Young’s Legacy Lives on

... Pits Pro-Life David Jolly vs. Pro-Abortion Alex Sink |

You will no doubt be hearing a lot of pontificating about last night’s special election over in Pinellas County. And some pundits will tell you it was a referendum on Obamacare.

I have no doubt that’s one reason David Jolly (above, left) trounced Alex Sink (above, right) in yesterday’s congressional contest. A lot of us codgers live in this part of Florida, and we’ve been told President Obama robbed Medicare Advantage of billions to provide health care for poor (code word for minority) families. That means higher copays and deductibles could be looming for us, and I guess a lot of us aren’t that self-sacrificing.

The president had no choice, I suppose. There were so many “fiscally conservative” Democrats in Congress – and so much Republican resistance to taxing the rich - that he was obliged to find the money somewhere or his health care reform would never have seen the light of day.

But I think it was Bill Young – the ghost of Bill Young, the legacy of Bill Young – that won the election for Jolly.

I remember Bill Young from my days at the Clearwater Sun and the Tampa Tribune. He was a grand master of the art of political survival. It seemed everybody was a friend of Bill Young. He was personable, affable and approachable. He was always ready to lend a hand when a constituent had a problem. And he brought home the bacon.

Back in those days, individual congress members could add ”earmarks” to the annual budget, loading it with projects for their districts.  Here’s an excerpt from the AP story announcing his death at 82 years old last October:

 Mr.  Young  brought hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks back to the Tampa Bay area, and built up a military contracting industry in the region, creating jobs and lifting the economy. 

It’s no wonder  he kept getting re-elected. He served 22 terms in Congress.

David Jolly worked in Young’s office before he became a lobbyist. Many Pinellas voters might remember him from those days. They certainly remember Bill Young.

And I have to wonder if some people voted against Sink because she is a woman. Or because she was a banker. Or because she is not a very good campaigner…

I suspect those are among the reasons she also lost the governor’s race to Rick Scott.

And there’s another troubling factor in yesterday’s loss – a lot of Democrats didn’t bother to vote.

Obviously, there was more to this special election than Obamacare.

Click for the news story.

Click for an AP story on Bill Young.

Click for more on David Jolly.

Click for low-turnout story.

Click for an analysis of the race.


“Most Miserable” States Cling to Policies of the Past

Back in 1979 – after one of those Ontario winters – I decided I’d had enough of the cold, the snow, the ice storms and the darkness, and made plans to head south. As soon as I got the immigration red tape sorted out, I put an ad in Editor & Publisher, offering my skills to American publications. Among the replies was one from Enid, Oklahoma and another from Clearwater, Florida. I’m sure you can guess which one I chose to interview for.

Oklahoma is one of the last places I would choose to live in.  Even the pictures of the place are daunting. And there are those horror stories about tornadoes wiping out homes, businesses and schools, leaving a trail of tears in their wake.

So I am not surprised to see the state listed among “America’s Most Miserable” by this year’s Gallup-Healthways survey. Pollsters asked 176,000 respondents various questions designed to determine their quality of life, and came up with the following “misery” ranking:

1. West Virginia; 2. Kentucky; 3. Mississippi; 4. Alabama; 5. Ohio; 6. Arkansas; 7. Tennessee; 8. Missouri;  9. Oklahoma; 10. Louisiana.

Residents of these “miserable” states are among the most likely to suffer from health problems such as high cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as obesity, according to the study.

Do you notice that nine of the 10 states vote Republican? And the other one – Ohio – is what the pundits call “a toss-up.”

Tell me, if you were obese, sickly and miserable, would you vote for the status quo? Or would you go with “Hope and Change”?

To me, the stubborn loyalty of these unfortunate people to  the failed policies of the past is the great mystery of American politics.Take West Virginia, which has been the “most miserable” of all for the past five years. They’re loyal to the coal industry, which has been inflicting the worst kinds of suffering on them for generations. They don’t care what coal does to them – or the rest of us. They vote for the politician who will fight for the industry and stave off any kind of environmental regulations.

Scanning the comments below the Yahoo News item, I got a glimmer of enlightenment. Here’s an excerpt from one comment that offers a peek into the minds of these “miserable” Americans:

I was reared in the 1950s. My Dad worked as a laborer while my Mom stayed home with the six of us kids. They always made sure we had something to eat (it might be beans, potatoes, and bread), we had clothes and shoes to wear, but there was little extra. I can’t remember anyone wailing, crying, or gnashing their teeth over our situation. You see, we didn’t know we were poor. Everyone living in the entire area surrounding our home was in the same boat. We, of course, realized that in other parts of the town other people lived better than we. But, we didn’t see this difference day-in-day-out so it didn’t bother us.

What they can’t see doesn’t bother them. So they bury their heads in the sands of time and take pride in their stoic misery.

Go figure.

Click for the Yahoo item.

Click for the 10 happiest states.


The Showdown of 2016

I’m nervous about making predictions for November’s mid-term elections. But I wouldn’t hesitate to say who I think will win the presidency in 2016. After all, November is close enough for you to remember my forecast, while 2016 isn’t.

Not that anyone is asking for my picks. But why not? I’ll tell you what I see coming, and you can tell me why I’m wrong. It’s a favorite game of the TV pundits.

Even Grover Norquist (of “poopy-head” fame) is touting a tip sheet. I read this morning that he says the Republican nomination for President will go to one of six likely candidates – New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Texas Governor Rick Perry, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul.

What a wimp. Why not go out on a limb and pick the winner? Who’s going to remember two years from now?

And it’s a sorry looking list, isn’t it?

“Boss” Christie might well be in prison by 2016. Walker is a union-busting flunkie who was taped taking orders from billionaire Charles Koch on the phone. Rick Perry – oh my God, Rick Perry? Wasn’t he the nitwit who couldn’t remember the three federal departments he wanted to trash? As for Bobby Jindal, I am haunted by his creepy response to the President’s State of the Union address back in 2009. Remember?

I am pretty sure Jeb Bush isn’t running. Why would he? He has far-reaching business interests that might be damaged by the negativism of a presidential campaign. Besides, he is too reasonable for today’s Republican primary voters. The party has moved so far right that loose cannons like Ted Cruz are the base’s favorites.

That leaves Rand Paul.

I think Paul will win the nomination (beating out Cruz, who is not in Norquist’s list). Paul has the name recognition. He has the fund-raising clout. His anti-war stance has widespread support. And – here’s the trump card – he has his daddy’s political machine.  Ron Paul has a very well organized political infrastructure all over the country. He has been putting the thing together for years.

Scary, isn’t it?

Rand Paul, in bed with white supremacists and anti-abortion extremists… Rand Paul, in favor of letting kids go hungry and sick people die if they can’t pay their own way… that Rand Paul.

But I don’t think we need to worry. He is going to be facing Hillary Clinton.

And Americans are too sane to pick a cold-hearted libertarian nut like Paul when they can choose a bright, compassionate, capable woman like Hillary. I predict that not only will Hillary take the White House in a landslide but that voters will have had enough of the crazies who call themselves Republicans nowadays and give the Democrats both houses of Congress.

And what about this November?

I’ll have to think on that some more.

Click for the Norquist list.


In a Dumb World, Brilliant Invention Dazzles Me

You read about the incredibly stupid utterances of demagogues like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, about the “expert” who says homosexuals are preordained to go to Hell, about the clumsy power seekers in places like the Ukraine, and you might think the world is getting dumber and dumber.

And then you read about inventions like 3D printing.

My brain cannot completely grasp the intricate technology that produces such marvels. (To tell the truth, I am even in awe of the smart phone, but that’s probably just my age.)

If I can believe what I read, it’s possible to design a three-dimensional object  on a computer and “print” it out on a 3D printer. The breakthrough is based on a process called Stereolithography (SLA).  As my poor brain interprets it, the technology uses ultraviolet rays to harden liquid resin into solid objects, which are mapped out by computer signals.

What kind of objects?  How about a door knob? Or an architectural model?

Not impressed?

How about airplane wings, musical instruments, auto parts … Or sweets and chocolates?

And how about this excerpt from a recent New York Times article:

A University of California professor is working on printing out an entire house. Another 3-D artist has sculpted a “cyborg hand” that lets his son (who was born without several fingers) pick up a water bottle. More disturbing, a group called Defense Distributed claims to have produced a working gun from open-source plans and then printed it out.

 Still shrugging those jaded shoulders of yours?

Try shrugging off this report by Sarah Gray, which I read in this morning:

… the ability for 3D printable organs to have a potential for blood supply  – the life-force cells need to bring them the nutrients and oxygen — is a huge advancement in 3D printing bioengineering.

Ms. Gray is talking about human-type organs. The kind doctors could use to replace your real organs. How’s that for advanced technology?

So who is this brilliant innovator who gave mankind the 3D printer?

You won’t find his name in the gossip columns or Yahoo News. You won’t see him on the Jimmy Fallon show. But you can Google him.

His name is Charles Hall, and his pals call him Chuck. He is a 74 year old American, and I think he lives in South Carolina (at least that’s where his company, 3D Systems, is located).  And he is being inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. The announcement was made  on Tuesday.

Didn’t see the story? That’s probably because it was published in such popular news sources as I guess it wasn’t sexy enough for the mass media.

It’s a dumb, dumb world, after all.

Click for the New York Times article.

Click for Ms. Gray’s report.

Click for Chuck Hall’s induction story.

Click to see 3D printers.

Click for what they mean to us.

Click to read about gays going to Hell and other dumb statements.


Gun Crazy – and Loving it!

“Freedom-loving” Americans are supposed to feel relieved when they hear that the National Rifle Association “will not go quietly into the night,” that the organization will forever fight for “the right to survive and protect our families with all the rifles, shotguns, and handguns we want!”

That was the message NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre brought to the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington DC yesterday.

“The NRA’s five million members and America’s 100 million gun owners won’t back down, not now, not ever,” LaPierre said. “Our Second Amendment in this country separates us from any other country on earth. It makes us better than other countries and it makes us stronger than other countries.”

The way LaPierre painted it, America’s freedoms are under siege by “elites” in politics and the media. He warned darkly of a menacing conspiracy designed to rob Americans of “the core freedoms that have always defined us as a nation.”

This sounds very ironic to me.  From where I sit, it’s the NRA and its allies that are conspiring to manipulate American politics. They’re the ones who spent $3.4  million in 2013 lobbying to block gun control legislation – even such innocuous measures as background checks. They’re the ones who wrote the infamous Stand Your Ground law and persuaded state legislators to vote for it.

They’re the ones who spent nearly $19 million to influence the 2012 elections.

They’re the ones with an “enemies list” so far reaching that it even included the mayor of our Florida town. They supported his opponent’s campaign because he had the temerity to add his signature to a letter from dozens of American mayors asking the President to do something about the massacres occurring all over the country.

Surely it’s the NRA and the greedy gun manufacturers that are engaged in a conspiracy to subvert American democracy?

But, of course, the audience at CPAC didn’t get it. They cheered LaPierre’s rant so loudly he had to repeat passages in his diatribe to be heard above the crowd.

The CPAC audience also went wild earlier in the conference when Mitch McConnell brought a rifle onstage (photo above) and presented it to his retiring colleague, Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn. It was a Lifetime Achievement Award from the NRA.

It seems the right have a thing about guns. I guess brandishing a weapon makes them feel empowered. But what makes them think “our core freedoms” include the right to be exempt from background checks? Who in their right mind wants homicidal maniacs and serial killers to own guns?

It’s not the Second Amendment that makes America strong and free. It’s a system of government based on the will of its citizens.

McConnell and other right-wing nuts can brandish guns to their heart’s content. But it’s the ballot box that remains the weapon of choice in the United States of America.

Now, that’s a “core freedom” worth fighting for.

Click for LaPierre’s rant.


Horrors! Food Stamps are Being Used to Buy Seafood!

I don’t watch Fox News so I have to take Jon Stewart’s word for it, but apparently the crusading cable network has uncovered a new and menacing abuse of the welfare state. From Stewart’s scathing response to the Fox program, I gather crab legs and fresh salmon are the specific kinds of seafood that offend the network’s pundits.

What is the world coming to? Next, the Obama Administration will relax the rules and let mothers buy diapers with those state-provided coupons.

Imagine the poor having clean babies! I bet Fox would have a fit.

Looked at from the perspective of Fox News and the new American right,  those Reagan-era “Welfare Queens” were outrageous enough. But now look how the situation has escalated. Crab legs indeed! Let them eat cake! Let them eat collard greens! Let them eat hog jowl! Let them eat chitlins!

For Canadian readers, I should explain that food stamps are coupons the government sends to low-income Americans (in Florida  – and probably other states - the coupons have been replaced by electronic cards). From what I hear, they’re not easy to come by. You have to prove you’re in dire straits and even then some hard hearted bureaucrat might turn you down. And there are limits on what you can buy with the coupons. Strict limits. They can’t even be used to buy toilet paper. Or aspirins. Or cough drops.

But, apparently, crab legs are not among the prohibited purchases.

Yes, I know. The Canadian government doesn’t send out food stamps. Like governments in most civilized countries in the 21st century, the Canadian government sends poor people a check. They can buy anything in the world they want with the money.

Wait till Fox hears about that!

Where’s the shame? Where’s the humiliation? Where’s the punishment for being poor?

American conservatives would never stand for such coddling. If they had their way, I bet they would make welfare recipients display some kind of scarlet letter – P for Poor, perhaps. Or W for Welfare.

In fact, I bet they would block government aid altogether – except to the oil companies, agribusiness and other big corporations.

They would like to see the poor begging by the side of the road as they used to in “the good old days.” Or depending on churches and private charities for sustenance.

You can be sure poor folks wouldn’t be eating crab legs then!

Click for Jon Stewart’s show.


Putin’s American Fan Club

If you think about the comments coming from right-wing politicians in America, you have to wonder why they admire Vladimir Putin so much.  One after the other, the familiar warhorses trot up to the microphone to tell you how “decisive” Putin is and how much they despise President Obama’s “waffling.”

Rudy Giuliani, John McCain (and sidekick Lindsey Graham, of course), Sarah Palin…

The Putin fan club parade marches on.

Their complaint?

President Obama thinks twice before putting Americans at risk. He seeks the advice of experts before pursuing a course of action. He ponders all sides of complex issues before making decisions.

It’s no wonder Sarah Palin says he “wears mom jeans.”

I find this display of hero worship for Putin quite revealing. It opens a window to the fantasy world inhabited by the American right, and the view is remarkably similar to that in which Putin holds sway.

It’s a comic book kind of world, where problems are solved with POW! and WHAM! and SOCK!  It is a world of action figures and dramatic confrontations.

It certainly seems that Putin sees himself as that kind of action figure. He rides – and wrestles – bears. He shoots tigers. He catches huge fish. He’s the man!

When he felt the Russian-speaking minority in Georgia were being persecuted, Putin sent in the cavalry. When ethnic Russians seemed at risk in the Crimea, he rode to their rescue once again, no questions asked. Mother Russia to the rescue!

So what if he is in violation of international law? Did James Bond care about international law?

Superheroes don’t read the fine print. They take action.

Of course a moose-hunting Wonder Woman like Sarah Palin would admire that kind of thing. And of course Rudy Giuliani  – the self-proclaimed hero of Nine-Eleven – can relate to Putin. So can “war hero” John McCain.

They live in the same kind of self-glorifying fantasy world that Putin seems to inhabit.

After talking to Putin on the phone, German Chancellor Angela Merkel concluded he had lost his grip on reality. And he might have. He seems to be so immersed in his own narcissistic fantasy that he hardly noticed it when his wife of many years divorced him. In his recent press conference he was rambling and incoherent. His declarations are so obviously false that he must know nobody believes them.

But what if Putin is putting on an act? What if the former spy is staging a PR show for the benefit of simple-minded observers? What if he has more complicated motives for his actions? What if he has a more far-reaching and menacing agenda than he admits?

What if it’s the American right who have lost their grip on reality?

Click for Palin’s mom jeans comment.

Click for Giuliani’s opinions.

Click for McCain’s view.


November’s Vote Could Turn the Right Loose on America

I can’t understand why but it looks as if the Republican Party could win control of the Senate in November – and keep the House. That would put an end to President Obama’s ambitious program. And it would mark the beginning of an all-out war by the federal government against such “aberrations” as non-procreational sex and racial integration.

I know, it sounds crazy. This is 2014 after all, not the eighteen hundreds.

But this is America, and it seems that a lot of Americans, especially in rural areas, hunger for a return to the “good old days.” when marriage was the only rightful place for sexual intimacy, and the missionary position was the only respectable way to do it. In this mythical “golden age,” men married women and women married men – end of story. God was the only one who decided if and when a woman had children (the God of Abraham, of course, not some heathen deity). And black folk knew their place.

In those days, a (white) man’s home was his castle, and the lady of the house deferred to his desires.

Indeed, in this surreal universe, the white male was the one who was made in God’s image (the white woman was made from the man’s rib) and it was the white male who was given dominion over all other creatures, including white females and non-white people of both genders.

This Godlike creature had sinned – not him personally but his original ancestor – by disobeying the Almighty, and was obliged ever after to eat bread by the sweat of his brow. It was up to him to share that bread with whomever he pleased, not up to any secular authority to take part of it from him and give it to some lay-about.

I know, you think I’ve gone stark, raving mad. But consider the policies being promoted – and implemented – by Republican legislatures across America. A blizzard of anti-abortion laws, for example – and proposals to curb birth control… Voter suppression laws targeting ethnic minorities… Stand-your-ground legislation that legitimizes the murder of young, black males, who are presumed to be threatening by their mere existence… “Religious freedom” bills that would give anyone the right to discriminate against anyone else on any grounds because of any religious belief…

Consider the debates going on in the Republican Party. I read this morning that some Republican strategists are suggesting the party abandon attempts to appeal to non-whites and openly face voters as white America’s political voice. I have also read arguments by Republicans against requiring hospitals to treat indigents. And there are some who now say the government has no obligation – and no right – to try and help the poor.

You might think this is the path to political suicide, considering the changing face of America. But not so fast. Some 65 percent of the American electorate is still “Caucasian.” And most American families, although not wealthy,  live above the poverty level.  I can’t imagine the majority of these people embracing the new Republican philosophy, but what if they do that? What if even some of them do – enough to swing the vote in November?

What if the Republicans convince enough of the mainly white, mainly self-sufficient American elecorate that Obamacare takes from white retirees and gives to non-white children? What if the swarm of lies generated by the right-wing propaganda machine hit home? What if deep-pocketed crusaders like the Koch Brothers overwhelm Democratic candidates with attack ads?

It is a prospect too frightening to contemplate. But contemplate it we must if we hope to avoid it.

Click for more on GOP and white America.

Click for a preview of November’s elections.


The West’s Secret Weapon


Vladimir Putin is cunning but that doesn’t mean he’s wise.  Sure, his invasion of the Ukraine looks like a shrewd gamble. Especially invasion of the Crimea. Stalin’s bloody ethnic cleansing left Russians as the overwhelming majority in the Crimea, and Kruschev’s gesture of ceding the territory to the Ukraine was empty symbolism. After all, at that time the entire region was part of the Russian dominated Soviet Union.

Naturally, the Russians in the Crimea are happy to welcome Putin’s troops. You may have seen them on TV cheering and yelling for Russia to take them back.

As for the rest of the Ukraine, resistance to Russia would be futile without military support from the West. And I don’t think the West is prepared to go to war with Putin. Not now, with the echoes of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars still ringing in their ears. But they don’t have to. And that’s where Putin is making a big miscalculation.

It wasn’t military might that brought down the Berlin Wall. It wasn’t troops that won the Cold War.

The Communist economic model failed.

And if Putin tried to bring it back, it would fail again.

He is reportedly trying to create an economic trading bloc to rival the EEU and he needs the Ukraine to make his plan work. But I don’t think he is contemplating a separate economic system. Russia has been there and done that. And since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Russian interests – legal and illegal – have jumped into the global marketplace with both feet.

But the Russian economy has struggled under Putin and the ruble has lost significant value. I am sure the various power elites in Russia are not jumping up and down with joy.

An article in Politico quotes “a senior administration official” as saying Russia risks being cut off from Western banking and finance networks if Putin does not reverse his course on the Ukraine.

And that’s where the West - especially the US, which is the keeper of the world’s reserve currency – has an ace in the hole.

If President Obama succeeds in isolating Russia economically and financially, the country’s “elites” would be hit where it hurts – in their wallets. They would inevitably turn against Putin.

The Russian strong man should think twice about the path he’s taking. But, of course, he won’t.

Click for Obama’s options.

Click for more on the Russian economy.


Here Comes the Boom?

What do you do if you are the President of the United States and you are informed that Russia has invaded the Ukraine? Of course you deplore this unlawful aggression. And of course you demand immediate withdrawal of the invading troops. And of course your demands will be ignored.

So what now?

Especially if you intensely dislike the smart-ass who runs Russia and he feels the same about you – only more so.

I know what John McCain would do. I know what Dick Cheney would do.

And I know what dozens of pundits and other influential people will do. They will sit in their safe, comfortable offices and armchairs and urge the President to let loose the dogs of war. Again.

And if he is persuaded?

Once again, the battle weary doughboys (or dogfaces – or whatever they call them now) would go marching into harm’s way. Wives and husbands, fathers and mothers -and wide-eyed kids who were just getting to know their parents again - would see their loved ones shipped off to someplace they can’t even spell, let alone find on a map, to offer their lives and limbs in the service of their country.

From what I have read, the invaded Ukrainians have a right to expect US intervention. There’s compelling evidence that American organizations were involved in fomenting the anti-Russian revolt. And the rebels are expecting more than canceled trade agreements and sanctions.

But Russia is not Iraq. Vladimir Putin is not Saddam Hussein.

Conflict with Russia would indeed be the Mother of All Wars.

So what does the President do?

Vladimir Putin is not a prudent statesman with a firm grasp of the Big Picture. He is a narcissistic ex-spy who likes to bare his manly chest and wrestle bears. His “tough guy” image is legendary  (photo above). His prudence is not.

You can’t pick up the phone and call the guy, talk it over with him and come to a sane solution to your differences.

Besides, what do you say? Hey Vladimir, I know we Americans got the Ukrainians riled up and helped them kick out their legally elected president because he signed a financial agreement with you instead of joining the EEU. But, hey, can we still be friends?

I don’t think so.

Who would stand with Russia if America stood up to Putin? The EEU surely. And the UK perhaps. Japan, too, I guess. And South Korea?

If South Korea jumps in, North Korea is sure to respond.

And where does that leave North Korea’s patron – China?

I don’t even want to know.

Of course President Obama has foreign relations experts who get paid (handsomely) to give him advice.  And he has those medal-encrusted old guys at the Pentagon, who are sure to remind him that America’s troops have seen far too many deployments already.

I bet they will suggest reinstating the draft if he decides to go to the mat with Putin. What else could he do?

Do you remember Vietnam” Do you remember the protests? Do you remember “The Sixties”?

I do.

Click for news of the Ukrainian crisis.

Click for President Obama’s position.

Click for more on Putin.