Twelve Days of Christmas: The e-Concert – 2018 Edition

It’s time to Break It Down!

(Revised from Break It Down – 12/24/08, 12/22/10, 12/21/11, 12/26/12, 12/25/13, 12/23/15, 12/21/16, and 12/26/17)

According to tradition, mine if no one else’s, my Christmas post includes a complement of Songs of the Season. Today’s issue will constitute the next edition in that tradition. It’s Tuesday night, or in my personal time dimension, Blog Night. In keeping with what I do, let’s make it so; Wednesday’s coming! And for the record, it’s still Christmas Time in the City. As incorporated in the title above, many purists celebrate Twelve Days of Christmas. This has been documented in song, book form, at least one movie, and in countless tales.

Here, as scheduled, is the blog. I hope you enjoy the blog/e-concert.

Merry Christmas to you! I know some of you are caught up in the whole “We Are The (Secular) World” trip; thus you substitute Holiday for Christmas in seasonal greetings. But that really shouldn’t be a problem since the man we call President has brought Christmas back (wink-wink). But seriously though, in case you don’t know, Christmas never went anywhere.  In fact, a quick check back over the Obama years reveals…Christmas was a staple in his repertoire. (  Of course, those innately curious enough to conduct the requisite etymological research know that the root derivation of holiday is “Holy Day;” but I digress; that is fodder for another day.

By now, many of you have already done whatever you do to observe and/or celebrate Christmas, and returned to the rigors of you daily routine, if not grind. But you know what, herein lies an opportunity to take one more moment, a time out if you will, before returning full tilt to your normal schedule.

As is my custom, I will not use this Christmas Season Post, if you will allow me to call it that, to challenge you to sort through the facts, be they esoteric or mundane. Not the election, or the economy, no wars, and absolutely no (further) references to our big league President, who frequently focuses on tweeting and golfing (despite insisting that if elected, he wouldn’t have time for the links). Perhaps, just his way to Making America Great Again, I suppose. No, this is your time to take a break and leave all that behind. Notice, I did not say forget it, and I certainly would never ask that you pretend it doesn’t exist. Just give yourself a break.

In the true spirit of keeping it simple for both you and me, I am reprising an amalgam of previous posts. In fact, not just any posts…posts from several Christmas’ past, with a notable caveat. In my preceding Christmas Season posts, I have now presented e-Christmas Concerts on eight occasions. Last year I pressed the reset button on the Concert.  Instead of simply providing 12 standards, I upped the ante and provided 24, 12 by female artists, and 12 by male artists. In that last night, when I was working on this post was still Christmas, I’m going to roll those out again.

The English playwright and poet, William Congreve, in the opening line of his 1697 Play entitled The Mourning Bride,” asserted, “Music has Charms to soothe a savage Breast, To soften rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.”  I think Congreve was on to something.  If indeed music is capable of enabling us to overcome our basest instincts, and in so doing, ennoble us to pursue our finer impulses, and then indeed, we should take more opportunities to render ourselves captivated by its magical spell. (By the way, it really is breast…not beast; caught you thinking, didn’t I?)

So, I identified and pulled together an assortment of my favorite Christmas Standards by several of my favorite artists. This year’s version includes a variation of the artistic olio I pulled together for your reading, viewing, and listening pleasure a number of years ago. Below, you will find hot links to YouTube video interpretations and two songs for each of the 12 Days of Christmas listed and included in today’s Yuletide e-concert.

Female Artists

  1. Eartha Kitt is known for having had many talents skills, and abilities, among them acting and singing.  Last year I substituted her most popular Christmas song for “Nothing for Christmas.”  After a 1-year hiatus, I’m bringing back Santa Baby.  As I’ve noted before, the song was born in 1953, and as I will this Sunday, it turned 65 this year.  She slays (or if you’re really in the Christmas spirit — sleighs) it.
  2. Dianne Reeves is a Grammy-winning jazz artist who sings in the vein of Dinah Washington and Carmen McRae; a skilled lyricist and scat singer.  She presents “Christmas Time is Here” as if it’s her own.
  3. Vanessa Williams was the first black Miss America.  She had a short and tumultuous reign.  But cream rises to the top, and her talent ensured that losing her title was but a mere speed bump in a star-studded road.  Her rendition of “Do You Hear What I Hear” provides a glimpse of her musical flexibility and skill.
  4. Lena Horne was a jazz musician whose career spanned over 70 years.  She was also an actress, dancer, and civil rights activist.  She demonstrates her vocal caliber in this version of “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
  5. Cassandra Wilson was born December 4, 1955.  Her birthdate alone ensured that I included her on this list; ’06!  But that’s not the only reason she made the cut.  Her range includes blues, country, and folk music, as well as jazz.  Moreover, she stuck the proverbial landing in her rendition of “The Little Drummer Boy.”
  6. Toni Braxton is a lot of things: a talented songwriter, singer, pianist, record producer, actress, television personality, and philanthropist. She is known to be sexy, sultry, and an unpredictable reality show star.  She’s still best known for her music though, and her version of “Santa Please” will do absolutely nothing to change that.
  7. The Emotions are one of those classic Old School Girl Groups born in the 70’s.  Influenced greatly by Maurice White of Earth Wind & Fire Fame, they continue to perform today.  One of my favorite tunes by them is their version of “What Do The Lonely Do At Christmas?”
  8. Anita Baker released her first solo album in 1983.  In 1986, she released “Rapture” and it was the dawn of her stardom.  She is known for her trademark “husky” voice, and she is at her Christmas best in this version of “The Christmas Song.”
  9. Diana Ross and the Supremes were the “It” Group of Motown when Motown was the “It’ place of Soul Music.  The Supremes are America’s most successful vocal group with 12 number one singles on the Billboard Hot 100. Here they are with their 1965 rendition of “Silver Bells.”
  10. Ella Fitzgerald is jazz royalty.  Frequently referred to as the First Lady of Song, the Queen of Jazz, and Lady Ella, she was widely acclaimed for her purity of tone, impeccable diction, phrasing, and intonation, as well as a horn-like improvisational ability.  Virtually all scat singing is measured against her. Check out her version of “Sleigh Ride.”
  11. Whitney Houston had a voice known worldwide.  Her recordings accounted for nearly 200 million records sold.  Her’s was a clarion voice of our times.  This version of “Joy To The World,” taken from the movie, “The Preacher’s Wife,” is special, as was she.
  12. Ledisi (Anibade Young) is an R&B and jazz recording artist.  Her first name means “to bring forth” or “to come here” in Yoruba.  She was aptly named.  Enjoy her rendering of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.”

Male Artists

  1. James Brown was renowned for his energetic performances, which earned him another of his many titles, “Hardest working man in show business.” His rendition of “Merry Christmas Baby” is not so uptempo, but still a reminder that he had earned his chops the hard way, and that he was much more than just flash and dash.
  2. Donny Hathaway was a multifaceted soulful crooner and a product of Howard University who excelled in jazz, blues, soul and gospel music; an Alpha Man.  He suffered from depression and died of suicide January 13, 1979 at 33 years old.  He rendered this marvelous recording of “This Christmas.
  3. The O’Jays were formed in 1965, and have been a staple in Soul and R&B music ever since.  They knock it out of the park with this version of “Christmas Just Ain’t Christmas Anymore.”
  4. The Temptations were a significant part of what made Motown, Motown, in the 60’s and 70’s.  Their rendition of Silent Night lives on as a classic among classics as far as Christmas music goes.
  5. Al Green, soul singer, turned minister, soul singer-minister was at his most popular during the 70’s.  He puts his considerable talents to good use in this version of “I’ll be Home for Christmas.”
  6. El DeBarge was the central figure in the group known as DeBarge, which reached it’s zenith in the 80’s.  El was one of several members of the group who went on to fashion solo careers.  He nails this version of “Christmas Without You.”
  7. Will Downing has been recording albums since 1988.  Ive seen him in concerts twice, including a couple of weeks ago, and I own most of his recorded music.  He simply does not disappoint.  This recording of The First Noel is no exception.
  8. Joe (Lewis Thomas) released his debut album in 1993.  He has maintained a presence on the music scene ever since. His nuanced presentation of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” is just another fine example of his limitless talent.
  9. Jerry Butler, popularly known as the Ice Man, fitting for an Alpha, is a singer, songwriter, and musician (guitar, electric guitar, bass, piano, saxophone, and drums) who was the lead singer for the Impressions before going on to a solo career. He recored this classic version of O Holy Night.
  10. Luther Vandross was a musical icon. Period. End of story.  He is one of my favorite musicians, and his treatment of “My Favorite Things” is certainly among my favorite Christmas songs.
  11. The Whispers hail from LA, and have been around since the 60’s.  They became members of the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2003…for good reason.  They got it like that.  And they prove it with this version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”
  12. Kem (Owens) is an R&B/Soul singer who has made his uniquely fashioned mark on the music scene since 1999.  He enlists Ledisi (Anibade Young), another single named musical star to create a fabulous rendition of “Be Mine For Christmas.”

That’s it, 24 artists and videos and/or songs. Add it all up and you get “Twelve Days Of Christmas: The e-Concert – 2018 Edition!” Enjoy it throughout the Season, and by all means, remember the Reason for the Season!

BonusIt occurred to me that a concert thematically incorporating the Twelve Days of Christmas, without including a version of “Twelve Days of Christmas” is woefully incomplete. To wit, I doubled down by adding a 25thselection, “Twelve Days of Christmas,” two versions, one by Natalie Cole, and an instrumental by Kenny Burrell.

I’m done; holla back!

Read my blog anytime by clicking the link: Find a new post each Wednesday.

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So Much Winning: That Was His Promise

It’s time to Break It Down!

“We’re gonna win so much you may even get tired of winning and you’ll say please, please Mr. president, It’s too much winning! We can’t take it anymore!” – Donald J. Trump  May 20, 2016 Albany, NY.

There are an abundance of theories about why Donald Trump won. I have neither the time, nor the inclination to enumerate and or expound upon them. No matter how many hypotheses there are floating around, being analyzed, or enthusiastically debated, about Trump’s victory, there are even more excuses and rationalizations for his idiosyncratic, if not bizarre methods of governing. I’m not going to invest in parsing those either. Instead, I will spend a few minutes framing an element of perspective around Trump’s bodacious and ridiculous claim, compared to where we find ourselves today.

According to CNN Business, few if any Wall-Streeters can recall the last time the Stock Market had a December as tumultuous and downward trending as the one we’re experiencing in 2018. For context, both the Dow and the S&P 500 are currently on track for the biggest December loss since the Great Depression.

As of Monday, both the Dow and the S&P 500 were down around 7.8%. That’s the deepest dive for each of the key Market barometers since 1931, based on data from LPL Research. Of course, the Depression-era losses were even larger: the Depression S&P 500 dropped 14.5%, while the Dow plunged 17%.

Nonetheless, the current swoon is making investors nervous. There is a growing feeling that earnings growth may have peaked this year. Analysts are concerned that the economy could stall in 2019 because of continued trade tensions with China, and rate hikes by the Federal Reserve. The Dow and S&P 500 are in the red for the year, putting stocks on a course that would lead to their worst annual loss since the 2008 Great Recession (Bush numbers) – and the first annual loss since 2008.

There is still reason for some hope that markets will turn around in the final days of the month…and year. December is typically a strong month for the market. Professional money managers tend to buy top-performing stocks to make their portfolios look good – a phenomenon known as window dressing.

There is also a somewhat more mysterious factor, known as the Santa Claus rally effect. As a rule, the market usually does well in the last week of the year, which some observers consider a function of light trading volume, with so many people off for the Christmas Holiday.

Volatility is still a key disruptor. Stocks started strong yesterday, but the Dow, S&P 500, and Nasdaq all turned lower in late afternoon trading. They staged a brief rally near the end of the day to close flat to modestly higher.

All that brings us to what, for the sake of this post, I’ll call Trumponomics, or Trump metrics. Donald Trump has, in addition to launching his “Winning” manifesto, spelled out in the opening paragraph, frequently used the stock market as his personal poll. You may have noticed, as the market has undertaken a declining trajectory, he has not only avoided that practice, he has also cast blame on the federal reserve for the economy’s difficulties. It is worth noting, the Dow is 1,000 point lower than when Trump signed his tax reform bill into law a year ago.

That is a result many investors find shocking. Over several decades, they have become accustomed to winning. The S&P 500 has boasted double-digit returns in 7 of the last 9 years. Last year the return was 22%. Investors expected more of the same this year, especially after Trump and his fellow GOP supporters promised the new tax law would, in effect, let the good times roll.

In general, the economy has been strong. Unemployment is at the lowest level in a generation. What then, is the problem?

There is an overarching view that 2018 was a year yielding peak earnings that simply cannot last. The boost from corporate tax cuts will fade. The trade war with China is raising the cost of doing business. Moreover, interest rates are beginning to rise. It is likely the Fed will hike interest rates a fourth time this year to keep the strong economy from overheating.

After the recession, interest rates hikes were minimized to resuscitate the economy. Now that the economy is healed, the Fed is raising rates back to a more neutral place on the policy spectrum. The increases have been nominal so far, because raising them too quickly could stall economic expansion.

It’s worth noting, signs of slower growth are emerging in faraway places from China to Germany. In fact, according to Greg Valliere, political economist at Horizon Investments:

“There’s a fear of weaker economic growth virtually everywhere, as the world emerges from quantitative easing and confronts tighter monetary policy. That, in a nutshell, is the greatest concern.”

I suppose, despite all of the preceding reasons we might instinctively proceed with caution, we can all relax, because, after all, Mr. Trump, advised us he hires only the best people, he is a stable genius, and in his own words, So Much Winning:” That Was His Promise!

I’m done; holla back!

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Proud To Shutdown The Government: Trump’s Stance

It’s time to Break It Down!

Yesterday, Donald Trump and Mike Pence hosted Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi in the Oval Office for a televised political version of the Apprentice. In essence it was a tour de force of Trumpian ego, artfully staged to allow Trump to preen before his doting fans on TV.

The meeting, ostensibly, was to kick off the discourse leading to negotiations that Trump believes, and many of his supporters hope will result in the erection of a Southern Border Wall. Democrats, for their part hope to strengthen border security (without a wall), and keep government running without a shutdown.

Usually such discussions take place in private. For the second time, Trump has opted to make the conversation part of a nationwide TV show. This time, after a testy exchange, Trump made it clear, at least as clear as anyone who shape shifts facts as often as he does ever makes anything clear, that he would be proud to shutdown the government if he doesn’t get his border wall. He stated:

“I’ll be the one to shut it down. I will take the mantle. And I will shut it down for border security.”

The statement, emanating from Mr. Trump, was shown live on Cable TV, and was made in the presence of a gaggle of reporters. Schumer, the Senate Minority Leader, and Pelosi, Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, engaged in a spirited discussion with Trump. Pence, was also present, but did not comment. At least not in front of the cameras.

Democrats have been clear they have no intention of capitulating to Trump’s demand to provide funding for a border wall. Following the meeting they released a statement underscoring that:

“We gave the president two options that would keep the government open.  It’s his choice to accept one of those options or shut the government down.”

Throughout the course of the meeting, Trump kept insisting that much of the wall has already been built (numerous fact-checkers earlier this year determined it hasn’t, which Schumer pointed out) and he has also said the military could build the rest. Last night, a spokesperson for the Department of Defense said:

“To date, there is no plan to build sections of the wall.” But “Congress has provided options under [existing law] that could permit the Department of Defense to fund border barrier projects, such as in support of counter drug operations or national emergencies.”

After the meeting Pelosi would say, she requested the cameras be removed. She added:

“We didn’t want to contradict the president when he was putting forth figures that had no basis in fact. I didn’t want to say in front of those people, ‘You have no idea what you’re talking about.’”

Not surprisingly, the White House, per Sarah Sanders attempted to frame the conversation in a different light. She said:

“President Trump had a constructive dialogue with Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. Major disagreement remains on the issue of border security and transparency.

Later Trump added:

“Believe it or not, I think it was a very friendly meeting. ($1,000 on What is ‘I do not believe, Alex’)…I’ve actually liked [Schumer and Pelosi] for a long period of time, and I respect them both and when the press left, we actually had a fairly long meeting and we really discussed a lot of great subjects.”

The meeting left a good deal of uncertainty about the exact course of the to be continued border wall discussion. We do know at least three specific facts, however. We know the deadline, unless it’s extended again, for reaching agreement on a budget deal is December 21st. We also know that yesterday’s episode of the political version of the Apprentice was just a teaser/prelude to the coming season of “The 116th Congress – Divided.” And finally, we know, that despite the tremendous restraint that must have been required, neither Schumer, nor Pelosi mentioned or inquired about the premise that Mexico was supposed to pay for the wall. Kudos! With the House of Representatives no longer under Republican control, there are sure to be many more rounds of televised fireworks.

For now, just remember, if the people’s government is shutdown, we know whom to “credit.” Proud To Shutdown The Government: Trump’s Stance!”

I’m done; holla back!

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North Carolina Voter Fraud: Apparently It Really Is A Thing

It’s time to Break It Down!

For years the GOP has pushed for Voter ID. The professed reason? To stamp out voter fraud. The thing is, numerous studies conducted by a variety of researchers, across numerous years and elections have found that given the number of elections and voters, voter fraud occurs at an infinitesimally small rate. Here are several examples:

The Brennan Center’s seminal report on this issue, The Truth About Voter Fraud, found that most reported incidents of voter fraud are actually traceable to other sources, such as clerical errors or bad data matching practices. The report reviewed elections that had been meticulously studied for voter fraud, and found incident rates between 0.0003 percent and 0.0025 percent. Given this tiny incident rate for voter impersonation fraud, it is more likely, the report noted, that an American “will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.”

A study published by a Columbia University political scientist tracked incidence rates for voter fraud for two years, and found that the rare fraud that was reported generally could be traced to “false claims by the loser of a close race, mischief and administrative or voter error.”

2017 analysis published in The Washington Post concluded that there is no evidence to support Trump’s claim that Massachusetts residents were bused into New Hampshire to vote.

comprehensive 2014 study published in The Washington Post found 31 credible instances of impersonation fraud from 2000 to 2014, out of more than 1 billion ballots cast. Even this tiny number is likely inflated, as the study’s author counted not just prosecutions or convictions, but any and all credible claims.

Two studies done at Arizona State University, one in 2012 and another in 2016, found similarly negligible rates of impersonation fraud. The project found 10 cases of voter impersonation fraud nationwide from 2000-2012. The follow-up study, which looked for fraud specifically in states where politicians have argued that fraud is a pernicious problem, found zero successful prosecutions for impersonation fraud in five states from 2012-2016.

A review of the 2016 election found four documented cases of voter fraud.

Research into the 2016 election found no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

2016 working paper concluded that the upper limit on double voting in the 2012 election was 0.02%. The paper noted that the incident rate was likely much lower, given audits conducted by the researchers showed that “many, if not all, of these apparent double votes could be a result of measurement error.”

2014 paper concluded that “the likely percent of non-citizen voters in recent US elections is 0.”

2014 nationwide study found “no evidence of widespread impersonation fraud” in the 2012 election.

2014 study that examined impersonation fraud both at the polls and by mail ballot found zero instances in the jurisdictions studied.

Just when the data suggest that the facts fly in the face of the GOP’s most assiduous and far-flung arguments, emerging evidence in the Old North State appears to support a strong case for, wait for it…voter fraud. There is, however, a notable deviation from the oft-spouted storyline. If early indications are accurate, this is a Republican scam. Oops!

After a day short of a month, since the midterm elections, the quest continues to determine a victor in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District. Republican Mark Harris led Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes after all the ballots were counted. However, state officials are now investigating allegations about tampering with absentee ballots; many of which were signed by the same group of people – an unusual pattern that may indicate improper activity. To add to the intrigue, a locally known Republican consultant who was previously convicted of fraud and an absentee ballot collector who alleges she was paid, are involved. In the balance…hangs a congressional seat.

So, what’s the deal in my Tar Heel state? Here’s the CliffNotes version. The State Board of Elections is a bi-partisan body composed of 4 Republicans, 4 Democrats, and 1 unaffiliated voter. The group has voted twice to investigate this matter; the first time unanimously, and the second time with 2 Republican members voting no. The Board’s discussions have been in closed sessions up to this point.

According to six affidavits, there was a scheme to harvest and complete absentee-by-mail ballots, many of them unrequested. The key principal in the investigation, Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr., is an elected official, vice chair of the Bladen County Soil and Water Conservation District. Dowless is also an electioneer with a criminal past. His crimes of record extend back to the 80’s and 90’s.

In this instance, Dowless’ name surfaced because of the affidavits. In one, an individual claims to have heard Dowless say he’d be paid $40,000 if Mark Harris won. In another affidavit, a person claims Dowless told him he was doing “absentee” for Mark Harris and Jim McVicker, the Bladen County Sheriff. According to that affidavit, Dowless had 80 people working for him, from Cumberland County (Fayetteville) to Charlotte.

Dowless has worked in political circles at least as far back as 2010, when he worked for a Bladen County District Attorney candidate. He was paid, primarily, for get out the vote efforts. Records also show he worked for Pete Givens, a Charlotte City Council candidate. According to the Charlotte Observer, Harris introduced Givens to Dowless.

Mr. Dowless was not always affiliated with Mark Harris. Campaign Finance records show he worked for Todd Johnson in the 2016 Republican Primary for the 9thDistrict. Though Johnson finished last in the Primary, he finished first in Bladen County. Delving deeper into voting records reveals Johnson received 98% of the absentee-by-mail votes, totaling 221. Mark Harris received 4 votes. Incumbent Robert Pittenger received 1 vote.

In 2018, Dowless was hired to work for the Harris Campaign. The firm that hired him, Red Dome, has been paid $428,000 from the Harris Campaign. The disbursements listed include administration and staff and grassroots. In the 2018 Primary, Harris amassed considerably more than 4 votes. Similar to Johnson in 2016, he rolled up a huge advantage in absentee numbers, totaling 437 of the 456 of the absentee-by-mail votes. Pittenger, the incumbent, received only 17 votes.

In the General Election, against McCready, Harris received 61% of the absentee votes (even though Republicans comprise only 19% of the ballots submitted). Bladen was the only county in the 9th District in which Harris received more absentee votes than McCready. According to an analysis by Dr. Michael Bitzer of Catawba College, Harris garnering 61% of absentee votes meant that in addition to the less that 20% of loyal Republicans who voted absentee, Harris would have also had to receive almost all the registered unaffiliated votes, as well as some of the registered Democrats’ votes.

Among irregularities in Bladen County, eight people were found to have signed as a witness for at least 10 ballots. Three people signed for at least 40 ballots. Ginger Eason said McCrae paid her $75 to $100 a week to pick up absentee ballots. This is illegal. She didn’t turn the ballots in to the Board of Elections; she gave them to McCrae Dowless. The State Board of Elections also refused to certify two local races in Bladen and Robeson counties.

At this point, the end does not appear to be in sight. If the State Board of Elections orders a new election, the same three candidates, Mark Harris, Dan McCready, and Libertarian Jeff Scott will be on the ballot. If the incoming U.S. House of Representatives orders a new election, there will be a new filing, primary, and general election. Federal law requires a minimum of 45 days for absentee voting. The State Board of Elections has determined there will be an evidentiary hearing on or before December 21. The Board has not set a timeline for when everything must be completed. Members have said they are aware that the House swearing-in occurs on January 3rd.

There’s more, of course, but this should be more than enough for you to get the gist. I cannot fathom that this was what the GOP hoped to establish, but here it isNorth Carolina Voter Fraud: Apparently It Really Is A Thing!”

I’m done; holla back!

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