Tuesday, December 16th marked the 70th anniversary of the greatest battle fought by soldiers of the United States army in the Northwest European Theatre in World War II following D-Day.

Despite the crushing defeat of the German armies in Normandy in August 1944 and the pursuit of the remnants to the very borders of the Reich, the Allied autumn advance had ground to a halt. Long supply lines which created a logistical nightmare, the still formidable fortifications of the Siegfried Line, the resilience of the German army, and foul fall conditions of rain, cold and mud combined to make further progress tediously slow and very costly.

Meanwhile Hitler, believing that a shattering counter-blow in the west could change Germany’s sagging fortunes, mustered a formidable reserve containing some of the best divisions in the German army and settled on the Ardennes, scene of a successful German breakthrough in 1940, as the location for such an offensive, and Antwerp to split the Allied armies in two, as the ultimate objective.

Although the offensive met with some initial success against a completely surprised and lightly held American front, determined defense by US troops slowed the enemy advance and bought time for the arrival of reinforcements to first halt the Germans and then drive them back. The battle lasted about a month and cost each side 100,000 casualties and 7-800 tanks and other armored vehicles. Heavy though these losses were to the Americans, they were disastrous for the Germans who had little strength left with which to oppose the final offensive into Germany.

My family and I visited parts of the Ardennes battlefield in the summer of 2013 including Bastogne, Belgium, where the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne Division made their epic and successful stand to deny the Germans this key road centre.

But we also visited a town called Stavelot further to the north that was the scene that cold December of a lesser known but equally important and epic battle waged by a single US infantry battalion (6-800 men) of the 30th Infantry Division.

Ambleve River, Stavelot, Belgium

Ambleve River, Stavelot, Belgium

A powerful kampfgruppe (or battlegroup) of the German 1st SS Panzer Division under ace panzer leader, Joachim Peiper, had penetrated deep into the American rear and threatened to reach the Meuse River, a potentially disastrous development. But in the constricted topography of the Ardennes, bridges over rivers and streams were critical to Peiper’s advance, and plucky bands of US engineers had seriously hindered the column by destroying several on his preferred routes to the Meuse.

Peiper seized the critical bridge over the Ambleve River at Stavelot, Belgium, against poorly led and disorganized American opposition. But after the bulk of his force continued west towards Stoumont along a single narrow road, the 1st Battalion of the 117th Infantry Regiment with attached companies of tanks and tank destroyers descended on Stavelot from the north and retook the town, thereby cutting Peiper off from the rest of 1st Panzer. Under fire, they also managed to blow the all-important Stavelot bridge.

There followed a fierce battle as the American troops fought furiously to simultaneously fend off efforts by the rest of the 1st SS Panzer Division to the south to force the Ambleve and retake the town, while resisting determined attacks from the west by elements of Peiper’s force sent back to restore his line of communication and supply.

But the Americans would not yield. Under attack by other American forces, what was left of Peiper’s kampfgruppe (800 out of an original force of 5800) eventually escaped on foot, abandoning all their vehicles and heavy weapons. The rest of the battered 1st SS Panzer Division ceded Stavelot to the indomitable men of the 1st Battalion, 117th. The spearhead of the 6th Panzer Army, designated by Hitler as his main effort, had been defeated.

via The Atlantic.

This movie, A Day of Thanksgiving, was produced by the Lawrence, Kansas-based Centron Corporation, a studio that churned out educational films aimed at molding the character of America’s youth.

And here’s a very different view from a former resident of Lawrence Kansas, William S. Burroughs.

A Thanksgiving Prayer

Thanks for the wild turkey and
the passenger pigeons, destined
to be shit out through wholesome
American guts. Thanks for a continent to despoil
and poison.

Thanks for Indians to provide a
modicum of challenge and
danger.

Thanks for vast herds of bison to
kill and skin leaving the
carcasses to rot.

Thanks for bounties on wolves
and coyotes.

Thanks for the American dream,
To vulgarize and to falsify until
the bare lies shine through.

Thanks for the KKK.

For nigger-killin’ lawmen,
feelin’ their notches.

For decent church-goin’ women,
with their mean, pinched, bitter,
evil faces.

Thanks for “Kill a Queer for
Christ” stickers.

Thanks for laboratory AIDS.

Thanks for Prohibition and the
war against drugs.

Thanks for a country where
nobody’s allowed to mind their
own business.

Thanks for a nation of finks.

Yes, thanks for all the
memories– all right let’s see
your arms!

You always were a headache and
you always were a bore.

Thanks for the last and greatest
betrayal of the last and greatest
of human dreams.

In the first two years of his presidency Barak Obama and a Democratic majority in Congress saved the United States auto industry from bankruptcy, enacted a stimulus package that effectively cushioned a collapsing economy and likely prevented another Great Depression, passed the Dodd Frank law to make it much less likely we will suffer another banking meltdown in the future and, last but not least, enacted the Affordable Care Act which is already driving down the rate of medically uninsured Americans and promises to reduce it still further in future years.

In 2010, however, a Republican takeover of the US House of Representatives effectively ended any possibility for further problem solving from the federal government as the GOP House majority, and a filibuster-happy GOP minority in the US Senate, blocked additional efforts to boost the economy and, indeed, sought to do further damage to it by slashing government spending at a time when the private sector was still contracting.

Despite the GOP’s destructive efforts, however, the US economy has improved significantly albeit much more slowly than would have been the case had we enacted another stimulus heavy with infrastructure spending, as Obama and Democrats wanted. In fact, congressional Republicans by their unprecedented obstructionism have behaved as though they wanted the economy to remain in the tank just to score political points.

And they appear to have succeeded. Polls show it is all but certain that the country will vote next Tuesday for full Republican control of the Congress, and an expansion of that party’s control of governorships and state legislatures. Even millennials seem to be deserting Democrats, and lukewarm support from women cannot balance strong support for the GOP among (white) men. In short things appear pretty bleak.

But it would be useful to know what policies embraced by Republicans have won the support of the electorate in this election cycle.

Is it the Republican desire to unravel environmental laws and rules such as those to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired plants or to drastically expand drilling for oil and gas on public lands and off-shore? Is it their enthusiasm for slashing food aid and other crucial support for America’s poorest citizens?

Or perhaps it is the GOP’s oft-stated intention to repeal the Affordable Care Act and strip 10 million Americans of their newly acquired health coverage that appeals to the electorate? But there again, maybe it’s the party’s economic agenda to cut taxes on corporations and the wealthy while blocking any move to increase the minimum wage that attracts voters?

Many believe the 2014 midterm elections don’t matter but I disagree and here’s just one example from The New Republic  to illustrate why.  To summarize, if the conservative and somewhat erratic GOP governor of Maine is defeated, 70,000 low-income residents of the state stand to gain health insurance through the ACA’s Medicaid expansion. If he‘s re-elected, they don’t. That’s pretty simple but the lives of real people who struggle every day will be affected.

In 2010 a wave of GOP state-level victories led directly, as in Maine, to a denial of health care coverage for millions of Americans. Let’s not make the same mistake in 2014.

All elections matter so get off your duff; make the right choice and VOTE on November 4th!

Today is Ralph Bakshi‘s 76th birthday. To honor this great animator’s work, watch “The Littlest Tramp” episode of Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures. I loved this show when it came out in the eighties and watched it whenever I could.

“The Littlest Tramp” first aired on October 31, 1987 and it included a scene where a bully of a character smashes a flower Mighty Mouse is holding that he intends to give to Pollly Pineblossom. Mighty Mouse opens his hand after the flower is crushed and finds only pink dust. He thinks of Pearl and smells what remains of the flower and the dust goes up his nose.

Some people thought the pink flower dust represented cocaine and complained about the show. By June 1988 the American Family Association raised a big fuss, got CBS to cut the scene from future broadcasts, and the show was canceled soon after.

So watch it today and raise a glass or a flower petal and toast the fine work of Ralph Bakshi.

On November 4th Washington State voters have an opportunity to close loopholes in the background checks that we impose, for good reason, on firearm purchasers.

Currently, someone who likely would not be approved for the legal purchase of a firearm through a licensed dealer once a background check was conducted can still obtain one online, or at a gun show through a private sale where no checks are conducted. That makes no sense.

Why would we wish to make it easy for a convicted felon or an abusive husband or boyfriend with a restraining order against him, for example, to obtain a lethal weapon such as a handgun?

The gun zealots argue, as they always do, that all it will do is inconvenience law-abiding folk not the criminal which, presumably, is an argument against any and all background checks on gun purchases; which is a joke. If you want to see an example of how lax our laws are for acquiring a firearm compared with the rest of the industrialized world, check out this comparison of requirements in the United States with those of Canada (compliments of Vox.com), a country that is actually serious about keeping guns out of the hands of potentially dangerous people.

Research does show that stricter gun control laws do serve to reduce gun violence. I-594 is not a panacea to gun violence in Washington, as our latest school shooting tragedy in Marysville shows all too clearly; but it will help to save at least some lives.

And while we’re at it, don’t forget to vote “NO” on I-591 which is the gun zealot proposal designed to merely confuse the issue and maintain the status quo.

Vote for a saner, safer society: Vote “YES” on I-594.

ebola America

Looking back at the last few months in this country I don’t know which is more depressing: the willingness of Republicans and the media to try to scare the bejeebers out of everyone over the supposed threats to the United States of ISIS and Ebola; or the combination of ignorance and feeble mindedness of so many Americans in succumbing to this fear mongering in the face of a ton of information and facts that show it up for the nonsense it is.

Despite the efforts of some Republican lawmakers to convince us that ISIS is about to murder us in our beds, or to combine the threat of ISIS with Ebola to picture a scenario of Ebola-infected ISIS terrorists crossing our border to blow themselves up in our shopping malls (you have to read this piece over at Vox.com), the Department of Homeland Security has conceded that no credible direct threat to the US from ISIS has been detected.

That may be because ISIS currently has its hands full trying to establish its caliphate in Iraq and Syria in the face of opposition from Kurdish fighters, Syrian non-nutcase rebels (and at some point, we hope, the Syrian army of Bashar al-Assad) and a slowly rejuvenating Iraqi army – oh yes and US/allied airstrikes.

The Ebola scare mongering in the media has been, if anything, even more reprehensible and has resulted in some truly mind-boggling overreactions.

Sure there have been some stumbles by a private hospital in Dallas and subsequently by the Centers for Disease Control in dealing with the first cases of Ebola in the US. But the fact is that a disease that can only be spread with direct contact (i.e. it is not airborne) was never going to become a genuine health crisis in a developed country such as the US. In fact, one can make a strong argument that our health system has learned much from the mistakes made in confronting this relatively low-grade threat – lessons that will serve us well when we are faced with a genuine health crisis such as a flu epidemic.

But these twin non-crises have served the Republicans well, as they (with the enthusiastic assistance of an overwrought media, particularly the Sunday talk show crowd) exploit them to buttress the picture they present of a detached and incompetent administration simply not up to the job. And the American electorate is buying it, as the mid-term election polls clearly show.

Over at Vox.com they provide a dose of much needed perspective with this list (admittedly un-scientific and incomplete) of actual as opposed to overblown threats to Americans. Case in point: Guns, ranked at #3 (for comparison, ISIS is #7 and Ebola #9). A grand total of one person has so far died of Ebola in America and two have been killed so far by ISIS. In contrast, 30,000 or more Americans are killed every year by people with firearms, half of them in homicides.

So let’s ignore the scare mongers, the exploitive Republican politicians and hysterical media, put away the fear and get a grip people – things are a lot better than you think.

You could be forgiven for feeling a strong sense of déjà vu these past months at the barrage of dire pronouncements on the urgent threat posed by the terrorist group known as ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, sometimes substituting “Levant” for “Syria” for ISIL). Flashback to 2003 and the overwrought nonsense we heard in the run up to the invasion of Iraq.

Only then we had an administration that was leading the charge for war and mounting a campaign of misinformation and exaggeration to bamboozle Americans into supporting an invasion; now, ironically, we have a president who has been trying, with limited success, to proceed with caution and calm deliberation in the face of overheated rhetoric and fear mongering not merely from right-wing politicians and pundits, but from the mainstream media; a loud and constant clamoring for a strategy to defeat ISIS not only in Iraq where, arguably, we bear some responsibility given our ties to the country, but also in Syria.

Obama recognizes, as so many of his detractors seem not to, that Syria in particular represents a veritable minefield of challenges in a region where, on balance, we have done more harm than good by our interventions in the last two decades. In fact the very existence of ISIS can be traced to the bloody aftermath of the United States invasion of Iraq.

To intervene in Iraq is one thing, and the Obama administration has made a good start by maneuvering Maliki out of office (using the threat of ISIS and the prospect of US military aid as leverage) and using airpower to assist the Kurds in the north and secure certain strategic objectives such as the Mosul dam.

But airpower alone cannot take back the areas currently occupied by ISIS and it will likely take 1-2 years to build up the confidence and military readiness of the Iraqi army so it won’t crumble like Swiss cheese during any campaign to take back Anbar and the north of Iraq from ISIS.  A prerequisite to ultimate success will also require an alliance with the Sunni tribes whom Maliki succeeded all too well in alienating to the point where, in 2014, they shrugged off any loyalty to the Iraqi state and stood by while ISIS humiliated the latter’s army.

This part of Obama’s strategy (which contrary to the braying of Fox News and the mainstream Sunday talk show hosts and their guests, was always clear) makes perfect sense; his decision to cave to the pressure and intervene in Syria, much less so.

Syria is a chaotic mess but, for once in the Middle East, we had nothing to do with it. There were sound reasons for not getting involved and the success of ISIS in rising from the chaos doesn’t alter that fact.

The truth is that ISIS is not a direct threat to the US in the short to medium term and probably beyond. Unlike al-Qaida (which Obama has eviscerated during his tenure) the focus of ISIS has never been on the US but on creating a Sunni-dominated caliphate in the Middle East. It’s a threat to Middle East stability, no question, but not specifically to us, Senator Lindsey Graham’s dire warnings notwithstanding (that guy really needs to take his anxiety meds).

Obama was castigated for not having a strategy for Syria but that was actually a good thing since the choices are all bad. Bombing ISIS will have limited effect and is just as likely to help Assad as hurt ISIS; finding let alone training and equipping moderate Syrian rebels to be the ground component is tough and there’s no guarantee they’ll fight ISIS rather than Assad; and hands up everyone who wants to see US ground forces in Syria as do Senators McCain and Graham.

Obama’s initial instincts appear to have been to fight ISIS in Iraq but not in Syria. He should have stuck with them.

A guy on the bus the other day was openly criticizing those around him for abandoning the world around them in favor of the pale imitation our handheld devices offer up.

A friendly woman next to him unwisely* offered up a different perspective. “It’s interesting to think about whether this is any different from reading a book or newspaper on your commute. Some might be studying or reading the news. I wonder if we have always tended to isolate ourselves in these situations, and the difference now is that anyone who is unfamiliar with one method or the other makes assumptions about what’s going on on the other side of that barrier.”

Early 20th Century commuters immersed in printed newspapers

All this technology is making us antisocial

For a second I thought she was bravely bridging a gap with this old guy who had an armful of old, used (out of print looking) vinyl records and sheet music he’d obviously just acquired. But no. The old guy flew into a rage about how the internet is a “breeding ground for witches and slutty feminists who have no respect for our Christian culture!” He angrily sputtered on about the muslims, the gays, and abortion culture tearing the fabric of society apart until he disembarked at 15th and Pine.

It was sad because this old guy was dressed in dapper digs from the 40s, on the 10, and looked like a Capitol Hill native. He looked like a fascinating old guy and I would bet he has a trove of stories that would enrich all of us to hear, even if it is tinged with bigotry. I mean, Cap Hill has has a much more varied past than you might know just living here now.

A new report on the Restaurant Opportunities Centers website has identified some disturbing realities. Unfortunately, for women working in the service industry, the report’s findings are long accepted truths. But it may still shine a light on how the sub-minimum wage set by the federal government, which sits at the same $2.13 per hour that was set in 1990, can combine with a working acceptance of sexual harassment on the job to perpetuate a system that encourages workers to engage with customers in ways that undermine the value of all women earning tips and a sub-minimum base wage.

Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 2.52.10 AM

You can download the PDF from the ROCUnited website, read a summary of its findings here, and tell your personal story about sexual harassment in the workplace with ROC

KEXP completed its fall pledge drive yesterday, and during the week-long drive they counted down the top 437 artists of all time as voted on by listeners. Listeners had until September 19th to cast their votes for their top twelve. I’m not sure why the final list was 437. It could be that’s the total number of different artists that were chosen by listeners, or maybe it was an air-time issue – the number of songs they could get through during the daytime pledge-drive hours. (Anybody at KEXP reading this who knows why the list was 437?)

I listened to the station during my drives to and from work during the week, and I must say the banter from Kevin Cole, Troy Nelson, and Tilly (?) during the afternoon show was pretty entertaining. I especially liked Troy’s “80’s scream”. Just thinking about trying to imitate it makes my throat hurt.

Anyway, here’s the top twelve as voted on by listeners:

1 The Beatles
2 Radiohead
3 Led Zeppelin
4 The Clash
5 Nirvana
6 Pixies
7 David Bowie
8 Bob Dylan
9 The Rolling Stones
10 Neil Young
11 R.E.M.
12 Pink Floyd

I get that a lot of people of all generations like The Beatles, and the band has had a long time to grow a fan base, but I would have flipped The Rolling Stones’ spot for The Beatles’ spot. I listen to the Stones pretty often – mostly the late sixties through mid-seventies era, and those albums still sound pretty fresh to me. As for The Beatles, I listen to them once and a while, but I’ve grown tired of them.

No surprise that Radiohead placed high on the chart, because they used to win the album-of-the-year polls every time they put out a record. Led Zeppelin ahead of The Clash? Come on! Nirvana snuck in as the only American band in the top five.

Here’s my list from a couple weeks ago with corresponding KEXP rankings:

1 Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (59 – not bad, but someday the rest of you will come around.)
2 Patti Smith (67 – really? Have you seen her live?)
3 Tom Waits (35 – but he had ten albums on their list of top 903 albums of all time.)
4 Johnny Cash (13 – about where I would expect.)
5 P.J. Harvey (56 – she deserves much better than this.)
6 The Clash (4)
7 Bob Dylan (8)
8 Bruce Springsteen (43 – he’s better than this, but not a surprising ranking for KEXP)
9 The Rolling Stones (9)
10 Nirvana (4)
11 X (85 – really? John Fuckin’ Doe? Listen to their first four albums again.)
12 Bob Marley (32 – perhaps his ranking will rise now that we can buy pot legally in this state.)

But what about Sufjan Stevens? I had a beef with fellow listeners after the Top 903 albums of all time poll. His Come on Feel the Illinois ranked #15 in that one – way ahead of much more worthy albums. For this poll he came in 89th. His star has faded because he hasn’t really done anything since.

Nothing else too surprising about the results. What do you all think?