Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Ministry of Reconciliation

John Danforth thinks that if President Obama had just invited members of Congress to dinner we wouldn't have all this acrimony we have in Washington.  He imparted these thoughts and others in a lengthy interview for Salon, mostly to plug his new book, The Relevance of Religion, in which he thinks religion can serve as a reconciliation force in politics.  Late in the interview, he points to George Bush being an example of this, saying "I don't see him as being an in-your-face, full-of-himself type," which is apparently how he sees Obama, who is too arrogant to invite Congresspersons to dinner.

Obama had been accused of aloofness before, so at the beginning of 2015 he made a New Year's resolution to have a drink with Mitch McConnell and let John Boehner beat him again at golf.  Typically, dinner time is family time, which he said would be the case when he entered the White House with his young family.

At 79, I suppose we can forgive former Sen. Danforth for forgetting what it is to be both a politician and a father, but why trot out this tired allegation?  It's not like Obama has avoided members of Congress.  He has often met with them to hash out legislative differences, but unfortunately these talks have broken down along ideological lines, mostly within the Republican Party, which has been steered by the Tea Party ever since 2010.

Danforth does note the divisions in his party and how these need to be reconciled, but like most Republicans puts the blame on Obama for the divisive nature of politics these days.  While it would be nice to think that the GOP would be more obliging if only the President would be too, the last seven years have shown little indication of this.  Time and again, the President has tried to broker compromise in Congress only to see it blow up in his face.  When Congress was deadlocked at the end of 2010, with the threat of a government shutdown looming, Obama pushed fellow Democrats to extend Bush-era tax cuts to break the impasse.  It was a very bitter pill to swallow for Democratic leaders, who had fought against these extensions, but it did open up the floor to get the notorious "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy repealed and other matters Obama wanted closed.  This is the kind of pragmatism Danforth apparently wants to see in Washington, but is loathe to admit Obama is that pragmatist.

It seems Grandpa John would like us to return to the days when his mentors, Robert Dole and Howard Baker, were the top Republicans in Congress.  These guys knew how the legislative process worked and sought compromises in the spirit of reconciliation.  Today, Danforth believes the ideological rift is so wide that neither side is willing to compromise on any issue, even though we recently saw Obama steer the Trans-Pacific Partnership through Congress. largely with the support of Republicans, as many Democrats were staunchly against it.

As he says, politics is not religion and we should view it as a legislative process not an ideological one.  This is exactly what Obama has tried to do, yet has been met with staunch opposition such as his attempt to broker a long range budget plan that would reduce the deficit by $4 trillion.  One could argue the numbers, but instead of negotiating a deal Boehner walked out, mostly for political reasons as he didn't want to sign onto anything that could keep Obama in power four more years.  It was at the height of the 2012 election year, and Republicans were determined to run Obama out of Washington.  Even after the President won re-election, the Republicans refused to sign onto any sweeping budget plan that wasn't in their interest, despite having suffered another big election defeat.

This was more the politics of spite than it was reconciliation.  When Republican Senators signed onto a sweeping immigration reform bill in 2013 with the hopes of reconciling themselves with Hispanics, John Boehner refused to bring the bill to a vote in the House, determined to use immigration as a divisive issue in the 2014 midterms.  The Republicans may have won the battle, but they appear to have lost the war as they have completely turned off the fastest growing demographic group in America.

That brings us to the Republicans' new nemesis, Donald Trump, who has driven the wedge even deeper with his outlandish views on immigration.  Trump's popularity among Republican core voters has Danforth "absolutely bowled over."  Grandpa John seems at a loss for words as to how this bull got loose in the Republican china room, yet all he has to do is look at the growing dissatisfaction within the conservative movement at the Republican Party leadership.  In fact, it was long-time operatives, Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey, who split with the Republican establishment after their falls from grace and spearheaded the Tea Party movement.  Donald Trump is simply the latest incarnation of that dissatisfaction.

If Danforth thinks that religion can serve as a bridge toward reconciliation he is senile.  What we see today is old time religion combining with Ayn Rand's Objectivism to create a political monster that the Republicans have been trying to hide for decades.  The so-called Moderates were in control at one point but with the devastating loss by Romney in 2012, the base of the party has given up on moderation and now wants a Trump-style revolution, which we have long been trying to avoid in the United States.  The Tea Party wants the reconciliatory Republican heads served on a Louis XVI platter.  How Danforth's brand of Episcopalianism is going to soften the hard differences is anyone's guess, but I doubt you will find the answers in his book.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

New Faces, Same Old Message

The oddest thing about the Republican Party today is that it has become more diverse despite becoming increasingly conservative.  It now has a number of young Latino, Indian and Black leaders pushing its rigidly conservative agenda at the local, state and national level.  The staunchest opponents to immigration and expanded social services have been Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and Bobby Jindal, despite the fact their parents were immigrants and relied on social services at one time.  It really is hard to figure what draws them to the Republican Party other than an opportunity for quick promotion up the ranks.

The GOP's outreach has been nil since recognizing its shortcomings in 2012.  The House purposely held up immigration reform legislation despite there being the votes to carry it in 2013.  Its leaders felt there would be enough backlash in the 2014 midterms to run the Democrats out of town.  Since then, immigration reform has been a dead issue and so too any attempt by the Republicans to reach out to Hispanic voters beyond wunderkids like Cruz and Rubio and Susana Gonzales, the governor of New Mexico, who currently finds herself in hot water.

I guess the feeling is that because these young leaders are Hispanic, Hispanic voters will vote for them regardless of the positions they take.  It seems to work for disaffected blue collar workers who vote Republican, seemingly oblivious that the party in no way represents their interests.  You've got all these voters presumably flocking to Donald Trump because he feels their need, yet Donald has repeatedly said he thinks wages are too high and the only way to be competitive is to do away with labor unions and the minimum wage.  Donald also thinks he can win over Hispanic voters, such as this highly enthusiastic woman.

The strategy appears more to be to freeze out minority voters than it is bringing them into the party.  At the state level, we have seen any number of voter registration measures and political gerrymandering that make it less likely that minorities will vote, or if so less impact on the electoral college.  Everything from voter ID laws to shortening the window of registration and early voting has made voting that much more inconvenient.  Congressional districts have also been redrawn to give minorities less voice.

Hispanic and Black voters don't have very many candidates that represent their interests to begin with.  Voting Democratic is more a begrudging choice because there is at least some attempt to accommodate their interests in the political party.  There is very little excitement so when voting becomes more a hassle, it is very likely these voters will stay home and that's exactly where the Republicans want them to be on election day.

The GOP has adopted the strategy that worked for them in 2000 and 2004, which is to turn the national election into a numbers game, electoral numbers that is, aiming at states where they can reach the magic number of 270 to win the electoral college.  The RNC works hard to get Republican governors in key states that can help push its presidential nominee over the top.  If a race is close, as it was in Florida in 2000, the RNC can count on the Republican state administration to turn the vote in its favor.  Its a cynical form of politics that tends to suck all the air out of the election, leaving just about everyone disgusted with the process.

Trump threatens to overturn that process by stirring up a virtual hornets' nest of anxieties, which have old time Republican operatives fearful he may swing key states into the Democratic column.  The Republican establishment prefers milquetoast candidates because they are less objectionable.  Their campaign strategy has never been about inspiring people, but rather putting them into a kind of stupor where voters are less likely to vote and therefor the GOP more likely to come out on top.

The GOP tends to win national elections when the turnout is low --  105 million voters in 2000 as opposed to 132 million in 2008.  It realizes it is a political minority, so the aim is to make it an election where their core voters outnumber the Democratic core voters, and splitting the difference among moderates.  Trump threatens to tip the moderates in the Democrats' favor.

Trump also has the ability to mobilize Hispanic voters against the Republicans.  In 2000 and 2004, George Bush carried 37 and 41 per cent of the Hispanic vote, edging out Gore and Kerry in the national election.  In 2008 and 2012, Republican candidates were only able to muster 31 and 27 per cent respectively and ended up losing their bids.  It's estimated that the Republicans will need at least 40 per cent of Hispanic voters in 2016 to win.  Right now, only 11 per cent of Hispanic voters have a favorable impression of Donald J. Trump.  So, if you are playing this one by the numbers, as the Republicans do, Trump is bad news.

It's not likely that any of the GOP candidates would win in 2016, given these depressing poll numbers among Hispanic voters.  Only Jeb Bush has a favorable rating higher than Mitt Romney in 2012 and that by only one point.

Tim Scott and Nikki Haley give South Carolina
a new image but little else

Black voters, unlike Hispanic voters, vote overwhelming Democratic.  Hispanic voters tend to split their votes in state and national elections.  Yet, there are some Black conservatives like Tim Scott, who thinks he might tip the balance for a Republican presidential candidate in South Carolina.  There's also Mia Love who won a House seat from Utah.  She's come out in favor of Marco Rubio.  However, it's unlikely that either will have any affect in a national election, and Ben Carson is fading fast in national polls.

Still, it is a diversity that Republicans like to point to.  They have even been promoting Lincoln as of late, as if they are the party of social reform and not the Democrats, quick to point out that it was the Democrats who put in place Jim Crow laws.  But, this kind of historical game playing doesn't work very well among an electorate that mostly looks out for its self-interests, and there is not much in the Republican Party today that benefits Hispanics and Blacks or anyone else for that matter.

The Republican Party is great for individuals like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, as it provides a rapid rise for them in politics as long as they stick to the conservative script, but looking at the poll numbers this script hasn't endeared them to Hispanic voters.  Only 20 per cent of Hispanic voters view Rubio favorably, and only 17 per cent have a good impression of Cruz.  This might not be enough to put either one on the 2016 ticket as a Vice-President nominee, and Rubio gave up his Senate seat to run for President.

The Grand Old Party still has a long way to go in its outreach attempts to minorities.  It can try to color the election anyway it likes but until it is serious about immigration reform and quits seeing social security and health care as giveaway programs, it will continue to see itself as an ever-shrinking political minority with less political clout.  They can tamper with the voting laws all they like, but they can't ban elections all together.  If ever there was a golden opportunity to mobilize unsettled voters against Republicans it is now.  Let's just hope the Democrats seize the opportunity.

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Science of Conservatism

This article is from last year but it popped up on my facebook page this morning.  Scientists have been trying to figure out if there is a biological imperative to conservatism and it seems they found one from the Pleistocene period 12,000 years ago.  Basically, it seems conservatism is a recessive gene that is a throwback to earlier years as hunters and gatherers.  It allows us to to sense danger and react quickly, which would help explain the gun cult that has arisen in America, if nothing else.

John Hibbing calls it a "negativity bias," which makes some persons more attuned to threatening or disgusting stimuli in their environment.  These persons respond more rapidly to aversive stimuli like spiders than apparently do more liberal respondents, who probably just say, "oh spider."  This experiment would definitely put me in the second group as I've learned to live with spiders and feel no threat at all.

However, my daughter is particularly adverse to spiders, so it seems this recessive gene is something we all are born with and over time become conditioned to be less scared of spiders.  Conservatives don't seem to fully overcome such fears.  Their reaction is probably to crush the spider where my reaction is to put a cup over it and slide a piece of paper under it and take it outside, where it can live in its more natural habitat.  But, spiders like the warmer climate of the house in winter just like humans, so inevitably they find their way back into her room again.

Hibbing did other experiments as well, tracking eye movements and other sensory movements to determine if there was a deeper pattern here.  What emerged is that conservatives tend to prefer a more primal form of society, which Julian Jaynes referred to as a bicameral mind.  This is a mind that likes clear distinctions, structure and order, normally associated with primitive societies that have a very clearly defined societal order.  These persons are driven largely by strong emotive responses such as disgust.  Typically, they don't like change.

Basically, we are talking about persons who retain a child-like view of the world.  More specifically toddlers who react with disgust to things they don't like and become defiant when you persist on making them try it, often sealing their mouths tightly shut, folding their arms across their chest and digging their heels into the ground.  Most of us tend to grow beyond this early, seemingly innate "negativity bias," but some apparently do not.  You can read that four-year old intractability in Donald Trump's face.

Consciousness was the big breakthrough, and Julian Jaynes believed it occurred around the time of the Greeks.  Not to say other civilizations didn't possess it, but it wasn't valued like it was during Greek times when ambiguity came to be more generally accepted and used to create a greater variety of arts, drama and political thought.  Bicameral societies tended to be totalitarian by comparison.

The Greek ideal is at the core of modern democratic society, but conservatives generally try to avoid the ambiguities, preferring a Manichean construct, which grew up about the same time as Christ and spread through the same region.  Manicheans were probably more complex than we give the credit for but their notion of moral dualism is much easier to come to terms with than is say the works of Aristophanes.

Conservatives generally have an us v. them view of the world, whereas liberals tend to have a more all-inclusive view.  In the conservative world, spiders elicit disgust whereas the liberal is more likely to see the spider in a more positive light.  For instance, E.B. White would have to be regarded as a liberal.

It seems Hibbing has hit on something, linking conservative thought back to our much earlier primal fears.  I don't think you necessarily have to be a scientist to figure this out, but it helps in trying to find genes that might attribute to this kind of behavior.  This may allow us to one day excise this gene once and for all, since it really no longer serves much purpose in our society except to hold us back.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Cold Comfort

We made it through another Christmas without too much anxiety.  Donald managed to eat most of the Christmas pudding with his attacks on Hillary, giving Fox little time to trot its usual stories of how Christmas was hijacked by the politically correct police.  We were treated to the great news that Bristol Palin gave birth to Sailor Grace.  This is her second child out of wedlock, although some think it is her third.

While we react to the "disgust" of Donald Trump and wonder if Bristol still considers herself a virgin in the eyes of the Lord, spiteful legislators managed to slip in visa restrictions on Iranian nationals into an omnibus visa bill, which Obama signed.  This has Iran screaming foul in regard to the nuclear deal they signed with the US and other countries earlier this year.  John Kerry tried to smooth things over by saying the President can bypass the law for high-ranking officials, but the whole purpose of this deal was to open Iran up to the West.  The new law also affects anyone traveling to Iran, as they could be denied access to the US if their passports carry an Iranian visa stamp.

You get the feeling that the Republicans are learning how to use Trump to their advantage.  As long as he continues to hog up the media limelight with his outrageous statements, they can slip all kinds of noxious measures through Congress and few will be the wiser for it.  It seems that Obama's earlier executive decisions are coming back to haunt him, as Congress erects one road block after another, making his last year in the White House that much more difficult to traverse.

I'm sure the President is planning his counter measures.  There is no doubt he will veto the Republicans' umpteenth attempt to repeal Obamacare, but it seems that Obama has found a strong adversary in Marco Rubio, who is bound and determined to dismantle the Affordable Care Act piece by piece.  This is some Christmas present, as an estimated 12 million persons are now enrolled in the health insurance exchanges.  Unfortunately, this is the kind of spite we have come to expect from the Republicans.

It's not just repealing health care and imposing greater visa restrictions.  Republicans at the  local, state and federal level have gone out of their way to make this season unbearable for a great number of persons.  It makes Scrooge look like a benevolent saint by comparison.  For a political party that believes so fervently in Christmas there seems to be little Christian charity, openly ignoring the Vatican's Call for Mercy this year.  Instead, all we will get this year is cold comfort from conservatives.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


"You can't con people, at least not for long.  You can create excitement, you can do wonderful promotion and get all kinds of press, and you can throw in a little hyperbole.  But, if you don't deliver the goods, people will eventually catch on." -- Donald Trump from The Art of the Deal

Donald Trump has now officially inserted his "schlong" into this political campaign.  Just when you thought the bar couldn't be lowered anymore, Trump finds a way.  His comments concerning Hillary Clinton come after she claimed ISIS was using him as a recruiting tool in their videos.  No such video could be located, just like that one of Jersey City Muslims cheering in the streets, but the Donald wasn't letting Hillary off lightly on this one.  Not only did he deride her for her long bathroom break during the last Democratic debate, but said that she got "schlonged" in the 2008 primaries by Barack Obama.

Bernie's response was probably the best, as he questioned Donald's knowledge of human bodily functions, at least in regard to women.  Since Donald has already referenced menstruation in regard to Megyn Kelly, maybe he thought Hillary was menstruating, which is why he regarded her bathroom break to be so disgusting.  But, as Bernie noted, Donald doesn't seem to understand women at all, especially those who have already gone through menopause.

No matter, this has become Donald's shtick.  The more outrageous he is the more he can get the press to focus on him at the expense of others.  Donald has done his level best to keep this election off topic, or rather make the topic himself.  Any attempt to address actual issues has been buried under this steady stream of his blatantly false and misleading claims, ad hominems, and self-aggrandizement.   The media is still poring over his claims that Muslims were cheering in the streets of Jersey City while the Twin Towers burned, one of many lies that led PolitiFact to lump them all together into its "Lie of the Year."

That's pretty amazing when you think about it, as Ted Cruz had previously been chalking up the lies at such an alarming rate, he could only be counted on to make a true statement 4 per cent of the time.  Ben Carson was even worse with 0 true statements, chalking up false or mostly false statements 84 per cent of the time.

Believe it or not, these are the top three GOP candidates!  It seems that a large chunk of the conservative electorate is totally oblivious to the truth,  These three candidates currently command almost two-thirds of the Republican polling audience.  This is bad news for establishment candidates, who are not prone to tell the truth either, often blurring the lines with half true statements that are just as misleading as Donald Trump, albeit not as colorful.

It's not like the RNC can penalize its candidates for crudity, which the NFL did to Odell Beckham Jr. after his ugly display this past Sunday against Carolina.  All it can do is publicly rebuke them, as it has done Donald on several occasions.  Not that it does much good.  What the Republican National Committee is finding out the hard way is that a significant portion of its electoral base identifies with this kind of crudity, and believes that Donald Trump is a "straight talker."

The funny thing is that he is quick to step back from his more outrageous statements, claiming the media misinterpreted them, as he did when questioned on his remarks about Megyn Kelly's bleeding.  He finds it "disgusting" the way the media  attacks him, identifying with Putin's antagonism toward the media in Russia, although of course he wouldn't go so far as to condone violence toward journalists, even if they "deserved it."

At one rally after another he points out the reporters in the back of the hall to his audience and disparages them.  It can be quite scary, as his audience turns to focus their menacing eyes on these no-good reporters who dare to challenge their beloved candidate.  Protesters suffer similar abuse.  So far, no one has been hurt but then the primaries haven't even started yet, and that is when tempers are really going to flare.

All this feeds the fire that has become the Donald Trump campaign, and now he is bringing Hillary into it as he seems to think he has already wrapped up the GOP nomination with a 15-point lead over his nearest challenger, Ted Cruz.  Apparently, it is now time to whip out the schlong.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Dawg Pound Blues

One can only imagine what Jim Brown felt watching the Browns take on the Seattle Seahawks this past Sunday.  The young Cleveland quarterback Johnny Manziel offered some hope on an opening drive that led to a touchdown, but after that it was all Seattle and the Browns may wind up with the worst record in the NFL.

The Cleveland Browns have always bit a bit of an enigma.  The history surrounding their nickname is shrouded in mystery.  Some say the team was named after Joe Lewis, the legendary "Brown Bomber," who dominated heavyweight boxing for many years.  Others say the team was named after its first owner Paul Brown.  One might be forgiven for thinking the moniker belongs to Jim Brown, who carried the team on his shoulders back in the late 50's and ealry 60's, but the Browns' best run was a few years before when they were led by Otto Graham, winning the NFL Championship in 1954 and 1955.

The team came up through the All-America Football Conference, replacing the Rams in 1950, which had moved to Los Angeles.  Paul Brown was co-owner and coach. They had dominated the AAFC and quickly established themselves as a dominant team in the NFL, winning the championship their first year in the league.  They would win three more over the next 15 years.

Otto Grraham breaking aaway
However, the team didn't fair so well after the merger with the American Football League in 1966, unable to get to the Super Bowl over a 30 year period, before owner Art Modell decided to move the team to Baltimore in 1996.  Cleveland wouldn't let him take the name or the colors with him, regaining a team in 1999.  a three-year slumber that left Browns fans literally in the "dawg pound."

Modell had long been a controversial figure.  He took over the team in 1961 and fired Paul Brown as head coach in 1963.  It seemed like fortunes improved as the Browns won the NFL title again in 1964, but when Jim Brown announced his retirement at the peak of his career, the Browns went into a tailspin.  Modell was not content to stay in the front office.  He battled players and coaches alike over contracts and decision making.  He battled the city over improvements to the stadium, culminating in a nasty dispute which eventually led to him moving the team to Baltimore.

Bernie Kosar in 1987
There were some good teams during that period, but Cleveland was unable to get past Pittsburgh, its arch-nemesis in the AFC.  The move to Baltimore filled a void left by Jim Irsay, who had taken the Colts to Indianapolis following similar disputes over stadium improvements.  The relocation of these legendary teams inspired owners to make similar moves, essentially pitting cities against each other to build better stadiums to host NFL teams.  New stadiums began to pop up everywhere, each striving to be the most state of the art.  If a city didn't ante up, it would have a hard time holding onto its team.  Green Bay is the only city that actually owns its team.

Why others didn't do the same is anyone's guess.  It would saved a lot of heartache.  Los Angeles has been without a football team since 1995, when the Rams moved to St. Louis and the Raiders returned to Oakland.  There is talk now that the Rams will return next year, as St. Louis has apparently lost interest in its ball club, no longer willing to be held hostage by the owner.  The city had lost its Cardinals to Arizona back in 1988.

As John Oliver noted in his piece, Stadiums, a city finds itself having to appease owners in all sorts of strange ways and rarely gets a return on its massive investment.  The NFL owners have successfully been able to create an oligarchy that even has a federal tax exemption, although it is now willing to give that up, as it has drawn severe criticism over the years given the massive revenues the NFL teams generate.

In many ways, Art Modell is your prototypical NFL team owner.  He was only 32 at the time, he led a group of investors who bought the Browns for $4 million in 1961, which was considered a king's ransom back then.   This was a seven-fold increase over the Browns' value in 1953.  By 1995, Baltimore had built a $200 million stadium at Camden Yards to lure the Browns, as Modell wasn't able to negotiate the deal he wanted in Cleveland.

One would think that Cleveland would have followed the Green Bay model after losing its franchise, but instead turned to billionaire Al Lerner to finance a new team.  The Browns  have been unable to capture the former magic.  In 2012, Jim Haslam bought the team for $1 billion and the struggles continue.  One has to hand it to the devoted Browns' fan base for continuing to fill the stadium, a 92 per cent attendance rate, otherwise these owners probably would have sought greener pastures as well.

The reason Cleveland took the Browns moniker is that the team wanted a name associated with a winner, either in the famous "Brown Bomber" or Paul Brown or even Jim Brown, but its name has sadly become synonymous with a perennial loser.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Look away, Dixieland

Riviera Beach residents can now say,
"at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
and President Barack Obama Highway"

I imagine the folks of Riviera Beach had been wanting to take down Old Dixie Highway for a very long time.  This is a vestige of history that doesn't sit well with the predominantly black community of 30,000 residents near Palm Beach, Florida.  In its place is President Barack Obama Highway.

Florida has been phasing out the old Dixie Highway system.  It's kind of odd it stretched so far south, as there wasn't much connection between North and South Florida during the antebellum era, or even in the early 1900s when this highway system was inaugurated as a long corridor between the Midwest and Southern states.

Henry Flagler was the first to connect the two halves of Florida back in the 1890s with his East Coast Railway, connecting St. Augustine to Palm Beach.  It had less to do with rekindling Southern pride than it did exploiting the Atlantic coastline with resorts.  The Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach was one of the jewels along the new rail line.  Still, development was slow.  The area was known more for its real estate scams than anything else.  Glenn Curtiss tried to develop the area around Miami in the 1920s, establishing a handful of communities, but went bankrupt in 1929.  It was only after WWII that persons began to outnumber alligators in South Florida.

Needless to say, some persons aren't happy about the name change.  The picture of the new highway has been circulated around the social media inspiring plenty of vitriol.   A lot of persons aren't ready to see Obama's name given to streets and highways, although this is far from the first in his honor.  Opa-Locka very quickly honored the new president by renaming Perviz Avenue in his honor on Presidents Day, 2009.  If you're curious how the town got that Arabic-sounding name, Glenn Curtiss was inspired by Arabian Nights when he laid out the streets in the 1920s.

The list of things named after Barack Obama is growing.  He has more than a dozen schools named after him, a quickly growing number of streets and highways, including one in Tanzania, and he even has a mountain named after him in Antigua and Barbuda.  It is something we will have to get used to because towns, cities and countries like honoring presidents, even if they seem to bear no relation to their locale.  Just look how long we had Mt. McKinley in Alaska, until Barack Obama signed an executive order returning our tallest peak to its original place name Denali.

However, some folks are simply never going to warm up to Barack Obama.  The idea of potentially living on a street named after him or sending their children to a school named after him is going to make their blood boil.   This is a part of his legacy they don't even want to consider.

It's just amazing how such a mild-mannered person who has rarely had a bad word to say about anyone could be so reviled by a large cross section of this country.  It's not like he has done anything in particular to offend them.  The Affordable Care Act, which Republicans derisively dubbed "Obamacare," benefits everyone, and has even been adopted in some "red states."

However, that doesn't stop persons like Marco Rubio from trying to gut it, although he put his family on "Obamacare."  The defiant senator seems to bear a peculiar grudge with Obama.  He is determined to overturn everything attached to the Obama administration, including renewed diplomatic ties with Cuba and the nuclear deal with Iran, which he has fumed over repeatedly.  If elected, he would probably try to expunge Obama from the Hall of Presidents in Disney World as well.

This kind of irrational hatred is hard to understand.  Maybe it is because many political pundits are comparing him to Obama, as he tries to follow a very similar path to the White House.  But, Marco is not alone in his contempt.  Just about every Republican candidate uses any occasion to assail the President.   Lindsey Graham is pretty much the lone voice on the GOP campaign trail questioning this "unhealthy dislike" for the President.

It's understandable to some degree, as any Republican associated with Obama's administration has a very angry base of voters to respond to.  Just ask Charlie Crist, who saw his good fortunes in the GOP quickly deteriorate when he embraced Obama back in 2009 after accepting Florida's portion of the Stimulus plan.  Crist had his eyes on the vacated Florida US Senate seat, but young Marco Rubio exploited this uncalled for show of affection to gain the Tea Party's favor and swipe the seat right out from under Crist, who had been a popular governor.  Charlie didn't give up.  He made an independent bid for the seat, but lost in the general election.  He later switched parties, also noting the "unhealthy dislike" for the President he experienced as his motivating force.

Of course, conservative pundits, and even Lindsey Graham, like to tell us that Democrats had a similar disdain for George W. Bush, but no one questioned Bush's citizenship or asked him to produce his long-form birth certificate or a number of other indignities that the current President has had to face from Republican opposition.   For the most part, our current President has taken it in stride, even poking fun when the occasion arose, unlike our previous president who could get quite surly when challenged in public.

While the hatred exhibited toward Obama is not unique in contemporary presidential history, very few presidents have had to endure such open hostility to the point that the White House security has had to beef up its efforts to protect him.  The Secret Service says the number of death threats directed at the President is overwhelming, the most seen since Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights bill into law.

If the folks of Riviera Beach want to do away with Old Dixie Highway and establish a new Barack Obama Highway, that's their call to make.  They have had to endure a lot over the years and don't need that malingering odor of Dixie hanging around.  This, of course, is something many conservatives will never understand, because in their mind Dixie symbolizes some inner call, a Rebel Yell if you like, which evokes a bygone era they hold dear to their hearts. In their minds, the election of Barack Obama shattered that image, and maybe this is why they show so much hatred toward him.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Bernie feels the burn

Vermont gun shop

I guess if Bernie has a soft spot it is guns.  O'Malley and Clinton both tried to draw him out on the issue, but the Bern was having none of it.  On the campaign trail, his opposition to gun laws hasn't seemed to hurt him.  In fact, it rarely comes up.  It is only at the debates where his opponents challenge him on his apparent soft stance.  Yet, Bernie proudly boasted of his "D- rating" from the NRA and noted that he was for the assault rifle ban.  What he wants is "common sense gun legislation."

Bernie has a more pragmatic view of gun control than his opponents, particularly Martin O'Malley, who trumpets the tough gun laws Maryland adopted when he was governor.  At a previous debate, Bernie shot back saying how difficult it is to get any gun legislation through Congress given the demographics of this country, noting that it is a rural v. urban issue, and the rural votes outstrip the urban votes.

Maryland has become a favorite target of the NRA.  Despite the state's tough gun laws, Baltimore is one of the most violent cities in America, subject of two grim television series -- Homicide and The Wire.  The latter made while O'Malley was governor.  Baltimore's new mayor countered that many of the guns are coming from out of state, and that gun control can not be a state by state issue, which is O'Malley's argument as well.

Gun control is probably the deepest wedge issue in the red state-blue state divide.  However, many "blue states," like Virginia, have little in the way of gun legislation, which leaves Maryland, its neighbor, fighting an uphill battle, as there are no border controls to check weapons as they travel across state lines.

Ironically, this is the same frustration red states have with blue states when it comes to  marijuana laws.  Nebraska and Kansas actually filed a suit against Colorado over Amendment 64, which legalized pot as a recreational drugs.  The state sheriff departments even got Colorado sheriffs to join in the suit, claiming the law created a "crisis of confidence."  Maybe Maryland can file a lawsuit against Virginia and other states?

Like it or not, guns have become a given in American society.  There are roughly 300 million firearms in circulation, making it virtually impossible to issue the kind of legislation that would lessen the impact of these firearms.  Guns now kill more people than do cars.  Over 30,000 persons die each year as the result of firearms.  Most are suicides.  Roughly 11,000 deaths are considered homicides.    A statistic that strenuously questions the civility in this country.  Yet, as Bernie noted, it is a Sisyphusian battle to try to do anything about it, noting the gridlock in Congress.

Bernie has to answer to his Vermont constituency as well, which doesn't want any federal gun laws.  It is a libertarian issue for many Americans, and Vermont prides itself on its independence, despite being a "blue state."

However, the US Congress was able to pass gun legislation before, including an assault rifle ban in 1994, months before the Republicans took over the House.  The ban was allowed to expire in 2004.  Diane Feinstein and others have tried to push the ban through Congress since then, but their best chance was during the 2009-2010 session.  Instead, they were bogged down in health care legislation.  Of course, there are those who would say that this assault weapons ban was a call to arms that helped fuel the Republican take-over of Congress.

The problem today is that most Americans are comfortable with guns.  You look at any national poll and you would be hard pressed to find a majority in favor in sweeping federal gun legislation, even renewing a ban on assault weapons.  The Republicans have effectively managed to make the use of guns a "safety issue."  The net result is that one of three households in this country has at least one firearm.  It is highly unlikely that this mood is going to shift in light of the recent shootings in San Bernardino.

Hillary and Martin are playing to their constituencies, and will continue to promote tougher gun legislation on the campaign trail, and use it at debates to rattle Bernie, who would prefer to talk about the economy.  However, this is a slippery slope for Democrats in a general election, in which it only takes one wedge issue to tip the balance.  Bernie recognizes this and is hoping to keep the discussion on the vast income disparities in this country, which cut across the party lines.  Why give the Republicans the gun issue, which they can easily exploit to their favor.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Bombs Away

Trump scores his biggest endorsements yet in Tom Brady and Vladimir Putin, while Ted Cruz has the blessing of Sarah Palin, who looked like she was going to have an orgasm on national television.  Putin was less emphatic than Sarah, but nonetheless heaped praise on the Republican front runner, calling him, "a bright and talented person without any doubt."  Oddly enough, this endorsement might drive a wedge between Donald and Ted, as Ted is ardently anti-Russian, and we all know what Sarah thinks of Russia.

The Republican nomination process has now become a veritable cluster fuck.  This was just the capstone to a crazy week that saw the Republicans go at it again on the Las Vegas strip, pitching limited nuclear war, cluster bombs and any and all means necessary to bring ISIS (or ISIL) to heel.  Ben Carson compared fighting ISIS to taking a tumor out of a child's head, some lives will undoubtedly be lost but Syria will thank him in the end.  Assuming there is any Syria left, or Middle East for that matter.

Only Rand Paul stood there shaking his head, wondering what the hell was going on.  He chose to single out Chris Christie, who was busy matching bluster for bluster with the other seven would-be commander-in-chiefs.  But, as David Roberts noted in this Vox article, Rand pulled back in his criticism so as not to spoil the show. World War III be damned.  Judging from the audience's hoots and hollers, no action was too much when it comes to taking the war to the Islamic State.  If this brings about the End Days then so be it, the religious conservative base of the Republican Party is ready.

If anyone had any doubts who was driving the Republican Party this year, these doubts were dispelled Tuesday.  The GOP has sold itself to the Nativists and religious nabobs of its base.  It's like one of those old Vaudeville shows where the guys on stage will say anything and do anything to draw cheers from the crowd.  If all else fails throw a pie in someone's face, only to get it thrown back at you.  This is Trump's show.

Rand wasn't even supposed to be there.  Chris had been called up to replace him, but at the last minute Rand was given a spot, thanks to a late-breaking Fox poll that gave him barely enough popular support to be on the main stage.  This meant that George Pataki was called in to be the fourth at the side table.  This didn't stop our undercards from showing who had the most bluster among themselves.  Mike Huckabee had harsh words for the Millennials, making it sound like he would bring back the draft so that the military could fly however many sorties are necessary to bring these radical Muslims to heel.  Lindsey Graham seemed on the point of tears, evoking the memory of George "Dubya" Bush's administration.

Lindsey puts ISIL squarely in Obama's lap, like all the others.  They think everything was just fine under our past commander-in-chief, seeming to forget that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had spiraled out of control and Robert Gates was brought in to clean that cluster fuck up.  Gates stayed with the Obama administration through 2011, managing the pullout from Iraq, which at the time no one raised any complaints about.  But, now that the "Islamic State" has emerged from the ruin, Republicans are desperate to get boots back on the ground, as they seem to believe that "war is a force that gives us meaning," to borrow from Chris Hedges.  Of course, Chris meant it ironically, but there is no sense of irony in the Grand Old Party.  The GOP takes everything at face value and only looks back in history (mostly Biblical history) to bolster its own points.

I'd like to think the Republicans are digging their own graves.  It is hard to imagine that the vast majority of the American public looks on these debates and this crazy election year for anything more than entertainment value.  I can only hope that very few persons (even Tom Brady and Vladimir Putin) take these guys seriously.  If they do, woe be it to our proud nation.  If you thought George Bush was a bad president, anyone of these guys would be immeasurably worse.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Savannah Plan

Alan Taylor doesn't describe the Oglethorpe plan for Savannah in much detail, as it is worthy of a book in its own right.  From the start the British social reformer imagined something different for Georgia that would set it apart from the other colonies.  Part of that was comprehensive town plan that remains the predominant feature of Savannah today.

Oglethorpe was probably the first of the transplanted English nobleman to be a product of the Enlightenment, unlike the religious Puritans, the unscrupulous speculators and land barons that came before him.  As such, he imagined a colony built more on a strong ethical philosophy rather than religious dogma or speculative interests.  Key to this vision was a distinct city plan that encouraged the kind of fraternity he imagined among the new colonists.

The Oglethorpe Plan is simple in concept.  Each super block was essentially designed to support itself, looking a bit like a Chinese trigram.  Over the nearly three centuries since its inception, each super block has taken on its own unique identity making Savannah one of the most picturesque cities in America.  The plan was picked up by other Georgia towns as well.

Like most Utopian dreams, Oglethorpe's vision eventually fell apart, which Taylor describes.  Georgia soon became like all the other British southern colonies, heavily reliant on large scale agriculture and slave labor.  Oglethorpe was charged for mismanagement and returned to England.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Inside Man

What began as a begrudging respect for Vladimir Putin has grown into a full blown bromance.  The Donald thinks he is the only one who can communicate with the Russian strongman.  It's hard to say whether this great admiration is reciprocated, but there are signs that the Kremlin is pleased with its new point man, who has mostly good things to say about the Russian president at the expense of President Obama and other "weak, ineffective" leaders around the world.

Trump had dealings with Putin in 2013 when his Miss Universe contest was staged in Russia, claiming an intimacy that he has echoed repeatedly.  It's unsure whether they have each other's private cell phone numbers or whether Putin has privately invited Trump to his mystery mansion on the Black Sea.  We can only speculate at this point.

It is equally hard to say who is using who as a wedge in this election cycle.  It suits Trump to play the strong, resolute Putin off the weak, ineffective Obama to drive his points home on how the US has to act more strongly in Syria.  This all came after the Paris attack, which appears to have been a watershed moment for Trump, as previously he didn't show much interest in Syria, content to have Putin deal with it.  Now, he feels we should "bomb the shit" out of Syria as Putin is doing.

Of course, the US has been bombing the shit out of Syria for well over a year now.  The American-led intervention actually dates back to 2011, but the Obama administration was content to supply Syrian insurgents.  All that changed in September, 2014, when the US coordinated activities with a handful of Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, to carry out air strikes on ISIL targets.  Unfortunately, it only appeared to have exacerbated matters as the Islamic State took its jihad directly to Europe.

Now everyone is bombing the shit of Syria, bringing even more misery to a people that has suffered through four years of internecine warfare.  Attempts to broker a cease fire are damn near impossible at this point, although Putin tried his hand at diplomacy a short while back by insisting that any peace solution include the retention of the Assad government, which is a non-starter as far as the White House is concerned.  No one quite knows what Putin's endgame is here, as the Russian president tends to keep his thoughts pretty much to himself.

However, Trump would like the American public to believe he has an inside track, just like he had a "secret plan" to rid the world of ISIS at one point.  Maybe the two go together?  Maybe Putin and Trump came up with a five-year plan in that mysterious mansion on the Black Sea to not only rid us of the Islamic State but to establish a new world order in which the US and Russia are BFF fighting nasty insurgent groups around the globe and bringing peace and brotherhood to both nations.

We will never know unless Trump is elected, which is the beauty of these mouth-watering claims.  If nothing else he keeps the media speculating, and as long as they do he is in the game.  Trump has also artfully inserted Putin into the election cycle, making communication with him an issue as no one wants to see Syria erupt into a world war, which it is on the edge of doing.  Was Trump turned back in 2013, or even before, and is now the Kremlin's inside man?

Monday, December 14, 2015

Money for Nothing

Citizens United v. FEC unleashed a flood gate of money into the election cycle that had many fearing that the little guy no longer stood a chance with corporations pouring in millions to their favorite candidates and causes.  But, who would have thought billionaires could be so stupid?

To read this article in New York magazine, you have to be a complete idiot to put your money behind Newt Gingrich, as Sheldon Adelson did in 2012, giving the former House Speaker a blank check.  Sheldon outdid himself this time around by initially bankrolling Lindsey Graham.  Sheldon has since auditioned other candidates, but apparently it is pretty easy to find your own billionaire, as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have done, so you don't need the Las Vegas gambling mogul behind you to win.

With so many billionaires looking for a would-be President to have in their pocket, it has become a field day for Republican strategists and pollsters cobbling together Super Pacs in the name of one presidential candidate or another.  Win or lose, these campaign operatives make millions, like Kellyanne Conway, who manages Ted Cruz's Super Pac, Keep the Promise I.

Billionaires were incensed with Karl Rove last time around, as he got them to ante up more than $100 million for his Super Pac, American Crossroads, that was guaranteed to get Mitt Romney elected.  No wonder Karl was sweating when the Ohio precincts started rolling in on election night with Obama holding a five point lead over Mitt.  Karl lost it on national television and is now consigned to the "political Siberia."  One billionaire actually tried to sue Rove over his false prognostications.

The money these guys put into presidential campaigns is relative small change.  The smart ones create their own Super Pacs and push through candidates at the state level where most of their interests lie.  Case in point, the Koch Brothers.  However, you get guys like Carl Icahn, who is willing to cough up $150 million to get corporate tax reform, when the average corporate tax paid is 12.6 per cent, about one third of the actual rate.  Many corporations reported paying zero taxes in 2014.  With rates like that, Icahn is fighting an uphill battle.  It just makes you wonder how these guys got so rich if they make such poor investments in politics.  BTW, Trump wants to make Icahn his Treasury secretary.

These guys have been labeled "activist investors" because they are supposedly more savvy now and are paying for their own political consultants to help them make the right choices.  I guess we can chalk it up the relative infancy of corporations being bestowed the same rights as a citizen.  After all, it has only been five years since the infamous Citizens United decision gave these corporations unlimited political spending opportunities.

Not only has Donald Trump made a mockery of the power of the Super Pac, but so too has Bernie Sanders, who has staged a grass roots campaign that is outstripping Hillary's well endowed campaign.  It may be in the end that the power of the Super Pac proves too much for these insurgent candidates, but if there is anything we have learned this election cycle it is that the power of the social media is now very formidable, and a savvy politician and his backers need to learn how to harness it.  Trump has had to invest very little of his own money into his campaign to date, thanks to the far reach of twitter and instagram.

But, it seems that many "activist investors" still work with the old paradigms.  One can excuse Carl and Sheldon, as they are both around 80, and obviously not tuned into these things.  Carl probably still thinks the corporate tax rate is 50%, as it was under Eisenhower.  But, younger billionaires should get with the game.

On the plus side, it means insurgent candidates of all stripes don't need to be afraid of Citizens United, as they can take advantage of the fast-moving social media to outflank their much better financed opponents.  A kind of Guerrilla warfare that is driving guys like Jeb Bush nuts, as his Super Pac has invested over $30 million in campaign advertising only to see a pathetic 3.8 per cent return on its investment.  That is how much Jeb is polling right now.

This bodes well for Congressional and state legislative candidates as well.  The Republican House #2 man, Eric Cantor, got trounced by virtually unknown Dave Brat in 2014, despite outspending him five to one.  And, this was just in the primary.  Brat went onto win the Virginia House Seat in November.

It's not to say that days of big money are over, but the Super Pac is only as good as the candidate himself.  If you put your money behind a lame horse, you can't very well expect to win.  Sheldon Adelson, among all people, should know this.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

First Class to Cuba

After 50 long years, direct mail between Cuba and the United States is returning.  As a stamp collector I like this.  For Cubans it is a brand new day, as it makes communications with friends and relatives a whole lot easier, as they no longer have to go through third-party countries.  Still, there are restrictions.

No doubt, our GOP candidates will jump on this latest bit of warming.  However, it may be too late for any of them to turn back relations, assuming a GOP candidate were to win the White House in 2016. The path to normalization between the countries is moving so rapidly that Discovery even has a show, entitled Cuban Chrome, that has become a popular favorite.   Who knows, even the Castros may be gone by 2017, rendering all the Republicans' bellicose words on the campaign trail moot.

Of course, Marco Rubio believes he represents Cuban exiles in residence.  He wasn't even born in Cuba, but loves to tell the story of his father, ignoring the awful injustices committed by the previous Batista regime that led to the Cuban revolution in 1959.  It's kind of like all those Republicans who think Iranians had it so good under the Shah.

I'm not saying that the Castro regime hasn't been without its share of injustices, but he probably wouldn't have lasted so long had not the United States chosen to make him public enemy number one.  Fidel's brother, Raul, has been a kinder, gentler dictator, and certainly much easier to communicate with.  Had there not been this transition in government, it is doubtful we would have seen this thaw take place, as Fidel had been able to artfully take advantage of US animosity to maintain his popular appeal.  Raul seems much more pragmatic.

Anyway, we can now enjoy a new era in Cuban-American relations.  It would be nice to see the two postal services come out with a joint commemorative stamp in the coming year.

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Girls of the UFC

Putting women into the ring is nothing new, but with the UFC format it has taken on a new level of viciousness, previously only hinted at in the faux fights of World Wrestling Entertainment.  I admit I'm drawn to it, but it makes me cringe at the same time.  I probably shouldn't worry as these "girls" are well trained, coming from boxing or some form of competitive martial arts.  But, the UFC is basically an anything-goes format, which includes choke holds, and brutal kicks like this one Holly Holm laid on Ronda Rousey in route to her upset victory.  That kick has since gone viral.

When two strawweight girls stepped into the UFC octagon last night, it took on a level of titillation given that Paige Van Zant has become America's sweetheart.  She's only 21, barely old enough to drink. She started out in ballet and switched to martial arts in high school to defend herself against bullies, according to her bio.  She goes by "12 Gauge," a nickname bestowed upon her by her father.  Both weighed in wearing skimpy little bikinis, so as to keep to the 115 lb. (52 kg.) limit I guess, but opted for spandex in the ring.  Paige's flexibility is her calling card but it proved insufficient to stop "Thug Rose," slightly her senior at 23, who opted for a crew cut to give her a more menacing look.  Before that Rose Namajunas looked like the girl next door.

It was sad to see Paige all bloodied and bruised afterward.  By round five it was clear she couldn't take anymore and the referee mercifully called an end to the fight.  For all its rawness, mixed martial arts fighting has proven to be a relatively safe sport.  These girls recover pretty quickly and are right back in the octagon.  Ronda is apparently taking a little longer to recover, mostly because her ego took a big hit, as she had previously been considered invincible.  She even challenged Floyd Mayweather to a fight.

Ronda had been the biggest UFC celebrity prior to her fight with Holly Holm.  Even Donald Trump was calling her out on the campaign trail, much to her chagrin.  Ronda said she had no time for Donald and was voting for Bernie.  Being a poor sport, Donald joined in all the hate being heaped on Ronda after her loss, tweeting "Glad to see @RondaRousey lost her championship fight last night.  Was soundly beaten - not a nice person!"  No one crosses the Donald, not even Ronda.  Floyd Mayweather proved to be the bigger man here, by offering support to Ronda and help train her for her next fight.

Somehow, you don't get too worried about Ronda or Holly.  At 28 and 34 respectively, these are tough women who obviously can take care of themselves.  Holly had a distinguished career as a boxer before switching to mixed martial arts fighting, which has much bigger pay days and endorsements.  Women's boxing has faded ever since its biggest names retired, like Laila Ali, the daughter of Muhammad Ali.  Here's a montage of her career.  She retired undefeated.

Still, there is the beauty factor.  You don't see the UFC promoting unattractive women.  They will probably ask Rose to grow her hair out again, even if a crew cut is more manageable in the ring.  She can plait  it into corn rows as the other girls do for the fights.  After all, the UFC has an image to protect.

I'd like to say these women have come a long way, but I wonder.  Holly Holm has little time to savor her victory before having to go in the ring again with Ronda Rousey, because this is what Dana White and the UFC audience demand to see.   These binding contracts avoid the problem the various boxing federations have controlling its' title matches, other than stripping a title, like the IBF did Tyson Fury for refusing to fight its mandatory challenger next.  No worry, Fury has at least three other titles thanks to his victory over Klitschko earlier this month.

In the UFC, a fighter, man or woman, has no choice but to fight the opponents the promotion company mandates, otherwise go find another mixed martial arts syndicate.  But, no other MMA syndicate offers anywhere near the level of exposure and pay outs as the UFC.  which gets to pocket much of the profits itself, thanks in part to fetching beauties like Paige Van Zant and Rose Namajunas, and super women like Ronda Rousey and Holly Holm.

Women currently get the most attention in the UFC, yet see relatively small payments.  At most, Holly got $330,000 for her fight with Ronda.  By contrast, Ronda stands to make $5 million thanks to her cut in Pay-Per-View revenues because she had become the UFC top draw.  As her stature rose over the last couple years, UFC was forced to renegotiate her contract, but now that she has lost, she will probably see her revenues fall.  Despite her victory, it is doubtful Holly will see anywhere near the same amount of money Ronda gets for a fight, even if she beats her again.  More likely, UFC will cultivate Paige or Rose as its next big star, given their youthful appeal.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Throw the Republicans Down the Well

Borat was on Jimmy Kimmel the other night, warning everyone that Sacha Baron Cohen had a new character in his repertoire -- Donald Trump.  How else to explain that person with an orange "jimmy" on top of his head?  Just when you think the Donald couldn't lower the bar any lower, he says he will get on the phone with Bill Gates and see if there is something they can do to keep Muslims off the Internet.  What Sacha Baron Cohen is saying in his Borat-like way is that Trump stole his shtick.

Unfortunately, Republicans have shown time and again that they have little sense of humor.  Ron Paul found himself being punked by Bruno back in 2008, and wasn't very happy about it.  Trump loves to dish out the nasty barbs, but whenever someone takes a pot shot at him, he gets very testy.   It's kind of like Kim Jong-Un, who got all upset with the movie The Interview, giving the tepid comedy far more attention than it deserved.  At least his father could take a joke.

Lindsey Graham tried to humorously strike back at Donald Trump for releasing his telephone number, but it didn't go over very well.  Since then, Graham has opted for a harsher approach.  The funny thing is that as much as Trump's political opponents appear to hate him, not one has said they would vote against him in the general election, assuming he won the nomination.  They all took an oath, or something like that.  All except one.

I find this very hard to understand because what Trump has essentially done is drag the Republican Party down to its rawest, coarsest level, kind of like that scene in the movie where Borat gets the patrons of a bar to join in singing, "throw the Jew down the well."  Does the GOP really want Trump to throw the Republicans down the well?

Even more amusing is that 7 years ago many Republicans were saying that they would vote for Hillary Clinton before they would vote for John McCain.  In fact, many Republicans took advantage of open Democratic primaries to vote for Hillary, vaulting her to wins in Ohio and Texas, and briefly slowing Obama's momentum.  Granted, they were probably doing so mostly to stop Obama, but the biggest cheerleader at the time was Ann Coulter.  However, this year not even Bob Dole, who won the GOP nomination in 1996, could bring himself to say he would vote for Hillary over Trump or Cruz, saying he might oversleep on election day.

The Republicans are facing their worst nightmare in either Trump or Cruz, yet the body of the party appears helpless to do anything about it.  Of course, the GOP establishment could rally around a candidate like Rubio, Bush, Kasich or Christie before then, but at this stage of the game not one of them appears ready to drop out and support the other.  They seem to forget that the reason the more respectable Mitt won the nomination in 2012 was because he was the only "moderate" among a ballot full of clowns, and even he was dragged down to their level. Right now, these four are splitting the "moderate" vote, and in the winner-take-all primaries that dominate the later half of the election schedule that isn't a very good sign.  Thirty per cent might be all Trump needs to win the lion's share of the delegates.

Whether Donald Trump is real or a Sacha Baron Cohen impersonation, the Republicans better come up with a strategy to confront him before it's too late.  I don't think drafting Mitt again is going to do the trick.  Maybe what they need is an alternative billionaire or someone who can pull off a good Ronald Reagan impersonation.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The President's Speech

The President tried to get us back into the Christmas swing with his speech Sunday night, but that didn't appear to calm too many persons' nerves.  Many Americans still seem to be in a red state of alert, with Trump calling for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States, as he stated in his tweets on the President's speech that we are at war with radical Islamic terrorists, using caps to drive the point home.

The folks at Fox were also upset with the President's speech.  Ret. Lt. Col. Ralph Peters called Obama "a complete pussy," and "Clueless" Stacey Dash said Obama doesn't "give a shit" about terrorism.  Both were rebuked by Fox and given two weeks suspension.  Trump was chastised by Dick Cheney no less,, but at this stage of the game it will have little bearing on his candidacy, as it seems a large segment of conservatives have shut out the media and politicians, preferring to live in their own fundamentalist world divorced from reality.

To his credit, the President stressed unity at home, outlining the military and diplomatic efforts being employed abroad to bring ISIS to heal. But, to read the media reaction, his speech largely fell on closed minds.  Even David Axelrod, his former campaign strategist and political adviser felt the speech offered nothing new.

Personally, I don't think ISIS is occupying the public's mind as much as it is the media's mind.  I doubt that many Americans feel anymore threatened by what happened in San Bernardino than they were bby Sandy Hook three years ago, or the roughly 1000 mass shootings that have occurred in between.  We've become inured to this "new normal," the same way kids become inured to violent video games.

Obama made his case for tighter gun control, which Democratic candidates have echoed on the campaign trail.  California has put in place tougher gun controls, but if you bought your AR15 before 2013 these assault weapons were grandfathered in.  Any governor, even in a liberal state like California, has to take into account the high number of gun owners, estimated at roughly 80 million nationwide, who aren't willing to give up their guns at any price.  That number indicates that there is a gun in at least one of every three homes in America.  That is a very powerful lobby.

The Republicans, as usual, went after the roughly 3 million Muslim-Americans living in this country, along with any potential new arrivals.  By comparison, there is roughly 1 Muslim-American to 120 Americans, less than one percent.  Yet, these persons are seen as a far greater threat to society, despite their very few violent crimes, than other Americans wielding guns in public places, which we far more frequently see.

Sadly, we appear to be living in a heightened state of fear, made so by political demagogues like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, who are going out of their way to stir up this fear to garner support among the base of the Republican Party.  This exceedingly paranoid base seems to be living in underground bunkers watching The Walking Dead as they await the End Times while the rest of us go on living our lives above ground.

Nate Silver tries to place these panicked folks in perspective to the broader electorate, concluding that Trump has the support of somewhere in between 6 and 8 per cent of the overall electorate, or roughly the same number of persons who believe the Apollo moon landings were faked.  In other words, Trump's appeal has been greatly overblown by the media, which is mostly interested in beefing its television ratings and on-line circulation by focusing so heavily on the reality show king.

With all the television stations covering the President's Speech, it is safe to say that Obama drew a far bigger audience than the GOP debates or Trump's quickly forgotten SNL appearance.  If nothing else, Obama's political opponents used the speech to fire off their own rhetorical tweets, hoping to elicit "likes" on twitter and facebook, Donald Trump among them.

This is why Trump so badly wants that seat in the Oval Office.  This is the greatest bully pulpit there is.  Only the President can pre-empt regular television programming to make everyone listen to him, whether they want to or not.  Of course, one can always turn off the tele, but there you are the next day with his speech plastered all over the Internet daily feeds.  This is power.  This is absolute power!  Donald will stoop to any tactic in his effort to attain it.  For those, like myself, who thought Trump was just playing a game, he is not.

What we heard from President Obama is what we should be hearing -- calm, reassuring words that appeal to our better nature.  In response, Trump offers up the same demagoguery that has sustained his campaign for the last six months.  The last person any sane individual would want in the White House is Donald J. Trump with his itchy finger on the trigger, ready to strike at any persons, group or nation he deems a hostile threat.

Maybe after the dust has settled from the Presidential primaries we will realize what a great President we have in Obama.  Not so much for his actions, as for the order and calm he has restored to the White House.  If Donald Trump is too much for Dick Cheney, he is too much for the nation.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Living in These Apocalyptic Days

With over 300 mass shootings this year, it is not surprising that one quickly supplants the other in terms of media attention, especially when Muslim terrorists are suspected.  A mass shooting is defined by shooting tracker as any attack where there are at least 4 wounded or killed.  The San Bernardino shooting managed to achieve the biggest body count of the year, but is it anymore heinous than the mass shooting in Colorado Springs by Robert Lewis Dear the week before, who similarly had a "religious agenda?"

Where it took GOP candidates 48 hours to formulate opinions on Dear, they were quick to respond to Farook and his wife, claiming it as an act of terror before the FBI had made that determination itself.  This of course led to Benghazi-like chants against Obama for waiting to hear the official police report before declaring it an act of terror.  Like it does anything to alleviate the pain and suffering taking place in San Bernardino.  However, this is an election hear and the Republican hopefuls needed something to drive their points home that the US doesn't need anymore Muslims to America in any way, shape or form.

Donald Trump sounded low key compared to Ted Cruz, who literally declared we are "at a time of war."  Obviously, Dear felt the same way when he went after abortion doctors, but Ted dismissed Dear as a "transgendered leftist activist" and that most violent felons are Democrats, leaving the media to sort out what he meant by that.  Both are attempts to stoke anxieties and hatred, at a time we clearly need calm and reassuring words, which is what the President tried to deliver.

The San Bernardino Shooting is a tricky situation in a number of aspects.  Farook is a natural-born American citizen.  His wife, a Pakistani national by way of Saudi Arabia, who he apparently met over the Internet.  Friends of Farook are suggesting that she is the one who radicalized him, while the Farook family lawyer is claiming that the deceased had no friends and that everyone made fun of his beard.  Everyone who knew him said Farook was a mild-mannered guy, even after he came back from Saudi Arabia with his new wife.  However, judging by the size of his ammunition and bomb-making pile, he and Tashfeen had been busy amassing an arsenal from the day she arrived, if he not before.

If you recall, the gunman who took out all his college classmates in Oregon, had a similar arsenal and a manifesto as well, but no Muslim background.  He considered himself an atheist and decided he had enough of persons spreading Christianity in the community college.  Of course, Dr. Ben jumped on this proudly displaying on facebook that "I am a Christian," and if he had been at Umqua that day he would have taken out the shooter.

Not surprisingly, there are those who believe many of these mass shootings are staged for the purpose of trying to place stricter gun laws on our society.  Alex Jones, the nutty Austin-based conspiracy theorist immediately suggested San Bernardino might just be one of those "false flags."  He strongly believed Sandy Hook was staged, and doubts the veracity of the Charleston shooting earlier this year, where Dylann Roof killed nine black parishioners.

Needless to say, it is virtually impossible to have an intelligent discussion about gun violence in this country when leading Presidential candidates and popular talk show hosts display such an incredible level of ignorance.  As Mark Twain would say, "never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience."

Instead, the more reputable news media try to offer a broader view on the subject and encourage their audience to participate in discussions, hoping to avoid trolls.  But, as we have found out with the Presidential debates, the broader audience tunes in to what promises to be the most entertaining spectacle, and that is the GOP debates, where one can marvel at the absurdity of the many claims, like one wonders how the hell that guy got onto American Idol.  CNN has even gone so far as to make its next GOP debate look like a UFC prize fight.  I'm sure guns and terrorism will be one of the main topics.

So, how to get to the bottom of this endless cycle of violence, which has left the President so deeply perplexed he doesn't even know what to say anymore.  He looked completely haggard in the wake of the San Bernardino shootings, leaving it to his Attorney General Loretta Lynch to issue a stern warning to those who would take this latest mass shooting as a call to arms against the American-Muslim community.

For its part, the American-Muslim community was quick to respond to the shooting, so as to avoid being made complicit in this latest act of domestic terrorism.  I say domestic because even though ISIS has tagged the San Bernardino couple as supporters, the FBI believes this couple acted entirely on their own, much like the Tsarnaev Brothers two years ago.

Of course, this won't stop hot heads like Ted Cruz and Alex Jones from spouting their ignorant theories and issuing a call to arms, but one hopes it will at least keep the other 90 per cent of the country relatively calm and not rushing to the nearest gun shop to buy AR15's and M16's with multiple rounds of ammunition.  Ironically, Americans are far more likely to shoot themselves or a loved one than they are an intruder or zombie.  So, one should pause before going on a shopping spree.  A gun in the house or on your person doesn't necessarily make you safer.