Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Real "Fall Classic": the Deer Opener

Deer Season is here
Deer Season is here
It's a wonderful time of the year
To drink beer
To drink beer

It's a wonderful wonderful
Wonderful time of the year
Families and buddies together
No matter the weather
Feasting and fun is the goal
Mickey is making
The meat loaves are baking
To warm up the body and soul

Full decoration
In anticipation of times
Marked with laughter and cheer
A day long awaited
And much celebrated

Deer Season is finally here
It's a wonderful time of the year
To drink beer
To drink beer
Deer Season is here
Deer Season is here

Friday, October 9, 2009

Pride of MN Needs to Accept Responsibility and Move Forward

I was amused by the chord of self-righteous indignation, over-sensitivity and denial that I struck in the little mind of one of the Marchers with my tongue in cheek letter to the Minnesota Daily, the largest circulation daily college newspaper in the country. Like too many of his generation, the writer of this piece of amateur sophistry starts off by mouthing the words of a good talk, but winds up failing miserably at walking the walk. (Much like a crack addict singing "Amazing Grace" at a funeral, apparently lip syncing and humming along with the melody is the best he can do).

Just see what I mean by this excerpt:

"The cliche' 'everybody makes a mistake' has been beaten into the ground that no one really believes it is an acceptable excuse any more. This is mostly a good thing, responsibility and accountability are very important."

Cliche'? "Mostly a good thing"? Well, I have news for you Rosalita, it never was and hopefully never will be "an acceptable excuse" at least not among my generation. After mouthing the above words do you think our dear little drummer boy in fact acts like a grown-up, admits his mistake, even the seemingly (to him) trivial ones, learns from his mistake and then moves forward? Oh no, just read on:

"It is ridiculous to think that if every time I saw an error or typo in a Yahoo! News article that I wrote a scathing letter in to their editor in attempt to destroy their credibility or reputation. That's why I don't, and I feel safe saying that most others don't for the same reason."

"Scathing"? Try gently sarcastic my little sensitive one. "Destroy their credibility or reputation"? You seem to be doing quite well on your own. Here's some more constructive criticism for Cryin' Ryan, turn off American Idol and Kate Plus Eight and do your homework so others won't have to take you to school. If you make a mistake in life for God's sake own up to it, learn from it and move on. Don't act like a victim and lash out with ridiculous ad hominem attacks and lastly, respect your elders.

Oh yeah and word to the MN Daily, first-rate journalists and newspapers do not "edit" opinion and letter to the editor submissions to the point where they change the meaning of the piece to protect their own. Furthermore it is the policy of respectable newspapers not to publish, or at least edit out, ad hominem attacks against other writers of opinion pieces. Since the MN Daily was not up to their journalistic credentials, I felt I had no choice but to defend myself in kind herein. Peace Out.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Letter to the Editor as Published in the MN Daily

Letters to the Editor
Pride of Minn. needs some schooling
Published: 10/06/2009

I felt extremely fortunate to attend my first Gopher football game in the beautiful new stadium — that is, until halftime. The public address announcer and the scoreboard announced that the University of Minnesota marching band would perform a tribute to Stevie


During the retrospective of Wonder’s musical career, the “Pride of Minnesota” performed a song from Wonder’s album “Innerversions” and, subsequently, a tribute to the legendary “jazz singer ‘Sir Duke’ Ellington.”

Hmm … is it too much to ask that an institution of higher learning get its facts straight, especially when doing a “tribute”? I believe the album was “Innervisions,” and I think any member of the marching band could tell you that Duke Ellington was this country’s greatest composer, band leader and piano player — not a jazz singer. Who will the marching band’s next tribute to a legendary jazz singer be? Neil Diamond?

University alum

*Note the editorial changes made by the Daily staff to try and make the Marching Band look not responsible for the errors. Since the script the announcer was reading from was being scrolled across the "3rd largest jumbotron" in college football, the director of the Marching Band was responsible for not proof reading the script submitted to the announcer. Plainsense

Monday, October 5, 2009

"Pride of Minnesota" Needs to Go Back to School

Last Saturday I felt extremely fortunate to attend my first University of Minnesota Gophers Football game in their beautiful new stadium against arch rival Wisconsin, that is, until halftime. The public address announcer as well as the scoreboard closed caption service announced that the Minnesota Marching Band would perform a tribute to Stevie Wonder.

During the retrospective of Mr. Wonder's musical career, the "Pride of Minnesota" performed a song from Stevie's album "Innerversions" (sp) and subsequently a tribute to the legendary jazz singer, "Sir Duke" Ellington. it too much to ask that an institution of higher learning get its facts straight, especially when doing a "tribute"? I believe the album was "Innervisions" and I think any memeber of the U's Jazz Band could tell their Marching compatriots that Duke Ellington was this country's greatest composer, band leader and piano player, not a jazz singer. Who will the Marching Band's next tribute to a legendary jazz singer be, Neil Diamond?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Stanley "Buckwheat" Dural and his Band Set Fire to Dakota Jazz Club

September 2, 2009

Last night at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis, legendary Louisiana musician Stanley "Buckwheat Zydeco" Dural and his incredible band featuring the nucleus of Paul "Lil Buck" Sinegal on lead guitar, the great Lee Zeno on Bass and the baddest drummer on the planet, Kevin Menard reduced the place to ashes in an act that can only be described as arson. Augmented by the talented trumpet player who played with Paul and Lee's band the Top Cats at this year's Ponderosa Stomp and a second guitarist, Mr. Dural and the pride of Lafayette Louisana, Mr. Sinegal and Mr. Lee, turned the vaunted, high class digs of the Dakota into a greasy, craw fish shack sans bibs and napkins.

Following an immensely enjoyable and moving opening set by the gifted Kansas City born but New Orleans influenced keyboardist, Josh Charles, Lil Buck Sinegal, who Eric Clapton calls the greatest living blues guitarist and a mentor to Stevie Ray Vaughn, took the stage and led the band through a blistering Booker T and the MGs instrumental, propelled by the combustible rhythm section of co-conspirators Zeno and Menard. By the time Mr. Dural took the stage the audience was ready for something special which is exactly what Buckwheat and company had in store for them. By the second song, the audience did something I have never seen before at a show at the Dakota, they all rose to their feet at the encouragement of the night's ringleader.

Over the course of the next hour and a half, those Minnesotans lucky enough to be on board took a river cruise down the Mississippi to the bayous of Louisiana ending with a lesson for the new age: Peace, Love and Happiness. One of the night's more memorable moments came when Mr. Dural switched from accordian to the B-3 and reminded the audience that he is a world class keyboard player. Also worth noting is how unique and valuable the addition of the trumpet is to their line-up, which greatly expanded and enriched the traditional zydeco sound and gave it an incredibly jazzy flavor. Simply scrumptous!

The trademark of the club may be "the Dakota Cooks" but Buckwheat and Band definitely Smoke!

Bon Ton Roulet!

*Photo taken by me at this year's Ponderosa Stomp No. 8 at the House of Blues in New Orleans showing Lil Buck and the Top Cats featuring Stanley "Buckwheat" Dural backing Robert Parker.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Gov. Good N Plenty and the Gang Strike Force

Mr. "No New Taxes", Mr. "Go It Alone" (i.e Minnesota Governor Tim Good N Plenty) was the driving force that single-handedly revived what is now documented as one of the most corrupt law enforcement (sic) enterprises this state has ever seen.

On July 25, 2004, the Minneapolis Star Tribune printed the remarks of Governor Pawlenty following his idea of Unicameral state government by refusing the legislature any input into balancing the budget by vetoing all the finance bills passed by the legislature that he disagreed with while squandering precious state resources on Minnesota's version of "Inglorious Basterds", the Metro Gang Strike Force. Governor Pawlenty's statement read in part:

"...Because partisanship has drawn things to a halt in the State Capitol, I've taken extraordinary executive actions to move ahead without legislative action. The budget deficit the Legislature ignored was wiped away with a stroke of my pen. A critical crime-fighting agency, the Gang Strike Force, was slated to disband because the Legislature didn't pass funding. Our administration found the money to keep the group working for Minnesota."

"A critical crime-fighting agency"? "Working for Minnesota"? More like working for themselves!

Today a review panel comprised of former law enforcement officials, including an ex-FBI agent and former federal prosecutor, released its findings that the Metro Gang Strike Force was guilty of widespread corruption and criminal misconduct.

Well knock me over with a feather. I have been telling everyone I come into contact with in connection with my profession as a criminal defense lawyer over the past twenty-two years, be it judges, prosecutors or just plain citizens, that the government strike and task forces were the most disreputable, unprofessional, unlawful and at times, most criminal, organizations in this state. I cannot even tell you the number of times I have said that the behavior of the members of these multi-jurisdictional, so-called strike and task forces, put to shame any illegal behavior on behalf of the groups and individuals they are supposed to police. This specifically includes most of the two-bit, street gang members, organized crime syndicates and/or outlaw motorcycle clubs, the latter of which I have represented many an honorable person. Unfortunately, most of the time, the same could not be said of the strike and task force members.

Like in Watergate, when members of the executive branch of government, the branch of government tasked with the duty to uphold and enforce the law, are engaged themselves in criminal behavior, this is unchecked governmental power that strikes at the very heart and soul of a constitutional form of government, a government of laws, not people, not personalities and certainly not a bunch of badge wielding bullies.

So it is with this in mind that I harken back to those days in mid-June of 2004 when Gov. Good N Plenty, to prop up his credentials as a "law and order" Governor and future right-wing Presidential candidate, made it his personal crusade (for personal political gain) to resurrect the now infamous Metro Gang Strike Force, and what is now the well documented, biggest waste of law enforcement resources in state history. Take a licorice-flavored bow Governor, because like licorice, your conduct in this matter makes me wanna sh#t!

For links to the entire review panel's report including their thoughtful and well reasoned recommendations to abolish all similar multi-jurisdictional (i.e. uncontrolled) task forces and a change in the forfeiture laws as well as links to recent articles on the trials and tribulations of the Metro Gang Strike force see

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Zoo Brings Out the "Real Animal" in Escovedo

Someone unfamiliar with the subject matter probably would not have known what to expect out of Alejandro Escovedo's performance at the Minnesota Zoo's amphitheater last night, Saturday August 8, 2009. Most people who pay any attention to real music in this country have heard the mercurial story of Alejandro's journey to the edge of music's and life's boundaries with bands like the Nuns and Rank and File, how he leaned over the abyss, spit into it and came back. Much like the fabled bird of fiction, the phoenix, Escovedo rose from the ashes of serious illness which had cut him down in Arizona. But just like the true believer son of a prizefighter that he is, Escovedo has battled back to the point of "Real Animal" a reflective mixture of his history as an artist as well as somewhat of an homage to one of his big inspirations, the little, godfather of punk himself, Iggy Pop.

Did I say homage? The music on "Real Animal" is like its inspiration in many ways, bare and open for all to see, like Iggy's chest, with broken beer bottles cuts and blood dripping from its wounds. From the autobiographical tale of living next to Sid and Nancy in the "Chelsea Hotel" to the stark beauty of "Sister Lost Soul" Escovedo has crafted another in his long list of musical tour de forces. Now, to someone hearing about Alejandro for the first time, this would make no sense. No, it makes perfect sense.

My first glimpse of Alejandro on Saturday night, a night so warm and humid that Escovedo quipped that he felt like he was in Thailand, came on the side of the stage. With about three songs left in the set of the opening act, Romantica, Alejandro and his entire band, all four of them, came stage-side to check out several songs from this impressive, up and coming local band. Lead singer Ben Kyle, guitarist and pedal steel player Luke Jacobs, drummer James Orvis, and bassist and old Grumpy's pal, Tony Zaccardi turned in a performance such that Alejandro pronounced towards the end of his show: "I've played with alot of bands over the years; some good, some not so good and Romantica is definitely one of the good ones" and then invited Romantica's Kyle onstage for a raucous, call and response refrain ala Mick and Spleef during "Beast of Burden" replete with audience participation.

But I'm getting way ahead of my self. My son August and I had arrived early, around 5:30 PM as a matter of fact, with plans on catching a quick tour of the Minnesota Zoo's much acclaimed Grizzly Coast exhibition. As the Zoo closes at 6 PM and supposedly does not reopen until 6:30 PM for the concert, we were on a mission, you might say. You see our other plan was to attempt an intervention and rescue my friend and co-worker Esmond from what can only be described as the zoo's version of the bad acid at Woodstock, the Harry Potter Movie being shown at the zoo's IMAX theater. For a guy who supposedly likes good music, the choice here seemed a no brainer: catch the best live music in this year's summer season at a beautiful and great sounding venue or get your feet stuck to the floor and possibly catch the swine flu from the grotty little brats watching some pre-adolescent bore-fest.

Unfortunately my attempt at bringing Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers to cultural matters was unsuccessful despite repeated attempts at locating poor Esmond, even including checking out the Imax Theater Men's (Boy's) Room (I had drank several beers after arriving in the zoo parking lot in that time-honored Minnesota tradition: tailgating). After coming up dry on our attempt to rescue my co-worker it was off to Siberia. Much like the salmon swimming upstream in the Grizzly's faux Siberian river, August and I fought against the stream of leaving zoo patrons until we were all alone in large sections of the zoo. This enabled me to light up and partially enjoy my obligatory (Bob Enos) cigar I take to every live music event (to remind me of my good friend who is not forgotten) while gawking at the tigers and bears, oh my.

Between sets August and I met a cool, fellow music fan, Margaret, who we shared the story of the etiology of August's name and she remembered with us a heart wrenching story of her favorite, kid brother who died in a motorcycle accident over one year ago. We would run into Margaret later that evening as Dad searched for the car (which had apparently been moved by the same character who over-served me those Summit Red and Extra Pale Ales that were going down so smoothly in the August heat and humidity). But just as Margaret was starting to say something I hear the power chords opening of Alejandro's closest thing to a hit single, "Always a Friend" and it was off to the races for our seats. In a role reversal of epic proportions, I was reduced to fist pumping, lyric mouthing adolescence while my son looked over with one eye askance, as if to say "You're not going to embarrass me...again!" "You damn right", I think to myself.

After this point, the evening becomes a blur, or more appropriately, like the hallucinatory montage sequence in Apocalypse Now but to the strains of a better soundtrack. From the aforementioned "Chelsea Hotel"(which made no sense or perfect sense) to the semi-autobiographical cover, "Everybody Loves Me", but I know why. One of the big reasons why is the always excellent side men and women Escovedo brings with him. This particular evening had Alejandro playing as a rock quartet backed by David Pulkingham on lead guitar, a fantastic bassist from Alabama and last but not least, the master of thunder, lord of the thighs, Hector Munoz, pound for pound the greatest drummer in the business this side of Michael Bland or say, Eric Gravat (that one's for Esmond).

Mix in some old gems from By the Hand of the Father, my personal favorite Rosalee and the now customary, welcome back to the line-up version of "Castanets" complete with the absolutely hysterical story of the song's inspiration (female concert promoter in Tampa), who bears no similarity to certain real persons either living or near dead, such as , say a late 1980's version of Keith Richards but certainly no resemblance whatsoever to our own erstwhile Sue Mclean, who deserves Diva status for continuing excellence in concert bookings. As tornadoes and damaging severe thunderstorms were ravaging towns and communities just to the west and north of us, we listened to the final strains of "Beast of Burden". Real music by real animals, just another night at the Minnesota Zoo.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Formerly Reluctant Participant Enjoys National Night Out

This may be hard for those who know me to believe, but until I get to know someone I am somewhat shy and introverted. Hence, in the past, when my neighbors would invite me to participate in our neighborhood's version of National Night Out, I usually deflected the invitation with some asinine comment such as: "I'm a criminal defense lawyer, why would I participate in something that's against my own economic interests?"

It was not until more recently, when I began having trouble with some of my less reputable and certainly less honorable, former criminal clients, that I have learned to truly appreciate and value the friendship and mutual connectedness of my good neighbors. So it was with this important lesson in mind that I pulled my head out of my posterior and proceeded on my motorcycle across the Mississippi River to pick-up my contribution to our pot-luck dinner gathering, some potato salad from Lunds and a six pack of Two Hearted Ale. Sufficiently armed, I rode down our street and into our cul de sac where my neighbors had already begun to gather, and dropped off my contribution with a McArthur-like "I shall return".

Over the course of the next two and a half hours I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the faces I sometimes saw, but never knew the names associated with. As the neighborhood children played flashlight tag, the adults traded stories, (Lenny's fireworks stories won the funniest moment award hands down!), patiently listened to my numerous filibusters and only occasionally commented, like my neighbor Sally did, with "...that's too much information". Despite my sometimes boorish behavior and a late night appearance by Sausage the wonder dog, all in all, a marvelous time was had by all. Thank you to our hosts Bruce and his lovely wife (I know I am still horrible with names) and daughter, Madison.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Fear and Loathing in Cloquet, MN

"The Angels are coming, the Angels are coming! Hurry, hurry and lock up your daughters and bolt your doors!"

It must be sweeps week in commercial media because for the last week in Minnesota all you have heard from the commercial, conservative (I know,I know,... redundant as Hell!) media (i.e the local Fox television station and their philosophical sister-station (with the exception of Reusse), KSTP AM 1500, is that the Hells Angels are having their national rally in Cloquet, MN and the world, as we know it, is coming to an end.

Just like the cowardly GWB administration, the adolescents who host the noon talk show on AM 1500, (they are so bad I can't even tell you their names, they're like a dummied down version of that (former) drunken imbecile,Glenn Beck, if that's even possible, the heir to Rush Limbaugh's throne (i.e the hypocrite's barbiturate commode), would have you throw away the constitution and prejudge thousands of people they have never met based upon stereotypes, fear and more than likely, their shame over their little wieners.

Well after about a five-minute colloquy between some local, know-it-all jack-off, wherein the two boy-hosts of the show fall over each other agreeing with the caller that we should ignore the constitution and use admittedly unconstitutional tactics to try and keep out of this state over an estimated 1,500 motorcycle riding citizens of the United States because they are "afraid", well I had HAD ENOUGH!

I picked up my cell phone, dialed 411 and before I knew it I was screaming my opinion to some poor producer, who, when I finally took a breath, tried to slow me down: "Whoa, whoa buddy why are you yelling at me? You're not even on the air", he said. At least not yet...

I start telling the producer how I am an attorney and have represented plenty of club members over the course of my practice and how these idiot radio Jock's are being so quick to trash our constitution, at which point the producer interrupts me with the famous Ben Franklin quote ("...those that would trade liberty for security deserve neither...") and says : "Hey, I agree with you..." and the next thing I hear is "Jim in Minneapolis?"

I remember thinking to myself, stay calm stay calm...but of course my emotion's get the best of me and the tirade begins (I paraphrase):

"I just had to call in after that last conversation with a caller. I am an attorney and have represented plenty of club members over the last 20 years and, let me tell you, 98% of them were real gentlemen. You people (conservative media and political types) are so quick to proclaim your love for our Constitution and its strict construction, yet seem way too quick to give up the constitutional rights of others. This is terrible how you gladhanders in the media are jumping on the bandwagon, whipping up public hysteria over this issue. Why don't you wait until someone has done something (illegal) before judging them. When clubs like the Angels go on these events they are on their best behavior. You know with the economy the way it is, we probably should not be driving business off."

When I pause for a breath the teeny boppers spray back at me some bullshit about criminal syndicates or something to that effect to which I respond that I had little trouble, in my experience, with the bikers compared with the (criminal syndicate like) behavior of the strike and task forces. Before ending with "I am not even going to go there!" before hanging up. The little boys clap and celebrate with glee as though they actually had won the exchange.

The next caller, a man out for my own heart, opens with: "Finally you got someone on who knows what they are talking about...". The sixtyish sounding man continues with an authoritative, gravelly biker-voice how he lives or owns property out by Sturgis and deals with the Clubs like the Angels every year. He relates how bikers, club members included are people and deserved to be judged on their own actions, not grouped together by stereotypes and discriminated against because of fear. Far more eloquently than I did (or could), this man, no, this Patriot, went on to give a tour de force argument that absolutely eviscerated whatever flotsam and hyperbole that made up the little talk-show weenies ad homonym attack. To show you how stupid the hosts of this excuse for a radio show are, they did not even know or did not have the courage to admit, that they were wrong. That in fact, if it were their rights being violated, they would be crying, pissing and caterwauling all over the airwaves. Now who really are the Patriots in this situation?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

26.7 Million Reasons Why We Need Health Care Reform

Dear Senator Franken:

I like the ring to that. Congratulations, by the way. The reason I am writing is to point out a Minnesota connection to what is wrong with the health care industry, as pointed out by Bill Moyers on his program Friday night. Towards the end of his program he did an editorial on the health care industry which included a vignette on a working class person struggling to keep up with the ever increasing cost of health insurance which she desperately needs due to a serious health condition and then Mr. Moyers named three health insurance company executives and their multi-million dollar annual salaries.

I almost fell out of my chair when Bill Moyers saved the highest earning health insurance executive for last, something like 26.7 million Dollars in annual salary for John Hammergren of McKesson and flashed up his picture. Could it be? John, my R.A. (resident advisor) in Territorial Hall at the University of Minnesota my sophomore year as an undergrad in 1980-81. While John was certainly capable of telling you to turn down your stereo, not to have beer in the dorm and saying, quite often, "what's that funny smell emanating from your room?", he certainly was no wunderkind and nobody, not even Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods, is worthy of 26.7 million Dollars a year (well, maybe Joe Mauer, but I digress.....).

Just thought this interesting bit of Minnesota trivia might be helpful when countering the naysayers and health care reform opponents rhetoric in the upcoming weeks.

cc: Bill Moyers

Transcript from Bill Moyer's Journal on PBS:

July 17, 2009

BILL MOYERS: This week, Regina Benjamin was nominated by President Obama to be our next surgeon general, charged with keeping the American public informed about our health. She's a member of the Board of Trustees of the American Medical Association and recipient of a MacArthur Foundation 'Genius Grant.'

But more important, she's a country doctor, a family physician along the Gulf Coast of Alabama, serving the poor and uninsured. After Hurricane Katrina destroyed her clinic a second time, she mortgaged her own home to rebuild it. The day it was to reopen, a fire burned the clinic to the ground. Moving to a trailer, Dr. Benjamin and her staff never missed a day of work. Dr. Benjamin will no doubt bring that same ethic to the fight for health care reform.

Many of the folks in Regina Benjamin's bayou town are so poor that sometimes she's paid with a pint of oysters or a couple of fish. She buys medicine for her patients out of her own pocket, and she makes house calls.

Now meet H. Edward Hanway, the Chairman and CEO of Cigna, the country's fourth largest insurance company. At the beginning of the year, Cigna blamed hard economic times when it announced the layoff of 1,100 employees. But it reported first quarter profits of $208 million on revenues of $4 billion. Mr. Hanway has announced his retirement at the end of the year, and the living will be easy, financially at least. He made $11.4 million dollars in 2008, according to the Associated Press, and some years more than that.

That's a lot of oysters, although he lags behind Ron Williams, the CEO of Aetna Insurance, who made more than $17 million dollars last year, or John Hammergren, the head of McKesson, the biggest health care company in the world. His compensation was nearly $30 million.

Here's the difference. To Dr. Regina Benjamin, health care is a service, helping people in need with grace and compassion. To Ed Hanway and his highly paid friends, it's big business, a commodity to be sold to those who can afford it. And woe to anyone who gets between them and the profits they reap from sick people.

That behavior includes spending nearly a million and a half a day--a day!--to make sure health care reform comes out their way. Over the years they've lavished millions on the politicians who are writing and voting on the bills coming out of committee. Now it's payback time. See for yourself here on our website, where you'll find a link to campaign contributions and the politicians who right now are deciding who wins and who loses the heath care debate.

That's it for the week. I'm Bill Moyers and I'll see you next time.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Check Out Time Mr. Popeye, the 9th Ward's Road to Recovery (a St. Named Desire), a Memphis Minute, Ed's Fish House and Where's My Glasses?

Blythville, AK

Why am I writing from Blythville, Arkansas? Well there were no motels in Turrell or Burdette. Besides Ed's Fish House, home of the world's second best catfish, (first place is still McGhee's (sp) in southern Oklahoma)is in Blythville where I took shelter from the storm. I did not think I could ever hit a storm as bad as the one I hit in Iowa on the way down, but yesterday evening, between 6:15 and 7:20 p.m., I was literally fighting for my life.

Having made the mistake of not listening to my inner voice and staying in Memphis, where I had made an unplanned, spur of the moment detour to the Stax Museum. It wasn't just that "I couldn't get enough of a good thang", as Johnnie Taylor sang, my my plan was to pick up my brother Pete (who over the years had hung with me, made sure I had a ticket to a concert I couldn't afford, and stepped up to become a family leader after my father died and especially after my oldest brother Paul passed away unexpectedly and way too young) a long sleeve sweatshirt and give Ponderosa Stomp bumperstickers to the two staff members who recommended my motel and music while in town, only to miss its closing by a minute.

Stupidly I had journeyed on under the delusion that I would impress Jody with my iron butt story of driving straight back to Minnesota, only to get an hour past Memphis and run smack into a greenish black horizon with lightning strikes just off to the west of the highway.

Thinking I could outrun the worst of it, I cranked it up to between 95 and 100 MPH and roared past all the traffic in the right hand lane, which consisted mostly of semis. Oblivious to the risk of a speeding ticket or perhaps a reckless driving (20 mph or more over) charge, my main concern was getting as much distance between me and the much taller metal targets, the big rigs, as I couldn't get over the conversation I had with my ex-wife Cari, who, when I had called to talk to my son August after getting into New Orleans, said "I'm so glad you called as we had heard on the news that a motorcyclist had been killed by lightning in Missouri". (God bless her for saying that and I often thought how much more fun I would be having sharing this trip with her.)

It eventually began coming down so hard that I could not see thru my windscreen. My glasses fogged up completely so I had to resort to pulling them down to the tip of my nose and stretching my head over to the right so I could see over and around my glasses and screen, which even at my reduced speed of 60 mph, felt like needles to the eyeballs, causing them to tear up and my eyelids to involuntarily close. Making matters worse, if that was possible, was the fact that all the truckers I had so cavalierly blown by only minutes ago were now barreling up from behind me and in this complete grey-out with visibility literally about 30 feet, they were probably not going to see the little red dot of my tail light before it was too late. With lightning striking in the fields just to the left and ahead of me I saw the Blythville exit sign and that one mile could not come fast enough.

Luckily just to the west of the highway I spied a Best Western Motel and made a beeline for it. Standing on the mat just inside their doors hoping it would soak up the water streaming off my thoroughly soaked clothing, I shouted across the lobby "How much for a single?". "That would be $65 plus tax" the young female clerk replied, I paused slightly for dramatic effect (I was going to pay it even if it cost $200 a night) before answering back "You've got yourself a deal".

When I asked "where's a good place to eat around here?" The clerk responded, "that's easy, other than the two fast food joints, there's the fish place". "Fish place?" I say. "What kind of fish?" "The best catfish in the world" she replies. "Just take a right at the stop sign and go about a mile west past the graveyard and the car dealer (abandoned Nissan dealership) and its on the south side of the road". "How late are they open?" I inquire as it was now well after 7 p.m. "Until 8 or 9 (p.m.)" she retorts. ("Well, which is it" I think to myself, but then remember I am in the "Natural State" and time really doesn't have the same significance as it does up North.) "Thanks" I add as I hurriedly depart hoping to make the possible 8 o'clock deadline should the rain let up and hopefully after putting on something a little drier from my soft sided and now squishy saddle bags.

I talk to my college-aged daughter Genny (who I am so very proud of) by cellphone who, when I ask if she is keeping up with my blog, comments that it keeps her and her girlfriends (hi girls!) in stitches. Sorry Gen if I too often show my concern with what might seem like negativity or criticism as it was a learned behavior and hard to shed. "Raise with Praise" I once heard a wise African American mother say. Amen to that, it's just hard to put into practice.

And on that note, the rest will have to wait as some of the other guests are giving me looks like I am overstaying my welcome on the courtesy computer terminal in the lobby/cafeteria buffet of the motel. I just have to add before it slips my mind, thanks to the clerk Judy for volunteering to go search my room before I leave to look for my prescription eyeglasses as I typed this. Unfortunately she didn't have any luck finding them which means I left them at Ed's Fish House and they don't open til 4 p.m. Judy again comes to my rescue and writes down the phone number for Ed's so I can give them a call when I get home.

I also want to add that this motel sports the most incredible complimentary full, and I mean full, breakfast including eggs, sausage, make your own waffles (apparently the new trend in motels down South)and something that I have never heard or tasted before Biscuits and Cocoa gravy. They're made by Theresa, the other day clerk/cook and she was so kind as to give me the recipe, which I hope I can remember as I don't have a pen. So with grey skies and ran in the forecast as far as Doppler radar can see, I pull out of the motel around 10 a.m. and bid a fond adieu to Blythville.

After traveling not more than ten minutes the rain is back. Slow and steady at first and then in a repeat of the previous eventing, it becomes a torrential downpour. Always the eternal optimist (and thinking its way too early to start looking for a motel), I press ahead in near zero visibility.

In addition to the precipitation, it was an appreciable 10 degrees cooler than the day before and this added to the precariousness of the situation. As it would later be explained to me by an astute, amateur meteorologist up the road, the hilly terrains combined with the cool wet temperatures had the effect of producing a white, wispy ground fog, especially in the low areas.

Under these conditions, it was extremely hard to see my bike, either oncoming or from behind. But from the side, my idiotic selection of a color scheme made it virtually invisible. " I gotta find someplace to pull off and take cover", I think to myself. Sometime during this period of reduced visibility I must have crossed over the Missouri state line since starting to appear out of the water and wisps of white is the outline of a highway sign announcing, thank god, that a rest area was shortly ahead. For reasons still unknown to me, I park in the side lot instead of just pulling up to the front doors leaving me a long slog through the saturated grass (I should have taken the sidewalk).

To be continued...

Pondersosa Stomp Day 2: Hittin' My Groove, the Muscle Shoals Sound, the Embalmer and his Boston Crew, Johnny Camp's POW Father, WWII Museum and ?

To be continued...

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Pondersoa Stomp Day One: Memphis Soul Conference, Remember Me?, Chef Convention, Not So Struggling Artist and My House of Blue Heaven

New Orleans, La.

I now know why funerals are so big down here: the hangovers will make you wish you were dead. It was a busy day on Basin Street. That street is in New Orleans Esmond.

I got into New Orleans around 6:30 p.m. Monday night and after checking into my hotel, the French Market, on the corner of Decatur and St. Louis(?). The incredibly accommodating and friendly staff of Andre and Megan got me unloaded and checked in but I passed on the valet parking and rode around to the parking lot on the back side of the block myself. The attendant, Johnny Camp, one of my favorite people this whole trip, had me park right next to his booth so he could keep a close eye on my ticket to ride back home. The walk back around the block took over two hours and did me in for the night.

New Orleans is like that. You set off to do something totally mundane like park you bike and you wind up meeting new friends, getting drunk and completely losing track of time. Every city should be more like New Orleans in this respect.

I soon discovered that my travel agent, Angelo, (sorry Mary, my MN travel agent who won't book pleasure trips)had made the mistake of putting me in a hotel two doors down from the Crescent City Brewery. Not a wise choice to put this connoisseur of suds in such close proximity to his nemesis. They have three fresh brewed flavors, Red Stallion, Black Forest and Pilsner. Being a lover of malt and hops and wanting the highest % of alcohol, I of course opt for the Black Forest. As the downstairs bar seating was completely full, I ventured upstairs and sat at the bar and promptly started a conversation with an airline worker turned Postman named Mark. I do not mean to label Mark or imply that he is all about his work, like us attorneys, because he definitely is not. Here was a man who has life figured out to the point of raising it to an art form. Upon further reflection, he should give seminars on how to live like you are alive and not just existing. Mark attends the Jazz Heritage Festival every year, spends his August in Seattle/Vancouver and used to live on a 2 acre mountain spread near San Jose.

Before I know it we are swapping music stories and turns out that Mark is a huge fan of my friend Jimmy Thackery. I tell him about Mark no longer drumming for Jimmy and he seemed as dismayed as I was but I cautioned that one should not jump to conclusions as to the reasons for the change, besides its none of my business, "if I do", (sorry I turn everything into lyrical phrases from jazz standards down here). Mark mentions he goes to the Santa Cruz Blues festival most years and I ask if he saw the legendary performance Thackery put on with Bonnie Raitt. Mark's mouth went agape and eyes glazed over and he stammered: "I was there! It was one of the best performance I ever seen" or something to that effect. Hell I was getting a little tipsy and beat from my ride.

We thankfully compared notes on the evenings live music fare and it was a good thing. Turns out I was two days late for the Funky Meters show at the HOB. Mark tells me he is going to the Snooks Eaglin tribute Tab Benoit was throwing at the Mid City Lanes (former site of some previous years of the Ponderosa Stomp). I tell him I will meet him there but I have to take a shower and compose myself before venturing out. Sorry to say, but after my shower I sat down in my towel on the bed and that's how I woke up the next morning.

My first full day in the Crescent City began at 7 a.m. when I left the hotel in search of computer terminal access so I could post. Two hours and several miles of shoe tread later I finally found a business center on the third floor of the Sheraton. I highly recommend this over the access at the public library next to City Hall, which Although free, does not open until 10 a.m. and you have to step over the less fortunate who make their beds outside the front door. Besides at the Sheraton there is a Starbucks on the first floor for grande caramel macchitos and the only stench of urine is my own.

After memorializing the previous day's events it's off to Mothers for a locals New Orleans breakfast. I highly recommend this establishment for breakfast (served all day) or lunch but some fellow travelers had dinner there and turned the noses up at it. However, my experience there was delightful, if you understand their version of hospitality and sense of humor, which seems to be giving a tongue in cheek hard time to tourists (for the benefit of and to the delight of the locals). For example when I enter I ask the greeter/instructor/general manager if they have a bathroom to which he wryly replied: "Yes, but I am not going to tell you where it is". I said not batting an eye: "Okay, but things are gonna get messy then." Whereupon he conceded they were in the back and then shouted "and wash your hands when you're done" as I walked past the long line of customers waiting to order.

After taking care of business (or TCB as Elvis would say) I joined the rear of the line which was next to the kitchen door and the tables where the staff took their breaks at. I asked an older African American woman what's good for breakfast and she recommended the crawfish etouiffe omlete, which comes with grits and biscuits. After ordering I did not know the routine so I sauntered back to the staff tables and sat down at an empty one. The fact that I, as a tourist, was sitting down at a table all the other tourists turned their noses up as they went into the nicer appointed back room endeared the somewhat crusty older waitress to me and she took care of me like I was her son, constantly making me feel like I was not eating alone and chiding the kitchen "why doesn't my boy have his biscuits yet, don't make come in there and kick some butt" which is a paraphrase of the local venacular. She really appreciated the fact that I did not linger and opened up one of her three table tops for a larger party and bigger tip. Karma is everything and is not only for guys named Earl.

In the early afternoon I attended the Ponderosa Stomp Music History Conference session on Memphis Soul with three of the greats, Teenie Hodges, guitarist and leader of the vaunted Hi Rhythym Section, the greatest accompanists in the history of American Music, the legendary soul singer and former Hi artist and a personal favorite of mine, Otis Clay and O.V. Wright collaborator and co-writer, Roosevelt Jamison. The conference was held at the Louisana History Museum also known as the Arsenal, right on Jackson Square, where Bush made his one stop and short speech during his flyover during Katrina. As usual, the group of traditional New Orleans brass musicians where playing outside and I was startled when what appeared to be a statute said hello to me as I walked buy (street performed painted head to toe in golden bronze paint--hadn't this guy ever seen the James Bond movie Goldfinger?)

It was so cool to be in a room of approximately 100 other die hard music lovers, reporters and industry people who care as much and know more about my passion than I do. There were people who came from as far away as Amsterdam and a Japanese doctor, Dochi(sp), and his wife whom I met and although they spoke little English, were some of the most ardent and entusiastic fans you could ever meet. If only the public in this country would turn off American Idol and commercial radio and pull their collective heads out of their a$$es and pay attention to what the rest of the world recognizes as one of this country's greatest and unique contributions to mankind: soul, jazz and rhythym and blues.

I got goose bumps listening to the panel discuss their craft and reminess about making some of the greatest music ever set to wax. Teenie Hodges told the story of writing "Take Me to the River" with Ann Peebles during a stay in Boston when the evenings plan got cancelled due to an unexpected snow storm, so that went back to their hotel and Teenie started talking about his musical roots in gospel and his religious experiences including being baptized in a pond which Ann turned into the "river". Teenie Hodges is a genuine genius but a sensitive and incredibly intelligent man as are all of the panelists. Otis Clay told the funniest story about he and his band backing O.V. Wright and how O.V., one of the greatest, most charasmatic performers and onme of the finest sould singers that ever lived could steal your own back-up band and the show from you right under your very nose. All the panelists laughed and shared stories of O.V. "dictionary" knowledge of music charts and changes which is how he could make any audience line up to "witness" that they feel the blues by lining up to shake his hand during a song to the point where, as Otis described, " would have thought they were handing out blenders".

The two most poignant and deepest moments of this day's conference came from Roosevelt Jamison and a reuluctant Howard Grimes, the great memphis soul musician and drummer for the Hi Rhythym section, who was coaxed by the discussion's moderator, the legendary music writer Robert Gordon, out of the audience to tell how he got his start at the age of 12 and attributed his success and love of music and innate sense of rhythm or feel for the music to his mother who played evertying from big band like the Dorseys and Glenn Miller to BB King for him. Having lost my mother just last year it made me realize that my love for music was as a result of my mother playing the likes of the Mills Brothers and Inkspots which I unknowingly soaked up through osmosis.

Roosevelt Jamison made one of the most profound statements about the music industry specifically and the creation of art in general, and I paraphrase "soul music, our music in the 1960's were about expressing our love for our mates, in music and thru lyrics. It was romantic music. It was expressing the great gift God gave to us as humans, which is love. We were so into expressing the great love and beauty that we did not pay enough, if any, attention to the business side of things". Amen.

Day One of the Stomp to be continued here...

I got to run for now to catch today's (Wednesday's) early afternoon conference that is of extreme personal significance to me. Peter Guralnick the world famous music biographer of American Music Icons from England is leading a discussion on Muscle Shoals, my favorite American studio and home to my favorite artist of all time, the late great Eddie Hinton, with panelists and former studio artists/musicians Dan Penn and Rick Hall.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Road to the Stomp Day 3: Biscuits & Gravy, Graceland and on to the Big Easy

New Orleans, La.

Well I made it in one piece to New Orleans but I left a little of my heart in Memphis. Like what Minneapolis is to Chicago, Memphis is to New Orleans: a little city with big aspirations, but unique unto itself. Despite all its recent troubles and bad press about its soaring crime rate, the people of Memphis have a dignity and graciousness that is incredibly endearing.

The day started early as usual. My motto on vacation is "Men plow deep while sluggards sleep". (I stole that one from a beat farmer friend of mine from the Red River Valley.) I scrawled a handwritten "Do Not Disturb" sign for my door handle and headed out at 7 a.m. to scout Elvis Presley Boulevard for a breakfast joint before being first in line for when Graceland opens at 9 a.m. I headed out Bellevue which turns into Elvis Presley Boulevard and did a drive-by of Graceland before making a U-turn and heading into the parking lot across the street to chat up the security guard, who seemed amused at my enthusiasm and naivete when I asked if there would be a line already formed when they opened at 9. I then headed out to a nearby Krispy Kreme and some caffeine and sugar rush. I asked the young black woman behind the counter for a recommendation for a biscuit and gravy breakfast and the only place she could come up with was I HOP. I told her I avoid that place like the plague and after consuming my coffee and donut I left.

As I was getting on my bike I chatted up the maintenance man who was sweeping the parking lot. A very dignified and friendly African American man in his late fifties or early sixties. When I asked him where I could get a real southern breakfast, his eyes lit up and he gave me directions to Brooks Ave and the Kettle where I had one of the best all you can eat southern breakfast buffets complete with pork chops, bacon, scrambled eggs, biscuits and gray and fresh fruit. Janice, my waitress got a kick out of the sun burnt Minnesotan on a motorcycle who was not afraid to try the local establishment over the chain restaurants. When I asked if it was okay to pull out my camera and take some pictures of the buffet she said sure and then asked if she could add my ugly mug to her camera phone collection which included the tourists from England who shared my sense of adventure and weren't afraid nor aware of any color line either.

After my belly bursting meal it was on to Graceland. As it was still only 8:30 a.m. I pulled up in the service lane right in front of Graceland and asked a couple of female tourists from Holland if they would take my picture in front of the gates, which they were more than happy to do. As we were doing this, a couple of heavy set sixty year old white women came sauntering down the long driveway from the mansion, dressed in garish black Elvis t-shirts. I asked if they were on a VIP tour and they said no, the memorial garden was open to the public be ween 7 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. as a free alternative for the faithful. Boy I wished I knew this ahead of time as I was about to drop a small fortune at one of the tightest ships in the tourists business. It was truly amazing how well run this operation is.

I soon discovered the demographics of the early morning Graceland visitors. I was by far the youngest and nearly half the visitors where from Europe, predominantly England. I had a good time chatting with some of the English tourists, like offering to take their picture next to the framed picture and letter from George Bush in the entryway to the "Trophy Room". When I asked the young black guard if they were going to replace the picture of Bush with "something more recent" she went into a rehearsed explanation how it was up there because the President had hosted the Prime Minister of Japan on a visit to Graceland.

I could not help from being struck by how small Graceland actually was as well as the fact that it isn't nearly as garish as one was led to believe. Furthermore, I commented out loud at how incredibly sad it was to which several of the English tourists nodded in agreement. On the positive side, it was very cool that the overwhelming majority of the staff were African American and I never missed an opportunity to remind them that if Elvis was alive today he would be at the Stax Museum.

After spending a small fortune on nick nacks I could fit in my saddle bags I left Graceland and headed out of Memphis with New Orleans and King Creole on my mind.

Compared with the previous two days of riding, day three was rather uneventful except for a bad stretch of road around Jackson, Mississippi and some brief showers in southern Mississippi. About 3 p.m. I stopped at an unmarked exit at a former Stuckey's for gas and what else, some chicken. The place struck me as somewhat strange as it was run by a Hindu woman and staffed by black guys. The toothless local white guy tried to chat me up about motorcycles but his heavy southern accent and lack of teeth made him almost indiscernible. Perhaps he felt a kindred spirit to me in light of my recent oral surgery. Nevertheless, the place had no other business and was giving me the willies so I got the hell out of there before I got mickey finned.

The most memorable and white knuckled part of the ride was the last 40 miles before New Orleans. Right as my fuel light started to blink the one gallon warning I started on the longest elevated bridge over Lake Pontchartrain and the spillway. Being above water there were hardly any exits and certainly no gas stations. Luckily I pulled off the first exit I came to with a gas station riding on fumes. After missing my exit to the French Quarter I wound up leaving New Orleans going over the Mississippi River bridge before doubling back and finding my hotel, the French Market in the heart of the French Quarter.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Day 2: Chuck Who? I'm Not Following You Blowin' In the Wind & the Sins of Memphisto

Memphis, TN

Well at least it was dry today and a good day for kite flying. The torrential downpours gave way to hurricane winds as I was blown across the state of Misery (i.e. miserlou). Jeez these people drive fast down here.

I left Canton @ 7:14 AM as reported earlier with my mind set on taking pictures of the woman's room at Chuck Berry's Farm where he was busted for allegedly having hidden cameras. I pulled off at the Wentzville exit and stopped at the local QT gas station to asked the locals where Make a Buck's farm was.

The first person I encountered was a very cool brother about my age who was sitting in his car with the windows down as I pulled up. He commented on my nice bike (all covered in bug guts) so I figured I had the opening so why not: "Do you know where Chuck Berry's farm is?" I questioned. "Ya know, I've lived here 5 years and still don't know, if you find out please tell me" the man replied. "Sure" I told him and went inside the convenience store. Inside I asked the someteen something kid behind the counter who looked at me like I was an alien and said "I dunno mister, but we have maps over there". I went over to the rack and went thru all the St. Charles and St. Louis counties maps but no reference to Mr. Hail Hail Rock N Roll. A couple of older white folks walked by so I popped the question, at least they knew who I was talking about and confirmed it was "somewhere in Wentzville" but they didn't know, "we're from Troy" they told me, as if that meant something to me.

It was obvious I was getting nowhere so I headed back outside to my bike and the black guy in the car was still there: "Well, what'd you find out?", he asks. "Hell, those white people never heard of him", I tell him. "Figures" he replies, so we start chatting.

I tell him about my one personal encounter with the originator of "Mabellyne" back stage at the Minnesota State Fair in about 1988 and the tantrum he threw at my friend in the back up band. The man laughs a knowing laugh and then waits so as not to appear like he is trying to one up me and then goes on to tell me a similar story about Chuck, shortly after 911. Apparently Chuck wanted to drive his Cadillac up onto the grounds of some park and the powers that be would have none of it and boy did he throw a temper tantrum. He then adds, "My cousin works for the people in charge of the rights for Miles Davis' estate. He tells a great story about those two going at it one time". "My Gawd", I stammer, "talk about the clash of the titan egos". "You said it", he laughs, and they adds "You drive safely" after I announced my trip plans before heading out.

My next stop was a gas station and convenience store that I only mention for my friend Andy. The name of the place was "Fast Lane" and the sweet attendant told me she had three drive offs because she forgets to ask people if they had gas when they come up to the counter.

About an hour later I needed a break from the gale force winds and pull into a rest stop. A nice couple about my age were eating sandwiches outside their immaculate, champagne colored Preus as I pull into the stall next to them. The guy says: "It must be tough trying to keep it on the road today". "Yeah" I answered, "but it's better than the rain in Iowa yesterday". "Iowa" the couple says in unison, "where are you from?" "Minnesota" I answer. "White Bear!" they exclaim. We get to talking and there a couple of psychologists, John Olechek(sp) and his wife(?). Turns out there heading to New Orleans too. There going to do a Habitat for Humanity project, God bless them. When I asked if they were driving thru to New Orleans today, they said no they were stopping in Memphis. "Me too" I tell them. After filling them in on the Ponderosa Stomp and asking if they knew my psychiatrist, they did, I tell them "if we see each other again, I'm not following you" to which the psychologists both respond, "don't worry we're not paranoid". "That's good" I giggle, and then deadpan "I am" as they drive off.

I reach Memphis around 3 PM. It's 84 degrees and due to the lack of space in my saddle bags, I am wearing a winter coat, jean jacket, turtle neck, t-shirt, snow mobile gauntlets and a stocking cap under my helmet. To say I am hot is in understatement. To make matters worse I have taken the wrong turn into the wrong part of town, and in Memphis that is saying alot. I see a cop car in a gas station so I pull in and as I pull up to the pump I ask a person hiding back into the store where the Stax Studio museum is. He tells me "Just a couple a blocks" and proceeds to tell me in a half decipherable southern accent to go to the corner of McElmore and College. After purchasing some gas I set off trying to replicate is instructions then get lost only to come upon Willie Mitchell Ave. I follow that until I see a car wash fund raiser and pull in and ask the somewhat amazed crowd of African-Americans (who is this Eskimo sweaty honky) but when they hear I want the Stax Studio, they gladly give me directions I can understand.

I pull up and park under the Marquee whereupon an off-duty Memphis police officer comes out, too polite to tell me to move my bike just yet as I am sizing up a photo of my bike outside the studio. Then one of the curators comes out and he agrees to take a picture of me and my bike under the hallowed, replica marquee of the former movie theater come studio.

I go in for a very worthwhile tour, talk shop with the staff and they turn me on to where to stay and the best gig in town tonite, a trio called City Champs at the Hitone on Poplar. Talk about a great hole in the wall and my God, this band were monsters. Joe Revisto on guitar, George Sluppick in the pork pie hat on drums and what appeared to be the leader, Al Gamble on the mighty organ. Don't let the looks of these cats fool you, they are incredible musicians, easily the best in any town in the country perhaps except, Austin, Memphis, New Orleans and New York, where they would still be ranked among the best. The final two songs of the night were an awe inspiring version of Ray Charles' "I'm Busted" and a tour de force "Poppa" that had the whole house on fire.

Well I've got to run cuz it's about 8:30 PM and I'm headed for Beal Street. That's in Memphis Esmond!

Picking up where I left off, I headed back to my motel on the edge of hospital district and stopped in to see Edward the clerk, who made my stay in Memphis so enjoyable providing me with directions, calling ahead to the club and giving me a recommendation to the best restaurant on Beal Street, the Blues City Cafe. Following Edward's directions in was a short hop down Linden Street to Fourth Avenue, where the arena is that the Grizzlies play at. Funny thing, I never saw one Grizzly the whole time I was in Memphis.

I get down to Beal Street and its a no driving zone where people are free to promenade, drinks in hand. A very cool thing about Memphis is the number of young African Americans riding motorcycles, and I mean hundreds of bikes. So cool to be part of the brotherhood or so I think, cuz when I ask a couple of brothers if it is okay to park here, they say "sure". Thankfully I was not towed as when I got back to my parking spot I noticed I was parked in a bus stop.

I walk three or four blocks of Beal Street where all the action seems to be happening. I check out who's playing at the Rum Boogie, where Jimmy Thackery often plays and then try to enter the Black Diamond, former home of Keith Sykes singer-songwriter series. Despite numerous locals denying it was still in business, it was good to see the Black Diamond was still there, under one owner, Bob, but unfortunately closed to the public for a private event this night.

Having built up a powerful hunger, I head over to the Blues City Cafe and upon Edward's recommendation, I try to order spaghetti and ribs. The waiter looked at me like I was crazy, (he was right of course, but that's besides the point, shut-up, you said it).

Never mind me, I am just practicing my paranoid schizophrenic act as I have found it keeps the pan handlers away, and Memphis has a million of them. I must have handed out thirty dollars in two days to seven different panhandlers only turning down one person because he approached me while I was writing this post. The strangest thing was they all said the same thing, and this will sound terrible but I swear to God its the honest truth, they all said: "I need to buy chicken". The Hutzpah award goes to the 300 pound African American woman who approached me as I was unloading my bike while checking into my motel room. She was holding a tupperware tub of peeled oranges and was emphatic about having to have $7.99 for her chicken. Not $2.00. Not$5.00. Not $8.00, mind you but $7.99. I gave her $3.00 and just hoped she wouldn't sit on me.

Getting back to my meal Sunday night, I had the 1/2 rack, dry, spice rubbed rib dinner and it was excellent. The meat fell off the bone, the sauce on the side was just right and the toast was to die for. I had the nicest conversation about the history of Beal Street with my waiter who had been there 17 years, I just wished I would have gotten his name. He caught me up to date on all the local music gossip. I was heartbroken to hear of the Parkinson-like illness of Andrew Love, the saxophone playing half of the Memphis Horns, who along with his partner, trumpeter Wayne Jackson, have played on over 300 #1 records but most notably babysat my young children backstage at a gig they shared with Roomful of Blues before a Gopher/Memphis State football game outside the Metrodome. Pat Forcia will always have a warm place in my heart for booking that gig.

I said my goodbyes to the staff at the Blues City Cafe and then it was back to the motel to get some rest for tomorrow was going to be a busy day.

The Road to the Stomp: Day One

Biblical. That's the only way to describe day one of my road trip. I left Minneapolis about noon with the tempature hovering in the low forties. I stopped in Rochester for the obligatory meal at John Hardy's Bar B Que and later at Best Buy for a 2 GB memory card for Marlena's camera, thanks girl!

Finally I got out of the midwest home of Big Blue under darkening skies. All hell broke loose near Waterloo. Now I know how Napoleon felt. It rained so hard that I had grey out conditions near Cedar Rapids, where I pulled over to give an update to my darling daughter, Genevieve.

Luckily the rain stopped as I resumed my trip in the early evening hoping to make it to the home of Make A Buck Chuck, Chuck Berry, Wentzville, Mo. Unfortunately, God had other plans and decided to throw pestilence at me. I am still not sure if it was a May Fly hatch or if Northern Missouri is always this bug infested, but when the clouds started to look ominous again, I wussed out in Canton, Mo where I stayed at the Comfort INN where everything was comfortable but the price. Not even the make your own waffels or the free entertainment in the form of the construction crew drinking in lawn chairs in the parking lot could make it worth the price.

Anyway, I'm out of here in two minutes (7:14 AM) so Hold On I'm Coming...

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Neither Sleet Nor Swine Flu Can Stop the Stomp

Now for something completely different. The Great Roll Call is taking a vacation from all the gloom and doom financial news and for what has been, by all rational accounts, a great start for the Obama Administration, and is going to "break away" or is that "steal away" or any other musical reference you may want to choose, to the greatest live music event of the year, the 8th Annual Ponderosa Stomp.

In a few minutes I will be hopping on the cycle for a road trip from one end of the Mississippi River to the other for what will be a blitzkrieg of blues, brews and beyond. Despite a balmy temperature of 41 degrees and a forecast including sleet and even with Mexico City residents dropping like flies, I'm out of here. Hold on, I'm Coming....

Sunday, March 8, 2009

BIG FAT IDIOT aka "Oxycontin Man" Challenges President to Debate

In what seemed like an excerpt to Watchman II, the graphic sequel, the spokesaddict for the Republican Party, BIG FAT IDIOT aka "Oxycontin Man" (Rush Limbaugh) was widely reported to have challenged President Obama to a debate over the economy. Although a White House spokesman politely declined to engage in this distraction from the serious problems facing the nation, the real reason was that the President refuses to engage in a battle of wits with a defenseless man.

Senator Kloubachar's Courageous Recommendation For U.S. Attorney

It was announced this week that Sen. Amy Kloubachar recommended B. Todd Jones to be the next United States Attorney for the District of Minnesota.

Well I say hats off to the Senator for her excellent choice of Mr. Jones. It shows her maturity and lack of insecurity by selecting a former critic of her decision to prosecute the beloved Kirby Puckett. As an attorney, I agreed wholeheartedly with Mr. Jones' analysis of the Puckett case and then County Attorney Kloubachar's abuse of prosecution in the matter. Despite this disagreement I supported Ms. Kloubachar for Senate and she has surpassed any one's expectations with her excellent performance so far. I am so glad she did not go for a rank partisan like David Lillehaug!

Speaking of the Puckett case, I was saddened to read the comments that some ignoramus posted following the article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press announcing the Jones recommendation. For some to call Mr. Puckett a "rapist" when he was cleared by a jury of his peers of the most serious charge of false imprisonment in a case where the facts clearly showed poor judgment at least and disorderly conduct at most, was both unAmerican and appalling and clearly the remarks of a knee-jerk buffoon!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Unconditional Support For An Embattled Colleague and Good Person

Late last week it was reported that Twin Cities attorney Al Garcia was being held in jail pending charges that he allegedly attempted to accept meth in partial payment for representing an accused drug dealer. The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported some of the allegations as follows:

"...A man indicted in a federal drug case contacted authorities Feb. 19 after Garcia, of Minnetonka, offered to represent him in exchange for drugs and the motorcycle.

On Monday, when the defendant met with Garcia, he told him that the motorcycle was worth $19,000 and that he had additional cash and could provide him with "some incentive," which was understood to be meth. They agreed the defendant's relative would handle "getting the stuff together."

The next day, the relative met with Garcia at a Coon Rapids residence, where authorities conducted surveillance. The two talked about the defendant and paying Garcia. The relative laid out four clear bags, each containing about an ounce of meth. But Garcia said he couldn't "have anything to do with that" and left.
On Wednesday, Garcia called the relative, who told him he had the motorcycle title, $800 in cash and "the incentive for representation." Later that day, about 8:50 p.m., authorities saw a Cadillac pull up to the previous day's meeting spot. Garcia and a woman — later identified as Iverson, of Sartell, Minn. — went inside.

There, the relative showed them the title, cash and two clear plastic bags containing meth. After having the meth put in a paper bag, Iverson put it inside the front of her pants. She and Garcia left, the complaint states.

Authorities, who recorded the meeting by audio and videotape, arrested them at their vehicle. The paper bag was in the car.

If convicted, the two each face up to 30 years in prison...."

After reviewing the self-righteous comments posted by readers, I added my two cents worth:

As a criminal defense attorney with plenty of experience with the various state "drug task forces" and the conduct of its members (omitted, perjured testimony et al) and knowing Mr. Garcia, I'll withhold judgment until I know more of the facts and take into consideration the source for the allegations. Remember Tulia, Texas. There is a reason that the State of Texas abolished their so called "drug task force".

To see all of the comments posted by readers of the Pioneer Press article:

Friday, February 27, 2009

Governor Jindal Response to President Obama's Address to Nation

Whatever It Is, I’m Against It
by Harry Ruby (music) and Bert Kalmar (lyrics)

I don’t know what they have to say,
It makes no difference anyway -- Whatever it is, I’m against it! No matter what it is or who commenced it,
I’m against it

Your proposition may be good But let’s have one thing understood -- Whatever it is, I’m against it! And even when you’ve changed it or condensed it,
I’m against it

It makes no difference anyway -- Whatever it is, I’m against it! No matter what it is or who commenced it
I’m against it

I’m opposed to it -- On general principles I’m opposed to it!

Chorus: He’s opposed to it! In fact, in word, in deed, He’s opposed to it!

For months before my son was born, I used to yell from night till morn, Whatever it is, I’m against it! And I’ve kept yelling since I commenced it,
I’m against it

On general principles I’m opposed to it!
Chorus: He’s opposed to it! In fact, in word, in deed, He’s opposed to it!

Prepared Text of President Obama's Address to Joint Session of Congress

Madame Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the First Lady of the United States:

I’ve come here tonight not only to address the distinguished men and women in this great chamber, but to speak frankly and directly to the men and women who sent us here.

I know that for many Americans watching right now, the state of our economy is a concern that rises above all others. And rightly so. If you haven’t been personally affected by this recession, you probably know someone who has – a friend; a neighbor; a member of your family. You don’t need to hear another list of statistics to know that our economy is in crisis, because you live it every day. It’s the worry you wake up with and the source of sleepless nights. It’s the job you thought you’d retire from but now have lost; the business you built your dreams upon that’s now hanging by a thread; the college acceptance letter your child had to put back in the envelope. The impact of this recession is real, and it is everywhere.

But while our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken; though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this:

We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.

The weight of this crisis will not determine the destiny of this nation. The answers to our problems don’t lie beyond our reach. They exist in our laboratories and universities; in our fields and our factories; in the imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest-working people on Earth. Those qualities that have made America the greatest force of progress and prosperity in human history we still possess in ample measure. What is required now is for this country to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more.

Now, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that for too long, we have not always met these responsibilities – as a government or as a people. I say this not to lay blame or look backwards, but because it is only by understanding how we arrived at this moment that we’ll be able to lift ourselves out of this predicament.

The fact is, our economy did not fall into decline overnight. Nor did all of our problems begin when the housing market collapsed or the stock market sank. We have known for decades that our survival depends on finding new sources of energy. Yet we import more oil today than ever before. The cost of health care eats up more and more of our savings each year, yet we keep delaying reform. Our children will compete for jobs in a global economy that too many of our schools do not prepare them for. And though all these challenges went unsolved, we still managed to spend more money and pile up more debt, both as individuals and through our government, than ever before.

In other words, we have lived through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election. A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future. Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market. People bought homes they knew they couldn’t afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway. And all the while, critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day.

Well that day of reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is here.

Now is the time to act boldly and wisely – to not only revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity. Now is the time to jumpstart job creation, re-start lending, and invest in areas like energy, health care, and education that will grow our economy, even as we make hard choices to bring our deficit down. That is what my economic agenda is designed to do, and that’s what I’d like to talk to you about tonight.

It’s an agenda that begins with jobs.

As soon as I took office, I asked this Congress to send me a recovery plan by President’s Day that would put people back to work and put money in their pockets. Not because I believe in bigger government – I don’t. Not because I’m not mindful of the massive debt we’ve inherited – I am. I called for action because the failure to do so would have cost more jobs and caused more hardships. In fact, a failure to act would have worsened our long-term deficit by assuring weak economic growth for years. That’s why I pushed for quick action. And tonight, I am grateful that this Congress delivered, and pleased to say that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is now law.

Over the next two years, this plan will save or create 3.5 million jobs. More than 90% of these jobs will be in the private sector – jobs rebuilding our roads and bridges; constructing wind turbines and solar panels; laying broadband and expanding mass transit.

Because of this plan, there are teachers who can now keep their jobs and educate our kids. Health care professionals can continue caring for our sick. There are 57 police officers who are still on the streets of Minneapolis tonight because this plan prevented the layoffs their department was about to make.

Because of this plan, 95% of the working households in America will receive a tax cut – a tax cut that you will see in your paychecks beginning on April 1st.

Because of this plan, families who are struggling to pay tuition costs will receive a $2,500 tax credit for all four years of college. And Americans who have lost their jobs in this recession will be able to receive extended unemployment benefits and continued health care coverage to help them weather this storm.

I know there are some in this chamber and watching at home who are skeptical of whether this plan will work. I understand that skepticism. Here in Washington, we’ve all seen how quickly good intentions can turn into broken promises and wasteful spending. And with a plan of this scale comes enormous responsibility to get it right.

That is why I have asked Vice President Biden to lead a tough, unprecedented oversight effort – because nobody messes with Joe. I have told each member of my Cabinet as well as mayors and governors across the country that they will be held accountable by me and the American people for every dollar they spend. I have appointed a proven and aggressive Inspector General to ferret out any and all cases of waste and fraud. And we have created a new website called so that every American can find out how and where their money is being spent.

So the recovery plan we passed is the first step in getting our economy back on track. But it is just the first step. Because even if we manage this plan flawlessly, there will be no real recovery unless we clean up the credit crisis that has severely weakened our financial system.

I want to speak plainly and candidly about this issue tonight, because every American should know that it directly affects you and your family’s well-being. You should also know that the money you’ve deposited in banks across the country is safe; your insurance is secure; and you can rely on the continued operation of our financial system. That is not the source of concern.

The concern is that if we do not re-start lending in this country, our recovery will be choked off before it even begins.

You see, the flow of credit is the lifeblood of our economy. The ability to get a loan is how you finance the purchase of everything from a home to a car to a college education; how stores stock their shelves, farms buy equipment, and businesses make payroll.

But credit has stopped flowing the way it should. Too many bad loans from the housing crisis have made their way onto the books of too many banks. With so much debt and so little confidence, these banks are now fearful of lending out any more money to households, to businesses, or to each other. When there is no lending, families can’t afford to buy homes or cars. So businesses are forced to make layoffs. Our economy suffers even more, and credit dries up even further.

That is why this administration is moving swiftly and aggressively to break this destructive cycle, restore confidence, and re-start lending.

We will do so in several ways. First, we are creating a new lending fund that represents the largest effort ever to help provide auto loans, college loans, and small business loans to the consumers and entrepreneurs who keep this economy running.

Second, we have launched a housing plan that will help responsible families facing the threat of foreclosure lower their monthly payments and re-finance their mortgages. It’s a plan that won’t help speculators or that neighbor down the street who bought a house he could never hope to afford, but it will help millions of Americans who are struggling with declining home values – Americans who will now be able to take advantage of the lower interest rates that this plan has already helped bring about. In fact, the average family who re-finances today can save nearly $2000 per year on their mortgage.

Third, we will act with the full force of the federal government to ensure that the major banks that Americans depend on have enough confidence and enough money to lend even in more difficult times. And when we learn that a major bank has serious problems, we will hold accountable those responsible, force the necessary adjustments, provide the support to clean up their balance sheets, and assure the continuity of a strong, viable institution that can serve our people and our economy.

I understand that on any given day, Wall Street may be more comforted by an approach that gives banks bailouts with no strings attached, and that holds nobody accountable for their reckless decisions. But such an approach won’t solve the problem. And our goal is to quicken the day when we re-start lending to the American people and American business and end this crisis once and for all.

I intend to hold these banks fully accountable for the assistance they receive, and this time, they will have to clearly demonstrate how taxpayer dollars result in more lending for the American taxpayer. This time, CEOs won’t be able to use taxpayer money to pad their paychecks or buy fancy drapes or disappear on a private jet. Those days are over.

Still, this plan will require significant resources from the federal government – and yes, probably more than we’ve already set aside. But while the cost of action will be great, I can assure you that the cost of inaction will be far greater, for it could result in an economy that sputters along for not months or years, but perhaps a decade. That would be worse for our deficit, worse for business, worse for you, and worse for the next generation. And I refuse to let that happen.

I understand that when the last administration asked this Congress to provide assistance for struggling banks, Democrats and Republicans alike were infuriated by the mismanagement and results that followed. So were the American taxpayers. So was I.

So I know how unpopular it is to be seen as helping banks right now, especially when everyone is suffering in part from their bad decisions. I promise you – I get it.

But I also know that in a time of crisis, we cannot afford to govern out of anger, or yield to the politics of the moment. My job – our job – is to solve the problem. Our job is to govern with a sense of responsibility. I will not spend a single penny for the purpose of rewarding a single Wall Street executive, but I will do whatever it takes to help the small business that can’t pay its workers or the family that has saved and still can’t get a mortgage.

That’s what this is about. It’s not about helping banks – it’s about helping people. Because when credit is available again, that young family can finally buy a new home. And then some company will hire workers to build it. And then those workers will have money to spend, and if they can get a loan too, maybe they’ll finally buy that car, or open their own business. Investors will return to the market, and American families will see their retirement secured once more. Slowly, but surely, confidence will return, and our economy will recover.

So I ask this Congress to join me in doing whatever proves necessary. Because we cannot consign our nation to an open-ended recession. And to ensure that a crisis of this magnitude never happens again, I ask Congress to move quickly on legislation that will finally reform our outdated regulatory system. It is time to put in place tough, new common-sense rules of the road so that our financial market rewards drive and innovation, and punishes short-cuts and abuse.

The recovery plan and the financial stability plan are the immediate steps we’re taking to revive our economy in the short-term. But the only way to fully restore America’s economic strength is to make the long-term investments that will lead to new jobs, new industries, and a renewed ability to compete with the rest of the world. The only way this century will be another American century is if we confront at last the price of our dependence on oil and the high cost of health care; the schools that aren’t preparing our children and the mountain of debt they stand to inherit. That is our responsibility.

In the next few days, I will submit a budget to Congress. So often, we have come to view these documents as simply numbers on a page or laundry lists of programs. I see this document differently. I see it as a vision for America – as a blueprint for our future.

My budget does not attempt to solve every problem or address every issue. It reflects the stark reality of what we’ve inherited – a trillion dollar deficit, a financial crisis, and a costly recession.

Given these realities, everyone in this chamber – Democrats and Republicans – will have to sacrifice some worthy priorities for which there are no dollars. And that includes me.

But that does not mean we can afford to ignore our long-term challenges. I reject the view that says our problems will simply take care of themselves; that says government has no role in laying the foundation for our common prosperity.

For history tells a different story. History reminds us that at every moment of economic upheaval and transformation, this nation has responded with bold action and big ideas. In the midst of civil war, we laid railroad tracks from one coast to another that spurred commerce and industry. From the turmoil of the Industrial Revolution came a system of public high schools that prepared our citizens for a new age. In the wake of war and depression, the GI Bill sent a generation to college and created the largest middle-class in history. And a twilight struggle for freedom led to a nation of highways, an American on the moon, and an explosion of technology that still shapes our world.

In each case, government didn’t supplant private enterprise; it catalyzed private enterprise. It created the conditions for thousands of entrepreneurs and new businesses to adapt and to thrive.

We are a nation that has seen promise amid peril, and claimed opportunity from ordeal. Now we must be that nation again. That is why, even as it cuts back on the programs we don’t need, the budget I submit will invest in the three areas that are absolutely critical to our economic future: energy, health care, and education.

It begins with energy.

We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century. And yet, it is China that has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy efficient. We invented solar technology, but we’ve fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in producing it. New plug-in hybrids roll off our assembly lines, but they will run on batteries made in Korea.

Well I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders – and I know you don’t either. It is time for America to lead again.

Thanks to our recovery plan, we will double this nation’s supply of renewable energy in the next three years. We have also made the largest investment in basic research funding in American history – an investment that will spur not only new discoveries in energy, but breakthroughs in medicine, science, and technology.

We will soon lay down thousands of miles of power lines that can carry new energy to cities and towns across this country. And we will put Americans to work making our homes and buildings more efficient so that we can save billions of dollars on our energy bills.

But to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy. So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America. And to support that innovation, we will invest fifteen billion dollars a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America.

As for our auto industry, everyone recognizes that years of bad decision-making and a global recession have pushed our automakers to the brink. We should not, and will not, protect them from their own bad practices. But we are committed to the goal of a re-tooled, re-imagined auto industry that can compete and win. Millions of jobs depend on it. Scores of communities depend on it. And I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it.

None of this will come without cost, nor will it be easy. But this is America. We don’t do what’s easy. We do what is necessary to move this country forward.

For that same reason, we must also address the crushing cost of health care.

This is a cost that now causes a bankruptcy in America every thirty seconds. By the end of the year, it could cause 1.5 million Americans to lose their homes. In the last eight years, premiums have grown four times faster than wages. And in each of these years, one million more Americans have lost their health insurance. It is one of the major reasons why small businesses close their doors and corporations ship jobs overseas. And it’s one of the largest and fastest-growing parts of our budget.

Given these facts, we can no longer afford to put health care reform on hold.

Already, we have done more to advance the cause of health care reform in the last thirty days than we have in the last decade. When it was days old, this Congress passed a law to provide and protect health insurance for eleven million American children whose parents work full-time. Our recovery plan will invest in electronic health records and new technology that will reduce errors, bring down costs, ensure privacy, and save lives. It will launch a new effort to conquer a disease that has touched the life of nearly every American by seeking a cure for cancer in our time. And it makes the largest investment ever in preventive care, because that is one of the best ways to keep our people healthy and our costs under control.

This budget builds on these reforms. It includes an historic commitment to comprehensive health care reform – a down-payment on the principle that we must have quality, affordable health care for every American. It’s a commitment that’s paid for in part by efficiencies in our system that are long overdue. And it’s a step we must take if we hope to bring down our deficit in the years to come.

Now, there will be many different opinions and ideas about how to achieve reform, and that is why I’m bringing together businesses and workers, doctors and health care providers, Democrats and Republicans to begin work on this issue next week.

I suffer no illusions that this will be an easy process. It will be hard. But I also know that nearly a century after Teddy Roosevelt first called for reform, the cost of our health care has weighed down our economy and the conscience of our nation long enough. So let there be no doubt: health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year.

The third challenge we must address is the urgent need to expand the promise of education in America.

In a global economy where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity – it is a pre-requisite.

Right now, three-quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require more than a high school diploma. And yet, just over half of our citizens have that level of education. We have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation. And half of the students who begin college never finish.

This is a prescription for economic decline, because we know the countries that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow. That is why it will be the goal of this administration to ensure that every child has access to a complete and competitive education – from the day they are born to the day they begin a career.

Already, we have made an historic investment in education through the economic recovery plan. We have dramatically expanded early childhood education and will continue to improve its quality, because we know that the most formative learning comes in those first years of life. We have made college affordable for nearly seven million more students. And we have provided the resources necessary to prevent painful cuts and teacher layoffs that would set back our children’s progress.

But we know that our schools don’t just need more resources. They need more reform. That is why this budget creates new incentives for teacher performance; pathways for advancement, and rewards for success. We’ll invest in innovative programs that are already helping schools meet high standards and close achievement gaps. And we will expand our commitment to charter schools.

It is our responsibility as lawmakers and educators to make this system work. But it is the responsibility of every citizen to participate in it. And so tonight, I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma. And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country – and this country needs and values the talents of every American. That is why we will provide the support necessary for you to complete college and meet a new goal: by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

I know that the price of tuition is higher than ever, which is why if you are willing to volunteer in your neighborhood or give back to your community or serve your country, we will make sure that you can afford a higher education. And to encourage a renewed spirit of national service for this and future generations, I ask this Congress to send me the bipartisan legislation that bears the name of Senator Orrin Hatch as well as an American who has never stopped asking what he can do for his country – Senator Edward Kennedy.

These education policies will open the doors of opportunity for our children. But it is up to us to ensure they walk through them. In the end, there is no program or policy that can substitute for a mother or father who will attend those parent/teacher conferences, or help with homework after dinner, or turn off the TV, put away the video games, and read to their child. I speak to you not just as a President, but as a father when I say that responsibility for our children's education must begin at home.

There is, of course, another responsibility we have to our children. And that is the responsibility to ensure that we do not pass on to them a debt they cannot pay. With the deficit we inherited, the cost of the crisis we face, and the long-term challenges we must meet, it has never been more important to ensure that as our economy recovers, we do what it takes to bring this deficit down.

I’m proud that we passed the recovery plan free of earmarks, and I want to pass a budget next year that ensures that each dollar we spend reflects only our most important national priorities.

Yesterday, I held a fiscal summit where I pledged to cut the deficit in half by the end of my first term in office. My administration has also begun to go line by line through the federal budget in order to eliminate wasteful and ineffective programs. As you can imagine, this is a process that will take some time. But we’re starting with the biggest lines. We have already identified two trillion dollars in savings over the next decade.

In this budget, we will end education programs that don’t work and end direct payments to large agribusinesses that don’t need them. We’ll eliminate the no-bid contracts that have wasted billions in Iraq, and reform our defense budget so that we’re not paying for Cold War-era weapons systems we don’t use. We will root out the waste, fraud, and abuse in our Medicare program that doesn’t make our seniors any healthier, and we will restore a sense of fairness and balance to our tax code by finally ending the tax breaks for corporations that ship our jobs overseas.

In order to save our children from a future of debt, we will also end the tax breaks for the wealthiest 2% of Americans. But let me perfectly clear, because I know you’ll hear the same old claims that rolling back these tax breaks means a massive tax increase on the American people: if your family earns less than $250,000 a year, you will not see your taxes increased a single dime. I repeat: not one single dime. In fact, the recovery plan provides a tax cut – that’s right, a tax cut – for 95% of working families. And these checks are on the way.

To preserve our long-term fiscal health, we must also address the growing costs in Medicare and Social Security. Comprehensive health care reform is the best way to strengthen Medicare for years to come. And we must also begin a conversation on how to do the same for Social Security, while creating tax-free universal savings accounts for all Americans.

Finally, because we’re also suffering from a deficit of trust, I am committed to restoring a sense of honesty and accountability to our budget. That is why this budget looks ahead ten years and accounts for spending that was left out under the old rules – and for the first time, that includes the full cost of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. For seven years, we have been a nation at war. No longer will we hide its price.

We are now carefully reviewing our policies in both wars, and I will soon announce a way forward in Iraq that leaves Iraq to its people and responsibly ends this war.

And with our friends and allies, we will forge a new and comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat al Qaeda and combat extremism. Because I will not allow terrorists to plot against the American people from safe havens half a world away.

As we meet here tonight, our men and women in uniform stand watch abroad and more are readying to deploy. To each and every one of them, and to the families who bear the quiet burden of their absence, Americans are united in sending one message: we honor your service, we are inspired by your sacrifice, and you have our unyielding support. To relieve the strain on our forces, my budget increases the number of our soldiers and Marines. And to keep our sacred trust with those who serve, we will raise their pay, and give our veterans the expanded health care and benefits that they have earned.

To overcome extremism, we must also be vigilant in upholding the values our troops defend – because there is no force in the world more powerful than the example of America. That is why I have ordered the closing of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and will seek swift and certain justice for captured terrorists – because living our values doesn’t make us weaker, it makes us safer and it makes us stronger. And that is why I can stand here tonight and say without exception or equivocation that the United States of America does not torture.

In words and deeds, we are showing the world that a new era of engagement has begun. For we know that America cannot meet the threats of this century alone, but the world cannot meet them without America. We cannot shun the negotiating table, nor ignore the foes or forces that could do us harm. We are instead called to move forward with the sense of confidence and candor that serious times demand.

To seek progress toward a secure and lasting peace between Israel and her neighbors, we have appointed an envoy to sustain our effort. To meet the challenges of the 21st century – from terrorism to nuclear proliferation; from pandemic disease to cyber threats to crushing poverty – we will strengthen old alliances, forge new ones, and use all elements of our national power.

And to respond to an economic crisis that is global in scope, we are working with the nations of the G-20 to restore confidence in our financial system, avoid the possibility of escalating protectionism, and spur demand for American goods in markets across the globe. For the world depends on us to have a strong economy, just as our economy depends on the strength of the world’s.

As we stand at this crossroads of history, the eyes of all people in all nations are once again upon us – watching to see what we do with this moment; waiting for us to lead.

Those of us gathered here tonight have been called to govern in extraordinary times. It is a tremendous burden, but also a great privilege – one that has been entrusted to few generations of Americans. For in our hands lies the ability to shape our world for good or for ill.

I know that it is easy to lose sight of this truth – to become cynical and doubtful; consumed with the petty and the trivial.

But in my life, I have also learned that hope is found in unlikely places; that inspiration often comes not from those with the most power or celebrity, but from the dreams and aspirations of Americans who are anything but ordinary.

I think about Leonard Abess, the bank president from Miami who reportedly cashed out of his company, took a $60 million bonus, and gave it out to all 399 people who worked for him, plus another 72 who used to work for him. He didn’t tell anyone, but when the local newspaper found out, he simply said, ''I knew some of these people since I was 7 years old. I didn't feel right getting the money myself."

I think about Greensburg, Kansas, a town that was completely destroyed by a tornado, but is being rebuilt by its residents as a global example of how clean energy can power an entire community – how it can bring jobs and businesses to a place where piles of bricks and rubble once lay. "The tragedy was terrible," said one of the men who helped them rebuild. "But the folks here know that it also provided an incredible opportunity."

And I think about Ty’Sheoma Bethea, the young girl from that school I visited in Dillon, South Carolina – a place where the ceilings leak, the paint peels off the walls, and they have to stop teaching six times a day because the train barrels by their classroom. She has been told that her school is hopeless, but the other day after class she went to the public library and typed up a letter to the people sitting in this room. She even asked her principal for the money to buy a stamp. The letter asks us for help, and says, "We are just students trying to become lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself and one day president, so we can make a change to not just the state of South Carolina but also the world. We are not quitters."

We are not quitters.

These words and these stories tell us something about the spirit of the people who sent us here. They tell us that even in the most trying times, amid the most difficult circumstances, there is a generosity, a resilience, a decency, and a determination that perseveres; a willingness to take responsibility for our future and for posterity.

Their resolve must be our inspiration. Their concerns must be our cause. And we must show them and all our people that we are equal to the task before us.

I know that we haven’t agreed on every issue thus far, and there are surely times in the future when we will part ways. But I also know that every American who is sitting here tonight loves this country and wants it to succeed. That must be the starting point for every debate we have in the coming months, and where we return after those debates are done. That is the foundation on which the American people expect us to build common ground.

And if we do – if we come together and lift this nation from the depths of this crisis; if we put our people back to work and restart the engine of our prosperity; if we confront without fear the challenges of our time and summon that enduring spirit of an America that does not quit, then someday years from now our children can tell their children that this was the time when we performed, in the words that are carved into this very chamber, "something worthy to be remembered." Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.