Saturday, December 18, 2010

Gee Whiz, It's Almost Christmas!

I've always had mixed feelings about Christmas. Even as a child my anticipation and enjoyment of the holidays always had a touch of melancholy hovering just below the surface.The one thing that could dissipate my holiday blues was music, specifically Christmas music. I love Christmas songs, the cheery ones and the sad ones, the serious ones and the silly ones. So I'm taking a break from any talk of the woes of government and focusing my thoughts on the music of the season. 

I love traditional Christmas Carols such as Adeste Fideles (O Come All Ye Faithful) or Silent Night. However if I had to choose one favorite traditional carol it would be O Holy Night; the lyrics are from a French poem, Minuit, Chrétiens (Midnight, Christians) that was set to music composed by Adolphe Adam in 1847. I love the way it starts quietly and crescendos into this powerful exultation of pure love and joy. It's been recorded many times but one of my favorite renditions is by Celine Dion. 
I grew up listening to an eclectic mix of music from country to rhythm and blues to gospel. Mahalia Jackson had one of the most recognizable voices in gospel music. Her interpretation of Silent Night rocks you gently like a lullaby.

I also like more contemporary holiday music like Elvis belting out Blue Christmas or Karen Carpenter sweetly singing Merry Christmas, Darling. A couple of years ago I heard a song on the radio that made me want to stop my car, get out and sway to the beat.  When the song ended, the DJ didn't name the artist, so I pulled over in the parking lot of the CVS and called the station. The title of the song was All I Want For Christmas Is You and it was performed by Vince Vance and the Valiants. Recorded in 1993, it charted on the country chart and the pop chart. The lead vocals are by Lisa Layne. Another great holiday song with the same title was recorded a couple of years ago by Mariah Carey but they are not the same song, they just have the same title. The video below is the tune by Vince Vance and the Valiants. By the way, the video has a lousy visual but it had the best sound quality.

This next song reminds me of my childhood and my paternal grandmother. She had a wonderful collection of 45s and during the Christmas season she always seemed to have music playing. This classic by Charles Brown was released in 1960. I was five and I loved to listen to the song and watch the grownups slow dance to it in my grandmother's parlor. We don't really have parlors any more, too bad. Every child should have the opportunity to peak around the corner and spy on the grownups. The song is Please Come Home for Christmas.

The next song isn't really a Christmas song; however, it's become associated with Christmas; it's the late Dan Fogelberg's Same Old Lang Syne. This song always makes me cry, sort of like the film, The Way We Were. It's filled with all the regrets of the road not taken and the love that was but somehow didn't work out. A bit of trivia--Fogelberg began each verse with the melody phrase from Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. I like to sing along with this one until my nose is runny from all the crying and I can't make any sound that doesn't sound like a snort. The solo sax wailing Auld Lang Syne as a coda does me in completely. This video has the lyrics!
All of my tastes in Christmas music isn't limited to sad songs or spiritual songs, I looked for a video of that classic tune, Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer but I didn't like any of the versions that I found on YouTube. Yes it's funny, how can you not laugh at a song with lyrics like these, "They should never give a license, to a man who drives a sleigh and plays with elves." However, I found a version sans video that I liked, just click the link.

Every time I think that I'm done, I come across another song that I love. I've been having a sing-a-long while writing this. I can't omit Carla Thomas singing Gee Whiz It's Christmas. Thomas began her career with Stax records and is the daughter of another great soul singer, Rufus Thomas.
I have to include one final tune that is politically incorrect on so many levels but I like it nonetheless, Eartha Kitt crooning Santa Baby. I know that Madonna, and Taylor Swift and a ton of others have done covers of the song, but the tune belongs to Ms. Eartha Kitt and personally, I think all those other versions should be destroyed.
There are so many wonderful songs and I could go on and on but I have to draw the line somewhere. Merry Christmas to all!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Can You Handle the Truth?

Just read an op-ed piece in the New York Times by writer Ishmael Reed entitled What Progressives Don't Understand About Obama. It was an amen article, a piece with which I nodded continuously in agreement as I read it and murmured amen under my breath. To appreciate Reed's piece, read it, no summary can do it justice. He takes on the ad nauseum criticism that Present Obama is weak, ineffectual, ball less, and not tough enough to be president. A smart guy, but too nice and too concerned about keeping the peace. Too afraid to give the Republicans the ass whipping that they deserve.

I've been accused of being "nice" as in I don't want people to dislike me. Not true. I'm going to tell you up front that some of you aren't going to understand the truth that this article speaks and you may not like my attitude. See, as a black person I'm so sick and tired of white liberals who have still enjoyed the privilege of being white trying to tell a black man how to navigate in a white world.

You don't get it and you lack the humility to simply accept that you do not. Instead you attack the President as being weak, without balls, a sellout and any other demeaning, emasculating terminology that you can devise. You don't understand what it is to be black and walk in his shoes and you're too damned arrogant to listen to those of us who try and tell you.

By now, you're all upset because I've offended you. Hey, don't you want us to show our anger? Don't you have problems with me being so nice and reasonable all the time?

Don't get hung up on the mistaken notice that I'm taking the position that the president is off limits for criticism. I don't think he's perfect and I certainly have problems with some of his decisions. He and I part company when it comes to the continuation of either of our wars.

Read carefully and understand me, I'm talking about the continued hammering at his character. I'm talking about the insulting and demeaning allegations that he is less than a man, some namby- pamby smart guy who doesn't know how to be tough. What colossal ignorance and arrogance to believe that any black person could achieve what President Obama has achieved and be weak. Until you have walked in our shoes, until you have been marginalized based on the color of your skin in a culture that continues to not only openly express racism but defend its right to do so under cockeyed readings of the 1st amendment, then don't talk to me about how you think that any black person should behave.

Now, I'm going to go back to being nice. It's survival mode because if I dwell on this crap I can't leave my house. Every day that I go out I run into racism in this "colorblind" society of ours. Some days it's just the fools with the confederate flags plastered on their pickup trucks, or the monuments to the confederate dead that litter the South, but it's always something. So I'm tough and I work hard to not lose my cool because I don't have time to waste in being angry and out of control, and neither does the President.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

President Obama's Tax Deal Is A Good Play

In my Net surfing today, it appears that slowly but surely there are some who have stopped hyperventilating about the tax increase for the wealthy long enough to recognize that the President's compromise gets a lot more than it gives. (Check out the Daily Kos for example) Sure it extends the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy for an additional two years but it doesn't make them permanent. In exchange, here's what we, the people get:

Working families will not lose their tax cut. A typical working family faced a tax increase of over $3,000 on January 1st. The framework agreement includes a mutually agreed upon solution to the impasse over taxes by extending the 2001/2003 income tax rates for two years and reforming the AMT to ensure that an additional 21 million households will not be hit with a tax increase.

$56 billion for unemployment insurance extension. According to the Council of Economic Advisers, passing this provision will create 600,000 jobs in 2011 alone.

$120 billion payroll tax cut for working families

$40 billion in tax cuts for our hardest hit families and students

100% expensing for businesses next year

Child Tax Credit: The $1,000 child tax credit will be extended for two years with the $3,000 refundability threshold established in the Recovery Act. This extension will ensure an ongoing tax cut to 10.5 million lower income families with 18 million children.

Earned Income Tax Credit: The Recovery Act included an expansion of the EITC worth, on average, $600 in additional assistance to families with 3 or more children. It also helped working married families by reducing the marriage penalty in the EITC. Continuing this tax cut for two years will benefit 6.5 million working parents with 15 million children.

American Opportunity Tax Credit: The Recovery Act included a new, partially refundable tax credit of up to $2,500 to help students and their families cover the cost of college tuition. This deal fully extends AOTC for two years, ensuring that more than 8 million students will continue to receive this tax benefit to help them afford college.

A 2-year extension of the R&D tax credit and other tax incentives to support business expansion.

I'd like to see everyone pay their fair share of taxes but if the trade off is providing two more years of Bush era tax cuts for the wealthy in exchange for all of the benefits for the unemployed, the middle class and low income individuals and families, then I say let the Republicans have their tax cuts. Of course I also say remind the American public of it repeatedly over the next two years. 

Let's also be clear that the Democrats in the Senate do not have the votes to end debate on the tax cuts legislation and move to a vote on the merits. They tried to do so twice and were seven votes short of the needed 60 votes each time.  People whom I like keep insisting that the president caved and never threatened the Republicans with the power of his veto. That's such a none argument; the Republicans are aware that the President can veto any bill; they are also aware that they have the authority, with sufficient votes in each chamber, to over turn that veto. 

I just watched an episode of The Last Word where some earnest young man talked about the President mounting the bully pulpit and shaming the Republicans into voting against extending the tax cuts for the wealthy. When I finished laughing, I listened to host Lawrence O'Donnell ask the youngster to give a single example where any modern president had been able to shame the Republicans into supporting any tax increase. The young man sputtered but he never came up with an answer.

The minimal benefit to the economy to be gained from collecting more taxes from the wealthy is more than offset by the benefits that this compromise provides to the poor, the unemployed , and the middle class. Without the compromise, as of December 31, 2010, the EITC, the AOTC, and the Child Tax Credit will expire. Unemployment Insurance Benefits have already expired for millions of Americans and that number will increase at the end of the year. The income tax rate for those at the bottom of the tax schedule will increase from 10% to 15%.

A good friend continues to argue that we would simply return to the middle class tax rate of the Clinton era and that it wouldn't be that bad. The problem with that logic is this isn't the Clinton era; we're in a recession. People have less disposable income than they had under Clinton. During the Clinton years, the government built up a surplus which the Bush administration morphed into a deficit. In addition, that even if the middle class manage to struggle on, what about the unemployed and the low wealth families depending on the tax credits? 

Playing Russian roulette with millions of Americans' economic welfare simply to shaft the wealthy and teach the Republicans creates an unacceptable level of collateral damage.

I Agree With What She Says (Extending the Tax Cuts)

I really feared that my Aunt Dorothy's dire prediction was going to come true tonight--my head was going to explode! Aunt Dorothy has been concerned about my love of learning for some time and when I decided to got to law school back in 1994 at the ripe old age of 39, she confided in my mother of my imminent demise from an exploding head.

The extreme pressure in my brain today was a result from the rabidly foaming at the mouth Democrats and liberals who have pronounced that President Obama's proposed compromise on the retiring tax cuts extension is an indicator of that he is weak willed and desperately wants to be liked by the Republicans. As I struggled to determine how to say with civility and intelligence that such opinions were just plain f**k**g stupid, I came across a post by a blogging friend, Beth Riches.

Beth blogs at Nutwood Junction and I've been reading her blog for four years. She always makes me think and often makes me laugh. She's got a razor sharp wit! Her recent post, "Shades of Grey," says everything that was rolling around in my head! It brilliantly sums up why the President is neither a wimp nor the devil for promoting a compromise on the tax cuts extensions. No matter what you think that you know or believe on this topic, please follow the link and read Beth's blog post. Leave her a comment and please stop back by and tell me what you think. I copied the chart below from Beth's post.  
The bubble chart you see ... is a representation of the numbers in the tax deal currently being negotiated in Washington right now. The blue is what the Democrats got, and the lone red one is what the Republicans got.--Beth Riches
For her brilliant analysis, you have to visit her blog.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Expiring Tax Cuts: Deal Or No Deal

Politics is and always has been about negotiations. Lines drawn in the sand are just to test the waters. Both sides know that ultimately you give some to get some. It appears that the trade off is going to be the tax cuts for the wealthy for the extension of the unemployment benefits. 

On Friday, House Democrats mustered sufficient votes to pass a bill that  extended the current tax cuts to the middle class and eliminated the Bush era tax cuts for the wealthy. On Saturday, the Senate Republicans voted unanimously to defeat the Senate version of that bill. The vote was 53 (yes) to 36 (no), seven votes shy of the 60 votes needed to pass the legislation in the Senate.  While Republicans voted in a bloc, four Democrats voted with the Republicans, Senators Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Ben Nelson of Nebraska,  and Jim Webb of Virginia, as did independent Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut.

A second measure that would have extended the tax cuts to include those earning up to $1 million annually also failed to receive the necessary 60 votes to move forward. The vote on the second measure was 53 (yes) to 37(no) with a slightly different crew of Democrats voting with the Republicans--Senators Dick Durbin of Illinois, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and the ever consistent Feingold and Lieberman.

At stake is not only the continuation of the middle class tax cuts, but the Republicans are also holding the extension of unemployment benefits hostage unless they get tax cuts for all. The White House has its own demands--passage of legislation extending the unemployment benefits for millions of people, as well as renewal of expiring tax breaks for lower and middle class wage earners, college students, and businesses that hire the unemployed.

I keep hearing how Obama and the Democrats should stand firm and declare no tax cuts for the wealthy. What then? What happens to the lower class (even if you don't have to pay income tax, there are some cuts for which you may qualify), the middle class and the unemployed who will find themselves with a decrease in revenue? When you have bills to pay to keep a roof over your head and food on the table, politicians having an old west style standoff are not a source of inspiration or admiration.

The Republican Senators aren't going to cave on the extension of unemployment benefits unless they get something that they want, in this case, the extension of the tax cuts for all. They will deny culpability, spinning it to be Obama's fault for being unwilling to compromise on the tax cuts and the public will buy it. I feel like a broken record, but the office of the president has no authority to force Congress to do anything. He influences Congress but he doesn't command Congress. 

Congress is answerable only to us and we seldom get off our collective asses to do anything to let Congress know that we will not accept their behavior. 

Of course Obama can veto the bill that comes to his desk if it contains an extension of tax cuts for the wealthy. Congress has the authority to override that veto but it's unlikely that both chambers would get the votes required to do so. However, it would be an incomplete victory. Any bill that the Republicans sign on to will also include the tax cuts for the middle class as well; veto the bill and taxes for the middle class also increase allowing the Republicans to again blame Obama for failing to keep his campaign promise to not allow an increase in taxes for the middle class.

It all reminds me of that game show hosted by Howie Mandel, the one where the contestants are asked, "Deal or no deal?" To get tax cuts for the people who need them the most, the administration will have to cut a deal with the Republicans to extend the Bush cuts to all. Rumor has it that the president is holding to setting a time limit on the cuts for the wealthy so that they will expire prior to the the tax cuts for the lower and middle class.

I wouldn't want to be in Obama's shoes; no matter what he does he will be condemned by the right and the left. However, Washington will roll on as it always has, playing some shady version of "Deal or No Deal."