In Space, No One Can Hear You Dance or Seeing the Clash at the Aragon Ballroom

Look at the second photo in this article. On the other side of the red fire department vehicle is an alley running between the Aragon Ballroom and the elevated railway tracks. On Aug 13, 1982, Mike Helm, Patrick Slater and I got in line at about 10am and sat down against the wall beneath that fire escape and waited for the doors to open in the evening so we could see the Clash perform on their Combat Rock tour. Graffiti on the wall provided the first of many dramatic and thematic touchstones for the day. It read, “UFO AIN'T SHIT WITHOUT SCHENKER!”

There were maybe only six people in line in front of us so we ended up front and center at the stage. Those kids (I think they'd all come together) had a boom box and treated the growing crowd to the band's entire catalog, continuously repeated until showtime. Immediately after we sat down in line, a couple of guys got in line behind us, lit a joint and passed it our way. It was a glorious day in the company of strangers who became fast friends gathered around our obvious common interest (and the only one that mattered, as it were.)

Mike, Pat and I were living in Cincinnati at the time, but Chicago was the closest the Clash would come to us on their tour. A huge fan, I immediately bought as many tickets as I could afford, as a bunch of my friends wanted to go. To use a football metaphor, I way outkicked my coverage on that one (a story unto itself.) As a result, I had 10 extra tickets and spent part of the day running off to try to hustle as many as I could sell (which was exactly none.)

We'd driven to Chicago the previous day – a trip that took better than twice as long as it should have (another story unto itself – let's just say that another touchstone of the experience was “Where in the hell is Lake Bluff?”) We had nowhere to go when the concert ended. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

For those in the know, this was after Topper Headon had been sacked and before Mick Jones was. As I understand it, the Clash always opened their show with “London Calling,” and that's what they did this night (oh yeah, and on top of everything else, it was Friday the 13th.) When they'd come out on stage, it was apparent that Jones and Joe Strummer had just had a king-hell argument in the green room. But anger played into their wheelhouse as performers and the show was great.

When it was over, it took forever to empty the place out. (And bear in mind, we were among the first in and, therefore, among the last out.) With the possible exception of a pickup basketball game years later in 100+ heat, I've never been so hot in my life as I was that night, slowly trundling out of the Aragon, all of us sweating profusely. It was the height of summer, so even in the evening, it had to be in the upper eighties. But it felt like heaven on earth when we finally hit fresh air.

After the show, and 300 miles from home with no place to go, we lazily threw frisbee for an hour or more as we let the parking garage clear out. Not that that really mattered because, as I said, we weren't going anywhere, anyway. We got pancakes at an all night diner and spent the rest of the night til dawn either walking along Lake Michigan or around the very sketchy neighborhood in the environs of the Aragon. We wouldn't realize until afterward just how dangerous a place this was at that hour for three white kids from the suburbs.

There's much more to the story but I'll just add this. My mom was born and raised on the south side of Chicago, so for me, this was sort of a coming home. Mike and Pat would head back to Cincinnati without me (10 extra tickets and two cars for three guys – efficiency was not our strong suit.) It was the summer after high school graduation and my first time away from home without my parents. I'd decided to make a vacation out of it. I'd see my aunt and uncle in the Chicago burbs, then visit my grandfather on his farm in Iowa. I'm a city mouse/country mouse kid, if you haven't already noticed. And tying a bow on (at least part of) this experience, when they were dating in the late 50s, my farm kid dad and Italian-Catholic mom had danced to big band music at the Aragon. So yeah,it was sorta like coming home.

Three Pieces of Underrated Vinyl - "Sandinista!"

Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone writes a pretty spot-on review of The Clash's Sandinista! on the occasion of the – can it be?! – fortieth anniversary of its release. I have a couple quibbles – chiefly that he describes Topper Headon's drumming as “floppy.” Headon is among the crispest, tightest – and surely, most underrated – drummers of all time. “Floppy” isn't an adjective that springs to mind when I think of him. Joe Strummer basically said he was the missing link that made the band go. It wasn't til Headon signed on that the Clash became the Clash.

Like Sheffield, though I love London Calling, Sandinista! is my favorite Clash album. But where he favors side 3, it was side 2 that mesmerized me. (“Rebel Waltz”/”Look Here”/”The Crooked Beat”/”Somebody Got Murdered”/”One More Time”/”One More Dub.”) Not surprising. The record was all over the map so it stands to reason different listeners would find different points of purchase on it. Also like him, I suppose it's no reach to assume, it was in heavy rotation in my headphones as a teenager. I've long counted it in my “desert top five.”

Forget Impeachment -- It's Right There in the Constitution

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell affirmed the obvious when he said: 'The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people. And they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government, which they did not like.' That is sedition, plain and simple.”

The House needs to stop wasting time trying to impeach Donald Trump. Constitutional or not, the fact that he's already out of office gives House Republicans an easy excuse and cover not to vote for it. And it gives the same to Senate Republicans not to convict.

As I've been saying from the start, the 14th Amendment gives clear constitutional direction that seditionist office holders must be evicted from office and forbidden to run again. That starts with Trump and certainly includes Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Mo Brooks and Rudy Giuliani. And maybe others. Plus, as Chapman points out, it “would also affix a unique and permanent mark of infamy on the 45th president, which he has earned in full.”

Say what you want about Nancy Pelosi, but she's a smart and experienced political operative. Here's her chance to prove it. It's the Constitution. It needs to be invoked.

The Stock Market: An Inaccurate Barometer

Donald Trump always presented the stock market as a reflection of the economy and crowed about it when it was doing well. (I don't remember him talking about it much when it was down; funny, that.)

Conveniently for our former First Charlatan, the Dow is a scoreboard, as it were, and served as a bauble he could dangle in front of the eyes of his supporters. Most of them likely didn't understand the significance of it beyond “Up good, Down bad,” which isn't necessarily true anyway.

As a matter of full disclosure, I don't know much about the economy either, but I know enough to understand that the value of the stock market is by no means a reflection of economic health. In fact, as Robert Reich explains here, the stock market is doing splendidly while the economy has cratered.

Treasonable Cause

With the January 6th attack on the Capitol, REPUBLICANS ATTEMPTED TO OVERTURN A FREE AND FAIR U.S. ELECTION and void the will of the American people in doing so (not to mention the death and destruction they caused.) This is clearly a case of sedition and insurrection and the Constitution is very clear on what's to be done about it. Elected officials who participate in or offer their support to such action are to be expelled from office:

14thAmendment, Section 3

No Person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.”

Having been unsuccessful, they're now blathering about "unity" and want to sweep their treason under the rug. It doesn't work that way. There IS no unity and healing without accountability. For starters, Trump, Cruz, Hawley and others should be removed from office and stand trial for their crimes. After that, we can talk about unity. Not before.

As for Gosar and Biggs, if they're innocent, why were they seeking pardons? Where's the House Un-American Activities Committee when you need it?

The Former Presidents Act and Donald Trump

Before the Former Presidents Act was passed by Congress in 1958, America’s ex-presidents were largely on their own when they got out of office. George Washington enjoyed a lucrative career distilling whiskey at his Mount Vernon estate, William Howard Taft was appointed to the Supreme Court and Theodore Roosevelt turned to nonfiction writing, just to name a few.

But the sailing wasn’t always smooth for the nation’s most powerful politicians after they left the White House. Harry Truman was nearly broke after leaving office, living on his modest military pension from his service during World War I, partly as a result of his desire not to “commercialize” his former office by cashing in on the many job offers he was given. The Former Presidents Act was passed partly as a result of Truman’s financial struggles.”

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According to, there are certain perks a former president receives upon leaving office and there are also certain rules he or she must abide by. It seems counterintuitive to suppose that Donald Trump would willfully accept the limitations, in particular. It'll be interesting to see how he handles them going forward. I've highlighted a few seemingly relevant ones here and have attached the full piece if you're interested.

Rule: Allow Everyone To Read Your Old Communications

(Since 2014, this includes all electronic communications)

Donald Trump has shown a proclivity for tearing up his written communications.  Many hours have been spent by junior staff re-assembling and taping together those communications for posterity and intelligence reasons.

And one might reasonably suppose he's deleted a number (perhaps thousands) of emails, text messages and tweets. All such document destruction by a president of the United States is illegal.

Now, as far as I understand it, this only applied to him while he was in office. But it's noteworthy, not only because it's an example of his lawbreaking while president, but it also illustrates that he's the type of person who's apt to break laws (and certainly norms) going forward. (Like we didn't already know that.)

Rule: No Going Anywhere Alone

One can only imagine that Trump seldom goes anywhere alone anyway; surely he favors a sycophantic entourage forever in tow. But now that entourage will include the Secret Service.

Rule: Don’t Expect Special Legal Privileges

This one will be especially relevant, given the many legal problems Trump faces upon leaving office.

Rule: Stay Mum On Your Successors

Oh, come on! You can't seriously expect Trump to have anything critical to say about his successors. Especially not the Democratic ones. And super especially not the Democratic ones like Biden, whom he believes stole the election from him. That's just crazy talk . . .

The Lincoln Project's Steve Schmidt on Defeating Trumpist Candidates

There will be no unity with seditionists.”  -- Steve Schmidt of the Lincoln Project

Part of the strategy Schmidt outlines for defeating the anti-democratic forces unleashed by Donald Trump is to cripple them financially. But the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. FEC will allow unlimited money to continue to fund these candidates. Billionaires and various corporations who have an interest in putting these people in office and/or keeping them there will have no limits on the donations that will allow them to do just that. For this reason, the Citizens United decision must be overturned or a constitutional amendment enacted to accomplish the same result.

The Electoral Collegiality of Shields and Brooks

For almost twenty years, Mark Shields and David Brooks represented the best of American politics; thoughtful and intelligent, with a dash of humor and great gobs of decency. The 83-year old Shields announced his semi-retirement this week and therefore the end of the Shields and Brooks weekly pairing on the PBS News Hour. Every Friday they discussed the pressing issues of the day and I always found their segment to be perhaps the finest 15 minutes of my television week.

Sad to say, in this era of slash and burn politics they represented a dying breed. Liberal and conservative pundits respectively, they found a way to discuss the issues amicably even when they disagreed. Each was able to bring his own perspective to those issues and made the viewer a little bit smarter for listening.

For many, Shields was certainly not liberal enough nor Brooks sufficiently conservative. But that's a reflection of the fact that what they really represented was the enormous middle ground that most of America occupies and which the politicians increasingly ignore.

Fortunately, Brooks will remain to be paired with a new liberal foil. One can only hope that the conversation will continue to be as intelligent, bracing and congenial as ever. God knows we need it.

Bears On Their Usual "Nagyng Pace”

As David Haugh so eloquently put it on the Score Sports Radio 670's website, “The Bears out-Lionsed the Lions.” And how. They really suck.

All the stupid playoff talk that's been coming out of Halas Hall can now be mercifully put to rest. And it's just as well because even if the Bears were to somehow stumble their way into the postseason, it would only set up another inevitable nationally televised embarrassment. They would've gotten their lunch handed to them by a legitimate playoff team. I'd rather watch a more deserving squad, like whoever wins the NFC Least. And frankly, I'm not sure I like the Bears chances against any of those teams.

Yes, GM Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy need to be shown the door. But don't blame the McCaskeys this time. Everyone rightly applauded the Bears owners for each of those hires. They were the right moves at the time. Pace was a young, energetic executive who'd been part of a team that won a Super Bowl with Sean Payton and Drew Brees. Nagy was the offensive genius the Bears had never come close to hiring in their storied past.

And the old trope about the Bears being cheap doesn't fly anymore. Pace gets all the pub for signing Khalil Mack to the then-largest contract for a defensive player in NFL history. But it was the McCaskeys who footed the bill and should get the credit. Pace doesn't sniff a deal with Mack without the family checkbook.

In their first year together, it looked like Pace and Nagy were a surefire winner of a tandem. Nagy led the Bears to a 12-4 season and a playoff berth. He and Pace were named Coach and Executive of the Year respectively. We all thought the Bears were on their way. They'd finally ventured outside the box; they'd finally figured it out.

We'd only eventually find out that the initial success of the Pace/Nagy axis was an illusion. The Bears succeeded in 2018 despite Matt Nagy – not because of him. The alleged offensive genius underperformed. True, he had his fun gadget plays like “Santa's Sleigh,” “Willy Wonka,” Oompah “Loompah” and so forth, but their 23.8 points per game on offense that year was middle of the pack. It was their defense that made them a great team. The real Coach of the Year was defensive co-ordinator Vic Fangio.

All of Nagy's incessant talk of how “together” the team is, their “heart” and “accountability,” blahblahblah is as tiring as it is empty. The act has run its course. It's time for Nagy to become an offensive coordinator again. Given the right circumstances, he'll probably succeed at it. Maybe after some years of such success, he'll be ready to try his hand at being a head coach again. Maybe he'll have learned his lessons and figured it out by then. He has the “leader of men” thing down. Until the last couple of weeks, his team really did play hard for him. Hopefully he hasn't so tarnished his reputation in Chicago as to make him unable to lead men once again.

In a different town.

Liberal Things in Moderation

Don't Squander this Opportunity, Democrats

I've long considered myself a “moderate lefty.” In fact, I've been a big Joe Biden fan for at least twenty years and have long dubbed myself a “Joe Biden Democrat.”

But I happen to be in agreement with many liberal causes. For instance, I believe in a progressive income tax that requires the wealthy to “pay their fair share.” It irritates me that that phrase has become a liberal stereotype. In fact, what could be more understandable and obvious than the notion that those who have benefited most from the system should have to contribute to it a little more in order to maintain it?

I believe in raising the minimum wage – to $15/hr or whatever the economists agree upon. Greedy capitalists have long argued that higher wages lead to higher prices for consumers. What they conveniently overlook is that higher wages also mean more buying power for those consumers and a more robust economy. There's a reason that the post-WWII expanded middle class led to the greatest economy we've ever seen. (And by the way, that economy bore enormously higher taxes than we have today.)

I believe in racial justice. It pisses me off that seemingly every week another unarmed black man gets shot by a white police officer and that those officers almost always avoid prosecution. It also pisses me off that so many white people don't seem to understand why black people get so angry about it.

And how can the prospect of healthcare being taken away from millions during an uncontrolled pandemic even be a thing?

That's to name just a few “liberal” positions I hold, though “humane,” “compassionate” and “sensible” seem better descriptors if you ask me.

All that having been said, the points in this article have merit. Liberals should understand that they weren't the beneficiaries of a “blue wave” in this election. In fact, Joe Biden won the election precisely because he's a moderate lefty who could attract enough independents and disaffected Republicans to win it. Liberals would do well to put aside the sexy radical left policies so many of them crave and work for the realistic gains to be had in the President-Elect's more practical vision. In time, if the demographics work the way we think they will, more progressive legislation will come. In the meantime, with Biden we might have to settle for the proverbial “half a loaf.” But consider that a boon. If he'd had his way, Trump would have burned the bakery down.