Saturday, October 31, 2015

Hey Dude, Ben Carson is Black!

Last time around it was Herman Cain pitching himself as the "real black man."  This election year, it is Jonah Goldberg claiming that Ben Carson is more "authentically African-American" than Obama, and that once again Democrats "hate" this.  There are all kinds of arguments you can make for Black Republicans, but being more "real" or "authentic" is probably not the best course to take.

Jonah is your typical conservative pundit.  He rose to notoriety through the National Review, published a book a few years ago condemning liberals by comparing their views to fascism, replete with a smiley face Hitler on the cover.  In it, Goldberg shows how the worst of 20th century totalitarianism can be laid at the doorstep of liberal ideas, blasting everyone from Mussolini to the Black Panthers.  It has a slight bit more academic rigor than the usual conservative book along these lines, but ends up collapsing under its own argument because Goldberg refuses to admit that conservatism failed to offer any shining path out of these liberal dystopias.  Especially, if we look at the Spanish Civil War, and what happened in Greece and Portugal as well, where religious conservative fascist leaders rose to power out of the chaos that was created during the inter-war years.

Like Carson, Goldberg has a very poor grasp of history, as he views it through a very biased lens.  One might argue that Goldberg is doing it more for rhetorical sake, whereas Carson seems genuinely deluded in his beliefs but the result is the same.  The odd part with Golberg's praise of Carson's "blackness" is that Carson is not promoting it himself.  Quite the opposite.  Carson has gone out of his way to avoid painting himself as a more real black man than Obama, taking exception to the President's policies at a National Prayer Breakfast, which is what has endeared him to conservative voters.  His "up from poverty" narrative and strongly held religious convictions is what has captured the imagination of the religious conservative base of the Republican Party.

Of course, Carson being black helps allay some of the worries that conservative Republicans have about being labeled racist.  Understandably, the GOP is quite proud of its handful of prominent Black and Hispanic leaders, as it illustrates in their collective mind that they are promoting a big tent just like the Democrats, even if they have this nasty tendency to come down on the wrong side of key issues that concern race and gender in society.

Yet, here is Goldberg throwing out the same silly argument Herman Cain tried to use in 2012, which ended up making Cain the brunt of jokes on television.  One would hope that an editor-in-chief for the National Review would come up with better arguments than this for Carson's candidacy, especially when Dr. Ben is currently doing so well in Iowa and appears to have jumped ahead of Trump in national polls.  It's not like Carson needs black votes in the Republican primaries and caucuses or would even run against Obama next Fall, assuming he were to win the nomination.

What is telling here, isn't Carson's "blackness" but that Republicans continue to refuse to accept Obama's "blackness," which has eaten them up so much for the past eight years that they still run against it even when he is not up for re-election.  It is this "blackness," or lack of it in Jonah's mind, that resulted in the Birther movement, which dogged Obama for three years into his first term until he was "forced" to produce his long form birth certificate to placate Donald J. Trump, which he did in front of the media at the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner.  I doubt Obama will waste his time with Goldberg.  He'll leave it up to the liberal media to do that.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Careful what you read

It seems these days everyone wants to be The Onion or Borowitz Report, circulating tantalizing stories for gullible readers.  Marlboro "M cigarettes" continue to make the rounds, even though Snopes dismissed it as a joke recirculated on Abril Uno earlier this year.  It probably won't be long before Big Daddy Tobacco stakes out a claim to growing marijuana market, which is reaping in respectable profits in Colorado and Washington.  Growth and distribution of cannabis sativa remains tightly controlled, limiting its profitability.  However, as more states join the legalization drive one can expect such restrictions to diminish and Philip Morris to join the bandwagon.

In the meantime, a number of speciality brands have cropped up, including Willie's Reserve, marketed by Willie Nelson himself.  You figure it won't be long before one of the most famous stoners of all time has his brand.  Tommy Chong has been busy experimenting with his version of pre-roll joints for distribution.  But, it remains mostly a cottage industry, withe connoisseurs focusing on the right blend of smoothness and THC content.

Many persons worry about the potency of marijuana in this exclusive market.  THC levels are reaching as high as 30 per cent in some legal brands, which is some very serious weed.  It wouldn't take much to tilt you over the edge.  No doubt, states will eventually control THC levels the same way they do alcohol content, driving the higher potency strains underground.

Ironically, it has been the prohibition of marijuana that has led to these high THC levels as persons were forced to grow their sensimilla indoors, where it could be more closely engineered to give the desired effect in less bulk, increasing pleasure and profit.  Many local marijuana strains are as strong or stronger than hashish, long considered to give the greatest buzz.  Some persons are processing local marijuana in the same way, reducing it to a resin to pack a greater punch.  

The problem with any drug is that your body develops tolerances over time and you need more THC content to gratify your pleasure.  I suppose one could argue that marijuana is addictive in this sense, but it is not physically addictive like tobacco or alcohol or even coffee for that matter.  It doesn't matter as far as the anti-legalization advocates are concerned.  Pot remains a gateway drug in their mind, pointing to studies like this one, and therefor should remain illegal.

However, this doesn't diminish marijuana's medicinal uses, more of which are being discovered each year.  Even the FDA has been forced to recognize its benefits, although it continues to support the federal prohibition. 

Of course, many of our presidential candidates would like to see the federal government enforce this policy over pesky states like Colorado and Washington as well, much as the federal government enforced speed limits for the longest time, tying it into federal transportation funding basically as a form of extortion.  One wonders how the GOP candidates square this type of Big Government with their long held state rights views?  

In the meantime, pot smokers will have to content themselves by traveling to a handful of states if they want to smoke pot freely in public.  Much of the fun comes in experimenting with the many strains of marijuana to find what suits your particular taste.  Something you could only once do at Amsterdam coffee houses.  Still, you have to be careful whether you are on state or federal land, as federal officers will enforce federal laws, as they do at national parks.


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Loose Screws

A friend of mine dropped a link to this article on my Facebook page yesterday morning, asserting that John Kerry's daughter married an Iranian physician with close ties to the current Iranian minister of foreign affairs, Javad Zarif, implying of course that Kerry had special interests in negotiating the Iran nuclear deal.   Yes, I will not believe because it is pile of nonsense.  What can you expect from Allen B. West's website.

Sadly though, persons pick up these stories and quickly disseminate them across social media, even when they are six years out of date.  It seems few persons bother to do a simple fact check.  It is enough that the name is correct to imply that Brian Vala Nahed is Iranian.  Actually, he was born in Los Angeles, attended university at UCLA and Yale and is a well respected neurosurgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital.  According to Snopes, he has never even traveled to Iran, much less established close ties with Mr. Zarif or anyone else in the Iranian state department.

No matter, folks will believe what they want to believe.  They would rather question the veracity of Snopes than that of one of Allen West's trolls, who wrote the bogus article, because it suits their opinion that the Obama administration struck a dirty deal with Iran.   Social media is littered with such specious pieces of trash.

Another good one making the rounds is that Donald Trump is personally responsible for Ford recalling one of its auto plants from Mexico.  Of course, he is spreading this bit of news himself in an effort to show that he return industry to America.  However, Trump got the wrong plant.  The one he used for his photo-op is still slated to be relocated to Mexico.  It is a truck manufacturing operation that Ford decided to locate in Ohio long before the Donald through his hat into the GOP political ring.  It's not just Ford, but John Kasich who was insulted by this, as Kasich was the one who negotiated the deal with Ford to set up its truck operations in Ohio, not Trump.  However, this little bit of news suits Trump's narrative, so he took the opportunity to appropriate it, and likewise the story is being spread through the social media.

This is actually part of a trend known as "reshoring," in which many manufacturing plants have been returning to the US since 2011 thanks to initiatives that make it financially beneficial to do so.  Even Wal-Mart has "reshored" some of its operations.  But, here again, the unsuspecting audience that Trump appeals to doesn't bother to look into his stories, but rather accepts them at face value.

However, both of these false narratives pale in light of the whopper Benjamin Netanyahu told at the 37th World Zionist Conference that it wasn't Hitler but rather the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem who proposed the "final solution."  This even pales Ben Carson's claim that Jews could have defended themselves against the Holocaust, if only they had guns.  Netanyahu has been thoroughly berated, even by the Prime Minister of Germany, who once again affirmed that her country bears the inherit responsibility for these crimes against humanity.

Bibi's story is convenient because it paints the Palestinians as the bad guys, which American conservatives have long wanted to do.  Allen West has been one of the more vocal supporters of Israel, condemning not just Palestinians, but the President and even the Pope for throwing Israel under the bus.

These stories all become part of a toxic soup constantly churned up in the conservative media to feed a conspiracy-minded audience that firmly believes that we are living in the End Times.  There are websites like "Before It's News" that portray Donald Trump as the deliverer who will save us from ourselves, attributing this juicy piece of news to Carl Icahn no less, who Trump has pegged as his Secretary of Treasury, and which Icahn gladly accepted.   If you needed any more proof that these persons live in an alternative universe.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Neverending Ballad of Billy the Kid

I never could understand this love affair with Billy the Kid.  This photo has put the notorious outlaw back in the news.  That's supposed to be Billy on the left.  If genuine, the photo is expected to fetch well over two million dollars, but just in case it is being insured for $5 million, as it is believed to be only the second known photograph of William Bonney.

Of course, National Geographic wasted no time in making a two-hour special on the photo, giving it the title:  Billy the Kid: New Evidence, hosted by Western aficionado Kevin Costner.  Part of the enduring myth of the Kid is that Pat Garrett never gunned him down at the Maxwell Ranch in New Mexico, and Billy lived to the ripe old age of 90 under the alias of Brushy Bill Roberts.  There were other claims as well that led to a DNA investigation in 2003, which proved to be anything but conclusive.

Billy's story has inspired writers, musicians and filmmakers down through the ages.  Aaron Copland even wrote the music for a ballet around the Kid.  Probably the most famous telling is Sam Peckinpah's 1973 movie, with the soundtrack provided by Bob Dylan, who also had a small role.  James Coburn, as Pat Garrett, comes off the more impressive of the two in this great scene.

Yet, these and other productions didn't give me new found respect for William Bonney.  He would have most likely died in ignominy had not New Mexico's territorial governor decided to put a price on his head, which is what led Pat Garrett to track Billy down.

Billy was a teenager when he arrived out West, working as a ranch hand.  The photo is alleged to be taken at the Tunstall Ranch, where John Tunstall was murdered by rival ranchers.  Billy went by his real, Henry McCarty, at the time and was loyal to the rancher and wanted to revenge his death.  There was a lot of feuding and fighting in Lincoln County, so this wasn't unusual.  However, researchers doubt the house existed on the ranch, as Tunstall lived a rather spartan existence in a dugout.  Tunstall was English though, so the croquet game Billy and the boys are playing seems fitting.

Sam Peckinpah has Billy floating back and forth across the border, doing whatever it took to keep himself and his gang happy.   Kris Kristofferson gives Billy a big grin and makes him quite the ladies' man.  Apparently, Billy was very charming and a bit of a dapper dresser.  But, he was also said to have a "hair-trigger temper," resulting in his violent reputation.  However, there are those who would defend Billy against all such allegations.

More than anything, Billy fit the prototype of the independent Western gunslinger.  Over time, his reputation grew to the point of becoming legend.  It helped that there were those like Brushy Bill Roberts who claimed to be him, as this kept Billy in the news into the 1950s.  As you can see, quite a few movies have been made of him, with his star power finally fading in 1990 with the sequel to Young Guns.  I suppose if there is any lasting image of Billy the Kid it is that of Buster Crabbe, who played him countless times.

The photo will no doubt revive interest, especially if it fetches a princely sum on the auction block.  You could see film producers scrambling for a young actor to play the role.  I just hope not Zac Efron.  However, it is hard to imagine kids today taking much interest in this mystical Western figure, unless he is part of some time travel fantasy like Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, which itself is quite dated.  Maybe it is best to just let William Bonney rest in peace.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Epic Fail!

The Benghazi House Select Committee self destructs

If the aim of this special committee to further investigate the attack on the special diplomatic mission in Benghazi was to destroy Hillary, it failed miserably.  Hillary ripped Trey Gowdy and his hand-picked committee to shreds at a hearing that couldn't have come at a worse time as far as these elections are concerned.

This special committee has dragged this "investigation" out for over a year, after previous investigations by Republican committees yielded nothing.  Gowdy would have been wise to pull the plug months ago, but instead he persevered in the wake of the faux e-mail scandal thinking something would turn up in all those purged e-mails to make Hillary complicit in the events that took place in Benghazi over three years ago.  This despite the CIA telling the committee there was nothing in the e-mails to suggest Hillary had done anything specifically wrong when serving as Secretary of State.

Gowdy can't be held entirely to blame, as the Republicans wanted to drag this investigation out through the entire election cycle, hoping that it would diminish Hillary's stature in the eyes of voters.  But, what happened two days ago had entirely the opposite effect.  Hillary now looks more presidential than ever, having stared down this committee once again and revealed Gowdy and his fellow Republicans to be nothing more than a bunch of spiteful idiots.

If you are looking for a playbook on how not to win a presidential election this is it.  The Republicans tried to take out Hillary even before she declared her candidacy.  Call it a pre-emptive strike if you like, as there were no less than five investigations carried out, which revealed nothing out of the ordinary.  As Jeb Bush said, "stuff happens."   Ambassador Stevens had a security guard of CIA contractors and former Navy SEALS to protect him for specifically this type of situation.  Sadly, his highly trained security guard was overwhelmed.

However, the Republicans were determined to make Benghazi into an indictment of the President's foreign policy and to undermine Hillary Clinton, who even back in 2012 was considered the leading 2016 Democratic presidential candidate.  They went out of their way to "investigate" this incident, creating a cloud of suspicion in the minds of most GOP voters.

Kevin McCarthy had spilled the beans to Sean Hannity, inadvertently discrediting the committee.  Even Fox News was forced to admit the gig was up.  McCarthy was slated to be the next House Speaker after the firebrand Republican representatives had managed to force John Boehner into retirement.  Since then McCarthy has been run out of town as well, leaving the door open for one of the Tea Party's favorites, Jason Chaffetz, to assume the lead in the House of Representatives.

It has been the classic case of the tail wagging the dog ever since the 2010 mid-term elections when the Tea Party vaulted the Republicans back into control of the House, with Boehner nothing more than a titular head.  From the beginning, the Tea Party caucus sought to make the Obama administration irrelevant by imposing its authority in Congress.  They pressed for repeal of "Obamacare." They sought to slash the remaining Stimulus Bill programs and incentives.  They demanded huge cuts in domestic spending, to the point of slashing embassy security around the world.  When Benghazi happened, it wasn't so much an indictment on the Obama administration, as it was the Republican House budget committee, which repeatedly refused to grant additional security requests.  No matter, the Republicans blamed Hillary, or Obama, or anyone other than themselves.

At every turn, the House Republicans did their level best to undermine the President's authority, often with the help of Senate agitators like Ted Cruz, who pushed for a government shutdown in 2013 that blew up in their face.   Boehner tried to do some damage control, but it was too late.  The Republican-led House may have survived the shutdown, thanks to a miserably low voter turnout in 2014, but the GOP faces a potential devastating set of losses in 2016, not just in the White House race, but throughout key Congressional districts, which threaten their control of the two chambers.

Yet, the Republican Party was determined to continue to go after Hillary Clinton, thinking she might fold under the heat of another hearing.  However, she was the one who shined while Gowdy looked more pale than ever as he tried to keep this farce going, even when all the major networks had turned away, including Fox.  Well, GOP'ers, you dug your own hole, now you have to lie in it!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Stuff Happens

After a nearly $20 million ad blitz, Jeb hasn't seen any appreciable gain in his poll numbers in New Hampshire or anywhere else for that matter.  He has spent about four times more than the Donald so far, but has much less to show for it.  Seems he should consult his grandchildren as to how to use twitter and instagram, as that is where Trump has been embarrassing him.  But, Jeb is a traditionalist and will continue to campaign the old school way, even as his favorable rating among Republicans plummets.

It's tough to be part of a political family and not get the respect you feel you deserve.  The GOP electorate is making it painfully clear they don't want another Bush, and the Donald is seizing on this sentiment to assail the record of his older brother.  This forces Jeb deeper into the hole, as he has no choice but to defend his brother.  To make matters worse, Jeb is having George stump for him as well.  A few months ago this might have made sense, as George was enjoying some surprisingly high favorable ratings, but Trump has drug Iraq back into the fore, bringing all those nasty memories that come with it.  There is a palpable Bush fatigue that all but ensures Jeb will not get the Republican nomination.

This is a pretty hard pill to swallow for a guy who has long been cultivated by the party establishment to be President.  His older brother managed to slither into the White House in 2000, much to the surprise of everyone, and even secure a second term with popularity ratings below 50 per cent, as a result of the malingering wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Jeb was forced to finish his term as governor of Florida and sit out the Obama years, hoping that Republicans would forget the horrible mess of his older brother created, and see him as the "smart one" who would reclaim the Republican mantel.

The only problem is that Jeb hasn't been very smart, with this growing list of unfortunate comments.  He has spoken poorly at the debates and on the campaign trail, failing to create any sense of confidence in his leadership skills.  His record at Florida is so distant now that no one really cares, not that it was much to speak of.  Also, the GOP electorate is determined to go with a non-establishment candidate this year, and you can't get anymore "establishment" than John Ellis Bush, with a political pedigree that goes back to his grandfather Prescott Sheldon Bush.  He and Mitt can get together after this thing is over and commiserate with each other as to what might have been.

In the meantime, Trump continues to defy the odds and build his lead in the polls over everyone except the curious Ben Carson.  There is talk now of these two joining forces to put the GOP field to rest before the first primary even takes place.  Together, they control a whopping 49 per cent in the latest CNN national poll, with big leads in all the early primary and caucus states.  It doesn't seem to matter what stupid things they say, their support doesn't falter.

Carly Fiorina's brief shining moment has quickly faded, and she now finds herself near the bottom of the pack once again.  It's hard to believe her poor management at Hewlett Packard had anything to do with it, as Trump's bankruptcies haven't made a dent in his support.  She just hasn't been able to capture the Republican electorate's imagination, even when she opts for the down-home-country girl look.

Still, Jeb clings to third in the CNN poll, tied with Marco Rubio.  Real Clear Politics currently has Jeb in fifth place, trailing Rubio and Cruz.  Dubya took a pot shot at Ted Cruz this week, saying "I just don't like that guy."  Careful, Big Guy, you will probably only draw voters toward Ted, who believes he will be the ultimate recipient of the Trump followers.  One can only imagine what Donald J. Trump thinks of that, as he hasn't tweeted any response that I know of yet.

Things could still fall Jeb's way, if these insurgent candidates start to squabble among each other, and diminish each other's dubious standing, as they did four years ago.  But, so far, Jeb has been unable to make a dent in Trump's support, despite investing heavily in negative advertising.  His sweeping allegations and bitter aspersions have deflected off Donald's teflon suit, and usually ended up hitting him right back in the face.

I might feel sorry for Jeb if he had anything to offer, but he has shown himself to be an even more hollow candidate than his brother.   As you said Jeb, 'stuff happens," and it seems you just weren't meant to be President.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Feel the Bern!

Looks like the Republican candidates are beginning to feel the Bern, judging by the attention he is now getting on the campaign trail.  The Donald launched into a fiery attack on Bernie's "socialist-slash-communist" message, dragging Hillary in to boot.  Rand Paul (remember him?) similarly compared Sanders' ideas to communist tyrants of the past.  I guess these guys don't know that most of the European countries are social democracies, which is what Bernie is advocating, not autocratic communist regimes.  Bill Maher had this amusing piece on how Republicans see Bernie.

However, Bill also took Bernie to task over how he would pay for all these socialist programs, such as free university education and universal health care, which of course has been taken out of context by the conservative media, using clips to smear Bernie.  Granted, Bernie has been rather vague as to how he would cover the costs, but has any candidate offered a comprehensive financial plan to date?  Can we call these tax plans Trump, Rubio and Jeb have been offering anything more than giveaway programs for the rich, as they would see the lion's share of the tax cuts (again), leaving the federal government with a budget shortfall of trillions of dollars.  How on earth do they expect to balance the budget?

What Bernie has been trying to do is call attention to the enormous wealth disparity in this country, where the top 0.1 percent of Americans have almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 per cent.  Even the Republican rank and file are starting to wonder what the hell is going on, and Bernie is finding support among the fringes of the GOP.  This of course leaves our deca-billionaire apoplectic, as Bernie is now targeting his base of support.  Bernie even took his message to Liberty University and for the most part found a sympathetic audience.  Yet, Trump continues to lead in the GOP polls, harping on immigration with the hope of distracting Republican voters from what is the real issue at stake here -- the consolidation of wealth into so few hands, including that of Trump.

Here was a guy who said he would finance his own campaign.  He didn't need PAC's or any kind of support, dismissing his fellow GOP candidates as corporate tools.  He was prepared to drop as much as one billion dollars on his presidential run, but third quarter reports show that Trump is once again fleecing his audience, by not even matching the contributions he has received to date.  Basically, Trump is selling red truckers' caps in a feeble gesture to identify with the struggling middle class of this country.

Bernie himself is walking a thin line, because in social democracies even the middle class pays high taxes.  In Lithuania, the average rate is 33 per cent.  Add in 21% VAT and the tax rate climbs to over 50 per cent.  That's going to be a pretty hard sell in the United States.  He can possibly pitch it as an investment on the future, where this money goes to better comprehensive health care, employment protection programs and a living wage social security, but if you're young you are not thinking that far down the line, which is why the vouchers have greater appeal among the younger generation.  Millennials believe they can better invest their own money.

Sadly, this rarely proves to be the case.  If we look at professional athletes,who take home huge paychecks, very few have anything left to show for it at the end of their careers.  Many file for personal bankruptcies as a result of their spending sprees and shockingly bad investments.  If these guys can't hold onto upwards of $100 million, what makes a young person think he can save on his salary coming out of college, especially with student loan debts to pay?

If we look at social security, education and health care as an investment, where money is going toward the future not only for ourselves in social security but for our children in terms of education, then we would more likely be willing to pay more taxes.  This is how social democracies work and why they are very popular in Europe.  Of course, some work better than others.  You will come out much farther ahead in Denmark than you will in Lithuania, two countries of roughly the same size, but even in Lithuania you are assured free health care and free university education, provided you maintain a decent grade point average. This is a huge advantage to parents, who don't have to worry about mortgaging their homes to pay for their children's education.

Unfortunately in America, each time the word socialism comes up it is immediately attached to communism with tyrants' names like Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot added for further sinister impact.   What seems to elude these poor sots is that not that long ago we had high tax rates in the United States, which allowed Eisenhower, a Republican, to finance an interstate road system that we can no longer afford to maintain since the Republican Congress won't even approve a road bill without trying to attach their pet projects to it, like Keystone XL.  Our mammoth military industrial system is tax paid, largely to the benefit of corporate contractors like Halliburton, Raytheon and Boeing, while the Veterans Administration remains notoriously underfunded.

I do hope that Bill and Bernie can educate Americans on the meaning of socialism, but when you have uber-business tycoons like Trump inciting fear among the electorate that a new "red peril" is coming, it is pretty hard to overcome such heated rhetoric, especially on the campaign trail.  We live under this delusion that one day we could be rich too, and so we plan what we'll do with that $400 million we will win some day.  I'll leave it to John Oliver to explain to you why this is never going to happen.

The salute seen around the world

This photo still resonates 47 years later, especially given all the attention Black Lives Matter has been getting in the news media and among the presidential candidates.  Tommie Smith and John Carlos stood barefoot and held their black-gloved fists high in a Black Power salute that sent shockwaves around in the United States and around the world.  How dare these two men "politicize" the Olympics, echoed all the leading newspapers and television news programs of the time.  I guess it is one thing for countries to politicize the games, but another when individual athletes do.

However, lost in this story is is the Australian guy on the podium with the two American athletes.  That was until a documentary was made of Peter Norman, who actually finished second in that 200 meter race behind Tommie Smith who set a new world record.  Norman's time still stands as the national record in Australia.

The 1968 Olympics were already marred by violence in Mexico City, when the government brutally repressed a student uprising two weeks earlier.   A young Czech gymnast defied the Soviet flag being raised during her medal ceremony, in response to the brutal oppression by Soviet authorities of the Prague Spring earlier that year and the controversial judges' decision that led to her having to share a gold medal with a Soviet athlete.  Of course, the American media lauded this protest.

It turns out Peter Norman wasn't just an innocent bystander, but actually asked Smith and Carlos if they had a black glove for him, as he supported their cause and continued to do so throughout his life.  In Norman's case it was about human rights as a whole.  He was against the harsh Australian immigration policies and the way Australia treated the aborigines in his home country and let it be known.  However, it was his outspoken support for Smith and Carlos that earned him the ire of the Australian Olympic committee, which banned him from any succeeding games.  He was the fastest Australian in 1972 as well, but wasn't allowed to attend the Munich Games, which became politicized in a much more tragic way.

Norman suffered abuses from his countrymen for many years.  Even in 2000, when Australia hosted the Olympics, he was offered a spot on the Olympic committee provided he recant his support for Smith and Carlos.  Norman refused again.  It was only in 2012, after his death, that the Australian parliament finally issued an apology to Peter Norman and recognized his great achievements, six years too late.

Smith and Carlos had maintained contact with Norman over the years, and had flown to Australia to serve as pallbearers at his funeral in 2006.  They had great respect for their follow athlete, who had stood alone against Australian authorities and most of his countrymen, whereas they had both found support at home.

Athletes are often easy targets for our ire.   News coverage of Smith and Carlos' tribute overshadowed all events, and made Peter Norman a pariah in his home country for supporting their salute.  It is great to see Norman finally getting his due, even if it comes many years too late.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Time to bring this show to an end

For a man who said he is prepared to spend $1 billion on his campaign, he has only anted up $1.8 million so far, much of it on his trademark cap, which has helped him generate nearly $4 million in contributions that has been spent as well.  Of course, Trump hasn't had to worry about publicity, thanks to the adoring news media, which has followed him 24/7 ever since he entered the race in June.  However, you have to wonder what if anything he has done to organize staff in early primary states?

Most candidates rely on huge staffs to get their names out in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, as much as they can afford anyway.  Perry and Walker had to drop out because they could no longer support their staffs.  Trump seems to rely almost exclusively on twitter and instagram, along with the trolls, er volunteers, he has defending him in the comment sections.  It's a very odd campaign and could signal a whole new way of campaigning if it pays off.

But, this isn't the blitzkrieg Trump promised back in August, sending shivers down the Republican establishment's spine.  Instead, it is a campaign run on the cheap, relying heavily on name recognition and free publicity.  What gives, Donald?  Is this campaign for real or just a clever marketing ploy to keep your name in the news cycle?

Traditionally, a presidential campaign needs a lot of foot soldiers going door to door, particularly in the early state primaries.  Of course, many are volunteers and no doubt there is a merry band of Trumpsters hitting the pavement, but you have to pay someone to organize them and manage their efforts effectively.  There has been little indication that Trump is concerned with such matters.  He seems to think most persons are tied into their cellphones and that it is enough to tweet his messages in, and not bother with personal contacts.  Maybe this is the new way of campaigning, as more and more candidates are using twitter and other forms of free social media.  But, do these cyberspace "followers" translate into human votes?

The folks of Iowa and New Hampshire like to see their candidates up close and personal.  Trump has made stops, but has opted for "huge rallies" rather than stumping around the states.  Of course, "huge" is relative, because Bernie Sanders has been drawing in bigger crowds, but the Donald makes sure everyone thinks his rallies are the biggest the political world has ever seen.  He feeds off this pomp, taking offense when ever someone calls him out on how many persons are actually attending his rallies.  The New York Times noted the empty seats back in September.  Trump fired back angrily at a photographer who captured the images.

Perception is everything, and Donald has been pulling off a neat trick, making a lot of people think he has this massive support that will not only carry him through the Republican primaries, which he acts as though it is a done deal, but to the White House, where he will reside as Trump-in-Chief for the next 8 years.  Why stop there?  He could re-write the Constitution to do away with term limits, as he has already suggested he will do with birthright citizenship.  However, Trump is no spring chicken so two terms might be enough.

For the better part of the last five months, we have all been greatly entertained by the Trump media circus, but all good things have to come to an end sometime, and it looks like the "Make America Great Again" rollercoaster ride is one of those amusement park attractions that closes for winter.  It takes more than name recognition, truckers' caps, and tweets to run a campaign.

The Donald has to be pretty happy with himself for being able to pull it off as long as he did, but we will hear more talk of an exit strategy ahead, as his numbers continue to slide.  Voters will more seriously look at the candidates as the primaries draw closer, expecting more than just bellicose rhetoric from them.

A third debate is on the event horizon.  Donald has already expressed his frustration over the format, complaining these debates run on too long.  He is joined by the other vanity candidates Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, who want less scrutiny, not more in the weeks ahead.  Apparently, all that whining paid off as CNBC agreed to keep its debate to two hours, so that Trump and Carson wouldn't miss any beauty sleep.

For the most part the Trump campaign has been that of a petulant teenager believing he is the one who rules the house.  The media has been acting like doting parents, letting him get away with it because it fueled their television ratings.  But, it seems those numbers are starting to wane as well, and the media is turning to other candidates.  It is very hard to resist the inane comments coming out of Ben Carson's mouth these days, which have helped fuel his campaign to the tune of $20 million in the third quarter.  That's 10 times more money than what Donald has personally spent on his campaign, making Trump look a lot less formidable.

Of course, the self-proclaimed deca-billionaire can drop a $100 mil anytime he wants, but this isn't Trump's style.  He prefers to use other people's money, not his own.  All you will get for it is a red cap that will fade in the first wash.  My guess is that Trump won't even make it to the first caucuses in Iowa, citing some crazy reason to drop out.  He can blame it on the Bush family, as Ross Perot did in 1992.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Trolling the Democrats

... and then there were two

It seemed like former Governor Huck had nothing better to do last night than troll the Democratic Debate.  This is the juvenile nature we have come to expect from the Republicans.  Meanwhile, the Democratic candidates tried to have an honest debate by dismissing the silly e-mail scandal that has dogged the Hillary campaign and tried focusing on the issues.  It was Hillary's night, displaying a firm control of events, but then it depends whose side you are on.  The others all struggled to get out from under her shadow, and she probably did well enough to keep Joe Biden out of the race.

You really have to wonder about Webb, Chafee and O'Malley at this point.  None of them had been registering with potential Democratic voters before the debate and it is doubtful they made any lasting impact on voters after that debate.  They all seem like vanity candidates, in this race as an attempt to lift their profiles and be considered for cabinet positions should a Democrat win the White House.

Bernie held his ground, but his irascible style works better in one-on-one situations than in debates.  On the issues, there isn't much difference between Bernie and Hilllary.  He dredged up the Iraq War vote in a rather feeble attempt to draw contrasts.  Obama had tried to use that back in 2008.  Surely, Bernie could have found other differences to note.

The real question is how genuine Hillary's new found liberal positions are?  She has been pretty much a hawk on foreign policy in the past, but here she is embracing the Obama administration's decisions to negotiate with Iran and open doors with Cuba.  Something she had never promoted in the past.  She has also staked herself to the left on most domestic issues, despite having large corporate support within the Democratic party.  It seems these moves are largely calculated to neutralize Bernie, who has always been to the left of the Democratic spectrum, to the point of regarding himself as an Independent.

Nevertheless, it is pleasant to hear after all the overblown rhetoric in the two Republican debates that has David Brooks asking "where have all the real conservatives gone?"  The Republican Party has become a purely reactionary party with very few voices of moderation.  Even in 2000, when George W. Bush managed to steal the election from Al Gore, he was promoting a "compassionate conservativism," which we no longer see in the GOP.

The infighting within the Republican Party has undermined their control of Congress, as witnessed in the battle for a new House Speaker.  Kevin McCarthy, who had been slated to be the next Speaker, spilled the beans on the Benghazi commission, revealing it to be nothing more than a way to hound Hillary throughout the election.  This left Trey Gowdy with virtually no stature, as he has been the one leading the sham inquisition.   Criminal charges have been brought against Gowdy ahead of Hillary's next visit before the select committee this month.

The faux scandals force Hillary to have to address them rather than stake out her positions on key issues, which would allow Bernie and other candidates to challenge her.  I suppose in that sense, it has given her some cover, as she can portray herself as a victim of overzealous Republicans intent on ruining her.  Bernie played right into it by defending Hillary on the debate stage.

At least, the Democrats don't have a Trump grabbing all the attention, leaving the others to scramble for any glimmer of daylight.  Of course this didn't stop the Donald from tweeting his puerile thoughts on the Democratic debate, calling it a snoozer, among other things.

For the moment, Hillary has restored confidence in her campaign, which will put her in good stead leading up to the first primaries in January.  She could wrap up the nomination before February.  However, you get the feeling the Democrats could have done better.  It's like we are redressing the 2008 primaries when Hillary was slated to be the next President, only for her coronation to be postponed by Obama.  At this point, she is little more than a standard bearer.   There are no fresh or bold ideas.  We have Bill lurking in the wings.  We can expect to see her cabinet stocked with all too familiar faces should she win next November.  But, alas, the only alternative at this point appears to be Bernie Sanders.  As engaging as he is, it is hard to imagine him as President.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Nightmare Before Halloween

Halloween has not only become a big business but apparently part of the American "tradition," to read this article on a Connecticut school district that has decided to ban all Halloween activities this year.  Parents are pushing back, demanding that the unofficial holiday remain in place, feeling strongly that it is a vital part of American life.  The school district has chosen to opt for a fall harvest theme instead, which is amusing since this is historically what Halloween celebrated.

Over the years, Halloween has come to be the second biggest "cash cow," or should I say pumpkin, behind Christmas.  We're talking billions each year, on everything from pumpkins to costumes to make-up to all those candied treats.  It has become indelibly ingrained in our consciousness with such television and film movies as It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown to The Nightmare Before Christmas, not to mention all the Halloween horror stories that are meant to scare us out of our seats.  Stores feed off this holiday, seguing into the Christmas season.

There was also anxiety expressed that there wouldn't be enough canned pump filling to go around this year.  It seems few persons know how to bake a pumpkin pie from scratch.  Something I learned in Lithuania, as there is no canned pumpkin filling.

The sky is the limit when it comes to some of these costumes.  Others really make you wonder.  Parties become ever more elaborate, as do parades.  Key West, Florida, has turned it into a Fantasy Fest.  Many towns celebrate Halloween to one extent or another, as did Milford, Connecticut, with a Halloween Parade before the school district decided to ban it.  Of course, this doesn't mean kids can't go out trick-or-treating, just not on school time.

The Milford School District felt the holiday puts too much stress on kids, competing with other traditions, particularly among Catholics who see this time not as one of reverie but of revering the dead on All Saints and All Souls Days.  Halloween, or Samhain, used to be part of this celebration at the end of the ancient Celtic calendar, but was cut because of its overtly pagan symbolism when Ireland became Catholic.  These days, the holiday is mostly commercial-oriented with costumes more and more representing pop culture than traditional Halloween characters.

I remember reading Pat Conroy's The Water is Wide, in which he got very upset when the parents of the small South Carolina coastal town he taught at refused to let him celebrate Halloween with the kids.  This was not part of the local tradition and the "nasty headmaster" put her foot down, sending a young Pat Conroy into a temper tantrum, marring what was otherwise a good book.

Halloween isn't for everyone.  It's original meaning has been lost over time.  Best to celebrate it with family and friends.  However, I imagine we will see Fox News jump all over this story as they have the demise of Christmas, condemning our "politically correct" society.  Whoops, here is Bill and friends "debating" a similar school ban back in 2012.  The horror of it all!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Re-Imagining America

Creative interpretive history has become a hallmark of the contemporary Republican party, which has gone out of its way to present the Founding Fathers more as Christian clerics or Libertarians than as enlightened statesmen.  This plays well with the base of their political party, which doesn't bother to read the many texts, letters and memoirs of the Founding Fathers.  They bequeathed a wealth of writings that no other founding fathers of any other country can match.  These texts greatly help historians determine what they meant by governance.  Yet, our founding fathers remain the subject of endless speculation and debate that more often than not leaves us scratching our heads.

When Ben Carson isn't dismissing Jews for not standing up for themselves during the Holocaust, he is busy telling audiences that the Founding Fathers not only didn't want a Muslim president, but wrote it into Article II of the Constitution.  Apparently, Carson doesn't think Muslims qualify as "natural born citizens."

He might have been on firmer ground if he said that the Founding Fathers harbored anti-Islamic biases, largely as a result of the Barbary Coast Wars (1801-1805), as American ships were coming under attack by Muslim pirates off the coast of West Africa. This led to America's first war against someone other than the British and Indians.  Jefferson apparently bought a copy of the Q'uran to better understand the Muslim mind, but it is doubtful he ever read it.

Given that most American Muslims were enslaved at the time the Constitution was penned, the likelihood they were able to vote, much less elect a president was not even in question.  Yes Ben, most if not all Muslims in America in the early 19th century were black slaves.  At best, they were considered 3/5's human, allowing far greater representation for the Southern states than they deserved, since the Southern states extended no civil rights to their slaves, like the ability to vote.

But, our good doctor doesn't want to cloud his judgement with such facts, anymore than he wants to be reminded that Poland was easily overrun by Nazi Germany in 1939 despite having guns.  By war's end, over 6 million Poles had been killed, half of which were Jews.  Carson, like many Republicans today, prefer to live in an alternate reality that not only re-imagines the present, but also the past to support their narrow view of society.

The "scholars," if you can call them such, range from David Barton, who has written an extensive number of revisionist "history" texts on the Founding Fathers and the Constitution in his effort to break down the wall between church and state, to Bill O'Reilly, who continues his serial killing spree with his latest victim being Ronald Reagan.  There are a whole host of other writers in between, with a number of conservative publishing houses that will print their screeds if the major publishers won't.  These conservative authors use conservative television and internet news sources to promote their books and ideas.  Critics are dismissed as effete intellectuals like Alan Colmes, who serves as a token liberal on Fox News.

The folks at Fox have gone out of their way to support Dr. Ben's dubious understanding of the Constitution and World War II.  Their psychologist in residence, Dr.Keith Ablow, offers this spirited defense of Carson's opinion that the Jews could have saved themselves if only they had more guns.  Carson's views on Muslims have been widely endorsed on Fox, despite the widely held view among conservatives that Obama is a Muslim.  A view Fox helped perpetuate by inviting so many birthers on their news programs, including Birther-in-Chief Donald J. Trump.  But, I suppose Obama isn't counted, because he "pretends" to be Christian.

The Libertarian attack has focused more on big government, usually in the form of taxes, which no one wants to pay.  They mischaracterize the Constitution as badly as the religious conservatives to suit their agenda, believing that the Founding Fathers favored a small government.  Actually, the Founding Fathers were split on the issue, which came to the fore in the 1800 election when Thomas Jefferson ran against John Adams largely over Federalist policy.  In the end, Jefferson kept much of the Federalist government in place.  It wouldn't be until Andrew Jackson that a President took on the national bank and other federal institutions, which he felt diminished state rights, but even here Jackson had no time for South Carolina's first secession bid in 1830.

These days, state rights mostly focus on issues of "religious liberties" and gun rights.  There is no longer much of an intellectual debate taking place of the just subordination of federal government like there was in the 60s and 70s with such leading conservative lights as William F. Buckley and Milton Friedman, who actually won the Nobel prize for economics.  I suppose Ron Paul comes the closest to this line of thinking, while his son Rand has drifted more into populist Libertarianism.

There has been a dumbing down of "conservativism" which would make even William Bennett squirm.  You might remember he led the crusade against universities that wanted to expand the Humanities reading list, notably at Stanford.  He was the Secretary of Education at the time, considered one of the most learned Republicans.  But, today, Mr. Bennett mostly concerns himself with the increasing availability of pot.  He was also briefly George H.W. Bush's Crime Czar, ushering in an era of "zero tolerance" drug policies that smacked of big government gone wild, filling prisons with first time drug offenders, as well as mass confiscation of personal property.

It doesn't seem that many conservatives read today, much less process information in any meaningful way if we use the conservative media as a gauge.  Ablow's comments are particularly disturbing as he is a trained psychiatrist and should know better.  Of course, one can say the same of Ben Carson, who is a noted neurosurgeon.  If we look at contemporary Republican leaders, we will find a number of Ivy league graduates, including Ted Cruz. These persons should be enlightening the base of their political party, but instead are playing straight to the lowest common denominator.  The Republican Party has become an anti-intellectual party that not even Richard Hofstadter could have imagined.

That doesn't stop these conservative hacks from writing books however.  Even Ben Carson has a new book expanding on his views that he has been busily promoting on conservative talk shows.  I guess an alternative reality needs an alternative bookstore with authors like Carson and O'Reilly to stock it, although I wonder how much of their audience actually reads their books, as you so rarely hear any of these books reference them.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Guns in America, Part II

In the Aftermath of Umpqua

Some pretty bold pronouncements coming out of Dr. Ben's mouth after the latest mass shooting at Umpqua Community College.  The good doctor claims that if he had been there he would have led the students against the shooter, "that way we don't all wind up dead."  Fortunately, that was not the case.  Many survived, even Chris Mintz, who did charge the shooter and took a number of shots in return.  Chris is being credited for helping to keep the death toll down, but the way Carson tells it he could have done better.

The good doctor has taken quite a bit of flak for this statement.  It might be in his best interest to walk it back a little.  Instead, Carson went even further to say that the Holocaust would have never been perpetrated if Jews had more guns.  Of course, it is not the first time this has been said, but one would like to think that a pediatric neurosurgeon would be a little more sensitive, not only to those suffering through that horrible tragedy at Umpqua but to those who suffered through the unspeakable tragedy of the Holocaust.  Instead, Dr. Ben says he had to deal with bullet holes in bodies, and believes it is much worse to take away our second amendment rights.

Well, this type of talk may play well among the base of the GOP, who look at the victims of these shootings as "sheeple," accepting their docile fates rather than fighting back as of course they would all do if put in a similar situation.  Ben even tells us a story of how he averted a gunman at a Popeye's restaurant by directing him to "the guy behind the counter."  Sounds rather cowardly for a man who previously said he would lead the charge against the gunman, but I guess the good doctor felt there wasn't enough wiggle room for him to make a dash at the guy, presuming it was even a gun pressed against his ribs.

Most of the other GOP candidates have kept mum on the subject or blamed these shootings on not properly diagnosing mental illness, which John Oliver took offense to in a recent episode of Last Week Tonight.  It's a cop out for Republican leaders who don't want to address the gun issue, largely because they don't want to offend the NRA and their gun-toting electorate.

If we look at gun violence on a broader plane, these mass shootings are rare in comparison to the 33,000 gun-related deaths per year in America.  Not that it makes these mass shooting any easier to accept.  However, the vast majority of gun-related deaths are self-inflicted or the result of domestic violence, which would indicate that if you have a firearm in your house, you are more likely to shoot yourself or be shot by a spouse or other family member than you are to be shot by someone breaking into your home, much less in a public space.  Yet, the NRA strongly advocates that everyone should have a gun for self-protection.

These gun rights activists go even further by pushing for laws in states that would allow anyone to have a gun on campus.  Thirty-one states, including Oregon, allow persons to carry concealed weapons on campus provided they have a special permit.  Starting next year, Texas will allow persons to openly carry weapons on campus, and I'm sure other states will follow.  But, if we look at the alarming rate of personal gun-related deaths this does not ensure safety but quite the opposite.  It would essentially extend the sphere in which one with a gun could inflict harm on himself or those close to him, as all it would take is a violent domestic argument to tip someone over the edge.

Jon Stewart also pointed out sometime back that these open-carry laws come in direct conflict with "Stand Your Ground" laws, in which it is enough to feel threatened to resort to violence.  What happens when a guy with a Walther PPK feels threatened by a guy with a Bushmaster AR-15?  This pretty much takes us back to the days of Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane.

Unfortunately, very few persons make the effort to think these situations out.  Instead, you hear them respond emotionally to these incidents, often getting on a high horse for political gain.  Apparently, Dr. Ben considers himself invincible, given his strong faith.  He probably would have been wise to keep his response to the photo of himself proudly proclaiming "I Am A Christian," rather than venture into that gray area of what you would do if your faith was actually tested in this horrible way.  I think even Jesus would have probably said it is best to keep your faith to yourself rather than risk your life over it, as religious faith isn't going to stop a bullet.  Good advice to politicians as well.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Keep your feet on the ground

To provide some badly needed perspective on presidential polling, you need to slide your mouse over this RCP graph of the 2012 GOP Presidential Nomination that ranges from April 2011 to April 2012. You will see that the major fluctuation in preferences occurred between Aug. 22, 2011 to February 22, 2012, with no less than five candidates leading the national polls at one time or another.   At various points, Perry and Gingrich had double-digit leads over Romney, who managed to stay in second place throughout the nomination process because he was the only "establishment" candidate in the bunch.  The rest were insurgent candidates, with the exception of Jon Huntsman who stayed at the bottom of the polling until he dropped out after the New Hampshire primary.

This year is shaping up to be pretty much a repeat, although the fluctuations took place sooner, starting in March, when Walker gave up the lead to Bush, who held it until Trump soared to the top of the polls in July, and now finds himself being challenged in October with his average differential slipping to 5 points over Ben Carson.  At the peak of his popularity on September 16, Trump held a 10-point lead over Carson.  The one surprising difference is that Bush has slipped all the way down to fifth place with an aggregate of 8.3 per cent.  At his lowest point on Aug. 31, 2011, Romney still enjoyed 16.5 per cent of the GOP polling electorate.

Jeb Bush faces a number of problems that Mitt Romney didn't have to face.  Jeb not only has to deal with a number of insurgent candidates, but also with well-established candidates, who are siphoning away his votes.  Currently, Rubio has a 9.5 aggregate, Kasich 3.1 and Christie 2.6.  If Jeb was the only "moderate" in the race, as Romney was in 2011, these polling numbers would probably swing in his favor and he would be right up there with Trump at approximately 22.5 per cent.  But, Bush faces another problem in that voters are less likely to coalesce around him because of Bush fatigue than they are Marco Rubio or John Kasich or even Chris Christie, all considered viable candidates in the general election.

In 2012, polls continued to fluctuate wildly through the early caucuses and primaries until Super Tuesday on March 6.  It was at this point that Mitt's war chest proved too much for the insurgent campaigns of Gingrich and Santorum, and Romney took the lead for good.  The winner-take-all format in many primaries greatly aided him, as he didn't even have to win 50 per cent of the popular vote to take all the delegates.

This time around, the winner-take-all rule only applies to primaries held on and after March 15, so that candidates will be able to scramble for delegates in 23 primaries and caucuses spread throughout the country before that date.  The kicker is that the Florida and Ohio primaries are on March 15, followed closely by Illinois and New York, which will be huge prizes for one candidate, and no doubt tilt the candidate who wins these states over the top, assuming the race is still close at that point.

One of the problems that insurgent candidates like Trump, Fiorina and Carson face is that they have been riding high poll numbers but don't necessarily understand the mechanics of caucus states like Iowa, Nevada and five other early states.  Trump and Fiorina don't appear to have much organization on the ground, which is necessary to do well in these states.  The more savvy candidate(s) will win these states, which offer a significant number of delegates.

Judging from this interview with Chris Cuomo, Trump thinks its enough to be riding high in the polls to do well in the primaries and caucuses.   Nate Silver warns against this type of thinking, recalling the lesson Hillary learned in 2008, among other past presidential candidates.  She ended up losing to Obama because his campaign well understood the mechanics and importance of caucus states and took every one, much to Hillary's chagrin, whose campaign staff thought they would put Obama away for good on Super Tuesday.  The Donald has mastered Twitter and Instagram, but it will take much more than that to pull off the nomination.

The only one of the three insurgent candidates to have mounted a political campaign before is Carly Fiorina, who tried to unseat Barbara Boxer in 2010.  Carly didn't fair very well in that California Senate election, relying mostly on brand appeal and negative campaigning.  Sound familiar?

As Nate says, there are too many variables to take the national polls seriously, especially at this stage of the nomination process.  Trump likes to talk a good show but so far that's all it is.  He is very much reminiscent of Herman Cain, who also talked a good show until Newt Gingrich knocked him down a peg or two in the so-called "Lincoln-Douglas style" debate.  That was pretty much the end of the Hermanator.

All is not lost for Jeb, Kasich or even Chris Christie.  You have to think one of these governors will eventually emerge from the pack to challenge the insurgent candidate du jour.  They each know how these state elections are run, and they have well seasoned campaign staffs to get the job done.  So far, however, they appear to be canceling each other out.

There is also Marco Rubio, who has had a bit of rollercoaster ride so far, but is climbing up the polls once again.  He seems to be one of the few candidates able to withstand the barbs flung by the Donald, including the Trumpster's latest prank of sending bottled water to Rubio, hoping to evoke Marco's dry-lipped rebuttal to President Obama's 2013 State of the Union address.  Marco has since learned to roll with the punches.

I'm sure we will see more shake-ups in the months ahead.  Here is the 2016 primary schedule.  It's going to be a long grueling ride.  We probably won't get a clear leader until sometime in March.   As Casey Kasem would say, "Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars."

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

No Experience Needed

One can well understand the Republicans' desire for fresh new leadership but resting it in the hands of Donald Trump, Ben Carson or Carly Fiorina, three of the top four polling candidates,  really makes you wonder what is going on here.  None of them have ever held an elected office in their life, never worked with the government except on a "transactional" basis and have no foreign policy experience, unless you count Trump and Fiorina's business deals with Chinese and Iranis.  This is like throwing away your whole hand at the poker table and hoping for a pair of aces in return.

A recent poll shows that 66 per cent of Republicans want new leadership in Washington.  This would have made it a governor's year to run for the White House, as voters typically turn to the state level in these situations.  Jeb Bush and Scott Walker did well early, but have since plummeted in the polls.  Walker dropped out of the race all together.  Jeb leads the seven remaining governors with a miserable 4 per cent of polling audiences, well behind the political neophytes.

Granted, the host of governors aren't the most appealing lot.  Chris Christie is dogged with a sordid trail of misconduct and a lousy economic record in New Jersey.  Scott Walker's anti-union policies in Wisconsin may have endeared him to Republicans early, but he failed to build on it during his short campaign. Bobby Jindal has made Louisiana into an even worse basket case than it already was.  Rick Perry's great economic miracle in Texas went the way of the price of a barrel of oil.  Still, that leaves five other governors.  Well two really -- Jeb Bush and John Kasich, both of whom had/have respectable records at Florida and Ohio, which are tremendously important states in the general election.  Mike Huckabee is running more on his religious faith than he is his record as former Governor of Arkansas.  Jim Gilmore and George Pataki, the former governors of Virginia and New York, have yet to even register on most polls.

Any reasonable person would value governors from Ohio and Florida.  Both have solid conservative credentials.  Jeb was the first to actively promote and put in place an education voucher system, which was widely hailed by Republicans at one time.  Kasich seems to have found the right balance of populist governing in Ohio, enjoying a very high approval rating in his home state.  So, what gives?

It seems that many Republicans were first seduced by Donald J. Trump, and now find themselves flirting with Carly Fiorina, believing that what the party needs is a strong shot of corporate style business management, despite the dubious records of these two.  Another substantial group has flocked toward the divine neurosurgeon Ben Carson, whose strongly espoused faith and remarkable skills as a pediatric brain surgeon has made him a favorite among Evangelical voters.  They all seem like very odd choices given this was supposed to be the best Republican field of candidates since the 1980 primaries when Reagan was mildly challenged by George H.W. Bush and John Anderson.

Part of the problem has been too many candidates.  Seven or eight would have been enough to foster diversity and choice.  Instead, the Republicans ended up with 12 candidates before Trump's now famous escalator ride in June, with four more candidates declaring themselves shortly afterward.  The Human Hair Piece made it easy for Republican voters, particularly the Tea Party base, by putting their interests front and center with no sugar coating.  Chris Christie had hoped to appeal to voters on the same guttural level, adopting the slogan, Telling It Like It Is!" but the Donald had beaten him to the punch.

Trump seized on immigration, offering a "zero tolerance" approach that would result in mass deportations and a wall built along the border of Mexico.  Governors Jeb and Rick initially scoffed at the idea, but Trump's stern message immediately took hold of the Republican electorate's imagination, and he doubled down by demanding "birthright" citizenship be eliminated, part of the 14th amendment to the Constitution, which was ratified in 1868.  Who could compete with that audacity?

As much as the Republican governors and Congressional representatives tried to argue that it wouldn't work, Trump soared in the polls and at one point found himself so far ahead of the field, it looked like he was going to run away with the nomination.  Trump even boldly asserted why do we need these primaries, when it is so clear everybody loves him, even Democrats.  Where arguments failed, bluster won, and soon the other candidates were desperately trying to match bluster for bluster, seeing who could make the most outrageous claims.  Scott Walker undid his campaign when he boldly suggested that a wall along the Mexican border wasn't enough and that we should consider one along the border with Canada as well.

Basically, the Republicans lost their heads.  They were so completely seduced by Trump's unabashed views that the only antidote was a soft-spoken doctor who preached faith and unity.  You might call Ben Carson the Prozac candidate, calming a political party that was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Trump may have given this election cycle badly needed vitality, but it came with a lot of nasty side effects, notably alienated Hispanic, Asian and women voters, all considered essential for a Republican victory next November.

Even at his peak, Trump garnered no more than 35 per cent of the GOP electorate in the polls.  He had driven a huge wedge in the party but he hadn't run away with the nomination, which he bragged he had.  Perry and Walker both left the campaign, saying that the other candidates had to coalesce around one anti-Trump candidate, but I doubt they expected it to be Ben Carson, who is now polling ahead of Trump in at least one poll, where Trump has fallen to 17 per cent.  Carson was a virtual nobody in the political world until he called out President Obama at a National Prayer Breakfast in 2013.

As a result, no one else is leaving just yet, not even George Pataki, who has decided to cast himself as the "moderate" candidate, promoting the need to address climate change, a more open-minded immigration policy and a woman's right to choose in the face of overwhelming odds in the GOP primaries.  Even Jeb Bush still holds out hope that the primaries will swing his way in the long run, as his campaign is "built to last."  Great sentiments but there is little to suggest it will pan out this way for him.

If we look at this in a pragmatic way, the best option for the Republicans next November would be John Kasich.  Given his high approval rating in Ohio, he would most likely swing the state back into the GOP column.  If you were to add Marco Rubio as Vice-President to the ticket, who is currently polling well among Republicans, you have the very likelihood of adding Florida to boot  This would be a huge electoral triumph and make it very difficult for the Democrats to keep the White House.

Instead, we see Republicans still flirting with Trump, Carson and Fiorina, who are nothing more than vanity candidates, seemingly determined to overturn the party establishment, like what happened in the House of Representatives where John Boehner was forced to resign.  This is a very slippery slope that Republicans have taken, calling into to question all the tenants they ran past political campaigns on, like scolding a young Barack Obama for being too inexperienced to be President in 2008, and now saying that his inexperience is what "ruined" our country.

Well, I for one don't believe in a United States of Trump, or Carson or Fiorina for that matter.  Legislative experience does matter, and none of these candidates have any.  Trump and Fiorina have deeply flawed business records and Carson has never had to manage anything other than his 401(k) retirement plan.  Hardly the type of leadership that would normally inspire confidence, but this isn't a normal year for Republicans.

The GOP is in shambles with the most dominant figure being Donald J. Trump.  He is the only one projecting any confidence, as false as it may be.  However, this is an electorate that has fallen prey to a reactionary ideology fomented by Fox News and incendiary websites that basically call for an end to government as we know it, giving us "folk heroes" like Cliven Bundy and Kim Davis, who openly defy the federal government.  Anarchy at its worst.

In this brave new world no experience is needed.  In fact, the less experience the better so as not to get in the way of some of these absurd claims being put forward by the leading Republican candidates.  It's not just the federal government, but every aspect of society these candidates are questioning, including vaccines.  One can only hope that reason will eventually prevail.