Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A Good Day to Die

Jim Harrison may be the best writer no one ever heard of.  Except for his novella, Legends of the Fall, which was made into a movie with Anthony Hopkins and Brad Pitt, it is doubtful few would know him at all.  His first full length novel Wolf was laughably turned into a werewolf movie starring Jack Nicholson, as I guess a young man trying to find himself in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan didn't suit Hollywood.

Legends was reportedly based on actual journals, but it struck me as a thinly veiled portrait of Rough Rider Teddy Roosevelt and his three sons, the youngest similarly dying in WWI due to poor vision.  It was easily adaptable into a film, but as a novel was rather weak.  Harrison improved considerably in his later efforts, notably Wolf and Sundog, both of which I enjoyed very much.

He kind of disappeared from the scene after the theatrical versions of his novels, content it seems to write poetry at his reclusive Arizona ranch.  Always an outdoorman, he preferred to commute with nature rather than his fellow man, but Iain Sinclair tracked him down in American Smoke, as Harrison once ran with the Beats.

His style was more in the mold of Wallace Stegner, a hero to him, whose work he would often quote.  Harrison's West was pretty broad, he set novels in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Nebraska, Montana and other locations.  His men were strong without being self-serving.  There was usually a muse, but she would be strong-willed too, as was the case in Sundog.  In Dalva, he devoted his novel to a half-Indian woman, with very much the same strength as his male protagonists.

In all, he had some 30 novels to his credit but poetry remained his passion.  Philip Caputo found Harrison on the floor of his Arizona home with pen in hand and an unfinished poem on the desk.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The United States of Trump

Apparently Donald felt he wasn't getting fair treatment in the press and chose to sit down with the editorial board at the Washington Post for a wide ranging 60-minute interview that will leave you speechless.  The full transcript is attached so if you can't stand to look at him you can read what he had to say on what would be his policy as POTUS.

To WaPo's credit, they avoided editorial comment, pretty much going where Donald wanted to go on the subjects since he evaded any form of direct questioning on foreign and domestic policy.  He focused a lot on how he has been "treated very, very badly" in the press, including the Washington Post, and how he would "open up" the libel laws as President.  Obviously, this resulted in some consternation on the part of the WaPo editors, but they chose to give Trump room to expand on what he has said on campaign trail, rather than interject with their opinions.  They treated him much more fairly than he deserved.

It's been said so many times how scary this guy is, but more scary is how he has managed to convince one-third of the GOP electorate that he is the best nominee the Republicans have.  I suppose it is a reflection of the anger in the party and they see Trump as their voice.  When pressed on the violence that has occurred at his rallies, he takes no responsibility, claiming it is the work of professional agitators.  He attempted to distance himself from his more extreme supporters, but offered no witty response to what happened in Fayetteville when one of his supporters sucker punched a black protester being led out of the rally.  All Trump could say is that the protester probably gave the guy a finger and the guy hit him.

Suffice it to say, Trump has no foreign policy.  When pressed he said he wasn't going to show his hand on the campaign trail.  He felt that unpredictability was his strong suit and criticized Obama for telling in advance what he was going to do like sending 50 special forces soldiers to Syria.  Trump claimed it was putting a target on their backs.  It's not like Obama signaled to the world his raid on the bin Laden compound in Abbottabad, much to the chagrin of Pakistan.

When asked about NATO, he felt other countries should pull more of their own weight.  He felt the US was contributing 100's of billions of dollars to these countries in military aid.  When told that other countries contribute significantly to NATO he shifted to boots on the ground.  When asked about Ukraine, he said "I don't see other people doing much about it," writing it off as a European problem.  One gets the sense he would like to do away with America's military commitment in Europe all together.

Surprisingly, not much came up about Putin, who he has shown both admiration and scorn for on the campaign trail.  He preferred to talk about ISIS, still promoting his "secret plan."  On Iran, he babbled about how he would have doubled down on sanctions to secure the release of the hostages before any nuclear deal.  It doesn't seem to matter that the hostages were released shortly after the nuclear deal was made, he still considers it a bad deal.

He tossed out names who would advise him on Foreign Policy, since apparently all he gets is what he reads on the Internet.  None of the names mean much in FP circles.  Two are energy and oil consultants.  One a retired US Lt. General who now works in the private defense sector.  The fourth a so-called terrorism expert for Fox News.  The most contentious is "the Honorable Joe Schmitz," a former inspector general at the DoD and executive with Blackwater Worldwide, which has since changed its name to Academi in an effort to shed its association with its notorious activities in Iraq. It appears Trump pulled these names literally out of his hat.

This  suits a man who has run an entire campaign by playing it as it goes.  Over the past year a routine has emerged, much like a stand-up comic at the improv putting together a monologue from the pieces that work on his audience.  You don't get the impression that Trump has actually sat down with anyone to discuss foreign or domestic policy to any extent, hence his position that he should keep his plans under his belt to be pulled out as the situation arises.  It is enough to sound tough on the campaign trail.  I'm surprised he hasn't enlisted the support of Steven Seagal and Chuck Norris, although Chuck, aka Walker, Texas Ranger, is backing Ted.

The interview was enough to give anyone shudders who read it.  He has since sat down with the New York Times, adding little new to what he said to the Washington Post.  He continued to stress how he would put America first, essentially putting his name on the Bush Doctrine, even if he felt "our presidents" (lumping Bush and Obama together) should have just chilled out on the beach 15 years ago rather than launch these wars in the Middle East.

Is this the man you want to see President?

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Last Tango in Buenos Aires

It seems the biggest takeaway from President Obama's unprecedented trip to Cuba and Argentina is the tango he did in Buenos Aires.  This seems to have endeared him to his supporters and added one more reason for loathing and contempt by his detractors.  I think Obama's greatest fault in foreign diplomacy is that he makes it look like he is having a good time, enjoying every moment, unlike his predecessor who always looked at great pains in presenting himself to foreign heads of state.  But, here is Obama laughing with his fellow world leaders and joining a lovely young lady on the dance floor for one minute of the tango before returning to his seat to exchange more kind words with Mauricio Macri.

Lost on the news media and the American public in general is how important this state trip was.  It not only showed a tremendous good will on the part of the United States but re-opened our relationship with our fellow American countries, which had been severely strained over the years.  Like it or not, Cuba is a major player in the Organization of American States, and has influenced politics in the region for decades.  Cuba was a big influence on the previous Argentine president,  Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who was clearly heading Argentina down a socialist path.  Fidel Castro also influenced Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and many other Latin American countries at one time or another.  While his influence has waned since he turned over the reins of Cuba to his brother Raul, the country continues to shape Central and South American politics.

One of the reasons is that Cuba has defiantly stood up to the United States for 56 years, while so many other Latin American governments have come and gone.  Obama is the first president to see someone other than Fidel Castro in power since Eisenhower.  His trip to Cuba was as momentous as earlier presidential trips to Russia and China, as it turns a page in American foreign policy.

I long struggled to understand the reasoning behind this embargo, as the US not only actively pursued relationships with Communist Russia and China, but also with Vietnam, yet treated Cuba as a pariah for all these years, determined to overthrow the leadership in the country by indifference if nothing else.  Yet, Cuba is our third closest neighbor and as we remember from the Cuban Missile Crisis of vital importance in the region.  It made sense to pursue an amicable relationship with Cuba, which Carter and Clinton had both previously tried to do, before subsequent Republican administrations clamped down on the island country all over again.

It may not be the case this time around as there is a significant groundswell in Congress to do away with the punitive embargo, which was bolstered by the notorious Helms-Burton Act in 1996.  Republican Jeff Flake introduced the bill easing travel restrictions on Cuba, which Republican Jason Chaffetz felt didn't go far enough.  There is no longer a united conservative front against Cuba in Congress.  Ever since Fidel Castro stepped down, much of the raison d'etre for keeping these punitive restrictions in place has faded and now most Republicans, not just Democrats, favor resuming normal ties with Cuba.

This seems lost on Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, the two Cuban-American presidential candidates Obama alluded to in his speech in Havana.  They continue to treat Cuba as a pariah largely because of their parents' exoduses from the country back in the late 50s and early 60s.  Marco had been the most adamant on maintaining the embargo on the campaign trail, which was probably one of the reasons he lost his home state in the primaries, as even the Cuban-American community in Florida strongly favors resuming relationships with Cuba.

The writing has been on the wall for two decades, when Pope John Paul II visited Cuba in 1998 calling for an end to the embargo.  Bill Clinton made an effort to skirt the Helms-Burton Act with a flurry of activity at the end of his tenure, but didn't go so far as re-opening the embassy or significantly easing travel restrictions, which Obama has now done.  George Bush came into office and immediately shut off all diplomatic and economic ties established during this grace period like a good Republican soldier.

Not that Bush paid much interest to the region during his tenure.  He was mired down in Central Asia and the Middle East, while Venezuela and then Bolivia and then Argentina went socialist.  Even the Republican long-time nemesis Daniel Ortega won the presidency of Nicaragua, and remains President to this day.  Brazil has also made a decisive turn to the left in politics, even flirting with an economic union with Russia, India and China, formally known as BRIC.  Argentina was being considered as a minor partner under Kirchner.

For most of his tenure, Obama has had little time to devote to Latin America, which disgruntled OAS leaders who were looking to him to renew US relations in the region.  Even Kirchner flirted with him at an OAS conference back in 2010, but events in the Middle East conspired against him taking a more active role.   All that changed with that fateful meeting with Raul Castro at Nelson Mandela's memorial in late 2013.  Ever since then there has been a rapprochement going on under the benign hand of Pope Francis, who has continued the work of Pope John Paul II in the region.

Why shouldn't he, as Pope Francis originally hails from Argentina?  The Vatican finally recognized the importance of Latin America by electing Jorge Mario Bergoglio Pope in March, 2013.  He has worked actively with the Cuban and American presidential administrations to re-establish diplomatic and economic ties between the two countries.  In this light, it is not surprising that Obama included Argentina on this state visit.

This trip is the culmination of two years of diplomatic efforts to re-invigorate the US role in Latin America.  Working with Cuba, the United States has been able to pursue peace negotiations in Colombia and ease their border crisis with Venezuela.  One of the many positive side effects of renewing ties with Cuba.

Argentine protesters who hoped to undermine Obama's visit, found themselves vastly outnumbered by those who cheered his arrival.  One woman was so overwhelmed by her chance to ask a question at a town hall staged in Buenos Aires that she simply said that he was a hero to her.  It seems many Latin Americans feel Obama is a positive influence in the region, not a negative one like his Republican predecessors who supported authoritarian regimes like the military government in Argentina in 1976.

In both Cuba and Argentina, Obama called for the countries to lay past differences aside and work with the US to build new bridges.  Of course, it remains to be seen what a succeeding administration will do, which is why Raul Castro keeps his distance.  Not so with Mauricio Macri, who warmly embraced this as an affirmation of his leadership.

Yet, in the press we mostly see the baseball game Obama attended in Havana and his tango in Buenos Aires, with many conservative pundits criticizing him for not flying back to Washington to address the Brussels terrorist attack.  CNN split the screen between Obama's Havana Speech and videos of the airport and subway bombings, with commentators focused mostly on the remarks he made regarding Brussels.   But, the world doesn't stop for the latest terrorist attack, and Obama showed just how important it is to reaffirm our support of Latin America in building a largely diplomatic and economic unity.

Maybe after the dust has settled, the media will give the attention this very important state visit deserves.  Until then we have to look elsewhere for coverage of events, and marvel at how Donald's and Ted's spousal twitter wars are garnering more attention than either Brussels or Obama's state visit.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Just Say No

News changes rapidly.  In the two weeks since Nancy Reagan's funeral we've had the SXSW music and film festival, Obama's historic trip to Cuba and another terrorist bombing in Europe, as well as the continual droning news about whether the Republican establishment can put Donald Trump in his place.  Yet, if there is any place where her signature message, "just say no" resonated it was in the Halls of Congress, where Mitch McConnell has chosen to stand firm on his pledge not to consider any Obama nominee for the vacant Supreme Court chair, even when the latest USSC vote split 4-4 as expected.

Amazingly, Mitch cited the NRA and not the Constitution as his reason for rejecting confirmation hearings, stating "I can't imagine that a Republican majority in the United States Senate would want to confirm, in a lame duck session, a nominee opposed by the National Rifle Association [and] the National Federation of Independent Businesses."  Apparently the 46 Democratic and Independent Senators have no say in the matter either.

I doubt Nancy would have been proud. According to Larry King, she was very upset with the direction this Republican election cycle was going, and I imagine with the Republican leadership in general.  We've heard any number of former Reagan cabinet members and advisers express their dismay with the current state of the Republican Party, which places some shallow notion of victory above all else.  GOP congresspersons steadfastly refused to work with the President the last 7 years on any issue except for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.   They consistently filibustered each major judicial and administrative appointment to the point that Harry Reid eventually had to resort to the "nuclear option" to clear the many outstanding appointments before the Republicans took over in January, 2015.

In that sense, McConnell didn't need the "Strom Thurmond rule" or now the "Biden rule," which he cites, as he never recognized Obama as President of the United States.  He simply adopted Nancy Reagan's simple adage, "just say no."

The big difference is that Mitch is a misanthrope bound and determined to stonewall the government from operating at all until there is a fellow Republican in the White House.  For the first four years, he did everything in his meager power to make Obama a one-term president.  Failing at that, he turned his attention on getting a Republican majority in the Senate, taking advantage of the great number of Democratic seats that were up for re-election in the Red States.  He may have won a few battles but it appears he has lost the war, as not only does this current election cycle favor the Democrats in the Senate, but the Republicans run the very real danger in seeing their worst nightmare selected as their nominee in November, which will all but insure a tidal wave of support for more moderate legislators in the general election.

What Mitch fails to realize is that Republicans do not make up a majority of the electorate.  They barely make up one quarter of the electorate.  Granted, there are a lot of conservative-leaning Independents who would probably vote Republican in a general election, but the idea of a Trump candidacy will probably tilt many of these voters over to the Hillary side, as she more closely represents the conservative values of Reagan than any of the Republican candidates today other than John Kasich, who Trump and Cruz have vowed to freeze out of the nomination process at the GOP convention.

Whether they can do it or not remains to be seen.  According to Paul Ryan, everything is in play if no GOP candidate attains 50 per cent plus one of the Republican delegates in the primaries, and both Trump and Cruz are well short of that mark.  It is very likely to be the first "contested" convention since the 1976 Republican convention, when Reagan eventually ceded his delegates to the incumbent Gerald Ford after a bitter, protracted round of primaries.

This was the first time many of us saw Nancy Reagan, outside California.  Unlike Reagan's first wife, Jane Wyman, Nancy did not have a memorable Hollywood career or a hit television show.  Her greatest role was as Ronald Reagan's wife, one she carefully honed over the years, eventually to take full responsibility for their well-being when dear old Ronnie was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 1994.

Far from being the soft-spoken petite lady she presented herself as in public, she was a very tough women in the White House.  Just ask Donald Regan, who found himself butting heads with Nancy and eventually was sacked as Treasury secretary.  Nancy was convinced that Regan was dragging her husband's administration down the toilet, and she was determined to salvage Ronald Reagan's great name.   Many felt that Nancy was instrumental in having Regan removed.

Her official role was in Reagan's anti-drug campaign.  She presented a kinder, gentler face to this war on drugs by promoting a "just say no" campaign that enlisted the support of famous celebrities, including Mr. T, who played Santa at a 1983 White House Christmas, much to Nancy's delight.  Meanwhile, the Reagan administration launched a vicious battle against drugs that saw a clampdown on individual rights before the law, which made many Americans wonder who was the real bad guy here -- the government or the drug dealers?

Nancy's feigned naivety echoed that of "Reefer Madness" from the 1930s.  Marijuana wasn't even a schedule 1 drug back then.   I doubt Nancy was so naive, as both her children had experimented with drugs and were openly defiant of her authority, but this just made her well-meaning admonition all the more touching to American families who were going through the same thing.  It was hoped that the 80s would undo the permissiveness of the 70s and that we would all go through a mutual aid fellowship together like Alcoholics Anonymous.

Throughout their life together, Nancy was Ronald's confidant and protector.  Even the Alzheimers was officially diagnosed years after he left office so that there would only be speculation whether it first appeared while he was still President.   To the end, she stood by her man and for this she is warmly remembered by all those who loved Reagan.

When the Republican candidates convened at the Ronald Reagan Library for the CNN debate last September, they all paid tribute to Nancy.  Unfortunately, it didn't make any of them look more presidential standing before Reagan's Air Force One, although it does seem kind of quaint now given the Republicans had so many choices at the start of this campaign, only to see it come down to two men Ronald Reagan probably never would have approved of.

This election cycle represents the culmination of the Reagan era, at least for Republicans.  We thought that might have been the case with the election of Barack Obama in 2008, but he too evoked Reagan on the campaign trail and throughout his term.  Of note was this commemoration ceremony for Reagan's centennial on June 2, 2009.  Obama had very many nice things to say about Reagan, and Nancy responded in turn.  Michelle also approached Nancy for advice on how to conduct herself as First Lady.  In an odd way the Reagan legacy had been co-opted by the Democrats, including a major attempt to get Reagan's signature immigration and reform control act updated to the 21st century, one which the Republicans categorically rejected.  Obama's record has been compared to Reagan more than any other past president.

There is a wistful nostalgia when we look back at the Reagan era, forgetting much of his embattled legacy from the Iran-Contra Affair to his War on Drugs to his blown opportunity to accept a nuclear disarmament deal with Gorbacev at Reykjavik Summit in 1986.  This was a guy who also ushered Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority into the political limelight, the predecessor to the Tea Party movement we see today.  Reagan was a front man for a conservative movement that many of us didn't fully understand at the time, but are aghast at its offspring.

The Ronald Reagan Library, which Nancy Reagan lorded over for decades, is the keeper of the Reagan flame, which burns eternal in many conservatives' minds but for reasons as diverse as his Hollywood roles.  Not surprisingly, Nancy Reagan's funeral was held at the library with many dignitaries on hand to pay their respects.  Mr. T was also on hand for ceremonies.  As was Michelle Obama, although many conservative pundits questioned the President opting for the SXSW Music and Film festival instead.

I would like to see voters just say no to the Reagan legacy in November and finally move on with a new era in American politics. Unfortunately, that probably won't be the case.  Who keeps this Reagan flame alive is now a matter of debate.  The Republican candidates who remain all think they personify Reagan's legacy in one form or other.  Yet, there was a rumor floating around that Nancy supported Hillary.  Even though it proved to be false, it isn't much of a stretch to say that Hillary better represents the Reagan Legacy than do any of the Republican candidates.  Depending on her Republican opponent in the Fall, I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Hillary embrace that role.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Sex, drugs and vinyl

Some friends talked me into watching the pilot for Vinyl, a new HBO series by the "Dream Team" of Martin Scorsese, Mick Jagger, Rich Cohen and Terrence Winter.  It gives us the cocaine-fueled early 70s when Rock was in decline and record companies had to sign Abba and Donny Osmond to stay alive.  You hear all the music from that era, including Led Zeppelin at the peak of its powers, but the record company is fictional as are the main cast of characters.

Richie Finestra is exactly like you would imagine a record producer from that era.  He's supposed to be cleaning himself up, no longer snorting coke as he tries to spend more quality time with his young family at his Connecticut estate, but he's got a pending sale with a huge German record label and has to make it look like American Century is worth the multi-million dollar buyout.  Not bad for a guy who started his label on $150,000 and apparently has Led Zeppelin as one of his clients, even if they were on Atlantic at the time.

The oddest thing are the numerous Kraut jokes as if we were still in the early 50s when Richie was trying to make his mark in the record business.  Led Zeppelin's manager, Peter Grant, blows up when he hears Richie is planning on selling American Century to the nasty Krauts, telling everyone what a great bunch of British patriots he and the band are and they would never go along with any such deal.  In a backstage scene, a young Robert Plant was more worried about his share of the royalties, which Richie explains to the Germans all expenses are deducted from, so even if a record is a flop they still make money.  Seems Richie hasn't forgotten his mafia roots.

Scorsese, who directed the pilot, blurs the lines between fact and fiction so that we are never quite sure whether what we are seeing is live or memorex.  Most of the time, his alpha males go around with cocks in hands looking for fertile ground to dive into, except Richie of course, who has a lovely wife throwing him a big birthday party and telling everyone the reason they missed Woodstock was become the sex was too good to break away from.

We get a series of flashbacks into Richie's unsavory beginnings, as he tried to break away from a mafia-controlled R&B label, hoping to take his friend "Little Jimmy" with him, but the mafia don's daughter loved the Cha Cha Twist so there's no way the mafia don is letting Little Jimmy go.  Richie accepts this as the price he has to pay for his independence and takes the cash in hand.  Little Jimmy gets his vocal chords crushed when he refused to sing for the mafia don anymore.

Everyone definitely looks the part, even Ray Romano as one of Richie's partners, but Ray acts no better in this series than he did in Everyone Loves Raymond, constantly looking down at the floor as if the lines have been pasted there for him to read.  The casting in general is weak, as if we are seeing a slightly more grown up version of The 70s Show.  However, Vinyl most resembles Mad Men, right down to a plucky young assistant, Jamie Vine, who has bent Richie's ear with a new band called Nasty Bits, with Mick's son James playing the lead singer.

There's plenty of naked bodies and sex in cocaine-fueled scenes of wild orgies,along with a radio baron who tries to put Richie in his place.  Andrew Dice Clay gives an absurd over-the-top performance, mercifully not available on youtube, that is more pathetic than funny and comes to its appropriate closure.  Not sure what this was all about except to tell us why Richie used the calling card of a homicide detective to cut his coke in the opening scene.

The first episode eventually loops its way back to the opening scene, with Richie trying to figure out what the youthful stampede in the alley was about, only to find the New York Dolls at the Mercer Arts Center.  Here again, fact and fiction are merged into one as Richie literally watched the old building fall down around him, only to rise from the ashes like Lazarus to salvage what remains of his record company.

Apparently, HBO had the chance to pick up Mad Men all those years ago and has been regretting it ever since.  They've tried hard to score another series with the punch of The Sopranos, calling in Terence Winter to give Vinyl a distinctively gangland feel.  But, it doesn't work.  The show jumps around like someone on too much coke, not concentrating on any one scene long enough to make any sense of it.  I guess Scorsese, Winter and company felt they would throw everything out in the pilot and sort it out in later episodes.  But, I didn't come away with enough empathy in anyone of the characters, except maybe Little Jimmy, to care.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

What would you like to read?

Now that we have gotten over American Colonies, maybe we should try another book reading group?  Hamilton is all the rage with his broadway musical.  It is based on Chernow's 2005 biography.  There's the more recent War of Two, by John Sedgwick, which treats the parallel lives of Hamilton and Burr.

With all the fuss being made over the empty Supreme Court seat, I'm inclined to read Notorious RBG, which looks like it could be a lot of fun. At 83, you figure Judge Ruth Ginsburg doesn't have too many more years on the bench herself, so Bernie shouldn't be fretting over not being able to pick a USSC justice himself, not that he is likely to have the chance to do so.

But, our choice doesn't necessarily have to be political.  All the Wild that Remains looks like a very good book.  I'm a big fan of Wallace Stegner and Edward Abbey, and their visions of the American West.

Any other suggestions?

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Inconvenient President

It seems that whenever Mitch tries to talk tough, Obama has a way of undermining his authority.  Not much surprise the President has done it again, nominating a potential Supreme Court Justice that cleared the Senate with a 3/4 majority back in 1997. when the Republicans similarly ruled Congress.

Merrick Garland isn't going to set the world on fire.  He is about as centrist as you can get, which is why Bill Clinton then and Barrack Obama now see him as the perfect justice to present before a partisan Congress.  I had hoped Obama would have gone with Sri Srinivasan, who also has a moderate background but a much higher profile and would help balance the court a bit more in terms of the ethnic diversity of this country.  But, I suppose age was a factor.  Srinivasan is 49 and can be seen by incalcitrant Republicans as a means of stacking the deck.  Garland is 63 and not someone who has the potential of sitting on the bench for three decades.

It is now the Republicans' call.  Already, there are defections.  No less than eight Republicans have said they will meet with Garland, putting Mitch and his judiciary committee chairman Chuck Grassley in a bit of a bind.  Both voted against Garland the first time around, so it is not likely they are going to change their minds on him.  However, they will have a hard time convincing other Republicans to toe the line as 24 GOP Senators are up for re-election, many of them in Blue states whose constituents won't look too kindly on more Congressional stonewalling.    Also, Mitch and Chuck will have a hard time explaining to an anxious electorate that their potential GOP nominee, Donald J. Trump, would make a better choice.

It's been a rough year for the Senate Leader.  He has been outsmarted at virtually every turn by the President. and pursued yet another attempt to kill Obamacare when it was clear to everyone he didn't have the numbers to overturn a veto.  His authority has been called into question by Ted Cruz, among others.  He may turn out to be the lamest of lame Senate Leaders since Trent Lott, who presided over the Senate during Bill Clinton's last term of office.  Even Trent was smart enough to know when not to challenge the Constitution, which Mitch has done by vowing to close the Senate to any Obama Supreme Court nominee.

You may ask how someone can be so stupid?  It seems the only thing Mitch is good at is getting himself re-elected in the Bluegrass State, which doesn't seem to be particularly discerning when it comes to its Congressional representatives, largely because so few Kentuckians turn up to vote.  Only 28 per cent turned out to vote in 2014 when Mitch won his hotly contestested re-election bid over Allison Grimes.  In last year's governor's race, only 16 percent of voters showed up on election day.  It's like Kentuckians don't give a shit about anything.  So, you get what you deserve.

Unfortunately, Mitch has been able to rise through the ranks of the Senate to become the Republican leader, largely as a result of attrition.  His predecessors, Trent Lott and Bill Frist both stepped down amidst scandals, and it seemed like no one else wanted the job, except maybe Ted Cruz but no one wanted him.  Mitch has been around since 1985.  Only a handful of Senators have been there longer than him, and Orrin is looking a bit old these days, although he still likes to flatter himself.

However, Orrin and others will be hard pressed to make excuses as to why not to consider Merrick Garland.  After all, Orrin once said there was no question Garland could be confirmed to the Supreme Court.   Other Republicans appear to share his same opinion.  So, how are they now going to explain to their constituents that DC Appeals Court Justice Garland is not fit to be a Supreme Court Justice?

Mitch, you should have thought of this before making your bold pronouncement following Justice Scalia's death.  We all know you and other conservatives were broken up by the untimely loss of your beloved Justice, but even Scalia would have wanted you guys to uphold the Constitution, not turn it into Congressional toilet paper.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

What have we learned?

or, how does the "Dumb Uncle" vote stack up in a General Election?

Another Tuesday chock full of primaries plus two this past weekend leaves us with a clearer indication of what is going on in this election cycle.  John Kasich proved he could defend his home turf, while Marco Rubio showed he could not.  As a result, another GOP presidential candidate bites the dust with more calls for unity in the party coming from both the Trump and Cruz camps.

The Republican establishment has yet to give in completely, although Reince Priebus has stated once again that the party will back whoever wins the nomination.  Given the low scores Politifact gives these candidates, Reince may be putting a little too much faith in them to believe they will actually keep their pledge.  Already, we see a groundswell emerging to run an alternative conservative candidate on the November ballot if Trump is the Republican nominee.

John Kasich still has an outside chance at the nomination, much to Erick Erickson's chagrin, who has put his faith in Ted Cruz.  Erickson doesn't even want to see Kasich as VP, which would help unite the party assuming Kasich would be willing to join Trump on the ticket.  After all the disparaging remarks this past week, John would probably be content to serve out his term as Ohio governor.

Erickson is one of the leading figures behind the Tea Party and wants to see Ted at the top of the ticket, but that is looking less and less likely.  Ted stands to gain either way from the convention as Trump's or possibly Kasich's running mate, as he has the broadest appeal in the GOP, and has racked up quite a few states on the campaign trail.  It is doubtful he would mount an independent run at Erick's behest.

Kasich's victory in Ohio and Ted's strong showings in Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina show that Trump hasn't wrapped up the nomination yet.  He is only half way to the magic number of delegates.  While a great number of the remaining primaries are winner-take-all, we will probably see Cruz and Kasich focus on states they think they can win rather than go at each other and diminish their chances against Trump.

Kasich walloped Trump in Ohio, which means he has a fairly good chance in neighboring Pennsylvania and Indiana.  Cruz is doing very well in the West and Midwest where he could score wins in a handful of states.  This will most likely keep Trump from attaining the outright majority of delegates, leaving the nomination to be decided at the convention in July.

Oddly enough, the Republicans didn't adopt this strategy sooner.  For instance, it would have been in the GOP's best interest if Kasich and Cruz had ceded Florida to Rubio, who might have pulled out the state if not these two accounted for 24 per cent of the vote.  Neither had a chance of winning the state.  This would have denied Trump 99 delegates in the winner-take-all state.  Similarly, Trump may get all 52 Missouri delegates if he holds onto a 0.2 percentage point lead.  He also walked away with all the Illinois delegates despite a narrow win in that state.  The winner-take-all system was set up to favor establishment candidates, but with the vote split like it is, Trump has been the beneficiary in a number of states, thanks to his devoted fan base.

Yet, the Republican Party still believes it can hold itself together despite the chaos Trump has created.  I suppose if you can't beat him, join him, which means a lot of Republican leaders will have a very tough decision to make come July.  Trump claims to have given the GOP new blood with all the new voters he has turned out in primaries, but this is no guarantee of victory in November.  In fact, a Trump candidacy will most likely generate an equal if not greater opposing force, as many Hispanics are seeking citizenship and registering to vote against him.  He has alienated so many persons in his hyperbolic stump speeches that it is fair to say a big turnout in November would very much work against him.  Trump is not the type of person to concede such polls, pointing to ones of his own that affirm his overwhelming popularity.

Trump's great strength to this point has been his ability to project a relatively small voter sampling on the majority.  However, his numbers simply don't add up to a popular groundswell.  His support is very limited, and not likely to result in a great deal of crossover support in a general election.  Something the GOP establishment knows very well.   Are they willing to concede defeat in the presidential race and focus their resources on Congressional and state elections, hoping to maintain the majority here?  However, this strategy took a big hit when Paul Ryan was unable to summon the numbers to pass a Congressional budget.  The forces shaping this political year are clearly not working in the GOP's favor.

The Democrats have steered clear of the maelstrom for the most part.  Hillary has all but iced her nomination by defeating Bernie in all the primaries yesterday. Bernie made it close in Illinois and Missouri, but was walloped in Florida, Ohio and North Carolina.  There will be little problem establishing unity at the Democratic convention in July.  Both candidates have pledged to support each other in the general election, and it is highly unlikely Bernie would pull back on that support, especially with Hillary already adopting many of his key issues.

Their problem is more about generating enthusiasm.  Voter turnout in the Democratic primaries has been much lower than it was in 2008 despite the energy Bernie's campaign has shown.  However, this is largely due to the overblown media coverage the Republican primaries have gotten.  The general election will be an all new ball game.

This badly needed reset will cast a new searchlight on the candidates.  Assuming Trump to be the GOP nominee, he won't be able to get away with the tactics he has employed to date.  The Republicans can't go after Hillary much more than they have done already.  It will be Donald who finds himself facing much more scrutiny, as he will be forced to explain his numerous malfeasances, disclose his tax returns, and offer actual plans to deal with immigration and national security, which he has made the cornerstone of his campaign.   There's also that secret plan to destroy ISIS he hinted at last year.

His naive statements will not go over as well among a much broader electorate.  Stephen Colbert described Trump as "your dumb uncle who only knows what's on the Internet."  This is fine among a narrow base, but how do you convince 60 million people that this is enough to be elected Commander-in-Chief?  It seems Trump and the GOP are counting on a "yuge" anti-Hillary vote that will support whoever runs against her.  However, Trump has a far greater discrepancy in favorability ratings, -33%, than does Hillary, -8 per cent.

Very few persons like the way this election cycle has turned out.  It feels like we got shortchanged, especially on the Democratic side, where we only had two candidates to choose from.  Hillary is largely to blame for this by holding out to the last minute in announcing her candidacy, thereby discouraging other potential candidates to run.  Bernie seemed to throw his hat into the ring as a lark, then realized there were a great many Democrats hungry for an alternative candidate.  One could say the same for Trump on the Republican side.  I doubt he thought he would garner this much support when he descended that escalator back in June, 2015, but here he is now eyeing the ultimate prize.

The Republicans still have a chance to reject Trump if they run a concerted effort against him in the remaining primaries.  Hillary has all  but sewn up the nomination, with Bernie essentially keeping her honest. At this point, I think the two will focus their energy on the enormous differences between what they represent and what the Republicans represent.  One is a vision of the future.  The other a highly charged contrarian view to everything that has taken place the past 50 years -- the "dumb uncle" vision, if you will.  It's pretty easy to see which will win in November.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

I've Got Life

Nina Simone is probably enjoying more attention in her afterlife than she did in life, with the notable exception of the Civil Rights movement.  This is the period most of the present-day attention focuses on because this was quintessential Nina, defiant and strong, voicing the frustration and anger of the movement through songs like Mississippi Goddam.

The song was penned in the wake of the bombing of the Sixteenth St. Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.  This moment has been captured in a recent play, Four Woman, loosely based on another song from the same era.  It wasn't like Nina herself was trying to capture the moment.  For her it was one more in a long line of terrible incidents that left her so outraged her first reaction was to make a zip gun and go out and shoot anyone who stood in the way of her people.

Claudia Roth Pierpont sums up Nina's tumultuous life in this article for The New Yorker.  It was written back in August, 2014, in response to the anger over casting the light-skinned Zoe Saldana as Nina in a Hollywood biopic.  Zoe actually had a nose job done and darkened her skin to look the part, but Pierpont wondered why not a singer-actress like Jennifer Hudson was considered for the role.  The movie is finally due out this year.

I watched the documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone? on Netflix. I found myself empathizing with Lisa Celeste Stroud, Nina's daughter, who told how hard it was to live with her mother when her world caved in during the early 70s.  Simone had turned her back on the "United Snakes of America," first trying her luck in Liberia then Switzerland and eventually France.  She often lashed out at her daughter, which became too much for young Lisa, who returned to her father in New York.  It was a downward spiral for Nina after that, ending in her reaching rock bottom in Paris.

It was there that Gerrit de Bruin found her and helped salvage her career, thanks largely to Chanel picking up her song, My Baby Just Cares For Me, to promote its perfume.  It doesn't seem that Simone ever reconciled herself to her life abroad.  She was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and prescribed strong medications that slurred her speech and effected her piano playing so that she was never able to recapture her former self.  Still, she had sold out shows at the Olympia and other venues, and made a brief return to the States in the 90s for a series of concerts.

A bitter, dispirited Nina looked back on the Civil Rights movement as the best time of her life.  She had been led in this direction by her close friend, Lorraine Hansberry, who introduced her to Langston Hughes and James Baldwin, who in turn became her mentors.  Nina no longer fell under the spell of her abusive husband, Andrew Stoud, who had been managing her career and cautioned her to not get too involved in protests.  But, Nina chose to get right in the middle of it, singing her anthem Mississippi Goddam at a rally in Selma during the 1965 march.  Her commercial appeal waned, but she became one of the strongest voices of the movement: brash, often indignant and even encouraging audiences to fight, as she did at a Harlem concert in 1969.

Her biggest song at this point was To be Young Gifted and Black, which she had written in the memory of Lorraine Hansberry, who like many others close to her had died during the Civil Rights movement.  The song was a big hit and she even sang it on Sesame Street.  Simone wanted the young black generation to be proud, and model itself after strong black role models.

In the documentary, Nina reflects that it would have been better to have become the classical pianist she had always dreamed of being.  She had been schooled by "Miz Mazzy" back in North Carolina, but her dream was shattered when Curtis Institute of Music turned her down because of her race.  This led her into a career of Atlantic City and New York night clubs, before being picked up by Bethlehem Records in 1958, where her "Chanel song," My Baby Just Cares for Me first appeared on Little Girl Blue.   Now it, like so many of her other songs, have been remixed into lounge music.

I suppose this is what has made her accessible to a new generation and why young, hip Zoe Saldana wanted to play her in a movie.  Even Kanye West and Rihanna have been borrowing her lyrics in their hip-hop songs.  Her famous extended version of Sinnerman has become so overused that it now borders on the cliche.  Hard to say what Nina Simone would have thought of all this new found attention, but there are still those who can evoke the true spirit of Nina like these four beautiful women.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Let them eat steak

You realize that this campaign has never been anything other than a promotional tour for Donald J. Trump when he pulls out all his products at a campaign stop in Jupiter, Florida.  Among the many items the television huckster had on display were Trump Steaks, one of his many failed ventures.  He also tried to start a mortgage company the same year in the midst of a housing collapse, a pretty good indication that his business acumen is greatly overblown.  He did benefit from the crisis, however, by buying up Patricia Kluge's Virginia winery at a fraction of the cost and labeling it his own.  He sacked Kluge and put his son, Eric, in charge.  As for his bottled water and other items on display that day, they can only be found at his hotels and resorts.

The steaks really stand out, as they were unpackaged and probably came fresh from the kitchen of his Palm Beach home -- Mar-a-Lago -- a hop, skip and a jump from Jupiter.  I suppose in that sense they were his own steaks, which he was willing to sell for $50 a cut, a bargain given the price of fine steaks these days.  But, his little venture with The Sharper Image went belly up as quickly as it started.  Not surprising, since reviews were rotten.  Jerry Levin, of The Sharper Image, estimated that at best they sold $50,000 worth of steaks.

Mind you, that all may change now that Trump has re-introduced all his failed ventures.  There are plenty of hungry voters out there who want a taste of Trump's fortune and what better way to relaunch these items than to make them available on the campaign trail.  Who knows, he may even introduce his board game from 1989.  I kid you not.

Trump is all about branding.  He likes to fly around in what looks like a facsimile of one of his old Trump planes.  He claims his ever-so-brief airline was no failure given how much he got for it, but here again he lied as he defaulted on his loans and the airline was turned over to creditors.

It sounds like he grew bored with The Apprentice and his Miss USA and Universe competitions and wants to launch a whole new line of products aimed at rural America.  The logical place to go would be Trump Truck Stops as he loves to wear his red trucker's cap everywhere he goes.  He can sell his items at the check-out counter or provide them on-line through QVC or maybe his own shopping network.

However, what started out as a joke has now come to obsess the Donald, and he isn't going to go down without the most bitter, vicious fight in Presidential election history.  Already, we have seen his campaign rallies descend into bar room fights, and now he is blaming Bernie for sending in ringers to further stir hostilities.

The Donald seems to work with the adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity.  He has shown himself to be remarkably adept at turning any publicity into positive gains.  What would have wrecked any other presidential candidate seems to bounce off him and hit someone else in the face.  Look at poor Marco, who is trailing badly in Florida polls.  Marco is not even winning the meager GOP Hispanic vote in Florida.

Kasich learned early that the best way to deal with Trump is to ignore him, which he has assiduously chosen to do.  As a result, he has a pretty good chance of winning Ohio tomorrow and even putting in a strong showing in Illinois, adding considerably to his delegate count.  Most likely Marco will be forced to quit his campaign, making this a three-way race from here on out between Trump, Cruz and Kasich.

This means that the GOP convention will in all likelihood be brokered, resulting in a nasty set of convention floor ballots, which may see Trump lose his place on the Republican ticket.  You can bet the Donald will not take this lying down.  He will make a big stink, may even threaten to run a third-party campaign -- The Trump Party -- evoking the old Bull Moose Teddy Roosevelt, who similarly split the Republican Party back in 1912.  Consider the branding opportunities here.

The problem with all this is that Trump has dragged the 2016 Campaign Trail down to his level.  He even managed to dominate the most recent Democratic Town Hall in Ohio, as questions were posed to Hillary and Bernie as to what they thought about Trump.  There simply is no way to shake this guy.  It is like stepping in a pile of shit and trying to clean it off afterward.  Try as you might, it still clings to the treads of your shoes.

As a result, it has left a pretty foul smell not just for Americans but foreigners too.  Both the former and current Mexican president have lambasted Trump's wall in the crudest terms.  There was a debate in the UK parliament as to whether to ban Trump from ever entering the country again, largely over his insulting comments made toward Muslims, but also the controversy surrounding his notorious golf course in Scotland.  He's not even popular in Israel, where Haaretz categorically stated he would be a disaster for US Jews, Israel and the Middle East.  Probably the only country where he is seen in a favorable light is Russia, largely because Vladimir Putin seems to like him, although the Russian president stopped short of giving his endorsement, saying that was up to the American people.

What Trump is good at is providing red meat and making the whole world talk about him, not just the American media, which has been singularly obsessed with his candidacy to the point other candidates struggle for the remaining airtime.

He has thrived in the multi-candidate Republican primaries because one-third of the votes is enough to put him over the top in the delegate count.  But, if we look at the broader picture here he is garnering less than ten percent of the electorate, as the GOP only amounts to 26 percent of the total electorate.  Trump's 35 percent average polling rate results in roughly 9 percent of the total American electorate.  That is not enough to win a head-to-head election in the Fall, especially given all the bridges he has burned in the primary season.  His only hope, assuming he wins the GOP nomination, is that Bloomberg decides to run as a third party candidate, but the media mogul and former NY mayor has wisely chosen to sit this election out.

So where will this leave Trump?  It's anyone's guess.  He says he is a guy who knows when to cut his losses and move on.  Maybe this is the time to do so while he is still on top.  He can always come up with a lame excuse like Ross Perot did in 1992, claiming GOP dirty tricks forced him to drop out to save his family name.  Of course, Trump runs the risk of being labeled a quitter but that would be preferable to a humiliating loss in the Fall.

Walt Whitman: The Hospital Years

Walt Whitman has often been quoted on the Civil War, but few realize the extent to which he worked with the soldiers to get their message out to loved ones, so that they wouldn't be lost or forgotten.  Yet another letter has turned up, which Whitman ghostwrote for a soldier after the war to let his loved ones know he was still alive.

It all started with his younger brother, who was felled in the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862.  Whitman would spend the next three years tended to the fallen soldiers.  Given that many of these soldiers were illiterate or simply didn't have paper and pen to write a letter, Whitman was a godsend for these men, as he would visit the hospitals in Washington, DC, everyday and connect with them anyway he could.

His thoughts and letters were captured in Drum Taps and Memoranda During the War, but there was much more.  Angel Price offers a nice essay on the time Whitman spent at Washington's Civil War Hospitals.  Little wonder Whitman still remains are foremost American poet.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Curse of Lono

When it comes to politics, Hawaii doesn't get much attention.  You would think politicians would enjoy the break, but it is hard to justify a trip with all that staff out to Oahu, the most populated island.  The President has had a hard time defending his expensive trips to his native home these past seven years, especially since his official residence is in Illinois.  But, Obama likes to maintain ties to the Aloha State, which is why he is very popular there.

Hawaii is kind of a state that isn't really a state since it is so far detached from the mainland that it is like traveling to a whole other world.  With Alaska you can at least reach it by land through Canada or take a boat along the island-strewn Pacific northwest coast, at a fraction of the cost it would take you to set sail to Hawaii.  Plus, it's ruggedness inspires the American thirst for the West, which led to the Klondike Gold Rush in 1896, forever captured in arguably Charlie Chaplin's greatest film,   Hawaii has also made its mark on the American imagination, largely through big waves and hula dancers, which Hawaii Five-O pulled together seamlessly in its famous intro.

Last month marked the 237th year since Captain James Cook's ill-fated return to Hawaii after failing to find the Northwest Passage via Alaska.  He died on St. Valentine's Day all those years ago, as a result of the confusion and chaos that resulted from him breaking the spell over the islanders in regard to the Lono myth.  It is said that Cook actively exploited the myth of the great god Lono to curry favor with the islanders when he first arrived in January the year before, but as they say don't press your luck.  Cook ended up getting eaten.

I imagine his fifty-year-old flesh would have been a little tough, but salty.  His crew managed to retrieve some of his body parts and give him a burial at sea.  I don't think the islanders felt they were eating Lono, but they had a practice of eating the flesh of their victims and assuming their strength, which would have made for a good X-Files episode, but to my knowledge has never been exploited in television or film.  Hunter S. Thompson set one of his books in Hawaii, The Curse of Lono, when he traveled out there ostensibly to cover a marathon, but let his thoughts fly like he so often does.  It's been redone into this beautifully illustrated Taschen edition.

For many Republicans, it seems the curse of Lono lives on in Obama, who they have failed to defeat, derail or contain despite their worst laid efforts, so once again conservatives blame Obama for their own shortcomings.  Their inability to render him irrelevant is fueling the Tea Party movement's resurgence, although they are loathe to admit it.  Their party leaders are now seen as irrelevant, with Trump and Cruz dominating the primaries, including Hawaii, which Trump took last weekend.  Cruz took Alaska.  Neither even bothered to campaign in the two distant wayward states.

The state made itself relevant again when Trump pressed for Obama's birth certificate four years ago.  The state provided the long form, happy to have some focus given it during the early stages of Obama's re-election bid.  But, this time around Obama has to sit out the election cycle as his long tenure draws to a close.  Maybe he will settle in Hawaii when it is over, but that is doubtful as he is still a young man, 54, not much older than Cook, and there is much he can do as a former President.

He's already earmarked Chicago's South Side as the location for his Presidential Library.  It was here that he made his mark as a "community organizer," for which he was lampooned in his 2008 Presidential election by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and others.  He even joked last year that he might go back to community organizing, as if getting the last laugh on his old opponents.  He no longer has to worry about having "executive experience."

The University of Hawaii did submit a proposal for Obama's Presidential Library, and I'm sure will have some sort of commemorative hall to honor him.  It's not often that universities bid for a presidential library.  Columbia University also submitted a proposal, and got the runner-up prize, if you will, when his Foundation said it will have a presence there.  No one is quite sure what this means, but the idea of a fellowship has been tossed around.  Not bad for a guy who once ran with the "Choom gang" at Punahou School in Honolulu.

The high school has a rich history, dating back to the first half of the 19th century when it was set up as a missionary school on grounds bequeathed to it by King Kamehameha I.  The same king who ruled much of Hawaii when Cook encountered the islands in 1778-79.  Not that Cook had direct contact with the paramount chief, but it was Kamehameha who established the Kingdom of Hawaii and formally invited the first missionaries, which would work so hard to dispel any notions of Lono in the years ahead.  It seems they didn't thoroughly cleanse the islands.

I don't know why the Republicans stress Obama's Muslim connections, when it is clear to me that Lono lives through Obama getting his ultimate revenge in 2008 by assuming the highest office in the land and continuing to cast a shadow over this year's election.  I think Obama channeled the great god while smoking pot with a couple Hawaiian kids on the beach, and hasn't let go of him ever since.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Nightmare Before the Convention

It isn't surprising that the Republican establishment has no idea what is going on.  They still believe they can contain the beast within the party.  Here's David Brooks offering his erudite spin, falling far short of the mark, as events have spun out of control.

Trump, Cruz and Carson have been combining for 60 to 70 per cent of the Republican electorate in the primaries, so even if the GOP chosen one, Marco Rubio, were to garner all the establishment vote it still wouldn't be enough to put him over the top.  With Trump polling 35-40 per cent in Florida and Cruz threatening to undercut Rubio in his home state, it is very likely young Marco could be out of the primaries after March 15.  The same goes for Kasich in Ohio.  This is turning into the very two-man race the GOP establishment was desperately hoping to avoid with no establishment candidate left for the remainder of the primaries.

Of course, there is data suggesting Trump has topped off and Cruz has limited strength, but these two are proving much more formidable candidates than anyone expected, largely because the Republican National Committee underestimated the level of anger in its own party and is now paying for the consequences.

This anger isn't so much directed at Obama or Hillary or Democrats in general.  It is directed at the GOP leadership, which failed to deliver on the promises it made in 2012 to make Obama a one-term president and in 2014 to limit his authority by taking control of Congress.  In their minds, the present party leadership failed, and now the Teabaggers want one of their own in command.  One with a take-no-prisoners mentality, which is why Trump is trumping his opposition at every turn.

Trump scored perhaps the biggest endorsement in Jerry Falwell, Jr., the heir to his father's "Moral Majority," first ushered in by Ronald Reagan in 1980.  In many conservatives' minds this is the true legacy of the Reagan era.  The fact that every Republican presidential candidate for the last three presidential election cycles has gone through Liberty University is not lost on these religious conservatives.  Even Bernie paid a visit earlier this year, hoping to build a bridge to evangelical voters.

Ted Cruz officially announced his campaign at the university last May, but apparently that wasn't enough to convince the younger Rev. Falwell that he was his man.  Maybe Donald promised Jerry new dormitories, or Rev. Falwell felt Trump more broadly epitomized the authoritarian vision of the Old Testament.  Cruz seemed unruffled.  He picked up other key religious endorsements and has scored big in the heartland of America -- Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma, not to mention his home state of Texas.

So far, anti-establishment candidates have won 21 states and establishment candidates 1 plus the territory of Puerto Rico.  There are still 29 states and a handful of territories to go so all is not lost, according to David Brooks.  But, Trump has now taken Michigan, the biggest state on Tuesday's primary schedule, with Kasich and Cruz 12 points behind.  Rubio a far distance fourth. Trump and Cruz once again combined for 60 per cent of the vote.

For the past three decades there have been two competing Republican visions.  The first was a neo-conservative one built largely around big banks, billionaires and oil.  The second a religious conservative one that extolled the primacy of the Bible in all aspects of life.   Reagan had the ability to merge the two into a singular vision of a "shining city upon a hill."  Trump has combined them in his glittering Trump Plaza, from which he launched his campaign.  Neither were particularly religious men.  It is doubtful that Trump has a single religious bone in his body.  But, they are both great salesmen and they have been able to tap into the cult of a strong leader, which is at the heart of the religious conservative mythos.

You don't feel this same confidence in Cruz or Rubio or Kasich or anyone of the also-rans now pitching broadsides from the sidelines.  With each primary victory, more and more Republicans feel Trump is the second coming of Ronald Reagan.  One has to worry he could even inspire conservative-leaning Democrats who haven't warmed up to Hillary or Bernie.

But, Trump is no Reagan.  He is a lightning rod candidate, who draws more anger than he dishes out.  He scores well in a three or four-way race, but head-to-head his numbers break down.  Polls show that if it was just Ted and him, he would lose 54-41 per cent to Republicans nationwide, and if it was just Marco and him, he would lose 51-45 per cent.  So, it suits his campaign to have both stay in the race and Kasich too for that matter, as they will continue to split the opposition vote.

That's the way it has been all along, but what if Cruz decides to align himself with Trump as Chris Christie did?  At that point there is literally nothing the GOP could do to stop Trump from claiming the Republican nomination.  There is little doubt that Cruz will sell his political soul to the highest bidder.  Could we actually see a Trump-Cruz ticket?  I guess Chris would have to settle for head of the food and beverage department.

The reason David Brooks can't see what is going on is because he doesn't go back far enough.  It was his hero Ronald Reagan who ushered in the Moral Majority.  While Falwell's evangelical vanguard never represented a majority of the nation, it does represent the majority of the Republican Party today, and evangelicals feel the party leadership has abandoned them and are now demanding a stalwart leader of their own to reclaim the vision they have for the party.  One they essentially drafted in 2012 and plan to fully realize in 2016.

This isn't your political party anymore, David, if it ever was.  It now belongs to the likes of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.  Yes, the End Times are upon us, at least for the Republican Party as we once knew it.  The Holy Rollers finally have their day at the convention and it appears there is absolutely nothing the Republican National Committee can do about it.

The Waterboy

There was a moment when it actually looked like Rubio would become a major player, but after the atrocious debate where young Marco went after Trump's hand size, he looked very much like a waterboy again.

This is the danger in playing to Trump's level.  Cruz can get away with it because he is aiming at the same disgruntled Republican voters who wallow in this kind of ribald humor.  However, Rubio is supposed to be the standard-bearer for the GOP.  The other establishment candidates essentially cleared the stage for the young Florida senator, and here he was going after Trump like two junior high school kids in the locker room arguing over who had the bigger dick.  Even Reince Priebus cringed, making the comment that debates may have to carry a PG rating from here on out.

The only establishment candidate remaining with any chance at the nomination is the untelegenic John Kasich, who has to rely on surrogates like Arnold Schwarzenegger to make him sound more tough by saying "he kicks butt."

This didn't escape the Democrats, who made pointed references to the GOP debate near the end of their own debate.  The difference between the two parties couldn't be more stark at this point, leading Rick Perry's former strategist to lament, "my party is committing [political] suicide on national television."

For the first time, the Sun Sentinel is refusing to endorse a GOP candidate in the Florida primary, where Trump currently leads Rubio.  The South Florida paper had previously endorsed Jeb Bush.  The editorial staff considers Rubio woefully deficient as its US senator and unfit to be President.  It made similarly disparaging remarks of Trump and Cruz, and offered only backhanded praise to Kasich for avoiding the locker room humor that dominated the last GOP debate.  However, the Sun Sentinel considers Kasich too much of a dark horse to earn its endorsement.  That may change if Kasich pulls off an upset in Michigan today.

As for Rubio, his political stock is falling fast.  It's one thing to go after Trump on his numerous lies and omissions, but another to engage in the same kind of personal insults on which the reality show candidate thrives.  To borrow from Trump, Rubio got "schlonged" last week, and it doesn't look like it is going to get any better for him in the weeks ahead.

Further ruining his Florida chances is the way he dismissed the entire panhandle of Florida by taking nasty jabs at Florida State University.  Northwest Florida is a reliable Republican stronghold.  It may not have the same cash clout as South Florida, but this is Seminole country, and you don't mess with FSU.  This feud goes back to September at the start of the football season, and has festered ever since.  Rubio had been gaining ground on Trump in Florida but it now looks like he is faced with third and long, to use a football metaphor.  BTW, FSU walloped Florida in the season-ending rivalry, adding further insult to injury.

Not only would a loss in Florida ruin his presidential aspirations, but pretty much sink his vice-presidential aspirations as well, as he would provide little political clout on a joint ticket.  He gave up his Senate seat to run for President, which means he would be literally reduced to a waterboy in the GOP establishment after the convention.

Too bad Marco, it looked for a moment like you had game.