Monday, February 28, 2011

Last U.S. Veteran of WWI Dies

The last surviving U.S. veteran of World War One (aka "the war to end all wars") has died.

According to the story HERE, army veteran Frank Buckles died this week at age 110.

Only two other people who served in that war from 1914-1918 are still alive - one a Brit and the other an Australian. It would seem that within the next year or so, the world will lose it's only remaining eye witnesses to "The Great War."

Here are a few pictures I took of the famous World War I battlefield Belleau Wood when I visited there in 1994. In this location, U.S. forces advanced and defeated German defenders in a fierce battle.

NOTE: All pictures taken by Marc Osborn. Any use is prohibited unless acquiring written permssion from  Marc Osborn in advance.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Poll Uncovers Two (Not) Surprises About Public Employees and Bargaining Rights

Here is (not a) surprise...

Turns out that the majority of Americans oppose elimination of collective bargaing rights for public employees.

Remember, the controversy in Wisconsin that has started this debate is not about the need to negotiate cuts or reductions in benefits for public employees as a way of addressing budget concerns, but rather the Republican governor's move to completely elminiate even the right for public workers to bargain collectively at all.

See the info from the USA Today/Gallup Poll HERE.

And, here is another (not a) surprise...

According to the same poll, what is the one income bracket in which the majority are in favor of cutting out the right for public workers to bargain collectively? Yep, people who make more money - people who make $90,000 a year or more to be specific. Some info HERE.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Glasvegas Video

The video for new Glasvegas song Euphoria, Take My Hand can now be seen on YouTube HERE.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Is U.S. Wealth Inequality Linked to Poor Comparison to Other Countries?

There were two charts that caught my eye this week.

One shows the unequal distribution of wealth in the U.S. such that the very tippy top percentile of citizens control huge amounts of the money in our economy and society. See it HERE.

The other shows how the good old USA is by no means "the best" at everything compared to other modern, industrialized nations that most Americans just assume we're better than. See it HERE.

However, I was thinking that these two graphs probably are correlated. As in, the inequity of wealth pooled in the bank acounts of a small number of people may indeed correlate to the poor performance of the U.S. vs. other comparable nations when it comes to things like life expectancy, unemployment, student performance, prison population and even how many people who run out of money so they cannot buy food.

Sure, there are some other measures where we probably are #1 like amount of money spent on healthcare vs. relative health of the population, number of gun owners per 100,000, obesity rate, etc. But obviously these are not badges of least in my opinion.

People like to think that it doesn't get any better than the U.S.A., but if you look at countries such as Canada, Norway, Australia, Germany and other this does not seem to be true. I'm not saying I want to move from the U.S. But, what can we learn from these other nations? What are they doing that we're not? What is it about their societies, priorities and systems that they have a better overall standard of living - at least by the measures in the charts?

Well, that's fodder for another post at another time. But here's one thought I'll shoot out there for consideration...while all those societies are peaceful democracies based on a capitalist economic foundation, the tend to be of a more "we're all in this together" mentality while the U.S. tends to be of a "I got mine, screw you" mentality.

Monday, February 21, 2011

20 Years Since Grunge Broke In the U.S.A.

It's been 20 years since the grunge explosion that emanated from Seattle and took the world by storm.

Yep, it's been that long. I picked up a music magazine last weekend that covered this anniversary and that got me thinking...

For many of us now in our late 30s or (as in my case) early 40s in the U.S., grunge was THE BIG THING in music for our generation. We grew of age in the 1980s only barely able to sniff the last dying vapor trail of the original punk and new wave scenes, but mainly we were treated everyday to popular acts the likes of Bon Jovi, Poison, Ratt, Paula Abdul, Phil Collins, Lionel Richie, Culture Club, REO Speedwagon, Night Ranger, Foreigner, Bananarama, Whitesnake, Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam (not "the Cult Jam," just "Cult Jam"), Rick Astley, INXS, Richard Marx and on, and on, and on for years.

For every one quality band from that mid/late 80s era that you can think of, like, say The Smiths, Guns & Roses, Prince, PiL, REM, U2; there were dozens if not hundreds of lameoid, flimsy, pre-fab acts to drown them out to a large extent unless you really knew where to listen.

But then something happened.

When nobody was looking in 1991; when everybody was geeked up for the next big release from...I don't know...Bell Biv DeVoe or Color Me Badd, some scary dudes shoved their way to the forefront of music with gritty sound that blew away what would be considered rock for some time.

Finally. Finally! Real, new, authentic, heartfelt, aggressive, noisy and non-pandering rock and roll that you could hear on the radio and easily buy in a our time!

At the epicenter were a few bands out of the Seattle area who had been working for some time leading up to this. Key among them - but by no means the only ones - were Nirvana, Pearl Jam (and its previous incarnation as Mother Love Bone before singer Eddie Vedder arrived), Soundgarden, Mudhoney and Alice In Chains.

To simplify things greatly, Nirvana recorded and released their second album - Nevermind - at the right time and with the right mix of pop hooks married to aggressive and noisy music and a screamy/angsty/gravely vocal delivery. This magic combination was a bit different for Nirvana who had previously traded in all of the above but obvious pop hooks on their previous album - Bleach - and in their live shows.

At any rate, the huge reception Nevermind received from the music buying public sent record companies looking for other similar acts to sign up and make some money off of. And, as mentioned, there were several perfectly poised to be signed after several years of honing their sound and performances.

These bands weren't conjuring a whole new form of rock, but they were taking from key strains of it and adding something of their own.

Again, to simplify, I would suggest that three of them - Soundgarden, Alice In Chains and Pearl Jam took the "Led Zeppelin" route of heavy, thundering, dark music with vocal sung by classic rock voices (a complement!) and then brought some minor pop sensibility and, of course, their own lyrical content and message. Meanwhile, I think Nirvana and Mudhoney went down the "Sex Pistols" route of more pop-hooks but with super aggressive sound, lyrics of alienation and raw vocal delivery.

Either way, these things were new to the U.S. listening public for the most part.

Quick history the name of making lots of money, the modern pop music industry's primary underlying assumption was that to sell records you needed songs that sounded pretty, were about love (or the lack of it) and were delivered by attractive and palatable people. So, to be saleable, you had to conform to these rules. The UK had this default position ripped away in the 70s with punk as the Pistols, Clash, Damned and others not only did something different, but they circumvented the system with songs sold very well and topped charts. Even though one may argue that punk started in the U.S. with the Stooges, MC5 and the Ramones and others...none of those bands in their time ever sold many records or ever topped any charts. But their cousins in the UK did. Here in the U.S., we mainly went forward with the same old same old...until the magic year of 1991 when "punk" broke here with these Seattle bands.

Why Seattle? Hard to say. Could be just luck. But, the city has a long history of musical innovation with greats like Ray Charles, The Wailers, Jimi Hendrix, the Sonics, Heart, Queensryche and others. And, with the recession of the late 80s/early 90s (thanks Ronnie and Georgie Sr.!) the area - especially outside the city proper - had many people and musicians facing hard times. And of course there is the generally gray weather for a large amount of the year that could potentially drive the local artists to despair. But even those reasons are not the complete answer as many cities in  the U.S. could say the same and were worse off that Seattle. No, add to all of the above - luck.

It just so happened that the odd, innovative and emotionally hurt Kurt Cobain was born in Aberdeen south of Seattle and formed a band in the area.

It just so happens that a mid-80s local band called Green River split up with some members forming a group called Mudhoney and the others starting a band that would become Mother Love Bone and then Pearl Jam.

It just so happens that the guys from Pearl Jam (after Mother Love Bone but before the name Pearl Jam) were looking for a drummer and a singer, but when their initial choice for drummer turned them down, that drummer also passed on the name of a singer he had met at a Joe Strummer show in L.A. named Eddie Vedder who might fit the bill for the forming Seattle band. And he did. And the rest is history with that outfit too.

And it just so happened that the right set of dedicated musicians found each other to create Alice In Chains and Soundgarden respectively - with Soundgarden more than any other listed above lit the fuse of what became known as "grunge."

And perhaps most important of all, it just so happened that a couple dudes with a keen ear for quality new music formed a record label called Sub Pop and started signing these bands up to initial recording contracts so their music could be heard, promoted and sold.

And for anyone paying attention after that, you know how things went. Naturally, the grunge era faded out by the mid/late 90s as many acts called it a day, the public got weary of listening to a flood of second rate grunge-type bands foisted on them by record companies, tastes returned to a more pop-oriented sound...and of course with Kurt Cobain killing himself in 1994.

But hey, if you think back 20 years to when grunge was fresh, new, exciting and raw...that was an exciting time. We finally got our own, made in the U.S.A. punk rock revolution.

And guess what? The best music by the best bands of that era is still EXCELLENT rock music today. And that's the sign of something truly quality...standing the test of time.

With the 20 year anniversary in my mind this the past week, I've revisited and rocked out to my grunge collection and I can highly recommend the following:

  • Nirvana - all three albums. But, first album Bleach and third album In Utero are actually similar to each other and not like the famous Nevermind. Check out the "book end" albums first.
  • Soundgarden - loads of great records from these guys, but my vote goes to Badmotorfinger. Wicked good rock and roll.
  • Mudhoney - this band is often cited as putting out the first "grunge" song - Touch Me I'm Sick. That song and other good ones are on the album Superfuzz Bigmuff. Check it.
  • Alice In Chains - of all the Seattle grunge bands, I'm not as big a fan of Alice In Chains. But check out Dirt. That's the one they are famous for and it's pretty good.
  • Pearl Jam - the most prolific and long-standing grunge band, Pearl Jam have many great albums. I say check out Ten, Vitalogy and their most recent one Backspacer. 
Oh, and play those albums loud!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Glasvegas Releases A New Song - Actually Two New Songs

One of my favorite bands of recent years, Glasvegas, has a new single out in anticipation of the release of their second album next month.

The new song is called Euphoria, Take My Hand and by my listen and read, it's about the transition from being heartbroken into being in love...or at least the desire to transition from one to the other.

In typical Glasvegas style, it's musically compelling.

You can give the song a listen for free HERE. You can read the lyrics HERE.

The band also has another new song out now called The World Is Yours that can be heard HERE.

Unfortunately, neither song is available for download or purchase in the U.S. yet. I assume they will be when their album comes out.

Here is a picture I took of Glasvegas main man James Allan when the band played in Seattle a little while back...

NOTE: The above picture was taken by Marc Osborn and is not authorized for any use without prior written permission from Marc Osborn.

CPAC Features Republican Would-Bes

The annual convention of CPAC - a gathering of the nation's leading conservative politicians, activist and though leaders - is happening this week.

Often, who attends and who speaks is a preview of who will be running for President in the next election cycle. For 2012, many conservatives may think that Obama and the Ds are ripe for picking off...and they might be right. But, they'll only be correct if they run the right candidate. And that's where it gets difficult for the Rs. They really don't have anyone compelling enough, with new ideas and without significant personal baggage to beat out Obama - at least in my opinion.

For example, here are some leading conservatives thought to be pondering a run at the White House who are speaking at CPAC this week and why I think they couldn't beat Obama:
  • Newt Gingrich - way too abrasive, not very good looking, draft dodger and TONS of personal baggage such as leaving his first wife while she had cancer for another woman (and that's just to get things started).
  • Mitt Romney - rich, generally considered good looking, but new ideas, flip-flopper galore and to top it off he is a very boring speaker - not inspiring at all. Oh, and he's Mormon. A lot of Americans won't vote for him based on that alone.
  • Ron Paul - perhaps his message more than any other will ring through in these "tea partying" days, but at some point people will realize that when he says "limit the Federal government," he's literally talking about doing away with services millions of Americans rely on daily...and I don't think that'll fly.
  • Michelle Bachmann - she's a pandering, megalomaniacal right wing nut job who would be EASILY exposed as a dangerous fraud.
  • Haley Barbour - fat, boring and ran the Republican party during the Clinton years...when they were beaten twice. I don't see it happening. Seriously, a fat white southern good-old-boy vs. Obama. Barbour might win that race if it were for Mississippi governor, but not the President of the U.S.A.
  • John Bolton - a scary authoritarian who you may remember as the white-moustached, strange haircut guy Bush appointed as the U.S. ambassador to the UN. You think Cheney was not militant enough? You think Bush didn't spend enough on defense? You think Wall Street and big companies deserve bigger profits and less regulation? This is your man. And you will lose to Obama.
  • Rick Santorum - nut job from Pennsylvania. Not electable.
Interestingly enough, Sara Palin declined to attend this year and a top speaking spot that would have been hers if she appeared. It was something about her not wanting to "sanction" CPAC participation of a gay Republican group by appearing and speaking. Nice. But any way you slice it, I just don't see Palin winning against Obama. To the contrary, I suspect the Obama people are openly cheering for Palin to run and get the nomination for the Republican Party.

Sure, there are some others who may run (Hukabee and Pawlenty for example)...and sure who knows what will unfold between now and election day 2012. But hey, from the clowns they have lined up so far, I just don't see it happening - no matter what you think of Obama at this point.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

"You Need To Be Prepared To Punch"

I came across a quote by Joe Strummer that I had not seen before...

"To exist in the world today as yourself, you need to be prepared to punch."

He was specifically answering a question about his stance on violence after being assaulted on the streets of London in 1977 simply for the way he looked wearing punk gear, straight leg trousers and sporting short hair. In his response, he was saying that he did not advocate violence for its own sake, but that there were times when you needed to use it - to fight back when attacked.

Not to read too much into the sentiment, but I think it actually works on a lot of levels.

Obviously, if you're being physically attacked, by all means...try and punch your attacker to protect yourself and get yourself out of the situation.

But then, if you consider for a moment that a "punch" could be anything you need to do to defend yourself in order to stay true to who you are, your values, etc. then things start to open up and I think Joe's base sentiment expands greatly.

That was one great thing about Strummer, he could succinctly deliver a key truth in a tight, compact sentence that also alluded to more than one meaning. That's a pretty good skill to have for someone who writes songs. It's even better in the hands (and mind) of someone as charismatic and thoughtful as Strummer.

For your consideration...
  • If you're someone who does not want to have his or her life defined by and dominated by a job or daily corporate life, you may have to push back to ensure you have the time and freedom you want and need. This might mean consciously giving up a promotion or salary increase...but retaining your sanity.
  • If you're in a bad relationship that just isn't working and is stifling your soul, you may need to leave and change things so you are happy once again.
  • If you dislike your elected officials because you feel they are going down the wrong path and against what you believe in, you may need to do more than sit around and gripe about it. You may need to get out, get active and participate.
  • If you are in job you hate, you may need to leave it and start all over again for a better overall life.
  • If your parents are incessantly guilt tripping you or nagging you to have children, but you know you don't want may need to be prepared to alienate your parents by telling them to stop it or not see you as often - or ever.
  • If you are unhealthy, but want to look and feel better, you need to change your lifestyle, eating habits and exercise routine to earn a more healthy body and mind.
You get the idea. Essentially, if you want to be yourself, you need to be prepared to "strike a blow" when you need to in order to preserve who you are, your values and what you want to do with your life.

And while Joe Strummer might not have been thinking all that deeply when he said it, I think his quote is one to ponder.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

You Sure You Don't Want "Government Run" Healthcare?

Rep. Giffords, tragically shot in the head by an anti-government assailant in Tuscon recently, has 100% of her healthcare costs and care covered as she fights to recover to her previously healthy self.


Because like every other Federal employee - including those anti-government Tea Partiers and Republicans in the House and Senate - she has a fully funded, comprehensive healthcare plan provided by the government.

Needless to say, the vast majority of Americans are not in the same boat.

Check out the article HERE to see the difference between what those such as Giffords gets and what the rest of us can expect if we're in the same situation.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Shockingly Bad Movies On The Way

I watched the Super Bowl yesterday. It was a pretty good game and I'm glad to see the Packers win.

However, the thing that stood out the most from viewing the game is the REALLY BAD movies that are apparently coming out soon. Here are some I saw ads for during the broadcast:

  • Cowboys and Aliens - huh? Is there any way this movie could be remotely good? No. 
  • Captain America - a movie for children...even if they are adults
  • Thor - see comment above
  • Transformers 3 - yawn
  • Fast 5 - some sort of car chase movie staring The Rock.
  • I Am Number 4 - sci-fi romantic drama. 
  • Kung Fu Panda 2 - a cartoon for kids.

So, extremely light weight action movies with ludicrous premises, super hero pictures and sequels to previous hits.

It's sad in many ways because I believe that these are the movies Hollywood makes money on year in and year out. The vast expanse of the American public LOVES these type of movies and flocks to them in droves - so much so that Hollywood can underwrite other, better movies for Oscar contention. What does that say about the intellectual status of the average American mind?

Oh well.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Far From A Great President - Ronald Reagan

This weekend would have been President Ronald Reagan's 100th birthday. If you're paying attention, you'll hear all sorts of tributes to the man that will make him seem like a savior and hero.

I will leave it to others to play up Ronnie's more impressive achievements. But because I think we'll only be getting one side of the story, I want to offer up the dark side of this president's record - a side that I think has a direct impact on virtually every U.S. citizen and the world today. In short, I think Reagan's poor decisions and myopic, short sited politics gave our nation a giant and powerful shove into the problems we experience today.

Even as a teenager in the 1980s it was so very, very clear to me that this man's approach to government, his political and economic ideas were wrong and would be bad for the country. I couldn't believe that others didn't see it as wrong for the 1980s and wrong for the long term.

In that vein, below is a list of things you won't be hearing too much (if anything) during the Reagan love-fest this weekend. Think about the things our nation and the world struggle with today as you read about what Reagan and his administration did...

Creating Our Current Troubles in the Middle East
This more than anything, the Reagan policy toward the Middle East was a massive screw up. All of the actions here were extremely short sighted and invited major "blow back" on the United States that we have seen come into reality over the past 10 years. Lets count the ways Ronald Reagan did us all wrong in the Middle East:

  • Reagan traded arms for hostages. While talking tough about never dealing with terrorists and toeing a hard line against them, his administration secretly supplied weapons to the government of Iran in order secure the release of certain hostages. And then, his administration lied about it and got caught. When asked directly about this, Reagan said he did not know nor remember any such thing. Setting aside speculation about his mental state (he did shortly after the end of his presidency develop increasingly sever Alzheimer's Disease), either Ronald Reagan knew about trading arms for hostages and sanctioned it or he did not know about it and surely should have - as any responsible president should. The big upshots here are: 1) Reagan was either incompetent or dishonest on his watch, and 2) Iran knew it could ignore or set aside tough talk from the U.S. and do what it wanted...and it has, including attempting to develop a nuclear program.
  • Support for Saddam Hussein. Yes, Ronald Reagan and his administration backed one Saddam Husein in Iraq's war with Iran. And it wasn't just verbal support. Remember the famous picture of then Reagan envoy to Iraq Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Hussein during an official visit in 1983? Yes, we were backing Saddam because he was fighting Iran - simple as that. And we expressed that support with money and arms that also helped keep him in power through the 1980s and into the 1990s and 2000s when we had to deal with him in other ways. Thanks Ronnie.
  • Support for Afghan rebels (aka the Taliban), then abandoning them. In addition to Iran and Iraq, Reagan's White House supported the Taliban (then typically called the Mujahideen) as they fought against the invading Soviet Union in the 1980s. If any of you have seen the movie "Charlie Wilson's War" you know the story. But I can understand arming the Afghans to fight off the Soviets so we didn't have to. OK. But, the crime here is that once the Soviets retreated out of Afghanistan, our support dried up right away. Thanks for doing our dirty work for us, goodbye. And guess what happened after that? Yep, absent a continued investment of time and effort by the U.S. in Afghanistan to stabilize and help that nation, the Taliban took over and turned Afghanistan into a radical Muslim state that, oh I don't know, hosted and supported Osama bin Laden. We all know how that turned out. So, Regan helped build the state that sheltered bin Laden as he planned the 9/11 attacks.
So, to summarize, though his short sited and ill-advised actions Ronald Reagan had a direct hand in creating the big time problems we have now with Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. Not the track record of a great president.

Leading the country to economic downfall
Ronald Reagan championed a political and economic theory that is often summarized as "trickle down." That is, if you cut taxes for the rich and for companies and massively deregulate the economy in as many sectors as you can, then jobs will be created and everybody in society will benefit. You may also have heard it called "Reaganomics." The problem with that theory is that IT DOES NOT WORK. It never has. Each time it has been tried, we get a predictable and negative result - the Great Depression (1930s) or huge budget deficits, high unemployment and recessions (1980s and 2000s). Reagan pushed through as much legislation as he could to enact tenets of this economic theory. I assert that his success in doing so has led to our current economic downfall. Lets look at what he did...

  • Tax cuts for the wealthy - Reagan believed in cutting taxes for the rich with the thought that they'd use their new found windfall to invest in new businesses and create jobs...except they didn't. They just went and bought yachts or vacation homes or more stock. The top marginal tax rate for U.S. citizens went from 70% to 28% under Reagan's plans. While some reform would have been good at the time, this tax change gave the rich a lot more money to spend on themselves or invest elsewhere (not in U.S. companies or creating jobs). Over time, the tax code started by Reagan has helped pool a massive amount of wealth into a smaller and smaller group of people. This has propelled the shrinking of the middle class and the problems that go along with that. 

  • Deregulation - Reagan did his best to deregulate the economy - housing, automobiles, oil/energy, banking, financial markets, airlines, the environment, etc. You name it, they tried and were often successful. The theory was that all this deregulation would usher in a new era of innovation, jobs and wealth. Well, it did usher in wealth...but only for a few, already rich people and for corporations. Some bad long term results of this short term deregulation mania have been...
  1. Corporations outsourcing manufacturing jobs overseas. His "morning in America" slogan just meant it was a brand new day in which U.S. companies could wake up, crawl out of bed and lay off millions of Americans and ship their jobs overseas where there was cheap labor - all to jack up stock prices and executive bonuses. That started under Reagan and is still going on.
  2. Corruption in the banking and financial systems. There was the big savings and load debacle back in the 1980s and I think we're all aware of what deregulated banking, real estate and financial markets brought us more recently. 
  3. Extended and perpetuated our dependence on oil. Oil companies could make SO MUCH MONEY in oil that there was no incentive to invest in alternatives for the future. So they didn't.

  • Created a huge national deficit - under Ronald Reagan's watch, the United States government ran up the largest budget deficit in its entire history. This record was only surpassed by the George W. Bush administration in the 2000s. There were many reasons for the deficit, but cutting taxes, making it easy for companies to pay low or no taxes and boosting government spending - especially on defense, making it the biggest sector of government spending - were key components of the problem. As you see today's conservatives invoke Reagan as they rail against big deficits, remember...Reaganomics created the (then) largest budget deficit in U.S. history.

Ignoring AIDS
The Reagan administration ignored the AIDS outbreak in the 1980s and failed to fund research to seek a cure. Imagine if he had said that AIDS was a threat to all Americans and aggressively used the power of his office to push drug companies and government agencies to find a cure or a drug to slow the disease down. Perhaps we would have found the set of drugs and treatments we now have a whole lot earlier - saving the lives of thousands (if not more) people. But no, Reagan was a product of his generation - a bigot towards gays. And since this was initially labeled a "gay disease," it was ignored by him.

There's more that could be covered for sure, but I think between setting us on the road to economic ruin, effectively bungling our policy in the Middle East, and ignoring one of the worst medical emergencies of the past 50 years...the record is CLEAR:  Ronald Reagan was FAR from a great president. His short sighted and poor decisions have directly led to our most pressing problems today - domestically and internationally.

I will leave you with this one other thing. Ronald Reagan was an actor. Literally. He was a Hollywood actor who decided to become political - initially in the Democratic Party and then the Republican Party later - who was acting the role. Whatever warm and fuzzy persona, whatever sunny "shining city on a hill" message he projected as President was countered by the all to real, all to damaging results of his political, economic and foreign policies. So he was a pretty good actor because he had us all fooled.

See if any of the above is covered in the media's presentation of Reagan's 100th birthday. I doubt it.