Monday, May 30, 2016

The love for our troops was never been more personified than at the massive turnout for the memorial of Chris Kyle.  You can still watch the glorious "final salute" at Dallas Stadium in full on Youtube.  The service drew a wide range of relatives, friends, and politicians.  There was even a 200-mile funeral procession that ran from his home in Midlothian to Austin, where his body was laid to rest at the Texas State Cemetery.  All along the route, tens of thousands turned up at overpasses and by the roadside to pay their last respects.  It was a funeral service fit for a king.  To top it all off, there was a movie that served as his requiem, further cementing the "American Sniper" in history.

Unfortunately, many of the things said in his book and in the movie based on the book don't hold up.  It seems Chris Kyle stretched his medal count a little, as he did numerous other items previously reported.    No matter, in the minds of his fans, Chris will forever remain the embodiment of America's elite fighting force, the Navy Seals.

I haven't been able to understand this idol worship.  Do we really want to honor a sniper who said himself he didn't differentiate between Iraqi men, women and children.  To him they were all the enemy in a war that had no reason for being.  Unlike Vietnam, a huge effort was made on the part of Americans to differentiate between the dirty deeds of politicians and the actions of combatants on the ground, even when horrible acts like that at Abu Ghraib surfaced at the height of the war.  Clearly, not all these soldiers were cut from the same cloth, and incidents like these cannot be so easily dismissed no matter how hard we try.

Part of the problem is that we have been conditioned to believe that the armed forces are fighting for our hard-earned freedom, even though the boundaries have been stretched over the years, and now they are fighting for the freedom of others, whether they want these special services or not.  We seem to think that without our military we would be overrun by one existential threat or another and that we owe it to our soldiers to honor their valiant efforts.

After the War of Independence, the fledgling United States disbanded the Continental Army.  It may have been a hasty decision but what the leaders did was focus on the peace and prosperity of our country, coming up with plans to improve industrial infrastructure, build a capital on the banks of the Potomac River to compete with those of Europe, and write a Constitution that would serve as the cornerstone of our Republic.  No one imagined a permanent national army, which is why they added the second amendment to the Constitution, empowering state militia units.

In fact, after every war we scaled back our military and concentrated our efforts into rebuilding our infrastructure, and redressing the shortsightedness of our founding fathers by amending the Constitution.  Today, military cuts are unthinkable despite there being no serious threat to our country.  Instead, we continue to invest heavily in a military industrial complex whose main purpose appears to be to keep our leading industries flush with cash and tangentially build new fighter jets and other weapons.  We even privatized certain aspects of our military to bring in consultants like Halliburton and Blackwater, which now goes by the name Academi.

More and more, the military complex is interwoven into the private sector.  Chris Kyle had set up a company to train police in urban warfare techniques.  We have seen the militarization of police departments across the country, which bought surplus military equipment at bargain prices to ramp up its efforts at fighting crime and homegrown terrorists.  There is now a very thin line between the military and homeland security.  Of course, the National Guard has always been there to lend a hand when demonstrations get out of hand or a natural disaster weakens municipal and regional security, but now we see police in full combat gear ready to squash protests like that in Ferguson, Missouri.  The transformation has become so complete that we honor our fallen police officers with the same reverence as we do military servicemen, regardless of the circumstances of that surrounded their deaths.

The last 16 years has seen a move toward a militarized state like no other time in American history. Homeland Security is so vast now that it can monitor almost all aspects of our society.  The only thing keeping it honest is a presidential administration that understands the ramifications of such a broad surveillance network and has placed internal checks and balances.  However, there is nothing stopping a less prudent president from ratcheting up this surveillance network to Orwellian proportions, and using whatever means at his disposal to impose order.

That's why I'm a little more circumspect this Memorial Day.  I don't feel I owe my freedom to the armed servicemen and women who died serving this country.  I owe my freedom to the activists that fought for a more just society across the country, and pushed the government to enact legislation that protected the rights of all Americans.  What we need to do is take a hard look at the Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Act and ask ourselves if this is what we want hanging over our heads?  Don't let yourself be sold a phony bill of goods.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Hiroshima mon amor

I suppose Americans will always feel Japan deserved having two A-bombs dropped on it for the massacre at Pearl Harbor.  At least that is what Donald Trump is suggesting.  If it is any consolation to the Donald, the current Japanese PM offered deep repentance for Japan's actions during WWII, but for many Japan will never be sorry enough.

We had a long ugly war with Japan that saw many dead, but couldn't possibly compare to what China suffered during WWII.  China lost an estimated 14 million people.  Still, none of this justified dropping atomic bombs on Japan, especially with Japan on the edge of surrender.  The only thing left to discuss were the terms, which was going on at the time.  It seems Truman wanted to speed up the process before the Soviet Union tried to make more territorial claims to the region.  Plus, try out his new toys.

One can argue that Japan hasn't been overly contrite over the years.  MacArthur was never able to wrangle an apology out of Hirohito, although the emperor purportedly warned that bombing Pearl Harbor would be self-destructive.  Nevertheless, the empire was abolished and a new parliamentary form of government put in place, which helped speed Japan's post-war recovery and has remained very resilient.  Japan is now counted as one of our closest allies.

Obama going to Hiroshima was meant to put the matter to rest once and for all.  But, Trump and other Republicans work from the old Southern adage, Never Forget, preferring to keep Japan at arm's length.  Funny for a man who prides himself so much on his great negotiating skills with Asians.  He probably thinks Japan has gotten the better of the deal since WWII, and that Obama's visit represents the end of his "apology tour," as Charles Krauthammer put it.

In his speech, Obama no more apologized for the events of WWII than did Shinzo Abe.  He offered his regrets and urged listeners to push for a world without nuclear weapons, referring to it as a "moral revolution,."  This is ever more important with world leaders and would-be leaders both playing the "nuclear card."

Nuclear disarmament is something sane persons can agree on.  The US has in place non-proliferation treaties with Japan and other countries to avoid any further escalation of arms in the Pacific Rim.  However, the US and Russia have to greatly reduce their massive arsenals if they expect other countries to honor these agreements.  There are the many open nuclear weapons programs like that in India and Pakistan, and "secret programs" like that in Israel.  It is little wonder Iran wanted to join the club.

Obama has waited a little too long to launch this "moral revolution."  It would have been better to have made it the cornerstone of his foreign policy and begun de-escalation when he first came into office.  We have had so many missed opportunities in this regard, the most infamous one being the Reykjavik Summit when Gorbacev was apparently willing to negotiate a full nuclear disarmament agreement if the Reagan administration was willing to give up its strategic defense initiative, aka "Star Wars," but sadly there was no deal.

Nevertheless, it was important to have a US President visit Hiroshima and recognize the horror that took place over 70 years ago.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Round Mound of Rebound

... or Sir Charles as he likes to be called is not one to mince words.  When he is not taking down the latest crop of NBA players, he is going off on politics.  He even flirted with a political run of his own at one point, when he switched from the GOP to the Democratic Party as he floated the idea of running for Governor of Alabama in 2006.

The guy is sharp and opinionated.  He's been part of TNT's Inside the NBA for several years now, venting his full range of views whenever the moment suits him.  He has been decrying the current state of the NBA for the last four or five seasons as no heir apparent has emerged to take over the starring role of Kobe Bryant.  He admits LeBron James is a great player and the Warriors are one of the best teams ever but after that he poo-poos the quality of the league, claiming that players come out of college too soon and lack the fundamentals to play the game the way it should be played.

Another NBA legend begs to differ.  Larry Bird said recently that the game has changed considerably and that he enjoys the uptempo style that relies much more on three-pointers than it did in his day when the outside ring was introduced.

One of Barkley's biggest beefs is that Stephen Curry wouldn't have hit an otherworldly 400 three-pointers this year if anyone bothered to defend him.  It doesn't matter that Kobe Bryant says Curry is very tough to guard,.  All though, it seems Russell Westbrook has found the answer, as Oklahoma City is one game away from knocking Golden State out of the playoffs.  A fairy tale season may come crashing down around the Warriors tonight if they don't win game five at home.

Sir Charles represents the classic generational divide.  I remember my Dad bemoaning the quality of play back in the 70s, saying none of the players or teams measured up to the players of his day, notably Bill Russell and the Celtics.  The game evolves rapidly.  Today, it takes in a great number of European players, including two young Lithuanians who are maturing quickly.  Jonas Valanciunas got hobbled in the Toronto-Miami series but should be back in full force for Game 6 in Toronto as the Raptors fight to keep their series going with Cleveland.

For LeBron James a win in Toronto or back home in Cleveland would be his sixth straight NBA final appearance.  He went 2-2 with the Miami Heat, and lost last year to the Warriors with a hobbled Cleveland team that limped into the finals.  This year the Cavs look very healthy and ready for action.  But, even the great LeBron gets his fair share of criticism, particularly for his flops, none more absurd than the one he tried to pull in Toronto.  At the press interview, King James had no comment.

The high degree of flopping is indeed one aspect of the game the NBA can do without.  It has tried hard to rein this in by penalizing players who fake their falls, but still it persists.  The amazing thing about LeBron's flop in that game is that the referee was no more than a foot away from the action and should have clearly seen that James was "hit" by his own player, but instead immediately doled out three technical fouls to the Toronto players in the vicinity, only to have his outlandish call reversed on review.

Charles can rant all he wants about the young players in the league but when a veteran plays games like this, what gives?  Maybe it is because LeBron never went to college.  He went straight from high school into the pros, just like Kobe, who Magic Johnson recently hailed as the greatest Laker of all time.

Like so many other players, these two NBA greats learned their fundamentals in the NBA, not in college.  Both had to go through a learning curve, as all players do even if they complete all four years of college, which they rarely do these days.  The temptation is too great to enter the draft, where multi-million contracts await if you are lucky enough to be drafted in the first round.   Even Charles forwent his last season at Auburn to go into the NBA when his draft stock was highest.  It's all about the money and no hot young talent wants to waste away a year in college when he could be signing a big fat NBA contract.

With Kobe's retirement and LeBron soon to follow, the NBA is restless for the next great star.  Stephen Curry is the current front runner coming off his second MVP season, but looking at Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook I would say these two are every bit as deserving, if not necessarily putting up such gaudy stats.  For me, Kevin Durant is the reincarnation of Julius Irving, my favorite player growing up.  He makes the game look too easy.

Oklahoma City already defied expectations by knocking out San Antonio after taking a drubbing in the first game of that series, and now has Golden State on the brink of defeat, needing three straight wins to reach the NBA finals for the second year in a row.  A part of me would like to see the Warriors cap their record breaking 73-win season with another NBA ring, but the other part is glad to see Durant finally come into his own with a team that can now seriously compete for a championship.

Unlike Sir Charles, I like the way the game evolves with new raw talent coming to the fore.  It takes great effort to shape these athletes.  Few come into the league ready for prime time.  That's always been the case, it's just that now these players are expected to shine from day one because of their massive contracts, and I guess some persons are disappointed when they don't.

Don't take it out these kids, Charles.  They're still learning the ropes, just like you had to do in Philadelphia back in 1984.  BTW, that was one hell of a draft that year, which had Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley among the first five picks.

The Godfather Notebook

Arguably, the best movie of all time is now a book.  Phaidon is already taking pre-orders for the signed special edition due out in November.  If $250 is too much, you can buy the paperback version for $50.  Whether it is the most important unpublished work is a matter of debate, but there is great value in the 720-page tome as it will shed light on Coppola's process behind the film, not that much of it hasn't leaked out in one form or another over the years, as this movie has been pored over by every major film critic.

Hard to believe it was 44 years ago that this film came out.  Coppola was only 32 at the time, with a handful of movies to his credit.  Only The Rain People stood out.  Coppola wasn't the first, second or even third choice to make the film.  He didn't even want to make it, until he read something in the novel that inspired him to think along Greek tragic lines, or so the story goes anyway.  He began assembling his loose leaf notebook while traveling through Europe in 1970.

He struggled to keep the film in budget and on time to satisfy an overeager Paramount studio anxious to cash in on the runaway success of the novel.  Paramount had bought the film rights to the book before it was even finished, sensing a blockbuster.  And, a blockbuster they got.  For years, The Godfather was the most popular film of all time until Jaws came along.  It also cashed in at the Academy Awards with Best Picture, but Coppola lost out to Bob Fosse for Best Director.  Coppola would get his Oscar for the second installment two years later, which likewise won Best Picture.

Coppola can also be credited with raising Marlon Brando from the dead, as he had fallen out of favor with studio executives.  It took a very emotional appeal by Coppola to get him in the film.  Brando would also win an Oscar for his performance, which he infamously declined, sending Shasheen Littlefeather to read his rejection.

All the bold moves Coppola made established him as the new star in Hollywood.  He would follow up with equally memorable movies like The Conversation, The Godfather, Part II, Apocalypse Now and The Cotton Club, although he had his misses as well like One from the Heart, although the soundtrack by Tom Waits and Crystal Gayle is great.

He produced other big films, notably American Graffiti, and financed interesting projects like Koyaanisqatsi through American Zoetrope.   The one movie that eluded him was On the Road.  He thought he had finally found his director in Walter Salles, but the movie fell flat especially after all those years of anticipation.

The same was true for The Godfather, Part III, the overlong final installment that left you wondering, what for?  Like the previous two films, he collaborated with Puzo on the script but this film just went on an on and on without giving us any real added insight into Michael Corleone, other than he was desperate to have his children live a virtuous life.

It will be fun to see the Notebook, but what is more interesting is the story arc that spanned nearly two decades from the first film released in 1972 to the third film released in 1990, and the nature of the collaboration between Coppola and Puzo.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Barring some malicious October surprise or worse a November surprise, Obama stands to go out as the most popular president in the modern era.  Not bad when you consider Republicans have gone out of their way to stonewall him throughout his two terms of office.

You think of all the attempts to revoke, defund and challenge "Obamacare" at the state, federal and Supreme Court level, along with the open hostility toward the President's foreign policy, and the stunning midterm defeat in 2014, which many pundits thought rendered him irrelevant in his final two years of office, it is amazing this guy is still standing.  Obama has weathered all that abuse like a rock.  He may have a little more gray hair but he remains fit as a fiddle, and seems to have finally figured out he doesn't need Congress.

For six years, the President tried to work with Congress on health care, the budget crisis, long term deficit reductions, trade agreements, you name it.  At times he seemed sheepish and insecure, letting Congress assume the lead, only to find himself rebuffed time and again, not just by Republicans, but members of his own party as well, who openly disagreed with his trade policies.

Some argued that Obama was playing the long game.  He set enough in action his first two years in office, when he had a Democratic Congress backing him, to see these actions come to fruition at the end of his term.  That is true for the Affordable Care Act, which by any measure has been a success.  But, when it comes to foreign policy, he is finally charting his own course after six years of operating in the shadow of the Bush Doctrine.

Obama took bold new initiatives in regard to Iran and Cuba.  These are both works in progress.  There was a lot of consternation over his nuclear deal with Iran, which appears to have a significant number of gray areas that Iran is exploiting.  Obama has eased travel restrictions with Cuba but the embargo remains in place, requiring Congressional action to do anything about it.  The aim is to have enough in place by the end of his term that it would be very difficult for a succeeding President to overturn these actions.

It took awhile but Obama is now his own man, firmly in control of the Good Ship America.  The economy may not be as strong as many persons would like, but when you look at the standard criteria the current economy dwarfs that of the Bush administration, even at its peak of prosperity, before the precipitous nosedive that followed.  There is no doubt we will feel the pinch of recession at some point, but all indicators point to a strong economy through 2016, which makes one wonder why we need Trump, anymore than we needed Romney in 2012.

Obama not only oversaw a massive improvement in leading economy indicators during his second term, but did much better than Romney's promises on unemployment and gas prices.  Trump's enterprises flourished these past four years, which would make you wonder what the flaming hairpiece has to worry about.   If there is any fault, it is that Obama has been too humble about his success, not flaunting it as Romney or Trump would do.

The President seems to be more comfortable letting others give him credit where credit is due, and lately he has been getting a lot credit, even from unlikely sources like Mark Cuban.  Of course, other journals continue to discount his achievements, even suggesting that his "weak leadership" is what spawned Donald Trump.  There remains two narratives at work here.  One that properly tries to assess the situation at hand, and the other which continues to perpetuate the same misleading information to make Obama appear as if he is the lamest of lame duck presidents.

The irony came when Obama began to exercise more executive authority, issuing directives on guns in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, which had conservatives comparing him to Hitler and Stalin.  Republicans became even more disgruntled when he took the lead on foreign policy in regard to Iran and Cuba.  Mitch the Turtle and former House Speaker, Long John Boehner, fumed at the audacity of the President to bypass Congress.  So, they went back to Iraq and Syria, trying to show how Obama's "weak leadership" gave rise to ISIS.

Yet, here we are in summer and there is nothing to suggest we face this great existential threat Lindsey Graham forebodingly warned us of last Fall.  Seems that if ISIS is going to launch an attack on our soil, they will wait till next year to test the mettle of the new president.  For now, they seem content attacking easier targets in Europe.

Conservative legislators love to hate Obama almost as much as they do Fidel Castro.  Unfortunately for them, they have about as much power over Obama as they do Castro.

With the election cycle reaching its second phase, Obama will be more active on the campaign trail, promoting the Democratic nominee and Congressional candidates across the country.  This is a far cry from 2014, when many Democrats didn't want Obama campaigning for them at all, preferring instead to have Billary stump for them. Didn't turn out that Bill and Hillary had a very successful rate of getting young Congresspersons elected.   It's a good thing Obama doesn't bear grudges.

The best measure of Obama's legacy will be if his popularity translates into a big election night in November -- not only the White House, but a Democratic turnover in Congress and gains at the state level.  If he succeeds in doing this then his legacy will be assured and he will have the possibility to be the most significant president since Lyndon B. Johnson.  Keep on truckin' Barry!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Is it time to panic?

It's easy to hit the panic button when you look at some of the recent polls.  Hillary looked like she was on top of the world a month ago, well ahead of Trump in most polls, but now it is a virtual dead heat.  It is difficult to say whether these early polls mean anything, but Bernie is hoping to capitalize on some of the anxiety emerging by noting that he is still comfortably ahead of Trump in national polls.

As I said before, it is difficult to understand how two such disliked figures could emerge as the parties' nominees.  Attitudes appear to be softening, at least toward the Donald, who is no longer seen as quite so unfavorable at 58 per cent, where before 70 per cent of Americans openly disliked him.  Now that he is the presumptive nominee, more persons are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, notably Republican leaders who before said they would never accept him as their nominee.  It doesn't seem to matter that he made a mockery of the Republican party, 80 per cent of Congressional Republicans are willing to back him, believing that Hillary would be worse.

This is why Bernie said in his ABC interview that it has come down to a choice between "the lesser of two evils" in most persons' minds, and that he represents the last remaining positive choice.  He was quick to point out that doesn't mean Hillary can't win in November.  It is just that his chances are greater.

Whether this will make any impact on the Democratic superdelegates remains to be seen.  Although the vast majority have already verbally committed themselves to Hillary, it doesn't mean they can't change their minds between now and The convention in July.  These 700+ delegates are enough to swing the final ballot one way or the other, and now Bernie is directly making his case to them, as there is only about a 200 differential among pledged delegates between he and Hillary.

However, that is not likely to happen especially with the fissure that has been created in the Democratic Party.  Many within the party view Bernie as an outsider and are not likely to lend their support to him.  They prefer one of the their own, even if she isn't the most appealing choice to the electorate as a whole.  Demographics favor her in November.  As close as the polls may be now, she still holds quite an edge among women and minority voters that are more than enough to offset Trump's appeal to angry white males.

Like Bernie, Trump has drawn a lot of support from the outside edges of the political party and from Independents who are not likely to make a big impact in a national election.  Surveys tend to include these persons now because it suits the media's interest to make this a close race, but that will change in the months ahead as polls focus more on likely voters.

One set of numbers is very disconcerting -- nearly a quarter of "likely voters" say they will not vote in November.  Of course, we can ask who is a "likely voter?"  Turnout in a presidential general election is usually around 60 per cent, and if these are voters who would normally take part that means we can expect a turnout of around 45 per cent, unless a third-party candidate lights their fire.

Let's assume it's just Hillary and Donald.  If voter turnout is low, Donald's chances increase, as conservatives are generally more likely to vote than are progressives.  This is why Republicans fared better in the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections, as only about 40 per cent of the national electorate voted.  This does not bode well for Hillary or the Democrats.  If voters stay home then US Congressional and State Democrats suffer as well on the ballot.

Bernie seems to think he is the one who can bring voters out. stating "any objective assessment of our campaign ... will conclude we have the energy, we have the excitement, we have the young people, we have the working people, we can drive a large voter turnout, so that we not only win the White House but we regain control of the Senate."  He's banking on the same level of enthusiasm that brought a record voter turnout in 2008 when Obama won the White House and Democrats maintained control of Congress.

However, most Congressional Democrats are giving their support to Hillary.  In the end, this is party politics and even Obama ran as a candidate inside the party.  It is not enough to caucus with the Democrats as Bernie has done throughout his long tenure in Congress.

We'll see what happens in November, but if Hillary wins it could very well be the Republicans retain control of Congress as voters feel this is the only way to keep the Democrats in check.  There is this odd game of checks and balances that makes it very rare for a presidential candidate to achieve a sweeping mandate, even someone as popular as Bernie.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

One on One with Hillary Clinton

I was listening to Hillary on CNN last night.  She noted that she took her campaign all the way to the end in 2008.  It was one of the few sentences she was able to complete without Chris Cuomo inserting comments of his own.  This guy really has to simmer down.  Check this video out at the 2:40 mark, where he tells the joint Spelling Bee winners that they have to decide who's better "mano-a-mano."  Even his colleagues buried their heads.  John Oliver had the perfect comeback.   Hillary persevered, however, until the interview was cut short for "breaking news" on the Egyptair crash, in which CNN felt duty bound to provide us simulations of how the crash might have occurred.

As it was, the interview was all about the Egyptair crash until the ten minute mark, when Chris finally offered a few questions on the ongoing primaries.  Hillary didn't seem to take much stock in the news coming out of Nevada that Berniecrats supposedly turned over chairs and made a general mess of things at the state convention.  She noted that passions tend to flair in the closing months of a campaign and was confident that a Democratic healing would take place at the convention, as it did in 2008.  But Chris wanted to rumble, he wasn't content to let the issue lie with all will be forgiven.  In his mind this was as bad as a tie in national spelling bees.

It seems the "battle royale" we saw in the Republican primaries is the new normal.  The news media had a field day with the ongoing campaign that saw 16+ conservative presidential candidates come and go.  Alas, only one remains so focus begrudgingly turns to the remaining Democratic primaries where Bernie is still putting up a fight.

Bernie and his supporters were upset with the Nevada convention that appeared to award a disproportional number of delegates to Hillary.  She seemed to forget that she pushed hard to have the Florida and Michigan results counted in 2008.  Both states held "illegal primaries," well ahead of schedule and as per DNC rules the delegates were not counted.  A compromise was eventually reached long after Obama had sealed the nomination, much to the chagrin of Hillarycrats, who vowed to sit out the general election, or worse vote for McCain, until Mackie picked Crazy Sarah Palin as his veep and then all was forgiven.

Not that the handful of delegates Bernie lost would do him much good, but it was the principle that counted.  Throughout this nomination process, Berniecrats feel their candidate has been unfairly discriminated against and have pointed fingers at Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and other key Democratic leaders who they felt were rigging the outcome in favor of Hillary.  It was darling Debbie who was spreading the allegations that Bernie supporters turned the Nevada convention into a nasty ruckus, which Hillary in turn picked up on. Barbara Boxer purportedly "feared for her life."

The media has tried to paint Bernie as the Democratic version of Donald Trump from the beginning.  It doesn't matter that the two couldn't be further apart on issues or social standing, in the media's mind the two are both iconoclasts, and iconoclasts tend to be lumped together.  Mostly because it helps to set a narrative, which the media loves to do, and use it whether it fits the situation on the ground or not.  The dust-up in Nevada was perfect, as it fit with the boisterous reaction by Trumpkins to the GOP state conventions before their man Trump had sealed the Republican nomination.  You might remember the Cruz forces were steering delegates in their man's favor on the second ballot, which no longer looks like it will come to pass.

It all happens so fast these days that it is hard to keep track with all the twists and turns in this election cycle.  How we sorely miss Jon Stewart.  He would make sense of it all.  Instead, we have Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, Samantha Bee, Seth Meyers, Bill Maher and many others trying to parse out the news clips and see if there is any method to this mayhem.  So far, nothing.  All we know is that the two least-liked candidates will be the nominees in November, so you can pick your poison.

To Hillary's credit, she is playing it pretty straight up.  She claims she will not alter her message in the general election.  She doesn't care what the Trump campaign spits out, she will continue to accentuate the positive.  Her Super PACs seem to be working from a different script.  Priorities USA came out with this amusing 30-second spot, which has Trump fuming.  I imagine we will see many more like it as Donald has provided more than enough ammunition to keep pro-Clinton PACs armed in the months to come.

Hillary appeared confident and ready for the challenge ahead.  The only question now is how she integrates Bernie into her campaign.  She ruled him out as veep in the CNN interview.  No surprise here.  It is doubtful Bernie was ever being considered except by media pundits who had nothing better to do than offer their two-cent opinions.  Hillary's eight-year deferred dream is one step closer to reality.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

What does Bernie want?

The calls grow louder for Bernie to drop out of the race, especially since he has this nasty habit of winning primaries.  After Hillary's Nor'easter, where she took four out of five Northeast states, she hasn't fared too well.  She's now lost three out of the last four primaries, eking out a 0.3 per cent win in Kentucky, where she and Bernie split the delegates half and half.  She got pummeled in West Virginia, Indiana and Oregon, indicating that many Democrats still aren't satisfied with her as the presumptive nominee.

There is little mathematical chance that Bernie will edge out Hillary in pledged delegates, but he will make it close.  She has a big edge in superdelegates, who have already committed themselves to her often in defiance of their own states' primary and caucus results.  Take Al Franken, who defied the Minnesota electorate and pledged his support for Hillary.  Seems he was angling for being part of the November ticket, according to Politico, one of Hillary's more vocal supporters.  It seems Hillary has more to offer superdelegates than does Bernie, and so they gravitate toward her like moths to a flame.

I doubt Hillary will go with Franken on the ticket, or Bernie, as other news blogs are suggesting.  Most likely she will go with someone young and dynamic and Hispanic to offset the image she has cultivated as "Aunt Hillary," not to mention further lure the Hispanic vote in her favor.  She's actually seven years younger than Bernie and two years younger than Donald, but you would never know it the way she is portrayed in the media.

I also don't think Bernie is the least bit interested in being Veep.  What he wants is for the issues he has been pushing on the campaign trail to be heard all the way to the convention floor, so that they will be adopted in the Democratic platform.  He's already succeeded with the minimum wage.  He continues to push for free public university education and universal health care, which Hillarycrats have been slow to embrace.

At heart, Hillary is a neo-liberal, one who puts big business first, albeit with a kinder gentler face than neo-conservatives.  She's perfectly comfortable with Wall Street as long as it stays within a modest set of boundaries that doesn't encumber open trading too much.  Investment companies can also continue to take their tax write-offs as long as they show something on their federal returns.  Despite the high corporate tax rate of 35 per cent, Wall Street is constantly bemoaning, the average corporate tax paid is 12 per cent.  Imagine if we got those kinds of savings at Walmart?

This has been Bernie's message throughout his campaign -- Wall Street has to pay up!  It can no longer get this free lunch and insist on deflated wages as if their massive profits are in jeopardy.  Plenty of companies offer living wages and health insurance coverage, including Costco, and still manage to turn a profit at the end of the quarter.  To be fair, Hillary believes Wall Street should pay more, but judging from her cozy relationship with Goldman Sachs and others, how much more is a big question mark?

After all, her husband Bill promised us peace dividends and all sorts of perks back on the campaign trail in 1992.  He pledged to downsize the military and invest more in the public sector, but sadly that never happened.  What we got were massive cuts in domestic programs, which he labeled "welfare reform," and a crime bill that resulted in an astronomical rise in prisoners across the country, mostly for minor crimes that would have normally resulted in nothing more than parole.

Hillary has not been able to distance herself from this legacy, as she defended it not only as First Lady but as Senator from New York.  A big part of the disillusionment among the Democratic rank and file is that we are going to get Billary, Part II, as much as Hillary tells us Bill will not serve in her cabinet.  I suppose a UN appointment is not out of the question, stealing a page from House of Cards.

Many Democrats, like Republicans, want a fresh face, but having been a two-person race, we didn't have much of a choice.  Bernie came to represent the unrest in the Democratic Party and among left-leaning Independents, who want to see greater rejuvenation of social programs in the years ahead, not less.  It has been a nice start with Obama, but there is much more to do.

The health insurance exchanges and health care reforms that took place are kind of like a Prius hybrid.  It offers some new electric features to offset the standard combustion engine, but doesn't get much better gas mileage.  What many Democrats want is a Tesla, which offers an entirely new electric system that does away with the combustion engine all together.  Swap private health insurance companies for combustion engines and you get the picture.  Many Americans want universal health care because they are sick of worrying about medical costs and outsized premiums to cover gaps in their insurance.  Bernie offers the Telsa.  Hillary offers the Prius.

It's pretty much that way across the board.  Bernie sees the country moving in a more social-minded direction.  Hillary is relatively content with the status quo, seeing it as more "realistic."  You won't see a bold new energy bill coming out of the Clinton White House, or a plan to subsidize college tuition costs.  You will pretty much see same old, same old.  Of course, when the alternative is Donald Trump that doesn't seem so bad.

Fortunately for Hillary, Bernie is a team player and will do what he can to help her win in November.  That is the public-spirited thing to do.  He will continue to fight for his initiatives in the Senate even if it means going up against Hillary in the White House, as he has gone up against Obama. But, Hillary does have to show the Berniecrats that she is at least sympathetic to their concerns and will push for progressive bills, not abandon them the way her husband Bill did when he met the least opposition.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Got Milk?

I tend to take most things vegan with a grain of salt, but I have to say that Cowspiracy gave me pause.  It is a documentary that shows the tremendous environmental impact of the livestock industry.  It's being billed as Leo diCaprio's production, but all the credit belongs to Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn, who initiated this project long ago, but had funding yanked when they pried a little too deeply into the way the livestock industry has managed to pull the wool over the eyes of environmental groups, which refuse to recognize the huge impact the industry is having on climate change.  According to Andersen, livestock produces three times more carbon emissions than the automotive industry.  They self-funded their work through a non-profit that Andersen created, later getting additional funding from DiCaprio and other sympathetic celebrities, which helped the documentary get significant airplay on Netflix.

Cowspiracy is well worth watching as Andersen presents it in a way we can all identify with.  He wanted to reduce his personal carbon footprint but soon realized that switching to pedal power, cutting down on his showers and other frugal personal efforts weren't enough.  What we're eating has a much bigger impact on climate change than we are being told.  Virtually none of the major environmental watchdogs have paid any attention to the ever-growing livestock industry, which is now pitching more humanitarian range-fed beef and poultry as sustainable farming.  As Andersen points out, it takes far more land and water to range feed cattle than it does if you inhumanely pen them up, as is the standard practice.  Even still, vast amounts of acreage are needed to support the vast herds of cattle around the globe, not to mention pigs and poultry. and other livestock.

Andersen estimated the global extent of animal husbandry at 70 billion farm animals.  The vast majority is made up of chickens at 50 billion, with cows totaling around 1.5 billion and pigs 1 billion.  Horses, Goats, sheep, turkeys and ducks make up the bulk of the remaining numbers.  These numbers can be easily disputed, however it is pretty hard to deny the impact the livestock industry has on the global carbon footprint.

Livestock Environment and Development (LEAD for short) estimates the total percentage of carbon emissions by livestock at 18 per cent.  The EPA places agriculture at 9 per cent.  Both are well below Andersen's 51 per cent.  However, Andersen takes into account all the byproducts, citing Worldwatch Institute.

Land depletion is the other major factor here, as vast acreages of forest land are being plowed under each day to support the livestock industry, reducing the earth's ability to absorb the excess carbon emissions.  Andersen adds that environmentalists and  journalists who have investigated the devastation taking place in the Amazon basin are under constant threat and many have been killed, including Sister Dorothy Mae Stang in 2005.

Andersen also points to the strong arm tactics in the United States to intimidate environmentalists and journalists.  Typically, lobbyists do the dirty work, spending vast sums of money to influence politicians to turn a blind eye to the unsavory practices in the industry.  For years our food pyramid has been overtly influenced by the beef, poultry and dairy industries to make it top heavy in favor of these food products.  The dairy industry continues to insist adults need to consume dairy products at least three times per day despite the overwhelming calls for less lactose in our diets by health officials.  The Got Milk? ads are everywhere, even though the dairy industry has come under fire for inhumane animal practices, as well as unwanted additives in their dairy products.

But, Andersen focuses mostly on the environmental impact, which is massive and at this point seems irreversible given the far-reaching power of the livestock industry.  He states that it takes 6 times more land to sustain the livestock industry than it does the agricultural industry.  Not that there aren't questionable practices in the agricultural industry as well, but it is far more sustainable than the livestock industry, which is squeezing out more farmland every day to sate our ever-growing appetite for beef and poultry.  He should find comfort in the Smithsonian reporting on this crisis back in 2012, noting that 26 per cent of our terrestrial surface is devoted to livestock grazing.

While I'm not quite ready to become a vegan like my daughter, there is clearly a lot of food for thought here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Outrageous Donald Trump

One would have thought that when Donald Trump secured the GOP nomination, the news media might focus more on the ongoing race between Hillary and Bernie, but such is not the case.  The human hair piece continues to get an outsized amount of attention for basically doing nothing.  He hasn't filled in the threadbare outline of his infeasible policies or offered us anything new that I've heard, other than attempt to have us salivate over his VP short list.  At this point, Donald must be thinking this is so easy why didn't he run for President before.

The idea of Trump using a retired neurosurgeon he once referred to as "low energy" to manage this VP vetting should be enough to make anyone question Trump's judgement.  However, we should all know by now that Trump calls his own shots, and Ben Carson is nothing more than a foil to keep the media guessing.  And, guess it has.  So much so in fact that it is all we have heard about the past two weeks.

If nothing else Trump is the undisputed master of media manipulation, and for that the media should be ashamed.  I can't think of a time when the media has fallen so pathetically for a phoney campaign that never planned to get this far.  But, thanks to all the news coverage Trump had to invest very little of his own money in this venture, giving him an unprecedented amount of free air time  thanks to a media that saw a ratings bonanza by focusing on him.

We heard again and again how Trump jacked up the television ratings, to the point he could just phone his interviews in, literally.  John Oliver didn't even have to invite Trump on his show to have the  highest rated segment of Last Week Tonight.  His piece on Drumpf has since garnered over 25 million hits on Youtube, a best-selling cap and an app.  Don't think Bill Maher doesn't know the value of Trump either, continually using him as a punching bag on Real Time.  At this point, Trump's brand appeal is through the roof and he can probably dredge out all those bottles of Trump water, flanks of Trump steak, and even his old board game and find a ready audience.  Hell, he could probably even relaunch Trump airlines, and have a long waiting list to board his planes to anywhere he wants to take his devoted fans.

Win or lose in November, Trump has succeeded beyond his wildest imagination.  He has taken America by storm and no one, including myself, can stop talking about him.  It's utterly brilliant what he has done.  He is P.T. Barnum and the Horatio Alger myth rolled into one, sold to an all-too-gullible audience craving for someone other than the standard fare offered each election cycle.

The irony of Carson screening Trump's VP nominees is that he was seen as that outsider at the beginning of the election cycle, and better fits the Horatio Alger prototype.  Alas, Dr. Ben couldn't make the pitch.  He came across as dull-witted and humorless.  No one wants that.  The public wants someone larger than life, and Trump has blown out his yuge frame to an enormous size,  well beyond the 198 lbs. he's listed at.

Rather than being ashamed of itself, the news media now attempts to explain itself, filling up even more airspace with analyses of Donald Trump.  Pundits like Joe Scarborough try to rationalize Trump, after having dismissed him earlier.  Being a former Republican US Representative, Morning Joe has to come to terms with Trump, as so many other Republicans are being forced to do.  It's a bitter pill to swallow after seeing all those candidates they supported go the way of Hunger Games tributes.

Some of these "tributes" are being granted a second life, like Chris Christie, who apparently made the VP Short List along with Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Marco Rubio.  However, Kasich has said he wants his name withdrawn, preferring to return to his Ohio district.  Not Chris though, he has said he would gladly serve as Trump's VP.  He's already proven he can do the dirty work for him by taking Rubio out in the New Hampshire primary before "Little Marco" had any chance to gain momentum in the campaign.  The poor guy never recovered from that thrashing.

The sheer audacity of Trump's campaign is no doubt what has captivated the media and in turn the public.  The guy would say one outlandish thing after another, yet rather than be run out of the race, it only gave him strength among the conservative electorate, who ate up his unscripted comments like popcorn.  The Donald even out-foxed Fox by taking down the mighty Roger Ailes, who thought with so many candidates in his stables, he had this election all sewn up, but now even he has to pay deference to King Kong Trump.

It just makes you wonder where does it go to from here?  Each time we believe the self-proclaimed billionaire has launched his last salvo, we find he has even more ammunition to draw from.  No doubt, he has accountants doctoring his tax returns to maximize his wealth so that when finally pressed to release these returns,  they will show at least $8.7 billion, which he initially claimed when he launched his campaign in June of last year, making all those periodicals that besmirched his fortune and good name look foolish once again.

This is a game for Donald J. Trump, a game he now thinks he can win.  Having slain 16 GOP candidates with hardly breaking a sweat, Hillary must seem like an easy target at this point.  He has a vast arsenal to draw from thanks to all the negative reporting on her over the last four years.  All Hillary has is her bow and quiver.  Democrats are forced to begrudgingly accept her as their Katniss Evergreen, and hope she can take down Trump in this final round.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Eurovision comes to America

Most Americans probably had no idea what hit them this past weekend when Eurovision was broadcast to homes across the country thanks to Logo TV.  Justin Timberlake even made a guest appearance, singing his latest song, but for commercial propriety reasons, it wasn't part of the broadcast.  We had to suffer through him in Europe as we awaited the final results of the week-long songfest that pits 42 nations against each other for song of the year.

It's been awhile since any of these performers achieved universal popularity thanks to their winning song.  The last person that comes to mind is Celine Dion, who represented Switzerland in 1988.  Still, the most famous winner remains Abba, which scored a yuge hit with Waterloo.  There have been other well-known performers over the years, who tried to use their universal popularity to win a trophy for their home country, like Katrina and the Waves, who brought back the crystal mic to the United Kingdom in 1997.  Unfortunately, the UK wasn't as successful when they brought Bonnie Tyler out of retirement in 2013.  She finished 19th out of 26 finalists.

The odd thing about Eurovision is that it never seems to age.  There are more and more pyrotechnics each year but the style remains virtually the same.  For a contest that sees so many countries represented, the songs have a generic euro-pop quality that doesn't translate well to American audiences.  Even the outfits seem pulled from the same racks, or maybe it is just that the 80s have come back to haunt us in fashion.

Germany's entry, Jamie-Lee and her fetish for K-pop

It was for this reason that the winning song stood out this year, as the singer actually wrote it herself.   Most contestants look for universal appeal, often hiring outside songwriters to pen them a catchy song in English.  They might or might not add a few lyrics from their own language.  Jamala took this Herculean task upon herself, determined to make a song uniquely her own, in honor of her great grandmother who was subjected to Stalin's purges in 1944.

Jamala is a Crimean Tatar who represented Ukraine.  This irked Russia, which annexed Crimea in 2014.  The Kremlin fought to have Jamala banned from Eurovision over what they considered to be nothing more than a political stunt pulled by Ukraine.  Maybe so, but for once there was a heartfelt song that actually told a story, which songs are supposed to do.

All the adverse publicity helped Jamala, as the song itself didn't have any catchy lyrics and the music evoked her Tatar roots.  Usually ethnic-inspired songs do poorly in Eurovision.  She had tough competition in the Australian entry, Dami Im.  Eurovision is such a big hit down under that Australia was named an honorary participant last year and allowed to compete this year.  Jamala also had to hold her breath until the last second, as Russia's latest boy wonder, Sergey Lazarev, won the popular vote, but it wasn't enough to beat her out, as she held the edge among the judges.

Russian authorities were none too happy with the results, especially since the judges from Ukraine had given their entry 0 points.  To be fair, Russian judges scored Jamala a big fat zero as well.  Oddly, enough the popular vote from both countries was much more favorable to the rival contestants, as the Ukrainan popular vote scored Sergey first, and the Russian popular vote gave Jamala second.   This illustrated once again that people go where their heart is, and the only bad blood between Russians and Ukrainians is that generated by politicians.

Jamala and Sergey together

Eurovision has tried hard to keep politics out of its songfest, but the very structure of its program is political.  The musicians all represent countries, not themselves, and they are only there because they won their countries' preliminary rounds.  Voting is split 50-50 between a judging panel and popular vote from each country.  Usually it is averaged together and we are given an aggregate total, but this year the organizers chose to split the vote.  Hard to say if it made any difference.  Too much effort to go through the numbers and re-calculate the results.  Either way, the vote tends to split along factional lines so it is anyone's guess how the final results would have turned out.  It is only minimally based on talent.

For me, the sign-language interpreters stole the show.  They came from a variety of countries and signed in a universal code, but it is their body motions and expressions that stood out, as they often showed more emotion than the actual participants.  I particularly liked the Lithuanian interpreter.  She comes to life at the 50 second mark of this video.

I have to think none of this is going to make much impact on American audiences, except maybe ethnic enclaves that have a strong attachment to their European home countries.   However, it seems that Eurovision is anxious to expand its boundaries and who knows may even invite an American honorary participant next year to the Ukraine, which will host the competition, as it seems Russia plans to sit the next one out.

Friday, May 13, 2016

It is really hard to figure out what was going through Ted Cruz's head when he chose to drop out and then say he would re-enter the race depending on how he did in Nebraska, only to lose big there as well.  It was one of those petulant moves, like a kid retreating to the corner of the playroom and saying he wouldn't come back to play until his playmates said how much they loved him.  As it turned out, the folks of Nebraska didn't love him.

No one really did.  He was just the last best hope for the Evangelicals to rock the GOP establishment, but when Ted started garnering all that support from political insiders in a last ditch off to knock off Trump, Cruz pulled the rug out from under the Evangelicals, so they begrudgingly flocked to Trump, who still projects himself as the outsider.  That may change now that Trump is getting all chummy with the GOP elite in an effort to "unite" the party, but for now the Donald gets to bask in all the glory, having finally put pesky Eddie Munster to rest.

In the end, it didn't take Trump much longer to subdue Cruz than it did Romney to finally mute Rick Santorum, the 2012 Evangelical Poster Boy last time around.  It's just that no one expected Trump to win, but here he is the presumptive GOP nominee and it is the Republican establishment that finds itself having to bite the bullet rather than its electorate, which was forced to accept Romney four years ago.

It seems the party leaders are accepting Trump as their nominee, even if many of the endorsements have been lukewarm at best.  Forty-one Republican senators have announced their support for Trump.  Among those is John McCain, whose war record Trump besmirched early on in the campaign.  No matter, says former POW John.  It seems he is more worried about his re-election hopes in Arizona than he is the soul of the GOP, or his fellow POWs who aren't Trump's kind of "war heroes."

Mackie is in a "damned if you, damned if you don't" situation.  Obviously, Trump is going to hurt his chances of reaching out to Hispanic voters, but the Donald will help him maintain his core of Republican support, assuming Trump offers his support in kind.  It is hard to say with the Donald, who has played this election cycle like a reality show and will only do what helps his long term chances.  At this point, Mackie needs Trump more than Trump needs Mackie, as the senator finds himself being challenged by Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick.

Whether the Congressional leaders like Trump or not, they have to rally around their Presidential nominee for the good of the party.  This includes Paul Ryan, who seems to being having a little more difficulty swallowing this bitter pill than have his contemporaries.  As a result, he has earned the wrath of Sarah Palin, who has come out in support of his opponent in the Minnesota Congressional primaries, vowing to "Cantor" Paul Ryan.  If you don't know what that means, Eric Cantor was the number two man in the House before he got face slapped by Dave Brat in the 2014 Virginia Congressional primaries.

If you are going to stand against Trump, you have to do so defiantly as Lindsey Graham has done, not be all mealy mouthed about it, as Ryan and others have been.  This does not endear you to your constituency.  However, even dear old Lindsey seems to be softening.  Talk of a third-party candidate like Romney has receded, especially given the last time the Republicans did something like this, all it succeeded in doing was handing the White House over to the Democrats.

As bad as Donald is for the GOP, he stands a fairly decent chance in the Fall, largely because Hillary hasn't exactly endeared herself to the electorate, suffering consecutive losses in Indiana and West Virginia after her surge in the  Northeast primaries.  In fact, new polls show Donald running neck and neck with Hillary in a hypothetical match-up in November, when you take into account the 4.3 per cent margin of error.  I say hypothetical as there is still an outside chance Bernie Sanders could crash Hillary's convention, depending on how California goes.

Why Ted didn't stay in the race until California is a mystery to me?  His choice of Carly Fiorina as his running mate seemed gauged for a big showdown in the delegate-rich state.  If he had kept to the outside of the establishment, he may have very well beaten Trump in Indiana, West Virginia and Nebraska, as these states favor Evangelical candidates.  But, Ted got all giddy when he saw these unsolicited endorsements coming his way and thought he had turned the GOP establishment in his favor, even if it hurt him among the Evangelical base of the Republican party.  Still, he should have ridden this election cycle out as Bernie is doing.

Now, we have this runaway train in the Donald J. Trump campaign, which looks like it will stay on track as far as the Cleveland convention, but beyond that is anyone's guess.  The names being tossed out as potential VPs are enough to make anyone cringe, even some of those being suggested.  Can one imagine Trump with Newt Gingrich or Jan Brewer or one of these 5 people, particularly Chris Christie, who appears at the top of the list?  Newt had the best reaction, "Why should I say 'no' to the circus?"

Hillary would be sitting pretty if she weren't shrouded in the many concerns that surround her candidacy -- Benghazi, the e-mail scandal, this latest bit of claptrap about a rape case in Arkansas, in which she mocked the 12-year old victim.  Not to mention Big Bill and all the unsavory baggage he represents on the campaign trail.  Or, the fact that she now has the support of the KKK Grand Dragon.  There is more than enough stuff here for Trump to exploit and deflect attention away from his many shortcomings.  He has already started doing so.

It is going to be a very very ugly campaign!  So, put that popcorn in the microwave and grab a seat and watch these two runaway trains head toward their collision in November.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

One Nation under Budweiser

Budweiser has wrapped itself in the American flag, coming out with a special can this summer to show off its patriotic fervor.  Interesting for a company that merged with Belgian brewing giant inBev for a cool $46.3 billion.  However, it still considers itself America's beer.

I never could understand the appeal of Budweiser beyond its heartwarming Christmas and Super Bowl ads.  The beer itself is one of the worst commercial beers on the market -- veritable horse piss or in this case Clydesdale piss.  For decades, it battled the original Czech Budweiser over its name, claiming it coined it first.  The rival breweries reached a truce of sorts in 2014.

On the whole, American Bud hasn't made a big splash in Europe, even though it has beefed up its alcohol content to 5 per cent, the average over here.  For years it was little more than a "near beer" at 3.2 per cent, the alcohol percentage by volume allowed in many states for domestic beers.  Still, it is over-carbonated, tasting more like a beer flavored seltzer water than an actual beer.  No matter, the name of the game is advertising and this is what Budweiser excels in, whether its bathing beauties, Clydesdales or puppies.

It also did a good job buying up all its local competition for decades, which it continues to do.   However, it is kind of like sticking your finger in a dyke, as craft beers have not only spilled over the top, but with so many brewing kits available, homing brewing has become the rage.  This is why Anheuser-Busch InBev is gobbling up as many craft beers as it can with the hope of cashing in on this malt renaissance.

But, there are a lot of folks who like an ice cold Bud in the summer, especially on the hot beaches, so Budweiser has decided to make itself synonymous with America this year with the Olympics in Rio and the Copa America Centenario spread across 10 American cities, not to mention the so-called America's Cup in New York.  It all kicks off this Memorial Day, so say hooray for the Red, White and Blue!  This Bud's for you.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Cinco de Mayo

You certainly won't hear this in a Trump administration -- Obama offering praise for Mexico on its national holiday.  The speech is from 2014, but he celebrates the day every year, and a big event is planned today as well.

Unfortunately, all Trump and many Republicans see is a wall between us and Mexico when it has been a very fluid border throughout the centuries.  One that has benefited us far more than it has Mexico.  It took decades to finally get the Colorado River flowing into Mexico again, after all the dams we had built upriver to supply US farmland and provide electricity.  This was a signature moment for the Obama administration when it signed the US-Mexico Water Pact, the kind of relationship we should have with Mexico.

Instead, many of us see Mexico as an enemy, forever evoking the Alamo, which paved the way for one of the biggest land grabs in American history.  Not only did we take Texas, but all of the New Mexico territory and California, after the "Lone Star Republic" infamously declared independence from Mexico.  Abraham Lincoln and other Whigs were staunchly against the Mexican War, as they saw it as nothing more than imperial ambition.

We had a growing cotton plantation system that desperately needed more land, so expansion was inevitable.  Mexico had only recently gained independence from Spain and was struggling to build a nation state out of its far-flung territories.  It was poorly equipped to defend them, so President James K. Polk saw a golden opportunity to give his Southern brethren what they wanted.

Mexico was in danger of being overrun by France during the American Civil War, but the Mexican Army stood tall at the Battle of Puebla, beating back the unwanted invaders.  This is the moment it honors from its six-year war with France.  Given the highly festive ways in which Mexicans celebrate Cinco de Mayo it is easy to confuse it with Independence Day, which is celebrated September 16.

It is nice that we share in this holiday with Mexico, making us all Latinos at least for one day.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Obama drops the mic

What a week!  The President offered his farewell address to White House correspondents and a wide variety of guests, many of whom he singled out during the evening.  One person wasn't there, Donald Trump, but he had his two sons represent him, with Eric saying he was looking forward to his father addressing the White House Correspondents Association next year.

It may have seemed like a far-fetched idea last June, when he descended his escalator, but that reality came a step closer yesterday when Ted Cruz bowed out of the race, failing to hold the firewall in Indiana against the raging Trump fire.  It's too bad, we were all looking forward to the dream ticket in California.

First, the good news.  The President was in fine form, playfully teasing his audience, including Reince Priebus, the head of the Republican National Committee, who seemed to take the jokes in stride.  Obama even singled out Kendall Jenner, noting how his twitter followers will increase now that he has referenced her.  The White House Correspondents Dinner has become a virtual who's who of politicians and celebrities that now spills over into a garden brunch, the so-called "pre-game."  Helen Mirren saved her Prince tattoo for that evening.

There no longer seems to be any line between entertainment and politics, which helps explain how Trump was able to sweep through the Republican primaries.  Politicians have long courted celebrity endorsements, and love nothing more than having events like this that allow for engaging photo-ops, but now it seems celebrities are taking over the political circles as well.  We've already been primed for a run by Kanye West in 2020.  Given the huge success of Trump this year, who is to say Kanye can't take over the Democratic Party in the same way, assuming he runs as a Democrat.

In the meantime, Bernie was able to put Hillary's nomination on hold by taking Indiana.  His narrow win gave him a +5 differential in delegates, hardly enough to cut into her overall lead in any appreciable way, but it shows that voters still want Bernie to run.  He has become the darling of this election cycle, a 74-year-old "Social Democrat" who has captivated the millennials, showing that you don't have to be a pop star to turn on the latest MTV generation.

What Bernie has working for him, which Ted does not, is that Sanders continues to run outside the establishment.  Ted has been getting political endorsements left and right, including that of Indiana's governor, Mike Pence, but all it has done is make Ted look like an insider, and this is clearly what the Republican electorate does not want.  The more Ted cozies up to the establishment, the more votes he loses.  He should have known that but it seems all Ted wanted was to be liked.  Unfortunately, he got walloped in Indiana, losing all 51 delegates to the Donald.

It was a staggering win for Trump because Indiana was not supposed to be friendly to him.  The only question now is whether Republicans will rally around him at the convention or mount a third-party campaign, as some have suggested, to ensure he doesn't win the White House.  The latest Rasmussen poll has him two points ahead of Hillary Clinton, albeit only 80 per cent of those polled chose to give a preference.

The other option is to rally around Hillary, although she took one on the chin this week when the media dredged up a rape case from 1975 in which Hillary apparently got the rapist off the hook.  It may have damaged her a bit in Indiana, where she was favored to win after her string of Northeastern primary victories.  It's the kind of story that can gain traction through an election cycle, much like Willie Horton did in 1988.

But, Obama steered away from these hot button issues, leaving it to Larry Wilmore to tackle the more contentious subject matter in his monologue.  Alas, Larry wasn't a big hit at the dinner.  He seemed to struggle at the podium as he ventured into a comedic and political no-man's land on what it means to be a nigger.  Best to leave these subjects to the round table, where he excels on the Comedy Channel.

What people want is a playful banter, like the President did, making as many jokes about himself as he did others.  Most amusing was his little video segment on what he would do in the Washington DC area after he left the White House.  He wants young Sasha to have the opportunity to finish Sidwell Friends School.  If only Hillary could bring a little of this levity to her campaign, then maybe fewer persons would see her as "Aunt Hillary" trying to learn how to use the social media, as Obama joked.

The Donald opts for an entirely different approach, which has endeared him to millions as the so-called "straight shooter."  For some reason, which has defied all political calculus, the Donald is seen as telling the truth whereas his opponents are seen as opportunists and liars.  He has been able to literally overturn the equations that normally govern an election cycle and make 2016 entirely about himself.

You can joke about him all you want, as Obama has done at this and previous White House Correspondents Dinners, most infamously 2011, but it doesn't matter.  The Donald is impervious to such abuse.  He uses it to motivate him, which many felt was the case with the merciless taunting he took five years ago on this grand occasion.   The time may have not been ripe in 2012 but it was perfect in 2016.  He will now represent the Republican Party in the General Election whether the GOP likes it or not.

The only question now is whether Hillary can push her rock a little further up the hill and beat him back in November.  Otherwise it could be a very black Tuesday.

Monday, May 2, 2016

A Special Kind of Stupid

Apparently Sam Elliott wasn't all that keen about being cast as another cowboy in The Big Lebowski but he has since come to embrace this prototype, taking the roles that came with it.  However, I would have to think he would be a bit chagrined by how his "stranger" has come to be one of the most popular memes on social media, most often used to advocate gun rights.  The quotes you see attributed to him can be easily generated at such meme sites as imgflip.

I had my brush with Sam Elliott many years ago, when he came to Northwest Florida to film Frogs.  I was cast along with other neighborhood kids for the child roles in the movie, but alas I lost out to my classmate for the closing scene when a little boy shows a big frog to the kids who had survived the torment of amphibian and reptilian revenge.  Still, I got to meet Sam and Joan Van Ark and glimpse Ray Milland in one of his least memorable roles.  Sam would go on to better films, leaving Frogs far behind.  However, a few of those giant South American toads lingered in the bayous.

Sam did a bit of everything in Hollywood, but his role as "the stranger" in The Big Lebowski is what most persons remember him for, thanks largely to these neverending memes.  A certain kind of politics has been attached to him whether he likes it or not.  While it does appear that Sam is a staunch gun advocate, he doesn't exactly line up with the right wing of politics as much as conservatives would like.  Just the same, they claim him as one of their own.  In a Hollywood overrun by liberals I suppose it is heartening to think there are a few conservatives among them.

For his part, Sam keeps his political views pretty much to himself.  In his interview with the New York Times, he said that his greatest missed opportunity was passing on a chance to be with Reba McEntire in Annie Get Your Gun, showing a fondness for musicals.  He also lent his voice to dinosaurs, not just the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and Coors.  He doesn't appear to take himself too seriously, something Republicans could learn.

Unlike Clint Eastwood, Sam has not endorsed any political candidate that I know of.  He prefers not to talk to chairs or go around bellyaching like Tom Selleck that he lost roles because of his politics.  Sam seems content with where he is at in life, even if he hasn't reached the same level of fame of some of his contemporaries.  He's one of those actors who gets better with age, and has been lauded for his role in Grandma, along side Lily Tomlin.

In this world of social media, it will be pretty hard for Sam to shake his iconic role as "the stranger."  It's just too bad it has been co-opted by conservatives determined to make Sam Elliott an icon for their causes.