“Mississippi Flag Defenders Dig In” Friday, Aug 21 2015 

“Mississippi Flag Defenders Dig In” — headline, Washington Post, Aug. 18, 2015

Though writing about an already over-written topic goes against my grain, I can’t resist weighing in with a personal story involving undue exuberance for the Old Confederacy.

The time, autumn of 1951: The Korean War – or as the Truman White House euphemistically called it, “police action” – was underway and as a member of the 31st Infantry (“Dixie”) Division, I was temporarily stationed at Fort Slocum, just outside New York City.

Oh, about the Dixie Division. It was primarily composed of troops from Alabama and Mississippi, our uniforms bearing pin-on Confederate flags on both shoulders, and instead of Reveille every dawn we woke up to the sound of “Dixie” blared over a campwide sound system.

It was nothing out of the ordinary for someone who grew up in the South. Just out of the University of Alabama, I was accustomed to hearing the Confederate anthem played during football games and watching, whenever Ole Miss came to play, its student body waving the Stars and Bars.

All that would change, of course, when coaches in the Southeastern Conference found that, much as these symbols of the Lost Cause were revered, they drove away five-star African-American players who could help win football games.

But back to the autumn of ’51, a prime time to be stationed near New York, with young Tony Bennett breaking in at the Paramount, Rocky Marciano coming into his own at Madison Square Garden, and best of all for a jazz lover, Dizzy Gillespie playing at Birdland.

So there I was this particular night at Birdland, with a crowd of fellow jazz lovers, waiting for the King of Bop to show up; which he did, one hour late, explaining his tardiness with a story about playing a benefit on Long Island co-sponsored by the NAACP, the Knights of Columbus, B’nai Brith and — (pause) the Ku Klux Klan — (another pause) — with the punchline, “So you see, we’re lucky to be here at all.”

That brought on a big, forgiving laugh, but the best was yet to come. About to introduce members of his combo, Dizzy made mention of once having played a session down South, in Jackson, Mississippi. This brought on a whoop of appreciation from a table — fortunately not near mine — which led Gillespie to say, “Oh, someone’s here from Mississippi? You’ve come to the right place. It so happens we have the last Confederate flag ever flown. Pee Wee, show it to ‘em.”

At which point, Birdland’s diminutive emcee, Pee Wee Marquette, appeared onstage, took a flourishing white handkerchief out of his breast pocket, and waved it at the crowd.

According to the Post, today’s defenders of the Stars and Bars say the reason they stand by it is because it’s part of their past. One hundred fifty years after Appomattox they need to be reminded that the “flag” Pee Wee waved is, too.

Sound bite to remember

“I’ve always thought the Yankees had something to do with it.”

–Retired Confederate General George Pickett’s response (circa 1870) on being asked whether the battle of Gettysburg was lost because of Johnson’s failure to advance, Lee’s inertia, or Stuart’s negligence.

Myth, Crushed to Earth, Shall Rise Again Friday, Aug 14 2015 

Blasted into orbit by a trumped-up (if you will) impeachment and a stolen Presidential election… Stewart has lasered away the layers of hypocrisy in politics and in the media.

               —David Remnick, the New Yorker / August 10-17, 2015

I have been a subscriber to the New Yorker going on half a century and a follower of David Remnick’s career as a respected journalist since his days with the Washington Post. That said, the quote above, taken from Remnick’s column on Jon Stewart’s departure from “The Daily Show,” left me shaking my head.

What will it take, short of a shaft of sunlight and a wooden stake through the heart, to kill off the pernicious myth that George W. Bush’s election over Al Gore in the year 2000 was, as hot-eyed Gore supporters insist, “stolen”?

FACT: Following the 2000 presidential election, numerous independent investigations into the Florida vote count – including those of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal (pre-Murdoch) were made – extensive analyses of the returns in all counties. Without exception they came back with the same conclusion: Bush won the state, as the official returns had it, by 500 votes.

FACT: Yes, the outcome of the election was determined by the 5-4 decision of a Republican-majority Supreme Court. And had the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take the case? Then the Gore-tilted 5-0 decision of the Florida Supreme Court would have determined the outcome. The political composition of the Florida Supreme Court? Five Democrats, no Republicans.

FACT: Yes, one state, Florida, won the election for Bush, but if, like Remnick, you can’t shake a lingering resentment of the outcome, turn your peevishness toward the real culprit — a candidate who couldn’t carry his home state. Consider: In 1964 Barry Goldwater lost the presidency in a landslide, winning only five states — but Arizona, his home state, was one of them; in 1972, George McGovern lost in a landslide, but carried his home state of South Dakota; and in 1984 Walter Mondale lost in the worst of all landslides, carrying only one state — his home state of Minnesota.

Proving? That 2000 wasn’t a stolen election but an election lost by a candidate who had only to win a majority of the votes in Tennessee, the state where people knew him best. If he had, the Florida results wouldn’t have made any difference.

Not that all this will have any impact on the myth-makers of the Left, any more than a gilded birth certificate stating that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii has changed any minds among the mythmakers of the Right.

“Obama’s a Kenyan,” say Donald Trump and his fellow birthers. I expect no better from crackpots. But “Bush stole the election”? I expect better from the New Yorker and David Remnick.

Sound bite to remember

“The war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage.”

         —Emperor Hirohito, breaking the bad news to his people, 70 years ago this week (8/15/45)

 

About Harper Lee… Saturday, Jul 11 2015 

…a final word. Her “new” novel titled “Go Set a Watchman” is out, and it’s a good title because we need one set to protect the old and out-of-it from financial predators. The book, a manuscript rejected for publication more than half a century ago, depicts Atticus Finch as a racist SOB. Does anyone seriously think that Harper Lee, of sound mind, would have agreed to publish a book that destroys an icon that made “Mockingbird” great and established her worldwide reputation?

Soundbite to remember (with apologies to P.T. Barnum)

There’s a bloodsucker born every minute.

Where There’s a Will…. Friday, Jul 3 2015 

What follows is perhaps better suited to a column by a media critic, but since George Will seems beyond their reach…

This is the second presidential election in which Will’s wife is involved as an employee of a particular candidate; which, as Richard Nixon would say, is her perfect right. However….

In his column of July 2, the Washington Post columnist excoriated Ted Cruz for his stand on a constitutional issue, writing that “some candidates are becoming too unhinged to be plausible as conservative presidents” – a thrust obviously calculated to draw conservative primary voters away from Cruz to some other candidate; after which came the line: “Disclosure: This columnist’s wife, Mari Will, works for Scott Walker.”

Oh. I guess that makes whatever Will writes about other candidates in the next sixteen months perfectly acceptable; at least as far as the Post’s editorial ethicists are concerned. Presumably the rest of us are expected to believe – given “disclosure” and all – that George and his wife have separate bank accounts.

Sound bite to remember

“We’re all hustlers. We’re as honest as we can afford to be.”

         –Lenny Bruce

Scalia to Fox? Wednesday, Jul 1 2015 

“The opinion is couched in a style that is as pretentious as its content is egoistic. Of course, the opinion’s showy profundities are often profoundly incoherent.”

–Justice Antonin Scalia attacking fellow Justice Anthony Kennedy in his dissent in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges.

Paging Roger Ailes! Read the above and the rest of Scalia’s dissenting opinion and tell me if that’s not the perfect tone to fill a spot on Fox’s schedule. Surely, with Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee now off your payroll, there’s an opening for an abrasive Supreme Court justice temperamentally suited to satisfy the red-meat appetite of Fox’s primetime audience.

Like Bill O’Reilly, Antonin Scalia also meets the first requirement of a celebrity arbiter in today’s political environment. Seated at a table with Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Copernicus and Voltaire, he’d still think he was the smartest guy in the room. And more: Scalia also has that special gift of the best in Fox political analysts, the inability to disagree without being disagreeable.

Think of this as well: It’s one thing for an intellectual nincompoop like Palin, who’s never heard of, much less read, the Federalist papers, to mouth the cheap demagogic line that Supreme Court decisions are “undemocratic” because they’re rendered by “unelected lawyers”; but for a bona fide Justice who claims to channel the Original intent of the Founders to make that argument, as Scalia does, is something you’re not going to get out of any washed-up candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. Like, say, Scalia’s soulmate in demagogic trash talk, Donald Trump.

Am I getting personal here, arguing ad hominem? Good. It fits the subject. What’s more, as Scalia’s erstwhile hunting partner Dick Cheney once said after insulting a U.S. senator, I feel better for having done it.

Sound bite to remember

“Any man who tells you he starts off each morning with a cold shower will lie about other things.”

         –Dwight Eisenhower, commenting on a news report about his presidential campaign opponent Adlai Stevenson, 1952

Question for the Boots Brigade Saturday, Jun 6 2015 

June 6, 2015 (D-Day plus 71)

“We will look for you, we will find you, and we will kill you.”

— Sen. Marco Rubio, who never saw a day in combat, borrowing from the movie “Taken” to describe how he would deal with the Islamic State.

It’s lines like that that make you wonder what Marco Rubio is going to do in life when he grows old enough to get a driver’s license. For sheer fatuity in a presidential candidate, it beats even Lindsey Graham’s offering, “I am running because the world is falling apart.”

Graham, best known for his role playing Sancho Panza to John McCain’s Don Quixote, also sees the Islamic State as “a threat to the homeland.” But where Rubio sees Liam Neeson as the answer, the South Carolina senator prefers more American boots-on-the-ground. And not just a handful, but — direct quote here — “thousands.”

All right, let’s suppose — to take a real-life rather than video-game perspective of our national interest — we had those “thousands” on the ground a few weeks back, during the ISIS siege of the city of Palmyra, Syria: Whose side would Graham have them aligned with? ISIS or the government troops of the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad? You know, the Assad who gasses civilians rather than, like ISIS, beheading or burying them alive?

Obviously the answer to our national security needs in the Middle East isn’t as obvious as the boots-on-the-ground brigade would have us believe. Remember their calls a few years back for a more “muscular” U.S. approach to getting rid of the dictator Muammar Gaddafi? That Mission Accomplished gave us tribal warfare in Libya and, out of that, the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

Not that the lessons of Benghazi or Palmyra register on Rubio, Lindsey and their warhawk allies. When drum-beating demagogues run up against outcomes that belie their rhetoric, they simply turn up the volume. Another setback? That’s because we don’t have enough boots-on-the-ground.

Question to be asked at the first Republican presidential debate (if not before): Where are those “thousands” of boots going to come from? A decade-and-a-half fighting in the Middle East has brought us 7,000 dead, 52,000 wounded, and a volunteer army so stretched that soldiers are being sent into war zones for four, five, and in some cases as many as 10 tours of duty.

It’s a war, in other words, that calls for sacrifice on the part of only 1 percent of the American people, while 99 percent — you, me, and the comfortably insulated warhawks on Capitol Hill — live peacetime lives, expressing our “support” for the troops with ribbon stickers on our cars and stand-up applause for combat veterans at sports events.

But wait: On further review, it turns out there is one member, out of 537 in the U.S. Senate and House, who has a real rather than rhetorical answer to the “thousands of boots” question. Not that we’ll be hearing from him in any of those Republican presidential debates since he’s a Democrat — and a liberal one at that.

Say what you will about Congressman Charles Rangel’s fundraising ethics, when the issue is American lives on the battlefield, he speaks with authority — the authority lacking in all but a few of his Capitol Hill colleagues. A decorated veteran of the Korean War, he’s introduced a bill in the House to restore the military draft — actually reintroduced, since he’s put it before the Congress every session for the past decade — arguing, “If war is truly necessary, we must all come together to support and defend our nation. The 3.3 million military households have become a virtual military class, unfairly shouldering the brunt of war.”

You haven’t heard of Rangel’s draft bill? No mystery there. It’s because the chief warhawk of the House, Speaker John Boehner, hasn’t deigned to push it through committee and bring it to the floor for a vote. Why not? Because, for those millennials too young to remember, the draft was ended in 1973 because of demonstrations against an unpopular war — just as our current war in the Middle East, according to public opinion polls, is unpopular.

“It would take a lot of courage for people (in Congress) to vote on this,” said Rangel on introducing his latest draft bill. “We wouldn’t be in this mess we’re in if people knew their kids might be drafted.”

No we wouldn’t. But don’t expect the boots-on-the-ground brigade — would-be commanders-in-chief like Marco Rubio or Lindsey Graham — to admit it. They’re too busy, between campaign fundraisers, picking up on Liam Neeson lines or chasing down Super Glue to hold the world together.

Sound bite to remember

“They say women talk too much. If you have worked in Congress you know that the filibuster was invented by men.”

— Clare Boothe Luce

Jeb and Murphy’s Law Wednesday, May 20 2015 

I have on my refrigerator a picture of a forlorn dog, one ear flopped over, with the message inscribed, DON’T BLAME ME – I VOTED TO TAKE A WALK.

That covers the 2012 presidential election. But for 2016 I think my canine friend will have a lot of company; that is, voters opting to take a walk rather than choose among the most uninspiring lot of candidates for high office I can remember since my adolescent days when more than a dozen would-be governors of Louisiana traveled the state, including one aptly described as “a voice in the bayou whose actual existence has yet to be proved.” (A fair description, come to think of it, of the current governor of Louisiana’s presidential campaign.)

Having once worked for George Bush the Elder, I held out hope that Jeb Bush might fill in as a serious entry. But given Jeb’s baffling performance of recent days that hope has gone the way of all optimism this political season.

Best known is his stumbling on whether he’d have followed his brother George’s course of invading Iraq in search of nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. On that point Jeb took 24 hours to backtrack, saying he’d misheard the question. But though the political press has zeroed in on that gaffe because it happened on Fox, an upside of the interview was that it drew attention away from his answer to a question asked 48 hours before – one he didn’t mishear. From the Washington Post of May 7, under the headline JEB BUSH: BROTHER A TOP ADVISER ON ISRAEL:

“After spending months distancing himself from his family’s political legacy, Jeb Bush surprised a group of Manhattan financiers this week by naming his brother, former President George W. Bush, as his most influential counselor on U.S.-Israel policy . . . ‘If you want to know who I listen to for advice, it’s him,’ Bush said Tuesday, speaking to a crowd of high-powered investors at the Metropolitan Club.”

Right. A crowd of high-powered investors, a majority of whom were ardent pro-Israel New York Republicans. The question asked was whether Jeb sought advice from former secretary of state Jim Baker. One would think that would be easy to answer, since Baker is a longtime Bush family friend who played a major role in getting both Jeb’s father and brother to the White House.

But wait: Because Baker strongly opposed the expansion of Israeli settlements on the West Bank when he was secretary of State – and still does – he is widely unpopular among pro-Israel Jewish Republicans, whereas brother George W., because he went to war against Israel’s foremost enemy, is wildly popular.

Call this Jeb Bush’s low-road moment of pander: distancing himself from friend and supporter Jim Baker and embracing “Mission Accomplished” George – all to massage a “high-powered investor” audience.

Jeb, keep in mind, was until now considered by many to be the best political mind of all the Bushes (with the possible exception of his mother, who didn’t think he should run). But with his opponents working overtime to tie him to his brother’s legacy, he suddenly does it for them. Why? Simple answer: Murphy’s Law took effect.

No, not the one that tells us “Everything that can go wrong will go wrong” – though that too would seem to apply to Jeb’s campaign – but Mike Murphy’s Law, the low-road opportunism seen in Republican campaigns managed by the professional handler running Jeb’s.

It was once said that the best way to determine what kind of president a nominee would make was by the caliber of his first real decision – the choice of a vice presidential running mate. Update that for the 21st century: It’s his choice of a professional campaign strategist who’ll help him get elected. Once those strategists were dedicated personal staffers, like Roosevelt’s Louis Howe; today they’re political privateers like Murphy, who moves from campaign to campaign, working for the highest bidder.
And what does the strategist who advised Jeb Bush to stroke the high-powered investors at the Metropolitan Club have to recommend him as a political adviser to put a third Bush in the White House?

Just this: A New York Times story of a decade ago that describes him as a “GOP attack dog,” detailing his propensity to reach the lowest common denominator in communicating a campaign message. For example, advising Rick Lazio in 2000 to stalk across a debate stage and thrust a no-tax pledge in his opponent’s face, demanding that she sign it.

That attack-dog move, as New York voters recall, proved the defining moment in Lazio’s Murphy-run campaign, the one that assured Hillary Clinton’s election to the U.S. Senate.

Not to overlook Murphy’s masterminding Oliver North’s failed U.S. Senate campaign in Virginia, Meg Whitman’s embarrassing (but expensive) run for governor in California or, on the presidential level, his handling of Lamar Alexander’s losing campaign for the White House in 1996 as well as John McCain’s in 2000.

Of his role in the McCain campaign, the following item from the Washington Post sheds added light on the generating influence of Murphy’s Law:

Not incidentally, reported the New York Times in July 2000, “Mr. Murphy is also known for painting himself a central character in his endeavors. ‘Mike has a tendency of taking credit for things he only observed,’ said John Weaver, Mr. McCain’s political director, who was enraged when Mr. Murphy disclosed months of McCain campaign secrets for an article that cast Mr. Murphy as a star.”

This is the choice, of all available choices, that Jeb Bush made to direct his presidential campaign in the year 2016. Barbara was right. Given that kind of judgment, Jeb shouldn’t have run.

Sound bites to remember
“No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”
–German Field-marshal Helmut von Moltke, circa 1870

“Everybody’s got a plan until they get hit in the mouth.”
–Mike Tyson, circa 1980

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