Friday, December 30, 2011

December 30, 2011--Cheetah R.I.P.

On his Facebook page, my friend Stan, who is up on more things than anyone I know, posted a notice about the recent death of Cheetah, the chimp who, during the 1930s and 40s, costarred in a number of Tarzan movies. He was seen bounding through the jungle alongside an early Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller, in such classics as Tarzan the Ape Man and Tarzan and His Mate.

Cheetah romped so intelligently beside the King of the Apes and his"mate" Jane, played by Maureen O'Sullivan, that he made them by comparison look, well, primitive. Tarzan, after all, was at his most eloquent when grunting, "Me Tarzan; you Jane."

Playfully snarky as Stan is quite capable of being, not only did he take note of Cheetah's passing, but he also took a gentle swipe at Cheetah's costars. Stan wrote:

Amazing . . . he was alive all this time . . . and one of the best actors in those movies, to be honest. Happy trails, Cheetah!

But like so much else these over-hyped days, the chimp who died down here in Florida at the Suncoast Primate Sancturary in Palm Harbor is unlikely to have been the redoubtable Cheetah since for it to have been the actual movie-star chimp he would have had to be at least 80 years old and chimps in captivity have not been known to live longer than 70. More typical is 40 to 50.

But still, people who knew and revered Cheetah are preferring to accept that the little fellow who died the other day is the real him.

The person who looked after the alleged-Cheetah described him in almost homo sapien terms: "He was very compassionate," said Debbie Cobb, outreach director at Suncoast, "He could tell if I was having a good day or a bad day. He was always trying to get me to laugh. He was very in tune with human feelings."

In the New York Times, she is quoted as claiming that Cheetah was "soothed by Christian music and also enjoyed finger painting and watching football, though she was unsure if he had a favorite team."

Sounds just like half the Florida snowbirds I know.

But, as with all Hollywood legends, there is another side to Cheetah. Mia Farrow, who is Maureen O'Sullivan's daughter, in addition to extending condolences, said that her mom always referred to him as "that bastard" because he bit her at every opportunity.

That's my Cheetah. What a ham!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

December 29, 2011--Electricity Comes to the Hill Country

Without the New Deal's 1930s Rural Electrification Administration, much of small-town America would still be waiting to be wired. Few of the private power companies would have made the investment to bring electricity to small farmers in remote areas. There was little or no profit to be gained from the required, hugely expensive infrastructural effort.

But through the REA, advocated for Texas by freshman Congressman, the youthful Lyndon Baines Johnson, power was finally brought to even the unforgiving, hardscrabble Hill Country of western Texas where he was born and grew up.

To give you a flavor of this saga and its meaning, here is an excerpt from the first volume of Robert Caro's magisterial biography of LBJ:

In so impoverished an area, the very existence of a large-scale--and government-financed--construction project was significant. The average wage in the Hill Country had been about a dollar or $1.50 per day, but workers on government projects were paid the minimum wage in the area: forty cents an hour or $3.20 per day. Three hundred men would be employed on the Pedernales Electric Co-operative project, but when Ben Smith arrived to open the PEC's first hiring office in Bertram, several times three hundred men were standing in line to apply for these jobs. Many were given to men who had wanted electricity [for their own farms] but had not been able to raise the five-dollar deposit; they paid it out of these wages.

Herman Brown--Brown & Root had been given the contract to construct the PEC lines--was able to hire men who were known to be hard workers. They needed to be. The poles that would carry the electrical lines had to be sunk in rock. Brown & Root's mechanical hole-digger broke on the hard Hill Country rock. Every hole had to be dug mostly by hand. Eight- or ten-man crews would pile into flatbed trucks--which also carried their lunch and water--in the morning and head out into the hills. Some trucks carried axemen, to hack paths through the cedar; others contained the hole-diggers. "The hole-diggers were the strongest men," babe Smith says. Every 300 to 400 feet, two would drop off and begin digging a hole by pounding the end of a crowbar into the limestone. After the hole reached a depth of six inches, half a stick of dynamite was exploded in it, to loosen the rock below, but that, too, had to be dug out by hand.

"Swinging crowbars up and down--that's hard labor," Babe Smith says. "That's back-breaking labor." But the hole-diggers had incentive. For after the hole-digging teams came the pole-setters" and "pikemen," who, in teams of three. set the poles--thirty-five-foot pine poles from East Texas--into the rock, and the "framers" who attached the insulators, and the the "stringers" who strung the wires, and at the end of the day the hole-diggers could see the result of their work stretching out behind them--poles towering above the cedars, silvery lines against the sapphire sky. And the homes the wires were headed toward were their own homes. "These workers--they were the men of the cooperative," Smith says.

Gratitude was a spur also. Often the crews didn't have to eat the cold lunch they had brought. A woman would see men toiling toward her home to "bring the lights." And when they arrived, they would find that a table had been set for them--with the best plates, and the very best food that the family could afford. Three hundred men--axemen, polemen, hole-diggers, framers--were out in Edwards Plateau, linking it to the rest of America, linking it to the twentieth century, in fact, at the rate of twelve miles per day.

Still, with 1,800 miles of line to build, the job seemed--to the families very eager for electricity--to be taking a very long time. After the lines had been extended to their farms, and the farms were wired, they waited with wires hanging from the ceilings and bare bulbs at the end, for the lines to be energized. "It will not be long now before mother can throw away the sad [clothes] irons," the Blanco County News exulted. But month after month passed, for the lines could not be energized until the entire project was substantially completed.

As the months passed, the Hill County's suspicion of the government was aroused again. Brian Smith had persuaded many of his neighbors to sign up, and now, more than a year after they had paid their five dollars, and then more money to have their houses wired, his daughter Evelyn recalls that her neighbors decided they weren't really going to get it. She recalls that "All their money was tied up in electric wiring"--and their anger was directed at her family. Dropping in to see a friend one day, she was told by the friend's parents to leave: "You and your city ways. You can go home, and we don't care to see you again." They were all but ostracized by their neighbors. Even they themselves were beginning to doubt; it had been so long since the wiring was installed, Evelyn recalls, that they couldn't remember whether the switches were in the on or off position.

But then one evening in November, 1939, the Smiths were returning from Johnson City, where they had attended a declamation contest, and as they neared their farmhouse, something was different.

"Oh my God," her mother said. "The house is on fire!"

But as they got closer, they saw the light wasn't fire. "No, Mama," Evelyn said. "The lights are on."

They were on all over the Hill Country. "And all over the Hill Country," Stella Gliddon says, "people began to name their kids for Lyndon Johnson."

This was a time in America when we still did big things.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

December 28, 2011--Obama and Boehner Together

Here's a suggestion for Barack Obama and John Boehner.

They have at least one thing in common--neither is in control of his caucus in Congress; and if Obama is reelected and Boehner manages not to be unseated by Tea Party House members, the gridlock we have seen will continue, probably worsen.

This, in part, is because the congressional radicals in Boehner's party want gridlock. Through it, by accretion, they are achieving their goals--a stagnant Congress translates into a less-powerful, reduced federal government. They have figured out that they do not have to get any legislation passed to achieve their anarchistic agenda. Quite the opposite--all they need to do is make sure nothing gets done and, viola, there will be less of everything: funding for education, infrastructure, health care, agriculture, veterans, research, foreign aid. They will, however, find ways to fund preparations for war and, of course, war itself. For them Iran is in the next bulls eye.

Even if Republicans loss control of the House they are poised to take control of the Senate. The disproportionate number of Democrats up for reelection (and thus vulnerable) plus the many Democrat Senate incumbents voluntarily not seeking reelection (Nebraska's Ben Nelson is the latest to opt out of the fray and a Republican is almost certain to replace him) suggests Harry Reid's days as Majority Leader are numbered. So come the next Congress it will be the Democrats' turn to obstruct legislation. They will take a page from the Republicans playbook and filibuster everything.

But even in this clouded and depressing context, there is an opportunity for John Boehner and Barack Obama to make some interesting history.

Republican Ronald Reagan and Democrat Speaker Tip O'Neill figured out ways to work together in the 1980s and got quite a lot accomplished as did Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich during the '90s.

All that is required (and it is a great deal) is for Obama and Boehner to see mutual interest in working together, screw up their courage to confront the extreme forces in both of their parties, and sit down regularly over a few drinks to see if they can strike some big deals, or "grand bargains" as they have recently been described.

They could return to a bargain of the sort they apparently agreed to five months ago when the United States confronted the need to raise the nation's debt ceiling. Obama and Boehner, it is reported, agreed to more than $4.0 trillion in deficit cuts but pulled back when the Tea Party and liberal constituencies in their parties rebelled. Versions of the same thing was true for Reagan and O'Neill and Clinton and Gingrich, but they had the strength of self and political courage not to cave in to the pressure brought to bear on them by members of their own parties. As a result we had relative prosperity, a version of worldwide peace, and reasonably balanced budgets without dramatically sacking our most essential social programs--in fact, during both of these decades some were expanded.

Let's say Boehner and Obama agree to $4-5.0 trillion in budget cuts and revenue "enhancements" (some raised taxes and the elimination of most tax loopholes) and take their deal to the House and Senate. The Tea Party folks will object because of the new taxes and some Democrats will dig in because of cuts to entitlement programs. This is inevitable.

What isn't inevitable is for Obama and Boehner to continue to give in to these demands. They should decide to let the political chips fall where they may and seek a bipartisan base of support for this and other vitally needed actions. My congressional head count suggests this budget deal or, better, a version of Simpson-Bowles would have a good chance of passing in both houses.

Do Obama and Boehner want to go down in history as presiding over governmental gridlock at a perilous time in our history, or do they want to make some history?

Sounds like an easy choice to me.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

December 27, 2011--Donald Redux

Some of us were sad when Donald Trump withdrew from the Republican race for the nomination. We would no longer have him to kick around and thus a lot of fun would be missing from the campaign. For example, the blogger who has a Website devoted to discovering the mystery that surrounds The Donald's hair was getting fewer hits.

But he is in the news again. He switched his voter registration from Republican to Independent and hinted he may run as an independent. Those of us who blog couldn't be happier. So, if you are again inclined to be curious about his hair, check out

Here's the story about Trump changing his registration and what is in fact behind it. A hint--very little that's either political or patriotic.

This is not the first time he floated the idea that he might run an independent campaign for the presidency. Last election cycle he did the same thing, claiming that if he did he would spend $600 million of his own money on it. To show that he had the capacity to self-finance, he "revealed" he had a net worth of $7.0 million and so $600M for him would amount to small change.

I put revealed in quotes because Forbes, which keeps track of these things, says at most he is worth $2.9 billion. A tidy sum (if true) but not a gazillion. Thus, for him to spend 20 percent of this on a campaign he is certain to lose is unlikely, especially for someone who likes to hold on to his money. For example, as a member of the real estate community where members compete with each other to see who can be most philanthropic and have their names affixed to as many hospitals and universities as possible, Trump is regarded as cheap. Drive around New York City and you will see his name in faux-gold on many tasteless apartment houses and hotels, but there is hardly even a small clinic emblazoned with his logo.

But since he is all about logo and ego and branding, this latest announcement about his voter registration is calculated to keep his name and him in the news as yet another way to pump up interest in his soon to recommence TV show, "The Apprentice." It is set to begin airing on February 12th and, as in the past, he is ginning up the publicity mill to assure as many viewers as possible. Though why anyone would watch it is beyond me.

From my perspective, though, to have Trump back in the political fray is good news. Without Herman Edwards things recently have not been that much fun.

Monday, December 26, 2011

December 26, 2011--Ron Paul In His Own Words

With Ron Paul surging to the top of the polls in Iowa, though I thought some weeks ago that he was going nowhere and I could ignore him, since experts are saying he could actually win the caucus there, I feel compelled to again address his candidacy.

Up to this point, with him mired in the middle of the Republican pack, is has been a version of fun to point out his quirky ideas--like eliminating the Federal Reserve and allowing regional banks to print their own money. As long as he was a marginal political joke, except to his band of fervent followers, quirky was a legitimate way to view him. Good for a few laughs during GOP debates where the most controversial thing about him has been the fate of his roaming eyebrows--are they real or pasted on since they seem to slip around on his forehead, at one point almost entirely covering his right eye.

But now, in this ten-little-Indians, musical-chairs Republican primary season, with him more than surviving, he has to be taken seriously. And this more serious scrutiny has turned up many things about which to be very concerned. Specifically newsletters he published during the 1980s and 1990s that include blatant racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic comments.

You may have heard about this, even read some press reports concerning his attempts to wiggle out of taking responsibility, but few of these included any of the most-offensive quotes. Since you may have felt this was an omission on the part of the press but were too preoccupied with the holidays to have found any on your own, I have been digging around so that I can bring them to your attention.

But first a little context--

Paul has served two very separate terms in Congress: the first from 1979 through 1985 and then from 1999 to the present. During the inter-congressional years, beginning in 1984, to make money he claims, and continuing until 1997, Ron Paul went back to his obstetrics practice and started a number of newsletters. The newsletters were named Ron Paul's Political Report, Ron Paul's Freedom Report, the Ron Paul Survival Report, and the Ron Paul Investment Letter. Some were biweekly, while others were monthly and most were innocuous, at near their worse full of hyper-alarming, apocalyptic stuff derived from the so-called Austrian School of economics and distilled into claptrap by novelist Ayn Rand--his senator-son's namesake.

But at their very worst they included more than voodoo economics. Here are a few examples--

"Given the inefficiencies of what DC laughingly calls the criminal justice system, I think we can safely assume that 95 percent of the black males in that city are semi-criminal or entirely criminal."

"We are constantly told that it is evil to be afraid of black men, it is hardly irrational."

After the Los Angeles riots, one article in a newsletter claimed, "Order was only restored in L.A. when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks."

One referred to Martin Luther King Jr. as "the world-class philanderer who beat up his paramours" and who "seduced underage girls and boys."

Also about MLK: "[He] was also a Comsymp, if not an actual party member, and the man who replaced the evil of forced segregation with the evil of forced integration. King, the FBI files show, was not only a world-class adulterer, he also seduced underage girls and boys. . . And we are supposed to honor this 'Christian minister' and lying socialist satyr. . .?"

And there is more about his favorite racist obsession: "Boy, it sure burns me to have a national holiday for that pro-communist philanderer, Martin Luther King. I voted against this outrage time and time again as a Congressman. What an infamy that Ronald Reagan approved it! We can thank him for our annual Hate Whitey Day. Listen to a black radio talk show in any major city. The racial hatred makes a KKK rally look tame." (My italics.)

Another referred to Barbara Jordan, a civil rights activist and congresswoman as "Barbara Morondon," the "archetypical half-educated victimologist."

Here's a typical page:

Then about the 9/11 bombing he wrote: "Whether it was a setup by the Israeli Mossad, as a Jewish friend of mine suspects, or was truly a retaliation by the Islamic fundamentalists, matters little. The cities have become centers of violence, whether through the daily and routine terrorism of crime, political bomb terrorism, or the terrorism of mob behavior as in Los Angeles."

And gays also have been the target of his venom: "President Bush invited the heads of homosexual lobbying groups to the White House [which Paul subsequently named the Pink House] for the ceremony. As Congressman Bill Dannemeyer (R-CA) noted, 'It's a tragic message that is being sent,' that normality and deviance are equal. I miss the closet. Homosexuals, not to speak of the rest of society, were far better off when social pressure forced them to hide their activities. They could also not be as promiscuous. Is it any coincidence that the AIDS epidemic developed after they came 'out of the closet' and started hyper-promiscuous sodomy? I don't believe so, [said Doctor Paul] medically or morally."

When his newsletters were "rediscovered" last week (where have the media been not to have reported this earlier?), Paul denied any responsibility for them, claiming he was busy delivering babies and others wrote and published this stuff under his name without his being aware of what was in them. This I would understand and be prepared to forgive if only one or two were published. But at least 50 were produced and sold over 13 years. That's 50 during 13 years.

A final word--as a conservative Libertarian who believes in the sacredness of individuals taking responsibility for their own actions and lives, Paul's hypocrisy was fully exposed last week when he ducked all responsibility, even refusing to be interviewed about his newsletters.

His encounter with PBS's Gloria Borger tells us all we need to know--at first he tried to joke and charm his way through the interview, but then when she pressed him about his newsletters his demeanor changed and he began to terminate the interview and take off his microphone. Taking off one's mike in the middle of an interview is always prima facie evidence of having been caught in a lie.

It's time for him to go.

Friday, December 23, 2011

December 23, 2011--Happy Holidays

I need to do some last minute shopping and so will be taking the day off. Enjoy the weekend and the holidays. I will be back here on Monday.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

December 22, 2011--Founder's Intent

We're hearing a lot these days about Founder's Intent. What our nation's founders envisioned for us. Some, like Ron Paul, are literalists--if it isn't specifically mentioned in the Constitution than things such ad Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional.

Some, like Newt Gingrich, who proclaim themselves to be historians and constitutional experts (but in truth know less than they assert), want to see things like the coequal component of our governmental system--the judiciary--contained and overseen by a second coequal branch--Congress. Just the other day Newt said that federal judges who rule in ways that the Congress deems to be unconstitutional should be hauled before Congress to defend themselves before being removed from the bench. Literally, he said on Sunday, by the capitol police or the federal marshals. This does not sound like the America our founders intended but rather like the oppressive European governments our ancestors escaped from where the rule of law was nonexistent or perverted in the very same ways Newt sees appropriate for us.

Talking about this the other day with a cousin, he mentioned something our founders indeed intended. Something, he said, I wrote about here on Tuesday--again, with European tyrannies in mind, they did all they could to assure that America would not have an entrenched ruling class.

Their intent was for Congress to be an ever changing, dynamic body that embraced a constant flow of new ideas, concepts and beliefs from among its ever-changing, and growing citizenry. As importantly, and dramatically detailed in their public and private writings, the founders believed that Americans should serve their fellow countrymen in Congress for a limited number of years before returning to their communities and families, so as to avoid the creation of a permanent ruling class.

This idea is at the heart of the term-limits movement, such as it is. Back in the 1990s it had a head of steam and many states passed term-limit laws that restrict the number of terms in office their governors, mayors, and other representatives can serve. But no state did this for members of Congress. In fact, it would be unconstitutional for them to do so.

But a number of members of Congress term-limited themselves, telling voters they would serve, at most, two or three terms and then leave Washington. John Boehner, for example, back in 1991, announced when he ran for Congress for the first time that he would not serve more than a total of six years. Well, here it is 20 years later and he's still here. So much for self term-limiting.

To force the issue of term limits there has been from time to time agitation to pass a constitutional amendment to limit congressional service as we limit presidential terms, constitutionally, to a lifetime total of two terms. But to pass a Constitutional amendment means that a minimum of two-thirds of both houses of Congress must vote to approve it.

So much for that idea.

But, my cousin, reminded me, there may be another way to move the process along--a process that might appeal to Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street folks alike. They both claim that the government we now have does not, for different reasons, resemble what the likes of Jefferson and Madison and Washington and Franklin intended.

He reminded me that I wrote about how this intention was reflected in their views about how to pay (or not pay in Franklin's case) representatives--initially through a modest $6.00 per diem and much later through a modest annual salary.

"Why not return to that idea?" my cousin asked.

"Good piont," I naively said.

"How much would $6.00 in 1787 be worth today? Maybe that's how much they should get paid. And they'd have to be in Washington working to receive it. Not while taking vacations--as now--or while campaigning for president."

"As a matter of fact," I said, "I looked that up the other day. It's not possible to do this precisely, but based on my research $1.00 would be worth about $40 today and thus their $6.00 per diem would be roughly equivalent now to $240. If they showed up for work on, say, 250 days a year (I'm being generous) that would total exactly $60,000. Not bad and much less than the $174,000 they get now. And then there would be more savings because we'd also eliminate their pensions."

"Again, it's not about just cutting the federal budget," my cousin said, "but more to encourage members to serve for just a few years as citizens as the founders intended."

"But Congress itself," I pointed out, "as a self-regulating body, would have to vote for this. How likely is it that they would vote to cut their salaries and elimination their benefits and perks?"

"So much for that idea," my cousin said

I said, "Let's order another drink."

"Make mine a double he said."

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

December 21, 2011--Snowbirding: English

We never talk politics. We like each other too much to spoil our relationship over our likely different views about Iran, health care, and taxes. So, when the other day during breakfast, seated side-by-side, when he asked me with a sly smile if I had heard the latest list of 10-things-I-want-for-Christmas, I bit.

“Well, the first one, of course, is to get rid of Obama.” His smile became a grin.

Uh, oh, I thought, here we go, but couldn’t constrain myself from saying, “And I bet number two and number three are the same—‘All I want for Christmas is to get rid of Obama.’”

Still grinning he said, “That’s funny, but not correct.”

“This doesn’t sound like David Lettermen to me.” I was hoping that maybe I could joke my way out of getting in any deeper.

I like Stan, I really do. He’s from Mississippi, moved to South Florida many years ago—to “get away from all the rednecks,” he once told me (though I knew a streak of deep South values and attitudes overlay his wryness). He had traveled the world and things had rubbed off on him and in the process rubbed off some of that Mississippi good-old-boy down-home.

“That’s for sure. This wish list is not your New York sensibility.” You see why I like him? He knows how to give me the business. “But if you want I can give you a few more.”

Though I was trying to concentrate on my coffee, hoping he’d change the subject to something more congenial, he proceeded when he didn’t hear anything back from me.

“Number two—Send all the immigrants back to where they came from.”

All?” I couldn’t help blurting out, coughing from inhaling my coffee.

“Mainly the illegal ones. I suppose a few good ones could stay.”

“’Mainly’? And what ‘good ones’ might that include?”

“I suppose some of those Indian doctors at the hospital. Though when I was there last year having my prostate Roto-Rooted I could barely understand a word any of them were saying.”

“But without them . . . ?”

“I know what you’re going to say--that I wouldn’t be able to pee straight.”

“Sort of.”

“Which leads me logically to number three—that English should be the official language of the United States.”

“You mean it isn’t?” I had decided to give up on my coffee. “The last time I looked the Declaration of Independence was written in English.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they insist on having a Spanish version next to it in the Archives.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“Exaggerating. To make a point.”

“You made your point. And to tell you the truth for me it’s not much of one.”

“My view is that immigrants—and by that I mean legal ones—should be sent home”—he made a dismissive gesture—“if they don’t learn English after one year.”

“That would have meant my mother’s parents would have been sent back to Poland and would have wound up in Auschwitz.”

Now it was his turn to stare at his coffee. “And what about your grandparents?” I pressed on. “Where did they come from?”

Not looking up he muttered, “Not my grandparents, my great-grandparents. They were from Germany. That’s where they came from.”

“And where did they wind up?” He looked up at me not understanding. “I mean in America. Where did they settle? New York? The Lower Eastside?”


“Where? I didn’t hear you.” I was fully out of the closet and, in spite of Rona glaring at me, continued, “I think I can tell you how they got there. To Nebraska, of all the godforsaken places.”

He turned fully to me, clearly curious. “I never did learn that. From my grandparents or parents. We didn’t talk about that. I know a lot about them but not that. I assume they had family there and they went West to join them.”

“Possibly,” I said, “But I think there’s another explanation.”

“Go on,” he said. By then the top-10 list was forgotten.

“You won’t like the answer,” I said. It was my turn to do the smiling.

“I still want to hear it.”

“They came over, I assume, in the middle of the 19th century.”

He nodded. “I think it was about 1855.”

“That’s what I would have guessed because a lot of German immigrants came over at that time. And you know why they came?”

“Because the streets were paved with gold.” I knew he wasn’t being serious.

“Sort of. Back in Germany they were probably recruited to come to America. Not to pick up the gold on the streets—though some were literally disappointed when they got here and didn’t find any—but because of the promise of cheap farm land. Germans were known to be good farmers and most of the land in Germany at the time was in the hands of the nobility. There wasn’t much available for just plain folks. They had to work other people’s land. They were basically serfs. So the promises they heard about America were what lured them here.”

“This could be true,” he said.

“And the joke in many instances was on them because the land they were recruited to buy was some of the most arid, least fertile land in America. Like much of western Nebraska.” I paused.

“Well, at least they were legal immigrants. Not like the ones we should round up and send home.”

“They may have been legal but you should see what politicians at the time and newspapers in their stories and editorials said about them. About people just like your ancestors. It was not a pretty picture. When times were hard, like now, there was a lot of agitation to send them back to where they came from. Especially the ones who settled in the east coast cites and who voted for Democrats. Like today, the Republicans then were the ones who wanted to send them home.”

“Plenty of your people feel the same way,” he said, reenergized, “It’s a very bipartisan point of view. In fact the top-10 list I was telling you about was sent to me by one of yours.” I shrugged, not understanding. “Democrats. Liberals. Like you.”

“I get you. But one more thing before you race away.” I had noticed him fumbling in his pocket looking for cash with which to pay his bill. “I assume on your Christmas list is a wish for the government to stop regulating businesses. Am I right about that?”

Softly he said, “In fact that’s number seven.”

“Well, pretty much all that land in Nebraska and elsewhere out west was U.S. government land—after we took it from the Indians—and then they gave it to land speculators if they promised to settle it. Or, if it wasn’t for free, they sold it to them for literally pennies an acre. They in turn paid people like your great-grandparents’ passage to America and then sold them the land at huge profits. That doesn’t sound like free market capitalism to me.”

Rona was tugging at my sleeve and whispering it was time for us to leave. We had a long list of chores to do.

“But one more thing,” I said to him. “I forgot to ask. You said earlier that you’d send immigrants home after one year if they fail to learn English. Right?”

He sensed where this was going and said nothing.

“So what about your great-grandparents? Did they learn English after one year?” He had gotten up off his stool. “From your trying to ignore me I suspect they didn’t.”

By then he had paid and was already heading for the door.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

December 20, 2011--Parlemeto

With anti-government sentiment running high. I am surprised that so little is being said about the best part-time government job in the world--being a member of Congress.

This was not always the case. Our founders, their "intent" these days very much in Tea Party and Conservatives' minds, did not envision a professional cadre of politicians. In fact, they stood for the very opposite. In order to avoid European-style tyranny--a permanent aristocratic class--they expected citizens to devote part of their lives to public service, not to think about making a career of representing the people.

During the Constitutional Convention, for example, Benjamin Franklin asked his colleagues to consider not paying elected government officials anything for their service. Other Founding Fathers, however, decided otherwise.

So, in the spirit of compromise, from 1789 to 1855, members of Congress received only $6.00 per day while in session, except for a period from December 1815 to March 1817, when they received $1,500 a year. Members did not receive an annual salary until 1855, when they were paid $3,000 per year.

From then on salaries and later benefits began to soar. By 1907 members' salaries had climbed to $7,500 per year. In 1932, at the height of the Depression, it was $9,000. In 1955, $22,000. Then in 1969, congressional pay rose to $42,500 per annum. $75,100 was what they were paid in 1985. In 1991 they took home $125,100; $150,000 in 2002; and currently members of Congress are paid $174,000 plus gold-plated heath care insurance and various travel and staff expenses. They also receive a generous pension, which only encourages long-term service.

For this remuneration members do not even have to be present in Washington or do anything at all day-to-day to get their money. When they are running for higher office, for example--like Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul at the moment and John McCain and Barack Obama the last time around--they are rarely at the Capital but still the paychecks keep coming. They do not have to show up, sign in, or punch a time clock to get paid.

But while I was doing my little research about the history of congressional salaries and after my ranting here about how being a U.S. House or Senate member is the best government job in the world, I read about the actual best part-time government job in the world--to be a member of Italy's Parlemeto.

While average Italian citizens are being forced to tighten their belts, their leaders continue to wallow in taxpayer-subsidized luxury.

Their take-home pay ranges between $18,000 and $27,000 a month. But there is more--their heath care is even more golden than in the United States, they do not have to pay for travel within Italy, and in more cases than not are given cars and drivers.

And there are a lot of them. In contrast to the much more populous U.S. where there are 535 members of Congress, in Italy there are 952. But we spend only $7.00 per capita for our representative whereas in Italy they cost $34 per member of the Parlemento.

There is not as yet a Tea Party or Occupy di Borsa Italiana in Italy; but perhaps once enough citizens there find out that on top of this self-approved generosity, their representatives are also allowed to keep their day jobs as lawyers, businesspeople, and even journalists, we may see some action in the streets.

Monday, December 19, 2011

December 19, 2011--The "Liberal Elite"

On the Website, Barbara Ehrenreich and John Ehrenreich write about one of the conservatives' favorite bogeyman, the "liberal elite"--those who they claim are responsible for most of our problems. They thus serve as a politically convenient and effective distraction from the real causes.

The Ehrenreichs write:

“Liberal elite” was always a political category masquerading as a sociological one. What gave the idea of a liberal elite some traction, though, at least for a while, was that the great majority of us have never knowingly encountered a member of the actual elite, the 1% who are, for the most part, sealed off in their own bubble of private planes, gated communities, and walled estates.

The authority figures most people are likely to encounter in their daily lives are teachers, doctors, social workers, and professors. These groups (along with middle managers and other white-collar corporate employees) occupy a much lower position in the class hierarchy. They made up what we described in a 1976 essay as the “professional managerial class.” As we wrote at the time, on the basis of our experience of the radical movements of the 1960s and 1970s, there have been real, longstanding resentments between the working-class and middle-class professionals. These resentments, which the populist right cleverly deflected toward “liberals,” contributed significantly to that previous era of rebellion’s failure to build a lasting progressive movement.

As it happened, the idea of the “liberal elite” could not survive the depredations of the 1% in the late 2000s. For one thing, it was summarily eclipsed by the discovery of the actual Wall Street-based elite and their crimes. Compared to them, professionals and managers, no matter how annoying, were pikers. The doctor or school principal might be overbearing, the professor and the social worker might be condescending, but only the 1% took your house away.

There was, as well, another inescapable problem embedded in the right-wing populist strategy: even by 2000, and certainly by 2010, the class of people who might qualify as part of the “liberal elite” was in increasingly bad repair. Public-sector budget cuts and corporate-inspired reorganizations were decimating the ranks of decently paid academics, who were being replaced by adjunct professors working on bare subsistence incomes. Media firms were shrinking their newsrooms and editorial budgets. Law firms had started outsourcing their more routine tasks to India. Hospitals beamed X-rays to cheap foreign radiologists. Funding had dried up for nonprofit ventures in the arts and public service. Hence the iconic figure of the Occupy movement: the college graduate with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debts and a job paying about $10 a hour, or no job at all.

These trends were in place even before the financial crash hit, but it took the crash and its grim economic aftermath to awaken the 99% to a widespread awareness of shared danger.

Something to think about.

Friday, December 16, 2011

December 16, 2011--Chutzpah

By now the Democrats may have caved in to the Republicans insistence that a surtax on income over a million dollars a year is off the table as part of a deal to extend unemployment insurance and continue the suspension of part of the payroll tax.

We've seen this kind of capitulation before so that is not news.

What is news, however, in an attempt by the GOP to show the gullible public that they are not opposed to all taxes on million-dollar earners (their true political base). Thus, there is some talk on Capital Hill about taxing the unemployment benefits received by those who, before losing their jobs, made more than $1.0 million a year.

Yes, there are some in this category--for example, folks who worked for an investment bank, made a million or more a year, but then found themselves laid of and thus were entitled to and collected unemployment insurance. A maximum of $485 a week.

This may feel like small potatoes to these otherwise wealthy individuals, but collect the money they did. In fact between 2005 and 2009 millionaires collected a total of over $74 million in unemployment benefits.

The Republicans who want to appear to be flexible in regard to taxing the top tenth of one percent have their eyes on this $74 million. They are talking about assessing a 100 percent tax on people making over $10 million a year before being laid off and phasing in a 75 percent tax on those earning "only" between $1.0 and $10.0 million. (See linked New York Times article.)

If you are wondering how many of our fellow citizens would be affected by this tax, in 2009 there were 2,363 who earned more than a million but less than $10 million and 18 people with an adjusted income of more than $10 million.

Some even had the chutzpah to apply for and then use food stamps. So far GOP congressmen haven't said what they would do about recovering the cost of that.

Speaking of chutzpah, are you as amazed as I that nearly 2,400 who earned more than a million the year before they lost their jobs place applied for unemployment insurance? Call me naive.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

December 15, 2011--Everything Old Is Newt Again

The more the Republican establishment lines up against Newt Gingrich the more this 68-year-old ultimate Washington insider and influence peddler seems a remarkably fresh outsider.

Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor at the National Review, endorsed Mitt Romney on Friday while knocking Gingrich as "a constant reminder that political leaders can have too much, as well as too little, imagination." On immigration, for instance, Ponnuru wrote that Gingrich's proposals are "innovative-sounding, accompanied by high-tech gadgetry, and wholly absurd."

If that weren't enough, the same day George Will wrote that Gingrich is the "least conservative candidate" in the Republican field. It only gets worse from there. Gingrich, he wrote, "embodies the vanity and rapacity that make modern Washington repulsive" and even "would have made a marvelous Marxist."

A Marxist? Isn't Obama's the Marxist? It's all so confusing.

Then there's Charles Krauthammer. He also has called into question Gingrich’s conservative credentials. He recently described him as "a man [who is] . . . conservative by nature but possessed of an unbounded need for grand display that has already led him to unconservative places even he is at a loss to explain, and that as president would leave him in constant search of the out-of-box experience--the confoundedly brilliant Nixon-to-China flipperoo regarding his fancy of the day, be it health care, taxes, energy, foreign policy, whatever."

Now that's some fancy writing.

Joe Scarborough, a former Republican representative from Florida who swept into office during the 1994 Gingrich-led GOP takeover of the House and then helped lead the successful fight to oust him, now routinely criticizes the former Speaker on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." And in a Monday Politico column, Scarborough described Gingrich’s leadership skills as "deplorable" and said he found his "ideological inconsistency to be even more troubling."

Things for the GOP elite are getting so desperate that Morning Joe said he would seriously consider voting for Ron Paul if he ran as a third party candidate. The Ron Paul who wants to get rid of most of the government, eliminate the Federal Reserve, and allow regional banks to print their own money. The same Ron Paul who wants to repeal the 21st, 20th, and 19th centuries. Just what we need in a globalized world.

Erick Erickson, the influential editor-in-chief of, has found it difficult to talk himself into the idea of a Newt nomination, despite being vehemently anti-Romney. He recently titled a post, "Are Conservatives Ready to Forgive Newt Gingrich His Sins?" without subsequently answering the question. He, like the rest of us, plans to stay tuned.

In the Wall Street Journal, Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan telegraphically wrote--"Ethically dubious? True. Intelligent and accomplished? True. Has he known breathtaking success and contributed to real reforms in government? Yes. Presided over disasters? Absolutely. Can he lead? Yes. Is he erratic and unreliable as a leader? Yes. Egomaniacal? True. Original and focused, harebrained and impulsive—all true."

And, not to be outdone, in the New York Times conservative op-ed columnist David Brooks cut Newt loose--

In the first place, Gingrich loves government more than I do. He has no Hayekian modesty to restrain his faith in statist endeavor. For example, he has called for “a massive new program to build a permanent lunar colony to exploit the Moon’s resources.” He has suggested that “a mirror system in space could provide the light equivalent of many full moons so that there would be no need for nighttime lighting of the highways.” I’m for national greatness conservatism, but this is a little too great.

Furthermore, he has an unconservative faith in his own innocence. . . . In the two main Republican contenders, we have one man, Romney, who seems to have walked straight out of the 1950s, and another, Gingrich, who seems to have walked straight out of the 1960s. He has every negative character trait that conservatives associate with ’60s excess: narcissism, self-righteousness, self-indulgence and intemperance. He just has those traits in Republican form. [My italics.]

Even on Fox News--where Gingrich worked as a political analyst for a decade--there's been "Newt-bashing," as "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace recently observed.

And another Fox alum, Glenn Beck, since he claims Newt is as progressive as Mitt Romney and, incredibly, Barack Obama, if Newt is nominated he too may support a third party run by Ron Paul.

It's gotten so bad that last week Rush Limbaugh said, "Today there is a coordinated--well, I don't know that it's coordinated [GOP attack on Gingrich]--but it sure appears to be. Regardless, no matter where you look in the Republican establishment media today, there looks to be a coordinated attack on Mr. Newt." And as a result, he worried, this could lead to a second term for Barack Obama.

But the more folks like Charles Krauthammer, George Will, and David Brooks pile on, the more Gingrich can say "Bring it on" and thereby showcase his bad-boy, tell-it-like-it-is personality and claim to be the kind of outsider the GOP base craves. Brilliant!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

December 14, 2011--Rokirovka

Castling in chess is a special move that involves the king and either of the rooks (or castles) of the same color. It is the only move in chess in which a player moves two pieces at the same time. Castling consists of moving the king two squares towards a rook on the player's first rank, then moving the rook onto the square over which the king crossed. Castling can only be done if the king has never moved, the castle involved has never moved, the squares between the king and the rook involved are not occupied, the king is not in check, and the king does not cross over or end up on a square in which it would be in check.

Got it?

In Russian the word for castling is rokirovka ; and what is going on in the streets of Moscow right now, with unusual demonstrators protesting the political rokirovka in which President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin are changing places--both moving at the same time so that Putin will again become president and Medvedev prime minister.

But there are a lot of things wrong with the chess analogy being drawn by protesters and media folks. In classic castling/rokirovka they would not be eligible to switch places because the rules of chess require neither one of them to have moved previously; and as we know, they switched places previously, moved once before so that Putin could retain ultimate power, albeit as "only" the prime minister. They did so so Putin could avoid the constitutional prohibition that he not serve more than two consecutive presidential terms.

In Russia, however, where chess grandmasters have been known to cheat on the international stage, political cheating is also a traditional pastime. But this time, Putin and his gang may not get away with it. People are in the streets demanding a real election and a Russian billionaire, Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the New Jersey Nets basketball team, just announced he plans to run against Putin this spring when the vote is scheduled.

In a version of the Arab Spring or Occupy Wall Street the thousands who have taken to the streets are not the usual Russian suspects. They are not the lumpenproletariat clamoring for bread and jobs familiar to history. They are, in fact, Putin's people. The new middle class who have been significant beneficiaries of his polices. They are of course not the oligarchs who became billionaires when Russia's natural resources were given away during the Yeltsin years, but those who are well educated and secured well-paying positions in the Putin-liberalized economy. Those from Moscow and the other major cities of Russia's west, for example, have seen the value of their apartments skyrocket and their wages soar an average of 15 percent per year during the first eight years of Putin's rule.

So what is so under their skin that they are out protesting in the freezing early Russian winter?

According to protesters quoted in the New York Times, the issue is political, not economic: "The people coming onto the streets of Moscow are very well off. These are people protesting because they were humiliated. They were not asked. They were just told, 'Putin is coming back.'" [My italics.]

There is an historical irony here--as during General Pinochet's time in Chile, and perhaps now in Russia, when the economy is at its strongest, authoritarian leaders whose policies boosted the economy so that a large middle class emerges are in turn rendered vulnerable.

Returning to the chess comparison, the Russian people, playing black may soon declare to the white-playing Putin--"Mate in three."

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

December 13, 2011--Why Newt Can Win

There is clearly a new Newt.

The old one, who at his best was just a bomb thrower and at his worst, well, a crook, is no more. In that Newt's place there is a charming, avuncular, non-threatening even pleasant and entertaining elderly man who feels almost presidential.

And he's one heck of a debater.

The reason he can win the Republican nomination is not just because of what the pundits are saying--that the base of the Republican Party wants a bulldog of a candidate who can go toe-to-toe with Barack Obama and demolish him both intellectually and rhetorically.

Yes, this is important to them. They are sick and tired of Obama keeping his cool even when slandered and being by far the smartest man in the room when the room is full of Republicans.

They hate Obama so much that they are willing to overlook the circumstances of Newt's serial adulteries and marriages and the fact that he was virtually kicked out of the House of Representatives because of tax fraud.

Republicans are willing to ignore his crackpot ideas about our being attacked by electromagnetic radiation, abolishing child labor laws so ghetto kids can work as janitors in their schools, and why the Palestinians are not entitled to a state of their own. They are willing to go along with there because, compared to the others, Gingrich feels like an intellectual who will not embarrass them, as John McCain and especially Sarah Palin did the last time around.

This is why he is the odds-on favorite to win the nomination. But he is also a formidable candidate to win the whole thing.

This is because the new Newt has figured out how to turn his disadvantages and vulnerabilities into assets.

A few examples--

When challenged about getting paid almost two million dollars to work as an influence peddler for the hated Freddie Mac, after initially claiming he was hired to consult with them about history, he nimbly switched gears and said, with a disarming smile, that he worked for them after leaving office and in that way gained private sector experience. This blunted Romney's claim that he uniquely had worked in business and tended to legitimatize the influence peddling that Gingrich in reality had been up to.

When challenged to defend his over-the-top plans for the colonization of Mars he blithely said that he is in favor of this in order to put forth bold ideas in an attempt to inspire kids to study math and science.

And when all the candidates were prompted the other day to talk about the importance of being faithful to one's spouse as a test of presidential character, and none of Gingrich's opponents had the chutzpah to go there, Newt himself, looking directly and contritely into the camera, fessed up to having made "some mistakes" and how he as a consequence turned to the Lord to seek reconciliation. The crowd in Iowa clapped and simultaneously teared up. No one seemed to care to remember that he dumped his first wife while having an affair as she lay in the ICU sick and almost dying of cancer.

Then when one of his most preposterous and meddlesome ideas was raised--how the Palestinians were an "invented people" and thus not entitled to a homeland of their own--with Romney puffed up to lecture him that presidents need to be more diplomatic in their public utterances--Gingrich, without his usual excessive self-righteousness when challenged, said that like Ronald Reagan, who famously "told the truth" when he demanded that the Soviets tear down the Berlin Wall, that as the self-anointed Reaganite he claimed to be, as president he would also tell the truth even if it at times it is unpopular and "confusing."

No one said, "Mr. former and disgraced Speaker, I knew Ronald Reagan and you're no Ronald Reagan." And so the crowd in Iowa went wild and I began to envision his debates with Barack Obama.

I also began to worry.

Monday, December 12, 2011

December 12, 2011--"I'm Fabulous!"

The cashier at the Boca Raton Whole Foods had routinely asked how we were and after routinely saying fine we routinely asked how he was.

"I'm fabulous," he gushed. His joyous grin as wide as the pasta aisle.

He had even before then made an impression. We had only a few items in our shopping basket and so had gotten on the express, less-than-10-items line. Unusual for Whole Foods, the woman ahead of us had a handful of 25%-off coupons and the cashier was having difficulty figuring out what to do with them. In Boca very few want to be seen in public with discount coupons and clearly the checkout clerk had little experience with them.

Before he could summon a manager to help, and before Rona's Ciao Bella coconut sorbet began to melt, from the opposite side of the cash register, another cashier called out to us, "I can help you. No need to stand there. Just pass your items across to me. There's no one waiting at my line."

I could see his outstretched arms reaching across to us and Rona, delighted, began to pass our items to him. We then went to the other side to join this helpful person.

"I'll bet he's one of their senior people," I said, "who knows how to get things done."

"I'm sure you're right," Rona said, "During these uncertain times I'm finding more people who work in stores like this are doing everything they can to make you feel welcome."

"Did you find everything you need?" a very young man asked.

"Yes, thank you," Rona said. We were both surprised to note that he looked as if he was barely twenty. Not the manager type we were imagining.

"And thank you for spotting us at the other aisle," I added, "It was looking as if we'd be there for half an hour."

He knew I was exaggerating and offered a smile of understanding.

"Do you want me to pack the sorbet separately? It's hotter outside than it should be in December."

"That would be nice," Rona said.

"Don't you find it to be wonderful sorbet? The coconut is one of my favorites. If you haven't tried their Mandarin orange I recommend it."

"Maybe next time." Rona said, "Again, thank you."

By then he was finished packing us up and asked if we were having a good day; and since there was no one on line behind us, Rona asked, "And what about you? How are you doing?"

"I'm fabulous!"

"That's much better than good," I said. "If I may ask, why's that?"

"I'm fabulous because I have a job." he swept his arm across the broad expanse of the store.

"I'm gad to hear that," Rona offered.

"I graduated not too long ago from FAU. I't just up the road from here. I majored in history even though I knew there weren't any jobs for people with newly-minted BAs in history."

"Nor even for people who got them them years ago," I ventured. "But you in spite of that you . . . ?"

"In spite of that. I just love history. Especially colonial history. To me that's when today's America we are living was shaped."

"I agree with that," I said. "But . . . ?"

"With all due respect, there are no buts. I knew what I was in store for; and under the current circumstances, I knew it would be doubly hard to find a job." He paused, "Any job."

"And? So far?"

"So far very good. Some of my friends say to me that this is not much of a job, but all of them moved back home after graduating and still have dreams about getting better jobs than this one. But I've been at it five months and have already saved almost enough for me to begin to be able to find a place of my own."

We nodded when he added, "So what's not fabulous about that? Sure I'd like better prospects but I'm happy to have this. Maybe we're living in a new world and, in case we are, I want to be ready for it. I'm determined to figure out how to make a good life for myself and how to be happy. Am I wrong?"

"Not in the least," Rona said. "I wish circumstances were be better for you and your friends; but all things considered, I think you've got things figured out."

"You'd better get that sorbet home," he said, noticing another couple waiting to get checked out. "It doesn't refreeze very well. And be sure to have a good day."

Friday, December 09, 2011

December 9, 2011--Mothercare

My mother is under the weather--nothing too serious we think--so I will be away from this spot until Monday.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

December 8. 2011--Four More Years?

This is directed mainly at my fellow liberals.

Let's assume Barack Obama is reelected. We would welcome that, right? We know he is far from perfect, that he was too prone to cave in to the demands of the Republicans who vowed from his first day in office to do everything possible to assure he fails, and we also admit to ourselves that he didn't take on enough of our political agenda to make us feel enthusiastic about his first term.

But the alternative--the prospect of John McCain ("Bomb-bomb-bomb, bomb Iran") and Sarah Palin in the White House during these complex and perilous times is enough to make even centrist Democrats feel pretty good about the last three years. Or at least the first two years of Obama's presidency when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and some useful things were accomplished--a deeply-flawed health care bill was passed, some new regulations for the financial industry were put in place, there was finally the end of don't-ask-don't-tell, the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq was accomplished, a half-successful stimulus bill helped our deeply-wounded economy, and among other things GM and Chrysler were rescued and are now thriving.

Above all, Obama will go down in history for helping prevent the U.S. economy from plummeting into another Great Depression.

From the last year, however, with Republicans in effective control of all of Congress, we can get a glimpse of how four more years of the Obama administration would look.

Budget gridlock above all is what we could expect. The GOP will assure that the wealthiest are protected at the expense of the poor and middle class. And they will do nothing serious except fulminate about reducing the deficit that they have been fully complicitious in amassing.

Little mentioned when there is talk about letting the Bush tax cuts expire is the fact that most of the actual money redistributed by it to taxpayers goes to the bottom 95 percent. Yes, the top earners are disproportionately catered to, but there are a lot of tax benefits larded into the Bush era tax codes that in absolute dollar terms (as opposed to the average benefits to individuals) go to the rest of us.

Thus, letting it expire would be particularly hard on the middle class. Someone earning $1.0 million a year could absorb the additional $50,000 hit better than someone earning $75,000 could handle paying another couple of thousand dollars in taxes. So, with Obama, or anyone else in the White House, and with Republicans committed to protecting millionaires, the fate of how middle class Americans would fare at tax time is inexorably and politically linked to how the wealthiest are sheltered.

For progressives, who see government playing a significant role in protecting the most vulnerable citizens while doing what they can to assure the game of life is less rigged and thus fairer, having a functioning government is essential. Republicans, conservatives, on the other hand, win when government, as now, is dysfunctional since they want to eliminate much of it.

I am sad to say, since there is no chance that Democrats will retake control of the House and win 60 seats in the Senate (to make it filibuster proof), during the next four years, with Obama still president, we will see the same kind of governmental sabotage as at present.

Some of this is ideological but much of it, a great deal of it, is personal. There is no other way to put it--congressional Republicans and their media and financial enablers despise Obama because of his very being. Thus the on-going compulsion to invalidate him, to turn him into a literal alien. And worse.

Since we desperately need to get important things done in order to keep economic and social Armageddon at bay, as a patriot who cares deeply about his country, the country that offered him so many opportunities, which through his smarts and hard work he turned into a remarkably life and career, Barack Obama should stand down and not seek reelection.

He could justly claim that he had an historic term in office but recognizes the fact that the Republicans are so willfully intransigent and obstructionist--even at the expense of the people they are sworn to represent--that they will continue to block any initiative of his, even those that they themselves at other times endorsed. In the face of this, he should consider saying, so much needs to occur during the next four years that he is stepping aside so that another Democrat can be elected to lead the country.

Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden would quickly emerge as candidates who could not only win the nomination but also the presidency. Both are much better at working with Republicans in Congress than Obama and thus could accomplish at least a few essential things. That is just the truth.

Fairly or not this is where things stand. We do not have a continental system where the prime minister by definition commands a parliamentary majority and thereby can enact his or her agenda. In the absence of that, for the sake of all of us, especially the future of America, we have to accept the unpleasant reality that Republicans will never allow Obama to succeed, even during a second term knowing he would not be able to seek a third. We need to stifle our frustration and appropriate sense of outrage at this and move on. We need somehow to get big things done. Desperately.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

December 7, 2010--The Anti-Newt

All along it's been about finding an anti-Romney who could stay on top of the polls for more than a week or two.

First we had the Trump boomlet. But he quickly came a cropper on his own petard--Obama birtherism. Then there was Michele Bachmann who took the lead for a few days after winning the inconsequential Iowa Straw Poll before slumping to single-digit status. Next there was Rick Perry, the Great White Hope out of Texas who seemed so promising for a week or two until he couldn't remember what government agencies he wanted to eliminate. He had his oops moment and it was curtains for him. Then who could forget Herman Cain of 9-9-9 and roaming hands fame? He dropped in the polls almost as fast as he rose and "suspended" his campaign so he could continue to raise money for his own purposes.

Weathering all this, clinging his his 22 or 23 percent of support, was Romney who behaved as if he was the inevitable, above the fray nominee, entitled to win because he had been the runner up to John McCain last time around.

But now there is Newt. Perhaps the last man standing who can take the nomination that for years seemed ordained for the flip-flopping Romney. But as Newt soars in the polls members of the Republican establishment are getting panicky that he might actually wind up winning the nomination and then get trounced by Obama once voters learn about his various crimes and misdemeanors.

And that same establishment does not care very much for Romney. Though they see him as having a better chance of defeating Obama, in the end to them he also looks like a loser.

Could they get behind a Ron Paul? Inconceivable. He's too radical in his libertarianism for them--if he carried out his threat to eliminate the Federal Reserve who would be around the next time their banker friends need bailing out?

Rick Santorum? Too much of a Boy Scout and his shrill positions on social issues such as marriage and abortion would turn off Independents.

Finally there is Jon Huntsman. Though nationally languishing at two percent he is rising in the polls in New Hampshire where he is hoping to come in a surprising second. A more likely outcome there is Romney winning but by less than anticipated with Gingrich and Paul fighting it out for second and third place. Look for Huntsman, then, to drop out after NH. Even his father's billions won't make him competitive in South Carolina or Florida.

So what are Karl Rove and Fox News to do? Try to get Chris Christie to change his mind? If he did all the Obama people would have to do in the general election is run videos of him over and over again saying he is not ready or yet qualified to be president. Lure Jeb Bush out from whatever undisclosed location he is inhabiting? Would the country go for another Bush? Even the "smart one"? I doubt it. My guess is that he is biding his time and plans to run in 2016 when no one will remember that we already had two Bush presidents. If two Adams were enough in the 19th century, two Bushes are enough for modern times.

Out of desperation they could turn to one of their Midwestern governors. A John Kasich or a Mitch Daniels. But I think all of them are involved in recall elections, fighting to keep the voters in their states from kicking them out of office because of their "overstepping" in slashing budgets.

Though GOP party leaders may be feeling frustrated, Rona the other day came up with the solution to their desperation--Sarah Palin.

Rona speculated that she too has been in an undisclosed location but in her case for the purpose of being tutored on the issues so that when Donald Trump, who has reemerged to bring even more chaos to the GOP race in order to get himself on TV so he can remind us that his TV show, The Apprentice, is resuming in early February, when Trump is finished making a mess of the Republican race, Palin will resurface, declaring there is no suitable candidate to take on Obama and thus she is reluctantly entering the fray.

What else is there for her to do? There are no more multi-million dollar book deals for her. Herman Cain and Gingrich have sewed all those up. No $60,000 a pop appearance fees. As he boastfully revealed the other day, Newt is the one these days commanding that much to "lecture."

If Palin in fact comes to the rescue, the media will be thrilled to have their favorite unintentional jokester back to make fun of and Tina Fey will be sending her red Chanel suit to the dry cleaners.

So for a day or two they will rerun clips of her interview with Katy Couric; but then, if the tutoring has worked, they and the hyper-excited GOP base will discover that Palin knows something credible about the "Stans" (there will be no Herman Cain "Becky, Becky Stans"); that she knows where Libya is on the map (again, there will be no Herman Cain moments); that she now knows where Lexington and Concord are (unlike Michele Bachmann she will have learned that they are not in New Hampshire); and she will know which government departments she would eliminate (Rick Perry will be reduced to looking on in amazement as she rattles them off).

She is the perfect anti-Newt who is the perfect anti-Romney. If I were Obama I'd put Air Force One back in the hanger, kick back, and light up a cigar. That is if his Michelle will let him.

* * * *

On the other hand, tomorrow, I will make the case here for Obama not seeking another four years.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

December 6, 2011--Take Back America

We were about 75 miles north of Mobile, hungry, and our GPS indicated there was a BBQ not far from us. The Real Pit BBQ just off I-75.

"Sounds good," Rona said. "I could also use a pit stop."

Fifteen minutes later we spotted it nested among the usual sprawl of gas stations and fast food joints one finds off the interstates. But it appeared to be authentic, not a chain like a Sonny's, and so we pulled up. From the look of it, well tattered more than around the edges, it had been there for some time, well before all the Taco Bells that had sprouted up around it.

Rona smiled, "Once again the old GPS came up with the real deal. It smells great. Now I'm starving."

It was small place not unlike many of BBQ shacks throughout the South. No more than ten-by-ten, about the size of a one-car garage, it had a couple of battered picnic tables around back of the order and take-out window. Four decidedly middle age women were standing around, apparently having ordered; a couple, the husband with a cap that indicated he had been in the Navy during the Second World War; and another man who, from the bulk of him, had made many stops at the Real Pit.

I thought he'd be the right person to ask, "Anything to recommend?"

"Just 'bout anything they serve. I always have the platters. They come with two sides and a drink is included."

"Pulled pork? Ribs? I like both."

"You won't be disappointed with neither." Rubbing his considerable stomach he snorted, "Back in the day I could woof down both at lunch. But now, thanks to my heart, I promised my little lady I'd go easy. So I'm havin' just the ribs today. A platter." He winked at me.

After ordering--a pork platter for me and a sandwich for Rona, we agreed to share my sides--having to wait for the proprietor to put our order together, I stepped back away from the window to take in the scene while Rona went over to the BP station's convenience store to look for a bathroom.

"I see you checking out ma bumper sticker." It was the man who I had asked for recommendations.

"To tell the truth," I said, "I was just looking around." In fact I had noticed it. Affixed to the rear window of what I then took to be his muddy SUV was a sticker that featured a vivid flag and read, Take Back America.

Grinning, he watched me uncomfortably dissembling. "That 'bout sums it up for me." I diverted by eyes and mumbled something that I hope would kill enough time before Rona got back and the food was ready.

"I can tell from your license plates that you're not from 'round here." There was no denying that. Our car with its New York tags was pulled right up next to the Real Pit. "You call it the Big Apple, no?" He got a big laugh from that. "Wouldn't want to live in no place named for a fruit."

I took his full meaning and was not surprised that his version of a rude joke caused him to slap his thigh and double up with laughter which in turn led to coughing and phlegmy spitting. I didn't say anything, again hoping very soon to be able to get lost in my pork platter. I knew, though, it would take a while since the World War Two couple still hadn't been served. But by then Rona had returned.

"I'm sure you're curious what we mean down here 'bout takin' America back."

I wanted to say, "Not really," but thought better of that. So I kept staring at my feet.

"From them illegals. That's what we mean by that. They're takin' over." I knew about Alabama's recent immigration law. It requires schools to check the legal status of children and police to arrest anyone without proper documentation.

"I can see what you're thinkin'. I'm sure you get all your news from that New York Times of yours and CNN and PB-whatever. We'll, from them you'll only get part of the story." I continued to look away, shifting from foot to foot.

"I got a grandson graduated from the university. Took courses in business and I think economics. He's a good boy. Willin' to work hard. Not one of them entitleds. Been lookin’ for a job now for moren two years. Not for somethin' fancy. Just 'nough to help him get a place of his own. So he can marry his girlfriend and move out from his folks' double-wide. But there ain't nothin' for him. What jobs there are have them illegals takin' 'em."

"Sounds rough," I finally said, still not looking up. I could sense Rona glaring at me for mumbling even that much.

"I know you're wonderin' why, if he's so willin' to do anythin', why he doesn't try to get a job in a kitchen or somethin'."

I was wondering that but didn't even mumble something.

"Well, I'll tell you. He's got his pride. Not much else left to him, what with the way things are goin' these days. That's why we have to protect our own. If you ask me 'bout the police stoppin' folks who don't look white, well, I don't feel good 'bout that. No sir. But what we gonna do?" He didn't pause for me to say anything. "As it says right there, we have to take our country back."

Shifting tone, he continued, "I'm not your usual redneck. I don't think Obama's the devil or born in Africa or nothin' like that. I know what he inherited when he took over. I read the paper. I watch TV. Fox, I'll grant you. But some of their programs are balanced enough for even the likes of you." I was happy to see him wink again.

The couple ahead of us had been served. I thought it wouldn't be long now.

"We all have to swallow some pride. The world's changed. We may not be number one like we used to be. 'Nother of my grandson's in the Army. To be truthful with you, i should say used to be in the Army 'cause he got blown up over in Iraq. Three years ago. Still can't get over it.” Now he was looking at his feet. “He signed up right after 9/11. Did four tours. Then they sent him home in a box.”

Still averting my eyes, I managed to say, “Sorry to hear that.”

“He joined up to protect our freedom and because of what they did up there where you folks live. That was an attack on all of us. So he did what he thought he needed to do so his younger brothers and sisters would have a better life and have a good example to follow."

"I'm so sorry," Rona said, reaching toward him. "Not about what he did, which is--was--noble, but for what happened to him. We shouldn't have . . ."

"Let me cut you off right there honey. We did what we had to do. Or least at the time thought was right. Even liberals voted for that war didn't they?" We both nodded. "That's why you have to try to see things from our perspective. I mean those of us who don't have lives like yours."

He quickly added, "I don't mean nothin' by that. I respect you and what you think and how you live. You're here on some sort of vacation and I've never been up to New York. But that's OK by me. I don't resent that. We'll maybe just a little." He grinned at that. "Things can be real complicated. You need to remember that."

"Pork platter, pork sandwich's ready for you. Come and get it."

"Looks like our food's ready," I said. "It’s been good talking to you.” I looked him square in the eye and we both knew we were OK with each other. “I think we'll go 'round back and sit at one of the tables. Thanks for your recommendation about the platter. I'm sure I'll enjoy it."

"I'm next," he said, "I think I'll suck on my ribs in my car." I was glad to hear him laughing and coughing again.

"One thing we agree about," I said to him as we headed for the table, "Things sure can get real complicated."

Monday, December 05, 2011

December 5, 2011--Northern Florida

We have one more day on the road and thus I will get back to blogging on Tuesday.

Friday, December 02, 2011

December 2, 2011--19%?

We're on our way to Florida and as of yesterday made it only to Harrisonburg, Virginia. We are taking a bit of a circuitous route to work in a little sightseeing and to check out some roadfood restaurants. Last night, for example, we had steak at the Local Chop House. Three stars.

Florida thus is still three days away.

But CNN's reporting about the American Research Group's poll of likely Florida Republican primary voters is making me wonder what's in store for us.

ARG claims that Gingrich leads Romney 50% to 19%.

Thinking this couldn't be true, I checked ARG's Website and this is in fact what they found.

Romney feels as if he is cooked and has already been whining on Fox News of all places about some of his quotes being taken out of context. Whining in politics is the sure sign of a loser.

So if it turns out to be Newt vs. Obama I want a front row seat at the debates.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

December 1, 2011--The Ladies of Forest Trace: The New Nuke

This time I placed the call. I was worried. Not about my 103-year-old mother—she continues to do remarkably well--but about what I saw unfolding in the Republican race for the presidential nomination. She is always a good touchstone for matters of this kind and I needed a little motherly reassurance that the world was not coming to an end.

“You called to wish me a happy birthday?” Since it is in June this confusion concerned me. Was she having another . . . ?

“I’m just having a little fun with you,” she quickly added, as usual knowing I was worried about her health. It’s November 28th which means I’m 103 and five months.”

“To tell you the truth I missed that. But . . .”

“But nothing. When you get to be my age you keep count like you do for babies. You know, ‘She’s 14-months old’ or ‘16-months.’ So I’m 103 and five months.” She chuckled, pleased with herself.

“I should have realized this and will make a note to call in late December when you’ll be 103 and a half. That will be something to celebrate.”

“You’ll be here in Florida by then so if I’m still here we can celebrate. I have a bottle of Champaign in the refrigerator that you left when you went back to New York in April. If it’s not spoiled.”

“I’m sure it’s still good.”

“I kept it lying down as you told me to. But you didn’t call to talk about Champaign.”

“That’s true. I called to talk with you about Gingrich. Now with him in first place in the polls and with Obama so weak I’m worried that not only can he get the nomination but he might even manage to get elected. People are so angry that they’re capable of doing almost anything.”

“To tell you the truth, I too am worried about Nuke.”

“Mom, his first name is not . . .” I stopped myself from correcting her since her malaprop, Nuke, seemed so appropriate.

“I was hoping you would reassure me,” I said, “that this is not possible. That you would feel that when it came right down to it people wouldn’t vote for him—I mean in the general election—because of all his baggage.”

“Such as?”

“You know. You follow the news.”

“Yes. In the Herald and on CNN. I listen to Wolf every night in the Institution Room. I like him. He’s Jewish, isn’t he?”

“I think so, but that doesn’t mean . . .”

“I know what you’re going to say; but to me it does. To those of us who remember the Nazis and the anti-Semitism here these things are important.”

“I understand.” And since I really do I left it at that.

“But what were you expecting me to say? That it would be a good thing if Nuke is nominated? That he would be easier to beat that that smooth-talking flip-flopper Romney?”

“Yes. That you would confirm that Gingrich is part of the Washington establishment at a time when people want to throw everyone out, that he has used his position to make millions while serving as a lobbyist and influence peddler, that devout religious people won’t vote for someone for president who has had three wives and committed adultery while trying to remove Bill Clinton from office because of Monica Lewinsky, that his hypocrisy is so extensive that it makes everyone else working in Washington look like straight shooters, that . . . “

“I know the list. I not only watch CNN but Fox too and even they are finding fault with him.”

“That’s my point. That’s what I was hoping you would confirm—that people know about his past and ultimately won’t vote for him. They know he was forced to resign the Speakership because he cheated on his taxes, and they resent how much he spent on his wife at Tiffany’s. I assumed you would feel the same way. But yet . . .” I paused, genuinely confused about my feelings.

“But yet you’re still worried,” my mother picked up where I broke off, “You’re still worried that at this mixed-up time people will ignore what they know about him and because they are so angry and so many hate Obama—including for ugly reasons we do not need to discuss—that he will figure out a way not only to get nominated but also to beat Obama. He may be dishonest and a hypocrite but he is smart and a good debator. People think he knows what he is talking about and that he exudes a lot of self-confidence. Some of the ladies here are already telling me they like that about him. And remember the last time all the girls voted for Obama.”

“The ladies you say like Gingrich even when he’s lying and making things up?”

“Yes. And, sadly, maybe for those reasons.”

“But as time goes by people will remember these things about him, won’t they, and become disenchanted just as they have turned away from the other frontrunners like Rick Perry and Herman Cain? So we shouldn’t be too concerned, right?”

“I’m not so sure.”

“I’m not following you. Are you saying that Gingrich can win both the nomination and the election?”

“I am saying that’s possible.”

“But aren’t the pundits claiming it would be easier for Obama to beat Gingrich than Romney? That Romney’s problem is getting the nomination?”

“That may be, but as I already told you, I am not so sure.”

“Because? Say more.”

“Because Greenrich is coming across as a fresh face. And that’s what people want.”

“A ‘fresh face’?” I was becoming increasingly confused. “How can you say that? He’s been around Washington forever? At least since the 1980s. When Reagan was president.”

“That’s ancient history these days to people who think history began ten years ago.”

“Now you’re making my point for me.”

“Which one is that?” I was beginning to feel sorry I had called. I was hoping to come away from talking with my mother—as I have for many decades—calmed down and clear-headed.

“My point about history.”

“Now I’m not following you,” my mother said.

“That Gingrich has a long history of being part of the Washington establishment and after he left office of cashing in on his access to politicians. And that when people either recall this or for some for the first time learn about it he will either lose the nomination or, if he manages to win it, be defeated by Obama. No?”

“This all sounds good, but I am not so optimistic as you. After what I’ve witnessed during my lifetime it is not always so easy to be optimistic. Not about what the public knows or, when they are afraid and want to be taken care of, about what they are willing to open themselves up to learn. This is why so few study history any more. It makes people confused knowing what they would say is ‘too much.’”

“You may be right. Gingrich may get away with pretending that he is strong. The ladies are right about his seeming to be self-confident, which is something these days that masquerades as strength.”

“People are looking for certainty. Even if it’s misguided.”

“As it always is.”

“But here’s something to be optimistic about.”

“What’s that? I could use something to feel good about.”

“Do you think the American public is ready to vote for a man who spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on jewelry for his wife and then doesn’t pay his bill?”

“Maybe yes; maybe no. I’m afraid he’ll figure out some way to make it seem as if he’s struggling to pay his bills just like everyone else. Even from Tiffany’s.”

“OK. If that doesn’t make you feel better about his chances, do you think Americans will vote for someone whose wife has a hairdo like Nuke’s? With that little wing of hair glued to the side of her head?”

“You may be right about that. As usual, mom, whenever I talk to you I do somehow come away feeling better.”

“Goodbye darling.”

“And goodbye to you. We’ll see you in about ten days. Also, I almost forgot, happy 103rd and five-month birthday.”