April 15 has come and gone and the right-wing whackos have had their little teabag parties. Right now they’re congratulating themselves on their cleverness, apparently too clueless to realize that all they’ve done is highlight how out of touch they are with reality. America is bleeding and what do they propose to do about it? Lower taxes. The same tired old mantra we’ve been hearing since the 1980s when the right snookered the public into believing tax cuts saved the U.S. economy.

Just when I thought the political right couldn’t get any more ridiculous they proved me wrong. Our latter-day tax rebels have invoked the Boston Tea Party, but the term they appropriated is actually exceedingly vulgar sexual slang. (Teabagging is an urban term for when a man places his scrotum in someone’s mouth.) But then again, maybe teabagging’s implications of dominance and submission is what it’s all about after all.

Only the greedy and the willfully ahistorical still believe in trickle-down economics. Its success was a myth when Ronald Reagan touted it and we’ve three decades-worth of laboratory-tested proof since then that massive tax cuts only serve one clear purpose: they further enrich those who need it the least. (Look it up; for most of Reagan’s two terms unemployment was higher than it was under Jimmy Carter. If you want to see low unemployment look at the mid-1960s when the war on poverty pushed it under 5%.)

Reagan at least was warm enough to make some Americans believe in fairy tales, but who believes the embittered wingnuts out there pushing the latest load of trickle-down hogwash? The same crew that bankrupted the country now wants us to weep with them over taxes!? Is there anything more lame than opposing taxes? In the abstract nobody likes to pay them. Saying you hate taxes involves roughly the same amount of political courage as saying that you’ve decided to take a bold stance in favor of warm fuzzy puppies.

We pay taxes because we need to, not because we want to. And we need to now more than ever. The America that actually exists is not one in which hardworking folks are being ruined by taxes; it’s one in which hard workers can’t get a job at all. It’s one where the average American family is carrying over ten grand in credit card debt owed to the same usurious speculators who gambled with their futures and now want to steal their pensions. It’s one where one of six Americans can’t afford to get sick and nearly a million are homeless. It’s a place where the infrastructure is crumbling, housing values are plummeting, and college costs are soaring. It’s one where my former students are losing hope and my current ones see little reason to have any in the first place. The same damn bandits who squeezed political mileage out of praising cops, fire fighters, and soldiers are now content to see them lose their jobs and benefits. In the name of what? Lower taxes? How about raising them to solve some social problems. That would be an act of courage.

Shut up and pay your taxes. Be thankful you have the resources to do so. Get back to me when every American has shelter, healthcare, a pension, and a job. Maybe then we can talk about tax rates. Until then, the next time you open your mouth to cry about taxes I hope someone teabags you.



Basketball gets the headlines, but for pure excitement it’s hard to top hockey’s Stanley Cup. This year’s odds-on favorite to win it all is the San Jose Sharks and for once I agree with the Vegas line. The Sharks have it all: a hot goaltender (Evgeni Nabokov), size (Jumbo Joe Thornton, Rob Blake), grizzled vets (Jeremy Roenick), agitators (Claude Lemieux), and so much depth that Jonathan Cheechoo and Mike Grier often skate on the fourth line.

That said, surprises generally occur in pursuit of the Cup. Hot goaltending can carry teams deep into the playoffs, which is why even the worst team to make the playoffs, the New York Rangers, have a shot—Henrick Lundqvist is one of the best in the league and is the only reason the Rangers are in the hunt. And goaltending is the reason that the league’s most-skilled team, the Detroit Red Wings, will go home disappointed—Chris Osgood and Ty Conklin are mediocre at best.

Let’s all be grateful that Atlanta, Dallas, Florida, Los Angeles, Nashville, Phoenix, and Tampa will not be playing into May. Unless Carolina gets lucky we’ll be spared seeing the Cup go someplace that hockey has no damn business being played. Half of those teams should fold and the other half should move where someone cares (Hamilton, Quebec City, Winnipeg, Seattle). In like spirit we should bemoan the absence of Buffalo, Edmonton, and Ottawa in the playoffs. The Sabres are arguably the most-talented team not there. (It’s hard to feel sorry for Toronto’s absence; Leafs stink.)

Here are my predictions for Round One. In the Eastern Conference:

1. Boston Bruins over Montreal Canadiens: The Bruins aren’t spectacular, but Coach Claude Julien has assembled the most-cohesive and hard-working team in the NHL. Defenseman Zdeno Chara will manhandle the undersized Habs and open space for Phil Kessel and Marc Savard. This should be over fast, unless goalie Tim Thomas falls apart or the Habs’ Casey Price becomes Superman.

2. Washington Capitals over New York Rangers: This one should also end quickly, Lundqvist notwithstanding, because you actually have to score goals to win. The Rangers went deep last year because Jaromir Jagr woke up from a season-long sleep, but this year’s crop has no one of his ability. The Caps do: Alex Ovechkin. Goaltender Jose Theodore is prone to mistakes, but the Rangers couldn’t score in a bar full of drugged sophomores.

3. Carolina Hurricanes over New Jersey Devils: Here’s your first-round upset special in the East. The Devils have Marty Brodeur in goal, but they don’t have much scoring power and they had an awful last month of the season. The Canes, by contrast, have played with passion and energy. Look for Eric Staal to score some big goals. But if the Devils do hold on, I’ll be happy—Raleigh is another place that doesn’t deserve a team. Bring back The Whalers!

4. Philadelphia Flyers over Pittsburgh Penguins in a minor upset. The Flyers stumbled at the end, their fans are mad, and the team is primed to take out their frustrations on someone. And what better target than the Pens’ whiny, chippy Sid Crosby? The Pens have a lot more firepower than the Flyers, but Evgeni Malkin goes soft in big games; the Flyers’s Simon Gagne thrives in them. I like Philly because Martin Biron is a better goalie than Marc-Andre Fleury.

Western Conference:

1. San Jose Sharks over Anaheim Ducks: This one may actually be one the toughest matchups the Sharks will face. The Ducks are big and gritty and they’ve got a few guys on their roster (Teemu Selanne and Jean-Sebastian Giguere) who rise to big occasions. But Giguere’s not the goalie he once was—courtesy of downsizing the equipment—and the Sharks are just too deep.

2. Detroit Red Wings over Columbus Blue Jackets. Everywhere you turn there’s talent on the Wings: Zetterburg, Hossa, Franzen, Maltby, Rafalski …. And nobody is more exciting in open ice than Pavel Datsyuk. Everywhere, except goal! Because of the leaky net I not be surprised if the pesky Jackets make this series closer than it should be.

3. Vancouver Canucks over St. Louis Blues: This has the potential to be a very exciting first-round matchups. The Blues have flown in under the radar and their offense beyond Brad Boyes is fairly anemic, but they play tough (especially enforcer David Backes) and Chris Mason has been solid in net. But the Canucks should prevail with its big defensemen, the Sedin brothers leading the scoring, and a superior goalie: Roberto Luongo. Look also for ex-Blues center Pavol Demitra to have a big series.

4. Calgary Flames over Chicago Blackhawks in the Western upset special. Why? The Flames have the dynamic Jarome Iginla, made the best late season pickup (center Olli Jokinen), and have some guys who had off years and can redeem themselves in the post season: Craig Conroy, Todd Bertuzzi, and goalie Mikka Kiprusoff. Chicago has nice young wingers in Martin Havlat and Patrick Kane, but the goaltending is in the hands of the washed-up Nikolai Khabibulin and the never-lived-up-to-hype Cristobal Huet. Look for Iginla to give both of them fits.



Katherine First and Max Cohen at the Black Sheep Deli 4/11/09

A week ago I attended a standing-room-only concert by Alisdair Fraser and Natalie Haas. (See “Dreaming of Niel Gow”—Celtic Corner) Last night was different—just twenty or so of us crammed into a wing of the Black Sheep Deli in Amherst to hear fiddler Katherine First, guitarist Max Cohen, and assorted friends play Celtic music (and a few hoedown departures to the Appalachians). Last week was professionalism extraordinaire; last night’s show was more like an intimate living room session except the desserts were better and the furniture wasn’t. The vibes were good, the atmosphere was relaxed, and the music well crafted. Everyone left smiling, but the big crowds were across the river in Northampton’s Calvin Theater to hear Gaelic Storm (the house band in “The Titanic”), where even the cheap seats cost $25.
Katherine First is a gifted performer whose solo album Sweet Spot (see “First Things First”—Celtic Corner) deserves a much wider audience than it will probably get. One wishes her mass acclaim, but right now she’s a reminder that unless we nurture the talent that’s on our doorstep, a lot of future Gaelic Storms will never step through the door that opens beyond the immediate horizon. Alarmists evoke the Biblical axiom that “a prophet is never honored in his own land,” but that’s not it exactly. Many local heroes are beloved in their own lands and have devoted followers, it’s just that there are not enough of them. So musicians spend a lot of time playing for sheer joy and whatever dough gets stuffed into the hat.
They deserve better. Those of us who love music often plan our lives around upcoming big-event concerts but forget that every night someone’s playing their heart out at a coffee house, pub, house concert, or deli right around the corner. Go listen. And, if you like what you hear, help them open the door to the bigger world. Katherine First began playing Celtic fiddle when she heard Craig Eastman at the Black Sheep more than a decade ago. Maybe that name doesn’t ring immediate bells, but if you’ve seen films such as “Black Hawk Down,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” or “Brokeback Mountain,” you’ve heard him. And if you own albums by artists such as Sheryl Crow, John Hiatt, Rickie Lee Jones, and Willie Nelson, scan the track credits for his name. Craig is in Los Angeles now, composing, doing studio production, and guest musician gigs. He got there because once upon a time a lot of local people took a chance on a local boy and gave him the boost he needed. So support local music—it’s the lifeblood upon which the star-maker machine feeds. If it fails to thrive, there won’t be many big-event concerts cluttering up your calendar.