Category Archives: Politics

R.I.P. Richard “Dick” Claxton Gregory

Richard “Dick” Claxton Gregory
(12 October 1932, St. Louis, Missouri – 19 August 2017, Washington, D.C.)

Dick Gregory Lecturing at Wright State University, April 1973
Photo: Wilbur Norman

Dick Gregory, U.S. Army veteran, urbane comedian-turned-social activist and writer, actor, businessman and provocateur par excellence, died yesterday at the age of 84. I first met him in April 1973 when he spoke at Wright State University. I would then run into him at various events around the East Coast. I think the last time I saw him must have been in 1987 when he was arrested protesting apartheid in front of the South African Embassy in Washington, DC.

He could keep up a biting and satirical running commentary better than anyone I have ever met, no doubt from practice as a stand-up comedian in his early career. That career was given a big boost by his appearance on The Jack Paar Tonight Show in 1961.

After turning down invitations to perform on the show he was called by Paar to find out why. (Billy Eckstine had told Gregory no black performer was ever asked to sit on the couch after their act.) Gregory told Paar that the reason he was not willing to perform on The Tonight Show was “because a Negro has never been able to finish the act and walk to the couch.” The show’s producers changed this policy, making Gregory the first African American to take the couch and talk with Paar after a stage appearance!

Still the Greatest! RIP Mohammed Ali (1942-2016)

“It was his beauty that beat me.” – George Foreman

In a world where many noted personalities are famous simply for being… well… famous, Mohammed Ali was a giant, a man who not only had a skill and performed colossal feats with that skill (40 Sports Illustrated covers as of next week attest to this) but who stood for something, as well. Ali became a symbol of hope and aspiration for anyone trying to make something of a life begun in humble or deprived origins, for those forced by circumstance into a life of servitude and despair. How appropriate that he was recognized by both the United Nations and Amnesty International as a world ambassador for peace and justice.

I met Mohahammed Ali once. I had, of course, seen him many times on television, flashing that infectious smile and spouting his sing-song braggadocio. What do you say to the man who was once the world’s highest paid athlete and most recognized face and name on earth (as an American, everywhere I went in Africa in the late 1970s people who could not speak much English would raise their arms and shout “Mohammed Ali!”)? I managed to mumble something about it being a supreme pleasure to finally meet “The Greatest”.

What I was not prepared for was his handshake. Ali took both my hands in his and I still remember, and often mention, that my hands (I’m 6 foot, 1 inch tall) were engulfed in what seemed to me to be two catcher’s mitts enclosing my hand. I immediately thought of what it would be like to be hit by such huge fists and said so. He laughed and slowly threw one of his famous mock punches.*

“If you are still the same person at 50 as you were at 20 then you have wasted 30 years of your life.” – Mohammed Ali

When you are “The Greatest”, so you shall ever remain.

* In Philadelphia I belonged to the same club as Joe Frazier and his hands were similarly sized. Plus, Frazier was not that tall but his shoulders extended far beyond my own when we would stand face to face. He was built like a moving , giant cinder block.

Vote Down Veterans Benefits – But Send Them Into Harms Way

The Senators, listed below, complained Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ veterans benefits bill was too expensive. And they were upset that Majority Leader Harry Reid prevented a vote on a GOP amendment cutting the bill and adding sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program.

No doubt these same, mostly old, rich, white men will be wanting to send U.S. ground forces (a slick, cosmetic way of saying our young gals & guys) back to Iraq as soon as yesterday to try and save the unsavable: the corrupt, intransigent regime of Nouri Kamil Mohammed Hasan al-Maliki, the country’s Prime Minister. Oh… and yes, he is also acting Interior Minister, acting Defense Minister, acting National Security Minister and the secretary-general of the Islamic Dawa Party.

                     plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

– from Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr,  24 November 1808 – 29 September 1890 and usually translated into English as, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

 

Senators Who Voted Against Veteran's Benefits This Past February
Senators Who Voted Against Veteran’s Benefits This Past February

 

The Buick Stops Here. A Chris-tastrophe Jams N.J.

Apologies for the puns but they are springing up everywhere. NY Daily News in their current headline (they must have been hoarding it) reads: Fat Chance Now, Chris.  Assuming Gov. Christie of New Jersey is telling the truth about not knowing his staff and a NY/NJ Port Authority appointee (and a best friend) purposefully closed lanes of eastward traffic on the George Washington Bridge, it’s going to be a bad time for the rising star of the GOP. The fact that it was traffic into New York City on, of all days, 9-11, will speak volumes to residents of the Big Apple.

If you at seated at the top, the culture surrounding you takes its cue from you.  If that culture shows itself to be mean-spirited, petty and vindictive … well… you get the idea. Further, if it is shown that the woman who died, because the emergency services could not get through, might have survived, it begins to sound like the kind of (justified) litigation that could drag on until the next presidential primaries.

I suppose many far-right Republicans are silently cheering more than the Dems as Gov. Christie is not exactly a darling of the most conservative wing. People love it when meteors plunk down as meteorites.

In the event you haven’t the slightest clue as to what this blog is  about: the allegation is that senior staffers of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie closed three of four east-bound lanes of the country’s most heavily used bridge — for four days in September 2013 — as retaliation for Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, not endorsing Republican Christie in the governor’s re-election race – a contest where he was ahead in the polls by about 25%. The George Washington Bridge crosses the Hudson River connecting Fort Lee, NJ (and points west and south) to the northern section of New York City (and points east and north.) ALL traffic hugging the east coast of the United States crosses that single toll bridge. Delays during the four-day lane closures were as long as 4 hours.

Two damning emails have been unearthed by digging Democrats. One is: Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee (from Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s deputy chief of staff for legislative and intergovernmental affairs.) “Got it,” was the reply from David Wildstein, the Port Authority’s highest-ranking political appointee. Another, from Wildstein, regarding school buses stuck in bridge traffic: they are the children of Buono voters (Barbara Buono was Christie’s Democratic opponent for governor.)

Aside from the $60,000 reported as the cost for conducting the lane closures, there must be hundred’s of thousands of more dollars involved. How much overtime had to be paid out to freight drivers heading to New England? How many delayed shipments delayed yet other shipments? How much gasoline & diesel was consumed by stuck traffic? (320,00 cars per day, both ways on both decks. There are 4 lanes each way on the upper deck and another 6 lanes on the lower deck. I assume, from the photographs, the closures were on the upper deck, but have not been able to find out if this is correct.)

There is always a chain of consequences in such ill-advised stupidity. Or, perhaps, they just didn’t give a damn.

Other headline suggestions around the country were:

Bridge Set Me Up / Bridge To Nowhere / Payback’s a Bridge / Bridge Troll / A Bridge Too Far

 

R.I.P. Simon Hoggart

We  lost one of the planets most entertaining writers yesterday. Simon Hoggart (26 May 1946 − 5 January 2014), Parliamentary sketch writer for The Guardian Newspaper and wine columnist for The Spectator. He might well have become a tennis star but for serious injuries that led him to consider journalism. Tennis’ loss was the written word’s gain (and broadcasting’s, on both sides of the Pond, as well.) Always writing, he published about twenty books, the last two after being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in 2010.
Hoggart’s insights and witticisms are legion. Herewith, a few:

Watching John Major run the country is like watching Edward Scissorhands make balloon animals.

I’m just back from a week in France. Naturally I took a case of non-French wine over on the ferry so as to have something decent to drink. The French are terrifically complacent about their wine, believing that the worst they produce is better than the best from anywhere else. They are wrong, and there are few sights more depressing than the parade of tired, ill-kept, dreary bottles on the shelves of French supermarkets. The humblest British high street off- licence has wines from a dozen countries, and frequently twice that; in France it is hard to find wine from outside the region, never mind abroad. It may cost i1 or so per bottle less, but that is no compensation for Chablis like acidulated chalk dust, or clarets which have finesse and backbone but no discernible taste. I know many older drinkers like only French wines, but this is force of habit; just as men over 50 tend to prefer stockings to tights, it’s a matter of how you started. — 19 April 1996, Diary.

I loved his testimony (before Parliament’s Public Administration Select Committee) in 2009 about the bleaching effects of politicians’ jargon when they seek to white-wash political acts. He began the hearings by re-stating one of Churchill’s war-time phrases as if it were re-written by a modern government wonk, turning “We will fight on the beaches” into “an ongoing programme of hostile engagement in littoral sectors.”

Gotta love it! He and his writing will be much missed.

Simon Hoggart  photograph courtesy © BBC 

The Bankrupt Vaults of Justice

“Insufficient Funds” still the by-words

The 50th anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech has arrived (and the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation) and commentators are tripping over themselves lauding the accomplishments springing from the speech, confusing ‘black faces in high places’ with economic progress of the poorest elements of society.

Conflating improvements in segregation/integration with progress in class mobility is not a mistake Rev. Dr. King would have made and neither should we.

This speech, incidentally, is consistently rated by scholars of American history as the country’s most significant 20th century political speech. Once he got talking King deviated from the original prepared speech. Many of his most eloquent passages were extemporaneous injections from prior speeches as comparison of the filmed speech to his original, printed version reveals. This is especially true toward what was supposed to be the end of the speech when the singer Mahalia Jackson blurted out, “Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin.” After a few sentences and Mahalia’s repeated exhortation King moved his prepared lines aside. His training as a black minister came to the fore and the rest, as they say, is history. But, as all history, it is one where black and white Americans see and hear different ideas in the same narrative with identical words.

FBI assistant director William Sullivan, after the speech, noted “We must mark him now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this Nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national security.”

I rode my motorcycle from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. to the 25th anniversary celebrations of the March. En route I joined a column of black bikers without knowing who they were, it was just company and a cushion of motor safety on the massively trafficked interstate. When we neared New York Avenue the column got off and, as I was going to the anniversary event, so did I. We all filed into the Mall area and parked. My companions were a biker club from Staten Island, NY. The president had been to the original March in 1963 and was returning with his club members for the 25th.  Very nice.