. Instead, we’re presented with one fleeting, unpeopled scene after another, all described with an absolute minimum of words and only the slightest up-and-down incremental melody. When Yip Harburg, the celebrated lyricist and Mercer mentor, described his protege as “one of our great folk poets,” this was the kind of song he surely had in mind.

Beyond his lyrics’ rural and black affectations—the dropped g’s, the cornpone scenery—Mercer brought a distinctly Southern stillness to American pop. Economical yet vivid in his natural descriptions, he kept his songs’ emotions at a cool simmer and rarely told stories, instead opting for calm, wistful dioramas like the one he arranges in “Early Autumn”:

When an early autumn walks the land and chills the breeze
And touches with her hand the summer trees,
Perhaps you’ll understand what memories I own.
There’s a dance pavilion in the rain all shuttered down,
A winding country lane all russet brown,
A frosty windowpane shows me a town grown lonely.

Mercer wrote nearly 1,500 songs, so maybe it’s unfair to point out that three of the four I’ve quoted so far include mention of a “lane,” an easy (and easily rhymeable) symbol for escapist romance. But I wouldn’t be the first to acknowledge his complacent streak; prolific as he was, Mercer garnered a reputation as a bit of a lazybones himself.

He preferred to write lyrics while supine, eyes closed, “as if he could dream songs into existence,” according to the critic Wilfrid Sheed. His entire public persona was built around this same aloofness; onstage (a rare occurrence, though he became better known for live performances in the 1970s), his mind seemed to be elsewhere, and even his Tinseltown reminiscences seem muted, obligatory. While Mercer worked consistently for decades, for every great pop composer of the era, he was strongest on the scale of individual songs. No major Broadway success, no film soundtrack, no grand artistic statement ever sprung from those naps with the muse. His tower of song was built verse by casual verse.

His singing voice, too—like that of another Southern-bred, Hollywood-friendly master of concision, Randy Newman, who resembles Mercer more than any songwriter since at least the Brill Building era—could blur the line between “relaxed” and “soporific.” He made his friend and early creative partner Bing Crosby sound over-caffeinated.

But he roiled inside. When he drank, which he did often, he got blackout hammered and became infamously abusive. He spewed insults at good friends, dumped cocktails on his wife’s head, urinated in a hostess’s shoes, and once tried to force himself on his own niece. In the mornings he was always contrite, sending remorseful notes of apology, and most recollections of Mercer are besotted, not angry. In Savannah now, he is remembered as a classic Southern gentleman, an inspiration for museums, historical walks, and John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1994). You’d think he owned the place. But in fact, he tended to keep the town at arm’s length, as he did most things.

Asked by the state legislature to compose a new official Georgia song, he came up with a rare seven-verse epic that slathers on the good-ole-summertime hokum and never reveals anything meaningful about his attachment to the place:

Georgia, Georgia, where do I start?
Words can sing but not like the heart;
There’s no land in all this earth,
Like the land of my birth.

Georgia, Georgia, careless yield
Watermelons ripe in the field;
Pine trees full of red-bird song,
River rollin’ along.

Georgia nights when twilight is done,
Smell of peaches long in the sun,
Breeze comes blowin’ through the shade
Like a cool lemonade.

The song, according to his memoir, was ultimately rejected for being “too Savannah” to reflect the whole state, but that might grant it too much credit. Rare for Mercer, he lifted a few lines from another source, in this case Stephen Vincent Benét’s “John Brown’s Body,” though he borrowed none of Benét’s galloping intensity. Instead, this ode to Georgia is positively generic, proof that Mercer’s genius was for sly gesture and restrained emotion, not heart-swelling pride and love, and certainly not for unabashed sentimentalism.

Perhaps this is Johnny Mercer’s true legacy—he not only smuggled a genuine Southern musical sensibility into the Great American Songbook, he brought along the whole breadth of regional contradictions that have historically fed so much of the South’s art and angst. He was both a manor-born gentleman and a venomous alcoholic; a prolific natural talent and, according to many who knew him, a bafflingly unambitious artist; he had black music and speech in his marrow, yet never had a close black friend. He may have been the first writer to bring Southern identity to American pop, yet one of his most famous songs claimed, “Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home.”

Like any pioneer, Mercer bridged worlds as a matter of course. He made the exotic seem natural and welcome, and never more so than in “That Old Black Magic,” written in 1941 and inspired by Cole Porter’s line, “Do do that voodoo that you do so well,” from “You Do Something to Me.” Mercer transformed the idea from mere wordplay to a whole motif, envisioning black magic as a welcome sensual trance:

That old black magic has me in its spell,
That old black magic that you weave so well.
Icy fingers up and down my spine,
The same old witchcraft when your eyes meet mine.

The same old tingle that I feel insideD
When that elevator starts its ride.
Down and down I go, ‘round and ‘round I go,
Like a leaf that’s caught in the tide.

Mercer’s words conjured new voices, new vistas, but they always seem to beckon: don’t fear. No big words here, no artsy posturing. Even witchcraft is as natural as the water and the leaves. I may drink too much, but I’ll always apologize. Come on in. Ω

[John Lingan has written for the Virginia Quarterly Review, the Baffler, Buzzfeed, and elsewhere. Lingan received a BA (English) from Dickinson College.]

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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Yo! Dumbos/Teabaggers! Face Some Cold, Hard Facts About "Illegals"

THe most abused word in the current political lexicon is immigration. Today, this blog is pleased to offer a corrective essay that marshals something that is absent from most Dumbo/Teabagger vocabularies: F-A-C-T-S. As the late Daniel Moynihan reminded a bloviating Dumbo: "You are entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts." If this is the (fair & balanced) shame of our current era, so be it.

[x Boston Fishwrap]
Imagining America With No immigrants
By Marcela García

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Let's, for a moment, take Donald Trump at his word and say that it is possible to peacefully and swiftly remove some 11 million people from America’s cities and towns. Let’s concede it would be possible to stand up and fund a deportation force to achieve this end, and that it is also possible to keep families together by removing them entirely. And once on the other side of a huge wall, the deported would watch from a distance as America became great again.

What then? What would be the immediate and long-term consequences for US society? For the American economy? For everyone left behind?

Below are a few likely scenarios in a day-to-day life free of “illegals.”

Restaurants would be shuttered. In fact, approximately one in five eateries would not be able to get food out of their kitchens. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, one-fifth of the nation’s chefs, head cooks, and cooks are undocumented. And nearly a third of the dishwashers are also undocumented. “They’d be up the creek,” chef and author Anthony Bourdain said of restaurant owners in a recent interview. “It is really, really getting hard to find people to do the jobs.”

Fruit and vegetable shortages. Imagine panic in the aisles of Whole Foods without the men and women who harvest California’s fields and vineyards. Growers simply can’t find enough documented citizens willing and able to do the work.

A construction slowdown, particularly in home building. Immigrants are playing a growing — and very specialized — role in the US building business. Undocumented workers hold 34 percent of all jobs in drywall installation, 27 percent in roofing, and 24 percent in painting. Tens of thousands of homes would be stranded mid-construction. “Affordable housing” would acquire a completely new meaning.

Lawns gone to seed. In Boston, lawn crews are often composed of Central American immigrants. Take them away, and homeowners in the suburbs would face a bidding war for landscaping work. (And let’s not forget Donald Trump’s coveted fairways.)

The end of newspaper delivery. As we at the Globe learned the hard way, individuals making not much more than minimum wage work as contractors delivering daily papers. This arrangement isn’t limited to the Globe, and many deliverers are undocumented.

Bigger picture, removing undocumented workers could suck some $250 billion out of the economy annually, according to a 2012 Cato Institute study [PDF]. Ten percent of Nevada’s workforce population would evaporate. Nearly 3 million people in California’s workforce alone would migrate away, leaving a stunning economic void.

UCLA professor Raúl Hinojosa Ojeda, an economist and political scientist, estimated [PDF] the US gross domestic product would lose $2.6 trillion over 10 years. “The incredible irony of this situation is that the typical Trump voter — older, less educated, white male — is the one who benefits the most from undocumented immigrants. Remember, they don’t compete for the same jobs,” says Hinojosa. “These irregular status workers provide direct goods and services that are making the lives of older, white males more affordable. . . . Not to mention that undocumented workers are paying into the Social Security system that will sustain this old, white, aging population.”

And there would be a political void as well. When the economy fell apart, who would be left to blame? Ω

[Marcela García is a Globe editorial writer; a bilingual writer, she has more than 10 years of experience in journalism focusing on Latino and minority issues coverage in the United States. She received a BS (economics) from Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León and an MA (journalism) from the Harvard University Extension School.]

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Friday, January 29, 2016

When It Comes To Dumbos/Teabaggers, Forrest Gump Got It Right: "Stupid Is As Stupid Does"

On February 1, 2016, the registered Republican and Democrat voters from all 1,774 Iowa voting precincts meet and cast their vote after discussion. The lamestream media will speak in serious tones. The fate of civilization as we know it is at stake (until the New Hampshire primary election on February 9, 2016, yada yada yada). If this is (fair & balanced) quantification of mental functions, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
"How Stupid Is Iowa?"
By Eags (Timothy Egan)

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In the 44 years since the two major parties have allowed a small cohort of Midwesterners to decide the nation’s first presidential contest, the good people of Iowa have debated issues ranging from nuclear Armageddon to universal health care.

And then there’s 2016, when the top two Republican candidates in the dwindling hours before caucusgoers pick a nominee are throwing around this question: “How stupid are the people of Iowa?”

It was Donald Trump who first raised the issue of Hawkeye State imbecility, in a mocking reference to a crush that Iowans had on Ben Carson last fall. And it’s the odious Ted Cruz who has been using Trump’s very words to goad Iowans into proving that they are not, in fact, so stupid as to back an ego-inflamed reality television star who makes fun of them.

We will know soon enough. But before leaving the fog in the rental car’s rearview mirror, let’s take a whack at the insanity of allowing one state such disproportionate power.

The problem is not that the people of Iowa are stupid. They are not, by most measurements. It’s that Iowa looks nothing like the rest of America. As a result, the winners, more often than not, are nationally unelectable extremists. Who can remember President Rick Santorum or President Mike Huckabee, both previous winners? Or President Uncommitted, who beat Jimmy Carter in 1976? And what to make of the finding that 43 percent of likely Democratic caucusgoers this year are self-described socialists, prepared to select a dyspeptic and unelectable senator as their candidate?

You’re supposed to be vetting, Iowa. You’re supposed to be culling out the crazies. You’re supposed to recognize the fraud of Ted Cruz and how Donald Trump is playing you. For all your touted small-town verities, you’re not doing your job. Your bull manure detector is broken.

It’s time to let other states have a go at it. At least we’ll hear less about corn subsidies and Corinthians II, or is it Two Corinthians? Discuss. No, don’t! Stupid, stupid people. Again, that’s Trump talking, not me. He uses that word to describe nearly everyone not named Donald J. Trump. He’s presented no governing philosophy, no policy details, nothing resembling even-keeled judgment. He’s running a combustible celebrity feud fest, and you love it.

As a bellwether, the Iowa caucuses are no more predictive than a gasbag on an ethanol high swaying from a bridge in Madison County. As a representative exercise relevant to the concerns of a nation of 322 million people, the caucuses are laughable.

Consider that half of all the babies born last year in the United States were nonwhite. Not in Iowa, of course, one of the whitest states in the nation. On Monday, if the Republican caucus is anything like the 2012 turnout, 99 percent of the attendants will be white. That’s not even the United States of 1816, let alone this year.

We’re a young nation, though you won’t see much of that fresh blood when Republicans gather on Monday night. Iowa is the fourth oldest state in the nation: In 2012, nearly seven out of 10 Republican caucusgoers was older than age 45.

And Iowa women are not leaning in, at least in one party, where a majority of Republican caucusgoers are men. As for religion, 57 percent of 2012 Republican caucusgoers were evangelical — more than twice the percentage of the electorate nationwide.

Trump can call for a police state pogrom against 11 million people and be rewarded, because a majority of Republican caucusgoers are white, native-born and believe that electing a demagogue will make American white again.

The evangelicals, in particular, deserve Trump’s taunt at their intelligence. Devout Christians profess a belief in piety, humility and sacrifice. The thrice-married Trump says he’s never asked God for forgiveness. His entire campaign is about pride, ego, solipsistic excess. He can’t even fake evangelical speak. For this, he’s their favorite. As he said, he could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and not lose supporters.

It’s time to rotate. Imagine Trump making his racially incendiary remarks in the most populous state, California, where Latinos outnumber whites. Or think of the ideas that could emerge from a focus on how the least populous state, Wyoming, could build a more sustainable economy beyond oil and gas. Missouri could bring its raw racial troubles to the table for a larger national debate.

None of this is discussed in the gloomy chill of Iowa. Instead, we have the stupidity question. Trump raised it. And if he wins on Monday, the people of Iowa will have answered him. Ω

[Timothy Egan writes "Outposts," a column at the NY Fishwrap online. Egan — winner of both a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 as a member of a team of reporters who wrote the series "How Race Is Lived in America" and a National Book Award (The Worst Hard Time in 2006) — graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Whitman College in 2000 for his environmental writings. Egan's most recent book is The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America (2009).]

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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Bernie Sanders Is A Mensch

The knuckledraggers and droolers AKA Dumbos/Teabaggers may have a new target to hate: the junior US Senator from Vermont, Bernard "Bernie" Sanders. If Sanders is the Donkey nominee, don't be surprised when the Koch propaganda machine channels its inner Julius Streicher. If this is a (fair & balanced) prediction of anti-Semitic political attacks, so be it.

[x The Atlantic]
Bernie Sanders Bids For Jewish History
By Russell Berman

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You wouldn’t know it from listening to his speeches, but Bernie Sanders is on the verge of making political history.

If the Vermont senator defeats Hillary Clinton in either Iowa or New Hampshire in the next two weeks, he’ll become the first Jewish candidate to win a nominating contest in either major party. The milestone is both significant and overlooked, in part because Sanders talks so little about his faith and, well, because there’s that other candidate trying to break a glass ceiling in 2016.

In many ways, it’s the lack of attention to Sanders’s Judaism that Jewish leaders find most exciting. “It’s the most wonderful anti-climax in American Jewish history,” said Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. “You have a guy who is from New York with a Brooklyn accent named Bernie who is a viable presidential candidate and nobody is discussing it, which to me is just a remarkable statement of the success of the American Jewish community to be fully integrated and distinct at the same time.”

The last serious Jewish presidential contender was Joe Lieberman in 2004, who sought the top job after serving as Al Gore’s running mate four years earlier. Lieberman never caught fire with Democratic primary voters and dropped out after failing to win a primary, a caucus, or even a single delegate. Yet Lieberman’s Judaism was a major part of his political identity. He was closely associated with Jewish causes and his staunch support of Israel, talked openly about his faith, and didn’t campaign on the Sabbath.

The same is not true of Sanders. His Brooklyn growl evokes a cultural Jewish identity every bit as strong as that of Chuck Schumer or his Saturday Night Live dopplegänger, Larry David. But he is more likely to talk about Pope Francis than any inspiration he draws from his own religion. For the most part, Sanders only discusses his Judaism if asked, such as last June, in the aftermath of an erroneous report mentioned by NPR’s Diane Rehm that he held dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship. “I’m proud to be Jewish,” Sanders said at a breakfast event in Washington. He added that he was “not particularly religious.” When Jimmy Kimmel asked Sanders in October if he believed in God, he didn’t answer directly. “I am who I am,” Sanders replied. “What I believe in and what my spirituality is about is that we’re all in this together, that I think it is not a good thing to believe as human beings that we can turn our backs on other people.”

“And this is not Judaism,” he added. “This is what Pope Francis is talking about.”

He struck a similar note a month earlier during his speech at Liberty University in Virginia, the evangelical school founded by Jerry Falwell where he linked himself to the pontiff’s message of social justice but mentioned Judaism only in the context of “the great religions,” and not as his own. (He made his appearance at Liberty on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year.)

“He hardly could run away from it—everyone knows he looks like Larry David,” said Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University and the chief historian of the National Museum of American Jewish History. “But at the same time, I don’t think that the leadership of the Jewish community views him as one of their own in the way that they viewed Lieberman or that Zionists might have viewed Brandeis.” Sarna noted that the Iowa caucus—a potential history-making moment for Sanders—will come just a few days after the 100th anniversary of President Woodrow Wilson’s nomination of Louis Brandeis to be the first Jewish justice of the Supreme Court. “Perhaps what’s important is that it’s a nonissue, just as it’s a nonissue that there are three Jewish Supreme Court justices,” Sarna said. (The fact that the other six justices are all Catholic has actually drawn significantly more attention.)

Sanders has spoken more in recent months about his upbringing in Brooklyn, telling The New Yorker that growing up Jewish had an influence on him politically if not religiously. His father emigrated to the U.S. from Poland, and many of his relatives died in Europe during World War II. “An election in 1932,” he said, “ended up killing 50 million people around the world.” As a young man, Sanders briefly lived and worked on a kibbutz in Israel.

Sanders’ wife Jane is not Jewish, and he is not known to be involved in the small Jewish community back home in Vermont. “He just doesn’t connect with organized Jewish religion,” said Rabbi James Glazier, the spiritual leader of Temple Sinai, a reform congregation in South Burlington. Glazier said that while he had seen Sanders attend a prayer service after the death of the father of a longtime friend, he had not been receptive to efforts over the years to draw him into the community. “This isn’t his comfort zone,” Glazier told me. “The doors of the Jewish community are open, and he knows he can walk in, and he knows he’ll be accepted. But we stopped asking because it would be insulting to keep on asking.”

As Glazier noted, because Jews make up such a tiny portion of the population in Vermont, Sanders has never felt pressure either to embrace his heritage or to take strong stands on Israel and other issues important to Jewish voters. That is also the case in Iowa and New Hampshire, but the dynamic might change as the Democratic primary shifts to states like New York and Florida. And he’s going up against a candidate in Clinton who has typically enjoyed strong support among Jews.

Will it matter to voters that Sanders is Jewish? Not likely, according to a Pew Research Center report released on Wednesday. Whether a candidate was Jewish mattered the least to people of any of a long list of traits—eight in 10 said they didn’t care. And while nearly 40 percent of respondents had the (apparently inaccurate) impression that Sanders was somewhat or very religious, that was a lower percentage than for any candidate except for Donald Trump.

If Sanders upsets Clinton and wins the nomination, he may face extra competition for the title of first Jewish president in the person of Michael Bloomberg, the former New York mayor reportedly considering a run for the third consecutive election. (He’s never actually pulled the trigger.) A Sanders victory in November, meanwhile, would be historic in several respects. He’d be the oldest person ever elected, not to mention the first president to embrace the label of “socialist” as part of his political identity. But with enough support to win delegates in Iowa, and a commanding lead in New Hampshire, Sanders might not have to wait that long to achieve a key cultural milestone: He’d be the most successful Jewish presidential candidate ever—whether he wants to talk about it or not. Ω

[Russell Berman is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he covers political news. He was previously a congressional reporter for The Hill and a Washington correspondent for The New York Sun. Berman received a BA (journalism and history) from New York University.]

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

You Missed The Most Obvious Obama-Attribute That Der Trumpster Negates, Mr. Axelrod — Der Trumpster Is Lily-White!!

David Axelrod is a savvy politico. However, when he told the POTUS 44 — before the 2008 campaign began — that a first-term junior Senator from Illinois had a shot at the presidencey because he wasn't George W. Bush, he overlooks a very important political fact in 2016.. While Axelrod has a point about Der Trumpster: Obama II he ain't; he fails to mention the most important non-Obama attribute that Der Trumpster possesses: the color of his skin. If this is a (fair & balanced) example of racial politics in the United States, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
The Obama Theory Of Trump
By David Axelrod

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It was so obvious, I’m embarrassed I missed it.

Like most of the other talking heads on TV, I was haughtily dismissive of Donald Trump’s candidacy. “It’s apparently open mike day in the Republican campaign for president,” I tweeted last June, after Mr. Trump barged into a relatively placid Republican race with a rambling, riotous speech.

Even as he climbed to the top of polls, I confidently predicted that the outrageous Mr. Trump, as transfixing and ubiquitous as he was, was merely a summer fling. He would fade in the fall, when Republican voters got serious about making a long-term commitment.

Seven months later, Mr. Trump has broken just about every rule of conventional campaigning. Short on policy prescriptions and long on provocation, he has serially — and joyfully — insulted Mexicans, women, Muslims, POWs, people with disabilities and virtually all of his opponents. Yet a week before caucusing begins in Iowa, he still reigns supreme atop the Republican field.

What seemed impossible is now more than plausible: Donald J. Trump, the self-reverential deal maker, could pull off a hostile takeover of the Grand Old Party.

The galling thing is, if I had only reread my own words, written nine years ago to another aspiring candidate, I would have taken the Trump candidacy more seriously from the start.

In late 2006, when Barack Obama was a first-term senator pondering a long-shot race for the presidency, he asked me to write a strategic memo exploring his prospects. My bullish analysis was predicated on several factors, but rooted in a theory I had developed over decades as a political writer and campaign consultant.

Here’s the gist. Open-seat presidential elections are shaped by perceptions of the style and personality of the outgoing incumbent. Voters rarely seek the replica of what they have. They almost always seek the remedy, the candidate who has the personal qualities the public finds lacking in the departing executive.

A young, energetic John F. Kennedy succeeded the grandfatherly, somnolent Dwight D. Eisenhower, promising “a new generation of leadership.” In a slight variation, a puritanical Jimmy Carter, offering “a government as good as its people,” defeated the unelected incumbent Gerald R. Ford, who bore the burden of the morally bankrupt Nixon era.

Even George H.W. Bush, running to succeed the popular and larger-than-life Ronald Reagan, subtly made a virtue of his own lack of charisma and edge.

The pattern followed in 2008, as Mr. Bush’s son completed his final term in office.

“The most influential politician in 2008 won’t be on the ballot,” I wrote to Senator Obama in 2006. “His name is George W. Bush.”

As the 2008 campaign began, many Americans and most Democrats saw Mr. Bush as rash, bellicose, divisive — oblivious to the demands and opportunities of a rapidly changing world. His presidency had come to be defined by the momentous decision to invade Iraq, which became a quagmire.

Senator Obama had publicly opposed the war from the start, which separated him from most of the Democratic field. But more than that, his profile, temperament and approach offered the sharpest departure from those of the embattled, retiring president he would ultimately replace. For those who found President Bush wanting, Senator Obama was the most obvious remedy.

Today, after seven eventful years, attitudes toward President Obama will shape the selection of his successor.

The Republican base is infuriated by Mr. Obama’s activist view of government and progressive initiatives, from health care reform to immigration, gay rights to climate change.

Beyond specific issues, however, many Republicans view dimly the very qualities that played so well for Mr. Obama in 2008. Deliberation is seen as hesitancy; patience as weakness. His call for tolerance and passionate embrace of America’s growing diversity inflame many in the Republican base, who view with suspicion and anger the rapidly changing demographics of America. The president’s emphasis on diplomacy is viewed as appeasement.

So who among the Republicans is more the antithesis of Mr. Obama than the trash-talking, authoritarian, give-no-quarter Mr. Trump?

His bombast allows no room for nuance or complexity. He proudly extols his intolerance as an assault against “political correctness,” and he vows to bring the world to heel, from Mexico to China to Syria and Iraq.

Mr. Trump has found an audience with Americans disgruntled by the rapid, disorderly change they associate with national decline and their own uncertain prospects. Policies be damned, who better to set things right than the defiant strong man who promises by sheer force of will to make America great again?

Yes, we can? Hell, no!

Just leave it to me, Mr. Trump says. Yes, I can!

The robust condemnations Mr. Trump has received from media and political elites have only intensified the enthusiasm of his supporters, many of whom feel disdained and forgotten by the very same people who regularly mock and chide their man for his boorishness. To his base, he’s a truth-teller, thumbing his nose at conventional politicians, whether they are liberal or conservative. Rebukes from fact checkers and purveyors of civil discourse? They’re just so much establishment claptrap.

Relentlessly edgy, confrontational and contemptuous of the niceties of governance and policy making, Mr. Trump is the perfect counterpoint to a president whose preternatural cool and deliberate nature drive his critics mad.

Mr. Trump may still stumble. His consistent lead in national primary polls may not hold as the Republican field shrinks and potentially coalesces around an alternative. As he himself suggested a few months ago, people may tire of the show. We also don’t know how the ebullient front-runner, who never fails to boast of his gaudy poll numbers, will react when and if he loses primary contests.

Unlike in 2008, when Mr. Obama’s appeal reached a majority of independents and even some Republicans, polling suggests that if he were nominated, Mr. Trump would face a steep uphill battle in a general election. As of today, he has the lowest standing, by far, of any major Republican candidate among Democrats and independent voters. His nativist rants have walled him off from the growing Hispanic vote, which could hold the key to several important swing states this fall.

It’s far too early to picture the iconic Trump logo affixed to the White House portico. But as the most ardent and conspicuous counterpoint to the man in the White House today, the irrepressible Mr. Trump already has defied all expectations. So, in the parlance of one of his signature businesses, “Who wants to bet?” Ω

[David Axelrod, the former senior strategist for Barack Obama, is the director of the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago and the author of Believer: My Forty Years in Politics (2015). Axelrod received a BA (political science) from the University of Chicago.]

Copyright &$169; 2016 The NEw York Times Company

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Two-Bits! Four-Bits! Six-Bits, A Dollar! All For Dementia, Stand Up And Holler!

Der Trumpster had an unremarkable career as a prep school football player and an even less remarkable sojourn into professional football as owner of the New Jersey Generals of the upstart United States Football League (1983-1986). The football accomplishments were negligible and Der Trumpster's sneers at concerns about brain injuries and injuries to players; bodies are the mumblings of a wannabe living in a fantasy. If this is (fair & balanced) self-delusion, so be it.

[x New Yorker]
Friday Night Lights Out
By David Remnick

Tag Cloud of the following piece of writing

created at

Theodore Roosevelt was a Rough Rider, a barrel-chested outdoorsman who loved the “manly sports” that brought out the rude, uncomplaining vigor of American youth. “I do not feel any particular sympathy,” he said, in 1903, “for the person who gets battered about a good deal so long as it is not fatal.” When it came to football, Roosevelt’s motto was “Hit the line hard.” Donald J. Trump is more of a soft-palmed indoorsman, but he would clearly like to join TR on Mt. Machismo someday. It was no doubt in that spirit that he reacted so derisively to the umbrage that followed an N.F.L. playoff game this month, in which Vontaze Burfict, an excitable linebacker for the Cincinnati Bengals, exchanged his team’s near-sure chance to win for the even more immediate pleasure of trying to decapitate Antonio Brown, a wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

At a rally in Reno, Trump defended Burfict against the moralists who moaned foul. “Football has become soft, like our country has become soft,” Trump said. He longed for the days of Ray Nitschke, Lawrence Taylor, Dick Butkus, and other warriors of the pigskin past: “You used to see these tackles, and it was incredible to watch, right?” Two weeks before the game, Brown, for his part, had taken a group of high-school players to see “Concussion,” the anti-NFL film starring Will Smith, now at a theatre near you.

Since the nineteen-sixties, football has been the most popular American sport, and the Super Bowl is the most highly rated television program of the year. And, for all of football’s violence, what postwar President has dared to question it? Dwight Eisenhower played at West Point and injured his knee tackling Jim Thorpe. Gerald Ford entertained offers from the Lions and the Packers before settling on Yale Law School. Ronald Reagan was a real-life guard for the Eureka College Golden Tornadoes and a make-believe halfback in “Knute Rockne: All American.” Hunter S. Thompson considered Richard Nixon a weirdo and a crook, but he warmed to him when he discovered that the President was a “goddamn stone fanatic on every facet of pro football.”

Yet there is a streak of official reformism when it comes to football. It began with TR. The Chicago Tribune called the season of 1905 a “death harvest.” The game, with its battering-ram formations and minimal equipment, saw nineteen deaths, a hundred and thirty-seven serious injuries, and countless broken bones. The administrators at Northwestern, Columbia, and Duke dumped the sport, Stanford switched to rugby, and Charles Eliot, the president of Harvard, declared that football was “more brutalizing than prizefighting, cockfighting, or bullfighting.” Roosevelt, fearing that Eliot would “emasculate” the game, if not ban it, summoned officials from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton to the White House, and implored them to find ways of ratcheting back the carnage or risk the end of football. The next year, college officials outlawed the most punishing formations, instituted the forward pass, and created a “neutral zone” between the defense and the offense.

But, as the players grew bigger and faster, as the incentives to “take out” an opposing player grew with the financial rewards, the TR-era reforms and subsequent tweaks to the rules and the equipment failed to keep up. In 1994, Paul Tagliabue, the league commissioner, dismissed widespread reports about debilitating head injuries as a “pack-journalism issue.” His successor, Roger Goodell, faced with overwhelming evidence of the toll on players, acts with the stealthy instincts of a coal-company executive charged with keeping terrible secrets.

The NFL’s leverage against reform is not limited to its fantastically profitable deals with the networks and the advertisers. The game itself is undeniably alluring. At its best, football is a uniquely American spectacle: fast, brutal, complex, colorful, and have we mentioned brutal? Trump’s entire political talent is to tease out the most dubious instincts of his listeners—their rage at the threatening Other or, in this case, their bloodlust. And he makes a point: to watch Lawrence Taylor, the great Giants linebacker, swat away a pair of blockers, spin past a third, and then demolish the quarterback was thrilling—just as it was thrilling to see Muhammad Ali exhaust, bewitch, and finally level George Foreman, in Zaire.

But the modern football fan in possession of a conscience and a reasonable knowledge of the horrific statistics about injuries suffered by players comes to resemble a nacho-scarfing version of St. Augustine, who, faced with his own lust, addresses God: “Lord, let me be pure . . . but not yet.” Precisely. Let’s confront the crisis in football . . . but not yet. It’s kickoff! Two seasons ago, Barack Obama, while watching an N.F.L. game on Air Force One, responded to a question about the sport with an Augustinian dodge. “I would not let my son play pro football,” he said, adding quickly, “There’s a little bit of caveat emptor. These guys, they know what they’re doing. They know what they’re buying into. It is no longer a secret. It’s sort of the feeling I have about smokers, you know?”

When parents don’t want their kids to play a sport anymore—which largely became the case with boxing—that sport either dies or shifts to the margins. And yet it is hard to imagine football losing its place in the culture anytime soon, when the ratings for games, college and pro, are so high, and when so many young people—not least young African-Americans and rural whites—continue to play. Friday-night lights still shine bright across Texas. But it’s notable that some of the game’s toughest customers won’t let their kids near the gridiron. Not long ago, Mike Ditka, a legendary tight end and coach for the Chicago Bears, told Bryant Gumbel, of HBO, that he wouldn’t let a son of his play. “I wouldn’t, and my whole life was football,” Ditka said.

In fact, while the NFL takes half-measures and pressures its critics, the better to safeguard its gold mine, each day brings another player who challenges our fandom. Last week, it was Antwaan Randle El, a brilliant all-around player for the Steelers, who told a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he has trouble walking down stairs and that, though he’s only thirty-six, his memory is failing. “I ask my wife things over and over again, and she’s, like, ‘I just told you that.’ ”

Randle El is just one of many players to point out that the violent nature of the game—the focus of our guilty pleasure—is the same thing that breaks spines, shatters bones, renders middle-aged men demented. “I love the game,” he said. “But I tell parents you can have the right helmet, the perfect pads on, and still end up with a paraplegic kid.” Ultimately, there may not be an adequate reform. It may come down to living with the pain (the pain of others) or learning to love the artistry of Serena and LeBron even more than we already do. Ω

[David Remnick is the editor of The New Yorker. Remnick won a Pulitzer Prize in Non-Fiction (1994) for Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire. His most recent book is The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama (2010). See other books by David Remnick here. Remnick received an AB (comparative literature) from Princeton University.]

Copyright © 2016 The New Yorker/Condé Nast Digital

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Monday, January 25, 2016

Here Is The REAL Word O'The Day: "Uh oh"

Tom Tomorrow, this blog's artist-in-residence, has delivered a classic with his takedown of Dumbos and Donkeys alike. And, his final word in the last panel is chilling: "Uh oh." If this is (fair & balanced) despair, so be it.

[x This Modern World]
Primary Phenomena 2016
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow". His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Daily Kos. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly. Perkins, a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, currently lives in Connecticut. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002. When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political blog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001. More recently, Dan Perkins, pen name Tom Tomorrow, was named the winner of the 2013 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning. Even more recently, Dan Perkins was a runner-up for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning.]

Copyright © 2016 Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

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