Thursday, June 30, 2011

Wisconsin,Ohio and the Ongoing Battle Against State Workers

For months we've blogged about the highly contentious debate in Wisconsin over the collective bargaining rights of state employees.  Both Wisconsin's Republican governor, Scott Walker, and Ohio's Republican governor, John Kasich, have signed measures into law that will prevent teachers, police officers, fire fighters and other state employees from being able to come together in a union and bargain for better working conditions, benefits, etc.  Just yesterday, Wisconsin's law officially went into effect.  From the AP:

After months of heated debate, ear-splitting protests and legal maneuvering, Gov. Scott Walker's collective bargaining law is finally set to take effect.Secretary of State Doug La Follette published the law in the Wisconsin State Journal newspaper on Tuesday. The measure goes into effect today, capping a tumultuous four months in Madison that saw state senators flee the state and massive protests at the State Capitol...The law requires almost all public employees on all levels of government — from teachers to librarians to State Capitol janitors — to contribute more to their health care and pensions. The changes amount to an average 8 percent pay cut. The bill also strips them of almost all their collective bargaining rights, allowing them to negotiate only on wages...Meanwhile, a coalition of unions, including the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state's largest teachers union, have filed a federal lawsuit in Madison alleging the law violates the U.S. Constitution by taking away union rights to bargain, organize and associate.

The anti-union law was held up in the courts, but 2 weeks ago the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld the law in a 4-3 ruling that saw Wisconsin's Justices literally get violent with each other over the issue, with Justice David Prosser putting female Justice Ann Walsh Bradley in a choke hold.  (out of control, right?)  Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson wrote a nasty dissent against Justice Prosser and the the majority, accusing them of playing partisan politics from the bench.  In addition to the battle in the courts, the citizens of the state of Wisconsin have already declared their intentions of recalling Governor Walker pursuant to state law after his first year in office is complete in January of next year. 

Meanwhile, in nearby Ohio, the people have collected 1,298,301 signatures to place Ohio's anti-union law on the ballot for repeal; only 231,000 signatures were required by state law.  It's also notable to observe that there are only approximately 400,000 state workers in Ohio, yet over 3 times that amount supported the initiative to place this bill on the ballot.  According to Ohio law, the anti-union bill is now placed on hold until it comes to a vote before the people on November 8th of this year.

Republicans in both state and federal government often phrase their policy talking points as being the will of "the American people," but with such significant opposition in both Ohio and Wisconsin over this issue by the American people, it is difficult to see how that is possible here.

1. Should Wisconsin's law be decided in a federal court?
2. Should Ohio's law be placed on the public ballot in November?
3. Will Gov. Walker survive the recall vote in January?
4. Do state workers' unions really need collective bargaining?
5. Are state workers, in fact, overpaid?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

President Obama Press Conference: Opening Statement

It’s a sad day in the United States when we have a Congress that refuses to do its job and the President has to take to a podium to remind them how to do it. The President seemed slightly forceful in his delivery and sure that a deal would be reached regarding the raising of the debt ceiling.

Is it just me or does anyone else feel like the Congress is having a misguided debate? Why are we re-debating the budget, wasn’t this resolved in April? To the average American who doesn’t subscribe to the hocus pocus math that the GOP is trying to feed us, it’s simple - raise revenue, reduce the debt. Why can’t they understand the simple concept of mathematics? If you have a 9% unemployment rate, you have less people paying federal, state and local taxes. The economy is not a result of the deficit, the deficit is a result of the economy. We should not be talking about the deficit right now, we should be increasing revenue to the treasury and putting people back to work.

More people working = More people paying taxes / More people paying taxes = More revenue to the Treasury / More revenue to the Treasury = Lowering the deficit = The possibility for the heinous tax cuts that the GOP is so married to

This Congress promised the American people an economic recovery. They began their session in January and have done NOTHING to promote that recovery. The President listed a number of options that are currently being held up in Congress. A bill to make it easier for entrepreneurs to patent a new product or idea, a bill to put construction workers back on the job rebuilding roads and bridges through loans to private companies, states and local governments, a bill fixing our trade agreements to allow American businesses to sell more goods and services to Asia and South America, and a bill further extending the middle class tax cuts an additional year. All things the President says he is ready to sign immediately should Congress send them to his desk.

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Part 5:

Part 6:

Is the debate around the deficit a legitimate debate?
Is Congress broken?
What do you think the Congress should do to further progress the recovery?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Supreme Court Approves Violent Video Games, Scalia PWNS Fellow Conservatives

Congratulations to all of you kids out there on your recent legal victory, even though you're probably too busy playing Call of Duty right now to know what the heck I'm talking about.  In case you were wondering, your days of playing shoot 'em up video games have been secured for many years to come by the nation's highest Court in a 5-4 decision, Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Assoc., which held that the First Amendment does not allow the States to ban the sale of violent video games to minors. The Supreme Court, in a majority opinion authored by Justice Antonin Scalia and joined by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan (a rare combination indeed), ruled that video games (even violent ones) qualify as First Amendment "Free Speech" just like books, movies, plays, cartoons and comic books.  Pursuant to this holding, the Court struck down a California law that sought to make it illegal to sell what it defined as "violent video games" to anybody under the age of 18, irrespective of whether the kid had his or her parents' permission or not.  What was also particularly interesting about this case is that conservative Justice Scalia, in rare form, went IN on his fellow conservative Justices, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, who departed from his opinion on this issue.

Scalia basically starts off by acknowledging the general rule in First Amendment free speech cases which is this:  government cannot make laws that restrict our freedom of speech.  That's the general rule.  As with most general rules, there are, of course, a few recognized exceptions:  (i) fighting words, (ii) speech that incites people to violence, (iii) defamation or slander and, last but not least, (iv) obscenity.  Now when it comes to obscenity, the Supreme Court is very specific and very cautious as to what constitutes "obscenity," since, after all, one man's obscenity could be argued as another man's art.  Scalia notes that, to date, the Court has "been clear that the obscenity exception to the First Amendment does not cover whatever a legislature finds shocking, but only depictions of sexual conduct."  Majority opinion at 5 (emphasis supplied).  So, by Scalia's view, that distinguishes this statute from a statute that, for example, attempts to make it illegal to sell pornography to minors.  Scalia goes on to say that kids in America have been exposed to violence for centuries, and, as evidence of this fact, he cites to common children's literature such as Grimm's Fairy Tales, Cinderella, Hansel & Gretel, Homer's Odysseus, and Lord of the Flies, which all have violent episodes at some point during their respective stories.  He concludes that California's law against video games does not pass the First Amendment's "strict scrutiny" test for 2 reasons: (i) the law is underinclusive because it was only aimed at violent video games as opposed to being aimed at ALL violent images that effect children such as cartoons, comic books, etc.; and (ii) the law is overinclusive because it would have penalized children who actually received the green light from their parents to play violent video games.

Alito concurs with the Court's ultimate decision to strike down California's law, but he doesn't agree with how the Court arrived at its conclusion.  Alito basically takes the position that violent video games are not like anything our kids have ever been exposed to before.  He goes on at length to describe how wrong violent video games are for kids, stating that:

In some of these games, the violence is astounding.  Victims by the dozens are killed with every imaginable implement, including machine guns, shotguns, clubs, hammers, axes, swords, and chainsaws.  Victims are dismembered, decapitated, disemboweled, set on fire, and chopped into little pieces.  They cry out in agony and beg for mercy.  Blood gushes, splatters, and pools.  Severed body parts and gobs of human remains are graphically shown.  In some games, points are awarded based, not only on the number of victims killed, but on the killing technique employed...this experience is different from reading a book, listening to a radio broadcast, or viewing a movie."  Alito concurring opinion at 14-17.

Scalia sharply disagrees with Alito's argument, saying:

Justice Alito recounts all these disgusting video games in order to disgust us - but disgust is not a valid basis for restricting expression.  Majority opinion at 11.  Justice Alito accuses us of pronouncing that playing violent video games "is not different in 'kind'" from reading violent literature.  Well of course it is different in kind...[r]eading Dante is unquestionably more cultured and intellectually edifying than playing Mortal Kombat.  But these cultural and intellectual differences are not constitutional ones.  Majority opinion at 9, n. 4.

Justice Thomas, in a rare departure form his conservative brethren on the bench, completely disagreed with Scalia's analysis. Thomas takes the "Originalist" approach and argues that the "original meaning" of the First Amendment "does not include a right to speak to minors (or a right of minors to access speech) without going through the minors' parents or guardians."  Thomas dissenting opinion at 1.  In other words, kids don't have any free speech rights and neither do video game producers who sell their games to kids because the founding fathers didn't intend to include them in the First Amendment when they wrote it way back in 1791.   Scalia, who is usually joined by Thomas in every opinion that he writes, seems to have had enough of Thomas' so-called Originalism on this issue and comes back hard on Thomas:

Justice Thomas ignores the holding of [Erznoznik v. Jacksonville], and denies that persons under 18 have any constitutional right to speak or be spoken to without their parents' consent.  He cites no case, state or federal, supporting this view, and to our knowledge there is none.  Majority opinion at 7-8, n. 3.

It is one thing for the Justices to disagree from time to time about the precedent used by the other Justices on a particular issue.  It is an entirely different matter altogether for a Justice to say that another Justice has NO precedent for their argument whatsoever.  Folks, this is the equivalent of a Supreme Court Justice turning to another Justice and saying "Dude, you obviously have no idea what the F*#@ you're talking about!!!"

We don't tend to hear too much about Justice Stephen Breyer.  Along with the 3 ladies of the Court, he is usually the fourth member of the progressive voting block on all the hotly contested issues that are divided 5-4 down ideological lines.  But, other than that, he sort of just stays quiet and hangs out in the background, rarely writing an opinion one way or another on a given case.  Breyer argues that the California law actually does pass the First Amendment's "strict scrutiny" test because:

The statute prevents no one from playing a video game, it prevents no adult from buying a video game, and it prevents no child from or adolescent from obtaining a game provided a parent is willing to help.  All it prevents is a child or adolescent from buying, without a parent's assistance, a gruesomely violent video game of a kind that the industry itself tells us it wants to keep out of the hands of those under the age of 17.  Breyer dissenting opinion at 10.
So Breyer, unlike the Majority, doesn't see anything wrong with the law as it is written - a point so basic that Scalia doesn't really bother to launch a counter-attack against Breyer the same way he did against Alito and Thomas.

This case presents many good questions:

1. Who has the best argument of the 4 opinions and why?
2. Is the "Originalist" method of interpretation no longer a valid way to interpret the Constitution?
3. Should we as a society keep violent video games out of the hands of our kids? 
4. Do you believe that violent video games make the people who play them more prone to violence.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Secure Communities and States' Rights

Many people who are pro-comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) usually get very upset when some states create laws which seek to identify illegal immigrants and turn them over for processing and presumed deportation by the Federal government.

The normal complaint by CIR partisans is that the states have no right legislating on immigration issues, that such things are the sole purview of the federal government and that to let states attempt to even address the state specific portions of this national problem, (increased costs for schools and hospitals, business licensing revocation, etc) is tantamount to accepting a "states' rights" constitutional interpretation with the negative baggage that such a charge implies. Federal Supremacy is the mantra of this group They tell us that only the Federal government has the authority to act. The states have NO BUSINESS attempting to preempt the Federal government, enforce federal law on immigration or resist Federal rules on immigration. What the Feds say or do goes. They are the Big Dogs on this issue.

So imagine my surprise when some states with more CIR-friendly governors or senators, gave a great deal of criticism and finally open resistance to the Federal Secure Communities Program. This is a program which mandated that states share fingerprints of arrested people with the FBI , which runs criminal background checks and shares the fingerprints with DHS/ICE for immigration violations. Massachusetts, Illinois and New York all announced that they would no longer participate in the Secure Communities program. In this they were supported and cheered on by the New York Times, which atypically wrote an ode to states rights.
Add Massachusetts to the groundswell of states and localities opposing President Obama’s misconceived and failing immigration dragnet.

Gov. Deval Patrick announced on Monday that his state would not participate in Secure Communities, the fingerprint-sharing program that the Obama administration wants to impose nationwide by 2013. Gov. Andrew Cuomo halted New York’s involvement last week. Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois rejected it last month. They join a long list of elected officials, Congress members and law-enforcement professionals who want nothing to do with the program for the simple reason that it does more harm than good.
What these states’ actions mean, practically speaking, is unclear. States like New York signed contracts with the Department of Homeland Security to enter Secure Communities, and now the administration insists that they must participate. If they send suspects’ fingerprints to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for criminal checks — as states must and will continue to do routinely — then the F.B.I. will share that data with the Department of Homeland Security. There is no way to opt out.
We’ll see about that. The idea that the federal government can commandeer states’ resources for its enforcement schemes seems ripe for legal challenge.
WOW. Imagine that.  A state refusing to assist in enforcing and obeying Federal Law. Isn't this the EXACT sort of thing that the NYT and pro-CIR partisans normally get rather rabid about? This is the same NYT that previously wrote about Arizona: (emphasis added)

And although appeals are certain, Judge Susan Bolton offered clear and well-reasoned arguments affirming the federal government’s final authority over immigration enforcement.

Now the NYT writes "We'll see about that"? and "..ripe for legal challenge"? Who wrote this editorial, Lester Maddox? What are the reasons given for supporting this state rebellion on immigration enforcement? Was it some sort of liberal appeal to the 10th Amendment? A new found appreciation for a weak central government? A sudden attack of Jeffersonian principles?
The reason that some states were getting upset and finally refused to comply was that the program was actually working!!! People that had no legal right to be in the United States were being identified and processed for deportation-in accordance with Federal law. Some of these people were dangerous violent felons. Some weren't. But none of them had any right to be in the US. Period. The correct and legally authorized consequence is for the unlawful resident to be deported back to his country of origin. There can be no question that the Federal government has the right and the authority to do this.
However the Administration for what appear to be political reasons not so surprisingly sought a way to soften and maybe even neuter its own successful program. ICE director John Morton, released a memo reminding prosecutors and agents of their "discretion". Among other things that should be considered before detention or deportation were such things as:
  • the circumstances of the person's arrival in the United States and the manner of his or her entry, particularly if the alien came to the United States as a young child
  • the person's pursuit of education in the United States, with particular consideration given to those who have graduated from a U.S. high school or have successfully pursued or are pursuing a college or advanced degrees at a legitimate institution of higher education in the United States
  • whether the person, or the person's immediate relative,has served in the U.S. military, reserves, or national guard, with particular consideration given to those who served in combat
  • the person's ties and contributions to the community, including family relationships
The problem is that these qualifications look rather suspiciously like what was just voted down in the failed Dream Act. So this could be a stealth Dream Act, done administratively rather than via law.
There are costs to illegal immigration. I'm sure that several illegal immigrants are hardworking people just trying to make a better life for themselves. But that doesn't change the fact that the US simply can not accept everyone who would like to live in this country. There are over one billion people in the world that live on less than $1.25/day. Neither the US nor any other developed country can allow all of those people to enter, and certainly not without permission. And permission is what is key here.
Most people have some compassion. But few people would allow someone to enter their house without consent, set up shop and then shriek of injustice if you tried to force them out. That's the death of law. The states that are resisting Secure Communities don't appear to recognize the Federal right to control and regulate immigration. To quote my blog mate The Janitor
"States can't preempt federal programs.  At most they can refuse to take federal dollars altogether but for programs which are specifically executed by the federal government, a state cannot block those initiatives"
This shows me that at least some of the politicians, activists and media personalities that were caustically opposed to state initiatives on immigration didn't really care about federalism so much as they cared about stopping deportations. If people really want open borders and unlimited immigration and no deportations they should say so.
*The use of this quote should most definitely not be taken to mean that The Janitor agrees with this post. I just thought it was a really cool quote to use... LOL

What say you?
Is Secure Communities a good idea?
Should States be able to resist or opt out of Federal anti-illegal immigration programs?
Were the States of Illinois, New York and Massachusetts correct to protest that too many non-violent illegal immigrants were being identified and proccessed for deportation?
What's your solution to this issue?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Book Reviews-Necroscope, Hannibal, Twelve and more

by Brian Lumley
The British author Brian Lumley may well be one of the best horror/sci-fi authors you've never heard of. In today's world literary and screen vampires are largely tortured Romantic heartthrobs who brood endlessly about their existence to sappy teen girls or they're omnisexual degenerates who flash fangs at Goths of indeterminate gender. However there is another concept of vampire: that of a soulless, evil monster, something that kills humans to live in a sort of "undeath". This sort of creature isn't to be found dancing the tango in Buenos Aires and has little interest in finding his missing love from centuries before. Instead it only appears human, a disguise which it sheds upon feeding or great anger. This is the sort of vampire that inhabits Lumley's world.

The book was first in a long series. The book is set in the UK during the eighties. It starts out telling the tale of a boy Harry Keogh, who proves to have extraordinary mathematical skills, of a genius level. After he grows older and a tragedy occurs in his life, he develops more esoteric powers-including but not limited to teleportation to anywhere in the universe (via physics-not magic), and the ability to willingly communicate with the dead. This means that not only are the dead (The Great Majority), eager to "talk" to him but the most skilled among the dead -the world's great inventors, musicians, scientists are able to share the knowledge and studies which they've continued to pursue after their death. Just like Neo in The Matrix, Harry can download knowledge and skills from the entirety of human existence. Harry comes to the attention of UK's E-Branch, a group of paranormals working for the state. He joins them but it soon become obvious that his powers are still growing and will far outstrip anyone elses. 

Meanwhile, in Russia's version of E-Branch, another man is discovering that he too has extra human powers. Unlike Harry's ability to talk to the dead, Boris Dragosani's ability is to rip information from the dead, mostly via bodily mutilation. Unlike Harry, he is hated and feared by the dead. In his travels, Dragonsani is drawn to an ancient grave in Romania where nothing grows. As it turns out this is the grave of the vampire, Thibor Ferenczy, who was "killed" centuries ago but isn't truly dead. Thibor has a lot of things to tell Boris and secret plans for Boris...

This is a really good book. Lumley combines traditional old school vampire myths with biological horror and sci-fi. Lumley's vampires are driven by their leeches inside which "kill" the human body and rework it to their own purposes. All of this is described in oozing detail.  I loved this book. Lumley is an UK military veteran and has a wealth of knowledge about military and intelligence organizations as well as the people and geography of Eastern Europe. He's very heavily influenced by HP Lovecraft but Lumley's characters are more action oriented and actually LIKE women.

Johnny Porno
by Charlie Stella.
This book details a number of stories around the grimy criminal underworld in 1973 New York. Although the book occurs almost entirely in NYC the author doesn't hand hold. Locations and neighborhoods are named via streets and subway stops for the most part, not "THIS IS QUEENS" or "THIS IS BROOKLYN". For the non-New Yorker this may be initially disorienting but I got over it quickly enough. For the New Yorker who knows these areas or how they were in 1973 this will be no problem at all.

The primary story in the book, although they are all interrelated, is that of John Albano, a down on his luck laborer whose sense of honor and quick fists have gotten him kicked out of the union and unable to consistently make rent, let alone pay alimony and child support to his shrewish ex-wife, Nancy. Albano takes a job picking up cash from distributors showing adult movies after the previous person who had that job was permanently demoted by the Mob. Albano knows his way around the life (as does Stella) and promises himself he can keep the Mob at arms' length. Of course things don't work out entirely as Albano plans.

This isn't just a mob book, although the mob plays a major role, so much as it is a book about small time criminals, guys just trying to make a living and cops playing both sides of the fence. Everyone in the story is hustling to make a buck. With the exception of an FBI agent who I didn't quite get, the character's motivations all make perfect sense for the limited lives that they have. This book is quite sleazy. I mean that in a good way. It's the written equivalent of a nasty Funkadelic riff. Stella turns everything up to 11 and you can almost smell the Lysol used to clean up the no-tell motels, strip clubs and bars where much of the action takes place.  

Stella loves his characters but he also has fun with them. In one hilarious scene a bigoted dimwit can't stand to listen to the vocalizations in Soul Makossa but is just fine with similar nonsensical lyrics in Shambala.
There is room for a sequel so let's see if he wants to revisit some of these characters. Stella has gotten a lot of comparisons to Westlake , Higgins or Leonard. Those are fair. I would also add Ridley and possibly even Goines. Again, this is a profane book so if that's not your cup of tea, be forewarned. I thought the book worthwhile.

by Thomas Harris
I liked the movie with Julianne Moore and Anthony Hopkins and decided to finally read the book. The movie was largely faithful to the story BUT it made a few rather shocking changes near the end, primarily for commercial considerations in my view. The book had a different audience and having enjoyed both versions I wish the film had had the guts to stick to the author's original grim viewpoint.

For those who haven't seen the movie or read the book, don't worry I'm not going to spoil either ending.  The story is that the infamous serial killer "Hannibal the Cannibal" has escaped to Italy where he makes a living as an art historian. Meanwhile the woman that he "loves" as much as someone like him can love anyone, FBI agent Clarice Starling, is involved in a shootout with a fugitive that goes bad. Her supervisors are suspicious of her involvement with and knowledge of Dr. Lector and have been looking for a reason to kick her out of the FBI.

They are prevented from doing this by Mason Verger, a bisexual child molester who is one of Lector's only surviving victims. Verger is the billionaire head of a food company and has devoted extreme resources to locating Dr. Lector and slowly and painfully killing him. To this end he is aided by Paul Krendler, a corrupt Justice Department official who sexually harasses Clarice and is resentful that she never gave in, as well as Rinaldo Pazzi, an Italian policeman with money problems who thinks he may have found Lector.

Harris delights in describing Lector's appreciation of the finest things in life-art, food, music. This is juxtaposed with Lector's amoral views on human life. In some respects Lector is a monster with a heart. Most of the people he kills are truly bad people. But Lector is still shown to have zero regard for the normal decencies of human existence. If he follows them it's only because he temporarily finds them convenient. As I mentioned the ending was quite different from the movie and some important characters were non-existent in the movie.

All The Lucky Ones are Dead
by Gar Anthony Haywood
This story is about the adventures of Aaron Gunner, a Black private investigator in modern day Los Angeles. He gets drawn into the investigation of the suicide of a rap star, CE Digga Jones as well as the kidnapping of a black conservative libertarian woman radio personality, Sparkle Johnson. Gunner hates Sparkle Johnson (the character appears to be modeled after Larry Elder) but business is business.

As it turns out the suicide may have not been suicide. However there are plenty of people, from the LAPD to the rapper's family to the FBI who would strongly prefer that Gunner stop asking questions, and who have no issue making their feelings known physically, should it come to that. But Gunner's not the sort of man to back down even when a few car bombs go off.
There are also a few conspiracy theorists who insist that the rapper is still alive and that this is all a hoax.
This was a fun story. Unlike a lot of mystery stories, it's not written in first person. I enjoyed the story and learned a few things about LA. Pretty quick reading too. Haywood is a good author and if you can find this book you will like it. He's written quite a bit. He has said that part of his reason for writing the Gunner character was that there were no legitimate black male characters in lead positions in that genre. He's certainly made up for that.

by Jasper Kent
This book is set in 1812 Russia during the French invasion. Things look very grim for the Russians. Moscow is about to fall. A group of Russian "Special Forces" soldiers have had one of their comrades, Dmitry, arrive back in Russia with 12 men from Eastern Europe, Wallachia mostly, who claim that they can turn the tide of the war to help their fellow Slavs.
These 12 men are led by a tall widow's peaked man who calls himself "The Son of the Serpent" and speaks of having fought Turks for decades. The Russians think the fellow might be insane, especially when he introduces his 12 followers as his disciples and gives them the names of Jesus' Apostles. But beggars can't be choosers and the Russians are desperate to try anything-especially since the 12 men will fight for free. The Russians call these men The Oprichniki, after the grim enforcers of Ivan the Terrible's reign. The Son of The Serpent leaves.

The story is told in first person by Captain Aleksei Danilov. Obviously he becomes suspicious when The Oprichniki only agree to fight at night and will take no Russian along with them on their missions. But as French bodies pile up and strange plagues break out among the French, Danilov's superior officers don't care how the French are being killed, only that they are being killed.
Of course Danilov has not survived as a guerilla soldier by being stupid and quite soon he discovers the true nature of the 12 "men" that the Russians have invited into their country. He has some decisions to make as to whether his first loyalty lies to Mother Russia or to all of humanity.

I wanted to like this book more than I did. But the big secret is far too obvious. It could have been done a little better so that the character wouldn't believe what he was seeing. There's also a bit too much time wasted on subplot with a prostitute with a heart of gold. This book is a nice corrective to the romance stories masquerading as horror novels but other than that it was just ok. Nice idea but execution didn't quite grab me.

Monday, June 20, 2011

It's All About States' Rights

"Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction."
- Republican front runner Mitt Romney, GOP New Hampshire Debate, June 13, 2011

If the recent Republican debate in New Hampshire was any indicator, we suspect that you're going to hear the phrase "States' Rights" quite often between now and next year's election.  During the debate, all 7 of the candidates on stage echoed similar statements like the one from Romney quoted above.  And this probably comes at no surprise since conservative candidates have been advocating for "States' Rights" for quite some time. There is a common belief among conservatives/Republicans that Federal government is inherently bad, but that State government is somehow inherently good.  But why is that?  Where did this notion come from?  Is it a valid argument?  What does this "States' Rights" phrase really mean and how has it affected our day to day lives over the years?  We take a more in depth look at these questions after the jump:

The Law:
In the United States of America, our government is split between two sovereigns: one at the Federal level and one at the State level.  The Federal government represents the unified interest of the entire country, whereas each State government, of course, represents only itself.  The Constitution dictates that our Federal government is a government of limited powers, meaning that each action that it takes or law that it writes must be tied to a specific provision in the Constitution; if it's not spelled out in the Constitution, then it cannot act.  The States, on the other hand, are governments of almost unlimited powers, meaning that they can take whatever actions they want and write whatever laws they want, so long as those actions or laws are not specifically reserved for the Federal government in the Constitution or prohibited by the Constitution itself.  This concept is embodied in the 10th Amendment to the Constitution and forms the basis for the common phrase "States' Rights." As a final point on the law, the Founding Fathers, in their infinite wisdom, foresaw that there may come a time when the two governments may bump heads.  In such an event, the 2 governments need to know which of them has the last word.  Thanks to the Founding Fathers, we have an answer to that question: The Supremacy Clause.  It is a clause in the Constitution that basically says that whenever there's a conflict between the two governments, Federal law trumps State law every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

The History:
Knowing the basic legal framework of our 2 governments is all fine and dandy, but this doesn't tell us how the issue of States' Rights has played out in real life.  What many Republican Presidential Candidates conveniently gloss over is that the States' Rights issue first became controversial during slavery.  Many school kids are taught every year that the United States fought the Civil War because some people in our great nation recognized (and rightfully so) that slavery was immoral.   While there were some White citizens who did feel that way back in the 1800's, the majority of them actually did not care about Black people having equal rights.  Even Abraham Lincoln, who is celebrated as the man who "freed the slaves," drew a fine line in the sand between (A) freeing slaves and (B) actually accepting Black people as equals.

The true reason that we fought the civil war was far less noble than what many of our middle-school history books commonly report.  The full story is that we fought the civil war in part because (1) the U.S. acknowledged the tremendous loss of revenue that would be realized if the Southern States seceded from the U.S., but (2) the main issue that pushed everything over the edge and into war was the Rights of the States to do whatever they wanted to do (in this case - allow slavery) within their own borders WITHOUT the pesky Federal government telling them that they couldn't do it.  In other words, it was a battle over States' Rights.

Some States, primarily in the South, felt that their citizens should be able to own slaves.  The Federal government disagreed.  As a result, a war ensued and, after the Southern States were defeated, the Federal government crafted the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution (known as the Reconstruction Amendments) in order to force the States to shape up and fly right from that day forward.  This sentiment is plainly evidenced in the language of the Amendments themselves, which are framed in the negative against the States (eg. "No State Shall...").  And this worked...for a while.

Shortly after the Civil War, however, the Southern States began to enact what would later become known as "Jim Crow" laws.  These were laws which basically separated the White citizens from the Non-White citizens in all public aspects of life: separate restaurants, separate drinking fountains, separate entrances to public establishments, etc.  These were STATE laws (not to be confused with Federal laws) that basically made Blacks and other minorities second-class citizens.

At some point during the 1950's and 60's (aka, the "Civil Rights Era") America, as a nation, came to the general consensus that racial segregation was no longer acceptable within a society that claimed to be civilized.  This consensus was sparked by the Federal Supreme Court decisions against segregation (Brown v. Board of Education) that were handed down by the Warren Court in the 1950's, and it culminated with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s march on Washington and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Despite this national consensus at the Federal level, some of the Southern States argued that it would be a violation of States' Rights to force racial integration in their schools and public establishments.   George Wallace, the Governor of the State of Alabama, famously delivered the message "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever" during his inaugural address in 1963. Governor Wallace and other State governors and elected State officials consistently framed the issue of segregation as a "States' Rights" issue, arguing that the Federal government had no right to force its policy of racial equality onto the States even though the 14th Amendment clearly stated then, as it does today, that:

"No State shall make or enforce any law which shall...deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

States' Rights Today
Returning full circle to Romney's quote above, we can see that the Republicans continue to embrace the notion that more powers should be stripped from the Federal government and given to the States.  This may sound like a great idea for conservatives because most conservatives tend to be in the majority (aka White) and would likely stand to benefit from such measures.  However, for those people who happen to be minorities in this country, history has shown us time and time again that minority interests are not served by allowing elected officials at the State level of government to rule as they see fit without regard for the Constitutional rights of all people and not just those in the majority.  The Constitutional rights of the people must be enforced and protected by the Federal government, despite State interests to the contrary.

By way of example, abortion is legal in this country because the Supreme Court (aka the Federal government) has ruled that the States are not allowed to infringe upon a woman's 14th Amendment right to privacy; no State is allowed to make a law that would bring back Jim Crow lunch counters because the Federal government has declared such an act would be illegal under the Civil Rights Act of '64; and States are not allowed to refuse the right to vote to certain minorities because the 15th Amendment strictly prohibits the States from taking such action.  These are but a few examples of how States' Rights must yield to Federal interests.

When people like Mitt Romney talk about increasing States' Rights, they are pandering to a crowd that would like to see less Federal government regulation.  In theory, limited Federal government is a good idea because it allows the States to govern themselves at the local level and solve their own problems.  In practice, limited Federal government allows the States to get away with whatever it is their respective leaders feel like getting away with, which blindly assumes that State officials will do what is in the best interest of all people, and not just those who look as they do or agree with their particular ideology.  As history has taught us, such assumptions are often misplaced.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Movie Reviews-Benny Hill, True Grit, The Mechanic

Benny Hill-The Complete Megaset 1969-1989

I've spent the last few days watching Benny Hill:The Complete Megaset 1969-1989.

Sometimes things you get a glimpse of as kids don't really hold your attention as adults. Thankfully this was not the case with The Benny Hill Show. Although his show did include a lot of stockings, garters, sexual innuendo and cleavage it was also much more than that. There was quite a lot of wordplay, puns, satire, parody and so on. Some of this was obviously particular to a certain time and place in the U.K. but much of it was not. Hill also had a huge debt to silent film/slapstick and to Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy. There was more drag than I remembered. There was also some racial and ethnic humor. YMMV on this of course. The only saving grace is that he seemed to include just about every group in this and it wasn't often too mean-spirited. Still, times and standards have changed. That's a good thing.

Hill spoke a number of languages and used accents or impressions of "foreign" misunderstandings to great affect. One running skit has Hill playing a visiting Chinese dignitary whose malapropisms would always confuse his English interviewer and convince Hill's character that the Englishman was a moron. Another had Hill playing a German man who would innocently sidle up to an attractive Englishwoman and start a conversation in which he would make "mistakes" and then want to know the proper English words for certain actions or body parts.

I liked the early years best. In the later years he became sort of lazy and turned over huge swaths of the show to the Hills Angels dancers. Even so Hill and his team did a great job with humorous adaptations of "Carmen" and "Cabaret". This box set includes several interviews with various Hills Angels or other actresses on the show as well as some analysis of how Hill's show actually worked. There is some info about the decline near the end.

How to meet beautiful women

Benny Hill is kind

Benny Hill in hospital

The ceiling

True Grit
This Coen Brothers film is not so much of a remake of the John Wayne film as it is (according to the Coen's) a more faithful adaptation of the original book by Charles Portis. It was Oscar nominated. It stars Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Barry Pepper, Josh Brolin, and Hailee Steinfeld.

I think most people are familiar with the story. A 14 year old girl , Mattie Ross (Steinfeld) seeks justice for her father, murdered by his employee, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). Ross is a young lady of strong nerve who has an abiding belief in justice in this world and the next. To this end she seeks to hire a US Marshal, Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), described as the meanest Marshal available and one that has "true grit".

Cogburn would rather be left alone to drink and carouse away his days. He views the idea of chasing Chaney through Indian Territory for small pay as ridiculous. But Ross is not a girl that takes no for an answer. Steinfeld's interpretation of this character is what makes the movie work. The role requires that she radiate a sense of Christian self-righteousness (Ross talks repeatedly of God's Justice), canniness about money (her mother does not read and after her father's death Ross handles all of the family business, showing herself to be a sharp negotiator), and also occasionally shocking naivete (she is only 14 after all).

The Coen Brothers' (or the original author's) dialogue also draws the viewer into an austere world, one that is not easy to live in but one in which justice is harsh and inevitable. This movie is also a throwback to older Westerns and seventies films in which the filmmaker is confident enough in his work to let things slowly develop on the screen and show you things instead of telling you. This is 180 degrees away from Tarantino, so if you're looking for that style, this isn't it. This has a very Old Testament feel to it, in both language and pacing.

The Mechanic

Another remake, The Mechanic was somewhat disappointing. Actually it was very disappointing. I'm not sure why. Remake status aside, I think it was just too predictable. I mean how many films have you seen where the father figure of the protagonist dies and the protagonist finds out that some betrayal was involved. So he hooks up with an ally of uncertain loyalty to find out what happened and make those SOB's pay. We're gonna kill them all. They started it. We're gonna finish it. I'm calling you out. I'm coming for you.

I like Jason Statham but his work here as an assassin trying to get to the bottom of a conspiracy was strictly paint by the numbers stuff. Ben Foster and Donald Sutherland didn't add very much to the story either. There's really no one to root for and so the film was emotionally empty. YMMV of course but this is really nothing new or different. I did learn that if I ever have to fight an enraged 6-6 270lb man, stabbing him in his yarbles would be a good way to equalize things but I kind of already knew that.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Book Reviews-A Song of Ice and Fire, The Butcher, The Tomb

A Song of Ice and Fire
by George R.R. Martin
A Song of Ice and Fire is the fantastic fiction series written by the author George R.R. Martin (GRRM), in which the first book is A Game of Thrones. He intends to write seven books in the series. The books in order after A Game of Thrones are A Clash Of Kings, A Storm Of Swords, A Feast For Crows and to be released in about a month, A Dance With Dragons. I've read all of the released books.
It is virtually impossible to tell you what happens in the series without giving spoilers from the first book other than to note that in a world similar to our own circa 1300 a civil war breaks out over the correct royal succession on a continent suspiciously similar to Europe, named Westeros. While the various factions wage war and do their best to eliminate each other, chessmasters manipulate them from the shadows and a supernatural threat grows offstage. What makes this different than any number of other mindlessly bad historical fiction or fantasy series you ask?
It's because GRRM is one of the best living authors in the genre. He deconstructs the genre, turns it inside out and makes it his and his alone. And like any true master, his characters transcend the genre. His characters have depth. GRRM writes real people-with all of their warts, fears, hatreds and jealousies. He's on a par with Stephen King as far as this goes. Some characters are shown not to be either as evil or as good as earlier books might have you believe. And some characters do indeed always try to do the right thing no matter what it costs. Most of his major characters have incredible depth-whether it's a 16 yr old boy trying to figure out how to lead his people after his father's murder or a strong yet shockingly ugly and touchingly naive warrior woman struggling against the prejudices of her time or a violent brutal retainer who tries to kill his conscience with alcohol.

GRMM  has no qualms killing off major characters or having them get maimed or brutalized if that's what the story requires. The author does not hesitate to show war for what it is. It may start out with talks of honor and justice but it ends up with rape, massacre, torture, famine and other acts of cruelty. No one is exempt from this in GRRM's world. For example, during the war a group of young kids (including a disguised princess) is captured by a group of psychopathic soldiers searching for the princess and other "threats" to their lord's rule. One of the children has injuries and before the capture was being carried by his friends. When a soldier asks the boy if he can walk he peevishly explains that he can't walk and that they will have to carry him. The soldier replies "That so?" and calmly stabs the child through the throat, to the great amusement of his fellow soldiers. 
And things get worse from there. But when you look at what has gone on in our own world, whether it be the killing fields in Cambodia, the My Lai massacre, The St. Bartholomew's Day massacre,  the lawlessness in Somalia, the bombing of wedding parties in Afghanistan, rapes in Congo, mutilations and child soldiers in Sierra Leone, fanaticism in Pakistan, brutality in Serbia and so on, it's hard to say that GRRM is exaggerating too much.

GRRM depicts court life and political machinations perfectly. Minor plot points from earlier books turn out to be essential to someone's master plan for conquering Westeros. GRRM draws some strong and realistic female characters-some traditionally minded, others much less so. The aforementioned princess who's fleeing for her life has a list of people she wants dead. And though she's only ten years old, she has the will and skill to do something about it. The cost is also shown: violence makes people go dead inside.
GRRM does an excellent job of drawing the Oedipal resentments between the most powerful Lord in the land and his ugly, dwarfish son who constantly seeks his father's approval but can never get it. People have strong motivations for what they do. Martin's only misstep in my view is that his black characters are either non-existent or so poorly drawn as to come close to Magic Negro status. There is nothing in his work suggesting racial malevolence, as there is in the work of HP Lovecraft or Robert E. Howard, but his black characters are flat. That aside I enjoyed the series so far.
To Winterfell we pledge the faith of Greywater. Hearth and heart and harvest we yield up to you, my lord. Our swords and spears and arrows are yours to command. Grant Mercy to our weak, help to our helpless, and justice to all, and we shall never fail you. We swear it by earth and water, we swear it by bronze and iron, we swear it by ice and fire.

The Butcher
by Phillip Carlo
This is the story of Bonanno Crime Family member Tommy "Karate" Pitera. Pitera received his nickname because of his interest in Japanese martial arts and culture. He moved to Japan as a teenager and lived there for two years training in martial arts. Upon return to Brooklyn, the diminutive mobster joined the Bonannos, was formally inducted and became a feared Mafia killer. His skill at dismemberment and indifference to human life scared some very scary people.

This should have been a better book. It feels like it was rushed. The author makes a number of presentation mistakes. There are neither footnotes nor index. There is sloppy use of terms. 
But the worst flaw in my opinion is the author's use of omniscient third person narrative. Tommy Pitera did not grant Carlo interviews. Nor (to my knowledge) have his parents, wife, girlfriends, fellow karate students or other intimates spoken on record with Carlo.

Phillip Carlo can't know exactly what Pitera was thinking or why he did what he did. To speak definitively as if you know what's going on in someone else's head is irritating. Perhaps realizing that his ability to draw a picture of Pitera is somewhat limited, Carlo spends a great deal of time depicting the less than compelling DEA agents who would help take Pitera down.

Carlo's primary source is Frank Gangi. Gangi was a member of Pitera's crew and an alcoholic junkie involved in at least three murders committed with Pitera. Gangi claims to have seen the light after a drunk driving arrest after which he became an informer. Of course it is possible that Gangi and Pitera realized at the same time that Gangi was a weak link and Gangi ran to the police. Gangi is not a sympathetic figure.
This book strips away the fiction that there is any real difference between the Mafia and other so-called street thugs or gangsters. Pitera kills because he's ordered to do so but he also kills because he's annoyed or bored or simply wants what someone else has. His ONLY business seems to be drugs. He's surrounded by lowlifes, junkies and party girls. Other than killing a made man, Pitera doesn't seem to ask or need permission for any of his murders. Speaking of Pitera, another character tells his wife "He has no friends because he killed them all!". That pretty much sums up Tommy Pitera. This book was somewhat disappointing.

The Tomb
by F. Paul Wilson

Wilson originally wrote this book in 1984. His intent was to let the hero die at the end but audience demand was so strong that he relented and made this the first in a long series of Repairman Jack novels. Repairman Jack is a modern day fixit-man.I don't mean that he repairs appliances or attends to the needs of lonely housewives.
Rather he is an unlicensed detective and mercenary. He does not murder for hire but he will kill to survive. Jack's preference, both to maintain his privacy and for his own amusement, is to set his enemies against each other whenever possible. He has withdrawn from society as much as possible, has no social security number or bank account,  pays no taxes and shuns his family. He is, as he sees it a sovereign individual. (The author is something of a libertarian)

Jack lives in New York City where he helps people fix problems that they can't go to the police for. Maybe it's stopping someone from being blackmailed. Maybe it's convincing some punk kids that they need to stop picking on someone. Maybe it's finding someone who disappeared or investigating a spouse's strange behavior. Whatever it is Jack wants cash up front and will not stop until he's solved the problem. He can be cold and brusque but he has a soft spot for underdogs and especially for kids. Anyone harming kids gets to see Jack's more brutal side.
Jack is hired by an Indian political leader named Kusum to find a necklace that was stolen from the political leader's grandmother. She is dying and for some reason Kusum is desperate to give her this necklace back.
Against all odds Jack does retrieve the necklace for the old lady who leaves the country. Kusum however stays in the country for some undisclosed purpose. Kusum's sister Kolabati, asks to meet Jack personally to thank him for the service done to her grandmother. While separated from his girlfriend Gia, (who is disgusted to discover that he has killed before) Jack embarks on a relationship with Kolabati. But things start to get weird from there. Gia's relatives start to die in unexplained circumstances and Jack is forced to confront some supernatural elements.
This was a really fun book. It was sort of like a modern day Indiana Jones. I highly recommend it. Wilson has rewritten this to remove 80's technology and references and include modern tech, such as cell phones.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Music Reviews-Albert King, Ann Peebles, and Bobby Bland

Albert King
There were giants in post-war blues and Albert King was literally one of them. Standing 6-5 and weighing around 260lbs in his salad days, Albert King (1923-1992) was one of the Three Great Kings of the blues (pun definitely intended) along with Freddie King and B.B. King.

He was from the same town as B.B. King.  B.B. King reached prominence first. Albert Nelson changed his last name to "King" and even named his guitar "Lucy". B.B. King had named his guitar "Lucille". From time to time Albert King even hinted or flat out stated that he and B.B. had the same father. This wasn't the case.

Both men were heavily inspired by such musicians as Louis Jordan, Lonnie Johnson and especially T-Bone Walker.
But Albert King and B.B. King created their own distinctive sounds and would go on to influence those who came afterwards in quite different ways.

Albert King was left handed and even for a man his size, possessed massive hands. He did not (by his own admission could not) use a guitar pick. His fingers were just too big for that. Instead he used his thumb as a pick. Eschewing standard guitar tuning, Albert King used a lower dropped C tuning. Being left handed he played upside down and backwards by "normal" standards. King created his signature sounds with transistor amps whereas most guitarists preferred tube amps. His hand strength allowed him to make EXTREMELY wide bends of notes. Albert King very rarely ventured out of the minor pentatonic scale and almost never played chords. Along with people like Ike Turner and Hound Dog Taylor he was one of the first blues guitarists to incorporate a thick distorted sound and use controlled feedback.

All this gave Albert King a very unique and ominous guitar tone, one miles apart from B.B.'s and one that fascinated and inspired several other guitarists, including but not limited to such luminaries as Otis Rush, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix (who was also left-handed), Luther Allison, Duane Allman, Eric Gales, Little Jimmy King, Donald Kinsey, Albert Collins, Eric Clapton (a few of Clapton's early solos are note-for-note lifts from Albert King songs) and of course Stevie Ray Vaughn. Albert King was something of a mentor to "Little Stevie" as he called him.

Some argue that Albert King was a limited guitarist. His genre did not require him to run up and down the fretboard. In fact, he really didn't care for that style. And "limited" or not, King's music required deep feeling and understanding of the notes between the fretted notes as well as rhythmic flexibility that most later imitators lacked. King's dynamics are what made his music interesting. He wasn't YELLING ALL THE TIME as many modern blues or rock guitarists are prone to do.

King first made the "big time" in Memphis and later signed with Stax Records, where most of his best recordings were made. King changed with the times, moving from a more jazz based approach in the early sixties, to the soul of the mid sixties, to the funk and rock of the late sixties and early seventies to the smoother R&B and even disco of the mid seventies. He changed his music styles but he never changed his sound. There are a few musicians who are immediately identifiable after you've heard just a few notes. Albert King was one of those musicians.

Albert King sang in a baritone and considered himself something of a crooner. If you want to know what blues is all about you could start with this man. He's been often imitated but will never be duplicated. He was the definition of bluespower. With a few exceptions men like this don't walk the earth any more.

His best known song may have been  "Born Under a Bad Sign"
But please give a listen to these songs "As The Years Go Passing By"
"Til My Back Ain't Got No Bone"

"Blues at Sunrise"   Feel Like Breaking Up Someone's Home

Ann Peebles
The last song I listed under the Albert King selection was originally a hit for this singer. Ann Peebles (1947- ) is a soul singer originally from St. Louis, who recorded for Memphis' other great soul music label, Hi Records. Hi Records was of course best known for being the recording home of that great Michigan man , Al Green. Hi Records and Stax Records occasionally used some of the same musicians though the label owners officially frowned on this.
Ann Peebles is a strong singer but she didn't often employ the sort of hard belting that say Aretha or Patti could call upon. Rather Peebles usually used a more refined, softer approach although she could turn up the volume when she needed to do so. It's a cliche that the human voice is the most versatile instrument but Ann Peebles is the living embodiement of that cliche. She bends notes vocally in the exact same way Albert King does on his guitar.

She plays piano (although she's no Aretha) and wrote or co-wrote a great many of her hit songs. Her voice could show great vulnerability and great strength, often in the same song. Although, like a great many soul artists, Peebles came out of the gospel tradition (her father was a choir leader at the local Baptist church and both of her parents sang) she was not limited by that tradition and had no issue learning to sing secular music. Most of her best work on Hi Records was overseen by legendary producer Willie Mitchell.

Unfortunately, like many of soul's best singers, Ann Peebles saw her career get derailed by the rise of disco.  If you haven't heard her do yourself a favor and pick up a compilation or two. She's done a comeback. She has a few recent recordings where you can hear that while her voice has roughened some with age, she still has a sweetness that few other singers possess. Massively underrated. This is music for adults.
"I Can't Stand The Rain"      "Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody's Home"

"How Strong Is A Woman"      "One Way Street"

 "I'm Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down"

Bobby Bland

Bobby "Blue" Bland is an anomaly in the blues genre as he does not play an instrument nor is he a particularly skillful songwriter. However strictly speaking Bobby Bland is not just a blues singer. He is an excellent example of how labels don't do certain people justice. Bobby Bland has sung everything from blues to gospel to showtunes to big band jazz to soul to rock-n-roll to R&B and so on.

He is a former driver and valet to B.B. King. The men became very good friends over the years. As King once put it they've had the same problems with the same women, the same bandmembers and the same IRS. Whereas B.B.'s signature vocal styling was a melismatic falsetto, Bland used a different move entirely-a feral sort of half-cough, half growl that sounded as if he had something unpleasant caught in his throat. While this may or may not be your particular cup of tea, for a certain generation of ladies from the late fifties through the mid seventies, it evidently hit the right spot. Bland always was quite popular with female audiences. He never really truly crossed over to white audiences in the way that Albert King or B.B King did. Where a Muddy Waters was singing (initially at least) to people just out of the cotton field, Bland's sounds (and audience) were more urbane and had a pronounced jazz feel.

Bland's bands always featured the best musicians. These were people who could play just about anything and as a result people like Little Milton, B.B King and James Brown often sought to lure Bland's bandmembers away. For example, the drummer on Turn on Your Lovelight is one Jabo Starks, who later achieved greater stardom playing on James Brown's "Payback" and "Superbad" and then went on to play with B.B King.

For my money Bland's best work was done in the sixties/seventies for Duke/Peacock Records, then owned by the hard nosed black businessman Don Robey. Robey ran a tight ship and wasn't above "buying" or "altering" songwriting credits to his benefit but that's how the business worked back then. By all accounts Robey was not the sort of man to **** with. Whatever his business ethics may have been he got the best out of Bland. This time in Bland's life would never be matched artistically.
"Turn On Your Love Light"   "Rocking in the Same Old Boat" 

"St. James Infirmary"    "The Thrill is Gone" (with BB King)

 "Cry Cry Cry"