Saturday, March 29, 2014

Saying goodbye - for now anyway!

Hi everyone!

First off, let me say what a pleasure it has been to write on this blog since it began 8 months ago. It has been an awesome journey; little did I realize, when I started it, that it would lead to so many awesome experiences and opportunities, including an incredible, surreal appearance on Larry King's TV show.

Second, I want to thank all the readers who have stayed with me and given me their feedback. I always love hearing comments and thoughts from the readers; I love to debate, so hearing other people either agree or disagree with what I've got to say is something I've always enjoyed and welcomed.

2014 has been a great year for me so far. I have recently received an offer to work for The Advocate as a contributing writer, and have decided to accept the job. Therefore, I have made the decision to take a leave of absence from the blog. I can only focus on so much, and writing daily for a blog is a big endeavor unless you do it in a mediocre way, which I don't want to do.

Thank you to everyone who has been reading this blog for the support, and please be sure to follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to keep up to date with what I'm doing!

All the best,

Duke.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Christie's delusions of grandeur

So much has been happening in the news lately; with Russia, the missing Malaysian plane, and everything else, it's almost too overwhelming. And so it's seems as if the entire Chris Christie debacle, or "Bridge-gate" as it has become known, has taken a back seat for the last few months. Christie, despite the fact that he is, without a doubt, fatally wounded in terms of his White House prospects, has been going around the country doing speeches and interviews as if the scandal is over with, as if things have gone completely back to normal.

Christie was asked by a recent interviewer if he thought he might have problems connecting with voters in rural, more conservative areas like Iowa that he needs to win the nomination. I mean, it was difficult for them to relate to the brash, very "New Jersey-style" Governor before. But a New Jersey Governor who's corrupt, just like a character out of The Sopranos? That makes him even harder to relate to! Christie's answer? "I think they love me in Iowa". Absolutely delusional.

On top of all this, a new "investigative report", commissioned by the Governor himself and written by an attorney he appointed (although paid for, in the sum of $1 million, by the taxpayers of New Jersey), has of course exonerated him completely from any wrongdoing whatsoever in the George Washington Bridge mess, as well as the Lieutenant Governor and other members of his administration. I won't try to examine in detail the flaws of the report, as there are far too many to do that, but let's just put it this way: it's a joke. Plain and simple. Not much of a need to elaborate beyond that.

My prediction? The entire administration is going down. It was announced today that David Samson, the Port Authority Chairman and close Christie crony who was implicated in the scandal, has resigned from office in order to remove himself from the limelight and try to avoid prosecution. He's just the first one, though; his resignation won't do anything to stop the bleeding. Next it'll be Lt. Governor Guadagno, although she'll probably be put in jail not because of the GWB scandal but because of a separate situation (which is nevertheless included in the Christie report) regarding the withholding of Hurricane Sandy relief funds, for political reasons, to the city of Hoboken. That scandal is just another example of how corrupt and comfortable in it's abuse of power this administration really is.

But after that, it'll be Christie. Not only is there no chance in hell of him even being able to run for President, and not only is he going to resign, but I predict that he will soon be indicted with corruption charges and will be put in jail. A bold prediction, I know, but you heard it first here. Chris Christie will go down in history as one of the biggest falls from grace in the history of American politics. The dark shadow enveloping his Governorship just keeps getting larger and larger. 

The Obama comeback

Headwinds change very quickly, particularly when it comes to American politics. Up until late last year, the press was selling the narrative that Obama was set to make some real progress on his agenda, and that the Democrats had a real chance of winning back the U.S. House of Representatives in November 2014.

After the media-driven "debacle" over  the Obamacare delays, however, that all changed. That story, mixed with the controversy over Russia and other issues, has created a new impression that Obama is a helpless lame duck, and that the House and Senate Democrats are powerless to help him. Even I admittedly had doubts about whether Obama could get back on his feet, not because of any fault of his own but because of the repeated punches he's been getting from the Tea Party freaks in Congress.

It looks like that's all about to change, however. Literally, within the last few days, it feels like Obama is finding his strength, his "mojo" again. Now whether or not he'll be able to change the situation with a gridlocked Congress, I don't know. That's beyond his control. But it seems like he's at least feeling confident and brave again, ready to stand up, take decisive steps to create change, and champion the accomplishments that he has already made during his 5 years in the White House.

The first area in which this new momentum became clear was the situation with Russia. There were a lot of questions as to whether or not the U.S. or anyone else, for that matter, would be able to stop Russia from essentially doing whatever they wanted to do. Putin was acting arrogant, and it seemed like there were no truly effective steps we could take to stop him. But for the first time, a real, substantive, and crucial action was taken: Russia was thrown out of the G8, relegated back to it's old status as a "Second World country".

The second victory for the President was on the very same issue that seemed to be his downfall late last year: Obamacare. 6 million Americans, the White House has announced, have signed up for healthcare coverage in advance of the program's deadline on March 31st, a feat that, as David Nathers of the Politico wrote earlier today, "seemed impossible in the worst days of the websites failures". Yes, there may have been problems with the rollout, and therefore it may not be what the White House expected or wanted it to be when the bill was proposed, but it's a pretty significant comeback compared to where the political battleground seemed to be just recently.

It may be just the beginning, but I really feel like things are beginning to change for Obama. It seems like the second year of most Presidential second terms tend to get stuck in the mud; Reagan had Iran-Contra to deal with in 1986, and Clinton had the Monica Lewinsky scandal in 1998. But they both came back, and I predict that Obama will too. It may be a bit early to say it, but it looks like he may very well be "The Comeback Kid". 

It's clean up time!

Hi everybody!

After more than 200 days worth of daily posts, I'm sure you can imagine that things were getting a little cluttered on the website, so I decided to go back and start fresh! I've deleted all of the posts I've made except for the main articles that I've written. There's no reason for me to keep a short post I wrote on the blog that linked to some other website's article about the budget shutdown, for example, now that the shutdown is an old story. But the main "op-ed's" I wrote are still on here for you to refer back to, if you ever so wish to do so!

All the best guys, and thanks for all the support so far!!

-Duke.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Predicting the 2014 midterm elections

The general consensus in the media for a long time now has been that the GOP would retain it's control of the House of Representatives in this year's midterm elections. Although I believed, and still believe, that the House Democrats have a chance at taking back the majority, it seems that the prevailing narrative is that this November will not be a good month for them.

A new sense of momentum seems to be building for the Senate Republicans as well. Although, up until recently, it seemed impossible that the GOP would be able to win the 6 seats that it needs to take over the Senate, pundits seem to be pushing the notion that, although by no means a sure bet, the Republicans have at least a decent chance (60%, according to Nate Silver) of gaining the majority.

First of all, as much as I like Nate Silver, I don't see what the big deal is over him. I know this is kind of off topic, but I do have to say it: so what if he predicted every state correctly in the 2012 election for President? I predicted every single state correctly A MONTH before the election, as well as the correct popular vote margin and even the correct time when the race would be called for Obama.

Silver has predicted that the states of Arkansas and Louisiana are going to throw out their Democratic Senators and elect Republicans. I don't believe that's true. I think they will both be close races, but I think both Democrats will prevail in the end. Landrieu definitely won't lose in Louisiana; Pryor in Arkansas is vulnerable, but I think he'll hold on, barely.

Other than that, I think all the incumbent Democrats are safe. The races in North Carolina, Alaska, Colorado and Iowa will not be close. The only remotely competitive race that I think the Democrats will lose is in West Virginia, where Shelley Moore Capito has a sizable lead over her opponent, Natalie Tennant. In fact, I think the Democrats are going to GAIN a seat; I strongly believe that Mitch McConnell, the current Senate Minority Leader, will be defeated in his bid for re-election by his opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes. I mean, after running strange, awkward ads like this, how could he possibly win?

My prediction? The Senate will stay exactly as it is. The Republicans will make a gain by taking over Jay Rockefeller's West Virginia Senate seat, but that will be negated by McConnell's defeat in Kentucky. Despite all the drama and suspense that the press is trying to drum up, I predict that the Senate elections this year will not be dramatic at all. And I don't think the House elections are going to be all that great for the GOP either. The media always wants to concoct a juicy story, and that's really all that this is. It's true that midterm elections in Congress are normally not good for the same party that controls the White House, but while it may not be a "fantastic" election for Democrats this year, it certainly won't be a bad one. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Meeting Liza Minnelli



Most of you probably know this already, but for those who don't, my grandfather was an actor named James Mason. He started out doing films in the UK (he was the top box office star in Great Britain in the mid-to-late 1940's) and came over to America in 1947 with his wife (my grandmother) Pamela. He was a leading man in some of the most iconic American films of the 1950's and 60's, including "North By Northwest", "Lolita", "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea", "Journey To The Center Of The Earth", "Julius Caesar", and "A Star Is Born".

"A Star Is Born" is considered by many to be one of the greatest films of all time. It holds a very special place in my heart, not just because of how successful it was and how enduring it's legacy has been, but because of the very personal connection between my grandfather and his co-star in the film, Judy Garland, one of the greatest actresses and singers in the history of theater and cinema. My grandfather was very close to Judy, and was in fact asked by Lorna and Liza, Judy's daughters, to deliver her eulogy at her funeral in London in 1969.

The Mason and Garland clans reunited in 1983 to celebrate a new restored version of "A Star Is Born" with a screening at Radio City Music Hall; my grandfather, as well as his children, Morgan (my father) and Portland (my aunt) were present, along with Lorna and Liza. It was a magical moment, but sadly my grandfather would pass away a year later in 1984. Our families would not connect again until 2012, almost 30 years later, when I had the incredible opportunity, courtesy of my dear friends Rene and Shane, to meet Lorna Luft after a show of hers in Palm Springs. 

She was as sweet as could be, and even dedicated a song, "The Man That Got Away" (from "A Star Is Born") to me during her concert. It meant so much to me, considering that I never met my grandfather. It was like coming full circle for me, and I had the honor of spending the evening with her after her show finished and getting to talk to her about old memories, as well as plans for a special 60th anniversary screening of the film that we could put together (which is now well on it's way to happening).

A couple weeks ago, I heard that Liza Minnelli was planning on performing in Palm Springs as part of her new tour; I had seen her perform at the Hollywood Bowl back in 2012, but decided not to try to connect with her considering how busy she'd probably be. L.A. shows are always crazy, but I thought maybe this time it could work since Rancho Mirage was a bit less hectic. I got in touch with her publicist, who kindly got back to me very quickly and put my partner Shawn and I on the backstage list for her show. 

We ended up having the best time on Saturday night! We got to see the show, which was fantastic (Liza is still, after all these years, one of the best entertainers around), and went to meet her afterwards. She was as kind and warm as could be, and took pictures with both of us that I have posted above. It was pretty emotionally intense for me to finally be meeting her, knowing how close she was to my grandfather and to my father as well over the years. I also got to see Lorna (whom we had lunch with the next day) after the show, and Lucie Arnaz, an old childhood friend of my Dad's, was there as well, which really made it feel like a family affair!

Shawn and I are going to see Liza again tomorrow night at the Walt Disney Hall here in L.A. which should be really fun! I'm a huge fan and admirer of hers, and I'm sure seeing her perform at such an amazing venue will be an awesome experience. Stay tuned for news on the 60th anniversary screening, by the way; will have more info on that soon!!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Women in music: Kylie, Madonna, my Mom and others...

The state of the music industry today is something that I've written about a bit on this blog in the past.  I've talked about Miley Cyrus and how she serves as a perfect example of how music has lost a lot of it's artistry and integrity in the last decade or so; Miley is talented, but that talent is masked and overshadowed by all the overproduced, auto tune garbage and superficial, record-company created disposable waste that controls the business now. It's all manufactured. There are very few real young artists, minus a few exceptions perhaps (Adele, for example, plus Lady Gaga who, despite all the outfits and stuff, really has the talent to back it up).

It's a different time than when my Mom, for example, came of age as a musician, when there wasn't such a thing as backup dancers (perhaps in musicals, but not in rock or pop) and fireworks in concerts. All a singer had was their own voice, and that's why I have so much respect for my Mom. She may not be the most successful singer of all time, but she's pretty damn successful, and she's kept her integrity despite that. She's never "sexed" it up as many artists, such as Madonna and Kylie Minogue, did and continue to do, even though it might have helped advance her career even further.

That brings me to what I wanted to discuss in this article today. I know that there are a lot of Kylie and Madonna fans out there that will probably be angry at me for saying of all this, but it's the way I feel, and I never hesitate to express my true feelings when I feel something really needs to be said. I recently saw the video for Kylie's new song "Sexercise" and... well, does anything beyond that need to be said? You don't need to even watch the video; the fact that a 45 year old woman, who has already had enormous success as a singer and sex symbol would feel the need to validate herself and use that title for her new single in order to sell records is a sad testament to what a mess music is today.

It's just not classy. And it has nothing to do with her being male vs. male; I think it would be equally as desperate for a man to use that title for one of his songs at the age of 45. I've said to many different people that I think Enrique Iglesias, after all the success he's had, feeling the need to call one of his latest singles "Tonight I'm F*****g You" in order to compete and stay relevant is pathetic, and just goes to show how far down the toilet we have gone. Can you imagine what Frank Sinatra would think about the state of music today if he knew about this? We've gone from "Fly Me To The Moon" to "Tonight I'm F*****g You"? It would be hilarious if it weren't so disturbing in terms of what it says about our society and the world we live in.

I'm focusing on women in this article only because of my experience and proximity with my Mom. And I do think that this problem has been particularly prevalent with women in music, perhaps because women are expected to live up to higher standards of sexual attractiveness and beauty. I think  a lot of it has to do with sexism; look at Larry Rudolph, for example, the manager who happens to represent both Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus. I don't think it's a coincidence that both singers have cow towed to the lowest common denominator in their music. I don't want to say anything too inflammatory about Larry, but lets just put it this way: I think his clients reflect the kind of man that he is, and not in a good way.

Madonna is another perfect example of this. I've had assholes tell me that I don't like Madonna because she's been more successful than my Mom, but that's not true. I actually love Madonna, at least the Madonna that existed from the early 1980's, when she started, until the early to mid 1990's. In fact I would say that she was fantastic until 2002, with "Die Another Day" which I would say was her last great song. After that, it all went straight down the tubes, and her latest album, at the age of 55, which includes songs with titles such as "Girl Gone Wild" and "Gang Bang" demonstrates that perfectly.

Like I said, my Mom may not be the best selling artist on earth. But what would you rather be? Someone who has class, elegance, style and integrity, and nevertheless has a solid career in their pocket with new albums that are still charting and doing well around the world, or someone who is "still trendy" and trying to sell albums to 18 year olds, but is making a complete fool and embarrassment of themselves in the process? Long term, I have no doubt that my Mom's legacy will be in far better shape and more in tact than any of the others.