Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sometimes satire is the best medicine




The President showed quite a bit of humor at the annual White House Correspondents Dinner.  His sketch with Luther as his anger translator was probably the highlight of the evening.  Judging by some of the looks in the audience, not everyone found it so funny, but the President eventually let his own "anger" go over climate change, which brought down most of the house.  It seems satire is the best way to go after your critics.  If nothing else it throws your political adversaries off guard.  His little zinger at Michelle Bachmann was perfect.  Anything more and it would have looked like he was actually taking her seriously.

Obama is entering the "fourth quarter" of his administration and feeling "looser than ever."  It shows.  The Republican presidential candidates still see him as a convenient foil, but there will be no overtime.  At some point they will actually have to offer their visions for the presidency, not just run as anti-Obamas.

For a political party that thinks it has the best "field" since Reagan, it seems to be looking very chaotic.  Not that the field back in 1980 was any great shakes.  You had Reagan, George H.W. Bush and John Anderson, who became so disappointed with the direction of the GOP that he ran as an independent in the general election and won seven per cent of the vote.  Not that it stopped the Gipper, who rode his white horse to one of the biggest electoral victories in presidential history.

So far, only three Republicans have declared their candidacy, although May looks to be a big month with the "Good Doctor" Carson, Carly Fiorina, Jeb "Caveman" Bush and Chris Christie all potentially declaring their candidacies.  It is convenient for guys like Jeb to hold off as long as possible, as he can raise money through PACs outside the campaign laws that bind candidates somewhat on the trail.

The odd part is that you would think Obama was running for a third term, as the person who comes up over and over and over again on the campaign trail is the President.  It's like these GOP'ers haven't been able to wrap their thoughts around anyone else, although Rand Paul is soliciting dirt on Hillary Clinton through his website.  That's generally what you have a campaign staff for, but right now he has to focus more on Marco Rubio, who for whatever strange reason has leaped to the top of the pack in the early polls.  He, like Rand and Ted Cruz, have modeled their political careers to some degree on Obama, using vocal first terms in the Senate to climb the Republican ladder with the hope that voters want a fresh face, as they did in 2008.

None of them showed up for the Correspondents Dinner, even though they were all invited.  I guess they didn't want to be the brunt of the President's jokes on television news clips.  Better to look like you are above such a jocular evening, consulting the good book while on the campaign trail in Iowa.  Looks to me that these guys are following the George W. Bush 2000 game plan more so than that of the Gipper.  I would just like to see a little bit of humor emerge on the campaign trail, rather than have these guys all acting like God is on their side.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Meet the Cheneys


Happy Times in the Cheney Family

It's been three years since Dick Cheney's heart transplant and there seems to be no change in his attitude.  He either got a heart from a very similar person or we just have to accept the fact that a heart is an organ, not the spiritual center of our body.

Of course his family would tell us that the gruff persona he has honed to Darth Vader like perfection is just his public face.  He's actually a pussy cat at home.  I would like to think so, but judging by how his daughter Liz has taken up the very same persona, co-authoring a book slamming Obama for the ungteenth time, one can imagine the conversations at the breakfast table.  They've both been busy promoting this virulent screed on the talk show circuit.  For whatever absurd reason, mainstream media lap it up.

I guess I should make an exception for Mary, who doesn't seem to be cut from the same cloth.  She's been an active proponent of marriage equality.  Still, she sees herself as a "Log Cabin Republican" although there seems little room for gays and lesbians in the GOP these days.  How she reconciles herself with Bobby Jindal and other religious conservative governors who have gone out of their way to make gays into pariahs of their states is beyond me.  Even Andrew Sullivan had to throw in the towel and see Obama as the last best hope for recognition of gay rights.

Not the Cheneys.  Even Mary has no time for Obama and the Democrats.  She still firmly believes that the GOP has it right.  It's just that its platform needs a little tweaking so as to not be so exclusive of the gay conservatives who want to be included.

Enter Marco Rubio, who defied all religious conservative morals by actively courting Log Cabin Republicans, portraying himself as a centrist.  It doesn't matter that he rode the Tea Party Express into Congress four years ago, Rubio has tentatively moved to the center, testing the water ever so slowly, seeing if there are enough votes on the margins of the Republican Party to win him the nomination in 2016.  Maybe Mary will join him on the campaign trail.

Meanwhile, Mama Cheney has been showing her historical muscle, penning a book on James Madison that actually received positive reviews from historians.  Gordon S. Wood no less.  It's nice to see that someone in the family seems to actually have an appreciation for history.

Dick seems to have none whatsoever.  His most recent broadsides against President Obama, who apparently has a familial link to the Cheneys, is evidence that he may be suffering from Alzheimer's or some other form of degenerative brain disease.  He claims that Obama has "diminished US power and emboldened enemies" by negotiating with Iran.  He even claims that Obama is the worst president in his memory (what little appears to be left of it), noting in his snide voice that he is even worse than Jimmy Carter.  Gasp!

Jon Stewart took the former Vice-President to task over these audacious claims, noting among other things that it was Dick Cheney himself who negotiated lucrative business deals with Iran when he was heading up Halliburton back in 1998, even going so far as to suggest sanctions should be lifted.  A relationship that continued into the Bush administration.  Little wonder this administration was so keen on having Nouri al Maliki head Iraq, as he was exiled in Iran during the Hussein regime, which for decades had kept the "Shi'a revolution" at bay.  I guess an enemy of our enemy can be a friend to some degree, as long as we keep it under the table, but here it was all out in the open for everyone to see.

Lest we go too long into a history lesson, it is worth noting that this odd couple relationship dates back to Cheney's time in the Reagan administration, when the US worked out an elaborate scheme to fund the Contras in Nicaragua through Iran, otherwise known as the Iran-Contra Affair.   As Jon Stewart would say, "who emboldened whom here?"

Some day someone will try to make sense of the Cheney family.  For now all we can do is scratch our heads over their many irregularities and wonder why the mainstream media continues to view him as an expert on foreign policy.  Every member of the family has discredited himself or herself in one way or the other, yet the media still seems enamored with them, allowing each a considerable amount of airspace to vent their opinions.

A family has to stick together, and it is nice that Dick stood up for his daughter Mary when she tied the knot with her longtime companion.  At the same time, he found a way to defend his other daughter, Liz, who spoke out against gay marriage in her run for the Wyoming Senate seat in 2014, which she lost to Mike Enzi in the primaries.  That's a pretty impressive feat.  It's just too bad he can't extend this same sense of compassion to his distantly removed cousin, Barack Obama, who has had to spend the past 6 years cleaning up the mess that was left behind in the Bush administration.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Jim Crow raises his ugly head once again




The long ugly battle over the confirmation of Loretta Lynch as US Attorney General has finally drawn to a close with 10 Republicans crossing over in support of Lynch.  Surprisingly, Mitch McConnell himself voted for her confirmation.  Yet, 43 Republican senators stood pat, and one chose to skip the vote for a private fund raiser in Texas.

Of course, Ted Cruz was quick to vent his disgust with the confirmation.  I'm sure this appealed to those gathered at his event in Dallas, but if he wants to win over the nation in his bid for president he better take a few tips from those Republicans who voted for her confirmation, like Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.  However, Graham was the only Republican senator with presidential ambitions to vote for Lynch.  Rand Paul and Marco Rubio also voted against her, althoug they weren't so outspoken as Cruz.

While Republicans have gone out of their way to disclaim racial motivations, the sticking point was her support of President Obama's executive orders on immigration, which is a highly racially charged issue.  Jeff Sessions, head of the Judiciary committee, stated bluntly, "we do not have to confirm someone to the highest law enforcement position in America if that someone is publicly committed to denigrating Congress."  Where that came from is anyone's guess, as all she did was state her opinion that the President's actions were legal and within the limits set by the Constitution.

It was probably her tone more than anything else that upset Republican Congressmen, as she didn't bow to their questioning.   Loretta Lynch has always been a woman who stands tall, with a proud father who has supported her every step of the way.

Sessions has a history of bucking Obama nominations, notably Sonia Sotomayor.  It didn't seem to matter that Lynch (or Sotomayor before) was held in high regard by her peers.  The Republicans made this into another proxy fight against Obama over immigration, delaying her confirmation vote over an anti-human trafficking bill that they seemed to purposely drag out as long as possible.  Cruz missed that vote as well.

In the end, it was the specter of Eric Holder hanging around two more years that seemed to spur Republicans to finally vote on Lynch.  Holder had said he wouldn't step down until his replacement was confirmed, and we all know how much Republican senators loath Holder.  Rob Portman, a Republican senator for Ohio, made it quite clear that was his reason for voting for Lynch.

The Republicans probably decided among themselves who would cross over to get this frustrating piece of business out of the way so that they could find new ways to challenge the President.  However, few thought so many GOP senators would cross over, as all Loretta Lynch needed was a simple majority.  At least three Blue State Republicans up for re-election voted for Lynch, including Senator Kelly Ayotte, who was the most effusive in her support of Lynch.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Chill, Baby, Chill




The war on pot has reignited again over 420, the day everyone is supposed to share in a universal joint together.  Fox News is at the vanguard, calling in its so-called experts to tell us how dangerous the new strains of marijuana are now that it is legal in a handful of states.  It borders on parody to see guys like Brian Kilmeade and David Murray go ballistic over "skunk," a strain that purportedly is 7 times stronger than that Cheech and Chong smoked in their heyday, with 30 to 40 per cent THC.

For the record, THC typically ranges from one to five per cent by weight in marijuana and five to fifteen per cent in hashish, although it can reach as high as 20 per cent, well below Murray's overblown estimates.  THC is what gives you the high, but at most it temporarily impairs your motor skills, so you are advised not to drive for approximately 3 hours after consumption.  Of course, some doctors have claimed it can lead to long term brain damage if smoked in excessive amounts, but there has been no conclusive proof of this.  If Cheech and Chong are to be taken as examples, they seem to have fared reasonably well over the years.

However, that doesn't stop the GOP presidential candidates from sounding off on marijuana.  Jeb Bush proved to be the biggest hypocrite, admitting he smoked in college, but stating that he is against even the legalization of medicinal pot, which failed to be passed in a Florida referendum by three per cent.  Jeb claimed his state to be a "family-friendly destination," seemingly oblivious to the fact that it serves as the gateway to much of the drug traffic in this country.  Rand Paul seized on the opportunity to attack the former Florida governor, as Rand feels the drug should be decriminalized nationally, as it is now in many states, even in the Heart of Dixie, Alabama.

Willie Nelson celebrated the occasion by introducing his own strain of pot called "Willie's Reserve."  Nelson has been a long-time pot advocate, and has his own facebook page extolling the virtues of cannabis, as well as teasing those who rail against it.  Willie sells his brand of pot in what look like tea containers in Washington and Colorado and will no doubt soon expand into Oregon and Alaska.  Not so long ago, he still found himself a target of unwarranted search and seizures.  BTW, Willie is 81 years old and looks fit as a fiddle.

Ironically, many police around the country advocate the decriminalization of pot, as it would free them up to deal with more serious crimes.  Here are three ex-cops talking about their feelings toward pot while they share a bong in this promotion for the recreational use of marijuana in Washington.

While most of the country has come to accept pot as a recreational drug, religious conservatives remain steadfast in their belief that it is a gateway drug to hell.  To be fair, the more fervid Pentecostals think the same about alcohol and even chocolate, due to its caffeine content.  One should have a completely clean body to serve as the vessel of the lord.

It seems that the folks at Fox see it more as one of those rating boosters to perk up their slumbering audience from time to time, much like their annual rant against Spring Break.  If persons smoked more pot and drank less alcohol you would probably find much calmer crowds at Panama City Beach, as there wouldn't be all this alcohol-related violence.  But, I don't imagine guys like Brian Kilmeade and David Murray ever thought of that.

To paraphrase Sarah Palin, Chill, Baby, Chill!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Call Me Irresponsible


Mammas don't let your babies grow up to be soldiers

I understand the campaign season is starting and candidates need to get their names out, but if what we've heard the past month coming out of the GOP tent revival is any indication of what's in store, we are in for one of the worst election years ever.  It is hard to fathom some of the comments, such as prospective presidential candidate Mike Huckabee's call to parents to not have their children join the military, presumably because Obama has made it a "secular" armed forces,

There's nothing more honorable than serving one's country and there's no greater heroes to our country than our military, but I might suggest to parents, I'd wait a couple of years until we get a new commander-in-chief that will once again believe that people of faith should be a vital part of the process of not only governing the country, but defending this country.

The theme of this year's GOP campaign is all about religion, and more specifically the Christian faith, which he like the other Republican candidates believes is being undermined by the Obama administration.  For the record, what the military services have cracked down on is proselytizing within the ranks, which had resulted in a number of complaints.  You are free to practice your religion in the military, and there are chaplains representing all faiths, but you are not allowed to inflict your religion on others.  Due to the large number of incidents the Military Religious Freedom Foundation was established by Mikey Weinstein, who was appalled when his sons, both cadets at the Air Force Academy, had taken a considerable amount of abuse for their Jewish faith.  Weinstein was a former White House counsel to Ronald Reagan.

Of course, the good governor is playing to the sentiments of the religious conservative base of the Republican party and was careful to include Jews as "people of faith," so I imagine he too would have been appalled by this virulent anti-semitism that was expressed.  But, do we even need to be discussing religion in the military, given the freak show we currently see playing out in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, where religious fundamentalists are waging jihads to take over Iraq and the Levant.

Cotton Goes to War

It seems the religious fundamentalism is no less extreme in the Republican party if various GOP candidates have taken up Tom Cotton's call to arms against Iran, which is being presented as the instigator of the "Islamic State" rebellion in the Middle East.  It doesn't matter that most Iranians practice an entirely different form of Islam than do the Sunni rebels who comprise the bulk of this movement that has swept the Arab peninsula, and in fact has reared its ugly head in such far flung places as Denmark and Australia.

Where Iran does play a role is in forming a bond with the current government of Iraq, which the US supports by the way, and has thus been labeled "rejectionists" by the Sunni extremists, who want to retake Iraq, ignoring the fact that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis are Shi'a by faith.  Unfortunately, Congressmen like Tom Cotton and Ted Cruz are maliciously unaware of this.  What can you expect when Cruz's foreign policy advisor is John Bolton.

With Iraq literally in flames, I would think the last thing you want is another war in the region.  No matter, it seems the Republican party now believes in perpetual war.  Remember this is the same party that rejected Bill Clinton's air strikes in the bitterly divided Yugoslavia back in the 1990s.  Senator McCain himself likened the war in Bosnia to Vietnam and Lebanon, calling it "a civil war with a great difficulty in differentiating between participants," with no clear-cut military objectives.   Too bad the Republicans no longer heed their own advice.  Now, we hear them rail against a president who emphasizes caution and diplomacy.

While Mike Huckabee urges parents not to let their children serve in the military under Obama, a significant number of Republicans call for a bombing campaign in Iran, presuming it could be done in "a couple of days."   I guess they figure this can be achieved without calling up any soldiers from the national guard and reserve, as had been the case through the Iraq and Afghan wars.  The military found itself with an insufficient number of enlisted men to fill the military rotations.  Reservists comprised nearly one-third of the military service in these two wars.

As the old saying goes, you can't have your cake and eat it too.  If you want to engage in wars abroad you need manpower, regardless of who is president.  II thought we learned from Vietnam, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, that you aren't going to create regime change from the air, and even if you do there is no way of insuring that the regime you topple will be replaced by one more acceptable to your tastes.

I think it is time to practice responsibility and to stop viewing our military as some kind of international SWAT team you can call in to rid the world of evil tyrants or take out nuclear facilities of your choosing.  And, certainly take no advice from John Bolton and Dick Cheney, who proved themselves notoriously irresponsible in foreign affairs under the Bush administration.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The future of presidential campaigning?

It seems that every Republican presidential candidate has at least one book to his credit, but coloring books is a medium I wouldn't have imagined.  Leave it to Ted Cruz to mine this territory, hoping to instill his set of values on a generation not far out of diapers, judging by the level of illustrations.  No one could quite believe it when Stephen Colbert mocked the coloring book over a year ago, but it is real and apparently selling quite well.

I made the mistake of looking it up on amazon, and now my screen is filled with similar coloring books, autobiographies and other screeds by today's leading conservatives.  It will probably take a month of surfing other titles before I get my home page cleaned.  Another title that caught my eye was this one, Help Mom! There are Liberals Under My Bed! which actually dates back to 2005.  Hence, the outdated image of Ted Kennedy on the cover.

Hillary, however, is very much in vogue and has a new coloring book, thanks to Ulysses Press and a Republican PAC headed by former Mitt Romney advisers, which calls itself American Rising.  More like America Descending to sink this low in negative campaigning.

You have to wonder who these coloring books are intended for.  Is the GOP so worried about its aging brand appeal that it is aiming for a whole new generation to storm the electorate in 12 years time?  Or, does this just serve as some silly novelty that has long been the staple of campaigns?  After all, you could actually get a Mitt oven glove during the 2012 campaign.   Whatever the case, I don't think these coloring books are going to serve more than fodder for news comedy programs and Conservative day care centers.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Marco and Ted's Excellent Adventure




The entrance of Marco Rubio into the GOP race presents a bit of a problem for Ted Cruz, as both are hoping to appeal to Hispanic American voters, not that it matters in the Republican primaries as there are so few registered Republican Hispanics.  The percentage of "non-white" voters among the GOP electorate is only 11 per cent. but I guess they are appealing to those who consider themselves "white of Hispanic origin."

Unfortunately, the two seem to be on the wrong side of most issues that concern Hispanic voters.  Rubio did support immigration reform at one point, but has since backed away from it.  Both have come out sharply opposed to lifting sanctions on Cuba, still appealing to old-guard Cuban-Americans who represent an increasingly smaller percentage of the Hispanic electorate.  However, Cruz and Rubio are hoping to appeal to the social conservatism among a large percentage of Hispanics.   George W. Bush was able to get a whopping 44% of the Hispanic vote in the 2004 general election.

Rubio stands a much better chance than Cruz in this regard, as Ted is so far out in right field on most issues that he will have a hard time identifying himself beyond a very narrow base of Republican voters.  Marco may have come from similar Tea Party roots, but has tried to present himself as a moderate in Congress, joining forces with Republicans who passed the Senate immigration reform bill in 2013.  This was at a time when Republicans felt the need to court Hispanic voters after the 2012 debacle.

The GOP stormed back in 2014 and seems to think it doesn't have to invest as much energy in the Hispanic vote as it once did.  States have since passed voter ID laws, clamped down on early voting, and in general made it much more difficult for many persons to vote.  By shrinking the playing field, the GOP figures it can win the presidential election by sticking to its set of core values, despite these religious conservative values being highly unpopular in national polls.  After all, this is a state-by-state election with he who has the most electoral votes declared the winner.  Just ask George W. Bush.

So, who are these guys anyway?  Both Cruz and Rubio have Cuban roots.  Cruz has done the most to distance himself from those roots, although his father Rafael is a very active evangelical minister who says some of the darnedest things.  Papa is often right there by his side at public appearances, and Ted has repeatedly said how much his father means to him.  Kind words, but when you take into account the dangerous level of rhetoric Rafael has spouted, much to the delight of Teabaggers, you might want to keep your distance.  Rafael Cruz makes Jeremy Wright look tame by comparison, and we all remember how much trouble Wright caused Obama in 2008.

Marco Rubio has a bit of a parent trap himself, but nothing on the scale of Cruz.  Marco's father, Oriales, is no longer around.  Marco paid eulogy to his father in his autobiography, noting that he fled Castro's Cuba and came to America to seek freedom.  The only problem is that his father came to the United States in 1956, three years before Castro took control of the island nation.  A small matter perhaps, but then we saw how the Republicans grilled Obama on his family history, repeatedly claiming that Barack lied about his true paternal birthright, yadda yadda yadda.   Still, Marco's father presents far less problems than does Ted's father.

The big question is can either of these two Hispanic candidates convince a vastly white Republican electorate that he is the one to represent his party in the general election?  They've done well in Texas and Florida, but how will they fair in the early primaries, where they don't have a home base to draw upon?

Cruz probably fairs a little better here because he has suited his bellicose words to the White Bread electorate that dominates so many Republican states.  He has kept on message, at least as far as Teabaggers are concerned, and that should serve him well on the campaign trail.   Marco will have a lot of explaining to do on immigration, which the Republican electorate for the most part wants to see made tougher, not more lenient.

Ted is a natural.  He doesn't have to pause for a bottle of water before getting the right words out of his mouth.  Marco thinks too much about issues, trying to look at them from both sides.  He actually said he needed to review the nuclear agreement being offered Iran rather than dismissing it out of hand, which Ted Cruz did.  However, Marco did sign the joint Senate letter to Iran, so that should help offset the damage from his moment of vacillation.

Personally, I think the best either one can hope for is a VP nomination.  Here, Marco definitely has the advantage.  Not only is he a little easier to take than Ted Cruz, but comes from a state the Republicans covet.  Every one knows Texas will vote Republican.  Marco would be wise to keep on an even keel, not let himself get drug into any ugly exchanges, especially with Ted, who loves nothing more than to drag you down to his ugly level.

If Marco keeps his cool, he still may be around next Fall, at least in the number two spot.  However, you have to think that Hispanic voters are asking if this is the best their political parties can offer in the way of presidential nominees.



Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Honest Abe and the Press




Manipulating the press is nothing new.  Harold Holzer illustrates that there were few better than "Honest Abe" Lincoln at playing the press for his own personal gain.   Of course, Holzer sees this in a positive light, as he is a big fan of Lincoln,  having previously dissected his famed Cooper Union address, which went a long way toward achieving his presidential ambitions.  In this book review, Garry Wills outlines Holzer's approach to his latest book, Lincoln and the Power of the Press.

At times, Lincoln's tactics were not so honest as when he created a fictional "Rebecca" to assail James Shields, a rising candidate in the Democratic party.  Lincoln was a young Whig at the time.  He and his law partner, William Herndon, often penned anonymous articles for Whig papers, promoting their political agenda, but these "scurrilous letters" almost cost him his life, as Shields challenged young Lincoln to a duel.  Fortunately for Lincoln, he was able to choose the weapons.  He picked broadswords as he towered over Shields, forcing his Democratic rival to withdraw his challenge.

According to Holzer, Lincoln's bid for the 1860 Republican nomination was well choreographed, starting with his challenge to Stephen Douglas in 1858.  Lincoln was thinking of the bigger picture here, determined to have the debates read by a broad national audience, which he succeeded in doing with the help of Horace Greeley and Henry Raymond.  The debates were published in New York as well as Chicago papers and gained widespread notoriety.  This in turn led to an invitation to speak at Cooper Union, which helped gain him a national audience.

Within a span of two years, having only served two years as US Representative from Illinois to Congress, Lincoln had catapulted himself into contention for the Republican nominee for President in 1860.  It was a young party and was looking for a fresh face to lead it after its weak showing in 1856.  Lincoln took the nomination on the third ballot, overcoming favorites William Seward, Salmon Chase, and Simon Cameron.  He had Horace Greeley and other influential newspaper editors to thank for spreading his name among delegates.

In the White House, Lincoln continued to manipulate the press to outflank his rivals, including  George McClellan, the disgruntled Union general who would run against him in 1864.  Holzer marvels at the way Lincoln used the press as a bully pulpit, which deeply influenced later Presidents like Theodore Roosevelt.  Lincoln also found ways to suppress "rebel papers" through his generals, to limit the amount of press coming out of the South.

Sounds like a great book.  Any readers?


Monday, April 13, 2015

Coming in from the cold




What a weekend!  Just when you thought it couldn't get anymore exciting, President Obama meets with Castro and Hillary declares she is running for President.  This of course put the Republicans into full panic mode, scrambling all over the airwaves to tell us how awful it is that Obama has recognized this rogue nation and the terrible future we would have if Hillary was elected President.  The biggest loser was Marco Rubio, whose announcement scheduled for today will carry about as much weight as Obama's jock strap after a White House basketball game.

The President used the occasion of meeting with the heads of the American states to fire back at Congress, notably the less than honorable McCain and McConnell, or the two Macs, for trying to undermine his authority abroad on the Iran nuclear deal and other negotiations he has ongoing, like that with Cuba over formal US recognition of the state.

For his part, Raul Castro called Obama an "honest man" and seemed to defuse the usual tensions at the Summit of the Americas, which typically sees other American states attacking the United States for the decades of ill will demonstrated toward its neighbors.  Castro did note some of his grievances against the United States but said that he and Obama had agreed to set aside these differences and work toward a sustainable relationship between the two countries.  In many ways this is bigger than the Iran nuclear deal, because it undos, or at least starts to undo, fifty years of turning our back to the island nation, which obviously didn't lead to the ouster of Fidel Castro.

I'm sure young Tom Cotton has a plan though, like he demonstrated for ridding Iran of its nuclear installations, for ridding Cuba of the Castros once and for all.  Obama chose not to recognize the freshman senator from Arkansas by name, although he did mention what a useless waste of time that letter he wrote to Iran was, and admonished the 47 Republican senators who presented it.  I imagine Obama is also not very happy to hear fellow Democrats like Chuck "The Schmuck" Schumer and Bob "I'm Indicted Again" Menendez supporting the Senate bill that would make lifting sanctions against Iran very difficult, should Iran agree to a long term nuclear deal with the US and the rest of the world, but he chose not to mention them.  You can expect the same kind of belligerence toward Cuba, as Americans, Norte Americanos anyway, seem to have a hard time wrapping their thought around a "communist" nation still existing in our hemisphere.

Yet, polls show that US American citizens overwhelming support rapprochement with Cuba, including Cuban-Americans who have long influenced American policy toward their former home country.  Not that conservative leaders in Congress will pay any attention to such polls, just like they have ignored the generally favorable sentiment toward the US-led mission to reach a nuclear agreement with Iran.  These anachronistic GOP leaders prefer to live in the 1950s when US-friendly autocrats like Batiste and the Shah ruled these countries.

This makes it particularly amusing, because much of the criticism leveled against Hillary Clinton running for President is that she represents a return to the old ways, in this case Clinton policies of the 1990s.  Even if she did, she is 40 years ahead of her Republican counterparts.



Hillary's announcement was long expected, so it shouldn't have taken anyone by surprise.  But, she also faces criticism from the left, notably Maureen Dowd, who compared Hillary to Richard Nixon in a recent NY Times op-ed piece.  You have to wonder if some spring snapped out of place in poor Maureen's head.  I don't see how Hillary's stated approach of wooing the middle class is any different than any modern-day Presidential candidate, but Maureen seems to be going out of her way to place the "Nixon" label on Hillary for no apparent reason.

The more worrisome aspect is the dynastic politics that are at work here, as we see what are essentially political families ruling government today.  On the Republican side we have Jeb Bush, who has yet to declare his candidacy because it allows him to raise more money on the fringes of the election campaign laws, what few remain.  He would be the third Bush in thirty years to serve as President, if god forbid he was elected.  Not only that but his son, George Prescott, is rapidly rising in Texas politics.  Yet, somehow we hear mostly about Hillary carrying the mantel of her husband's presidential administration.

For his part, Obama said that Hillary would make an "excellent president," and John Kerry extolled her work as Secretary of State.  Even Governor Huck said she is a "brilliant woman," and that Republicans better not take her lightly.  He focused instead on her ties to the Obama record, which the GOP would love to erase if they gain the White House.

That might not be so easy to do.  After the 2014 midterm debacle, Obama's popularity has risen, and his recent policy decisions on immigration, energy self-sufficiency, and diplomatic approaches to Iran and Cuba have been widely supported by the public.  The Republicans have proven very effective at the local and state level, where they can tailor their message to suit specific demographic groups, but on the national level their message is far less popular.  Americans don't see themselves as an insular country.  They want friendly relations with their neighbors, and most of all they are tired of war, including political wars of words that have bitterly divided the American electorate.

Obama recognizes this, as his rapprochement toward Cuba has a number of beneficial side effects.  On an international level, it neutralizes Russia's reach into the Americas, having actively courted Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil, including doing naval maneuvers in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Venezuela.  On the domestic level, it shows this administration's commitment to Latin American concerns, something the Republicans have entirely ignored.

The President has finally moved out of the shadow of the previous Bush administration, greatly expanding US diplomacy for the first time in decades.  One might even say that not since the time of Nixon, when he reached out to the Soviet Union and Communist China, eh Maureen?  For the first time in a long time we see US diplomacy in a positive light with Obama refusing to use the threat of force to bring Iran and Cuba to the negotiating table, treating these two countries on equal terms, which of course conservatives can't stand.  In their limited POV, might makes right.

I think we are at a potentially great turning point.  I hope that if Hillary Clinton is elected President we will continue to move in this positive direction, finally putting the Cold War behind us.


Saturday, April 11, 2015

Of Dicks and Men

The Trouble with Section 215



After reading the various angry responses in this article on John Oliver's "tough interview" with Edward Snowden, I decided to watch the interview myself.  It is important to see the whole show, as Oliver sets up the interview nicely with a lengthy piece on the notorious provisions in the NSA that allow the government to intercept your e-mails, and his interviews on the street indicating that very few persons actually know who Snowden is, much less what he had done two short years ago.

At about the 15-minute mark of the program, the interview starts with Oliver worried that Snowden may have stood him up.  But, Edward does pitch up and offers a very candid set of answers to Oliver's questions, even as Oliver's questions steer into "dick pics," which John amusingly uses to illustrate just how far the NSA can go through its labyrinth of electronic spying programs to invade your privacy.

Unlike many of the op-ed pieces on the interview, Snowden doesn't seem in the least put off by Oliver, and the only time he appears to "squirm" is when Oliver purportedly hands him a folder with a picture of his "junk," as if to entrust him with the document.  It was all to prove a point that even if the NSA may have the best of intentions, these pictures tend to get bandied about in the office, according to Snowden, because it seems the operatives get bored and need these diversions.

Snowden explains how the NSA is able to intercept e-mails through all providers, including Google, which shift large quantities of information from one data base to another, often going overseas in the process.  This apparently raises a red flag back at HQ, which pulls these e-mails into their vast electronic net, including any photos you might be passing along to your love ones that you didn't want anyone else to see.

Google made a big show a few years back that it wouldn't willingly hand over personal information to the government, but apparently it doesn't have the power to stop the government from intercepting these files in cyberspace, or defying court orders.  Obama has tried to ease worries by saying that the NSA is not interested in the actual content of the e-mails (and phone calls) but rather the addresses (and phone numbers) of the senders and recipients, should persons be considered suspect.  According to Snowden, his caper was largely meant to prove a point.   He thinks there aren't enough safeguards to insure this confidentiality.

It's kind of like Kate Upton, who thought her friend,Terry Richardson, would never release this "Cat Daddy" video he made of her. But, it was Snowden, not the NSA, who made these e-mails public.

Oliver did question Snowden on releasing the information he obtained to news sources, notably the New York Times, which hadn't properly redacted vital military information that could have put American troops in danger.  Oliver called this a major "fuck up," which Snowden agreed was the case, but still had confidence that newspapers like The NY Times and The Guardian would be careful with the information.  Essentially, it is out of his hands now.

So why is Snowden still considered an outlaw?  Since, the federal government wasn't able to ascertain just what information Snowden had pilfered, the federal prosecutor charged him with three felonies under a 1917 Espionage Act.  It didn't help that he first fled to China and then Russia, where US officials (and in fact most people) felt he was trying to sell this information to the highest bidder.  Apparently, this wasn't the case, according to The Guardian, which has championed Snowden since the story first broke.  Edward simply wanted Americans and the rest of the world to know just how far the NSA could infiltrate your personal information thanks to the Patriot Act, which is once again up for renewal.

The release of some of the State intra-office personal e-mails created embarrassing situations for the US State department, as it reveals some rather ugly opinions about foreign leaders.  Not only that but the NSA had tapped phone lines at the UN, pried into Angela Merkel's private calls, and even eavesdropped on UNICEF.  For a short while, the Snowden affair was a big headache for the Obama administration, but in one of those rare moments of bi-partisan support, most Republicans felt that Snowden had undermined the sanctity of our international surveillance operation and stood beside Obama in condemning the "whistleblower."

On the Left, Snowden has become a hero.   There was even a bust briefly raised for him in Brooklyn Park in New York, until city officials took it down.  He also has some friends in the conservative Libertarian camp who feel that the federal government should be banned from intruding into our personal lives like this.

Two years later, it seems that Snowden is largely forgotten and that most persons don't seem overly concerned with the Patriot Act, even with its notorious Section 215 that allows the NSA to collect virtually any information over the Internet and filter through it as it deems fit.  As John points out, it is kind of like having a "bad ass" pet falcon (security) and a cuddly hamster (privacy).  Chances are the hamster isn't going to last very long. Oliver wanted his viewers to circle June 1, as that is the date the act is up for renewal and he hopes that this year there will be more Congressional scrutiny over its provisions.  Probably not, but it was nice to hear Edward Snowden in his own words.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Here She Comes



It seems that the Republicans' worst nightmare is about to materialize, as Hillary plans to announce her candidacy as early as this weekend.   This will put a damper on Marco Rubio's coming out party planned for Monday.  The Republicans have been preparing for this.  The scandal they generated around her e-mails is just the latest in orchestrated attacks on her, launched under the guise of investigations.  None of this mudslinging seems to stick, as Hillary leads all GOP challengers in polls, although some state polls have become toss-ups.

Hillary has her detractors in the Democratic party as well, yet only three persons have expressed interest in running for the nomination.  Martin O'Malley, the popular governor of Maryland, is the most intriguing alternative at this point, but like most Democratic wannabes he suffers from name recognition.  The only person who could mount a serious challenge is Elizabeth Warren, but she seems to be sitting this election out.

Many of us hoped we got a fresh start with the Obama administration, but here we are two election cycles later with Hillary and Jeb Bush the front runners in their respective parties.  We can't seem to shake these political dynasties as much as we would like.  Unfortunately, the Democrats failed to generate any new names besides Warren in the past 8 years.  So, Hillary has become the Democrat nominee virtually by default unless something cataclysmic were to occur.

It would be nice to think that Hillary has changed to some degree since 2008, when she ran on a very conservative platform, appealing to the middle ground.  Obama has offered a major realignment in foreign policy, first by easing travel restrictions on Cuba and now by negotiating with Iran on a nuclear agreement that would lift American sanctions if Iran accepts the safeguards being proposed.  Given her hawkish views in the past, it would be nice to think that Hillary would embrace this new direction in American policy, but so far she's been mum on the subject, waiting to see which way public opinion turns.

Domestically, there isn't much difference between the Obama administration and a prospective Hillary administration, as much of his cabinet was drawn from the previous Clinton administration.  Expanded health care had originally been the centerpiece of her candidacy in 2008.  If anything, Hillary might be a little more bold in this regard, especially as far as the rights of women are concerned.  Where the two do differ is over alternative energy sources.  Obama has been much more active in this regard, but there is nothing to suggest that Hillary wouldn't pursue similar sustainable energy initiatives if elected President.

Democrats would probably benefit from an uneventful set of primaries.  The Republicans will most likely tear themselves apart, allowing Hillary to reserve her war chest and patience for the general election.  This is what Mitt Romney hoped to do last time around, but it didn't work out that way.  However, the Teabaggers were determined to present their alternatives.

The Democratic Party has a disgruntled base which would like to see a more liberal president.  Left wing blogs have been busily promoting Bernie Sanders, but he is nothing more than a left wing Ron Paul.  Hillary will have to reach out to this disaffected group, which appeared to sit out the 2012 election, as Obama got 3,5 million fewer votes than he did in 2008.  Liberal democrats were even more a no show in the 2014 midterms, which saw Republicans sweep Congressional and state elections, even in Massachusetts.

The only way for Hillary to do this is to make more of an effort to appeal to young voters by enlisting some of the more popular and energetic young leaders in the DNP.   The last thing Hillary wants is to look old.   The Republicans have at least one candidate who appeals to the youth vote - Rand Paul - who has been winning over college campuses around the country.

She also needs to keep Bill on a short leash.  He cost her dearly in 2008, often times looking like he was running for President on the campaign trail.   His popularity largely rests on he no longer being President.  Hillary has to make a clear break here, because Americans aren't overly excited by dynastic politics.  She has to present herself as fresh and inspiring.

Like many Democrats, I had hoped someone else would emerge as a front runner, but I'm relatively comfortable with Hillary, especially when I look at the GOP alternatives.  That's enough to send shivers down any true Democrat's spine.  Time to stop the petty wrangling and coalesce behind a national leader that can turn over the Senate and swing a few state governments back over into the blue column.  I think Hillary can do that with the right message and campaign staff, headed by Robby Mook.


Thursday, April 9, 2015

A long, long time ago ...




Seems Don Mclean is still rather cagey as to the meaning behind the lyrics of American Pie, other than to say he painted a rather gloomy picture of the music world ten years after the death of Buddy Holley.  The manuscript sold for $1.2 million at a Christie's auction.  One assumes there are notes in the margins that offer clues to the various couplets that have beguiled listeners for decades.

The song vaulted to the top of the US and UK charts back in 1972, and has lingered on radio stations ever since, in part because of the death of subsequent musicians that had DJ's often playing this song in eulogy. Madonna reprised the song in 2001, much to the chagrin of devoted fans who couldn't believe McLean actually sold her the rights to the song.  Not only did he grant her the opportunity to cover his song, but praised her rendition as "sensual and mystical."  (sigh)

McLean frames the song within the context of a high school homecoming weekend replete with football game, marching band and sock hop, which he appears to set in 1959, even if the plane crashed in February, which is basketball not football season.  However, the marching band is important to him.  The song speaks of unrequited love for a girl going out with another guy, blaming his ill luck on the deaths of his favorite musicians.  What's a lonely broncing buck to do but drive his Chevy to the levee and drink his whiskey in rye, only to find the levee dry.  This sense of emptiness sits with us throughout the song, yet the buoyant rhythm keeps us thinking everything will turn out all right in the end.

There is a second time line, ten years later, allowing Don to give us an entirely different set of impressions of the tumultuous decade that followed.  McLean probes quite a few things in the song, including the elusive nature of God, which eventually led him toward evangelism, much like Bob Dylan, who plays an important role in this song.  Just about everyone was trying to be like Bob Dylan, who had become the personification of American folk music in the 60s.  By the 70s, Dylan had shifted gears leaving the folkies very upset, including Pete Seeger, who McLean also idolized.  Maybe Don was trying to capture some of those emotions in the torrent of verses that allude to a fracturing society where music is no longer clear cut, but has drifted into a "purple haze," made famous in the San Francisco music scene.  There are references to the Beatles as well, which had similarly drifted into this drug-induced culture.

There are also political references, the most obvious of which is his allusion to communism, in "Lenin read a book of Marx."  Many young Americans were flirting with socialist ideas.  McLean doesn't seem to cast judgement though, instead noting that anarchy prevailed at the football game when "the marching band refused to yield."  One has to assume they were playing a tribute to his fallen rock-and-roll idols, as "we all got up to dance."  Unfortunately, order was soon restored. Nixon perhaps?   He blends past and present together seamlessly in the lyrics so that we are not quite sure which is which.

Then comes verse 4, where McLean takes up the Rolling Stones' song, Sympathy for the Devil, which celebrated an altered view of society.  The Stones relished becoming the bad boys of Rock and Roll.  McLean seems to have stronger feelings about this.  Satan has lurked in his lyrics as a manipulator of events, maybe even the plane crash.  He saw "Satan laughing with delight."  Had Satan taken over music as well?

He brings the song down in the end, finishing on a very somber note, meeting "a girl who sang the blues," and "asked her for some happy news," but "she just smiled and turned away." This could be a tribute to Billie Holiday, who also died in 1959 from cirrhosis of the liver.  She was handcuffed on her death bed, having been charged with drug possession.  There was no happiness left in the world.

And in the streets, the children screamed,
The lovers cried and the poets dreamed,
But not a word was spoken,
The church bells all were broken.

Was all this too much for him?  Apparently, Don had struggled as a folk musician and found himself in danger of losing his contract with United Artists.  His first album, Tapestry, had been a bust, with only one song, Castles in the Air, getting any air play.  American Pie not only saved him, but gave the music studio its biggest hit.  Of course, he had no way of knowing this when he wrote the song.  The lament takes on a suicidal quality, much like J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, which no doubt he read.  It turned out to be one of those pleasant ironies where fortunes turn on the fate of a song.

How much McLean's religious leanings figure into the song is anyone's guess.  Glenn Beck took a stab at it a few years back, offering his divinely inspired interpretation of the song for his born-again followers.  If anything, McLean seemed to be questioning the role of God in the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper.  McLean saw them as a rock-and-roll "holy trinity," at least in the context of the song, asking "can music save your mortal soul?"

It is the blend of pop and spirituality that has captured the imagination of so many listeners, not to mention the bouncy if repetitive musical phrasing that stretches the song out for over 8 minutes.  Apparently, McLean meant it as a show tune in a similar sense as Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant, released five years before.  American Pie isn't as timely as Alice's Restaurant, which was penned at the height of the Vietnam War, but it does offer an interesting view of the same era.

In the end, the song is an updated version of The Everly Brothers' Bye Bye Love, from the same time as Buddy Holly.  Fortunately, Phil and Don had been spared that ill-fated year.  Don McLean had turned a sad love ballad into a song mourning the loss of a generation of music.  There would be no return.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Power Broker




For decades it seems that Israel has been the tail that wags the dog in regard to American Foreign Policy.  It's nice to see the head finally taking some control over our FP, but of course that does not come without a fight.  Obama not only faces a mad Republican Congress, but divisions within his own ranks, notably Chuck Schumer, who is slated to be the next Senate Democratic leader when Harry Byrd steps down next year.

Schumer is supporting a so-called "bipartisan" bill that would essentially allow Congress to reject any agreements made by the President, not that he doesn't already need Congressional approval to make such deals binding.   What makes this bill particularly noxious is that it is a direct challenge to the President's authority, largely inspired by AIPAC, which lobbies both Republican and Democratic leaders in the defense of Israel's interests.

This very narrow world view has been promoted far too long, and has caused great damage in our foreign relations.  It has stalled numerous peace talks in the Middle East, and put us in a defensive position in the United Nations, having to justify our unqualified support for Israel, despite the numerous times the country has broken UN resolutions regarding territorial expansion into the Palestinian homelands, which Israel continues to refuse to recognize as an independent state.

Schumer is firmly in the pro-Israel camp, unable it seems to see beyond this narrow view to the long term gains of reaching a nuclear agreement with Iran, regardless of whether Iran recognizes the state of Israel or not.  It doesn't seem to cross his mind, or that of others bankrolled by AIPAC, that if Israel recognized Palestine, then Iran and other countries that don't recognize Israel wouldn't have a leg to stand on.  But, for them Israeli recognition has to come first.

Fortunately, President Obama sees beyond this narrow view, while not losing sight of Israel's interests.  You would never know this to hear Congressional leaders these days, who are bearing down hard on the President to pull out of these talks, lest they reprimand him like an insolent pupil, as if they know better.

What makes all this political genuflecting amusing is that the Obama administration is in league with the major countries of the world in this agreement.  The P5+1 comprises the US, the UK, China, France and Russia, all permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany and the EU.   Not only that but there is strong support within Israel for this agreement, but unfortunately Bibi's word is taken by the media as the sole word of this country, which was bitterly divided in the recent parliamentary election.

I guess for guys like Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer the only international ally that counts is Israel, even if it means setting us apart from the rest of the world.  It is a shame we reward this type of thinking by making these persons head of their respective political caucuses in the Senate, allowing them to buck the President for no other reason than the support they receive from AIPAC.

The United States shouldn't have to answer to Israel or serve as its "veto" in the United Nations, especially when this unquestioning support puts us at odds with the rest of the world.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Fast Food Politics



Memories Pizza and More looks so innocent with its Olive Gardens-inspired sign on the main street of Walkerton, Indiana.  However, it has become "ground zero" for the new war on religion, at least in cyberspace.

It's appropriately symbolic that a pizza parlor has become the focal point of these new religion bigotry, er I mean religious freedom laws being passed around the country.  We are a country that loves its fast food, especially pizza, and apparently would even have a pizza parlor cater our weddings, since Memories Pizza has placed a ban on catering gay weddings, not who comes into its pizza parlor.  I assume that's because it is hard to differentiate between customers, unless a gay couple were too make an obvious show of their affection to each other when entering this fine establishment.

Since this particular pizza parlor announced itself, it has received over $40,000 in donations, thanks to GoFundMe, which apparently allows persons to fund their bigotry.  Owners were so worried after they got a couple of angry phone calls that they shut down their parlor, resorting to Glenn Beck's The Blaze to vent their outrage.

I would have thought Glenn would have been more circumspect.  After all, he voiced his concerns over another bigot, Clive Bundy, when his story broke nationally.  Seems Glenn has no beef (or should I say pepperoni) when it comes to fuming over homosexuals.

Of course, you have to ask yourself whether a gay couple ever asked Memories Pizza to cater their wedding.  As we know from Queer Eye for a Straight Guy, the last thing a gay couple would want at their wedding is a table full of pizza.  How gauche!

You might call this "Fast Food Politics" because it is generated on the spur of the moment.   It has little substance, much less thought behind it, and is meant to satisfy our immediate craving for controversy.  Those $40,000 rang up in less than 6 hours.  But, unlike the indigestion and gas from an acidy pizza or burger, such open bigotry has a much more lingering impact on society.

Bring back the days of Jim Crow boys, because that is exactly what this legislation has inspired.  Fortunately, both the Indiana and Arkansas state legislatures seem to have recognized their folly and are busy amending their so-called "religious freedom" laws so that establishments like Memories Pizza can't get away with this bullshit.   Of course, Ann Coulter (remember her?) was quick to point out what a bunch of cowards they are for not sticking by their guns.

This is a religious war dammit!  Former Governor Huck knows this.  First the cake shops, then the pizza parlors, next our churches.  This is part and parcel of an orchestrated plan to strip away the very fabric of our Christian society, and leave us all bare to the pernicious evil these homosexuals represent.

The news media has of course jumped all over this, because they have become the purveyors of this "junk news."  No controversy is too big or too small for them to peddle on the airwaves.  After all CNN, MSNBC and Fox News have 24 hours to fill.  News pundits offer little insight, not that there is much to give in this case, preferring instead to host discussions, where panelists can vent their anger one way or the other on the "pressing issue" of the moment.

I suppose President Obama should be thankful to some degree, because all this media attention on Memories Pizza has helped deflect attention away from the historic breakthrough in relations with Iran.  Our GOP bully boys haven't had time to digest this news, preferring instead to line up in defense of Indiana and Arkansas's Religious Bigotry Restoration Act.

What a way to celebrate Easter!




Friday, April 3, 2015

A Sense of Perspective

What a week! and it's not even over yet.  First came all that backlash to the Indiana new "Religious freedom" law.  Not happy that they are being second guessed, religious conservatives have described the strong response to their new law as "homofascism."  It seems that pizza parlors refusing to serve pizza to gays is not religious fascism, but heh you've got to stand your ground even if the Indiana legislature is working hard to amend this new law so that the owners of Memories Pizza can't hide their bigotry behind this insane law.


Meanwhile, President Obama dropped the bomb on the Republicans by acknowledging a deal struck by his state department and representatives of five other countries with Iran that would freeze its nuclear development and open their nuclear plants to international inspection teams.  The deal was met with jubilation in Iran, as it would gradually lift international sanctions, but not in the halls of Congress, where Presidential wannabes Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham all called it a "bad deal."  Not that it is binding, as all the negotiations did was set the framework for a comprehensive nuclear agreement.  But, the very thought of dealing with Iran is enough to send most Republicans into hysterics.

Newly minted US Senator Tom Cotton had the quote of the day, telling Americans "to have a sense of perspective," as "In Iran, they hang you for the crime of being gay."  Here, we only ostracize you.  He was defending Arkansas's own "religious freedom" law, also passed this week, which is little different than the one in Indiana.

No doubt, Iran's human rights offenses need to be examined, but then we seem to have no problem dealing with Saudi Arabia, which is one of several countries that have laws that punish male sodomy by death, and has even gone so far to have "gay medical tests" to bar entry of gays into the country.   Where's the outcry here?

It's not like conservative politicians ever concerned themselves with Muslim attitudes toward homosexuality, especially when they harbor very similar sentiments of their own.  A California lawyer, Matt McLaughlin, wants to have an initiative known as the "Sodomite Suppression Act" put on the 2016 state ballot that would actually sanction the killing of homosexuals.  I kid you not.

You have to ask yourselves where all these fears come from?  Tom Cotton is not even old enough to remember the Iran hostage crisis of 1980, which led to our harsh stance against the Islamic republic that has malingered for 35 years.  He certainly seems to ignore the fact that the Shah of Iran, whom the US actively supported, started building nuclear plants way back in 1974. What was all well and good back then is reprehensible and evil today.  The self-decorated potentate was no better than the Ayatollah who ousted him.  Both long since dead.  Yes, Tom, it does seem we need to have a better sense of perspective.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Obama Resigns




President Obama has resigned from office, as has Vice-President Biden.  House Speaker John Boehner was immediately sworn in as the new President in a special ceremony in Iraq, where he was at the time of this unprecedented announcement.  This move has taken the nation, and indeed the world by shock.  It was all the House Speaker could do to hold back tears when informed of this stunning turn of events.

The former President offered no explanation and refused to field any questions from the White House press.  He said he will be traveling with his family to Hawaii for Easter weekend and will reassess his future there.  He also noted that he would be doing so at his own expense.  From this point forward he is a "private citizen."

The news media was totally stunned, and seemed to be at a loss of words to explain the event.  Fox correspondents and pundits rejoiced in the news until they figured out that the House Speaker was next in line.  Roger Ailes was quoted as saying, "You've got to be f@%king kidding me!"



John Boehner will now complete the remainder of his Congressional trip as Head of State.  A nuclear agreement with Iran is still being pursued by the State Department, which was put in a quandary as to who to answer to on the progress of the talks.  President Boehner said he would alter his planned itinerary to visit Lausanne, where the international negotiations are taking place, before proceeding onward to Israel to see Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Back Home Again in Indiana




I have to wonder what Jim Nabors thinks of Indiana's new "religious freedom" law?  He's been singing Back Home Again in Indiana at the annual Indy 500 Race at least since 1972.  He sang his final verse last year and will be replaced by the a cappella group, Straight No Chaser, this year, ending a run of over 40 years.

If the federal courts don't step in and declare this law unconstitutional, you can expect to see more states adopt similar legislation.  Texas already has such a law, but was more careful in its language to not allow religious fundamentals to skirt anti-discrimination laws.  There are no such provisions in the law Governor Pence signed.  However, given the current religious fervor sweeping conservative states you can expect Texas legislators to update that law.

So much for "compassionate conservatism," which George W. Bush extolled on the campaign trail in 2000.  This is a far more orthodox group of religious fundamentals who believe in an Old Testatment Christianity, as you would be hard pressed to find any mention in the New Testament regarding homosexuality.  Jesus is nothing more than a standard bearer for these guys, who have also embraced Israel as their ancestral homeland, with Presidential hopefuls Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson making pilgrimages to the Holy Lands.

Virtually every Republican presidential prospect supports this legislation, including Jeb Bush, who should know better.  Florida too adopted a "religious freedom" law in the wake of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed by Congress, and signed into law by Bill Clinton.  This federal law allowed persons to claim religious exceptions to laws that they felt "burdened" their faith, within reasonable limits of course.  I guess states felt the need the need to further "clarify" this law, so now we see legislation that will place the burden on others, by allowing private businesses to choose who they wish to serve.  Under Indiana's new law, if Aunt Harriet's Cake Shop doesn't want to make a cake for a gay wedding, the gay couple can't press poor old Aunt Harriett to do so, as these notorious individuals have done so in other states.

This right to serve who you want was exactly the same type of laws that existed in the Cotton States during the Jim Crow era, but Gov. Pence would tell us that we are overreacting.  Yet, Indiana legislators and mayors are starting to squirm.  The Mayor of Indianapolis took time out to ensure that everyone will be welcome in his city, as fears the NCAA would pull the Final Four set a shock wave through the state.  Already, many big tech companies are pulling out of the Indy Big Data conference in response to the law.  It seems state legislators are starting to calculate the revenue lost over this law and seeing if it is worth it.  But, not Governor Pence.

Mike Pence is an Irish Catholic turned Evangelical Christian -- a hard-nosed governor that religious conservatives have come to embrace.  He doesn't mince words, he stands by his convictions, and will not bow down to the federal government, certainly not with Obama in the White House.  He has toyed around with the idea of running for President himself.  He has even pushed legislation enabling him to run concurrent campaigns in 2016.  However, it seems he will sit out this election cycle, as the potential GOP field is stacked with religious conservatives, each claiming to be closer to God than the other.

Indiana has always been a conservative state, but it hadn't been a particularly intolerant one.  Pence is making the rounds on television trying to soft pedal the legislation, but for a change the mainstream media isn't making it easy for him.  Laws like this one strike to the core of our civil liberties and undermine the very notion of religious freedom.


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Lying Eyes




You have to hand it to Ted "Country Boy" Cruz.  He knows how to turn a seemingly harmless question into a political statement.  The amazing thing is that Rolling Stone didn't call Ted out on this.  It took Bill Maher to point to the blatant hypocrisy in the statement, with one of his panelists noting that Cruz will say literally anything to pander to the religious right wing, who is decidedly country when it comes to music.

It's not like "classic rock" musicians didn't respond to 9/11.  A huge concert was held at Madison Square Garden nine days later that had rock stars from around the world and across the political spectrum coming together to praise the first responders, with proceeds going to the ongoing recovery.  Among those were John Mellencamp and Kid Rock putting aside their political differences to sing Mellencamp's classic, Pink Houses.  Kid Rock comes in at about the 6 minute mark.  The Who capped off the evening with Won't Get Fooled Again, which I suppose could be taken many ways in the aftermath of the heinous attacks across America.

The memorable evening also included many television and movie actors, which the Right wing also loves to bash.  How dare those damn "liberals" tread on their "America First" domain!  The concert was later made into a film, directed by Spike Lee, Kevin Smith and Jerry Seinfeld, among others, with more proceeds going to the recovery efforts.  All together the rock event raised over $30 million.

One can understand Fox letting Cruz get away with these kinds of statements, but the mainstream media pretty much let it slide.  Of course, you probably don't want to call more attention to Cruz's outlandish statements than they deserve, but this guy is the ultimate fraud, and should be repeatedly called out as such, not allowed to say whatever he damn well pleases on national television with no repercussions.  

I chalk this up to the initial media flirtation with 2016's first declared presidential candidate.  Whatever his musical tastes are, it had nothing to do with the way rock and roll music responded to 9/11.  As the Eagles would sing, You Can't Hide Your Lying Eyes.


Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Presidents' Favorite Books

From Cicero to James Bond

Jefferson's Library at the Library of Congress

Who knew Richard Nixon regarded himself as a Tolstoyan?  Or, War and Peace taught George H.W. Bush "a lot about life?"  These and many other insights into the favorite books of Presidents have been compiled for Buzzfeed.  Of course you can take many of them with a grain of salt, as obviously Dave Odegard has a pension for citing biographies and autobiographies to those Presidents he didn't like, or in Warren G. Harding's case, Rules of Poker, because he apparently bet the White House china on a single hand and lost.  Which set of rules, the author doesn't say.

There is probably a grain of truth to most of these selections, but Odegard could have done a little more sleuthing.  Thomas Jefferson held Cicero in very high regard and purportedly modeled his own life on the Roman statesman's love of study and aristocratic country life.  Odegard does note that Jefferson donated his extensive collection of books to the Library of Congress after the British had burned the library in 1812, but this too was not without controversy.  Some Congressmen questioned Jefferson's literary tastes and wondered out loud if it was fit for the country.  Like George W. Bush today, many thought The Bible was all you needed, and probably considered the book burning a blessing in disguise.  But, here I am interjecting.

We all know Lincoln's reading list, thanks to the wonderful book, Lincoln's Virtues, by William Lee Miller.  Abe didn't have a large library like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, but he saw his short stack of books as crucial to his development, and reread them over and over again to gain a complete understanding.  Odegard lists Shakespeare as Lincoln's favorite author, but he had Parson Weem's Life of Washington, seemingly like everyone else at the time, loved Aesop's Fables, and of course read The Bible.

Ulysses S. Grant was probably best known for penning his own memoirs, which many historians still regard as the standard of presidential autobiographies.  Odegard listed Edward Bulwer-Lytton as his favorite author, but noted that Grant would read any popular novel at the time, including those by James Fennimore Cooper, Washington Irving and Walter Scott, which Odegard slyly notes may have been the reason Grant finished in the middle of his West Point graduating class.  No matter, he proved to be the best general America has ever seen.   There is still a Bulwer-Lytton fiction contest held each year at San Jose State University.

Jack Kennedy was also a big lover of fiction.  Apparently, Ian Fleming was the President's favorite author, but this has been disputed.  Arthur Schlesinger, Kennedy's biographer, noted that Jack's passion for Bond was little more than a publicity stunt, although it did aid Fleming in gaining an American audience for his spy thrillers.

Ronald Reagan similarly elevated Tom Clancy's The Hunt for Red October to national bestseller, when he noted that it was "unputdownable" at a press conference in 1985.  Marlin Fitzwater thought that mentioning a recent book might help shake the image most had of Reagan being someone soaked in Louis L'Amour Western novels.  Clancy used this connection to profit considerably, and apparently formed a lasting friendship with the Gipper.  Surprised Reagan didn't ask him to write his official biography, rather than Edmund Morris, as Dutch was met with so much controversy.

You do get the sense that the reading tastes of Presidents have deteriorated over the years, which was why it was such a nice surprise to see that George H.W. Bush held War and Peace up as the most influential book in his life.  But, he too liked Tom Clancy, probably at Reagan's urging.  He also had a soft spot for J.D. Salinger and Larry McMurtry.

Of course, that doesn't stop former Presidents from building libraries that essentially serve as repositories of their White House years, but are also used to promote their legacies.   Congress even provides matching funds for these efforts, which most recently included the library of George W. Bush at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.  None, however, hold a candle to Thomas Jefferson's library at the Library of Congress.