Monday, February 29, 2016

Politix Update: FUTURE

Conservatism doesn't build its identity on presidential candidates. It builds its identity on a series of hatreds and grievances, some temporary, others ongoing. Yes, there's a gradual evolution, so Cleek's Law is accurate:
today’s conservatism is the opposite of what liberals want today: updated daily.
But there isn't going to be a revolution -- certainly not one brought about by the collapse of a presidential campaign -- because the resentments developed and accumulated after Trump will be added to a solid foundation of old resentments that predate Trump. The GOP's true leaders aren't politicians, they're the media figures who stoke these resentments. (That's why, even in the midst of the war over Trump, the ratings at Fox News are still strong.)

Politix Update: Repubs Filled Trump's Swamp, But Now They Don't Want To Drain It

In an extraordinary example of journalistic myopia, The New York Times trotted out a lengthy think piece this past weekend headlined "The GOP's Last-Ditch, Frantic Effort to Stop Trump."   
The nut of this 2,500-word thumbsucker was that Republican bigs acknowledge they have been much too passive about Donald Trump's emergence as a powerfully seductive candidate with extraordinarily vile views and as a result he is now on the verge of locking up the presidential nomination. This, in their horrified and probably accurate view, will lead to a crushing defeat in November and the loss of the Senate, several statehouses, destruction of the modern Republican Party, and God knows what else.  But The Times got it exactly wrong: It was not passivity that spawned the ascendancy of the mighty Trump, it was years of activism by the bigs themselves to transform the party from a reasonable conservative voice into a swamp where someone like Trump could thrive.   
The Times is not alone in getting it wrong.  The political news media cannot function without certain narratives to which it reliably hitches its coverage.  Overall, little of that coverage is original and there is little incentive to be original; it is so much easier to play it safe by following and not leading.   
Two of the widely accepted narratives of this campaign season are that Bernie Sanders has a chance against Hillary Clinton and that Republican establishmentarians were blindsided by Trump. Never mind that the narratives are often wrong, and these two certainly are. 
Considering the flapdoodle that those establishmentarians have been peddling for years as the Republican Party drifted deeper into the swamp from the shores of Reaganland while patronizing a restive party base, it is not surprising that the base has moved from merely restive to openly rebellious as voters carrying pitchforks and torches have pretty much hijacked the party and opened the door to a misogynistic pretty boy endorsed by hate groups.   
(As for that Sanders-Clinton thing, Bernie is toast.  End of story.)   
The Times article does get one thing right in citing "a nearly incapacitating leadership vacuum and a paralytic sense of indecision and despair" as Trump has conquered primary state after primary state and appears to be on the verge of locking up the nomination after tomorrow's multi-state Super Tuesday primaries, or at least will head into the nominating convention with enough delegates to set the terms for the first brokered national convention since 1948 and the yummy prospect of a prime time TV spectacle that will make the Demolition Derby seem like a church picnic and indelibly tarnish the Republican brand.  
"Resistance to Mr. Trump still runs deep," states The Times in noting that the party's biggest moneybags, including billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch, remain opposed to him but have no appetite to throw their money at any effort to stop him.  But the article tip-toes around why this is so: The opposition to Trump is less his despicable views than the fact he is not one of them. He is an outsider with a mind of his own, and the insiders are a bunch of platinum-embossed cowards who are afraid of the wrath he would unleash if they publicly opposed him.
The closest that party bigs came to pushing back against Trump was a scheme hatched by party strategists Alex Castellanos and Gail Gitcho last fall to create a super PAC called "ProtectUS" that would take down Trump.   Castellations went so far as to produce ads portraying Trump as unfit for the presidency, but no major donors committed to the project and it died aborning.
"We want voters to imagine Donald Trump in the Big Chair in the Oval Office, with responsibilities for worldwide confrontation at his fingertips," read one ad.  How prescient.   
For those of you keeping score, I mark the nomination of Sarah Palin to be John McCain's vice presidential running mate as the moment where the party chose the swamp over higher ground.  Nearly eight years on -- following two crushing defeats in presidential elections and the likelihood of a third in November -- the destruction that the former half-term governor of Alaska has wrought is immense.  And continues to grow.   
Much like the party establishment's fear of incurring Trump's wrath, no one of prominence spoke out against this narcissistic, power abusing kook and liar before her selection was validated nor after she dragged down the ticket on Election Day 2008.  And, of course, she has endorsed Trump.   
Hillary Clinton took a swipe at Trump in her South Carolina victory speech on Saturday night: 
"We don't need to make America great again," she declared.  "America never stopped being great.  But we need to make America whole again.  Instead of building walls, we need to be tearing down barriers."
Beyond their cowardice, the big problem for Republicans is less getting Trump out of the swamp than the swamp itself.  Party bigs filled it and no one is willing to acknowledge that it needs to be drained. 


© 2015-2016 SHAUN D. MULLEN.


Sunday, February 28, 2016

You Can Now Add Blackmail To The Long List of The Du Pont Company's Sins

The last time we looked in on Du Pont, a 214-year-old company that in so many ways was Delaware, the once mighty chemical giant was floundering in the corporate wilderness.  Badly.  
This sad state of affairs is substantially self inflicted.   
Du Pont was unable -- no, make that did not have the smarts or the will -- to adapt its brilliantly successful decades-long strategy of pouring much of its profits from wonder products into developing still more wonder products as the world around it changed in dramatic and unexpected ways.  What Du Pont did do was set out on a course to render itself irrelevant. 
It has hemorrhaged thousands of jobs through a series of jujitsu-like contortions to fend off financial market vultures while unsuccessfully trying to grow profits and market share, and its latest attempt at reinvention is a merger with almost-as-venerable Dow Chemical. 
The purpose of the marriage with this bosom buddy world-class creator of amazing stuff and toxic waste was further breaking up the companies.  That is not a misprint, because truth be known, the companies don't have a lot in common.  Wall Street has noticed. 
This latest jujitsu move led to an extraordinary development -- Du Pont blackmailing Delaware:  If the state didn't pony up big bucks, Du Pont might not keep its corporate headquarters there.   
My sister astutely remarked when the merger was announced last December that it was a consequence of what she called Corporate Alzheimer's, and she knew of what she spoke because our father worked for Du Pont from the time he graduated high school until a few months before his death at age 61.   
Formally known as E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, or Uncle Dupy, as we called it, Du Pont was an outsized presence in Wilmington from the time E.I. emigrated from France, where he faced tough competition, to the young American republic, which had a growing market for blowing up things.   
From the modest gunpowder mill E.I. opened on the banks of the Brandywine in 1802, Du Pont grew into a global giant that owns an extraordinary 21,000 patents for wonder products like Freon, Kevlar, Lycra, Nomex and, of course, good old Nylon.  (Teflon has been quietly dropped from the A-list after Du Pont's decades-long cover-up of the virulently toxic qualities of PFOA, one of Teflon's precursor chemicals, was revealed.  Millions of dollars in legal settlements for myriad cancer-related deaths later, better pots and pans now carry "PFOA-free" labels.)   
Anyhow, Du Pont's buildings dominated the Wilmington skyline, its name and those of various family forebears were on highways, university and school buildings, country clubs, a hotel and theater. 
Du Pont's influence was mostly for the good.  It treated my father well, looked out for our mother after he passed, and kept us in No. 2 pencils and notepads while we were in school, as well as a steady stream of beta-stage products like tooth and hair brushes, and tires for our Chevy Parkwood station wagon, that never wore out.  And because we had a safety engineer dad, we were the first family in our neighborhood to have seat belts in our cars. 
Blackmail is a strong word, but that too often is the coin of the realm these days when it comes to corporate relationships with states and municipalities.   
In Du Pont's case, an incredibly deep historic bond with a state and city counted for bupkis, and officials were told they had a mere 10 weeks to save a two-century-old relationship by putting together an incentive deal larded with enough tax breaks, subsidies and capital improvement assistance to persuade Du Pont to keep thousands of jobs in Delaware and not move them to Iowa or Indiana, the other two states in competition for Du Pont's corporate carcass.  
Delaware emerged poorer but semi-victorious as Du Pont announced that they had decided to keep two of the three businesses that will be spun off from the Dow merger in Delaware.  The cost of the blackmail is dear: $56 million by my calculations, which includes $17 million in sweeteners and a loss in corporate income taxes of nearly $39 million.  There also is the teensy question of how much of the revenues the post-merger businesses generate will stay in Delaware.
The irony-impaired hometown News Journal rhapsodized the other day that the deal "is proof that Delaware knows how to step up and get the job done under a tight deadline."   
To me it's proof that a company my father devoted his life to was incapable of aging well, let alone graciously, and turned out to be just another rapacious, money-grubbing corporation that will stop at virtually nothing to get its way.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Politix Update: The Breathtaking Cynicism Of Chris Christie's Trump Endorsement

I will admit to having been shocked when the news broke that Chris Christie had endorsed Donald Trump, but that lasted a mere nanosecond as my brain, pickled by innumerable assaults against reason and logic in this grotesquery of an election season, quickly if only somewhat belatedly shifted into gear with the exclamation "Oh, he wants to be Trump's attorney general."   
While that may not be the whole story, it a big part of it.  Another big part of it is that he is breathtakingly cynical, as well as vengeful.  Still another big part of it is that barely 12 hours into Trump's worst news cycle following a debate where Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz tag teamed him, he helped Trump recaptured all the attention with the endorsement. 
The pundits, of course, are all atwitter, writing about what Christie brings to the Trump candidacy, this for a man who finished in sixth place in New Hampshire only a few votes ahead of the Nashua dogcatcher.  As Colonel Potter would say, horse hockey.  This is a man who is shamelessly ambitious and wants to get on the alpha dog's good side, period.   
Only a few days ago, the bombastic Christie said of Trump, "We are not electing an entertainer in chief.  Showmanship is fun, but it is not the kind of leadership that will truly change America."   
And Christie was doing drop-dead funny Trump imitations: "Beautiful, marvelous wall," went one in a perfect parody of Trump's voice.  "An incredible wall.  The wall is gonna be unbelievable.  The wall is gonna have a door, the door is gonna open and close and good people come in, the bad people go out.  It's gonna be an amazing wall.  It's gonna be a beautiful wall and the Mexicans are gonna pay for the wall."  
On Friday, the wisecracking had morphed into, "He's a good friend.  He's a strong and resolute leader and he is someone who is going to lead the Republican Party to victory in November."   
What is unsettling about the Christie endorsement is that it is another indication that a Trump nomination is becoming acceptable to more and more mainstream Republicans despite his overarching ignorance and bigotry.  
Occasionally in politics, ego-driven windbags who have created auras of inevitability around themselves fall to earth.  Our prayers having been answered with Christie's epic crash and burn, many of us will be praying that now happens to Trump when we kneel at our bedsides tonight.
What happens to these buffoons is that their balloons burst.  The wheels come off their wagons.  The wind goes out of their sails.  But they are the last people in the room to get the joke, so evidently fraudulent that they think they're wearing a custom-tailored twill suit with a snappy designer necktie when they step to the podium at a rally but people in the audience see an overbearing jerk wearing boxer shorts and a sweat-stained t-shirt several sizes too small with an all-day sucker and not a microphone in their hand.  Or they have a smirk on their face and an incredibly weird hairdo.   
So it is with Chris Christie and his new best buddy, Donald Trump.

© 2015-2016 SHAUN D. MULLEN.

Friday, February 26, 2016

'Come Witness The Wonder, You May Be A Guardian Of This Precious Land'

Dorothy Miller died this week.  If you're from the Newark, Delaware area, where I spent many a happy year, you may not have known Dot, but certainly are aware of the open spaces and streams that have been saved from desecration without knowing who to thank.  Well, you can thank Dot, whose legacy will live forever.   
Dot was a diminutive woman who tended to blend in with the scenery.  If you did happen to catch a glimpse of her, she was probably hiking a trail in the verdant depths of the White Clay Creek Preserve, binoculars in hand, looking for a ruby-crowned kinglet or the the distinctive woven pouch nest of the northern oriole.    
About Dot's legacy: She was the big gun (pardon the term) in the coalition that fought the Du Pont Company's plan to dam the White Clay, which would have created a reservoir of several thousand acres,
submerging dozens of historic structures.  A magnificent habitat for rare flora, including wild orchids, and 33 species of mammals, 27 species of amphibians and reptiles, including the endangered bog turtle, 24 species of fish, and 93 species of birds would be wiped out in the service of supplying water to a textile manufacturing plant Du Pont wanted to build at the old Louviers site north of Newark.  
Du Pont relented, clearing the way to create the preserve just over the Delaware line in Chester County, Pennsylvania, and adjacent White Clay Creek State Park north of Newark.  Dot was one of the leaders of the campaign that resulted in designation of the entire White Clay Creek watershed as a National Wild & Scenic River, saving it from future development in perpetuity.   
Not everything Dot did was greeted positively.   
Because of her efforts and those of others, the Preserve is not a park.  It does not have paved roads, athletic fields, swing sets, barbecue pits and such.  If a tree falls, it stays where it falls, and hunting is extremely limited.  Some people don't much care for that.  Then there is the Newark Beltway, a loop highway around the city that would have substantially relived downtown traffic congestion.  Dot and friends insisted that the portion of the beltway over the White Clay be environmentally sensitive.  That would have made the project way too expensive, so bog turtles won and motorists lost. 
Dot's passing recalled to mind "White Clay Creek," a wonderful poem written in 1967 by Jean-Henri Sadot just as the fight against the dam was beginning to get traction.  His son, Victor René Sadot, bette known as Vic, a presence in the Delaware folk, rock, blues and Cajun music scenes for many years, set the poem to music.

No one in town can be certain
If the road belongs to the creek
Or the creek belongs to the road.
But having gone that way often,
If I would only dare to speak,
I would judge by my simple code
And proclaim that the two are one.

The road winds along old White Clay Creek,
And passes through its darkened woods.
Huge rocks lying in the water,
Whose swift current tries to sink in the mud,
Having long withstood the old creek's moods.

Yet it is here in mid-summer
That youngsters spend their leisure time
With hair tousled by a cool breeze.
They use some long fallen dead tree
To reach some summer-made island
Where they wade and splash as they please
Yes, they wade and splash as they please.

Come witness the wonder, you may be
A guardian of this precious land
For the children of the human race.
These children, blessed may they be,
When they take younger ones by the hand
To this charming, cherished place
This charming, cherished place.

If you ever ask any wandering child
The whereabouts of "Second Dam"
Of "Bubble Gum" or any fall,
He'll tell you with a hearty smile
On a face smeared with purple jam
From berries picked by the bridge wall
He's been there and knows them all.

So it is with the children
Sandbars and swimming holes they know.
You meet them marching five abreast
At dusk when the fireflies glisten
And the silver moon starts to glow.

Their songs reach over the hill crest,
As they walk down that dusty old road,
Homebound for another night's rest
Homebound for another night's rest



Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Politix Update: Don't Mind That Iceberg, Captain Rubio, It's Full Speed Ahead

One of the two men who may still have a good chance of becoming the Republican nominee is a scary character. . . . The other man, of course, has very peculiar hair. ~ PAUL KRUGMAN
To say that Republican Party establishmentarians still don't get it following Donald Trump's scorched earth victories in New Hampshire, South Carolina and now Nevada is like saying that if only the deck chairs on the Titanic had been arranged a different way it would have missed that big old iceberg.  Look no further than their pleas for Mitt Romney to endorse Marco Rubio -- or maybe dust off the old rooftop dog carrier and enter the fray himself -- for proof of a mentality that is stuck between denial and anger, which are the first and second stages of grief.   
What makes this all so sidesplittingly hilarious is that Rubio hasn't won squat, merely not lost as badly as John Kasich or the late unlamented Jeb Bush and Chris Christie.  That Romney was a godawful candidate in 2012 whose manifold shortcomings -- not the least of which is being a filthy rich insider and conservative poseur -- would spell doom in 2016.  And that Rubio and Romney are dues-paying party establishmentarians espousing reward-the-rich economic policies that are like bad remakes of Groundhog Day and play right into the hands of the necromancer with the very peculiar hair.   
The somnambulance of the Republican establishment is, of course, mirrored in the party's voters, which prompted Danielle Allen to make a very astute observation in The Washington Post the other day: 
"Like any number of us raised in the late 20th century, I have spent my life perplexed about exactly how Hitler could have come to power in Germany.  Watching Donald Trump's rise, I now understand.  Leave aside whether a direct comparison of Trump and Hitler is accurate.  That is not my point.  My point rather is about how a demagogic opportunist can exploit a divided country." 
The deck chair occupied by Rubio, who finished a distant second to Trump in Nevada, is especially problematic.   
The chair is further to the right than it seems at first glance, and Rubio is more conservative than Bush, Christie and Kasich.  Not that this matters, because Rubio's biggest selling point -- heck, his only selling point -- is the perception he's best suited to take on Hillary Clinton.  (Those Bernie Sanders ads financed by Karl Rove's attack firm just aren't doing the job. Neither will the Spike Lee radio spot.) 
That perception may be true in the abstract, but it assumes several things:
* That Rubio will inherit much of the support and money underpinning the Bush campaign.  That is not a sure thing.   
* That there won't be a significant number of fence-sitting Republicans who in disgust jump to the Democratic side.  That is not a sure thing.   
* And most importantly, that Trump can be stopped.  That is anyone's guess, but as long as Rubio keeps going after Ted Cruz and not The Donald, it ain't gonna happen.
Speaking of Cruz, who notched his third consecutive third-place finish in Nevada, he's been in something of a free fall since he won the Iowa primary under less than, uh . . . gentlemanly circumstances.  He hasn't won since not because he's a sleaze bag, which he certainly is, but because Trump is siphoning off his core strength -- Evangelicals, who (beats the pants off of me) are attracted by his utter absence of morals and religious conviction.
A huge Trump win in the multi-state Super Tuesday primaries in six days and a deal sealer in Florida on the Ides of March will almost certainly mean he'll head into the nominating convention with enough delegates to upend the remaining deck chairs and wrest the nomination from the clutches of establishment diehards who loathe him.  Or set the terms for the first brokered national convention since 1948, when he and Hillary were in diapers.   
Allen's Hitler analogy notwithstanding, I keep returning to the fact Trump is a supercilious idiot who has consistently led all candidates in unpopularity, and it's pretty certain his support has maxed out at 35 to 40 percent of those much written about and oh-so-angry Republican primary voters. The likelihood of independent-minded women, blacks, Hispanics and Asian-Americans flocking to him in the general election is not good.  It took the great ship 2 hours and 40 minutes to sink, and Trump won't last remotely that long before he becomes shark chum on Election Night.     
How about a little perspective with your chum? 
No Republican -- even Mister Nice Guy Jeb Bush -- pushed back against charges that Barack Obama is an anti-American Muslim, that his health-care reforms would create "death panels," and that he is responsible for the world's ills.  This was just fine so long as the insinuations and fear mongering worked for them, but it created a Franken-candidate spewing xenophobic and racist hate who is endorsed by hate groups and has become the party's worst nightmare as it belatedly realizes there aren't nearly enough lifeboats.    
The Titanic, it is said, was doomed by a fatal flaw in its design.  Establishment Republican groups have been talking for months about a concerted effort to take down Trump, but there is a fatal flaw in their design -- all talk and no balls -- and it's obvious they aren't going to avoid that big old iceberg.   


© 2015-2016 SHAUN D. MULLEN.


Monday, February 22, 2016

Grief Redefined: Did Joe Biden Sign Son's Death Warrant In Supporting Iraq War?

Vice President Biden's profound and at times very public grief over the death of his eldest son has taken on a shocking new dimension: It is possible that Biden, who helped nurse that son back from severe injuries after a car crash as an infant, unknowingly signed his death warrant 30 years later. 
It never will be known with certainty why Major Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III left for Iraq a healthy and vibrant 40-year-old man widely believed to eventually run for and take his father's old Senate seat, only to return home a year later to succumb to a series of mysterious and unexplained illnesses that metamorphosed into an unstoppable glioblastoma, a brain cancer that took his life at age 46 last May. But a convincing if circumstantial case can be made that the cause was exposure to toxic smoke from immense open-air burn pits at Camp Victory and another base in Iraq where Beau Biden was bivouacked.
One of the more insidious backstories of the Iraq war, which Joe Biden enthusiastically supported as a Democratic senator from Delaware, is how the friends of his predecessor, Dick Cheney, at Halliburton got rich providing housing, meals, water and many other services to Beau Biden and hundreds of thousands of other American soldiers, at a cost of  $39.5 billion by reliable estimates, much of it in no-bid contracts as the Pentagon outsourced many of the non-combat duties handled by the military in previous wars.   
In a shocking new book, The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America's Soldiers, investigative journalist Joseph Hickman, himself a Marine and Army veteran, asserts that Kellogg, Brown and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, where Cheney was CEO before he became vice president, poisoned thousands of American soldiers and many thousands more Iraqis with the toxic smoke from the burn pits they operated in place of the incinerators typically run by the military.  Some of the burn pits were operated on or near chemical warfare sites from Saddam Hussein's rule.   
People downwind from the burn pits -- which belched out clouds of toxins from the thousands of pounds of pesticide containers, lithium batteries, tires, asbestos insulation, aerosol cans, explosives, medical waste and even human corpses burned each day -- were felled by cancers and respiratory diseases, while there has been a sharp increase in birth defects in their children. Highly noxious jet fuel was often used to stoke the fires.  
When Barack Obama gave his last State of the Union speech last month, at his side was Joe Biden, without question the most influential vice president for good in American history.  This by way of differentiating him, as if one needs to, from Dick Cheney, without question the most influential vice president for evil  in American history. 
As a native Delawarean, teenaged acquaintance and great admirer of Biden, this latest turn in his family story is utterly heartbreaking.   
My earliest recollections of Biden are from summers at Rehoboth Beach where our families vacationed.  I would be lying if I said young Joe seemed destined for politics, let alone greatness. He had little to distinguish himself from the older teenaged crowd that I aspired to be part of beyond having overcome a bad stutter to become a handsome and loquacious babe magnet who happened to have the nicest parents in the world.   
While I and a lot of other people were surprised in 1972 when the 29-year-old lawyer and Democratic county councilman took on two-term Republican Senator J. Caleb Boggs, the result was Delaware at its independent minded finest.  Delaware is perhaps the purplest of states, having once elected a governor and lieutenant governor from different parties.  As five-term Senator Bill Roth was to learn to his dismay in 2000, incumbency goes only so far in Delaware and voters recognized that Roth, who succeeded the venerable workhorse John J. Williams, had been phoning it in for years.  Ditto for Boggs, whom Biden beat by 3,100 votes despite the Nixon landslide in Delaware and nationally.
The intersection of Limestone and North Star roads was pretty much out in the middle of nowhere in 1972.  My family's nearby home, where we would sometimes awaken to cows grazing in our front yard, was even more so.  Today, suburban sprawl necessitates six traffic and four turn lanes, but back then there was a tiny liquor store and odoriferous mushroom farm on the southeast corner and farm fields on the others.  I seldom had to wait long to cross Limestone whether on my bike or when I was old enough to drive my parents' car.   
Five weeks after Biden's improbable victory, school teacher wife Neilia and their children Beau, 3, Hunter, 2, and Naomi, 1, were crossing Limestone Road after doing some Christmas shopping. Their station wagon was T-boned by a tractor-trailer, killing wife and daughter and critically injuring the boys.   
All of sudden, a political career seemed unimportant to the bereft Biden.  He told his family and national Democratic leaders that he would relinquish his Senate seat in waiting, but Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, who was to become Biden's mentor, thought otherwise.   
"He called the hospital every day to tell me he needed me in the Senate," Biden later recalled.  "Mansfield told me I owed it to Neilia to be a senator.  My wife had worked too hard for me to kick it away.  'Give me six months, Joe,' Senator Mansfield kept saying.  So I agreed.  Six months."   
Biden was sworn in at the hospital bedsides of Beau and Hunter.  He commuted home from Washington every work night for the next 35 years.
Veterans of the Iraq war often speak of the burn pits like an enemy they were unable to leave behind. 
 "The only time they got relief from the siege of smoke and ash was when high-ranking generals or politicians would come visit their bases," writes Hickman in The Burn Pits.  "While those VIP visits were in progress, the base commanders would temporarily stop the inferno in the pits."   
One such visit was during the Independence Day holiday weekend in July 2009 when Vice President Biden stopped over in Iraq. 
Biden had two missions: To bolster flagging efforts by the Iraqi government to foster national political reconciliation that would speed the withdrawal of the remaining U.S. troops, and to visit with his son, who was the Delaware attorney general, announced candidate for governor and a major in the Judge Advocate General Corps.  Beau was assigned to the 261st Theater Tactical Signal Brigade at Camp Victory, one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces, on the western outskirts of Baghdad.   
As Beau Biden stood in the back of a cluster of troops, his father presided over a naturalization ceremony for 237 U.S. troops from 59 countries in the palace's marble rotunda.  In typically colorful language, the vice president declared that "We did it in Saddam's place, and I can think of nothing better.  That S.O.B. is rolling over in his grave right now."   
Beau Biden was a "Fortunate Son," in the words of the Credence Clearwater song.  He could have avoided going to Iraq, but did not.   
He easily passed the Army Physical Fitness Test when his Delaware National Guard unit was deployed to Iraq in October 2008.  The test required him to do a minimum of 34 push-ups, 38 sit-ups, and a two-mile run in 18 minutes, 18 seconds.  He also was given an extensive physical exam at Fort Bliss, Texas, and was found to be in good health. 
Beau Biden's tour of duty ended in September 2009.  He returned home to Wilmington, Delaware and resumed his duties as attorney general, but in May 2010 awoke with a headache, numbness in his limbs and paralysis on one side of his body.  He had suffered a mild stroke, but was otherwise physically fit. 
He was soon released from the hospital, but his health quickly deteriorated.  He felt fatigued and weak, and sometimes became disoriented.  In August 2013, he was diagnosed with brain cancer and admitted to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston where a lesion was removed from his brain and he received radiation and chemotherapy treatments.  His cancer went into remission, but early in 2015 it reappeared with a vengeance and he was admitted to Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where he died.    
The burn pit story follows an arc tragically familiar to the victims of Agent Orange in Vietnam: Denial by the government that there was a problem, refusal by government agencies to address the problem, and finally, in the face of overwhelming evidence, grudging admissions by the government that there is indeed a problem.   
Hickman did not reach his conclusions lightly nor did he rely on anecdotal evidence.   
He conducted a statistical study on a sample of military personnel who said they were experiencing health problems from their exposure to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.  With assistance from the renowned Seton Hall Law Center, he found that five of the six bases where there were the worst health cases, notably cancers and respiratory illnesses, were located on or near documented chemical warfare sites abandoned by Saddam Hussein.  Of the 112 service members and contractors Hickman found who served at both Camp Victory and Joint Base Balad, where Beau Biden also was stationed, 31 suffered from different forms of cancers and brain tumors. 
"Sometimes the smoke was so dense that you could breath it in and back out again, kind of like smoking a cigar," retired Army Sergeant Marcus Hill told Hickman.  "[But] after being blown up a couple of times, you didn't complain about stuff like that.  It wasn't a big deal.  It was part of our mission and we were told not to worry about it."   
I do not presume to play God in suggesting that there is another dimension to Joe Biden's grief that is unfathomable to people who have not just lost a child, but wonder if there was something they could have done.  But Biden did play God when he voted for the Iraq War Resolution in October 2002 and as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was a bellicose supporter of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld pro-war troika.     
Biden has a big ego, but then that is more or less essential in his line of work.  He did some less than praiseworthy things in his 35 years as a United States senator, but on balance did enormous good.  I know, spoken like a true bleeding-heart liberal.   
Could Biden have anticipated that his vote justifying a war that from its planning through its catastrophic execution and whimpering end was an unmitigated disaster might take the life of his beloved eldest son?  No.  Did any of the 77 senators and 277 congressfolk who supported what became Public Law No: 107-243 really consider the consequences of sending American men and women into harm's way to fight the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time amidst the post-9/11 hysteria?  Probably not.  Do the current crop of Republican chickenhawks like Ted Cruz understand that they are advocating making the same awful mistakes over again?  Of course not.   
Beau Biden is said to have urged his father to wage one last campaign for the White House, asserting that America would be better served by his values.  That death-bed wish could have upended the presidential campaign, and I suggest that the father -- as he again sat at Beau's bedside -- was all to aware that the son he had nursed back to health so long ago was leaving this mortal coil because of a war he slavishly promoted.  That may begin to explain why his decision on whether to run was so agonizingly drawn out.   
A dear friend is a psychologist, PTSD therapist and best-selling author.  She has worked in the health-care system for decades and has seen the horrors inflicted on veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the First Gulf War and now Iraq and Afghanistan.  Or in less diplomatic terms, what can happen to the victims of government lies.
"I love Joe Biden," she said after I shared the story of he and Beau with her.  "I love Joe Biden for the trajectory of a life in which he has grown and changed and awakened in so many ways.  I love him because he has suffered above and beyond so many."  
Biden is a deep and deeply spiritual man.  My friend's thoughts suggest a role for the vice president when he finally returns to civilian life after nearly 45 years in Washington: As an advocate for patriots like his son.

Cartoon du Jour


Sunday, February 21, 2016

Politix Update: GOP Establishment Bloodied As Trump Nomination Becomes Likely

I was going to follow Mitch McConnell's lead and not offer any new opinions until after the election, but the gruesome sounds emanating from the train wreck known as the Republican presidential race following the South Carolina primary yesterday are much too enticing.   
The capitulation of the Grand Old Party establishment to the forces of nativism, bigotry and evil that accelerated with the selection of Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate eight short years ago is now pretty much complete with Donald Trump running the tables in South Carolina and a pitiful Jeb Bush dropping out, bringing a quarter century of his family's political primacy to a crashing end.  The gadzillionaire reality TV star whom the pundits scoffed at and party bigs gave the raspberry when he floated down the escalator at Trump Tower last June to announce his candidacy, goes into the Super Tuesday primaries next week with the wind at his back and the Republican nomination within his grasp.   
Trump carried all but South Carolina's two most affluent counties where Marco Rubio, the party's remaining if battered establishment hope, prevailed.  Beyond the crushing rejection of that establishment by the state's substantially white Republican electorate, a carbon copy of what happened 11 days ago in New Hampshire, arcane delegate selection rules that were to grease the skids for a Bush nomination now favor Trump.   
Some 25 percent of the delegates to the Republican National Convention will be awarded in the 24 state primaries and caucuses, including biggies Texas, Oklahoma, Georgia, Virginia and Tennessee.  The top mainstream candidate -- who is now Rubio with his pathetic third-place finish  -- is likely to fall more than 100 delegates short of what he might have earned and, according to New York Times numbers guru Nate Cohn, is in danger of earning no delegates at all in Texas and several other of the largest states if he can't clear a 20 percent vote threshold.   
Worse yet for the establishment, a quirk in the rules would award the delegates earned by candidates who failed to clear the threshold to Trump and Ted Cruz.  Then there is this bit of history: No Republican presidential candidate has won both New Hampshire and South Carolina and gone on to lose the party's nomination.   
Campaigning in South Carolina last week, Trump was the bumbling naif on the stump even more than usual, and at times sounded like a fricking liberal, but his supporters don't care that he's a supercilious idiot because he talks about the things that matter to them.  Addressing supporters in Spartansburg last night, he figuratively gave the Inside the Beltway crowd the middle finger.   
"A couple of the pundits said, 'Well, if a couple of the other candidates drop out, if you add their scores together, it's going to equal Trump. ' "  The crowd booed lustily and Trump threw his hands out.  "Right?  They're geniuses."
I cannot recall as stunning a capitulation in modern American political history, let alone one as richly deserved, as is the coup de grâce delivered not by Trump, but by his rapid supporters.  And, lest we forget, there is the execrable Cruz dogging Trump's Gucci loafers.   
Has Trump finally jarred the party establishment from its prolonged self denial?  Possibly, but then it may be too late to prevent a Trump general election candidacy, or at least an extraordinarily vicious convention fight.  This is unless -- and only if -- Cruz or Rubio drop out and it becomes a two-horse race, and neither showed any signs of doing so.   
Nor did they show any appetite for attacking the once and future Trump.   
Less important than the fact that Hillary Clinton won yesterday's Nevada caucuses is that Bernie Sanders lost.  Nevada is uncannily representative of the national electorate as a whole, and by that measure he should have done better than he did.   
Here's another measure: Clinton already has a huge delegate lead (502 to 70, with 2,383 needed to win the nomination) going into the Democratic South Carolina primary next Saturday.  The state has a substantial black population, motivated and Democrat, and Sanders is unlikely to do well, a taste of what might be to come in many of the Democratic primaries on Super Tuesday.  In other words, we're back to how the race looked at the beginning of the year, and it could be all over bar the shouting in only a couple of weeks.   
Clinton touched on Sanders' biggest vulnerability in her victory speech in Las Vegas last night.   
"The truth is, we aren't a single-issue country," she declared.  "We need more than a plan for the big banks."


© 2015-2016 SHAUN D. MULLEN.