Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Chicken Hawks




I can't imagine Reince Priebus is too excited about Donald Trump joining the presidential race, especially with him polling in the top ten of the straw polls, which will determine the line-up for the debates.  The Donald is not afraid to stir the pot, and will no doubt go after Ted Cruz on his citizenship, which he has already done.

The walking hair piece isn't done there.  He is openly taking the Obama administration to task over the rise of ISIS in the Muslim world and says he has a "foolproof plan" to get rid of them once and for all.  Of course, he's not saying much as he believes secrecy is the key to his plan's success, hinting only that he would find a general like Patton or MacArthur to carry out his orders.  No pussyfooting around, as he believes the President and the Joint Chiefs of Staff have done.

Lindsey Graham also feels the President has been soft on ISIS, lashing out at the Commander-in-Chief  as a man who leads from behind, in an interview with Israeli television.  If he became President, the United States would definitely take the missionary position.  Of course, what our Southern belle fails to mention is that the policy of "containment" had long been a Republican strategy, fostered by Henry Kissinger during the Nixon administration.  The policy has a long history dating back to the Truman administration, which of course disgruntled generals like MacArthur, who felt the US was letting the Soviet Union off the hook.  Eisenhower, a five-star general himself, was famous for his "hidden-hand approach," which it seems Obama has emulated.

It was only with the Bush Doctrine that we saw a dramatic shift in foreign policy.  Even Reagan and H.W. Bush subscribed to the theory of containment when it came to dealing with our existential enemies.  Gone are all nuances with Bush 43.

The Republican field seems eager to take on Foreign Policy when the only candidate with any experience in this regard is Lindsey Graham, who subscribes wholeheartedly to the Bush Doctrine, and has adamantly defended it on the campaign trail.  This may play well with right-wing hawks in Israel, but Americans have lost their appetite for such forms of engagement, and would prefer to leave the matter of radical Islamic sliver groups to the countries they are fighting in.



We have already seen what "foolproof plans" can do.  The militantism we see in Iraq and Syria is a direct outgrowth of our involvement in these two states.  Of course, we hear apologists like Paul Bremer stating that it was Obama's withdrawal from Iraq that led to this rise in militantism, making the utterly absurd claim that during the Bush administration they had wiped out al Qaeda, and that ISIS is an entirely new radical movement.

He seems to forget that it was the Obama administration that ultimately rooted out Osama bin Laden and killed him in a Navy Seal operation, not the Bush administration.  But, here too the President's motives are being questioned by Seymour Hersch, who claims this was an inside job aided by the Pakistani government, and the raid nothing more than a front.

The aim here seems to be to diminish what are seen as Obama's foreign policy accomplishments and accentuate what are seen as his failures.  The rise of ISIS allows the Republicans to let Benghazi slide quietly into the background, treating ISIS as a national security issue which the Democrats are hopelessly incapable to contend with.  Yet, not mentioning that it is the Republican Congress that has yet to grant the President's war powers act, which would give him greater latitude in the region.

Not that it will accomplish anything, as what military advisers lament most is the lack of willingness to deal with the issue from Iraqi armed forces.  As a result, Shi'a military forces from Iran have been called in to help deal with the crisis.  What we are seeing is a classic Shi-a vs. Sunni confrontation, splitting the Muslim world.

The Arab league backs the Sunni insurgence, notably the House of Saud, who was demonstrably upset with the Obama administration for reaching out to Iran.  Saudi Arabia blames Iran-backed militants for the uprising in neighboring Yemen.  As a result, the new Saudi King skipped on the Gulf Summit, citing a previously scheduled engagement.  Of course, this snub is seen as a direct reflection on the Obama policy in the region by conservatives.  However, Colbert King writes in a WP article that the House of Saud has long staged such defiant protests when it suited its interests, regardless of who was president at the time.

What we need is more engagement and less confrontation, but what can you expect from a walking hair piece and a Southern belle desperate to make their marks on the Republican campaign trail.  In their minds, the only ally that counts is Israel.  The rest of the world is just one big playground in which to show off America's latest military toys, as far as they are concerned.

It is an attitude that has profoundly damaged our standing in the world, and one it seems Obama is anxious to free himself from the last two years of his administration.  He has removed Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, which has similarly outraged Presidential wannabes, including Jeb Bush.  I doubt Jeb batted an eyelash when his brother removed North Korea from this list in an effort to salvage a fragile nuclear deal back in 2008.

The Republicans seem to revel in making bald-faced assertions, counting on an undiscerning electoral base.  Of course, they have Fox News and a vast conservative blogosphere to back up their allegations.  Here is Fox's Lou Dobbs, who normally reports on business news, ranting against Obama removing Cuba from the axis of evil.  

Like it or not, Reince, the Donald is perfect for your debates.  He can lord over them like the host of Celebrity Apprentice.  It would be wise for the GOP to come up with a better way of vetting their prospective presidential candidates than straw polls.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Wild Bill O'Reilly's Legends and Lies



Bill O'Reilly is a busy man these days.  He has broken away from his serial murder genre to give us a look into the Real West.  It is a companion volume to a television series, which offers us such "eye-opening looks" into the real life of Black Bart and what really happened to Butch and Sundance down Argentina way.  The title, if not the content as well, appears to come from Dale Walker's 1997 book.  Bill just seems to have put his name in front of it.

This was probably not a smart decision, especially in the wake of the stories he fabricated about himself in Argentina at the time of the Falkland Islands War, and the more recent allegations of domestic violence.  It opens him to quite a bit of ridicule and scorn.  Of course, few expect Papa Bear to be a hard-hitting journalist, much less a hard-hitting historian.  Bill prefers the soft balls of political punditry, where he can bend events to suit his arguments, and if necessary inflate his involvement in them to give himself a greater air of importance in the minds of his viewing audience.

Typically, O'Reilly has a partner in crime, or shall we say history.  One more familiar with the subject, and does the bulk of the research.   It seems Dale Walker had done the leg work in the previous book.  Bill needed someone to give it a new spin, so he employed David Fisher, who makes his money helping others write their books, ranging from Dr. Sanjiv Chopra to Warren Sapp.  Mr. Fisher doesn't seem to have a  single title of his own.  He appears to be a MacMillan staff writer.  Who knows he might have helped out Dale Walker on the earlier title, since the books are both from the same publisher.

It's reached the point where Baba O'Reilly can occupy an entire corner of a bookstore with all his titles.  It seems folks didn't like the Killing aspect of his current historical fiction series, especially when it came to Jesus, and these books are now being titled "Last Days."  Good for him, as it looks like he has even more titles to his credit.  Next on Bill's hit list is Hitler's Last Days, due out early in June, in which he takes on the Fuhrer himself.

You have to hand it to the guy for finding such a lucrative niche audience.  However, I think he missed a golden opportunity to explore his own legends and lies, allowing us a glimpse into his twisted mind, which places himself front and center of events, whether it be the Falkland Islands War or the Faux War on Christmas.  It would have also given him the chance to present his side to the custody battle with his ex-wife, which further threatens to undermine what little is left of his character.




Thursday, May 28, 2015

George Who?




I bet you didn't see this one coming.  I sure didn't.  George Pataki has to be the least likely of Presidential candidates, nearly ten years out of a job, not that very many even knew him when he served three terms as governor of New York.

It seems George is trying to cash in on his leadership following 911, judging from his video clip.  It didn't help Mayor Ray in 2008 and I doubt it will get much play in 2016.  The funny part is that he announced his candidacy in New Hampshire.  I guess he thinks this will give him a leg up in the state primary, the first in the election cycle after the Iowa caucuses.  It's the only hope he has of making his mark early in the Republican primaries.

However, Pataki looks like another one of those vanity candidates hoping to get some free publicity and land a spot on Fox News.  He hasn't seemed to be doing much with himself since he stepped down as governor in January, 2007.  He set up a "Leadership and Learning Center" in Peekskill, New York, best known as the original home of Crayola Crayons.  His organization doesn't get much notoriety, and he isn't a favorite on the Republican speaking circuit.

Pataki's reign as governor was largely uneventful except for 911 and his attempts to spur the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site.  Sadly, not much was done, as a battle developed between the city, state and private developer, Larry Silverstein, which thwarted construction for years.  George had lost favor among much of the conservative faithful of his party during his long tenure, including the New York Post, which ran a scathing attack entitled Good Riddance upon his departure.

The biggest problem facing him is reconciling his social liberalism with the ardent social conservatism so prevalent in the GOP.  This is a guy who supported gay rights in his state and is pro-choice, which is going to put him at odds with the Republican base in most states.  One of the hot button issues emerging in this campaign is gay marriage, with no less than a dozen GOP governors pushing legislation that would make it difficult for gay couples to enjoy the social privileges normally associated with marriage.  The Log Cabin vote in the GOP is quite small.

More likely, he will shy away from these social issues as others have done.  Mitt Romney essentially disowned his gubernatorial record in Massachusetts last time around.  I guess George is hoping he can successfully reinvent himself on the campaign trail as well, but at 69 that is an arduous task with so many young guns vying for the top spot.

Maybe George sees himself in the mix for a cabinet or other high-level job if a Republican wins the White House, maybe even Ambassador to the United Nations?  In 2007, he briefly served as George Bush's delegate to the UN General Assembly, focusing on terrorism and (gulp) climate change during the GA session.

The more the merrier, I say, but George is going to have a hard time making the cut for the first debate scheduled for August 6 on Fox News.  Only the Top Ten polling candidates will be invited.  Good luck, George!



The Curious Campaign of Rand Paul




Rand Paul is the most intriguing candidate in the race.  While the other Republican candidates try to jockey for the lead position in the religious conservative straw polls, Rand has staked out the middle ground, trying to reach out to a much broader segment of the population with a message most clear-headed individuals can relate to -- personal rights.  Whether he is genuine in his stand against the prying hand of the Patriot Act or not, it was refreshing to finally see a Congressperson stand up against it, mounting another marathon filibuster that kept disgruntled Senators in session long after they were ready to leave for the Memorial Day weekend.  Not that many stayed around to hear him through.

For the past two years, Rand has been busy touring college campuses, Liberty University excluded.  He has become quite popular among the youth in this country with his message of individual freedom.  He has made the Patriot Act his pet issue, and given the amount of time students spend on the Internet this is a big issue for them.  No amount of spyware, adblocks and other anti-infiltrating software is going to stop the federal government from snooping in your on-line accounts, especially when it hides its spyware everywhere.

What makes Rand Paul appealing is not only that he has taken up this issue, but that he speaks to our level of intelligence.  In sustaining his filibuster, he read passages from Montesquieu, George Orwell, Thomas Paine and Milton Friedman, not Dr. Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham, as Ted Cruz did when he staged his faux filibuster against an appropriations bill in 2013.  This leads one to think that Rand is serious about the issue, even if his filibuster was not a true filibuster either.

Many are arguing that this defiant stand against the Patriot Act will hurt Rand, as it cuts against the grain of security-minded conservatives who seem more than willing to give up a few of their personal liberties if it means keeping ISIS out of Texas.  Making matters worse, from the conservative POV, Rand accused conservative hawks of creating the Islamic State terrorist group, with their indiscriminate supply of weapons to the region over the past two decades.

What sets him apart from other Republicans is that he is against big government period.  Most Republicans embrace the defense industry because it provides jobs in their districts.  Rand wants to have the same checks and balances on the military as he does every other part of the federal government.  His previous filibuster was against drones, which he staged against the vote for the WH nominee for CIA chief, John Brennan.

In this segment of his interview with Jon Stewart, Rand argues what is the point of a perpetual war on terror if you are willing to give up your personal freedoms to defend it.  However, he is still very clever with his references.  Note his casual reminder of the murder rate in Baltimore and his "disgust" with the approval for a mosque near the 911 memorial in New York, which will endear him to conservative voters.

My concern is whether Rand Paul is truly genuine in his beliefs or if he is shrewdly reaching out to a middle ground that virtually all other Republican candidates are ignoring or have abandoned, hoping he can win enough votes in key primaries to put him in contention for the Republican nomination.  Either way it is a big political gamble, but unlike Marco Rubio in Florida, he can still run for his Senate seat in Kentucky.  All he has to do is not have his name on the presidential ballot in his home state.

You get the feeling that Rand knows how to play two sides of an issue very well.  He isn't the committed Libertarian like his father.  He is more the preppy Libertarian who mulls over these issues at a coffee shop, like you see on college campuses, which is why he is doing so well among young voters.  However, he is losing the geriatric Fox audience, which is who the other Republican presidential wannabes are aiming at.  These are the voters Republicans count on to come to the polls.

Whatever the case, Rand Paul has certainly made this election cycle interesting.  He has the potential of energizing the GOP, or in a worst case scenario becoming an Independent candidate like John Anderson in 1980, who created the National Unity Party in the general election, after failing to topple Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush in the primaries.  Rand's views sit somewhere in between the two political parties as it is, having chosen the Republican Party more for convenience, I think, than anything else.  All though, his economic thinking is clearly out of the Milton Friedman school of thought, with stands against the minimum wage and federal subsidies for the health insurance exchanges.

But, most voters don't look at all these nuances.  They take what they see on the surface, and right now Rand Paul is scoring big among moderate voters, Republican and Democrats alike, for his stand against the provisions in the Patriot Act that allow for unwarranted government surveillance of  personal records.  This is the dreaded Section 215, which John Oliver very thoroughly covered in this segment of Last Week Tonight.  It seems that Rand Paul took up John Oliver's call to arms.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Eternal Optimism of Rick Perry


Rick Perry rides again

It was hard not to stifle a laugh reading this article on the return of Rick Perry to Iowa, where he has regaled audiences with his homespun stories of growing up in Paint Creek, Texas, and bumper yields of corn.  Rick is indeed an eternal optimist if he thinks he has a snow ball's chance in hell of getting the Republican nomination.  Not so much for his infamous "Oops" moment, as for his trail of petty governance as the chief executive of Texas these past 14 years.  He still has an indictment hanging over his head for trying to strong arm Rosemary Lehmberg out of her Travis County District Attorney seat.

Rick has been sporting an expensive pair of Jean LaFont eyeglasses, picked out by his wife, that he seems to think gives him a new vision.  They have become the centerpiece of his campaign, which he plans to formally launch June 4 with his announcement in Dallas, Texas.  In the meantime, he has been glad-handing folks in Iowa, where he says he will win over voters "one handshake, bear hug and backslap at a time," unencumbered by the duties of his former governorship which he bequeathed to Greg "Wheels" Abbott.

I have to say that one of the nice things about Rick Perry is that he doesn't come across as mean-spirited as some of his rivals, but don't let that fool you.  He had been pursuing poor Rosemary for quite some time, determined to run her out of Austin.  Rick is one of those good old southern boys who will knock you on your ass, then pick you up and brush you off and say no harm done.  This may work well in Texas and the Southern states in general, but it is hard to reconcile the good old Southern boy with that sporty set of eyewear.

Are we to think that Rick has actually studied the issues confronting the country and will honestly try to address them on the campaign trail?  He had an opportunity when this silly Jade Helm thing flared up in Texas, but he has since backtracked on his initial criticism of Governor Greg, and is now playing into the same fears on the Glenn Beck Show.  He says that if he was President no one would question his motives.  For former Governor Rick it is a matter of trust, and he believes he can be trusted, unlike the current man in the White House, which he doesn't even reference by name.  

Fortunately, he won't have Ron Paul to call him out on which cabinets he would cut as President.  More likely, it will be Ted Cruz sticking his foot in his mouth.  Ted wouldn't be where he is if it wasn't for Governor Rick, who gave the Harvard law grad his first state job as Solicitor General.  It should be fun to see these two square off against each other, as they will essentially be competing for the same electoral turf.

We'll see how the glad-handing goes but Iowa is no longer much of a factor.  Rick Santorum took the state last time around and it didn't seem to put much of a dent in Romney's campaign bus.  Governor Rick has to reach well beyond familiar corn fields to have any chance of staying in this race, and even the most optimistic pollster doesn't see much chance of that.


When I Hugged the President




The political downfall of Charlie Crist, once the popular governor of Florida, has been sad to watch, because he didn't deserve it.  Here was a man with an approval rating of over 60 per cent before his ill-fated hug with the President.   It wasn't like he was doing anything great as governor, but he was keeping the state on an even keel, which is far more than can be said of the state's current governor, Rick Scott.

Crist seemed a shoe-in for US Senator when he chose to run for Mel Martinez's seat in Congress rather than another term as governor.  The hug dogged him throughout the election.  The Tea Party foisted Marco Rubio, the little known Florida Senate leader, into the limelight, who eventually toppled Crist in the Republican primaries.  Crist tried to run as an independent candidate in the general election, but lost again.

This was at the peak of Tea Party politics where you had to show that you were against the Obama administration in every way, shape or form.  No hugs allowed.  It was verboten to even come within hugging distance of the reviled President, unless you used that intimidate space to tell the President off as Jan Brewer did when Obama visited Arizona in January, 2012.  Charlie is just too nice a guy to do something like that.  Unlike other Republican governors, he showed respect for the President when most Republicans felt none was deserved.

I suppose if Charlie could have a do-over he would have run for re-election, but he had no way of knowing that the infamous hug would garner so much attention or that a relatively young upstart like Rubio would gain so much traction so quickly.  But, this was the nature of Tea Party politics.  They wanted to throw out the old guard, which they felt had compromised the policies and values of the Grand Old Party they claimed to embrace.

Charile thought he would find some love in the Democratic Party when he switched parties in 2012.  After all, a large measure of his success as governor was his ability to reach across the aisle.  He was seen as a bipartisan figure.  Unfortunately, not much love came.  Democrats didn't embrace him in his independent run, and seemed to begrudgingly accept him when he ran for Governor again in 2014, making him their nominee, but abandoning him in the general election.

This was odd since Crist now embraced Obama's policies and had shown his support for him at the Democratic National Convention in 2012.  Obama carried the state a second time that year.  Unfortunately, in one of Florida's lowest voter turn-outs in two decades, Crist narrowly lost to incumbent governor Rick Scott, who had made a complete asshole of himself throughout the election, to the point of refusing to take the stage in a debate because of Charlie Crist's portable fan.

Rick Scott had slithered into office not once, but twice with less than 50 per cent of the popular vote.  This is a guy who only moved to Florida to take advantage of the lenient bankruptcy laws, as his Columbia/HCA was under fire for Medicare fraud.  He claimed no responsibility in the company he cobbled together from a number of private health care providers across the nation.  Columbia was eventually forced to pay nearly $1 billion in damages.

You would think this kind of corporate maleficence was far worse than anything Crist had done, but no,  Republicans would rather vote for a snake oil salesman than someone who turned his back on their party.  There weren't enough Democrats there to cover Charlie's back.  Given the current debacle in state government, which Carl Hiassen describes in this article, you would think that a lot of Floridians are wishing they had a second chance to vote, but for all intents and purposes Charlie Crist's political career is over.

It is hard to bounce back from two jarring defeats, but he is contemplating another run at the US Senate, as Marco Rubio has been forced to vacate his seat to run for President.  Crist would probably be better advised not to do so, as it is unlikely he would survive another grueling election process.  Most likely, Democrats would prefer Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who is the current head of the Democratic National Committee.  The best Charlie can hope for now is access to a Clinton White House, should Hillary win in 2016.

Charlie Crist was a decent governor by the relatively low standards of Florida, which hasn't seen a good governor since Bob Graham (1979-1987).  The state has been in a free fall ever since, but of course you would never know it to hear Republicans talk, who have ruled the state since 1999, when they were able to overcome the last Democratic governor, Lawton Chiles, better known as the Prozac governor for those who still remember him.  He passed away shortly before the end of his second term, bequeathing his seat to Buddy MacKay, who proved no match for Jeb Bush's political machine in the next election cycle.

I'm sure Charlie will find other things to do.  Probably become a lobbyist, as so many former governors and Congresspersons do.  It's not like we will really miss him, but given the shameless nature of Rick Scott and the current GOP, Charlie Crist seems a very respectable guy by comparison.  He just shouldn't have hugged the President.



Monday, May 25, 2015

Tomatoland




I remember reading Summer Lightning some years back about an old man and a boy growing up in Depression-era South Florida, not much unlike Huck Finn and Injun Joe.  In this case, the two had come across a bunch of crates of tomatoes piled up in a barn that seemed to be allowed to go rotten, so the two proceeded to eat as many of the juicy fruits as they could, until someone caught them and the old man, Mr. McCree, found himself faced with charges for trespassing and theft.  Young Terry was only 6 years old.  Of course, the old man was eventually acquitted and the tomato plantation owner revealed to be nothing more than an evil tyrant.

My mother and I had tried to grow tomatoes in Northwest Florida, but they came out rather salty being so close to the beach.  As Barry Estabrook describes in his book, Tomatoland, on the tomato industry in Florida, the soil simply isn't right for tomatoes.  What you have instead is a year-round climate that allows for the mass cultivation of tomatoes, picked green, gassed in the freight trucks to a sickly light rose color and delivered to supermarkets around the country come winter, when most of America's fields are in hibernation.

I had first heard of this gassing process from a high school friend, who had become a truck driver bringing in tomatoes from Mexico.  Florida farmers aren't the only culprits here, but Mr. Estabrook focuses on the Sunshine State, long noted for its questionable environmental and safety regulations.  He provides historical snapshots, including tomatoes being cultivated by the Aztecs who came up with the first salsa, apparently adding body parts to give it more flavor.  The Aztecs were a gruesome lot, but not as gruesome as the conditions many migrant farmers face in the town of Immokalee, which has become "Tomato Central."

South central Florida has had any number of dubious distinctions over the decades. The conditions in Immokalee aren't much better than in Mexico, which has led to workers trying to organize themselves into a coalition for better pay and health care.  Estawood provides of litany of infractions that would make most persons cringe, but the tomato syndicates are able to get away with it because of the low cost to consumers.

The odd thing is that tomatoes are one of the prized garden fruits (or vegetables depending on how you look at them).  Yet, we are willing to give up taste for price at the local supermarket for these "hard, tasteless, uniform green balls" that can survive an impact of 60 mph  off a truck.  According to Estawood, any attempt to grow a better tomato is met with condemnation from the Florida Tomato Committee.

Old Mr. McCree wouldn't have stood a chance against this all-powerful committee.  One can only hope that Estawood's book calls attention to plight of Immokalee workers and others migrant workers being abused around the country.

Image from Little Feat's album, Waiting for Columbus.


Sunday, May 24, 2015

That's right, Kevin. You don't have to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance



Another Memorial Day is upon us and if you have a facebook account, I'm sure you've seen a steady stream of memes commemorating our men and women in uniform.  One of my favorites is this one about little Kevin who apparently doesn't understand the meaning of the Pledge of Allegiance.  This kind of "shaming" is not unusual.

Apparently, a lot of schools do make their students stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, resulting in a growing sense of resentment and outrage among parents and students, particularly those who object to the line, "one Nation under God" which was amended to the pledge in 1954.  The idea that we live in a plural secular society seems lost on a great number of people, who see public schools as a way of inculcating what they believe to be American "values."

The "Pledge" was not formally adopted by Congress until 1942, during time of war when many felt Americans had to show their loyalty to the nation.  Initially, it was conceived as a way of commemorating the 400th anniversary of Columbus discovering America for a children's magazine, The Youth's Companion.  It was written by Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister, who chose not to include any religious reference.


It wasn't long before you saw images like this one in elementary schools across the country.  The problem with forcing kids to recite a pledge or do anything against their will is that it breeds resentment, not loyalty, particularly if a kid feels he has been shamed into it.   There is already too much peer pressure and bullying in high schools.  If you want children to understand the role wars have had in shaping this country you do so in history class, not turn them into little "pioneers" reciting national pledges and passages from the Bible, which seems to be what religious conservatives in this country would like to see done in schools.

This Memorial Day it would be nice to see a more somber note of reflection for the men and women who died serving this country in combat, remembering that this holiday was born out of the aftermath of the Civil War, with the intent of healing a divided nation.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to Israel I go




It seems that for every Republican presidential candidate it is a prerequisite to visit Israel.  They've all gone over in recent months, including Ben Carson, who apparently made quite an ass of himself, showing a blissful ignorance of the region, including the time span of Islam, charting it back to the Old Testament.

Now, we have Scott Walker fresh from his "listening tour" of the Holy Lands, excluding the Palestinian territories.  He even managed to book a date with Bibi Netanyahu, pledging his unequivocal support of his government.

Like all the other candidates, Walker believes that the President is letting Israel down, and that we need to reaffirm our relationship with the country.  I guess he didn't take time to read of the current infighting in the Knesset, where Bibi just barely was able to cobble a coalition of religious right wing parties and the Likud together.  It is not Obama who is openly critical of Netanyahu, it is his own country, and for good reason.

Back in March, Bibi drove a wedge in the politics of the nation by urging religious conservatives to come out to vote as the liberal parties were bringing Israeli Arabs to the polls in bus loads.  He later apologized for this inflammatory rhetoric but the damage was done.   It took Bibi all the way up to the 11th hour and 59th minute to get the 61 seats in the Knesset he needed, which few believe will hold together.

Yet, Walker, like all the GOP candidates, tells us every chance he gets that it is Obama who is inflaming tensions in the region.  The Republicans have made the President into a straw man for everything that is wrong in the world, and continue to present the notion that the biggest single threat to the United States is ISIS, refusing to acknowledge the chain of events that lead to this radical new terrorist group.

Scott Walker has gone a step further than his rivals, vowing pre-emptive strikes if elected President to prevent these existential threats.  He missed the sad irony in giving this inflammatory speech in Oklahoma City, where the Alfred P. Murrah Building was bombed by homegrown religious extremists 20 years ago.  Instead, he revives the Bush Doctrine, no doubt as a result of the support he has garnered from hard line factions in the GOP.  Walker has zero foreign policy experience, much less tact.



The trip to Israel was designed to give him some kind of "street cred" among Republican faithful.  This was also true for Carson and Christie and Huckabee, who have all made the pilgrimage.  Christie cut quite a profile on his 2012 visit.  Being governors and neurosurgeons doesn't make you privy to White House or Congressional foreign policy briefings.  These guys garner no more of what is going on in the world than we do scanning the headlines.  Yet, to a man they think that having made this trip they are eminently qualified to lead the nation on the global stage.

What we get is the kind of bellicose rhetoric you would hear from any religious conservative spouting off on facebook or some other chat group, hoping to get "likes" from an all too gullible audience.  We went through this before with George W. Bush, and we all saw where that got us.  I would hope voters, even conservative voters, would be more circumspect today.


Thursday, May 21, 2015

So long, Dave, and thanks for all the fish


What do we do now?

The one-time iconoclast is now being treated like royalty as he ends his 33-year run of Late Night television.  With over 6000 episodes under his belt, he officially gets the title of "Iron Man" having beaten Johnny Carson by a mile in terms of endurance.  But, for all the accolades, Letterman was neither original nor all that funny.  In fact, most of the time he was just downright annoying, especially the way he treated his guests.

How many times did he make Terry Garr undress on his show?  Well beyond the point it was clear she was uncomfortable in the role  Tina Fey seemed all too happy to revive this antic during the last week of his run, albeit looking more like a Romanian weightlifter.   

Guests were foils for Letterman's antics.  Some gladly played into them, like Bill Murray.  Others seemed to squirm and grow visibly agitated.   Occasionally, a guest would beat Letterman at his own game, like Harmony Korine, whose three appearances on the Late Show are considered classics.  For once, it was Letterman who was uncomfortable, unable to get what he wanted out of the precocious talent.  Dave later claimed that the reason for the ban he placed on Korine was that he caught the young upstart rifling through Meryl Streep's purse back stage.

Letterman became ever more condescending as his ratings rose.  Still, he longed for Johnny Carson's time slot so that he could reach an even bigger audience, only to find himself taken down a peg when Jay Leno was tapped to succeed "Carnac the Magnificent."  However, CBS was only too happy to take Letterman off NBC's hands, giving him the time slot he coveted, opposite his new late night rival.

The styles couldn't be more different.  Leno gave his guests space, to the point that they even took over his shows at times.  Robin Williams had a field day one night, getting everyone, including Jay and Harry Connick Jr, involved in his antics.  Letterman would have never allowed a guest that kind of license, because ultimately everything about the Late Show was about himself.

What Letterman was good at was gimmicks like his Velcro suit, Stupid Pet Tricks, his Top Ten lists and odd recurring characters like Bud Melman.  There were some gems in there, but like everything else about his show, they grew stale quickly.  We just tend to remember our favorites.

It's not easy keeping a show going so long.  Letterman seemed at the end of his rope in 1999.  He underwent quintuple bypass surgery on his heart in 2000 and seemed to gain a new lease on life.  You figure he had Johnny Carson's late night record in the back of his mind, and as long as CBS was willing to pay him 8 figures, why not?  He made a quick recovery and enjoyed a good run the last decade.  But, with the rise of Conan O'Brien, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon, Letterman was no longer relevant.  Much like Carson in his last decade, when he pretty much turned over the show to guest hosts like Letterman himself.

Say cheese, Dave

Dave's biggest boost came last April, when he announced his retirement and CBS pegged Stephen Colbert to take over his show.  All of the sudden, everyone became interested in Letterman again.  This last week has been an orgy of guests and musicians, capped off by an overlong final episode that featured everyone who is anyone in the entertainment industry, and even the President himself.

It was far more than Letterman ever deserved, but after 33 years he has become an icon and icons apparently now warrant respect.  There he was in 2012 along side Led Zeppelin, Dustin Hoffman, Buddy Guy and Natalia Makarova being honored at Kennedy Center, just like Johnny Carson 20 years before.

I don't think it will take Stephen Colbert long to make us forget David Letterman.  While he too is about himself, it is in a much more self-deprecating way that we can all enjoy.   I just hope that Dave doesn't get it into his head to mount a comeback when he gets bored with retirement. 


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Riding with the King




Psychedelic Rock and Blues seemed like a strange combination, but it became the norm in the 60s, with many Blues musicians playing along side Psychedelic musicians, or vice-versa depending on your point of view.  Here is a recording of B.B. King playing with Jimi Hendrix at the Generation Club in NYC in 1968.  A lot of Psychedelic guitarists moonlighted as Blues musicians like Jorma Kaukonen of Jefferson Airplane, offering up songs like Hesitation Blues.

After Cream had reached its peak in the late 60s, Eric Clapton went back to Blues-based ballads and formed a life-long relationship with B.B. King, capped by the wonderful album, Riding with the King.  Many felt that relationships like this kept Blues alive, but the music was never going away.  It is the most identifiable American music, and immensely popular the world over.

When Ry Cooder teamed up with Ali Farka Toure in the 1990s, many thought that the Malian musician was playing a form of the Blues, and were surprised to learn that these were traditional ballads from his home country.  The late great Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown was part of this collaborative album, Talking Timbuktu.  Martin Scorsese explored this musical bridge in his documentary Blues: A Musical Journey with Correy Harris serving as host.

B.B. King has received the lion's share of attention over the years, but so many great musicians have come and gone including my favorite, John Lee Hooker, who gave us many memorable songs, like One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer, which never seems to grow old.

It is hard for us to imagine anyone filling these legends' shoes, but there are young musicians keeping the music going.  Some returning to the roots, like the Carolina Chocolate Drops.  Blues grew out of the negro jigs and minstrel shows of the 19th century, eventually shaped into the music we are most familiar with by immortal musicians like Leadbelly.  Each region had its own indigenous form, but it is the Mississippi Delta Blues that became the standard by the mid-20th century, personified in Robert Johnson.

Thanks to the tireless effort of Moe Asch many of these early songs were recorded and became a part of the American discography at Smithsonian Folkways.

This is the sound that would shape the music of Eric Clapton, Robert Plant and other Rock musicians.  Led Zeppelin did a wonderful variation of Memphis Minnie's 1929 classic, When the Levee Breaks.  She was one of the great vocalist of her era, along with Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith.

Blues is living history.  The songs have been passed down from one generation to the next for the last two centuries.  For many, B.B. King personified the Blues.  He was able to enjoy a stellar career, along with the royalties that came with it.  Most Blues musicians saw little of the revenue their songs generated, often dying in poverty, with their ballads resurrected by later musicians.  B.B. was one of the few to enjoy the fruits of his labors, honored at Kennedy Center in 1995, and again by President Obama in 2011, making him the undisputed King of the Blues.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

No need to fear, Underdog is here



Look up in the air!  It's a bird.  It's a plane.  It's a frog.  A frog?  No, it's Lindsey Graham!

Yes, that's right folks, Lindsey Graham is running for President because the "world is falling apart."  He is only polling a miniscule one per cent in GOP presidential straw polls, but not to worry Underdog is here to save us from the evil forces confronting us in this crumbling world.

Lindsey has been sounding the alarm for some time now, firmly believing that ISIS may kill us all.  That's why he plans to send no less than 10,000 troops into Iraq, if elected Commander-in-Chief, to rid us of this pernicious threat once and for all.  Uber-Lindsey doesn't think the Iraq War was a mistake, saying, "at the end of the day, I blame President Obama for the mess in Iraq and Syria, not President Bush."  Are you listening, Jeb?

It is easy to dismiss Lindsey's candidacy as a joke, as he is seen as little more than a fringe figure in the Republican Party.  But, that's the way many felt about Rick Santorum last time around and he ended up winning 11 states and nearly 4 million votes, a whopping 20 per cent of the GOP electorate.  In a much more crowded field this election year, Lindsey would be in the hunt with numbers like that.  The only question is whether the Republican electorate will embrace this rather effeminate man who is now projecting himself as a super hero.

My guess is not, but that shouldn't stop Lindsey from running.  The more the merrier I say.  It's looking like a new season of Survivor with all these candidates. Reince Priebus will have to split these presidential wannabes into "tribes" to accommodate a field that could be as many as 30 candidates, looking at this GOP straw poll.

If it is any help, Lindsey Graham appears to have Sheldon Adelson in his corner, who has pledged $100 million this election cycle.  Of course, Sheldon backed Newt Gingrich last time around and he didn't get very far, only managing to win two states, Georgia and South Carolina.  Still, Lindsey's home state is one of the first primaries, so he should get a leg up early in the race, and maybe more money will pour into his campaign, if Jeb doesn't score well among early Republican voters.

In the meantime, we will continue to see a lot of posturing on the part of the GOP presidential candidates. This is what Lindsey does best, so he should manage to keep himself in the news.  Good luck, Underdog!

Monday, May 18, 2015

That Giant Sucking Sound




Like the Republicans wrestling over the "hypothetical question" of what they would have done if they had been in Dubya's shoes back in 2003 in regard to Iraq, Democrats find themselves wrestling over what they would have done if they had been in Bubba's shoes back in 1993 when he signed the North American Free Trade Agreement, more commonly known as NAFTA, into law with broad Congressional support.

The current Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, has been unfavorably compared to NAFTA.  Democrats have come down hard on the free trade agreement being proposed by the Obama administration.  One of the harshest critics is Robert Reich, who was Bill Clinton's Secretary of Labor back in 1993.  I guess if he knew then what he knows now, he would have never gone along with NAFTA, like so many Democrats anxious to create a greater North American trade union.

It was Ross Perot who likened NAFTA to a giant sucking sound drawing away jobs from the United States.  The AFL-CIO estimates that 700,000 manufacturing base jobs have been lost over the last 20 years.  It had been a bill first floated by George H.W. Bush at the end of his administration and embraced by the Clinton administration, ushering the new age of "globalization."  To be fair, what we lost in manufacturing jobs, we have more than made up in service-related jobs, but for a nation that so long prided itself on its manufacturing spirit, this trade agreement has gutted the traditional blue collar labor force in America.

Hillary Clinton finds herself in a similar situation to Jeb Bush in that she has to draw a line of distinction between herself and her husband.  So far, she has been non-committal on the subject, calling for a "time-out" on new accords until the impact of these trade agreements can be fully evaluated.  This was pretty much the same answer she gave when asked her position on the legalization of marijuana.


Bernie has made no bones about where he stands on the TPP, saying that this is nothing more than a tool of the "billionaire class" to fully subject us to low wages, poor environmental and health regulations.  Basically, echoing the same sentiments as Ross Perot back in 1992.

I have to admit it was kind of suspicious to see President Obama using Nike as the backdrop for his sales pitch on the TPP.  Nike is one of the biggest culprits in taking advantage of weak trade policies to outsource its labor, but Barry says that if Americans think these low skill manufacturing jobs are coming back to America, we are hopelessly naive.   The President has said it is more important to protect our "intellectual property" and service-related jobs, which we consider ourselves so good at.

The United States has long shifted toward service-related jobs and Americans seem comfortable having production outsourced to developing countries, as long as they get their "everyday low prices" at Walmart.  Naomi Klein noted in No Logo that these American companies do not operate directly with developing countries, but rather sign contracts with local producers in these countries, freeing them of any liability in the manufacturing process.  Some of us would think this gives American companies a greater profit margin, but Nike would like us to believe it allows them to focus more on R&D and marketing back in the States.

Even curiouser is that you see very few Republicans coming out against this trade agreement.  In fact, Barry, Mitch and Boehner all seem to be on the same page on this one, which makes you wonder what the hell is going on here.  Truthout has gone so far as to label Obama a Trojan Horse President for pushing what looks like a Republican trade bill.  After all, isn't that what NAFTA was until the Democrats co-opted it as their own?

None of us really know for sure what is in this trade agreement, since it is subject to a level of secrecy that has frustrated the mainstream media determined to see what lies at the core of the TPP.  Our President says he is fighting for concessions on the part of Japan, South Korea and the Indochinese republics that would open doors to increase American exports to these countries.  Barry insists the TPP will level the playing field, which to this point has been heavily slanted in favor of Asia.  We shouldn't be thinking along the lines of NAFTA.


Given we have so little to go on other than cheat sheets provided by the Washington Post and New York Times, pardon us if we do compare the TPP to NAFTA.  It may not be the "giant sucking sound" that Ross Perot or Bernie Sanders would lead us to believe, but I think many of the fears being expressed are genuine and that if Obama wants to bring more Democrats on board, he better make a better sales pitch, otherwise it just sounds like a promotion for Nike.


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Jeb misspeaks ... again




Things are getting kind of squirrely on the campaign trail.  At first Jeb gave his unconditional support for Brother George on the Iraq War, saying he would have done the same in his position.  However, Brother Jeb backed away a little after being pressed on the issue, and by the end of the week had turned 180 degrees and said he would not have gone to war with Iraq, having issued his fourth statement on the subject in a matter of days.  You have to wonder what George feels, but if anyone should know, all's fair in war and politics.

Jeb would have been best to follow Lindsey Graham's lead and blame the whole thing on Obama for "coitus interruptus."  Lindsey remains unabashed in his defense of the Iraq War, saying that while Dubya mades some mistakes, Obama leaving Iraq was the biggest mistake of all.  Graham believes that we should have maintained our military position in Iraq, even if military advisers supported full withdrawal.

Dear Lindsey refuses to concede that Obama is battling ISIS with continued air strikes and the joint ground forces of Iraq and Iran.  It's the Iran part that troubles Graham the most, as he would like to put military pressure on Iran to abandon its nuclear program.  It's kind of hard to do when we are allowing Iran to help stabilize Iraq.

Ted Cruz is having nothing to do with the war.  He wasn't around to vote on the war resolution back in 2003, not that he votes on much else in Congress.  As far as he is concerned, we came, we saw, we conquered, and whatever mess remains behind is Obama's mess.

As we saw in Texas it is very convenient to have these existential threats to stir up the conservative base.  We seem to have a great number of existential threats these days.  There is a firmly held belief among the religious conservative electorate that their Christian beliefs are under attack from all sides.  We have ISIS crawling under the border of Texas, according to Rick Perry.  The LGBT community forcing their beliefs on poor Christian bakers to hear Mike Huckabee.  Russia is once again exerting its influence, much to the chagrin of John McCain.  Last but least, the greatly exaggerated threat of an Obama imperial reign. So it goes.

Sadly, Iraq just won't go away, and poor Jeb stuck his foot into his mouth and has yet to unlodge it.  Of course, he wants to defend his brother, who is actively supporting his bid for President, but the reality of the situation, as George expressed himself, the "intelligence proved false."  It doesn't matter at this point that the intelligence was false to begin with, as there was no evidence of weapons in mass destruction in Iraq before, during or after the invasion, but it gives George a convenient way out of his decision.

Most Republicans want to put the blame on Obama for the insurrection currently taking place in Iraq, refusing to accept that he simply followed through on the withdrawal plan conceived and begun in the last quarter of Bush's tenure.  Robert Gates was kept on as Secretary of Defense for this expressed purpose, although he too would now like to claim he wanted to leave some small American force in place in case something like ISIS kicked up, but naturally was overruled by President.

Everyone knew that rebellions would take place given that Iraq has long been a battleground of Islamic sects, but civilian and military advisers all felt that the Iraqi military had the means and logistical support necessary to repress these insurrections.   After all, the Iraqi military forces had over 10 years of intense training. Unfortunately, the "intelligence" community didn't count on the weak-kneed response from the Iraqi President, who seemed to be waiting for US troops to come back to fight these civil battles for them.

I don't think the Republican electorate understands the complexity of the situation, as Rick Grennel opined.  Most Americans just want Iraq to go away.  They've already pushed Afghanistan out of their heads, even though we still have a small force in place.  The operation is now called Resolute Force, with about 13,000 NATO troops still stationed inside Afghanistan, half of which are American soldiers.

What this little episode with Jeb showed is that the Republican candidates are woefully deficient when it comes to Foreign Policy, even the brother of a former president who has access to the very same advisers, including Paul Wolfowitz.  The only problem is that Wolfie is no apologist for the war.  He too remains fully supportive of the invasion.


This doesn't bode well for Jeb as it looks to anyone on the outside that he would bring back pretty much the same administration of his brother.  I don't think anyone is ready for The Bush Dynasty, Part III.




Wednesday, May 13, 2015

History distilled




Nothing I enjoy more than a good bourbon.  I stumbled across this bottle the other day in the vynoteka, as they call liquor stores here in Lithuania, and have to say I was very impressed.  Woodford Reserve had the full body taste of a Kentucky whiskey but was smooth as silk.  It was so good that the bottle was the first to go at my wife's birthday celebration, and I had to go back the next day and buy another bottle for myself.

The distillery don't go much into its history on its website, but it has been around for quite a while.  I guess they feel that the whiskey speaks for itself.  I did find some more information on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail website, which noted that Woodford Reserve dates back to 1797 when Elijah Pepper began distilling in Woodford County, and that the distillery is a national landmark, as well it should be.  Not surprised that it is the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby, which was run last weekend.

I imagine it makes for a fine mint julep, but I like my whiskey neat, swirling it around in a snifter so that I can get the full aroma.  Bourbons have such a rich intoxicating smell, but can taste a bit harsh if not blended with rye.  By law, a Bourbon has to be at least 51 per cent corn. The rest is up to the distiller.  It is the corn that gives a sweetness to the smell, but it is not very smooth to the taste.

The minimum age is a short three months, but the longer you let the bourbon age the more the flavors come together, including the oak from the fresh cut barrels.  But, you don't see age distinctions as you do on Scottish whiskeys.  For the record Woodford Reserve is aged an average of 7.3 years.

With the Internet today there isn't much need for guidebooks or history books on the subject, but there is a new title, Bourbon Empire, which has received favorable reviews.  Bourbon was in danger a few decades back as Americans had become enamored with Single Malts and other fine Scottish and Irish whiskeys, but since then a revival has taken place and Bourbon is doing well with a great number of small batch distillers springing up all over Kentucky and Tennessee, as in the days of old.  Reid Mitenbuler tries to guide you along the Bourbon Trail so that you won't get suckered in by a fancy bottle, as all too often marketing tricks trump the quality of the whiskey.

However, I can say without reservation that you can't go wrong with Woodford Reserve, and if the distillery would like to send me a select bottle of Double Oaked for this glowing review I would greatly appreciate it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

What a tangled web we weave




The biggest appeal of House of Cards is that it reduces politics to its basest level, even to the point of murder to cover a messy trail.  This is how most people see politics, which is why it is so easy to invent conspiracy theories and have so many persons believe in them.

It's nice to see that in the third season of House of Cards, Claire Underwood appears to have discovered her moral center and no longer is playing the game as set by her husband Francis.  The all too obvious allusions to the Clinton White House abound in this television series, right down to the mysterious death of Vince Foster, which was played out in the first season in the death of Peter Russo.  With Francis having wormed his way into the oval office, Claire is no longer content to play second fiddle, demanding the position of US Ambassador to the United Nations, echoing to some degree Hillary's rise to Secretary of State.  Things didn't turn out too well for Claire, much as was the case with Hillary, who still has the cloud of Benghazi hanging over her.  But, Claire was able to find solace, and seems to have decided that honesty is the best policy so we think that Hillary too is a changed woman and will pursue the Presidency with noble minded intentions.

Our society has become a two-way mirror of reality and artifice, each reflecting the other in the form of television.  This is where we see fact and fiction played out, often seamlessly woven into each other so that it becomes increasingly harder to separate the two.  You have the all too obvious Fox News, but the other leading television news channels aren't much better, which is why many of us turned to The Colbert Report and The Daily Show for our "news."  Best to have it filtered through the screen of satirical television where at least we can enjoy a good laugh.

House of Cards is of course fiction, based on a British television show from the immediate post-Thatcher era by the same name.  During the first two seasons, the Netflix series pretty much followed the same script, but given its success found it had to expand on the story and so we see a more philosophical Francis Underwood trying to make something good out of the office he gained by every hook and crook imaginable.  He's become a Machiavellian Mr. Smith, holding his fractured personality together by a force of will only Kevin Spacey can pull off.  Claire is still the ice queen but if there is any good to come out of this tangled web of deceit it is through her, not Francis.

That was much the way I felt about Bill and Hillary, which I guess is why I find myself hoping that Hillary has learned something from all these years in Washington that puts her in a position to do something positive the next four years that none of the other candidates, including the venerable Bernie Sanders, could never hope to achieve.  The only problem is that her past may come back to haunt her during the campaign, as she will be under much more scrutiny than she ever was before.

Washington is a cynical world and if you want to get anything done you have to be willing to horse trade, engage in parlor tricks and make some unsavory compromises you will most definitely later regret.  No one is above it, not even Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, which the liberal wing of the Democratic Party now views as its patron saints.

Hillary will never achieve this kind of sainthood, because her past has been dredged up over and over again.  The best she can hope for is a political form of absolution in which her electorate is willing to forgive her and will see her as the only one available who can actually carry out the reforms it so badly wants in Washington.  It's going to be a long road, but if Hillary is any bit like Claire she will find a way to make it.



Sunday, May 10, 2015

Give me that old time religion




I have to wonder about a candidate that keeps calling the President a psychopath.  In this case a psychopathic liar.  I hate to break it to the good doctor but the official unemployment rate is 5.5 per cent.  Now, you can argue about the metrics and claim that the real unemployment rate is much higher since so many persons are no longer counted.  But, this is the same measuring stick used for decades.  The same standard existed under the previous President, so was George W. Bush also "lying like a psychopath" when he pointed to a low unemployment rate during much of his administration?

It is odd, to say the least, to find someone with so much scorn for the President.  Even Joe Wilson didn't go this far, when he shouted "You Lie" during Obama's health care speech back in 2009.  Rep. Wilson even apologized afterward.  However, you won't hear Ben Carson apologizing.

The closest Dr. Ben comes is to admit he has an anger management problem.  Maybe Barack Obama reminds him of that classmate he stabbed back in a Detroit high school, bringing out the worst emotions in him, which he has struggled so hard to contain on his rise to the top of the medical profession.  Now retired, and running for the Republican nominee for President, Carson no longer seems to feel he has to check those emotions, free to say whatever he feels on the campaign trail, or at lunch with CNBC correspondent John Harwood.

However, the Republican Party as a whole seems to have an anger management problem today, unable to check its emotions at the door, easily subject to tirades when members don't get what they want.  Case in point, Tom Cotton's recent temper-tantrum over being shut down over an amendment he tried to introduce to the controversial Senate bill regarding the ongoing Iran negotiations.  Marco Rubio wasn't happy either, because his amendment to make Iran recognize Israel was also scuttled.

But, Ben Carson is free of all these nasty insider politics.  He's a man truly from the outside of the establishment.  What does he have to be so angry about?

This is a man who was not only feted by President Bush, but was invited to a national prayer breakfast by President Obama.  As it turned out, this proved to be the good doctor's watershed moment, as he attacked the President straight to his face, much to the delight of religious conservatives who were anxious to have someone stand up for their values.  He has been the Tea Party favorite ever since.  It doesn't matter that virtually all the other candidates have echoed the same sentiments, but coming from a highly regarded neurosurgeon, and dare I say Black man, these attacks obviously carry much more weight among the religious right wing of the GOP.

You really have to wonder how Dr. Ben Carson plans to bring the country together if he is essentially condemning half the population for being out of step with Christian values he promotes at every turn.  To him, just like many others on the Religious Right, our country wasn't established on Enlightenment principles, but rather on religious values.   These right wing ideologues hark back to the early days of the Puritians and John Winthrop's much overused "City upon a Hill" speech back in 1630.  Winthrop was referring to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, but Republicans view it as the nation as a whole.  For guys like Dr. Ben it is like the Enlightenment never took place.



Maybe all this hate stems back to that time as well, as these early Christian soldiers weren't very forgiving, imposing a Biblical set of laws in 1641 that were severe, to say the least.  The dogma and utter viciousness of these fundamentalists eventually led to the revocation of its royal charter.  No matter, the colony no longer recognized the authority of the King anyway.

Today, we see a large group of religious hotheads similarly refusing to recognize the authority of the President, and even the Supreme Court if it doesn't rule in its favor.  Many of these fundamentalists retreat into the hills of Georgia or mountains of Idaho, building their survivalist communities, as they believe firmly that the End Times are upon us.  Others, like Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee, tap into these rebellious sentiments with the hope that it will carry them through the Republican primaries.  They simply refuse to accept the pluralist society we live in, and for some they would like to impose these religious values on the nation.

Dr. Ben Carson should know better, but it seems he is so steeped in his faith that he can no longer see beyond it, reverting to the same dogma that eventually did the Massachusetts Bay Colony in.  For him, President Obama represents everything that is wrong in the world, and so he directs all this deep-seated hatred at him every chance he gets.  He will probably never get another opportunity to say these things to his face, but will use every opportunity to repeat them, as he considers himself a "Christian soldier."

When you hear guys like Huckabee equating abortions with the Holocaust, or Carson calling "Obamacare" the worst thing since slavery, you really have to wonder what direction they plan on taking this country?  Do they really want to take us back to the early 17th century to that "Shining City Upon a Hill?"

Friday, May 8, 2015

Best Years of Our Lives




This being V-E Day, I thought it would be nice to remember our troops from World War II through one of the best movies made in their honor, The Best Years of Our Lives.  Unlike the many other war films of the era, William Wyler chose to deal with the aftermath of the war and how difficult it was for many of these former soldiers to readjust to civilian life.

As Bosley Crowther wrote in a review from 1946, the film "honestly and sensitively images the terrible loneliness of the man who has been hurt -- hurt not only physically but in the deep recesses of his self-esteem."  Most veterans got past these anxieties and adjusted to everyday life, but many fell through the cracks of society, as we have seen with each war.  Just as importantly, the film deals with the women in these former GIs' lives.

As we look at a united Europe today, we can say that the soldiers and the many, many civilians who died during this brutal war did not do so in vain.


Thursday, May 7, 2015

Operation Red Dawn




Leave it to Texas to turn a seemingly simple military training exercise into a coup attempt.  Greg "Wheels" Abbott is not even six months on the job and he panicked, going with a story broke by Alex Jones on Infowars to call on the state militia to protect the Great State of Texas against presumed invaders from the North -- the U.S. Army.  One can understand Alex getting his panties in a wad, but as governor you would think Greg Abbott wouldn't fall for such paranoid nonsense.

Instead, we see Operation Red Dawn, a massive mobilization of state militia groups, only loosely affiliated with Texas.  These are private armies under the cover of the second amendment, which as a Texan I think you would be far more worried about than the U.S. Army, which is actually answerable to someone.  Of course, in this case it is the President, which is what got conservative Texans all lathered up, thinking Obama was overthrowing their state government and imposing a military junta.

It wasn't just Texas.  The US Army released a map in which it showed the locations of its training sites in the Southwest, showing Texas and Utah as "hostile" territories.  Lt. Col. Mark Lastoria had to brief residents in Bastrop, Texas, to insure them this was not a military coup.  However, Sen. Ted Cruz put in a call to the Pentagon just to make sure everything was on the up and up.

One of the lone conservative voices of reason in the State of Texas was former Governor Rick Perry, who told his fellow Texans to "stop being insane."  I imagine he had a few harsh words for his buddy "Wheels" for acting the way he did. but maybe Greg was just helping out his former boss, giving him the opportunity to look "Presidential."  After all, Rick is trailing pretty far behind in the GOP presidential straw polls.

Another possibility is that "Wheels" may have just been checking the preparedness of his state militia forces.  Apparently, they have been under the supervision of Chuck Norris, Texas Ranger, who was ready to mobilize his units at a moment's notice.

Of course, these groups are itching for any opportunity to brandish their weapons.  Just last year, the Oathkeepers were out in full force to protect Brother Cliven Bundy when the Bureau of Land Management had the audacity to confiscate his cattle after he had refused to pay grazing fees for 21 years.  Old Cliven claimed the BLM had no jurisdiction in Nevada.  That wasn't how the state courts saw it, but no matter, the BLM was forced to stand down, endearing Bundy and the Oathkeepers to conservatives across the nation.

You can never be too vigilant.  No matter how much we love our troops, until they are honorably discharged they still serve the federal government and are subject to the caprices of a socialist President who would love nothing more than to impose his will on the nation.  At least that is the way Greg Abbott and Ted Cruz see it.  Cruz even went so far to say that President Obama is responsible for this unrest, accusing the White House of not being "trustworthy" and that this kind of paranoia is "the natural consequence."

It will certainly make for a good movie script.  Red Dawn was remade in 2012, this time with a North Korean invasion in the Pacific Northwest, but I don't think many persons remember it.  What Americans seem to fear most is the enemy within.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

I ♥ Huckabee




Back in 2008, when Huck first ran for President, I kind of liked him.  He had a sense of humor, which was sorely lacking in McCain, Romney and Giuliani, and seemed to be a decent guy underneath his evangelical message.  The former Arkansas governor seized on the "moral majority" vote that had made Pat Robertson a serious contender in the 1988 election.  Huckabee carried 8 states and won over 4 million votes in the Republican primaries, undercutting Mitt's challenge to Mackie by half.

For some odd reason Huck sat out 2012, opening the field to a slough of Bible thumpers, who pretty much canceled each other out.  It looks like it is going to be the same thing again in 2016 as Huck finds himself among a crowded field all vying for the evangelical vote that makes up about 60 per cent of the Republican electorate.  His biggest challenge will probably be Dr. Ben Carson, who is a favorite among the religious right wing, although utterly humorless.

Can Huck find that same magic he found in 2008?  He has been busily promoting his new book, God, Guns, Grits and Gravy, on the talk show circuit, including The Daily Show, where he continued to show off some of his trademark humor.  However, he no longer is as tolerant as he appeared to be 8 years ago, sounding off on what he regards to be the promiscuous nature of contemporary women, worst personified in Beyonce.

Huck can essentially kiss the women's vote goodbye, as he also attacked the women of Fox news for not being ladylike.  If this is his strategy, it isn't a very sound one, as the redneck vote in the Republican Party isn't going to carry you very far beyond the southern states.

It seems Huck has some other reason to be running for President than to win.  He was a relative nobody in 2008, who managed to tap into the religious conservative base of the party, parlaying that into a spot on Fox News, numerous appearances on other networks and conservative gatherings, and books.  He has no less than ten titles to his credit listed on amazon, including two on the conservative meaning of Christmas, one aimed at children.  They've all been greatly discounted, some titles for as little as a penny in case you are interested.  Not bad for a boy from Hope, Arkansas.  This is how he lives now.

Huck doesn't have to use any of his money to run.  He has a Super PAC called Pursuing America's Greatness, which he launched on Fox News.  Rather, his supporters launched it and he just spoke about it, as he is supposed to be unaffiliated with it.  It's a clever ruse, which Stephen Colbert parodied last time around with his own Super PAC.  It allows a candidate to have an unlimited amount of contributions to be raised in his name with little or no scrutiny.  The political action committee doesn't even have to disclose who the contributors are.

For the next two years, Huck can go around the country charming the religious conservative electorate with his stories about BB guns, and how it is impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible, to paraphrase George Washington.  Win or lose, Huck gets all this wonderful exposure on someone else's nickel.  I don't know why more persons don't run for President. It's an effective publicity tool.  At the end of the campaign, he can parlay it into his own television network, I ♥ Huckabee, and give Glenn Beck a run for his money.