Friday, February 12, 2016

The Joy of the Heist

I'm guest blogging at  Elizabeth A. White's blog today on how and why I came to write ICE CHEST. C'mon by!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Trying to Make Sense of Iowa, Sunday Feb 7, 2016:

After months of hype and hoopla, after endless hours of bickering and balderdash, the first primary-ish contest of the 2016 elections is over.
The aftermath of the Iowa Caucuses provided political junkies with some surprises and caused the rest of the country (aka “the sane people”) to experience the terrifying realization that this horror show that’s been playing out on their TVs and the Internet for the past several months isn’t over. It has, in fact, just begun.
At least there was some winnowing of the crowded field of candidates, even if it there weren’t as many casualties as we might have hoped.
Before midnight, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (or as I affectionately refer to him, “Who?”) finally experienced a moment of clarity and dropped out of the race. He was soon followed on the Republican side by Mike Huckabee, who’ll probably be either returning to a spot on Fox News or touring with Ted Nugent; and by Rand Paul.
One of the night’s big surprises was the upset victory of former Canadian Ted Cruz over Donald Trump. Guess running away from a female anchor because she was mean to him didn’t work as well as Trump thought.
Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler told “The PBS Newshour” that the victory happened because Cruz was “the original outsider, the proven outsider” in the race, despite being a sitting member of Washington’s most elite club, the United States Senate.
Perhaps Mr. Tyler is confusing “outsider” with “outcast,” because the general consensus is that the majority of the people who have known Cruz personally, in or out of Washington, utterly loathe him. Forget working “across the aisle” — this guy can’t even work with his own party. How he expects to get anything done as president under these circumstances is a mystery.
The near-universal detestation of Sen. Green Eggs and Ham among his party’s establishment gave fellow senator Marco Rubio, who came in third, his opening to position himself as the non-crazy candidate who can beat Hillary Clinton.
Rubio, however, is vulnerable on the Republican hot-button issue of immigration, since he supported an immigration reform bill that was called “amnesty” by people who have no idea what that word actually means. Unfortunately, that group includes the entire right wing of the Republican Party.
It also apparently included Marco Rubio, as Fox News’s Megyn Kelly pointed out in the Trumpless Republican debate when she played a clip of Rubio saying, “An earned path to citizenship is basically code for amnesty” two years before supporting a bill that called for just such an earned path to citizenship. Pressed by Ms. Kelly, poor Marco was reduced to babbling, “I do not support amnesty, I do not support amnesty” over and over.
Ms. Kelly also pointed out that Mr. Cruz has a similar problem because he introduced an amendment to the bill that wouldn’t allow citizenship, but would allow some sort of legal status. In a party where hatred of immigrants is a litmus test, these may prove to be crippling flaws.
The night’s biggest surprise, however, came on the Democratic side, where Sen. Bernie Sanders narrowed Hillary Clinton’s once double-digit poll advantages to the point where some precincts had to be decided by coin toss. (Yes, that’s a thing in Iowa. Caucuses are weird.)
According to the Des Moines Register, the final tallies netted Clinton 49.8 percent of “state delegate equivalents” on Monday, while Sanders claimed 49.6 percent of “delegate equivalents.” Please don’t ask me to explain “state delegate equivalents.” I’ve been trying to read the caucus rules, and my eyes are still bleeding. Just take my word for it that the Clinton lead was unexpectedly razor-thin.
How did it happen? Was it Clinton fatigue? Were Iowa voters worried about the “damn emails” story blowing up in the general election? Or did the Sanders campaign manage to excite Iowa Democrats who’ve been disgruntled for years with the timid Republican Lite stance of the party establishment and are willing to embrace an honest-to-God liberal who doesn’t feel the need to “triangulate” their positions or apologize for caring about things like income inequality and Wall Street malfeasance?
Now the campaigns and the eyes of the nation (well, some of them) move to New Hampshire, where Sanders is expected to win the Democratic primary handily, since he’s practically home folks.
After that, however, things get a little dicier for Bernie. South Carolina and Nevada are widely regarded as a lock for Clinton, due to the large minority turnout in both of those states. But then again, there was a time when Iowa was a lock for Clinton, too. Stay tuned …

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Just What IS Conservatism, Anyway? Even They Don't Seem To Know

She’s baaaaack. And some conservatives aren’t as happy as you might expect.

Political humorists recently broke into hosannas of delirious joy at the return of the Mama Grizzly herself, the half-term governor of Alaska, the one, the only, Sarah Palin.
The Quitta from Wasilla recently made a surprise appearance at a rally in Iowa to endorse the current flag-bearer for her patented politics of resentment, Donald J. Trump.
Let me just say, her speech did not disappoint those of us looking forward to the return of authentic Palin gibberish:
“We’re talking about no more Reaganesque power that comes from strength. Power through strength. Well, then, we’re talking about our very existence, so no, we’re not going to chill. In fact, it’s time to drill, baby, drill down, and hold these folks accountable.”
It goes on like this for pages. It’s classic Palin word salad, a barely coherent torrent of buzzwords, talking points, dog-whistles and callbacks to imagined slights. Perhaps the funniest thing about Tina Fey’s inevitable lampoon of Palin’s appearance on “Saturday Night Live” was that many of the biggest laugh lines were lifted verbatim from Palin’s actual speech.
But Trump and Palin’s audience lapped up the original and hooted for more. They seem to adore the illusion of authenticity provided by talented hucksters who dispense with speechwriters and just come out and spout whatever nonsense they think will sell. Who cares that they make no freaking sense? At least they ain’t using no teleprompter, am I right? Haw! Teleprompter! Like Obummer!
This sort of thing is starting to worry those on the right who would like to tell us that “conservatism” is an actual intellectual movement based around rational ideas of small government and lower taxes, rather than the roiling, white-hot ball of xenophobia, bigotry, rage and fear that Trump calls “conservatism.”
The concern has grown to the point where a recent cover story in National Review was titled “Against Trump.” In that issue, various right-wing “thinkers” lined up to take their shots at their party’s frontrunner.
Glenn Beck (the reason I just surrounded the word “thinkers” with quotes) pointed out Trump’s vocal support for Barack Obama’s much-despised yet highly effective stimulus package. The Cato Institute’s David Boaz worried about the cult of personality around Trump, calling him “the American Mussolini … concentrating power in the Trump White House and governing by fiat.”
Ben Domenech, publisher of the conservative magazine The Federalist, wrote that “conservatives should reject Trump’s hollow, Euro-style identity politics.”
Problem is, for some people, “conservatism” means exactly “identity politics.” It’s all about Us vs. Them. It’s about “Taking Our Country Back” (from Those People). It’s about the “Real America” (which is not where Those People live).
The GOP calls itself the conservative party, but then it nominates the poster girl for “Euro-style white Christian identity politics” to be a heartbeat away from the presidency. When it started to go south, alleged conservatives like Bill Kristol (who, lest we forget, is always wrong) continued to defend her even as she dragged the party down to a humiliating defeat.
As for Mr. Boaz’s concerns that Trump isn’t a real conservative because he might “concentrate power in the White House” — well, when you have hosts on Fox News swooning over murdering imperialist autocrats like Vladimir Putin because, in the words of Rudy Giuliani, he “makes a decision and he executes it, quickly, then everybody reacts … that’s what you call a leader” — well, then, it’s hard to really know what the conservatives’ beef is with Trump’s alleged prospective consolidation of power.
The response of Gov. Palin to the concerns of those who are supposedly her fellow travelers? “Give me a break! Who are they to say that? Oh, tell somebody like Phyllis Schlafly — she is the Republican, conservative movement icon and hero and a Trump supporter — tell her she’s not conservative. How ’bout the rest of us? Right wingin’, bitter clingin’, proud clingers of our guns, our God, and our religions, and our Constitution. Tell us that we’re not red enough? Yeah, coming from the establishment. Right.”
The biggest problem with American conservatives in the past few years is that they’ve passively allowed their brand to be used by people like Palin, Trump, Giuliani, et al., who use the word to describe a philosophy of autocracy, paranoia, resentment and exclusion of everyone not like them. Now, it seems, they’re trying to push back, but it may be too little, too late.
If Donald Trump is allowed to take the Republican nomination and run as a conservative candidate, then “conservatism” will be a dirty word in this country for the next hundred years. And it will have deserved its fate.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

State of the Union: Not As Bad As They'd Have You Believe.

This past Tuesday, President Barack Obama enraged the American right wing by going on national television and pointing out that the United States of America isn’t the barren, benighted hellscape of economic misery and brutal political repression that they make it out to be.
After being introduced by Paul Ryan, the reluctant speaker of the House, the president began his final State of the Union address by talking about the things that have gone right on his watch:
We’ve recovered from the worst economic crisis in generations. Our automakers have had a better year than any year in their history. Millions more Americans have access to needed health care they weren’t previously able to get. Millions more Americans than before are “able to marry the person they love.” And, he said with a grin, “gas under two dollars ain’t bad either.”
The president even praised the reluctant speaker for not shutting the government down. The RS’s response was to sit there, stone-faced, as he did for most of the speech.
This may have seemed a trifle ungracious, but I just figured that the RS was trying to get his mojo back with the Teahadists who have been shrieking for his head since he declined to destroy the country in the name of saving it.
Actually, “stone-faced” was pretty much the entire GOP response during the speech. Republicans wouldn’t even applaud the usually dependable crowd pleaser about how “the United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth.” They wouldn’t applaud the president saying we need to “hunt ISIS down and destroy them.”
They wouldn’t even applaud a proposal for a massive effort to cure cancer. Is the GOP so anti-Obama that they’ve actually become pro-cancer? I’m not saying they are, mind you, but as the folks at Fox News say, it “raises questions.”
Pessimism and doomsaying, it seems, have become the Republican brand. Their front- runner’s latest book is even called “Crippled America,” and his campaign theme is “America is losing everywhere.” (Funny, I remember when such talk was regarded as treason.)
Over the last seven years, the right has gone from sneering, “What has Obama accomplished?” to bitterly attempting to downplay everything he actually has accomplished.
They’ve held dozens of totally symbolic votes, for instance, to repeal Obamacare, that “job-killing takeover of the health care system” that didn’t take anything over and, judging from the low unemployment rate, doesn’t seem to have killed very many jobs.
There have been so many successful Democratic initiatives described as “job killers” that it’s a miracle anyone’s working at all, if the Republicans are to be believed. (Let me just suggest that perhaps they’re not.)
At least in the short run, pessimism appears to be good marketing. Gloom and doom seem to be striking a chord among far too many Americans.
A startling Pew Research study from last year shows that whoever they are — old or young, black or white, Republican or Democrat — more Americans will tell you that their side is losing than will tell you they’re winning. Another poll last year found that 75 percent of the Americans polled said, “The American dream is suffering.”
But in the long term, Americans are not born pessimists. In the second poll I just cited, fully 72 percent of the people who said the American Dream is “suffering” said they themselves were happy with their own lives and were either “living the American Dream or expect to.” That’s extraordinary.
If there’s one thing history has taught us, it’s that the person who brings us the most hope and the most optimistic view of America is the one we eventually choose to lead us. Remember, if you will, Reagan’s “Morning in America.” Remember Clinton’s “I still believe in a place called Hope.” Remember George Dubbya’s “A More Hopeful America.” And of course, remember Obama’s “Hope and Change.”
Those phrases were (and still are) widely mocked — by the people who lost to the candidates who embraced them. Both the Republican and Democratic candidates in the upcoming electoral slugfest would do well to remember that.
When the president ends his speech by saying, “I stand here confident that the state of our Union is strong,” and your only answer is, “Oh, no, it’s not,” then you are not, my friend, pursuing a winning strategy. Nor, more important, are you pursuing one that will lead to a better America.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Another Great ICE CHEST Review!

Thanks to Rosi Hollenbeck of Manhattan Book Review for this fantastic review of ICE CHEST:

"J. D. Rhoades has written a whip-smart and really funny crime novel. Where characters could easily fall into stereotypes, Rhoades finds ways to make them fresh. The dialogue is snappy and entirely believable. There are twists and turns galore and enough heroes to populate a war movie. If you only read one crime novel this year, make it this one. You will be entirely entertained."

Sunday, January 10, 2016

You Don't Gotta Have Faith

I know it’s an article of faith on the right that President Obama’s Jan. 5 announcement of various executive actions to help reduce gun violence is a tyrannical and blatantly unconstitutional overreach of power. It’s an article of faith that it’s an attempt to deny law-abiding citizens the weapons they need to keep them safe.
But faith, as defined by Paul the Apostle in the Book of Hebrews (Revised Standard Version), is “the conviction of things not seen.” And if you look at what the president actually said and plans to do … well, there’s not a lot to be seen, tyranny-wise.
First, he wants to apply the already existing system requiring a seller to run a background check on people purchasing firearms to anyone “in the business of selling guns,” including at gun shows or over the Internet.
This is an interpretation of existing law that has been supported by such screaming liberals as George Dubbya Bush, Honorable John McCain, and — oh, yes — 90 percent of Americans. At one time, it was also supported by the NRA.
But since the GOP (Grumpy Obstructive Party) has abandoned every principle or belief it ever had other than “if’n Obummer is fer it, we’s agin it,” even the massacre of schoolchildren couldn’t persuade the Republican-controlled Congress to let that pass. As right-wing icon Joe the Not-Plumber put it, “Your dead kids don’t trump my rights.” Catchy slogan, that. Maybe the NRA should put it on their flag.
Second, President Obama wants to make the existing background check system stronger and faster by hiring new examiners and modernizing the computer systems of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). He also wants to strengthen the enforcement of existing gun laws by adding more ATF agents.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has vowed to fight funding for these measures, which puts the GOP in the strange position of opposing effective enforcement of the existing law (see “if’n Obummer’s fer it,” above).
Third, the president wants to take steps to keep the mentally ill from acquiring firearms, a measure widely and vigorously opposed by such paragons of sanity as James Yeager, the fellow from Tennessee who declared on YouTube back in 2013 that he was going to get his gun, fill his backpack with food, and “start killing people” over the last set of proposed executive orders before anyone had read them yet.
Or the people currently barricaded with their guns inside a federal building, promising to “kill or be killed” if anyone tries to dislodge them because “God told them to.” Or Ted Nugent.
Mr. Obama’s speech did not address confiscating those people’s weapons. He does, however, want to fund expanded access to mental health care, “ensure that federal mental health records are submitted to the background check system, and remove barriers that prevent states from reporting relevant information.”
Now here, I’ll allow, we have a provision that will require some scrutiny and a light touch. While I have no problem keeping firearms out of the hands of someone who’s expressed an immediate desire to do themselves or someone else in, no one wants to see people stigmatized and excluded from firearms ownership because, for example, they were once treated for depression or an eating disorder.
As for people who frequently go on the Internet and post long, incoherent screeds in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS with LOTS OF EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!, they should be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
Finally, Mr. Obama wants more research into “smart gun” technology that allows the gun to be fired only by its actual owner, so that, for example, some kid doesn’t accidentally shoot himself or someone else, or someone who steals the gun can’t use it. “If a child can’t open a bottle of aspirin,” he says, “we should make sure they can't pull a trigger on a gun.”
OK, Mr. President, that may be a bad example. I still struggle to get the aspirin bottle open, whereas most kids I’ve seen can do it with ease. But we take your meaning.
It’s one thing to have faith in the unseen and the unknowable. That’s spirituality. But to have faith in something contradicted by what’s right before your eyes, such as the assertion that “that speech was President Obama exercising tyrannical power to take away all our guns” — that, my friends, is pure wingnuttery.