The Disgruntled Dylanologist

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

‘Lawyers, Lepers & Crooks’: Can Dylan’s Thin Man trim the fat on Wall Street?


You walk into the room

With your pencil in your hand

You see somebody naked

And you say, “Who is that
man?”

Last week marked the one-year anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the first in a series of dominoes that led to the biggest financial meltdown since the Great Depression. And while we’re still reeling from the implosion of AIG, Merrill Lynch, Citigroup and the half dozen other ‘too big to fail’ financial institutions that did receive government bailout funds, the fleecing the American middle class continues.

Something’s happening on Wall Street, and you don’t have to be a financial whiz to know what it is: good, old fashion greed.

Despite the enormous losses suffered by the recipients of the TARP funds, Citigroup and Merrill Lynch—two of the most high-profile beneficiaries of the federal government’s fiscal benevolence—still managed to justify dishing out more than $9 billion in bonuses.

And how’s this for fancy financial footwork? Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and J.P. Morgan Chase actually paid out more in bonuses than they made the entire year. Goldman Sachs, for example, earned $2.3 billion, paid out $4.8 billion in bonuses, and got $10 billion in TARP funds.

It’s no secret the big Wall Street firms conspire and collude to keep their year-end cash outs at the highest levels possible. But it’s one thing when you’re playing with ‘other people’s money’; it’s something else entirely when that ‘other person’ turns out to be the guy next door who just lost his house.

But it gets worse. Not only did 4,800 Wall Street employees pocket bonuses worth more than a $1 million on top of their exorbitant salaries, it turns out it wasn’t enough. According to a recent survey, 46% of those newly-minted millionaires were “dissatisfied” with their bonuses. And are you ready for the kicker? Nine in 10 had been working on Wall Street for five years or less.

And while none of our behemoth banking institutions were untouched by what, in hindsight, amounted to the financial equivalent of a ‘perfect storm,’ last week’s reminder that the government was unwilling to bailout Lehman Brothers was a frightening reminder of how choppy the seas still are.

It should hardly come as a surprise that Congress would capitalize on this rather auspicious anniversary to turn the spotlight not on the problem, but rather on themselves— which is precisely what they did in typical grandstanding fashion.

Positioned as the first piece of a larger, more comprehensive legislation endorsed by President Obama to increase oversight over financial institutions, last week the House voted on a bill that will restrict how Wall Street executives will get paid in the future.

Billed as a ‘bold, decisive action,’ the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Unless, of course, the old expression, “A day late and a dollar short,” is modified by roughly 365 days and somewhere around $700 billion.

Enter Ben Bernanke. Recently nominated to a second term as Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Bernanke is preparing to cash in a little currency with the president by sidestepping the Congressional pomp and circumstance altogether. Bernanke’s plan is refreshing simple: take Wall Street’s bull market by the balls by placing regulators directly inside banks to monitor (and one would assume reject) excess pay packages.

And while the precise job description has yet to be fully fleshed out, this disgruntled Dylanologist knows just the man for the job.

Dark, menacing, boorish and brooding, he is one of the most enigmatic characters from Dylan’s canon of bizarre and none-too-usual suspects.

His identity has long been in dispute. When asked in a 1965 interview, Dylan offered a response that was as cryptic as the character in question: “He’s a pinboy. He also wears suspenders. He’s a real person. You know him, but not by that name…”

The president is on the right track introducing regulatory reform for Wall Street. But identifying the problem won’t necessarily solve it.

What we need is someone who’s well connected, someone who can move effortlessly among lawyers, lepers and crooks. Someone who will keep his eyes in his pocket, his nose to the ground, take copious notes, click his heels and do exactly as he is told. We need a man on the inside looking out; not outside looking in.

And who exactly is this inscrutable urchin? This puzzling patsy set up to take the inevitable fall?

Let’s just say his eerie, shape-shifting presence made John Lennon feel suicidal, evoked Adam Durtiz’s desire to be someone else, reduced David Byrne’s description to a detached third person account.

That’s right, Dylan aficionados, it just may be the man who saves the American financial system is none other than the inscrutable Mister Jones.

After all, everyone knows the best way to catch someone with questionable morals is to recruit one…

And without further notice
He asks you how it feels

And he says, “Here is your throat back

Thanks for the loan”

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September 20, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“If You See Her, Say Hello”: A Dylanesque goodbye to General Motors


We had a falling-out, like lovers often will

And to think of how she left that night, it still brings me a chill
And though our separation, it pierced me to the heart
She still lives inside of me, we’ve never been apart.

Unlike Bob Dylan’s 1974 wistful song of an ill-fated love affair gone awry, America’s affair with the automobile is far from over. But as of last week, GM, who for years was without doubt the most popular girl at the party, is about to find out what it means to be alone on Saturday night.

Already, Toyota, Honda, Volkswagen and Hyundai have seen an increase in sales as a result of GM’s announcement that the once adored automaker has entered Chapter 11. America has always has a wondering eye when it comes to our insatiable consumption for consumer goods. But if the trend toward foreign femme fatales continues, our homegrown dance card is going to start to resemble something closer to a well-traveled passport.

Let’s face it. Relationships are complicated. And GM’s relationship with America is no exception. Since 1908, the Flint, Michigan, automaker has sparked the imagination of America for over a century. So much so that the old adage, “as goes General Motors, so goes the nation,” wasn’t just some trite expression. It was an enduring term of endearment.

For years, we were obsessed with her stylish, shapely body; her lean, aerodynamic curves; her tight, taut lines. But as time went by, we grew bored and she grew complacent. And in recent years, GM all but completely let herself go— continuously losing market share to a barrage of suitors who weren’t afraid to appeal to our vanity. And it certainly didn’t help that she was going through money like it was going out of style.

And while we’ll probably never be able to pinpoint the exact moment the bloom was finally off the rose, one thing’s certain: It didn’t happen overnight.

As recent as December 2005, Business Week was banging the drum about the possibility of a GM bankruptcy. But then-Chairman and CEO Rick Wagner blindly dismissed the rumblings, declaring that Chapter 11 was contrary to the interests of “our employees, stock- and bondholders, dealers, suppliers and customers.” A heartfelt entreaty, indeed.

But with 100,000 employees on the verge of losing their jobs, GM stock essentially worthless, and close to 4,000 dealerships on the chopping block, it turns out that in the end Wagoner only hurt the ones he loved.

There’s no question General Motors was once a great company. But like so many of those back pages we look upon with misplaced affinity and affection, maybe in the end the attraction really was only physical. Perhaps in hindsight it’s best that GM and America take a break. Who knows? Maybe the time apart will do both of us some good.

There’s always a tinge of shame associated with a failed relationship. GM, however, doesn’t have anything to be ashamed of. Admittedly, the federal government’s decision to put the brakes on our relationship with GM has resulted in the fourth largest U.S. bankruptcy on record. But GM can take solace in the fact that three of the biggest bankruptcies in our nation’s history—GM, the failure of Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual—have all occurred in the last nine months.

These aren’t just trying times for GM; they are trying times for America. A shattered financial system, a real estate market in disrepair, a workforce weakened by the highest unemployment levels in a generation. History comes in ebbs and flows. GM, it seems, just got caught on the wrong side of a financial tidal shift.

Maybe bankruptcy is the best thing that could happen to GM— and frankly the best thing that could have happened to us, too.

We’ve invested a lot in our relationship with GM. Close to $19.4 billion in at last count. But even that wasn’t enough to keep the nation’s largest automaker in the black. Now the government is on the verge of putting another $30 billion into GM just to keep it afloat while management restructures. And while this isn’t the end of the road for GM, those carefree, top-down days are undoubtedly a distant reflection in the rear view mirror.

So how does all of this relate back to Bob Dylan? It doesn’t. Not directly anyway. Bob Dylan has always been more of a train guy. But despite the relative absence of automobiles in his 500+ song repertoire, Dylan is hardly immune to America’s infatuation with cars.

If you need proof that the mystique has a hold on him, too, look no further than the 2007 ad promoting the launch of GM’s Cadillac Escalade. Dylan offers not only his endorsement, but utters the closing line, “What’s life without the occasional detour?”

At the end of the day, the mental road block GM seems to having a hard times getting around is accepting the fact that maybe the only way to save the corpulent car maker is to set it free.

In an ad GM is running right now, GM says ‘they get it.’ The times have changed; they’ve changed; and now they want us to take them back.

We’ll think about it, GM. But in the meantime, don’t wait by the phone…

If you see her, say hello, she might be in Tangier
She left here last early spring, is livin’ there, I hear
Say for me that I’m all right though things get kind of slow
She might think that I’ve forgotten her, don’t tell her it isn’t so.

June 18, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Together Through Life’: Will Dylan’s new album live on its own or is it a ‘Dead’ end?


Then she opened up a book of poems

And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet
From the thirteenth century.

Dante, Rimbaud, Eliot, Whitman, Shelley, Keats, cummings, Timrod, Blake…

Bob Dylan may be the ultimate chameleon, but he’s also an avid collector. And over the years, the collection of characters who’ve appeared in Dylan’s lyrics is trumped only by the manner in which Bob has transformed those distinct, disparate voices into his own.

For Shakespeare the play was the thing. For Dylan it’s always been about the words.

I wasn’t sure, therefore, how to react to last week’s confirmation that Bob collaborated with longtime Grateful Dead lyricist, Robert Hunter, on 9 of the 10 tracks on his upcoming album, Together Through Life.

Maybe it’s a sign of the modern times in which we live. In an era where style trumps substance, the notion that our politicians, pop stars and public figures are propped up by an army of minions clamoring to craft an image that feeds our incessant need for idolatry has become all too commonplace.

But as we look out over what seems to be a vast wasteland of perpetual despondency, we’re not looking for iconoclasts to console us. What we’re really searching for is someone to break through the clutter, to give us a sense of direction, to help us find our way home. We’re looking for clarity.

In recent months, a barrage of bloggers (this disgruntled Dylan fan not excluded) have drawn parallels between Barack Obama and Bob Dylan. But then again, the comparisons aren’t totally unfounded. Dylan isn’t the only cultural chameleon out there.

Like the title character in Woody Allen’s brilliantly insightful 1983 mockumentary, Zelig, Obama has perfected the ability to conform to his surroundings. When Obama steps on stage, we see what we want to see. When Obama speaks, we hear what we want to hear. Yet the words he speaks are rarely, if ever, entirely his own.

In a time when our culture is so sanitized, where every action is viewed under such scurrilous scrutiny, the people to whom we look for inspiration can no longer inspire by example— and so they retreat to linguistics. It’s not so much what they say, but rather how they say it, by which they are evaluated.

The consensus among historians is that Abraham Lincoln was the last American president to put pen to paper. The “Gettysburg Address,” perhaps his most famous piece of oratory, clocked in at 278 words and took less than 3 minutes to deliver. But in those 3 minutes, Lincoln embodied a nation’s pain and suffering with words so enduring that they are now etched in aeternum in marble.

There have been endless comparisons between Lincoln and the man who currently resides in that mansion on the hill. But whether you like him or hate him, you cannot dismiss Barack Obama. He may not write every word that comes out of his mouth, but he is hardly an empty oratory vessel. His predecessors may have spoken to the ‘vision thing,’ but Barack Obama embodies it.

With Bob Dylan, however, ‘embodying’ an artistic vision isn’t enough. With Bob, the words matter.

The issue here isn’t that Bob wrote a couple of songs with someone else— even if that ‘someone else’ just may be the second greatest living lyricist in the English language. The issue is about purity of vision, not persuasiveness of delivery. It’s about clarity.

Dylan is coming off what many consider one of rock’s perfect ‘trifectas.’ Time Out of Mind, Love and Theft, and Modern Times are not just high creative benchmarks for Bob, they are the gold standard by which all other musicians could, and very well may, be measured.

And so the news that Dylan collaborated with another wordsmith naturally would raise a few questions. Did he need to do it? How much of it did he do? Did he even really do it at all?

Dylan and Robert Hunter have been down this road before. The two worked up a few songs together for Dylan’s 1988 album, Down in the Groove. But these were hardly a threat to the Dylan canon, musically or lyrically. They were almost transitional, as if Dylan was in some sort of Dantesque state of limbo. As we later found out in his biography, Chronicles, he was.

And lest we forget that Dylan and playwright, Jacques Levy, wrote an entire album of songs in 1976 (ironically, in 1965, Levy directed Red Cross, a play by Sam Shepard with whom Dylan would later co-write the epic, 11-minute yarn, ‘Brownsville Girl’). And while the Dylan-Levy collaboration stands as one of Dylan’s most commercially successful endeavors, there’s no debate that the songs on Desire are all distinctively Dylan.

And maybe that’s the point.

Dylan always hated being heralded as a ‘poet,’ a ‘prophet,’ the ‘voice of a generation.’ Perhaps now we know why. Sometimes accolades do more to weight us down than they do to lift us up.

And after nearly a half century of accolades, can any of us really know the full extent of the load we’ve asked Dylan to carry.

And when you look at it from that perspective, can we really fault Dylan for wanting to share his burden—and his vision—with someone else? Even if sharing that vision does run the risk they might see if from a different point of view…

And every one of them words rang true
And glowed like burnin’ coal
Pourin’ off of every page
Like it was written in my soul from me to you

April 22, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Together Through Life’: Is Dylan’s changing relationship with Barack Obama a telltale sign of things to come?


Oh well, I love you pretty baby

You’re the only love I’ve ever known
Just as long as you stay with me
The whole world is my throne

A perennial fixture on the American political scene for the last 40 years, he has engaged, enraged, and probably even entertained the notion a few times. But despite his entrenchment in the country’s political dialogue, Bob Dylan had never outright endorsed a presidential candidate.

Then last June, seemingly out of nowhere, one of the most guarded, poker-faced figures of the 20th century laid his cards on the table—

“Right now America is in a state of upheaval,” he said in that slow, measured meter that forces you hang on his every word. “But we’ve got this guy out there now who is redefining the nature of politics from the ground up. He’s redefining what a politician is. Yes, I’m hopeful that things might change. Some things are going to have to.”

Ever the astute politician, the junior senator from Illinois quickly returned the accolade by telling Jan Wenner of Rolling Stone, “[there are] probably 30 Dylan songs on my iPod,” including “the entire Blood on the Tracks album.” And just like that, the fate of perhaps the most iconoclastic figure of his generation was tangled up in Bob.

Of course, we all know how the story ended. Barack Obama went on be elected the 44th president of the United States. And Dylan? Bob did the only thing he knows how to do, he just kept on keepin’ on…

Then on April 7, in a Q&A session with Bill Flanagan to promote his new album, Together Through Life, Dylan decided to break it off with Barack.

Dylan has always been dismissive of politics: “[It’s] entertainment…a sport. It’s for the well-groomed and well-heeled. The impeccably dressed. Politicians are interchangeable.” The real surprise was his response when asked if Obama would make a good president.

Rather than stick to the script that Obama is going to “redefine American politics,” Dylan started to weave a far more cautionary tale: “Most of those guys come into office with the best of intentions and leave as beaten men.”

Dylan conceded to having read Obama’s book, Dreams from My Father: “His writing style hits you on more than one level. It makes you feel and think at the same time and that is hard to do.” But clearly, the book had raised more issues for Dylan than it had answered: “He’s got an interesting background,” Dylan said. “He’s like a fictional character, but he’s real.”

But just when you thought Dylan might be warming back up to Barack Obama (after all, if anyone knows how to straddle that enigmatic abyss between fact and fiction, it’s Bob Dylan), Dylan resorted to one of his best known tricks— turning a compliment into cantankerous condemnation: “He probably could’ve done anything…the political world came to him. It was there to be had.” No question, the dodgy old Dylan was back.

At 67, Bob Dylan has spent a lifetime re-inventing himself. So while we shouldn’t be completely surprised by his change of heart about Barack Obama, we should take notice.

When it comes to predicting the direction of this country, Dylan may not be the end-all, be-all. He is, however, a startlingly accurate bellwether.

Even at the beginning, Dylan knew where it was at. On September 22, 1961, Dylan performed “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” for the first time publicly. One of Dylan’s most politically charged songs, “Hard Rain” warned (among other things) of the horrors of nuclear war.

One month later to the day, President Kennedy appeared on television to announce the discovery of missiles on the island of Cuba, initiating a 13-day cat-and-mouse game with the Soviets that brought the world to brink of nuclear holocaust.

Forty years later, Dylan’s prescient premonitions remain eerily accurate. Dylan’s 2001 album, Love and Theft, was about a country in flames, and then underwater. The record was released on September 11, the very day America saw the World Trade Center towers reduced to a mass of smoldering rubble. Four years later, a deluge of despondency washed across American as the federal government sit idly while the city of New Orleans was literally wiped off the map.

Dylan’s next album, Modern Times was, on one level, a nostalgic nod to the classic Depression-era film by Charlie Chaplin. The disc was filled with soul-searching songs of working people losing faith and losing ground. The fact that the album was released in the summer of 2006, at a time when Wall Street was flying and the housing market was humming along, the record seemed oddly out of place. That is until the markets crashed and all those workingman’s blues came true for millions of Americans.

In two weeks, Dylan will release his 33rd studio album. Titled, Together Through Life, the working moniker for the record was for a while rumored to be, I Fell A Change Coming On.

And while Bob’s predictions have more often than not been alarmingly dead on, Dylan is hardly a harbinger of doom. But based on his past track record, those of us who think and write about Dylan have to wonder exactly Dylan was thinking about when he was writing one.

A few lucky journalists have gotten a sneak peek. The rest of us, however, will just have to wait. But one thing is for sure—

Considering Dylan’s abrupt about face on the man who will be leading us over the next few years, I wouldn’t take anything for granted…

Listen to me, pretty baby
Lay your hand upon my head
Beyond here lies nothin’
Nothin’ done and nothin’ said

For a full transcript of Dylan’s recent interview with Bill Flanagan, click here.

April 13, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Day of the Locusts’: Bob Dylan, Barack Obama and the audacity of dope


And the locusts sang off in the distance,

Yeah, the locusts sang such a sweet melody.
Oh, the locusts sang off in the distance,
Yeah, the locusts sang and they were singing for me.

The story behind the second track on Dylan’s 1970 album, New Morning, goes something like this—

In the summer of 1970, Princeton decided to present Dylan with an honorary doctorate. Not surprisingly, the ever-reticent Dylan wasn’t especially high on the idea.

Until, that is, David Crosby entered the picture. In attempt to convince a distrustful Dylan to go to the ceremony, the drug-addled Crosby convinced Dylan to smoke a joint, which increased Dylan’s paranoia but apparently did the trick. Dylan was indoctorated by day’s end.

As for the ‘locusts,’ the allusion (as often is the case with Dylan) was both figurative and literal—Bob’s convergence on the quaint college town coincided with Princeton’s 17-yr cicada infestation.

This past week, a different kind of locust converged on Barack Obama as the president opened his town hall press conference to questions from the American public. 92,937 people submitted 103,981 questions and cast 3,602,695 votes in this noble experiment of political empowerment.

The top vote getters included questions related to the financial sector, jobs and the national debt. But in this time of mounting economic crisis, what was the most pungent question on the mind of the American public? Here’s a hint: It was green, but it wasn’t renewable energy.

Of course, a candid discussion on the decriminalization of marijuana shouldn’t have taken Obama completely by surprise. After all, the argument to ‘legalize it’ isn’t all smoke and mirrors. The economy would get a boost, drug cartels would be weakened and the government would make a bundle on federal taxes. But in all fairness, Nobel Laureate economists and drug enforcement agents probably weren’t the demographic dialing in.

So just how did the question of legalizing marijuana get to the top of the list?

Much of the credit goes to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), which tapped into the ‘silent majority’ of pot smokers. Admittedly, the high ranking of marijuana-related questions had a distinct tinge of astroturfing. But when the board lit up in favor of putting marijuana reform on the front burner, it was cool that Obama didn’t completely bogart the question.

It didn’t prevent him, however, from nipping the question in the bud: “I don’t know what that says about the online audience,” he said joking before turning solemn. “But the answer is ‘no,’ I don’t think that is a good strategy to grow our economy.”

Yet in all the clamor surrounding the unexpected twist surrounding Obama’s joint press conference with the mainstream press and Main Street America, a very interesting news story got lost in the haze. Just six weeks earlier, George Obama, the president’s half-brother, was been arrested and charged with…wait for it….marijuana possession, or “bhang” as it’s known in Kenya.

“If Timothy Geithner can cheat on his taxes and become Secretary of the Treasury,” brother Obama was rumored to have said, “then this should qualify me to become head of the Drug Enforcement Administration.” It seems the ability to come up with a quick quip runs in the family.

Admittedly, it was interesting to see what’s on the minds of the American people when the media gatekeepers get stonewalled. But don’t expect Obama’s “Online Town Hall” to come back around again.

Simply put, sometimes a little control over the system keeps everyone on track— especially true when that system can be so easily manipulated.

Not that Barack Obama shouldn’t take questions from the American public—just don’t be surprised if he refuses to answer them.

Come to think of it, that probably explains why Dylan fans tend not to yell out requests at his shows. The audience knows he isn’t going to play “Blowin’ in the Wind” them just someone has a burning desire to hear the song played for the millionth time.

And just for the record, next time you’re all in a huff to hear Bob play “The Day of the Locusts” live, save your breath.

Over the last ten years, Bob’s played 969 concerts, 16,062 songs, and 214 different titles—”The Day of the Locusts” wasn’t one of them…

I put down my robe, picked up my diploma,
Took hold of my sweetheart and away we did drive,
Straight for the hills, the black hills of Dakota,
Sure was glad to get out of there alive.

For a list of all the songs Dylan’s done in concert check out: http://www.fotofabini.com/Dylan/

April 6, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Groom Still Waitin’ at the Altar”: Dylan opens house for weddings, but is the Obama honeymoon over?


I see the burning of the page,

Curtain risin’ on a new age,
See the groom still waitin’ at the altar.

The last person you’d expect to be jonesing for cash is Mr. Dylan. So when it was reported this week that Bob opened his spacious, 10 bedroom Scottish manor for engagements, you just had to wonder what in the devil could it all possibly mean? And while Dylan’s Highlands mansion may be way up in the border country, far from the towns, apparently it’s the perfect place for your next party or wedding gowns.

That’s right…for a measly $3,000 you, too, can hold your next wedding reception at Dylan’s Dalriadic digs. But before you let your heart go the Highlands, consider this: America’s current relationship with a certain suave Senator from the land where the Aberdeen waters flow hasn’t exactly turned out to be the match made in heaven we’d all hoped for.

Not that Barack Obama wasn’t a formidable suitor. For two years, he coddled, cuddled and kowtowed to our every whim as he effortlessly ascended the political pecking order. Sexy, smooth and seductive. And we fell for it— hook, line and sinker. But what do you expect, America? We were falling in love. Then at precisely 12:03 pm on 20 January 2009, our courtship was consummated on the steps of the US Capital when Obama stood before God, family and close to 4 million witnesses and took the plunge.

Like any new marriage, there are milestones. And just a few weeks ago, the Obama Administration passed a major one: the First Fifty Days. Yet despite the boundless energy and barrage of programs put forth by the brash, young president, the new union hasn’t been without a few initial squabbles.

Despite numerous overtures to appease an ailing Wall Street, the market has fallen faster under Obama than any other new president in 90 years. Despite claims that he would put partisanship aside and patch up the financial fissures tearing this country apart, the Obama/Pelosi stimulus bill didn’t garner a single Republican vote in the House. And despite touting the ‘transparency’ of his new administration, three of Obama’s top nominees were torpedoed by past indiscretions that the media, not the nominee, brought to the surface.

Fifty days, my how time flies. What started as peaches and cream has turned into some serious piss and vinegar. All of which begs the question: “Is the Obama honeymoon over?”

With a CNN poll putting Obama’s job approval rating just north of 61%, a majority of Americans seem to think the bloom isn’t off the rose just yet. And they just may be right. After all, Obama’s 61% approval rating is higher than any of his predecessors. President Bush was at 58% fifty days in. President Clinton was at 53%. President George H. W. Bush was at 56%. Even Ronald Reagan, the ‘Great Communicator’ himself, was only able to communicate favorable message to 60% of the American public his first 50 days in office.

Of course, appearances can be deceiving. Because like in any relationship, in all the excitement leading up to the Big Day, we tend to overlook the ‘little things’— those annoying little distractions that suggest ‘Mr. Right’ may not necessarily be ‘Mr. Perfect.’

And while Obama may have a 61% overall job approval rating, but according to a poll released by Rasmussen Reports, the pesky little ‘distractions’ are starting to add up:

The Economy. 83% of Americans say they’re worried the steps Obama is taking to fix the economy may result in the economy getting worse, not better. And when asked how much we should be spending to get the economy back on track, 7 out of 10 voters say we should be spending less, not more.

The Stimulus Package. And when it comes to spending, close to 60% of voters say the massive, $787 billion stimulus package will make only a marginal difference in the next two to four years. And by 2-to-1, voters reject the Democrats’ call for a second stimulus package.

The Housing Market. Perhaps CNBC’s Rick Santelli got it right a few weeks ago when he went whoop ass on the Administration over the Homeowner Stability plan. Two-thirds of Americans may want to see homeowners refinance their mortgages, but less than half (48%) say the plan unfairly benefits those who have been irresponsible.

The Partisanship. Speaking of taking sides, the numbers on the recent stimulus package tell the tale. Not one Republican voted for the bill. And Americans think it’s only going to get worse. Nearly half say politics in Washington will be more partisan over the next year.

The Street. More than half of Americans have hit a wall when it comes to Wall Street. 56% oppose giving Wall Street another dime. And over two-thirds say bankers will benefit more than the average taxpayer will from the new bank bailout plan.

Like any marriage, America’s relationship with Obama is going to be filled with peaks and valleys. Obama may have lifted our spirits enough to carry us across the threshold last November, but clearly those pesky distractions we didn’t want to be bothered with during our affable, two-year courtship with Barack Obama are started to nag the American public.

But until we can get beyond our glassy-eyed infatuation with Barack Obama and stop treating him as some enchanted Prince Charming, there’s a good chance that the ‘Seven Year Itch,’ that moment when every newly-wedded couple eye one another with kindled suspicion, is going to get scratched a few years early.

That’s a problem. Because for better or for worse, we all need this marriage to work out…

I see the burning of the page,
Curtain risin’ on a new age,
See the groom still waitin’ at the altar.

March 31, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Like A Rolling Stone: Why Obama’s invisible nation leave us feeling so alone


At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used

Go to him now, he calls you, you can’t refuse
When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You’re invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal.

I wasn’t sure quite what to expect when the words, “Cuban Stimulus Package,” appeared last Friday in my RSS bin.

Considering the disastrous state of the economy both home and abroad, my first instinct was that in addition to bailing out the banking, mortgage and car industries, America was about to bailout a certain decrepit despot with whom we’ve always had a less than amiable relationship. As it turns out, the revolutionary Cuban behind this rather unconventional ‘stimulus package’ is more intent on jump-starting our economy than destroying it.

A firm believer that the current financial mess facing this country isn’t going to be solved by the crooks on Wall Street or their crooked cronies lurking the halls of Congress, serial entrepreneur and two-time billionaire Mark Cuban wants to cut the Washington fat cats out of the process altogether.

Announced on his blog on February 9, 2009, Cuban’s self-styled “stimulus plan” boils down to this. Aspiring entrepreneurs post ideas that fit 13 specific pieces of criteria (breaking even within 60 days, profitability within 90 days, no advertising, etc.). Either Cuban will fund them, or other individuals reading Cuban’s blog will take up the ideas, thereby stimulating the economy.

There is, of course, a catch.

By posting your business plan on Cuban’s blog, you tacitly agree that anyone can comment, criticize and, as Cuban himself acknowledges, “steal the idea and use it elsewhere.”

I’ll be honest. When I first heard about Cuban’s innovative, albeit unorthodox approach to fixing the broken economy, I expected it would be dismissed out of hand.

Boy, was I wrong.

As of last Tuesday, nearly 2,000 people have posted to Cuban’s blog. Sure, some have been dismissive: “We would love to present our business plan to you but not over a public domain.” Some snarky: “If I am going to start something with sweat equity and reach profitability within 60 days why do I need outside money?” But most have been supportive, even encouraging of Cuban’s experiment.

Aspiring entrepreneur Alain Raynaud summed up his support in five, succinct words: “Ask and you shall receive.” I’ll be darned if Alain didn’t post his entire business plan, front to back.

And Alain wasn’t the only one. Nearly three quarters of the people have floated some sort of an idea for Cuban (and the world) to peruse—and potentially pinch.

It’s been over 40 years since Bob Dylan sat down and scribbled those 59 lines on the back of an envelope that today stand the test of time as one of the most searing and unsympathetic indictments of American culture ever written. ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ isn’t just Dylan’s most popular song, it’s also one of his most perplexing— the ultimate ‘finger pointing’ song if ever there were one. But as the old axiom goes: ‘Whenever you point a finger at someone, there’re always three pointing back at you.’

And while the true meaning behind the song is immersed in just enough enigmatic ambiguity to merit countless articles, essays, even entire books to be written about it, after nearly a half century the song still points with laser intensity to the hypocrisy that continues to plague our national consciousness.

The sentiment sweeping the country over the last few months is that we are entering a new chapter in our nation’s history, an ‘Age of Transparency’ it’s been called. And as we make this transition the hope is that this new found openness will transform not only the way we do business in America, but transform America itself.


But there is a problem, and the problem is this. This paradigm shift in politics is not coming from the top down. Rather, it’s coming from the bottom up. Democratic lyricism may have won our hearts in November, but when the most innovative ideas are being generated by a bored billionaire best known to America as a runner-up on “Dancing with the Stars” maybe Republican pragmatism isn’t worth jettisoning just yet.

Yet the soothsayers in Washington tell us that there is no ‘Red States of America,’ there is no ‘Blue States America,’ there is only the ‘United States of America.’

“We’re all in this together,” they say, “and if we fail to pull together as a country, we’re bound to fall.”

But who are they kidding? These are the same people who told us where it’s at for eight years while they took everything from us they could steal.

But perhaps I’m confusing my disgruntled nature with nascent disdain. Maybe America did get it right this past November. Maybe we really have entered a new age of politics. Maybe our best days are ahead of us.

But even if the jugglers and clowns in Washington do decide to stop selling alibis and offer a clear direction for this country will it really solve the larger question that looms: Why in this age of transparency, a time when we’re all supposed to be pulling together do we still feel like we’re on our own?

How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

For more information on Mark Cuban’s ‘open source’ Stimulus Plan, go to blog maverick.

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

Just Like Tom Daschle’s Blues: A Taxing Time for Obama


Everybody said they’d stand behind me

When the game got rough
But the joke was on me
There was nobody even there to call my bluff

When Tom Daschle was nominated last week to head the Department of Housing and Human Services, few, if any, Washington insiders blinked an eye. Not only is the former Senator from North Dakota one of the nation’s leading experts on health-care reform, he played a pivotal role in Obama’s rise from relative obscurity to his present perch atop the political heap.

And while there are no real ‘done deals’ in Washington, Daschle’s nomination seemed about as close as it gets. One of the earliest backers of Obama’s campaign, Daschle was critical not only in soliciting support from the Democratic party but in crafting a strategy that helped defeat Obama’s most formidable opponent for the nomination, Hillary Clinton.

Tom Daschle could have had just about any position in the Obama White House he wanted. And he made no bones about the fact he wanted to run Health and Human Services.

And even though Daschle did his best to offer a plausible explanation as to why he failed to pay over $120,000 in back taxes on the millions he’s earned since leaving the Senate, it was too little too late. Clearly, the repeated choruses of ‘mea culpa’ had become a cacophonous distraction Obama could no longer afford in these critical early days of his presidency.

And so last Tuesday, in the face of what would be the second of three tax-related scandal to ensnare this administration (the third instance of an Obama appointee coming up short with Uncle Sam would be Nancy Killefer, who had been chosen by President Obama to be the Deputy Director for Management at OMB), Barack Obama accepted Tom Daschle’s withdrew his nomination for Secretary of HHS.

Political currency aside, the withdrawal of Daschle’s name as head of the Department of Health and Human Services undoubtedly cost the newly minted president more than precious political capital—it cost him a friend, a confident and political partisanship aside, probably the best man for the job. But perhaps most significantly, it severely tarnished the cult of personality that has transformed Barack Obama into one of the most recognizable, most revered and most worshiped people on the planet.

But Barack Obama isn’t the only ‘rock star’ in Washington. The people with whom Obama has surrounded himself have de facto been lumped into that category as well. Not since John F. Kennedy blew into town a half century ago has the phrase, “the best and brightest,” been bantered around with more aplomb. But even rock stars are aware of the pitfalls of not giving the Man his shake.

The Beatles, The Stones, The Kinks, Pink Floyd, Willie Nelson, Billy Joel—all have tussled with the taxman. In the case of Willie Nelson, his run-in with the IRS cost him a pretty penny. $16.5 million in pretty pennies, to be exact. Ironically, the one rock star who has something to say on just about everything, has very little to opine on taxes.

In fact, of the 500-plus songs Bob Dylan’s written over the past four and a half decades, the word ‘taxes’ appears in just one, the fourth verse of the brutally vicious, “Ballad of a Thin Man”:

But nobody has any respect;
Anyway they already expect you;
To just give a check;
To tax-deductible charity organizations

Of course, the people Obama wants surround himself aren’t rock stars, they’re politicians. They’re supposed to be restoring our faith in government, not magnifying our disdain for it.

But it’s getting increasingly difficult to jump on the Obama bandwagon when it seems the ‘best and brightest’ can even file a simple tax return…which brings us back to Tom Daschle’s recent tax blues.

You don’t fly to the front of the political pack as quickly as Barak Obama has without a few people watching your back. And for Barack Obama that man was Tom Daschle. Daschle contributed to crafting Obama’s cult of personality as much as anyone, effectively serving as Obama’s de facto guardian angel to ensure the impatient junior Senator from Illinois’ ascension to the highest office in the land didn’t suffer the same fate as Icarus, the Greek mythological figure fell to earth when he flew too close to the sun.

But in an ironic twist of fate, it was Daschle, not Obama, who unwittingly assumed the role of Icarus—brought down by the simmering, slow-burn animosity growing in this country toward politicians who think they can operate at a different standard (not to mention different tax bracket)—than the rest of us.

And so in the end, maybe the ‘rock star’ mantra the media’s affixed to Obama isn’t so far-fetched. Clearly, Obama understands the most enduring tenet of rock n’ roll as well as anyone—“It’s better to burn out than it is to fade away.”

In the case of Tom Daschle, however, we all know who got burned…

And picking up Angel who
Just arrived here from the coast
Who looked so fine at first
But left looking just like a ghost

For a complete list of songs that evoke our disdain for that age-old pastime of paying your taxes, check out Dave White’s clever compilation, “Top 10 Songs To Do Your Taxes By”.

February 9, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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