Sunday, July 20, 2014

On the road again

The Johnny Appleseed exhibit is going on the road, like the man himself, to inform new generations of the man behind the legend.  John Chapman was a late 18th and early 19th century nurseryman who did introduce apple trees to the Midwest, but he also was part of the Awakening of the time, spreading the Swedenborgian Church through religious pamphlets.  So, those apples came at a price.

One of the earliest national accounts of Chapman was in Harper's New Monthly Magazine in 1871, which was essentially a biography of the man replete with engravings.    The image of him in a tin pot hat stuck.  Chapman was known for living a spartan life, but he often charged for his seeds so it wasn't like he took an oath of poverty.

Over the years, a virtual treasure trove of memorabilia has been collected, and his image has been illustrated countless times, including the most memorable one of him on The Saturday Evening Post.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A flight over troubled air space

It didn't take John McCain very long to point the finger at Russia in the apparent rocket attack of Malaysian Airlines MH-17.  Those are pretty bold words considering 23 Americans were initially noted on board, thereby making the bombing an act of war.  Since then only one American has been officially named, a Dutch-American Quinn Lucas, who was traveling as a Dutch citizen.  You would think that Mackie, who was shot down himself over Vietnam and spent 6 years in a prison camp, would be a little more cautious in his statements, but he just let his words fly, venting all his rage on Putin before any investigation is carried out to determine who was responsible for this malicious attack.

Initial evidence does indeed point to the separatists in the Donetsk region,.  It appears they are working with sympathetic factions inside Russia (not the Kremlin) and neighboring territories, who are supplying them with powerful munitions like the Buk rocket launcher, which was apparently used to bring this plane down.  If this source is to be trusted, there is voice confirmation of separatist leaders admitting to the attack.  They apparently thought it was a disguised Ukrainian army transit plane.  There were other reports posted on Youtube, but they were taken down soon afterward when it became known it was a civilian airline carrying nearly 300 passengers.

I guess no one figured the rockets could reach 10,000 meters, as the no-fly zone was set at 7000 meters, but they did and now the separatists are forced to explain themselves.  Already, Russia has provided cover with Lavrov condemning the Ukrainian government's claim that it was a terrorist attack and calling for a non-biased investigation.  That would be fine if the site wasn't already compromised by rebel forces with at least one black box apparently sent off to Moscow, although Lavrov went onto say that Russia would turn over the flight recording boxes to relevant international authorities.

Ever since this crisis broke early in the year, Russia has been trying to create as much distance as it can from the separatists, but this insurgency wouldn't have happened had it not been for the annexation of Crimea, which has inspired many ethnic Russians living in Ukraine to sue for similar annexation.  A "vote" for secession was engineered in Donetsk in May, but Russia has not accepted that vote.  This leaves these separatists essentially stranded, an island onto themselves, and they apparently feel they have the right to control their air space under threat of attack.

In such a volatile situation it is not only best to avoid such troubled air space all together, but also to avoid hyperbolic comments that inflame the tensions.  The insurgents essentially hold Donetsk hostage, much the way ISIS is controlling regions of Iraq.  To go into the region with any major force would be to put many civilians into the line of fire.  Yet, persons like McCain fail to understand this and try to turn a horrible tragedy into an act of war.

One can only hope clearer heads will prevail.  The White House released its official statement in more precise terms than the fiery senator.  Now we will see if Russia and the United States can bring the separatist movement in Donetsk to heel, as the two countries should have done long before.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

A recent PPP survey showed that 37 per cent of Mississippi Republicans said they would back a Confederates States of America if a new Civil War broke out, compared to just 9 per cent among Democrats.  It gives you a pretty good indication where the Dixiecrats went after the landmark 1964 Civil Rights legislation and shows that Dixie is far from dead in a lot of people's minds.

The open feud between Thad Cochran and Chris McDaniel over the Republican Senate primary appears to have opened up deep wounds, but such pro-Confederate feelings aren't confined to Mississippi.  The Klu Klux Klan has mounted recruiting drives in several states, notably South Carolina and Georgia where they indiscriminately left "goodie bags" on door steps with the hope of luring persons who are upset about the ongoing immigration "crisis."

Yet, anytime someone brings up race the radical right seems to cringe as if we live in a post-racial society.  Eric Holder once again came under fire for making racially-charged statements in a recent interview with ABC News.  Conservative pundits were quick to jump on these comments, claiming he was race-bating.

Of course there was no such race-bating in Mississippi when Chris McDaniel's camp called for election monitors in the run-off, afraid Black Democrats would vote twice in the cross-over primaries?  No such proof was ever presented, yet McDaniel has yet to admit defeat.  He's gotten support from Ted Cruz and other conservative Congressional leaders in another election.

Then you have all these conservative blogs scouring local media for any form of reverse racism, like this incident where an Iowa kid was apparently considered "racist" for wearing all white and waving a "W" sign during school spirit week.  I guess we can't can't say The Daily Caller is race-bating either.  These stories pop up on Yahoo! news, as lead stories seem to be based on the number of hits on their search engine.

Part of the problem resides in the South's inability to let go of the Civil War.  Wherever you go you find memorials to the battles, to the soldiers lost, to the generals who led the battles.  The biggest is Stone Mountain with its massive engraved image of former Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.  Re-enactments of the battles can stretch out for days and have become big tourist draws.  Southerners are quick to point out all these reminders are a matter of pride not racism, but for such a short-lived Confederacy, it seems to live deep in the heart 150 years later.

The Lost Cause comes back again and again and again.  It is repeatedly evoked in music.  Even The Band, which hails from Canada, paid tribute to the Old South in "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down."  Robbie Robertson called it a "beautiful sadness" when he heard Southerners evoke Old Dixie.  A little naive considering this was the late 60s.  Ralph Gleason, in a Rolling Stone review, likened the song to Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage.  Many persons have since covered the song, oddly enough even Richie Havens, although I imagine he saw something else in the song that others didn't.

It is a beautiful song, like the softly sung Dixie, but the ugly truth remains that the Old South was institutionalized racism and that this racism continues to persist.  Evoking Dixie doesn't do anything to heal those wounds.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Ballad of Easy Rider

It was 45 years ago this month that Easy Rider hit the screens and took in $40 million by the end of the year.  Not bad for a counterculture movie financed largely out of Bert Schneider's and Peter Fonda's pockets and shot on the road with plenty of drugs along the way.

This visceral feel struck home with viewers and is why the film continues to make capture audiences.  Fonda had always loved motorbikes.  He had teamed up with Bruce Dern and Nancy Sinatra in The Wild Angels and experimented with LSD in The Trip, but he wanted something more than just an acid trip in Easy Rider.  He approached Dennis Hopper saying he had a vision of two bikers riding across John Ford's West like in The Searchers.  They recruited Jack Nicholson to join the ride, who to this point had been little more than a Hollywood screenwriter.

Kalem Aftab caught up to Fonda at a BFI retrospective of Dennis Hopper.  Sad to read that the two had a falling out over the writing credits for the movie and were never able to repair their friendship.  Fonda was expressly barred from attending Hopper's funeral in 2010.  Odd that Hopper should take such offense, especially since he was given top billing as director, but who knows what animus lay at the heart of this dispute.

The film launched Nicholson's acting career.  Fonda and Hopper had initially approached Rip Torn to play the third part, but he had taken offense to the way Hopper sized up the South and the part was given to Nicholson.  Jack would go on to star in classic 70s films like Five Easy Pieces, Carnal Knowledge and Chinatown over the next five years.  Not bad for a guy who had a relatively minor role in the film as an ACLU lawyer and local drunk.  He helped spring Wyatt and Billy from jail.  He joined the ride to New Orleans but meets his end by a campfire on the way, savagely beaten by local thugs.

The Mardi Gras scene is probably the most memorable, as the two meet up with Karen Black and Toni Basil, enjoying an acid trip in a local cemetery that allowed Hopper to experiment a bit with the film, which Fonda jokingly referred to as "an endless parade of shit."  But, somehow it worked.

Fonda and Hopper treat the South as a place still rooted in Jim Crow hatred toward outsiders, in sharp contrast to the hippie commune they had visited earlier in New Mexico.  There was no room for hippies in the Deep South and the film comes to an abrupt and violent end in Florida where the two hoped to retire with their drug money.

When watching this film today it seems like a whole other era, yet strangely intimate.  The Soundtrack doesn't hurt either.  Supposedly, the characters of Wyatt and Billy were loosely based on Roger McGuinn and David Crosby, but you get the sense they pretty much played themselves.  McGuinn and Dylan did team up to write Ballad of Easy Rider for the movie.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Apes with guns

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is headed for a big box office weekend, an estimated $70 million.  Not surprising given its post-apocalyptic theme where apes gain ascendancy over man, reminiscent of the original series.  It also fits with the current obsession with man in a survivalist mode, replacing zombies with apes.

Chimpanzees are not to be messed with and can grow to the size of a human.  Just ask Charla Nash who was mauled by her boss's 200 lb. chimp named Travis and had to undergo a facial transplant.  She is now a major advocate of more strict regulations on exotic pets.

Chimps have long been treated as lovable semi-human beings which you can dress up.  They even starred in television series like Lancelot Link in the early 70s.  After all, they only differ from humans by one chromosome.  Anthropologists estimate that humans branched off from chimpanzees about 6 million years ago, evolving into a new species.  We still share many of the same traits, which is why drug companies have long used chimpanzees as human surrogates.

Needless to say, Jane Goodall didn't serve as a consultant in this film.  Dawn picks up where Rise of the Planet of the Apes left off with the Apes now controlling the Northern California redwoods, and humans trying to find a way to revive a battle-scarred San Francisco.  There is a feeble attempt at forging peace, but man being man just can't recognize ape as his equal, so the inevitable conflict ensues.

It is pretty far away from the original movie franchise. which was based on a book by Pierre Boulle, a French novelist, who apparently meant the novel as a Swiftian satire, with numerous allusions and metaphors, notably in the names he chose to give his major Simian characters, and even his human protagonist, Ulysse Merou,  who like his Greek namesake returns home after a long voyage, only to find it much changed.  Ulysse was renamed George Taylor in the 1968 movie, starring Charleston Heston, to suit American sensibilities I guess.  The movie traded satire for irony, especially in the ending when the protagonist discovered what planet he is on.

There was a certain appeal to man as primitive being and ape as overlord.  Humans had lost their power of speech and so the Simian leaders were bemused to find one that speaks like them.  The film was so popular that it spawned a series of films that circled back to the first.    They could be viewed by the end of the 70s in "Dusk to Dawn" showings at the local drive-in, what few still remained.

Tim Burton tried to revive the series in 2001, but his costume drama fell flat and it took the studio ten years to build up enough courage to try again.  Surprisingly, Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a hit.  At least it had some kind of social message, greatly dramatizing the potential consequences of using great apes in laboratory experiments, which Jane Goodall has long spoken out against.  It seems the drug companies are finally taking heed.  But, somehow we still can't get past exploiting apes in film.  You might call these apesploitation films, even if the apes are largely the result of CGI effects, and no real apes are used in the films.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Killing Patton

Bill O'Reilly is not the first to explore General George S. Patton's untimely death.  Robert Wilcox dug into the long dormant case back in the 1990s and came out with a book in 2008, Target Patton, in which he puts forward the conspiracy theory that there were those who wanted the flamboyant general out of the picture.

Much of the theory rests on interviews between the author and Douglas Bazata.  Wilcox reported that Bazata said the Soviets were called in to finish the job after Patton apparently recovered from a car crash in Manheim, Germany.  This after Bazata supposedly was ordered by General "Wild Bill" Donovan to drive a truck into Patton's car.  Donovan was head of the OSS at the time.  Wilcox claimed that Bazata confessed all this to him in a 1999 interview, and found diary entries after Bazata's death to back up these assertions.

Douglas DeWitt Bazata was a highly decorated war veteran, who enjoyed a colorful life that had him brushing shoulders with everyone from Salvador Dali to Princess Grace of Monaco.  Who knows what kind of stories Bazata told in social circles, but it led British art critic, Michael Webber, to remark that Bazata had "a life eventful for a dozen novels."  He gave up painting and wine-making and settled in Maryland in the 1970s.  Ronald Reagan's Navy Secretary John Lehman thought well enough of Bazata to ask him to serve as his special assistant.

It's always fun to delve into conspiracy theories decades later and imagine the what-ifs, which Wilcox does by suggesting Dwight D. Eisenhower might never had become President if Patton had lived.  Patton apparently thought there was a deliberate attempt by Eisenhower to thwart his drive on Berlin.  Old Blood and Guts desperately wanted to get to the German capital before the Soviets, so that the US would get a more favorable slice of the pie.  Patton apparently held enough secrets of the war that he could have ruined careers if they had ever came to light, assuming of course the old warhorse would ever had divulged such secrets.

These seem to be more Wilcox's musings than anything else.  Hard to believe Bazata carried this startling revelation with him all those years and then admitted it to Wilcox on his "death bed."  Turns out Wilcox is part of the new Right Wing history industry that revels in such conspiracy theories.  When you search for Douglas Bazata, the various sites all seem a little too quick to point out that he was a Lebanese Jew.  There is a strong anti-Semitic note that seems to underlie these nefarious charges, reminiscent of the Dreyfus Affair.

Bazata wasn't even involved in the crash.  The truck in question was driven by Technical Sergeant Robert L. Thompson, who apparently made a left turn in front of the general's car, and the driver was unable to avoid a collision.  General Patton died of pulmonary edema and congestive heart failure 12 days later.   Complications which arose from the damage to his neck and spinal chord that had left him paralyzed from the neck down.

One can only imagine what Baba O'Reilly will do with the story.  Once again he calls on his historical sidekick, Martin Dugard, to help research the case, but why do we even need to persist in such conspiracy theories?  Killing Patton is due out September 23, and will no doubt vault to the top of the bestseller lists.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Sound and fury, signifying nothing

Attempts to impeach Obama date back to 2010 when Darrell Issa considered the presumed pressure by the White House on Joe Sestak to drop out of the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate Primary an impeachable offense, as the WH was actively supporting turncoat Allen Spector, who had switched parties to support the ACA.  After that effort failed to get any momentum, Michael Burgess suggested a "preemptive impeachment," citing no specific reason other than to stop the President from "pushing his agenda."

Of course, there was the ongoing row over his birth certificate as well, which many conservatives felt disqualified him from being in office in the first place, arguing that Obama wasn't a natural born citizen of the United States.  This "drive" actually began in the 2008 primaries when upset Hillary supporters attempted to derail Obama's momentum by suggesting his Hawaiian short form certificate was fake.  This story was picked up by conservative websites and swelled into a movement led by Orly Taitz that got major media attention.  The issue finally appeared to be settled in 2011, when Obama released the official Hawai'i long form certificate, after being dogged by Donald Trump among others.  But, "Birthers" still weren't satisfied, and it remained an "issue" throughout the 2012 election.

The matter of "legitimacy" still wasn't settled that November either.  Everyone remembers Karl Rove's infamous meltdown on Fox, when he insisted there were still enough unaccounted districts in Ohio to turn the vote for Romney.  Not that it really mattered since Obama had more than enough states to claim electoral victory with or without Ohio.  Many leading conservatives felt that the White House had cooked unemployment numbers, among other impeachable offenses, to gain a last minute edge over their nominee.

Efforts to make the September 11 attack in Benghazi into that year's "October Surprise" had failed, largely because Romney had greatly overstepped by being the first to rail against the President the very next morning for not declaring it a "terrorist attack" soon enough.  Ever since, the Republicans have been trying to make this into a scandal, calling one hearing after another, claiming there was a cover-up of "facts" surrounding the attack, but never once holding themselves to blame for denying additional security funding for embassies and consulates earlier that year.

In 2013, a book appeared, entitled simply Impeachable Offenses, which outlined a host of reasons why Obama should be removed from office.  One assumes Sarah Palin read the book (or at least someone prepared a punch list for her) as she claims to have 25 reasons to impeach the President, first and foremost the immigration crisis currently unfolding along the Texas border, which has Obama visiting The Lone Star state, much to Governor Perry's chagrin.

Sarah, like the growing cackle of conservative magpies, feels that the President has greatly overstepped his authority on everything from immigration to the Affordable Care Act, which is what has compelled House Speaker John Boehner to threaten a law suit against the President, while Republicans wait to see how the midterms shake out.  I suppose they imagine they can gain enough of a groundswell among dissatisfied voters to overturn the Senate this Fall, but it would take an enormous swing to get the number of Senators needed to uphold an impeachment vote by the House, as the Constitution requires a two-thirds Senate majority to confirm such a decision.  Republicans would have to win every single Senate seat up for election, and even then they would fall one vote short of a two-thirds majority.

It appears to be enough to create the air of impeachment in the midterms to try to make this election once again about Obama, rather than the incompetence displayed by Republicans these past six years, as they really have no grounds for impeachment.  Even Ted Cruz seems to realize this.  However, a simple majority would be enough for Republicans in the Senate to exercise the "nuclear option" on bills put forward by the Republican House, such as one repealing "Obamacare," which remains their favorite pet cause.

They figure if they get enough people incensed over the ongoing border crisis, they might just turn out enough Democratic senators to gain the majority.  One would like to think that Americans are inured to this type of politics, but you never can tell.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Last Frontier

Most persons think of Alaska and Hawaii coming into the Union together in 1959, but "The Last Frontier" actually had its statehood approved the year before and was proclaimed a state  on January 3, 1959, seven months before Hawaii.  For an ever so brief moment there was actually a 49-star flag, which was officially unfurled on July 4th of that year with this first day issue of the stamp.

The statehood drive had begun decades before.  Frustrated at being ignored, the territory actually picked two shadow senators and a representative to go to Congress on its behalf in 1956.  While they weren't accepted into the fold, they did successfully lobby for statehood and on July 7, 1958, President Eisenhower signed the statehood bill into law.

Alaska no longer wanted administration without representation, much like its far flung neighbor Hawaii.  It was only fitting that Alaska came in first, since it was annexed as a territory in 1867, thirty years before the Aloha State.  The purchase was dubbed "Seward's Folly," as there were plenty of folks who saw no value in adding such a remote territory, especially for what was seen as a gargantuan sum of $7.2 million in its day.  It turned out to be a worthwhile investment, as the United States reaped huge dividends with the Klondike Gold Rush, immortalized in this film.

It was about the time of the gold rush that my grandmother was born in Ketchikan.  There were apparently no birth certificates issued.  Salmon was the initial draw of the town, but soon mining and logging would become the dominant activities in this coastal town located at the bottom tip of the "Inside Passage."  It would have looked something like this,

Robert Service and Jack London would draw others to the state with their poems, short stories and novels.  My favorite remains The Cremation of Sam McGee.  The state continues to be seen as a place where you go to prove yourself, whether it is The Deadliest Catch or to climb Mt. McKinley, known locally as Denali.  Others take the Inside Passage on cruise ships, stopping off at Ketchikan and other places along the way.  

You can also take the armchair approach and read Jonathan Raban's wonderful Passage to Juneau.  Raban finds a way to connect the indigenous culture with Homeric musings, weaving into his narrative the long history of the state as he sails between the islands in his 35-foot ketch.

Alaska is also refuge, as wonderfully depicted in Northern Exposure, a television serial that ran between 1990-1995.  But, my favorite account is that of Dick Proenneke, who retired to the state in 1967 and built a cabin by the shores of Twin Lakes, which he captured in the documentary, Alone in the Wilderness.

It's this wilderness that people value most, yet it is in constant danger of encroachment, especially with our insatiable appetite for oil and timber.  One of the worst nightmares was the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989 with its ongoing recovery 25 years later.  This is one of the many reasons environmentalists don't want to open the Tongass National Forest to logging and oil drilling, fighting plans like this one proposed by the Bush administration and supported by Sarah Palin when she was governor of Alaska.  Now that the Arctic ice cap is melting, Alaska could once again serve as a major portal to deep-water oil exploration, which the Obama administration approved.  

Our government just doesn't seem to get it.  In 2013, nearly 2 million persons visited Alaska, which is almost three times the population of the state.  Tourism accounts for one in eight Alaskan jobs.  Of course, this takes a physical toll on the state as well, but nothing like the Valdez disaster.

It was Teddy Roosevelt who created the Tongass and Chugach forest reserves so that these pristine lands would be preserved for future generations and continue to inspire persons the way this great wilderness has inspired so many others before.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Altered States: The Legacy of Elbridge Gerry

When you look at the breakdown of red and blue states in this country, it is staggering to me that Republicans control 30 state legislatures and 29 governor mansions.  Particularly disconcerting is that traditionally Democratic labor states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are firmly in the hands of Republicans.

Despite the 2011 protests that rocked Madison for several weeks and the recall elections which followed, Republicans managed to hold onto the state senate and governor's mansion, and subsequently gain seats in the 2012 election.  Walker and the Republicans were also able to get their anti-collective bargaining legislation through the state legislature, and continue to enforce these laws even though state courts had deemed the laws unconstitutional.

So why do union states continue to vote Republican, when it is clear that Republican leaders are anti-labor?  Looking at the demographics, it seems the main reason is the Republican ability to turn the vote in rural and suburban areas.  Pro-Labor appears to be largely concentrated in urban areas, and Republican state legislatures have gone out of their way to gerrymander voting districts so that rural and suburban districts carry an inordinate amount of representation.  Republicans hold a huge edge in the Wisconsin state house (60-30) and a significant edge in the state senate (18-15) despite Democrat candidates having won more votes overall than Republicans in the 2012 state elections.

This is a pattern that repeats itself across the country, making it very difficult for Democrats to retake states that they continue to win in national elections.  You take Michigan, which has two Democratic U.S. Senators, yet Republicans have 9 as opposed to 5 Democratic U.S. Representatives, and control both chambers of the state legislature, once again thanks to gerrymandering.

Unfortunately, this method of drawing up voting districts is perfectly legal and dates back to Elbridge Gerry, who as governor of Massachusetts in 1812 signed legislation that redistricted the state to favor the Democratic-Republican Party.  Thanks to the success of this initial effort the name stuck, and some voting districts can carry more weight than others, regardless of the number of voters.

Urban areas have suffered the most through gerrymandering, as their votes count less than rural and suburban votes in many state elections.  This was true throughout the Midwest.  Democratic US Representative candidates won the majority of the Pennsylvania vote in 2012 but thanks to the breakdown of districts, the Republicans retained 13 out of 18 seats in the House of Representatives.  Pennsylvania Republicans similarly retained controlled of the state legislature, allowing them to perpetuate this voting imbalance.

Even in Southern states like North Carolina, Democrats suffered a similar fate.  This despite notorious voter ID laws and other measures specifically aimed at disenfranchising a significant portion of the voters.  Nevertheless, Republicans retained commanding control of the state legislature, and maintained their edge 9-5 over Democrats in the US House of Representatives.

Astonishingly, all this redistricting took place in the span of one election cycle.  Republicans rode to a sweeping electoral victory in 2010 and immediately set to insure they would hold the majority in these Midwest states and maintain control of the South indefinitely.  Texas Republican Blake Farenthold barely won the 27th district over longtime representative Solomon Ortiz in 2010, but after the district was remapped Farenthold easily won re-election in 2012.

One had hoped that the Madison protests would inspire similar shows of resistance across the country, but alas it seems many folks just simply accepted defeat.  Lacking a clear message, Democrats have been unable to inspire voters to the polls.  Primaries have had historic low voter turn out in some states, and there seems little to indicate the November elections will be any better.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Re-inventing Nixon

I see Pat Buchanan is busy plugging his new book, calling Nixon's "Southern Strategy" a "Liberal Big Lie."  Pat was a close adviser to Tricky Dick, kind of a "Karl Rove" of his day telling Nixon to steer away from particulars and speak from his gut, wooing dissatisfied Democrats by appealing to their base instincts.  At least this is how The Greatest Comeback is reviewed in The Economist.

Pat himself feels that the Democrats have promoted this shameful lie for decades, when in fact Nixon better read the American voter than they did.  He points to the Dixiecrats, whom he sees as a canker in the Democratic Party, noting how FDR tried to appease them to keep them in the party.  He recalls the many grave injustices, and notes how Nixon "blasted Dixiecrats."

It is true that Nixon let Wallace do the dirty work for him the first time around.  Wallace ran as an independent candidate in 1968, siphoning off Democratic votes throughout the South, taking five states that definitely made a big difference in the electoral count.  As Kevin Philips wrote in his 1969 book,  The Emerging Republican Majority, the strategy that year was to isolate the liberal Northeast in the elections, taking advantage of the general dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party among the rest of the nation.

Nixon would later capitalize on this unrest in his sweeping electoral victory in 1972, promoting himself as the "law and order" president in the wake of the civil rights protests and race riots that rocked the nation.  Hunter S. Thompson had great fun with this election in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, but he struck a sad note in the wake of election night, which left the Democratic Party in complete disarray.  It was the end of "Liberalism" as we knew it, although Northern Democrats were loathe to admit it at the time.

It doesn't seem that Pat deals with nuances in his book.  His aim is to restore the image of Nixon, which has long been a Republican black eye in the wake of Watergate.  Maybe Pat should have stolen a refrain from Lynyrd Skynyrd,

Now Watergate does not bother me, does your conscience bother you? Tell the truth.

The truth is Nixon played both sides of the same coin, which Philips unabashedly wrote after that deeply divisive campaign.  He was able to eek out a victory thanks to Wallace driving a wedge (or should I say stake) into the Democrats.

Nixon with Wallace in 1971
Nixon would later sign off on Affirmative Action during his administration.  But, let's not forget that these were all Democratic Congressional initiatives that served to alienate the Southern white wing of the party, which came over to the Republican Party in droves following the sweeping electoral victory of Reagan in 1980.  Even before this watershed moment, former Dixiecrats like Strom Thurmond and Thad Cochran actively campaigned for Goldwater in 64 and Nixon in 68.  Nixon warmly embraced these segregationists and helped promote Cochran when he first ran for Congress in 1972, as well as made amends with Wallace as you can see in the picture above.

It is hard to see how any of this differs significantly from the Democrats attempt to placate the Southern wing of the party in the 40s and 50s.  One of his Secretaries of Treasury was John Connally, former Governor of Texas and conservative Democrat.  Winton Blount, his Postmaster General, hailed from Alabama, and like Connally had formerly served in Johnson's administration.  So, it was clear Nixon made concessions to the South.

Tricky Dick tried to have it both ways, as so many politicians do, but eventually it caught up to him.  He found himself with very few friends in Congress in 1974 when an impeachment vote loomed over his cover-up of the Watergate affair.  Even Spiro Agnew, who Pat extols, had been forced to resign the year before due to charges of political corruption and income tax invasion.  There was nothing for Nixon to do except slither out of office and hope that the newly confirmed President Gerald Ford would pardon his many transgressions, which he did.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Hawaii Five-O

The Fourth of July means many different things to many different people, but what's interesting to me on this day is the battle that took place in 1959 over which state would be admitted first into the Union, Alaska or Hawai'i, thereby completing the United States as we know it today.

Hawai'i was the first choice of Eisenhower and the Republicans, but the Democrats anxiously wanted Alaska admitted first and refused to accept Hawai'i on any other grounds.  Apparently, there was still some lingering animosity toward Hawai'i over the Pearl Harbor attack, even though the Japanese-American 442nd Infantry Regiment is the most decorated American combat unit.  Eisenhower eventually relented and Alaska was admitted in January with Hawai'i following in March, although its proclamation wasn't signed until August 21.

The Aloha State's bid began a half century before when the governor of the recently annexed territory signed a joint resolution suggesting statehood to Congress in 1903.  The topic wasn't taken up until three decades later.  Concerns were raised over the preponderance of Japanese-Americans and whether they would be loyal to the United States in times of conflict.  The territory had voted overwhelmingly for statehood in its first plebiscite in 1937.  But, the matter stalled with the breakout of WWII.

Captain James Cook happened on the islands in 1778, while the United States was at war with Britain.  He sailed onto Alaska the same year, had a miserable time that winter looking for an inland waterway that connected the two oceans before sailing back to Hawai'i the following year only to meet his doom.  His final voyage to some degree inspired Hunter S. Thompson's The Curse of Lono, as he ostensibly followed a marathon held in 1980 on the great island of Oahu.

Truman took up Hawaii's cause in 1946 but failed to garner much support.  Eisenhower similarly championed Hawaiian statehood in his 1953 State of the Union Address, only to find similar resistance in Congress.  In 1954, residents signed a 500-foot long petition demanding statehood now, but once again it fell on deaf ears.

Eisenhower's main concern was apparently the military installations in Hawai'i, whereas Democrats in Congress were more concerned with oil and mineral rights in Alaska.  Oddly enough, Hawai'i was considered a Republican state at the time and Alaska a Democratic state, so both parties eyed the potential votes from these states.  Not much different than in antebellum days.

Hawai'i had twice the population of Alaska at the time, although both were given the same electoral representation in Congress upon achieving statehood.  Hawai'i has since become heavily Democratic, gained a second U.S. Representative and is the birthplace of our President, much to the chagrin of the Republicans.  However, they did gain Alaska.

I think Hawaii's full acceptance came in the late 1960s with the highly popular television show, Hawaii Five-O, with its memorable theme song.  The long-running serial pulled off a hard-hitting crime drama with Polynesian accents, shot on location throughout the islands.  The show was revived in 2010.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Mississippi Goddam: History Repeats Itself

Chris McDaniel is still griping over his primary loss because Blacks crossed over to vote for Thad Cochran.  It seems the lessons of the Civil Rights movement still haven't been learned in Mississippi 50 years later, as "real conservatives" continue to fight the same battles.  In McDaniel and his followers' perverse minds, the black vote doesn't count as it doesn't represent their "conservative values."

It seems that to vote Republican in Mississippi you have to pass a conservative litmus test, recalling the Jim Crow era when many blacks had to take "literacy tests" in order to vote.  Fortunately, these tests were done away with the federal voting rights laws of 1965, which followed on the heels of the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Lyndon Johnson felt at the time that this legislation would alienate Southern white voters, who had traditionally voted Democratic, and it seems his prophecy has been borne out by the Southern Tea Party, which appears to be the most recalcitrant of Dixiecrats turned Republican.

I remember the days when the only way you could vote in the Southern primaries was to be Democrat, as Republicans were far and few between.  Today, the opposite seems to be true.  Looking at the Mississippi US Senate election, 374,000 persons voted in the Republican primary as opposed to 84,000 in the Democratic primary.  An estimated 35,000 Democrats crossed over to vote in the Republican primary.

All this anger exhibited by the Tea Party shows a profound ignorance of history, especially when you consider that most Blacks initially joined the Republican Party, as it was the Party of Lincoln, but as the party became increasingly more conservative, Blacks drifted to the Democratic Party.  However, in order to get the votes Johnson needed to pass the Civil Rights Bill in 1964, he counted on Republican Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen to help override the Dixiecrats, who were staunchly opposed to the bill.  Something the Republican National Committee actually brags about.

So, who exactly are the Mississippi teabaggers?  I guess to avoid any confusion they simply call themselves conservative, yet they vote Republican and take a major role in crafting party policy.  It seems that for better and for worse they have chosen to pitch their tents with the GOP, as long as the Grand Old Party continues to promote their interests.  In their addled minds, Cochran broke some kind of sacred pledge when he actively courted black votes to carry him past McDaniel in the run-off.

Cochran is your classic Southern politician who is old enough to have been around at the time of the Civil Rights movement.  In fact, Cochran was a Dixiecrat turned Republican in the mid-60s who threw his support behind Nixon in the 1968 election and was first elected to political office in 1972 as a US Representative.  The irony here is that he most likely made the switch because of the Civil Rights Act and here he is now relying on Black votes to win a seventh term in the Senate.

Fifty years later, the fissures are all still there.  Southern Black Americans have certainly made a number of political gains but still find themselves odd man out in political backwaters like Mississippi.  They represent 37 per cent of the population (the largest of any state) yet have to rely on guys like Cochran to represent their interests in Washington.  Bennie Thompson is the only representative they have in the House.

Obama rolls up his sleeves

It seems Barack Obama has become the Rodney Dangerfield of Presidents as respondents to a Quinnipiac poll rated him the worst president since WWII.  Not that many of those surveyed could even name the presidents since WWII, but the media has run with the story, and Romney was spotted in New Hampshire campaigning for the intrepid Scott Brown after many in the same survey felt the country would be better off with him as president.

Yep, that is the fickle nature of Americans, never satisfied with who they have in office.  But, once out of office you can be rehabilitated pretty quickly.  Bill Clinton is at an all time high in popularity and even George Bush has enjoyed a big uptick in popularity since leaving the White House, even though most of the woes that continue to dog us can be traced back to his administration.  As Harry Truman famously said, "the buck stops here," meaning the Oval Office.

Emotions seem to trump reason  All this bad press Obama has been getting has given his approval rating a big hit, slumping to 40 per cent while his disapproval rating has climbed to 54 per cent, according to Gallup Daily.  Events appear to have conspired against him with the bad news coming out of Iraq, the various House "investigations" and the lawsuit the House has threatened to file against him for not carrying out the laws they see fit.

A lot of this angst seems to come from Obama exercising more executive privilege than many think he should.  He has been dubbed the "imperial president" by the outgoing House Majority Leader.  Lame duck Eric Cantor feels the President has issued way too many executive orders, including a raise in the minimum wage for federal employees and most recently calling for stricter enforcement of carbon emission laws, while ignoring the prerogatives of the House.  As a result, the House is seeking ways to defund his efforts.

What's a president to do?  Obama seems determined to make this a year of action despite the reaction he has been getting in the press.  He has taken to the stump to promote his initiatives, even when they come in sharp contrast to other Democrats' electoral ambitions.  With two years left in his tenure, the President wants to leave a positive legacy after a highly fractious four years with a belligerent Congress.  Unfortunately, this doesn't necessarily translate very well in the polls.  I guess he can take up painting when he leaves the White House.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Eight Miles High

Apparently, most architects still see today as World Architecture Day, so I thought I would share a few thoughts on my profession, borrowing the title from a song by The Byrds.

The advent of computer graphic programs has unleashed a whole new architecture, which seems to owe more to biomorphic forms than it does traditional engineering.  It's not like there weren't examples of this in the past but now some of the shapes seem to have lives of their own, based on fractal geometry.  The biggest move though is in self-efficient buildings that can generate their own energy needs via solar, wind or geothermal sources.

One of my favorite contemporary architects is Ken Yeang who came up with the concept of the sustainable hi-rise, which is now being adapted to tall buildings to one extent or another.  Shigeru Ban teamed up with three other architects to form Think, which submitted a design for a sustainable skyscraper for the World Trade Center competition back in 2003.

The winning entry owed more to the Deconstructionist movement, which took root in the 80s, but the tower has since been redesigned and no longer looks anything like Daniel Libeskind's original vision.  The arduous process was documented by Frontline some years ago, showing how developers often trump architectural vision with the old adage, "highest and best use" or HBU.  The developer in this case was Larry Silverstein, who wasn't content with the 1776-foot "Freedom Tower," and wanted something much much bigger.

Ada Lousie Huxtable had written an engaging pamphlet years before entitled The Tall Building Artistically Reconsidered in which she charts the rise of the skyscraper from its early roots in Chicago, where Louis Sullivan had considered the same subject nearly a century before.  She notes the wonderful charcoal drawings by Hugh Ferriss, which for years served as the model for the step-backed high rises that dominated the New York skyline.  She felt that 2000 feet was pretty much the limit, not because of engineering constraints, but rather the massive infrastructure that would be needed to support a building much taller than this.

Huxtable also notes the famous Chicago Tribune Tower competition that spawned this architectural race to the stratosphere.  The midland newspaper attracted architects from all over the world, including famed Vienese architect, Adolph Loos, who offered some of the more pithy insights into modern architecture at the time in his essays.  He notably compared ornament in architecture to tattoos on a human being.  Only criminals and Polynesians defaced themselves in this way.  The winning entry was a neo-Gothic tower designed by New York architects Raymond Hood and John Meads Howells, which Loos and other modern architects regarded as a throwback to the medieval age.  Loos' entry is the one pictured.

The next big race was in New York between the Chrysler Building and 40 Wall Street for the tallest building of its day.  As it turned out, William Van Allen, had a spire up his sleeve that edged out Craig Severance's building by 100 feet in the end, making the Chrysler Building the tallest building in the world, if ever so briefly.  The Empire State Building went up less than a year later, topping off at 1454 feet, well over Van Allen's spire.  Still, many consider the Chrysler Building the most beautiful tall building ever designed, and one even Loos admired.

It was this race to the top that inspired Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, where she combined her Objectivism with architecture in the form of Howard Roark.  Many critics felt she modeled her protagonist after Frank Lloyd Wright.  In fact, Wright would later design a cottage for Rand, based on his principles, which weren't very far apart despite him not showing much interest in her philosophical views.

The stakes became demonstrably higher when Frank Lloyd Wright came up with a design for a mile-high skyscraper for Chicago, which he described in his book, A Testament, back in 1956.  The massive building is not a pipedream.  There have been other proposals for similarly sized buildings. The Saudis are planning a Kingdom Tower that would be one-kilometer high, dwarfing any current skyscraper.  It should be completed in 2019.  It looks a lot like Wright's design, but scaled down to a more manageable height of 3280 feet.

However, today the major interest is more in "landscrapers," which hug the ground, falling and rising like natural hills and valleys, often with green roofs, which blend into the urban or rural landscape.  Some of the more inventive designs have been by Zaha Hadid, whose wistful curves appear to go to infinity and beyond, offering a much more elegant statement than Superstudio's endless cities from the 1960s.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Yes, Ann, football is a real sport

Seems conservatives have picked a new target of derision -- "soccer."  Ann Coulter isn't the only one who sees the game as un-American.  G. Gordon Liddy tossed in his two-cents, saying he would rather see South American Indians kick around decapitated heads than watch the World Cup.

I have to give the G-man a yellow card.   The game did not originate on the American sub-continent.  It actually dates back to Greek and Roman times, and was played in ancient China as well, before being popularized in England in the 14th century, long before Columbus or any other European (other than a wayward Viking) ventured to America.

All this would be quite amusing if the persons in question didn't take themselves so bats**t seriously.  Glenn Beck apparently thinks there is a worldwide conspiracy to get Americans caught up in World Cup fever, deflecting our attention from real events like Benghazi and the IRS scandal.

Instead of rooting for America's can-do kids, who qualified for the Cup by beating a heralded Mexico team, Dan Gainor believes the game is "browning America," adding a racist angle to round out the conservative angst over this highly popular game.

I guess my question is, don't these conservative pundits have something better to rage against?  I hate to break the news to them but football, or soccer as it is called in America, is a very popular sport and is played largely by kids who haven't made a political decision one way or the other yet.  But, assuming any of these kids bother to listen to these radio programs while being ferried to games in the ubiquitous soccer van by their "soccer moms," which Ann also takes exception to, it certainly won't influence them to vote Republican when they do come of age.

Also, what do these rants say to women, who excel at this game?  The US women's football team is currently ranked number one in the world and has twice won the World Cup.

These same pundits aren't complaining about golf, which has to be the most boring "sport" to watch.  It too was invented in England, and was forced down our throat by rich white men in the late 19th century.  Who knows, there might even be an early native American version where Indians batted around the testicles of their conquered foes?  It has become a fixture in weekend sports programming with multi-million dollar "purses" for both men and women.  Doesn't sound very manly, G-man!

Anyway, it doesn't seem to matter as both the "American Outlaws" and the team have made a friendly splash in Rio.  The exuberance has spilled over at home as well with more and more Americans tuning in for the games, led by the team's #1 fan, Stephen Colbert.  It is very unlikely Team USA will pull off a "Miracle" like it did in hockey 34 years ago, but a win over Belgium would be nice.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Killing Garfield

Borrowing a page from that indefatigable historical serial killer, Bill O'Reilly, the death of Garfield has a much greater air of mystery and intrigue than any of the deaths "Papa Bear" has chosen to explore, especially since most Americans would probably first think of a grumpy cat.

As some persons might know, James Garfield was the 20th President of the United States.  His election in 1880 was met with a great deal of expectation, as he had been a Radical Republican and strongly supported Reconstruction, which had ground to a halt in 1876 thanks to the "Compromise" in Congress that led to Rutherford B. Hayes' electoral victory.  Garfield had been great friends with Salmon B. Chase, who served in Lincoln's administration.  He had been one of the administration's point men in the House in 1863, to which he was elected after serving in the Civil War.  He represented Ohio for 9 successive terms.  He was a major advocate of the Freedmen's Bureau, and tried in vain to get Andrew Johnson, Lincoln's successor, to see the light in terms of civil rights.  When that failed he sided with those Republicans who wanted the un-elected President impeached.

Garfield was a dark horse at the 1880 Republican convention, which saw the vote split between former President Grant, James G. Blaine and John Sherman.  Rutherford B. Hayes had chosen not to seek re-nomination.  Garfield won the nomination on the 36th ballot at the deeply divided convention.  It was no easier in the general election, where he virtually split the popular vote with Democrat Winfred S. Hancock, winning by less than 2000 votes.  However, thanks to the larger electoral blocks in the North, Garfield had a clear victory in the electoral college.

There was a great deal of anxiety that Garfield would revisit Reconstruction as President.  He sought reconciliation in the Republican ranks by putting together a "team of rivals" much like Lincoln had done in his first administration.  However, it was clear in Garfield's inaugural address that he believed in full rights for African-Americans, which would have put him deeply at odds with Democrats and even some Republicans who considered the issue dead and buried after the 1877 Compromise.

He was only six months into his term of office, when he was shot by a political office seeker, Charles J. Guiteau, who had been stalking Garfield for months.  Guiteau shouted that he was a "Stalwart" and that Chester Arthur was now president.  This would seem to point to the split within the Republican party, as the Stalwarts identified themselves with the more conservative elements in the GOP, with "Lord" Roscoe Conkling the titular head of the faction.  They had supported Grant at the convention.  The selection of Chester Arthur as Vice-President was seen as a concession to the group, but Conkling was apparently very upset with the way the Cabinet was shaping up, which resulted in further acrimony.  Whether Guiteau was a tool or acted on his own volition is anyone's guess, but Garfield had two bullets that needed to be extracted.

The first was relatively easy to dislodge, but doctors had a hard time finding the second bullet, which apparently had deflected inside his body and couldn't be directly traced from the entry wound.  Newspapers were rife with speculation and eventually Alexander Graham Bell teamed up with Simon Newcombe to invent what could best be called a "metal detector" to locate the second bullet.  The two had tested the new device, which combined Newcombe's detection system with Bell's amplifying system, on war veterans who still had bullets lodged inside their bodies.  R.J. Brown describes the process.

However, they were in a quandry over Garfield, as the metal detector proved futile.  Bell and Newcombe tried a second time but similarly to no avail.  Garfield passed away three months later due to infection.  It was only discovered after his death that the reason the metal detector didn't work is because Garfield lay on a bed with metal spring coils, one of the first in the country, which the two men had no way of knowing.  Candice Millard argues in her 2011 biography, Destiny of the Republic, that the president would have lived if this oversight hadn't happened.

It is difficult to say what Garfield would have accomplished as President, but Chester Arthur didn't revisit Reconstruction.  In fact in 1883, the Supreme Court overturned the last remaining legacy of the era, the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which had allowed Blacks public access in society.  It was this fateful decision that paved the way for Jim Crow laws in the South and discrimination in the North.  The Stalwarts along with their Democratic allies had placed the final nail in the coffin of Reconstruction.

Persons and events easily get lost in the fog of history, but it is pretty hard to miss the Garfield monument at the Lake View cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio.  There is also a monument in his honor in Washington D.C.  He was a well-loved and well-respected man in his day.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

24 Hours of Le Mans

Steve McQueen's Le Mans Porsche 917 is expected to fetch $20 million on the auction block.  The iconic racing car was picked up a decade ago in a "barn find" and has been immaculately restored.  The film from which it dates is considered the greatest racing film ever made, in part because actual footage from the 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans was incorporated into the movie thanks to cameras mounted on several racing cars for this expressed purpose.

The car apparently rusted away in a French barn until 2001 when it was bought for an undisclosed sum by an undisclosed owner.  Now it goes on the auction block at the Pebble Beach Car Show, one of the elite automobile events of the year.

A.J. Baime provides a bit of the backstory to LeMans in his book, Go Like Hell.  He focuses on Ford's attempt to outrace Ferrari in an effort to restore its brand image.  Ford's entry was a GT40, a joint British-American effort first launched in 1964.  The car's principal designer, Carroll Shelby, became a legend in automaking.  Shelby had previously won at Le Mans in teaming up with Roy Salvadori on the British Aston Martin DBR1  Shelby's cars inspired the Ford Mustang, which became America's most popular sports car.  Not surprisingly, the GT40 is also a valuable collector's item, and was similarly featured in the 1971 film.  The GT40 had won four years in a row before being upstaged by the Porsche 917 in 1970.

Alas, Ferraris, Fords and Porsches have all been superseded in the years since.  The Audi R18 is the beast to beat these days. A lot of folks still prefer the classics, but most of us have to live out the racing experience vicariously through film and scale model cars.

Mississippi Goddam: Crossing Over

It was a Howard Beale moment for the Tea Party, which is up in arms that Cochran pulled in Democrats to lift him over their favorite, Chris McDaniel, in the Mississippi GOP Senate run-off election.  Craig Shirley, a conservative political consultant and "biographer" of Reagan called it "a win with an asterisk."  I guess we could say the same about Reagan, who wouldn't have won in 1980 and 1984 if it wasn't for the massive Democratic crossover vote, particularly in the Deep South.

The so-called "Southern strategy" had been in place since Goldwater carried a handful of traditionally Southern Democratic states in 1964.  Nixon would later exploit this vote in 1968, thanks to a little help from George Wallace.  Even Ike couldn't carry the South in 1952 and 1956 against an effete intellectual, Adlai Stevenson, from Illinois. Lyndon Johnson helped secure most of the South for Kennedy in 1960.  Of course, many of these Dixiecrats eventually turned Republican, but not until after Reagan was elected.   The big demographic shift was in the 80s, despite earlier party changes, like that of Reagan himself, in the 60s.

It seems the Tea Party thought they had this one in the bag as McDaniel held a slim lead after the first primary and they figured that supporters of Thomas Carey, a Libertarian, would vote for their man.  The surprising loss left the McDaniel camp shellshocked, with their man refusing to admit defeat, and potentially challenging the results in court.

Conservative political action groups had sent monitors to make sure Democratic voters didn't vote twice, which evoked the Jim Crow era, as blacks were the ones expected to cross over and vote for Cochran.  In Mississippi, you don't have to vote in your particular primary but can vote in the other party's primary.  Apparently, enough Democrats felt the real choice was between Cochran, who has funneled a lot of federal dollars to poor rural areas in Mississippi during his 6 terms in the Senate, and McDaniel, who threatened to cut this support.  Whoever won the Republican primary would most likely win the general election as Travis Childers, the Democrat, isn't given much of a chance.  How many Democrats crossed over remains to be seen, but it didn't take many to turn this election as Cochran won by 6,400 votes.

It was a bruising night for the Teabaggers, as all their Senate hopefuls fell in Republican primaries. Oklahoma Republican James Lankford, who was also targeted by Tea Party groups, had no problem beating back T.W. Shannon and a handful of other conservative candidates, much to the chagrin of Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin, who had heavily supported Shannon.

McDaniel had Palin, Santorum and other TP leading lights campaigning for him in Mississippi, which once again shows these elections are no longer local.  Tea Party groups from all over the country poured money into McDaniel's campaign.  You can bet there was "dark money" too, as it turns out was the case in David Brat's so-called "grass roots" victory over Eric Cantor.

The defeat of Cantor appears to be a one-off victory, but there is no doubt the Tea Party still plays a disruptive force in the GOP, forcing "establishment" candidates to spend heavily in the primaries, leaving them vulnerable in the general election.  The Tea Party has also forced GOP leaders further to the right on key issues like immigration, which seemed to be the driving force in the primaries, not "Obamacare."

The surge in illegal immigration the past few months has once again made this a hot button issue.  It is unlikely that we will see any immigration reform bill move through the House, given the current shake-up.  The focus of the House now appears to be on Obama because of his recent executive decisions.  House Speaker John Boehner has threatened a "massive" law suit.  The President is at an all-time low in popularity, making him an easy target this summer.

This type of grandstanding is what we have come to expect from the Republicans, who have refused to work with the President in any meaningful way.  As a result, Obama has been issuing executive orders to bypass Congress, including his latest one on carbon emissions, which even has fellow Democrats upset.

But, these GOP primaries has been more about replacing entrenched Republicans with new conservative faces, as Teabaggers feel that Senators like Thad Cochran are RINO's, having sold out to the Washington establishment.  The fact that Cochran had to rely on Democrats to pull off his comeback victory only serves to vindicate their position.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

What a friend we have in Jesus?

A new documentary sheds light on evangelical attempts to"rehabilitate" their youth.  A recently returned missionary, Kate Logan, traveled to the Dominican Republic to do a documentary on a highly touted evangelical reform school, Escuela Caribe, only to find barbarous cruelty carried out in the name of Christ.

In Kidnapped for Christ, Logan shows teenagers who had literally been plucked from their homes, with their parents' knowledge, and shuttled away to this island school.  Apparently, Logan wasn't familiar with an earlier book, Jesus Land, written by one of the survivors of this insane religious boot camp, which was published the year before she arrived at Escuela Caribe.  Or, she sought to verify Julia Scheeres' horrifying story of the reform school.

It really makes you wonder what conservative evangelists have in mind when they talk about "gay conversion therapy," as one of the victims in Logan's documentary is a gay teen who was sent to the camp by his parents to be reformed.  It took several years for Logan to get this film to production due to threats from the school and the young man's parents.  It premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, earlier this year.

The school was shut down in 2011, apparently for economic reasons.  A new reform school, Crosswinds, now exists in its place, and one can imagine there are many more like them around the world, which will surely keep their doors closed to prying eyes.

The experience shook Kate Logan enough that she now considers herself an agnostic.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Atlas Shrugged, part III

It seems the producers of Atlas Shrugged will finish the story after a lackluster first two installments that failed to generate much interest.  To help Ayn Rand's canonical work reach a broader audience, the production team has enlisted the talents of Ron Paul, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity.

Paul seems like a good fit, being an ardent Libertarian himself who may have actually read Atlas Shrugged, but Beck and Hannity are suspect, given their fundamental religious leanings.  As Elizabeth Stoker points out in her opinion piece, Ayn Rand was a staunch atheist and the film's message is starkly anti-Christian.  But, they are only being asked to play themselves.

Ever since the book started being mentioned in political conservative circles, I had to wonder how the Republican Party can embrace Ayn Rand.  Yet, not only Ron Paul, but Paul Ryan and others constantly refer to her.  Many thought (including myself) that Ron Paul named his son after the Objectivist writer, only to disappointingly find out it was just a shortened form of Randal.  Maybe he read Rand in Ophthalmology school?  Even Sarah Palin found herself compared to Dagny Taggart, the heroine in the novel, but alas the Alaskan maverick didn't rate a bit part in the last installment.  As Jennifer Burns noted in her 2009 book, Goddess of the Market, Ayn Rand "has been the ultimate gateway drug to a life on the Right."

Stoker notes that the Conservative Right didn't have much time for Rand when her 1000+ page opus first appeared in bookstores in the late 1950s.  William F. Buckley, Jr. and Whittaker Chambers both wrote scathing reviews.  Chambers compared her simple materialist system to an oxcart without wheels.  But, Rand already had a devoted following, thanks to the success of The Fountainhead and her Obectivism tracts, so she didn't need the approval of the National Review.

The story may have seemed preposterous back in 1957, but not so much today as literally trillions of dollars are missing in circulation, hidden in offshore accounts all around the globe.  Romney serves as the unofficial ambassador to the Cayman Islands.  Forbes conservatively estimates the worldwide buried loot at $21 trillion, but other sources have it much higher.  With so much money out of circulation, it leaves countries hard pressed to generate the revenue needed to carry out long-standing social programs, not only in the US but throughout Europe.  Greece nearly went bankrupt largely because of its inability to collect taxes from the super rich.

The richest one per cent hold an estimated 46 per cent of the world's wealth, which Thomas Piketty says will only get worse if the G20 countries don't get together and charge a worldwide wealth tax.  Of course, such a tax is highly unlikely.  Corporate and income tax  rates have steadily declined since their peak in 1957, so it seems that economists and politicians did take cues from Ayn Rand's books, notably Milton Friedman, who was apparently a devout Randian.  Ditto, Alan Greenspan, and to a lesser extent Ben Bernanke.  The Federal Reserve has been promoting Randian economic policies for decades now, allowing for this great wealth imbalance to take place.

Of course, the 2008 crisis didn't help matters any.  All those foreclosures allowed banks to consolidate even more wealth, especially when the government generously offered to cover their losses.  The mortgage relief provided in the 2009 Stimulus Bill did little to offset the tremendous losses suffered by the Middle Class, which has steadily shrunk since its peak in the 1960s.

The Socialist policies that Ayn Rand railed against never came to pass.  The Free Market has prevailed, but unfortunately most of us are poorer for it.  Trickle Down economics dried up like the Colorado River thanks to all the dams that favored the rich.  It's not like anyone ever paid those exorbitantly high taxes of the Eisenhower era.  Just as today the average Corporate Tax rate paid is 12 per cent, far below the actual rate of 35 per cent. Romney struggled to pay 12 per cent in his 2011 return, forgoing deductions he would have normally taken.  Thanks to an army of lawyers the rich find their way around paying taxes whether they hide their money or not.  It's the rest of us dupes forced to pay payroll taxes and take standard deductions on income tax that cover a large portion of the federal budget.

Yet, to hear Tea Party pundits like Hannity and Beck, the tax rate is still too high and driving away businesses from the US.  Ron Paul would have the federal income tax abolished all together.  Ayn Rand lives on through third-rate hacks like these guys.  Only fitting that they should appear in the final chapter of this banal trilogy.  Mitt Romney can lend his Park City home for John Galt's secret hideaway, as little time as he spends there.