Sunday, July 31, 2016

Politix Update: Why Portraying Trump As A Menace Is A Red, White & Blue Winner

Beyond the experience of burning brain cells at an alarming rate, I learned something important during my 18-month-long slog through the digestive tract of Hollywood celebrity and SoCal culture in covering the O.J. Simpson murder case: Everyone who touched its third rail ended up being diminished by it.  So it is too with Donald Trump.   
No one has taken more bullets in public life than Hillary Clinton although no one has deserved that less.  The unpopularity of this decent and eminently qualified woman remains confounding to me. Much of it is bound up in gender, of course, but her execration is very real and Trump has cleverly exploited it.  How then to challenge the Republican nominee as the strangest president election campaign ever turns into the homestretch when you're damaged goods in the eyes of many voters and your opponent seems to be made of Kevlar?   
A traditional partisan-based My Ideas vs. Your Ideas campaign will not work for Clinton, but the wake churned up as Trump has tacked, yawed, insulted and scare mongered across America's boiling political seas with Russian intelligence agency computer hackers at his back provides a unique opportunity for Clinton and the Democratic Party: Portray Trump as not just another right-winger with out-of-the-mainstream ideas, but as a menace whose candidacy is a national emergency that transcends politics.   
We're not talking about Trump's "sadistic cruelty," as one disaffected Republican Party operative puts it.  We're not talking about his self-love and fundamental soullessness, as yet again seen in his beyond-the-pale condemnation of Khizr Kahn and his wife, Ghazala, whom he was quick condemn as Clinton stooges and not as Americans grieving over the death of their Army captain son in Iraq, but rather how his more dangerous pathologies would manifest themselves were he to be president. 
As The New York Times describes the emerging Democratic game plan: 
"In an onslaught of astonishing ferocity led by President Obama, [the Democrats] used their convention to portray Mr. Trump as a dangerously unstable figure and a friend of foreign despots like President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.  Some Democrats suggested Mr. Trump might have authoritarian impulses of his own: Prominent in Mrs. Clinton's acceptance speech Thursday night was a pointed reminder that the American system was designed to prevent the rise of a dictator. 
"In effect, Mrs. Clinton and Democratic Party leaders signaled that they would seek to fight the general election, to some extent, in nonpartisan terms -- as a clash between the broad mainstream of American voters and a candidate they argue would put the nation in jeopardy."
And woe befall the public figures who continue to support Trump because they, as with O.J.'s posse, will be diminished merely by their association.   
As I wrote elsewhere, the notables who have kissed Trump's ring can look forward to the same sort of historic purgatory as the politicians who supported red-baiting Senator Joseph McCarthy in the early 1950s, so why not speed up the process?   
Have Clinton's surrogates relentlessly call out Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, who in the here-and-now should not be allowed to duck commenting on Trump's libel of the Khan family.  Then there are Scott Brown, Trent Lott and other testicle-free party bigs who have endorsed Trump in word or deed, as well as senators including John McCain, Marco Rubio, Rob Portman and Pat Toomey, all of whom are fighting for their political lives in an election in which their standard bearer will have no coattails just as the emperor had no clothes.   
This strategy within a strategy works in several ways: It will make the targets squirm if not perhaps force some of them to come right out and denounce Trump, the attacks will be grist for the media mill, notably their hometown media, and it will further drive a wedge between Republicans who will vote for Trump if only because he is their party's candidate and Republicans whose consciences are pricked and are not trapped in the right-wing echo chamber.  Shame can be a powerful weapon as former Dick Cheney press secretary Rich Galen confirmed when he tweeted after watching Clinton accept the nomination:   
"How can it be that I am standing at my kitchen counter sobbing because of the messages being driven at the DNC?  Where has the GOP gone?"
Another strategy within a strategy is for Clinton to demand that Trump commit to debating her because she is likely to emasculate him in any serious policy discussion   
There are signs that Trump is laying the groundwork to refuse to be on the same stage with Clinton, initially by asserting that Clinton "rigged" the debate schedule and complaining that two of the three scheduled debates will be held during National Football League games.  He claimed over the weekend that he had gotten a letter of complaint from the NFL, which the league denied, while the Commission on Presidential Debates rejected the rigging claim and said the dates had been set long before the 2016 campaign began.   
And for good measure, Trump repeated the lie that he had opposed the Iraq War, while one of his spokesmen obscenely suggested that the Khans' son would still be alive if Trump had been president. 
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Trump's candidacy brings to mind The Plot Against America, Philip Roth's most excellent alternative history about a president during World War II.  That president is none other than hero aviator Charles Lindberg, who negotiates a cordial agreement with Adolph Hitler and embarks on a program of folksy anti-Semitism.  While the book borders on the absurd, you don't have to be a conspiracy freak to draw parallels with Trump -- and Clinton needs to do so with laser-like focus.    


POLITIX UPDATE IS WRITTEN BY SHAUN MULLEN, A VETERAN JOURNALIST AND BLOGGER FOR WHOM THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN IS HIS 12th SINCE 1968.  CLICK HERE FOR AN INDEX OF PREVIOUS COLUMNS. 
TWITTER IMAGE VIA LATHERLAND 

Friday, July 29, 2016

How To Shame A Trump Supporter In Only One Minute & Thirty-One Seconds

I have been avoiding people wearing Donald Trump's colors.  After all, you can't talk sense to two-legged turnips.   
But I now have a copy of Khizr Khan's speech to the Democratic National Convention on Thursday evening on my iPhone and I urge you to make a copy, as well.  And when the next Make America Great Again sycophant bloviates in your face about Herr Donald, take them aside, sit them down in a quiet place and shame them by playing the speech.  It speaks volumes in a mere one minute and thirty-one seconds.   
Speaking of shame, Fox News played an anti-Hillary Benghazi commercial during Khan's speech.

PHOTOGRAPH BY ALEX WONG/GETTY IMAGES

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Politix Update: On The Inevitable But Sadly Joyless Ascendency Of Hillary Clinton

Hillary Rodham Clinton, daughter of our golden age and soulmate of the man who hastened the end of American idealism, will accept the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party of the United States tonight.   It is her second to last stepping stone in a decades-long odyssey of dedication, determination and sacrifice that despite the formidable odds she has faced will culminate in her election as the first woman president. 
Clinton's acceptance speech will be stirring, the balloon drop spectacular, and the blare of vuvuzelas resounding, but what should be a moment of unadulterated joy will be a little sad and less than fulfilling for me -- and I suspect for others as well who share my fatigue.  This is because of the brutal beatings this intrinsically decent woman has sustained from an unrelenting right-wing noise machine, far too many otherwise good people who should have known better, and a feckless news media, all befitting the sorry state of politics and the omnipresence of the evil Donald Trump. 
§  
I am sad beyond description that Hillary Clinton's coronation will have been tinged with such darkness. After all, this also is a signal moment for women in America an extraordinarily long 96 years after they were given the right to vote, but that and other causes for celebration are being overshadowed by the latest ravings of a boy-man craving acceptance as he bottom crawls through the Republican fever swamp.     
History will show that Barack Obama will have been among the greatest of presidents and was the right man for these troubled times.  The clarity with which he has seen the world was on offer in his stirring speech to the convention last night, and Clinton will pick up that theme in her acceptance speech tonight. 
But Clinton's presidency cannot merely be a continuation of Obama's legacy.  A third term, as it were, although she will have twin shadows looking over her shoulder when she takes the oath of office next January: Bernie Sanders pushing from the left and Obama just pushing as she strives to try to govern on her own terms.  As Gary Legum well said in a Salon commentary, Clinton's ascendancy recalls the famous line about Ginger Rogers, who had to do everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in heels.
Could Sanders have beaten Trump?  How about Joe Biden?   
Quite possibly, but we will owe Hillary Rodham Clinton an enormous debt of gratitude because she will dispatch a racist demagogue who in sanctioning violence, denigrating diversity and advocating treason, who in building walls, deporting millions and breaking international alliances, would snuff out decades of progress, threaten democracy as no other foreign foe has, all while bringing the America he claims to love to its collective knees.

POLITIX UPDATE IS WRITTEN BY SHAUN MULLEN, A VETERAN JOURNALIST AND BLOGGER FOR WHOM THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN IS HIS 12th SINCE 1968.  CLICK HERE FOR AN INDEX OF PREVIOUS COLUMNS. 
© 2015-2016 SHAUN D. MULLEN

Cartoon du Jour

TOM TOLES/THE WASHINGTON POST

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Politix Update: The Story That Dangerous Donald Trump Insists On Keeping Alive

ELIZABETH GRIFFIN / ESQUIRE
The news that state-sponsored hackers backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin stole 20,000 email messages from the Democratic National Committee's email server and handed them off to the obliging Wikileaks organization burst onto the scene over the weekend and within a day had taken on epic proportions as it became clear that the cyber theft was merely the tip of a big and ugly iceberg -- the extensive financial and personal connections between Donald Trump and Russian interests that explained his fawning admiration for the ruler of the former Soviet Union.  But four days later, a story that might have changed the course of the presidential campaign seemed to have been played out, and the biggest reason was that Hillary Clinton, who would have benefitted the most from a scandal over the Russian government trying to sway the U.S. election by helping Trump, wanted it to go away.   
Then Trump himself, in yet another extraordinary display of pathological recklessness, invited Russia to commit espionage by hacking Clinton's "missing" private email correspondence while she was secretary of state, elevating the fast fading story to a full-blown national security issue.  (The emails are not literally missing.  They were deemed "personal" by Clinton's staff and were not turned over to the State Department.  They apparently have been deleted.) 
"Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing," Trump declared at a bellicose press conference on Wednesday morning at one of his Florida resorts during which he shouted down reporters.  "I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press."   
Raising anew fresh questions about his suitability as commander in chief in providing a textbook example of treason, Trump added that if Russia, or any other foreign government is behind the hacking, it simply shows how little respect other nations have for the Obama administration.  Love of country, you say?   
"This has to be the first time that a major presidential candidate has actively encouraged a foreign power to conduct espionage against his political opponent," responded Jake Sullivan, Clinton's senior policy advisor.  "This has gone from being a matter of curiosity, and a matter of politics, to being a national security issue."   
In a stinging rejoinder, the Republican nominee's comments drew a rebuke from House Speaker Paul Ryan, whose spokesman said in a statement that "Russia is a global menace led by a devious thug. Putin should stay out of this election."   
Ryan has asked the Director of National Intelligence to deny Clinton classified intelligence briefings and is now in the awkward position of defending why Trump should not also be denied briefings, which he would receive as a matter of course as the Republican nominee.   
Trump adamantly refused to answer repeated questions about his Russian business ties during his press conference, and afterward seemed to be attempting one of his patented walk backs following an especially outrageous statement.   
He tweeted:    
It is not difficult to see why Clinton had wanted the story to go away.   
The Democratic nominee has become so paranoid about the stratospherically high negative ratings that have dogged her and made the presidential race much closer than it should be, preferred to throw over an anti-Trump story made in campaign heaven -- the weaponization of intelligence findings to influence the election to her great harm -- rather than endure further coverage.   That coverage would, of course, included mention of the contents of the juiciest of the leaked emails: Revelations that Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz was in the bag for her and DNC operatives had routinely disparaged Bernie Sanders.    
Never mind that the revelations were not new and that Hillary and The Bern' have kissed and made up to the extent that he teared up Tuesday night on the Democratic National Convention convention floor in asking that her nomination be accepted by acclamation.  The hacking story threatened to detract from her coronation and a news media had dutifully played along. 
This denouement is rather amazing when you consider what would have happened if Republican National Committee emails had been hacked by the Ruskies on the eve of the GOP convention and it turned out Clinton and Putin were buddying up.  The uproar would have been deafening.   
I happen to like Clinton a whole lot despite her proclivity for making bad situations worse.  She will be a good president.  But there's some kind of twisted karmic connection at work here and it is really, really unfair: The vast majority of the negative feelings about Clinton are based on patently false information pedaled in the course of the enormously successful, decades-long right-wing smear campaign against her, and her unwillingness/inability to return fire.  (See the sidebar below for a smear-campaign evergreen: That as a young lawyer, Clinton was fired from the Senate Watergate Committee.) 
Writes Kevin Drum in Mother Jones:
"So what's going on? The evidence that Putin would like to install Donald Trump in the White House is pretty strong.  The evidence that Trump would pursue Russia-friendy policies in return is much more circumstantial, but still pretty substantial.  Manchurian candidate jokes aside, this is something that deserves a lot more coverage than whatever Trump happened to tweet last night."
This is what Trump tweeted:
Even Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, the conservative maven who gifted us the Sarahcudda in 2008 and in doing so changed the direction of the Republican Party by greasing the skids for Trump, was unhappy that the Trump-Putin story appeared to have a short shelf life and said it cries out for further investigation:
 "If Trump and [his campaign manager Paul] Manafort don't act to allay these concerns by releasing their tax returns (or in other ways), wouldn't it be advisable for a Republican member of Congress to lead an urgent investigation into whether Putin is interfering in the current American election?  Trump and Manafort may be Putin's chumps.  Will other Republicans sit by as the whole Republican Party becomes Putin's Party?"
Indeed.   
We'll put aside the fact that Wikileaks, founded by the sainted Julian Assange, is doing the bidding of Moscow and Assange has said he engineered the leaks to try to harm Clinton.   
What matters now and matters most is the possibility -- no, make that probability -- that the man who will say and do anything to defeat Clinton is doing the bidding of Moscow, intentionally or otherwise, a view that only a few days ago seemed bizarre but is now being taken seriously by the White House and FBI, and all the more so because of his own reckless statements.  And should be taken seriously by the short-attention-span news media. 
Veteran GOP strategist Mike Murphy said many longtime Republicans were appalled by Trump's statements. 
"This is what happens when you nominate an egomaniacal bozo as your candidate for president of the United States," Murphy said. "He has jumped the shark into complete embarrassment. . . . He'll please his half of the Republican Party every day until the end, but that's not enough to win a general election."

POLITIX UPDATE IS WRITTEN BY SHAUN MULLEN, A VETERAN JOURNALIST AND BLOGGER FOR WHOM THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN IS HIS 12th SINCE 1968.  CLICK HERE FOR AN INDEX OF PREVIOUS COLUMNS. 
© 2015-2016 SHAUN D. MULLEN

The Lie That Refuses To Die: Hillary Was Fired From The Watergate Committee (!!!)

Hillary Clinton with Michael Caine and Robert Duvall.  Uh, check that . . .   
Back before there were iPhones, iPads or iAnythings, I used to keep notes and clippings on the big stories I covered in specially designated ring binders for quick and easy reference.   One such binder was for the Clinton impeachment circus in 1998, which I was assigned to cover as punishment for the terrific job I had done writing about the O.J. Simpson murders and trial. 
I slid a copy of the image above under the plastic cover of my Clinton impeachment binder as part joke and part reminder. The joke was that the gentlemen flanking the young Yale Law School grad in the 1973 photograph of the House Judiciary Committee in recess during its investigation of the Watergate break-in and other Nixonian crimes looked an awful lot like two famous movie actors.  And that 15 years later, the wife of the president who "did not have sex with that woman" was the target of a vicious right-wing smear campaign that included, among other blatantly false allegations, that she had murdered Vince Foster, the deputy White House counsel, and had been fired from the Watergate Committee for being a liar.   
Both lies have had long and fruitful lives.  The Foster lie was the centerpiece of one of the Republican National Convention speeches the other day and the Watergate lie was oft mentioned by the more feckless of Bernie Sanders's young acolytes. 
Rush Limbaugh (can you imagine?) got the Watergate lie going, but it picked up real steam in 2008 when Hillary Clinton first ran for president when conservative hack columnist Dan Calabrese referenced a book written by Jerome Zeifman, who was chief counsel to the House Judiciary Committee, which was to initiate impeachment proceedings, not the better known Senate Watergate Committee chaired by Sam Ervin. 
Clinton, then 26 and still a Rodham, had been hired by the committee led by Peter Rodino, and as Zeifman wrote in The Impeachment of President Nixon and the Crimes of Camelot, his semi-titillating 1998 book, he took a shine to young Rodham until he found out that she was collaborating with aides loyal to Senator Ted Kennedy who were trying to quash the Watergate investigation out of fear that Nixon would retaliate by exposing "the crimes of Camelot."  Rodham, according to Zeifman, was conspiring to deny the president legal counsel, and he wrote that as a result he fired her for "unethical" and "dishonest" conduct.
While Zeifman's account had the faint ring of fact, it was flat-out fiction.  Zeifman could not have fired Clinton even if he had wanted to.  He didn't have the authority, as she reported to others, while the Kennedy conspiracy was hogwash.   
Finally, Zeifman's contention that Rodham alone could have denied Nixon counsel is laughable -- even if it has been believed by generations of Hillary haters.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

John Lennon: 'If You Have To Give Rock 'N' Roll Another Name, Call It Chuck Berry'

CHARLES EDWARD ANDERSON BERRY
I absolutely loath articles like the one you're about to read, and I wrote it.  That is because articles like the one you are about to read are tendentious, judgmental, presumptuous because they attempt to qualify and quantify that slipperiest of musical slopes: Rock 'n' roll.  But I hope you'll still read it anyway.   
The occasion for this post is, give or take a few days, the 50th anniversary of my first rock concert, an ear-splitting Herman's Hermits show at the old Electric Factory at 19th and Arch in Philadelphia remembered less for the music (which was pretty bad, actually) than some back-seat groppage (which was pretty good, actually) on the way home in the cavernous back seat of my father's Plymouth Fury with my girlfriend in our favorite "parking" spot, a farm field behind a tall hedgerow. 
What, however, was damned good that night was the opening act at the Electric Factory, an up and coming English band who had outlived the Mod movement, if not the bowl haircuts, and was destined for greatness.  
The Who.   
These lads from London are No.19 in one poll of the 100 Greatest Rock Bands, and 29th in another, although citing such surveys like they're philosopher's stones are one reason articles like this one can suck.  (As well as remind me of a typical letter to a car aficianado's magazine: "How can you rate the Porche 911 Turbo ahead of the Corvette Stingray when the 'Vette costs only a third as much!") But polls do help make a larger point -- the utter subjectivity of what constitutes great rock 'n' roll. 
It would not surprise you to learn that The Beatles finished No. 1 in both polls and indeed finish at the top of all music polls when it comes to rock.   
This is a no brainer, because beyond the utterly revolutionary, extraordinarily vast and deeply creative body of The Beatles' work, everybody loves them, and if someone doesn't, then they at least probably like them.  (The same cannot be said of three personal favorite artists who belong in the same pantheon with The Beatles, or at lest deserve adjoining rooms -- Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Bruce Springsteen -- because a lot of people inexplicably hate them.)   
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It might surprise you to know why I ran a photo of Chuck Berry atop this post instead of the Fab Four. 
The short answer is that as a contrarian at heart and a noodge by inclination, running a photo of The Beatles would have been pat and predictable, and the marvelous John Lennon quote in the headline betrays both this great singer/songwriter's integral humility, but it speaks to me a truth that gets caught between the cracks in those 100 Greatest polls.  
That truth is that while "Stairway to Heaven," "Piano Man" and "Bohemian Rhapsody" are great rock 'n' roll, the greatest rock has an elemental -- even primal -- quality, and that inevitably leads to Chuck Berry by way of cats like Carl Hogan, Muddy Waters, T-Bone Walker.   
So there. 

Monday, July 25, 2016

Politix Update: Trump's Deeply Troubling Ties With Putin & Russian Big Money

A Communist plot to influence a U.S. presidential election has long been the stuff of Hollywood fantasts and pulp-fiction writers, but there is evidence that Vladimir Putin's regime is working clandestinely to help elect Donald Trump, something that in this strangest of political years shouldn't necessarily surprise.  What should surprise and has the potential to blow the lid off of Trump's candidacy is the big reason behind Trump's bromance with Putin: His deep ties to Russia and dependence on money from the autocrat's corrupt buddies.  
What is known for sure, according to cyber experts, is that hackers backed by the Russian president -- mostly likely members of the state intelligence service -- broke into the Democratic National Committee's email system and stole 20,000 messages, some of them containing embarrassing confirmations of the DNC's thuggish infighting.  The data dump was then published through the obliging Wikileaks organization to try to legitimize and maximize the cyber theft in an effort to influence the election as the Democratic National Convention opened today in Philadelphia.   
Let's be real.  It's not likely that significant numbers of voters will fall into Trump's clammy embrace just because of the leaks; in fact, few if any will.  But let's stay real.  The larger question is less whether Trump, his beleaguered business empire and presidential campaign played any role in the email skullduggery than a rather amazing number of "coincidences" involving Trump and Moscow that may be indicative of a far darker aspect of his campaign and what a Trump presidency would portend.   
These "coincidences" seem less so when you consider that Trump has commingled his financial and personal affairs for years and has continued to do so with unapologetic recklessness as a candidate. When it comes to Russia, this has included Trump's undisguised admiration for Putin despite the former KGB operative's increasingly autocratic grip on the former Soviet Union and solicitousness toward Russian foreign policy interests, including an oft-repeated promise that as president he would not abide by the U.S.'s long-standing commitment to go to the aid of a NATO nation in the Baltics if it were attacked by Russia.
Continuing to stay real, let's also understand that Trump's love affair with Putin and Russia has less to do with ideology or a seemingly shared love of nationalism.   
Trump is many things, most of them exceedingly foul, but he is not about to throw over his beloved American capitalism for that strange Russian communist-capitalist hybrid.  What Trump has not hesitated to do is take money from anyone and anyplace regardless of who they are and what their values may be as American banks have, one by one, blackballed him because of his shady practices and enormous debt load, which stands at a mind boggling $630 million. 
Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo has aggregated several of these links between Trump and Russian interests:
* As Trump's debt load has grown, he has become increasingly reliant on no-questions-asked loans from sleazy characters close to Putin.   Typical is Trump's Soho development in Manhattan, which foundered because of  lawsuits over his all-too-common efforts to defraud investors until secret financing was arranged. 
The financiers were Salvatore Lauria, a twice-imprisoned Russian immigrant with extensive ties to Putin and the Russian criminal underworld, and Alexander Mashkevich, a Kazakh billionaire once charged with corruption.  
* Paul Manafort, who replaced the "disgraced" Corey Lewandowski as Trump's campaign manager and is his top advisor, spent most of the last 10 years as a communications advisor for Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian Ukrainian prime minister whose ouster in 2014 led to the ongoing crisis in the former Soviet republic. 
The Trump campaign was indifferent to the platform at the Republican National Convention with one conspicuous and unnoticed exception: It strong armed the platform committee into striking a pledge to assist Ukraine against Russian military aggression.
* Carter Page, who is Trump's advisor on Russia and Europe, has devoted most of his career to sundry jobs with Gazprom, the Russian energy giant.   
Gazprom, which is like the entire U.S. energy industry rolled into one company, is a key source of revenue and patronage for Putin, and Page has been an unapologetic admirer of his policies. 
* Retired Army General Michael Flynn, who is one of Trump's national security advisors, sat with Putin at a dinner celebrating the Kremlin-backed media network RT and was paid to give a speech at the event.   
Flynn retweeted an anti-Semitic message blaming Jewish interests talk called into question A Putin-Trump link. 
* Putin has worked methodically and successfully to align all Russian state-controlled media behind Trump.   
This media, in turn, has helped sow discord in Western-alligned European countries like Moldova and Ukraine.
As Josh Marshall puts it:
"There is something between a non-trivial and a substantial amount of circumstantial evidence for a financial relationship between Trump and Putin or a non-tacit alliance between the two men.  Trump's financial empire is heavily leveraged and has a deep reliance on capital infusions from oligarch and other sources of wealth aligned with Putin. That's simply not something that can be waved off or ignored."
This whole thing has echoes of Cold War propagandistic weirdness, although to suggest, as some people surely will, that Trump the master manipulator could be some sort of a Manchurian candidate is . . .  well, not credible. 
We'll put aside for the moment the fact that Wikileaks, founded by the sainted Julian Assange, is doing the bidding of Moscow.  
We'll also put aside the fact that the cyber bullies who hacked the DNC emails are said to be the same bunch who earlier hacked servers at the White House, State Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 
And we'll put aside the fact that as the Republican nominee, Trump will be getting high-level national security briefings on Russia, which is deeply worrying to the intelligence community.   
What matters now and matters most is the possibility -- no, make that probability -- that the man who will say and do anything to defeat Clinton also is doing the bidding of Moscow, intentionally or otherwise, a view that only a few days ago seemed bizarre but is now being taken seriously by the White House and FBI. And should be taken seriously by you.

POLITIX UPDATE IS WRITTEN BY SHAUN MULLEN, A VETERAN JOURNALIST AND BLOGGER FOR WHOM THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN IS HIS 12th SINCE 1968.  CLICK HERE FOR AN INDEX OF PREVIOUS COLUMNS. 
© 2015-2016 SHAUN D. MULLEN

IMAGE FROM DONKEYHOTEY/FLICKR.  USED WITH PERMISSION.  

Cartoon du Jour

BRUCE PLANTE/TULSA WORLD-TRIBUNE

Friday, July 22, 2016

Politix Update: GOP Is Left In The Gutter As Trump's Lemmings March To The Sea


Let us begin this jeremiad with a couple, three acknowledgements: Despite the innumerable pre-mortems, the Republican Party is not dead, and despite the extraordinary spectacle of fear and loathing that low-crawled to a merciful conclusion last night in Cleveland, there always will be a place -- and should always be a place -- for conservatism in the America.  Still, what we saw this week was nothing less than assault and battery on both true American values and a political ideology by gun-hugging merchants of intolerance carried out with nary a whimper of dissent from a cowardly party establishment that has been left bloodied in the gutter by a xenophobic horde marching toward an electoral cliff and into the sea behind Donald Trump. 
This makes shocking images like the one above not just appropriate, but necessary.  It matters not that the Republican nominee isn't really a Nazi, merely a neo-fascist who couldn't tell the difference between a swastika and a swizzle sticka, while the resemblance of the Trump-Pence campaign logo to a symbol so freighted with evil  surely is a coincidence.  Really.   
But as someone who was born a mere two years after fascism was defeated at the cost of upwards of 80 million lives, including relatives whom I never knew who perished on the beaches of Anzio and Iwo Jima and in the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau, whose neighbors didn't let their kids play with me because my parents were civil rights activists who invited Negros to swim in our backyard pool, I kept experiencing flashes of nausea as I heard speaker after speaker declare that Trump would make America afraid again and saw talk radio hate merchant Laura Ingraham give what was easy to interpret as a Heil Hitler salute at the end of her valentine to the nominee.   
That special moment did have competition from another -- Ted Cruz being invited to speak at the big dance and then peeing all over the carpet -- which sadly relegated Melania Trump's clinic on plagiarism earlier in the week to a sloppy third.
History will less remember the 2016 Republican National Convention for the coronation of the man with the small hands and peculiar hair amidst a balloon drop of dystopian gloom.  It will less remember Donald Trump's blown opportunity to prove himself to be someone other than a cartoon caricature with a stupefyingly self-righteous acceptance speech that spoke volumes because of what he didn't say.  It will be even less remembered for the smorgasbord of inchoate threats and  subliminal savagery, the overwhelming whiteness of the delegates or whether more of them wanted to jail Hillary Clinton than kill her, let alone that Lucifer's name seemed to have been invoked more times than the nominee's.  But it will be remembered for who stood with Trump. 
The politicians who supported Red-baiting Senator Joseph McCarthy in the early 1950s have been treated with a deserved harshness by historians.  Like Trump, McCarthy exploited fears through defamation and demagoguery.  He eventually was censured by the Senate and died a bitter and broken man, while Trump is assured a lifetime of celebrity even if he is crushed by She Who Wears Pants Suits in November.  Which he will be.   
The notables who flocked to shores of Lake Erie to kiss Trump's ring can look forward to the same sort of historic purgatory as McCarthy's sycophants.  These most conspicuously include Chris Christie, whose political career is forever poisoned, and Trump enthusiasts Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, who stayed home but already have reservations for a special place in Hell.  Pat Buchanan booked their rooms.   
Then there are Scott Brown, Trent Lott, Rick Santorum, Bob Dole and Dan Quayle, among other testicle-free party faithful who endorsed Trump and showed up, as well as senators who stayed home like John McCain, Rob Portman and Pat Toomey, all of whom are not coincidentally fighting for their political lives in an election in which the standard bearer will have no coattails just as the emperor had no clothes.
But Paul Ryan, the House speaker, Republican Party head honcho and convention emcee, heads the list of the shameful.   
Rather unbelievably, Ryan is getting accolades for keeping the GOP together while never coming right out and endorsing Trump.  Which is like keeping Nero's fiddle in tune while not advocating the burning of Rome.   
Ryan had a dilemma which if addressed nobly would have salvaged his marginal reputation in the eyes of history and would have become the stuff of momentous decision-making that recalled great statesmen like Lincoln and Churchill: Ryan could reject Trump, keep the party together and lose the election, or he could embrace Trump, lose the party's soul and the election.   
Ryan made the worst possible -- which is to say most cowardly -- choice as principle got mugged on the path of least resistance.   
In the run-up to Cleveland, Ryan did not see Trump's racism as a character issue although he spoke out against racism in principle.  Nor did he see Trump's sordid history as an iron-fisted scam artist as a potent issue for the Democrats.  Or Trump's view of the GOP as just another piece of real estate to be bought and sold.  Or Trump's addiction to crisis as political propellant.  Or Trump's chronic inability to distinguish fact from fantasy, his isolationist bent and man crush on Vladimir Putin.  All of these profound shortcomings were viewed by Ryan as nothing more than "things I don't agree with."  That became one of his familiar go-to lines.  The others were a word from George Bush's rich vocabulary -- Ryan didn't want to "dis-unify" the party -- and when backed into a corner, the meek rejoinder that "No two people agree on everything."   
But Ryan surely must realize that Trump is the nominee today because rank-and-file Republicans channeled their anger at Barack Obama into a deep loathing for party leaders like himself who never had any intention of fulfilling their empty promises and created the leadership vacuum into which Trump bigfooted.    
And all the while social conservatives have taken advantage of Paul Ryan's timidity and Donald Trump's ignorance to drive the Republican Party even further to the right-wing wilderness and away from the ever growing number of voters who don't happen to be white.  Even Ted Cruz's Texas may be on the verge of turning blue.
Cruz, of course, is the guy who kicked off his 2020 presidential campaign by hijacking the convention with a speech in which he repeatedly baited the party faithful, seeming to come thisclose to endorsing Trump but never doing so, in what must nevertheless be characterized as a rare moment of political courage.  
The delegates who had not already left the hall booed Cruz lustily and encouraged by Trump himself as he pumped his fist in the backstage shadows like an evil apparition, booed louder still, drowning out Cruz's closing words.  When Cruz's stunt appeared to have backfired by the dawn's early light, and already being the most hated man in Washington, he boasted that the outrage over his party pooping merely proved he was not an establishment toady.  Ha!  
Major damage had been inflicted on Trump before Cruz strode to the podium.  The endless series of vapid and emotionless Z-list speakers talking to empty seats assured that would be so. (Where was Clint Eastwood when his party really needed him?)  If Ryan was Nero's fiddler tuner, Cruz played Brutus to Caesar. 
Cruz's antics deliciously reinforced the week's big takeaway: Trump has little control over himself, had little control over the convention, which was supposed to showcase party unity, and will have even less control over what transpires between now and Election Day. 

POLITIX UPDATE IS WRITTEN BY SHAUN MULLEN, A VETERAN JOURNALIST AND BLOGGER FOR WHOM THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN IS HIS 12th SINCE 1968.  CLICK HERE FOR AN INDEX OF PREVIOUS COLUMNS. 
© 2015-2016 SHAUN D. MULLEN

TOP IMAGE FROM LATHERLAND / OTHER IMAGES BY DONKEYHOTEY

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Another Summer & Another Dance Of The Dragonflies


(PUBLISHED JUST ABOUT EVERY SUMMER SINCE 2006) 

Dragonflies are among the world's most ancient creatures and have been performing the mid-summer mating dance that I have observed almost every year of my life for 300 million years.  That’s more than 100 million years before dinosaurs appeared. 
I can remember being fascinated by this dance as a youngster, although I didn't understand that it was all about making baby dragonflies. 
My brother and I would trap lightning bugs in Mason jars to sell to the man at the agricultural research station. He paid us a dime a jar for his research into what made the bugs' tails glow, but I would never consider trapping dragonflies for any amount of money. Even then they occupied a special place in my world. 
Perhaps it was because their dance reminded me of dog-fighting World War I flying machines, which captured my imagination at an early age, but I would like to think that the connection was more subtle. 
I lived in Japan and traveled the Far East for a few years. The dragonfly is revered in that part of the world and is depicted on everything from pottery to textiles. I recall one particularly glorious afternoon when I observed their mating dance in the backwater of a stream in the foothills below Mount Fuji.  
After I returned to the States, I would take long walks up a dirt road next to a slow-flowing creek on hot mid-summer days, turn down a narrow footpath through high weeds and slip into the water. It was refreshingly cool four or five feet beneath the surface and I loved to feel the chill percolate up into my chest and then my head. 
Dragonflies colonize around creeks and ponds, so it usually wasn't long before they were performing their dance around me.  Sometimes they would alight on my forehead – even in mating tandems -- if I sat perfectly still and thought yoga thoughts and breathed yoga breathes.  
It was during this period that I first began reading about odonata, as this insect family is called. 
I learned that the three species indigenous to my neck of the woods are members of the libellula genus.  These include my companions over many a summer -- the bar-winged skimmer (Libellula axilena) and the less common great blue skimmer (Libellula vibrans).  There also is the apparently elusive Jane's meadowhawk (Sympetrum janeae), which is recognizable by its reddish body but has escaped my gaze. 
I also learned that these species of dragonflies are short lived (seven to 10 weeks, although some species can live up to four years). They also are territorial. 
The mating dance is initiated by the male showing his genitals, of which he is endowed with two sets.  This display allows male and female to make sure that they are of the same species and therefore suitable mates.  The male then bends his abdomen so that one set of genitals touches the other, which is a sure-fire turn-on for the female, who curls her abdomen forward to make contact with the secondary genitalia and receives the sperm. 
As I have often observed, the ritual can vary. 
Sometimes the male grabs the female by the head or thorax for a "quickie" without going through the dance. Other times the dance is long and elaborate, involving much diving and spinning, including mad charges in reverse, but in either event copulation takes less than a second.  
Sometimes male and female remain in tandem for several minutes, as if to say, "Was it as good for you as it was for me?"  The females are acutely sensitive to pollution and will lay their eggs only if the water is clean.  Other times they lay them on waterside plants.  Sometimes the male acts as a lookout for the female as she lays the eggs he fertilized. In fact, scientists say that males are so committed to their mating partners that they can display signs of jealousy if other males try to nose in. 
 A few years later, I lived in an old house a short walk from the creek and two particularly lovely spots -- Ring Rock and the Burned Out Bridge. 
Ring Rock (also known as the Rock That David Sat On) is a massive limestone remnant of the furthest extent of the last Ice Age that protrudes from the water at a 25 degree angle. It is so named because an iron ring had been pounded into the rock perhaps 200 years ago so that the locals could tether their wagons to it and lower them into the creek to be cleaned -- an early version of the car wash.  I never learned who David was, but I would slide into the creek below the rock -- six or seven feet deep even in the mid-summer heat -- and watch the dragonflies dance.
Alas, the rock attracted hikers and the occasional swimmer, so I moved on to the Burned Out Bridge.  
A pair of overgrown fieldstone foundations on either side of the creek are all that remain of this 19th century covered bridge, which is said to have been torched by a man in the early 1950s so that he and his son could fish undisturbed.  This is at a point just below where the west and middle branches of the creek converge, an area that is heavily silted and quite shallow. It took all of one summer and part of the next, but I methodically moved sand and piled rocks until I had fashioned a pool about four feet deep where I could resume my dragonfly encounters.  My kids were too young to be of much help, but our big goofus of a black labrador retriever became pretty good at picking up rocks and dropping them onto the sides of our pool. 
It was here that I began seriously expanding my horizons to other fauna as I would sit quietly at periscope depth.  
There were rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus kykiss), restocked each spring for sport fishermen by the state fish and wildlife agency, and the occasional sunnie (Lepomis machrochirus), as well as some wee fishies that I was never able to identify. There were water-walking spiders (Dolomedes triton), black snakes (Elaphe obsoleta), a water moccasin (Ancistrodon piscivorus), which was a very rare sighting that far north of its southern habitat, and all sorts of toads and frogs, including little frogs called spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer crucifer), so named because of the time of their arrival each year and their high-pitched trill.  The black lab would slog into the marshy areas between the creek and woods and ingest mouthsful of them.
It is summer again. It's been too hot to trek up to the creek, but I was sitting near a fountain in the quiet university town where I live. 
I put down the book I was reading, took off my sunglasses and let the sun beat on my face. My mind drifted back to my childhood and the illustrations in a favorite picture book. The young hero is sick and has been put to bed by his mother where he imagines that the quilt spread out below him is a make-believe world with villages, roads and farm fields. Armies clash across this terrain and dog fighting aeroplanes bob, weave and loop overhead. 
I grew drowsy and my mind drifted further when something drew me from my reverie and I opened my eyes. 
It was dragonflies doing their dance over the fountain.

PHOTOGRAPHS BY SAYHITOANT