Monthly Archives: February 2011

Sing Along with Steve: A Protest Song for The Cheddar Revolution!

Another day — and another fine progressive artist rushes to the Madison barricades!

In this case, our good friend, Steve Rashid, a multi-talented musician, composer, recording engineer – and native of Ripon, Wisconsin – combined his skills on behalf of the pro-union protestors in his home state.

The result is a timely and humorous protest song that you can hear by clicking the link below.

Fight On, Wisconsin

And for those who want to sing lustily along – and I assume that’s all of you – here are Steve’s lyrics…


Filed under Music, Politics

Ron, Wisconsin!

Our resident (and favorite) artist, Ron Crawford, sent us his rendering of today’s demonstration in New York by Screen Actors Guild members in solidarity with their fellow unionists in Madison, Wisconsin.  (That’s Ron himself depicted in the upper right corner of his drawing, holding the sign with a clenched fist.) How Ron manages to be in the moment and yet capture the overall moment is just one aspect of his singular talent.

Meanwhile, the momentum from the Madison uprising is being felt in Statehouses across the Midwest. And today, a national poll shows that, by a 2-1 margin, Americans oppose taking away the collective bargaining rights of public employees. According to a new USA Today/Gallup poll, 61% percent said they oppose legislation stripping public employees’ collective bargaining rights in their states, as compared to only 33% who favor such union-busting laws. The majority speaks!

On, Wisconsin!


Filed under Politics

“Rock Me!” @ Northwestern…

For years my three daughters listened to the songs that Brad Hall and I wrote and recorded for our rock & roll musical “Rock Me!” in 1988.

“Rock Me” was originally written for the Columbia College New Musicals Project under the direction of Sheldon Patinkin and it was performed for one night at Chicago’s Apollo Theatre in August of ‘88.

Emilia, Eva and Maura pestered me relentlessly to get together with Brad to finish it. A couple years ago, Brad and I wrote a few new tunes for the show and made notes for a re-write of the book. But Emilia finally got the “Rock Me!” completion project underway last fall by submitting the show to a student production group at Northwestern.

NU’s student-run Sit & Spin productions chose to produce a concert reading of “Rock Me!” this year – and that was the catalyst for us to finish our work on the book and score. (Musical wizard Steve Rashid pitched in by charting the score and sorting out the voluminous harmonies.)

Now, I’m pleased to say that “Rock Me!” will be performed in a concert reading at Northwestern University’s Fisk Hall on Monday and Tuesday, March 7 and 8, 2011.

Performance times will most likely be at 8:00 pm on both Monday and Tuesday and there might also be an 11:00 pm show on one or both of those nights. (I’ll update the info as I get it.)

Ticket prices will be $5 dollars and cannot be purchased in advance. If you’re planning to see “Rock Me!” — let me know and I’ll make sure you’re on the list. (Just reply to this post.)

It’s going to be a gas seeing enthusiastic college folk having fun with these songs.

Big thanks to my rocking daughter Emilia for her tenacious advocacy on behalf of “Rock Me!”

You rock, E!


Filed under Art, Music

More Ms. Maura Music!

Thanks to the fabulous Mister Magnanimous, a new

remix of Ms. Maura’s Peace for a Place

is now available on iTunes for just $0.99!

Buy it.  Share it.  Enjoy!

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Filed under Art, History

On, Wisconsin!

Hosni Mubarak, meet Scott Walker. Walker’s got a popular uprising on his hands, too.

A funny thing happened on the way to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s goal of rolling back the hard-earned rights and benefits of his state’s public employee unions. Tens of thousands of citizens began marching in the streets of Madison.

A newly elected Republican, Governor Walker wants his GOP-controlled state legislature to pass a law that forces state workers to pay more for their pensions and health insurance coverage and takes away most of their collective bargaining rights. Ironically, Wisconsin was the first state in the nation to grant public employees collective bargaining rights.

An imperious Governor Walker says there will be no negotiations on his union-busting budget plan. If the legislature doesn’t pass his plan, Walker has threatened massive layoffs and cuts in state services that will cost thousands of jobs.

And in a move that would make Hosni proud, Walker put the National Guard on alert in case state workers strike or rise in protest. The Wisconsin Guard hasn’t been called out in a labor dispute since 1934. (And that situation was deadly.)

On Tuesday, February 15, approximately 15,000 people jammed inside the Capitol building and on the grounds to express their opposition to Walker. The next day, schools in Madison were closed as 40% of the teachers union’s 2,600 members called in sick and joined the growing throng of protestors at the Capitol.

Also on Tuesday, more than a thousand demonstrators gathered outside Governor Walker’s home. The line of protestors was ten blocks long.

Surely, this is all big national news, right?

In recent weeks, our national news media was awash with breathless coverage of the mass demonstrations in Egypt that brought down a dictatorship. That was as it should be. The defiant pro-democracy rallies in Cairo’s Tahrir Square were clearly and importantly newsworthy. So why isn’t it newsworthy when 10,000 Wisconsin citizens gather in the frigid streets of Madison chanting, “This is what Democracy looks like!”

In fact, many of the protesters in Madison recognize similarities between their struggle to maintain their rights and the Egyptians’ battle against an autocratic, oppressive regime. Some protest signs in Wisconsin say things like, “Hosni Walker,” “Don’t Dictate, Negotiate,” and “Dictators Will Fall.”

Our news media should be showing all Americans the sights and sounds of this popular uprising within our own borders. There should be up-close-and-personal feature stories about the local Madison businesses giving free food and coffee to the demonstrators — or police officers buying lunch for protesting state workers. Or the cheers that rose up when a column of hundreds of firefighters from across the state joined the protest, marching to the sound of their bagpipers.

Governor Walker had tried to keep the cops and firefighters out of this fight by exempting them from his regressive new anti-labor law – but Walker’s gambit to divide key groups of Wisconsin’s public employees against each other didn’t work. The President of Madison Fire Fighters Local 311 declared that even if supporting the protest leads to the cops and firemen getting their rights and benefits cut, too – organized labor sticks together.

“Oh you can’t scare me, I’m stickin’ to the union…”

According to all reports, the uniformed cops monitoring the protests are friendly and supportive — and off-duty officers are carrying “Cops for Labor” signs.

Of course, the struggle in Madison isn’t just about public workers’ rights in Wisconsin. It could be a pivotal event for the labor movement in America: a galvanizing moment when working people begin to push back against the 30-year conservative war on organized labor that began when Ronald Reagan broke the PATCO union during the air traffic controller’s strike.

President Obama appears to understand the larger implications of (what I’m calling) the Great Badger Labor Revolt…

“Some of what I’ve heard coming out of Wisconsin, where you’re just making it harder for public employees to collectively bargain generally seems like more of an assault on unions. And I think it’s very important for us to understand that public employees, they’re our neighbors, they’re our friends. These are folks who are teachers and they’re firefighters and they’re social workers and they’re police officers.

“They make a lot of sacrifices and make a big contribution. And I think it’s important not to vilify them or to suggest that somehow all these budget problems are due to public employees.”

But where Obama sees “neighbors” and “friends” who “make a lot of sacrifices and make a big contribution” – right wing gasbag Rush Limbaugh sees only enemies, calling teachers “parasites” and union workers part of an “anti-democracy” movement.”

It’s sad to think that Limbaugh’s ranting may carry farther on the media airwaves than President Obama’s pro-union message.

And why has Governor Walker launched his assault on middle-class jobs and collective bargaining? Walker claims his state is broke — but an independent analysis by the Wisconsin Fiscal Bureau projects a net positive balance of $56 million for the state budget at the end of 2011. And a report by the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future estimates the cuts in public employees’ pay will cost the state $1.1 billion in reduced economic activity annually – which will lead to the loss of some 9,000 private sector jobs.

Walker’s plan is not about what’s good for Wisconsin.

This trumped-up “budget crisis” is really an extension of the Republican war against workers’ rights that Walker’s fellow GOP governors, like Ohio’s John Kasich and Arizona’s Jan Brewer, are also waging.

But in Wisconsin, Walker is facing a revolt. And that revolt has spread to the legislature itself.

Today, on Thursday February 17, in the midst of heated debate as Walker pressed his GOP majority to hastily ram his budget plan through the legislature — all 14 members of the Senate Democratic caucus walked out — depriving the state Senate the three-fifths majority it needs for a quorum on budgetary issues. Soon afterward, the NBC affiliate in Madison reported that the Democrats left the state entirely.

“I know the whereabouts of not a single Democratic senator,” said Democratic Party communications director Graeme Zielinski Zielinski. “I do not know what latitude they’re on, or know what longitude they’re on. I assume they’re in this hemisphere, I’ll say that.”

GOP Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said that at some point, if necessary, Republicans will call upon the State Patrol to round up the Democratic diaspora and return them to the Senate floor. (And how’s this for nepotism, cronyism, and conflict of interest? The state Senate leader and the Assembly Speaker are brothers — and the new head of the State Patrol is their dad. You just can’t make this stuff up.)

Working people in America are fighting for their survival. This uprising by unions members and citizens of Wisconsin should be a major news story.

We’ll see what kind of play it gets in the corporate-controlled (and thus, anti-union) national media — other than MSNBC.

Will we see Anderson Cooper live from the Capitol Grounds in Madison?

I hope so.

I doubt he’ll have to worry about any Cheese-heads hitting him in the head.

On, Wisconsin!


Filed under Politics

Lakers goeth before the Cavs…

“Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” Proverbs 16:18

A little over a month ago, the Los Angeles Lakers drubbed my downtrodden, LeBron James-abandoned, hometown Cleveland Cavaliers by 55 points. It was the worst night of a dismal basketball season for a humble NBA franchise that had come close to greatness while witnessing the rise of King James.

In the long months since LeBron left Cleveland, I’ve had to endure a steady stream of Los Angeles sports radio blather about the inevitability of another Lakers championship.

Even when the Lakers lost games they should have won against inferior teams, the rationale was that, come the playoffs, the Lakers will “hit the switch”.

And that could still happen, but…

Cavs head coach (and ex-Laker) Byron Scott must have enjoyed the upset victory over his former team.

Last night, on the glorious evening of February 16, 2011 – the Cleveland Cavaliers rose up on their home court and regained a measure of civic and personal pride by beating the defending NBA champs 104-99. The Cavs’ emotional upset of the Lakers was Los Angeles’ third loss in a row going into the All-Star break.

That’s why so many of us are passionate about sports. It’s partly about the action and the stunning athleticism – but mostly it’s about the drama, the stories – and transcendent moments like what happened to the Goliath Lakers at the hands of the Cavaliers last night.

For one night in Cleveland — in the middle of an otherwise abysmal season — the Cleveland Cavaliers were giant-killers.

Pride goeth before the fall…

And sometimes just before the All-Star break.


Filed under Sports

Regime Change…

On February 11, 2011, after massive public protest, Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak announced he was relinquishing the power he held over his ancient country for the past three decades. Mubarak’s grudging resignation capped an incredible 18 days of revolutionary reality television – and while it’s far too soon for anyone not wearing an Egyptian military officer’s uniform to predict the form Egypt’s next government will ultimately take, now is the time to marvel at what we’ve witnessed on the streets of Cairo, in the shadow of the Great Pyramids. From one of the cradles of human civilization came another great victory for human civilization.

Peaceful change.

Indelible images of Molotov cocktail-tossing provocateurs and whip-cracking thugs on camelback notwithstanding, the most important aspect of this spontaneous popular uprising was that it was an essentially peaceful protest. Against all odds, and despite desperate acts of violent provocation by forces loyal to (or paid by) Mubarak’s regime, millions of unarmed Egyptian citizens stood strong in the streets day after day to demand redress of their long-suffered grievances.

Many of those on the barricades in Cairo’s Tahrir Square echoed the language of American patriots from our own Revolution. “Give me liberty,” I heard one student declare to a listening world on CNN, “Or give me death!” And he meant it every bit as much as Patrick Henry did. We tend to forget that, like the anti-Mubarak protestors we saw chanting and praying on our TV screens, our revolutionary forbears really were risking their lives and fortunes in a bid to free themselves from the yoke of despotism. Unlike King George III, however, Hosni Mubarak either would not – or could not – get his army to mete out the “death” option to his rebellious subjects. (It’ll take a while before we see how the “liberty” option plays out.)

Regime change without war.

Think about it. The 30-year reign of a powerful dictator who sanctioned the torture of his enemies while looting his country and driving millions of his citizens into economic despair was overthrown by the non-violent mobilization of a resolute citizenry: by people taking to the streets armed with nothing but their resolve to reclaim their national dignity and demand a better future for themselves and for their children. Incredibly, regime change came without guns.

The Power of Social Media

Egyptian demonstrators used Facebook and Twitter to help organize their massive protests and share news and information in a country whose mainstream media was controlled by the party line lies of Mubarak’s totalitarian regime. It’s shocking to see how little politicians are aware of the power, speed and reach of the Internet and social media – whether it’s an Egyptian despot or a Republican Congressman looking for extra-marital love on Craig’s List. In both cases, ignorance of the scope of electronic media led to inevitable resignations.

Though in many ways this epochal event exposed the limits of American power and influence in the Middle East, President Obama and his administration managed to signal a guarded solidarity with the aggrieved Egyptian populace while at the same time cautioning the Egyptian military to stand down and encouraging Mubarak (our hold-your-nose regional ally) to accede to the will of his people.

A clarion call on behalf of the protestors may have thrilled some less temperate lovers of democracy, but the American President was wise not to be seen as encouraging a foreign population to revolt – especially in a volatile region where autocratic Middle Eastern leaders love to scapegoat foreign interference in their domestic affairs. President Obama was firm but diplomatic. Which is, after all, the way diplomacy works. (Sorry, Fox News, but this was never about Barack Obama anyway.)

Unemployment had a lot to do with this Egyptian revolution. One thing is certain: a person without a job – and without the prospect of a job – has both a reason to march in the streets and the time to march in the streets! I can only hope that the outsourcing, shortsighted, anti-American corporate toadies at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have been paying attention to what has happened in Egypt the past few weeks. You can send all of our manufacturing jobs overseas, you can have all of our service calls routed through Bangalore and New Delhi – but when 20% of the U.S. population is out of work: beware.

When a future generation of dispossessed and disenfranchised Americans comes out into the streets to demand that their corporate overlords listen to their grievances and share the wealth, will the U.S. military – our all-volunteer force – turn their guns on their fathers, uncles, brothers, high school buddies, mothers and sisters? Egypt’s army did not. I can’t imagine that the U.S. Army would either. (Maybe that’s why Bush and Cheney were so busy funding and training Blackwater, now Xe Services LLC?)

But I digress. Let’s get back to the historic events in Egypt. And let’s celebrate this display of human courage and dignity. We don’t know what the future will hold for Egypt. Will their next government roll rightward toward religious zealotry and anti-Semitism? Or will it become a liberal lantern that lights the way to true freedom in the region? That’s for Egyptians to decide.

The opportunity to make another giant leap for human civilization is within Egypt’s grasp. Chances to fundamentally advance humanity come along very few times in a millennia. Or two. Or three. Or four…


Filed under History, Politics, Truth

A Wild Winter Weekend in the Windy City!

Brad Hall and I flew into Chicago on Thursday, February 3rd, to work on “Rock Me!” — our rock musical set to be performed by a Northwestern student theatre group on March 7 and 8.  The fact that Chicago had just been blasted by an epic snowstorm, the third largest on record, did not deter us. Harrowing tales of “thundersnow” and dozens of cars being abandoned on Lake Shore Drive could not keep us from our appointment with the brilliant musician, Steve Rashid, my daughter Emilia (an NU sophomore) and the other students involved in the production that we were hoping to meet despite the havoc caused by the tons of white stuff dumped on the shores of Lake Michigan.

The blizzard had stuck on Tuesday, February 1st, and by the time we flew into Chicago late on Thursday night, the skies were clear. So clear in fact that, as we made our final approach into O’Hare Airport, we were greeted with as spectacular a view of the city as we had ever seen. The city lights reflected off the snow blanketing every surface to create a stunning golden glow.

These pictures don’t quite capture the wondrous sight we beheld – but they’ll have to do.

Once we were on the ground, we drove northeast to Evanston, where we were Steve’s houseguests. As we arrived in his neighborhood near Central and Green Bay Road, the city street crews were hard at work clearing tons of snow from the main street. Clearly, every city employee that could drive a snowplow or a Bobcat was being pressed into service for every overtime hour they could stand to work.

This video was taken at the corner of Central Street and Central Park.

And here’s where they dumped all that snow: Lovelace Park. (No, it’s not named for Linda.)

And BTW – these are not rolling hills dusted with snow.  This is a flat parking lot on which they just dumped these man-made mountains of snow. The Evanston kids were loving it! King of the hill!

Over the weekend, our meetings with Emilia and the musical director and director of “Rock Me!’ took us to the Northwestern University campus on the frigid lakefront in Evanston, which had been transformed into a winter wonderland.

Brad and I had been on campus for the great Blizzard of ’79, so this fabulous frosting brought back many snowed-under undergraduate memories.

We left Chicago on Monday, February 7th – and it was snowing again. Here’s Steve’s neighborhood on Hartzell, just before the flakes began to fall…

In this video, shot in front of Steve’s house, you can see the big flakes falling. It was time for Steve’s industrious neighbor to get his snow blower out again – and time for Brad and me to get out of town while we still could.

Getting back to the relative warmth of a February night in Los Angeles, I hurried to the Terminal 4 parking garage and found that my car battery was dead. As I waited for AAA to arrive, I was comforted by the thought that at least I wasn’t waiting while stuck in a three-foot drift on a slushy road in Chicago. And that I didn’t end up like one of those unfortunates snowbound on Lake Shore Drive.

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Filed under Adventure, Random Commentary

A 3-Minute Brain Cleanse…

As the heroic democratic protestors in Egypt battle the dark forces of dictatorship for another tumultuous week, and we here in America must contend with the daily political insanity of John Boehner, Eric Cantor and the GOP House (who are busy trying to redefine rape rather than create jobs) — we can all be forgiven for being a mite news-weary.

Add to that the fact that we are still confronted by opinion polls handicapping Sarah Palin’s (remote) chances of becoming our next President – plus escalating flights of hagiography in celebration of Ronald Reagan’s centennial – and, if you’re like me, you can use a bit of a brain cleanse right about now.

As a balm to calm your cerebrum, here’s what my oldest daughter, Maura, was doing when she was just a kid…

If you enjoyed that — you may want to check out Maura’s updated version of “You Never Know Where You’re Going (So You Go To A Party)” on her new CD, “Reversible Lobotomy”.  For more info, click here.  Maura’s music will soothe you with some cool, moody grooving.

(Music video shot and edited by Angela Murphy.)


Filed under Art, Music