Sunday, March 29, 2015

The First Clown Out of the Car

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

It has begun. And I couldn’t be happier.
By “it,” I mean the Republican primary season, which got a surprise start this past Monday when Toddler-Terrifyin’ Ted Cruz followed up his epic speech in which he yelled at a 3-year-old that “your whole world is on fire!” in the only way possible: by forgoing the usual “exploratory committee” fundraising dance and announcing that he’s running for the presidency.
Why does this make me so happy? Because when you write the type of columns that I write, you greet the first announcement of a Republican candidacy with the same glee a circus-loving child feels when the first clown dances and struts his way into the center ring, only to be sprayed with water and knocked on his keister by a big-shoed, red-nosed rival. You just know there’s going to be a hilarious multi-clown free-for-all and big belly laughs ahead.
The first hand holding the metaphorical seltzer bottle directed at Sen. Cruz belonged to the only man in the field of prospective candidates who’s nuttier than Cruz himself, by which I mean the Bellowing Baron of Birtherism his own bad self, Mr. Donald Trump.
Trump, in a phone interview with MyFox New York, used the classic dodge of “I’m not making accusations, I’m just wondering” to try to cast doubt on Cruz’s eligibility to run: “He was born in Canada. If you know, and when we all studied our history lessons, you are supposed to be born in this country, so I just don’t know how the courts will rule on this.”
He also accused Cruz of stealing his lines.
“The line of ‘Make America great again,’ the phrase — that was mine. I came up with it about a year ago,” Trump said, “and I kept using it, and everybody’s now using it. … Maybe I should copyright it. Maybe I have copyrighted it.”
I have certainly enjoyed a major chuckle watching the zombified corpse of birtherism raised from the Earth by a Republican and sicced on one of his own kind. And I look forward to the day when everyone who uses the phrase “make America great again” gets a “cease and desist” letter from The Donald’s lawyers.
That’s what made this country great in the first place, after all: the monetization of patriotic sentiment. Which reminds me: I need to beef up my investments in companies that make flag pins. Never mind that they’re all in China now. But I digress.
Meanwhile, in another ring of the circus, the JEB! Bush campaign slipped on its first banana peel as former Secretary of State James Baker, who’s been an adviser to JEB! on foreign policy matters, had the temerity to criticize the right’s latest poster boy, Our Friend Bibi.
Baker, who was secretary of state for JEB!’s daddy, called OFB’s recent moves “diplomatic missteps and political gamesmanship” at an event for the liberal Jewish organization J Street. Predictably, this did not sit well with the people who love America so much that they’d rather see a foreigner like Netanyahu or even Vladimir Putin in charge of it.
“Bush can’t let Baker’s appearance at the J Street event go unremarked upon,” wrote Jonathan S. Tobin in Commentary magazine. “He must either explicitly distance himself from Baker’s appearance and from J Street’s support for Obama’s threats against Israel, or ask Baker to formally disassociate himself from his presidential effort.”
Other critics of Baker’s words included Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard — who, as we all know from reading our history, is always, always wrong.
“OK, OK,” the JEB! campaign said, and tried to do what the Israel hawks asked. They sent a mass email stating that JEB! “disagrees with the sentiments he [Baker] expressed last night and opposes J Street’s advocacy. Governor Bush’s support for Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu is unwavering.”
Not good enough, the Israel hawks cried.
“Bush’s statements remain generic, and his demeanor does not convey passion,” groused Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post’s “Right Turn” column. Apparently, nothing will satisfy the Pro-Israel Purity Police until JEB! hauls the elderly Baker up to the podium, gives him a vicious forehand-backhand slap and screams at him to “shut his filthy mouth” about OFB.
I tell you, folks, watching these people whack away at one another for the next few months is going to provide hours of the finest slapstick entertainment, not to mention fodder for a couple of dozen columns at least. The only way I could be happier is if Sarah Palin threw her hat back in the ring. … But no. That would be too much to hope for.
Stay tuned, and pass the popcorn. The debates are going to be epic.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Sunday, March 22, 2015

We've Finally Found What Ted Cruz Is Good At

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

We may have finally found something Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is good at.
We know he’s not good at filibustering, as evidenced by his publicity stunt from 2013. As we all remember, Sen. Cruz vowed to “talk until he was unable to stand” in order to block a continuing resolution to keep the government going.
He was willing to do this, he said, to stop that bill to fund the government from moving forward unless it defunded the Affordable Care Act.
Except that, by prior agreement with Sen. Harry Reid, Cruz stopped talking after 21 hours, during which we were treated to the hilarious spectacle of a U.S. senator solemnly reading Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham” to a mostly empty room. After Cruz stepped down from the podium, the bill proceeded as scheduled, with Cruz himself voting for a procedural measure that allowed it to go forward.
Yeah, Ted, that’ll learn ’em.
We know he’s not good at understanding science, as evidenced by his recent confrontation with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. Cruz, with that little smirk that tells you he really thinks he’s about score a point, chided Bolden and NASA for putting resources into earthbound studies of things like climate change.
“I would suggest that almost any American would agree that the core function of NASA is to explore space,” Cruz said. “That’s what inspires little boys and little girls across this country.”
Bolden, with much more patience than I would have exhibited, pointed out that NASA has always studied atmospheric phenomena (Hello? Weather satellites?) as well as Earth sciences. “It is absolutely critical,” Bolden went on, “that we understand Earth’s environment because this is the only place we have to live.”
He’s really terrible at understanding laws, as we found out from a recent demand conveyed via Cruz’s Twitter account: “We need to repeal every word of Common Core!”
The only problem is, “Common Core” isn’t a federal law. It’s an initiative by the National Governors’ Association (NGO) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) to establish educational standards that can be voluntarily adopted (or not) by the states. The Feds have offered monetary incentives to states to adopt the standards, but there’s no law called “Common Core.”
Yes, you heard right: Sen. Ted Cruz is loudly demanding that we repeal “every word” of a law that does not actually exist.
So what is the senator good at? Well, recently, at a campaign event in New Hampshire, Cruz trotted out the doom-and-gloom rhetoric that’s become standard for riling up the rubes: “The Obama economy is a disaster. Obamacare is a train wreck. And the Obama-Clinton foreign policy of leading from behind — the whole world is on fire.”
At this point, a 3-year-old in the arms of her mother piped up in a scared, quavery voice: “The world is on fire?” Cruz turned and shouted at her, “YES! The world is on fire! YOUR world is on fire!” So we’ve finally found something Sen. Ted Cruz is good at: scaring small and credulous children. Which is why he may be the perfect Republican presidential candidate. The entire Republican message in 2016 is going to read:
“Ignore reality, ignore the tangible measurable ways in which the economy is getting better, like an average of 274,700 new jobs created each month for the past 12 months. Ignore the facts that show Obamacare is succeeding, like a 16.4-million-person drop in the number of uninsured American adults and the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate that the program will cost billions less than previously thought (29 percent less than estimated in 2010).
“Ignore all that, and believe us when we tell you everything is terrible, the sky is falling, the world is burning (but not warmer), and we’re all about to die of Ebola spread by illegal Mexicans and black people voting illegally. Or be murdered in our beds by ISIS. Or something.”
The Republicans have proved since taking the majority that they can’t govern, but they can sure use fear to stir up the masses. And, sadly, that wins elections.
The only question will be, which of the candidates will be doomier? Lindsey Graham? Ted Cruz? Rick Santorum? Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

It's Happening Again...

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

I tell you, this stupid “Emailgate” scandal may finally be the thing that drives me into the Hillary Clinton camp. As I’ve written several times, I’m not a huge fan of Mrs. Clinton, because she’s always come across to me as Republican Lite: all the corporate harlotry and knee-jerk hawkishness, but without the deranged raving about “legitimate rape,” gay marriage leading to bestiality, and Ebola-carrying Mexican immigrants with “thighs like cantaloupes” from toting huge bags of drugs.
All that said, I’ve frequently found myself, almost in spite of myself, rising to defend Hillary Clinton because of the sheer ridiculousness of the attacks on her from the right-wing propaganda complex, aka the national political media.
Last time she ran for president, we had the usual Very Serious Right Wing Pundits ruminating on whether Hillary was showing too much cleavage and whether or not she left a tip at a Midwestern “loose-meat” diner (whether she did or not, the Very Serious Right Wing Pundits didn’t like it).
Then, when she was secretary of state, those same Very Serious Pundits asked very seriously if she might be faking a blood clot to avoid testimony about the Benghazi murders — testimony she gave when she recovered (and which the Very Serious Pundits then mangled and misrepresented in shameful and dishonest fashion).
Now we’re supposed to get all aghast over the fact that — hang on to your hats, folks — when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used a personal email account! From a server in her own home! OMG (as the youths on the Interwebs say), she may very well have violated the Federal Records Act of 1950! Or regulations from the National Archives! Or something!
Never mind the fact that the change in the FRA to include “electronic communications” was signed in November 2014, after Clinton had already left, on Feb. 1, 2013. Never mind the fact that new regulations from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) regarding personal email use by government officials didn’t go out until September of that year.
Never mind the fact that Colin Powell used a personal email account when he was secretary of state because, like most government email systems, the “official” one was years behind the times and frustrating to use (according to interviews with General Powell).
Never mind that two months ago (before this phony “scandal” even broke), Clinton aides turned over 55,000 pages of work-related emails to the State Department for archiving.
Never mind that, after the State Department reviews them to make sure there’s no classified material, the emails in their possession will be posted online.
No, this is all just more evidence that “proves” the prevailing narrative of how “secretive” and “non-transparent” the Clintons are, and how they feel they’re “above the rules.” Because nothing says “secretive” like turning over 55,000 pages of your email to be posted online, and nothing says “I feel like I’m above the rules” like violating a rule that wasn’t in place when you were in office.
But surely there’s something juicy in the “personal” stuff she didn’t turn over. There’s undoubtedly a smoking gun about Benghazi in the emails between Hillary and the caterer for her daughter’s wedding. (“We decided to go with the white roses for the centerpieces, and BTW, I totally knew about the attack days in advance and did nothing because I hate America and wanted the ambassador to die. BWAHAHAHAHA. Hugs, HRC.”)
Is it irresponsible to speculate? As right-wing pundit Peggy Noonan once said about a particularly ludicrous rumor involving President Bill Clinton, it would be irresponsible not to. That, after all, is the standard used by our so-called liberal media for all things Clinton.
Our national political reportage has become an outright disgrace. Those outlets that aren’t blatant mouthpieces for the far right have become like particularly stupid hound dogs, dutifully chasing whatever manufactured “scandal of the week” gets ginned up by Drudge and Faux News, until actual analysis causes it to fall apart and they’re left chasing their tails in confusion. At least until next time, when the same moronic canines go baying off into the same woods because some right-wing blogger who’s off his meds points and yells, “Rabbit!”
In 1992, I got off the fence, put aside my misgivings about Bill Clinton, and threw my support behind him in large part because of the meanness, general blockheadedness, and pettiness of the forces arrayed against him.
I may have had my doubts, but I’d seen the Republican National Convention, and I knew I wanted nothing to do with those people, because they were bat-spit crazy. In 2015, it seems that history is repeating itself across the national media stage.
So I guess what I’m saying is that, once again, I’ve finally joined Team Clinton. Good job.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

They Love Me In the Heartland

Thanks to the Lincoln, Nebraska Star Journal who posted this review of  Devils and Dust:

"Jack Keller is a hard man. He has a troubled past but is on the loose right now, playing at being a bartender in a saloon in a dusty desert town. Then Angela comes in, looking for Jack, and our hero is off on another adventure. This is the fourth Keller story, and they are always exciting.
Seems that Angela, in the bail bond business, searched out Jack to find her husband, Oscar, who went off himself to find his sons. Oscar is an illegal immigrant who had sent for his children to join him from Mexico, using a dangerous route that got violently interrupted. Now Jack will have to backtrack to find them all.
This gets complicated, because Jack and Angela used to be lovers, and there is a close tie between Jack and Oscar as well. Thus does the heart dictate our behavior.
Jack is truly a hard man, so you can expect violence, blood and rough action. You won’t be disappointed.
The plot involves a group of modern-day white supremacists who run a slavery community of hijacked men, women and children who are caught trying to get into the United States across the border. It is a story that seems all too true in these days of controversy over illegal entries with often-tragic consequences.
Unfortunately, the fiction approaches the truth."

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Our Friend Bibi

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

You know, I’ve seen a lot of things in my life that I never thought I’d see. I’ve seen a squirrel on water skis. I’ve seen an old man talking to an empty chair on live TV while thousands cheered (and the rest of the world went, “What the [expletive deleted]?”) I’ve seen NC State win a national basketball championship.
But I never thought I’d see the day when one U.S. political party would attempt to score political points by inviting a foreign leader to come to a joint session of Congress and attempt to dictate our military and foreign policy to us.
This past Tuesday, the House Republicans took the unprecedented step of inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu to come to the floor of the United States House of Representatives to tell us what to do. This move was taken without consultation with the State Department or the president — a calculated slap in the face to one chief executive by another.
While Mr. Netanyahu took great pains to declare Israel a friend to America and vice versa, I don’t think it would be regarded as a friendly gesture were any U.S. president to bypass diplomatic protocol, go to the Israeli Knesset, and widen already existing rifts between that body and the prime minister by telling Israel everything it’s doing wrong.
Our Friend Bibi’s main topic was, as might be expected, Iran, and let’s just say he’s not a fan of the current talks being held between that country and six world powers, including the U.S., to restrict Iran’s nuclear program. 

He was sharply critical of the “deal” between the two countries, which is curious because, as yet, there is no deal. There are only proposals to which no one has yet agreed.
One of the things that worries Our Friend Bibi (let’s call him OFB for short) about the deal-that-isn’t is that (a) it leaves in place a civilian nuclear program, which he’s concerned could quickly “break out” into a military one, and (b) it expires in 10 years, after which that “breakout time” for a nuclear device would be “very short.”
He demands, in his words, “a better deal.” He did not, however, come up with any proposal for getting Iran to agree to dismantle the civilian program. And it’s a pipedream to believe that they’d do that without the use of force. But don’t worry. If it comes to having to use military force, be it air strikes or boots on the ground, I know OFB would fight to the last drop of American blood. He’s done it before.
Let’s not forget the last time OFB told us who and when we should be fighting. In 2002, he testified to Congress that “there is no question whatsoever that Saddam [Hussein] is seeking, is working, is advancing toward to the development of nuclear weapons,” and that “if you take out Saddam, Saddam’s regime, I guarantee you that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region. And I think that people sitting right next door in Iran, young people, and many others, will say the time of such regimes, of such despots, is gone.”
How’d taking that advice work out for us?
As for OFB’s prophecy that, under the deal-that-isn’t, “Iran’s breakout time would be very short,” let us not forget his prior prediction that Iran was only “three to five years” from producing a nuke and that the threat had to be “uprooted by an international front headed by the U.S.” Only problem is, he said that in 1992 when he was a member of the Israeli parliament, and he’s been singing the same “any minute now” song ever since.
No one wants Iran to have a nuclear weapon. But in the quest to keep that from happening, we should not be browbeaten into abandoning the quest for a peaceful settlement. If we do go to war with Iran (and sadly, that may yet happen), it needs to be on our timetable, not Netanyahu’s.
No matter how much the “patriots” in the GOP want to poke the president in the eye, it shouldn’t be at the price of outsourcing our military and foreign policy, even to Our Friend Bibi, a blustering bully whose advice has been so disastrously wrong for us before.