Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

This Is My Picture Of The Year For 2015


Sunday, December 27, 2015

Politix Update: Best Of The Worst Of 2015, The Year The Ref Swallowed His Whistle

The biggest political story of 2015 was not the emergence of the Vladimir Putin-hugging Donald Trump as a contender.  He's a sloppy second.  The biggest story -- perhaps of many years and not just this year -- is that the Republican Party went into the colorectal system known as the presidential election campaign dumber than a box of hammers at the start of the year and has come out the other end dumber still and threatened with national political irrelevance. 
It actually would be comforting to say that the Democrats, as well as the entire American body politic, are stuck on stupid.  But the Democrats and their supporters are doing a pretty good job of playing it smart, keeping it civil and understanding the needs of ordinary folk, while the Republicans and a good many of their supporters have devolved into xenophobic racists and name calling and blatant lying are de rigueur as the party's chances of recapturing the White House slip slide away even as it strengthens its hold on statehouses.   
Consider that in January, the three leading Republican presidential candidates in most polls were Scott Walker, Rand Paul and Jeb Bush, and that at the end of the year they are Trump, Ted Cruz and Ben Carson, three caricatures who each in their own way are truly scary as well as hugely unqualified to be president. 
How could this have happened?  Because the Republican Party worked very hard to make it happen.  Thinking like a box of hammers will do that. 
This is not to say that Democrats don't have their own problems, although they seem eminently manageable by comparison: The party doesn't have as many younger up-and-comers as it should, its populist message could use some recalibrating, and it cannot afford to begin losing centrists to the GOP should Republicans wise up following a devastating 2016 presidential defeat and perhaps the loss of the Senate, as well, and conclude that hate may not be so effective a message after all.
With the legacy of lessons not learned after crushing defeats in 2008 and 2012 and the magical thinking that has long pervaded the American conservative movement, it's difficult to imagine that suddenly happening to a party whose supporters are attracted to Trump's self-described "tremendous smarts," Cruz's mindless prescriptions for carpet bombing the Middle East back to the Stone Age, and Carson's evocation of Nazi analogies in attacking President Obama. 
And hasn't the mainstream media been doing a craptastic job of covering it all
According to the media mavens, Hillary Clinton continued to stumble badly although she has had the nomination locked up after the first Democratic debate, while Trump was a flash in the pan long after it became obvious he was the smirking new face of the Republican Party.  And, as always, there was an allergy to calling out even the most blatant of liars.
There were some 76 Politix Update columns published during 2015 on everything from The Donald to The Killa From Wasilla that chronicled the Republican year in dumb, as well as some comparatively tame Democratic hijinks, thoughts about President Obama, and other political developments.  Here are some nuggets from those columns (click on the date to read the entire column):
In the last two-plus decades as the Republican Party's drift to the right morphed into a full-blown gallop and the party's base came  to
be dominated by Bible thumpers and angry white men -- and frequently Bible thumping angry white men -- the GOP has won only two of six presidential elections, one because the Supreme Court gave the Constitution the finger and the other because Republicans had perfected their fear machine message and the Democratic candidate was weak.  (March 31)
Jeb Bush, asked last week in an interview in the comfy confines of a Fox News studio of whether, knowing what he knows now, would he support the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he answered that he would have. . . .

After tying his shoelaces together and falling on his face, Bush opined that Hillary Clinton would say the same thing.  That is demonstrably false, although like most senators (but not Barack Obama) she was for the war in 2003 before she was against it.  No, what burned the red, white and blue ass of this veteran is that Jeb Bush defaulted to cowardice.  Because, doncha know, any

criticism of the troops and by extension his former commander-in-chief brother is unpatriotic -- a battle-tested, if vile, tactic from the Republican playbook to tamp down dissent when it threatens to come uncomfortably close to the truth. (May 18)
While no one would accuse presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton of having the wings of a dove, there is little doubt that most of the Republican wannabes who would like to deny her the White House would plunge the U.S. into yet another war.  Or two or three wars if given the opportunity.  This is because they believe in what I call the Doctrine of Perpetual War.

The doctrine goes something like this: Going to war after we're attacked or provoked is so yesterday and isn't what makes America great.  After all, we're inherently better and different than other nations because God blessed ours way back in The Beginning and told us we had to mind everybody else's business.  Besides which, defense contractors create jobs.  So we will be more assertive about war and not hesitate to act unilaterally

by taking out bad guys wherever they may be.  Because we can. (June 21)
There is an undercurrent of angst about the state of the GOP in the otherwise happy-face
pronouncements of many Republicans in talking about 2016, and it is not difficult to see how the GOP has gotten itself into such a fix:  Its once-vaunted ability to speak with one voice was overrated to begin with, while it is Democrats who have closed ranks, especially on social issues.  The party is attracting young voters (aka those damned Millennials) in droves and they tend to be liberal, and while its solid black and Hispanic bases are not so liberal, they generally are progressive when it comes to those social issues.   (July 1)
The sensational early successes of Eugene McCarthy [in 1968] invite comparisons with Bernie Sanders, who like McCarthy nearly five decades earlier, has tapped into a reservoir of disenchantment with the Democratic establishment in the person of Hillary Clinton.

There are indeed similarities, but they will not hearten the supporters of Sanders, a Democrat-turned-Independent and self-described socialist from Vermont: While McCarthy and Sanders were and are men of principle and there is a not dissimilar reservoir of disenchantment, it also does not run deep.  And like McCarthy, Sanders will get very little rank-and-file support, while his quixotic quest will end as McCarthy's did, a mere footnote in the annals of presidential campaign history.  (July 10)
If there is a single issue on which candidates for president agree regardless of party
affiliation or political persuasion, it is that America's middle class is in deep doo-doo and with a wave of their magic wand they will ride to the rescue.  But while that mantra has great appeal, it obscures a dirty secret: No one is going to be able to help the middle class in ways that count. . . .

This is the part of the movie where we come to the biggest villain of our story -- income disparity -- a consequence of rampant capitalism as practiced by the Vampire Elite, the people who are sucking the middle class dry from their big corner offices in skyscrapers across America and, in my view, represent a far greater threat to our security than domestic terrorists or even Al Qaeda or ISIS.  Yet Republicans are in their thrall and most Democrats too cowardly to face them down although nothing less than the future of the tattered remnants of the American Dream is at stake.  (August 6)
There are many reasons, some consequential and others less so, why I don't believe Joe Biden should run for president.

Among them are that Hillary Clinton would be a far stronger Democratic nominee and be able to summon a coalition of supporters, including the party's deep-pocketed liberal elite, far larger than Joe would.  She would be something approximating a shoo-in to win the election, while Joe would not, and will be a

worthy successor to Barack Obama.  And their values, which was of such concern to Beau Biden, are not dissimilar.  It really would be no contest, while Joe seemed to keep tripping over his own message when he ran in 1988 and 2008.  Would a third run be appreciably different?  Possibly, but perhaps only because the press corps digs him so much, and that affection eventually would fade.

But the most important reason is this: Joe always has made his own political fortunes secondary and those of country he serves first and foremost.  There is no reason to stop that now. (August 19)
Has the Republican Party become incapable of governing?  Or so opposed to anything Barack Obama says or does that oiling the wheels of government is merely an afterthought?  Or perhaps beholden to a restive base that so loathes Washington that it equates governance with a sexually-transmitted disease?  The answer is some of each, and the result has been the accretion of layers of partisan gridlock for the last six years, along with the occasional government shutdown, with the prospect of more of the same in an era when political purity for the GOP has become paramount, while accepting the responsibilities that governing in a fractious democracy entail is no longer an obligation. (September 2)
Beyond the experience of burning brain cells at an alarming rate, I learned something important during my 18-month-long slog through the digestive tract of Hollywood celebrity and SoCal culture [covering the O.J. Simpson murder case]: Everyone who touched its third rail case ended up being diminished by it.  So it is too with Donald Trump.

The wake churned up as Trump tacked, yawed and scare mongered across those boiling political seas of summer revealed (or in many cases merely further confirmed) the dubious accuracy of public-opinion polls, the fecklessness of the news media and its

mutually backscratching relationship with the political class, the crass idiocy of the punditocracy, our infatuation with people who have nothing to offer beyond Botoxed good looks, an occasional flash of talent, big houses and fast cars, as well as heaps of money.  Oh, and our political system is so crook that scary numbers of people believe that a man about whom nothing beyond his lion's mane of orangutan-colored hair is real is, in fact, real. (September 8)
While The Donald is easy to criticize and some of his opponents for the nomination are making a cottage industry of doing just that, Dr. Ben Carson can glower from behind that invisible shield so many of us white folks instinctively erect to seal off strong feelings when we don't necessarily like the message and the messenger is black.  (September 16)
A grave question must now be asked in the wake of a Republican meltdown in the House
of Representatives that in the short term threatens the fiscal stability of the U.S. and world markets, as well as the ability of government to function, and in the longer term calls into question whether the Republican Party is still capable of governing, let alone whether its prospects for the 2016 presidential election have been further damaged: Have the Gang of 40 lurched from their patented brand of despicable politics into treason?  Why, yes they have.  (October 13)
Jeb Bush's success was going to be determined, to a great extent, by not allowing his brother's legacy to define him, but he has gone from not wanting to be defined by his brother to using his brother's legacy to define the Republican frontrunner.  Dumb or what?  (October 21)
Sarah Palin is not the only reason for the Republican Party's dysfunction, but her toxic lip lock is evident in the hapless 2016 presidential campaign. 

Taking into account the unelectability of frontrunners Carson and Trump, who have accomplished far more in their careers than Palin even if they are similarly unqualified to hold high office, as well as the rest of the overcrowded field, no party has been in a

weaker position one year from a presidential election in the modern era.  (November 8)
The days roll into weeks and the weeks into months. Not only does Donald Trump hang on, but he fights his way to the top of the pack, solidifies his lead and draws away from the field, looking more and more like the favorite to win the Republican presidential nomination.  And as the days roll into weeks and the weeks into months, a venal know-nothing the party has inflicted on itself morphs from being a  distraction to a nightmare to a crisis.  . . .

The seemingly unstoppable Trump and his renewed threat to bolt for a third-party run if Republican bigs don't kiss his ring may be the greatest crisis the GOP has faced since it debated whether to back emancipationist Abraham Lincoln in 1860 or stand by Thomas Jefferson in 1800 when the young republic's very survival was at stake.  Yes, it's that serious.  (December 11)

Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968.  Click HERE  for an index of previous Politix Updates.


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Our Best Wishes For A Happy Holiday & A Healthy New Year From Kiko's House


DonkeyHotey Is One Of The Preeminent Political Caricaturists Working Today . . .

His send-ups of the high and mighty have appeared at numerous websites and in a slew of publication, and have graced many of my Politix Update columns.  

When I approached Mr. Hotey in his secret lair and asked him to fashion a caricature of My Beloved and Myself, as well as our various critters, based on "American Gothic," the 1930 Grant Wood masterwork, he enthusiastically agreed. Actually, he balked, but after I shared photos of our cute critters and ourselves, he went "Aww!" and agreed.
These critters include (clockwise, from top) our cats Kimba, Iggie, Mister Taj and Django, and Jack and Nicky, our brother-sister chocolate labs.  (All, incidentally, are rescues.)
Then there are the people photos I gave Mr. Hotey: Myself at an Allman Brothers concert and My Beloved back at the shack. Mr. Hotey then worked his magic and transposed the photos onto the "American Gothic" palette. 
Some fine tuning and detail work were then in order, including doing some landscaping and customizing the luggage tags.  Among the tags were an Obama sticker, one of our favorite sayings (based in part on a lyric from "Compare to What," Gene Daniels' legendary anthem to irony) and a kangaroo because My Beloved is an Aussie lass.
Presto, chango, and Mr. Hotey worked his magic.  

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Musings On The Winter Solstice: Lights Out, Deer Gone & Some Snow Insurance

It was a gorgeous summer here at the mountain retreat, and the fall has been sublime, the foliage  spectacular shades of reds, yellows, magentas and browns, and the hills alive with the sound of chainsaws, and thankfully not deer hunters' rifles.  But the big news as we celebrate the winter solstice is that the lights have gone out for Jack.
We're not exactly sure when that happened, but as our lovable lug of a chocolate Labrador retriever
slowly recovered from a close encounter with death around Thanksgiving 2014 from just-diagnosed canine diabetes, it became obvious that he was beginning to lose his sight. 
Jack had not been feeling well for some time.  Had we not realized that, his sister Nicky certainly would have let us know.  Bloodwork and a urinalysis revealed that he had a urinary tract infection and was diabetic, which he may always have been.  The Dear Friend & Conscience began giving him insulin shots, which we continue to administer twice a day (29mg doses, if you must know).  The infection cleared up but he began to show hindquarter weakness, almost certainly a form of neuropathy, which grew steadily worse and prevented him from jumping on the couch, chasing squirrels and doing other things he's not supposed to do. 
Was this a result of diabetes?  Probably not.  Was it genetic?  Possibly so, but because Jack and Nicky were adult rescues, we know nothing about their first four years or lineage. 
Jack was not ready to move on.  By the beginning of January of this year, he was showing signs of rallying, in part because of his insulin regimen, protein-rich food and supplements, including a Tibetan kidney cleanser which he gobbled up in spoonsful of wet catfood.
Jack continued to rally through the late winter and spring, but it became obvious that he was going blind, a frequent result of canine diabetes.  No matter, Nicky was there to lead the way, and we to help him to address stairs and other obstacles.  The house, yard, walking paths, fields and creek and river were familiar even though he could barely see them, and we substituted his blue rubber ball with a slightly larger day-glo ball which he seemed to be able to kind of see for a few weeks. 
We would not have hesitated to row Jack out to sea, figuratively speaking, if the quality of his life had become seriously compromised, but it hasn't.  He swam in the mountain creek through the unseasonably mild autumn just past, his ball gripped firmly in his mouth, alert for our gentle admonishments -- "careful," "there you go," "good boy!" -- called down from the bank so he was able to have some sense of where he was. 
We didn't think Jack would be with us last Christmas, and now we're about to celebrate another one together.  That will be our best gift of all.
The reason there weren't the usual reports of deer hunters' rifles echoing through our valley this fall is because there aren't any deer. 
While I respect the right of people to shoot game for food -- and there are too many people hereabouts who live deep in the woods, barely scrape by and must
supplement their meager diets with wild game -- the vast majority of hunters with their expensive sighted rifles, lavish orange garb and big over-accessorised pickup trucks are in it for the thrill of the kill, and that I don't respect. 
Deer hunting is a linchpin of the tourist industry and so popular that schools still close on the opening day of the fall rifle season (there also are bow and flintlock seasons), but this year all hunters could do was stand around and brag about whose pickup truck had more chrome before retiring early to the nearest bar for rounds of beers and shots.  There simply are no more bucks to be slaughtered to speak of, while doe season was severely limited so that population could be replenished and in a few seasons the bang-bang carnage can begin anew. 
"Our" doe hasn't reappeared yet, but we have to assume that she is okay. This beautiful lady has been coming out of the deep undergrowth on the mountainside over the past few years in the late spring to show off her foals to us and graze at the foot of the yard before slipping away to hide during hunting season. She returns after the New Year when bow season is over and we put out cracked corn and a salt lick for her when there is a substantial snow cover.  Shh! Don't tell.
Let's call it snow insurance.
We've been hand shoveling the mountain retreat for years.  This includes a long driveway, turnaround, access to the wood shop and coal bin, as well as walks. There have been some pretty big storms in recent years because of global warming, not despite it. 
By the end of the winter of 2011, snow was stacked four feet high, and we had snow walls nearly that tall at the end of last winter, which made lugging buckets of coal from the bin to the basement or  navigating the walk from the front door to the driveway and mailbox kind of like walking through tunnels.
And so we've invested in a powerful two-stage snow blower that throws the white stuff into the next county.
We had to do it because Jack, of course, can no longer see, and we need to be able to clear a safe path for him no matter what. Then there's all those achy backs.
Besides which, having a spanking new snow blower guarantees that it'll be a light winter. It's gonna be 70 degrees on Christmas Eve, so we're off to a good start. Right?  Right.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Politix Update: All's Fair In Love, War & Politics, Now Get Back To Campaigning

As secrets go, the fact that Debbie Wasserman Schultz is in the tank for establishmentarian Hillary Clinton and not an impartial Democratic National Committee chair isn't exactly earth shattering.  All that was needed for that bit of messiness to burst into the open was an excuse to lean on insurgent Bernie Sanders, and a not-so-smart computer wonk for Sanders's campaign provided one.
Did the punishment fit the "crime"?  Should the Sanders campaign have been denied access to its own important voter information after it was found last week that the campaign’s national data manager took advantage of a software glitch in the central DNC's voter information database to extensively mine Clinton data from all 50 states that he was not entitled to?  Possibly.
But having found an excuse to punish Sanders, who most annoyingly for Wasserman Schultz has been delaying if not spoiling Clinton’s coronation, as well as try to sully his reputation as a Mister Clean, Wasserman Schultz found herself on the receiving end of a firestorm of allegations -- and not just from Sanders supporters -- that she has made it more difficult for Sanders and Martin O'Malley to raise their profiles.  That includes scheduling most of the few Democratic debates on Saturday evenings when people are watching football or otherwise engaged.
Wasserman Schultz came off sounding more like an opponent of Sanders than an impartial party big and didn't like the heat she was taking, so the DNC announced less than 24 hours after the breach became public knowledge that an agreement had been reached to restore the Sanders campaign's access to its voter files.
I had thought the DNC might string Sanders along for two or three days before relenting, but the damage was done.   The Clinton campaign and its surrogates could get all huffy, including former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, who tweeted that the Sanders camp "should be careful playing the victim," while Sanders's aides could portray themselves as insurgents being unfairly penalized by the party establishment.
"They stole data as a reason to raise money for their campaign," Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook cried after Sanders's campaign sent supporters a fundraising email titled, Urgent: DNC tipping the scales for Hillary Clinton.
Meanwhile, somebody should tell Josh Uretsky, Sanders's fired national data director, to shut his pie hole.
Uretsky continues to insist that he had merely been trying to verify the data breach to see whether the Sanders campaign's data might also be vulnerable, which is unbelievable on its face since user permissions were given to other Sanders staffers during the 40-minute breach and a number of lists, some 25 by one count, were created.
Nobody "won" in the Datagate mudfest, and it was not exactly the civil war that Politico and other outlets called it, but Wasserman Schultz may be the biggest loser.
She has not exactly been a tent builder, and there has been a simmering feud between her and vice chair Representative Tulsi Gabbard, who has called for more than the measly six debates scheduled by the chair.  (There were 16 in 2008.)  
Most voters won't give a rat's ass about intra-party squabbling, something we're far more used to hearing about from those feckless Republicans.  But there is a consequence to Wasserman Schultz's sycophancy.  I hate to break it to Sanders supporters, but he's not going to win the nomination and that will have zip to do with Wasserman Schultz.  Clinton may need every vote she can get in the general election, and Sanders supporters who stay home on Election Day because they're sore about how the DNC treated their Bernie could be a problem -- if not a disaster.  Can you say President Cruz?
As I wrote in June 2008 when the proverbial shoe was one another foot:
"Like radio waves reaching earth from some cosmic calamity millennia ago, the yarbling of Hillary Clinton sycophants who believe that her candidacy was gang banged into extinction by the mainstream media, right-wing bloggers and Barack Obama acolytes can be faintly heard, although it is so much background noise as Clinton herself and practically everyone else who is determined to take back America link arms and march toward November.
"Has it only been five days since Clinton's extraordinarily gracious concession speech? It seems like light years in this corner of the universe where the political landscape changes by the news cycle, and yet some diehards just can't seem to face up to the reality that the fancy evening gowns they bought so they could dance the night away with Bill and Hill at her inaugural balls will have to be returned.
"The most obnoxious of these diehards claim that their refusal to turn the page, let alone return their dresses, is a sign of gender solidarity, while the most extreme of the obnoxious howl that for good measure they will vote for Mr. McCain or not at all, even though that would improve the chances that it will be John and the woman he has referred to by the four-letter name for her sex organ might be tripping the light fantastic come the evening of January 20, 2009.
 Can you say President Cruz?
Bernie Sanders showed again during the third Democratic presidential debate on Saturday night that why he's still not quite ready for prime time, that actually makes him more of a stand-up guy than the opposition.  Sadly, none of that matters in what passes for politics today
Although terrorism and ISIS are the big story of the moment, Sanders prattled on in his opening remarks about "establishment politics and establishment economics," the nation's "rigged economy," the "corrupt" campaign finance system, and then the "planetary crisis of climate change" before . . . um, noting that, by golly, he too wanted to destroy the Islamic State. 
The impression persists and grows that Sanders remains somewhat bemused that he's made it this far, and he's been more comfortable with calling his campaign a movement than making it one. 
It is one of his two greatest "weaknesses" -- an honest streak, by golly -- that keeps him from going all out against Hillary Clinton, who certainly is vulnerable on a number of fronts but once again emerged unscathed on Saturday night.  The other "weakness" is a reluctance to focus on anything more than his own message, and that message isn't patting frightened Americans on their heads and telling them he'll kill those bad jihadists, which happens to be Clinton's message and a winning one. 
Clinton also is a damned good debater and has been adept at softening the few punches thrown by Sanders.
"Should corporate America love Hillary Clinton?" ABC News moderator David Muir asked after Sanders called her out the other night on her Wall Street ties.
"Everybody should," Clinton responded to laughter all around.  So let's leave it at this: Sanders's supporters love him for who he is and not the candidate he needs to become.

Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968.  Click HERE  for an index of previous Politix Updates.