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Showing posts from March, 2014

Good for what ails you

The 2016 Republican nomination may come down to an ophthalmologist and a neurosurgeon.  We already know about the incredible rise of Randall Howard Paul, aka "Rand" Paul, from a Kentucky eye doctor to US Senator on the back of the Tea Party in 2010, but the Tea Party is currently punch drunk in love with Dr. Ben Carson, a noted neurosurgeon, who has been outspoken in his criticism of the Affordable Care Act, taking the President to task at a National Prayer Meeting in 2013, which made him an overnight celebrity.

The President and Vice-President sat politely as the good doctor referenced the Bible, the Founding Fathers,  Alexis de Toqueville, the War of 1812, and the Bald Eagle in his condemnation of "Obamacare."  Dr. Carson has been riding this hobby horse the past year, and has inspired a great number of Teabaggers who see him as their political savior.

Unlike Herman Cain, the only skeletons in the good doctor's closet have long been banished and there is vir…

The GOP Chorus Line

Potential Republican presidential candidates were in Vegas auditioning for Sheldon Adelson and his conservative Jewish Coalition.  Adelson was apparently none too happy in 2012 when he tossed away $90 million of his hard-earned money on candidates like Moonbase Newt and Rombo, and vowed to scrutinize his candidates more closely this time around.

Unfortunately, good ol' Chris Christie stuck his foot in his mouth once again, referring to the "occupied territories" of the West Bank.  Of course, he meant it as a compliment to the Israeli security forces, but conservative Jews don't consider this occupied land, rather their own sovereign territory, so the guv was forced to apologize for "misspeaking."

Even George Bush recognized the West Bank as "occupied land" and pushed for a two-state solution during his two terms in office, but if you want the big bucks you have to cater to the likes of Adelson, who seems determined to buy this election.

One won…

In His Element

It seems the latest gambit by the Republicans is to show the President as having lost the respect of world leaders in the face of the Crimean crisis.  They point to figures that show the President's popularity abroad has waned since 2009, but fail to note that there is still a yawning gap between Obama and George W. Bush, who consistently ranked at the bottom of international approval ratings along with the former presidents of Iran and Pakistan.

With the mid-term elections coming up you can expect this kind of rhetoric, but one has to wonder what Mitt Romney's stake is in this, as he has been one of the most vocal in criticizing the President as of late, blaming Obama's "naivete" for not seeing Russia's move on Crimea.  I guess the only thing Rombo knows how to do is run for President, after having spent so many years on the campaign trail.  Obama had a terse response for Romney, when these accusations were thrown at him by an ABC reporter.

Of course, Vladi…

Where Waco Went Wrong

There were little more than a handful of survivors of the Branch Davidian sect that fateful day in 1993 when the US government laid siege to their Mount Carmel compound outside Waco, Texas.  For most Americans it is an ugly chapter long forgotten, but for Clive Doyle it is a set of very painful memories that needed exorcising in a book, A Journey to Waco.

Malcolm Gladwell summarized the book in his lengthy article for The New Yorker  , showing sympathy for Doyle and this branch of the Seventh-Day Adventists that Doyle became a part of.  It's probably more than most people want to read as it is hard to fathom the millennial nature of these Protestant Christians, who focus so heavily on the Book of Revelations, preferring to find support more in the Old than in the New Testament.

Seventh-Day Adventists appear to seek comfort more in the Book of Moses than the New Testament, and in this sense share a spiritual chord with the Mormons, which they believe set them apart from other Chri…

The President's End-Run

Apparently, Obama's decision to designate a 1600-acre nature preserve a national monument was the last straw for Utah representative Rob Bishop, who has sponsored a bill that would revoke much of the 1906 Antiquities Act and end all future executive decisions when it comes to designating federal lands.  It is hard to understand why this particular parcel is so contentious given that only last year the House voted unanimously to add Point Arena to the California Coastal National Monument but the measure has dragged in the Senate.

It's not likely that this "No More National Parks" bill will pass the Senate, but it isn't stopping House Republicans from fomenting on the runaway executive authority the President has been using of late, essentially "punking" the House.  If there is anything the majority Republican House can't stand it is the President doing an "end-run" on this hallowed hall of Congress, to use Rep. Bishop's nixed metaphors…

Let me articulate this better

It would seem the Republicans want desperately to reach out to a broader audience, especially those Republicans considering a run for the White House in 2016, but it seems that at every turn they stick their proverbial feet in their mouths.  Case in point, Paul Ryan trying to address the issue of poverty:

 "We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning to value the culture of work."

The Wisconsin Congressman seems to view poverty as a matter of choice, fostered by years of welfare subsidies,  an all too common GOP refrain.  Apparently in an effort to appeal to women, Ryan placed the onus on inner city men, which carries with it rather obvious racial repercussions.  But, in this case Ryan apparently felt he didn't articulate his point properly and that his personal views on the subject were misinterpreted by the mainstream press.

This isn't the first t…

A Winter of Discontent

It would seem we are on the brink of a renewed Cold War as both the United States and Russia have issued travel bans against well-recognized politicians and businessmen.  Both sides have scoffed at the bans, notably John McCain, who wears his ban like a "red badge of courage" for having stood up against the Soviet Union, er I mean Russia, for so many years.  However, the latest move to suspend G-8 meetings until the political situation changes is a much bolder move.

There are talks of economic sanctions.  The US has few ties with Russia, but then the sudden sell-off of over $100 billion in government bonds by Russia and China did raise some concerns.  I suppose this was in response to the hit the ruble took these past few weeks as Russia made its move to annex Crimea.

Russia has a strong emotional stake in the Crimea, and you might even say a cultural stake in the peninsula.  It has long been a popular Russian tourist destination and over the last two centuries numerous Rus…

Of Quarks and Man

One of the areas the US still excels in is theoretical physics, at least in terms of providing formidable research departments.  So, when a retired physicist learns that his theory on "cosmic inflation" is no longer just a theory, it is an immense reward for Andrei Linde.

Of course, this doesn't sit well for advocates of "intelligent design" who continue to discount the "Big Bang" theory and hold onto their belief that all things sprang from the hands of God in a divinely inspired moment.  Most of these ecclesiastical physicists (for lack of a better description) no longer hold to the straight creation story advocated by Ken Ham, but see the earth and the universe as stretching back millions if not billions of years.  In part, they do accept scientific findings, but prefer to fill in the gaps with divinely inspired notions.

This is particularly true of evolution.  These divine geneticists simply refuse to accept man evolved from apes, and were partic…

Battle Pieces

For those who can't get enough of the Civil War, The Library of America now offers the complete set of chronicles (four volumes) compiled by Aaron Sheehan-Dean, Brooks D. Simpson, and Stephen W. Sears.  This ambition undertaking started in 2011 and now numbers over 3000 pages of letters, diary entries, speeches, articles, legal opinions, poems and songs from the tumultuous years 1860- 1865.  The Final Year, edited by Dean, is due out April 3.

Each volume takes in roughly a year of the war, starting with the eve of Lincoln's election in  November 1860 and ending with the proclamation of emancipation in Texas in June 1865.  Along the way, the reader is treated with such diverse participants as Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, George McClellan, Robert E. Lee, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, George Templeton Strong, as well as numerous first person accounts by soldiers on both sides of the war.

It should make for a great reference, although you can probably find most of these accounts on…

A very questionable bellwether

It would seem that the Republicans are placing a lot of weight on the recent Florida Congressional Special Election where their man, David Jolly, beat Alex Sink in a race that apparently was largely over "Obamacare."  It seems Democrats had high expectations, but prevailing conservative attitudes won out. Rep. Bill Young, a Republican who passed away last year, had represented the House district for decades.  However, Obama had carried the district in 2012, and so Republicans take this as an important victory.

Robert Gibbs, Obama's former press secretary, talked about another "wave election" like in 2010 that swept Democrats out of the House, which this time could wash away the Democratic control of the Senate.  There are some signs of worry for Democrats, but Scott Brown's much talked about bid for the New Hampshire senate seat seems a bit overblown, as Brown is viewed as little more than a "carpetbagger" in the Granite State, and I doubt could …

Crazy like a fox

According to a recent book, The Loudest Voice in the Room,  Roger Ailes parlayed his experience at NBC into Fox News, thanks to the deep wallet of Rupert Murdoch, who was willing to underwrite this venture in the formative years, 1996-2002.  Ailes had a dispute with the conservative NBC top brass over the newly launched MSNBC and pitched the idea of a 24/7 news channel to Murdoch, who didn't seem to need much convincing.  Murdoch put $200 million behind the network, essentially buying space on cable that gave Fox News an early advantage.  That was all Ailes needed to reach his intended audience -- a disgruntled, largely white elderly electorate who didn't feel they were getting the straight news from the existing broadcast news providers.

Gabriel Sherman meticulously charts Ailes' rise to power, and how the media news mogul has both helped and hurt the GOP, notably in his insistence to present highly contentious political figures that don't reach across the political …

Reconciling Lincoln

Despite recent attempts to embrace Lincoln by conservative politicians and pundits, it seems most conservatives still don't consider Lincoln one of their own.  Probably the most vociferous Lincoln basher is the outspoken Judge Andrew Napolitano, who believes Lincoln was a tyrant, greatly overstepping his executive authority during the Civil War to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.  At least the Judge shows a sense of humor in "The Weakest Lincoln" segment of a recent episode of The Daily Show.  You'll love Eric Foner on the historians' panel, helping to correct some of the Judge's bolder assertions.

Of course, the Judge's view is nothing new.  Democrats were very much against Lincoln's executive order at the time, rallying against Lincoln in the 1864 election, where former Union General George McClellan (best known for his cold feet in the early stages of the war) ran against Lincoln.  It seems many 19th century Democrats were perfectly content wi…

No Regrets

I have to admit I hadn't heard of Tom Rush before seeing a copy of a concert CD/DVD, Celebrating 50 Years of Music, on my amazon page, so I had a listen on Grooveshark and very much liked what I heard.  Here's The Circle Game.  He is one of those figures I should have known about given his influence, but it seems he has kept a relatively low profile over the years, playing with various groups, who support him in this concert.

Last year, also saw a documentary on him that premiered at the New Hampshire film festival, with Rush on hand to play a few songs after the screening.  You can find clips of the documentary and festival appearance on Youtube.

It really is amazing the urban folk music legacy we have in America, and that so many young persons are tying into it again.  Rush was one of the key figures of the 60s.  His 1968 No Regrets is one of the standards of the era and has been covered several times, including by Emmylou Harris on her album Bluebird, which is where I fir…

The Geritol Network

According to the Nielsen ratings the median age of a Fox news viewer is 68, leading liberal pundits to dub the network a "retirement community."  Yet, this is a network whose pundits have consistently assailed so-called entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, which most senior citizens rely on to get them through their golden years.

Frank Rich goes onto note some of Fox News's other woes in this op-ed piece, notably its failure to reach a young market despite feisty young anchors like Megyn Kelly, who gave us the contentious White Santa story back in December.  Rich doesn't let rivals off the hook, who picked up the story and ran with it, essentially allowing Fox to set the tone for what passes for "news" on television these days.

MSNBC, CNN and other cable news providers don't have a very young audience.  Their median age viewers are 62 and 64, essentially splitting the elderly vote, as Fox viewers exceed those of these two networks co…


I watched part of Fair Game the other night.  It came out three or four years ago and tells the story of Valerie Plame, as played by Naomi Watts.  Sean Penn plays her husband, Joe Wilson.  Not the best movie in the world but fills the viewer in on some of the particulars surrounding the controversial leak of Plame's CIA identity by Robert Novak, which he regarded as "no great crime."  Many felt it was a vengeance hit for Wilson's criticism of the Iraq War.

Wilson had been a hero back in 1991 for staring down Saddam Hussein, as he harbored American citizens in the US Embassy awaiting exfiltration, or whatever the CIA calls it.  Seems he and his wife worked in concert in a number of covert cases, and they provided valuable intelligence to George H.W. Bush during the Persian Gulf War.

But, when Wilson did not play in to Dubya's war in 2002, he became much reviled in the White House and among conservative pundits, especially when he said to the New York Times that h…

It's that time of year ...

Oh, the Horror!  Once again Conservatives have gathered together to bitch and moan about Obama as if he is the reincarnation of Soviet socialism in America, spouting off one damn fool thing after another in what they  call the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Numerous comments jump out like the one from Rick Perry who thinks he has the magic formula for success by pushing ever lower taxes, claiming his Texas is growing faster economically than any other state in the Union.  Of course, no one bothers to fact check any of these outbursts, least of all Conservatives who clap like a bunch of trained seals in the audience.  Texas is an impressive fourth in economic growth in the country, but Oregon and West Virginia are both ahead of the Lone Star State with (gasp!) Democratic governors, and California, which he denounced, is in the Top Ten and may very well get the first high speed rail in the country.

But, Perry wasn't alone in making absurd comments.  Ted Cruz stood up an…

A Star is Born

It seems just about every year a new star is born out of the Academy Awards.  Last year it was Jennifer Lawrence.  This year it is Lupita Nyong'o.  Of course it helps to be young and beautiful, but one can look back and find male actors who emerged from the Academy Awards as full blown stars like Daniel Day-Lewis (My Left Foot), Geoffrey Rush (Shine) and Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade). Thornton won for Best Screenplay, although he was nominated for Best Actor.

If you go back even earlier, most persons never heard of Meryl Streep before The Deer Hunter.  As the story goes, it was De Niro who had spotted her in a summer theater group and introduced her to Michael Cimino.  She was nominated for Best Supporting Actress and won the following year for her supporting role in Kramer vs. Kramer.  Since then she has garnered a record 18 nominations, winning three times.

But, this was an unusual year in that Lupita wasn't the only newbie to win.  Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto bot…

Our Man in the Middle East

In The Good Spy, Kai Bird tells the tale of CIA superspy Robert Ames, who many believe best understood the Middle East.  Unfortunately, he died in a bomb blast outside the US embassy in Beirut in 1983,  Surprisingly, there hasn't been much written on Ames, and google searches yield little in the way of information, so this book will no doubt shed a considerable amount of light on him.

It seems the biography came out of the research on a previous book, Crossing Mandelbaum Gate, which covers the period 1956-78 in the Israeli-Arab conflict, in which Bird grew up.  The reviewer described it as a "meandering family scrapbook cobbled together with an earnest, condensed history of the region," whereas The Good Spy appears to be more deeply researched, like his and Martin Sherwin's biography of Oppenheimer.  The book is due out in May.

Black Orpheus

For Carnival fans this is the big night.  I suppose Barack Obama could have picked any number of films to highlight his relationship with his mother, but he chose Black Orpheus, a movie that tells the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice during the time of the Carnival in Rio.

The movie was a little before Obama's time, but it was in the mid 70s that he recalled his mother taking him to a showing in New York.  He treated the film as a window on his mother's soul, helping him to explain his mother interest in black men and why she chose to marry his Kenyan father.  I suppose we all need explanations especially when our parents are not always forthcoming.

Obama has referred to this film several times, including his visit to Brazil in 2011.  I think Pan-American leaders were hoping for more out of Obama these past five years.  There were a lot of expectations raised when he attended the Organization of American States (OAS) conference back in 2009, and he never really lived up to them.…

Window on Russia

"After the Russian army invaded the nation of Georgia, Senator Obama's reaction was one of indecision and moral equivalence – the kind of response that would only encourage Russia's Putin to invade Ukraine next," she said in Reno, Nevada on October 21, 2008.
The media appears to be fully enjoying Sarah Palin's seemingly prophetic words from 2008.  the only problem is that Obama wasn't President then, George Bush was, and it was he, not Obama, who chose not to act against Russia's invasion.  But, to be fair, George Bush was in the midst of an economic collapse so we can pardon him for having other things on his mind.

Once again, the media has made Palin into a celebrity.  Virtually every news outlet is running the story, and Sarah is positively glowing in the limelight.  Why, she might even seriously consider a presidential run in 2016 now that her foreign policy creds have been significantly enhanced.  
Of course, she's not the only Republican saying …