Friday, September 30, 2016

Politix Update: Trump Is Not Hitler, But Woe To Those Who Don't See Similarities

Donald Trump is not Adolph Hitler.  Nor was Der Führer a rapacious Manhattan real estate developer who made several fortunes on the backs of poor working stiffs.  But there are deeply uncomfortable similarities between Hitler's satanic quest to Make Germany Great Again and Trump's white-is-right campaign to do the same for Amerika . . . er, America.  And woe to those who don't see the similarities and the menace a Trump presidency represents.   
I tread carefully, as well as with some trepidation, through this semantic mine field.  After all, Trump's grand scheme to deport 11 million illegal aliens, many of them longtime U.S. residents who have jobs, have raised families and unlike him pay taxes, is not the same as Hitler's Final Solution. Nor is the U.S. in 2016 to be confused with the Weimar Republic in 1930.  Besides which, using Nazi analogies is typically a loser's game because comparing someone or something to Hitler or the Third Reich stifles debate, almost always is in bad taste and triggers inevitable side debates about whether calling someone a Nazi is as bad as calling them a "kike" or "nigger."   
Then there is Godwin's Law, which states that as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches inevitability. 
But Mr. Godwin can rest easy, because in a coincidence that is seriously serendipitous, a new biography on Hitler makes the case that there are deep similarities between Herr Donald and Der Führer. Without intending to do so.   
The book is Hitler: Ascent (1889-1939) by Volker Ullrich, and the similarities -- again, without intent -- laid out by the German historian-journalist are so unsettling that there are accusations that Michiko Kakutani's review in The New York Times is a thinly-veiled Trump comparison.  It is not hard to see why.  This is because just about everything that Kakutani says about Ullrich's book reflects warnings that Trump should not be dismissed as just another crackpot who was born with a platinum spoon in his mouth.   
Chillingly, Ullrich sets up his 1,008-page portrait by stripping away the mythology that Hitler created of himself in Mein Kampf as just another talented guy.  He warns in an introduction that "In a sense, Hitler will be normalized -- although this will not make him seem more 'normal.' If anything, he will emerge as even more horrific." 
Let's go to the comparisons -- yet again without intent -- in Ullrich's own words: 
* Hitler was an egomaniac who "only loved himself," a narcissist with a taste for self-dramatization and a "characteristic fondness for superlatives" who had a "keen eye for the strengths and weaknesses of other people." 
* Hitler had a "bottomless mendacity" that took advantage of the latest technology to spread his message and "was so thoroughly untruthful that he could no longer recognize the difference between lies and truth." 
* Hitler was an effective orator and adept at assuming various masks and feeding off the energy of his audiences, concealing his anti-Semitism beneath a "mask of moderation" when trying to win the support of middle-class liberals. 
* Hitler specialized in big, theatrical rallies staged with spectacular elements and adapted the contents of his speeches "to suit the tastes of his lower-middle-class, nationalist-conservative, ethnic-chauvinist and anti-Semitic listeners." 
* Hitler peppered his speeches with coarse phrases and put-downs of hecklers and fomented chaos by playing to crowds' fears and resentments in "offering himself as a visionary leader who could restore law and order." 
* Hitler presented himself in messianic terms, promising "to lead Germany to a new era of national greatness," although he typically was vague about his actual plans while painting "the present day in hues that were all the darker." 
* Hitler virtually wrote the book on modern demagoguery by using repeated emotion-based "mantralike phrases" consisting largely "of accusations, vows of revenge and promises for the future." 
* Hitler's ascension was aided and abetted by the naïveté of adversaries who failed to understand his ruthlessness and tenacity, as well as partners who believed "he was not serious or that they could exert a moderating influence on him."  
A Times spokeswoman has replied to critics of Kakutani by simply saying that her review "speaks for itself."   
It does indeed, and all the more loudly by never mentioning Trump by name.  But then sometimes the strongest case is the silent one. 

© 2015-2016 SHAUN D. MULLEN

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Politix Update: Clinton Wins The Night, As Well As The Battle Of The Undecideds

With six weeks to go until Election Day, the unspoken secret of the 2016 campaign is that while Hillary Clinton appears to have only a frighteningly narrow lead over Donald Trump in national public-opinion polls, she is dominating where it ultimately will matter most -- in the states with the most electoral votes -- and remains the prohibitive favorite to become the first woman president.   
And so the first presidential debate last night was perhaps Trump's last best opportunity to prove he was more than an intemperate, truth-fracturing windbag and Clinton's last best opportunity to seal the deal with undecided voters -- that is, people who are torn between voting for her or staying home.  By these key measures, Trump made a fool of himself while Clinton cooly succeeded in making the case that her worldview makes her best qualified to lead America over the next four years. 
After a stilted start reminiscent of Barack Obama's first 2012 debate against Mitt Romney, it took about 30 minutes for Clinton to peel away Trump's play-acting posture of seeming restraint as he gradually descended into his instinctive belligerence with syntactically incoherent defenses of his birtherism, refusal to release his federal tax returns, racist past and present, condescending attitude toward women in general and Clinton in particular, and in a grandly humiliating admission in the debate's closing moments, eked out a grudging acknowledgement that he would be willing to accept a Clinton victory. 
Trump sniffled a lot.  And he lied a lot.   
Trump lied about why he hasn't released his tax returns, creating the strong impression that he doesn't paid any taxes.  He lied about the crippling debt load his businesses carry.  He lied about his bankruptcies.  He lied about his trailblazing role in the birther movement.  He lied about his support for the Iraq war.  He lied about his stand on first-strike use of nuclear weapons.  And he lied about the constitutionality of stop-and-frisk and then lied some more when he was called out by NBC News moderator Lester Holt, who delivered a strong if occasionally uneven performance despite the bar being set so comically low after the Matt Lauer debacle, as well as Trump's repeated attempts to talk over him. 
When backed against the wall, which was often, Trump's rejoinders ranged from ridiculous Palin-esque word salads to shouts of "Not true!" across the stage to Clinton to  pathetic pleas for understanding, although Clinton (probably wisely) never went for the kill while, in the words of one pundit, "crushed Trump like Vladimir Putin would."  
Don't believe me on racial discrimination?  Well, we settled those Justice Department lawsuits without an admission of guilt.  Don't believe me on my law-and-order prescription?  Well, a police union endorsed me.  Don't believe me on Clinton being responsible for birtherism?  Well, check with Sean Hannity.  Don't believe me on my opposition to the Iraq War? Well . . . check with Sean Hannity, but everybody refuses to call him.   
"It's all sound bites!" he blurted out at one point in an attempt to smear Clinton that instead boomeranged back on him. 
With the exception of Clinton's umpteenth apology for her stupid email practices as secretary of state and a stumble over NAFTA, both in the opening minutes, she was increasingly on the offensive as the night wore on.  She kept pouncing as Trump shouted past her, scrambled to get back on his feet and unsuccessfully tried to parlay her zingers, including her twice calling his reward-the-rich tax plan "Trumped-up trickle down economics." 
The outcome should not have been a surprise, but given the vicissitudes of this presidential campaign and Trump's proclivity for hogging airtime, it was easy to forget that Clinton came into the debate the battle-hardened veteran of five one-on-one debates with no-slouch-he Bernie Sanders while Trump had not been through even one such debate as he emerged from the primaries as the worst of the Republican worst.   
If there was a surprise, it is that immigration -- in some ways the defining issue of the campaign -- did not come up, although that is certain to change in the second of three debates on October 9.  Then there was the dog that didn't bark: Curiously, Trump never mentioned the Affordable Care Act, ignoring perhaps the defining concern of Republicans in the last eight years.
Irony of ironies, while Trump tried to divert a question from Holt about his disparagement of Clinton's appearance into repeated shouts that she lacked "stamina, stamina, stamina," it was Trump who was unable to go the distance.  And had Clinton sniffled for 90 minutes, we would never have heard the end of it.   
In fact, the appearance/stamina interlude may have been Trump's low point.   
"This is a man who has called women pigs, slobs and dogs," Clinton declared, telling the audience that Trump had once referred to a young Latina Miss Universe "as 'Miss Piggy' and 'Miss Housekeeping,' because she was Latina."   
Clinton paused for emphasis, adding that "Donald, she has a name.  Her name is Alicia Machado."   
Trump freaked and furiously interrupted: "Where did you find this?  Where did you find this?" 
To which Clinton added in response, "She has become a U.S. citizen, and you can bet she's going to vote this November." 
Apologizing for disparaging Clinton's "looks" was out for a man who never says he is sorry, so a flustered Trump instead babbled that nobody likes Rosie O'Donnell, with whom he has feuded, congratulated himself for not saying "something extremely rough to Hillary," and noted that the polls are "looking good" for him."  
Oh, those polls.   
Overnight polls showed that Clinton "won" the debate decisively, while focus groups were nearly unanimous in agreeing that Trump bombed, including a focus group of undecided voters in the swing state of Pennsylvania conducted by Republican pollster Frank Luntz who believed by a 16-5 margin that Clinton had prevailed.
Yet few minds were changed among voters who never were on the fence.  Still, Trump reached his ceiling of support weeks ago, while Clinton has toiled to reassemble all of the constituent parts of the mighty Obama Coalition, an uphill struggle that has been reflected in those nail bitingly close polls that show her to be nearly as unpopular as Trump.   
But it is not likely that a substantial number of the undecideds among the tens of millions of people who tuned in last night failed to notice that Trump's legendary salesmanship failed him because he was so obviously unprepared and unable to resist taking the bait Clinton dangled before him.  While Clinton occasionally descended into stump speech wonkery, she not only was prepared, she was refreshingly nimble and showed much needed moments of levity.   
And most importantly, she was presidential.

© 2015-2016 SHAUN D. MULLEN

Monday, September 26, 2016

Eddie Joubert Is Still Dead. And My Book About His Brutal Murder Is Still Banned.

It has been six years since the second edition of The Bottom of the Fox: A True Story of Love, Devotion & Cold-Blooded Murder was published.   
In that time, the world and even the Pennsylvania Poconos have changed, but two things have remained the same: The brutal 35-year-old murder of Eddie Joubert, who was a Poconos bar owner and is my book's protagonist, remains unsolved.  And the book remains banned in the very area that Eddie fell in love with, where he moved to provide a safe environment in which to raise his children, and where he was killed by an ax-wielding psychopath.  That his murder was never solved is a scandal, while the book banning is for me a point of honor. 
It is a point of honor because it further verifies what virtually all of the many people I interviewed for The Bottom of the Fox and readers with whom I have corresponded over the last six years as the book has sold steadily, if not spectacularly, have all said:  
The underlying premise of The Bottom of the Fox is spot-on correct.  That is, while the Poconos jealously guards its image as a four-season Eden, it was deeply corrupt in 1981 and remains so, is controlled by politicians and a law enforcement establishment answerable to no one, and was and remains a place where you can literally get away with murder.
The man who hacked the life out of Eddie Joubert one powerful ax blow at a time outside his bar in the village of Delaware Water Gap in November 1981 got away with murder because the law enforcement establishment could care less about him.   
This is because Eddie was not the son of a politician.  He was not a bigshot resort owner or a Baptist minister. He was a nobody according to the establishment's social calculus, a hippie who ran a bust-out joint in a one-stoplight town and was deserving only of scorn although he happened to be deeply loved in the community, had spearhead the resurgence of the village, and among his many good works was being a co-founder of the Delaware Water Gap Celebration of the Arts, a jazz festival that will celebrate its 40th year in 2017 and attracts thousands of people annually while providing the kind of positive publicity that no amount of Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau money can buy. 
Not surprisingly, The Bottom of the Fox was greeted with deafening silence by the political and law enforcement establishment.  Officials from the governor on down were sent complimentary copies. No one commented publicly, nor did the Pocono Record, the only media outlet of consequence in the region, publish a story on the first book to examine the area in a candid, if not always flattering, manner.   
But over the next several months, I repeatedly was told that The Bottom of the Fox was being fretted over behind closed doors.  A police officer friend described walking into the office of a state senator who was deeply absorbed in the book but quickly stashed it in a desk drawer like it was a dirty magazine when he realized someone was in his office.  I happened to run into a state representative at
the 2010 Celebration of the Arts and asked if he had read the book.  He turned beet red and then turned heel, telling me over his shoulder as he walked away that "I'm not running for re-election." 
The disinterest that the Record evinced in the book was not surprising, although it does do lavish stories on local authors, most recently a nice spread on the writer of a mystery novel whose daddy was a longtime executive at the newspaper.  As I wrote recently in another context, "The Record in some ways reflects the community it covers.  Monroe County has a somnambulant, nepotistic and deeply risk-averse political establishment, as well as serious problems that are swept under the table.  The Record has shown no interest in reporting on that big-picture state of affairs in its news pages, let alone push for badly-needed reforms on its editorial pages." 
But the owner of a Pocono bookstore not only agreed to carry The Bottom of the Fox, she understood that it was an important book that stood head and shoulders above the usual smile-button tomes on the region. 
Lisa Carroll exemplifies the best of a dying breed: The owner of a community bookstore not beholden to the whims of an Internet-driven publishing industry that has killed thousands of mom-and-pop bookstores across the country.  Carroll & Carroll has survived at its longtime Main Street location in Stroudsburg by offering hands-on service and a mix of best sellers, classics and discounted used books, as well as an extensive selection of books about the Poconos.   
Ms. Carroll was not only eager to stock The Bottom of the Fox, she displayed copies in her store window during the 2010 Christmas holiday season.   
The book sold out twice, but a funny thing happened on the way to the first anniversary of the book's publication.  Despite the newspaper and magazine clippings on the walls of Carroll & Carroll extolling free speech, and notwithstanding good reviews at and other online booksellers, The Bottom of the Fox suddenly disappeared from Ms. Carroll's inventory.   
Ms. Carroll's had belatedly gotten the message that The Bottom of the Fox was a banned book and she obediently knuckled under.   
Her explanation, which is utterly
unconvincing, is that she had started getting used copies of the book and decided to no longer sell new copies.  But that is problematic because everyone I spoke to who tried to buy copies -- in the case of one person some 10 copies and another five -- said that Ms. Carroll did not offer to sell them used copies because she did not have any.   
Fast forward to September 2016 when a retired state police officer first heard about The Bottom of the Fox and tried to buy a copy from Ms. Carroll.
"She acted all nervous," he told me.  "First she said she didn't know about the book.  Then she said they don't carry the book, and there are no stores that carry it.  She finally said that she wasn't sure, but I might be able to buy it online." 
Who in particular might have pressured Ms. Carroll to take the book off her shelves?   
Perhaps the politically-connected daughter of a deceased district attorney who is portrayed in an unflattering light in The Bottom of the Fox.  This man was deeply corrupt as a DA and later as a judge and had rejected petitions to convene an investigative grand jury and coroner's inquest into Eddie Joubert's death despite the fact that there was an ax murderer on the loose in the Poconos.   
Because, you know, Eddie was a nobody.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Politix Update: Christie Didn't Merely Violate His Oath Of Office, He Crushed It

After one week of testimony at the Bridgegate trial, Donald Trump poodle Chris Christie's standing as a corrupt thug who would sacrifice anything, including public safety, for political convenience and good old venality has reached stratospherically new heights.  Which begs a question: Why are there not calls for the New Jersey governor's impeachment since he did not merely violate his oath of office, he crushed it? 
Christie always was going to be . . . uh, the figurative elephant in the courtroom at the trial of two former ranking aides who executed a plan to deliberately create a traffic jam at the George Washington Bridge, the world's busiest, as a political payback for their boss not being endorsed for re-election by the mayor of the borough of Fort Lee, which is on the New Jersey bridge approach.   
The four-day closure of two of the three access lanes from Fort Lee in September 2013 was timed to achieve maximum impact -- a week in which public schools opened, Yom Kippur was observed and there were 9/11 anniversary events.  It succeeded spectacularly, causing massive traffic jams and a public-safety crisis as ambulances and other emergency vehicles were gridlocked for hours.
Defense lawyers will get around to asserting that the lane closings were "normal politics," which is a howler, but true insofar as the meaning of the phrase applies to the unrepentant Christie, but the big takeaway from the opening week of testimony in Newark federal court is how easily the governor's serial lies that he knew nothing about Bridgegate have been decimated.
The prosecution not only stated in its opening arguments that Christie well knew of the plan, which long has been an open secret, but he might be called as a witness.  This will create an interesting legal situation since the governor arguably is as of as much use to the defense as the prosecution because the defense can now use the tried-and-true Eichmann Defense and declare that the defendants -- gubernatorial aides Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly -- were merely following orders.   
And for good measure, among the first prosecution witnesses was Patrick J. Foye, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who completed the task of demolishing Christie's lies in testifying that there was an elaborate cover-up of the true cause of the tie-up, at the top of which was the governor himself, who was hell-bent to protect David Wildstein, a top Port Authority official who was a close political ally and later was thrown to the sharks by the governor when the full extent of the scandal was revealed.  Paybacks can be a bitch, and Wildstein is now the prosecution's star witness. 
It is easy to forget that in the wake of Christie's November 2013 re-election victory, he was the leading candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination and Trump was a celebrity jerk with a big ego.   
That began unraveling early in 2014 when Bridgegate first hit the news.  Christie's slow but steady descent to the bottom of the presidential pack and into the gutter commenced as his deep involvement became apparent, his denials notwithstanding, and GOP bigs and voters began taking a closer look at Chistie's stewardship of the Garden State, which revealed that he was not merely corrupt, but inept, as well, having almost single-handedly driven the state into bankruptcy.   
The drumbeat for impeachment should be growing louder because Christie was a key player in the closure conspiracy, has repeatedly denied that he knew of the conspiracy and has continued to do so since his presidential bid crashed and burned and he eagerly signed on to be the Cheeto Jesus's poodle.
But guess what?  There is virtually no drumbeat at all, merely vaguely worded news stories that impeachment may be an option.  The reasons are varied, and no one is offering them publicly, but they fall under the heading of We Can't Be Bothered. 
They can't be bothered because: 
* It would distract from getting Hillary Clinton elected, and that is Job One. 
* The guy who runs the Legislature wants to succeed Christie. 
* There may be the votes to impeach, but there isn't the energy. 
* Besides which, Chistie's term ends in 16 months, so just let the jerk serve it out.
The prosecution's witness list reads like a Who's Who of the Trump and failed Christie campaigns.   
In addition to Christie himself, who is leading Trump's transition team, there is Jared Kushner, a real-estate developer who is married to Trump's daughter, Ivanka, and functions as campaign manager.  Kushner owned a website where Wildstein, writing under a pseudonym, bragged about Bridgegate.   
Then there is Bill Stepien, who was in on the conspiracy, was Christie's presidential campaign manager and is now Trump's national field director; Richard Bagger, Christie's onetime chief of staff and now co-chair of Trump's transition team; and Matt Mowers, who left the governor's office to work for the Christie campaign and now works for Trump.
Although Hillary Clinton will beat Donald Trump, and I continue to maintain that she will win in a landslide, the post-mortems on why the race has been so excruciatingly close to this point already have begun.   
Credit Ruby Cramer of BuzzFeed for noting that Clinton erred bigtime when she suddenly and inexplicably stopped linking Trump to the larger ills of the Republican Party at the end of the primary season.  Cramer writes that the campaign then set out to portray him "as even more extreme than the rank-and-file Republican member of Congress. . . . [and] the campaign does not want to connect Trump and the Republican Party," according to an internal campaign email she cites.   
"The result, with less than 50 days until Election Day, is a Democratic nominee who praises establishment Republicans, makes forceful appeals for bipartisan support, and only rarely addresses Trump as President Obama might have John McCain or Mitt Romney in 2008 or 2012, strictly avoiding attacks on Republicans writ large." 
Clinton needs a Democratic Senate if she has any chance to fashion a mandate, let alone fill the present and future Supreme Court vacancies, and kissing Republican ass would not seem to be the best way to go about helping down-ticket Democrats.

© 2015-2016 SHAUN D. MULLEN

John Coltrane: An Appreciation

(This 2006 post is the first of many I've written on jazz musicians
over the years. It has been edited only to update Trane's birthday.) 
As a very grown-up 18 year old (or so I thought), I traveled to New York City alone for the first time during my senior year in high school. Some 50 years later, I vaguely recall getting off a Trailways bus at the Port Authority and walking out into the teeming throngs on 42nd Street.  I lunched on a freshly sliced roast beef sandwich at an Irish pup near Madison Square Garden and washed it down with my inaugural English ale.  I dropped some pocket change into the open guitar case of the first street musician I'd ever encountered before taking the subway uptown to Columbia University, where I (futiley) hoped to attend college, walked across the campus green to Low Memorial Library and later window shopped along Broadway. 
But what I most clearly remember from that day is gazing into the window of a hole-in-the-wall record store a few doors from the West End tavern of Beat Generation fame and seeing John Coltrane's My Favorite Things album beckoning me inside. 
This rookie didn't know Coltrane from Colbert (as in Claudette, not Steve), but I was taken by the image of the intense looking black man blowing a horn on the dust jacket.  I figured that if the title track was a cover of the Rodgers and Hammerstein waltz from The Sound of Music and the flip side included George Gershwin's "Summertime," which I knew from Porgy and Bess and adored, then these were good enough reasons to pay four or five bucks (I don't remember exactly how much) to plunge into the great musical unknown. 
Besides which, buying my first modern jazz album seemed like a very sophisticated thing to do for a young man on his own for the first time in the big city.  I took the album out of its bag several times on the return trip, I'm sure as much as to try to impress my seatmates as to contemplate the man on the cover.  I was cool!

We celebrate today what would have been John Coltrane's 90th birthday with the usual outpouring of tributes and remembrances.  This is mine. 
I had listened to classic music that moved me in emotional and intellectual ways I hardly understood, stuff like Beethoven's Pastoral and Dvoak's From the New World, both part of a boxed set purchased at an A&P supermarket a couple of years earlier with the meager profits from my newspaper route. 
While I had a budding affinity for jazz, it ran toward the Great American Songbook singers, notably Ella Fitzgerald, whom my father adored, and bandleaders like Dave Brubeck and Benny Goodman. I enjoyed their music, but it didn't move me.  When I got home from New York and put My Favorite Things on the turntable of my dinky RCA hi-fi, I was moved. 
But I didn't have a clue about why I was moved.  I didn't know that Coltrane was playing in a style called "sheets of sound," let alone that he was grasping something called a soprano saxophone in his massive hands on the dust jacket photo, a then all but obsolete instrument that he had taken up in lieu of his meal ticket, the tenor saxophone, because it was less painful to play through his diseased gums. 
All I knew was that I was moved. 
This white boy from suburbia had arrived at a lush musical oasis amidst a mid-1960s landscape dominated by the Beatles and Motown, both musical staples for my friends and I, and the last wave of Southern California surfer music. There would be no turning back.

John Coltrane was born and raised in rural North Carolina when Jim Crow laws were still on the books.  He is said to have begun playing clarinet after the deaths of his father and two other members of his close-knit family. 
He moved to Philadelphia in 1943 and was drafted into the Navy two years later, where he became interested in jazz and switched to alto saxophone.  Charlie Parker was an early idol and he styled his playing after the bebop legend. 
Coltrane's first big break was with Dizzy Gillespie's big band in 1949, and after that band broke up he switched to tenor sax, which he played in bands led by Earl Bostic, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vincent and Johnny Hodges, among others. 
In 1955, Coltrane got a call from trumpeter Miles Davis, whose career was on the rebound after years of being addicted to heroin.  Coltrane soon became strung out himself, but received widespread notice in Miles' so-called First Great Quintet for his harsh but free flowing playing. 
Coltrane succeeded in kicking heroin in 1957 with the help of pianist Thelonious Monk.  He also experience a spiritual epiphany, embracing Sufism and later other religions.  He began studying the violin and harp and Indian music, which in turn led him to what today is loosely called world music.  He also recorded his first solo albums and rejoined Davis in 1958, bringing to Miles' sextet that "sheets of sound" style that characterized the middle phase of his too short career. 
The year 1960 marked the beginning of Coltrane's most prolific period and the formation of his so-called Classic Quartet with pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Steve Davis (later replaced by Jimmy Garrison) and drummer Elvin Jones.  They recorded the seminal Giant Steps, the title track of which includes perhaps the most complex chord progressions he ever laid down, and then went back into the studio and recorded My Favorite Things. 
Once of the most incredible aspects of Coltrane is that he never stopped exploring stylistically, and in the early 1960s, he expanded his improvisations but left behind some of his fans and critics.  In fact, Coltrane was a prime victim of Hostile Critic Syndrome. 
In 1964, the Classic Quartet produced its most famous album, the deeply spiritual A Love Supreme.  The following year Coltrane moved into the final phase of his career, embracing the avant-garde jazz influenced by Ornette Coleman and Sun Ra, and formed a second quartet that featured young and up-and-coming artists like Archie Shepp. 
Some people say that Coltrane began using LSD about this time, and there indeed is an acid-like transcendence to the music of this period, much of it with new wife Alice Coltrane on piano and Pharoah Sanders on tenor sax.
I never saw John Coltrane play.  Probably the closest I ever got to him was when I took my draft board physical a few blocks from the three-story brick row house on North 33rd Street in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood of Philadelphia that he bought for $5,400 in 1952 and practiced and lived in until his death in 1967 of liver cancer at the relatively young age of 41. 
It is no exaggeration to say that Coltrane and Miles Davis literally reshaped modern jazz.  The ultimate testament to their greatness is that they continue to deeply influence jazz musicians of all ages. 
Although Coltrane is best known for his tenor work, I still defer to his superb soprano renditions on what remains my favorite jazz album -- My Favorite Things.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Politix Update: Dubya Was Much Worse Than We Thought & Why That Matters Now

We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. We are history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do. ~ KARL ROVE 
I began blogging in 2005.  After leaving behind a decades-long career as a newspaper editor and reporter, I still felt the need to scratch my writerly itch.  My children seldom enjoyed my company more than when I would regale them with stories of growing up, my crazy friends, eclectic experiences and world travels.  Scratching my itch by blogging about all that seemed like a good idea.  And then there was George W. Bush.   
A darkness had descended over America by the time my first blog post appeared in November 2005. Bush's imperial presidency had plunged the country into an unnecessary war in Iraq that would take over 4,000 American lives and those of at least a hundred thousand others, create an immense refugee crisis and be the crucible for the emergence of ISIS, while starving an arguably necessary war in Afghanistan of boots and resources.  And that did not include the horror show of crises at home -- including a tanking economy and the callous response to victims of Hurricane Katrina -- because of the overarching ineptitude of the smirking frat boy from the Texas oil patch.   
About a year into the war, or early 2004, I began writing a semi-blog that I called Web Blatherings. It was mostly about Bush.  This went out by email attachment to my extended family and by snail mail to a few Luddites of my acquaintance, including a friend who lives out in the desert in Utah and will leave this mortal coil without ever once experiencing Microsoft Windows locking up on him.   
This crude little affair eventually morphed into Kiko's House, a real blog that grew slowly but nicely on the backs of all those war dead and the Bush Torture Regime and is now closing in on 2 million visitors.  (I still mail printouts to the guy in the desert.)  I wrote hundreds of blog posts about Bush and his wars, and after considerable searching and some expense, found a large and very detailed map of Baghdad that I hung on the wall over my computer in an effort to better understand the vagaries of the war.  The map was beautiful but deceiving, showing the rivers, canals, boulevards and airports, but not the bombings, kidnappings and ambushes.  While I doubt that I shed much light on those deeply troubling times, blogging was therapeutic and a hell of a lot healthier than mainlining single malt Scotch. 
Barack Obama has done much, although ultimately not enough, to bring America back from those dark years, and with the election of his successor only a few weeks away, I have felt a need to reexamine the Bush presidency not just to refresh my memory -- was his presidency as awful as it seemed at this time? -- but to glean from it lessons for Obama's successor. 
The answer is that the Bush presidency was even more awful than it seemed at the time, and there are many lessons in that for Hillary Clinton, who unlike Obama was for the Iraq War before she was against it, and for Donald Trump, who shares a creepily uncanny number of Bush's personal traits. 
Historians have been picking through the entrails of the Bush presidency since before he left office.  Even allowing that they tend to be a liberal lot, it is difficult to find anyone who has anything remotely positive to say about Bush and his administration beyond his personal moderation on immigration and AIDS outreach, both of which his Republican Party disavowed. 
The hands down best big-picture book on the presidency is Bush, a biography by Jean Edward Smith that was published in July to deservedly excellent reviews.   
Smith is no partisan but paints a devastating portrait of the Bush years: 
"George W. Bush's legacy was a nation impoverished by debt, besieged by doubt, struggling with the aftereffects of the worst recession since the Great Depression, and deeply engaged in military conflicts of our own choosing.  His tin ear for traditional conservative values, his sanctimonious religiosity, his support for Guantánamo, CIA 'renditions,' and government snooping have eroded public trust in the United States at home and abroad.  For eight years, Bush made the decisions that put the United States on a collision course with reality.  To argue that by taking the actions he did, the president kept America safe is meretricious: the type of post hoc ergo propter hoc analysis that could justify any action, regardless of its impropriety.  The fact is, the threat of terrorism that confronts the United States is in many respects a direct result of Bush's decision to invade Iraq in 2003." 
Then there is this: Bush was is a chickenhawk who avoided serving in Vietnam (ditto Trump) because of his father's connections, his messianic certitude suffocated everything in his path (ditto), he turned a blind eye to environmental problems (ditto), showed virtually no interest in improving the nation's ailing infrastructure (ditto), worked hard to downgrade government regulatory oversight of Wall Street, noxious emissions and mine safety (ditto, ditto, ditto), and didn't want to be bothered with details such as the fact there were deep and historic divisions between the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds in Iraq that would lead to the civil war that grew out of the U.S. occupation. 
Although we suspected that Bush was ill-prepared for the presidency, Smith notes that as governor of Texas from 1995 until he defeated Al Gore in 2000, he presided over an office that is perhaps the weakest in the country. 
The Texas governor is more like a head of state.  Bush had no cabinet, and no executive responsibilities.  Smith notes that state agencies more or less ran themselves, and the state Legislature is notably weak.    
"As Texans might say, the governorship is all hat and no cattle. 
"George W. Bush thrived in that setting.  The governor's office was, as Bush's most sympathetic biographer has written, the ultimate step for someone who had been head cheerleader at Andover, a fraternity president at Yale, and the public face of a baseball team." 
The most striking similarity between Bush and Trump is their repeated and frequent use of the word "I."  As in "only I have all the answers."  "Only I can fix it." Every decision is a command decision, and ramifications and nuances do not matter. 
The Patriot Act "may be the most ill-conceived piece of domestic legislation since the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798.  . . . [Bush's] refusal to face up to the fact that Iraq had no unconventional weapons suggests a willfulness that borders on psychosis."
One of Bush's most startling unilateral actions concerning Iraq was ditching the decision to begin a drawdown of forces almost immediately after Saddam Hussein had been routed and instead keep a large residual force in country to impose democracy, a so-called goal that he dreamed up all by himself in a fit of messianic religiosity.  He never comprehended that a Western-style democracy might not fit Iraq. 
And so the invasion force became an occupation force literally overnight.   
"Once again, Bush had made the decision on his own.  There was no National Security Council meeting to discuss the shift, and neither [Donald] Rumsfeld or [Colin] Powell were consulted.  Once again, it was the personalization of presidential power. . . . 
"The results were immediate.  Virtually everything in Iraq shut down.  Instead of confronting life as usual, the Iraqi were confronted with chaos, [and] Washington was oblivious to the problem."
If there was a turning point in the Bush presidency, it was Hurricane Katrina, which he rode out in a state of denial and in the process spent the last of his rapidly diminishing political capital as the nation soured on the war and began to understand the false pretenses under which it had been launched. 
"Bush was overwhelmed, much as Herbert Hoover had been facing the Great Depression. Surrounded by a White House staff too eager to do his bidding, he lived in a world of make-believe.  An additional deficiency was Bush's demeanor.  Throughout the [Katrina] crisis he appeared jovial bordering on flippant.  His bouncy exuberance and the associated swagger helped do him in."
Smith convincingly downplays the portrait of Bush as a puppet of Dick Cheney, Carl Rove and Rumsfeld, something that I had bought into back in the day.  Bush was, after all, the ultimate authority.  Or, as he liked to think of himself, "The Decider."
Bush may eventually get a more sympathetic hearing by history.  I doubt it, although the emergence of Donald Trump has prompted the amnesiacs among us reconsider whether he was such a bad man.  But the Republican Party's embrace of Trump is nothing less than the result of a populist revolt that  Bush fomented and is, in the final analysis, an enormous repudiation of all things Dubya.   
And the immense mess he made in Iraq and the Middle East will continue to haunt the next president -- and beyond.

© 2015-2016 SHAUN D. MULLEN 

Classic Cartoon du Jour

Pat Oliphant/Universal Press Syndicate

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

She Had A Clear Vision Of 'How It Oughta Be' And How It Was 'Not Yet'

I had what I suppose you could call a 21st century relationship with Prairie Weather.  She was one of those people you felt like you knew well but never actually met — except on the Internet. 
Prairie Weather insisted on anonymity when she wrote, hence the nom de plummage, which I always thought was a wonderfully visceral representation of who she was: A women who had traveled the world, taught at great universities and was an accomplished painter, but cherished living alone on the plains of Central Texas about midway between Austin and San Antonio. 
With unashamedly progressive views, Prairie Weather never pulled her punches when writing about the issues that concerned her. These included the dumbing down of American democracy, disintegration of traditional conservative values, the Supreme Court, women's issues, Texas politics and the coming of Donald Trump.  
My dear friend Dr. Clarrisa Pinkola Estés is one of the few people I know who actually met Prairie Weather, and described her as: 
"A tall, graceful woman with long silver hair, and a heart of gold. She had a clear vision of 'how it oughta be' and how it was 'not yet.'  She was a steady voice in the cross winds." 
Prairie Weather's last column, headlined "Yes, He Is A Fascist," was published on July 2. 
We had not heard from Prairie Weather for a couple of months, so I put on my investigative hat and went looking for her.  After working through a few layers of rural Texas bureaucracy, I learned that she had passed on September 10. 
Prairie Weather was a proud 78 years old.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Politix Update: Donald Trump Is Not Deplorable. Or Disgusting. He Is Depraved.

When we look back on the rise and fall of Donald John Trump the presidential candidate, one day in particular will capture the utter depravity of his campaign: Friday, September 16, 2016. 
It had been just another ho-hum week for Trump, who had boasted about his testosterone levels on a celebrity doctor's television show, accused the Fed chairwoman of corruption, mocked an African-American pastor, again referred to Senator Elizabeth Warren as "Pocahontas,"  again suggested his supporter shoot his opponent, and still refused to release his tax returns.   
Then on the morning of September 16, Trump summoned journalists for a "major news announcement" that turned out to be an infomercial for his new Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. and yet another opportunity for him to punk compliant cable news channels that had breathlessly gone live. 
But before the morning was out, there was much bigger news than that even if it took the Cheeto Jesus a mere 31 seconds to deliver it.  With no follow-up questions allowed. 
Trump grudgingly and unapologetically disavowed his self-made lie that Barack Obama was not American born, but jump started yet another false conspiracy by blaming Hillary Clinton for creating the birther controversy that he himself had ignited and fanned for the last five years in a sick effort to undermine the legitimacy of the nation's first black president. 
Even at this late date in the Trump cavalcade of perversity, reasonable people -- and there still are a few of us out there -- wonder why he would promote a lie for years and years.  But yet again, attempting to apply logic to a Trumpian moment utterly fails.  It does not matter whether he did it because he's an attention freak, a racist or merely a cynic, or that he kept doing it even as his own aides and his party disavowed it. 
And that is the true depravity of Donald Trump. 
I have said from the jump that Hillary Clinton will beat Donald Trump in a landslide.  I'm not backing away from that view even as many national polls tighten and Democratic loyalists take to the fainting couch, but I will concede that I was off a half a bubble when it came to two key aspects of the presidential race: Clinton's strategy of correctly portraying Trump as an unacceptable kook was the right one because he is not doing well, but that strategy hasn't been right enough. And Clinton herself is even more unpopular than I thought.   
When you strip away a layer or three from the more credible national polls, these things become obvious: 
* It is small comfort, but Trump's numbers have not improved and he is getting less support than Republican candidates typically do.   His numbers have remained static for weeks, which reinforces my view that he pretty much hit his ceiling of support before the GOP national convention in early July. 
* Alternately, Clinton's numbers have not improved significantly, and she too is getting less support than Democratic candidates typically do. The main drag on Clinton is not Trump, it is Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, who are polling about 10 percent and 3 percent, respectively.   
* If you factor out those third-party candidates, then Clinton's lead over Trump jumps from about 2 to 5 percent to about 12 to 15 percent.  If history is any guide, and it still is even in this weirdest of election seasons, support for both Johnson and Stein will erode between now and Election Day.  Clinton is likely to inherit most of it.
Or at least we hope she does.
This campaign has been precedent setting in many ways.  Unfortunately, none of them have been good.  And now we can add one more: While a good case can be made that George W. Bush became a war criminal, Donald Trump would already be on record as stating he would have no problem in being one.
Beyond Trump's embrace of torture and killing the innocent families of terrorists, he wants the U.S. to become a nation that steals from its enemies.  As he told Matt Lauer in the now infamous commander-in-chief forum in the context of grabbing Iraqi oil: 
"It used to be to the victor belong the spoils . . . but now we have all sorts of rules and regulations, so the soldiers are afraid to fight." 
Inconveniently for Trump, plundering is a violation of the Geneva Conventions, as is torture.  But none of that matters under the Trump Doctrine, which makes Colin Powell's view, as revealed in a hacked email, that Trump is "a national disgrace and international pariah" all the more accurate. 
Trump, of course, thinks he can get away with this.  Which brings out another of his defining characteristics: He's a bully.  But like bullies, he also is a coward.

© 2015-2016 SHAUN D. MULLEN