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Alan Grayson at the Hungry i

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By Jerry Waxman

At the Hungry I

“Comedy is a serious business. A serious business with only one purpose-to make you laugh” W.C.Fields

 

If you’re of a certain age you remember the Hungry i, the legendary San Francisco club where a whole slew of comedians and musicians got their start. Founded in 1950 the club operated through the mid sixties until the political scene, comedy and music started to change. Performers who either got their start or enhanced their careers include (although not limited to) Bill Cosby, Lenny Bruce The Kingston Trio, Mort Sahl, Glenn Yarborough, Tom Lehrer, The Limelighters, Vince Guaraldi, Godfrey Cambridge, Professor Irwin Corey, Dick Cavett, Woody Allen, Orson Bean, Shelley Berman and Barbra Streisand. Many of them recorded live albums there so the name became synonymous with comedy and folk music. John Phillips prior to founding the Mamas and the Papas led the house band. The room itself was just that; bare walls with a performance area.

It was supposed to be an Orange County Democratic Party social event with a hook. If you bought a raffle ticket for $25.00 you could win a dinner with the congressman. The place was a beer and wine bar near upscale Baldwin Park in Orlando. It was supposed to last an hour and a half from 5:30 PM to 7:00 PM. The back room of the place reminded me of the Hungry i. The place was packed with anticipation. I was there as a participant in the event and I had no intention of writing about it. I’ve written about Alan Grayson many times. It’s not that hard. He’s a newsmaker and he’s never boring; you also never know what to expect from him which makes him very interesting. He’s become Alan Grayson 3.0, the humorist.

A humorist is different from a comedian. Sure, he can match one-liners and punch lines with aplomb like a comedian yet, like a good storyteller, he sets up situations and keeps you interested until the final moment, reminiscent of O Henry or Mark Twain. He evokes images of Myron Cohen, Sam Levenson, Willie (I’m not Rappaport!) Howard and Lou (Sam, you made the pants too long!) Holtz (not the football coach). If he were to become a writer he would easily fit into the Mark Twain mold. He has developed that demeanor. I can’t remember exactly what he said but he riffed on the bestowment of his title “The most Effective Member of Congress” for close to fifteen minutes. The heavily partisan crowd applauded his remarks and booed rather loudly at the mentions of Rick Scott and Marco Rubio as if on cue; well, it really was on cue because he served as his own prompter. He took advantage of the situation and remarked “I can see the Fox News headlines tomorrow, Democrats boo Grayson.” I wish I had recorded the event I wasn’t prepared to record the proceedings or take notes so it is difficult to recreate his remarks accurately. His topics ranged from his legislative accomplishments to health care, Medicaid, Social Security, the paid sick time fiasco and the Republicans in congress being mathematically challenged. On a serious note he did reflect on his hand delivery to the White House of three million petitions telling the President to keep his hands off of Social Security and Medicare. It was effective because the White House doesn’t talk about it anymore. If he ever decided to give up the congress gig he could take his act on the road and “lay them in the aisles”.

Finally, the raffle winner, a young woman got her picture taken with him and he remarked kiddingly about his grass roots fundraising from small donors (and I’m paraphrasing) “You mean to tell me I can be bought for $25.00? What if you don’t want to have dinner with me? For $2500.00 I can arrange that.” Wild applause and laughter followed and after that his final quip was “For $5000.00 I’ll never speak to you again!”

Have Letterman’s people called yet?

The Time Is Now

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By Jerry Waxman

The Time is now, and not tomorrow, to find that we can cure our sorrows…….

The Time is Now©   by Jerry Waxman 1960

It’s the first line of a song I wrote 53 years ago on the death of Billie Holiday. I never finished the lyric. Perhaps someday I will.  What’s that got to do with the subject matter at hand? Very little, but it is the right title, and while we’re on the subject it has a lot to do with what’s going on in our country.  Billie Holiday’s untimely demise was the result of her lifestyle, true enough, but the establishment’s treatment of her had as much to do with her dying as it did with Trayvon Martin’s death, as well as the plight of Walmart and all minimum wage employees being considered interchangeable and throw away people.

Recently in Orange County Organize Now sponsored a petition drive to get paid sick time on the ballot, which was successfully quashed by unscrupulous maneuverings in County Commission chambers with a lot of help by the Chamber of Commerce. The State of Florida got into the act by passing a law preempting local government control of the issue and was signed by the governor, whose name makes me too nauseated to mention.  Item in last week’s news: Measles discovered in Orange Co visitor from UK.  What restaurants or tourist attractions did this person visit? Did your food server serve this person? Lots of questions; few answers. But wait! There is someone on the scene who wants to do something about it, and he wants to do it now.

Monday evening, July 29 at 6:00 PM Congressman Alan Grayson (D Fla. 9th Congressional District) held a packed town hall meeting at Barry University School of law, where the crowd was well over 200 people and not an empty seat in the room. The overall subject was workers rights. In his discussion of the minimum wage he wanted it raised to at least $10.50 an hour from its current $7.25 per hour. “I want America to be number one not just in military spending, not just number one in the number of people incarcerated, but number one in wages, number one in benefits and number one in a strong middle class” said Grayson, and he backed up his statements with facts and figures that show that businesses would not suffer, as well as the economy would actually improve. Citing a history of the minimum wage, Grayson proved that the age old argument of lost profits is bunk, pure bunk. He was backed up in his statements by Political economics professor Jeannette Wicks-Lim of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Dr. Wicks-Lim showed through graphs and charts the impact of the minimum wage dating back several decades. Here’s the video of his speech.

Grayson, in a humorous moment of self deprecation played up the story that Salon.com has named him the most effective member of Congress, citing that he has had more amendments passed (5 out of 20) than any other member on either side of the aisle. This is not the bombastic and outrageous Alan Grayson 1.0 of 2008. This new Alan Grayson 2.0 is almost statesmanlike in the way he talks and deals with people, and he has managed to find allies across the aisle who have helped him get his amendments passed. Nor does he just follow the party line; he is fiercely independent  He has written the White House of his intentions to vote against any bill which would cut Social Security and Medicare and under no circumstances would he support chained CPI. He also defied the White House in demanding to see the documents on the Trans Pacific Partnership, which the White House supports and wants to fast track. The public Alan Grayson is getting close to the real Alan Grayson which was not the case four years ago. Yes, he is wealthy and it is no crime. He took a phone business public and profited by it. Something his opponents advocate yet resent him for. His parents were teachers at a time when teachers were not well paid, so he knows the plight of the middle and lower classes and he has the fortitude to stand up for them.

Other themes that Grayson touched on were the Walmart firings of employees who stood up for their rights and paid vacation days. Two of the fired Walmart employees,  Lisa Lopez and Vanessa Ferreira both spoke on their actions and firings. Grayson also noted that among all of the industrialized countries of the world the US was dead last in vacation days.  Noting that countries like Germany who has one of the best economies in the world not only pays much higher wages than we do, but also gives almost a whole month of paid vacation days. Grayson also noted that, by law, big corporations in Germany must have at least two workers on their boards of directors.

During the question and answer period Grayson took and addressed questions on Florida’s failure to adopt the Affordable Care Act and the expansion of Medicaid. He also took questions relating to the County Commission paid sick leave fiasco, wage theft and his refusal to allow privatization of TSA security personnel at Orlando’s airport. here’s the  complete video of the Q & A. Considering the evolution of Alan Grayson from 2008 through now, I can’t wait for  Alan Grayson 3.0 to be introduced.

“You Have Been Granted A Rare Privilege”

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By Jerry Waxman

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“You don’t tug on Superman’s cape
You don’t spit into the wind
You don’t pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger
And you don’t mess around with HIM”

 

Secretary:  “The directors of the Thatcher Memorial Library have asked me again to remind you Mr. Thompson,”

Reporter:  “Yes, but……”

Secretary:  “of the conditions under which you may inspect certain portions of Mr. Thatcher’s unabridged memoirs.”

Reporter:  “I know, but…….”

Secretary:  (into phone) “I’ll bring him right in. Under no circumstances are direct quotations from his manuscript to be used by you.”

Reporter:  “I’m just looking for one…….”

Secretary:  Mr. Thompson, you will be required to leave this room at 12:30 promptly. You will confine yourself, it is our understanding, to the chapters in Mr. Thatcher’s manuscript regarding Mr. Kane.

This little scene from Citizen Kane, largely overlooked, is a frightening reminder of the power that certain people have to restrict information from being put out to the general population. Information that can be vitally important yet reveal secrets that can be embarrassing.

On Saturday, May 18 Floridians Against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, along with Central Florida AFL-CIO and the Communication Workers of America held a forum to discuss the negative impact that the TPP would have across the region as well as the rest of the country and it’s not pretty. In my last article on the TPP, The Enemy Beneath, These dangers were well spelled out along with some compelling videos of speakers at the last gathering in Tampa. I need not repeat them here since the several speakers did an excellent job of representing their positions.

Lorraine Tuliano, head of Central Florida’s Central Labor Council for the AFL-CIO explained how the middle class and working families are affected by these “Investor State” trade deals. Marjorie Holt of the Sierra Club spoke about the effect that “Fracking” and other procedures would have on our fragile environment. Steve Wisniewski, President of CWA Local 3108 spoke about the lowering of standards that the TPP would allow for. Activists Jim Howe and Cherie Faircloth presented a statement from Public Citizen Global Trade Watch stating how harmful the TPP is as it is shaping up. Tim Murray of Organize now was a featured speaker admonishing the assembled group to become active because our elected officials need to hear from us constantly.

Special guest speaker of the evening was Congressman Alan Grayson of Florida’s 9th district, who is one of but a handful of legislators that are aware of the TPP and its potential damage as well as the Trans Atlantic Free Trade Agreement. He spoke off the cuff without notes for about twenty minutes in a very relaxed erudite manner about what is happening with these FTAs and what he and others are doing about it. That little scene at the Thatcher Memorial Library is a grim reminder of what he had to go through after several attempts were made by other members of Congress including Sen. Jeff Merkley to see documents referring to the TPP and were denied access. Grayson was successful in getting permission to see exactly one document in his office in early June with the provision that no one on his staff can be there and that he can’t take any notes and he only has a limited time in which to view the document. Obviously these people don’t know who they are dealing with. He is a fierce debater and doesn’t suffer fools at all. This was not the “Don’t get sick” bombastic Alan Grayson. This was the scholarly, surgical Alan Grayson that completely eviscerated conservative pundit P.J. O’Rourke nationally on Bill Maher’s Real Time.. He can also dust it up with the best of them. At a health care rally several years ago I witnessed him go head to head with a Tea Party activist who wisely chose not to duke it out physically. Good thing too because besides being deceptively tall he has an enormous reach that most heavyweight boxers would love to have. Here’s the complete video of his anti TPP speech. After the speeches there was a question and answer period where several of the topics discussed were more fully covered.

The sixteenth round of talks is underway in Lima, Peru going on from May 15 through May 24. It is too late to do anything about the current talks; however there will be more talks in the future. At the moment Japan is negotiating to join and my sources (who for the moment must remain unnamed) tell me that too many unions are leaning towards accepting the TPP. There are some political benefits to be had in the short term, so they are sacrificing the American worker and America’s loss of sovereignty for some selfish gains. That’s unconscionable.

 

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