End of April Political Potpourri

The spring semester has ended and it's time to air some ideas that have been rattling in my brain for a while.

Those who read these pages know I've found Barack Obama to be a maddeningly uneven and indecisive leader. Sometimes I wonder if he has the makeup to take on Republicans. I will say, however, that Jeffrey Goldberg's piece in the April edition of The Atlantic induced newfound respect for the president's foreign policy. The president at the very least has the cojones to take on fellow Democrats. Goldberg details Obama's grand plan, one summed up by the phrase: "Don't do stupid shit." The phrase is trite, but the president's rationale for what he has chosen to do and not do is among the more reasoned articulations of foreign policy I've heard in quite a while. It will also give pause to those who trumpet Hillary Clinton's foreign policy expertise. You should read this piece, but among the highlights are:

·      Obama recognizes that Saudi Arabia is a problematic ally and has taken steps to break the cozy relations it has had with previous administrations.
·      Obama has, on several occasions, shut down warhawks in his administration, chief among them Susan Rice, Leon Panneta, and Hillary Clinton. This applies also to a lesser degree to John Kerry as well, whom he took to the woodshed for forgetting the lesson he learned in Vietnam.
·      Obama has told all who encourage him to launch new ventures that it would be a good idea to end the foolish wars Bush undertook before starting new ones!
·       Obama considers Pakistan a failed state. (And who can debate that?)
·      A big revelation: Obama thinks that we are on the cusp of a post-oil world, that the Middle East of diminishing importance to America, and that we ought to be shifting American priorities toward Asia.
·      That Syria is of little significance to America, ISIS poses no direct threat to us, and there is little about Syria that would justify US intervention.
·      That he wants the United States to stop fighting proxy wars for Europe and Japan.

There is much more. Read this piece.

My students some times ask me if George W. Bush was the "worst' president in American history. I used to say "no" and cite a few I thought were much worse: James Buchanan, Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, Warren G. Harding, maybe Nixon…. After reading Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush By Robert, Sam, and Nat Perry, I need to reevaluate. I'll stick with Buchanan as worst, but I'm ready to move Dubya into the 2 or 3 slot. The Parrys offer compelling evidence that the Bush family has systematically sold America down a Saudi river, that they kowtowed at every step to oil companies, that the 2000 election was blatantly stolen, that the Iraq war was a fraud, that Bush and his team rewrote evidence to suit their needs, that they slandered John Kerry in 2004, and that they were driven by an evangelical apocalyptic agenda that placed the United States in grave danger. Other revelations:

·      Colin Powell was no hero, rather an ambitious flunky willing to spout lines he knew to be false for the sake of personal promotion.
·      That the media cravenly favored Bush over Gore and Kerry and traded objectivity for "access" to the White House.
·      That there was systematic program to isolate and marginalize any voice that dared disagreed with predetermined security conclusions.
·      That Bush was willing to put Valerie Plame in physical danger to punish her husband, whose investigation into an alleged Saddam Hussein dirty weapon scheme determined it wasn't true.
·      That Bush was a climate change denier.
·      That Bush had plenty of advance warning about 9/11 but he and  his team lacked the skill to interpret the data.
·      That ideology, not fact, drove most White House decisions.
·      That the U.S. Constitution was little more than a minor inconvenience in the ruthless pursuit of a national security state.

If Sweet Tree prevails, this will...
There's a brouhaha boiling in the maple syrup vats of Vermont. A conglomerate, Sweet Tree Holdings, has jumped into syrup production and moving it toward a mass-production business model. It assures small producers that it will be good for all producers and is no threat—soon we'll have new products (like maple-flavored water), hybrid syrups, and new overseas markets. This comes from a firm that's a holding company spin-off of an insurance firm. Sure—pull the other one; it's got bells on it. If there is a bigger fraud ever perpetuated on American workers than free trade, I wouldn't know what it would be. I heard the same BS when I was a kid and saw Hershey buy or impose its corporate discipline on virtually every dairy in south-central PA. Now a family dairy farm is as rare as US steel mill. Governor Shumlin and Vermont state regulators need to put the kibosh to this disaster-in-making for Vermont's iconic product. Don't bet on it. He's a Democrat, after all–the world's first spineless mammal.  

...give way to this.


April Album of the Month: The Westies

Six on the Out
* * * * *

The Westies are quickly becoming one of my favorite rock bands. They're based in New York City, thought you can be forgiven if you guessed they're from West Texas. Six on the Out is a darker album than we heard on their debut West Side Stories and that's saying something. Songwriter, lead vocalist, and linchpin Michael McDermott has a penchant for desperation and desperadoes and they appear in abundance on Six on the Out.

Because of McDermott's Irish roots and his tendency to open morose songs with bits of mandolin or bouzouki, The Westies are said to play Celtic-flavored music. You can hear that on songs such as "The Gang's All Here," where the featured neighborhood cast of characters could be straight off an ill-tempered Irish pirate ship, but a song like "If I Had a Gun" is outlaw country dressed up by an atmospheric rock band sporting a few embellishments by fiddler Heather Horton. And as McDermott builds the ominous tension of the song, he spits out the vocals of lines like "The hunger fuels my soul/The anger fuels my heart/I'm tired of being pushed around/I can't seem to break free/If I had a gun/I might point it back at me" as if he's a whiskey-soaked Bono. Mainly, though, he reminds me of Bruce Springsteen with a huskier voice. Check him out on "Pauper's Sky" or "Santa Fe" and you'll hear the same sort of leave-it-all-on-the-stage rock and roll for which the Boss is known, which a splash of bar band insouciance thrown in.

Horton contributes a touch of optimism when she takes the lead on "Like You Used to Do," but even this little love song has sharp edges—a partner's plea to put aside the anger, the booze, and the disappointments to "love me/Like you used to do." This album is indeed a stroll down dark alleyways—quite a lot of it reminiscent in style to Springsteen's Nebraska release. This album's tales include nods to hookers, ex-cons, future cons, the contrary, and con artists. Among this cast, "Henry McCarty," McDermott's contribution to music's ever-growing Bill the Kid oeuvre, isn't even the most dangerous man in the room. To round off the album, McDermott pours all of his angst into a single song, "Sirens." It's the tragic tale of being orphaned, finding redemption, losing it in a single debauched evening, and just when its antihero thinks it can't get any worse, it does.

Maybe my description makes it sound as if this album is the aural equivalent of wallowing in the mud along Hooligan Highway. It's not. Six on the Out instead has the therapeutic feel of working out anxiety and despair on a sweaty stage instead of an antiseptic social worker's couch. It is raw, honest, and filled with energy and verve. Besides, good rock of all varieties (folk, country, electric, etc.) is supposed to move your soul. If all you want is nostrums, any old sugary pop song will do; this album's sweetness and redemption come with pricks from the razor's edge.

Rob Weir


2016 MLB Preview: American League East

The Jays win by a beak
I'm writing this in early April, but don't be surprised if by the time you read this every team in the AL East is playing .500 ball. Get used to it; it's going to be like that all summer. I guess I'll pick the Blue Jays because no one has consistent pitching and the Jays hit better than anyone in baseball, but you could put these five teams in a random number generator and have as much of a clue as I have about how they'll finish. Flawed teams in a flawed division are like that.

Predicted order of finish: Blue Jays, Red Sox, Yankees, Orioles, Rays.

Losing David Price was huge, but if any two of these–Marcus Stroman, Marco Estrada, and Aaron Sanchez­– live up to their hype, the Toronto Blue Jays should muddle through. But the staff has issues—Dickey is ancient, the bullpen is unimpressive, and the only southpaw is Happ. The Jays may end up winning a lot of 9-7 games, but with guys like Encarnacion, Bautista, and Donaldson, they will indeed win those games. I'm not sure Tulowitzki is durable and there are potential gaps in left and at second, but it looks like the Jays' division to lose for the simple reason that only a few holes gives them a beak up on the rest of the division.

On paper, the Boston Red Sox appear stronger. They'd better be or John Farrell will be unemployed by All-Star break. Betts and Bogaerts look to be special players and even die-hard Yankees fans admire old-school Dustin Pedroia. But, man, are there questions: Can Swihart or Jackie Bradley hit? Do you like Holt as an everyday left fielder? (You shouldn't!) Can Hanley Ramirez handle first base? (I'm skeptical.) Is Travis Shaw a third baseman? (Well, we know Sandoval isn't.) And I don't care if it is his retirement year, everyone outside of Beantown is sick of David Ortiz, his antics, and the free ride Pill-Poppin' Papi got on the PED thing. David Price is fabulous, but ask the Mariners how well it works to have one stud and four duds. Buchholz? If this were my team, if he's still a bust by midyear, I'd trade him to the Korean League for kimchi and dried noodles. I like Joe Kelly okay, but Porcello seems to have relocated to Planet Buchholz. The best hope is restored health to young fireballer Eduardo Rodriquez. Could be first, but could be last again.

The New York Yankees might contend, but that's probably not the real plan. I can envision see this team moving big contracts at the trade deadline to someone who thinks A-Rod, Beltran, Sabathia, Headley, McCann, or Ellsbury can give them a playoff push. And I'm pretty sure the whole point of signing Aroldis Chapman, whom they don't need, was to move him for a fistful of prospects. Even if the Yankees succeed only in moving a few of these guys, if one of them is Ellsbury, call it advantage New York. I really like Gregorius and Castro in the middle of the infield. They, pitching stud Luis Severino and Mashiro Tanaka are the only Yankees guaranteed to be in Pinstripes in 2018. Don't be surprised if another midyear move involves Tanaka undergoing the Tommy John surgery he needs. The Big Plan is to get under the luxury cap for one year,  go after Bryce Harper in free agency, and pair him with Aaron Judge in the outfield. What could wrong? The Yankees might actually be good enough to be in the pennant mix and unable to move enough dead wood.

If the Yankees do dismantle, the Baltimore Orioles should jump them in the standings. With Chris Davis, Adam Jones Manny Machado, Mark Trumbo, J. J. Hardy, and Pedro Alvarez, this is the only team that could out slug the Jays. They'd better, because until Gausman and Tillman prove they can win on the MLB level, the O's pitching is as thin as a bulimia ward. Gallardo won't like pitching in the AL and nobody ever knows what will happen when Jimenez takes the mound.

T'is always the same with the Tampa Bay Rays—great pitching, but a lineup that couldn't hit a brick wall with a loaded machine gun. Some have said how much they've upgraded from last year, but if all you've got to offer is Corey Dickerson and Logan Morrison, I'm not impressed, and I'm walking Evan Longoria to face them. Chris Archer sometimes looks like he's going to be the AL's Clayton Kershaw, but last year he was 12-13. Can't miss Jake Odorizzi was 9-9.They'll need help from Matt Moore and Drew Smyly.  Call the Rays the Reverse Mirror Jays; they win 3-2 games but get to 4 against them and declare victory. It's time for my annual "Just Move This Team to Montreal" chant. I know, I know—think of the nine thousand Tampa Bay fans who'd be crestfallen.    

{Since writing this, Gallardo and Kelly have gone on the DL, the second of whom matters more than the first as BoSox pitching looks really suspect. And before you get all excited about the O's start, remember that this is April.}