Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Sunday Reading

Sound Familiar? — Matthew Delmont at The Atlantic takes us back to 1964 when Jackie Robinson confronted a Trump-like candidate.

“The danger of the Republican party being taken over by the lily-white-ist conservatives is more serious than many people realize,” Jackie Robinson cautioned in his syndicated column in August 1963. He was worried about the rise of Barry Goldwater, whose 1964 presidential bid laid the foundation for the modern conservative movement. Today, Goldwater’s shadow looms over Donald Trump’s campaign for the Republican Party’s nomination.

“During my life, I have had a few nightmares which happened to me while I was wide awake,” Robinson wrote in 1967. “One of them was the National Republican Convention in San Francisco, which produced the greatest disaster the Republican Party has ever known—Nominee Barry Goldwater.” Robinson, a loyal Republican who campaigned for Richard Nixon in 1960, was shocked and saddened by the racism and lack of civility he witnessed at the 1964 convention. As the historian Leah Wright Rigueur describes in The Loneliness of the Black Republican, black delegates were verbally assaulted and threatened with violence by Goldwater supporters. William Young, a Pennsylvania delegate, had his suit set on fire and was told to “keep in your own place” by his assailant. “They call you ‘nigger,’ push you and step on your feet,” New Jersey delegate George Fleming told the Associated Press. “I had to leave to keep my self-respect.”

The 1964 campaign was pivotal for Republicans because, despite Goldwater’s loss, the GOP came away with a dedicated network of people willing to work between election cycles to build the party. The GOP has won more presidential elections than it has lost since Goldwater. Donald Trump’s campaign plays on fears and resentments similar to those that fueled Goldwater’s presidential bid five decades ago. It is not yet clear, however, how this strategy will play out with an electorate that will be the most racially and ethnically diverse in U.S. history (over 30 percent of eligible voters will be racial or ethnic minorities).

As the Draft Goldwater campaign expanded in early 1963, the editors at the Chicago Defender warned that Goldwater’s “brand of demagoguery has a special appeal to ultra conservative Republicans” and that he “cannot be laughed off as a serious possibility as is being done in some quarters unfriendly to him.” After the 1964 Republican National Convention, the Defender suggested, “Goldwater in the White House would be a nightmare from which the nation and the world would not soon recover.” Another editorial two days later struck a stronger tone: “The conviction is universal that Goldwater represents the most diabolical force that has ever captured the leadership of the Republican Party. After 108 years of exhortation to freedom, liberty, and justice, the GOP now becomes the label under which Fascism is oozed into the mainstream of American politics.”

In 1964, unlike 2016, it was not a foregone conclusion that the vast majority of black voters would support the Democratic Party. Republicans Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon received 39 percent and 32 percent of the black vote in the 1956 and 1960 presidential elections, compared to 6 percent for Goldwater in 1964. No Republican candidate since Goldwater has earned support from more than 15 percent of black voters.

“A new breed of Republicans has taken over the GOP,” Robinson wrote just after Goldwater claimed his party’s nomination. “It is a new breed which is seeking to sell to Americans a doctrine which is as old as mankind—the doctrine of racial division, the doctrine of racial prejudice, the doctrine of white supremacy.” He continued, “If I could couch in one single sentence the way I felt, watching this controlled steam-roller operation roll into high gear, I would put it this way, I would say that I now believe I know how it felt to be a Jew in Hitler’s Germany.”

The Derp Runs Deep — Charlie Pierce on the hearings in Congress about Flint’s water.

So Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and EPA administrator Gina McCarthy had their day before the House Government and Oversight Committee on Thursday, where they were grilled on the poisoning of the people of Flint, Michigan. Sides got chosen fairly early on: The Democratic members of the committee were anxious to put Snyder on a spit, while the Republicans clearly wanted to hang most of this on the EPA. The hearings were somewhat startling in their ferocity, and most of the interrogations ended with congresscritters demanding resignations and yes or no answers. Yes or no, dammit!

Jesus, what a mess. But the howling hypocrisy of conservative Republicans feigning concern about environmental safety, and the howling hypocrisy of conservative Republicans pretending that they expected the EPA to take care of this crisis, was extraordinarily hard to take. Nine days out of ten, they’d be baying at the moon about regulations strangling business and about devolving federal functions to the states, which are run by people like Rick Snyder. Today, though, rather than confront the complete failure of that entire theory of government in this awful episode, it was time for them to argue that the EPA wasn’t tough enough in regulating Snyder’s bungling. Where were the jackboots, they seemed to be saying, when the citizens of Flint could have used them.

(Snyder, of course, was terrible, constantly saying what a “humbling experience” this episode was and how fervently he has apologized. Hey, dude, it’s a helluva lot worse for the people who are washing their hair once every couple of weeks with bootleg Poland Spring. And this guy had to be blackjacked into appearing before Congress at all.)

It was profoundly nauseating to listen to Congressman Jason Chaffetz waxing wroth about what was done to the poor people of Flint, smirking his way through his questioning, over and over again, and blaming “career bureaucrats” in the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for letting down poor Rick Snyder. Chaffetz has had the knives out for the EPA ever since he slithered into Congress. He has a lifetime rating of three percent from the League of Conservation Voters. On at least three occasions in 2015 alone, Chaffetz voted in ways harmful to clean water regulations. He’s a climate denier. He’s one of the leaders of the movement to prevent the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases. He wants to privatize federal lands for the purpose of exploitation. And his basic point yesterday was that Barack Hussein Obama’s EPA didn’t do enough to force the Republican governor of Michigan to do his freaking job.

(Congressman Bill Clay of Missouri caught him at it and made a tasty cocktail out of the chairman’s crocodile tears. He also ran down the list of people, including He, Trump and Tailgunner Ted Cruz, and my new friend, Joni Ernst, who want to do away with the agency and hand its responsibilities over to Rick Snyder, as well as Scott Walker, the goggle-eyed homunculus hired by Koch Industries to manage their Midwest subsidiary formerly known as the state of Wisconsin, who wants to turn the EPA into some sort of glorified mediation service to resolve the disputes that arise when one state’s pollution poisons another state’s water.)

It was profoundly depressing to hear Congressman Glenn Grothman, one of the dimmer bulbs in the chandelier, use his time to sympathize with Snyder at how the poor man was hamstrung by civil service employees. “Some of us like less government because it’s hard to get it to work,” Grothman observed. This is especially true when people like Glenn Grothman get elected to work in government, and Glenn Grothman believes that a farm family can keep its well water safe from a 1000-foot deep open-pit mine being blasted open a mile from their home if they just “caulk it.” And his basic point yesterday is that there is not sufficient inexperience among our government employees.

It was profoundly ridiculous to hear Congressman Buddy Carter of Georgia, who seems to be something of a clown, suggest that McCarthy had a responsibility to go beyond the law in warning the citizens of Flint. “The law, the law,” Carter fumed. “I don’t think anybody here cares about the law.” Congressman Buddy also was proud of his ability to find and use a dictionary. “I looked up the word, ‘protection,'” he inveighed. Why don’t we just change the acronym?”

Congressman Buddy is the proud owner of a Zero rating from the League of Conservation Voters. He has voted against, among other things, a bill that would have informed the public of the dangers of coal ash, and another bill that would have protected wetlands that provide drinking water for the communities around them. He has also voted for a bill that would have reduced public input on water issues in the western states. And his basic point yesterday was to yell about the word “Protection” in the name of the EPA.

Regardless of who sent what memo to whom and when they sent it, the crisis in Flint is the result of a full implementation and exercise of a philosophy of government that noisy pissants like Chaffetz, Grothman, Carter, and Rick Snyder have proposed as a solution to almost all the nation’s problems—government is bad, government bureaucrats are always incompetent, devolve federal powers to the states, and that government is best that is limited and, preferably, run like a business. The two primary contenders for the Republican presidential nomination want to eliminate the EPA. Absent as a cudgel against environmental protections that he wants to gut, the 100,000 people in Flint wouldn’t matter a damn to Jason Chaffetz. “A government is not a business and it shouldn’t be run like one,” said Rick Snyder to Congress, and his tongue did not burst into flames.

Bienvenidos a Cuba — Julie Hirschfeld Davis in the New York Times on President Obama’s historic trip to Cuba.

Obama cuba poster 03-20-16President Obama and his family will arrive in Cuba on Sunday afternoon aboard Air Force One and receive a red-carpet welcome from a country that has been a bitter adversary of the United States since before he was born.

He will stroll the streets of Old Havana and meet with Cuba’s president, Raúl Castro; watch Cubans and Americans face off in a baseball game; and deliver a televised address in the historic theater where Calvin Coolidge, the last American president to visit, spoke 88 years ago. He will meet with entrepreneurs and dissidents, Cubans who have found ways to challenge the status quo in a country undergoing vast change.

But Mr. Obama does not plan to use his visit to issue an ultimatum to Mr. Castro on human rights, nor does he go bearing pledges to end United States democracy programs in Cuba that aim to undercut the communist government there.

The president is also not expected to announce that he is giving up the United States’ naval base at Guantánamo Bay, and is not in a position to lift the trade embargo that still looms as an impediment to the normalization he sees as a pivotal piece of his foreign policy legacy — only Congress can do that.

Mr. Obama’s trip, rich with symbolic significance, represents the start of a new era of engagement between the United States and Cuba that could open the floodgates of travel and commerce, and that has already unlocked diplomatic channels long slammed shut. But it also underscores the deep disagreements that persist between two countries separated by only 90 miles but a wide ideological divide.

The president is determined to sweep aside those disputes and do as much as he can to render irreversible the policy change he set in motion 15 months ago, buoyed by evidence that the American public was eager for a new approach. Mr. Obama and his aides point to public opinion polls that show Americans — including majorities in both political parties — lopsidedly in favor of re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, a step the administration took in July, as well as lifting the embargo.

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner, has endorsed repealing the embargo. Donald J. Trump, who is leading the Republican field, has been muted in his criticism of Mr. Obama’s Cuba policy, and has merely said Mr. Obama “should have made a better deal” before moving toward normal relations.

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, another Republican presidential contender, whose father was born in Cuba, has been sharply critical of Mr. Obama’s approach, and said last month that the president was traveling there “to essentially act as an apologist.”

Other critics, including some in Mr. Obama’s own party, have dismissed the president’s approach as naïve and dangerous, arguing that Mr. Obama has embraced a brutal regime and citing the recent increase in Cuba of detentions of antigovernment activists.

“I understand the desire to make this his legacy issue, but there is still a fundamental issue of freedom and democracy at stake,” Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, a Democrat and son of Cuban immigrants, said in a 30-minute speech last week from the Senate floor. He mentioned a young dissident, Carlos Amel Oliva, who met in Miami this month with Benjamin J. Rhodes, Mr. Obama’s deputy national security adviser. Mr. Oliva was detained upon his return to Cuba for what the government called “antisocial behavior.”

“Unless the Castros are compelled to change their dictatorship — the way they govern the island and the way they exploit its people — the answer to this won’t be different than the last 50-some-odd years,” Mr. Menendez said.

Mr. Rhodes said the president would address human rights head-on in his private talks with Mr. Castro, 84, as well as in his speech, which is expected to be broadcast in both Cuba and the United States.

“The difference here is that in the past, because of certain U.S. policies, the message that was delivered in that regard either overtly or implicitly suggested that the U.S. was seeking to pursue regime change, that the U.S. was seeking to essentially overturn the government in Cuba or that the U.S. thought that we could dictate the political direction of Cuba,” Mr. Rhodes said.

This time, he added, Mr. Obama “will make very clear that that’s up to the Cuban people.”

There are limits to the new spirit of openness. The president will not meet with Fidel Castro, 89, who embodies the rancorous history between the United States and Cuba. And as of Friday, there were no plans for Mr. Obama and the younger Mr. Castro to take questions from the news media after their meeting, a standard element of the president’s schedule when he meets with foreign leaders overseas.

At the heart of Mr. Obama’s policy is a gamble that the thaw will eventually force changes on Cuba’s communist government by nurturing the hopes of its citizens, particularly a younger generation more interested in Internet access and business opportunities than in Cuba’s grievances against the United States.

“Obama would like to be remembered as the president who ended the Cold War in Latin America and normalized relations with Cuba, so he needs to do as much as he can to make it difficult for the next president to reverse this,” said Geoff Thale, a Cuba specialist at the Washington Office on Latin America.

But suspicion of the United States remains potent in Cuba. This month, Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, published a lengthy editorial admonishing Mr. Obama not to expect Cuba to “abandon its revolutionary ideals” as part of the opening.

[Photo by Enrique de la Osa/Reuters]

Doonesbury — Tough question.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Friday, February 19, 2016

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Sunday Reading

The Death of Antonin Scalia — Evan Osnos in The New Yorker looks at what lies ahead now that he’s gone.

Scalia gesture 02-14-16The abrupt death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia—the fiery, funny, polarizing face of the Court’s modern conservative turn—ended a chapter in legal history and opened a political battle of a kind that America has not seen in decades. The bitter divide of this Presidential election season—over visions for the economy, national security, and immigration—has widened to include the ideological composition of the nation’s highest court.

At seventy-nine, Scalia was the Court’s longest-serving Justice, a father of nine, and an outsized personality who thrilled conservatives and infuriated liberals like nobody else in Washington. Though he maintained close friendships with some of his combatants, including fellow Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and always hired a “token liberal” among his clerks, he openly relished the political implications of the Court’s affairs. Ever since he was nominated by President Ronald Reagan, in 1986, he dedicated himself to combating the notion of a “living” Constitution that evolves in step with the nation. The very announcement of Scalia’s death was accompanied by a political declaration. In the first official notice, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said, “We mourn his passing, and we pray that his successor on the Supreme Court will take his place as a champion for the written Constitution and the rule of law.”

The 2016 election has become a contest not only to determine control of the White House and the Congress but also to shape the future of the Supreme Court. The next President was expected to make multiple appointments to the court. (On Inauguration Day, Ginsburg will be nearly eighty-four, Anthony Kennedy will be over eighty, and Stephen Breyer will be seventy-eight.) With Scalia’s death, the partisan composition of the Court is now already up in the air. In a hastily arranged address on Saturday night, President Obama said he planned to name a nominee, over the protests of Republicans who could seek to prevent the Senate from voting on it. “I plan to fulfill my constitutional responsibility to nominate a successor, in due time. There will be plenty of time for me to do so, and for the Senate to carry out its responsibility for a timely vote,” he said. The issues at stake, he added, “are bigger than any one party. They are about the institution to which Justice Scalia dedicated his life.”

The outcome of the process has the potential to reshape American law on abortion, affirmative action, voting rights, energy, campaign finance, and many other issues. The political effects on the Presidential race cut in multiple directions: Will the suddenly inescapable vision of, say, a Cruz Presidency and a Cruz-chosen nominee bring more Democrats to the polls? And to which Democrat does that benefit accrue? Will the risk of a Sanders Court inspire evangelical voters to consolidate behind a Republican choice?

As news of Scalia’s death spread, hours before a Republican debate, the call for a moratorium on political strategizing around the news, in order to honor his achievements, was brief. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a statement that, in effect, called on President Obama to refrain from naming a replacement and allow the Court to operate with eight Justices. “The American people‎ should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President,” McConnell said.

Ted Cruz, the Texas senator who was a clerk for former Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, agreed, marking Scalia’s passing in a tweet: “We owe it to him, and the Nation, for the Senate to ensure that the next President names his replacement.” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid called on Obama to nominate a replacement immediately, saying, “The Senate has a responsibility to fill vacancies as soon as possible.” Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner, called for the Senate to “delay, delay, delay” if President Obama attempts to name a successor.

Hillary Clinton said that Republicans who want the seat to remain vacant until the next President is in office “dishonor our Constitution” for partisan reasons. Bernie Sanders, who defeated Clinton last week in the New Hampshire primary in part by presenting himself as a different kind of politician, avoided any mention of the political implications: “While I differed with Justice Scalia’s views and jurisprudence, he was a brilliant, colorful and outspoken member of the Supreme Court. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and his colleagues on the court who mourn his passing.”

When Obama does nominate a successor to Scalia, that could set the stage for a Republican filibuster in the Senate. If there is a filibuster of a nominee, it will be the first time that has occurred since 1968, when President Lyndon Johnson, blocked by Senate Republicans and Southern Democrats, reluctantly withdrew the nomination of his confidant Abe Fortas, whom he had appointed to the Supreme Court three years earlier, to succeed Earl Warren as Chief Justice.

That drama began in June of that year when Warren, a Republican known for his liberal decisions, informed Johnson that he intended to retire. Just months before Election Day, Johnson moved swiftly to nominate Fortas as a successor to the Chief Justice. But it emerged that Fortas had attended White House staff meetings, briefed Johnson on Court deliberations, and pressured senators to limit their opposition to the Vietnam War. Moreover, Fortas had been paid outside his salary to speak to students at American University. The Illinois Republican Everett Dirksen and others withdrew their support—sparking the first and, so far, the only Senate filibuster over a Supreme Court nomination. (Scholars and partisan opponents have debated, ever since, whether it was technically a filibuster or another form of parliamentary procedure, though Laura Kalman, a professor of history at the University of California at Santa Barbara, has said that “Abe Fortas and L.B.J. are spinning in their graves at the notion there was no filibuster.”)

While the White House weighs potential nominees, the courts and Presidential contenders face a range of puzzling implications. What will happen if the Supreme Court reaches a tie in any of the cases that are currently before the Justices? (The lower court ruling would stand but would not set a legal precedent.) Is there any liberal nominee who stands a chance of winning confirmation in a Republican-controlled Senate? (Early bets landed on Federal Appeals Court Judge Sri Srinivasan, an Indian-American jurist who has worked in both Democratic and Republican Administrations.) In his nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Srinivasan won, in 2013, that rare achievement for a Democrat in today’s Washington—unanimous confirmation, with praise from Republicans.

It’s Not Just Flint — David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz report that a lot of cities and towns have bad water.

“I know if I was a parent up there, I would be beside myself if my kids’ health could be at risk,” said President Obama on a recent trip to Michigan.  “Up there” was Flint, a rusting industrial city in the grip of a “water crisis” brought on by a government austerity scheme.  To save a couple of million dollars, that city switched its source of water from Lake Huron to the Flint River, a long-time industrial dumping ground for the toxic industries that had once made their home along its banks.  Now, the city is enveloped in a public health emergency, with elevated levels of lead in its water supply and in the blood of its children.

The price tag for replacing the lead pipes that contaminated its drinking water, thanks to the corrosive toxins found in the Flint River, is now estimated at up to $1.5 billion. No one knows where that money will come from or when it will arrive.  In the meantime, the cost to the children of Flint has been and will be incalculable.   As little as a few specks of lead in the water children drink or in flakes of paint that come off the walls of old houses and are ingested can change the course of a life. The amount of lead dust that covers a thumbnail is enough to send a child into a coma or into convulsions leading to death. It takes less than a tenth of that amount to cause IQ loss, hearing loss, or behavioral problems like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the government agency responsible for tracking and protecting the nation’s health, says simply, “No safe blood lead level in children has been identified.”

President Obama would have good reason to worry if his kids lived in Flint.  But the city’s children are hardly the only ones threatened by this public health crisis.  There’s a lead crisis for children in Baltimore, Maryland,Herculaneum, Missouri, Sebring, Ohio, and even the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., and that’s just to begin a list.  State reports suggest, for instance, that “18 cities in Pennsylvania and 11 in New Jersey may have an even higher share of children with dangerously elevated levels of lead than does Flint.” Today, scientists agree that there is no safe level of lead for children and at least half of American children have some of this neurotoxin in their blood.  The CDC is especially concerned about the more than 500,000 American children who have substantial amounts of lead in their bodies. Over the past century, an untold number have had their IQs reduced, their school performances limited, their behaviors altered, and their neurological development undermined.  From coast to coast, from the Sun Belt to the Rust Belt, children have been and continue to be imperiled by a century of industrial production, commercial gluttony, and abandonment by the local, state, and federal governments that should have protected them.  Unlike in Flint, the “crisis” seldom comes to public attention.

Hollywood Comes to Cuba — Victoria Burnett reports for the New York Times on lights, camera, and action in newly-reopened Havana.

Cuba PosterDuring a shoot for the Showtime comedy series “House of Lies” last month, Don Cheadle sat outside a cafe in Old Havana, puffing on a fat cigar and clinking glasses with three compadres.

It was a novel scene — an American actor filming an American TV show on a Cuban street — and one that, until last month, would have been illegal under the United States’s economic embargo.

But regulations published by the Treasury Department on Jan. 26 now allow Americans to shoot scripted movies and shows in Cuba for the first time in half a century. The rules opened the door to American projects — which could include scenes for the next “Fast & Furious” movie and an Ethan Hawke film — and to collaboration between Hollywood and the island’s underfunded film sector.

“The world just got bigger because Cuba has become accessible,” said Matthew Carnahan, creator of “House of Lies.”

As a location, Cuba was inspiring, if challenging, he said, but added, “I’m dreaming up reasons to go back.”

A stream of American filmmakers needing to hire Cuban equipment and crews would be a boon to the country’s independent production industry, which sprouted in the late 1990s as digital technology made filmmaking more accessible and state money for movies ran dry.

Some Cuban filmmakers worry, though, that their government will open its arms to Hollywood while continuing to give its own filmmakers the cold shoulder. Independent production companies in Cuba operate in a legal limbo, getting little or no funding from the state and often struggling to get their movies past the censors.

“It’s great that people from Hollywood want to come to Cuba, but it’s caught us at a bad moment,” said Carlos Lechuga, a Cuban director. “We have stories to tell, and right now we don’t feel that we can do that.”

The thaw between the United States and Cuba in 2014 prompted a swell of inquiries from Americans eager to shoot there. The next “Fast & Furious” installment may be partly shot in Cuba, a spokeswoman for its studio, Universal Pictures, said, adding that the company “is currently seeking approval from the United States and Cuban governments.”

And Cuban filmmakers have been fielding inquiries. “There isn’t a day that I am not meeting with a potential client from the United States,” said Oscar Ernesto Ortega, 29, whose El Central Producciones produces music videos, commercials and documentaries for clients like the Puerto Rican band Calle 13 and Red Bull Media House from offices in Miami and Havana.

Boris Crespo, founder of BIC Producciones, in Havana, said he had been working flat out for the past year, providing production services for Conan O’Brien’s four-day visit to Cuba last year and the History channel’s “Top Gear,” which filmed an episode in Cuba in January.

Mr. Carnahan, who worked with Island Film, another Havana production company, said he was struck by the “passionate” crew and the quality of Cuban actors. (The “House of Lies” shoot was planned before the new regulations went into effect, so producers had to get a license from the Treasury Department.)

What Cuba is missing, he said, are decent cellphone connections, fast Internet access and even “basic things — hammers — things that we don’t give much thought to.”

And the process of procuring shooting permits was extremely slow, he said.

Mr. Crespo said that the state-funded Cuban Institute of Cinematic Art and Industry “drowns in its own bureaucracy.”

The Strip from The New York Times (Doonesbury’s site was off-line at the time of publication.)

The Strip 02-14-16

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Looking Back/Looking Forward

It’s time for my annual re-cap and prognostication for the past year and the year coming up.  Let’s see how I did a year ago.

– Now that we have a Republican House and Senate and a president who isn’t running for re-election, get out the popcorn, and I mean the good stuff.  The GOP will try to do everything they can to destroy the legacy of Barack Obama, but they will end up looking even more foolish, petulant, infantile, and borderline nuts than they have for the last two years, and that’s saying something.  Repeals of Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, and recharged attempts to investigate Benghazi!, the IRS, and the VA will be like the three rings of Barnum & Bailey, all of which President Obama will gleefully veto.  As Zandar noted at Balloon Juice, “Over/under on when a Republican declares on FOX that Obama’s veto is  “illegal”, Feb 8.”

They did all that except actually pass the bills for President Obama to veto.  Instead they putsched John Boehner and replaced him with Paul Ryan who will more than likely face the same nutsery in 2016.

– Hillary Clinton will announce that she is running for president by March 2015 at the latest.  Elizabeth Warren will not run, but Bernie Sanders, the Gene McCarthy of this generation, will announce as an independent and become a frequent guest on MSNBC.  Jeb Bush, after “actively exploring” a run in 2016, will announce that he is running and quickly fade to the single digits when the GOP base gets a taste of his views on immigration and Common Core.  He may be popular in Republican polls, but those people don’t vote in primaries.  The frontrunners for the Iowa caucuses a year from now will be Rand Paul and Chris Christie.

Nailed that one except for the last sentence.  But to be fair I don’t think anyone had Donald Trump on their betting sheets a year ago, and if they did, it was more for the entertainment value than serious consideration as a Republican candidate.

– The war in Afghanistan is officially over as of December 2014, but there will be U.S. troops actively engaged in combat in what is left of Syria and Iraq in 2015.

More’s the pity.

– The U.S. economy will continue to improve at a galloping pace.  The Dow will hit 19,000 at some point in 2015 and oil will continue to flood the market, keeping the price below $60 a barrel and gasoline will sell for under $2 a gallon, and finally wages will start to catch up with the improving economy.  I blame Obama.

Except for my overly-optimistic prediction on the Dow, this pretty much came true, even down to the price for gasoline: I paid $1.99 last night in Miami, which is not the lowest-priced city in the country.  President Obama is not getting any credit whatsoever for helping the economy improve, which he should, but then the Republicans never blamed Bush for crashing it in the first place.

– The Supreme Court will rule that bans on same-sex marriage violate the Constitution.  They will also narrowly uphold Obamacare again.

Happy dance, happy dance.

– The embargo against Cuba will end on a narrow vote in the Senate thanks to the overwhelming influence of Republican donors who see 11 million Cubans starving for Dunkin Donuts and car parts and don’t care what a bunch of domino-playing dreamers on Calle Ocho think.

The embargo is still in place as a matter of law, but for all intents and purposes, it is crumbling.  U.S. airlines and cruise ships are setting schedules, direct mail service is resuming, and travel there has become routine.

– The Tigers will win their division again.

Oh, shut up.

– We will lose the requisite number of celebrities and friends as life goes on. As I always say, it’s important to cherish them while they are with us.

I hold them in the Light.

– I technically retired on September 1, 2014, but my last day at work will be August 30, 2019.  (It’s complicated.)  I’m planning a return trip to Stratford this summer — more on that later — and I’ll get more plays produced.  I will finish at least one novel in 2015.

This was a productive year for me on the writing front: several plays of mine were done either in full stage productions or readings, and more are on the way.  No, I did not finish a novel yet.

Now for the predictions for 2016:

  • Hillary Clinton will be the next President of the United States.  I have no idea who she will beat; I don’t think the Republicans know, either, but she will win, and I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it will be a decisive win.  The GOP will blame everybody else and become even more cranky, self-injuring, and irresponsible.
  • The Democrats down-ticket will do better than expected by taking back the Senate and narrowing their gap in the House.  This will be achieved by the number of voters who will turn out to vote for them in order to hold off the GOP’s attempt to turn the country back over to the control of white Christian males.
  • The economy will continue to improve; maybe this is the year the Dow will hit 19,000.  The limiting factor will be how the rest of the world, mainly China, deals with their economic bubble.  I think a lot of the economic news will be based on the outcome of the U.S. election and the reaction to it.  If by some horrifying chance Donald Trump wins, all bets are off.  Economists and world markets like stability and sanity, and turning the U.S. over to a guy who acts like a used car hustler crossed with a casino pit boss will not instill confidence.
  • ISIS, which barely registered on the radar as an existential threat to the U.S. and the west a year ago, will be contained.  There will not be a large American troop presence in Syria and Iraq thanks in part to the response by the countries that themselves are being invaded by ISIS.  Finally.
  • Refugees will still be pouring out of the Middle East, putting the strain on countries that have taken them in.  It will be a test of both infrastructure and moral obligation, and some, such as Canada, will set the example of how to be humane.
  • Maybe this will be the year that Fidel Castro finally takes a dirt nap.
  • The Supreme Court will narrowly uphold affirmative action but leave room for gutting it later on.  They will also narrowly rule against further restrictions on reproductive rights.  And I am going out on a limb by predicting that President Obama will get to choose at least one more new justice for the Court, an appointment that will languish in the Senate until after the election.
  • Violence against our fellow citizens such as mass shootings will continue.  The difference now is that we have become numb to them and in an election year expecting any meaningful change to the gun laws or the mindset is right up there with flying pigs over downtown Miami.
  • Marriage equality will gain acceptance as it fades from the headlines, but the LGBTQ community’s next front will be anti-discrimination battles for jobs and housing.  It’s not over yet, honey.
  • We’re going to see more wild weather patterns but none of it will convince the hard-core deniers that it’s either really happening or that there’s anything we can do about it.
  • The Tigers will not win the division in 2016.  (Caution: reverse psychology at play.)
  • On a personal level, this could be a break-out year for my writing and play production.  I don’t say that every year.
  • A year from today I will write this same post and review what I got right and what I didn’t.  But stick around and see how I do on a daily basis.

Okay, it’s your turn.  What do you see for 2016?

Friday, December 18, 2015

Friday, September 18, 2015

Short Takes

Fed holds off raising interest rates.

At least 11 people were killed in the 8.3 earthquake off the coast of Chile.

President Obama greeted the three men who thwarted the train attack in Europe.

Verizon now works in Cuba.

Doritos unveiled rainbow-colored chips.

Tropical Update: TD Nine heads west.

The Tigers had the night off.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sunday Reading

Ten Years After — Charlie Pierce on the recovery of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

All archaeology is about layers, one city laid atop the others, as though civilization were coming from deep in the earth and piling itself up toward the sky. In the late nineteenth century, when the German adventurer and archaeologist—and part-time fantast—Heinrich Schliemann went looking for the city of Troy, he found eleven of them, one atop another. At one level, Schliemann found a cache of gold and jewelry that he pronounced to be the treasure of Priam, the king of Troy at the time of the events of the Iliad. He was wrong. The gold had been found at what later was determined to be only Troy II. It is popularly believed now that Troy VII was the site of the war about which Homer wrote. There are bronze arrowheads there, and skeletons bearing the marks of hor-rendous injuries, and there is evidence of a great fire. What Schliemann wrote when he first made his discoveries there has held remarkably true for all the layers of Troy that have been unearthed since then:

“I have proved that in a remote antiquity there was in the Plain of Troy a large city, destroyed of old by a fearful catastrophe, which had on the hill of Hissarlik only its Acropolis, with its temples and a few other large edifices, whilst its lower city extended in an easterly, southerly, and westerly direction, on the site of the later Ilium; and that, consequently, this city answers perfectly to the Homeric description of the sacred site of Ilios.”

There is an archaeology to human lives, too, and it is very much the same. Human lives have layers, one atop the other, as though the individual were rising from the dust of creation toward the stars. Some of the layers show nothing much at all. Some of them, like the dark layers at Troy that indicate a vast fire, show that something very important happened to the lives in question. Hurricane Katrina, and all of the myriad events surrounding it, both good and bad, is that vast, sweeping layer within the lives of the people of New Orleans. Almost fifteen hundred people died. There was $100 billion in damage. The levees failed. The city flooded. The city, state, and federal governments failed even worse than the levees did. It was estimated in 2006 that four hundred thousand people were displaced from the city; an estimated one hundred thousand of them never returned. Parts of the city recovered. Parts of the city were rebuilt. Parts of the city gleam now brighter than they ever did. There will be parades on the anniversary of the storm because there are things in the city to celebrate, but it is the tradition in this city that the music doesn’t lively up and the parade really doesn’t start until the departed has been laid to rest, until what is lost is counted, and until the memories are stored away. Only then does the music swing the way the music is supposed to sound. Only then do they begin to parade.

There will be some joy in the tenth-anniversary celebration because of this, but the storm is there in everyone, a dark layer in the archaeology of their lives. For some people, it is buried deeply enough to be forgotten. For others, the people who live in the places that do not gleam and that are not new, it is closer to the surface. A lot of the recovery is due to what author Naomi Klein refers to as “disaster capitalism.” The city has been reconfigured according to radically different political imperatives—in its schools and its housing and the general relationship of the people to their city and state governments. Many of them felt their lives taken over by anonymous forces as implacable as the storm was. There will be some sadness in the tenth anniversary because of this, fresh memories of old wounds, a sense of looming and ongoing loss. The storm is the dark layer in all the lives. And because it is, the storm is what unites them still, like that burned layer of Troy.

The Reopening of the Embassy — In The Atlantic, Yoani Sánchez, a blogger in Cuba, tells what the flag-raising at the U.S. embassy means to the average person in Havana.  (Translated by Mary Jo Porter.)

My grandchildren will ask, “Were you there, grandma?” The answer will be barely a monosyllable accompanied by a smile. “Yes,” I will tell them, although at the moment the flag of the United States was raised over its embassy in Havana I was gathering opinions for a story, or connected to some Internet access point. “I was there,” I will repeat.

The fact of living in Cuba on August 14 makes the more than 11 million of us participants in a historic event that transcends the raising of an insignia to the top of a flagpole. We are all here, in the epicenter of what is happening.

For my generation, as for so many other Cubans, it is the end of one stage. It does not mean that starting tomorrow everything we have dreamed of will be realized, nor that freedom will break out by the grace of a piece of cloth waving on the Malecón. Now comes the most difficult part. However, it will be that kind of uphill climb in which we cannot blame our failures on our neighbor to the north. It is the beginning of the stage of absorbing who we are, and recognizing why we have only made it this far.

The official propaganda will run out of epithets. This has already been happening since the December 17 announcement of the reestablishment of relations between Washington and Havana took all of us by surprise. That equation, repeated so many times, of not permitting an internal dissidence or the existence of other parties because Uncle Sam was waiting for a sign of weakness to pounce on the island, is increasingly unsustainable.

Now, the ideologues of continuity warn that “the war against imperialism” will become more subtle, the methods more sophisticated … but slogans do not understand nuances. “Are they the enemy, or aren’t they?” ask all those who, with the simple logic of reality, experienced a childhood and youth marked by constant paranoia toward that country on the other side of the Straits of Florida.

[…]

A conflict of eras is unfolding in Cuba—a collision between two countries: one that has been stranded in the middle of the 20th century, and one that is pushing the other to move forward. They are two islands that clash, but it needs to happen. We know, by the laws of biology and of Kronos, which will prevail. But right now they are in full collision and dragging all of us between the opposing forces.

This Friday’s front-page of the newspaper Granma shows this conflict with a past that doesn’t want to stop playing a starring role in our present—a past tense of military uniforms, guerrillas, bravado, and political tantrums that refuses to give way to a modern and plural country. When one scrutinizes Friday’s edition of the official publication of the Cuban Communist Party, it is easy to detect how a country that is unraveling clings to its past, trying not to make room for the country to come.

In this future Cuba, which is just around the corner, some restless grandchildren will ask me about one day lost in the intense summer of 2015. With a smile, I will be able to tell them, “I was there, I lived it … because I understood the point of inflection that it signified.”

To Be or Not To Be, Dude — Shakespeare’s lost weed sonnets from Anthony Lydgate at The New Yorker.

South African scientists have discovered that 400-year-old tobacco pipes excavated from the garden of William Shakespeare contained cannabis, suggesting the playwright might have written some of his famous works while high.

The Telegraph.

SONNET NO. 156

Shall I compare thee to a Purple Haze?
Thou art far kinder, we’re talking righteous bush.
Rough kids do snatch the darling buds from May’s,
And Summer’s lease is up (landlord = douche):
Where, then, will I find thee, honeyed kaya,
When my cursèd suppliers do run out?
Perhaps succor shall I beg of Maya,
Although she hath a tendency to shout.
Dime bag or nug, I’ll lie on the carpet
And smoke my spliff, or in sooth just a roach,
For Anne is full vexed: “Lay off, please, stop it!”
One whiff of ganj and anon she’ll encroach.
So long as dudes can breathe and birds have feather,
That rug really ties the room together.

Doonesbury — Don’t know much about history.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Raising The Flag in Havana

Today the U.S. embassy will officially re-open in Havana, Cuba, with Secretary of State John Kerry presiding over the flag-raising, fifty-four years after President Eisenhower slammed the door shut on diplomatic relations with Cuba.

How we got to this moment is detailed in this story in Mother Jones.

What brought about this radical change was a unique alignment of political stars: a shift in public opinion, particularly among Cuban Americans; a transition in Cuban leadership from Fidel to Raúl, followed by Cuba’s slow but steady evolution toward a market socialist economy; and Latin American leaders no longer willing to accept Cuba’s exclusion from regional affairs. Seizing the opportunity were a handful of dedicated US legislators, well-financed lobbyists, Alan Gross’ aggressive legal team, an activist pope from Latin America, and a woman hell-bent on getting pregnant.

It sounds like something cooked up by Ian Fleming and Monty Python.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Hillary Clinton In South Florida

Via the Washington Post:

Hillary Rodham Clinton will go to Miami, heart of the Cuban American opposition to any warming of the decades-old deep freeze in U.S.-Cuba relations, to call for lifting the stiff U.S. embargo on commercial dealings with the communist nation.

The Democratic front-runner will make her first campaign appearances in vote-rich Florida on Friday, including the Cuba policy speech at Miami’s Florida International University. Her campaign announced the speech Wednesday and said she will expressly call on Congress to lift the embargo on trade, travel and other dealings with Cuba imposed by President John F. Kennedy more than 50 years ago.

Actually, if there’s opposition to lifting the embargo, it’s pretty faint.  A poll done over a year ago — before President Obama announced the restoration of diplomatic relations — showed that most Cuban-Americans, including those here in South Florida, are against the embargo.  So it’s not a very controversial stand to take even in Miami.

As Paul Waldman notes, “It just so happens that there are a couple of Floridians running for president who want to keep the embargo, on the theory that even if it hasn’t worked for 50 years, it’ll do the Castros in any day now.”

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Short Takes

As noted below, Cuba and the U.S. re-opened their embassies in Washington and Havana.

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to support the Iran nuclear agreement; votes to lift sanctions.

The military plans to increase security at recruiting centers following the shooting in Chattanooga last week.

Greek banks re-opened on Monday for the first time in three weeks.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a restrictive abortion bill.

The Tigers beat the Mariners 5-4.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Short Takes

U.S. and Cuba set to re-open embassies today.

Keep it up, Trump; you’re doing great.

Hobby drones hinder California wilidfire-fighting efforts.

Former President George H.W. Bush leaves hospital.

The Tigers‘ annual mid-season slump continues after losing two of three to the Orioles.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Way Off Yonder in Vietnam

From the BBC:

President Obama has met the leader of the Vietnamese Communist Party, Secretary-General Nguyen Phu Trong, at the Oval Office in Washington.

It is the first meeting of its kind since the two countries normalised relations 20 years ago.

July 2015 marks 40 years since the end of the Vietnam war.

President Obama said the relationship was mutually beneficial.

America lost over 50,000 lives in the war to save South Vietnam from going communist and the world from the Red Menace.  We lost; that defeat has shaped our foreign policy ever since and still plays a large part in our politics; just ask President John Kerry.  Vietnam is still communist, their rulers still repress human rights, they still haven’t sent back all the remains of the MIA’s, and they haven’t paid us back for the expropriated property we left behind.  And now we sell them stuff and they crank out our t-shirts.  No one on Capitol Hill is raising a stink about us pandering to a tyrannical regime.

Cuba, too, is still communist; they repress human rights, and they haven’t paid us for the property they took over after the Revolution, all of which Marco Rubio and los historicos on Miami’s Calle Ocho say are deal-breakers for restoring diplomatic relations and ending the embargo.  Only until Cuba has democracy and white bread will they allow us to sell them iPads and Arby’s.  (As if Cuba was a model of Jeffersonian democracy before 1959, right?)

Why the disconnect?  Why is it good business to deal with our former enemies whose record on human rights is worse than Cuba’s and anathema to deal with Havana?

There are a number of reasons, but the most obvious one is simple: it’s personal.  A lot of the anti-Cuba sentiment is based not on ideology but on the vocal exiles who see the Castro brothers as the villains who marched into their homes, parked their butts on the sofa, ground out their cigars on the carpet and took over.  (I know many exiles who have all their old property titles and deeds carefully saved so that when Raul and Fidel finally check out they can go back and reclaim everything, including the DeSoto in the driveway.)  In some cases, it’s familial.  The Diaz-Balart brothers, Mario and Lincoln, who have been big dogs in South Florida politics and served in Congress, are — or were — related to Fidel Castro by marriage: their aunt was Fidel’s first wife.

It also has something to do with our own history with Cuba.  We engineered their liberation as a colony of Spain with the intent of making them one of our own, only to have them rebel against us.  That’s the thanks we get for setting up their mob-run casinos and corrupt dictators?

There’s no such connection with Vietnam; at least not to the degree that a small group of exiles with personal grudges and vendettas can block trade and isolate a country for half a century from America and Americans.

It also has to do with distance.  Vietnam is ten thousand miles from our shores.  Cuba is ninety miles from Key West and a constant reminder of the failure of manifest destiny.  As long as there’s a Castro to rub our nose in it — and grind out the cigar on the berber — there will be a blockade.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Memo To Marco: Nobody Cares

Every presidential candidate looks for a gimmick; something to run on that sets them apart from the millions of other people who are running in the GOP primary.  For Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), he’s decided to plant his flag on San Juan Hill.

President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that the U.S. and Cuba have struck a deal to open embassies in each other’s capitals and re-establish diplomatic relations for the first time in half a century.

“The progress we make today is another demonstration we don’t have to be imprisoned by the past,” Obama said.

Obama emphasized that the U.S. and Cuba have some shared interests, such as strong anti-terrorism policies and disaster response. But he acknowledged that the two nations still have “very serious differences” on issues like free speech.

“We won’t hesitate to speak out when we see contradiction to those values,” the president said.

The Republicans knee-jerked their opposition to normalizing relations with Cuba the same way they oppose anything President Obama does, so something something commie something whatever.  Then Mr. Rubio made it clear that this is his schtick.

“Throughout this entire negotiation, as the Castro regime has stepped up its repression of the Cuban people, the Obama administration has continued to look the other way and offer concession after concession,” Rubio said in a statement. “The administration’s reported plan to restore diplomatic relations is one such prized concession to the Castro regime.”

Rubio said he intends to oppose confirmation of an ambassador to Cuba until there is a resolution on such issues as “the return of U.S. fugitives being harbored in Cuba, settling outstanding legal claims to U.S. citizens for properties confiscated by the regime, and in obtaining the unequivocal right of our diplomats to travel freely throughout Cuba and meet with any dissidents, and most importantly, securing greater political freedoms for the Cuban people.”

Other than a dwindling group of domino players on Calle Ocho here in Miami, no one actually will decide to vote for someone because of their views on restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba.  In fact, I’ve talked to a number of Cuban-Americans, many who were either born there or are the children of exiles, and they all, including hard-core Republicans, think the embargo is pointless, ineffective, and should never have been put in place.  We have full diplomatic relations with countries that have far worse records on human rights, but unless Mr. Rubio is looking out for some old buddies of Chiang Kai-Shek playing mah-jongg, he’s not going to object to trading with Beijing.

It takes an act of Congress to end the embargo, so my guess is that it won’t happen as long as Barack Obama is in the White House, but I’m pretty sure that by the time the next president marks their 100th day in office, there will be a NAPA Auto Parts store in Havana and Marco Rubio will be the kid behind the counter looking for a gas cap for a 1957 Ford Fairlane.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Monday, April 13, 2015

Short Takes

Handshake between Presidents Obama and Castro.

President Obama: Partisanship over Iran deal has gone “too far.”

Pope calls 1915 Armenian massacre “genocide.”

Gander sauce for anti-gay legislators in North Dakota coffee shop.

Jordan Spieth wins the Masters.

The Tigers swept the Indians this weekend, and the Perfect Season continues.