Monday, February 28, 2011

What Madoff Means To Me

Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme defrauded thousands of investors of billions of dollars.  Recently, there have been disturbing questions raised about J.P. Morgan's complicity, with allegations that the nation's second largest bank ignored numerous red flags that suggested fraud.  It was recently alleged that Citigroup was aware of the fraud and tried to pass on its exposure to other banks shortly before Madoff was caught.  As summarized at Firedoglake, all the big financial players "knew about the fraud, but they all had a stake in keeping the fraud going. So nobody at a high level blew the whistle. And when the schemes looked to collapse from their own weight, the big money boys tried to get out from under the damage."

This is all very troubling for what it says about the most powerful financial institutions in the country, but what I really want to know is how the Madoff scandal will continue to affect the Mets.  As has been widely reported, the Wilpon family, the Mets' majority owners, are deeply entangled with Madoff, personally and financially.  It has recently been revealed that Major League Baseball provided $25 million to the Mets last fall to help them with a cash shortfall and an impending lawsuit which seeks to recover $1 billion for Madoff's victims.  In the Sunday Times it was reported that the Wilpons are now looking for another funding source.

Cash flow has not been helped by ticket sales, which have been sluggish; not a surprising development given the team's poor performance the last couple of years and the failure to make any significant player moves during the off season. The team has one of the league's highest payrolls, and, because of some really bad baseball decisions are stuck with several overpaid and extremely unproductive players (e.g., Luis Castillo, Ollie Perez).  The Wilpons have tried to raise cash by offering to sell 25% interest in the team, but potential investors understandably are unwilling to do so without the potential to acquire a controlling stake.  More recently, the Wilpons stated they would sell more of the club but continue to insist, at least for now, on retaining controlling interest. 

In the short term it is clear that the Mets have no money to invest in players that could help the team.  This was clear over the winter, when they failed to sign any impact players, declined to re-sign some productive ones (Hisanori Takahashi, Pedro Feliciano), and settled on acquiring players who are returning from injuries (Chris Young, Chris Capuano).  As for the longer term, my fear is that the Wilpons, in a desperate attempt to raise money, will sell the few exciting and productive players who would be worth something to other teams (e.g., Jose Reyes, David Wright) or their most promising young players (like Ike Davis and Jenry Mejia).  Will their new GM go along with this?  It is hard to say.  But such moves would undoubtedly devastate the team, alienate the loyal fan base that inexplicably remains (me, included) and only prolong the agony before the owners are eventually forced to sell the team.

Perhaps it is not so remarkable that a massive fraud that has affected major banks, investment firms, government agencies and countless investors would seep into other aspects of our lives.  But the Mets?  Haven't we suffered enough? 

[Related posts:  When Worlds Collide; Mookie Not Madoff]

Monday Jumpstart: The National

Bloodbuzz Ohio by The National at Webster Hall, which was taped for MTV's Live In NYC series.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Duke Of Flatbush

The sport to which I owe so much has undergone profound changes, but it's still baseball. Kids still imitate their heroes on playgrounds. Fans still ruin expensive suits going after foul balls that cost $5. Hitting streaks still make the network news and hot dogs still taste better at the ballpark than at home.  -  D. Snider
My father's favorite baseball player, Duke Snider, died on Sunday at the age of 84.  He was the last surviving regular of the legendary Brooklyn Dodger teams of the 1950s.  He played center field at a time when the other two New York center fielders were Mickey Mantle for the Yankees and Willie Mays for the Giants.  It is often remarked that Snider wasn't as great a player as Mantle or Mays, but who was?  Snider was known for his clutch hitting and brilliant defensive skills.  He starred on six pennant winning teams, was an 8-time All Star, and hit at least 40 homers in five consecutive seasons (1953-1957).  He hit four home runs in two different World Series (1952 and 1955), the only player ever to do so.  The "Duke of Flatbush" played for 18 years and compiled 2,116 hits, 407 home runs, 1,333 RBIs and had a career batting average of .295 (hitting over .300 seven times).  I must point out that Snider hit his 400th home run as a member of the 1963 Mets.  He was inducted into Baseball's Hall of Fame in 1980.

[Related posts:  Living Legends]

Celluloid Nazis

Sinatra impersonating a Nazi in Von Ryan's Express
I have nothing insightful to say about tonight's Academy Awards.  I suppose I could rank the four movies I saw in the theater this past year:  1)  The King's Speech; 2) True Grit; 3) Megamind; and 4) Yogi Bear 3D. 

But, I can talk about great old war movies.  Indeed, I was at a party a couple of months ago in which my friends and I began to list classic World War II films, immediately reaching consensus on the most enjoyable and memorable.  Actors, settings, action, and even the soundtracks were easily recalled, even though we hadn't seen many of these movies in years.  There is something about movies with Nazis that particularly resonates.  Perhaps it is that the Nazi characters personify evil but are still human and based on recent historical fact, not monstrous science fiction creations, that make them such compelling movie villians.

I decided to come up with my top 10 favorite Nazi movies, and the list came to me very quickly.  Here goes:

1.  The Guns of Navarone (1961) with Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn, David Niven and many others.  This is simply my favorite war movie and one of my favorite movies, period.
2.  The Great Escape (1963) directed by John Sturges, starring Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough, James Garner and many more. Classic.  Except for Charles Bronson as a claustrophobic Pole, this one never gets old. 
3.  Von Ryan's Express (1965) starring Frank Sinatra and Trevor Howard.  Sinatra is phenomenal as an American officer leading the escape of mostly resentful British soldiers from an Italian POW camp.
4.  Where Eagles Dare (1968) directed by Brian Hutton, starring Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood.  Burton and Eastwood are great together in a plot with several twists and turns.  A friend and I once tried to count how many Nazis Clint gunned down, but we lost track about midway through.
5.  Kelly's Heroes (1970) also directed by Brian Hutton, starring Clint Eastwood, Donald Sutherland, Telly Savalas and Don Rickles.  This off-beat film about American soldiers going behind enemy lines to steal gold is exciting and funny. 
6.  Stalag 17 (1953) directed by Billy Wilder and starring William Holden who won an Oscar for his performance.  This is another classic.  Otto Preminger plays the POW camp commandant.
7.  The Dirty Dozen (1967) with Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Telly Savalas and Charles Bronson.  Marvin is assigned to train 12 convicted murderers for a dangerous mission in preparation for D-Day. 
8.  The Eagle Has Landed (1976) another directed by John Sturges, starring Michael Caine, Donald Sutherland and Robert Duvall.  Gripping movie from the German point of view about an attempt to kidnap Winston Churchill.
9.  The Train (1964) directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Burt Lancaster, Paul Scofield and Jeanne Moreau.  Brilliant, gripping movie with Lancaster as a member of the French Resistance attempting to stop the Nazis from stealing France's greatest paintings. 
10.  The Bridge at Remagen (1969) starring George Segal, Ben Gazzara and Robert Vaughn. Segal leads U.S. troops to capture a bridge across the Rhine in the last months of the war to prevent German troops from retreating safely.  Vaughn, the Nazi officer assigned to blow it up, tries to hold off as long as possible.

What am I forgetting?

[Related posts:  Best Westerns]

Great Jazz Albums (IMO) #22

Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers.  Moanin (1958).  The Jazz Messengers, the classic hard bop group, were started by the legendary drummer Art Blakey and one of my all time favorite jazz musicians, pianist Horace Silver.  Silver soon left to form his own group, and Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers went on to make a series of great albums with various personnel, from Hank Mobley (saxophone) and Kenny Dorham (trumpet) in the 50s to Wayne Shorter (saxophone) and Freddie Hubbard (trumpet) in the 60s, to Wynton Marsalis (trumpet) in the early 80s.  One of the best Jazz Messengers albums is Moanin, which included Bobby Timmons on piano, Benny Golson on saxophone, Lee Morgan on trumpet and Jymie Merritt on bass. The funky title track, written by Timmons, is a classic that will be instantly familiar even if you don't know it by name, and the tracks that follow, all composed by Golson, never let up.  If Wikipedia says it, it must be true: "The album stands as one of the archetypal hard bop albums of the era, for the intensity of Blakey's drumming and the work of Morgan, Golson and Timmons, and for its combination of old-fashioned gospel and blues influences with a sophisticated modern jazz sensibility."

[Related posts:  Really Great Jazz Albums,  #1 (Hank Mobley); , #2 (Horace Silver), #3 (Sonny Rollins), #4 (Sonny Clark), #5 (Dexter Gordon), #6 (Cannonball Adderley), #7 (Bill Evans), #8 (McCoy Tyner), #9 (Clifford Brown), #10 (Sinatra), #11 (Monk), #12 (Kenny Dorham), #13 (Coltrane), #14 (Duke Ellington), #15 (Miles Davis), #16 (Wayne Shorter), #17 (Dinah Washington); #18 (Sarah Vaughan); #19 (Stan Getz); #20 (Blue Mitchell); #21 (Gene Ammons)]

Friday, February 25, 2011

As Predicted the Media Ignores the Ruling Upholding Health Care Reform

In a recent post on the D.C. District Court ruling upholding the constitutionality of the health care reform law I predicted that the media would continue its practice of ignoring such ruling while lavishing coverage on rulings that the law was unconstitutional. This despite the fact that three courts have now ruled the law constitutional to two ruling it unconstitutional. Sadly, but not surprisingly, I was right. This graph, produced by Nancy Pelosi's office (via Daily Kos) shows exactly that using data compiled by Steve Benen at Washington Monthly.

You will notice that in the final column reflecting coverage of the most recent ruling there is no line for the Washington Post. This is because, as Benen points out "the Washington Post couldn't bother to run a single article -- not one -- about the Kessler ruling, even after it was decided in Washington, about a mile from the Post's office building." There are explanations (excuses) for this such as Ezra Klein's argument, cited by Benen, that cases changing the status quo are more news worthy than those that uphold it. That might make sense in some contexts but given the fierce battle over the Affordable Care Act and the fact that everyone expects the Supreme Court to decide its fate in the end, I don't buy it here. As Benen himself points out (and citing Greg Sargant) this does matter because this is all happening in a political climate in which the Law is under constant attack from Republicans.

While Benen and Sargant both recognize that the coverage could affect what ultimately happens in the political arena they both just shrug their shoulders and say they understand why the negative opinions are more newsworthy. I find this blithe acceptance of the media as essentially unable to report a story fairly rather disturbing. While a negative opinion might be more newsworthy in some circumstances given the highly charged nature of the debate here, the potential impact of the coverage on that debate, and the enormous importance which the media itself placed on the negative decisions the slanted coverage in this case strikes me as nothing short of a kind of journalistic malpractice.

Crazy-Making Democrats

Wild and Crazy Guys
We already know that the Republican Party has become a bastion of right wing zealots, who, as Paul Krugman points out today, are exploiting the current fiscal crisis to achieve their overarching goals of privatization and union-busting.  We already know that the Republican Party, as Kevin Drum puts it, is more extreme, more united and less compromising than ever before.  We already know that the Republican Party insists on severe cuts in discretionary spending, particularly for social programs, despite clear evidence that this will not just hurt real people but will do damage to the economic recovery.  And, finally, we already know that the Republicans will use the threat of a government shutdown to achieve a large part of their agenda.

And the Democrats?  It is a long-held tenet in the mental health field that when treating a delusional patient, it is important to not challenge their delusions.  Eventually, after gaining the patient's trust and the medication begins to work, a skilled professional can nudge the patient back to reality.  Politics, however, is not psychology, and budget negotiations are a far cry from therapy -- and, in any event, the Republicans don't seem to be medicated or amendable to treatment.  But rather than call out the Republican crazies, President Obama and the Democrats have bought into their delusions. 

As Fuzzyone has pointed out, including in a typically incisive post today, Democrats have adopted Republican talking points about the need for belt-tightening and budget cutting.  They continue do so despite a recently publicized independent report explaining that spending cuts passed by the Republican-dominated House of Representatives would be a drag on the economy and push us back towards a recession. 

President Obama and the Democrats should be arguing that we need more stimulus not less (see Must Read Krugman) and we need to be spending money on infrastructure and not gut vital social programs.  But instead, the Democrats are trying to be "reasonable," proposing to cut billions of dollars from domestic programs in the hope that this will placate the crazy Republicans.  The problem, as we have seen repeatedly, is that once you join the Republicans in their delusional world, there is no possibility of finding a rational accommodation.  What we badly need is a reality check.

Democrats Preparing to Surrender Again?

As BTD over at TalkLeft points out, it appears that the Democrats are once again preparing to surrender as they begin negotiations with themselves. As I have pointed out before, Obama started us down this road by surrendering to the Republican framing that cutting the deficit, not job creation or stimulating the economy, should be the top priority. Then, by surrendering on the extension of the Bush tax cuts, he insured that the only way to reduce the deficit would be to cut the budget. Then came his $41 billion dollar budget cut proposal. Of course that was not enough for the Republicans, who are basically fighting among themselves about how high to cut, and the number just keeps going up.
So, like the sun rising in the morning the Dems now prepare to surrender:
With a political standoff over spending threatening to trigger a federal shutdown next week, Senate Democrats began drafting a plan Thursday to slice billions of dollars from domestic agency budgets over the next seven months, yielding to Republican demands to reduce the size of government this year.
Of course this just signals to the Republicans that they should stick to their guns since the Democrats won't:
"It sounds like Senate Democrats are making progress towards our goal of cutting government spending to help the private sector create jobs," said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). "Hopefully, that means they will support the [bill] with spending cuts that we will pass next week, rather than shutting down the government."
Who would have thought it, the Dems offer a compromise and the Republican response is "great, now just give us everything we want."
Of course that is what they will do. Obama made it clear back in December when he made his infamous hostage taking analogy in talking about his decision to fold on the tax cuts for the rich.
“I think it’s tempting not to negotiate with hostage-takers, unless the hostage gets harmed. Then people will question the wisdom of that strategy. In this case, the hostage was the American people, and I was not willing to see them get harmed.”

Of course, once you say this the hostage takers will always threaten to hurt the hostage, why wouldn't they. At this point the totally inability of the Democrats, both the President and those in Congress, to stand their ground is as infuriating as it is, at this point, predictable.

If It's Friday It Must Be . . . Yo La Tengo . . . (You Can Have It All)

You Can Have It All by Yo La Tengo from 2000 on Conan.  I would have loved to have heard this or countless other great songs when I saw them at the Fox Theater in Oakland on Tuesday night.  Unfortunately, they focused mostly on making noise and creating feedback. 
[Related Posts: The Story of Yo La Tengo; If It's Friday It Must Be . . . Yo La Tengo -- Mr. Tough, The Summer, I Feel Like Going Home, Today Is The Day, Sugarcube, Tom Courtenay, Here to Fall, Autumn Sweater, Femme Fatale, Our Way to Fall; With a Girl Like You, Black Flowers; Don't Cry No Tears; Jesus, Etc.; Little Eyes; I Should Have Known Better]

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Defending Legal Services

My first job as a lawyer, over 25 years ago, was in a legal aid office.  Our clients were people of limited financial means who sought help navigating the legal system against well-heeled landlords, unyielding government bureaucrats and abusive spouses.  We prevented many of them from being evicted or from living in sub-standard housing, helped them obtain government benefits they had been unfairly denied, and protected them from dangerous domestic situations through restraining orders. 

In those days, the recently-sainted Reagan Administration was aggressively seeking to eliminate the Legal Services Corporation altogether.  While these efforts failed, Reagan did succeed in cutting funds and placing on LSC's board of directors members who were ideologically opposed to federally subsidized legal services for the poor.  Legal services came under assault again during the Clinton Administration, when the Republicans in Congress sought to cut funds and limit the cases LSC-funded legal aid offices could take.  One would think, given that Hillary Clinton had been a former chair of the LSC board, that defending legal aid would be somewhat of a priority.   But, as part of comprehensive welfare reform, Clinton signed off on restrictions to legal aid lawyers, which included prohibiting LSC-funded agencies from taking part in class action lawsuits.

And, so, here we are again.  According to the Brennan Center for Justice, under current funding levels, legal aid offices are able to serve only a fraction of the low-income families who need assistance with "evictions, unpaid wages, child custody, domestic violence, health care, mortgage foreclosure and government benefits."  It has been reported that "fully 80 percent of the civil legal needs of low-income people go unmet annually" due to lack of funding.  Thus, "for every person served by a federally funded civil legal services provider, another was turned away because of insufficient resources. More than one million civil cases are turned away each year."

With the recession pushing more families into poverty, federal funds for these desperately needed services are in danger of being reduced even further.  As the Equal Justice Society reports, "the House has approved a $70 million cut -- from $420 million to $350 million - in funding for the federal Legal Services Corporation, reducing grants to 136 local legal aid nonprofit programs by an average of 18 percent."

There seems to be a disturbing consensus among Republicans and Democrats that social programs that help low income populations must suffer substantial cuts as part of a nationwide belt-tightening, with the debate only being over how much to cut.  Not only is this economically misguided (see, e.g., Must Read Krugman, Let 'Em Eat Catfood, Growth is Good), but it fails to acknowledge, as Bob Herbert recently wrote, the "human cost."

To prevent any more families from falling through the cracks of our legal system, the Equal Justice Society and the Brennan Center for Justice  are asking for all of us to contact our senators and urge them to oppose any cuts for the Legal Services Corporation.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Victory in the Culture Wars

[T]he President has concluded that . . . classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a more heightened standard of scrutiny. The President has also concluded that Section 3 of DOMA, as applied to legally married same-sex couples, fails to meet that standard and is therefore unconstitutional. Given that conclusion, the President has instructed the Department not to defend the statute.  -- Attorney General Eric Holder.
Bill Clinton did many disgraceful things while President having nothing to do with interns.  In 1996 he signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.  The Obama Administration has finally determined that the law discriminates against sexual orientation and is unconstitutional.  It is about time.

Laws that are challenged under the Equal Protection Clause are analyzed under various standards depending on the class of people against whom the law allegedly discriminates.  The highest standard, known as strict scrutiny, applies to statutes that discriminate on the basis of  race.  When strict scrutiny is applied, the law is presumed unconstitutional and can only be upheld if there is a compelling government interest.  At the other end of the spectrum is the rational basis test, under which laws are presumed constitutional and will be upheld as long as the law serves some legitimate government interest.  There are also intermediate levels of scrutiny.

The Obama Administration previously defended DOMA in court, arguing that it was constitutional under the rational basis test.  What the Justice Department did today was acknowledge that laws that impact sexual orientation must pass a "heightened standard of scrutiny," somewhere between strict scrutiny and rational basis.  Because Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage for federal purposes as only between a man and a woman, cannot survive analysis under a higher standard than rational basis, the Attorney General announced it will no longer defend the constitutionality of the statute.

It is important to remember that DOMA is still the law of the land until Congress repeals it or it is found unconstitutional in the courts.  But the Administration's recognition that this law -- and others -- which discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation are unconstitutional is an enormously positive step.

Republican leader John Boehner criticized President Obama for "stir[ring] up a controversial issue that sharply divides the nation" when he should be focusing on jobs.  This must mean the GOP is not wasting its time with wedge issues but is responsibly seeking solutions to the unemployment crisis.  Well, not exactly.  The Republican Party is doing little but devoting their efforts to repealing health care reform, undermining abortion rights, and defunding Planned Parenthood and NPR.  Despite the hypocritical rhetoric it is clear that they want to keep fighting the culture wars.  OK, let's fight.  As Kevin Drum states, "Blacks, Hispanics, gays, women, the disabled and millions of others have benefited tremendously from the culture wars, and I'm happy to see it continue until there's no more war to fight."

R.I.P. Timothy Adams

Roman Colosseum lit to protest an execution
On February 22, 2011, Texas executed Timothy Adams for the 2002 murder of his 19-month-old son.  His attorneys had made a powerful case for clemency.  They argued that "Mr. Adams served honorably in the United States military and held steady employment. He took responsibility for his actions by pleading guilty at trial. He had no criminal history before his crime, and none after. In his eight years on death row, Mr. Adams had, without exaggeration, been a model prisoner."  Mr. Adams' family, "who also were victimized by Mr. Adams when, in a suicidal state, he caused them to lose a grandchild, nephew, and brother" were in favor of commutation to life without parole.  Adams' attorneys stated that "the execution of Mr. Adams has inflicted needless pain on the Adams family, without any benefit to the State of Texas" and the rejection of clemency "reflects that our society has abandoned its belief in the possibility of redemption and the virtue of mercy."  This is the eighth execution in the United States in 2011, the second in Texas.  Adams is the fifth African American to be executed this year.

Mid-Week Palate Cleanser: Phoenix

1901 by Phoenix

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Another Judge Finds the Health Care Law Constitutional

Judge Gladys Kessler has ruled in a case out of the District Court for the District of Columbia that the Health Care reform law is constitutional, granting the government's motion to dismiss. Unless, as Judge Vinson did in the recent case out of Florida, you ignore most of post New Deal Commerce Clause jurisprudence the decision does not strike me as a difficult one. If the decision not to get health insurance "substantially affects" interstate commerce, which it pretty clearly does, then the necessary and proper clause does most of the heavy lifting.

The logic, which Judge Kessler lays out nicely, is not complicated. The insured end up bearing the cost of the uninsured which drives up prices. Once you have made that determination the commerce clause allows Congress to regulate health insurance generally the necessary and proper clause allows Congress to pass the health care law, including the individual mandate, which was the main provision at issues in this case. As Judge Kessler says "the individual mandate provision is an appropriate means which is rationally related to the achievement of Congress’s larger goal of reforming the national health insurance system."

Judge Kessler also handily dispatches the often voiced argument that Congress cannot regulate inactivity, i.e., the refusal to obtain health insurance:
It is pure semantics to argue that an individual who makes a choice to forgo health insurance is not “acting,” especially given the serious economic and health-related consequences to every individual of that choice. Making a choice is an affirmative action, whether one decides to do something or not do something. They are two sides of the same coin. To pretend otherwise is to ignore reality.
She goes on to point out that health care is unique in that everyone will eventually enter the market for healthcare, i.e. everyone will need it, and in an emergency providers are obligated to give it to people whether they have insurance or not.

In any event it is an interesting opinion and worth a read but the thing that is most interesting to me is how this will be covered by the media. This now makes three district courts that have ruled in favor of the law against two that have ruled against it. As Steve Benen pointed out in the Washington Monthly after the Florida decision, the negative opinions have garnered far more coverage than the positive ones. Being a pessimist in general and about the media in particular I expect that trend to continue but it is worth watching.

[Related posts:  Engaged Activism]

Telling the Truth about Social Security

It was refreshing to see President Obama's OMB director telling the truth about Social Security in, of all places, U.S.A. Today. As Joan McCarter at DailyKos (whose post brought this to my attention) points out this is a welcome act for Democrats, which we need more of.

It is true that Social Security is now paying out more than it takes in as Baby Boomers start to retire, but it is also true that those Boomers paid in a lot when they were working and the result is a huge surplus in the Social Security Trust Fund, enough to keep the program solvent till at least 2037. The problem is that there is no money in the trust fund, just government bonds that need to be cashed to pay for Social Security. It is paying off those bonds that causes the problem. The question then is how to do that. One way is to cut Social Security in the future, which would both hurt the neediest most and hurt future growth as people with less money spend less. Another solution would be to raise revenues to pay our bills, but President Obama took that off the table for at least two years with his terrible tax deal in December.

As Paul Krugman pointed out recently, the real driver of the deficit in the long term is health care costs. As Krugman correctly noted, the health care bill did have some measures to contain those costs, but not enough. While the cuts proposed by both Obama and the Republicans will hurt real people and probably stunt economic growth, their impact on the deficit is barely visible to the naked eye. Beyond a couple of Op-Eds and blog posts there does not seem to be any really serious conversation about these rather basic facts.

[Related posts:  Let 'Em Eat Catfood]

Tom Tomorrow: The Republican War on Women

As usual, Tom Tomorrow captures the absurdity of Republican extremism.  For the full comic, scroll down to the Tom Tomorrow link on the right and click on the image.

Stage Fright

There I was in the men's room at the Marriott Hotel in Monterey, CA yesterday afternoon, and who should be next to me taking care of business but Alan K. Simpson, the former Republican Senator from Wyoming, and recent co-chair of President Obama's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility aka The Catfood Commission.  (He is a very tall man, by the way.)

There was so much I could say to him and there was nothing he could do but stand there and take it.

I could call out this unrepentant deficit hawk for his cruel and short-sighted recommendations as co-chair of the commission, which called for "deep cuts in domestic and military spending . . . limiting or eliminating popular tax breaks in return for lower rates, and benefit cuts and an increased retirement age for Social Security."  I could confront him with repeating what Paul Krugman has referred to as a "zombie lie," "that Social Security will be bankrupt as soon as payroll tax revenues fall short of benefit payments, never mind the quarter century of surpluses that came first."  Or I could scold him for his insensitive and sexist remarks, including his latest in which he compared Social Security to "a milk cow with 310 million tits"

I could even reach back and go after his disgraceful performance at Clarence Thomas's confirmation hearings, when he notoriously smeared Anita Hill with innuendo, waiting until she concluded her testimony to announce, without providing any details or substantiation, that "I really am getting stuff over the transom about Professor Hill."

Or I could have just peed on his famous size 15 shoes.

So what did this fierce critic of Alan Simpson and all he stands for do?  Well, when Simpson looked over and said, "hello," I responded with a meek, "hi," and nothing more, as he zipped up, washed up and walked out.

Monday, February 21, 2011

If You Have Nothing Nice To Say . . .

Justice and Mrs. Thomas
In a front page story in the New York Times, it was reported that Clarence Thomas has not spoken during a court argument in five years, an unprecedented silence from a Supreme Court justice.  The problem, however, isn't that Justice Thomas doesn't speak; it is to whom he speaks when he does.  As previously reported, Thomas (as well as Justices Alito and Scalia) have attended, headlined and spoken at political fund-raising events for right wing organizations, raising serious concerns about, at minimum, the appearance of impropriety.

Justice Thomas's ethics have come under further scrutiny lately.  Both he and Justice Scalia were featured guests at a retreat of wealthy Republicans and conservative leaders organized by Charles and David Koch, the brothers who finance right wing causes from the money they have made from their energy conglomerate.  One of the Koch brothers pet causes had long been ending financial regulations on elections.  Indeed, according to Common Cause, they funded many of the groups who filed amicus briefs in the Citizens United case.  What is so unseemly about the appearances of Thomas and Scalia at the Koch Industries-sponsored event is that it occurred while Citizens United was pending before the Court.  Furthermore, while a spokesperson for Thomas asserted that the Justice merely made a “brief drop-by” at the event, his financial disclosure forms revealed that he was reimbursed for an undisclosed amount for four days of “transportation, meals and accommodations” over the weekend of the retreat.  Hardly, a drop-by.

Then there are the myriad issues involving Thomas' wife.  An outspoken conservative in her own right, Ginni Thomas set up a political consulting business, Liberty Central, which, as the Times describes, touted her on the organization's website as an an advocate for “liberty-loving citizens” and promised to use her “experience and connections” to help clients raise money and increase their political impact.  What connections would that be?  In any event, Liberty Central benefited greatly from the Citizens United decision, with Ms. Thomas accepting "large, unidentified contributions" for the company.  Perhaps not coincidentally, Justice Thomas omitted his wife's employment on financial disclosure forms for the past six years.  He ultimately was forced to acknowledge this error, claiming it was due to "a misunderstanding of the filing instructions.”

Thomas's conduct would clearly seem to violate the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges, but for the fact that the Justices have exempted themselves from the ethical rules governing other federal judges.  Nevertheless, his conduct should come under scrutiny.  Common Cause, accordingly, has written a well-documented letter to the Attorney General requesting an investigation to determine whether Justices Thomas and Scalia should have recused themselves from the Citizens United case.  It requests, in the event the Justice Department determines either Justice should have disqualified themselves, that the Solicitor General seek to have Citizens United decision vacated. 

As for cases yet to be decided by the Court, Ginni Thomas stepped down from her role at Liberty Central after a memo surfaced which called for the repeal of health care reform because of its unconstitutionality.  Given the increasing likelihood that the Court will take up a case involving the Affordable Care Act, 74 Democrats in the House of Representatives sent Thomas a letter requesting his recusal.  As the letter states:  "From what we have already seen, the line between your impartiality and you and your wife's financial stake in the overturn of healthcare reform is blurred."

I am glad that Justice Thomas doesn't ask questions during oral argument, and I wish Justice Scalia would ask far fewer.  It is better to have more time to address questions from the Justices who actually might be persuadable.  The problem is not what these extremely partisan Justices do when they are on the bench but what they do when they are off of it. 

[Related posts:  Just Politics, Activist Judges, Corporate Takeover: An Update]

Monday Jumpstart: Doves

Sky Starts Falling by Doves

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Great Jazz Albums (IMO) #21

Gene Ammons.  Boss Tenor (1960).  "Gene 'Jug' Ammons was one of the tenor giants of his era. He had a  big, deep tone that was perfect for everything from warm ballads to groove-intensive blues or sweet swing."   Boss Tenor is one of the classic albums that he recorded for Prestige.  It has something for everyone:  "From the blues that drips from 'Hittin’ the Jug' and 'Blue Ammons' to the infectious medium bounce of the standards 'Close Your Eyes' and 'Canadian Sunset,' and from the sophisticated swing of 'Stompin’ at the Savoy' to the finger-poppin’ bop of 'Confirmation' and the after-hours balladry of 'My Romance.'"

[Related posts:  Really Great Jazz Albums,  #1 (Hank Mobley); , #2 (Horace Silver), #3 (Sonny Rollins), #4 (Sonny Clark), #5 (Dexter Gordon), #6 (Cannonball Adderley), #7 (Bill Evans), #8 (McCoy Tyner), #9 (Clifford Brown), #10 (Sinatra), #11 (Monk), #12 (Kenny Dorham), #13 (Coltrane), #14 (Duke Ellington), #15 (Miles Davis), #16 (Wayne Shorter), #17 (Dinah Washington); #18 (Sarah Vaughan); #19 (Stan Getz); #20 (Blue Mitchell)]

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The G.O.P War On Women Continues

More than a third of Planned Parenthood's budget is funded by federal, state and local governments.  The $75 million its receives from the federal government, which cannot be used for abortions, provides family planning services for low and moderate income women.  On Friday, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the budget bill to deny funding to Planned Parenthood.  Early this morning, the House passed the Republican budget plan, which all told includes $60 billion in spending cuts.  The Democrats were unanimous in opposition.

Nancy Pelosi questioned the motives of the mostly male group of Republicans who were most vehement against funding Planned Parenthood, accusing them of trying to disguise their opposition to family planning by using Planned Parenthood "as a whipping boy."  Pelosi made the obvious point that "if you want to reduce the number of abortions in our country, you must commit to supporting contraception and family planning,"  She is right.  This isn't really about preventing abortions.  We know this because the amendment which cuts funding to Planned Parenthood also eliminates all $317 million in funding for the Title X program, which provides comprehensive family planning and preventive health services, including information and access to contraception, to low income Americans.

This attack on women and families is part of the familiar mean-spirited Republican formula of attacking government programs that help the poor and disadvantaged, and using wedge issues to fire up their conservative base. This latest move is so extreme, however, that it should serve to fire up the rest of us who care about women's reproductive health.

[Related posts:  Hyde and Seek; G.O.P. War on Women; Back to the Dark Ages]

Friday, February 18, 2011

Badger Zeitgeist

The right wing Governor of Wisconsin comes into office with a budget surplus and creates a modest shortfall by giving tax breaks to big business.  He then exaggerates the nature of the fiscal crisis, blames it on the public unions and uses it try to crush the rights of state workers.  What is remarkable about the situation in Wisconsin is the unified push back from the Democratic Party and the  huge and energetic popular protests in the streets and in the state Capitol.

It is important to understand what is behind this effort. It has little to do with the budget -- indeed the unions can't be blamed for the budget -- and everything to do with politics.  As Kevin Drum points out:  "It's an effort to destroy one of the few institutions left that fights relentlessly for the economic interests of the middle class."  But more than that, it is an attempt to permanently weaken a group that provides the most significant organized opposition to Republican candidates. 

The latest news is that the Republicans may be backing down.  Chris Bowers reports that before adjourning until March 1st, the Republican-controlled state Assembly rescinded their vote to move to final passage on the bill to strip state employees of the right to collectively bargain, making it possible to amend the bill and suggesting Republicans may be open to compromise.  Meanwhile, the protests are going to continue all weekend and all of the Democratic State Senators remain across state lines where they fled to deny the Republicans in the Senate a quorum on the bill.

It is amazing what can happen when you fight back.  Show your support for this effort by clicking on the Act Blue badge on the right hand column of the blog under Worthy Causes, and donate $14 to the Wisconsin State Senate Democratic Committee, one for each of the 14 heroic Senators.

R.I.P. Frances Spisak

Roman Colosseum lit to protest an execution
On February 17, 2011, Ohio executed Frances Spisak for the 1982 murders of three people on the campus of Cleveland State University. Spisak shot and killed Tim Sheehan, a CSU employee; the Rev. Horace Rickerson; and 17-year-old CSU student Brian Warford.  Spisak was alleged to have said that he committed the killings because he was "a follower of Adolf Hitler and was in a war for survival "of the Aryan people."  Michael Benza and Alan Rossman, Spisak's attorneys, released the following statement: "We know what the media is going to say about about Frances Spisak. But the truth is Frances was seriously mental ill and committed the crimes because of this mental illness not because of hate. What we need to talk about is why is it okay to kill the mentally ill? We have the ability to provide treatment and protect the public without killing mentally ill people who commit crimes. Maybe some day we will see executions of mentally ill people for what it is:  barbaric."  This is the seventh execution in the United States this year, the first in Ohio.

If It's Friday It Must Be . . . Yo La Tengo . . . (I Should Have Known Better)

I Should Have Known Better by Yo La Tengo from the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta, GA on 1-12-08.
[Related Posts: The Story of Yo La Tengo; If It's Friday It Must Be . . . Yo La Tengo -- Mr. Tough, The Summer, I Feel Like Going Home, Today Is The Day, Sugarcube, Tom Courtenay, Here to Fall, Autumn Sweater, Femme Fatale, Our Way to Fall; With a Girl Like You, Black Flowers; Don't Cry No Tears; Jesus, Etc.; Little Eyes]

Thursday, February 17, 2011

R.I.P. Michael Hall

Roman Colosseum lit to protest an execution
On February 15, 2011, Texas executed Michael Hall for his involvement in the 1998 killing of Amy Robinson, a mentally challenged 19-year old.  Robert Neville, who was also convicted of the murder, was executed in 2006.  Hall repeatedly apologized to the victim's relatives who witnessed his execution.  Hall was 18 years old at the time of the murder (Neville was 23), with an IQ ranging between 64 and 72.  The claim that he was intellectually disabled and ineligible for the death penalty was rejected.  After the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, Danny Burns, one of Hall's appellate attorneys stated:  "The truth is that Michael Hall will be executed for something he never fully comprehended.  It's just a sad case all the way around. The facts of the case are sad and it's sad that a person like Michael Hall will have to be executed."   This is the sixth execution in the United States this year, and the first in Texas.

The Media's Obsession with Bipolarity

I don't have time to say much about this but one of my pet peeves is the media's obsession with creating bipolar narratives. This example from Matt Bai's piece in today's Times was too good to pass up.

As the White House and Congressional Republicans duel this week over their respective budget proposals, the conversation in the capital is all about the size and role of the federal government. Basically, President Obama would cut some and spend a lot; Republicans would cut a lot and spend much less.
(My emphasis)

On what planet are Republican's proposing to "cut a lot and spend much less." Did I miss some huge budget cutting proposal from the Republicans? Last I saw the house leadership was talking 40-60 billion while some of the tea baggers were pushing for 100 billion. While the cuts would do great damage, they are pretty insignificant as far as reducing the deficit goes. It certainly does not amount to "spending much less." Republicans don't do that. They spend like crazy while cutting taxes for the rich and programs for the poor. (The cost of the two year extension of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans is $116 billion plus another $23 billion from the estate tax cut.) I guess that's a story the media is not interested in.

Jonathan Richman Sings!

Jonathan Richman turns 60 this year and continues to make great music.  One critic described him as "one of rock's most eccentric and unpredictable cult figures, a performer whose eternally childlike public persona and seeming naiveté . . . tended to obscure the dexterity and craft of his music, which skirted from garage rock to country to Latin stylings and back."  Amen.

The former front man for the proto-punk band, The Modern Lovers, has been quietly recording solid solo albums for the past several years, including Because Her Beauty Is Raw And Wild (2008) and Not So Much To Be Loved As To Love (2004).  He is back again with O Moon, Queen Of Night On Earth, which mostly features Richman on acoustic guitar and a drummer. The new album has Richman's typically great songwriting, humor, affecting guitar work and that wonderfully familiar Boston accent that you can even detect when he sings in French.

Here is a performance from the early 1990s: 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Obama's Budget: A Bad Result of Bad Strategy

First off, thanks to lovechilde for inviting me to post here. Since I lack his knowledge of music and we have irreconcilable differences on the subject of baseball, I will likely post mostly on law and politics. So here goes.

President' Obama's budget proposal is terrible on many levels and plenty of people have already pointed that out. It cuts programs that help the most vulnerable while doing essentially nothing to cut the budget deficit. Rather than rehash that I want to take a longer view of the way in which this is the result of bad decisions made very early in the administration.

One of those bad decisions is the mistake, which Obama keeps repeating, of negotiating with himself. There is no way to know if he could have obtained a stronger stimulus or the public option, but what is clear is that he never tried. In a misguided attempt to capture the magic of bipartisanship he tries to meet the Republicans halfway. Of course they have no interest in reciprocating and simply pull him further in their direction.

So what brought us to the point where a democratic president is proposing to cutting things like heating assistance for the poor and community block grants? One could start with the failure to pass a stimulus that any reasonable person though was adequate to the task, but there is a fair counterargument that Obama got the best he could. (I'm not sure this is true since he is the one who set the limit on the stimulus, but there is no way to know.)

What Obama did not have to do is wholeheartedly adopt a Republican framing of the economic situation in which the deficit and not jobs (or rather the lack thereof) is the main problem. Not only is this framing wrong, particularly in the short term, it shifted the focus from how to get the economy going to the much narrower question of how to cut the deficit. So now, two years into Obama's term, a "good" budget becomes one that cuts things like heating assistance and community block grants. And given his record, there is no reason to think that Obama will be able to limit the damage to his bad opening bid because the Republican plan is even worse. It would be great to believe that Obama could reframe the debate in a more sane way, but I don't know that he could even if he wanted to, and there is no indication that he does.

And the weakness of the administration's plan is already clear. While the White House claims that the budget is "shared sacrifice" when Chris Bowers asked in a conference call for progressive bloggers with the White House what the rich were doing to help OMB communications chief Ken Baer pointed to the reduction of itemized deductions for wealthier Americans. Of course there is little chance that what Republican's will characterize as a tax increase will pass, especially after the President's epic fold on tax cuts in December.

And of course those tax cuts are what the budget cuts are paying for.

Progressives United, Not Citizens United

As progressives, it's time we had our voices heard.              -- Russ Feingold
Some politicians fade away.  Others become lobbyists.  Russ Feingold is not any politician.  (See Regenerated Progressive.)  After losing his Wisconsin Senate seat to a Tea Party-backed plastics executive, Feingold has formed a political organization, Progressives United.  A direct response to the Supreme Court's disastrous and unprincipled Citizens United decision, Progressives United was formed to fight the corporate influence on elections and to support progressive candidates.

According to its web site, Progressives United's aim is to "build a massive grassroots effort dedicated to mitigating the effects of, and eventually overturning, the Citizens United decision."  As Feingold says in the video below: 
We'll work to ensure that our elected officials, both Republicans and Democratic, are held accountable to the people, and not to the lobbyists in Washington. We'll call out the media, when they hide from the real story. And we'll support candidates when they uphold our progressive ideals, even if the Beltway establishment doesn't.

Mid-Week Palate Cleanser: Belle and Sebastian

I Didn't See It Coming by Belle and Sebastian.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

George Shearing (1919-2011)

George Shearing, the brilliant jazz piano player, died on Monday at the age of 91.  His best known composition, Lullaby of Birdland, became a standard that was recorded by over 100 performers.  What came to be known as the "Shearing Sound" was harmonically complex and instantly recognizable.  It consisted of Shearing on piano, playing block chords, with bass, drums and, instead of saxophone and trumpet, he employed a vibraphone and guitar.  I am particularly fond of his albums with singers, especially The Swingin's Mutual with Nancy Wilson (1961) and An Evening With George Shearing and Mel Torme (1982).  Here's a little taste of that Shearing Sound:

State of Barbarism

If the State of California had its way, executions would still be carried out in the gas chamber.  The State opposed a lawsuit brought in the early 1990s to establish that such a method was cruel and unusual.  After extremely contentious proceedings proved that inmates put to death by gas suffered "intense, visceral pain, primarily as a result of lack of oxygen to the cells," an experience equivalent to a major heart attack, or to being held under water, the California legislature provided lethal injection as an alternative.

Having established lethal injection as the method for execution, the State would have preferred to conduct as much of the process as possible out of the view of witnesses.  After more lawsuits, brought by the ACLU and others, the federal courts ruled that the public had a right to view virtually the entire execution process.

It was clear why the State fought to keep executions secretive.  More recent litigation has revealed a chaotic and haphazard process being carried out by untrained personnel in dark, crowded conditions with lax oversight over the administration of lethal drugs.  Moreover, it has been shown that, contrary to common belief, lethal injection could cause excruciating pain that is masked by the paralytic effect of one of the drugs -- particularly if incorrectly implemented.

California uses a combination of three drugs that was concocted in the 1970s by a state medical examiner from Oklahoma without scientific testing.  Sodium thiopental, the first of three drugs, is a barbiturate that is supposed to render the inmate unconscious.  A second drug is designed to cause muscle paralysis and respiratory arrest.  The third drug is supposed to stop the heart.  There are many problems with this protocol, the most serious of which is that by using a paralytic agent, there is no way to tell if the barbiturate is working effectively.  In other words, if the inmate is paralyzed it can't be discerned whether he (or she) is truly unconscious or is simply unable to scream out in pain.

Now adding to this risk is the potential use of a barbiturate that has not been tested by any authority to ensure it will work properly.  As has been widely reported, there is a nationwide shortage of sodium thiopental, California's supply expired, and the U.S. manufacturer, Hospira, has decided to stop producing the drug.  This led to a mad scramble by the State to obtain the drug from another source, which they ultimately found in Great Britain.

The FDA contends that it is not required to determine the "identity, safety, effectiveness, surety or any other characteristics" of the British shipment.  It maintains that its role is to review the drug only for medical use and to defer to prison officials when the drug is used for lethal injection.  Of course, the State assures us that there is nothing to worry about.  According to a prison spokesperson, "All our efforts to acquire the drug, and any drug for lethal injection, were done in accordance with state and federal law."  This has led to a federal suit against the FDA, brought by six death row inmates, who claim that the agency’s decision to allow one execution drug across U.S. borders without FDA approval is ”manifestly contrary to law and amount[s] to an abdication of the obligations imposed” by the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938.

We have now learned that the drugs were obtained from Dream Pharma, a small pharmaceutical shop in West London that also houses a driving school.  Records obtained from the FDA by the ACLU-NC reveal that Dream Pharma is not FDA-approved and that the UK broker did not know if the drugs met U.S. standards. While the drug that had been made in the U.S. came with liquid for mixing, according to the UK distributor, the British product is "freeze-dried powder" and dilutents are not provided.  While CDCR, California's correctional agency, sent a sample of the UK-made drugs out for testing that should have been completed by October, it has yet to disclose the results.  Once again, we are supposed to take the State's assurances on faith. 

My good friend Natasha Minkser, Death Penalty Policy Director at the ACLU-NC said it perfectly:

The most extreme act of government merits the highest degree of transparency and scrupulous adherence to the law. The people of California deserve better than an 'add water and kill' policy made up behind closed doors.  We call on the Governor, the Attorney General and the department of corrections to stop hiding the truth and to disclose to the public what's really going on here.

[Related posts:  Unevolved and Indecent, Lethal Lifesavers; Evolving Justice, Hide and Seek, Drug Problem, Banality of Evil]

Monday, February 14, 2011

Hope Springs Eternal

Cue the Ken Burns music.  Spring training, like spring itself, is a time of renewal and rebirth; a time when even the lowliest team has hope for the season ahead.  Critical trades over the winter have bolstered the team's weaknesses.  Players coming off injury-plagued seasons are returning in the best shape of their careers.  Hitters have corrected the flaws in their swing and pitchers have discovered devastating new pitches.  It may be hackneyed and trite, but I buy it every year.  That's why I eat up articles like the one in the Sunday Times, If The Stars Align, The Mets Could Surprise, Really.

The article concedes that "the 2006 club fell short of the World Series, the 2007 and 2008 teams had crushing September collapses, and the 2009 and 2010 squads succumbed to injuries and some remarkably poor play."  The Mets made no significant trades to make the team better for 2011, and their star pitcher, Johan Santana will not return from surgery until mid-season.  Nevertheless, the piece goes on to surmise, if the Mets' core players stay healthy and the younger players continue to improve, the team could be "formidable."

Yes, he said, "formidable."  Go ahead and laugh, but remember that last year at this time anyone who predicted the Giants would be formidable, much less World Series champs, would have been laughed at too.  So, at least until opening day, I'm feeling optimistic and excited about the Mets' new season.  Really.

UN Agency's Suprisingly Smart Report on Climate-Smart Ag Practices

Here is the latest post from Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, senior scientist at PAN, originally posted on PAN's website (Pesticide Action Network (PAN North America). 

Climate Smart Agriculture?

By Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, Feb. 10, 2011

In a new report, the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) stressed the need to transform agriculture and adopt “climate-smart” practices. No news there. The real surprise is what "climate-smart" ag does not mean for FAO.

With all the relentless hype from Monsanto & Co. around ag biotech's supposed role in feeding the world and providing the answer to climate change, I expected to find plugs for increasing investments in “biotechnology” or “GMOs” sprinkled throughout the entire report. I was wrong. The report simply and consistently stressed that  “significant transformation” is required in agriculture; that effective “climate-smart” practices already exist and that an ecosystem approach with coordination across sectors and institutions is crucial to achieving meaningful climate change responses. Although FAO was a co-sponsor of the landmark International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), its commitment to IAASTD’s call for radical change has been less than impressive at times—to say the least. Yet this latest report contains solid findings that, as an agroecologist, I can agree with.

Water, Soil & Genes
FAO’s new website gives examples of production systems that are “climate-smart,” many of which are described in the FAO publication 'Climate-Smart' Agriculture: Policies, Practices and Financing for Food Security, Adaptation, and Mitigation.

 “Climate-smart” agriculture is defined by FAO as “agriculture that sustainably increases productivity, resilience (adaptation), reduces/removes GHGs [greenhouse gases]  (mitigation), and enhances achievement of national food security and development goals.” The emphasis throughout the report is very much on agroecological approaches to soil, nutrient, water and ecosystem management with explicit attention to the importance of preserving genetic resources of crops and animals—including wild relatives, which are critical in developing resilience to shocks. The report warns of the ecological damage, public health harms and unsustainable nature of industrial agricultural practices and technologies, and highlights the advantages of diversified agroforestry and urban and peri-urban agricultural systems.

Moving beyond the farm-gate, the report calls for policy and institutional change to create an enabling environment for climate-smart agriculture. One compelling example of institutional innovation is the evolution of farmer field schools in Indonesia (a highly regarded approach to ecological pest management based on farmers’ active participation in ecological field assessments) into “climate field schools.” Collective resource management activities are also highlighted, as well as the importance of improving farmers—particularly women’s—access to and control over resources, including property rights to land, water and genetic resources. The report argues for the establishment of financial mechanisms to support small-scale farmers in adopting “climate-smart” agriculture, such as credit, insurance, social safety nets and payments for ecosystem services. Finally, the report assesses various national and international financing options, favoring transparent approaches with mechanisms for greater accountability and ability to link financing directly to farmers’ beneficial practices on the ground.

Seems like quite a while since we've had a solid contribution—free of hype or political favors to industry—from a major U.N. organization regarding the future of agriculture. In the wake of USDA's recent bad behavior, there is some comfort in knowing that public agencies' fealty to Monsanto doesn't always extend all the way to Rome.

Monday Jumpstart: A.C. Newman

Like a Hitman, Like a Dancer by A.C. Newman

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Great Jazz Albums (IMO) #20

Blue Mitchell.  Boss Horn (1966).  Blue Mitchell held his own as a trumpeter in Horace Silver's great quintet of the late 1950s-early 1960s, where "his lyrical playing and beautiful tone perfectly complemented Silver’s simplified, soulful brand of bop."  One critic wrote that Mitchell's tone had a "wistfulness about it, and his improvisations inclined toward the harmonic implications of the blues even when he worked with sophisticated material."  After Silver's group disbanded, Mitchell became a leader and recorded some great albums that invariably included swinging hard bop tunes, lovely ballads and R& B-inflected blues.  My favorite of these is Boss Horn.  What makes this album particularly noteworthy are the performances by two legendary (or soon to be) piano players on alternate tracks -- Cedar Walton and a young Chick Corea.  Corea wrote two of the album's compositions:  "Tones for Joan's Bones" and "Straight Up and Down."

[Related posts:  Really Great Jazz Albums,  #1 (Hank Mobley); , #2 (Horace Silver), #3 (Sonny Rollins), #4 (Sonny Clark), #5 (Dexter Gordon), #6 (Cannonball Adderley), #7 (Bill Evans), #8 (McCoy Tyner), #9 (Clifford Brown), #10 (Sinatra), #11 (Monk), #12 (Kenny Dorham), #13 (Coltrane), #14 (Duke Ellington), #15 (Miles Davis), #16 (Wayne Shorter), #17 (Dinah Washington); #18 (Sarah Vaughan); #19 (Stan Getz)]