Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Remember Chris Lee?

He was a Republican Congressman from January 2009 until February 2011. Still doesn't ring a bell? Maybe this picture will refresh your memory. Oh, yeah; that guy. According to his Wikipedia page (my emphasis):

On February 9, 2011, Lee was found to have been soliciting at least one woman on Craigslist. Claiming to be a 39-year-old divorced lobbyist but using his real name, he used a Google Gmail account to send a woman a shirtless photo taken with his BlackBerry phone. The woman searched his name, discovered he was a married Congressman and turned over her email correspondence to the New York news blog Gawker. After confirming the facts, Gawker published its exposé on February 9, 2011.

Lee resigned from office the same day.

How about Anthony Weiner? Remember him? He also made the news back in 2011. From his Wikipedia page:

On May 27, 2011, Weiner sent a link to a sexually suggestive photograph of himself via his public Twitter account to an adult woman who was following him on Twitter. After several days of denying he had posted the image, Weiner held a press conference at which he admitted he had "exchanged messages and photos of an explicit nature with about six women over the last three years." He apologized for his earlier denials. After an explicit photo was leaked through the Twitter account of a listener of the The Opie & Anthony Show, Weiner announced on June 16, 2011, that he would resign from Congress, and he formally resigned on June 21.

That took a little longer. According to a story in the New York Times on June 11 of that year:

The House Democratic leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, spoke to Mr. Weiner on the phone Saturday morning and, notably, released her statement calling for his resignation after he told her of his plan to get treatment and to take the leave. Mr. Weiner received a similar phone call from Representative Steve Israel of New York, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, urging him to resign.

I could cite other examples of Congressmen behaving badly from just New York State alone. But my point here is that even though neither Lee nor Weiner did anything illegal (as far as I can tell) they did embarrass their respective parties and became a distraction. So, in both cases, they had to go. The sooner, the better. Which is why I find it hard to believe that a savvy politician like John Boehner hasn't done the exact same thing with Rep. Steve Scalise. Even if the Louisiana Congressman is completely blameless, he's become both an embarrassment and a major distraction to a party that's about to take control of both houses of Congress. And anything that's even remotely suggesting of racial insensitivity is absolutely toxic to a Republican Party that's trying hard to rebut that image.

I'm no political consultant, and as I said yesterday, I really don't care what the Republicans do. But the "playbook" seems pretty clear to me: this guy should have been gone yesterday.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

As a Democrat, I really...

...don't care what Republican majority whip Steve Scalise does.

But if I were a Republican -- in a party trying desperately to appeal beyond its white base -- I'd want Scalise not only to step down from his leadership post but to resign from Congress altogether -- tomorrow.

How does the GOP expect to re-brand itself with this guy around?

I don't normally read...

...The Daily Caller, but a piece by James Antle in RealClearPolitics, "Why Jeb Bush Can’t Bypass Conservatives," caught my eye this morning. And I thought, What the heck, let's see what the right wing thinks of the newly-crowned Republican frontrunner. (Turns out, not much.)*

But first this from CNN, "Poll: Bush surges to 2016 GOP frontrunner" (my emphasis):

Jeb Bush is the clear Republican presidential frontrunner, surging to the front of the potential GOP pack following his announcement that he's "actively exploring" a bid, a new CNN/ORC poll found.

He takes nearly one-quarter — 23% — of Republicans surveyed in the new nationwide poll, putting him 10 points ahead of his closest competitor, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who tallied 13%.

Wow; that was quick.

But Antle points out:

The poll that so far shows Bush doing the best still has him running well behind his father or brother at a comparable point in the campaign. In fact, his numbers are weaker than Giuliani’s in 2007. Giuliani, who was counting on Florida to carry him through, didn’t win a single primary.

And he's right. Again, from CNN back in March, 2007:

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is the clear front-runner in the crowded GOP presidential field and has a substantial lead on the closest competition, according to a CNN poll released Monday.

Giuliani is the preferred candidate for 34 percent of likely Republican voters, according to the poll, conducted by Opinion Research Corp.

Giuliani has a double-digit lead over his nearest rival, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who is the choice candidate for 18 percent of potential Republican voters, according to the poll, which had a sampling error of plus or minus 5 percent.

* Think I'm picking on poor ol' Jeb? Hey, he's the only Republican who's announced so far.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Did Chris Christie...

...miss his "sell by" date?

That's the question I asked myself after reading "Christie Roams, and Popularity Suffers at Home" in the Times yesterday. From the article:

When the Chris Christie-for-president chatter first started, in 2011, voters in his home state of New Jersey took pride in having a celebrity governor. As Nancy Reagan escorted Mr. Christie to his speech at her husband’s presidential library, and hedge fund billionaires, The Weekly Standard and The Wall Street Journal’s editorial pages urged him to run, his approval ratings jumped. Voters told pollsters the national attention made him more effective, and improved their state’s long-maligned image.

Four years later, with Governor Christie again considering a run for president, his constituents appear to be tiring of the whole routine.

So I wonder: Should Chris Christie have run in 2012? Did he miss his best chance to be the Republican nominee? After all, the party was positively dying for an alternative to Mitt Romney. Now Christie is less popular in his home state. Even if he had lost to President Obama, the New Jersey governor would have been well-positioned to be the frontrunner for 2016. With Jeb Bush now the likely candidate of the establishment, where does that leave Christie?

Or, you could ask yourself, did Jeb Bush miss his best chance, also in 2012?

Recently, his brother said:

“The idea of Bush-Clinton-Bush-Obama-Bush unsettles people, including Jeb, interestingly enough. But you don’t get to shape the environment in which you won and so how about this: Bush-Clinton-Bush-Obama-Clinton? The point is that that may be the race. Is it ideal for some? No. But nevertheless, people are going to have to choose between one or the other, if that ends up being the way it is.”

I had read or heard that Jeb didn't run against Obama in 2012 because he didn't want to be responsible for turning out the first black president. That's admirable, I suppose, but I think his brother has a point: You don't necessarily get to choose the ideal time to run for president. Sometimes you just have to run when opportunity knocks. And, like Christie, the party may have embraced Jeb in 2012 and, who knows, maybe he would have won. In any case, like Christie, Jeb would have been the clear frontrunner this time around and maybe even polling better than Hillary Clinton. But now, however, Jeb has to run in a crowded field with other establishment candidates as well as tea party favorites.

Is experience in office overrated? After less than one term in the Senate, President Obama has accomplished a lot as chief executive. Would more time on the hill have made him a better president? I doubt it. In fact, it may have made him worse. Or maybe he wouldn't have gotten another chance at all.

Hillary is another presidential hopeful who may have squandered her best opportunity, in 2004, when she was still fresh and W. was so unpopular. (I'd read that it was Chelsea who talked her out of it.) Has she missed her sell-by date too?

The Senate can be a great place to make a career, but I'm not so sure that the more time spent there, the better. Did multiple terms in the world's greatest deliberative body prepare people like John McCain or Joe Biden any better for the Oval Office? Or does the law of diminishing marginal returns set in at some point?

Politics aside, I think Rand Paul and Ted Cruz are smart to go ahead and make a run for the White House now. Their sell-by date is probably 2016. The two freshman are popular with their respective bases now; hanging around the Senate for another term or two would only make them stale.

As for Chris Christie, well, I don't think he could have ever been elected president anyway, so no big loss. But he's a good example of what happens when someone ignores his sell-by date.

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

“Uh-oh—climate change.”

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The other day, I made...

...the case for a Hillary Clinton / Jim Webb ticket on the Democratic side. Was I serious? Kinda, sorta.

This morning, I read in the Times, "Law and Order Issues, Once G.O.P.’s Strength, Now Divide the Party," in which the authors describe the split on this issue as between, basically, the entire party vs. Rand Paul. (You could write a similar article on foreign policy or drug policy or a host of other issues.) 

And I just wanted to say, Republicans will ALWAYS side with the police over blacks. Are you serious? That's one of the unstated planks in the modern GOP platform. I mean, fear of a "slave rebellion" is what being a Republican is all about. What do you think is behind the whole gun control issue? In the words of Tavis Smiley, "Arm every black person in America and then let's see what the NRA has to say."

But it also made me wonder if the Republicans are headed toward a Jeb Bush / Rand Paul ticket in 2016. Think about it: the two most likely candidates -- today -- from the establishment (Bush) and the tea party (Paul) wings.

Now, I know what you're thinking: It's Christmas, for crying out loud, don't you ever stop thinking about politics? And the answer is, no.

Gotta go start the beef tenderloin; we're having ten people over for dinner. Enjoy the holiday, everyone!

P. S. At age 56, I went to midnight Mass last night for the first time ever at the Italian church down the street. And you know what? I really enjoyed it. I actually like the pastor and the music was beautiful! (Read this for more.)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

It's Christmas Eve...

...and that time of the year when I revisit one of my very first posts back in 2008.

One of my favorite Christmas songs is...

..."The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" by Andy Williams. I really like the big instrumental lead-in, the melody and his voice. I probably heard it so much as a kid that it just wouldn't feel like Christmas without it. I always turn up the radio when it comes on. But lately I've been paying more attention to the lyrics and I find it a little puzzling. It starts out predictably enough:

"It's the most wonderful time of the year
With the kids jingle belling and everyone telling you be of good cheer
It's the most wonderful time of the year

"It's the hap- happiest season of all
With those holiday greetings
And gay happy meetings when friends come to call
It's the hap- happiest season of all..."

So far, so good. But then in the third stanza it goes on to say:

"There'll be parties for hosting
Marshmallows for toasting
And caroling out in the snow..."

Wait a minute. Marshmallows for toasting? Is that Christmas-sy? Isn't that something you do on a camping trip with the Boy Scouts? In August?

The song continues:

"There'll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases
Long long ago..."

Scary ghost stories? Again, isn't that something you do on that camping trip with the Scouts? We never told ghost stories on Christmas. And what about the tales of the glories of Christmases long long ago? Did you do that at your house on Christmas? What tales did you tell? I have some image in my mind of a medieval battle between knights in shining armor. But that's not very Christmas-sy. What on earth did the songwriter have in mind? Does anyone out there know?

After that it's pretty much boilerplate Christmas stuff. I still like it but it's got me scratching my head a little.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

I worked on the trading floor...

...of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange for twenty-five years. Needless to say, large sums of money would change hands in the course of a typical day. Also, needless to say, errors would be made on occasion, some fairly expensive.

I remember one error, in particular, that cost $200,000 -- what we used to call "foldin' money." I won't bore you with the details, but I recall being surprised when both individuals involved kept their jobs, at least initially. It was explained to me that, until the arbitration committee ruled on the case, both firms would have to retain their employees lest they be asked, "If your guy wasn't at fault for the error, why isn't he still working for you?"

And, sure enough, as soon as responsibility was determined, the guilty party was gone.

Why do I bring this up? I noticed in today's paper that "a former Milwaukee police officer who fatally shot an African-American man this year will not face criminal charges, a prosecutor announced on Monday." Oh, no, I thought -- not again (my emphasis):

Nearly eight months after the death of Dontre D. Hamilton, Milwaukee County’s district attorney concluded that the officer, Christopher Manney, who is white, was defending himself when he shot and killed Mr. Hamilton in April. Witnesses said Mr. Hamilton had grabbed the officer’s baton during an encounter in a downtown park and hit the officer with it or was attempting to, the prosecutor found. Officer Manney fired at least 13, perhaps 14 times.

For months, supporters of Mr. Hamilton had called for charges against Mr. Manney, who was fired from the city police force after the shooting, and anger over the case gained momentum after the mounting protests that followed the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York City.

Wait, what? "Fired from the city police force after the shooting?" Why?

Officer Manney was fired from the Police Department on Oct. 15 after the Milwaukee police chief, Edward Flynn, announced a review of the April confrontation had been completed. The officer was not fired for firing his weapon, but for what the chief described as an “out-of-policy pat down” of Mr. Hamilton that Chief Flynn said “was not based on individualized reasonable suspicion but on an assumption of his mental state and housing status.”


But then I remembered reading this about Ferguson a few weeks ago:

The officer, Darren Wilson, who had worked in the department since 2011, submitted a resignation letter, said Neil J. Bruntrager, the lawyer. In the letter, first published in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Mr. Wilson said: “It was my hope to continue in police work, but the safety of other police officers and the community are of paramount importance to me. It is my hope that my resignation will allow the community to heal.”

Uh huh.

Now, both officers resigned for reasons other than the shootings. But is it out of line for me to ask, if they did nothing wrong, why are they no longer employed?

Billie Whitelaw, an English actress...

...known for her work with the Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, died at age 82.

From Ms. Whitelaw's obit in the Times (my emphasis):

It was at the National, in 1964, that she first encountered Beckett’s work; the play was “Play,” in which she was one of three figures encased in urns obsessively recounting their adulterous entanglement.

Beckett was so taken with her that over the next quarter century the two became collaborators. She accepted his artistic vision without always understanding its explicitly rendered ambiguities. They read his plays together, discussing not their meaning but the most minuscule elements of the text — the pauses and sighs and guttural sounds as well as the words, the inflections demanded by the language, and his need, as she said in interviews, to remove the acting from the performance. “Flat, emotion, no color,” he would often caution her, she said.

He wrote “Not I” for her, an effusive, stop-start, stream-of-consciousness monologue — a devilishly difficult exercise in gymnastic diction — in which a spotlight in an entirely dark theater focused only on her mouth, the frenzied movement of her red lips and tongue providing the play’s sole physical animation. She performed it at the Royal Court Theater in London and later taped it for television.

I had never heard of Ms. Whitelaw before, but I was vaguely aware of the play "Not I." (Understanding Beckett, however, is above my pay grade.) In the video above, Lisa Dwan describes how she plays the part.

Would it be too early... suggest Jim Webb as Hillary's running mate for 2016?

Think about it: an angry white male from a swing state with populist economic and non-interventionist foreign policy views. He'd be ideal!

While Jacob Heilbrunn calls Webb "The Real Threat to Hillary Clinton" today in the Times, I see the former senator from Virginia as the perfect complement to the presumed frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. 

Seriously, Webb is a maverick southerner of Scotch-Irish ancestry, law school graduate, author, Vietnam War hero and former secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration who's already announced for 2016. Sign him up!

(Now if the two can only avoid pissing each other off in the upcoming primaries...)

Joe Cocker, who sang...

...such hits as “With a Little Help From My Friends,” “The Letter,” “Cry Me a River,” “You Are So Beautiful,” and “Up Where We Belong,” died at age 70.

As a true rock 'n' roll legend, Cocker's passing merits a mention. But while everyone else was effusive in their praise of the British "interpreter" yesterday, I have to say my response was more along the lines of the teacher's in the BEK cartoon, above.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

“The media says there’s a war on Christmas, and St. Nick isn’t in the business of losing wars.”

The editorial page...

...of the New York Times today called for the prosecution of those who tortured and their bosses, complete with a picture of the Torturer-in-Chief, above. (This, by the way, is from a newspaper that didn't even use the word "torture" until very recently.)

It's hard to argue with their reasoning (my emphasis):

The nation cannot move forward in any meaningful way without coming to terms, legally and morally, with the abhorrent acts that were authorized, given a false patina of legality, and committed by American men and women from the highest levels of government on down.

These are, simply, crimes. They are prohibited by federal law, which defines torture as the intentional infliction of “severe physical or mental pain or suffering.” They are also banned by the Convention Against Torture, the international treaty that the United States ratified in 1994 and that requires prosecution of any acts of torture.

No amount of legal pretzel logic can justify the behavior detailed in the report. Indeed, it is impossible to read it and conclude that no one can be held accountable. At the very least, Mr. Obama needs to authorize a full and independent criminal investigation.

But any credible investigation should include former Vice President Dick Cheney; Mr. Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington; the former C.I.A. director George Tenet; and John Yoo and Jay Bybee, the Office of Legal Counsel lawyers who drafted what became known as the torture memos. There are many more names that could be considered, including Jose Rodriguez Jr., the C.I.A. official who ordered the destruction of the videotapes; the psychologists who devised the torture regimen; and the C.I.A. employees who carried out that regimen.

Ask yourself this question: If the United States had lost the Iraq War, like the Nazis lost World War II, is there any doubt that the individuals listed above (and others) would be tried for war crimes? (Remember what you learned in school: The victors write the history.)

The editorial also says:

The American Civil Liberties Union is to give Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. a letter Monday calling for appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate what appears increasingly to be “a vast criminal conspiracy, under color of law, to commit torture and other serious crimes.”

But just a week or so ago, Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the ACLU, wrote an opinion piece in the Times, "Pardon Bush and Those Who Tortured," which I think makes a lot more sense:

But let’s face it: Mr. Obama is not inclined to pursue prosecutions — no matter how great the outrage, at home or abroad, over the disclosures — because of the political fallout. He should therefore take ownership of this decision. He should acknowledge that the country’s most senior officials authorized conduct that violated fundamental laws, and compromised our standing in the world as well as our security. If the choice is between a tacit pardon and a formal one, a formal one is better. An explicit pardon would lay down a marker, signaling to those considering torture in the future that they could be prosecuted.

Mr. Obama could pardon George J. Tenet for authorizing torture at the C.I.A.’s black sites overseas, Donald H. Rumsfeld for authorizing the use of torture at the Guantánamo Bay prison, David S. Addington, John C. Yoo and Jay S. Bybee for crafting the legal cover for torture, and George W. Bush and Dick Cheney for overseeing it all.

The spectacle of the president’s granting pardons to torturers still makes my stomach turn. But doing so may be the only way to ensure that the American government never tortures again. Pardons would make clear that crimes were committed; that the individuals who authorized and committed torture were indeed criminals; and that future architects and perpetrators of torture should beware. Prosecutions would be preferable, but pardons may be the only viable and lasting way to close the Pandora’s box of torture once and for all.

But it's that one phrase -- "because of the political fallout" -- that I think is key here. Why doesn't President Obama pursue prosecutions? Because he knows that with the Republican Party in its current state he would be vulnerable in the next few years as well. Is it so hard to imagine the crazy party coming up with some trumped-up charges with which to prosecute this president in the future? After all, if Bill Clinton could be impeached for having an affair with another consenting adult, then anything is possible.

So I'd be more for pardoning Mr. Cheney, et. al. I like this sentence from the above piece:

Pardons would make clear that crimes were committed; that the individuals who authorized and committed torture were indeed criminals; and that future architects and perpetrators of torture should beware.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Here's the view...

...from our second-story balcony a few hours before sunset on this, the shortest day of the year.

The Winter Solstice took place today at 5:03 PM in Chicago. According to, we had a little over nine hours and seven minutes of daylight, the fewest all year. (By the end of the month we'll be up to nine hours and eleven minutes. Woohoo!)

During the Winter Solstice, the Sun is directly overhead of the Tropic of Capricorn in the Southern Hemisphere, as in the picture above.

The Solstice occurs when the Sun reaches its most southerly declination of -23.5 degrees. In other words, when the North Pole is tilted furthest – 23.5 degrees – away from the Sun.

Huh? Whatever. Happy Winter Solstice!

Rock Scully, who had to have...

...the most appropriate rock 'n' roll name of all time, died at age 73.

The long-time manager of the Grateful Dead (shown above, with Jerry Garcia and Tom Wolfe) was named Rock after his great-grandfather’s beloved horse.

And if that's not enough, Mr. Scully is survived by a brother, Dicken, two daughters, Sage and Spirit, and a son by a woman whose first name was Tangerine.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Remember this story...

...about the Doors and the Ed Sullivan Show? "Hey, man," Jim Morrison famously said, "We just did the Ed Sullivan Show."

I thought of this when I read Timothy Egan's excellent column in the Times this morning, "Obama Unbound." From the piece (my emphasis):

President Obama is acting like a man who’s been given the political equivalent of a testosterone boost.

On normalizing relations with Cuba, on a surprising climate change initiative with China, on an immigration gamble that’s working, and executive orders to protect the world’s greatest wild salmon fishery in Alaska or try to root out gender pay disparities, Obama is marching ahead of politicians fighting yesterday’s wars. In setting an aggressive agenda, he has forced opponents to defend old-century policies, and rely on an aging base to do it. 

Are Republicans really going to spend the first year of their new majority trying to undo everything the president has done — to roll back the clock? Will they defend isolation of Cuba against the wishes of most young Cuban-Americans? Will they restore a family-destroying deportation policy, when Obama’s de-emphasis on sending illegal immigrants home has already given him a 15-point boost among Latinos? Will they take away health insurance from millions who never had it before? Will they insist that nothing can be done on climate change, while an agreement is on the table for the world’s two biggest polluters, the United States and China, to do something significant?

The President Obama of the last six weeks is willing to take that bet.

In his first press conference after the midterm elections, Mitch McConnell warned the president that if he acted unilaterally on immigration reform it would be " waving a red flag in front of a bull."

The President will deliver his State of the Union address to Congress on January 20:

Earlier this year, some conservatives reportedly suggested that House Republicans should forgo the invitation as retribution for Obama's executive action on immigration. 

My recommendation is for the President to get up in front of Congress and say the equivalent of, "Hey, man, I just did the Ed Sullivan Show."

Friday, December 19, 2014

If you have twenty minutes... spare this weekend, or over the holidays, you really should listen to this video.

Nick Hanauer is a member of the one percent who doesn't talk like any rich guy you've ever heard. (Well, maybe Warren Buffett sounds a little like him, but you sure as heck won't read anything like this in the pages of The Wall Street Journal.)

Hanauer talks about the perils of rising inequality in our society, and, well, I'll let you listen to it yourself and make up your own mind. But it's definitely worth your time!

For now, Jeb Bush's decision... "commit" early to the 2016 GOP race is paying off (literally): the former governor's odds on Paddy Power just improved to 9/4 from 3/1.* (He's still losing to Hillary in the general, however.) Place your bets everyone...

* How can Marco Rubio be in second place? It makes no sense to me, unless he's seen as the establishment choice should Mr. Bush falter. (And that doesn't bode well for Rand Paul, who's in third.)

Don't know what to buy...

...the political junkie who has everything for Christmas? How about Landslide: LBJ and Ronald Reagan at the Dawn of a New America, by Jonathan Darman?* I'm almost done with it myself and recommend it highly. It's extremely readable -- one of those books you really look forward to reading each time.

From a review in the New York Times (my emphasis):

What makes Mr. Darman’s book so compelling is his focus on the roughly 1,000 days between Kennedy’s assassination and the midterm elections in 1966, which not only encapsulated the rise and fall of Johnson but also the emergence of Reagan as a national political figure. Johnson easily swamped Senator Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election, but middle-class disenchantment with the Great Society and growing unease with the Vietnam War combined to produce a stinging rebuke in the 1966 midterm elections. (The Democrats kept control of Congress, but the Republicans picked up 47 seats in the House and three in the Senate.)

Personally, I learned three interesting things about Johnson (Reagan, as many authors have found out, remains unknowable):

1. The president had two beagles named Him and Her;

2. The Johnson administration was much more pessimistic about Vietnam and much earlier (almost from the beginning) than I had thought; and

3. LBJ almost declined to run for reelection in 1964 even though he was riding high and crushing Barry Goldwater in the polls. The 36th president, though publicly optimistic, was something of a defeatist in private. This episode, in which he was talked down off the ledge by his wife, foreshadowed his decision not to run in 1968.

The book also touched on LBJ's stormy relationship with Bobby Kennedy and piqued my interest in the subject. I just put two books on reserve at the library, Robert Kennedy: His Life by Evan Thomas, and Mutual Contempt: Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy, and the Feud That Shaped A Decade by Jeff Shesol.

* Is Mr. Darman the son of Richard Darman, who served under Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush? (If so, he writes objectively -- I can't tell what his politics are.) In the elder Darman's Wikipedia page it says he had a son named Jonathan W. E. Darman, but I can't tell if it's the same person. I tweeted the question to Darman just now; I'll let you know what I find out. (Aren't you on pins and needles?)

Turns out, Jonathan Darman is indeed the son of Richard Darman. The author reveals this in the second to last sentence in the Acknowledgements section.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Oh, no. I'm already reading...

...articles that use the words "Jeb Bush" and "firewall" in the same sentence.

In a piece in Politico this week, "Carolina on Jeb's mind: South Carolina may be a firewall for the former Florida governor in 2016," Alex Isenstadt writes (my emphasis):

The first two primary states, Iowa and New Hampshire, present potential challenges to the former governor. Iowa, a caucus state, has in recent years been won by candidates deemed most conservative; New Hampshire is often most friendly to libertarian-minded candidates — someone, perhaps, like Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who is likely to run. 

South Carolina, which is traditionally next in the primary lineup, could be friendlier terrain, people close to Bush say. Its Republican voting pool is larger and more ideologically diverse, and it has long supported Republican presidential contenders seen as most in line with the GOP establishment, including Bob Dole, John McCain and Bush’s brother and father.

(Newt Gingrich, hardly an establishment favorite, won the South Carolina primary in 2012. But go on...) 

“It’s his road to the White House,” said Katon Dawson, a former South Carolina Republican Party chairman. “It’s where he rights his ship.”

The guy just announced for president (sort of) this week, and people are already talking about how he "rights his ship"?

If memory serves, the last Republican who conceded Iowa and New Hampshire and counted on a "firewall" was President Rudy Giuliani. From Wikipedia (again, my emphasis):

Early polls showed Giuliani with one of the highest levels of name recognition and support among the Republican candidates. Throughout most of 2007 he was the leader in most nationwide opinion polling among Republicans.

Giuliani's national poll numbers began steadily slipping and his unusual strategy of focusing more on later, multi-primary big states rather than the smaller, first-voting states was seen at risk.
Despite his strategy, Giuliani did compete to a substantial extent in the January 8, 2008 New Hampshire primary, but finished a distant fourth with 9 percent of the vote. Similar poor results continued in other early contests, as Giuliani's staff went without pay in order to focus all efforts on the crucial late January Florida Republican primary . . . On January 29, 2008, Giuliani finished a distant third in the Florida result with 15 percent of the vote, trailing McCain and Romney. Facing declining polls and lost leads in the upcoming large Super Tuesday states, including that of his home New York, Giuliani withdrew from the race on January 30.

Fidel Castro was...

...sworn in as Prime Minister of Cuba way back in February, 1959, before I was even a year old.

When Castro visited the United States (above) in April of that year, Dwight D. Eisenhower was president. Since then, the Cuban leader has outlasted nine presidents, including John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Wow!

Yesterday, of course, President Obama announced the restoration of full diplomatic relations with the tiny island nation in what had to be one of the most overdue decisions imaginable. And all I could think of was, How are Republicans going to criticize THIS?

It didn't take long, though, as Senators Marco Rubio and John McCain/Lindsey Graham were joined by "moderate" GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush.

I'll let you read their objections for yourself, but what I'm really looking forward to is the Fox News personality who says something like, "President Obama changed fifty years of U. S. policy toward Cuba just when it was about to work!"

I'm still getting caught up...

...from my trip last week. While I was away, Ken Weatherwax, who played Pugsley on the 1960s television show The Addams Family, died at age 59.  

The series, which ran on ABC from 1964 to 1966, was based on the cartoons of Charles Addams (above) that appeared in The New Yorker. (I actually preferred its competitor, The Munsters, which was on CBS during those years.)

Mr. Weatherwax's uncle was Rudd Weatherwax, who handled the collies that portrayed Lassie in films and on television.

Two candidates for Name of the Day I missed are Dollree Mapp, who also died last week, and Bweela Steptoe, a freelance fashion designer from Brooklyn.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

“And even more big buildings to your right . . .”

Norman Bridwell, author...

...of the Clifford books, died at age 86. From his obit in the Times (my emphasis):

The series became a read-aloud literary staple, an international favorite for parents who read to their children before the children can read themselves. The books, which have been translated into 13 languages, have sold more than 129 million copies, according to Scholastic, and have inspired an animated television series and a full-length animated film.

“I do remember quite a stir on the floor above mine when the Clifford manuscript arrived; it had been turned down by nine publishers,” Dick Robinson, the chairman and president of Scholastic, said in a video interview on the occasion of Clifford’s 50th anniversary in 2013.

How many times did I read those books to my own two sons?

P. S. What was Norman Bridwell's wife's name? Norma

Norm and Norma would definitely be my Couples' Name of the Day. Reminds me of a song...

Dick Rich, an advertising...

...executive who created commercials such as the one above for Alka-Seltzer, died at age 84. According to his obit in the Times, the ad:

...was known by its voice-over refrain, “No Matter What Shape Your Stomach’s In.” It was a montage of a vast variety of human midsections, and an ode to the frailty they all supposedly shared. Whether fit and trim or fat and jiggling, or a ballerina’s, a hard hat’s or a fallen boxer’s pressed to the mat, the commercial vowed, Alka-Seltzer would make them all feel better when “heartburn,” “the flutters” or that “stuffy feeling” struck.

Alka-Seltzer. Can those of you who lived back in the 1960s believe how well-known a product that was? When was the last time you heard of anyone actually using it? Have you ever reached for it to relieve that "stuffy feeling?" Was it all just a con?


He was also, by his own account, not modest. “Clients don’t come to me for O.K. advertising,” he said in an interview with The New York Times in 1983. “They come to me for great, great advertising.”

In her 2003 memoir, “A Big Life,” Ms. Lawrence, Mr. Rich’s former partner, said that hyper self-confidence was part of Madison Avenue culture. It was captured, she wrote, in one of Mr. Rich’s favorite sayings: “If we were modest, we’d be perfect.”

I try to keep the videos...

...on this blog as short as possible, preferably under a minute. I realize people have a short attention span (as I do) and probably skip over the ones I post anyway. But the clip above, which is only two minutes long, is especially worth watching in the light of what we've learned in the past week.

(By the way, beginning at about 0:52, just as President Bush says, "This government does not torture people," Fox chooses to run the news ticker, "Bush: We have a vibrant and strong economy." This was in October, 2007.)

Here's another video, which is only ten seconds long. (If you're reading this blog instead of working, then surely you have time for that.)

While I've often praised Seinfeld for its writing, clever plots and flawless execution, I never thought of it before as a font of wisdom.

I used to believe... "American Exceptionalism." I really did. For example, I remember telling my oldest brother a few years ago that "we don't torture; Nazis torture."

And then I read this yesterday (my emphasis):

A majority of Americans think that the harsh interrogation techniques used on terrorism suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were justified, even as about half of the public says the treatment amounted to torture, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

By a margin of almost 2 to 1 — 59 percent to 31 percent — those interviewed said that they support the CIA’s brutal methods, with the vast majority of supporters saying that they produced valuable intelligence.

In general, 58 percent say the torture of suspected terrorists can be justified “often” or “sometimes.”

So, I guess two things are true:

1. You get the government you deserve; and

2. When it comes to torture, we're no better than anyone else.

If my brothers don't like...

...Jim Gaffigan or Louis C. K. (and I'll admit the latter was an acquired taste for me), they are sure to like Bill Burr.* In fact, if I didn't know better I'd think my oldest brother was writing some of his material for him. (Who knows? They're both from Boston...)


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Fuzzy Thurston, a guard...

...for the Green Bay Packers who was one of only a handful of players to play on six N.F.L. champions, died at age 80. From his obit in the Times:

Thurston graduated from Altoona (WI) High School, where there was no football team, and went to Valparaiso University in Indiana on a basketball scholarship. He did not play football until his junior year.

Now that Jeb Bush...

...has all but declared his candidacy for president in 2016, we can pretty much eliminate the other two establishment choices, Mitt Romney and Chris Christie, from consideration. Also, might as well cross Marco Rubio off your list; can't have two candidates with the same backers and fundraisers from the same state.

(I'm still not convinced Jeb has the necessary fire in the belly for a race, but that's the subject of another post.) 

So who does that leave, Rand Paul? Maybe that's the establishment vs. tea party showdown we've all been waiting for.

P. S. According to Paddy Power, Jeb is favored, at 3/1 odds, to win the GOP nomination. Sen. Paul is at 6/1.

Pssst: Bet on the establishment candidate.

P. P. S. Hillary is still favored, at 6/5 odds, to win the whole thing. Jeb is in second, at 11/2. Absent a recession, it's hers to lose.

Here's a clip...

...of Jim Gaffigan in concert. Why? Well, besides being funny, I wanted to show it to my brother. When I stayed at his house last week, I recommended three comedians: Gaffigan, Louis C. K. (which I posted yesterday) and Bill Burr (which I'll post tomorrow).

If you like these guys, there's lots more where that came from on YouTube.

David Brooks is the latest...

...conservative writer to call for Sen. Elizabeth Warren to challenge Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic nomination. Why? Two reasons, both of them mischievous.

The first is just a journalist's desire to see a contest. Only a die-hard Yankee fan would want to see the Bronx Bombers sweep the World Series. The rest of us want to stay up late and watch a seventh game go into extra innings.

The second reason is purely cynical: a hope to bloody the champ before Hillary gets in the ring with the Republican nominee.

Now, before I dismiss Brooks completely,* let me say that I'd be thrilled by the prospect of a Warren presidency. (I guess that just shows how far I've drifted to the left. Or how far the country has drifted to the right.) But, at the same time, I'd be absolutely terrified by a Warren nomination. Why? Simple; she'd get crushed.

Sen. Warren is currently in second place on Paddy Power for the Democratic nomination, at 8/1 odds, behind Hillary at 1/2. But she's only in sixth place in the general, at 16/1, behind Rand Paul, at 14/1, another candidate who can't get elected president.

As for Brooks's column, let me save you the time. Scroll down to the last paragraph where he says:

The history of populist candidates is that they never actually get the nomination. The establishment wins.

So next time you hear some conservative say that Sen. Warren is going to give Hillary a run for the nomination, just reread those last two sentences. And read this one while you're at it: Democrats want to win.

* Brooks is also wrong when he writes:

In this era of bad feelings, parties are organized more around what they oppose rather than what they are for. Republicans are against government. Democrats are coalescing around opposition to Wall Street and corporate power.

"The era of bad feelings" is one-sided: Republicans hate Democrats and will do anything to thwart them. (Trust me; I just spent a few days with a couple of Fox News-watchers.) They'd rather see the country fail than President Obama succeed.

Also, while Brooks is right that Republicans oppose government, Democrats don't oppose business, they just believe it needs some grownup supervision. And I can attest to that; I've been in the business world my entire adult life. If there were no minimum wage, for example, most of Walmart's employees would be unpaid "interns."

Monday, December 15, 2014

And the Tom Toles cartoon of the day:

Here's a great bit...

...from Louis C. K. that is NSFW.*

The reason I posted it is because, besides being funny, it's absolutely true. In fact, as I was saying to someone just the other day, if God gave me the option to do this whole "life" thing all over again, I would definitely choose to be born a white male American in the latter half of the twentieth century. I wouldn't even hesitate. Would you?

Why do I bring this up? Last week, when I was driving up to Minnesota, I suggested that some of the animosity toward President Obama was racial. (Republicans hate to hear this, so I braced myself for the inevitable pushback.) Instead, my traveling companion admitted that, yes, her husband didn't like the president because he was black.

My jaw dropped to the floor. And not because I was surprised, but because she volunteered it so readily.

"Really?" I asked. "Why?"

"Because," she answered, "at the companies he worked for blacks got preferential treatment. They would often get hired or promoted whether they deserved it or not because of pressure from the government. Then they'd end up in HR or somewhere where they couldn't do any harm. Wasn't that true where you worked?"

"No, not really. In fact, there were few, if any, blacks at the Wall Street firms I worked for in the 1980s and '90s.

"But back to your husband. Did he miss out on any promotions or opportunities because he was white? How many CEOs or high-level executives in America are black, anyway? And didn't he have a good career? In fact, hasn't he led a pretty charmed life? A good marriage, two college-educated kids, two grandchildren, a vacation home in Michigan -- looks pretty good from where I'm sitting."

I didn't say so, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if his net worth is north of a million bucks. Not bad, right? Now, granted, he's worked hard all his life (probably the hardest-working guy I've ever met -- with the possible exception of my own wife), so he deserves everything he has. But, am I supposed to feel sorry for him? Is he really some sort of victim? Didn't he, as Louis C. K. says in the video above, have a leg up? I mean, wouldn't you rather be born in some middle class white suburb than poor and black on the West Side of Chicago? What are the odds you'd go to college and even be in a position to complain?

It's funny; I always knew some Republicans were racist. (After all, I know how white people talk about blacks when there aren't any around.) But they're usually loath to admit it. Wow.

* Not suitable for work. Come on, you didn't know that?

I spent some quality time...

...with a Republican last week and it was even more eye-opening than I had expected.

For starters, she admitted that she still "really likes George Bush." And I thought, What about him do you like, 9/11? The two wars? Torture? Katrina? Record budget deficits? The economic collapse? What?

And her best response was that Bush "brought the country together after 9/11."

In the last days of his presidency, in the fall of 2008, Bush's Gallup approval rating hit a low of 25 percent. At the time I thought, if anything, that number sounded a little high. After all, I asked myself, Who on earth still likes this guy?

Now I know.

I like what Chris Rock said about W. in a recent interview with Frank Rich of New York Magazine (my emphasis):

George Bush ... revolutionized the presidency. How? He was the first president who only served the people who voted for him.

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My mother turns 95 tomorrow... I'll be driving up to Minneapolis with my sister today -- my Catholic, Republican, Fox News-watching, President Obama-hating, Notre Dame-loving, White Sox-loving, Cubs-hating sister.* This should be interesting.

I'll be back on Saturday.

* She offered to bring sandwiches, though, so things are looking up.

The best thing I've read... far regarding the Senate torture report was in yesterday's Times, "Pardon Bush and Those Who Tortured," by Anthony D. Romero of the American Civil Liberties Union. Key passage (my emphasis):

But let’s face it: Mr. Obama is not inclined to pursue prosecutions — no matter how great the outrage, at home or abroad, over the disclosures — because of the political fallout. He should therefore take ownership of this decision. He should acknowledge that the country’s most senior officials authorized conduct that violated fundamental laws, and compromised our standing in the world as well as our security. If the choice is between a tacit pardon and a formal one, a formal one is better. An explicit pardon would lay down a marker, signaling to those considering torture in the future that they could be prosecuted.

Mr. Obama could pardon George J. Tenet for authorizing torture at the C.I.A.’s black sites overseas, Donald H. Rumsfeld for authorizing the use of torture at the Guantánamo Bay prison, David S. Addington, John C. Yoo and Jay S. Bybee for crafting the legal cover for torture, and George W. Bush and Dick Cheney for overseeing it all.

While the idea of a pre-emptive pardon may seem novel, there is precedent. Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson pardoned Confederate soldiers as a step toward unity and reconstruction after the Civil War. Gerald R. Ford pardoned Richard M. Nixon for the crimes of Watergate. Jimmy Carter pardoned Vietnam War draft resisters.

The spectacle of the president’s granting pardons to torturers still makes my stomach turn. But doing so may be the only way to ensure that the American government never tortures again. Pardons would make clear that crimes were committed; that the individuals who authorized and committed torture were indeed criminals; and that future architects and perpetrators of torture should beware. Prosecutions would be preferable, but pardons may be the only viable and lasting way to close the Pandora’s box of torture once and for all.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Bruce Eric Kaplan cartoon of the day:

Cartoon by Bruce Eric Kaplan. For more:

Want to know what the GOP...

...establishment is thinking? (Of course you do!) Then just read Karl Rove's occasional columns in The Wall Street Journal. He's the Rosetta Stone of the Republican establishment.

Take yesterday's piece, for example. In "Who’s Winning The GOP’s Invisible Primaries? Republican presidential hopefuls are competing to refine messages, raise money and build staffs," Rove tells his readers exactly which candidates would be acceptable to the establishment wing of the party -- and which ones would not.

Now I know what you're thinking: Yeah, yeah, yeah; we already know the big boys like Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney and Chris Christie. This ain't rocket science.

But it's worth it (to me at least) to see just what Rove is signaling as the mouthpiece of the establishment. (After all, they'll end up choosing the nominee.) And here's what he's saying, with my translations in italics (all emphasis mine).

"In a Nov. 23 CNN survey, Mitt Romney led 16 potential GOP presidential candidates with 20% ... That the front-runner is not even running shows polls now reflect little more than name recognition.

"The first of these contests was about making the election of GOP candidates in 2014 a priority—and not about their own personal ambition. Four presidential prospects did well. Gov. Christie ... Mr. Bush ... Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) ... and Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.)."

Jeb Bush is certainly my first choice (I've been on retainer to the Bush family for decades, for crying out loud), followed by Chris Christie or Marco Rubio (if Jeb doesn't run). I'm afraid of Rand Paul's followers so I have to give him a shout-out even though I can't stand the idea of him as the party's standard-bearer. It would be a disaster for the GOP on the order of Barry Goldwater, but we have to treat this guy with kid gloves lest his supporters bolt the convention. Oh, and forget about Mitt Romney; he's yesterday's news.

Now if Jeb doesn't run and Christie stumbles, Rubio would definitely be my third choice. And here's my plug:

"Mr. Rubio delivered seven substantive speeches about strengthening the American dream, quietly collecting experts and influential big thinkers to help prepare the speeches and turn the ideas into legislation. This is smart: Too many candidates spend too little time on issues and end up lacking substance."

Get it? The guy's qualified to be president. So no more talk about Rubio's lack of gravitas.

And now for some of the candidates I DON'T endorse:

"For other presidential hopefuls, the more time they spent in the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, the more self-centered they appeared to be. Gov. Rick Perry (Texas) ... Sen. Paul ... Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) ... and former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.). Their efforts may not be too useful."

Let's not give too much oxygen to these four. Rick Perry, Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum are all toxic to the establishment. And, in case I confused you with my earlier praise of Rand Paul, he's just as unacceptable. To underscore the point:

"Mr. Paul’s message is sometimes incoherent..."

"A second invisible primary centers on developing a message. Two Wisconsinites did particularly well in 2014: Gov. Scott Walker ... and Rep. Paul Ryan."

These two would be my second-tier choices, after Bush, Christie and Rubio.

As for money, 

"Messrs. Christie and Bush are best positioned to have big bundler networks raising money...

But governors, such as Scott Walker, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder ... cannot accept donations from Wall Street Republicans who do business with their state pension and other funds."

So don't get too excited by these guys. And, not to belabor the point, but:

"Mr. Paul [is] simultaneously running for re-election in 2016 and not likely to transfer his cash."

Save your dough.

After giving a brief mention to Dr. Ben Carson -- a darling of the Fox News crowd -- Rove cautions:

"The next contest is for staff. Each GOP hopeful has a team that won their last race, but all of them need to broaden their squads for the gigantic task of contesting the nomination. This is an early leadership test. Can a candidate recruit, train and lead a team of many strangers that can organize critical states and weather the tough patches that lie ahead?"

Don't waste your time or cash on vanity candidates; they don't have a chance.

So to recap,

Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and Marco Rubio: Good.

Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum: Bad.

Scott Walker, Paul Ryan, John Kasich and Rick Snyder: Will do in a pinch.

Ben Carson: No.

Bobby Jindal and Mike Huckabee: Not even worth mentioning.

Mitt Romney: He's "not even running." So let him go. Please