May 24, 2010 --
DIARY OF A DISPEPTIC OBSERVER OF THE PASSING PARADE
Monday, May 17th
Started the week out a little slow in the news department, welcomed after the events of last week. What did we learn today?
That Republicans continue their mad rush to get as far right as they possibly can. Is there a contest? Will there be prizes? In the state of Maine, the party platform calls for abolishing both the Federal Reserve and the Department of Education. Utah decided Senator Robert Burke was not conservative enough to be allowed to be on the Republican ballot even though in his three terms to date he seemed to be a conservative poster boy. You would think these states are trying to turn into Texas.
In Paul Krugman’s NYT column today he reminds us of the kind of Republican Party platforms typically generated in Texas. He didn’t have to remind me because I’ve read them and aside from resembling sermons from tent revival meeting they call for such things as eliminating the Federal Reserve, returning to the gold standard, and killing both the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency. As Krugman points out, those were in the platform in 2000 when Texas Republicans who wrote those planks shared their top political executive with the rest of the country, who bought it only to get penalized for eight years. That’s what happens when you do not read the fine print.
It came to light that GM made its first profit in three years, reporting a sales increase of 40 percent. Was Toyota’s loss GM’s gain? Can Obama come out from under the hood now?
Tuesday, May 18th
One of our treasured national institutions discovered it may have a PR problem. Photos of Rima Fakih, just crowned Miss USA, turned up showing her participation in a pole dancing contest, and God forbid that one of their driven-snow-pure bikini-clad contestants should be associated with anything as suggestive as pole dancing. In her defense, Miss Fakih was conservatively clad in shorts and t-shirt during her performance.
There is a passage in the musical Oklahoma about the star performer in a burlesque house in Kansas City which went: "I could swear that she was padded from her shoulder to her heels, And then when she started dancing well her dancing made me feel that every single thing she had was absolutely real" and so it was in a way at the Miss USA contest where, as the first Arab-American was the winner, underneath the burqa and into the pageant’s bikini she was absolutely real. And why not? No reason why any beautiful, scantily clad American girl cannot pursue fame, fortune, and the ultimate, centerfold shots, regardless of ethnicity.
As for Elena Kagan, I thought everyone had already had their say, but Monday Pat Buchanan weighed in on her nomination to the Supreme Court. On Tuesday Gabe Pressman, of NBCNewYork.com gave this account of the Buchanan column: “Pat Buchanan has calculated that, if she is approved, it will be three Jewish justices out of nine on the Supreme Court. That makes it one third or 33 1/3 percent. And Jews make up less than 2 percent of the U.S. population. – so it’s obviously a grave injustice.”
This would be funny if it weren’t a product of a sick mind. Buchanan fails to note that the other six are Catholic. Six out of nine is two thirds, or 66 2/3 percent, while Catholics make up 22 percent of the population. And he can’t get away with lumping Catholics with Protestants, such as the evangelicals for a “Christian” court. Doesn’t he remember what Al Smith and J.F.K. went through as Catholic presidential candidates? That much of the country worried that the Pope and the Vatican would dictate U.S. policy, a worry still with us when some Catholic Bishops threaten excommunication for casting the “wrong” vote?
By the Buchanan reasoning there should be only 1.8 Catholics on the Supreme Court. Women make up over 51 percent of the population but with Kagan will have only 33 1/3 percent share on the Court. And who will represent the 8 or 9 percent of the population that are gay? To get the percentages right, considering the inevitable decimal points, we are going to have to accept the products of some mixed marriages. To be fair perhaps Pat would at least accept a shiksa wife in a union with a Jewish man.
(Yes, shiksa is something of pejorative term, but we are dealing with the world of Pat Buchanan here and it is catching)
Keli Goff, political pundit who has appeared on TV with Buchanan, put this post on Huffington: “The fact that America is becoming more colorful, culturally and racially speaking, clearly has left him and some others, on the verge of a nervous breakdown … I actually worry that if we manage to elect a half black, half Hispanic, lesbian, practicing Jew to the White House during his lifetime he (Pat) might have to be committed.”
Wednesday, May 19th
The day brought this headline:
“GULF OIL AGAIN IMPERILS SEA TURTLE”
Many years ago when people actually read light verse Ogden Nash wrote this little gem for the New Yorker magazine as I remember it:
The turtle lives 'twixt plated decks
Which practically conceal its sex.
I think it clever of the turtle
In such a fix to be so fertile.
We could add to that today, the following:
Awash in oil those plated decks
Require an agile form of sex
So can the turtle learn to cope
And still have sex? We can but hope.
Meanwhile the oil keeps goggling up from a mile under the Gulf, BP keeps coming up with new solutions to fix it so far with no success, Congress keeps threatening BP with a giant fine, fingers are being pointed in every direction, the Administration is reorganizing the departments in charge of oversight, scientists say it is worse than we think it is while people up and down the coast hold their breathes. This drama has a long way to go before it plays out.
Results of the much-touted political contests held on Tuesday have the Democrats holding onto the late John Murtha's seat in western Pennsylvania, the real event since the others are primaries. Voters rejected Senator Arlen Specter as a Democrat, so he gained nothing by switching parties even though his new found friends in the Administration backed him. In Kentucky the Tea Party prevailed and chose Rand Paul, son of Ron, to be their Republican candidate despite the efforts of party stalwarts like Mitch McConnell, Dick Cheney, and others in his camp on behalf of their hand-picked guy. There will be hard-core analysis of the significance of these races as well as the rejection of very-conservative-but-still-not-conservative enough three-term Senator Robert Bennett from Utah from now until November. Their names are going to become household words.
NYT columnist David Brooks said: “I stand back in respectful silence when the voters decide it’s time to kick the powerful in the private parts.” He sees Washington as “home to ideological purists giving top-of-their-lungs speeches on C-Span.”
As for the future, Brooks sees: “In a year, we could be in the middle of an era of political warfare that makes the polarization of the past decade or so look like battling tops. That should be fun.” Fun for him to write about but I would rather take my fun in some other form.
I’ve got to admit though when he says, “Sometimes I think God designs the universe specifically to give you column fodder,” I’ve got to agree with him. He made that statement in reference to the adventures of family values Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) who admitted to having an affair with a part-time employee, Tracy Jackson. What makes this so juicy is that the married Mrs. Jackson acted as an interviewer with the married Mr. Souter for a video promoting abstinence education. They were for it. Apparently just talking about sex led them to sex. Some observers are outraged because the two had their trysts in taxpayer funded public parks. For God’s sake, get a room.
Souter blames the “'poisonous environment'” of Washington rather than any failing of his, which is real Chutzpah, although in a way he is right. Politicians used to move their families to Washington. Now they just jet home on weekends leaving them alone and vulnerable the rest of the time. You didn’t expect them to have higher standards than the rest of us, did you?
The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank points out that the House Republicans of '94 stand out: “No fewer than 15 of the 73 elected in the landslide that year have entertained the nation with flaps that include messy divorces and a suspicious car accident.” You wonder what their class reunion is like.
As if Brooks needed more fodder for his column it turns out Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat now running for the United States Senate in Connecticut, never served in Vietnam despite on several occasions referring to his bogus war record. The New York Times, apparently alerted by the Republican who will run against him, found out he obtained at least five military deferments from 1965 to 1970 and took repeated steps that enabled him to avoid going to war. “We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam” was the kind of thing he said several times. It seems we have now learned something important about Mr. Blumenthal since the time he didn’t serve in Vietnam.
Thursday the 20th
Today we learned details of what was only the second State Dinner of the Obama Administration on Wednesday. Jay Leno made the joke about feeding the President of Mexico on Mexican food, and I suppose it was if you call wagyu beef Mexican. You certainly couldn't call it TexMex. Guest chef Rick Bayless, from Chicago’s Topolobampo and Frontera Grill, served Oregon Wagyu Beef in Oaxacan Black Mole, Black Bean Tamalon, and Grilled Green Beans. As honored guest, Felipe Calderøon, President of Mexico no doubt enjoyed the meal but I would not think it particularly exceptional considering that some finest cuisine in the world is routinely found in Mexico. Thirty years ago the publisher of El Norte, the prestigious daily newspaper in Monterrey, took me to lunch at his private club and I still can taste the exquisite bone marrow sauce.
A word of warning: if you do as I did and Google “tamalon” be sure you don't end up on the Urban Dictionary site by mistake which will give the definition as slang for huge female genitalia. For a moment there I thought the Chicago culinary scene had gone triple X although it seems in cuisine the item is an oversized tamale which you slice like jelly roll.
While here Calderón spoke to a joint session of Congress saying his country was making extraordinary investments in confronting drug-fueled crime. He also called the new Arizona law a “terrible idea.”
In his defense he did not point out that the U.S. is the big market for drugs, but he did make it clear that our lackadaisical attitude toward guns is part of the problem. He pleaded with us to restore the ban on assault weapons. Guns used in the Mexican gun war are easily bought in gun shows in Arizona and other parts of our country. Traffickers seized 75,000 guns and assault weapons in Mexico in the past three years, and more than 80 percent of those have been traced back to coming from the United States. The gun wars have caused 23,000 deaths. I hate to say this but we invade other countries for lesser reasons than that.
A ban on assault weapons is not going to happen. The NRA owns Congress. Remember how Glenn Beck got tearful over the ban on catching certain endangered species of fish as unfair because fathers would not be able to bond with their sons in the good old American way of taking them fishing? Can’t you see him doing the same thing, saying fathers could no longer bond with their sons by taking them hunting with assault weapons?
Thursday afternoon the Senate voted to close debate on the much awaited financial regulatory bill. Two Democrats and 38 Republicans opposed it. The decisive vote was cast by the new kid on the block and always surprising Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) whose arrival in the Senate knocked off the needed Democratic 60-vote majority. Those two rare independent Republican thinkers from Maine, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, also went along with the Democrats. In Shakespearian terms, they are sort of the Goneril and Regan to the Lear of Mitch McConnell, Kentucky’s senior senator and the G.O.P. Senate leader.
Before it becomes law it must be reconciled with the bill adopted by the House last December (almost six months ago … the Senate moves at the pace of a garden slug). It also must consider an amendment offered by Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), an amendment which I find very puzzling. Please follow me here. There must be something I don’t understand.
At President Obama’s suggestion the bill calls for the establishment of a financial consumer protection agency to guard against fraud, bait and switch, the awarding of loans to unqualified people etc. by the lending business. The 18,000 automobile dealers in the country are crying foul, saying they can’t make a living under those regulations and must have an exemption. What? Are they saying the only way they can stay in business is to cheat, misrepresent, lie and in general manipulate their unsuspecting customers? I must admit there are certain car dealerships that I bless myself when I pass by but I don’t want to tar them all with the same brush. I have known some who are very nice people. Really.
The other thing about this that strikes me odd is that their senatorial champion is Sam Brownback, probably the most religious man in the chamber, who you expect then to have the highest moral standards. Are shady loan practices moral? There must be something more to this than I can see. I will have to get back to you.
The pentagon wants the regulations because of the toll such practices are having on the forces. Auto dealers, their employees, and political action committees made political contributions of more than $9.3 million in the 2008 election cycle, most of it to Republicans. Will money prevail?
After his win in the Kentucky Republican primary Tuesday over the party chief honcho’s favorite, Trey Grayson, Rand Paul is getting a lot of attention as commentators trot out his stand on many subjects. He has advocated abolishing the Federal Reserve and the Department of Education, raising the age of Social Security eligibility, slashing spending deeply enough to balance the budget every year while cutting taxes, social services to be taken care of by charities, is pro-life, anti-gay marriage, anti-immigration, and believes we should not fund or join any international organizations. His stand on Civil Rights? Anything that is a part of the federal government should be integrated, but no private business should be required to serve or employ anyone they don’t feel like they want. If he doesn’t win the seat he should move on to a great career ahead of him at Fox News. He is the candidate of the Tea Party Movement, a creation of Fox people.
Friday the 21st
The day has things slowing down a bit. The maelstrom of news and commentary is for the most part the rehashing and analyzing of previous events. Joe Conason, in Salon, uses the case of Democratic candidate for senate Richard Blumenthal who blatantly lied about military service in Vietnam to remind us of blatant lies told by two of our past presidents, which were never big news.
(In fairness this ran Thursday but I read it today, including it in Friday in a Blumenthal moment).
Ronald Reagan spent the entire time of World War II making training films, honorable duty. Never left Hollywood, yet on two occasions publicly told a story of how he and his film unit had shot footage of the Nazi concentration camps as they were liberated. The Paul Web site, Rand and Ron, suggest this was a sign of early dementia.
George Bush in his autobiography let ghost writer and aide Karen Hughes embellish his service in the Texas National Air Guard. Had him flying long after he was dropped for one reason or another, even has him volunteering for active duty. Bush, like several sons of prominent political figures or contributors, was the beneficiary of the way the man running the program operated. The waiting list for Texas Air National Guard was a year and a half even for men already pilots, but a simple phone call from your prominent father and you were in a matter of weeks, as was Bush. It is not clear why he was later dropped from the program. Failing to show for a mandatory physical exam? Misbehavior? Nobody cares now but Dan Rather, who would like to be vindicated taking such a hit for reporting about it.
Ruth Marcus in the Washington Post revisits the case of Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN). “It takes a politician to simultaneously preach abstinence and play footsie. It takes a grown-up to be such a hypocrite.” Politicians and toddlers, she said, should be put in time out.
Saturday the 22nd
Today was a hangover day for citizens of Texas and all of the other states that rely on textbooks blessed by the Texas Board of Education. Friday was the day the Board took up what students should be taught about separation of church and state in Social Studies. Their position? America’s laws and government should be based on the Christian Bible that despite all evidence to the contrary they believe was the intent of the founding fathers. Not much question about which Bible they have in mind. The damage this group of elected members is doing will affect a generation of young people. Perhaps the rest of us could gather and take heed from the Old Testament, and publicly stone them. Put that in the Social Studies text book.
Richard Blumenthal won his primary despite “pants on fire” and will be the Democratic candidate for Senate from Connecticut this fall after all. He has been very popular in his state for years, even and particularly with Veterans to whom he has been very supportive, kind of like a Band of Brothers spurious tough it may have been. Lie, lies, lies from Reagan, Bush and Blumenthal. Picture Zero Mostel in a rendition of “Tradition.”
Sunday the 23rdThe day finds columnists reflecting on one thing or another. NYT columnist Frank Rich suggests that due to the 24 point win of Rand Paul in the Kentucky Republican primary “Randslide” may now become a part of our political vocabulary. Maureen Dowd takes up the lies of politicians question. She quotes Bella DePaulo, a psychology professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara: “Your lies often reveal who you wish you were.” Richard Blumenthal, the current case in point, after six years in the Marine Corps Reserve became a fierce advocate for veterans’ rights and like the Kafka character who turned into a giant cockroach somehow morphed into a Marine who had served in Vietnam. Sure he served. And I am the King of Romania.
In fairness we might cut Blumenthal some slack; the voters did. The Times article itself was criticized as flawed, influenced by his political adversaries, quotes taken out of context of larger sentences that might have made it clear he was misspeaking and nowhere on his Web site or resume does he claim to have served in Vietnam. But in his enthusiasm he was wrong never the less, going over the top. Time out, Mr. Blumenthal.
NYT columnist Thomas Friedman reflects on how global events affect us all, and what we may pass on to the next generation. He quotes veteran global investor Mohamed El-Erian, “The world is on a journey to an unstable destination, through unfamiliar territory, on an uneven road and, critically, having already used its spare tire.” Friedman has this from Winston Churchill: “You can always trust the Americans. In the end, they will do the right thing, after they have eliminated all the other possibilities.” Friedman asks: “Is that still true for our generation? We’re going to find out. The time for bluffing ourselves is over. Are we going to do what it takes to fix our country, or are we going to be remembered as the generation that received more poker chips from their parents than any other and then had to turn around and toss a single chip to their kids and tell them to put it on ‘Lucky 21’ — and hope for the best.”
The report that should make the hair on the back of your neck stand up and bristle is the account by Barrett Sheridan in Newsweek of the Texas Board of Education debates on school curricula. Read it if you can stomach it.
The most disturbing member of the ten hidebound Republican members of the 15 member board is Don McLeroy, a creationist, former school board member, and dentist from Bryan, Texas.
Here are a couple of samples of his/their efforts:
• students must learn to "evaluate efforts by global organizations (like the UN) to undermine U.S. sovereignty."
• they should "contrast the Founders' intent relative to the wording of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause, with the popular term, 'Separation of Church and State.'”
• the name of Joseph McCarthy should be cleared
• Instead of using the term U.S. "imperialism" make it "U.S. expansionism." Using “imperialism” by Europe and Russia is quite in order.
What McLeroy has done is as welcome as a root canal.
You might say this was the weekend for “Lost.” After a six-year run it was a wrap for the much vaunted TV program “Lost”, when, in the words of Agatha Christi’s Hercule Poirot “All will be revealed.” Or has been revealed by this time.
I am one of the individuals in North America and all the ships at sea who has not seen nor followed the program or at least was familiar with its content but the name seems a good metaphor for our time. So much has been lost in the last decade. For the last week even, for that matter (the Dow Jones lost 4.02 percent). My Mother used to tell the story of a day when a young man came to her door, said he had been told that he had lost a part of his mind somewhere around there and asked if she would let him look for it. With some concern about confronting him, she allowed him to poke around here and there and finding nothing, he went on his way. Parts of our citizenry seems to me to have lost a part of its mind. I hope someday soon they locate it.
Columnists have been raising the possibility of another “Lost Generation.” I came into being at the beginning of the last one. I hate to go out in the middle of another one. Couldn’t we have a new show called “Found”? And let that be a metaphor for a new beginning?