By Samir Shukla
The serene sounds of the Appalachians, American music and more, with chatting banjos, guitars, the vocalists, piano, drums, will once again fill the air at MerleFest.
The annual family-geared music festival, sorry no booze served, is spread over four days in the foothills of North Carolina. Music literally fills every corner and hilltop at various indoor and outdoor stages of varying sizes. Organizers tag MerleFest as a celebration of “traditional plus" music of the Appalachian region. I say it's a celebration of music. Period. You can expect plenty of bluegrass, country, rock, Celtic, folk, gospel, blues and more. Over the past several years, I've learned to jaunt about the stages, spread around on the campus of Wilkes Barre Community College, to make the most of the performances.
One of many special features this year include the Steep Canyon Rangers premiering the “North Carolina Songbook" set on the Watson stage on Sunday afternoon, which will feature the band covering music from NC luminaries including Earl Scruggs, James Taylor, Thelonious Monk and many more.
Among the dozens of performers lined up this year, highlights include Brandi Carlile, The Trailblazers, Pete Wernick, Si Kahn, The Avett Brothers, Steep Canyon Rangers, and Wynonna and the Big Noise.
MerleFest, founded in 1988, is held on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, NC. The annual event has become the primary fundraiser for the WCC Foundation, funding scholarships, capital projects and other educational needs.
MerleFest takes place April 25 – 28, 2019. Full artist lineup and other details can be found at www.merlefest.org.
By Samir Shukla
Ok, so the 2018 American election is still not over, at least in a neck of the North Carolina woods. The debacle of North Carolina 9th Congressional District shows how fraud can undermine the voting process. An investigation into possible election fraud is under way. Republican Mark Harris looked as though he won in the 2018 election in November, defeating Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes. Not so fast. After reviewing the numbers, the NC State Board of Elections has ordered a new election, citing irregularities among mail-in absentee ballots.
We are off to a redo. The NC State Board decided to first hold a primary election on May 14. After that, September 10 will either be the date of the runoff primary election, if it's necessary, or the general election. If a runoff primary is needed, the general election will be held November 5. The sad part is that the winner will be seated in the House of Representatives for about a year; in essence the winner will start working for reelection just as soon as being seated.
McCready is running again, unopposed in the Democratic primary, while 10 Republicans are going to fight it out in the Republican primary to get a chance to take on McCready.
Turning to the mushrooming numbers of Democrats running for president, now Beto O'Rourke has tossed his name into the ring. Joe Biden is pretty much going to run, he's just taking his time to announce. He is still a landline kind of guy.
I have said this and will continue to say that, in the end, the Democrats need a close-to-center candidate to beat Trump. I can hear the howls of left-wing Dems giving me an evil eye already. Let me put it this way, all the talk of reparations, taxing the wealthy, Medicare for all, increasing social security taxes, New Green Deal, may fire up the progressive base, but unless they are spelled out in fiscal detail, they are just talk. Primarily, even if the money is worked out, they require massive changes in people's habits, behavior, and status quo. There's a substantial number of Republicans and Conservatives looking for someone to vote for that's not named Trump. They are not going to look at the increasingly hard left turn of Democrats, just as they are turned off by the hard right turn of the Republicans.
Also, Republicans have become masters of simplifying their message where the average Joe can grab onto it. Simple words, simple concepts. I know the primaries are where the hard-progressives and hard-conservatives lurk. The Democratic candidate that can learn to balance the activists with a message of workable policy, long-term views, specific incremental changes, and, yes, fiscal responsibility, will emerge ahead of the pack, even victorious.
Imagine a Democrat talking about fiscal responsibility when the current crop of Republicans and so-called conservatives are spending money like drunken gamblers.
A simple advice to all the progressives duking it out with other progressives on social media, it's way too early, don't eat your own, it will sort out.
It's funny how we are becoming more tribal in the political sphere, but at the same time during events such as sports and music, we untangle our usual tribalism and weave a different community. A couple of Carolina or NC State fans high-fiving each other every time their team scores maybe politically polar opposite, but in that one moment, after a slam dunk, or during a soaring guitar solo in a concert, the tribes merge into a whole. Candidates that understand these commonalities will prevail.
The Democratic National Convention 2020 will be held in Milwaukee. That's a smart move as Trump flipped Wisconsin, along with Michigan and Pennsylvania (three states Hillary Clinton was expected to win) in 2016.
The decision by Democratic National Committee to not do any debates on Fox News shows a sign of weakness and, more importantly, a missed opportunity. If you want to win back independents and soft Republicans, don't preach to the choir. Go into the lion's den and defend your beliefs.
The current crops of politicians are admirable in that they want to do something big. Big economic policies and social policies. Slow down folks. You can talk of going as big as you want, but in the long-term, incremental changes tend to stick and do the greater good. Big economic changes tend to help a certain segment while screwing another segment. There is never a win-win. Social change doesn't do big and quick. It is naturally slow. That's where a stroll is better than a road race.
By Samir Shukla
India's national election is now underway. The numbers are mind boggling. There are nearly 900 million eligible voters. Think about that. It is an exercise in democracy unprecedented in human history. The closest cousin in numbers is of course the United States.
India's Election Commission has announced the elections will be held in seven phases, between April 11 and May 19, 2019. The results will be declared on May 23.
The big battle is set. Narendra Modi is running for reelection while Rahul Gandhi challenges him for the seat of Prime Minister.
Social media played a large part in Modi's rise in 2014. Now, five years later, social media, especially WhatsApp, will have a huge effect on the elections.
There's no way to conduct India's election in a single day. India's Parliamentary system has myriad political parties that must form coalitions to win and survive. United States' two-party system is not going anywhere for a while.
The world's biggest democracy and the world's most powerful democracy are brothers in arms and natural economic partners, not to mention the most diverse countries in the world.
If America's upcoming presidential election is a rumbling road race, India's national elections are a double-barreled locomotive, fully-loaded and brimming with people hanging on to every corner, compartment, doorway and rooftop, while careening toward the horizon. The awaiting future.