Blue Wave Election Lifts Democrats to Re-Take the House

Voters erected a blue roadblock across Pennsylvania Avenue on Nov. 6, as Democrats swept to victory from coast-to-coast in record numbers, wresting control from Republicans of the House of Representatives.

Two years of an avalanche presidency was enough for the American people. The lies, mismanagement, race baiting, and Russian collusion wore people out. For four years not a day passed without a national debate raging over the most recent jackass maneuver Trump perpetrated. It wears a country out, so a check was placed on his questionable decision making.

Counter to advertising, Trump is not the sharpest negotiator in the swamp of Washington. It’s doubtful he recognized how difficult his political future would soon become. With Republicans no longer holding unified control a raw animosity waited to greet Trump.

Complicating matters for this misogynist White House was the historic number of women elected this midterm – 127 in total, 25 in the Senate and 102 in the House. This represents a 23.7 percent share of the total seats in the 116th U.S. Congress, up from 20.6.

These talented females enthusiastically took on Trump symbolically with each sitting Republican faced. Exit polling showed women made up 52 percent of the overall electorate, and they went Democratic. This feels like a natural progression of the manifestation of energy generated from the #MeToo movement and a backlash against the numerous examples of abuse suffered by women at the hands of male staff members in the Trump administration.

Several elections, especially in California, were too close to call on election night. Recounts by hand in some districts dragged on for weeks, but the Blue Wave kept climbing to unexpected heights.

Democrats needed 23 seats to re-take the House. On average the net gain for opposition parties in midterms was 29. The Dems won 40. They flipped 29 Republican incumbents and picked up 14 open seats. The GOP only found three open seats to take off the board. An eery takeaway for the president and any Republican up for election next year was how many losing GOP incumbents were in districts that voted heavily for Trump.

In the last weeks of the campaign The Donald brazenly took the reins from the Republican National Committee and its sitting members, against any reasonable political advise, and publicly made the case that Tuesday’s vote was a referendum on him.

Some 113 million Americans, 49 percent of eligible voters, indicated the president had earned a questionable grade by firing droves of Republican incumbents in the People’s Chamber.

True several high-profile Democratic Senate candidates did lose races, but the margin of control remains slim, 53-47, with VP Mike Pence sitting on the shelf in his elf hat, golden hammer at the waiting to break any tie votes.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (CA-12), quickly solidified her power base, in preparing to ascend to the Speakership with a familiar agility. Ms. Pelosi walked in like a boss, standing tall in her role representing the people’s will. I get the feeling Trump hasn’t been told “NO” a lot. Hearing it from Pelosi should be exquisitely painful.

As the number of arrests of Trump loyalists pile up, and it becomes more obvious how neglectful Republicans were of their oversight authority, the faster subpoenas will fly from Democratic committee chairs to haul these suspects before Congress, where most have already lied once.

Tuesday’s election signaled the end of Trump’s crack smoke ideas getting run up the flag pole without pushback. The president might want to check his fearmongering. Nancy don’t play. She done thrown away the GOP’s cowardly rubber stamp.

The resistance has arrived.

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Fugitive Kentucky Social Security Lawyer Brought to Justice

Eric Conn being arrested in Honduras after six months on the run.

Ever contemplated absconding with obscene amounts of ill-gotten cash? It’s in the news frequently and plenty of movie plots glorify the notion. From pyramid schemes that come crashing down, to embezzling proceeds from charities or simply cooking the books at the local tire joint. As the crime becomes evident and the perpetrator identified, he or she vanishes, a fugitive from justice, off in search of a new life, with a new identity using the stolen proceeds to pave the way.

It sounds exotic, until the reality crystallizes that there is no returning home, and being a fugitive from the law isn’t the glamorous existence one imagines. Think being famous is uncomfortable because of all the attention. Try landing on a Most Wanted list, with a cash reward offered for information leading to your apprehension. It’s a life spent looking over both shoulders to see if anyone recognized you.

A high-profile case such as this played out in grand fashion in Kentucky recently. Eric Conn, once one of the top Social Security disability lawyers in the nation, was implicated in defrauding the Social Security Administration and became a fugitive from justice before being caught six months later south of the U.S. border. In a dramatic fall from grace, Conn’s crimes earned him 27 years behind bars.

The defendant, who represented thousands of Eastern Kentucky residents in claims for lifetime federal disability benefits, began his multi-million dollar scheme in 2004 and continued profiting through 2017.

Conn’s distinctive billboards dot the tree-covered hills of eastern Kentucky.

He was initially arrested on April 4, 2016. U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves released him on $1.25 million bail and placed him on home incarceration. His whereabouts were to be tracked by the U.S. Probation Office (USPO) via a GPS ankle monitoring device.

On March 24, 2017, Conn waived the two-count felony indictment and pled guilty to fabricating evidence provided by medical professionals who signed off on disability claims without doing actual examinations in exchange for unlawful cash gratuities. Additionally, the defendant paid more than $600,000 in bribes to David Black Daugherty, a Social Security judge, between 2004 and 2011, to rubber-stamp some 3,149 cases.

The scheme potentially obligated Social Security to pay more than $600 million over the life of the beneficiaries. Prior to the fraud being discovered, the agency paid out $72.5 million in claims to Conn clients.

One of the doctors who handled many of Conn’s cases died before the scheme came to light. Alfred Bradley Adkins, a Pikeville psychologist who administered fraudulent mental exams, was found guilty by a jury and sentenced to 25 years. Daugherty pled guilty and received four-years.

While Conn spoke multiple languages, was documented crossing the border some 140 times over 10 years and told at least six people he would flee the country rather than go to jail, Judge Reeves again released the defendant to home detention. Conn’s sentencing was to take place in July 14, 2017, but as part of his plea agreement he was compelled to testify in the Adkins’ trial on June 5, 2017.

These were court appearances Conn never made.

After Conn fled Kentucky he became an awful popular fellow.

Instead Unindicted Co-Conspirator A, along with Curtis Lee Wyatt, a resident of Raccoon, Kentucky, who was an employee of Conn’s law firm, conspired with other person(s), to aid Conn in escaping on June 2.

Furthering that conspiracy, Wyatt opened a bank account controlled by Unindicted Co-Conspirator A, where money was deposited and transferred outside the United States for the defendant to later access.

At Conn’s direction, Wyatt traveled to Nogales, Arizona, on April 23, 2017, to assess the prospects of being able to cross into Mexico while dodging security measures. The following day another route was tested. This time Wyatt crossed into Mexico through the pedestrian checkpoint in Columbus, New Mexico.

Once back in Kentucky, with funds provided by Conn, Wyatt purchased a white 2002 Dodge Ram pickup truck in Somerset, Kentucky, on May 10, 2017. The seller was instructed to register the vehicle at an address in Kalispell, Montana, under the name of Disability Services, LLC, a company associated with Conn purportedly headquartered in East Helena, Montana.

The Statue of Liberty replica outside Conn’s office.

With permission from the probation office, Conn traveled on June 1, 2017, from his residence in Pikeville, Kentucky, 140 miles west to Lexington in preparation to testify in the Adkins trial. Conn spent the night in a Lexington hotel and remained there through the evening hours of June 2, with the trial set to begin on June 5.

That first night in Lexington Wyatt delivered the white pickup truck to Conn and provided him the keys. The following night, June 2, around 8PM, Conn severed the court-ordered monitoring device from his ankle, concealing it inside a metallic pouch, or Faraday bag, designed to suppress electronic signals and discarded it on the side of a highway.

Over the next several days the defendant disappeared into the wind, making his way to New Mexico, abandoning the vehicle near the border.

After scouring bank accounts, emails and social media posts believed to be from Conn, conducting dozens of interviews, and searching his mother’s house, the hunt led to a Walmart parking lot in Columbus, New Mexico, and finally to a Pizza Hut in Honduras.

Conn, looking frail and wearing a blue polo shirt with close-cropped reddish-gray hair, was captured by a SWAT team on December 5, 2017, as he left the restaurant in the northern coastal city of La Ceiba, and was extradited to Kentucky.

While nearly a dozen law enforcement agencies searched for the fugitive, he was sentenced in absentia last summer, on July 17, to a 12-year prison term, the maximum possible on his original charges.

Conn’s failed effort to allude punishment for his initial crimes did not win him favor with prosecutors. A plea agreement was signed on June 4, 2018, and judgment rendered on September 13, on charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to escape and conspiracy to retaliate against a witness. He was given 5 years on each charge, 15 total years, to run consecutively.

Adding this new punishment to his existing 12 year term places the 58-year old former disability kingpin behind bars for 27 years, likely the remainder of his natural life.

Who doesn’t need a replica of the Lincoln Memorial in their office parking lot?

This disheveled version of Conn seen at his arrest and subsequently in court appearances is not the one residents of eastern Kentucky, one of the poorest regions in the United States, are accustomed to seeing. Known as Mr. Social Security f0r his flamboyant TV commercials, outsized brilliant yellow billboards and numerous other eccentric marketing practices, Conn was a lawyer with swagger.

From an office that began in a trailer, Conn built a disability empire in the mountains of Floyd County. The Social Security Administration paid his Stanville, Kentucky firm $23 million in fees between 2005 and 2015. With that cash came a flamboyance.

There were office expansions, including replicas of the Statue of Liberty and the Lincoln Memorial installed. He wore Armani suits, drove a Rolls Royce, flew to exotic destinations around the globe and was the target of beautiful women. All of it an illusion built upon a fraudulent scheme that crumbled into ruin.

As for those who were fraudulently awarded Social Security benefits, many have lost this income. Some 1,787 former Conn clients were notified by the Social Security Administration they must face re-determination hearings to see if their benefits are legitimate.

Ultimately only about 53 percent of those who went through the hearings kept their awards. Those denied benefits can appeal in federal court. The Social Security Administration has announced an additional 1,965 of Conn’s clients will face eligibility hearings going forward.

“Eric Conn preyed upon the sick and vulnerable for his personal gain,” said Amy S. Hess, special agent in charge of the FBI in Kentucky. “Rather than face the consequences of his crimes, he chose to flee and attempted to hide from those he had betrayed.”

With two separate sentences imposed, Conn has reached the end of the line for a life as a free man. There is nowhere left to run from 27 years behind a prison wall.

 

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Vintage Vinyl for Sale

Chances are those over the age of 50 have owned a record collection. It’s a Gen X reality. Maybe back in college or as a 20-something, before the advent of the compact disc. Flash forward 20 years and records haven’t disappeared entirely, but infinitely easier methods exist for listening to music. So what does one do with a bunch of old albums?

Records come with inherent drawbacks. They are big, bulky, and from a technological standpoint, dubious. Relax, when the time comes there are options for moving quality rock, soul and blues albums short of giving them away at a neighborhood yard sale.

I navigated this dilemma recently as some 400 albums of mine remained in my parent’s basement, representing 20-plus years of collected music.

This was a problem on two fronts. One, my folks resided in a flood district. Records respond poorly to water.

Secondly, my folks were in the active process of jettisoning unused clutter from their basement. Three bulky wooden crates and the loose contents from another were not helping matters.

I will be honest. I lugged these albums from Kentucky, to Iowa, back to Kentucky, up to Washington, DC, down to New Orleans and back. I had zero interest in picking them up again. Especially not to drag them over to my own basement.

The time had come. Cash me out. I was ready to sell.

Vinyl was quickly displaced as the medium of choice by consumers once the compact disc arrived on the scene in the 1980s. We are witnessing a similar challenge for supremacy currently between CDs, digital downloads and streaming services. It remains unclear what source will ultimately triumph, but bet on technology. Convenience usually wins.

It certainly did where records were concerned. I had no interest in purchasing another turntable just to take a step back in time and play some Cat Stevens album from 1972 when the odd mood struck. Anything on vinyl that garnered frequent spins was re-purchased on CD. I made my break with vinyl and moved on. What remained was this last bit of business about finding a home for my 400 orphan albums.

First off was getting this mess back in alpha-order by artist to see what all was here. Separate piles were made denoting groupings of alphabet letters, like A-D, E-H, etc. During the sorting it became clear water damage ruined some 100 records.

The remainder were in pristine condition. Nearly all sported clear outer-plastic protective sleeves, internal dust jackets and luscious grooves from frequent cleanings.

This assemblage of titles hit a sweet spot in American music – the 1960s into the 1980s. On the early end of the spectrum were titles from Elvis, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, the Yardbirds and the Kinks.

The anti-war 1960s were well represented by counter culture hippie bands like the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix and the Doors. This bled into the acid rock of the 1970s with Deep Purple, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.

It was the stuff that makes hipster dreams come true. Virtually all releases were represented from bands like Cream, CSN&Y, the Police, Aerosmith, Cheap Trick, R.E.M., Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fleetwood Mac, The Cars, The Who, Tom Petty, Queen and Neil ‘fucking’ Young.

Sorting through the iconic album covers, I noticed this odd sensation when touching certain ones, like a flashback, to a crystalized moment, where this particular album was the soundtrack to events taking place.

Kiss – Destroyer (1976). I saw myself raging around my room at age 12 screaming Shout It Out Loud into a coat hanger serving as a microphone.

Journey – Frontiers (1983). My hand was negotiating its path into this particular wholesome high school girl’s sweater as Faithfully played to reassure about my intentions.

Steely Dan – Gaucho (1980). My sophomore year at Eastern Kentucky University, Babylon Sisters were shaking it as a heated game of darts was in full tilt inside a smoke-filled dorm room.

These albums had not been touched with any regularity for 25 years. Yet several were intimate accomplices. We grew up together. Mine was the generation when mom & dad both started working day jobs with regularity for the first time. We kids were left to our own devices. As long as neither the police nor the school called home, everything else was fair game. There was no Internet. I had my friends and rock-n-roll to guide the way.

One album that distinctly jumped out was AC/DC Highway To Hell (1979). As an 8th grader in 1980, Angus was an icon of rebellion. The cover rendition of him sneering in his schoolboy uniform, with horns and devil’s tail was inspired. On the turntable Bonn Scott sang about Girl’s Got A Rhythm and Touch Too Much. This was educational programming in my world, and beat the hell out of vacation bible school.

My passion for rock music started early with playing my mom’s old singles of Elvis, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Fats Domino. In 1976, the Steve Miller Band released Fly Like An Eagle and I discovered Kiss Alive! (1975) . This got me to set down the 1950s songs, as I eagerly moved into the heavy atmosphere of the anti-disco 1970s.

Two early foundational recordings came as gifts. From my aunt in Pennsylvania, Led Zeppelin II (1969), and from my aunt in North Carolina, Lynyrd Skynyrd Gold and Platinum (1979). I wore those recordings out as a kid nearing high school.

Back then, going to the music store to purchase an album was a big deal. Allowance money had to be saved, and any potential selection carefully scrutinized to ensure it would advance my growing taste for what rock-n-roll had to offer. This constituted an impressive assemblage of classic blockbuster albums.

Pink Floyd The Wall (1980); Van Halen Women and Children First (1980); Billy Joel Glass Houses (1980); REO Speedwagon Hi Infidelity (1981); Foreigner 4 (1981); Police Ghost in the Machine (1981); The Kinks Give The People What They Want (1981); Journey Escape (1981); Styx Paradise Theatre (1981); The Clash Combat Rock (1982); The J. Geils Band Freeze Frame (1982); Go-Gos Beauty and the Beat (1982); John Cougar American Fool (1982); Men at Work Business as Usual (1982); Talking Heads Speaking in Tongues (1983); David Bowie Let’s Dance (1983); Def Leppard Pyromania (1983); and ZZ Top Eliminator (1983).

A couple college buddies had recently sold off the majority of their collections, only they held back their most prized recordings. I had no use for remnants. I was opting to go all in. One price for the entire collection.

I investigated selling these online, through e-Bay or a record reseller community site like Vinylom, Discogs or Music Stack. Generally, this required uploading each album description, or a roster of albums, perhaps with photographs and pay a commission of 8 percent and higher on any sales. That would take forever to input. #HardPass.

Instead I reached out locally in Lexington to CD Central. A chunk of my music was purchased used back in the day from Cut Corner, an institution long since closed, but ironically existed in the same approximate vicinity as CD Central’s address at 377 S. Limestone, directly across from the University of Kentucky.

There was a cathartic appeal to returning these records to a friendly location from whence they came. True, three crates of music had to be hefted once again, but upon return, the car would be empty and my pockets lined with cash (in theory).

Walking into the store I carried under my arm a sampling of 20 albums. The owner, Steve Baron, was straight forward, pleasant but business like. Essentially, he runs an independent record store. He can’t buy what he can’t move.

I handed over a stack of wax and took a look around. At the time there was a dog that lived in CD Central named Zena, a collie shepherd/husky mix. She was a sweet animal, with a wonderful disposition. The two of us checked out some old Blues artists to kill time.

This sampling consisted of trophy albums mainly. Either splashy hit records or reference recordings that collectors would snatch up fast.

One example was the 1977 multiplatinum offering Out of the Blue, from the Electric Light Orchestra, with its expansive double LP foldout depicting the ELO spaceship in full effect. Another inclusion was Yessongs, the live 1973 three-album set from Yes.

There was the Doors – L.A. Woman (1971); The Doobie Brothers – Takin’ It To The Streets (1976); Lynyrd Skynyrd – Street Survivors (1977); Janis Joplin – Pearl (1971); Bruce Springsteen – Born To Run (1975); Black Sabbath – Live Evil (1982); and Grateful Dead Dead Set (1981).

As Baron lifted his head from inspecting my offering, his eyes glowed with animation as he asked, “You have more of this stuff?!?”

Indeed I did. A whole car full.

For the final time I pulled these hateful crates from my vehicle, trotting them from the parking lot behind CD Central, up to the front entrance, cursing with every step. Out of breath and sweating profusely, as I attempted to realign my strained spine, I informed the owner, “That’s it. Everything is in the store.”

It would take about an hour to inspect the lot and set a price. As this was akin to giving away a piece of myself, I felt a drink was in order. The venerable Two Keys Tavern was a block down and open for lunch.

There really wasn’t a price that could compensate my relationship with these recordings. We covered a lot of ground together, from childhood to the person I am today. It sickened me I had allowed a quarter of the collection to be neglected to the point where water could damage it – but that was emblematic of where technology had allowed their priority to slide. It only seemed fitting to down a couple parting shots of Maker’s Mark in a bid of farewell.

Upon return the owner was in full enthusiasm mode, complimenting the makeup of my collection and its condition. Adding, that most of what folks try to sell him is yard sale quality – unkept, usually scratched and with any inserts long since lost.

This reassurance did calm my growing reservations, and ease the sense of abandonment felt for leaving these treasured possessions behind with no clue of their well-being. Baron, the CD Central owner, had seen this moment before – separation anxiety. It’s hard to let go and walk away.

Placing a check in my hand for $450, Baron clapped me on the shoulder to say, “Don’t worry, we’ll find a good home for all of these.”

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The Queen of Soul Takes Final Bow

Detroit’s own, the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, made her final curtain call August 16, passing away at home from pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor (pNET). She was 76.

Franklin set herself apart from contemporaries and across generations with her boundless singing voice. Whether gospel, rhythm & blues, standards, opera or soul, Aretha could walk a pitch up an Alpine mountain range or navigate anguish in the pits of despair, touching listeners where only she could reach.

Franklin leaves a platinum legacy, having recorded 112 charted singles on Billboard, including 77 Hot 100 entries, 17 top-ten pop singles, 100 R&B entries, and 20 number-one R&B singles, becoming the most charted female artist in history. Add to that 18 Grammy Awards and 75 million records sold worldwide.

Her’s was a voice literally heard round the planet. Yet it wasn’t until the 1990s, in my early 20s that I gave Aretha a deeper look. Franklin scored late career boosts with her guest role in the 1980 cult classic The Blues Brothers, and from her hit song, (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, being featured on the multiplatinum soundtrack to the Oscar-nominated film The Big Chill (1983).

This late career exposure reminded a younger and whiter audience of Franklin’s greatness and why she was such a national treasure. In turn, Franklin capitalized on this newfound popularity with the platinum selling disc Who’s Zoomin’ Who? (1985), and its million seller Freeway of Love.

This success built upon her reputation, but I was now looking backward, to find the 1960s Aretha – a woman who was sharp, hungry and still fighting on her way up.

The late 1980s into 1990, found me putting the finishing touches on an undergraduate career at the University of Iowa. I spent my nights working as a line cook at The Sanctuary, where our miscreant kitchen staff chose to hangout after hours.

Frequent late nights were spent in a haze of European imports and precarious explorations of top shelf liquor, all backed by a house soundtrack that included recordings from cats like John Lee Hooker, Etta James, Otis Redding, Ella Fitzgerald and Lavern Baker.

Sister Aretha was a regular voice heard in that rotation.

It was during this musical enlightenment period that I saw past the catchy refrain of R-E-S-P-E-C-T, and peered into the darkness this woman endured, and her uncanny ability to transition emotion into song.

There are two Aretha Franklin recordings that must be included in any legitimate retrospective collection of popular music.

I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You (1967). It went to number 2 on the Billboard Album chart and number 1 on its R&B Selling chart. The record was certified Gold, and holds the number 83 ranking on Rolling Stone magazine’s 2003 list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Respect went #1. The title track and Do Right Woman, Do Right Man are amazing offerings.

Lady Soul (1968). This was Franklin’s twelfth album, and full of hits like Chain of Fools (#2), (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman (#8), and (Sweet, Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone (#5). The record went platinum, peaking at #1 on Billboard’s Black Albums, #2 on Pop Albums and #3 on Jazz Albums respectively. It came in at number 85 on Rolling Stone’s list The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Check out the emotional riptide that is unleashed in Good to Me as I Am to You. Lord have mercy!

Aretha with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

She was a singer, songwriter, civil rights activist, women’s rights activist, actress and musician. Aretha forever was a powerful force in the entertainment world, for her talent that provided her a career that spanned more than 60 years, but also as a role model for women and particularly for women of color.

Franklin was given the honor to sing for three presidents, at three different inaugurations. Carter in 1977, Obama in 2009, and the one place where I had a chance to see the Queen of Soul, in 1993, when she headlined the Clinton/Gore Inaugural dubbed, “America’s Reunion on the Mall.”

Aretha became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1987); a Kennedy Center Honoree (1994); and in his second term, W presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2005).

In 2010, Franklin was ranked first on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time, and ninth on its list of 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. Aretha Franklin’s voice is one that comes around maybe once in a lifetime. She gave so much, now it’s her turn to take a rest and watch the show.

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Radiohead Makes Return Trip to Cincinnati

Radiohead performing its opening song, “Daydreaming,” at U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati.

Radiohead brought its alt-rock mastery to U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati on July 25, as part of a North American extension added to its A Moon Shaped Pool tour that began in May of 2016.

Total disclaimer here: It has become impressively difficult to score a hall pass to see a concert these days. Family obligations, kids and work all conspire to keep one home, especially on weekday nights. It takes a special show to come along, which was the case with Radiohead’s recent stop in Cincinnati.

The majority of this tour was scheduled outside the United States, so I jumped early at the chance to catch these blokes in Atlanta on April 1, 2017.

Still, when the band announced in February the addition of 14 dates in eight U.S. cities, including Cincinnati, a mere 90 minutes from my house in Kentucky – I was animated by the possibilities.

Six years had passed since Radiohead last played Cincinnati on June 5, 2012 at Riverbend on The King of Limbs tour. Regardless, it remained a game-time decision on whether I could pull off attending this July show. A good friend of mine and fellow mutant, Montgomery, was down for the challenge. He’s a Grateful Dead devotee, and not terribly familiar with Radiohead aside from reputation. I was not sure how that would play out considering the contemplative nature of the band’s material, but it actually worked beautifully.

Since the Dead have their own atmospheric way of taking over a room, with a fearless nature of pushing experimental boundaries and the parallel use of psychedelic visuals – enough familiarity transferred to make Radiohead accessible to the uninitiated.

Here was the kicker. The U.S. Bank venue, formerly Riverfront Coliseum (think The Who disaster in 1979), offered general admission floor access. For those with a wandering spirit, it allows one to push into the crowd if closer to the stage is desired, twirl about like a fool in the back or shift vantage points throughout the concert. The point being options are available and it keeps claustrophobia to a minimum.

The week of the show floor seats increased in cost to around $120. That was out of my budget. But day of show at around 5:30PM, when we needed to be getting in a car and driving to Cincinnati, prices plunged to $62 on StubHub, well under face value.

This fortuitous turn of events cranked up the volume on our adrenaline, leading to some rather outrageous pre-game festivities. It’s always humorous when you get two people together who don’t say “NO” very often. It leaves a lot of territory open for consumption. I wager to say our appetites that fine evening would have even made Master Yoda’s Jedi mind flip.

I mean we were in Ohio at that point anyway. After considerable juggling and fancy footwork on my part to clear waivers and secure a clean exit from my household – it seemed we owed it to ourselves to make the most of our hard earned Wednesday night freedom.

From the jump Radiohead did not disappoint. The opening song, Daydreaming, kept the arena bathed in darkness with its stark vocal and piano accompaniment, until blooming midway through, when pinpoint rays of brilliant white light radiated from the stage. Slowly the video screens and LED panels began coming to life, like a cascade. With Radiohead the atmospherics and scene setting for each track are co-equal with the music.

Early set highlights included Hail to the Thief’s cutting 2 + 2 = 5 and the fuzzy feedback of Myxomatosis. The cautionary tale of Lucky, with the signature weeping guitar work of Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien, came in at track nine, from the 1997 disc OK Computer.

Near the midway point of the 25-song set came the optimistic Everything in its Right Place from Kid A (2000). Tightly knit percussion is a hallmark of Radiohead’s music, courtesy of Philip Selway, and in live performances he is joined by Clive Deamer. Their dual percussion attack stood tall all evening. It was their ominous beats that forewarned the crowd that Reckoner, the creepy cool track from In Rainbows (2007) was upon us.

The icy coolness of Idioteque came in at selection 15, and set up one of my two top highlights for the concert with the playing of A Wolf at the Door. This is a deep cut off Hail to the Thief (2003), and was only played five times on the entire tour.

My other big highlight came during the first encore with Talk Show Host, a 1996 B-side on the Street Spirit (Fade Out) EP, a trippy track and not one often heard.

Encore two brought us the title track from 1995’s The Bends, a more traditionally structured rock-n-roll tune than much of what was heard that evening and always well received by Radiohead faithful. The closer was Karma Police, off their seminal avant grade third disc Ok Computer. It arguably is the tune that pushed them into the next stratosphere of fame, and the CD earned the band a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Album and a nomination for Album of the Year.

RADIOHEAD SETLIST U.S. BANK ARENA, CINCINNATI 07.25.18

The show was an absolute blast. What makes radiohead special is not just their ability to play so clean, and give concertgoers such a full audio and visual spectacle, but that the songs themselves are so strong that even if one didn’t know these tracks, midway through each one the band has won listeners over. They sell themselves.

The Cincinnati Hilton’s Palm Court Bar

With the show concluded, Cincinnati was our oyster to explore. The car needed to stay parked a bit longer before a journey home was even contemplated.

I have this affinity for imbibing in plush accommodations after rock-n-roll shows. The Cincinnati Hilton offered just such a location with its palatial art deco decored Palm Court Bar. It was full of Radiohead-ers getting their drinks on. Montgomery and I sipped cold beers and took in the scene as we gathered our feet back under us. While amusing and full of eye candy, we required musical accompaniment, of a variety not to be found at the Palm Court. We needed gritty and we needed a professional drinking establishment.

By chance we passed just such a tavern walking to the the Palm Court. O’Malley’s in the Alley (and it was situated down an alley), is Cincinnati’s second oldest bar and open for more than 100 years. This joint was full of raucous drinkers till they spilled out the front, many of whom had attended the concert and were retelling their favorite bits. We were greeted walking in to the familiar sound of Radiohead emanating from the jukebox. Indeed we had found a home for the evening.

Brooke commanding the scene at O’Malley’s in the Alley.

Standing sassily behind the bar was an absolute show-stopper. Tall and piercing in fairness, armed with a bottle of Irish Whiskey and not afraid to pour it heartily was Brooke, a Warrior Princess of the first order. She held fierce command over this bar with her sexy as hell tattoos snaking down her willowy arms.

We had been doing well with our new found moderation – until the Jagermeister. It was Montgomery’s turn to buy and the beers were on the way, but his eye caught the Jagermeister machine in the corner that dispensed ice-chilled shots of this dark viscous liquor. There is something about its distinctive green hue that shines out in a dimly lit bar. For a minute it sounded like a good idea, but Jager is toxic. It can cause an otherwise rational individual to loose all power of speech, mobility and sense God gave a door knob.

Montgomery in fine form outside O’Malley’s.

My friend was traveling a path I could not follow, at least not if we wanted to drive home. Yet I felt compelled to participate, so I turned to Brooke and told her hard pass on the Jager, but Maker’s Mark would do. She filled a disposable plastic cup nearly halfway up with this fine 90-proof Kentucky bourbon; at least a double shot. Things got blurry after that.

We became fast friends with a group of Cincinnati Reds’ fans visiting from St. Louis, who also were sipping Jagermeister, but preferred downing foo-foo shots, like Red Headed Sluts and such. Suddenly a variety of shots started arriving on the bar. That combo went about as well as you might imagine.

We did make it back to Kentucky, but not until around 6AM, just in time to hit the shower and get ready for work. That Thursday was one of the most painful days I’ve ever had the displeasure of working in my life.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Kentucky Bourbon Bandit Sentenced to 15 Years

Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton with bottles of Pappy Van Winkle and Eagle Rare bourbons stolen in the “Pappygate” heist.

File this under the “Only In Kentucky” category. Bourbon Bandit Gilbert “Toby” Curtsinger, the ringleader in the “Pappygate” bourbon heist, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for the theft of more than $100,000 worth of liquor from the Buffalo Trace and Wild Turkey distilleries.

The case first gained notoriety in 2013, after Buffalo Trace, located in Kentucky’s capital city of Frankfort, reported $26,000 worth of bourbon stolen from its distillery. Missing were 195 bottles of the ultra-rare Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve and 27 bottles of Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye.

Pappy is one of the most sought after labels around, and the top bourbon whiskey in the world, rated 99 out of a possible 100 at the World Spirits Championship. Its face value ranges from $100-$170-$270 per bottle, depending on its age stamp of 15, 20 or 23-years, but it’s rarely available for over-the-counter sales. Often lotteries must be held to give winners the privilege of purchasing a single bottle, or it’s sold on the black marked at several times its face value. The Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye, that also was pilfered, is aged for 13 years and valued at $120 a bottle.

The 23-year old Pappy Van Winkle, produced by Buffalo Trace, is the world’s No. 1 trophy bourbon, and often fetches a price of $3,000 and up on the open market.

The missing Pappy turned out to be only the tip of the iceberg for what law enforcement officials discovered was an organized crime ring that systematically stole premium bourbon from the Buffalo Trace and Wild Turkey distilleries for resale beginning in 2008, along with engaging in the purchase and distribution of illegal steroids.

For two years the case dragged on without an arrest until March 2015, when an anonymous tip pointed a finger at Toby Curtsinger. Deputies with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office found five full barrels of bourbon behind Curtsinger’s home in Franklin County. The barrels contained bourbon destined to become Wild Turkey 101, often referred to as “Kickin’ Chickin’, and Russell’s Reserve, a premium Wild Turkey label aged 10 years.

Inside the house deputies found numerous firearms, anabolic steroids, human growth hormone, a large quantity of cash and needles to inject steroids.

Curtsinger was indicted as the head of a criminal syndicate, that included his wife and members of his recreational softball league team, who Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton and Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Zach Becker said collaborated on the theft, transportation, distribution and bootlegging of this premium bourbon, and the trafficking in anabolic steroids.

Eagle Rare bourbon, produced by Buffalo Trace Distillery.

Besides the five wooden barrels found behind Curtsinger’s house, 12 other wooden barrels were recovered, along with the bourbon from an additional barrel, and one stainless steel barrel of Eagle Rare, 17-year-old bourbon. Most of the barrels were valued between $3,000 and $6,000, however the Eagle Rare barrel was worth $11,000 to $12,000.

The evidence presented to the grand jury indicated the syndicate was also linked to the thefts of over 20 cases of Pappy Van Winkle bourbons; 50-70 cases of Eagle Rare bourbon; nine additional stainless steel barrels of bourbon from Buffalo Trace stolen in the winter of 2014; and numerous other wooden barrels recovered from Laurel, Scott and Harrison counties.

The total value of the stolen whiskey was conservatively estimated at $100,000.

Curtsinger, a 26-year senior employee at Buffalo Trace, worked on the loading docks, where he was able to load barrels into his pickup truck, cover them with a tarp and drive off property, having bribed a security guard working the gates.

Stolen barrels of bourbon recovered by sheriff’s deputies with identifying trademarks blacked out by Curtsinger and his associates. | Photo courtesy of Deborah Wilson

Some of the barrels were sanded and spray-painted black on the tops and bottoms to remove all marks from the distillery. Other times Curtsinger utilized his distillery position to legitimize his criminal activities, wearing Buffalo Trace apparel when approaching buyers.

Authorities said Curtsinger would tell potential buyers that his bourbon was under proofed, or was supposed to go overseas but the distillery changed its mind, so now he could sell it at a discount.

Early on there was a grain of truth to this story. Curtsinger admitted after his case was litigated how his bootlegging dated back several years earlier than law enforcement had been able to piece together. Instead of the thefts beginning in 2008 as originally believed, it was more like 2003, when Curtsinger was assigned to a warehouse for bourbon that failed to meet production standards. There was so much tainted bourbon taking up space that it was seen as a favor to supervisors that Curtsinger could make some of it disappear. Of course he made a bit of money off that less than perfect bourbon don’t you know.

Many buyers came forward and said they believed Curtsinger because he never indicated anything at all like it was stolen. He didn’t hide his identity. They’d known him for years and he always showed up to softball tournaments with liquor and gifts.

Wild Turkey Distillery, located in Lawrenceburg, KY.

Curtsinger fluctuated between selling barrels – or bottles of Pappy – through a middle man, and doing the dirty work himself. His criminal enterprise grew after an arrangement was struck to acquire barrels of Wild Turkey through Mark Sean Searcy, who was a truck driver responsible for barrel deliveries to and from the Anderson County distillery to a warehouse near Camp Nelson in Jessamine County.

Investigation documents showed that during his route Searcy would stop at his father’s home in Lawrenceburg, where he rolled the barrels out of the truck on an aluminum ladder into a barn on the property, then would call Curtsinger to inform him a pick-up was required and how many barrels needed resale.

While Curtsinger can be portrayed as an affable sort, certain statements to investigators showed a darker side to the defendant. One co-conspirator reported Curtsinger possessed a .22 caliber pistol with a silencer at work, and would discharge the gun in the distillery’s parking lot into a dirt pile in an effort to intimidate co-workers. He was also known to have sabotaged someone’s work in order to punish them for not going along with his requests.

Gilbert “Toby” Curtsinger, the Pappygate ringleader.

A grand jury in Frankfort indicted nine people in what was dubbed “Pappygate,” for engaging in organized crime, the equivalent of racketeering. Additionally, a former Buffalo Trace security guard, Leslie Wright, was later indicted and pled guilty to looking the other way when Curtsinger departed the distillery with barrels in the back of his truck.

Those indicted on April 21, 2015, were Curtsinger, his wife, Julie Curtsinger, Robert M. McKinney (Julie Curtsinger’s father), Mark S. Searcy, Ronnie Lee Hubbard, Dustin “Dusty” Adkins, Shaun Ballard, Christopher L. Preston and (his son) Joshua T. Preston.

Julie Curtsinger accepted a plea deal on a couple of drug-related misdemeanors. She entered an Alford plea, meaning that she did not admit wrongdoing but accepted that there was sufficient evidence against her for a conviction. Charges against her father, Robert McKinney were dismissed with his daughter’s acceptance of her plea deal.

The other indictees, except for Searcy, have all pled guilty and accepted plea agreements and probation in return for cooperating with the prosecution.

Others caught up in Pappygate but not charged included Frankfort police officer Mike Wells. As a Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) officer, he went into schools to warn students about the dangers of drugs. He resigned from the department in 2015 after he allegedly purchased anabolic steroids from Curtsinger.

According to court documents, former Georgetown Police Chief Greg Reeves was among the people who bought a barrel of stolen bourbon. Reeves, who had left the department before buying the barrel, cooperated with investigators and wasn’t charged.

Curtsinger, 48, pled guilty to reduced charges of engaging in organized crime (a Class B felony); two counts of receiving stolen property (a Class D felony); theft by unlawful taking (a Class D felony); four counts of second-degree possession of a controlled substance (a Class A misdemeanor); and possession of drug paraphernalia (a Class A misdemeanor).

“What we have here is a multifaceted crime ring, with three separate categories – Buffalo Trace, Wild Turkey and steroids,” said Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Zach Becker. “The common link between all these categories is Mr. Curtsinger, who was centrally involved in every criminal aspect of this criminal syndicate.”

Curiously, Franklin County Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate granted Curtsinger shock probation after serving just 30 days of a 15-year sentence. Prosecutors did not object to the move.

Bottles of Pappy Van Winkle tagged as evidence at the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office. Can you imagine the price a bottle of Pappy might fetch that was certified stolen from Pappygate?

While it is well documented that our jails are overcrowded with violent offenders, and this clumsy conspiracy to steal and bootleg top-shelf bourbon was basically victimless – Curtsinger orchestrated the theft of more than $100,000 in prized property over a 10-year period. Clearly the distilleries want this to go away, but Curtsinger deserved to do some time. If a man of color had committed these same crimes he would likely be sitting in prison for years before a discussion was had about early release or shock probation. I believe this is an instance where the term “White Justice” would apply nicely.

Sadly, after all this thievery, deceit and prosecution, the truly criminal part is the seized bourbon is slated for destruction, under state law, because its whereabouts, contents and handling could not be vouched for to consumers. I understand the spirit of that law, but come on man, give the bourbon a chance!

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Anthony Bourdain Says Goodbye to the Mortal World

Anthony Bourdain, born June 25, 1956 in NYC, died June 8, 2018 Kaysersberg, France.

On June 8, an important voice of generosity and tolerance was silenced. Anthony Bourdain, the renegade chef, globetrotter and storyteller, succumbed to whatever demons haunted his earthly domain, as he took his own life at the age of 61. Bourdain had traveled to Kaysersberg, a small village in the Alsace region of France, near the German border, to shoot scenes for Parts Unknown, his popular adventure travel show, when friend and fellow celebrity chef Eric Ripert, found Bourdain unresponsive in his room at the Hotel le Chambard, having hung himself.

Bourdain was a tough character to pigeon hole. He wore many hats: chef, author, father, avowed drug addict and sharp-tongued critic. But his love of life and the conduit by which he offered his inherent gifts to the world, flowed from the idea of availing one’s self through the preparation of cuisine, and by sharing that passion with others round a dinner table, it opened doors to communication and often to a free exchange of ideas.

Through his worldly treks and subsequent writing, Bourdain emphasized how the simplest of people can often relay the most telling lessons about life. Sometimes we need only to slow down and put ourselves into another person’s shoes in order to ask the right question that will put a stranger at ease. In turn, a certain comfort can be achieved and perhaps pave the way for a discussion of the history behind some closely-held family recipe, or insight into a foreign political philosophy.

Bourdain earned his fame, having graduated in 1978 from The Culinary Institute of America in New York, but began his career shucking oysters and cleaning dishes in Cape Cod seafood shacks, then toiled for decades working 12/13-hour days for $10/hour as a line cook in a variety of questionable kitchens. It was this gutter up philosophy that made him the man he became. Add in his abundant charm and kitchen mastery, and together this later landed him the prestigious job of executive chef at Brasserie Les Halles in Manhattan.

Yet it was the publication of Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, a 2000 bestseller, that launched Bourdain into a second career and celebrity chef stardom. This offered foodies a glimpse behind the scenes of how their favorite restaurants really operated, and provided insider tips on how to gain the upscale dining experience many sought. That drugs, booze, sex and rampant misbehavior existed in the restaurant business was obvious when one considered the days and hours worked, but Bourdain’s first person prose of Gonzo-esque journalism earned him a place at the table with the good doctor, Hunter S. Thompson.

With his sudden fame came television. A Cook’s Tour on The Food Network, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations on the Travel Channel, and his ongoing success with Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown seen on CNN. These took cuisine to a different kind of edge, geographically and politically. Bourdain knew well from his travels that America remained a young country that failed to grasp the greater importance that comes with eating well, and even less could America comprehend traveling to strange, exotic and far away destinations, where dining on regional specialties was a necessity to engage in more meaningful conversations with locals, allowing for a deeper understanding of a people and place.

Bourdain took viewers with him to war torn regions of the world that news outlets in America had ceased covering. This offered Bourdain and his crew a chance to delve into the reality of political decision making playing out in tragic ways for peoples’ lives on the ground long after the bombs stopped dropping. It showcased how hard life can be in these far off lands, and the love and understanding people can have for one another – often on display during mealtime.

Yes, sometimes that meant eating some rather questionable cuisine, but that was worth the price of admission to share insight into the human condition of people located geographically a world away. Travel broadens a person, and that was Bourdain’s currency.

He depicted tolerance and appreciation of things not understood in a time when American leaders on both sides of the aisle do little than throw rhetorical fire bombs at one another, and our illegitimate boy king president is about as broad as a child who only eats overcooked hotdogs and soggy Freedom Fries.

Bourdain was a fellow traveler, a mutant of the highest order, and as a consequential result of all his first person forays into work and recreational play, was a beautifully broken individual. He was a seeker of the unknown, intrepid in his endeavors, willing to put himself wholly into all he did and not shy away from using his own foibles as vehicles in his storytelling.

“I should’ve died in my 20s. I became successful in my 40s. I became a dad in my 50s,” Bourdain told Todd Aaron Jensen in a 2016 interview for Biography.com. “I feel like I’ve stolen a car – a really nice car – and I keep looking in the rear-view mirror for flashing lights. But there’s been nothing yet.”

I am selfishly sad for Tony’s premature departure. I am truly sad for the hole his absence leaves in the lives of his family members. He gave so much, maybe there was no more left. I will say Anthony Bourdain left all he had out on the field and considering his shortcomings, his accomplishments soar that much higher to the heavens.

Happy travels Mr. Bourdain. You lived well and will be missed.

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