Uncategorized

Oh say, did you see that Anthem performance?

Had it been a fight, Fergie’s performance of the National Anthem at Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game would have been stopped by “the dawn’s early light.”

Twitter was not kind.

It seems foolish to get too exercised over this latest Anthem insult. After all, the song itself is, at the least, controversial.

The lyrics to The Star-Spangled Banner were written by Francis Scott Key, a slaveowner. He was celebrating the failure of the British to conquer Baltimore in the War of 1812.

And

The words were set To Anacreon in Heaven, an awkward tune appropriate for inebriation, which is how it was usually sung.

Though I’ve always thought it silly to perform it before every sporting event, I remain an Anthem fan. It’s how I was raised. There’s nothing wrong with putting your own spin on the song, if your talent and your heart are in the right places.

Any list of great Anthem performances must include the lengthy but incredibly soulful version by Marvin Gaye at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game.

Fifteen years earlier, Jose’ Feliciano was a little too soulful for the time. His expressive performance at the 1968 World Series resulted in death threats and calls for the Puerto Rican-American singer to be “deported.”

My favorite Anthem performance took place in Portland on April 25, 2003, prior to a NBA Playoff game between the hometown Trailblazers and the Dallas Mavericks.

The scheduled singer that night was 13-year-old Natalie Gilbert who, in true, “the show must go on” fashion, decided to take the mic despite having spent the day in bed with the flu.

In retrospect, that was a mistake. Yet, something wonderful happened.

That Anthem performance shows how things ought to be in America. When we see someone struggling, we should accept the risk that we could look silly and we lend a hand.

It doesn’t matter that Trailblazers coach Mo Cheeks couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. He saw a young girl who needed help and stepped in.

That clip gets me, every time. And I’ve watched it a lot.

That’s leadership.

Sadly, Mo Cheeks wasn’t nearby when a man who pontificates about patriotism drew a blank on the words to the anthem of the country he’s supposed to be leading.

At least Fergie knows the words.

When performed with sincerity, the Anthem can be quite moving.

When things go awry, the Anthem can either give us a window into the heart of those who talk a good game about patriotism but don’t feel it, or it can show us something great about America.

Thank you, Mo Cheeks.

Happy President’s Day.

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McBarronBlog Bonus

One of the most “unorthodox”performances of the Anthem took place at the 1969 Woodstock Festival. Former US Airman Jimi Hendrix said he just wanted to share something “beautiful.”

It might be hard to believe, but the Anthem was not always played before every sporting event

In his stand-up days, Albert Brooks ruminated about the possible rewriting of the National Anthem

Uncategorized

Resolve to ignore fake news in 2018

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It wasn’t merely that the news itself was bad in 2017 though, mostly, it was.

But it was also a bad year for the news media. Here in Illinois, citizens, once again and in increasing quantities, were fed a daily ration of BS by the “Illinois Policy Institute,” an organization dedicated to the eradication of unions, the privatization of public education and to the enrichment of the state’s wealthiest people at the expense of those on lower rungs of the economic ladder.

This organization (its leaders prefer IPI be called “The Institute” – we won’t be doing that) officially refuses to divulge who funds it, though we’re certain the Koch Brothers are involved and we know an early funder was a guy who made a fortune off the teacher pensions he wants to eliminate.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner has donated more than $500,000 to the Illinois Policy Institute over the last five years. The institute, which bills itself as a free-market, liberty-based organization, promotes a range of policies and has writers in an offshoot called the Illinois News Network, which provides stories free of charge to newspapers.

After the legislature approved a new state budget for the first time in more than two years, former state legislator James Nowlan analyzed the work of IPI’s “analysts” and their “conclusion-driven” reports.

By that, I mean the IPI first establishes its ideological conclusion, to wit: Illinois could have enacted its recent budget without a tax increase. Then, the so-called analysts go out in search of narrative to buck up the conclusion.

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The IPI “budget solution” is not to save or cut huge amounts but simply to shift, massively, state responsibilities onto the backs of its local governments. Their proposal would, for example, shift at least $2.5 billion in teacher and professor pension responsibilities off the state ledger books and onto local school districts and universities.

The IPI tools for BS distribution include social media and spokespeople claiming to be experts. Their pronouncements are, too often, presented to the public as “news” by people who, as journalists, should protect their consumers from unfettered nonsense.
For example, the Editorial Page of the Chicago Tribune regularly features editorials from IPI sources. Similarly, the TV show Chicago Tonight allows IPI spokespeople, long on ideology but short on credentials, to appear as “experts” on taxation, economics and government.
More recently, the IPI has spread its tentacles into broadcasting by purchasing the Illinois Radio Network. As is the IPI M-O, “news stories” are offered at no charge to radio stations statewide.
Among the stations now airing IPI propaganda is one of Springfield’s top news and information outlets, WMAY Radio. (full disclosure: I was a WMAY news reporter from 1982-85)
In an interview with columnist Bernie Schoenberg, WMAY general manager Harvey Wells defended the IRN association, apparently believing an organization that exists solely to advocate for its anti-tax, anti-union agenda, purchased an unprofitable statewide radio network in order to deliver fair, balanced, journalistically sound information.
He said it was made clear to the station the policy institute and INN/IRN are separate entities. He also said the station isn’t using some weekly programming from IRN — just news that can be chosen, story by story, by the station.
There certainly is a financial advantage to the arrangement. “Nothing” is always a good price and that is what WMAY and other IRN stations are paying to air, as news, IPI propaganda. It allows the station to sound “bigger” at no cost.
The price paid for the acceptance of free “news” is that true journalists can suddenly seem prohibitively, or at least unnecessarily, expensive.
Why buy news when you can get “news” for free?
In 1987, 44 journalists representing 27 news organizations were Illinois Statehouse reporters. In the most recent edition of the state government “Blue Book,” 14 journalists representing 13 independent news organization are listed as members of the Illinois Legislative Correspondents Association.
Not every news operation airing IPI propaganda is in cahoots with the dark money group.
For example, despite the IPI BS regularly printed on the Tribune editorial/opinion page, the paper continues to publish journalists delivering accurate and fair reports.
At the Tribune, there exists a metaphorical “wall” between the newsroom and the editorial board room. It is safe to assume that much that appears in the Tribune’s news section irritates the folks in the board room. That’s how it’s supposed to work.
WMAY continues to employ independent and outspoken hosts who “call them as they see them,” but to claim a wall exists between the IPI and its in-house news operations would be laughable if it wasn’t so dangerous to the public good.
So, in in the interests of keeping journalism alive, the following resolution for 2018 is offered:
Whereas, a misinformed public cannot be expected to make decisions protecting  democracy and our Constitution,
Whereas, the Koch Brothers, Bruce Rauner and the Illinois Policy Institute have made the eradication of public employee unions, the privatization of public education, the reduction or elimination of services for the poor, sick , elderly and children their primary goals, 
Be it resolved that I, as a news consumer in 2018, will strive to remember that  reports from the Illinois Radio Network and the Illinois News Network are propaganda intended to further the agenda of the Illinois Policy Institute, Gov. Rauner and the Koch Brothers,
Be it further resolved that, when I receive BS, via newspaper or broadcast, I will contact the newspaper or station and let then know that I expect journalism from  the news and, if I don’t get it, I will will stop supporting advertisers who support attacks on our democracy,
Be it also resolved that, as a free and independent news media is crucial in a democracy, in 2018 I will support journalism by purchasing subscriptions and supporting the advertisers of stations, papers and e-publications that continue to deliver high quality, fair and accurate journalism.
If we pay attention, the truth, the facts, will prevail.
Happy NEWS year!
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McBarronBlog Bonus

pop culture

The Skipper, Mary Ann and Del Shannon

In the summer of 1989, my brother John and I went on a road trip to watch the Cubs. But the most memorable moments had nothing to do with baseball..

The Cubs package tour took us to the West Coast in July, 1989. We saw games in San Diego and Los Angeles with a group of senior citizens but the best part of the trip occurred as we prepared to fly home to Chicago.

In the LAX waiting area, we saw Alan Hale Jr., aka “The Skipper” from Gilligan’s Island. We knew it was him because he was wearing his trademark captain’s hat and carrying a small suitcase on which “Alan Hale Jr.” was written in large letters. He and his former Gilligan’s Island co-star Dawn Wells (aka “Mary Ann”) were flying to Chicago for a “three hour cruise” radio station promotion.

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I will go to my grave with some regrets, and while failing to ask The Skipper to hit me with his hat is not in the top 100, it’s on the list.

After that initial excitement, I was casually reading the newspaper when my brother nudged me and remarked, “Hey, that guy looks like Del Shannon.”

Having seen Shannon perform recently in an oldies show, I immediately realized THAT REALLY IS DEL SHANNON!

This was a big deal, as we’d been fans of the singer-songwriter since became famous in the early 1960s with hits like Runaway, Keep Searchin and Handy Man.

Being fans, we rushed at him, which seemed to freak him out. After all, it had been decades since Del Shannon was a hit-making pop star.

He relaxed a little when I showed him my cassette of his most recent album.

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Shannon, who was also flying to Chicago, briefly chatted with us. I recall asking about a rumor he might replace the recently deceased Roy Orbison in the Traveling Wilburys. He said no one had talked to him about it, but it seemed as though he’d like to be asked.

After a few minutes we wished him well and assumed our Del Shannon story was over.

But…

I had forgotten to ask for an autograph. In the air, I summoned up the nerve and the most amazing thing happened: Del asked if I wanted to hear what he was working on!

He handed me a cassette and I rushed back to the seat so John and I could listen.

On the tape were tracks from the album he was recording with producer Jeff Lynne (ELO, Tom Petty, Traveling Wilburys). Some tracks were finished and fully produced while others were works in progress. These had only guitar and voice. Other instruments would later be added.

We thought the finished tracks somewhat over-produced. But the unfinished tracks, with Del’s still-amazing voice as the sole focus, were thrilling.

When we returned the tape, we told him we loved the unproduced tracks and suggested  he release them as they were.

This was before it became a thing for singers to issue stripped-down “unplugged” recordings and Del was incredulous. “There are no drums,” he said.

“Your voice is what people want to hear,” we insisted.

After his initial success in the early 60s, Del found hits hard to come by. Though he only had one top 40 in the last decade of his life (Sea of Love hit #33 in 1981) he never stopped performing. He was always appreciated by his contemporaries and rockers who care about musical roots.

He influenced people like Tom Petty,  who name-checks Del on Runnin’ Down a Dream and who produced Drop Down and Get Me, the last Shannon album released in Del’s lifetime.

Del thanked us for the feedback, but clearly didn’t agree. He wanted hits and believed Lynne, the hottest producer in pop music, was his ticket back to prominence.

It was not to be.

On February 8, 1990, Del Shannon, who’d been fighting depression and other issues for decades, took his life.

Lynne finished the album and Rock On was released in 1991. Despite decent reviews, it was not a big hit.

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Del Shannon was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. He’s cited as a link between Elvis and the Beatles.

It’s not always wise to meet your idols, but we were thrilled for the chance to tell Del Shannon, born December 30, 1934, how much he meant to us and how much we loved his music.

Happy birthday, Del. Rock On!

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Uncategorized

Doubling down on the $2 bill

Nicknames for popular paper currency are often based on the person whose face appears on the front: A $10 bill is a “Hamilton,” the $100 bill is a “Franklin” or a “Benjamin.”
Unless you spend a lot of time at the $2 betting window at a race track you probably don’t know who’s on the $2 bill, a denomination accounting for just 3 percent of currency in circulation.
In March 1862, the first $2 bill was issued as a Legal Tender Note (United States Note) with a portrait of Alexander Hamilton; the portrait of Hamilton used was a profile view and is not the same portrait used currently for the $10 bill.
By 1869, the $2 United States Note was redesigned with the now familiar portrait of Thomas Jefferson. 
Let’s agree the $2 bill, aka the “Tom,” is quite attractive.

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Lovely, yet rare. The $2 bill is a victim of it’s specialness. 

Everyone who deals with American money—even people who dedicate very little thought to the matter—knows that $2 bills are something worth commenting on. They’re something worth commenting on because they aren’t seen very much. They aren’t seen very much because they aren’t printed very often. They aren’t printed very often because people are disinclined to use them. People are disinclined to use them because they are thought to be special—or sometimes even fake—because of how rare they are. 

Hoarding the bills is a problem, but the biggest barrier acceptance is that cash registers aren’t designed to receive/store $2 bills. The Tom will fade away unless we resolve to obtain and spend them.

I am joining the ranks of “Tom ambassadors,” a group of brave Americans trying to bring the $2 bill back into common use by…using it.

The movement has many enemies. TIME last year printed an anti-Tom op-ed. Also, there are active Tom hoarders participating in an insane savings system.

It will take time to resurrect the Tom. The $2 bill’s reputation reached an all-time low in 1966, when the Treasury decided to halt printing of the bills despite the fact they are a proven money saver:

Today, for example, it costs about 5 cents to make a dollar … and it costs the same amount to make a 2. Since the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing presses upwards of 4 billion $1 bills a year, that adds up to a lot of … coin.

The Tom made a comeback ten years later as part of the 1976 Bicentennial celebration. Unfortunately, they were so attractive and “special,” people kept them instead of spending them. They continue to be printed, but not often spent.

While America will be a better country if people acquire and spend $2 bills, let’s be clear: If you are paying a premium for $2 bills, you’re doing it wrong.

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You can get tons of Toms, AT FACE VALUE, at your bank. Just walk in an ask if they have any $2 bills, then buy them. If they don’t have any, ask them to order some for you.

If you need incentive, the producer of The $2 Bill Documentary has found Toms get a reaction, 

“If you start tipping waiters and waitresses and valets, they’re going to remember who you are and the next time you come in if you keep doing it, you’re going to get better service. This has been proven to me several times when I use them. It’s a way to get remembered, it’s a way to stand out.”

The key to success is to spend Toms. We can do this!

I thank you. Tom thanks you two too.

McBarronBlog Bonus:

A truly amazing $2 bill story

Trailer: The $2 Bill Documentary

Two Buckaroo – a blog focused on the Tom

Uncategorized

Holiday Inn reservations

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Every Christmas season I make it a point to revisit certain movies and TV shows I consider essential parts of the Christmas experience: A Christmas Carol (Alastair Sim version), Elf, Christmas With the Letterman’s and a few others.

But, none of these gives me more enjoyment than the 1942 classic, Holiday Inn, which I first saw as a boy.

The plot of Holiday Inn was merely an excuse on which to hang 14 Berlin songs. Crosby, Astaire, and Virginia Dale are a musical act, which breaks up when Crosby decides to retire to a farm. But Crosby quickly grows bored and decides to turn his farm into an inn and nightclub, which will be open only on national holidays. He then teams with a new partner, played by Marjorie Reynolds. Suddenly, Astaire, jilted by Dale, pays a visit, and the two men’s musical and romantic rivalry starts up again.

Why do I love Holiday Inn? It has Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire at their singing and dancing best, along with songs by Irving Berlin. Each song is related to an American holiday including Happy HolidaysEaster Parade and, most importantly, White Christmas.

As holiday entertainment it’s nearly perfect.

Nearly…

There is this one song about Abraham Lincoln’s birthday…

That’s why we celebrate
This blessed February date
Abraham, Abraham

When black folks lived in slavery
Who was it set the darkie free?
Abraham, Abraham

If the lyrics weren’t bad enough (and they are), Abraham is performed by Crosby and co-star Marjorie Reynolds in blackface.

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Whites in blackface was a tradition of “Minstrel Shows,” a popular form of 19th century entertainment still considered acceptable as nostalgia well into the 20th century.

There is plenty available online about the history of minstrelsy. I’ve read a lot on the subject and thought about it. Despite that, I just can’t answer, “Why?”

Why blackface?

I don’t get it. I don’t get why blackface was, a not-so-long time ago, so popular.

It boggles the mind.

One can only agree with this assessment:

In short, early minstrel music and dance was not true black culture; it was a white reaction to it.[117] This was the first large-scale appropriation and commercial exploitation of black culture by American whites.[118]

By the mid-1950s, blackface was no longer considered acceptable by mainstream American audiences (though it remained a staple of British TV into the 1970s), but Irving Berlin was more popular than ever. So, Hollywood decided to remake Holiday Inn in 1954, in color and without blackface. The result was the much more famous and popular White Christmas, starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye.

While I realize White Christmas is many people’s favorite vehicle for the Berlin songs, I think the story is inferior and I know Danny Kaye is no Fred Astaire.

What to do?

You can see White Christmas on the big screen, at noon on Saturday, December 16, at the Catlow Theater in Barrington.

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Or,

If you want to stick with the original version, use the fast forward button on your DVR or DVD player to skip over Abraham. Should you decide to watch the entire film with the family, use the opportunity (during or after) to discuss why this scene is in the film and why it is racist and demeaning to African Americans. Here’s a thought-provoking essay on blackfaceAnd another.

Should Holiday Inn, as a whole, be trashed? I don’t think so.

Abraham is an embarrassment, but Holiday Inn is an excellent 1940s musical with great songs and terrific work from Astaire. Skipping Abraham will not diminish your enjoyment of this film. It certainly hasn’t diminished mine.

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McBarronBlog Bonus

  • Spike Lee’s angry satire Bamboozled makes an irrefutable case that the repeated use of racist/demeaning images, especially blackface, corrupts public attitudes toward minorities. The film was was underrated when it was released. Look for it.
Uncategorized

It’s Sammy Davis Jr.’s birthday – give yourself a present

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On this date in 1925, the greatest entertainer ever produced in the United States was born.

If you’re not a Sammy Davis Jr. fan, or aren’t at least open-minded about popular music of the mid-20th century, stop reading now.

Parts of Sammy Davis Jr.’s, story are well known; how he was born in Harlem and was dancing on stage with his father in the Will Mastin Trio by the time most kids are learning to walk. At age 7, he starred in a Vitaphone Short.

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Rufus Jones for President (1933)

In ensuing years, Davis and the Trio went through personal and show business ups and downs. Davis eventually went solo and, beginning in the 1950s, attained nightclub, TV, Broadway, and movie stardom. He also became a member of the famed “Rat Pack.

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Though his talent was never doubted, Davis was very “show biz.”  As a result, he wasn’t always taken seriously as an artist and occasionally was the subject of parody.

If the Neru jacket-wearing, finger-snapping, jazz hipster-talking guy who punctuates every sentence with “man” is the image that comes to mind when the name Sammy Davis Jr. is spoken, you haven’t heard Sammy Davis Jr. sings, Laurindo Almeida plays.

This long-forgotten album from 1966 is simply Davis accompanied by a single acoustic guitar, played by Brazilian jazz guitarist Almeida.  Everything about it is amazing.

Though famous for his dynamic “I’ve gotta be me” performing style, on this album Davis couldn’t be more relaxed and the recording could not be more intimate. Davis takes his time on well-known standards and, truly, makes them his own, including some famously recorded previously by his friend Frank Sinatra.

Since I first learned of this album’s existence more than a decade ago, I’ve been on a quest to find a perfect copy on vinyl.

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I’m still searching, but there is a terrific remastered CD that you can look for.

The bad news is, it’s out of print and pricey. The good news is, it’s worth it.

If you don’t believe me, listen.

Celebrate Sammy Davis’ birthday by giving yourself the gift of hearing a great, underrated singer at his absolute best.

McBarronBlog Bonus:

Wikipedia: Sammy Davis Jr.  

2006 NPR review of the remastered CD: A Song-and-Dance Man, Reconsidered 

Vitaphone Short – Rufus Jones for President (1933)

Davis loved to take chances. Here he performs a medley of songs from West Side Story accompanied only by bongos.

In one of this last TV appearances, on Late Night with David LettermanI Can’t Get Started.

Uncategorized

Al Franken decade ends ironically

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Minnesota Senator Al Franken is toast.

When good liberals like Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, who aren’t facing an election next year, call for you to go, its because they know you’re already planning to leave.

Viewed from a distance, Franken’s impending resignation could be considered darkly, ironically humorous.

Franken is about to be cast out of “The worlds greatest deliberative body” at the same time the US Senate appears about to welcome a man who probably is a child molester and who you definitely would not want to “watch” your daughter while you run into the courthouse.

Hey, I said it was dark.

Leigh Corfman, now 53, said she met Moore outside an Alabama courthouse in 1979. She was with her mother, Nancy Wells, who was attending a child custody hearing. Moore offered to watch Corfman while her mother went inside. The two chatted, and Moore asked if he could call her sometime. Corfman gave him her phone number, she says, and the two made plans to meet. Moore picked her up around the corner from her house and drove her to his home:

Roy Moore, a man accused of having a sexual encounter with a 14 year old girl, and accused of other predatory acts against older teenagers and young women, is poised to be elected to the US Senate from Alabama. This is the same man who, TWICE, was removed from the bench in his home state for his failure to uphold the US Constitution.

For the unanimous members of the Alabama Court of Judiciary that ousted him from the bench — twice — it was not Moore’s substantive views but his sheer lack of integrity and impartiality. In a 50-page final judgment against him last year, phrases like “grossly inconsistent with his duties” and “incomplete, misleading and manipulative” leap out.

Yet, despite what his home state jurists think of him, Alabama voters are likely to make Roy Moore a Senator while Al Franken, for the foreseeable future, will be a pariah.

Franken is far from blameless. While working as a comedian in 2006, Franken posed for a photo that came to light at the very moment when the country’s consciousness was being awakened about the way men have mistreated women in workplaces from the time women were allowed in workplaces.

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Juvenile. Idiotic. Embarrassing. Damaging beyond repair.

Another irony is that Franken has a laudable record as an outspoken advocate for women’s rights and likely sees the attention being paid to the issue of sexual harassment as a good thing for women and for the country. Which it no doubt is.

Whether you think it’s fair or not that Franken receives the political death penalty, it’s clear his continued presence in the Senate, at a time when new charges, all of them far less serious than those made against Moore, are being made against him, makes the Democrats look hypocritical if they tolerate Franken while opposing Moore.

If decency mattered in politics, Roy Moore would have folded his tent when he was unable to convincingly deny to Sean Hannity that he, as a man in his 30s, had a thing for young teenage girls.

If decency mattered, the country would be not be led by a man who was caught bragging about sexually assaulting young women and who remains accused of assault by at least a dozen women.

Franken could do do what Moore and Trump have done: refuse to listen to supporters who find the whole business unacceptably tawdry and just stick it out.

Bill Clinton left office with a 65 percent approval rating, about 28 points higher than the approval number for the current president. It seems time heals, if you have the stomach for it.

Al Franken was a good Senator who spoke up for people who couldn’t speak for themselves.

His unique combination of intelligence and humor made him a formidable opponent for the current administration which, with each passing day, behaves outrageously to the point it’s almost impossible to satirize. A world-class satirist could have been a perfect opponent for this White House.

Decades ago, Franken had a recurring bit on Saturday Night Live about the 1980s being the “Al Franken Decade.”

Ironically, not long ago, the decade we currently are in looked like it might become the Franken Decade for real. His unusual life story, his success as a Senator and his ability to use his show business past and his natural intelligence to communicate on a variety of issues seemed to make him a perfect politician for the era of Trump.

There were even people talking about Franken for President in 2020.

That’s not going to happen. Al Franken is about to exit the political stage. Will he have a third act?

More importantly, who is going to step up to articulate important issues and stop the erosion of democracy that Donald Trump seems intent on completing?