The Disgruntled Dylanologist

All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie.

Obama’s Stimulus Package: A ‘New Morning’ or deja vu all over again?


Can’t you feel that sun a-shinin’?

Ground hog runnin’ by the country stream
This must be the day that all of my dreams come true
So happy just to be alive
Underneath the sky of blue

Every year on the second day of February, marmot aficionados of every make and model gather in the town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, and wait with baited breath for a certain groundhog by the name of “Punxsutawney Phil” to emerge from his burrow. As weather folklore has it, if Phil fails to see his shadow, winter will end soon. If, however, it’s sunny and Phil does see his shadow, winter continues for another 6 weeks.

Well, my fellow Disgruntled Dylanologists, we need not wait. It just so happens Groundhog Day came early this year.

Punxsutawney Phil may not see his shadow tomorrow, but America certainly saw theirs this past Wednesday when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi emerged from the hallowed Capitol chambers and proudly announced the passage of the $819 billion economic stimulus package.

So what do the irrational idiosyncrasies of some tired, world-weary woodchuck have to do with Washington? A lot more than you’d think.

There’s no question a euphoria has been sweeping across the country in recent months. This past November, America made a deal with their elected officials, a political quid-pro-quo if you will.

The bargain was simple. Differences in point of view would be met with tempered measure; partisan decisiveness, however, would no longer be tolerated. Said another way, put your pettiness aside and get on with the business of governing.

That was the hope. The House vote Wednesday told another story. The final vote: 244-to-188. Every single Republican—all 177 of them—voted against the stimulus package. Hardly a ringing endorsement of a ‘new morning’ in America.


Let’s not lose sight of the fact, however, that $819 billion is a lot of money. The passage of the stimulus package (and it will pass in some form— that’s precisely what this whole debate is about) will not only define the Obama presidency, the programs the stimulus package will fund will define our nation’s priorities for generations to come.

Transforming our economy with science and technology; modernizing roads, bridges, transit, and waterways; developing clean, efficient energy— these are big ideas. And while big ideas necessarily come with big price tags, these programs are the most expensive public works programs in our nation’s history. How the money is spent certainly is something worth fighting over.

Ironically, the lines drawn by the partisans in Washington are not over the cost. Nor is the debate so much over the programs themselves, either. Not the big ones, anyway. We all know our country’s infrastructure is in shambles, that our education system is a disgrace and that our ability to compete in technology is severely hampered by shoddy networks and a lack of adequate resources.

The fundamental cause of partisanship, it seems, resides in the pork—those hidden programs the politicians put in to placate their political backers back home.

The fact that the American public isn’t even blinking over spending $30 billion for roads and bridges, $9 billion for public transit and $1 billion for inter-city rail must have the politicians salivating. Exactly where that money will be spent undoubtedly has them sharpening their tenterhooks.

Of course, the notion of demanding accountability isn’t such a bad thing. Truth be told, a little accountability will likely go a long way toward renewing a sense of trust and competency in our elected officials. The memory of the $700 billion that recently went to the shylocks on the Street who got their pound of flesh without having to account to a soul (accept perhaps their own— but that’s another grunt altogether) has proven far more enduring than the banks they so shamelessly ran into the ground.

Just as we have every right to hold the feet of our elected officials to fire, they have the right to demand the same accountability from the people to whom they will give the money. But rather than hammer out the details on how this massive economic stimulus package will be spent, the politicos who told us they wanted to bring a ‘new way of doing business’ to Washington are clearly still in the business of lining their pockets instead of finding ways to put money into ours.

And while this incestuous approach to governing—this “we were put in charge now let us do our jobs” mentality—has become analogous with pigs at a trough, the stimulus plan has been liken to a Trojan Horse, I would maintain our friend, Punxsutawney Phil, is better metaphor for what we can really expect from Washington.

Thanks in large part to the 1993 film of the same name, the concept of ‘Groundhog Day’ has come to mean “doing the same thing over and over.”

And while we probably won’t have to relive the next eight years in the tortuous manner Bill Murray was forced to relive the same day over and over again until he recognized the errant ways of his past, there is no question the nation economic winter of discontent is still upon us.

The good news, of course, is that tomorrow is another day…

So happy just to be alive
Underneath the sky of blue
On this new morning, new morning
On this new morning with you.

_________________________________________________

When it comes the Groundhog Day, Punxsutawney Phil is certainly the most well known. But he isn’t the only one. A few other famous groundhogs and their squirrelly counterparts in the House of Representatives:

Punxsutawney Phil of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania
Glenn Thompson (R) Pennsylvania 5th

Jimmy the Groundhog
of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin
Tammy Baldwin (D) Wisconsin 2nd

Staten Island Chuck
of New York City, New York
Michael E. McMahon (D) New York 13th

General Beauregard Lee, PhD
of Lilburn, Georgia
John Linder (R) Georgia 7th

Dunkirk Dave
of Dunkirk, New York
Brian Higgins (D) New York 27th


Malverne Mel and Malverne Melissa of Malverne, New York
Carolyn McCarthy (D) New York 4th

Sir Walter Wally
of Raleigh, North Carolina
Brad Miller (D) North Carolina 13th

Pardon Me Pete
of Tampa, Florida
Kathy Castor (D) Florida 11th


Octoraro Orphie
of Quarryville, Pennsylvania
Joseph R. Pitts (R) Pennsylvania 16th

Holtsville Hal
of Holtsville, New York
Timothy H. Bishop (D) New York 1st

Buckeye Chuck of Marion, Ohio
Jim Jordan (R) Ohio 4th

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February 2, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Dylanesque Adieu: “It’s All Over Now, ‘W'”


You must leave now, take what you need, you think will last.

But whatever you wish to keep, you better grab it fast.
Yonder stands your orphan with his gun,
Crying like a fire in the sun.
Look out the saints are comin’ through
And it’s all over now, Baby Blue.

On Thursday, January 15, 2009, at precisely 5:03 pm EST, a middle-aged man wearing a dark blue suit, white button-down shirt and a power blue tie stepped through a doorway, and walked down an elegant carpet-lined hallway before stopping behind a waist high podium bearing the emblem of an eagle, its wings outstretched against a royal blue background.

After taking a moment to acknowledge the appreciative crowd, the man smiled, cleared his throat and uttered the following opening salvo, “Fellow citizens, for eight years it has been my honor to serve as your president.”

Exactly 13 minutes, thirty-one minutes later, the man in the dark blue suit with the white button-down shirt and power blue tie turned and walked back down the hallway then passed through an unseen door. And just like that, it was over.

9/11, Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, Katrina, a collapsed economy—suffice to say, George W. Bush has presided over one of the most tumultuous periods in American history.

You’d have thought the networks would have given him more than 13 minutes. Frankly, many pundits were surprised he even got that.

Two weeks ago, I wrote a recap of 2008 in which I paraphrased Bob Dylan’s enigmatic, surrealistic, ‘Desolation Row.’ Considering how well received the piece was, for the last week I had been toying with the notion of using another Dylan diatribe, ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,’ to bid farewell to our 43rd president.

When I sat down to write my postscript to the Bush presidency, however, I realized my intended Dylanesque adieu had already been written:

You must leave now, take what you need, you think will last.
But whatever you wish to keep, you better grab it fast.

Leave your stepping stones behind, something calls for you.
Forget the dead you’ve left, they will not follow you.

In those two verses, taken from the first and last stanzas respectfully, resides all the angst, all the anger, not to mention a good dose of mournful lament that American has experience for the last eight years.

But the connection between Bush’s farewell and Dylan’s acerbic adieu goes deeper than the lyrical parallels. Dylan recorded “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” in Columbia Studio ‘A’ on January 15, 1965—44 years to the day of Bush’s final official appearance before the American public.

The saddest part, of course, is that it didn’t have to be this way.

Bush began his presidency with a 50% approval rating. Not bad considering he received less than 48% of the popular vote. But it only got better for Bush. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, Bush’s approval rating skyrocketed to over 90%. It was an unprecedented moment in American politics—the highest popularity rating of a sitting president. Then something equally extraordinary occurred.

After only four months, Bush’s popularity began an equally unprecedented, unrelenting 7-year decline. It was truly as if someone had pulled the carpet out from under George Bush.

That ‘someone’ it turns out wasn’t so much the American public as it was the people Bush surrounded himself. Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Michael Brown, Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby, Carl Rove, Alberto Gonzalez, Hank Paulson: each pursued policies that not only eroded support for Bush and the institute of the presidency, they pursued policies that eroded our faith in virtually facet of the U.S. government.

In his defense, Bush has become the lightening rod into which all of America’s disdain and disgust has been directed. As the Administration’s point man, it’s to be expected that the president would take a jolt or two. Yet considering the unrelenting, unilateral affront the team Bush assembled has made on every aspect of the American experience, it’s amazing Bush has hung on to as much support as he has.

Earlier in the week, George Bush told the press corps, “When I get out of here, I’m getting off the stage… one person in the klieg lights at a time. I’ve had my time in the klieg lights. I wish [Obama] all the best.” And while it came from an honest place, there’s no question there was a Nixonian ring to the refrain, as if to say: “You won’t have old ‘Dubya’ to kick around anymore.”

And while it’s probably not the last time we’ll hear from “43”, it is the last time we’ll have to listen. And I’m not sure who’s more relieved, him or us. But one thing’s for sure— we’re both better off now that it’s all over for ‘W’….

Leave your stepping stones behind, something calls for you.
Forget the dead you’ve left, they will not follow you.
The vagabond who’s rapping at your door
Is standing in the clothes that you once wore.
Strike another match, go start anew
And it’s all over now, Baby Blue.

January 19, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Old Guard: Can Obama change their way of thinking?


Sixteen years,

Sixteen banners united over the field,
Where the good shepherd grieves.
Desperate men, desperate women divided,
Spreading their wings ‘neath the falling leaves.

First, let me say that I’m not a big fan of politicos. But James Carville—perhaps the most puffed up, bombastic, pretentious politico of them all—got it right when he famously opined back in 1992, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

It was the economy in 1992. Sixteen years later, it’s the economy all over again.

The fact that the US economy is in the shitter should come as a surprise to no one. For the past 12 months, we’ve been sliding toward the precipice of the worst recession in 16 years.In the last 60 days, it’s only gone from bad to worse. Thirteen banks have gone into bankruptcy, the top five investment banks have died, the stock market has hit a six-year low, unemployment has reached a 14-year high.

Contrary to John McCain’s reassuring reaction to the September 10 collapse of Lehman Brothers, the fundamentals of our economy were not ‘strong.’ And it certainly didn’t help that McCain borrowed his phrasing from Herbert Hoover, who on Thursday, Oct. 24, 1929, just five days before the crash that would result in the deepest depression in world history, proclaimed, “The fundamental business of the country, that is, production and distribution of commodities, is on a sound and prosperous basis.”

As the largest economy in the world, the American financial crisis has far-reaching ramifications. The direction of the U.S. economy doesn’t merely ‘impact’ the global economy; it decides its destiny.

It’s a big idea. It’s also a big problem. And the irony is that the problem isn’t going to go away until we change the way we do business in this country.

Yet despite the proclamations of ‘change’ that were the cornerstones of both the McCain and Obama presidential campaigns, change won’t be coming anytime soon. You already know the reason why.

It’s the economy, stupid.

Historically, the election of a Democrat has meant more jobs for Americans. History, however, is hardly consolation for the 1.2 million Americans who have lost their jobs since January.

It’s not especially encouraging for those who have jobs, either. With most 401(k)s off by an average of 40% or worse, dreams of retirement by the 50+ set have been replaced by the realization that there simply isn’t enough money in their accounts to sustain them for 10 years, much less the 20 years they’re expected to live.

Sure they can stay the course, stick it out, work a few extra years until the anemic stock market turns around. But there’s just something fundamentally wrong with the notion that what was only a year ago considered an appalling indignation by those who have toiled their entire life to build something for themselves and their families is now an umbrage those who actually have jobs would all too gladly suffer.

This past election was about change. A seismic shift, a comprehensive overhaul, a changing of the guard. It’s what we were promised, it’s what we want and, considering the perilous state of the economy, it’s what we need.

Unfortunately, change is not something the Obama Administration will be able to deliver anytime soon. It would mean the old guard would need to step down. But the old guard is like a caged animal tethered to a stake that keeps it from wondering too far from the trough.

And with their retirement pensions gone, the stock market in a perpetual downward spiral, and the potentially some of that $700 billion in bailout money might potential come their way if they just hang on long enough, the old guard is a permanent fixture on the horizon.

Contrary to what the media would have us believe, the rest of the world truly wants America to succeed. For millions around the world, America truly is a beacon of hope, prosperity and opportunity. But Eden is burning. And rather than change the old guard, we need to change their way of thinking.

Because the old guard isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Frankly, they can’t afford to…

I don’t need your organization, I’ve shined your shoes,

I’ve moved your mountains and marked your cards,
But Eden is burning, either brace yourself for elimination,
Or else your hearts must have the courage for the changing of the guards.

November 23, 2008 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

World Gone Wrong: Beyond Bushworld


We live in a political world,
As soon as you’re awake,
You’re trained to take,
What looks like the easy way out.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that we live in a political world. The fact that we’re in the final throes of perhaps the most contentious presidential campaign in 40 years is a daily reminder that America is at a crossroads.

Those days are numbered, however. But before we pick a new direction for the country, it only seems fitting to review the signposts of the last eight years.

In order to know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been. And for the last eight years, we’ve been in a place called ‘Bushworld’.

Bushworld, a look back:

For a closer look at Bush’s world, click on the map above.

Divisive Politics. Bush has spent more money on focus groups than any other administration in U.S. history. In Bushworld, we don’t need to see or feel. Instead, we have polls and pundits to tell us what’s real.

Diminished
Privacy. Bush has signed more laws and executive orders amending the Constitution than any other president. As a result, wiretaps, surveillance, and undisclosed data mining are now a daily ritual. In Bushworld, we may live in a time where men commit crimes, yet thanks to a barrage of Bush lawyers the real criminal’s face remain hidden.

Eradication of Human Rights. Bush is the first president to have the United Nations remove the U.S. from both the elections monitoring board and human rights commission. In Bushworld, we throw the wisdom of the world’s nations in jail, and let those whose patriotism we question rot in a Cuban cell.

Destruction of Economic Markets. Bush’s economic advisers smugly presided over the highest number of bank failures and home foreclosures ever. In Bushworld, money doesn’t talk, it swears. And by doing nothing as the economic markets collapsed, Bush told the American middle class to go screw themselves.

Invasion of Sovereign Countries. Bush has dissolved more international treaties than any president in U.S. history, ensuring American is able to travel anywhere we want. In the months leading up to the removal of Saddam Hussein, Bush claimed that everything that was his was ours. In Bushworld, however, you run the risk you might hang yourself there if you bring enough rope.

Squandered Political Capital. In the aftermath of 9/11, Bush turned a nation in mourning into the most resented country in the world. In Bushworld, it makes more sense to close an open door than to have a world where peace is welcome.

For the last eight years, America has witnessed the systematic dismantling of our venerated 200-year old political system by George Bush’s brand of ‘come hell or high-water’ politics.

And while Bush’s critics have done their best to tag the pugnacious Texan as nothing more than a highly functioning moron, Dubya is hardly some run of a mill Tweedle Dum to America’s Tweedle Dee.

The Grim reality is that he’s actually a lot closer to Humpty Dumpty. Sadly, however, it’s America that’s taken the tumble.

The biggest challenge facing the man who steps into the Oval Office on January 20, 2009, won’t be whether he has the resolve to put American back together again. It will be the frightening realization that while Bush and his fawning, sycophantic advisers were trying to create a world in their image, they may have pocketed a few key pieces when they realized their idyllic worldview wasn’t coming together quite the way they had planned.

There’s no question we live in a world gone wrong. But just because things are wrong now doesn’t mean they can’t be put right in the future.

Let’s just hope the next president can reassemble a foreign policy that has been spread too thin, a financial system that’s been stretched too far, and a domestic agenda that has shortchanged freedom in the name of ‘liberty.’

Of course, that’s assuming the next president can actually find all the pieces. We all know what happens when the vandals get hold of the handle…

We live in a political world,
Where courage is a thing of the past,
Houses are haunted,
Children unwanted,
The next day could be your last.

October 26, 2008 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment