POLITICS AND OPINION PAGE

I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I have a reasonably keen sense of BS. My insights are free and they're worth every penny.

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Older, archived observations appear on  PoliticalBlogContinued. The new stuff will be copied here from my blog. So if you don't want to read about wine in France or the challenges of traveling on two wheels, if you just want to bask in the hot air created by my flapping lips and wagging tongue, this is the page to bookmark.

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THE PRIVILEGED FEW: AMERICAN POLITICIANS

Gov. Christie's family avoided the crowds...
To my European friends, this is a true story. Not fake news. True. You really couldn't make this stuff up. No one would believe you.

Republican Governor Christie is in a budget battle with his Democrat-controlled state legislature. They are at an impasse. Without a budget, government services not considered vital are shut down and the staffs are furloughed. Among those services/staffs affected are those associated with New Jersey state parks. Yes, it appears as though state parks in New Jersey will be closed for the 4th of July holiday. And that includes state beaches like my particular favorite, Island Beach State Park. How out of touch can New Jersey politicians be, closing beaches during one of the most awaited summer vacation weekends of the year.

Out of touch? You ain't heard nothin' yet. How about this? Governor Christie, not about to have HIS family's vacation ruined, piled his clan into a state helicopter and spent Sunday afternoon on one of the closed beaches. Yes. Island Beach State Park.

Because he can. It's good to be King. Or at least, it's good to be a politician to whom the rules for the rest of us do not apply.

UPDATE: Christie has signed a budget deal and the parks may indeed be open, if not for the whole weekend at least for the holiday day. Christie says that it was not because of the hoopla caused by his little jaunt. (Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge.) 

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ELECTION STUPIDITY CROSSES THE ATLANTIC

I tried for something light. Satire or sarcasm. I just couldn't. First the Americans. Then the French. Same song, second verse.

Trump was normalized by a media fascinated by personality. He wasn't dangerous. Oh, no. He wasn't a threat to orderly governance. Oh, no. He was at worse a fool, concerned with image and ratings. An almost lovable fool. But dangerous? Oh, no. Anyway, he'll never get elected

Clinton was not a valid alternative, they said. A tool of Wall Street. An opportunist. The candidate of the establishment. Just as bad as Trump. Forget her early work with migrants, knocking on doors for McGovern, her voter registration drives, her work for women's rights both at home and abroad. You just can't trust her. I read it on Facebook.

A pox on both their houses.

Americans are just beginning to see the result of their naivete. Let's look at two horrible examples.

America first? That's what Trump said. Then MOAB in Afghanistan, troops on the ground in Syria and Somalia. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. When has an Anglo-European intervention in the Middle East ever led to the desired result? Hundreds of years of history tell us that the answer to that question is NEVER. But somehow, this time will be different?

We are told that Trump's tax cuts will be paid for through economic growth. I repeat, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Not since Kennedy's time has a tax cut served as a significant stimulant. Of course, in those days the top individual rate was 91% and the top corporate rate 52%. There was room to provide stimulus. But both the Reagan and the GWB tax cuts resulted in huge deficits and eventually recession. Really, we need to try riding that old horse again?

You'd think that the example was there for all to see. But nooooooo......

Le Pen is smart, charismatic, good looking. Not her father. She isn't dangerous. Oh, no. She isn't a threat to orderly governance. Oh, no. She is at worse simply a socially conservative rabble rouser with Daddy issues trying to get attention. But dangerous? Oh, no. Anyway, she'll never get elected.

And who the heck is this Macron kid? A banker? Married to his teacher? Never held elective office? He is just not a valid alternative. A tool of the Rothchilds. An opportunist. The candidate of the establishment.

A pox on both their houses.

Insanity is doing the same thing...

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VANDALISM REPORTED AT CHURCHILL'S BURIAL SITE





During a press conference at St. Martin's Church, Bladon, British Minister of Cemeteries Sir Digby Graves responded to reports of vandalism at the resting place of Sir Winston Churchill.

"The rumors of vandalism are completely without substance," declared the Minister. "The disturbances on the site were due solely to the fact that, having heard Theresa May's 12-Point Plan speech, Sir Winston turned over in his grave."

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TRUMP'S NEW TRAVEL BAN ANNOUNCED

After meeting with his new Minister of Truthiness Laura Ingraham, President Donald Trump has announced that Americans will be banned from traveling anywhere outside the continental United States until further notice for their own safety.

"I'm told that Muslim hordes have taken control of London, Paris, Amsterdam, and Baden-Baden. Not safe. Traveling to Mexico, of course, is out of the question. Drugs and rapists and whatnot. And we're at war with China, so Asia is out, too."

US Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) asked if Hawaii was included in the ban.

"Of course," said Trump. "Forget Hawaii. Anyone who wants a vacation in the sun can go to Mar-a-Lago. It's a terrific resort. Really terrific. I mean, I'm OK with Polynesians. I like Polynesians. Some Polynesians are great people. And those grass skirts, it makes it real easy to grab..."

At that point, the Secret Service whisked Trump from the podium.

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TRUMP PRESIDENCY A SIMULATION

97% of peer reviewed articles by quantum physicists agree. The Trump Presidency represents the climax of a simulation that has been running for billions of years, code named The Universe.

"It's obvious," said Neil deGrasse Tyson. "The simulation has run its course. There's no way forward. I expect a reboot any mo

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LIE, DAMNED LIE, AND STATISTIC

I refuse to live in a post-truth world. We can argue about policies and their potential outcomes but I refuse to argue about facts.

Earth is not 6,000 years old. I don't have to prove it. You either get it or you don't.

Early humans did not ride dinosaurs like primitive cowboys. The Flintstones is a cartoon, not a documentary. Sorry to disappoint you.

Which brings us to President Trump's Press Secretary Sean Spicer's first official press conference. Spicer said:

1. The pictures showing the difference in the size of the crowd at Trump's inauguration as compared to Obama's were flawed because it was the first time that white flooring had been put down to protect the grass on The Mall.

That's a lie. It was not the first time.

2. Magnetometers were used for the first time at entry points to The Mall, slowing the formation of the crowd.

That's a damned lie. Magnetometers were not used at all.

3. DC Metro rider numbers during Trump's inauguration compared favorably to the numbers for Obama.




The statistics say otherwise. The numbers for the subsequent protest did compare favorably, being the second highest ridership ever after Obama's record-setting first inaugural. The ridership numbers for Trump's inaugural were half that.

Presidential Counselor Kellyanne Conway says that Spicer was presenting 'alternative facts'. Get out your Newspeak dictionaries, boys and girls. Alternative Facts = Lies

(I just love the meme: This is what you look like when gay designers refuse to dress you.)

#EmolumentEqualsImpeachment

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AMERICA NEEDS MORE BABIES
 
The abortion rate in the United States has been cut in half since 1980. Teen pregnancies are on a downward slope as well. Abortion foes say that the declines are because many states have passed legislation severely restricting abortion. But the birth rate hasn't risen in the meantime. So the reduction of the abortion rate cannot be because of those restrictions. There are only two possible reasons. Either Americans are having less sex or they are practicing contraception.

European analysts have been quick to suggest that a lack of sexual activity among Americans should not be a surprise to anyone. "The American attitude toward sex is like the European attitude toward Russia," explained Dutch sexologist Hans Palmstroker. "We are fascinated by it but every time we dip our schwanzstucker in, we get burned."

American conservatives, on the other hand, are reluctant to believe anything that can be proven statistically. Talk show commentator Russ Fury explained, "Who cares about reasons? Can a country that elects Donald Trump claim to have any relationship with reason?"

Fury went on to declare, "Whatever the cause, we need more babies. Every other country in the world is having babies - except those namby-pamby Europeans. We Americans need to step up to the plate. Thank God Congress is getting ready to defund Planned Parenthood. That'll show those Chinese and Mexicans that we can compete."

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BREAKING NEWS - US ELECTION HACKER REVEALED

US President-elect Donald Trump revealed today that E.T. had hacked the US elections. And yes, the goal was to get Trump elected.

"E.T. is smart," said Trump. "He knew that I was the only President who could keep the world safe from the aliens who President Whitmore first defeated in 1996."

When a reporter suggested that E.T. and Independence Day were works of fiction, Trump was obstinate.

"Vladimir Putin has assured me that Independence Day was a documentary. And he showed me E.T.'s long-form birth certificate," Trump continued. "Who are you going to believe, a West Coast liberal like Spielberg or a patriotic American like Vlad?"

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DEFEATING THE RIGHT - A EUROPEAN LESSON

Third parties have not had much success in the United States lately. Perot threw enough money at the Presidency to make things interesting in 1992. And Nader proved that a cranky gadfly could attract enough votes to be troublesome in 2000, maybe even influencing the result. But in a year when the nominees of both major American political parties were as popular as Aedes mosquitoes, the performance of the Bobbsey Twins (Green Stein and Libertarian Johnson) may have set third party politics back for years to come. They were terrible spokespeople for their causes.

Europeans, on the other hand, are quite familiar with multi-party elections leading to multi-party governments. In Iceland, the party that came in third in the national elections has been asked to form a government because the two parties that received more votes couldn't get it done. And I can't wait to see how Iceland's Pirate Party governs. (You can't make this stuff up.) But when I talk about a lesson that the American Left can learn from the Europeans, shouting Aaaaarh and raising the Skull & Crossbones is not what I had in mind. I had in mind the manner in which the French kept Marine Le Pen's far right National Front out of major regional offices recently.

CAVEAT: Be aware that I'm relatively new to the study of French politics, I'm therefore by no means an ultimate authority, and that I get most of my information from English language sites.

How was the party of the Far Right in France thwarted? The opposition Left quite openly decided to make sacrifices for the sake of the country. Novel concept.

France periodically holds elections that determine the legislative and executive bodies in its thirteen regions. Initial balloting determines which parties reach a threshold that makes them eligible to participate in a runoff. There were three main parties jockeying for power after the first round of voting in the most recent regionals - the Left (Socialist), the Center-Right (Republican), and the Far Right (National Front). In that first round, Marine Le Pen's National Front was a big winner. To be clear, they only received 28% of the total vote, but that was a record for the party and in two regions in particular they were almost certain to win in a three-party race for control.

What did the Socialists do? They decided not to run candidates in the two regions that threatened a National Front victory.

What was the outcome? The Republicans won both regions, the only two regions in which the National Front polled more than 40% of the vote in the runoff, enough to have won if the Socialists had participated.

In other words, the Socialists blocked the Far Right from taking regional power by ceding those regions without a fight to the Republicans, regions in which they would have lost anyway. So instead of five Socialist regions, six Republican regions, and two National Front regions, France now has five Socialist and eight Republican regions. Hardly a big win for the Socialists but an important denial of a power base to the National Front if your politics are left of center.

How does such a strategy convert to the American two party system? Oddly enough, we have a model - the Tea Party and the Republicans. For all of the huffing and puffing and primary challenges pitting the Tea Party against Establishment Republicans, in the vast number of cases once the primaries are over, the Republicans unite. They decide that their internecine squabbles pale beside a possible victory by the Left. On the other hand, it is clear that when Democrats suffer divisive primaries, the losers tend to vote for third parties or stay home. How do we know this? Look at the numbers.

In recent contested Presidential elections - I don't consider Bush v Kerry contested in any real sense - Democrats won by a popular vote margin of from 500,000 to 9,000,000 votes.  The lower winning margins, Gore and Hillary, came in elections during which the Democrats experienced considerable pushback from the Progressive wing of their party - Nader and Sanders. And Gore and Hillary lost in the Electoral College. The circumstances were different but the result was the same. On election day, the bitter battles over policy purity had taken their toll. The Democratic Party did not unite. George W. became President and Trump will become President. And any Democrat who thinks that those results were reasonable and proper for America is a nihilist, not a Democrat.

But winning the popular vote means nothing if you don't win the electoral vote, you say? OK. Take five of the major Rust Belt states, where this year's Presidential election might indeed have been lost by the Democrats. It is true that Republicans gained a few hundred thousand votes over 2012. But it is also true that Democrats lost nearly 1,500,000 votes in those states. Something over 1,000,000 voters who had voted Democratic in 2012 either stayed home or voted third party in just those five states.

Were either Gore or Hillary perfect candidates. Of course not. But might Gore have listened to his intelligence briefings and prevented 9/11? Had 9/11 happened, would Gore have broken the Middle East by taking his eye off Bin Laden and going after Saddam's nonexistent WMDs? Is Trump the President we need to replace Scalia and 100 federal judges, putting any number of our freedoms at risk, the freedoms that those folks who stayed home on election day probably cherish even more than those who voted?

Although both the Socialists and the Republicans will continue to struggle for the hearts and minds of the French electorate, both parties also had the ultimate welfare of their people at heart at election time. Why don't we Democrats?

Can't we all just get along?

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OPEN LETTER TO MY REPUBLICAN FRIENDS

Dear Republicans,
Although no longer resident in the United States, my wife and I follow the news closely. We do so by faithfully scanning internet sites that aggregate news and opinion. We believe that this gives us a broad view of current events from a variety of perspectives since Flipboard, for instance, draws from sites as diverse as Fox News and Huffington Post, CNN and Al Jazeera and Business Insider and Forbes. And every November, we vote.

My point? I’m at arm’s length from the hurly-burly of the 24-hour news cycle but I’m still a reasonably knowledgeable news junkie. I am aware of the outlier sites, the ‘alt right’ and ‘progressive’ sites that claim to be presenting the real skinny on current events. I just don’t pay them much mind. Take my opinions for what they are worth but understand that they are the product of serious thought and not from having drunk someone else’s Kool-Aid. 

Trump is my President just as GWB was my President and Obama was yours. I say this even though Bush in 2000 and Trump in 2016 both lost the popular vote. I say this not because I think that Trump’s election win was illegitimate. I say this because I am tired of hearing Republicans talking about the will of the people. As of today, 2 million more people voted for Hillary than voted for Trump. The will of the people has been thwarted by a Constitutional compromise reached over 200 years ago for reasons that had nothing to do with protecting the democratic process and a great deal to do with keeping slave-holding states in the union. 

And speaking of losing the popular vote, where is the consistency in claiming that you lost the popular vote due to massive voter fraud, then damning Stein in a series of late night tweets for calling for a recount in the closest battleground states? And speaking of late night tweets, if SNL skits and actors speaking to his Vice President from a Broadway stage enrage Trump, wait until he attends a G12 summit and real heavyweights get on his case. 

But far worse, Trump is blaming the media for ‘inciting’ protest marches. He’s called in media bigwigs to excoriate them. After using the media as a puppet to provide hundreds of millions of dollars of free publicity, the worm turns. And we know what sort of leaders around the world, as their first acts in office, attempt to cow or muzzle a free press.

Trump continues to make it known that he doesn’t want the US to be spending money to address climate change at the same time that he claims to understand the importance of the availability of clean, potable water. It’s hard to reconcile those two positions. How do you protect the southern Florida aquifer from salt water incursion without addressing rising ocean levels? How do you secure potable water for the American Southwest without doing what’s necessary to ameliorate atmospheric heating conditions that have led to severe and persistent drought? And how will Pence, a notorious denier of climate change, effect Trump’s thinking?

And how can you refuse national security briefings and tell Pakistani’s head of state over the phone that he’s a terrific guy? 

So while I am willing to give Trump a chance, I am not encouraged. He has a steep learning curve to climb. He needs to demonstrate the seriousness due the Presidency.

Let’s see if the equity markets move as high as they moved under Obama. Let’s see if the dollar strengthens against the euro even half as much as it did under Obama. Let’s see if the annual deficit is reduced by the same measure and as inexorably as it has been reduced under Obama. Let’s see if he builds a wall and makes Mexico pay for it.

And for all the fear of terrorism on our shores, let’s see if the record under Obama of fewer Americans annually dying from terrorism than dying from having appliances fall on them remains intact.

Or will Trump follow the legacies of his Republican predecessors. GWB was President when the worst recession since the Great Depression began as measured by decline in GDP. Eisenhower was President at the beginning of the second worst. Nixon was President at the beginning of the third worst. Reagan was President at the beginning of the fourth worst. Republicans all. Now Trump…

I’ll be watching. I won’t be the only one.

Affectionately,
Ira

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THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE - HISTORY VS MYTH

The guy who makes my Friday night pizza here in the south of France had a question: If Clinton received the most votes, why will Trump be the American President? Try explaining that in a language in which you are not fluent. Here's the answer in (relatively) plain English.

Even as Donald Trump was announced winner of the American Presidential election, we knew that Hillary Clinton had a slim lead in the popular vote. As I write this, that lead may exceed two million votes. Why was Hillary not declared the winner? Because Trump had been deemed to have won the majority of Presidential electors, those who vote for President as members of the Electoral College.

EDIT: Consider the Brexit. As I understand it, cities voted REMAIN but not by enough votes to counter the LEAVE vote in rural areas. Very similar in the US Presidential election but with the added layer of the state-by-state Electoral College to consider. Clinton may have won New York State and California by huge margins but the margins make no difference. She still only gets the votes of their allotted number of electors. Trump won enough states, regardless of the margin, to earn the victory.

First, how does the Electoral College work?

The choosing of electors and the manner in which they are to vote is a question left up to the individual states. Each state is apportioned electors equivalent to their Congressional delegation. Washington DC participates and has the same number of electors as the least populous state. In 48 states and DC, electors are all expected to vote for the candidate who gets the most votes state wide...winner take all. Two states apportion electors by vote within each Congressional district with two additional at-large electors representing those states' Senators.

In essence, when an American votes in a Presidential election, the vote is cast for a slate of electors representing that candidate and not simply for the candidate. The candidate winning a majority of electors wins the Presidency.

There have been what are called 'faithless' electors, electors voting for a candidate other than the one that has been certified as winning that state or district. Some states have laws that would punish faithless electors after their vote. One state would void the vote of a faithless elector. Many states don't address the issue. And there is no certainty how the Supreme Court would rule on faithless elector laws. They have never been invoked against a faithless elector, primarily because faithless electors have never changed the outcome of an election.

A tie in the Electoral College leads to a vote in the House of Representatives. A tie in the House leads to a vote in the Senate. As is the case with any tied Senate vote, a tie in the Senate would be decided by the sitting Vice President acting in his Constitutional capacity as President of the Senate.

Those are the mechanics.

What drove the Framers to create such a system? Some would say that the Electoral College was designed protect small states from larger ones. Others argue that the Electoral College ensures that an unqualified candidate would not become President. While both arguments have some merit and quotes from Founders can be cited in their defense, the overwhelming evidence points to a different cause - power politics wielded by the slave holding states during the Constitutional Convention.

Prior to adopting the Constitution, the thirteen British colonies were in essence sovereign countries with their own chief executives, their own legislatures, and their own armies (militias). The necessity of maintaining a strong union while waging a war for independence was a relatively easy sell. After independence had been won, the benefits of a federal union were not so apparent. Such a federation inherently meant that the sovereign states would be ceding a certain amount of their sovereignty to the new federal government. Two intertwined questions came to the fore as the question of the power of individual states to influence the new federal entity was negotiated. How would we elect a nationwide President? How would we apportion representation in the House of Representatives?

Although some like Madison favored direct election of the President by vote of the people, the Framers did not have great faith in pure democracy. They were, after all, the elite of their time - tax-paying, land-holding free men, one and all. The first proposal brought before the Constitutional Convention was that the House of Representatives would elect the President. That idea failed due to concerns that the Chief Executive would be too beholden to the Legislative Branch under such an arrangement. There was also worry that the House, a small group of men that met regularly, might devolve into a cabal, electing a President through nefarious, secret dealings. Thus, the The Great Compromise that included the Three-fifths Compromise prevailed.

The Framers decided that a national census would be conducted every ten years. House delegations would be apportioned by population. More populous states would have larger delegations. Less populous states would be protected by a Senate that gave each state two Senators - large state or small, the same number. Simple? Not so much. What about slaves?

According to the 1790 census, there were approximately 700,000 slaves in a total population of just under 3,900,000 - 18% of the population. The slave states wanted those slaves to be counted the same as free men and women to beef up their House delegations. The free states didn't want them counted at all. Thus the Three-fifths Compromise.

 ...[representation] shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.
           ~Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the United States Constitution

So, slaves accounted for about 11% of the population used to determine Congressional representation and electors. Is it any wonder that nine of the first fifteen Presidents came from slave states, that seven of those nine came from Virginia with its 300,000 slaves in 1790, and that after the Civil War the first Southerner from one of the original slave states to be elected President who wasn't first elevated to the job by death or assassination was Jimmy Carter?

The Electoral College. Power politics, played skillfully by slaveholders.

So there you have it. The Electoral College was designed to protect the Executive Branch from the Legislative with a composition mirroring the Legislative, structured as a compromise between the slave states and the free in order to preserve the nascent union. A check on the democratic process? Not so much. Of course, the reason for its founding over two centuries ago does not preclude a new mission for the Electoral College today. But that's a discussion for another time.

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OPEN LETTER TO MY FELLOW DEMOCRATS

Dear Democrats,
Having moved to France a couple of years ago, I have had the benefit of following the recent Presidential election at arm’s length – no television news, no mailings, no robocalls. Just internet sites like Flipboard that allowed me to pick and choose between such sources as NPR, Fox, Al Jazeera, The Guardian, AP, CNN, and such. I’m invested, though. I voted.

Here’s what I think, free of charge and worth every penny.

Progressives are now on the march. Trump is not their President. Well, I beg to differ. Trump is indeed their President, and mine too, just as Obama was the President of the Trump voters who so despised him. It is our job now to hold Trump’s feet to the fire with the same intensity that has led to Obama being criticized relentlessly from both ends of the political spectrum.

Never in my political life spanning over 60 years have I witnessed a torrent of obvious lies spoken by Presidential candidates and accepted by their devotees equivalent to the lies spoken almost daily by all four of the major party candidates. I include the Bobbsey Twins because there were those, as few as they were, who actually voted Green or Libertarian as though either of those clueless twerps represented an alternative. I don’t know if those votes affected the outcome of the election. As we all now understand, polls only have value to the elegantly coifed men and women who read the news or opine about the horse race without any connection to electoral reality. But the idea that voting for either Stein or Johnson was acceptable, either as a protest or because they deserved serious consideration for the Presidency, is ludicrous. I have in the past, when confronted with unacceptable choices, written in Sandy Koufax, a man of unquestioned character, unquestioned talent, and an aversion to the limelight. Can anyone say the same for Stein or Johnson?

Progressives in the Democratic Party are now complaining that Bernie was the better candidate and would have won the Presidency had not the DNC favored Hillary. To that argument, one never to be resolved, I would offer three points.

First, suppose that you are a lifelong member of a club. You work hard, invest time and money. Then one day, a man who for decades had every opportunity to join the club, but who refused to do so, suddenly enrolls for the sole purpose of becoming the leader of the club. His opposition for leadership is a long-time, committed member. How could anyone expect the membership of that club not to have an obvious preference between the two? It’s simply childish to suppose otherwise. We are talking politics here. And politics ain’t beanbag.

Secondly, having spent the entire primary season trashing Hillary and the DNC mercilessly, Progressives have argued that Hillary was a flawed candidate. Their vitriol lasted throughout the primaries and general election campaign. Could their constant, vicious attacks have had a bearing on the manner in which Hillary was viewed by those observing the carnage from the outside? I would certainly think so. For those on the fence, the rancor demonstrated by people purporting to be members of her own party even after the primaries were over had to have been a consideration.

Finally, marching is bullshite. Petitioning is bullshite. Only voting in an election counts. Man up. And if that phrase is too sexist for you, tough patooties. Man up.

Moving forward, we need to be asking several questions, with one voice, loudly and with conviction.

Has a wall been built along our southern border? Has Mexico paid for it? Have 11,000,000 illegals been deported? Has Trump deported even as many people as Obama has? How many Muslims are on the new national registry? (These aren’t my priorities at all but they were campaign centerpieces.)

On November 8, 2008, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index closed at 930.99. On November 8, 2016, it closed at 2,139.56, worth 130% more. That’s Obama’s record. How do the markets compare under a Trump administration?

In January, 2009, when Obama took office, the unemployment rate was 7.8%. In October, 2016, (most recent available numbers) the rate is 4.9%, a decrease of about 60%. That’s Obama’s record. How does unemployment compare under a Trump administration? (It’s true that the workforce participation rate declined from 65.7% to 62.8% during the same period. We’ll track that too.)

Of interest to an expat like me is the strength of the dollar, the exchange rate against the euro. On January 1, 2009, it cost $1.40 to buy a euro. On election day, I could buy a euro for $1.09, meaning that the dollar is 30% stronger against the euro since Obama took office. That’s Obama’s record. Let’s see if Trump’s dollar fares as well.

There are other indicators that we could use – decline in the deficit, inflation near zero, exports up. But let’s focus on just a few, easily determined, generally accepted statistics.

Let’s hold Trump and the Republicans in Congress accountable. If we have lost because the electorate has been pulled to the right, let’s start pulling back from the left. Let’s demonstrate why the better educated electorate votes Democratic. Let’s learn.

Affectionately,
Ira

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IRA'S STUPID STUFF & A JT/CAROLE KING DUET - 21/10/2016

1. A man buried 2,500 years ago in northern China had 13 marijuana plants covering his torso like a shroud. Not the first burial in the region showing signs that the Chinese were stoners. A grave close by contained two pounds of seeds and powdered leaves. Seeds and shake in a grave? Saving the buds for the living, maybe?

2. Conservative pundit Matt Drudge said that he didn't believe that Hurricane Matthew had the potential to be as bad as was forecast. The National Weather Service lied to hype climate change, said Drudge. We are in a post-truth world. Drudge makes a claim. News agencies report the claim. The claim becomes a concern. The concern requires a Congressional investigation. And suddenly the National Weather Service has to defend its science because Drudge was having a brain fart. Bull cookies! (And of course, the flooding in the Carolinas was massive...)

3. Hillary said, "My dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders..." and the Right and the Left go nuts. Open borders and open markets. Like a nerdy Star Trek future. Hillary also said that it's not for governments to do. Specifically not for governments, she said. Spin, spin, spin...

4. The American Presidential election. That's all. Just that.

5. Brexit, Hard or Soft? The Europeans are saying that as long as the Brits choose to leave, it's Hard. Period. As if that wasn't obvious from the start...

My kind of singer/songwriters...


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IRA'S STUPID STUFF AND BOWIE DOING PINK FLOYD - EARLY OCTOBER 2016

1. A man was arrested on a New Jersey beach wearing a 'swimsuit' made of clear plastic wrap. Island Beach State Park, my favorite Jersey beach, had the honor of hosting the show. The investigation before the arrest took two days, during which time the police report says that his genitals were clearly in full view. I guess the police had to be careful how they handled the evidence.

2. My Presidential candidates spend late nights on Twitter either ranting about sex or replying to rants about sex. I'm asleep. They should be too. If they are asleep, it's somebody from their campaigns posting on Twitter. Either way, they both should be ashamed at the depths to which this campaign has sunk. I certainly am.

3. Nigel Farage is back. That's all. Just that.
3a. Tim Tebow is now a professional baseball player. That's all. Just that.

4. Although Florida Governor Rick Scott denies having created the policy, a former lawyer for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection says that employees were banned from using such terms as 'climate change' and 'global warming'. Now, Hurricane Matthew. Certainly, Florida has been devastated by hurricanes in the past. I saw for myself the havoc wrought by Andrew. But with flooding on the streets of Miami a common occurrence when the winds blow onshore during a normal high tide, let's hope that Matthew veers away to the east or at least brushes past at low tide. Otherwise...

5. On a Sunday talk show, Trump surrogate Rudy Giuliani resented being asked about his admitted marital infidelities while speculating about Hillary and Bill. Why are we listening to Giuliani in the first place? I guess because New York's Roman Catholic former mayor had three wives and one of them forced him to sleep on the couch during his tenure, making Giuliani a leading expert on marital infidelity by public figures. Alongside Gingrich. And Trump. Maybe that's why Giuliani said 'everybody does it'. All of his political friends did.

This works. Cumberbatch? Not so much. 
(Or didn't you know that Gilmour brought Cumberbatch 
up recently to do Comfortably Numb with him?)


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IRA'S STUPID STUFF AND A BEATLES COVER - LATE SEPTEMBER 2016

1. On a recent Saturday, a French hunter 'accidentally' killed a hiker wearing brown clothing thinking that the hiker was a deer. Protestors demanded that France calls a halt to all hunting...on Sundays. People hike on weekends because it's their days off? Guess what. Hunters hunt on weekends because it's their days off too. But the point is that if you shoot a hiker, any day of the week and regardless of the color clothing that he's wearing, it means that you haven't properly identified your target. That's not an accident. At the
very least, that's reckless endangerment.

2. 'Community activist' Sean Thomas grabbed Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson from behind and shoved a custard pie into his face while shouting at him. Johnson, a former all-star pro athlete, proceeded to kick Thomas' butt. Thomas says Johnson over reacted. I say Thomas is an entitled idiot who is lucky he can still walk and fashion complete sentences. Whether you see Thomas' action as civil disobedience or felonious assault, I simply do not understand why folks who carry out these types of actions expect to walk away clean. Purity of heart is not protection from the consequences of your act or from the law, even if the law is unjust. Be prepared for the consequences. (Are you listening, Eric Snowden?)

3. A judge asked a rape victim why she didn't just keep her knees together. A former small-town mayor says that the four year-old girl that he abused for over two years was a willing participant. A teenager who pled guilty to sexually abusing a one year-old baby for a porn video spent two years in jail awaiting trial but was sentenced to probation, registering as a sex offender, and no further jail time. I'm not worried about ISIS or ISIL or Daesh. I'm worried about the guy next door. He seems OK, but...

4. Hillary started the whole birther thing...and Whitewater and Travelgate and she had Vince Foster murdered...
5. And Bill committed adultery...like Trump and Giuliani and Gingrich... 

6. A cruise ship sailed from Seward, Alaska to New York City via the Northwest Passage because of the lack of Arctic ice. Cabins started at $22,000. Because the pristine wilderness that is the Arctic really needs a cruise ship with folks popping golf balls off the fantail and a small ice breaker and an escort ship for evac (just in case) passing through. And do you really think that they packed out all of their trash and sewage?

 OK. I get it. You can't take a perfect song, cover it, and expect everyone to be happy. But what can I say? I like these guys and I like the way that they honored this wonderful song.


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IRA'S STUPID STUFF AND ARETHA - MID SEPTEMBER 2016

1. Researchers looking in places with high incidences of traffic congestion have found magnetite in peoples' brains, not the natural type but the stuff that comes out of car exhausts. The natural type is found in the plaques in the brain that often accompany Alzheimer's Disease. So car exhausts may cause...

Shit!

2. My Granny could run the 100 yard dash in 9 seconds flat. Uber is a ride-sharing service. Which of these statements is true? Did you answer NOTA (None Of The Above)? Good for you. Because Nana might have been quick, but she wasn't fast. And every Uber driver travels from the mall to the grocery store to the burbs and back again and back again and back again every day and is just looking to share the cost...

3. Continuing on a car theme...Headline: Paris Police Thwart Car Bombing
A car parked in a No Parking Zone near Notre Dame Cathedral, hazard flashers flashing, without license plates, sat for two hours before the police investigated. They found that the car had seven gas canisters inside, one empty. There was no detonation device. If they'd only let the car alone for another day or two, maybe a meteorite would have hit the car and exploded the canisters.

4. Profs teaching a course entitled "Medical Humanities in the Digital Age" said that they were not going to debate the causes of global warming and that those who wished to do so should not take the course. Internet breaks. It's getting hotter. It's hotter this year than last and hotter last year than the year before. If you don't believe that the 'pause' in warming is a hoax, you don't believe math. The trend line is undeniable.

The course in question is about the effect of that undeniable heating and not its cause. Would it make sense for profs in a paleo-archeology class to suggest that persons who believe that Earth was created 6,000 years ago might not benefit from the course? You betcha! Every point of contention is not debatable in every context.

5. Apple paid an effective tax rate of 0.005% on its European profits. So, after a three-year investigation by the EU, Apple got hit with a 13,000,000,000 euro back tax bill. CEO Cook calls the ruling 'political crap'. IMHO, the definition of crap is the deal that Apple made with the Irish government. I couldn't make that deal. You couldn't make that deal. Nobody that we know could make that deal. Put on your Man Pants, Apple. Get taxed like the rest of us.

6. Geneticists have determined that human hands probably evolved from the tail fins of fish. Maybe not stupid, but interesting. Don't you think?

Carole King was honored at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. She was blown away when Aretha sat at the piano to play and sing RESPECT. So were Barack and Michelle and everybody in the audience and everybody who has seen the video. Neat stuff.

******
IRA'S STUPID STUFF AND A SONG - EARLY SEPTEMBER 2016

 BREAKING NEWS: Cocaine worth 50,000,000 euros discovered in Coca Cola plant in southern France. That's all. Just coke in Coke. Makes sense...

1. OJ prosecutor Chris Darden says many witnesses have come forward since the trial. Just last week, an eyewitness says that she saw OJ near the scene of the murder that night. Given the opportunity, the same woman will tell you that Elvis pumped gas for her in Mobile last month. Don't make me release...

2. Colin Powell showed his son how to wear a bicycle helmet, saying that his chances of surviving an accident are greatly enhanced if he wears one. He doesn't remember actually recommending that his son wear a helmet. Powell remembers telling Hillary how he set up his private email server and telling her that the server greatly improved Department communications. But he doesn't remember actually recommending that she use a private server. Don't make me release...


3. The price of an EpiPen has increased from $57 to over $500 on average in the US since 2007. And no one knows why. The CEO (with a $19,000,000 compensation package who says that it's all the fault of the insurance companies) developed her social conscience at the knee of her father, a United States Senator. OK. Release the damn Flying Monkeys.

4. Dennis Rodman carrying Eddie Vedder. You can't unsee it...


5. French beach resorts resort to banning the burqini. Because the response to intolerance is to be intolerant... 

For centuries after Mohammad died, Muslim artists depicted him in beautiful sacred art. Now, such depictions are a sin punishable by death. 50 years ago, headscarves were simply not fashionable in Iran. The revolution and the rise of the wahabi cult in Saudi Arabia changed that. So, Islam changes. Islam will change...unless we stiffen the resolve of the crazies by acting like crazies ourselves.

THE ONE BIGGEST, MOST IMPORTANT, OVERRIDING ISSUE: Have you noticed the number of times that district courts in the US have overturned restrictive voter ID laws and restrictive abortion laws lately? Could it be that with Scalia's death, the Supreme Court is likely to rule 4-4 on such cases, leaving lower court rulings in place? And that fact emboldens lower court judges who otherwise would have been reversed? And lower court judges don't like to be reversed.

Folks who don't understand that the Supreme Court is the most important issue in the upcoming American Presidential election just aren't paying attention.

Was there ever a more perfect combination of singer, songwriter, and instrument?


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IRA'S STUPID STUFF AND A SONG - LATE AUGUST, 2016

 1. Hostess tries something new...Deep Fried Twinkies. Just what we needed...a Twinkie that is actually more unhealthy than the original. Who thinks this stuff up? Where do you apply for the job? How much do you get paid?

I've got loads of ideas. Bacon Wrapped Twinkies. Chocolate Chip Twinkies. Egg Cream Twinkies (NYC only). Grape Nehi Twinkies.

Or maybe we could go the other way. Organic Twinkies. Gluten Free Twinkies. Free Range Twinkies. Pescatarian Twinkies. The possibilities are endless.

2. The right-wing, anti-immigration Alternative for Germany political party has called for a loosening of Germany's very restrictive gun laws in light of a series of attacks by terrorists and the mentally ill. Because in the US, with about 300,000,000 guns in private hands, nobody ever gets shot by the mentally ill or terrorists...

3. The Connecticut Supreme Court says that you shouldn't be fired for smoking dope at work. Well, not exactly. Here's the deal. A maintenance worker at a Connecticut university was caught smoking dope on his break. Connecticut is not a state that has made marijuana legal. So he was fired. His union took the case to arbitration. The arbitrator said that the penalty was too harsh, that he should have been suspended without pay and, when he returned to work, subjected to random drug testing. The university appealed to the Connecticut District Court. The District Court overruled the arbitrator and OKed the firing. The union took that ruling to the state Supreme Court, which said that the arbitrator's ruling should have been final. So it's back to work for the stoned janitor.

I'm conflicted. It's clear that soon it will be legal to smoke dope in a majority of states. So what's the big deal? On the other hand, using illegal drugs on the job IS a big deal. If it had been me, I would have expected to be fired. I'm conflicted.

4. North Carolina takes its case for restrictive voter ID laws to Supreme Court. Says that it's to prevent fraud. No proof of fraud in the past is offered. Their new law is patterned after a North Carolina law passed in 1876 restricting voting by giraffes. Success. Not a single vote by a giraffe has been recorded since.

But seriously, an op-ed in Newsweek Europe quotes two Pennsylvania lawmakers as saying that fraud is rampant. They offer no proof except their opinion. The authors of the op-ed, who also offer no proof that widespread voter fraud exists, concede that voter IDs won't stop absentee ballot fraud, won't stop machines from being hacked, won't prevent hanging chads. So what the hell are we talking about?

Giraffes?

AMERICAN ELECTION BONUS: Roger Ailes joins Trump's campaign. Because Trump is already doing so well with women...

As Paul and Ringo continue to prove, The Beatles were one of the great live bands. Even at a time when they really didn't like each other very much, their vocals were tight, their playing was spot on, and they were generous enough to feature the Fifth Beatle. My heroes...

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IRA'S STUPID STUFF AND A SONG - MID AUGUST, 2016

 1. Eric Clapton lands a record contract...er...record salmon. This is what the world needs - pictures of 71 year-old blues players holding fish. OK. Maybe it's not stupid stuff. Maybe it's not even silly. But I just could not resist sharing. Next? Ginger Baker cuddling with kittens.


 2. Michael Phelps swears by cupping. Hickeys abound. Internet breaks. You heat up the air inside glass 'cups' and apply them to the skin. As the hot air inside the cup cools and contracts, blood is pulled to the surface. The process is said to increase circulation and promote healing. I know about cupping because I inherited a set of cups from my Russian grandparents. I don't think that Grandma Rosie ever swam competitively...

3a. The corruption associated with Qatar's award of the 2020 World Cup leads to the resignation of FIFA President Sepp Blatter. But Qatar will still host the tournament.
3b. A climate-change induced heat wave has led to the Arabian Peninsula experiencing the highest temperatures ever recorded in the Eastern Hemisphere at the very time of year that the World Cup will be held. But Qatar will still host the tournament.
3c. Architect Albert Speer is designing the new, climate-controlled stadiums. Yes, he is the son of THAT Albert Speer, Hitler's architect. Oh, snap!

4a. The Donald's economic advisors recommend cutting taxes. Should we be surprised that it took a roomful of megamultimillionaires convened by a billionaire to come up with that one? Look, guys. The last President for whom a tax cutting strategy worked economically was Kennedy. Anyone who's bothered to actually do the math since realizes at this point that a rising tide only lifts yachts.
4b. Trump spokeswoman blames Obama for invading Afghanistan. That was before he changed the rules of engagement that led to Captain Kahn's death in Iraq...in 2004. And after he led the Vietcong over the border into the South...in 1955.
4b. “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.” Oh, snap!

5. Tired of stupid? Take a listen...


******
IRA'S STUPID STUFF - EARLY AUGUST, 2016

1. An NBA all-star basketball player posted a picture of his penis to the public on Instagram or Snapchat or some such. "I pushed the wrong button," he said. "It could happen to anyone." Not to me. But this sort of thing seems to happen often to NBA players. Did you see that the US Olympic team 'accidentally' had drinks in a Rio bordello? Oops...

2. Kansas elects a doctrinaire, tax-slashing governor and state legislature. After a few years, Kansas faces such a huge budget crisis that the Speaker of the Kansas State House of Representatives lost in his primary, one of about a dozen other tax-cutting conservatives in the Kansas legislature to lose their seats. Even a notorious Kansas Tea Party member of the US House of Representatives lost.

Wait a minute. That's smart stuff. Never mind...

3. Trump says that he'll keep Putin out of Ukraine. A little late for that, don't you think?

4. A Texas law allowing students to bring concealed weapons onto university campuses goes into effect on the 50th anniversary of one of the first mass shootings in American history that took place...wait for it...on a Texas university campus. If it was in any other state but Texas, you'd just know that it was a joke. It's not.

5. A spokeswoman for Trump tells CNN's Wolf Blitzer that the dead Marine whose parents have been involved in a tussle with Trump was probably killed because Obama and Hillary changed the rules of engagement in Iraq...in 2004...four years before Obama took office. You're fired! The only member of the Trump campaign allowed to lie with impunity is Trump!

6. Hillary doubles down. "The FBI says that I told the truth about the emails."  Not really. Just admit that you screwed up and move on. Or, as Krauthammer  has said, take lying lessons from Bill.

7. Florida's Governor Rick Scott demands that the federal government step up with anti-zika funding after he cuts Florida's pest research and control budget by 50%. It's the new States Rights mantra from conservatives...the states have the right to demand federal bailouts.

EXPAT BONUS: 600,000 or so recipients of retirement benefits from the American Social Security Administration were no longer able to access their online accounts as of August 1st. In order to increase cyber security, Social Security now requires you to register a text-enabled cell phone. You log in using a user name and password, they text you an access code to input. One problem. The system only allows you to register a cellphone with an American telephone number. Either the government can't figure out how to accommodate 600,000 foreign-residing recipients, doesn't realize that foreign-residing recipients were being locked out of the system, or just doesn't care. Either way, stupid.

******
IRA'S STUPID STUFF - LATE JULY, 2016

1. The US Department of Justice decides that Bud and Miller owning a combined 70% of the American beer market and 30% of the world market does not constitute a monopoly. "Don't worry," says the DoJ. "We've made deals with them." Meanwhile, the companies say that the merger will help them compete with craft brewers. It's good to know that our government is protecting mega-corporations from the little guys.

2. Ted Cruz refuses to endorse Donald Trump. Let's see. At the Republican convention in 1976, Reagan endorsed the man who beat him in the primaries (Gerald Ford) and went on to become President when his turn came four years later. Hillary endorsed Obama at the Democratic convention in 2008 after her beat her in the primaries and went on to become her party's nominee eight years later. Cruz...is Cruz.

3. Police shoot Charles Kinsey, on camera, while Kinsey was lying on his back with his hands in the air. Next to him, an autistic adult plays with a toy truck. We learn later that the cop who shot Kinsey was aiming for the disabled man. And missed. Three times.

We have to be careful. We can't get used to this. Just as we can't get used to the police being ambushed. Both circumstances are indefensible. You don't have to be on one side or the other. Senseless violence on both sides has to stop.

4. Hillary picks Kaine. In doing so, she pisses off  Bernie Sanders. Makes sense. George McGovern wasn't progressive enough for Sanders, so Sanders worked for Spock. (Not Mr. Spock. Dr. Benjamin Spock. The baby doctor. Are you old enough to remember that he ran for President?)

So although Kaine consistently is rated 100% by Planned Parenthood (and the anti-gun lobby and many labor groups and many civil rights groups...), and although Kaine did mission (not missionary) work in Central America becoming fluent in Spanish, and although Kaine started his professional life as a civil rights lawyer, Kaine is just not progressive enough for Progressives.

5. Bill O'Reilly says of the slaves that built the White House, “slaves that worked there were well fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government.” O'Reilly says that he was just pointing out facts. You can put lipstick on a pig...





DEMOCRAT BONUS: "I wouldn't vote for her for dog catcher." A Midwestern delegate to the Democrat convention who has never met Hillary much less worked with Hillary decides that she knows Hillary better than Bernie and Michelle and Barack and Warren and Biden and Jimmy Carter and the Presidents of the NEA and NARAL and so on and so on. Maybe she should vote for Susan Sarandon.

REPUBLICAN BONUS: Trump says that his sacrifices...working very hard and building big buildings...are equivalent to that of the Muslim Blue Star parents of a dead Marine hero. Trump also said that the NFL wrote him a letter complaining about the scheduling of the Presidential debates. The NFL says emphatically that they didn't. See either picture above for my take on The Donald's latest forays into theater of the absurd.

******
FIVE STUPID THINGS - MID JULY, 2016

FIVE STUPID THINGS may not be enough for the kind of week that it's been, but it's a start.

1. Democratic National Committee rules required that Bernie endorse Hillary so that his delegates could attend the convention. A real-life, actual friend of mine (pre Facebook) reposted a link to an article by some dodo...excuse me...rabid supporter of Bernie Sanders contending that if Bernie hadn't endorsed Hillary, his delegates couldn't have attended the Democratic convention. Having endorsed her, they can attend, there will be an outpouring of support for Bernie, and he will win the nomination through the sheer force of his righteous indignation.

You can't make this stuff up. Well, in fact, this particular dodo did make this stuff up.

2. May picks Boris to be the UK's ambassador to the world. That says it all. The sun has finally set on the British Empire.

3. Trump picks Pence, apparently in order to create a phallic penetration logo with a toilet paper reference. The Republican standard bearer has apparently decided that he can win without a majority of women, the LGBTQ community, or people of color. I'm pretty certain that there aren't enough pissed off white guys to make up the difference. We'll see.

4. In the wake of the tragedy in Nice, TIME Europe proclaimed that if we just start beating back Daesh, the recruitment of lone wolf terrorists will end because no one will want to be on the losing side. I presume that someone was actually paid for coming up with that analysis. Someone from the West. Someone who believes that terrorism against soft targets is about winning and losing. Someone who doesn't understand the Eastern concept of revenge. Someone who hasn't noticed that these lone wolf attacks have increased at the precise time that Daesh is being beaten back. Someone who doesn't recognize the letters I, R, and A. Where do I apply for the opportunity to get paid to write that kind of garbage?

5. After the horrendous killings of police officers this week, an official of the Cleveland police officers union has said that Obama has blood on his hands. Thus, in one quote to the media, we learn that an official representative of Cleveland's police officers is either an idiot or a racist. Probably both. On the other hand, this is the same guy who wants 'open carry' suspended for the Republican national convention. Maybe not so stupid after all...

BONUS: Melania Trump channels Michelle Obama in speech to the Republican convention. In my view, a wise move. She couldn't have picked a better role model. If only it wasn't so darn obvious.


******
#NeverMind: BREXIT REVISITED

"We don't want to hurt anyone's feelings," said IOC Chairman Phineas Bluster. "It's not whether you win or lose. It's how you play the game."

It all started with a peewee soccer league in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Jonah Rainbow's mother Persephone was so distraught at the sight of Jonah's tears after a last second goal cost Jonah's team the league championship that she ordered a set of trophies exactly the same as those presented to the league champions, invited all of her son's teammates to a barbecue, and held a presentation ceremony in her back yard. Everybody got a trophy.

The movement grew when the Democratic Party agreed to change its name to the Democratic Socialist Party in order to appease Bernie Sanders' supporters. And #EverybodyGetsATrophy went international when newly elected British Prime Minister Sissy Brightly Tweeted #NeverMind when asked about the Brexit. "Did you see all of those young people marching in London? I just couldn't disappoint all of those poor kids who were too busy to vote in the referendum. #NeverMind. We'll stay in Europe."

A reporter asked her about all of her rural constituents who voted Leave. "Have they marched yet? You get points for marching, don't you?"

******
OBAMA - FARAGE TREATY ANNOUNCED

In a stunning turn of events, President Barack Obama and UKIP's Nigel Farage will announce that they have brokered a deal that will provide the answers to the most pressing problems that face each of their countries.

Obama has been confounded by the problem of Texas, a state that is home to George Bush and Rick Perry, a state that embraces the idea of a huge wall separating it from its southern neighbor, a state that has threatened to secede from the Union.

On the other side of the Pond, how can Farage expect to govern a country in which at least half of the population think that he is Satan incarnate, a country that already has a wall along its northern border, a country that has in fact already voted to secede from the Union?

The answer?

Swap places.

Obama will use eminent domain to confiscate the life-sized model of Noah's Ark that is being built in Kentucky. "If it was capable of carrying the Biblical dinosaurs to safety, it should be able to accommodate all the Texans that we want to get rid of," says Obama. "On the return trip, England can send along folks who voted Remain and bring them home to where they belong, the common market known as the USofA."

When asked about the Royal Family, Obama said,"We'll take Queen Elizabeth and her brood. They'd be perfect fodder for a reality television show. And Betty White has agreed to take her place in England. They're about the same age, Betty can handle anything that the newly transplanted Texans can throw at her, and she likes dogs almost as much as Elizabeth."

******
TRUMP'S VP LIST REVEALED




It sailed from an upper floor window of Trump Tower in Manhattan, a crude paper airplane which, when unfolded, contained a computer printout with scribbled, hand-written notations. The Japanese tourist whose eye the airplane nearly poked out muttered a few four-character words, then crumpled it up and was about to throw it in a trash bin when his tour guide saw the Trump Vodka logo.

Curious, the tour guide smoothed out the sheet of paper and, upon realizing its significance, walked it into Hillary Clinton's campaign office. Tomorrow morning, the public will learn who is on Trump's short list for Vice President and what he thinks of each candidate. Although the document contains just the computer-printed list and the handwriting, that handwriting is definitely Trump's.

1. Ted Cruz   Not until I see his birth certificate

2. John Boehner    Our makeup would clash

3. Marco Rubio    Not until I see his birth certificate

4. Ric Santorum    I'll pray about it

5. John McCain    Not until I see his birth certificate

6. Sarah Palin    If I wanted big breasts and an empty head, I'd pick one of my ex-wives

7. Ben Carson    Who?

8. Chris Christie    If I wanted big breasts and an empty head, I'd pick one of my ex-wives

9. John Kasich    Who?

10. FIRST CHOICE: Newt Gingrich   Newt led the charge to impeach Bill Clinton while shtupping his third wife before he divorced his second. Or was he shtupping his second wife while married to his first? Either way, my kind of guy.

******
HILLARY'S ELECTORAL MANIPULATION EXPOSED

The deadline for registering online to vote in the Brexit referendum to decide Britain's relationship with Europe has been moved back due to problems with the servers. During an interview with BBC MUNDO, Boris Johnson laid the blame squarely on Hillary.

"First of all, it's a problem with a server (Wink. Wink. Nudge. Nudge.) Frankly, I don't think that she cares which side wins. This was just a trial run for November in the Colonies."

When confronted, Hillary replied,"What do men with bad hair have against me? Get styled, for heaven's sake."













****** 
I AM A REGISTERED DEMOCRAT BECAUSE... 

 ...because my party believes in civil rights and LGBT rights.

...because my party believes in equal opportunity and equal pay for equal work.

...because my party believes that it takes government oversight to ensure that we have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink, food that is safe to eat, and safe workplace conditions.

...because my party believes that the economic playing field should be fair, that strong unions have made life better in this country, that people and businesses that earn more should pay more, that welfare should not be a reward for the rich but a safety net to the poor.

...because my party believes that together we can help each other recover from natural disasters and that together we can better understand and react to our changing climate.

...because my party believes that everyone who is eligible has the right to vote free from hindrance.

I am a registered Democrat because I join with others who believe the same. I want the candidates of my party and those who choose those candidates with me to believe the same. I have no quarrel with those who choose to register as Independent or Republican. They have their reasons. But without making a commitment to my party's principles, a commitment that is real, timely, and not the result of the exigencies of the moment, they have no place in determining the standard bearers of my party. That privilege belongs to its members, those who have made that commitment alongside me.

There are those who say that there is no difference between the political parties. And I can agree that there is too much money buying access in politics, too much lobbying in Washington, and too much deference paid to those who fund campaigns. But can you see the difference between Bader Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor as opposed to Roberts, Thomas, and Alito? If you can, then you know that there is a difference.

I am a registered Democrat.

******
FLASH: TRUMP TO MARRY LE PEN

In a surprise move, at least to his current and third wife Melania, Donald Trump used the occasion of a political rally in Reno to announce that he was divorcing Melania and planned to marry Marine Le Pen, President of France's ultra-conservative political party, the National Front. Once Trump's divorce comes through, the way for the intercontinental union should be clear. Le Pen has divorced her previous two husbands and her current arrangement involves a 'domestic partner'...very French...and very Trump.

When asked why he was making this move at such a critical juncture in his campaign, Trump claimed that the idea was actually spawned by policy considerations...his concerns about immigration.

"My plan is to dig a ditch between Europe and the United States to prevent Syrian refugees from entering the country illegally," Trump declared. "By the same token, we'll be keeping cheap Mexican labor out of Europe." When it was pointed out that there was already an ocean between the two continents, Trump became incensed. "I'm a very smart person," he said. "I've heard of the Atlantic Ocean. Did it stop the British or the French from invading North America, the Spanish from taking over Mexico, or the Incas from controlling South America? We need a moat. Marine will work on it from her side and together we'll get the Mexicans AND the Syrians to pay for it."

When contacted for this article, Le Pen denied ever having agreed to marry Trump. "You can't buy a decent piece of meat in France," she said. "I called Trump because I heard that he had trouble selling his steaks and I thought that I could work out a deal. Marry him? Don't be silly. I'm French. I care about hair."




******

DEMOCRATS CHANGE NOMINATION RULES

My sources confirm that the national Democratic Party has taken to heart the criticisms concerning Party rules leveled by Sanders and his supporters. In a surprise move, DNC Chair Deb Wasserman Schultz has resigned. Her place will be taken by former  University of Mississippi activist Melissa Click. Click immediately announced that the current nomination process has been scrapped.


Clinton's lead of approximately 300 pledged delegates, her amassing of over 2.5 million more primary votes than Sanders will no longer matter. Instead, a new regimen will be put into place. The nominee will be decided by an internet poll conducted on the first night of the Party's convention in Philadelphia exclusively among users of Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, and Snapchat. In case of a tie, the prospective nominee whose supporters use the most capital letters in their responses to survey questions will be judged the winner.

"It's about MODERN DEMOCRACY," said Sanders supporter Persephone Rainbow. "I mean, REALLY. If you don't understand MODERN MEANS OF COMMUNICATION, you DON'T DESERVE to be nominated. #BernieOrBust."

Clinton supporter Eleanor Bluehair saw things differently. "They are disenfranchising Myspace voters. Doesn't loyalty and tradition stand for anything anymore?"

Sanders released a statement saying that he would agree with the decision as long as it resulted in a victory for his campaign. If he lost, he reserved the right to change his mind. Clinton's campaign was too busy buying every available share of Twitter stock to comment.



******

REVEALED - KOCHS BIRTHED MODERN PROGRESSIVES

 
A stash of shredded documents rescued from the garbage outside of Fred Koch's pool boy's mobile home, meticulously reconstructed by an Eagle Scout from Norman, Oklahoma for his Current Events merit badge, reveals that the Koch family has been funding the progressive movement within the Democratic Party for decades. Their successes on behalf of the Republican agenda have been stunning, resulting in the election of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush. Here's what the documents reveal:

1. Nixon had become a political punchline. Ignored by Eisenhower, beaten by an upstart Kennedy, beaten again for the governorship of California two years later, the idea that Nixon could be elected President was ludicrous...until Koch-funded progressives branded Humphrey a turncoat and turned the Democratic convention in Chicago into a Marx Brothers movie. A wounded Humphrey and a fragmented Democratic Party never recovered. Enter President Nixon.

2. Reagan defeated the guy who defeated Nixon to be elected governor of California and chose to be inaugurated at 10 minutes past midnight on the advice of Nancy's astrologer. (No, I didn't make that up.) In 1976, Regan lost the hard-fought Republican nomination to the incumbent, albeit by appointment, President Gerald Ford. Ford then lost the election to Jimmy Carter. Did the Democrats learn the lesson that a political party loses when the incumbent President is challenged? Nope. Koch-funded progressives Jerry Brown and Ted Kennedy took on President Carter with Kennedy taking his insurgency all the way to the convention. Kennedy lost the nomination but, surprising no one, a wounded Carter and a fragmented Democratic Party never recovered. Enter President Reagan.

3. Bill Clinton was a charismatic good ol' boy from Arkansas, loved by everyone, warts and all. (The exact placement of those warts is NOT a subject for conversation.) Al Gore had all of the charisma of a damp sponge but he had been at Bill's side for eight years and his earnest nerdiness did have a certain charm. Enter Koch-funded wonkinator Ralph Nader. Nader challenged Gore for the title of Dude Least Likely to Get Laid on Prom Night and his smears of Gore as Republican Lite, combined with his ability to siphon off the votes of fellow nerds, wounded Gore sufficiently that the fragmented Democratic Party never recovered. Enter President Bush.

Now I'm supposed to believe that a wounded Hillary Clinton and a fragmented Democratic Party leading to the election of Donald Trump was facilitated by tens of millions of dollars raised on behalf of Bernie Sanders from young, unmarried activists with crushing college loan debt who are living in their parents' basements? Not likely. Follow the money. The Kochs strike again!

(It's called satire. If you haven't figured that out by now, you need to buy a book, find a beach, and chill.)

******

WHAT'S WITH DONALD TRUMP?

When we are visiting with friends here in the south of France, sipping pink and munching aperos, the question is inevitably asked. What's with you people and Donald Trump? We are, after all, the Americans in the room. As such, we are the de facto experts on the wacky world of American Presidential politics. Do you want truth, we reply? Are you ready for the truth? Can you handle the truth?

OK. Pay attention. There will be a quiz.

The Trumping of the Republican Party is primarily the result of two American political events.

The first was the election of Ronald Reagan. You remember Reagan? Trees cause more pollution than automobiles? Ketchup is a vegetable? Those may sound silly to you today but Reagan was The Great Communicator. The disconnect between rhetoric and reality became irrelevant.

I repeat in case you missed it. In American politics, the disconnect between rhetoric and reality is irrelevant.

Thus, Reagan was able to preside over a huge increase in federal spending, a huge increase in federal debt, and still claim that Big Government was the problem and that tax cuts would balance the budget. Thus, Trump could say that he would build a wall on the Mexican border, that the Mexicans would pay for it, and nobody in his audience laughed.

The second political event leading to the Trumping of the Republicans was the election of that Kenyan-born Muslim, Barack Obama. Obama's election confronted a vast swath of Americans with the shocking truth that being born with white skin, having a closet full of rifles, and holding a world view that failed to consider anything happening beyond your own little cul-de-sac was not going to cut it any more. And it was Obama's fault - Obama and everyone who looked like him.

That the next refugee allowed on our shores might grow up to be President was no longer a point of American pride. The next refugee was probably not going to be white.

Yes, folks. Trump represents the worst of America. And in a primary election in the United States, winners are decided by those voters that show up. Since only the most rabid, highly motivated voters tend to show up in the primaries, the winners are the ones willing to feed the beast.

Beware. The fringe right wing of politics with which Europe is so familiar and against which Europe is constantly on guard has invaded America with a vengeance. I have decided to leave the United States and live in France for a reason. And it's not about the wine and the cheese.

Well, not just about the wine and the cheese...

******

UNLOCK THE DAMN PHONE

The internet loves John Oliver. He's smart. He tackles both highly visible and obscure subjects with ease and he seems to be having fun while he's doing it. He curses. Lots. He's British and, as Americans seem to have decided, Brits are always smarter. So when Oliver says that it's a bad idea for Apple to decrypt the phone of an honest to God, no question about it, shoot innocent people dead terrorist, the internet nods its head and agrees. Here's the whole bit.

Pfui. Oliver is wrong. Simply wrong.

Forget for the moment that the owner of the phone has given permission. (Remember, the phone in question was a work phone and not the personal phone of the terrorist.) Forget for the moment that there's a warrant and that the warrant does not ask for a permanent back door but simply assistance in the opening of a specific phone. Just think about this. As Apple has said, and Oliver himself repeats in his piece, it would take a few guys working on it a few days to decrypt the phone.

A few guys and a few days. And, according to more than one expert, those guys wouldn't even have to be working at Apple. So we're arguing over a work product that would take the same time to produce as it would take good coders to fill out their NCAA March Madness brackets.

I get it. There's a prosecutor in New York with over 100 phones belonging to murderers and pedophiles and rapists that he would like decrypted. If Apple did this once, they might be required to assist law enforcement in bringing down hundreds, maybe thousands of bad guys who use encrypted phones to hide their terrorist intents, their pedophilia, their stalking and their serial rapes.

Wait a minute. Thousands of terrorists, pedophiles, and rapists might be captured or successfully prosecuted if it were possible to decrypt their phones?

Who was it that said, "[a] strict observance of the written law is doubtless one of the high duties of a good citizen, but it is not the highest. The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of higher obligation. To lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to the written law, would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property and all those who are enjoying them with us; thus absurdly sacrificing the ends to the means."

Thomas Jefferson.

Who was it that said, "[The insurrection] in nearly one-third of the States had subverted the whole of the laws . . . Are all the laws, but one, to go unexecuted, and the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated?"

Abraham Lincoln

Who was it that said, "The choice is not between order and liberty. It is between liberty with order and anarchy without either. There is danger that, if the court does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact."

Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson. Not as famous as the other two guys, but the actual source of the ubiquitous 'not a suicide pact' quote.

So we have to decide. Are we a nation of both public and private transparency, with enough flexibility in the law to protect ourselves? Or are we a nation of dark places and hidden, untouchable, safe and secure purveyors of evil? It seems to me to be disingenuous to hold the belief that Snowden and Assange are heroes, that our government doesn't have the right to keep secrets, and at the same time believe that those who plan to destroy our civil society have the right to keep their secrets completely protected from discovery, even when there is sufficient probable cause for a court to issue a warrant.

Unlock the damn phone.

******

US PRESIDENTIAL PREDICTIONS - MARCH 2016

RECAP
As those who follow my scribblings know, I have been observing American politics from afar and am often asked by my Brit and French friends to explain the goings on in the American Presidential primaries. So I have been making monthly predictions on the status of the US Presidential race since July of last year. I update each month but include my original predictions so that you can judge for yourself just how silly you've been wasting your time following me. 

DEMOCRATS
Bernie has shown surprising strength but he apparently failed to win a single primary this past Tuesday and the demographics are a headscratcher. Why does Hillary command a higher percentage of the vote of people of color than even Obama did? Are they voting against their own self-interests? Are they rewarding past behavior that they view as more aligned with their concerns? Just what draws the base to Hillary? And make no mistake, it's the Democratic Party base that votes for her - people of color, women, older voters. Bernie's no dummy. He knows that if the base doesn't come out in full force during the general election, Democrats lose.

Should he win the nomination, which appears less likely after Tuesday's across the board losses, Bernie has to hope that the Republican nominee energizes the Drmocratic base in a way that he has not managed to energize them so far. Otherwise, McGovern comes to mind...

Why is Warren still the wild card after all these months? Because her endorsement of either Hillary or Bernie might be a game changer.

March, 2016
Favorite: Hillary
Long Shot: Bernie
Wild Card: Elizabeth Warren
Prediction: Hillary

July, 2015
Favorite: Hillary Clinton
Long Shot: Bernie Sanders
Wild Card: Elizabeth Warren
Prediction: Hillary Clinton


REPUBLICANS
Trump. Trump. Trump. I am still not convinced. Even this past Tuesday, he failed to get 50% of the vote in a single primary. My predictions may be overly influenced by my wish for my ideal solution, as one talking head described the seeming inability of the community of talking heads to predict Trump's rise. But I still just can't bring myself to believe it. It's just too wacky. I mean, at some point doesn't the fact sink in that the guy who wants to make America great again has led four companies with his name on them into bankruptcy?

As of today, it seems that the best hope for those in the Republican Party who are opposed to The Donald is a brokered convention. But the next in line appears to be Cruz and it's hard to believe that a party that couldn't hold it's nose and nominate The Donald would agree to hold its nose and nominate Ted "Green Eggs and Ham" Cruz.

Rubio? Blew it and gone. Kasich? Too little, too late.

Romney? Deja vu all over again...

March, 2016
Favorite: Trump
Long Shot: Kasich
Wild Card: Romney
Prediction: Cruz

July, 2015
Favorite: Jeb Bush
Long Shot: Rick Santorum / Mike Huckabee
Wild Card: Any Current/Former Republican Governor/Senator Not Named Christie or Perry
Prediction: Jeb 

******

SAVAGING HILLARY - POLITICAL RANT

We met in 1970 or 1971. She was intense. A radical feminist. Rabidly anti-war. Pro Castro. A Progressive when it was dangerous rather than fashionable. When I talk about her as a friend, I am not talking about a Facebook friendship. I'm talking person to person, in the flesh friendship. Now though, we do interact mostly on Facebook. We are, after all, continents apart. She posts pictures of her kids, all growed up. I Like them. I post stories about our move to France. She Likes them.

She Shares posts from a group called Moderates for Bernie. I don't Like them and I don't like them. One post in particular got my goat. It's a picture of a pensive Martin Luther King. The caption reads, "Let me get this straight..I fought and died for the Black vote. And now a man who marched with me is going to lose to a woman who supported Goldwater because of the Black vote..."

Putting words in the mouth of a departed icon like King in support of a contemporary political candidate is simply despicable. It's disrespectful of both King and of civil political discourse in a jaw-dropping way. There are plenty of Black activists on the scene today who support Bernie. Use a real quote from one of them if you have the need to question the right of Black voters to make their own choices.

It's true. As a teenager in the early 1960s, Hillary was introduced to Goldwater's The Conscience of a Conservative by a high school teacher and became an admirer. I found the book interesting at the time, too. A learning experience. But by 1968, Hillary was volunteering for McGovern's campaign. After King's assassination, she organized a two-day strike at her college to support greater inclusion of minorities on staff and in the student body. And after college, she knocked on doors to register voters of color and agitated for the rights of women and children and migrant workers. Those communities remember those days and her work on their behalf. That's why they vote for her.

They were there and they remember and they vote.

Hatchet job artists like Limbaugh and Beck have led Republicans by the nose to the outer fringes of their party, to the outer fringes of decency, to Trump and Cruz. Are Progressives taking Democrats down the same road? Our political discourse deserves better.

End of rant...

******

APPLE, BREXIT & TRUMP

APPLE
Unlock the damn phone.

The phone's user was a terrorist. Undisputed. The owner of the phone, the terrorist's unwitting employer, has given permission for the phone to be unlocked. There's a court order that is specific to that one phone and does not require that phone-hacking software be provided to the FBI for their future use.

With a court order, the Feds can get into my bank account. With a court order, they can paw through my underwear drawer. And I'm this side of certain that, with or without a court order, there are a bunch of coders at Apple who already know how to unlock a phone.

Apple's argument seems to be that a search warrant should apply to all the rooms in a house except the loo because what goes on in the loo should remain private forever.

That dog won't hunt.

Unlock the damn phone.

BREXIT
Some time ago, the nervousness over the possibility that the Greeks would be forced out of the EU led to a 20% devaluation of the Euro against the US Dollar. The cost of one Euro went from 1.35 USD to 1.10 USD and has stayed in that neighborhood ever since. Oh, I know that there are other influences and that the devaluation probably cannot be ascribed solely to the problems with Greece...and Italy and Spain and Portugal. But Greece was certainly a convenient place on which to hang a commentator's hat.

Recently, the Euro enjoyed a bit of a comeback, reaching 1.13 USD or better. That may not seem like very much, but 2% or 3% is not an insignificant amount when applied to a fixed pension. No worries, though. We apparently had nothing to fear. The possibility of a Brexit continues in the news. And a big Thank You to Boris for coming down on the side of the Brexiters. We're back at 1.10 USD again.

At this point in time, European uncertainty is an American expat's best friend.

TRUMP

There is a misconception that American electoral politics have been governed by rules of engagement that are relatively benign until just recently. We think of the American Founding Fathers (and Mothers, to be fair) such as Thomas Jefferson as persons of intellect whose Declaration of Independence and Constitution created the framework for a new, progressive style of governance.

Wrong.

Well, they were persons of intellect. But the Founders were also rebels. Traitors to Mother England. It should come as no surprise that they were, in fact, the architects of partisanship. Some believed in a strong federal government. Some abhorred the idea of federalism. Thus were two political parties born. And thus, partisanship.


Broadsheets, the news outlets of the times, were often owned by partisan politicians and were used unashamedly to denigrate their rivals. Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Adams, all were savaged with venom that today only appears on the very fringes of the internet. Washington's Farewell Address, generally considered to be one of the most important speeches ever given by an American politician, was described at the time in the organ of a rival as the "loathings of a sick mind." Washington himself, Thomas Paine implied, was a traitor and perhaps a double agent in the pay of the British. The elder Adams was "old, querulous, bald, blind, crippled and toothless."

Enter Trump. There is no regard for truth. There is only hate combined with lust for power.

An American tradition...

******

 US PRESIDENTIAL PREDICTIONS - FEBRUARY 2016

THE VOTING BEGINS
Iowa: This year, the Dems fought to a draw and the Pubs went with Cruz, the man that Pubs love to hate almost as much as Trump. So nothing was really settled. Bernie's insurgency appears real but this is Iowa, remember. Rubio's third place finish looked good until the next debate, but...Rubio's third place finish looked good until the next debate, but...Rubio's

New Hampshire: No surprise on the Democratic side. Comparing Bernie's win this year with Hillary's save against Obama eight years ago is just silly. Aren't Vermont and New Hampshire really the same state spelled differently? A Bernie loss would have been much more predictive than his win is. The Republicans made things interesting, though. The Donald got his one-third of the vote and it was enough to win. I still maintain that's his ceiling. Kasich was the one who took advantage of Rubio's missteps in the debate. Can he carry the mantle of sanity against the likes of Donald and Cruz? Maybe, but he'll need the centrist Republicans (if there are enough of them left) and the Rubio crowd to coalesce behind him in a hurry. And he'll need money. Speaking of money, Bush showed some strength as well, but he'll have to build on it. Being at the back of the lead pack is not enough.

DEMOCRATS
What does all of this mean? Not much. I'm certain that Hillary's people see South Carolina and the Southern Super Tuesday coming up as a chance to regain momentum. If we wake up March 2nd and Hillary isn't smiling, all bets are off. So why have I stuck with Hillary? Because, as I said last month, if it comes down to a smoke-filled room, Hillary has more cigar smokers in her pocket than Bernie.



February, 2016
Favorite: Toss Up
Long Shot: None Left
Wild Card: Elizabeth Warren
Prediction: Hillary Clinton

July, 2015
Favorite: Hillary Clinton
Long Shot: Bernie Sanders
Wild Card: Elizabeth Warren
Prediction: Hillary Clinton

REPUBLICANS
Trump? One-third of the Republican electorate will eventually punch his ticket back to New York while the remaining two-thirds decide on a sane person. Meanwhile, Rubio had his chance and may have blown it. Christie? Carson? Fiona? All on life support if they decide to stay. (As I write, Christie and Fiona have left the building.) That leaves Cruz (hated), Rubio (green), Kasich (Ohio wins Presidencies), and Bush (hanging around). Like the Democrats, Southern Super Tuesday may bring clarity.

Prediction? Well, Kasich has taken over the Long Shot role. He's rational (mostly), he's from Ohio, but does he have enough money and can he survive the South? Predicting Jeb? Really? Well, the electorate just might have shown a bit of moderation in New Hampshire. If you want moderate, Bush fits the bill...for a Republican.

February, 2016
Favorite: Toss Up
Long Shot: Kasich
Wild Card: Rubio
Prediction: Jeb

July, 2015
Favorite: Jeb Bush
Long Shot: Rick Santorum / Mike Huckabee
Wild Card: Any Current/Former Republican Governor/Senator Not Named Christie or Perry
Prediction: Jeb 

******

I AM OLD

Quiet.

Peace and quiet.

Our little town of Quarante, with its 1,500 or so inhabitants, typifies serenity and tranquility almost to the point of narcolepsy. And in truth, I like it that way.

That's not to say that folks in Quarante don't know how to have fun. On Bastille Day, they rev up the municipal band in front of the Town Hall, we march through the village to the school's soccer stadium, and we enjoy a quite respectable fireworks display.

We run the bulls in Quarante. The boys run behind, exhibiting their bravery by grabbing a tail or a horn. (Sorry, PETA. They do.) The girls stand on the sidelines, giggling and applauding. (Sorry, Gloria Steinem. They do.) And the rest of us shake our heads, smile, and head for the bar for another glass of wine. (Not sorry in the least...)

No, when it's time for a fete, the folks in Quarante know how to party. But in the main, day to day
and week to week, with the exception of the occasional bothersome, waspish sounding two-stroke scooter piloted by a youthful Formula 1 wannabe, at night the cats don't mewl, the dogs don't ruff, and even the crickets stay respectfully muted. For a city person, such an overwhelming lack of background noise can be a bit unnerving. But I was raised on a dirt road in the country. A car driving past the house at night was an unusual event. So the nighttime quiet of Quarante is the quiet of my youth.

My youth...

I remember my youth. I do. I remember fun. I remember being the one tasked to buy the beer because I looked old enough and had a reliable car. I remember late nights in secluded turn-offs, hanging with friends around a makeshift campfire, listening to a transistor radio, swaying to the music, trying desperately to get to a base, any base. But I am old now. I have more hair on my chin than on the top of my head. And I need my sleep.

I try to be a good guy. I do. So when I walked past my neighbor's house at 8:00 PM the other night on my way to picking up a pizza for dinner, I said that I didn't mind that, in the absence of his mother, the young man (Late teens? Early 20s?) had invited a dozen or so of his friends over for a bit of music and youthful horseplay. By 10:00 PM, the party was really rolling. By midnight, it hadn't even begun to slow down. At 1:30 AM, I gave in.

I pulled on pants and shoes, walked next door, and banged on the slightly open door. My young neighbor eventually appeared.

"Ca suffit," I said. That's enough. And he was good about it. He apologized. The music stopped. and although occasional bursts of youthful laughter still leaked through closed doors and shutters, I was able to get to sleep.

I am old.

How do I know that my youth is all spent?
Well, my get up and go has got up and went,
But in spite of it all I am able to grin.
When I think of the places my get up has been.
                                            ~ Denny Davis

******

THE NEW NINTH PLANET

I truly believe it. I believe that they will find it, the new Ninth Planet. No doubt. They've decided that it's there. That's all it takes. Once they decide that it's there, it's there.

We are all just a little bit crazy. Yes, we are. The most buttoned-down, logic-loving realists among us secretly believe that Paul is dead or Elvis is alive or that the moon landings were faked or that Reese's Peanut Butter Cups are not a gift directly from God, proof that She loves us. I admit to a belief that many...that most...that everybody might find highly unlikely, but I'm sticking to it.

I believe that until enough people with the proper scientific backgrounds were convinced that the possibility of the Ninth Planet existed, the Ninth Planet did not exist. Even today, there is only indirect evidence that the Ninth Planet exists. But the media has picked up the story. An ever growing number of astrophysicists are on board. The scales have tipped. In my lifetime - and it had better be soon because I'm 67 years old - a planet several times larger than Earth will be discovered beyond the orbit of Pluto.

As evidence of my theory that belief leads to reality in a cosmic sense, I offer the Kuiper Belt. The existence of that amorphous mass of frozen snowballs in the neighborhood of the orbit of Pluto was first posited 80 years or so ago. People trained telescopes out that way on and off for decades. Then, in the late 1980s, Jewitt and Luu made it their mission to nail down the elusive suckers. After years...YEARS...of looking for them precisely where they happened to be, they found one Kuiper body. Then, six months later...SIX MONTHS...they found the second one.

Now, of course, we've spotted thousands of the things. Things that weren't found by accident. Things that weren't found for years after we began looking for them. Things that we couldn't see when we were looking right at them. Nonetheless, thousands.

Ninth Planet? It's a lock.

******

HANDICAPPING THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION - JANUARY 2016

Anyone who claims to have this election figured out is delusional. I am not delusional. But I am reasonably well read and I know a modicum of history. That gives me a leg up over a large segment of the electorate. Yes, it does.


So after taking the month of December off to catch my breath, I'm back. Remember, after I announce my predictions for the month, I'll repeat the predictions that I made in the first of these posts in June of 2015.



DEMOCRATS
Has Clinton Fatigue finally set in? Has Bernie truly lit a spark that will catch electoral fire? The first three will answer those questions.

Iowa: Always interesting but seldom dispositive, Iowa picks the eventual candidate as often as not. In 2008, Obama and Huckabee won. Past winners include Tom Harkin, Dick Gephardt, and Uncommitted.

New Hampshire: A better record than Iowa, New Hampshire nonetheless has been won by the likes of Pat Buchanan, Paul Tsongas and Gary Hart.

South Carolina: Newt Gingrich and John Edwards are past winners, but by this time the field has narrowed considerably.

What does all of this mean? Not much. One suspects that Bernie is hot to win the first two and Hillary sees South Carolina as a firewall. If that's how it shakes out, fireworks will abound throughout the rest of the campaign. And I've kept Warren in as the Wild Card because, assuming that Biden and Michelle don't run, Warren is the only Dem who could jump in at this late date with any chance of moving the needle. Why Hillary in the end? Because if it comes down to a smoke-filled room, Hillary has more cigar smokers in her pocket than Bernie.

January, 2016
Favorite: Toss Up
Long Shot: None Left
Wild Card: Elizabeth Warren
Prediction: Hillary Clinton

July, 2015
Favorite: Hillary Clinton
Long Shot: Bernie Sanders
Wild Card: Elizabeth Warren
Prediction: Hillary Clinton


REPUBLICANS
Trump? I still contend that he cannot and will not win the nomination. Few of those not already in his camp will be enticed to join. But with the possible exception of Jeb, the eventual runner-up to Trump will likely sweep up all of the other competitors' support.

Why Rubio? Why not Cruz? Because Cruz is only slightly less mental than Trump.






January, 2016
Favorite: Rubio
Long Shot: Cruz
Wild Card: Everybody else...
Prediction: Rubio

July, 2015
Favorite: Jeb Bush
Long Shot: Rick Santorum / Mike Huckabee
Wild Card: Any Current/Former Republican Governor/Senator Not Named Christie or Perry
Prediction: Jeb 

******


#28 - FRENCH COURAGE

They have the weapons. Fuck them. We have the Champagne.
After having endured centuries of invading armies sweeping through their country, after enduring decades of terror attacks arising from their involvement in North Africa and the Middle East, the French might be excused if they said, "Enough is enough. Our borders are closed."

But they haven't said that.

Today, President Hollande reaffirmed France's willingness to accept tens of thousands of refugees over the next two years. France will, he said, reinforce its borders at the same time that it honors its humanitarian commitments. "Our duty is to carry on with our lives," Hollande said.

So the French will continue to eat good food, drink good wine, smoke strong cigarettes, and watch Jerry Lewis movies. Because they ARE French. And that's what French people do.

Bravery? Perhaps. I think it has more to do with a deep understanding of what is important and what is transient. Fear is transient. Being French is timeless.

******


HANDICAPPING THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION - NOVEMBER 2015

DEMOCRATS
That's Martin O'Malley on the left. He had his shot to stand on a stage with Hillary and Bernie and show that he belonged. Didn't happen.

After the first debate, Hillary solidified her lead. Not that Bernie didn't do well. Very well. He just didn't do well enough. After Hillary's performance at the Benghazi hearings and the second debate, it's hard to see her losing Iowa. And if she wins Iowa big, it's hard to see where Bernie goes after New Hampshire. And of course, if Hillary wins New Hampshire, game over.

The wildcard for the past two months, Joe Biden, is history. So that spot reverts to Elizabeth Warren...with a very tiny window to crawl through.

November, 2015
Favorite: Hillary Clinton
Long Shot: Bernie Sanders
Wild Card: Elizabeth Warren
Prediction: Hillary Clinton

July, 2015
Favorite: Hillary Clinton
Long Shot: Bernie Sanders
Wild Card: Elizabeth Warren
Prediction: Hillary Clinton


REPUBLICANS
I admit it. I am completely flummoxed. I still have sufficient faith to believe that neither Trump nor Carson will be the ultimate choice of the Republicans. After that...

Bush? It's been time for him to step up for months. Past time.

Rubio? Really? A kid who skips school?

Cruz? PuhLEEEze...

Fiona? Liar, liar, pants on fire...

Kasich or Graham? Do Washington insiders stand a chance?

Huckabee or Santorum? It looks like the time for Christians has past.

So there you have it. I have no idea...

November, 2015
Favorite: ????
Long Shot: Kasich and Graham
Wild Card: Everybody else...
Prediction: ????

July, 2015
Favorite: Jeb Bush
Long Shot: Rick Santorum / Mike Huckabee
Wild Card: Any Current/Former Republican Governor/Senator Not Named Christie or Perry
Prediction: Jeb 

******

#27 - HILLARY'S TRUTH, RELATIVITY, I AM OLD

Oprah convinced Hillary to answer the one question on everybody's mind:

Why has she stayed married to Bill all of these years?

"Well, the fact is that we were never married," Hillary confessed to Oprah last Friday. "Has anyone ever seen a marriage certificate? Hell, no. It's as fictional as Barack's American birth certificate. No, Bill and I share ambition, not sleeping arrangements"

But why?

"The only bachelors to ever be elected President were James Buchanan and Grover Cleveland. Not exactly first team all-stars. So if we were both going to be elected President, first Bill needed cover for his tom-catting. Then I needed to pretend that I baked cookies every now and then. You know, gender solidarity and all that nonsense. So we cut a deal"

What about Chelsea?

"What about Chelsea? So I got horny. Once. Even a cold cut like me needs a little mustard every now and then."

RELATIVITY 
I just finished an interesting article outlining the limitations of the general theory of relativity when discussing the micro world and the failure of quantum physics when applied to the macro. We continue to await the startling revelations that string theory promised but the math just doesn't seem to work out.

Question...

Why am I exposing my little gray cells to this stuff? I only have so much room in my brain and there's clearly not enough left to make sense of a physics in which space is not continuous but divided into distinct packets in the same way that light is divided into photons.

TMI. Help!

I AM OLD
I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. Are black cafeteria workers at Mizzou paid less than their white counterparts? Does it take black professors longer to attain tenure than their white colleagues?

In other words, is Mizzou racist? The answer would appear to be that institutional racism was not the problem at Mizzou. Then what was all the shouting about?

A feces-smeared swastika appeared on a wall. A racial epithet was hurled at a black student. Not examples of institutional racism. This is hate speech.

Hate speech? A university's administration resigned because students were upset by hate speech? And now those students want to suspend classes because more vitriolic hate speech has appeared on social media as a result? What did they expect? Acoustic guitars and Kumbaya?


I am old. Young men and women in our armed forces are dying in foreign lands and we've grown tired of marching. Young men and women on our city streets are dying in what begin as benign interactions with police and we've grown tired of marching. And from somewhere, for some reason, we find the energy to bring a university to its knees over hurt feelings. That's right. Hurt feelings. Whatever language these fragile youngsters use to couch the problem, it comes down to an inability to cope with hate speech and the hurt feelings that result.

My liberal friends will castigate me. How could someone who marched for civil rights in the 60s be so insensitive today? I would like to find a safe space. But I live in the real world. There is no such place.

I am old.

******

BEN CARSON EXPLAINS STONEHENGE

"Think about it," Ben Carson said during the 32nd Republican Presidential debate aired last Wednesday night on public access channel 53 in Des Moines, Iowa. "Would ancient savages have hauled all of those stones around just to predict when to plant corn? That's what the Farmer's Almanac is for. No, the stones were erected to protect crops from elephants."

When moderators pointed out that there had never been elephants on the British Isles, Carson only smiled and nodded.



******


 #26 - LION STEW - AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM

LION STEW
Rupert Murdoch bought National Geographic and laid off 10% of staff the very first day including, and it almost goes without saying, fact checkers. It has been reported that the next issue will feature recipes for slow-cooking lion meat, an article entitled Survey: Amazon Tribes Prefer Ben Carson Over Bernie Sanders Two to One, and a photo-essay featuring the Kardashian family on a naked safari searching for intelligent life in Culver City.





AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM
There are Americans who hate Obama so much that they swore that if he was elected, and then if he was reelected, they would leave the country. But they've decided to stick around, haven't they? And if Hillary is elected, or if Bernie's elected, my guess is that they'll stick around too. Same goes for Progressives if Rubio or one of the other clowns in the Republican car find their way into the White House for any reason other than a public tour.

Why do you think that is?

Those who follow my ramblings - and God bless you, each and every one - know that Cathey and I have moved permanently from the United States to the south of France. We have explained at every opportunity that our decision was not based on any animosity towards the land of our birth. In fact, we point out with pride that it's mainly due our being American that middle-class folks of relatively modest means like us have the kinds of opportunities that have been afforded to us. That's why we cannot abide the current political climate in the United States.

Politicians have become breathtaking in their rejection of all that is good about America.

I'm not Little Mary Sunshine. We have much work to do to maintain the best of us and regain what's slipped back. But hundreds, thousands of people are literally dying every day to get to America and a pitiful few are in a hurry to leave. We'll have to fight the very forces that clamor that we are in decline to continue our national pursuit of excellence, the very forces that have sold their souls for power, that have forgotten that our combined efforts through a government characterized by serious adult leadership took us to those heights that are still within our grasp, a government that the rich and powerful were happy to fund because the common good was good for all, for the rich and the poor alike.

It's not a time to starve the beast. It's time to feed the beast, to embrace it, to embrace what good governance can accomplish. To give ourselves the strength to rebuild the roads and the railroads, to harness the power of the sun and the wind and the tides, to reach out and touch the stars.

It can be done.

It must be done.

It will be done.

******

#25 - BACON - CALIPHATE

BACON
So now we're told that bacon causes cancer. Remember when apples were going to kill us? Bananas?

Pfui! The only harm that comes from eating bacon is to the pig that produced it...and it was a noble death.

The women who are at the perfume counter looking for a scent that will drive men wild are in the wrong place. The smell of bacon cooking drives men wild. Reduce that aroma to its essence, bottle it, and spray it on your wrists and behind your ears, ladies. Even vegans will secretly want a lick of that.


CALIPHATE
Speaking of bacon, I have been told by friends who claim to know, some who have roots in the region, that the Arab street in the Middle East is not ready for Western democracy. I have been told that strong men, even men like Saddam and Assad, are needed to keep order until enlightenment comes. And that enlightenment, I am told, cannot be imposed from without. It must bubble up from within.

These same people excoriate Western governments for their handling of the refugee crisis that the rise of the Caliphate has caused. Hundreds of thousands, millions, are on the move to escape violence and death. We must be true to our values, we are told. We must be Christian. We must accept the refugees.
Well, there's a saying that bears repeating about American democracy, expressed initially by Jefferson, sometimes attributed to Lincoln, but certainly refined to its current form by Justice Jackson. "The Constitution is not a suicide pact." Jefferson tells us that the laws of self-preservation trump strict adherence to written law when the country is in danger. Lincoln suspended habeas corpus in response to rebellion without the consent of Congress, saying that he refused to risk the Union through adherence to a single law. And Jackson encapsulated the sentiment into those seven quoted words when writing in regards of incitement to riot.

My point? If those who know and sympathize with Arabs who are on the road in Europe believe that those Arabs are incapable of understanding and instituting democratic rule in their home countries, how welcome should those Arabs be in our countries? Could it be that the Islamophobes, at least when it comes to immigration and assimilation, have a valid point?

It's a new concept for me, one that I would never have considered if some of my Progressive friends hadn't characterized the Arab street as they have. Having done so, though, have they not made the case for preserving the values of the West by denying access to its safety and benefits to those who cannot be trusted to understand and live peacefully under the system that created the relative comfort and largess that they seek?

******

#24 - #FreeSpeechMatters, PUTIN, FAMILY LEAVE

#FreeSpeechMatters
If you don't know what came down at Wesleyan University, look it up. Simply stated, a student wrote a respectful, thoughtful, but politically conservative op-ed in the student newspaper of a notoriously liberal institution. All hell broke loose. He's been castigated for voicing an opinion that differed from the norm, made a pariah.

He hurt peoples' feelings.

We are learning that we have raised a generation of easily bruised youth, protected in their homes and their schools from uncomfortable thoughts and speech. A generation that grew up being praised for simply playing the game rather than for winning. A generation that is having a difficult time in a world that has demands, that punishes failure, that is full of folks in authority who don't give a damn about hurt feelings.

Look up what happened at Wesleyan. Decide who was in the right. Discuss among yourselves.


PUTIN
"My son is 22 years old. If he had not become a Communist at 22, I would have disowned him. If he is still a Communist at 30, I will do it then."

The above quote is generally attributed to Georges Clemenceau upon being 'confronted' with the accusation that his son was a Communist. Whoever the originator, the meaning is clear. In youth, we seek the different, the exotic, the ideal. Age brings wisdom.

There was a time when it was fashionable for American intellectuals to flirt with Soviet-style Communism, a time when the Brits were having trouble keeping their secrets secret because of their intelligentsia's fascination with the East. That dalliance ended for my generation a while back. But Russia has a new pinup boy in Vladimir Putin. My young Progressive friends from around the world are fascinated with the guy.

Folks my age just roll our eyes. Clearly, history teaches us nothing.

FAMILY LEAVE
Congress is scheduled to be in session all of 132 days this year.

Paul Ryan will only accept election as Speaker of the House if he can spend time with his family.

Just 13% of American families have access to paid family leave.

Paul Ryan voted against paid leave for federal employees.

Fuck Paul Ryan.

******

#23 - ANOTHER GUN RANT

CHRISTIAN SELF DEFENSE
A guy walks into a church and threatens the pastor with a brick. The pastor pulls out his Glock and shoots the guy multiple times, killing him.


That's all. Isn't that enough?


 

TODDLER MURDERERS
Over 40 murders have been committed by toddlers this year.


 Call me out, if you will. Insist that the deaths at the hands of the toddlers who find guns and shoot people with them are are not murders but are accidental deaths. Then you will say that accidental deaths and suicides should not count when discussing gun violence. Then you will say that when you take out what doesn't count, what's left are people with mental illness and drug-related murders. And therefore what is needed is more guns in the hands of good people to protect us from the sickos and the druggies. 

Pfui!


Let's be clear. The deaths of children, murders at the hands of children, by accident or murderous intent, are less important to you than your guns. Just admit it.

BAN KNIVES
An internet meme recently popular with the gun-loving crowd is that five times as many people are murdered with knives as are murdered with rifles. So why not ban knives?

This is simply shameless cherry picking. Yeah, it's true. But it's also true that five times as many people are murdered with handguns as with knives. And that's not taking into account the accidental deaths and suicides by handguns. (Toddlers have 'murdered' at least 43 people this year while playing with handguns.)

In fact, about 70% of all murders are committed with firearms.

Hillary recently said that we should look into mandatory buybacks of the type that Australia conducted after their worst mass killing. Imagine that. One of the squirreliest politicians on the national scene actually talking about not just regulating, but reducing the number of guns in the hands of Americans.

Could it be true? Will we start going after the guns? Wouldn't that be interesting?

******

HANDICAPPING THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION - OCTOBER 2015

DEMOCRATS
That's Lincoln Chaffee pictured on the left. Nice guy. Smart guy. Not going to happen. But he takes a nice picture.

Last month, I gave Hillary one more month at the head of the field. After the first debate, she stays there. Not that Bernie didn't do well. But he still has that accent from the Northeast. He's still a Socialist. And he's still Jewish. In a country that has just elected a black Muslim from Kenya twice, Bernie's electability has to be considered, whether that word makes you gag or not.

Last month's new wildcard, Joe Biden, remains in place but he's fading fast. Clinton avoided a major stumble in the debate. Joe's window is closing.

October, 2015
Favorite: Hillary Clinton
Long Shot: Bernie Sanders
Wild Card: Joe Biden
Prediction: Hillary Clinton

July, 2015
Favorite: Hillary Clinton
Long Shot: Bernie Sanders
Wild Card: Elizabeth Warren
Prediction: Hillary Clinton

REPUBLICANS
Scott Walker is gone. Flamed out. I'm not sure why. It happened a bit too quickly. I'll put on my tinfoil hat and see if I can't pick up some vibes. It's hard for me to believe that, like Boehner, his party found Walker wanting as a conservative. But even fervent followers of the predictions of Nostradamus would have difficulty finding meaning in the Republican maelstrom this cycle. And Rubio is now one of the reasonable ones?

One other change from last month. Dr. Ben has donned the Christian mantle that I thought would belong to Santorum and has instead devolved to Huckabee. I'm throwing him into the mix. Reluctantly, but he polls well. Trump? His 20% - 25% is solid but won't increase and ain't enough. Bush? He's all upside and still...STILL...has the name and the money.

October, 2015
Favorite: Jeb Bush
Long Shot: Mike Huckabee / Ben Carson
Wild Card: Kasich and Rubio Lead the Pack 
Prediction: Jeb Bush

July, 2015
Favorite: Jeb Bush
Long Shot: Rick Santorum / Mike Huckabee
Wild Card: Any Current/Former Republican Governor/Senator Not Named Christie or Perry
Prediction: Jeb Bush 

******

#22 - HOW DID WE GET SO STUPID?




It's no longer funny. We're stupid. Americans are stupid. That's not to say that idiocy is an exclusively American trait. But we're damn close to qualifying for a patent.

Stay with me. If you don't like what I say at first, I'm certain to really piss you off later.

LINDSEY GRAHAM AND FLOOD AID
The man is running for President, voted against increased federal funding for the Northeast in the wake of SuperStorm Sandy, and is asking for federal aid after flooding in his state from Hurricane Joaquin. Huh? Does he think that nobody notices this kind of shit?

Does he think that we are that stupid? Or is he that stupid?

Probably both.



GUNS 
Tell me truthfully. You like guns, don't you? That's really what it's about with you. You like the noise they make, the way that they shred targets at the range, the feel of the steel in your hand when your dick isn't in it.

How many deaths will it take 'til we know that too many people have died? The answer to the latest mass shooting is more guns? Seriously? 350,000,000 guns is not enough guns? They've managed to warp your intellect to the point that you do not understand or care that having a gun in your house is many times more likely to kill you, a family member, or an innocent stranger than an intruder.

In fact, he statistical reality is that for every justifiable homicide in the United States - for every lethal shooting in defense of life or property - guns are used to commit 34 murders, 78 suicides, and are the cause of two accidental deaths. (FBI data quoted by the Washington Post.)

If you are a responsible gun owner and keep your guns locked in a safe, how useful will it really be when the zombies break the glass? And if it's in your bedside table, how much would you be willing to bet me that your kid hasn't already pulled it out and played with it? Let's ask him.

Or maybe your answer is that guns don't kill people. People kill people.

PEOPLE KILL PEOPLE WITH GUNS!

And I'm sorry, but the majority of mass murderers are not mentally ill and a majority of mass murderers obtained their guns legally. So don't deflect by bringing up mental illness. And don't deflect by bringing up the futility of gun laws. Make it hard work to become a mass murderer with guns and I agree that folks will find different ways to demonstrate that they are antisocial, maybe by putting on body armor and entering a school building with the intention of tickling a bunch of people until they laugh themselves to death.

Owning a gun is a Constitutional right, you argue? According to the Constitution, you could drink liquor...until the Constitution said that you couldn't...until the Constitution said that you could again. Sane people can change their minds.

So I'm sorry. If you think that the answer is more guns, you are simply no longer rational. You've been bent by the propaganda.

FIORINA
Hewlett-Packard missed a majority of its earnings projections at the end of Fiorina's tenure. It's stock tanked by a greater percentage than its closest competitors when the tech bubble burst. It's acquisition of Compaq was the only thing that kept its corporate head above water. But you tell me, how many HP/Compaq products do you own today? Fiorina says that HP's Board made a mistake when it fired her. But the day after Fiorina was fired, the markets were so happy that the value of the company increased by $3 billion!

Fiorina is therefore a highly qualified candidate for President?

Or try this. When discussing Planned Parenthood during the recent televised debate, Fiorina urged the Obama to view a video of an aborted fetus. But the video wasn't the one created by the folks attempting to trash Planned Parenthood. In fact, the fetus in the video had nothing to do with Planned Parenthood. In fact, the fetus had nothing to do with abortion. The fetus was the product of a miscarriage. "Technicality," claims Fiorina.

THAT'S what qualifies Fiorina for the Presidency, the ability to inflate her resume and lie with a straight face.

And by the way, the number of states that have investigated Planned Parenthood since this business began is up around twelve. Not one investigation has turned up any wrongdoing. If Missouri can't make a case, nobody can. 

******

#21 - CLOCK BOMB, BOGUS SCIENCE, OFFICER DOWN

CLOCK BOMB
So the school in Texas thought that the Muslim kid had built a bomb? Did they isolate the device? Did they call the bomb squad? Did they evacuate the school? No. They stayed in the same room with the device while they waited for the cops. When the cops came, they didn't call the bomb squad. They transported the device in their car with the kid, unprotected, and they kept it in the station house unprotected. 
The school administration and the cops either knew that the device wasn't a bomb or, if they did think that it was a bomb, they are too stupid to have the responsibility to protect children.

BOGUS SCIENCE
Check out any discussion of global warming and the deniers are bound to make the case that there has been absolutely no warming for the past 18 years. Last year, they pointed out that there had been no warming for 17 years. Next year, they'll say that there has been no significant warming for 19 years. Get the picture? The deniers point to a single, outlying year.

Try this on for size. Ten years ago, your boss gives you a one-time, considerable bonus. Each year for the next nine years, you get a nice salary increase, but no bonus. Today, your salary is equal to the total compensation that you received ten years ago. Has your salary been increasing? Of course it has. Is global warming real? Of course it is.

OFFICER DOWN
The Officer Down Memorial Page (www.odmp.org) makes for interesting reading. The site chronicles the names of police officers who have died in the line of duty and the circumstances of their deaths. The deaths are listed by date and categorized by type - from gunfire to heart attack, from motorcycle accident to 9/11 related illness. 

As should be, the list also includes K9s. It is particularly disheartening to read that a major cause of K9 deaths is from heat exhaustion. One can only hope that's not from being left in enclosed vehicles for extended periods of time in extreme heat.

Let me be very clear. Being a cop is a tremendously difficult, dangerous job. Putting your life on the line daily on behalf of your fellow citizens is an admirable profession. What I'm about to point out is in no way meant to diminish the nobility of that calling.

In 2014, 47 officers - and that includes ATF agents and others, by the way - were killed by gunfire. Not accidental shootings. Accidents are listed separately. So far this year, 24 have been killed by gunfire. Extrapolating through the end of the year, that's 32 deaths, a decrease of about 30% against last year. In 2010, 68 were killed by gunfire. 47 again in 2009. 41 in 2008. 67 in 2007. 51 in 2006.

My point? The 24 hour news cycle has convinced us that there is a war on police when police deaths by gunfire are actually as low as they have been in many years. Why does the media manipulate us like this? Why do we allow the media to manipulate us like this?

******

HANDICAPPING THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION - SEPTEMBER 2015

DEMOCRATS
Hillary gets one more month. Maybe just one. Have you folks in the States heard of Jeremy Corbyn? If you are into Bernie, check it out. Is it a good thing? I don't know. But it just may be a thing after all.

There is one change to my predictions from the previous two months. Bernie has sucked up all of the air available for Elizabeth Warren at the Leftest end of the spectrum. Biden, at least for the time being, takes her spot. I don't think he'll run. Is there enough fire in the belly? We'll see.

September, 2015
Favorite: Hillary Clinton
Long Shot: Bernie Sanders
Wild Card: Joe Biden
Prediction: Hillary Clinton

July, 2015
Favorite: Hillary Clinton
Long Shot: Bernie Sanders
Wild Card: Elizabeth Warren
Prediction: Hillary Clinton

REPUBLICANS
No changes from last month. I still find it difficult to believe that The Donald has the legs to last through the entire primary season. He's just too easily distracted. And we see some of the same interesting polling beginning to take shape on the Republican side as we saw during the last Presidential cycle. The Doctor is threatening The Donald. Could it possibly be that the Flavor of the Month Syndrome is setting in?

Huckabee? Well, like Santorum the last time, Huckabee is making a determined, all-out bid for the Christian fundamentalists. They are still a numerous slice of the base, they darn near led Santorum past Romney at the end, and therefore they are still a powerful force to be reckoned with.

And Jeb still has the name and the money and I don't see Kasich or Walker making the case that they are the stronger candidate. Maybe. We'll see.

September, 2015
Favorite: Jeb Bush
Long Shot: Mike Huckabee
Wild Card: Kasich and Walker Lead the Pack 
Prediction: Jeb Bush

July, 2015
Favorite: Jeb Bush
Long Shot: Rick Santorum / Mike Huckabee
Wild Card: Any Current/Former Republican Governor/Senator Not Named Christie or Perry
Prediction: Jeb Bush

******

#20 - NETANYAHU WINS, FIORINA'S LOOKS, PERRY QUITS 

NETANYAHU WINS
Iran's nuclear program, assuming that it was ever intended to culminate in the creation of a nuclear weapon, has been set back years. For the first time, Iran will allow itself to be limited by the international community on what it can and cannot do. Good work, Bibi. Now, quit bitching and get on with partnering with a Palestinian Arab state on the West Bank and Gaza. (It's all in your perspective, ain't it?)

FIORINA'S LOOKS
I don't give a flying frack what Carly sees when she looks in the mirror unless it's her reflection telling her that failing at HP does not qualify her for the Presidency.


PERRY QUITS
The conventional wisdom is that Perry was forced to quit because Trump has sucked all of the oxygen out of the Republican primaries. I don't buy it. Perry quit because even the troglodytes who now make up the Republican base realized that putting on horn-rimmed glasses did not increase Perry's IQ.

I'm no anthropologist, but I use the term troglodyte judiciously. There's polling:
49% of Republicans do not believe in evolution and 13% are not sure
66% of Republicans do not believe in global warming and 10% are not sure.
71% of Republicans do not believe Obama was born in the US or are not sure. (Of course, he was.)
40% of Republicans agree that Ted Cruz was born in the US. (Of course, he wasn't)

But forget facts. Let's look at attitudes:
57% of Republicans favor establishing Christianity as the national religion and 13% are not sure. 
54% of Republicans say that, “deep down,” Obama is a Muslim.
70% of Republicans say Obama doesn’t love America.
20% of Republicans believe that Obama is the Anti-Christ.

Calling them troglodytes may be too generous a description.

******

 #`19 - RALLY AGAINST DEAL WITH IRAN, MUSLIM BARTENDER

RALLY AGAINST DEAL WITH IRAN
Trump, Cruz, and Palin held a rally today to denounce to Iran deal negotiated by the 5+1 countries.




MUSLIM BARTENDER
Given my Russian Jewish heritage, I am more than sympathetic to claims of religious persecution. To this day I bear scars on my knuckles, the result of schoolyard brawls in defense of my tribe.

Then there's the case of the airline stewardess who converted to Islam and refused to serve alcoholic beverages. The airline tried to accommodate her by requiring other stewardesses on her flights to serve booze for her. But then one of those stewardesses complained about the extra work and the Muslim was put on unpaid leave.

I feel a lawsuit coming on.

Next? Christian Scientist pharmacist who refuses to prescribe drugs? Amish DMV clerk who refuses to register motorized vehicles? Hindu deli worker who refuses to serve beef? Jewish health inspector who refuses to license restaurants that serve pork? The possibilities are endless...

******

#18 - SCALIA AND YOGA, ASHLEY MADISON 

SCALIA AND YOGA
It begins with a guy named Scalia who says that the Constitution is a dead document.

"If you somehow adopt a philosophy that the Constitution itself is not static, but rather, it morphs from age to age to say whatever it ought to say — which is probably whatever the people would want it to say — you've eliminated the whole purpose of a constitution. And that's essentially what the 'living constitution' leaves you with."

 What about precedents that Scalia believes are wrongly decided?


"I just say, 'Let's cut it out. Go back to the good, old dead Constitution'."

Clear as crystal, correct?

So you tell me. How do we get to the point that corporations are people if we begin with the good, old dead Constitution? And even if we accept that corporations are people based on corporate law precedent, where does the Constitution so much as imply that money equals speech? Apparently, it does. At least, Scalia believes that it does. But it doesn't end there. No.

Corporations have deeply held religious beliefs. At least, closely held corporations do. (Did you know that six Justices are Catholic?) Enter Hobby Lobby. A good, Christian corporation that opposes abortion. (A Catholic corporation, perhaps?) Let's exempt them from the healthcare legislation that is supposed to be universal. That's what's meant by freedom of religion, isn't it?


Are you getting the picture? Do you agree that the dead Constitution is one hell of a flexible cadaver? Maybe for the past 230 years or so, the Constitution has been practicing yoga.


At least, that's what Kim Davis hopes.




ASHLEY MADISON
I am reminded of the hack that resulted in nude photos of starlets popping up all over the internet. There's nothing inherently illegal about having an Ashley Madison account. The illegality is the hack that makes the names of account holders public. So it's a privacy issue, right? The account holders are the aggrieved parties. Right?


I don't buy it. Yes, you have a perfect right to be naughty and stupid. But if you decide to be naughty and stupid on the internet, people who are naughty and smart are going to enjoy exposing you. It's a given. If you refuse to blame yourself for being naughty and stupid, you can't blame them for being naughty and smart.


******

GREECE AND THE EURO - TAKE TWO
OK. Let's revue.

A couple of weeks ago, I predicted that the Europeans understood that a major portion of the Greek debt was going to have to be forgiven, that European banks would have to begin printing money if they wished to make the holders of Greek debt whole, and the Euro would hold at its floor of $1.10 or thereabouts given that such a result had already been figured into its value.

It now appears that the Germans have convinced the Troika (the EU, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund) to hold firm and require that Greek debt be honored in full by Greece by itself, that the money to do so could be squeezed out of a Greek economy that would grow in spite of harsh austerity measures imposed by the EU, and as a result of that (and other factors) the Euro has popped up by about 3% against the US dollar.

Was I wrong? No. My timing was just a bit off.

The idea that the Greek economy can grow sufficiently to pay off its debt is simply ludicrous, whether it succeeds in restructuring the public and private sectors of its economy or resorts to the practice of sacrificing virgins. The idea goes beyond ludicrous and approaches insanity...insisting that what has not worked in the past will somehow become the solution in the future. Cynically kicking the can down the road, extending the terms of bad loans to a bankrupt government that has no hope of repaying them, will only heighten the crisis. Eventually, a combination of private and government investors will have to take a hit. Given the apparent reluctance to simply write off a portion of the debt, that hit will probably be in the form of receiving their payoff in Euros of reduced value. The European Central Bank will have to print Euros, whether Merkel likes it or not.

And Portugal, Italy, and Spain are still watching. They would be the next dominoes to fall in a Europe that makes austerity the only tool that it's willing to pull out of its toolbox to counter sovereign debt. I cannot believe that Germany would be willing to see the entire Mediterranean tier of states leave the EU for the sake of adherence to the primacy of the single economic principle of austerity. (The United States has pretty much debunked the primacy of austerity with the relative success of its stimulus. In doing so, it began outgrowing Europe early on and continues to do so.)

And the Euro? I think that its current rise is temporary and related more than anything else to the retrenchment taking place in the international equities markets. Currencies have become more attractive than equities for the moment and, for those who like currencies, the Euro is cheap. But being cheap is not a strength when it comes to currencies. Exactly the opposite. The Euro is cheap because the underlying European economy is still questionable. So $1.10 remains a reasonable long-term price for the Euro.

Could par with the dollar be looming for the Euro? I wouldn't have thought so just a few weeks ago. Now, even given the Euro's current rise in value, I'm not so certain.

******

HANDICAPPING THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION - AUGUST, 2015

As John Oliver has said, there will be babies born before the 2016 Presidential election whose parents haven't even met yet. (There were babies born yesterday whose parents couldn't remember each other's first names, but this isn't about hook-up culture.) So this dive into prognostication is really just an exercise for the sake of exercise. But let's take it where it leads us.

DEMOCRATS
Bernie Sanders is the flavor of the month on the Democratic side of the aisle. Big crowds. BIG crowds. But let's not forget that Bernie has been in politics for awhile. He didn't decide to introduce himself in cities like Charleston, Birmingham, or Baton Rouge. He went out West. If a Progressive can't draw crowds in Seattle...


In the end, I think that Bernie has plateaued. Progressives were already stirred up, ready and waiting for Elizabeth Warren. Bernie gave them a candidate to coalesce around. Will he win over moderate and conservative Democrats who are Hillary's core? Not likely. Warren might. But she's holding firm.

Biden? Gore? (Gore, for fook sake?) I just don't see it. Yes, there are folks who are getting nervous about Hillary's numbers. I'm not yet. They've been beating her and Bill up for decades. All they've got for their troubles is a blue dress and a hummer. And nobody who wasn't a card-carrying Republican gave a damn.

August, 2015
Favorite: Hillary Clinton
Long Shot: Bernie Sanders
Wild Card: Elizabeth Warren
Prediction: Hillary Clinton

July, 2015
Favorite: Hillary Clinton
Long Shot: Bernie Sanders
Wild Card: Elizabeth Warren
Prediction: Hillary Clinton

REPUBLICANS
The Donald is soaring. Does he have the stamina? Can he withstand the months and months of pure bullcrap that will come his way and not succumb to his inner demons and implode gloriously? I just don't believe that he can. He'll declare bankruptcy, write off his expenses, and contract for a new reality show.

Since I don't believe that Trump will be the last clown out of the car, that leaves me with the same lineup as last month. Folks will hold their noses and go with Jeb unless somebody comes out of the pack who appears to be a reasonable, electable alternative. As for the rest, Santorum can't seem to get traction against Huckabee for the hearts and minds of the religious right. Perry's gone and I think Rubio, Christie, and Paul are going. Cruz is still batshit crazy. And Fiona won't last once the light shines on her. So I've whittled things down a bit at the edges, but as with the Dems, the front runner remains.

August, 2015
Favorite: Jeb Bush
Long Shot: Mike Huckabee
Wild Card: Kasich and Walker Lead the Pack 
Prediction: Jeb Bush

July, 2015
Favorite: Jeb Bush
Long Shot: Rick Santorum / Mike Huckabee
Wild Card: Any Current/Former Republican Governor/Senator Not Named Christie or Perry
Prediction: Jeb Bush 

******

#17 - NATHAN'S HOT DOGS, GREATEST SONG WRITERS, NADER ON TRUMP, THE YUAN


NATHAN'S HOT DOGS
The answer:
Nathan's hot dogs and cheap, squishy hot dog rolls. Bagels. Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Texas-style smoked ribs and brisket. Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Crystal Hot Sauce. Twizzlers Chocolate Licorice Twists. Vita herring in sour cream.



The question:
Now that you've lived in France for over a year, what foods do you miss most?

Don't get me wrong. We have a smoker on our terrace. You can buy herring and sour cream and put them together yourself. And truth be told, you can get everything on the list delivered to your door if you are willing to pay the price.

But if you want a place to hang out for a few days while you are in the south of France, have one or two of the things on the list in your suitcase when you show up on our doorstep. We have a guest room.

GREATEST SONG WRITERS
Rolling Stone named the 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time (emphasis mine) and it was a joke. Never mind that Bjork came in ahead of Marvin Gaye or that Jay Z beat out James Taylor. The Gershwins, Cole Porter, and Loerner and Loewe don't even appear on the list. I'm not suggesting that the list should have included Thomas Tallis. The man's been dead for over 400 years. But Stephen Sondheim was alive the last time that I checked.

Call the list the 100 Greatest Billboard Songwriters. Call it the 100 Greatest Rock and Roll, Folk and Rap Songwriters.

Call it Ferdinand. Cause it's Bull.

NADER ON TRUMP
Ralph Nader has gone on Fox and praised Trump for opening up the electoral process by threatening a third party run. It takes a billionaire, said Nader. Like Perot, said Nader. It's a good thing, said Nader.

Nader can't really see Trump and Perot as reformers. Not if he believes his own frequently repeated lament that America has become an oligarchy. Rather, I believe that he is attracted to men with egos of similar size to his own. We are fortunate that neither Perot or Nader ever seriously challenged for the Presidency and that Trump is just not serious, period.

THE YUAN
Politicians in Washington who pretend to understand these things have been calling on the Chinese to allow the yuan to float against the dollar for years. Now they are complaining that China has let the yuan float against the dollar. You see, the dollar is strong right now. That means Chinese goods are cheaper. And oh, by the way, the dollar has recently gained 20% against the euro. That means that German goods are cheaper, too. But the Germans aren't the Chinese. So we don't care about the euro, right?

Gee, this free market stuff can get complicated.

******

#16 - BEATLES OR STONES, HIROSHIMA, DROUGHT

BEATLES OR STONES
Keith Richards is quoted in a recent interview as saying of Sgt. Pepper, “Some people think it’s a genius album, but I think it’s a mishmash of rubbish.”

Well, the First Amendment guarantees that even elderly, slightly confused Brits have a right to their opinions. And I will not dispute that The Stones are the most enduring bar band in history. (I would cede them the title of Greatest Bar Band if it weren't for the fact that Springsteen and I are both Jersey boys.) But The Beatles were different.

The Beatles were a band that honed their skills in clubs and could hold their own with kick-butt versions of tunes like Roll Over, Beethoven and You Really Got A Hold On Me and Twist and Shout and Money. But then they went a step further. They created or heavily influenced entire genres, from acid rock to thrash metal to casino crooners. Steps further. And oddly enough, those steps included paying back their roots influences by giving folks like Stevie Wonder tunes like We Can Work It Out.

I'm glad that Keith Richards is still capable of walking and chewing gum. (Kidding. He can still lay down a fine groove, too.) But let's not get huffy over a competition for hearts and minds that was over nearly 50 years ago.

HIROSHIMA
As the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima approaches, folks are questioning anew the need to have dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese homeland. Self-examination is generally a good thing. But let's be clearheaded in our review of history.

I have no doubt that history will not look kindly on the scientists who created The Bomb and Truman for having authorized its use. "I am become Death," said Oppenheimer. Einstein rued both his scientific and political contributions to Hiroshima, however peripheral. And Truman was clearly conflicted. He had experienced war first-hand and knew its horrors. His later writings suggest that he became fully aware of how Hiroshima would shape his legacy and the future of international conflict.

But Truman viewed the Japanese through the lens of Pearl Harbor and through the Japanese treatment of prisoners of war. He had been briefed extensively on the projected cost of an American invasion of the Japanese home islands, 200,000 or more American casualties. And contrary to the current narrative, no credible proof exists that the Japanese were ready to surrender unconditionally. True, feelers from dissident Japanese had been received. But they were never officially sanctioned, never included unconditional surrender - necessary after Germany's total capitulation, never panned out, and in retrospect smelled a tad like the unofficial and ill-fated mission of  Rudolf Hess to England. The official Japanese response to peace feelers at the time was to treat them with contempt. Until Hiroshima, all the evidence points to the Japanese military planning a final, if fruitless, mortal struggle on Japanese soil.

I have often said that Americans have memories equivalent to that of fruit flies. In this case, that's assuming that they've ever heard or participated in a serious discussion of this issue at all. Our young people have difficulty locating their own navels in the dark, much less islands in the Pacific. And of all academic regimens subject to periodic mass testing, history always fares the worst. So the question should not be reduced to polling that asks random Americans their opinion of whether Hiroshima was necessary. Rather, we should do our due diligence to determine whether Truman's decision was justified by the information that he had at hand in 1945.

Yes, I think that it was. And may no American President, no world leader, no sophisticated dissident with a grudge and a handful of plutonium ever be tempted to enforce his/her will in a similar way in future.

DROUGHT
In 2014, President Obama and Governor Jerry Brown visited the farm of Joe and Maria Del Bosque in California's Central Valley. Due to the persistent California drought, portions of Del Bosque's 'viable farmland' (as described in an article on Yahoo! Politics) lay fallow. Now, one year later, Del Bosque is reportedly wondering if Obama understood his problem. Why has nothing been done? Why must he refrain from planting additional fields due to lack of water for irrigation?

Putting aside for the moment the history of rampant corruption when it comes to water policy in America's West, we have in microcosm the coming major cultural upheaval that shifting weather patterns will cause around the country and around the world. The agricultural 'viability' of Del Bosque's land was predicated on the availability of water for irrigation in a part of California where that water was not naturally available through rainfall or the aquifer. Just exactly what is government supposed to do about that? What is government capable of doing about that? And what will government be able to do when seawater pollutes the freshwater aquifer in south Florida?

'Viable' farmland will no longer be viable. Expecting politicians to bring rain or deepen the snow pack is ludicrous.

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#15 - CECIL THE LION, MINIMUM WAGE, SMOKEY ROBINSON - BLACK AND PROUD AMERICAN


CECIL THE LION
Trophy hunting is on the way out.

Disclaimer: I fall somewhere between those who believe that animals were put on this Earth to serve the needs of humans and those humans who believe that animals are human too. And I love cats. I REALLY love cats.


All but the most cynical and bloodthirsty hunters are conservationists. They know the lesson of the buffalo, that you can hunt seemingly endless herds to the point of extinction in a very short time. That's why there are more deer in the northeastern United States today than in the days of the Founders. We've hunted out or moved out the predators and we've managed the herds. And the 'we' are the responsible hunters who pay license fees and support wildlife management in numerous other ways. As a result, hunting for venison is alive and well. I know families who spend next to nothing on processed meat because venison provides everything from their breakfast sausage to their dinner roast. More power to them.

But trophy hunting is different. As humanity encroaches on the habitats of the predators and the prey that attract the trophy hunter, as their numbers dwindle, conservation and population management become of paramount importance. What difference does it make if a lion is within or outside the boundaries of a preserve? The reason that the preserve exists in the first place is because the lion population is threatened. And if such populations are threatened, the only reason to hunt them is to better manage them. Common sense dictates that such hunts, to thin the herds of threatened prey or to manage predation, must take place under the authority of professional wildlife managers and not private guides paid a princely sum to ensure a kill. So...

Trophy hunting is on the way out.

MINIMUM WAGE
The movement to make the minimum wage a living wage is gaining steam. Three comments:

1. I joined the workforce in the late 1960s when the federal minimum hourly wage was $1.60. If it had been tied to the inflation rate of the Consumer Price Index back then, today the minimum wage would be $10.90. If the object of creating a minimum wage is to ensure a reasonable baseline compensation for a person's labor, why is that person's labor worth 30% less today than if it had been tagged to the CPI in 1968? Give me a reason that makes sense.

2. I searched "effect of increasing the minimum wage" on the interweb. Up popped two articles published in Forbes, one a year old and one more recent. The older one was entitled The Facts On Increasing The Minimum Wage. The 'facts' were that there were so few workers making the minimum wage throughout the country that increasing the minimum wage would have a negligible effect on GDP and tax revenue. Not what I was looking for.

The more recent article purported to investigate the effect of an increase in the minimum wage to $15.00 an hour in Seattle. After establishing that only about 1,200 people were effected, the author goes on to admit that the unemployment rate in Seattle has dropped at about the same rate that the national rate has dropped since the new minimum was instituted. There's been no spike in unemployment. He goes on, however, to speak anecdotally about restaurant closings and lost job opportunities. No numbers. Just stories about favorite restaurants closing due to the wage increase. Stories that other, more liberal sites claim are disputed by the restaurateurs themselves.

So as far as I can see, we don't really know the end game yet.

3. Social media is replacing labor unions. Just sayin...

SMOKEY ROBINSON - BLACK AND PROUD AMERICAN
"If it's so terrible here, why are so many coming and so few leaving?" And the only time that he uses the word privilege is when he describes the need to exercise the privilege of the franchise.


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HANDICAPPING THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION - JULY, 2015

Political pundits make predictions. Then they change their minds. Then, at the last minute, they change their minds again. And the only way that you'll know whether they were right or wrong at any point during the process is if Jon Stewart (or the replacement guy) does a piece about it on The Daily Show.

I'm going to handicap the American Presidential primaries and election. In the primaries, I'll call the Favorite, the Long Shot, the Wild Card, and my Prediction. And at the bottom of each segment, Republican and Democrat, I'll repeat my initial take on those four categories so you can rate my ability to prognosticate. I'll post about every month until the winners have emerged.

DEMOCRATS
It won't be a coronation but it's hard to bet against Hillary. Is the country ready to elect Bernie, a self-proclaimed Socialist? I don't think so. Not after eight years of a Communist like Obama. (That's sarcasm, in case you missed it.) Can a dark house, like O'Malley or Webb, match Hillary's money and name recognition? I don't think so. Is there a better political pro to have in your corner than Bill? I don't think so. Am I going to bet against Hillary? I don't think so.

I don't dismiss Bernie lightly. He strikes a chord. But I'm with Barney Frank, a guy with certified Progressive credentials. There's really not that much space between Hillary and Bernie, Barney says. I believe him. He's worked with both for years. Therefore, the inevitable animus of a primary fight will only hurt the Democratic Party and its chance to elect the next President. Without primary opposition, Humphrey beats Nixon and, maybe, Romney beats Obama.

The Wild Card is, of course, Elizabeth Warren. She says that she's not running. If she did, she'd certainly suck the air out of Bernie's candidacy. She'd be the female alternative to Hillary for women that Fiona will never be. And you have to admire a woman with the flexibility to be a Texas Republican in the 20th Century and a Massachusetts Progressive in the 21st. But I believe Warren. I don't think that she'll run. This time.

O'Malley and Webb are good men. Chafee has an interesting history. Biden is...Biden. And there are others. But I'm going to have to live with this for the next several months. So...

Favorite: Hillary Clinton
Long Shot: Bernie Sanders
Wild Card: Elizabeth Warren
Prediction: Hillary Clinton

REPUBLICANS
While the Democrats present a clear front-runner in Hillary, the Republicans can barely hold their noses long enough to proclaim Jeb Bush their favorite. Hillary may have baggage, but Jeb has steamer trunks - his grandfather, his father, his brother, and his conservative credentials will all be dragged into the mix. (If you don't know Grand Dad's story, you really need to do your research. It's fascinating in the way that the Kennedy story is fascinating. That is to say, cringe worthy.)

It should be noted that, as is the case with Hillary, in addition to name recognition Jeb has the second of the most important pieces of the puzzle in hand...money. In fact, he has raised almost twice as much money as Hillary for his campaign and his Super PAC combined.

After Jeb, anybody who claims insight into the Republican field is blowing smoke. Could Scott Walker or John Kasich be the next Mike Dukakis? Is Rubio too young? Huckabee too Christian? Cruz too crazy? Paul too Paul?

Trump? Look, The Donald is just smart enough to understand that he doesn't stand a chance of being nominated. But any publicity is good publicity, especially when you can solicit contributions from the average Joe to pay for it. Ben Carson? He's creating buzz but, just as the country is not ready to elect a men who calls himself a Socialist, so the country is not ready for two black Presidents in a row.

Don't forget, Rick Santorum was the last man standing against Romney in the last go round and he actually won eleven primaries. And, since Huckabee is the most likely alternative of the Christian Right, the two of them combine as my Long Shots. I have to admit that it's just too early to choose between (among?), in order of likelihood, Walker and Kasich and Graham and Cruz and Rubio and Paul...I promise that I'll narrow this one down in future.

Favorite: Jeb Bush
Long Shot: Rick Santorum / Mike Huckabee
Wild Card: Any Current/Former Republican Governor/Senator Not Named Christie or Perry
Prediction: Jeb Bush 

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#14 - U.N.C.L.E., BARRY BONDS, FETAL TISSUE  

U.N.C.L.E.
Last week I made the point that our new Siamese kitten's name sounds like the name of David McCallum's character in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.. So I thought that it would be a good time to sneak a peek at an episode of what had been one of my favorite shows. It's been a lot of years. I tried the pilot.

Unwatchable. I mean, really terrible. Not camp. Just terrible.

What a disappointment!



BARRY BONDS
The government has dropped all charges against Bonds. He's been found guilty of no crimes. He has never failed a drug test. He's not in the Hall of Fame. He should be.

The HOF has enshrined drunks, bigots, and womanizers. But Bonds cheated, you say? Cheating is cause to prevent enshrinement in the HOF? Two words: Gaylord Perry. Performance enhancing drugs are cause to prevent enshrinement? Before steroids, amphetamines and other 'pick-me-ups' were in sufficiently common use that even Hank Aaron admits that he tried speed once. Just once, but he did.

So. Barry Bonds. Home Run King. Hall of Fame. Hold your nose if you have to. Just do it.

FETAL TISSUE
I don't like to talk about this. There's an ick factor. But I must.

According to the video that's being used to castigate Planned Parenthood, Planned Parenthood did nothing wrong. NOTHING. Abortions are legal. Fetal tissue is useful in research and therapeutically. What the video that's making the rounds and causing such a furor demonstrates, if you watch the whole video, is that Planned Parenthood first gets permission from pregnant women to donate fetal tissue, then takes care during the abortion to preserve the tissue, then sells the tissue just for the cost of procuring it, usually less than $100. All perfectly legal and perfectly ethical if you believe that abortion should be legal (It is.) and that it should be legal to donate fetal tissue that is the product of an abortion at cost and with the mother's consent (It is).

The folks who released the heavily edited version of the video didn't show the part where the representative of Planned Parenthood refused to sell fetal tissue at more than cost. Substantially more. Let me say that again. Planned Parenthood was offered a substantial amount of money to sell fetal tissue clandestinely and at a huge profit. And refused.

So what we have is a video of an attempted entrapment that failed. And this was a very elaborate setup. The person who videoed the conversation had spent two years courting Planned Parenthood, pretending to be a friend. And still, Planned Parenthood refused to break the law for profit. But because of the subject matter, the ick factor, the story is gaining traction. I am truly sorry for Planned Parenthood. They are being castigated for having demonstrated that they are not corruptible. How ironic is it that corrupt Washington politicians are now demanding that they be investigated?

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#13 - ILLIAH AND ILLYA / CHAMBERLAIN, HITLER, AND IRAN

ILLIAH AND ILLYA
One lives with us and we're glad that she does. The other doesn't and we wouldn't mind if he did.




















For the children in the audience, that's David McCallum. You know, Ducky on NCIS. Illya Kuryakin was the role he played in Man From U.N.C.L.E. back in the day when TV was steam-powered.

CHAMBERLAIN, HITLER, AND IRAN
History has not been kind to Neville Chamberlain. But that's beginning to change. Folks are beginning to realize that Chamberlain did exactly what needed to be done given the lay of the land at the time. Read and learn.

England came out of WWI dazed and confused. The war had been brutal beyond imagining. Those men and women who survived and came home were forever changed. The social structures upon which British society was based were crumbling. Britain was not prepared physically, emotionally, or materially to take the steps necessary to thwart Hitler's European ambitions. Under the circumstances, the best that Chamberlain could do was to stall, to give his country time to take a deep breath, see the situation clearly, and make preparations to face the coming storm. That's what Chamberlain did, a thankless task as demonstrated by the inaccurate judgement of history that he facilitated Hitler's conquests. Rather, what Chamberlain did was to give his country just enough time to prepare, to endure, and finally to retaliate and win.

Iran is a different issue entirely but people who mistakenly accept the discredited view of Chamberlain are equally mistaken about the prospective nuclear agreement.

What are America's options?

1. Do nothing? Keep the sanctions in place, even tighten them? So what? All that means is that Iran, if it really was working on The Bomb, gets to continue working on The Bomb. From the initial round of sanctions in the 70s to their expansion in the 90s to the 'crippling' sanctions imposed in 2006, Iran has continued its slow march toward nuclear capability. The simple fact is that any country sufficiently large with sufficient brain power and sufficient will can develop The Bomb. Blueprints are on the web. Do nothing? Bad idea.
2. Bomb Iran? Really? How well has the idea that bombing settles things in the Middle East worked out so far? Is Iraq stable? Is ISIS on the run? Heck, has Israel managed to pacify tiny little Gaza through military action? Do we really want Iran - and probably Israel as well - actively engaged in all-out warfare in the region instead of working through surrogates. They're making enough mischief as it is. Bomb Iran? Bad idea.
3. Engage and negotiate? Let's look at two countries in Asia with which the United States has been at war - North Korea and North Vietnam. We are technically still at war with North Korea though we've beaten them back behind barbed wire. China, their only real friend, hasn't exactly been happy with them lately. They are an international pariah, isolated and alone. And they developed The Bomb. North Vietnam, on the other hand, chased us out and thumbed their noses at us. But now, after what hardly counts as a decent interval, they are a cruise ship stop and a trading partner. Barbed wire and isolation versus engagement and negotiation? Which approach has the better outcome in modern times?

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RANDOM THOUGHTS #12 - CANDACE CAMERON-BURE, PLUTO PICTURES

CANDACE CAMERON-BURE
So some young lady by the name of Candace Cameron-Bure who is apparently an actress  (Full House, Dancing with the Stars... I looked it up.) is on my Facebook feed saying that comparing the civil rights struggle at Southern lunch counters to the bakery denying service to LGBT clientele is like comparing apples and oranges.

“I don’t think this is discrimination at all,” Cameron-Bure is quoted as saying when discussing businesses that refuse to serve LGBT clientele. “This is about freedom of association, it’s about Constitutional rights, it’s about First Amendment rights. We do have the right to still choose who we associate with.”

Someone ought to tell this young woman that's EXACTLY the argument that the segregationists used.

EXACTLY.

We are raising a generation of young people with a knowledge of American history equivalent to that of a fruit fly. And half of what they think that they know is mistaken.
  
PLUTO PICTURES 
They're coming, the first close-up pictures of Pluto. We'll learn about Pluto's planetary history and geological composition. We'll study its atmosphere. We'll achieve a better understanding of the genesis of the solar system.


Bull Cookies!

We'll get pretty pictures. We'll scratch our heads. We'll come up with more questions than we've answered. But we will get some awfully pretty pictures.

Don't get me wrong. That's what I want. Pretty pictures. I'm willing to spend all of the money that's necessary to be in a position to take those pretty pictures. But don't promise revelations equivalent to Revelations. Do the science, by all means. Tell me what you've learned. But the science had damn well better be wrapped up in a neat package complete with a bunch of very pretty pictures.



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GREECE AND THE EURO

Yesterday, I posted that I was convinced that Greece would vote NO.

They did.

Yesterday, I said that the repercussions would depend on the bankers and on the oligarchs who own them. One of the determining factors, I said, would be the effect of the Greek vote on the euro. After a small, brief dip, the euro has held steady against the dollar. This tells me two things.

First, the financial markets have already taken into account the vote with the tanking of the euro by about 20% late last summer. After a few panic trades that dropped the euro by less than 1% against the dollar early on today, the euro bounced back up to its current floor price of $1.10. My guess is that it will stay at or near that level at least until the Fat Lady sings.

Secondly, the markets are also convinced that, when the Fat Lady does sing, Greece will remain in the Eurozone. The early general consensus being reported is that the Troika (the EU, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund) will come to a settlement near enough to Greek's terms to acknowledge Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' victory and to cement Greek firmly into the fold.

On the surface, this might mean that there's more trouble ahead, that Italy and Spain might adopt the Greek tactic of threatening creditors and the stability of the Eurozone in order to work out a better deal on their debt. But I don't see it that way. If the Eurozone has backed down in the face of the relatively insignificant Greeks, can it afford to show backbone against more crucial Italian and Spanish economies, as weak as those economies may be? I doubt it. (Portugal? Too small to matter. GDP about the size of Greece. Spain's is 5 times Greece. Italy 8 times.) So now that the German-led program of austerity as medicine has taken one hit, it will almost certainly take more. And Merkel will put on a happy face and pretend to like it.

So there you have it. Greece stays in the Eurozone, as do the other debt-ridden economies. Once the banks begin printing money to ease Greek austerity and make good at least a portion of Greek debt, (and then perhaps Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian debt) the euro may indeed sink to parity with the dollar. But that's a story for another day.

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RANDOM THOUGHTS #11 - SPANKING, BIBLICAL MARRIAGE, GREEK EXIT

SPANKING
A Massachusetts court ruled that spanking is OK.

The experts disagree.

The experts need a good spanking.





BIBLICAL MARRIAGE
The Texas Attorney General has told county clerks that they can refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples on religious grounds. He then provided definitions of the differing roles of wives, concubines, and slaves; issued edicts requiring victims of rape to marry their attackers and requiring widows who failed to produce a male heir to marry their brothers-in-law; and provided guidance to barren women who were willing to have their husband impregnate the family's slave girls.

GREEK EXIT
I will be surprised if the Greeks don't vote for telling the bankers and the oligarchs who control the bankers to go jump in a lake. Having done so, Greece will create its own currency, forgive all public and private debts, and guarantee every citizen who works at least 15 hours a week an income equivalent to the German average, 90 days of paid vacation annually, 40 acres, and a mule.

I kid Greece. Because I love Greece.

Whether or not a NO vote leads to Greece exiting from the euro and the Union will depend on whether or not those same bankers and oligarchs decide which outcome will be most critical to their bottom line, a massive forgiveness of Greek debt or the uncertainty of the consequences of a Greek exit, taking into account the value of the euro and the effect on countries like Italy and Spain whose politicians are watching these events closely and could join Greece if they believe that doing so would solve their internal political and economic problems.

Is a YES vote possible? Of course. But I would be disappointed if the Greeks, having thumbed their noses at the European elite up to this point, settled for going out not with a bang, but a whimper.

Whatever the outcome of the vote, there's more to come. The question of what to do about a burdensome public debt juxtaposed with a corrupt government and an unproductive workforce in a socialist society is not a simple one and it's without simple answers.

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RANDOM THOUGHTS #10 - CONFEDERATE FLAG, JONI MITCHELL, 
SUPREME COURT

CONFEDERATE FLAG
To be clear, the followers of the Confederacy were insurrectionists, traitors. And they were racists. The Confederate States Constitution explicitly institutionalized slavery. And the Confederacy lost the Civil War. So...

If the Confederate flag is, as many Southerners like to proclaim, symbolic of their heritage, of who they are, then they are traitorous racist losers. But if they want to identify themselves that way, who am I to argue? Just don't fly that rag in a place of honor in public.



JONI MITCHELL
David Crosby says that Joni has suffered an aneurism and cannot speak. I send my best wishes. The soundtrack of my life has been dominated by two women - Joni and Grace Slick. Grace for those times that I needed a kick in the pants. Joni for the quiet times.

Peace and Love, Ladies!



SAME-SEX MARRIAGE
Historic SCOTUS Week #1

SCOTUS really had no choice. Why? Because the country is clearly divided in a way that could not stand. With an estimated 70% of the population living in states where same-sex marriage has been to some extent institutionalized, married gay and lesbian couples from those states would increasingly find cause for action in those states that refused to recognize those marriages and denied, for instance, such rights as hospital visitation or intestate inheritance. The only parallel that comes to mind in American history is the organization of the country into free states and slave states.

Forget Scalia's rant. Scalia thinks that the debate isn't over until his side wins. But SCOTUS did not subvert democracy with this ruling. The scales had already tipped. Hundreds of thousands of legally married gay and lesbian couple exist. If tomorrow, several thousand of them move en masse from Massachusetts to South Dakota - a state whose Constitution bans same-sex marriage, civil unions, and any marriage-like contract between unmarried persons - have those legally married couples in essence given up their rights? Or is it incumbent in our federal system to protect those rights? 30% of the country had failed to get on board before this week. Should that 30% have been allowed to define the rights of the other 70%? As a nation of laws, one of our legal system's duties is to protect the minority from the majority. But in this case, majority rules.

OBAMACARE
Historic SCOTUS Week #2

SCOTUS held that the purpose of the ACA was clear, that denying subsidies to those who lived in states opting for federal exchanges clearly subverted the intent of Congress, and that, even as written, the Act could be construed as including the federal exchanges. (That last a direct swipe by Roberts at Scalia's childish dissent.) If you write 500 page bills, there will almost certainly be typos and/or internal inconsistencies. If you write five page bills, people will argue endlessly over the details. You can't win. Except in this case, we did. Congressional intent was clear and two-thirds of the Court acted responsibly.

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RANDOM THOUGHTS #9 - FELONIOUS PARENTING, RACHEL DOLEZAL, OBAMACARE

FELONIOUS PARENTING
I recently read a news story that left me dumbfounded. It seems that an 11-year-old Florida boy came home to a locked house, didn't have a key, and so he spent an hour and a half shooting hoops in the back yard while he waited for his folks. No big deal, right?

Wrong.

A neighbor called police. When the parents arrived, having been delayed on their return from work by traffic, they were arrested for felony neglect. Cuffed and strip searched. As I understand it, the boy and his younger brother (who was in proper day care) were removed from the home in favor of a relative who quickly asked the state to take over their care. The two boys would have ended up in foster care had the eldest not asked to see the judge and begged to be sent back home. The boys were then only allowed back with their parents under strict guidelines.

My parents were felons. I never knew.

There were even aggravating circumstances in my case. My parents let me drink water straight from the garden hose. For years, I walked a quarter-mile by myself to my school bus stop. And after school, if I wanted to go into town to visit friends, I had to walk a mile, part way along a state highway. In fact, the only rules that I can remember regarding after-school and summer playtime was that I "be safe" and make it home in time for dinner. Often, my parents didn't know where I was and who I was with.

My parents were felons. I never knew.

RACHEL DOLEZAL
Makes me crazy. She's black if she says that she is? Really, Whoopi? Really?

I'm sorry, but facts is facts. Snoop is black. Eminem is white. That doesn't say anything about their music or their audience. But two plus two equals four and not some number approximating four.

There may very well come a day when the preponderance of the population is so racially diverse that it would be well nigh impossible to assign such rigid categories as we do today. Indeed, having worked in an agency that collected demographics on thousands of heads of households over many years, I can attest to the fact that the category 'Mixed Race' has grown from a side note to nearly a plurality. But until we are all the color of coffee (light with two sugars, please), there's reality and there's fantasy. Let's not elevate someone whose reality is as confused as Dolezal's to the level of a game changer.

OBAMACARE
I expect that I will be writing more about healthcare after the Supreme Court publishes its decision on the legality of subsidizing the federal exchanges. But there's one thing that's been simmering among some folks that I know that needs to be addressed - the cost of insurance under Obamacare. Many of my friends oppose Obamacare based on those increased costs. I have three quick comments.

First, prior to Obamacare, healthcare costs in the US were increasing at double-digit percentage rates year after year. Healthcare inflation was a primary driver in increases in the cost of living. How quickly we forget.

Secondly, increases in cost to folks already insured was inevitable given the increased numbers of newly insured, particularly since people with pre-existing conditions could no longer be denied coverage. There were simply not enough young, healthy, and uninsured new signups to keep rates low.

Finally, if you want to address the cost of health insurance, it's time that we addressed the cost of healthcare. Why do we spend twice as much per capita on healthcare in the US than they do in just about every other modern industrialized economy? And having done so, why are our outcomes so far down the list? For a country that is supposed to be a meritocracy, why do we tolerate higher infant mortality rates, higher child mortality rates, and lower life expectancies than our European cousins?

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RANDOM THOUGHTS #8 - ROLLING STONES, STAIRWAY, CATHOLIC LEAGUE

ROLLING STONES
When 70 year-old Mick Jagger puts on a tight-fitting knit body suit, waves his arms in a cringe-worthy imitation of Twyla Tharp while strutting across the stage in Texas recently during the intro to Gimme Shelter, and the local newspaper critic raves about how rocking and relevant the Stones still are, can this mean anything other than that the Vandals are at the gates and Rome is about to fall?

STAIRWAY
On the other hand, just in case that you've forgotten...

CATHOLIC LEAGUE
Pope Francis is taking it from all sides.

First, very Catholic Rick Santorum says that Francis should leave discussion of climate change to the scientists, ignoring the fact that the Pope has a post-secondary certification in chemistry (although not a college degree as is sometimes reported) and that he's THE POPE, for heaven's sake. Since when do good Catholics tell the Pope to shut up?

Then Catholic League President Bill Donohue says that, although humans are clearly tasked in the Bible to be stewards of the Earth, there is nothing inherently evil about air pollution. Donohue is quoted further as saying that such issues as capital punishment and helping the poor are debatable and that the Pope is not necessarily the final word on such matters as far as Catholics are concerned, given that such topics don't involve the true purview of a Pope, faith and morals. You see, the First Amendment doesn't apply to the Pope. He's Italian. Or Argentinian. Whatever...

How do practicing Catholic's decide when to listen to the Pope and when his views are irrelevant? What is religion if not authoritarian, starting with an all-powerful God whose dictates are interpreted by his appointed earthly representatives? And who has more religious authority than the Pope? I can just imagine Santorum confronting a returning Jesus, complaining that it would cost the government too much money to feed the hungry and clothe the naked given the need to beef up the defense budget. How do you think that argument would fly with God's Son?



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RANDOM THOUGHTS #7 - STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN/CLIMATE CHANGE, PEE WEE REESE, HILLARY/PROGRESSIVES

STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN/CLIMATE CHANGE
Ted Cruz is taking heat for not being willing to answer questions concerning climate change in relation to the flooding in Texas. He's right and he's wrong when he says that such questions are political and this is not the time to be debating the issue.

Cruz is right because there is simply no way to connect climate change to any single weather event. In fact, flooding in Texas is nothing new. Texas Flood, the tune made famous by Stevie Ray Vaughan on his 1983 debut album of the same name, is actually a cover. The tune was first recorded in 1958, performed and co-written by Larry Davis. (Although probably an Arkansan, Davis is considered a Texas blues man.) So Texans have been singing about flooding for more than 50 years.

Cruz is wrong because it's past time that we had serious discussions about climate change and, if the only time that we're paying attention is during these sorts of events, so be it. As is the case with so many topics of importance, the media needs a hook to anchor an in-depth report - a flood or a fire or a similar disaster. So if flooding in Texas or drought in California or streets awash in Miami is what it takes to get the ball rolling, let's get the ball rolling.

It's not political. It's survival. I have friends living in Florida. Even though the majority are SCUBA certified, I'd prefer that my next visit to them take place on dry land.

PEE WEE REESE
A sports blog that I read occasionally just posted a list of the five greatest shortstops of all time. They were, from the best first, Honus Wagner, Derek Jeter, Cal Ripkin Jr., Ozzie Smith, and Ernie Banks. Not a bad list. However, I have an addition. Pee Wee Reese.

Pee Wee's offensive stats were certainly not up there with four of the five. Pee Wee was a middling hitter at best with one .300 season and a career average of .262. Nor was he as slick a fielder as the likes of Ozzie, the defensive leader of the five, although defense was a hallmark of the Dodger teams of the mid-50s glory days. And I don't propose to include Pee Wee simply because he was the captain of my all-time favorite team - Dem Bums.

No, I include Pee Wee because he was the one guy who looked past Jackie Robinson's skin color and welcomed him to The Show in ways that made a difference. His open public acceptance of Jackie shamed many of his teammates and fans around the country. It was as important a friendship between black and white as any in the history of the civil rights movement.

Pee Wee is in the Hall of Fame as he should be. But he deserves credit for displaying skills far beyond those that he displayed between the lines. READ MORE HERE.

HILLARY/PROGRESSIVES
A funny thing happened to Hubert Humphrey on the way to the Presidency.

Humphrey, one of the most traditionally liberal Democrats ever to hold high public office, was sabotaged by the Left. Robert Kennedy hated LBJ's guts (on a visceral level and totally inappropriately, in my view) and tied Humphrey to a war that Johnson didn't start and couldn't win. Ditto Eugene McCarthy who, more than RFK, was the Peace candidate at the time. Humphrey is supposed to have asked LBJ for permission to take a more dovish public stance on Vietnam but was denied the opportunity by Johnson and decided to stay loyal to his President. Once Bobby was assassinated, Humphrey was a lock. Unfortunately, by the time the general election campaign began, Humphrey's battles with those in the Party who had positioned themselves to the Left of him left him too far behind Nixon to catch up.

Perhaps the most telling bit of irony occurred when Humphrey was booed at a Washington civil rights rally in the summer before the election, ironic because in 1948, 20 years earlier, Humphrey had been booed at the Democratic National Convention for being an early advocate of civil rights legislation and a civil rights plank in the Party platform.

And now we have Hillary who, I grant you, is not the most Progressive of Democrats. The attacks from the Left grow. If she is ultimately the candidate, she could end up in the same situation as Humphrey - too wounded to win the general election. If Hillary is not ultimately the candidate of the Democrats, the slash-and-burn that it will take for someone else to win will almost certainly weaken the Party to the point that the Republicans could walk away with the Presidency and both houses of Congress.

My hope is that Progressives will save their ire for Republicans and conduct a civil primary campaign that doesn't leave scars on the eventual winner. I also hope that Amelia Earhart is found alive and that Miley Cyrus will keep her clothes on in public. What are my chances?

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RANDOM THOUGHTS #6 - MARIJUANA/FREE SPEECH/ABORTION, MURDER

MARIJUANA/FREE SPEECH/ABORTION
The Senate Appropriations Committee has passed the Veterans Equal Access Amendment allowing VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to veterans suffering from PTSD, chronic pain, and other conditions for which the substance may be prescribed. This would have been an encouraging development if only co-sponsor Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) had just kept his mouth shut.

Instead of simply saying that giving veterans all of the tools that we are able to give them to afford them the best possible chance to recover from the consequences of their service is the right thing to do, Daines couldn't help being a Republican. "It's a free speech issue," he declared. This from a guy who has a 100% Right To Life approval rating and 0% from folks promoting reproductive choice. I admit that I'm lazy. I haven't looked to see if Daines has been confronted, either in the House or the Senate, with a vote concerning what doctors can say, cannot say, or are required to say to patients in regard to abortion under various circumstances. But my guess is that the First Amendment wouldn't carry nearly the same weight in such circumstances.

Blatant hypocrisy. Prove me wrong.

MURDER
I'm not going to comment on any specific case. I don't know any of the details. I wasn't present when this cop shot an unarmed suspect or that homeowner stood his ground. What I do know, though, is that judges and juries seem to be content to declare open season on unarmed folks in several recent incidents that have made it to the national media.

I've ridden the subway in New York City late at night. I've hitchhiked thousands of miles and I've picked up dozens of hitchhikers. I've walked through some of Paris' sleazier neighborhoods. There are times that I've been confronted with situations that came close to triggering fight-or-flight. But it's never come to that. And as a result, I've never felt the need either to modify my behavior or to carry a gun.

To be fair, not all prosecutions have ended with acquittals. And not all stand-your-ground shootings are unjustified. But the taking of a human life should be a serious business. The tide is turning against capital punishment because states are beginning to realize that even given the best of intentions and what had been thought to be rigorous legal requirements in order to invoke the death penalty, too many mistakes have been made. Judges and juries get it wrong in spite of careful deliberation.

Apparently, though, we're OK with individuals invoking the death penalty on the spur of the moment, without consequences, when the gun that they feared didn't exist or was a flashlight or a toy. Sorry, but I just don't get it.

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RANDOM THOUGHTS #5 - IRELAND/GAY MARRIAGE, 
TEXAS/OKLAHOMA/FRACKING & JEB BUSH/ARROGANCE

IRELAND/GAY MARRIAGE
Now that I live in Europe, my sources of news and information have changed drastically. No more television or radio news. PBS, FOX, and NPR were my mainstays. We only subscribed to the weekend editions of our local newspaper, a rag on the way down. Daily, we subscribed to the The Wall Street Journal. As a result, our primary news sources were easily identifiable as being left or right of the political center. It's different now. I'm not always certain of the point of view of a particular source. Take, for instance, the Irish referendum on gay marriage.

I use an app called Flipboard as one of my information sources these days. Flipboard's news board aggregates articles from a wide variety of sources - from FOX to Huffington Post, from the The New York Times to the The Wall Street Journal and more from the States. And from abroad, Al Jazeera, Reuters, BBC and The Guardian all contribute. And I've just finished The Guardian's early analysis of the results of the Irish referendum on gay marriage. And I thought at first that The Guardian must be right of center.And then I read that it's considered left of center. And now I'm confused.

I'm confused because The Guardian emphasized anti-Catholicism due to the abuse scandals, foreign money, and pandering politicians as reasons for the landslide victory of the Yes vote. In fairness, they also pointed out that young, first-time voters played a huge hand. Here's hoping that young voters around the world will continue to express their more hopeful, empathetic nature at the ballot box even when high-profile issues are not at stake. We need their youthful optimism during school board elections just as much as we need them for referendums such as this one.

TEXAS/OKLAHOMA/FRACKING
Texas has thought seriously about secession. Can Oklahoma be far behind? The problem? States Rights. Federal overreach. The Feds just don't understand the importance of local control.

Yet both states' governments have decided that local municipalities don't have the right to ban fracking within their borders. Seismic shifts? Contaminated drinking water? Suck it up. What Big Oil wants, Big Oil gets. That's Texas...and Oklahoma...and...

JEB BUSH/ARROGANCE
"For the people to say the science is decided on this is really arrogant, to be honest with you." Jeb goes on to say, according to CNN, "It's this intellectual arrogance that now you can't have a conversation about it, even. The climate is changing. We need to adapt to that reality."

If that were true, if we could not have a conversation about climate change because of the closed minds of the scientists and the proponents of the scientific consensus, I might agree with Jeb. The problem isn't with the scientists, though. The problem is with the politicians who not only refuse to accept that consensus but who pass laws promoting ignorance on the subject. NASA, the military, the environmental agencies in several states, all under attack for trying to understand the scope of climate change and deal with the effects.

It's as if, during the debate about the safety of cigarettes, Congress had cut funding for NIH lung cancer research. It's bought and paid for, intentional ignorance that's the problem, not arrogance.

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RANDOM THOUGHTS #4 - B.B. KING, WYOMING/FIRST AMENDMENT, 
FAST TRACK/PROGRESSIVES

B.B. KING
Rest In Peace.

I'm not capable of adding significantly to what will be written about B.B. in the coming weeks and months. But here's a tip. If you're not into guitar-driven blues, and I understand that not everyone is, give a listen to Let the Good Times Roll: The Music of Louis Jordan. It's mostly swing and jive. It's upbeat and fun. And the players are top notch. You won't hear overmuch of B.B.'s guitar but you'll get a good feel for the man's joyous feel for music.


WYOMING/FIRST AMENDMENT
Slate reports that the Wyoming legislature has just passed a law making it illegal on open lands to gather data intended for use to report, among other things, environmental crimes to the state or federal government. The report suggests that taking a photograph of a criminal environmental act in Wyoming (illegal dumping in a watercourse on federal land, for instance) would result in a jail term for the photographer.

Folks out West are fond of saying that the federal government has overreached its authority, that it's time for citizens to take back their government. Instead of government telling us what to do, so the rationale goes, we should be telling the government what to do. Well, how do you take back your government if your government criminalizes that act of exposing lawlessness? How do you tell your government that your neighbor has polluted your water if your government doesn't allow you to provide the proof?

Libertarians should be up in arms. My Libertarian friends have justified defunding the EPA to me by insisting that citizens have the right to sue polluters who befoul their air and water. That should be enough, they say. But how do citizens sue polluters if citizens are prevented from gathering evidence against them? How can the First Amendment be twisted sufficiently to ban photography on open lands, notwithstanding the First Amendment right to petition the government?

Shame on Wyoming, whose legislature is over 80% Republican. I wonder. Do they call themselves Conservatives?

FAST TRACK/PROGRESSIVES
There's nothing more disappointing to an old-school Liberal than being presented with proof that Progressives are just as intellectually dishonest as Conservatives.

Senate Democrats continue to oppose Obama's request for 'fast track' trade pact authority. Understand, the Senate is not considering a treaty. The Senate is considering fast tracking the treaty, whether or not to hold an up-or-down, simple majority, no amendments, no filibuster vote on whatever treaty Obama eventually negotiates and sends to the Senate. It seems like just yesterday that Senate Democrats were excoriating their Republican counterparts for interfering with Obama's ability to negotiate with a foreign power (Iran), interfering before the terms of the deal were known. In the recent past, Senate Democrats have also spoken forcefully for up-and-down, no filibuster, simple majority votes on any number of issues.

Shame on Senate Democrats. Shame on Progressives. They have acted with no more philosophical consistency than their Conservative counterparts.

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RANDOM THOUGHTS #3 - TEXAS/SENATORS/CLIMATE CHANGE/TINFOIL

TEXAS/TINFOIL
Texas Governor Greg Abbott is reported to have ordered the Texas State Guard to monitor training exercises being conducted by Navy Seals and Green Berets in Texas as well as in other states. There are reasons that he's doing so, I suppose. There are also reasons that people wear tinfoil hats.

SENATORS/TINFOIL
Several Senators (some who are running for President, by the way) say that they are looking into the possibility that the United States is preparing to invade Texas. There are reasons that they're doing so, I suppose. There are also reasons that people wear tinfoil hats.

CLIMATE CHANGE/TINFOIL
I secretly admire the Forbes family. Papa Malcolm Forbes was a motorcycle aficionado, to be forgiven for his taste for Harleys. I knew some of his riding buddies. Good guys. Son Steve is kind of a nerd, though, to the Right of me politically, but I admire him for championing a flat tax. It's the way to go. (Here's my take on a flat tax.) And Forbes as a magazine is not as doctrinaire as some, although it's clearly the product of and beholden to the monied class.

Recently, an opinion piece in Forbes by Robert Bradley was featured on Yahoo's home page. Bradley is the founder and CEO of the Institute for Energy Research and was cited as such. But a modicum of digging uncovers that Bradley trained strictly as an economist and worked for sixteen years at Enron, ending his tenure as Director for Public Policy Analysis. And, of course, he's a climate change denier. How could he be anything else?

I get that some folks are tired of hearing that 97% of climate scientists agree. I get that some folks are adamant that climate change is a vast hoax. But these are the same folks who are perfectly willing to entertain the notion that Earth is 6,000 years old or that early humans rode dinosaurs like mechanical bulls. Or they are the politicians that pander to the holders of such notions. I cannot believe that our politicians are actually that stupid. I refuse to believe it. They've simply been bought in the same way that one buys a Gucci handbag. They're just a touch more expensive than Gucci.

It's time to insist that our leaders be made of sterner, less pliable, more intellectually honest stuff.

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RANDOM THOUGHTS #2 -  JUDGES/CITIZENS UNITED, GW BUSH/MIDDLE EAST & GAY MARRIAGE/SCOTUS

JUDGES/CITIZENS UNITED
SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) has just ruled that it is Constitutional for states to limit campaign contributions in judicial elections. Let's see if I understand.

In the case of judicial elections, SCOTUS reasoned that money in and of itself is a corrupting influence.

In Citizens United regarding federal elections, SCOTUS reasoned that money in and of itself is not a corrupting influence.

Huh?

OK. I understand that there are nuances to both decisions. For instance, in the decision concerning judicial elections, SCOTUS reasoned that money (and money is speech according to SCOTUS) could unduly influence judges who are beholden to the facts of a case and the letter of the law. But politicians are obliged to listen to constituents. It's part of the job. So influencing a politician through speech (and money is speech, according to SCOTUS) is a protected right of constituents.

Forget for a moment the tortured logic that influencing a judge's interpretation of the law through money is corrupt but influencing the writer of those laws through money is not. And forget for a moment that a politician represents all constituents including those without the means to donate enough speech (money) to be heard. And forget for a moment that politicians can solicit money (speech) from donors outside of his/her constituency. And forget for a moment...

I'll tell you what. Just forget it.

GW BUSH/MIDDLE EAST
Former President George W. Bush recently spoke at a meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, criticizing President Obama heavily for his handling of Middle East foreign policy. Like Dick Cheney saying that Obama is the worst President ever, there is so much that is absurd about Bush's opinions on Middle East policy that any commentary on my part would be a waste of energy.

GAY MARRIAGE #1
The ignorance displayed by the members of the Supreme Court during the oral arguments in the recent gay marriage case is simply astonishing. As quoted in the NY Times, Roberts stated, “Every definition that I looked up, prior to about a dozen years ago, defined marriage as unity between a man and a woman as husband and wife.”

“The word that keeps coming back to me in this case is millennia,” said Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.

Those quotes demonstrate the need for those guys to take refresher courses in history, civics, and religion. The statements only hold true if you consider millennia to be a word meaning a few hundred years and if you confine your investigations to Western Europe. Otherwise, from Biblical times to the present day, marriage can more accurately be defined as the union between a man and as many women as law and custom allow, not a (one) man and a (one) woman. And let's not get into questions about procreation or the legal rights of women within a marriage. In fact, until very recently, wives were basically property and, as anyone who has seen Downton Abbey or read Pride and Prejudice knows, a wife couldn't claim an inheritance by right from her husband. Historically, marriage has been about male power. But we are a society today that sees the genders as equals, ergo...

I have no problem with those who want to define religious marriage in purely heterosexual terms. Let them join congregations with like-minded people led by pastors who refuse to officiate at gay weddings. I have no interest in forcing my views upon religionists. But as long as the State bestows public sector benefits to married couples, the definition of marriage must be broad enough to include homosexuals.

When you go to City Hall to get a marriage license, religious considerations should not play a part.

GAY MARRIAGE #2
Anyone who wonders whether or not the Voting Rights Act is still necessary to insure the rights of voters need look no further than Louisiana and Governor Jindl. According to Jindl, Supreme Court Justices Ginsburg and Kagan should recuse themselves from the gay marriage case because they had officiated at gay weddings in states that had already given gays the right to marry. All perfectly legal and what any judge or justice of the peace or religious pastor could have done in those states.

But not good enough, said  a Jindl spokesperson. Having participated in (perfectly legal) gay marriages indicates bias. In fact, Jindl would prefer that the liberal judges simply recused themselves from every case before the Court because...well...because they are liberals. In simple terms, according to Jindl, you have no right to vote if Jindl doesn't think that you'll agree with him. That's a pretty clear illustration of despotism - my way or the highway. And the Supreme Court says that minority voters in states like Louisiana are no longer in jeopardy from state-sponsored discrimination requiring federal oversight under the Voting Rights Act. And Jindl is running for President...

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RANDOM #1 -  CRUZ/CHRISTIANITY, SNOWDEN/OLIVER/WIKILEAKS/SONY & REAGAN/CLINTON/OBAMA

CRUZ/CHRISTIANITY

Ted Cruz is reported to have said that there is no longer room in the Democratic Party for Christians. If I were a practicing Christian, I would be pissed that the litmus test for being a Christian has become adherence to the laws of the Old Testament rather than an understanding of Christ's message of grace.

For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.

SNOWDEN/OLIVER/WIKILEAKS/SONY
Folks like Jon Stewart and John Oliver appear to delight in insisting that they are not journalists, even as they do the very jobs that journalists ought to be doing but are not. For instance, it took Oliver just minutes to burst the bubble of righteousness Eric Snowden and his admirers have erected around his actions. Having admitted to Oliver that he hadn't read all of the documents that he leaked and that it is at least possible, perhaps likely, that bad things will happen to good people as a result, Snowden admitted to having to own causing collateral damage. One has to suppose that those canonizing Snowden would be among the first to condemn the military when a drone strike harms the innocent. What about Snowden, then?

Transparency can be a bitch when it applies to you, can't it?

And now we know that transparency applies to anyone and everyone. The personal information of thousands of Sony employees are publicly available - in a searchable database, no less - thanks to the determination by the folks at WikiLeaks that Sony, like the US government, qualifies as a suitable target for transparency. Who's next? Certainly not the folks at WikiLeaks. Why not? Good question. Maybe John Oliver will get to ask it one of these days.

REAGAN/CLINTON/OBAMA
On an internet discussion board recently, one writer gave Bill Clinton credit for presiding over the best American economy in a good long while. One naysayer insisted Clinton was not responsible. Rather, a Republican majority in Congress was responsible for the good times in the late 90s. One wonders if the same writer would be as quick to credit a Democratic Congress for Reagan's successes. Of course, just as Clinton's good times have grown better than they actually were when viewed through the lens of history, so have Reagan's good times...if indeed a judicious look at the Reagan years can be characterized as good times.

And what of Obama? By the numbers, Obama has presided over the best times of all. Which just goes to show, modern history is written by those with the most powerful microphones.

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RFRAs: LEARNING FROM LED ZEPPELIN, THE PILGRIMS, AND LESTER MADDOX

TRYING TO RECREATE HISTORY
Have you seen/heard Stairway to Heaven performed by Heart's Ann and Nancy Wilson at the Kennedy Center the night that Led Zeppelin was honored? If you haven't, take a few minutes and check this video out.



Powerful, huh? But now that The Rolling Stones have announced the dates for their tour of the US, I just have to say it. I cringe when I see Mick Jagger strutting on stage these days. I do. It's involuntary, like a gag reflex. Jagger has become a caricature of himself and it's sad.

Picturing Jagger strutting on a stadium stage to the signature strains of (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction forces me to give a pass to Robert Plant for his antipathy toward the idea of a Led Zeppelin reunion. Plant's just not that shirtless guy wearing low rider jeans any more, screaming into the mic, brushing his shoulder length, curly locks off his face with an almost effeminate flip of the wrist. He realizes that he can't be that guy again without becoming a cartoon. You just can't recreate history. You can honor history the way that the Wilson sisters did at the Kennedy Center that night and the way that Plant does when he performs semi-acoustic versions of Led Zep hits in duet with Allison Krause. But trying to recreate those great Led Zep onstage moments, night after night, note for note and solo for solo, 40 years later? No. So Plant gave up the stadiums and the big money and found ways to be the Robert Plant of today. Like this...




What does all of this have to do with Religious Freedom Restoration Acts? Well, it's about understanding and honoring history. And while those who say that RFRAs honor American history, a closer examination suggests that, like Jagger's strutting, their idea of American history is cringe worthy.

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RELIGIOUS FREEDOM MISCONCEPTION #1
If you are like most Americans, you think that the Pilgrims came to the New World to escape religious persecution. Senator Tom Cotton of Open Letter to Iran fame recently repeated that meme in discussing his state's passage of a RFRA. Like most Americans, and like Senator Cotton, you'd be wrong. Repeating poorly taught history does not make it so.

The Pilgrims did initially leave England after that country's break with Rome in order to practice their own version of non-Catholicism. Since they would not join the Church of England, they had to leave. But they didn't leave to go to the New World. They left to go to Holland. In Holland, they were free to practice their religion as they saw fit. The Pilgrims were not being persecuted when they decided to ship themselves across the Atlantic from Holland. They were, however, poor. Unskilled labor working at low-paying jobs. And their kids were enjoying the less restrictive social life that their host country had to offer. So their parents, for economic reasons and to keep control of their kids, left for the New World.

You can make the argument that the Pilgrims left England for reasons related to religious freedom, but you cannot make that argument for their eventual decision to sail to North America. At that point, the only religious component to their flight from Europe was their inability to convince their kids of the worth of their cloistered, austere lifestyle. There are echoes of such frustrations today, the belief of some religionists that they are losing control of the narrative, especially as regards their children. I get it. It's disheartening when your children reject teachings that you hold dear. But giving religionists license to discriminate based on an imperfect understanding of the Founders intent is not my idea of the American ideal.
  
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM MISCONCEPTION #2
If you are as old as I am, you remember the civil rights struggles of 50 years ago.

(I do part with some of my liberal friends when I say that I consider the LGBT struggle today qualitatively different from that of black Americans back in the day. Yes, the LGBT community is discriminated against and that discrimination is is as wrong and as hateful as racial discrimination. But as a Jew, I can tell you that I have been discriminated against in my life primarily when I declare my Judaism. I can walk down the street anywhere in the world, I can even drop my pants and display my lack of a foreskin, and unless I declare my faith, I can pass. The same goes for the LGBT community. Unless they declare their orientation verbally or by their actions, they can pass. Black Americans don't have that option. The reason that they are discriminated against is literally written across their foreheads. Just sayin'...)

If you remember those struggles, you remember folks like Lester Maddox. Lester owned a restaurant in Atlanta. He swore that he would close it before he would allow it to be integrated. He stood in the doorway, waving an ax handle, to make his point. And he eventually did close the restaurant rather than comply with the law. States rights and private property were his mantras. The federal government had no business telling the Georgians what they could and could not do. And anyway, don't people have the right to associate with whom they choose on their own property?

Sound familiar?
1. States should be able to determine for themselves the definition of marriage.
2. And whether or not a state allows LGBT marriage, who a businessperson decides to serve is his or her own business.

By that reasoning, we're back to Maddox. And that just won't fly. The reason that federal laws can trump states' rights is to protect the rights of minorities, not ratify the will of a misguided majority. Never doubt that Georgians were in the majority sympathetic to Maddox. Two years after he closed his restaurant to avoid integration, he was elected governor of Georgia. And once you enter the public sector in business, civil rights trump religion. (Or used to. We'll see what happens once gay marriage hits the Supreme Court. If corporations are people and corporate money in politics is not a corrupting influence and corporations can have religious beliefs, anything is possible.)

One last note...

Misconception #3 is that traditional marriage is the union of one man and one woman. You can't cite the Bible while you are saying that. How many wives did David have? Seven? Did Solomon? 700? Indeed, the history of marriage is not as clear cut as you may think, even into the 19th Century. Look it up sometime.

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NETANYAHU, CONGRESS, AND A PALESTINIAN-ARAB STATE

I believe in Israel's right to exist in peace with its neighbors.

Is peace possible when the charters of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas call for Israel's destruction, when regional despots like Ayatollah Ali Khamenei call for death to Israeli Jews? There are those who would tell you to ignore the charters and the speeches, that they are just words. But Jews have come to understand, after centuries of being taught by example, that when a political movement or a government official says that they will kill Jews, they are to be believed. The original Zionists made that assumption and the Israeli government continues to operate on that premise.

Ask yourself a simple question: Which hypothetical circumstance would be most likely to lead to peace in the region, disarming the Palestinians Arabs or disarming the Israelis? As Golda Meir is reputed to have said, though she certainly wasn't the first: Disarming the Palestinians Arabs would lead to peace. Disarming the Israelis would lead to the destruction of Israel.

Step back for a moment and look at history. There are those who will tell you that history doesn't matter, that we should focus on the present. Those people don't understand either the Jewish or the Arab mentality. Events that took place centuries ago are to both peoples as fresh today as a cool morning breeze. We can dispute whether or not the Palestinian Arabs were in the main chased from Israel by Zionists in 1948 or if the bulk of them left their homes at the urging of Arab armies promising a swift return once the Jews were pushed into the sea. Either way, certain subsequent events cannot be disputed:

1. The Palestinian Arab refugee camps were built by their Arab brothers who, with the exception of Jordan, refused to allow the refugees basic civil rights and a path to a normal life within the host country. As a result, while in other countries Palestinian Arabs have been radicalized and promised a right of return that has not been and in all probabilities will not be granted, the bulk of Palestinian Arabs in Jordan are fully integrated and say that they wouldn't return even if given the opportunity.

2. From 1948 to 1967, the West Bank and Gaza were in Arab hands. A Palestinian Arab state could have been declared without Israel's involvement. Israel would no doubt have had security questions. In the central part of the country, before 1967 you could have taken a flying leap from Israel's western border and landed hip deep in the Med. But if the neighboring Arab states had prepared for peace instead of war, those questions could have been answered.

3. After 1967 and after Egypt recognized Israel's right to exist, Israel traded land, valuable land, to Egypt in turn for peace. That peace has held for close to 50 years. I repeat. Peace with Egypt - as well as Jordan - has held for 50 years. The prerequisite? Simply recognizing Israel's right to exist and establishing diplomatic relations.

I believe in a two-state solution. I believe that Israel's settlement policy is misguided, primarily in place as a sop to the Israeli political Right. But I support Israel against such uninformed charges as genocide against the Palestinian Arabs. Israel could level Gaza and bounce the ashes. It restrains itself from doing so even if its recent actions in Gaza do not lend themselves to the term 'restraint'. Ask yourself the outcome if such military asymmetry were reversed.

And now we come to Netanyahu. Why shouldn't Netanyahu address the US Congress?

Let me count the ways...

1. The Constitution clearly gives the Executive responsibility for the bulk of the conduct of foreign affairs including the negotiation of treaties. Yes, Congress must approve. But the Founders understood that there should only be one voice at the table during negotiations with foreign powers. That voice belongs to the Executive. Negotiation by committee, and therefore this foray into the negotiations with Iran by Congress, is just stupid.

2. We know what Netanyahu will say. He will say that Iran is an existential threat. That Iran cannot be trusted. That Israel cannot allow Iran to possess a nuclear weapon. There. I've given Netanyahu's speech for him. He can save the time and the jet fuel it will take to get here and back to Israel to continue campaigning for reelection.

3. Speaking of campaigning, the US has a longstanding policy of not interfering in democratic elections conducted by its friends. Well, except for the CIA. But since the Mossad is better at covert ops than the CIA, the Israelis don't have to worry on that score. They should worry, however, that Netanyahu thinks that it's a good idea to drag the US Congress into Israeli politics. Our Congress has an approval rating only slightly higher than Boko Haram's. And there is reason to believe that the fear tactics Netanyahu is using may backfire, that his political opposition is coalescing. Is Netanyahu desperate or just clueless?

4. And speaking of politics, Americans have a saying that politics ends at the border. Not any more, apparently. If speaking before Congress makes Netanyahu look silly, John Boehner conducting foreign affairs behind the President's back makes John Boehner look silly - or sillier, depending on what you think of his tanning spray.

There's more, but that's enough. The proposed speech is bad for the negotiations with Iran, bad for Netanyahu, and bad for Congress. What's the point?

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CHARLIE HEBDO - FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION - AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM

About a week has passed since the murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo in France. Clearly, there were other targets. Clearly, there was collateral damage. I grieve for all who died and praise all of the heroes. But Charlie has received most of the international publicity and is the subject of most of the commentary. I've read American and European news reporting and opinion pieces. I've interacted with friends around the world on social media. I've been thinking.

It's time to write.

I've never subscribed to the theory of American Exceptionalism. Alexis de Tocqueville observed a bustling, vibrant bunch of Anglo-Saxon American go-getters in the early 1800s and thought that they were the cat's pajamas. But the American Revolution has been widely misrepresented and continues to be misrepresented to this day. Its leaders were landed gentry chafing under the rule and, perhaps more importantly, the taxing authority of an absentee landlord. The Founders were in the majority slaveholders and did not end slavery given the opportunity, continuing to hold slaves in full knowledge of the moral bankruptcy of the practice. They were perfectly willing to ally with Native Americans in time of war and they were perfectly willing to invoke Manifest Destiny in order to screw Native Americans out of hearth and home in times of peace. They didn't give their wives the vote and they impregnated their female slaves. They've been made into saints, but their sandals were covered in mud.

Having just trashed the Founders, it would be easy to assume that I hate my country of origin and have left it in disgust in order to live a life of decadence in France. Not true. (Well, living out my life in decadent circumstances is a consummation devoutly to be desired, but...) I have been fortunate to have lived in a country that encourages folks like me to speak our minds in this way, free from fear of reprisal. And that's the point. That's one of the things that the Founders got absolutely, positively, 100% smack dab on the button correct and that has continued to be a vital foundation of American society. Freedom of Expression.

But from Facebook trolls to respected columnists, a new meme has emerged: "The murders at Charlie Hebdo were horrible and without justification, but it must be said that Charlie Hebdo was lousy satire."

Well, I say: "No, it must not be said."

The quality of the satire is totally irrelevant and bringing it up at a time like this is both naive and dangerous. Naive because the quality of the satire had nothing to do with the murders. Salman Rushdie and Theo van Gogh are cases in point. They weren't targeted by book reviewers or film critics. They were targeted by terrorists. Not for quality. For content.

And that's what makes this meme not only naive, but dangerous. In assuming that quality is somehow relevant, the way is paved for censorship. With censorship, punishment.

I submit that the responses to artistic expression are not the responsibility of the artist. If they were, one could almost accept censorship. Indeed, that's how censorship gains a foothold - blaming the artist. In fact, the responses to art are personal. The artist has a right to represent. The viewer has the right to reject. But it ends there. It makes no difference if the art is good or bad. We need Punch and we need MAD Magazine. And we need Charlie Hebdo. Here's why.

After World War II, the Europeans felt the need to censor certain speech. Perhaps understandable. Definitely a mistake. Obnoxious and relentlessly insulting speech is the ONLY test of a belief in freedom of expression. Shading a full-throated defense of such speech with caveats, saying that Charlie didn't have the absolute right to print what they printed without expectation of harm, connecting quality to this discussion, defining one form of speech as acceptable and another as criminal, you've opened the door to more than censorship, you've opened the door to punishment. If Charlie hadn't the right, didn't Charlie deserve to be punished?

Who decides what is obnoxious and insulting? Who decides guilt? Who decides punishment? If the answers to these questions are not the free market, then the answers are that the State decides what is obnoxious and insulting, who is guilty, and what the punishment should be. Anyone who is truly satisfied with allocating that kind of power to the State is not a proponent of freedom of expression.

Tomorrow there's time to judge quality, to decide not to view the cartoons or buy the publication. Today is not the time. You have the right to add conditions to your condemnations. Absolutely. But using that right today paints you with the same brush as Charlie's misogyny painted them. You do indeed conduct yourself as you accuse Charlie of conducting itself, using rights to no valid purpose. You've become Charlie. And you do not deserve to be punished for it.

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CAN A FLAT TAX BE A FAIR TAX? COULD BE...

One of the issues that falsely divides us in a variety of ways is the question of taxation. I'm not going to get into a critical discussion of supply side economics or the value of various incentives written into the tax code to the benefit of certain individuals or businesses. That way lies madness. I'm going to simply discuss how a flat tax on individual incomes can be structured to be easy to calculate, economical to enforce, progressive in its way, and equitable.

Why should this discussion divide us? If there's a cheaper and fairer way to fund our government, why shouldn't we be diligent in our exploration of it? There are three main reasons comprehensive tax reform has thus far failed to make progress. Briefly:

1. Folks at the edges of both political parties have championed a flat tax. When both Jerry Brown and Malcolm Forbes think that something is a good idea, there's gotta be a catch.

2. CPAs, lesser-credentialed tax accountants and preparers, purveyors of tax software, IRS workers, elected members of Congress on powerful committees, beneficiaries of those incentives and other goodies that have been written into the tax code over the years...all have either financial interests or positions of power to protect.

3. A flat tax is different. That means it has to be carefully explained. See below. Do you have the patience to read and understand the concept? Most don't. Sorry. Truth.

Here goes...

All income would be taxed and the definition of income would be broad and all encompassing - wages, tips, capital gains, bonuses, however it is that hedge fund managers get paid...whatever results in money in your pocket that wasn't there before. All gets reported. All gets taxed.

Now please, be patient with me. I'm going to make some assumptions and quote some statistics. Don't jump on me. For instance, I'm going to set the flat tax rate at 10%. It would probably be lower but I use 10% because that makes it easy to do the math in this sort of demonstration. I'm also going to set the poverty rate for an American family of four at $25,000. The feds actually set it a bit lower for 2014 but again, for the sake of the math...

We begin by deciding on the exclusion, that portion of income that is yours to keep in its entirety, that's not taxed. Think of it as the standard deduction in the current tax system. And let's say that we set the exclusion at 200% of the federal poverty level. Therefore, a family of four with a total income of anything up to $50,000 (twice the federal poverty rate of $25,000 for that family) will pay no taxes. Zilch. Two wage earners making $12 an hour each working full time, earning something over $40,000 total, will pay no income tax. As a percentage of total income, the effective tax rate: 0%

Now let's assume that the Mom and Dad in that family of four are social workers with a bit of seniority. They could be earning $50,000 each, making the family income $100,000. Exclude $50,000. That leaves $50,000 taxable. At 10%, the tax bill would be $5,000. As a percentage of total income, the effective tax rate: 5% (5,000/100,000 = 0.05).

Dad is an executive vice-president of a profitable local company earning a salary of $200,000. Mom is one of those $50,000 social workers, making the total family income $250,000. Exclude $50,000. That leaves $200,000 taxable. At 10%, the tax bill would be $20,000. As a percentage of total income, the effective tax rate: 8% (20,000/250,000 = 0.08).

A hedge fund manager makes $2,000,000 in 2014. Don't ask me how. His wife makes martinis. (OK. I'm a sexist pig. Roll with it.) His kids make Ecstasy in the pool house. Exclude $50,000, leaving a taxable income of $1,950,000. A 10% tax bill comes to $195,000. As a percentage of total income, the effective tax rate: 9.75% (195,000/2,000,000 = 0.0975).

Do you get the picture? It is indeed a progressive tax even though it's called a flat tax. The higher the income, the higher the taxes paid in both dollars and as a percentage of total income. Strictly limit deductions and other adjustments to taxable income. Move the exclusion as the poverty rate moves. Move the tax rate as necessary to cover the cost of government. Get rid of billions of dollars worth of tax preparation costs to the consumer annually. Slash the budget of the IRS. Figure your taxes on a postcard. What's not to like? If you understand the concept, what are the arguments against a flat tax? That it's too simple? That it's not progressive enough? What...?

Currently, about half of federal revenue comes from individual income taxes. About 10% comes from businesses taxes - down from close to 50% about 60 years ago. Lobbying pays dividends. This points out a major problem with a flat tax scenario. How do you apply a like, simplified structure to the self-employed, small businesses, and corporations? A topic for another day...

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COPS OR DEMONSTRATORS - GUNS OR BUTTER: FALSE DICHOTOMIES

We have become tribal and, in the process, become binary. Ones or Zeros. Yes or No. Pro or Con. We define each other through simple answers to complex questions. Such thinking, dividing ourselves in this way, is not in our own best interests.

That's not to say that there are no absolutes. I am not one of those who believes that being human means to think in shades of gray, that everything is relative, that there is no right or wrong, no good and no evil. I have my red lines. Red lines are healthy. They require us to think critically and make rational, informed judgements. But today I'm talking about the false dichotomies, questions that look as though they can be answered simply but that are in truth designed to force us to abandon critical thinking in favor of tribal fervor.

GUNS OR BUTTER

The Vietnam War shaped much of my geopolitical thinking. It seemed to me that it was foolhardy to think that, as the new kids on the block, Americans could do better in southeast Asia than the French, who had been in the business of colonialism for quite awhile. I have never had reason to doubt that simple analysis. Afghanistan, anyone? And today there are more hotels listed in Hanoi on the popular travel website TripAdvisor than are listed in Chicago.

At the time, when the War on Poverty was competing for funding with the Vietnam War, Guns or Butter? became a popular question to ask. It was not a new question. Eisenhower perhaps laid it out most starkly: "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."

Your answer marked you. Guns? Warmonger. Butter? Peacenik.

But with respect to Ike, the dichotomy is a false one. Putting aside the question of the fairness of the current tax code when it comes to funding our government and putting aside the waste/fraud/abuse in both the Pentagon and the Department of Health and Human Services when it comes to spending our tax dollars, we are a rich enough country to afford sufficient quantities of guns and butter to both defend ourselves vigorously and feed ourselves comfortably. Regardless of the current binary situation in Washington, we needn't cut the budget of the Pentagon in order to properly fund HHS. It is not a zero sum game, though a game we have apparently allowed it to become in our march toward tribalism.

Our elected officials simply need to make sane judgements regarding our tax code and our spending priorities, in our decisions concerning war and peace, untainted by the influences of campaign funding and temptations of wealth and power. Simple, right?

COPS OR DEMONSTRATORS

Questions regarding our system of criminal justice are among the most emotional of the moment. Male black Americans are in statistically dangerous territory when it comes to being stopped by the police, charged with a crime, found guilty of a crime, and/or incarcerated. Such constant and contentious contact with law enforcement inevitably leads to frustration and violence on both sides. There are two factors at work here, neither of them pretty.

First, racism exists. It exists at all levels of our society. Don't argue. It does. This is one of those red lines that I talked about. Racism exists. Denying that racism exists is either racist itself or just stupid. Police and the court system are not immune.

Second, police cause crime, particularly in impoverished and segregated black communities. That's not to suggest that all police, or most or even a plurality, are criminals. Not at all. But 50 years ago, Malcolm X predicted the scenario that's being played out today. He pointed out that even then, when an incident occurred in Harlem, however minor, swarms of police responded, multiples of the number that would respond to similar incidents in other parts of the city. But more aggressive policing did not and does not lead to a community feeling a sense of safety. On the contrary, communities feel threatened. In the face of an increasingly militarized police, the threatened communities either exhibit the self-destructive rage of the powerless or feel the need to take steps, however futile, to protect themselves. Hence the demonstrations and the misdirected violence, both inner directed and directed toward law enforcement.

As the demonstrations and the level of violence and the ever more shrill reporting in the media of that violence mounts, we get the false dichotomy question: Do you support the cops or the demonstrators?

Cops? Racist. Demonstrators? Anarchist.

Now that's just stupid. We are a nation of laws, laws that protect individuals from the bad acts of other individuals. We need strong, active, skilled policing. Who else you gonna call? Ghostbusters?

But because we are a nation of laws, we are also protected from bad actors who act in the name of the government. And that includes cops. In the words of John Marshall, the first Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court: "The government of the United States has been emphatically termed a government of laws, and not of men. It will certainly cease to deserve this high appellation if the laws furnish no remedy for the violation of a vested legal right."

It is possible, logical, and downright American to support our police forces while condemning excessive behavior by individual police officers.

So where does this leave us? I submit that we are left with the necessity of viewing any number of issues that have been presented to us with less binary, more critical thinking. Israel or Palestine? Carbon-based or renewable? Flat tax or progressive rates? There are many such issues that have been used by cynical manipulators to divide us. It's time to look at each with fresh eyes. Stay tuned for a discussion of the flat tax versus a progressive rate tax code.

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IMMIGRATION, OBAMA, AND REPUBLICANS

I try not to comment on the politics of the moment too often. I abhor the effect of the HG Wells News Cycle, requiring analysis of events before they happen rather than after. And after an event, the floodgates open and we all drown in a tsunami of shouted opinions. Witness that today, two days after Obama's immigration speech, a Google search concerning the legality of Obama's proposed Executive Order on immigration law enforcement turns up over 15,600,000 results. Everybody has an opinion and everybody's opinion is on the interweb.

So who am I to buck that trend?

First of all, IMHO what Obama proposes to do is legal and not without precedent. Do the research and believe what you will. I go back to the actions of that darling of the Right, Ronald Reagan. You know, the guy who couldn't get elected dogcatcher as a Republican today. (He'd be swift-boated by conservatives in his own party.) Anyway, Reagan's Executive Order after the Congressional passage of immigration reform in 1986, the Order that extended the rights contained in that bill to the families of those who were eligible for legalization, directly contravened Congressional intent that was on the record and unequivocal. Congress had specifically excluded families. No question. Reagan thought that excluding families was unfair and so he included them by Presidential fiat. As did HW Bush subsequently.

Simple. Clear cut. Not debatable. But we're talking today about an action taken by Obama. So in the eyes of Congressional Republicans beholden to the fringe one-third of their party, Obama's actions are illegal, immoral, completely different than the actions of Reagan/Bush, and will lead to the decline of Western Civilization as we know it.

Speaking of the decline of Western Civilization for the moment, consider Congress. Surveys indicate that the American public has a higher opinion of cockroaches than they do of Congress. And Americans are more likely to invite a cockroach to dinner. So what are the stirrings that we hear from our newly minted Republican majority these days? Confrontation. Law suits. Even...yes...wait for
it...impeachment. Lessons of the past be damned. Government is the problem. We'll waste American's time and tax dollars. We'll shut the sucker down.

Incredible.

I wish that I could credit the commentator who pointed out that it is mind boggling that a black man with the middle name of Hussein thought that he had a chance to be elected President so soon after 9/11. Credulity strains to the max with the realization that he not only achieved his party's nomination, but that he actually became President.

How could anyone have thought that it could turn out well?

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EBOLA, CLIMATE CHANGE (GLOBAL WARMING), ISRAEL, PROGRESSIVES, PAUL RYAN AND STUFF

Every once in a  while I get worked up over politics and just have to write about the silliness that surrounds us. For instance, Paul Ryan was quoted recently as having excoriated the Affordable Care Act's over $700 billion in cuts from Medicare. How terrible! Yet he certainly can't have forgotten that his own budget proposals contained approximately the same amount of cuts to Medicare. I suppose what bugs Ryan is that while he proposed to cut benefits to consumers, the Affordable Care Act cut payments to providers. Thus, in one little tidbit, behold the definition of politics, Count on the average voter to have the memory retention capabilities of a fruit fly (with apologies to fruit flies) and be shameful in exploiting that fact.

Of course, this tactic is not confined to Republicans. (I almost typed conservative Republicans but that would be a double negative.) For instance, Elizabeth Warren was a registered Republican for about as much of her adult life as she has been a Democrat, a fact that does not appear in her bio on such sites as Huffington Post. One site, however, does quote her as saying that she began (emphasis mine) voting Democratic in 1995. Does that mean that she managed to reconcile herself to voting for Reagan twice? One interviewer claims to have asked her that question and claims further that she declined to answer. Protecting her right to privacy, was she? Or protecting her newly-minted Progressive image? I would love to hear how anyone who claims the Progressive mantle managed to find sufficient reason to vote for Reagan over Carter at a time when Reagan was as far to the right of center as Ted Cruz is today.

So, the expediency of the moment abounds on both sides of the political fence.

Allow me one more shot at Progressives before I take aim at Republicans. During the recent Israeli incursion into Gaza, many of my Progressive friends were appalled. I get it. It was a hot, ugly mess. But in expressing their outrage, they not only questioned Israel's tactics of the moment, but Israel's very right to exist.

Where to begin? While Columbus was accidentally discovering the New World, Europeans back home were hunting down and killing Jews with great vigor as part of the Inquisition - not really a Spanish invention at all but sanctioned a couple of centuries previously in Rome. Russian progroms refined the art of Jewish genocide generations ahead of Hitler. And well into the 20th Century in the US, one of the Ks that the KKK wanted to eliminate in America, in addition to Koons and Katholics, was Kikes.

So even if you don't view Israel as being as legitimate as so many of the other European-sponsored constructs in the Middle East, even if you don't accept the argument that the Palestinians who left in 1948 weren't so much chased as invited to leave by Arab armies who promised a triumphant return after the Jews were driven into the Med, even if you blame the horrid conditions in the camps on the Jews rather than the indifference and/or nefarious self-interest of their Arab hosts, it seems that there's as much of a Progressive case to be made for reparations to Jews as there is on behalf of African-Americans, as is the current Progressive fashion.

On to Republicans, who are not scientists. What's with that? Are only farmers allowed to vote on farm bills? Was John Glenn given carte blanche to determine NASA's budget as the only astronaut on Capitol Hill? This is simply ludicrous. The 80s were warmer than the 70s, The 90s were warmer than the 80s. And so on and so on. You don't have to be a scientist. You just have to have blood flow to your brain. And whether or not you believe that human activity is a contributing factor, how can you legislate against the Pentagon planning for the appearance of new sea routes through Arctic or the effect of sea-level rise on existing facilities? Yet that sort of silliness managed to get written into the House's version of the Defense budget this year. One expects that sort of thing from a state like North Carolina, which has banned basing coastal development policies on scientific predictions of how much the sea level will rise. But the US House? C'mon man...

And then there's ebola. I personally like the viral internet meme: More Americans have been married to Kim Kardashian than have died from ebola. But if it bleeds, it leads. Fortunately, polls are showing that 'bleeds/leads' is turning off Gen Y to mainstream media. That's a hopeful trend. Unfortunately, Gen Y is not well represented in Congress. Brain dead people are fully represented, however. Take, for example, the Congressman who suggested that the Surgeon General should head Washington's response to ebola rather than Obama's appointed ebola czar. When it was pointed out to Congressman Chaffetz that Senate Republicans have held up the confirmation of Obama's choice for Surgeon General, leaving the post vacant, Chaffetz tried to backpedal. But read the transcript. You can't fix stupid. (I have to stop using these pop culture callouts...)

I leave you with a quote from the movie An American President:

We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you (Insert Politician's Name Here) is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things, and two things only: making you afraid of it, and telling you who's to blame for it. 

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JACKIE ROBINSON, MICHAEL SAM, AND DANICA PATRICK: BEING FIRST

Sportswriters have a more difficult job than most journalists.

As is the case with news reporters, the object of the exercise for sportswriters is to get the facts straight while displaying a modicum of facility with the English language. In order to be considered elite, particularly in the case of investigative journalists, kudos specifically derive from getting the tough story and getting it first. Simple enough.


But in order to be considered elite in their field, sportswriters have to do more. For instance, the elite sportswriter has to have more than a facility with the language. The legends of the genre include the likes of Ring Lardner, Damon Runyon, Shirley Povich, Grantland Rice, and Red Smith, masters of story telling. They saw the same contests at the same time as their contemporaries. But few could compete with the scintillating rhythms of their prose.

One way for a  less than poetic sportswriter to compete with the greats of the genre is to demonstrate an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of not only the sport under discussion but of any related story in another sport that might shine a light on the subject of the piece. So when I come across a work that represents that sort of original thought, I rejoice. Take the case of a recent article by a guy named Dan Wetzel for Yahoo! Sports.

Others have rightly pointed out that it's simply too easy to conflate Michael Sam's draft selection by football's St. Louis Rams, becoming the first openly gay professional football player, with Jackie Robinson's joining the Brooklyn Dodgers as the first black MLB player. (I use the term 'black' instead of African-American advisedly. As a friend has said, "I'm an American but I have no real connection to Africa.") Times have changed. The civil rights struggle was just beginning in Robinson's day. The disgusting and disgraceful jeers and taunts which Robinson regularly endured would be unthinkable today. Indeed, a fan in the stands who called a player the N-word today would have reason to fear for his/her life.

Today, LBGT rights are at the forefront of just about every news cycle and are recognized by courts, state legislatures, and federal agencies. While still a pioneer, Sam has come along at a point in time when just about every American family has knowingly hosted an LGBT member or friend at the dinner table. Even today, the same may not be true of African-Americans.

But on the day after the Rams cut Sam, Wetzel made the point that the fact that Sam is not of the same Hall of Fame caliber as Robinson was bears some consideration. The Dodgers made the conscious, strategic decision to wait to sign a black player until that player was a can't-miss prospect. In doing so, the Dodgers may have made a prudent political move. But at the same time, any number of black players who could have carved out a career in The Show as everyday players, or even utility players, lost that opportunity. On the other hand, now that Sam has broken the barrier, been given a full shot, and demonstrated that his mere presence in the locker room was not disruptive, the gates are open. The onus didn't fall to Michael Sam to be great. Michael Sam didn't need to be Dick Butkus. He just needed to be Michael Sam. The Rams needed to give him his shot and let the chips fall where they may. The Rams did. The chips did. And that's that. No drama necessary. 
\
What has Danica Patrick to do with all of this?

Patrick is not a Hall of Fame driver. Given her equipment (the cars, you salacious
voyeurs, the cars), she should be a contender every week. She has shown some improvement and, given sufficient time, she may someday live up to the potential of her ride. But again, that's good for women and the sport. If she'd hit the scene like Jeff Gordon, winning races and championships from the get-go, she would have been considered a freak, an exception to the 'rule' that a woman can't compete with the good ole boys on the track. Instead, Patrick is doing just good enough to tantalize, to allow folks to reasonably wonder what a 'really good' woman driver might accomplish given a competitive ride. As a result, the next woman driver in NASCAR will be given a Michael Sam chance to succeed, a fair and square shot at the brass ring.

In professional sports, as in life itself, getting a fair deal all anyone can ask.

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WHITE PRIVILEGE - THE NEWEST POLITICALLY CORRECT CATCH PHRASE

If you're like me and follow political commentary on the interweb, you've been seeing and reading a lot about White Privilege these days. It's come up in the discussion surrounding the events in Ferguson. It has reinvigorated the discussion concerning reparations related to slavery. It's been mentioned in the Washington R-Word football team's name controversy. Bill O'Reilly and Jon Stewart are jousting over, among other things, whether or not White Privilege even exists.

Well, White Privilege does exist and it doesn't exist. White Privilege is simply a genteel way of conflating two conditions that make Progressives feel uncomfortable - Racism and Collective Guilt. (Please excuse all of the capitalization, but I believe that it's important to be clear. We are talking about attempts to define and categorize people and philosophies in ways that deserve upper case consideration.)

You see, Progressives will never admit that they are personally Racist. And most Progressives are not Racist. But the contemporary American society in which all Progressives live is clearly Racist. (Those who question that last statement are simply not paying attention. The evidence is overwhelming and incontrovertible and I am not going to recount the history and the statistics and the ongoing attempts to subvert equal opportunity and equality under the law in this post.) So Progressives are presented with a debilitating conundrum. How can they take ownership of a Racist society if they themselves can comfortably deny being Racists? They can begin by invoking Collective Guilt.

Because White People in the past created the framework for institutional Racism, and because White People in the present benefit from the privileges that derive from the perpetuation of many aspects of that framework whether personally Racist or not, all White People should feel guilty.

(It is important at this point to define just who White People are. I have been told, for instance, that European Jews may be Caucasian, but they are not White. I was too stunned to ask for an explanation. The same, I would assume, goes for Hispanics, many of whom self-identify as Caucasian but who for the purposes of this discussion are almost certainly Brown. White People, then, by default are primarily non-Hispanic, non-Jewish, European Caucasians. Italians? I just will not go there.)

But Collective Guilt is not a mantra that non-Hispanic, non-Jewish, Euro-Caucasian Progressives can embrace. Must modern Germans assume guilt for the Holocaust? On a more pressing and contemporary note, must all Sunni Muslims be held responsible for the excesses of ISIS? For that matter, given the dearth of any semblance of liberal democracy in the Arab world, are all Arabs guilty of facilitating radicalism? And to be even-handed and up-to-the-minute, are all contemporary Israelis/Zionists war criminals?

No. Progressives will not allow that they are Racist personally and cannot invoke the philosophy of Collective Guilt given the difficulty in projecting that philosophy into discussions that venture beyond contemporary American Racism. How to proceed? Create something new. Capitalized.

White Privilege.

White Privilege weaponizes any discussion surrounding Racism. It is the Original Sin from which White People cannot escape. By definition, White People are born with it. And by implication, White Privilege exonerates Black People and, one assumes Brown People and Red People, from responsibility for their socio-economic condition. The deck is stacked. White Privilege is the dealer. Has there ever been a more passive/aggressive theory of social organization?

Phooey.

We are a Racist society. Racism is the disease. Do you feel guilty about that? Then do something about it. But don't bring new terms into the discussion to salve your conscience. Words matter.

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THE SUN REVOLVES AROUND THE EARTH AND OBAMA IS A MUSLIM:
WHY AMERICANS ARE IDIOTS

I should have seen this coming. When I was in college in the late 1960s, one particular dorm mate had a peculiar habit involving cigarettes. Every time he lit up, he popped a name-brand lozenge into his mouth. The dorm's ashtrays were littered with his butts, each with a half-dissolved lozenge attached. I asked him why he did that. He answered that he did it to prevent cancer. As it happened, this towering intellect was an education major. I have to assume that he's been teaching our children such gems of wisdom for the past 40 years. The result?
  • In 1999, 18% of Americans polled said that the Sun revolved around Earth.
  • In 2012, 29% of Americans believed that cloud computing involved real clouds.
  • While 32% of Americans today believe that evolution is a natural process that has led to the current state of humanity, a statistically equal number believe that humans have existed in their current state since the beginning of time.
It's true that the high percentage of evangelical Christians who deny evolution skews that last result, but I've known more than my share of evangelicals having worked for 15 years in a faith-based nonprofit. And they are not all that stupid. Most of the ones that I know paid attention in class and absorbed what they were taught. So what's being taught now? And who's doing the teaching? It's a mystery to me. But I take note of the following:
  1. Politics has become ever more tribal. You're either fer me or agin me. There is no middle ground between the two major political parties. In fact, there's no middle ground within the two parties. Republicans are either Chamber of Commerce conservatives or Tea Party fanatics. Democrats are divided between Progressives and those that the Progressives call Corporatists.
  2. From Father/Daughter Virginity Balls on the one hand to political correctness run amok on college campuses on the other, this willingness, this apparent need, to associate with extremes rather than to accept moderation and middle ground is being preserved across generations. That's not to say that values are not important and that there are not certain absolutes. But as one Protestant minister told me recently, when a Christian is forced to quote the Old Testament to justify a moral judgment, Christ has purposefully been removed from the conversation and we're back to an eye for an eye.
  3. With the exception of one Republican Presidential primary candidate for the 2012 nomination, the first one to drop out by the way, every one of the candidates expressly stated that the universe as we know it was created by God. Romney and Gingrich took the line that God used evolution as a tool, and thus humanity was created through intelligent design. Santorum flatly rejected any notion of evolution. And then there's Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA), on the House Science Committee, who will tell you flatly that Earth is 9,000 years old and was created in six days “as we know them” just like the Bible says. The man is a medical doctor
It may appear as though I'm picking on Republicans and, when it comes to the “I am not a scientist” defense against the Big Bang or evolution or climate change, I suppose that I am. But when it comes to the tribalism that makes political leaders feel compelled to cater to the most rabid of their constituents, both major political parties are at fault. That Republicans can thrive by targeting the lowest common denominator is a blessing for them. Broadcast television has taught us that the lowest common denominator is where the money is. Democrats, on the other hand, are stupid enough to believe that if they just smother the other side with facts, the sheer weight of their arguments will prevail. How silly is that? One in six Americans believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim as do one in three self-identifying conservative Republicans. The only saving grace in those numbers for Democrats is that the same people who are convinced that Obama is a Kenyan-born Muslim wouldn't vote for a Democrat unless Christ returned and ordered them to do so, and then only if Christ produced a photo ID. The other two-thirds of the electorate is open to being convinced.

What's the answer? I really don't know. As one comedian says at every opportunity and to the delight of his audiences, “You can't fix stupid.” If you can't, how can you possibly expect to fix a political system driven by stupid?

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ERIC CANTOR LOSS EXPLAINED

Low Turnout + Lack of Purity = Electoral Defeat

If you're not a charismatic guy that entices people to vote for you for the sheer joy of it, watch out. If you've engaged in bipartisanship to get something done that needed to be done but goes against the sacred principles of your base, watch out. And if you've expressed willingness to explore just one policy measure that parallels Obama's thinking, watch out.

Cantor has all of the charisma of a slice of dry white toast. Low Turnout. Cantor has voted for 10 of the last 15 debt ceiling increases. Lack of Purity. And Cantor has made a sensible comment or two on immigration. LACK OF PURITY.

I'll eventually get around to talking more about this extreme form of tribalism. It's a factor on the Left these days as well as the Right with Progressives geared up to fight a Clinton candidacy in hopes of a run by Sen. Elizabeth Warren. There's a possibility, slight but hazily forming in my crystal ball, that we could be headed for a multiple party system. And why not? That's the way most of the rest of the world's democratic republics do business. But for now, Cantor's loss is easily explained.

Do the math.

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THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN REPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRATS EXPLAINED

It is quite useless to attempt a comprehensive policy analysis in order to define the differences between America's major political parties. Regardless of which party would have had nominal control of the decision making process during the past decade or two, the course of domestic as well as foreign policy would not have deviated to any great degree from the current arcs.

You may argue that in the case of foreign policy and national security, the differences are profound. Bush and Cheney embarked us on a dangerous path of foreign intervention that has led to the radicalization of the bulk of the Islamic world, a radicalization that will continue beyond our lifetimes. At the same time, those same two presided over an expansion of the role of the NSA that has exposed the private lives of all of us to unwarranted and intrusive government scrutiny. Surely, Republicans need to be held accountable.

Well, so do Democrats.

War in Afghanistan would have been prosecuted regardless of the political party in power at the time of 9/11. Punishing Osama Bin Laden and the government that gave him refuge was an imperative that no American administration could have ignored. And don't forget that 40% of House Democrats and 58% of Senate Democrats voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq. Even while Obama is pulling troops out of these quagmires, he's executing an ever widening drone war that keeps the flames of Muslim hostility burning.

No, foreign policy is a wash between the two parties as far as I can see.

What of the NSA? Need you ask? Only one Senator voted against the Patriot Act when it was first passed in 2001 and 89 Senators including Obama voted to reauthorize in 2006. And it was passed overwhelmingly in the House with only 66 dissenting votes initially.

Domestic policy? The fact that Wall Street walked away from the 2008 financial crisis basically whole with executives continuing to enjoy massive bonuses in the face of their failures should be an indication that, under Democrats, crony capitalism is alive and well. How about the Affordable Care Act, you ask? Surely the Republicans would not have adopted anything approaching a universal healthcare system. I remind you that a Republican named Mitt Romney did that very thing. I would also remind you that Obamacare is not a single-payer system on the European model. In fact, Medicare-For-All wasn't even Obama's initial bargaining position. Obamacare is driven by the insurance companies, protects the insurance companies, and will ultimately prove to be the biggest boon to insurance companies in modern times.


Am I telling you that there is no difference between the political parties? Not exactly. There are differences around the edges. Democrats in general are willing to put a bit more money into domestic programs. Republicans in general are willing to put a bit more money into defense spending. Republicans are more likely to seek control of your genitalia. Democrats are more likely to seek control of your speech. But in the end, there is one sure way to tell the difference between a Republican and a Democrat.

Find someone whose political affiliation is unknown to you. Spark a heated political discussion. Determine the reason that your opponent believes that you are misguided. If your opponent is a Republican, you are misguided because you are immoral and/or unAmerican. Disagreeing with a Democrat means that you are just plain stupid.

It's that simple.


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