Sunday, November 29, 2015

Random Observations for the Post Thanksgiving Lull

Opinion |

A few random observations for this post-Thanksgiving, post-Black Friday day of recovery:
* Donald Trump said recently that if he were president, he would be “bombing the [bad word]” out of ISIS. Five minutes on Google or Bing or Yahoo! or whatever would have turned up U.S. military figures showing we’re already doing that.
In fact, we’re actually bombing ISIS more than we have the Taliban. The Washington Post reviewed data supplied by the U.S. military and found that “from August 2014 to August 2015, there have been 22,478 weapons released over Syria and Iraq, mostly by U.S. aircraft,” whereas only 20,237 weapons were released in the last five years over Afghanistan. Add in the contributions of our allies and of Russia, and I’m not sure how much more [bad word] we can be bombing out of ISIS.
Here’s a radical idea for our pundits and politicians: Before you make strident demands that some group of people do something, do a little research to see if they’re already doing it.
* Speaking of surprising numbers, did you know that 26 people have been killed in jihadist attacks in the U.S. since 9/11/2001, but that 48 people have been killed by right-wing anti-government, anti-immigrant and white supremacist killers during the same period? Did you know that among those 48 are nine police officers targeted, ambushed and killed by professed “anti-government” terrorists specifically because they were cops?
Seems to me that maybe we’re talking about profiling the wrong people. After all, if radical right-wing white people are responsible for so many terrorist acts, then maybe we should be compiling databases and restricting the movement of all white conservative. … No. Wait. That would be stupid. Never mind.
* Speaking of profiling, I’m not sure why some people think it’s a compelling argument to make to me (as some have in the past two weeks) that “47 Democrats voted for restricting entry of refugees from Syria” or that “Bill Maher said Muslims can’t be trusted.”
I’m enormously disappointed in the Democrats who caved in to fear and let ISIS terrorists dictate our refugee policy. As for Bill Maher, I’m certainly baffled as why wingnuts think he’s some kind of liberal spokesman. Also, before you go jumping on Maher’s bandwagon, you might want to check out his views on Christians.
It reminds me of the delicious moment when Sean Hannity invited the late British author and gadfly Christopher Hitchens on his show because Hitchens hated the Clintons, only to end up throwing him off the show because Hitchens started ripping into Hannity’s idiotic claims of a “War on Christmas” before going on to express his contempt for religion in general and Christianity in particular. Again, people, five minutes with Google can save you a lot of grief.
* Speaking of the War on Christmas, I see Fox “News” is going after a national chain because its holiday cups aren’t Jesus-y enough. “Is Starbucks acting more like Ebenezer Scrooge to bah-humbug Christmas?” asked self-described evangelist and Fox News host Kelly Wright. “Some people think so.” Their complaint? Starbucks removed “traditional holiday decorations of Christmas trees and snowflakes on its cups” in favor of a bright, cheery but blank red cup. This, according to Wright, is taking “Christ and Christmas” off the cup.
So let me get this straight. The removal of a pagan symbol of renewal and rebirth (the tree) and a naturally occurring phenomenon (the snowflake), neither of which have squat-all to do with the birth of Jesus 2,000-odd years ago, is taking “Christ and Christmas” off your morning cup of mediocre overpriced coffee. You realize, of course, this makes no sense. But, hey, who cares about logic when you’re a member of the country’s dominant religion attempting to portray yourself as part of some kind of beleaguered insurgent movement?
* Speaking of overreacting to the smallest thing: The White House recently went into lockdown and parts of Pennsylvania Avenue were closed when an unidentified person or persons threw an apple core over the fence. Donald Trump immediately called for a “big, beautiful” wall to be built around Washington State to prevent the spread of the Red Delicious Menace.
OK, I made that last part up about Trump. But the part about the apple core was true.
It certainly does seem as if, in the war against terror, terror is winning.

Monday, November 23, 2015

America Surrenders to Terrorism

What happened in Paris this past Friday the 13th is tragic. Almost as tragic are the number of people in the West whose first reaction was to surrender to the terrorists.
Because, make no mistake: When you use things like the terror attacks in Paris, Beirut and Egypt to ramp up hatred and distrust of all Muslims, when you agree with Donald Trump that maybe we “should look at” closing down mosques, when you use your position as governor of a U.S. state to claim that you’re going to deny legally accepted Syrian refugees into your borders, then you are giving in to terrorism. You are, in fact, giving Daesh exactly what they want.
(A word of explanation: “Daesh” is one name for the group that some call ISIS, some call ISIL, and some just shorten to “Islamic State.” It’s how you pronounce the initials of their name in Arabic. It also apparently sounds a lot like the Arabic word for either “trampling and crushing” or “overbearing bigot,” because Arabic is a very, very strange language.)
In any case, the murdering SOBs hate the name Daesh. In fact, it makes them so mad that they threaten to cut out the tongue of everyone who calls them that. So I call them Daesh mainly because they hate it so much.
Anyway, Daesh has said explicitly in its online pronouncements that one of its main goals is to “eliminate the gray zone,” i.e., the place where Muslim and non-Muslim can co-exist. They say they want to divide the world into the same black and white as their flag, a place where ALL Muslims feel threatened and excluded by non-Muslims and vice versa.
They want to create a world in which Daesh can say, with justification, “Hey, Joe or Jane Muslim, the only safe place for you or for your family is with us and our insane seventh-century interpretation of Islam. We’ll kill you if you stray from our path; the Westerners will just kill you anyway.”
Once they have all Muslims gathered under their banner because the non-Islamic world has driven them out, then they can begin the apocalyptic end-of-days battle they so deeply desire.
To that end, they sow destruction and discord, knowing that America and the rest of the Western countries will be tempted to abandon the values that make them great and draw people to the West.
The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and their aftermath led to not only a shameful willingness to give up more and more of our civil liberties, but also to an explosion of anti-Muslim bigotry.
The attacks of Friday the 13th, 2015, have led to even more fear, which manifests itself in calls to turn away the very people — including women and children — who are running away from the horrific scourge that is Daesh and to send them back into the very hell that these devils have created, a place where their only choices will be to join the armies of jihad as conscripts or to die.
In Daesh’s own words, “Those leaving will only find refuge in the land of the Caliphate.” And this is what we want to agree to?
Another problem with this whole idea of state governors trying to bar refugees from coming to their states is that it’s blatantly unconstitutional.
The Supremacy Clause of Article VI of the Constitution, and years of Supreme Court precedent interpreting that, are very clear that it’s the federal government, not the states, that has “power over immigration, naturalization and deportation.” That’s the 1942 case of Hines v. Davidowitz, if you want to look it up.
You can also look up the case of Shapiro vs. Thompson from 1966, which reiterated the long-held Constitutional principle that it’s a fundamental right to live in any state you want. Once again, the people who claim to revere the Constitution act like they know squat about it.
So I’m looking at you, Gov. Pat McCrory. I’m looking at you, Ben Carson, and now-former presidential candidate Bobby Jindal, and Donald Trump, and even John Kasich (John, you broke my heart. You were supposed to be the sane one).
I’m looking at all of you, whatever your party. When you say “all Muslims are terrorists,” or “stop all refugees at the border,” when you callously propose throwing women and children back into the clutches of the animals they’re running from, or when you say we need to throw aside basic constitutional principles, you're retreating. You’re giving up. You’re helping to create the world that Daesh wants.
You might as well be waving a white flag.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Carson: Not Ready for Prime Time

Ben Carson is not ready. He’s not just unprepared to be the president. His behavior in the last week or so has shown us he’s unprepared to even run for the office.
First, the press began questioning Carson’s claim, made in books and public appearances, that the former commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam, Gen. William Westmoreland, met the 17-year-old Carson at a dinner in Detroit on Memorial Day 1969 and was so impressed that the young man was soon offered a “full scholarship” to West Point.
Except, as investigators from the online news site Politico pointed out, West Point doesn’t work that way. You have to apply to be nominated, preferably in the spring of your junior year. Then you undergo a “rigorous vetting process,” and if you’re accepted, the government covers all the costs.
You don’t just get offered a scholarship after dinner, even if that dinner was with a four-star general. In any case, there’s no record of Carson ever applying. Oh, and as it turns out, records show that Westmoreland was in D.C. that Memorial Day of 1969, not Detroit.
Pressed by reporters, Carson’s campaign backpedaled, telling Politico that Carson’s meeting with Westmoreland was “brief,” and that he “couldn’t remember it with any specificity.” As for the date, they said, well, maybe it was February 1969, not May. Except as Esquire reporter Robert Bateman pointed out, the spring of Carson’s junior year, when the process would need to have begun, was in 1968.
Even more bizarre was the controversy regarding other claims Carson has made about his youth, when his “violent temper” caused him to try to attack his mother with a hammer and, on one occasion, to attempt to stab a classmate.
A CNN investigation, however, found no one from the area or the time period who could remember Carson being such a violent kid or recall any of the incidents he described. So then we were treated to the surreal spectacle of a major political campaign trying to insist that the candidate was TOO a murderous little thug, and they could prove it, but they didn’t have to — so there, liberal media.
It seems that, faced with the type of scrutiny one should expect when one becomes a front-runner for the most powerful job in the world, Carson immediately fell back to the old tactic of whining about how he’s being picked on by the “liberal media” and then added the patently ludicrous claim that no one ever says anything bad about President Obama.
“I do not remember this level of scrutiny for one President Barack Obama when he was running. In fact, I remember just the opposite.” Carson went on to say that “no one wanted to talk about” figures from Obama’s past such as Bill Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn and Jeremiah Wright.
If Dr. Carson thinks that, then all I can say is he must have been locked away in surgery every moment of the years 2007-2012, and that operating room must have been on a desert island with no TV, radio, or Internet. He also doesn’t seem to realize that the fact that all those names come so quickly to his lips directly contradicts the idea that nobody talked about them.
In fact, the so-called liberal media talked incessantly about all of those people, along with questioning Obama’s religion, his college drug use, his grade school, his father, his father’s friends, his sexuality, even whether he was a native-born American. As I’ve pointed out before, when a wingnut complains that Obama was never “vetted,” what he or she is really saying is “nobody bought into the ridiculous stuff we made up about Barack Obama.”
It is absolutely true that, during the now-eternal presidential election cycle, the media engage in a frenzied search for the scandal or gaffe of the week. It is true that they obsess over trivia, to a point so extreme that it’s almost impossible to parody. Remember “Tip-Gate,” when the “serious” pundits were all abuzz about whether Hillary Clinton left a tip in a diner, or whether the tip was too big? Remember Chris Matthews’ shock that Barack Obama ordered orange juice instead of coffee in a diner?
I will agree, it’s all very, very stupid. But that stupidity gets directed at every candidate, and how you deal with it is one of the tests of your ability to lead. To cry that you’re the only one being picked on when it happens to you is the sign of a rookie. An amateur. Someone who’s not ready to play in the big leagues.And this week, Ben Carson proved that he is not ready.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Orange John Does the GOP a Favor

Opinion |

You know, I’ve been hard in the past on John Boehner, the weepy, carrot-colored soon-to-be-former speaker of the House. I’ve mocked him as perhaps the most ineffectual politician ever to hold that high office.

I was making fun of him as far back as his tenure as minority leader, when he whined that he couldn’t get Republican votes for Dubbya’s $700 billion bailout of the financial industry because Nancy Pelosi said something mean about his caucus. I jeered at him when he couldn’t even get the House GOP to vote “yes” on their own bill to keep the Department of Homeland Security open. And so on.
But now, as he prepares to step down from his position, I’ve got to hand it to Orange John: For once, he’s managed to keep his party from shooting itself in the foot, something that they were apparently just aching to do.
At issue was yet another wrangle over the twin issues of averting a government shutdown and raising the debt ceiling, that arguably unconstitutional imaginary cap the Congress puts on our ability to actually pay for things for which they’ve already authorized spending. Failure to raise the ceiling when needed would lead the United States, the greatest country in the world, to default on its debt like some Third World banana republic. Shutting down the government would result in an interruption of vital services.
Nevertheless, the fiscal terrorists of the far right have repeatedly threatened to bring these disasters down on our heads if their demands were not met. This time, they started pressuring Boehner to threaten a shutdown if Planned Parenthood wasn’t defunded. That, however, was apparently dropped in favor of convening a House Select Committee to investigate the already debunked accusation that Planned Parenthood clinics are illegally selling baby parts. After all, they need a new multi-million-dollar bogus witch hunt to get the rubes all worked up about after Hillary Clinton handed them their behinds over Benghazi. Again.
Enter the so-called “Freedom Caucus,” a group of Republican congresscritters so bold and forthright that they will neither confirm nor deny who’s actually a member. This shadowy cabal scotched the bid of California Rep. Kevin McCarthy to take over Boehner’s seat and made a list of demands to any other candidate wanting their support. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell prepared his own ransom note. Both demanded, among other things, serious cuts to Social Security and Medicare as a condition of keeping the government open and avoiding default.
Then Boehner, much to everyone’s surprise, committed an act of actual governance. He and other Republican leaders negotiated a deal with the White House that raises the debt ceiling far enough that it doesn’t have to be addressed again until 2017 — after the next election. It also averts the possibility of a government shutdown until at least the end of the Obama presidency. And it did both without draconian cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
The Teahadists, of course, had a conniption. The deal was a sellout, they claimed, and shows just why Boehner has to go. “I think the process stinks,” fumed Paul Ryan, who’s in negotiations with the Freedom Caucus that might just allow him to take Boehner’s place as speaker without the daily fear of getting their knives in his back. Yet most political analysts think there’s not enough time for the deal’s opponents to stop it.
Inwardly, however, Ryan and the few sane Republicans must be breathing a sigh of relief. Because here’s the thing: Every time there’s a shutdown or a threat of default, their party’s image takes a walloping in the polls.
For example, in 2013, after even a partial shutdown, a Washington Post/ABC News poll showed that 8 out of 10 Americans said they disapproved of it, 63 percent had an unfavorable view of the Republicans in Congress, and “4 in 10 had a strongly unfavorable view of the GOP.” That’s not the kind of damage a party who wants to hold the Senate and take the White House can absorb in an election year. Ryan at least is bright enough to know that.
For all the kvetching and calls of “betrayal” directed against soon-to-be-former-speaker Boehner, he’s handed his party — and the country — a gift on his way out. Most of them are probably too delusional to realize it, but Paul Ryan ought to send Orange John a case of his favorite Scotch for Christmas.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Yay! A New 'Star Wars' Trailer

So everyone’s watching (as of this writing) to see if Joe Biden’s in, out, or still dithering. The Donald and JEB! are exchanging nasty remarks because Trump pointed out, quite correctly, that JEB!’s bro was president on 9/11, something that was once considered treason when a Democrat dared to say it (which few did). It’s all very wearisome.
So of course, what I want to talk about is: YAY YAY YAY, THERE’S A NEW “STAR WARS” TRAILER OUT!
I can’t help it. I’m a huge “Star Wars” geek, and have been ever since the day back in 1977 when I sat with my best buds in the Town and Country Cinema in Aberdeen and watched that enormous white Star Destroyer slide ominously into view, seemingly from overhead and behind us, blasting away at the plucky little Rebel ship.
Even the tremendous disappointments that were the last three movies (the “prequels”) haven’t diminished my affection for what I’ll always think of as the real “Star Wars”: the tale of Luke and Leia, Han and Chewbacca, Obi-Wan and that bad, bad Darth Vader.
Sure, they were hokey. Sure, some of the dialogue was laughable. But those movies drew me in to a fascinating, complex universe full of heroes and villains and great stories, and they haven’t let me go yet.
All that said, after the aforementioned prequels (about which the less said the better), it’s hard for a fan not to feel some amount of trepidation over the idea of a new trilogy. Especially since they’re being directed by J.J. Abrams, whose “Star Trek” reboots were so ludicrous and full of logic holes that I can only get through them by regarding them as comedies.
So, like hundreds of thousands of others, I went to one of the numerous sites running the new trailer for “Star Wars Episode VII-The Force Awakens”, which releases December 18th . I crossed my fingers, took a deep breath, then played the trailer. Actually, I played it several times. Not too many. Twenty, thirty tops.
So far, I have to say, I’m encouraged. It looks like the Millennium Falcon’s back, along with Harrison Ford as the wisecracking, reluctant hero Han Solo. So is his friend, the giant hairy Wookiee Chewbacca.
I’m pleased to say that after the somewhat ridiculous baddies of the prequels (not even the great Christopher Lee could make a character named Count Dooku less than ridiculous), this villain looks truly villainous, in the Vader mold.
In fact, he seems to have a bit of a thing for ol’ Wheezy, since the trailer shows him looking down at a smashed and battered Vader mask and vowing “I will finish what you started.” It looks like the improvements in visual effects are put to good use in what appear to be epic TIE-fighter vs. X-wing battles.
Obviously, a mere rehash of the old movies wouldn’t be satisfying, so the trailer gives us a glimpse of some new characters: a plucky young woman with a staff on her back and a cute little rolling droid that looks like a soccer ball with a soup bowl on top; a tormented-looking black dude who appears to be a former stormtrooper-turned-Jedi; and a mysterious X-wing pilot played by Guatemalan actor Oscar Isaac.
Of course, no “Star Wars” movie release would be complete without some ridiculous controversy. Remember the fuss that erupted back in 1999 over whether the character Jar Jar Binks was a racist caricature, instead of just incredibly annoying? Well, this time, it seems to be white people complaining.
The casting of a woman, a black Englishman, and a Latino in the lead roles led to an eruption on the Internet using the hashtag “#BoycottStarWarsVII” and claiming the movie “is anti-white propaganda promoting #whitegenocide.”
Seriously. “White genocide.” At first I thought it had to be a joke, and there’s some evidence that that’s how it started out. But then it got picked up by actual racists decrying the “race mixing” in the film and referring to director Abrams as “Jew Jew Abrams.” #SMH, as the kids say on the Interwebs (it means “Shaking My Head”).
No matter. I’m not going to let a bunch of racist trolls ruin my enjoyment of Star Wars. There’s only one person who can do that, and his name is George Lucas. When the time comes, I’ll be there in the theater with my heart full of hope and my bag full of popcorn, ready to feel that sense of wonder and to be swept again into a galaxy far far away.

Don’t mess this one up, Mr. Abrams.
HATERS ARE GONNA HATE: The comments in today's Pilot show that, no matter how lighthearted or innocuous the topic, so-called "conservatives" are going to be dicks about it. Like this one from Mark/Francis: 
"Under the guise of a satirical article and sharing with all as you reminisce those days of your childhood, eating popcorn and stuffing yourself with concession stand goodies, once again you have cleverly stirred the pot in an attempt to create racially motivated comments, it seems to be the subject you get most enjoy and one that gives the most return to feed that ego. Try using a bigger spoon."

Get that? I'm not really a fan, I'm just "cleverly" disguising my real intent: to get "racially motivated" comments to feed my ego...comments which Mark/Francis can't keep himself from making. 
What must it be like to live inside a mind so profoundly fucked up? 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Hush Up, GOP, The Grownups Are Talking

So now the first Democratic presidential debate has come and gone. It was certainly a relief to watch grownups at work for a change.
We saw informed people with actual governing experience talking about their very real differences on issues, rather than amateurs insulting one another, mouthing bumper-sticker slogans, and throwing red meat to the so-called “base.”
In fact, the most memorable moment of the evening was when Sen. Bernie Sanders explicitly passed up the opportunity to slam front-runner Hillary Clinton over the latest in the long series of phony scandals ginned up by the Republicans.
“Let me say something that may not be great politics,” Sanders said, “but I think the secretary is right, and that is that the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails!”
Sanders then proceeded to try to re-direct the egregiously shallow celebrity “journalist” Anderson Cooper back to what he called the “real problems facing America”: a collapsing middle class; 27 million Americans living in poverty; and job-killing trade policies. You know, like the ones Secretary Clinton was for before she was against.
Acting decently toward an opponent and trying to shame one of the cable news talking heads into focusing on real issues. Now do you see why I love this guy?
Sanders, unfortunately, exposed a couple of his own vulnerabilities. The left is going to go after him for being “soft” on gun control and voting against the Brady Bill. The right, and Hillary Clinton, are going to go after him for suggesting we should be more like Denmark, even though survey after survey, year after year, finds that the Danes are the happiest people on Earth. But hey, this is America. Who needs happiness?
As for the other candidates, none of them really moved the needle in their direction. Former Sen. Jim Webb stood there looking grumpy and alternating his “Democrats should vote for me because I’m most like the Republicans” theme with complaining that no one was paying him enough attention.
Look, I give Sen. Webb full marks for his service, both in the military and in government. I respect his dedication to veterans’ causes. He’s also a heck of a novelist. But his perpetual scowl and his pomposity make Bernie Sanders look downright jolly. He makes himself hard to like, and I’ve given up trying.
Former Rhode Island Gov. (and former Republican) Lincoln Chafee had a couple of real cringe-worthy moments.
One was when he confidently proclaimed himself a “block of granite,” which someone should tell him is not a real dynamic image. The other was when he blamed his vote in favor of repealing the tattered remnants that remained of the Glass-Steagall banking regulation bill (a move which contributed to the rise of banks that were “too big to fail”) by explaining he’d “just gotten to the Senate” where he’d been appointed after his father’s death.
That response was just a slow softball over the plate, practically begging for opponents to hit it out of the park: “So, not ready on Day One?” However, by the time he stumbled into that one, Chafee had made himself so inconsequential that no one cared to even try and swing at the pitch.
When Clinton was asked later if she wanted to respond to a Chafee attack on her “credibility,” she just smiled and said “no,” which was the worst burn she could have delivered.
As for Martin O’Malley — well, when by the end of the debate, I’m still asking “wait, which one is he again?” then his status as an also-ran is pretty much set in cement.
At the end, however, it was Hillary Clinton who was, as she put it, “still standing.” Actually, that should probably be her campaign slogan. After all, she has been since 1992 the target of one bogus, politically motivated investigation/ smear campaign after another.
Vince Foster’s death, Travelgate, Cattlegate, Chinagate, Filegate, Whitewater, BenghaziBenghaziBenghazi — the list goes on and on. Every single time, her opponents have rubbed their little hands together, cackling with glee and promising everyone that this time, Hillary Clinton’s going to jail, just you wait and see. And in the end, they come away with … nothing.
Every time, investigation has ended up with the investigators slinking away, muttering that they’ve found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing after spending years and millions of taxpayer dollars. As I pointed out last week, I’m a Sanders guy, but even I have to give Clinton points for her tenacity and resilience. She was the clear winner of Tuesday night’s debate, but it’s still early days yet.
Stay tuned.