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Showing posts from November, 2014

The Helium Gas Shootout

Nothing like Thanksgiving and the advent of the holiday shopping season to put troubled times behind us.  A few citizens tried to stage protests at shopping malls around the country, in response to the grand jury decision in St. Louis, but for the most part it was business as usual, as crowds thronged to take advantage of "Black Friday" deals.

Despite its retail struggles, Macy's still stages its annual Thanksgiving Day Parade, but it looks more and more like a dinosaur.  The era of the big department store seems all but over as most persons shop by Internet these days.  Count me as one of those.  I have no desire to fight crowds at shopping outlets, no matter how good the deals.  But, Americans still like their consumerist traditions.

I thought one of the funniest moments was Seattle enjoying the turkey repast at the 50-yard line of the new Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, after whipping the San Francisco 49'ers.  The turkey dinner was a new wrinkle in interviews…

Ferguson and beyond

The promise of Civil Rights deferred

With riots spreading throughout the country, the story in Ferguson has resonated in the international media.  The lack of an indictment has been widely disparaged.  Ever since the incident was first reported in August, journalists from around the world have used the shooting to illustrate that the United States has yet to overcome its racial differences.  A Russian newspaper even dubbed the situation in Ferguson "Afromaidan," an all too obvious response to the way the US media has portrayed the events in the Ukraine, as protests have been ongoing in Ferguson since the incident first took place three months ago.

Yet, a large segment of American society seems inured to the events.  Robert P. Jones opins that this is in large part due to the self-segregated communities we live in, unable to appreciate, let alone understand, what it is like to live in black communities like Ferguson.  Decades of desegregation attempts have failed to achieve …

Who Established Thanksgiving Day?

It seems Peter Michael's book on John Hanson gets about as much attention as Hanson gets in history.  Part of the problem is that Hanson had little authority as President under the Articles of Confederation, as did his seven successors.  Most of the power remained vested in the states, with a Confederation Congress that rarely met during its tenure from 1781-1789, before the US Constitution became the law of the land.

Nevertheless, Hanson played a pivotal role in the formation of a federal government, creating a nascent cabinet that included departments of treasury, war and foreign affairs, which led to the successful removal of foreign soldiers and flags from the 13 states and their western territories.  He also promoted the statehood of western territories on the other side of the Appalachians.  But, what gains him most attention each year was his recognition of Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November, which we still recognize today, although it didn't become a paid…

A Night of Reckoning

For the better part of three months a St. Louis County Grand Jury poured over evidence, statements, the rambling testimony of Darren Wilson, and determined that there was no probable cause to indict the Ferguson police officer for the shooting of Michael Brown.  This was a formal charge, mind you, not whether or not Wilson was guilty of involuntary manslaughter, the least of the possible charges the jury could have rendered.

All a bereaved mother could do was break down in tears and be carried away upon hearing of the decision in front of a large gathering in the streets of Ferguson.  Soon after, the town erupted in flames with St. Louis County mobilizing large forces to break up the crowd.

There hadn't been anything quite like this since the Rodney King verdict in 1992.  However, in that case the four police officers, who brutally apprehended King after a high speed chase, were at least charged for using excessive force, albeit acquitted.

In Ferguson, it only took four jurors to…

Shame on Us as Republicans

or The Demented World of Lindsey Graham

It seems that Republicans aren't getting a chance to enjoy their midterm victories.  No sooner does Obama seize the upper hand on immigration than the GOP-led House intelligence committee on Benghazi absolves the President of any cover up, leading a visibly frustrated and angry Lindsey Graham to blast his own party for its inaction on immigration, and dismissing the Benghazi report as "full of crap."

Lindsey is a product of the 1994 Contract with America, winning a seat in the House that year and parlaying it into a Senate seat in 2003.  The whiny senator from South Carolina is an easy target for The Daily Show.  As Stewart shows in the series of clips, Lindsey seems to live in a state of perpetual fear, fueled by demons that appear to be living under his bed.  He now thinks our country is so far gone that he is actually considering running for President!

What seems to have really gotten his goat is that the Republicans in the Hous…

The Passion of Cicero

The reaction to Obama's speech last Thursday ranges from the predictable to totally outrageous.  For whatever reason, CNN has made New Gingrich one of its political commentators, and his rebuttal to the president's address has quickly spread through the conservative blogosphere, making you wonder who CNN is serving these days?  It appears to have become a light version of Fox News, hoping to break into its conservative audience.

Gingrich disingenuously claims that Obama's "fine speech" doesn't match the executive orders he plans to carry out.  Newt cleverly ties in "Obamacare" with "Obamagration," making it sound like the President is purposely misleading Americans with his deeply flawed policies, calling it another "Gruber Speech."

This, however, doesn't compare with Ted Cruz's rhetorically charged rebuttal, in which he paints Obama as Catiline from Cicero's famous speech over 2000 years ago.  Cruz apparently wante…
I understand that it is "ratings sweeps" month but given the great anticipation for Obama's speech on immigration reform you would think all the networks would carry it live.  Alas, the "Big Three" networks, CBS, NBC and ABC, chose not to, opting for their regular programming instead.  In case you are wondering that is The Big Bang Theory, The Biggest Loser and Grey's Anatomy.  Fox carried the speech live on its cable news network.

The speech lasted a little over 15 minutes, hardly long enough to throw the timing off significantly, but it was apparently too much for these stations, who rely on public airwaves, to consider disrupting their regular programming.   After all, Republicans would have demanded equal air time for a response, and the networks' news staffs would have felt obliged to comment.  The end result, we would have missed Sheldon bid a sad farewell to his "Fun with Flags" podcast.

In these network's defense, I suppose most A…

Welcome to the New Pipeline Crossroads of the World

I was curious to see if the Republicans were really gaining any ground in the Senate on Keystone, and it seems they will be picking up three seats.  Five of the Democrats who voted for Keystone are being replaced by Republicans, so no gains here.  The Republican will pick up West Virginia, South Dakota and Colorado, where outgoing Democratic senators voted against the bill.  Assuming the Republicans keep the remaining Democrats on board for another vote early in the new year, they will have enough votes to carry the bill, but not enough to override a veto, lest they convince five more senators that Keystone will make America more beautiful.

As Paul Waldman notes, you have to wonder why Democrats Mark Warner, Robert Casey, Michael Bennet and Tom Carper voted for Keystone, since it doesn't affect their states and they are relatively secure in their seats.  Maybe they thought it was actually good for the country despite everything that has been said against Keystone, or that one way…

The Republicans' New Century

You have to hand it to the GOP for thinking big, but a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee said Rep. Greg Walden (R-Oregon) meant the biggest House majority in the last century, since 1964 anyway.  Well, I think Walden meant what he said, because the Republicans have no intention of giving up the House anytime soon, and the way state voting districts are currently gerrymandered that may indeed be a long time.

Chuck Todd thinks the current GOP majority is good for another eight years, at least until 2022.  Of course, a lot could happen between now and then.  The Republicans felt very smug following their 1994 electoral mandate, which gave them the majority in the House for the first time since the Truman era, 1954.  But, their fumbling of the economy led to a Democratic victory in the 2006 midterms.  Unfortunately, this victory was very short-lived, as the Republicans regained the House in 2010, largely thanks to the electorate's bad memory.

Since then, R…

Lincoln at Gettysburg

Seven score and 11 years ago today, Abraham Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address, recognized as one of the finest speeches in American history.  He not only commemorated the battlefield, but defined the scope of the Civil War in 272 words.  Far fewer than the famed orator, Edward Everett, who preceded him.  Had Everett not chosen to include Lincoln's address in his 1864 book on the event, this deceptively simple speech may have been lost in history.  The address has been poured over many times since.   Garry Wills speaks of its profound importance in this 2011 essay for The Atlantic.

Saving the Whale

Moby-Dick turned 163 years old last week, since its first American publication in November, 1851.  That's a pretty long life span for a sperm whale, which typically live about 70 years, but who knows for sure.  These reclusive creatures haven't been studied thoroughly, even though their numbers have greatly rebounded since the whaling days Melville described.  You don't even have to go all the way to the Pacific to find one.  Sperm whales have been spotted in the Gulf of Mexico.

This Great White Whale was doomed to extinction until literary critics re-evaluated the novel in the 1920s and began to cite it as one of the great American novels.  It had been panned by British critics upon its initial release, with few copies sold in London.  It did slightly better in the States, enjoying a second printing, but lackluster sales left it on the back shelves.  That all changed with the Modern Library edition in 1926, which fetches a pretty good penny today.

Laurie Robertson-Lorant …

The New Pamphleteers

You ever wonder how all those conservative pundits get so many books in the bestseller lists?  It turns out bulk buying vaults books like Mark Levin's Liberty or Tyranny to the top of the charts.  The books are later handed out at events or simply tossed into book bins around the country where they go for a buck after whatever interest in this pulp non-fiction subsides.

This type of bulk buying is nothing new.  Ann Coulter (remember her?) was similarly getting pushed by conservative book clubs 10 years ago when she was at the peak of her popularity.  These book clubs would purchase her books in bulk then unload them as part of promotions for a dollar each.  It was a great way to boost sales of your favorite conservative talking heads.  Once these conservative hacks made names for themselves, bigger publishing companies would pick them up under imprint labels, trying to cash in on the authors' new found celebrity.

It's not to say other bestselling authors haven't benef…

Last Days of the Blue Dogs

Even after a record $4 billion spent on the midterm elections, the national voter turnout was the lowest in over 70 years -- 36.3 percent. Typically, the midterms draw 40 to 42 percent, still well below the presidential election years, which is typically 60 percent.  Yet, the Republicans consider this vote a mandate of their beliefs.  Whatever they are?

With so much apparently riding on the line, you would have thought voters to come out in droves, instead they seemed to be battened down in their homes after a media blitzkrieg like none ever before in midterm elections.  Campaign spending in 2014 dwarfed that in 2010, when the Republicans similarly swept the country in midterm elections, retaking the House of Representatives in unprecedented fashion, as well as key governor races.  
Texas had an abysmal  28.5% voter turnout, in what had once been seen as a hotly contested governor's race between Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott.    Wendy failed to ignite the electorate even with The D…

The Keystone Cops Ride Again

Senate Democrats are looking like the Keystone Cops these days, as they try to work out a last session deal with the Republicans to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, over Obama's veto if necessary.  Keystone Mary is leading the charge in a last ditch effort to hold onto her Senate seat , but Republicans have already promised her opponent, Bill Cassidy, an energy panel seat should he win.  Too little, too late, Mary.

Harry Reid blasted the pipeline deal last month, but it seems he is open to some kind of deal that would free up the backlog of presidential administration nominees without having to resort to the "nuclear option."  Obama has already made it known he wants to clear the slate before January, notably the confirmation of his attorney general nominee, Loretta Lynch.  However, the Republicans want Lynch off the table, no doubt planning to make a big show trial next year over this contentious nominee.

Reid is also a marked man.  The GOP has made it a top priority …

Kansas

When most persons think of Kansas they probably think of Dorothy, given how many times the line "We're not in Kansas anymore" has been used.  It's even found in the Urban Dictionary.  It represents that eerie feeling when you know you're in the wrong place and can't do anything about it.  I think that's the way many Kansans feel today after being "teabagged" in 2010 and forced to live under Sam Brownback, who acts like the Great and Powerful Oz.

It wasn't that long ago, 2008, when a much more level-headed governor presided over the state, Kathleen Sebelius, who was able to reach out to persons across the state regardless of their political differences.  For six years she provided a steady hand, winning two terms by resounding margins.  She is a Democrat, if you can imagine that!

But, somehow the state got all lit up during the Tea Party revival and seems on a collision course with destiny, much like Dorothy was when her house was yanked up …

Find the Cost of Freedom

It doesn't seem like we need Veterans Day anymore as everyday has become Veterans Day judging by how often Americans pay deference to soldiers having fought in this protracted War on Terror.  Hardly a day goes by where someone isn't paying tribute to military personnel on facebook.  Memes abound, as we are continuously reminded of their brave service, particularly elite forces, which have increasingly become the subject of books and movies and even reality shows.  I don't knock these fearless warriors, but I have to wonder about the extent of this idol worship.

They certainly aren't protecting my freedom, as is so often noted.  What goes on in the Middle East pretty much stays in the Middle East, despite all the dire warnings.  These Islamicists are doing no more than what religious conservatives would like to do in the United States -- create a theocracy.  As far as I'm concerned it is up to Iraqis and Afghanis to fight their own wars.  We would be far better off…

Our Man on China

Seems Jon Huntsman is the go-to guy on China these days.  I saw him on CNN last night offering commentary on Obama's APEC appearance, a combination of praise and criticism over the President's position on China.  Huntsman served as Ambassador to China from 2009-2011, and his fluency in Mandarin is often cited in the press.

One of the President's first executive moves on immigration is to extend the time on visas for Chinese businessmen, tourists and students.   This was generally seen as favorable in the press (Huntsman included), but of course there are those opposed to it, seeing it as a "warning sign" of greater executive action to come.  Republicans have already warned Obama of the "consequences" should he try to take the matter of immigration into his own hands, but to his credit he didn't fall for the bluff.

Huntsman is an odd Republican cookie in that he favors more immigration not less -- legal preferably.  As he notes in this op-ed piece f…

Re-imagining the Race Card

One of the funniest things about House of Cards is the idea of Francis Underwood as a White Democratic representative from South Carolina, let alone "majority whip."  This is a dying breed in the Deep South, where Dixiecrats long ago turned Republican in the wake of the Reagan Revolution and have taken over state legislatures and most US Representative seats in Congress.

John Barrow had been able to hold onto his Georgia seat for 10 years thanks largely to his sense of humor and lack of any real Democratic conviction.  He only voted the Democratic line 35% of the time these last two years.  But, even that was too much for Republicans to take, who finally managed to oust Barrow, thanks to the deep pockets of Rick Allen, who bankrolled his own campaign.  Barrow was the last of this dying breed.

I guess the Republicans didn't want to take any chances that Barrow might realign himself with the Democrats in 2016.  After all, he had thrown his support behind Barack Obama in 2…

Politics of Mass Deception

Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, got into hot water when his organization, No Labels, supported Cory Gardner, a Republican, in the Colorado Senate election.  Seems like Manchin and his buddy Jon Hunstsman are trying to create a new political movement that breaks down party affiliations by supporting political candidates who shun traditional party politics.

No Labels appears to be Libertarian in nature, calling it "The Politics of Problem Solving," although they are rather vague when it comes to outlining the positions they would take to break the gridlock in Congress.  I guess we have to wait until October, 2015, for the full version of their National Strategic Agenda.  Similarly, it is hard to find who their 100 allies in Congress are, other than Huntsman and Manchin, although they have lent their support to candidates who apparently expressed interest in their bipartisan cause, like Gardner.

Cory rode the Tea Party band wagon into Congress in 2010 and has serve…

Old man take a look at yourself

When I first saw the video for one of Neil Young's new songs, When I Watch You Sleeping, I thought that was Pegi peering through the glass at the studio session, as Neil sang with a full orchestra.  After all, he lovingly wrote of her many virtues in Waging Heavy Peace and how much she had inspired him the 40 years they had been together, especially her commitment to their son Ben, who was severely crippled from cerebral palsy.   The Bridge School grew out of this loving association.  Well, turns out Neil filed for divorce this past summer and has been palling around with Darryl Hannah, who was more likely that blonde woman peering in on the recording.

Croz was notably upset when he learned of this development, lashing out at his old friend, and throwing a proposed reunion of CSNY into disarray.  Neil had cancelled an appearance with his wife at Farm Aid, which had led many to wonder what was going on.  Graham Nash tried to be the diplomat, as Young was furious that David Crosby …

Bourbon with Beer Chaser

Apparently, the Bourbon Summit didn't go so well, or maybe this will come later, after both sides have had a chance to calm down a little.  I like a good Bourbon as much as the next guy, but it is hard for me to see anything coming out of these meetings.  Nothing good came from Obama's Beer Summit back in the Summer of 2009.

Being a good sport, Obama tried to keep to issues that both sides could agree on, notably emergency funding to combat Ebola and appropriations for the ongoing war against the "Islamic State," but now that the election is over I don't think these will be high priorities on the Republican agenda.  They got the mileage they wanted out of these issues during the campaign, expect to hear little more about the "great plague" or ISIS warriors slithering in through our porous borders.

I'm not sure what "jobs bill" Boehner is promoting, other than yet another effort to push the Keystone XL pipeline through Congress, which woul…