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Archive for April, 2011

An Angel Finds Her Voice


It’s a long way from sleeping nightly on a mattress in a station wagon to making an appearance on one of the nation’s top-rated TV shows and knocking everyone’s socks off, but that’s what perseverance gets you. I just can’t believe it’s a family friend I’ve known since she was, like, 13.

NBC’s The Voice is the latest in the genre of talent shows that have sprung up on network television and the debut ratings have been astronomical. In the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia some 15 years ago I remember Rebecca Loebe, a determined singer/songwriter-in-the-making, playing for smaller ratings; family and friends. This week, she sang for millions and it was all about heart and grit and determination.

It’s a cool show if you haven’t seen it. At least in these early stages of the competition, the judges of The Voice sit with their backs to the performer because they are judging one thing and one thing only and that’s vocal quality. If you’re good enough, the judges push a little button and their chair turns around to face the artist.

Rebecca was introduced as the “homeless singer.” I understand the allure of painting her that way for purposes of an intruiging story-line, but let’s just say this isn’t your typical case of homelessness. As Rebecca explained on the show, she performs all over the country. She could pay for an apartment she doesn’t live in or she can just hang in her car from gig to gig.

This is an individual who went to the nationally-acclaimed Berkeley School of Music in Boston. This is someone who, through the years, has shown more dedication to her craft and more single-mindedness toward a career than I think any artist I have ever known. Rebecca is homeless by choice. It’s just a practical path to playing as much as possible in as many places as plausible. She’s no bag-lady.

What she is- is an icon for the work ethic. If you love something enough, then your passion is all that matters. Sacrifices are made. Your car becomes your home. Your travel is your life (and probably grist for half your songwriting). This isn’t some spoiled little brat from the LA suburbs slapping a phony video together and posting it on You Tube.

Hell, she’s probably doing pretty much the same thing Woody Guthrie did when he was in his 20’s—except he was sneaking onto freight trains to get to the next town, while Rebecca drives a station-wagon.

I taped her appearance last night and I think tears welled up in my eyes each of the three times I saw that angelic, beautiful face and heard the soulful voice, no doubt carved in part from the life of hard knocks she has chosen to lead in pursuit of her dreams.

She will not be living in her car much longer- I guarantee you that. Get used to nice hotels and maybe even a limo or two over the years ahead—because you’ve earned it, sweetheart. And just wait until they get a load of the songs you write that are ten times better than the tune you covered on NBC this week.

You rock, Rebecca. And your soul and your heart rock too. You’ve always been an inspiration to your family and friends. Now, you’re an inspiration to a whole nation. How friggin’ cool is that?

Dan Snyder and His Big Bone


Redskins owner, Dan Snyder, is back with his lawsuit against City Paper, now filing in DC instead of New York. He could have done so quietly- but no. The re-filing came with an op-ed piece in the Washington Post explaining why this particular dog can’t let go of this particular bone.

I posted passionately on this when the matter reared its ugly head the first time around. The point I was trying to make is that while Snyder says his father was a journalist and he understands criticism and he’s never filed a defamation suit against anyone before, the fact of the matter is that the effect of his legal action is to cast a long and threatening shadow over anyone who dares to criticize his majesty- or they too may end up fighting a multi-million dollar law suit that would end up bankrupting them.

You may recall the lawyer-letter to City Paper from the Redskins General Counsel that intimated exactly that; say you’re sorry or you’ll spend so much time in court that your sorry little paper and its measly little resources will never cover the court costs and you’ll go out of business.

I know this about the long, threatening shadow because in a very small way, I felt it myself. After my first post on this matter in which I questioned the sanity of the Redskins owner, worried friends e-mailed me or posted stuff on Facebook to the effect of—careful- or you better “lawyer up.” And they weren’t kidding either.

No. No one should be afraid to criticize the rich and powerful and famous. This is one of the reasons we fought a doggoned revolutionary war. So we could say anything we wanted to say about King George III and his ilk and not have to face lawsuits or prison. It’s why the American courts give huge latitude to those who criticize public figures.

There were about 57 different bones that City Paper threw at Daniel Snyder in the column that started all of this last autumn. A veritable catalogue of complaints about the Redskins owner; from his incompetence as an owner to the Redskins suing their own fans when they lost their jobs and couldn’t afford to pay for their season-ticket contracts; the ban on signs at Fed Ex Field critical of Snyder—the stuff we’ve all read about now for so many years.

But there’s only one bone Snyder is suing over according to his op-ed piece in the Post today. The one bone that is worse than all other bones:

I honor vigorous free expression in the media. But even a public figure can sue for defamation when a tabloid paper publishes a harmful assertion of a fact, not an opinion, that it knows to be false or recklessly disregards the truth.

That is exactly what this writer and City Paper did. Among many examples in the November 2010 article, the most egregious was when the article stated: This is “the same Dan Snyder who got caught forging names as a telemarketer for Snyder Communications.” That is a clear factual assertion that I am guilty of forgery, a serious crime that goes directly to the heart of my reputation — as a businessman, marketer and entrepreneur. It is false.

Here’s what happened (or so it’s alleged). His company got nabbed (allegedly) for “slamming” a couple of decades ago; the practice in which you (allegedly) change people’s phone services on them without them knowing it. There was an (alleged) out-of-court settlement in which Snyder Communications admitted nothing but (allegedly) paid unspecified amounts in damages. Did the City Paper actually mean Daniel Snyder himself participated in the practice? Or did they mean the company he ran did? Did the paper show actual malice?

That’s what the courts will sort out. And he wants a jury trial. This is going to be rich.

Now, in an effort to protect myself and calm my friends and family who worry that Daniel Snyder will take me to court someday because I may say something he doesn’t like, I have crafted the following language that I will use at the end of any given article I will forever more, publish about Daniel Snyder:

The previous article was not written with any malicious intent toward Daniel Snyder, hereby known as the “public figure.” I have made no harmful assertions or representations of fact purposely intended to damage the public figure’s reputation beyond those actions he, himself, has taken to injure his own standing in the community. I further assert that it is my full right as an American citizen covered by the protections of the 1st Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America to criticize, ridicule, satirize or otherwise poke fun at any damn public figure I feel like
.

Miracle on Ice

Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau

I, personally, will never forget what I saw on my TV last night as the Washington Capitals roared back from a 3-0 abyss and somehow rallied to end up beating the New York Rangers in double-overtime, 4-3.

You should see what they’re saying about the Caps today in the national media. Understand the Caps are kind of like the Boston Red Sox prior to the end of their jinx; almost always a very good team that somehow finds a way to lose regardless of the apparent good fortune they seem to be in at any given time. No series lead has been too big to blow. No overtime game has been too important that they didn’t manage to lose it in heart-breaking fashion. It’s just our reputation.

But today, sportswriters are saying that a team that does what the Caps managed to do last night at Madison Square Garden, has to be taken very seriously as a true Stanley Cup contender. And add the atmospherics and it was really an amazing achievement. After Caps coach Bruce Boudreau dissed both the Garden and Ranger fans in an interview earlier in the week on a local Washington radio station- MSG was loud and electric.

And when the Rangers got out to a 3-0 lead in the 2nd period including two goals scored 7 seconds apart- the old tapes started playing in every Washington fan’s head all over again. It was nothing short of humiliating. The Caps looked disheartened and destroyed. The New York fans, criticized by the Caps coach as being disinterested, erupted in loud, thunderous chants of “Can you hear us?”

At this writing, we still don’t know exactly what happened in that Cap’s locker room between the 2nd and 3rd periods. But the team that hit the ice for the start of that final period was a team I have never seen before. Hockey’s a funny game. Three goals seems like a lot to overcome since these things are scored one at a time. But when you trail like that and suddenly score twice in 57 seconds—well—all bets are off. And the Garden started getting very, very quiet. And when the Caps tied the game at 3, the sense of doom was palpable, even on a TV set.

Overtime playoff hockey is a very nervous thing to watch. Goals in hockey come in an instant. It’s not like watching a march down the field by a football team. What looks like great offensive fortune at one moment, turns into defensive collapse in the next. To go through 20 minutes of overtime like that is a tough deal for hockey fans. It’s really stressful.

The players are dog-tired. They’re legs have given up. The pace of play slows down and becomes more tentative. Fewer offensive chances are taken but the likelihood of mental error born of sheer exhaustion goes up exponentially. Playoff overtimes rarely end with a spectacular goal. Mostly, a silly mistake ends the agony. And so it was for the Caps last night as the New York goaltender and the Ranger’s strongest offensive player miscommunicated right at their own net and left an easy opportunity the Caps promptly used to end this thing in glorious fashion for the Caps and excruciatingly for the Rangers.

So the Caps are one game away from ending this first round of the playoffs and moving on in their path to the promised land. But we are not a cocky bunch. Caps fans are a scared and tentative lot. We were one game away from moving to the 2nd round last year too. Yes, last night was a miracle. But it can all vanish in an instant if the Rangers pull off an upset Saturday in Washington.

We are not bragging today- us Caps fans. We are elated to root for a team with such heart, and toughness and grit and courage. But we are no longer so foolish and naïve as to think it can’t all disappear in an instant.

What I do know is that this team, this time around, regardless of their ultimate destiny- is one that lives in our hearts for a long time to come. These are our 55 Brooklyn Dodgers; the boys, the bums, our heroes. To see such talent matched by such heart is a rare thing indeed.

The Public and Deficit Spending

The last American President who paid off the national debt


Surprise, surprise.  A new survey finds Americans don’t like most of the remedies being proposed to deal with the nation’s $14.2 trillion deficit.  They strongly oppose any major changes to Medicare and don’t like big cuts in defense spending.  The only thing they do approve of in large numbers is increased taxes on rich folks.

The poll by the Washington Post and ABC News  seems to support the notion that Americans say they don’t like government all that much- until you start taking away the government goodies they like. 

So leading up to the high drama of the vote expected in July on raising the national debt ceiling, polls like these underscore the high risks politicians are facing- especially those on the cutting side of the equation.  As for higher taxes, the strong support for higher rates for those making over $250,000 a year is one thing.  Higher taxes across the board are very unpopular.

So how do you deal with a public that finds the deficit troubling but isn’t enamored with most of the proposed solutions?   Seems to me politicians are either going to pander which always seems to be their initial instinct- or you could split the differences- but that might involve both sides giving up their sacred cows.  In other words, they may have to act like adults.

But is the situation as dire as most are now painting?  Let’s put it this way, where was Standard and Poor’s in the late 1940’s when the percentage of the national debt compared to the Gross Domestic Product was around 40%?  Because right now, huge as it is, that $14.2 trillion represents only 11% of the GDP.  Standard and Poor’s says that’s enough to earn a “negative” rating on America’s future prospects as an investment.  But it’s been way worse.

History finds that deficits…not balanced budgets are the norm.  Posted on this couple of months ago.  According to NPR’s Planet Money team- the last time the United States actually paid off all its debt was during the administration of Andrew Jackson.  This would have been in the 1830’s.

Fact is, as much as the President and his political adversaries both pontificate about how government needs to balance its budget just as American families do- it’s a total crock.  Governments are not families.  Some argue a certain amount of deficit spending can actually be helpful.  Banks make money.  Government spending tends to keep the economic machine well greased.  Societal needs like spending on highways and infrastructure and even health care- get met.   Besides, even American families that balance their budgets think nothing of holding hundreds of thousands in debt on 50-year home mortgages.

The trick…as in just about everything in life…is doing things in moderation.  Don’t expect any politician to make that case.

Stanley Cup Dreams

When a sports season ends badly, fans famously utter the cliché about waiting until next year.  It can feel like a really long wait.   The road to the Stanley Cup begins anew tonight as the Washington Capitals host the New York Rangers.  Will it be heartbreak or redemption for last season’s sad and humiliating 1st round defeat by Montreal when the Caps blew a 3-1 series lead.

This is not last year.  The Caps were the best team in hockey in 2010; an absolute offensive scoring juggernaut.   They were cocky, full of themselves and missing a couple of ingredients—defense and grit.  They ran into hot goalkeeping and lost their confidence and had nothing to fall back on.

This time around, they don’t have half the offense.  But they do play tough defense and it’s no big deal for them to win low-scoring games.  Last year, the Caps got hot in February winning 14 straight.  This year, they’re hot right now.  They are 16-3-1 in their last 20 games.

The New York Rangers have a spotty offense and terrific goal-tending but the Caps will never take them for granted.  On December 12th,   the Rangers crushed Washington, in New York, 7-0.   It was Washington’s worst defeat in five years.  It marked their 6th straight loss.  It was the moment the Caps fully understood they needed to change their character.   That loss has helped make the Caps who they are today- a scrappy, gritty, tough, defensive-oriented team that thinks nothing of scoring just a couple of goals a game- they’ll shut you down and hold you to one.  There is no shortage of incentive for the Caps against these Rangers.  

There’s nothing sure in sports, of course.  But even if they do lose to New York in the 1st round, they will have done all the right things to give them the best chance possible.  Pucks take funny bounces; the NHL playoffs are notorious for upsets.  So the only thing you can control- is your philosophy and your work ethic.  They have the right philosophy and they work their tails off.  It’s all you can ask for.  It’s how they have, once again, become the #1 seed in the NHL’s Eastern Conference.   

Here’s what some others think of the Caps chances in this opening series against the Rangers:

Caps in 6

Our friends at Discovermoosejaw.com  in South-central Saskatchewan, Canada call it Caps in six.  This wasn’t just one guy from Moosejaw, Saskatchewan- this was a whole panel of famous Moosejawnians; the morning radio hosts of Country 100, the Director of Hockey Operations for the Moose Jaw Warriors, the Head Coach of the Moosejaw Generals and the Head Coach of the Moose Jaw Miller Express.

Rangers in ?????

Edmond Dantes of the Bleacherreport.com  says if the Caps don’t start goalie, Michal Neuvirth, they’re toast.  He bases his pick on the Caps-Rangers head-to-head contests this season, painfully outlined above.

Caps in 4

Over in Pennsylvania, way northwest of Philadelphia in the Lehigh Valley, Kevin Amerman of the morningcall.com  puts it this way as he predicts a Caps sweep:

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist is very good, but not great enough on a team with little identity to stop Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Knuble and company.  

Caps in 7

SB Nation/Denver’s Matthew Muzia sees a nail-biter but totally buys into the change in the Cap’s philosophy.  He points out a Ranger upset would not that be that huge considering those 7-0 and 6-0 Caps losses to New York earlier in the season.

Rangers in 5

The Boston Globe’s  Kevin Paul Dupont does not think the Caps can overcome Ranger goalie Henrik Lundqvist.  Dupont thinks we’re going to get all rattled and frustrated.

Caps Are the Betting Public’s #2 Pick

Over at Thespread.com this is how fans are thinking about the Stanley Cup playoffs in general.  This is folks talking with their money:

San Jose Sharks 76%

Caps 69%

Boston 62%

Detroit 57%

Caps in 5

Dave Gross with the Ottowa Citizen  makes the most sense of all these guys:

Capitals win if: They slam the foot on the gas and keep it there. This should be a motivated team considering the frustrations of the past two playoffs. Boudreau pointed out the team’s better suited now to low-scoring games after continuing to win with fewer goals (for and against) this past season.

 

 Go Red!

Chocolate Milk & Home-Packed Lunches: Set Our Children Free

I don’t mean to sound like Sarah Palin ragging on the Food Police, but it seems to me that nutritional paranoia concerning our children is getting out of hand.  Chocolate milk has become a HUGE issue.  And now a Chicago public school has banned home-packed lunches.

As a member of the board of directors of the Student Press Law Center, an organization that protects the 1st amendment rights of high school and college students, I’ve seen enough to conclude that when it comes to the marketplace of free ideas, our schools are practically a police state.  And now their attempted control of the food the inmates students consume just makes the picture complete.

Growing Up in the 50’s and 60’s

Frankly, I don’t know how I got to the ripe old age of 54.  I have a picture of me as a 3-month old holding a teddy bear.  You know what that little stuffed bear had for eyes?  Stick pins with eyeballs on them.

The area above and behind the back seat of my parent’s Chrysler was the perfect spot for laying down-  while the car was in motion.  I think I pretended I was riding in a boat of some kind as I pressed my face against the glass.  You can forget baby seats and seat-belts.  Neither existed at the time. 

Let’s not even get into the food I ingested.  The Good Humor truck was my regular 4th meal of the day.  I had a particular penchant for toasted almond bars.   And chocolate milk.  What was bed time without chocolate milk?  To this day I’ll drink a cold glass of chocolate milk and thank God profusely for the privilege of such a perfect drink. 

And I don’t think I ever had a single cafeteria lunch that didn’t include a good old-fashioned 35-cent ice cream sandwich for dessert.  And Twinkies!  Remember when they had honest-to-goodness cream in the middle instead of whatever that weird white shit is they put in there now?

I should be dead, right?  Or morbidly obese?  Well, I’m morbid, but not obese.  And I’m cynical, but still alive. 

Chocolate Milk and Home-packed Lunches

Here’s the great controversy over chocolate milk.  Ignore the hilarious headline about how chocolate milk is stirring up trouble. 

Bottom line- in their attempt to protect children from the evils of chocolate, the do-gooders accidently reduced total consumption of milk by inmates students by some 37%.  Milk, last I heard, really is truly good for you- so this chocolate ban was not a smart move.   Fairfax County, Virginia has come to its senses and has decided to reintroduce a reformulated chocolate drink product that is less sweet and has no corn-based sugar and apparently meets the taste-test, so common sense does seem to have won the day, at least in Fairfax County.

Here’s the great controversy over home-packed school lunches.  Apparently, the Ayatollah of the Little Village Academy in Chicago was convinced of her cause after seeing kids on field trips carrying around little brown bags with soda and flaming hot chips.   Soda and flaming hot chips?  You know what I call that?

Breakfast.

Actually, sounds like Mom was sick and Dad packed the lunch for the field trip.  I don’t know any mothers who would give their children soda and flaming chips for lunch at school.  That is so a Dad thing. 

So here’s the solution for the Little Village Academy.  Ban all lunches home-packed by fathers.  Everybody knows that for field trips, mothers pack stuff like baby carrots.

Budget Games & Government Shutdowns

April 6, 2011 1 comment

I’m not about to weigh in on who’s right and who’s wrong but I am perfectly happy to point out that we appear to be on the verge of a government shutdown because our two major political parties cannot agree on budget cuts that will have virtually NO impact on the national debt.

The Optics

Here’s the national debt as of approximately 12:00 pm, Eastern time, Wednesday, April 6, 2011:

 $14,243,931,564,217 ($14.2 trillion)

Democrats have agreed to cuts in the amount of roughly $33,000,000,000 (33 billion).

Republicans are looking for cuts in the amount of roughly $40,000,000,000 (40 billion).

Now let’s put these numbers next to each other so you can see the difference:

14,243,931,564,217

       33,000,000,000

       40,000,000,000

That’s the visual reference that shows quite clearly how far either of these proposals is from the reality of erasing much of anything of the national debt.

The Math

Here’s the mathematical reality of the proposed cuts against the debt.

Republicans are talking about cutting the debt by the following percentage:

.28%

Democrats are talking about reducing the deficit by:

.23%

The difference the two parties are fighting over amounts to this much of the national debt:

.05%

Here’s how much of the national debt remains if Republicans get their way:

99.72%

Here’s how much of the national debt remains if Democrats get their way:

99.77%

The Big Fight

Let’s put it another way.  If someone owed you $14,243 and they offered to pay you back $33, I imagine you’d say that was a rather anemic effort, no?

If a second guy owes you $14,243 and they offer to pay you back $40, I imagine you’d think that was pretty much as ridiculous as the first guy, right?

Now imagine the 1st guy saying to the second guy, “Hey, $33 is all I can afford right now.” The 2nd guy gets his back up.   “Hey, I’m way more responsible than you, I’m paying more back.”    

Next thing you know, both of these guys are getting into a huge fight; fisticuffs break out, they tackle each other, tables and chairs get knocked over, there’s a huge scene and a cop comes to break it up.

“Alright,” says the police officer, “Stop it right now…what’s this all about anyway?”

The two combatants dust themselves off and mutter at the same time, “Seven bucks.”

The cop looks at both of them with disgust.  “So you each owe $14,243—and you just got into a fist fight because one of you wants to pay back $33 and the other $40?  Really?  Are you serious?  How old are you guys, 9?”

The answers are:

No, these people are not serious. 

And they’re 6.