Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Phil Woods (November 2, 1931 ~ September 30, 2015)

A weight that would break most musicians pressed on Phil Woods from early on.  How many young singer-songwriters have been declared "the next Bob Dylan" or young operatic tenors "the next Plácido Domingo"?  Woods was burdened with being "the next Charlie Parker," a jazz legend of extraordinary virtuosity, after the death in 1955 of the man nicknamed Bird.  Woods soared to that challenge, not merely becoming the New Bird, as he invariably was dubbed when he was still wet behind the ears, but forging a 60-plus year career as an extraordinary bebop alto saxophonist, as Bird had been, as well as a gifted bandleader and composer.
Woods died on Tuesday morning.  He was 83.
I first met Woods because of the Delaware Water Gap Celebration of the Arts, a jazz festival held each September since 1978 in the tiny eastern Poconos village of Delaware Water Gap.  
Woods, trombonist Rick Chamberlain and community organizer Eddie Joubert had founded the festival.  While Woods played at every festival until this year, as had Chamberlain until his passing earlier this year, Joubert left this mortal coil in 1981, the victim of a brutal ax murder that left the close-knit community of musicians, artists and Vietnam veterans stunned and bereft.
When I interviewed Woods in 2003 for The Bottom of the Fox: A True Story of Love, Devotion & Cold-Blooded Murder, a book about Joubert's life and times, he opened his home and heart to me, and we chatted at length in a spacious living room with a cathedral ceiling and walls covered with four Grammy awards, a slew of Downbeat and Playboy Jazz Poll awards, testimonials and a gold record or three.
Woods and I later became neighbors, if not exactly bosom buddies.  He is irascible and then some, although I did hear that he liked The Bottom of the Fox so much that he gave away copies as Christmas presents the year that it was published.
Phil Woods and Eddie Joubert at the jazz festival (1981)
When Woods reprised Parker's classic Charlie Parker With Strings album with a jazz trio and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in Pittsburgh on September 4, he left his alto sax on stage after the last number, an unmistakable message that his extraordinary playing career was over.
That career includes 48 albums as a leader and many as a much-sought-after sideman to, among others, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Oliver Nelson, Ron Carter, Quincy Jones, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Art Farmer, Milt Jackson, Bill Evans, Stephane Grappelli, Ben Webster, Lee Konitz, Kenny Burrell and Gary Burton. 
That's Woods blowing sax on Billy Joel's New York State of Mind and Turnstiles, as well as on Joel's "Just The Way You Are," for which he was paid $300 for just 10 minutes of studio work.  The single was a Number 3 hit, went gold and jump started Joel's then struggling career.  He also played on classic rock hits by Paul Simon ("Having a Good Time") and Steely Dan ("Doctor Wu"), both produced by Phil Ramone, a classmate of Woods' at the Julliard School.
Steely Dan’s “Doctor Wu,” Paul Simon’s “Have a Good Time” and Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are.” The last two were produced by Phil Ramone, a classmate from Woods’ days at New York’s Juilliard School.

Read More: Phil Woods, Saxophone Legend, Dies at 83 | http://ultimateclassicrock.com/phil-woods-dies/?trackback=tsmclip
Steely Dan’s “Doctor Wu,” Paul Simon’s “Have a Good Time” and Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are.” The last two were produced by Phil Ramone, a classmate from Woods’ days at New York’s Juilliard School.

Read More: Phil Woods, Saxophone Legend, Dies at 83 | http://ultimateclassicrock.com/phil-woods-dies/?trackback=tsmclip
Steely Dan’s “Doctor Wu,” Paul Simon’s “Have a Good Time” and Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are.” The last two were produced by Phil Ramone, a classmate from Woods’ days at New York’s Juilliard School.

Read More: Phil Woods, Saxophone Legend, Dies at 83 | http://ultimateclassicrock.com/phil-woods-dies/?trackback=tsmclip
Woods was one of those great artists whose sound is immediately recognizable: Distinctive and clean  melodies, dashing runs and subtle quotes wrapped into a bright, soaring tone. 
While he is most closely associated with Parker, he has never copied him, and his greatest inspirations actually were alto sax greats Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter, with whom he was very close until Carter's death in 2003. 
Woods passed at Pocono Medical Center in East Stroudsburg, Pa., not far from his home in Delaware Water Gap, where he had lived since 1976.  He had been battling emphysema and other health problems, including a self-acknowledged blow-and-booze lifestyle in his younger days that was bound to catch up to him.  He had brought an oxygen tank on stage at recent concerts, and as he noted at a memorial service for Chamberlain, no one was more surprised than himself that he had outlived the other jazz festival founders.
His association with Parker was solidified when he married Parker’s widow, Chan, in 1957.  The marriage ended in divorce.  He is survived by his wife, Jill Goodwin; a son, Garth; three stepdaughters, Kim Parker and Allisen and Tracy Trotter; and a grandson.
As crowning achievements go, Woods' is monstrous.  In 2007, he received the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters award.

"Jazz will never perish," Woods said.  "It's forever music, and I like to think that my music is somewhere in there and will last, maybe not forever, but may influence others."
Well, he's wrong about the not lasting forever part.

PHOTOGRAPHS © BUD NEALY (2008) AND WALTER BRAEDEL (1981)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Politix Update: Before You Know It, Fiorina's Pants Will Be Burning. Guaranteed.

There is a downside to suddenly catching fire in a presidential race.  Before you know it, your pants are burning, and Carly Fiorina is about to find that out. 
The silver-tongued Fiorina has built her campaign for the Republican presidential nomination around her tenure as CEO of Hewlett-Packard from its outset.  "I come from a world outside of politics, where track records and accomplishments count," she invariably tells audiences on the stump.
After strong "performances" in both the first and second debates, Fiorina's poll numbers have continued to grow, and she trails only Donald Trump in some polls and is tied for second with Dr. Ben Carson in others.
But as Fiorina has caught fire, so have her pants.  She just doesn't realize it yet.  There is no indication that she is gaining supporters because of her experience as a Silicon Valley big or her slavishly pro income gap-widening financial market policies.  She is gaining support because she is getting a go-free card on her appalling Planned Parenthood lies, and beyond that biz world experience she has none to speak of, other than having possibly made the worst political TV ad in history.  Once the crowded Republican field thins, that experience will come under increasingly intense scrutiny.
It is not a pretty picture.
The reality is that Fiorina pretty much drove HP into the ground after having previously trashed fast-growing Lucent, another tech company.  And if her track record is as good as she incessantly claims, and if she was fired for her maverick style as she also claims, how come other Silicon Valley companies -- always on the hunt in that hyper-competitive environment for maverick CEOs with a Midas touch -- never offered her jobs at their companies like they did Marissa Mayer at Yahoo, Virginia Rommety at IBM, Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook, Safra Catz at Oracle . . . and the list goes on and on.
It may be because Fiorina made an astonishingly bad series of management decisions at HP while feathering her own nest to the tune of over $100 million in compensation and a $21 million golden parachute, which was plenty of money to buy something like an immense yacht.  Which is exactly what she did. 
Fiorina likes to say that she increased revenues at HP, which is true, but that is because of temporary gains following HP's merger with Compaq.  (Remember Compaq?)  In fact, profits soon plummeted because Fiorina made a monumentally lousy deal.  HP stock tanked, dropping 52 percent, some 30,000 employees lost their jobs, and HP has never really recovered.
"I know a little bit about Carly Fiorina, having watched her almost destroy the company my grandfather founded," Arianna Packard, the granddaughter of the HP co-founder David Packard, wrote in a letter in 2010, when Fiorina was a candidate for the U.S. Senate in California.  And a longtime friend who had worked in a highly-valued tech position at HP for many years told me Fiorina's decision-making beggared belief.  He was one of the people who lost their jobs.
After her ouster, Fiorina appeared on several "worst CEO" lists, including those of CBS News and USA Today, while Portfolio magazine ranked her the 19th worst CEO of all time and described her as a "consummate self-promoter" who was "busy pontificating on the lecture circuit and posing for magazine covers while her company floundered."
While we're on the subject, there is no evidence that business executives make good presidents.
As a candidate, former businessman George W. Bush used to brag that he'd run the U.S. like a corporation.  Instead, he ran the U.S. into the ground.  And there is no indication that Mitt Romney, Herman Cain or Ross Perot, who ran on their business experience, would have done any better.
In fact, there have been no presidents who parlayed their business experiences into successful presidencies.  Unless you consider Harry Truman's partnership in a Kansas City men's clothing store a big plus.  
THE INFAMOUS ROBOT SHEEP AD
About that worst political TV ad in history:  In 2010, Carly Fiorina was locked in a close primary race with Tom Campbell, a former congressman who was finance director for California Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger.  The winner (who turned out to be Fiorina) would face Senator Barbara Boxer (who won going away). 
The ad, which is difficult to describe unless you're high on LSD and playing Pink FLoyd's Dark Side of the Moon at high volume, which I am not doing, depicted an alien robot sheep with lite-brite eyes, a metaphor for something or other.  Wrote CNET blogger Chris Matyszczky at the time:
"It may well be that Carly Fiorina will make for an excellent California senator. It may well be that her advisers are slapping her (and themselves) on the back because they have finally got her name out of the morass of apparently faceless politicos who are vying for the honor of failing to corral the psychedelic state. But it also may well be that they have propelled an image of Fiorina as something of nasty nutbag who shouldn't be allowed anywhere near the steering wheel of a Prius, never mind that of a state whose recall may have been total, but whose politics should be totaled."
Which begs a question: Is Fiorina a wolf in sheep's clothing?
A FEMINIST BY ANY OTHER NAME
There is one thing about which Carly Fiorina and I agree: Her view that​ "a feminist is a woman who lives the life she chooses."  But from that point on we quickly part company, as do many feminists.
This clever bit of worldplay -- and Fiorina is not anything if not (calculatingly) clever -- would seem to set her up as an alternative to a self-avowed feminist like Hillary Clinton, but scrape the . . . uh, mascara off Fiorina's brand of feminism and you pretty much have a narrative flipper that barely masks the same old Republican war on women, although this warrior happens to wear a pants suit and, by comparison, makes a GOP woman stalwart like Elizabeth Dole look like Gloria Steinem.
Yes, Fiorina says she believes in equal pay for women, but gets all squishy when asked to explain how she would make so something that her fellow Repubs oppose.  Her views on reproductive rights and birth control are a ruse, witness her attacks on Planned Parenthood, an organization that is a reproductive health-care lifeline for millions of women and is not in the abortion business.
"It's so weird -- she looks like one of us, but she's not," says bestselling author and feminist Jennifer Weiner. "You're on the bus with her until she starts talking about Planned Parenthood."
And then there is Fiorina's view that radicals have hijacked feminism, which she claims "has devolved into a left-leaning political ideology where women are pitted against men and used as a political weapon to win elections."   (Grr!) What is really needed, she says, is deregulating markets and curbing the power of unions because, doncha know, that would be good for women.
SHE SAID IT 
Dahlia Lithwick in Slate on Carly Fiorina's campaign of calculated lies about a non-existent Planned Parenthood video:
"Not even the most robust defenders of Fiorina's defense can say much more than some of the images grafted onto the sound bite might not be completely false. And yet there is still no word from Fiorina, her campaign, or her super-PAC to indicate that she misspoke, or misremembered, or confused some other video with a video about Planned Parenthood. There seems to be no place in the middle for Fiorina to just put out a statement saying, 'Hey, I misspoke. Sorry.'
"This is an extraordinary moment in the annals of political deception. No walk-back, no clarification, just a persistent insistence that a video that doesn’t exist and can’t even be manufactured in the underground labs of political deception is really out there but, like the Emperor’s new clothes, only the virtuous can see it. In Fiorina’s world and the world posited by [the National Review's Jonah] Goldberg, if people want to believe the big lie about the kicking fetus and the brain harvesting badly enough, who are we to tell them it couldn’t have happened?"
The enormity of the fabrication is mind boggling; the unwillingness of the news media to fact check is criminal.

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.

IMAGE FROM DONKEYHOTEY/FLICKR.  USED WITH PERMISSION.

Monday, September 28, 2015

This Old House: It's Having A 300th Birthday, But There Won't Be A Celebration

JOHN EVANS HOUSE (SEPTEMBER 2015)
On rare occasions, history bequeaths us an opportunity to live in an old house that speaks deeply of its rich past, an experience that is far more common in the U.K. and Europe than the comparatively young U.S.
I had one such opportunity in the 1980s when I lived in the John Evans House, a gem of an architectural crazy quilt in a secluded valley north of Newark, Delaware near where Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon drew their famous line.  It is where my children were born and spent their early years, a rather isolated existence for youngsters who didn't have any place to ride their bikes, needed to be mindful of not getting too close when playing near the woodstove in the winter, and had to be driven to town to trick-or-treat on Halloween.  But even at their tender age they appreciated, as we grown-ups certainly did, the sublime beauty of the house and its surroundings.
The John Evans House is 300 years old this year, but there won't be a celebration.
This is because the U.S. is different than our cousins across the pond in another way.  We simply don't particularly value our past.  While the occasional old pile gets razed in the U.K. and Europe, old houses typically are revered, maintained through the ages and restored as necessary, while here too many old houses are just a wrecking ball away from a highway interchange, shopping center or burger joint.  Or worse, die a slow death from neglect, which is the fate of the Evans House.

EVANS HOUSE AND ENVIRONS (ca. 1840)
John Evans was a Welsh Baptist who, as the story goes, sought a new life in the New World early in the 18th century to escape religious persecution.  He and he brother sailed to the Pennsylvania colony where they bought land in what would become Chester County in Southeastern Pennsylvania and the northernmost of the three lower Pennsylvania counties that were to become Delaware.  The seller was William Penn.  The nearest neighbors, Lenni Lenapes who had lived in the region for perhaps 2,000 years and had sold much of the valley to Penn in 1683, were not consulted. 
The Evans brothers sailed home, outfitted a ship and returned to the colony in 1715 with their families.  John Evans had the brick ballast from the ship transported to his land, some 400 acres in all, in that secluded valley hard by the confluence of the East and Middle Branches of White Clay Creek where he built a two-story gentleman's house of the ballast bricks with touches of what would become known as the Georgian architectural style.  The house grew and grew again later in the 18th century with the addition of a granite-fieldstoned center section containing a dining room and fireplace and three more bedrooms upstairs, one with a fireplace, and finally a story-and-a-half kitchen addition with a large walk-in fireplace.
The area around the house was farmed, but a mill and millrace were soon built nearby, and then grist and lumber mills and other businesses began springing up as the colony became a young republic and the nearby village of Landenberg grew and thrived.  The house passed out of the Evans family at some point and a succession of other families lived there, including an emigre family from Canada who operated a sod farm for some time in the 20th century on the fertile floodplain behind the house bordering the White Clay Creek.  (I know that because I found a son's Army dogtags under an opening in some attic floorboards and traced his ancestry.)
EVANS HOUSE (1983)
By the early 1960s, the house was somewhat in decline but still solid.  It was fronted by a white picket fence when I would ride my three-speed English bike into the valley from my family home a few miles away on high school-aged explorations.  I imagined what it would be like to live in this brick-and-stone gem and fantasized about being able to do so some day.
When I next saw the house a few years later, it was somewhat seedier but still solid.  The picket fence was gone and the valley and environs had been gobbled up by the DuPont Company, which was headquartered in nearby Wilmington, Delaware.  The chemical giant, which had an outsized presence and was enormously powerful in the region, intended to dam the White Clay and flood several thousand acres of the valley, submerging the Evans House, the church Evans built in 1729 in thanksgiving for his good fortune, and dozens of other structures.  A magnificent habit 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 from a massive reservoir to a textile manufacturing plant DuPont wanted to build north of Newark, Delaware.
But in a twist of fate that help seal the career a young politician who was to rise to national prominence, the house and valley were saved.
DuPont had consolidated its grip on the valley by secretly razing houses.  One day there would be a house and the next day a newly landscaped and seeded lawn.  Some were simple bungalows, but a few were historically significant, including the magnificent three-story and balconied Elzey House on Sharpless Road off London Tract Road, which was reminiscent of the Deer Park Tavern in Newark before it was bulldozed and buried, a crime against the history and famous architecture of the lovely area if ever there was one. 
(The Evans House may be the oldest still standing in the valley even if George Washington never slept there.  A cabin made of chestnut logs said to have been built in the 1680s sat uphill on the far side of the White Clay, but it was destroyed in an arson fire well before DuPont bigfooted onto the scene.)
EVANS HOUSE (ca. 2000)
DuPont began curbing its less altruistic corporate instincts because of furious opposition to the dam and reservoir from an unlikely coalition of foes: Dorothy Miller, a birding enthusiast and devoted environmentalist, a sportsman's club affiliated with the United Auto Workers Union at the Newark Chrysler Assembly Plant, and Sally Rickerman and Jan Kalb, whom I jokingly referred to as Attack Quakers in my admiration for their outspoken faith-based belief in saving the valley, which they happened to treasure and where their own historic homes were located.  I did my part as a young editor at the Wilmington News Journal, where I assigned a reporter to write a series of stories on the mysteriously disappearing houses, which a DuPont mouthpiece initially denied had disappeared at all.
With the indefatigable Dot Miller leading the charge, the coalition fought DuPont to a standstill and then in 1970 a slate of Democrats was swept into office in New Castle County, Delaware on a reform platform that included opposition to the dam and reservoir, which had been backed by the deeply entrenched DuPont-friendly Republican incumbents.  (The News Journal also was DuPont friendly and pro dam and reservoir, and I caught flak for the stories.)  
Among the newly elected reformers was a 28-year-old county councilman by the name of Joe Biden.
It was not until 1982 that the future of the Evans House seemed to be assured.  That was when Biden, by then a veteran U.S. senator, and colleague Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania sponsored legislation under which DuPont would receive a generous one-time tax break, which no one talked about, by deeding the valley to the states of Delaware (3,300 acres) and Pennsylvania (1,255 acres) in perpetuity for a preserve -- as opposed to a park -- that beyond rustic trails and the occasional gravel parking lot would remain undeveloped and largely undisturbed. 
In Pennsylvania, this sylvan wonder is known as the White Clay Creek Preserve, while in Delaware it is called the White Clay Creek State Park, an adjunct of the Walter S. Carpenter State Park.  The icing on this environmental cake came in 2000 when President Clinton signed a law adding 190 miles of the White Clay Creek and its tributaries to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The White Clay was the first wild and scenic river in the United States designated on a watershed basis rather than a river corridor.  (We can thank Biden and then-Delaware Governor Tom Carper for that rule-bending sleight of hand.)
Meanwhile, with DuPont as my landlord, my boyhood dream had come true and I had been living in the Evans House since 1981.  With the deed transfer, my rent checks went to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources.
EVANS HOUSE (SEPTEMBER 2015)
From the start, the Pennsylvania side of the Preserve was woefully underfunded, and we made "sweat equity" repairs to the Evans House in return for reduced rent. These repairs were, for the most part, fairly minor, although we never did get the skid marks out of a corner of the living room floor, which a neighbor later told us were from the kickstands of motorcycles parked there when bikers had briefly used the house.  But for being 270 years old, the house was in extraordinarily good condition and nearly as structurally sound as the day John Evans had opened the front door to his family for the first time.
The house remained in that condition, if a little rough around the edges, until after the tenant who moved in after we moved out, when the inevitable deterioration commenced that befalls old houses that are not kept up.
Private groups expressed an interest in preserving the now vacant house.  Under one proposal, it would have become a museum.  But the cost of restoration would have been prohibitive -- at least a half million in late 1980s dollars, according to my estimate at the time -- and neither the groups nor the state had that kind of money.  The deterioration proceeded unchecked.
Looking back, the house's fate was determined when the state did an inadequate job of closing it up.  We probably can blame that chronic underfunding of parks and the other things that really matter, although that excuse has become profoundly disingenuous in an era when the Pennsylvania government has opened our lands to rapacious frackers, but only a trickle of the billions in natural gas that energy companies pump out of our ground ever finds its way back into state coffers and places like the Preserve where it might really make a difference.
Anyhow, houses like people need to breathe, and this is especially true of old houses as temperatures and humidity cycle up and down.  This house's doors and windows were sealed with plywood boards instead of boards with louvers, which preservationists commonly use.  Louvers would have allowed the house and its floors, walls, ceilings, attic and roof to breathe and not suffocate, slowing its deterioration until an angel with deep pockets might come along.
A CODA
The memories came flooding back on a recent day when I stopped by to pay my respects to the John Evans House, as I always do when I'm in the area.  The valley, on the cusp of summer and autumn, was brilliantly sunlit and songbirds heralded my presence, as they always do. 
The roof had been more or less in place, if a little leaky, on my previous visit a year or so earlier.  But on this day the house sat forlorn and very much neglected.  There was hideous graffiti on some of the first floor plywood boards and the roof and attic dormer windows were collapsing inward. Vegetation had overtaken and seized the back of the house, covering the windows from which we watched the sun burn off the mist over the creek on many a morning, slowly but surely assisting in the team effort of time and neglect to pull down and eventually transform to rubble an irreplaceably beautiful house and monument to local history. 
I wept, and don't believe I will ever be able to go back.

Cartoon du Jour

MIKE LUCKOVICH/ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION

Saturday, September 26, 2015

'There's Something Happening Here, What It Is Ain't Exactly Clear'

FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH
By Stephen Stills 
There's something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

There's battle lines being drawn
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind

It's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side

It's s time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you're always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away

We better stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Stop, now, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
PHOTOGRAPH © MURILEE MARTIN

Friday, September 25, 2015

Politix Update: Please, Let's Try To Appreciate Bernie Sanders While He Lasts

When was the last time that a politician came along who is a nonobservant Jew, a socialist with a progressive agenda and sound policy positions who ignites a grassroots movement and challenges voters by telling them things they might not want to hear?  Never, of course.
The decision by Time magazine to make Bernie Sanders the cover story of its September 28 issue is hugely important, although pretty much only in symbolic terms.  The senator from Vermont will eventually succumb to the powerful magnetic field of Hillary Clinton and the
Democratic Party establishment, but the cover is long overdue and richly deserved recognition by a bastion of the mainstream media that Sanders is a one-man populist revolution who contrasts sharply with the candidate inmates of the Republican asylum -- and Clinton and Joe Biden, as well, were he to enter the race. 
Sanders' problems, and they are no surprise, are twofold: 
* Clinton fatigue and disgust with business-as-usual politics notwithstanding, Sanders' support increases only slightly while Clinton's support increases substantially when you take Biden out of the equation.
* While Sanders is hugely popular with young voters and progressives, he has not connected with other key segments of the Democratic coalition, most notably African-Americans, who show no interest in him.
This, of course, is a crying shame, because beyond the sound bites, Sanders and reality are on a first-name basis, as opposed to Donald Trump's skin-deep populism.
While Trump is a narcissistic fantasist, the hallmark of Sanders' 34-year career as an elected official is the work he has done for and with his constituents.  This includes a deeply informed cognizance -- and this makes Republican heads explode -- that many other countries have made better lives for their own citizens through universal healthcare, paid sick leave and family leave, and trying to level the playing field between the rich and ordinary working stiffs. 
Sander will not embark on a third-party campaign; he's too . . . uh, classy and too much of a team player for that.  So the best we can hope for as he soaks up much deserved applause while he's still out there campaigning is that he pushes Clinton leftward (and she has finally come out in opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline) as well as reminds us that there still at least one honorable person left in Washington.
CONFIDENCE & IGNORANCE
After working through several stages of denial, I have come to believe that Donald Trump has done us a favor because he is the best thing to happen in ages in laying bare, as does Bernie Sanders from an altogether different place, the phoniness of the so-called political process.
Politico recently asked historians whether there are historical figures whom Trump resembles who can help explain his rise, and David Bright of Yale University really hit a nerve when he said that Trump was the first presidential candidate with "no belief system other than the certainty that anything he says is right."
Trump's real antecedents, Bright believes, are not people like Ross Perot or Huey Long, but Mark Twain's fictional characters:
"Especially his use of the Confidence Man, Captain Simon Suggs of Tallapoosa, in a chapter in Huckleberry Finn. There are Trumps aplenty also in Twain's 1873 novel, The Gilded Age. The Confidence Man is always notoriously full of bravado, hyperbole, shiftiness; he makes people just line up and buy things from him. Frustrated, alienated from normal politics, hating political parties and with very short historical memories, many Americans perversely desire a river boat gambler dealing them bad hands, especially if those cards can confirm their most heartfelt prejudices."
Bright added that it is worth remembering one of Twain's ditties: "To succeed in life you need two things: confidence and ignorance."
THE SCHOOLYARD BULLY STRIKES AGAIN 
Do you remember the snot-nosed kid in elementary school who would start fights on the playground and then point to some hapless soul -- perhaps you -- as the perp when a teacher ran over? 
Well, that's Donald Trump. 
Trump, who has long and unapologetically questioned whether Barack Obama really is an American, declared this week that Hillary Clinton is "the original birther."
"Hillary is a birther," Trump exclaimed during an appearance before the Greater Charleston (S.C.) Business Alliance. "Hillary is the one who started it.  Check it out — 2008." 
We did.  She didn't.
HATE AT A CROSSROADS 
Arthur Goldwag, writing in Salon: 
"Racism runs deep in the Republican Party, as we have all learned, seven years into the presidency of Barack Obama. But the kinds of hatreds that animated Elizabeth Dilling, if not Ann Coulter, run much deeper than nasty tweets or even racial gerrymandering and voter suppression. Totalizing and metaphysical, they reflect and shape a whole worldview. If traditional racism is deeply rooted in America’s economy, geography and culture, it is more tangible and easier to measure and parse than the fixations that characterize the 'Paranoid Style in American Politics,' in Richard Hofstadter's famous coinage. Like the proverbial iceberg, a lot of those primal, capital ‘h’ Hates are hidden from view; they are buried in the collective id. And Hate has come to a crossroads." 
Be afraid America, be very afraid.

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.

IMAGE FROM DONKEYHOTEY/FLICKR.  USED WITH PERMISSION.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Politix Update: The Death Of Cowboy Conservatism & Other Campaign Morsels

There was a long familiar Republican soap opera character absent from the second presidential debate the other night: The Cowboy Conservative.
You know what a Cowboy Conservative is.  He's the Stetson hat-wearing dude with a Texas swagger, aw shucks style, feigned ignorance and a drawl a mile wide as exemplified by George W. Bush and most recently by Rick Perry, who watched the debate from his ranch . . . er, townhouse in Austin after becoming the first major casualty of the 2016 campaign, arguably because of shifting Republican voter demographics as much as any other factor.  (Scott Walker has no such excuse.  He was, plain and simple, a dud.)
Anyhow, in Dubya's heyday being a "good ol' boy" was preferable to being an effete urbanite in the eyes of many Republican voters, and they ate up the shtick like crab puffs at a party fundraiser.  But as the party "runs out of old, white, married, rural voters, being a Cowboy Conservative ain't what it used to be," writes  pundit Matt K. Lewis in The Week. This is because younger and more cosmopolitan conservatives are rejecting that shtick as stupid, if not downright repellent.
My own take as an effete FDR liberal is that pretending you are dumb, a hallmark of the Cowboy Conservative, might have box office appeal, but it doesn't have legs when it turns out that you are dumb. In the case of Bush and Perry, their dumbness wasn't necessarily because of a lack of intelligence, it was because they did dumb things.  Perry seemed to acknowledge as much after his campaign crashed and burned so spectacularly in 2012.  He got reading glasses, boned up on policy issues, made some pretty good speeches -- notably one about Republicans marginalizing black voters - and dialed back on the shtick, but it was too late.
We can blame Dubya for many things, and seven years after his godawful presidency stumbled to an end, the list of his sins is still growing, while the embarrassment Republican bigs feel when confronted by his tarnished legacy seems boundless.  But there is one thing for which we can thank him: The death of Cowboy Conservatism.
DR. BEN'S FIRST FIRESTORM
Republicans love to cite the Founding Fathers as a backstop for their wingnuttery, and reliably get ridiculously wrong what the powdered crowd set actually said and believed.

To the inconvenience of Dr. Ben Carson, who does not believe that a Muslim should be president (he thinks Barack Obama is one) and asserts that the Constitution says as much, as well as the execrable Ted Cruz and their fellow GOP travelers who also view Islam as a threat to motherhood and apple pie, the Founders recognized Islam as one of the world's great faiths.
Thomas Jefferson often consulted a copy of the Quran and made sure the concept of religious freedom enshrined in the Constitution included Islam. Hence the great document reads: "No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."
In what The New York Times calls a "firestorm," Christian and Islamic groups took issue with Carson. He has been dogged by his own brand of racism everywhere he has gone in recent days, and his efforts to walk back his statements by clarifying his clarifications would be comical if they weren't so damning.  (Example: Carson has not been absolute in his view that the Constitution should be more important than religious belief. Asked if this should apply to Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused to certify same-sex marriages, he hemmed and hawed and finally said that his view "only applies to presidential contenders.") 
The Council on American-Islamic Relations called for Carson to leave the race and expressed outrage that someone like himself who had benefited from the civil rights movement would make such an incendiary statement.
"Our message is this: Dr. Carson, you should have more faith in the American people," said Rabiah Ahmed, a spokeswoman for the Muslim Public Affairs Council. "Fifty years ago, people in the United States said African-Americans were unfit to be president. Because of civil rights leaders, you have the right to run for president." 
No matter, 43 percent of Republicans believe Obama is a Muslim, according to a CNN poll, up from 31 percent in 2010, while a PPP poll finds 49 percent of Republicans think Islam should be illegal.  That's not going to change when even the candidates not into name calling don't want to roil the party base.
CROCODILE TEARS FOR SCOTTY

Halley's Comet lasted longer than Scott Walker's presidential campaign, which should not come as a shock to anyone who spent . . . say, five seconds on the guy and realized that he was a Tea Party cipher.  (Yes, Trump was a factor.)
 
But before we relegate the Wisconsin governor to the scrap yard of campaigns, one thing is worth noting in this age of Citizens United: Walker was supposed to be able to stay in the hunt for a long time because of super PAC money, but when you don't have a campaign worth funding -- and despite spending millions of dollars in Iowa alone Walker would have had to sit at the kiddie table at the next debate -- the money from the rich farts goes poof!  
And while you didn't ask, I see fellow governator John Kasich benefiting the most from Walker's flameout, not Marco Rubio as some pundits say, with Lindsay Graham being the next dropout.
YET ANOTHER SHOE DROPS -- ON CHRISTIE'S HEAD
Beating up on Chris Christie is so much fun.  The Republican presidential wannabe is finding over and over again that paybacks for the crap and corruption that have characterized his tenure as New Jersey governor are a bitch, and Walker's exit from the big dance won't matter squat to Christie's running-on-fumes campaign.
The last time we checked on His Corpulence, the CEO of United Airlines and two other execs had been shown the door after being caught in one of the tentacles in the long-running fallout from Christie' very own Bridgegate scandal.  Now comes word that a New Jersey state lottery privatization scheme that benefited two cronies, including a central figure in Bridgegate who screwed the pooch in the United flap, is a flop.
Christie had declared that taking the lottery private would boost revenues and stimulate sales.  Just the opposite has happened, and the lottery has cut state income for the second straight year, creating a $136 million shortfall in the 2015 budget.
IT'S ONLY ROCK 'N' ROLL, BUT WE LIKE IT
Political candidates have been appropriating rock songs for their campaigns for years, and almost without fail if they're Republicans, they get their ears cuffed by offended musicians, who almost without fail are liberals of the Democratic persuasion (Ted Nugent is a rare exception) who threaten to sue if the candidates don't stop using their songs.
The most (in)famous such appropriation is Ronald Reagan's use of "Born in the U.S.A.," which drew a sharp rebuke from Bruce Springsteen, who is kind of rare among rockers for being a political activist who puts his money where his mouth is and did a slew of get-out-the-vote concerts for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
Now comes R.E.M., which has given Donald Trump and Ted Cruz their collective middle finger for the unauthorized use of the band's "It's the End of the World as We Know It," and Survivor co-founder Frankie Sullivan for Mike Huckabee's unauthorized use of the band's "Eye of the Tiger."

"Go f*ck yourselves, the lot of you -- you sad, attention-grabbing, power-hungry little men," R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe declared.  "Do not use our music or my voice for your moronic charade of a campaign."

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.

IMAGE FROM DONKEYHOTEY/FLICKR.  USED WITH PERMISSION.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Politix Update: They're Nutty, Delusional, Scary & All Destined To Be Losers

​A regular reader of Politix Update recently asked me how I did it.  How did I crank out two or three columns a week, a total of about 40 columns to date.  "It's easy," I replied, "Like shooting fish in a barrel." 
But therein lies a problem.  While a few of my columns have been about Hillary Clinton's proclivity for being her own worst enemy and the state of political play in general, most have focused on the Republican presidential field, and I am fast running out of ways of trying to say the same thing differently: That this bunch of wannabes are nutty, delusional and scary unlike any group of candidates before them. 
Ever. 
That their blatherings are in sync with a party base reflective of what the GOP has worked so assiduously to become: Nutty, delusional and scary.  That the eventual nominee will morph into a moderate in the home stretch of the campaign in a futile effort to attract moderates, Independents, undecideds, minorities and women -- as did John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 -- who are not already turned off by the party's fantasy view of America and the world.  And that the nominee and his feckless running mate will crash and burn, returning a Democrat to the White House for the fifth time in the last six presidential elections, not counting the one thrown by the Supreme Court. 

I'm not asking you to feel my pain.  And this front-end rant may ignore the possibility that politics has changed under my very Been There Seen That nose.  But I don't think so.  While disillusionment with Washington and the sausage factory that produces a presidential race every four years certainly has grown, and justifiably so, most of us still like our presidents sane, experienced, pragmatic, knowledgeable, thoughtful and even compassionate when the situation calls for it, as well as disinclined to shock and awe some foreign country back to the Stone Age every time its head honcho gives us the finger.
Let's look at the portion of the field that did not sit at the kiddie table at the second presidential debate as ranked by an aggregation of the polls, which is to say unscientifically and with no claim that any of these candidates are indeed adults:
DONALD TRUMP 
The Donald is an utterly unqualified bottom feeder, scam artist, bloviator, world-class liar, Muslim basher and proud misogynist.  This explains why he leads in the polls and the number of Republicans who believe he has the best chance of being elected is increasing. 

DR. BEN CARSON 
The suspicion grows that Carson sees himself as some sort of messiah, and his rise in the polls can be attributed to clever packaging of vacuous lunatic fringe positions wrapped in religion that in many cases are no different than Trump's, although presented in a kinder and more gentlemanly way. 


CARLY FIORINA 
Because Michele and Sarah were not available, the party needed a woman.  It got Carly, whose major claims to fame are that she's not Hillary and wrecked not one but two major tech companies.  Great CEO?  Right. Investors were so relieved to see her gone that HP's stock soared on news of her departure.


JEB BUSH 
Jeb, Jeb, Jeb!  While the Republican elite was behind him from the outset, broader support has been tepid, he has virtually no endorsements, including those of moderates, and I'll be damned if I know what his message is even as someone who is paying close attention. But he'll probably still be the nominee.

TED CRUZ 
If they gave a prize for scariest candidate, this demagogue and ideological purist from Texas would win hands down.  Little comes out of his mouth that isn't an appeal to gutter politics, the basest of instincts and most punitive of responses, and he uses lying like a deadly weapon.
MARCO RUBIO
Rubio is sooo baby faced, and even his willful naivetĂ© is kinda cute.  But he's got two problems that might even deny him a spot at being a veep running mate: He's Hispanic and many Republicans don't like 'em, while many Hispanics think he's an out-of-touch elitist. Oh, and his campaign is stuck in low gear.
MIKE HUCKABEE
The former Baptist preacher has been hemmed in on one side by Carson, who is out-God squading him, and candidates who say even stupider things than him on the other side.  But who can begrudge a guy who has said drug dealers should be executed and AIDS sufferers quarantined?
JOHN KASICH
Kasich entered the fray kind of late, which is unfortunate because he makes sense, speaks his mind without resorting to lying, opposes ripping big holes in the federal safety net and supports the Affordable Care Act.  Truth be known, I kind of like the guy.  Which means he doesn't have a chance.
SCOTT WALKER
Scott, Scott, Scott!  The campaign of this Tea Party robot has unraveled, perhaps because he is truly a resume without a man and his repeated boasts about being a political outsider are pure hokum.  The Wisconsin governor is only 47, but he's been running for office for the last 25 years.  (UPDATE: Walker ended his campaign late today.)  
CHRIS CHRISTIE 
Beyond an addiction to lying, Christie's big problem is that he is running on his record, and even a cursory examination of his six years as New Jersey governor reveals a disregard for poor working stiffs and a level of incompetence and corruption extraordinary even for the Garden State.

RAND PAUL 
The libertarianish Paul wants to repeal the Patriot Act and end large-scale data collection, approves of medical marijuana and has a more nuanced view of foreign policy, while he appeals to a wider voter demographic than the other candidates.  All of which explains why he's doing so poorly.
. . . AND A FINAL WORD
David Brooks is the house conservative on The New York Times editorial page and successor to The Williams -- Kristol and Safire.  He is reliably Republican, reliably plain vanilla and reliably tolerant of the excesses of the GOP.

But the carefully bifurcated red and blue world in which Brooks plods is all topsy turvy.  He wrote after the second debate that:

"Republicans radiate more alienation than the sophomore class at a Berkeley alternative high school. 
"They have also entered a weird post-material political space.  Many Republicans show little interest in candidates who offer proposals, but flock to the ones who offer outrageous self-expression."
He lumps the candidates into two groups:
"One group wants to rip up the political process and disrupt everything. Renounce the Iran deal on Day 1, no matter what our allies say. Ignore the Supreme Court and effectively disallow gay marriage. Shut down the government to defund Planned Parenthood. Magically deport the 11 million illegal immigrants. . . .

"The other [group] lives within the confines of reality. You can't actually defund Planned Parenthood or end Obamacare if you don't control the White House. Offending every global ally on the first day of a new administration might have some nasty knock on effects. You can’t actually erase the 14th Amendment and end birthright citizenship."
Brooks writes that the summer run of the "burn-down-the-house crowd," including Carson, Cruz and, of course, Trump is over and it's time for the realists, including Bush, Kasich and Lindsey Graham to take control.  Brooks just doesn't believe that this will happen; he prays that this will happen.  But even if he can borrow a prayer or two from Carson or Huckabee, it won't happen.

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.

IMAGE FROM DONKEYHOTEY/FLICKR.  USED WITH PERMISSION