The Clown Car

Keeping up with the Republican presidential presidential candidates — the GOP clown car — would be fun if it didn’t hold such concerns for America’s future. The domination of Donald Trump, as appalling as it is, has tended to cover what a poor crop of candidates the GOP offers us. And it is such a treat to watch the party twitch and squirm to get around the Trump factor.

For Fox News, of course, it;s the greatest thing since white bread. Great for their ratings. and it’s downright hilarious to read the Wall Street Journal — Fox News for grown-ups — agonize over Trump. Each of their columnists takes turns telling us in aggrieved terms just how bad Trump is for the Republicans, and the newspaper’s editorial pages almost sink from the weight of their disgust for the Donald. Here’s the catch: once Trump abandons the party, we are left with a field of lightweights and irresponsible panderers.

What is it with the candidates and their fetish for linking President Obama in some way with Hitler? Mike Huckabee is the worst in that respect, but Rand Paul, Lindsay Graham, Ted Cruz and others have piled on. That is reprehensible. Jeb Bush, favorite of the party’s mainline conservatives (as differentiated from the Tea Party and like-minded extreme right-wingers) seems prone to verbal slip-ups and simplistic thinking. Ben Carson obviously lacks the experience and knowledge to be a serious candidate; he seems to be treading in ever-deeper water. Scott Walker has a face that looks as if he’s carrying a smelly piece of cheese in his pocket.

I could go on, but …. what the point? The presence of so many unqualified people speaks to the shallowness of today’s republican Party. And when you look at Republicans in Congress, there’s nothing better. The GOP there is expending its efforts to defeat the President’s nuclear agreement with Iran, striking an alliance with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose dangerous, self-serving rants in the service of his party’s right-wing extremists are causing serious rifts in the relationship between the U.S. and Israel.

Congressional Republicans who oppose the agreement caution that there should be no negotiations with a leadership who have vowed to pursue their own interests. Of course, we’re not talking about Iran. We’re talking about a leadership cadre of Republicans in Congress who have vowed to pursue their own interests and not to negotiate the the White House. Shame on them.

Agreement with Iran

I know that when someone I know only slightly criticizes someone or something in my family, I get upset and angry. You probably do, too. So when the Prime Minister of Israel starts criticizing my President, I don’t like it. And when there’s a chorus joining him, here and abroad, I am suspicious of base motives.

In this case, of course, we’re talking about the nuclear agreement reached with Iran in the last 48 hours. The specifics of the agreement haven’t been released as of this writing, but that has not slowed much less stopped the flow of incessant criticism and worse coming from many of the usual suspects.

Foremost is Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who denounced the Iran deal in the hardest terms. He is certainly welcome to his views, but he speaks out of self interest only. And frankly, America’s self-interest is what concerns me. Mr. Netanyahu does not speak for Americans though he tries. He speaks for his country, and he speaks loudly. But what he says is hardly the course this country needs to follow.

Worse is the response of people like House Speaker John Boehner, who condemned the agreement without even bothering to read it. That follows the Republican course set six years ago in which the party’s legislative leaders vowed to oppose every single action taken by President Obama during his administration. Think the Republicans debate on Obamacare, narrow-minded and bull-headed opposition, in spite of overwhelming public acceptance. Nothing has changed, it seems. If it comes from the President, it must be defeated.

And wore than that is the response of the Republican presidential candidates. Consider Jeb Bush, who called the agreement “appeasement” in a shameful echo of Nazism. How disgusting. Ted Cruz, Scot Walker and Donald Trump and the rest of the heavyweights are only now chiming in with their thoughts. We can expect little of substance, just more campaign rhetoric. What a pity. This agreement is far-reaching and it deserves — requires — serious discussion. I doubt seriously we’l get anything resembling that from the Republican party. Watch for it.

Flying High

The Department of justice in looking alleged collusion in setting prices among the nation’s major airlines. Wow, who could have seen that coming — apart from anyone who has flown lately or examined online pricing or has read in their newspaper about airline executives discussing the subject?

This is merely the latest chapter in an on-going saga I have called for many years under this slogan: The airlines are not your friends. If you believe otherwise, you are either being foolish or haven’t used pubic transport since the days of stagecoaches. Which were, as it seems to go these days, a bit more comfortable than many flights in 2015.

So, let’s begin by saying that this is an investigation by federal prosecutors, and we don’t know if airline executives have colluded in an effort to limit seating and thereby raise fares. We just suspect they have because it’s right in line with the greedy, screw-the-customer approach most airlines have adopted as their revenues jump to unheard of levels in recent years. Ye, I know that’s harsh. But again, have you flown lately?

The number of fees tacked on to fares has dramatically increased since 2010, and fares have continued to rise, though not as much as in some years past, largely because all those extra fees are providing such a nice windfall for the airlines.

Anyhow, the Justice Department believes the airlines have been closely coordinating efforts to make it harder for passengers to find seats, which restrains competition snd leads to higher fares. This comes after that same Justice Department approved a series of mergers in the industry that created “super” airlines that have substantially eliminated competition. According to The New York Times, 80% of the nation’s air traffic is concentrated among four airlines: Delta, United, American and Southwest.

There were warnings at the time of the proposed mergers about this happening, but federal examiners tossed them aside. This new investigation is the result of that mistake. We’ve gone from over-regulation several decades ago to under-regulations today, and until we can find some middle ground, our airline industry is going to keep putting it to everyone except those able to afford to pay the highest possible amounts for their flights. For the rest of us … well, enjoy that bag of peanuts while you can.

Supreme Court Rules

This week has brought two major decisions from the United States Supreme Court: one reaffirming the validity of the nation’s health care program, Obamacare, and the endorsement of same-sex marriage throughout the nation. These verdicts, perhaps unexpected in some quarters, will likely rank among the most compelling and far-reaching decisions ever handed down by this country’s highest judiciary. Celebrations are indeed in order.

The Obamacare decision assures that the President’s signature action will endure. And millions of Americans will benefit from it, as many already are. Forget the mouthing from disgruntled Republicans, who have wasted this government’s time for more than half a decade trying fruitlessly and thoughtlessly to kill it. For many in the GOP, there is no concern — much less a plan — for helping Americans secure personal health care. Obamacare is here; and more than we may recognize, it is working. So may we now devote all out energies to improving it? [Not that that's going to happen with so many Republican presidential candidates shamelessly playing to the worst and basest elements in their party in an effort to win nomination.]

And then there is this morning’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage. At long last. Justice Kennedy’s gracefully written, soaring decision for the majority is an honest expression of the deepest and most basic value imbedded in our Constitution: all people should be treated equally. He acknowledged there are disagreements, and he does not seek to abolish debate. But he is quite clear that one group of people may not be denied rights given to others.

The dissents on the high court are fascinating and inevitable in a 5-4 verdict. Chief Justice Roberts writes with some feeling that the issue is not one connected to the Constitution. Justice Scalia writes with vitriol and questions whether or not American is any longer a democracy. Justice Thomas, trying to hard with his limited capabilities, goes all the way back to the Magna Carta to misunderstand history. Discounting the mindsets of Justices Scalia and Thomas, this seems more like a 5-2 verdict with 2 passes. [Those two justices seem determined if not destined to become little more than disgraceful footnotes when the long history of the Supreme Court is written.]

Whatever, same-sex marriage is now the law of this land. I join with millions of people to honor that, with the hope that everyone will observe it with the kind of dignity Justice Kennedy writes of (do read his decision – it is memorable).

Enter Harper Lee – Again

Summer is here, so we all ought to be getting into our summer reading lists. ‘Tis the season for enjoying the books you have either intended to read for the longest time (think Faulkner or Melville, for instance) or have set aside especially for this more relaxed time of the year (think notable “beach book” authors like Stephen King, John Grisham or Janet Evanovich).

Certainly the one book that many readers are eagerly awaiting will hit the stores on July 14. That is, of course, Harper Lee’s greatly anticipated second book “Go Set a Watchman,” the follow-up to her now-classic novel “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The new novel has stirred so much attention not merely for the worldwide affection lavished on “Mockingbird” — now 55 years old –but also because it represents the only other book we know she has written.
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Everyone wants to know — will it as good as “Mockingbird?” The answer is almost certainly no, nor should anyone reasonably expect it to be at that exalted level. It was, after all, a book the author actually wrote before “Mockingbird” and which she laid aside for extensive revisions that became “Mockingbird.” She did not permit its publication for over half a century, and that has has raised the question in a few quarters that at her advanced age she only reluctantly agreed to release it now. We may never know for sure, but there seems little point in arguing it any further. “Watchman” will be here in several weeks and we will all have a few more answers about it. Reserve your copy now!

And no matter what readers think of it, “Watchman” is certainly revving up business for bookstores around the country. A huge potential bestseller brings lots of readers into stores, and those readers just as often hang around to buy a few more titles while they’re at it. That’s good news for the stores, for the authors and for readers as well.

As for me — well, my summer “to do” list is topped by George Eliot’s “Middlemarch,” a classic I’ve been meaning to read for decades now. The list also includes some strong nonfiction: A.N. Wilson’s new biography of Queen Victoria (turns out she wasn’t always 80 years old and a dour, stodgy monarch); historian Richard Beeman’s “Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution ” (turns out most politicians have no clue as to how our Founding Fathers actually created that document); and “American Warlords: How Roosevelt’s High Command Led America to Victory in World War II” (turns out FDR was not merely clever but smart and lucky, too).

Hope your summer reading proves as interesting and as challenging.

The Soiled Blatter

We know who the most interesting man in the world is, Don’t we? He drinks Dos Equis beer and always has a lovely and much younger girl or two on his arm. And now we know who is the most disgustingly corrupt dictator in the world. His name is Sepp Blatter, and he oversees FIFA, the international soccer (or football) organization.
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Blatter just got re-elected as president of FIFA, mostly a scandal-ridden group of appalling low-lifes seven of whom were arrested a couple of days ago on bribery and corruption charges. Most of the ones who weren’t arrested and charged voted for Blatter. And why not? With maybe some exceptions, they’ve all gotten rich with kick-backs, bribery and assorted illegal activities for decades which have dragged the sport into the dankest mud. They don’t care. And Blatter has been at the top of this hydra-headed, worm-infested organization, making sure he got more than anyone else.

And yes, let’s admit that as a lying, cheating administrative crook, Blatter has never killed anyone — at least as far as the official record goes. And yes, let’s also admit that’s about the best thing to be said about Blatter.

This is a man whose presence in FIFA is like an ugly pimple on a face. He needs to be gone, far, far away. And the fact that his cronies have re-elected him makes clear that they need to go with him. FIFA needs a top-to-bottom house cleaning. And it ought to be carried out by legal authorities. The arrests need to continue, and for heaven’s sake, let’s start now with the soiled Blatter.

And one more thing: the worldwide sponsors of FIFA need to step up and declare their independence of the organization now. Failure by corporations like McDonalds and Visa and Coca-Cola to take meaningful action by refusing to pay money to FIFA’s shameless extortionist leaders ought to lead fans of soccer all over the world to begin taking action on their own. We know money talks; it’s about the only language FIFA understands.

Google Santorum

Rick Santorum today joined the physically crowded but intellectually challenged list of Republican presidential candidates for 2016. I can’t think of anything positive to say about this development.

Santorum is one of the more unpleasant conservatives with a history of provocative and unthinking remarks. And he’s done nothing lately.

Candidates for this nation’s highest office ought to be highly qualified, highly motivated people. They should have thought-out motivations and a serious desire to serve the best and the least among us. Rick Santorum offers none of that. Further, since he was defeated for re-election as a senator from Pennsylvania, he has no significant accomplishments beyond running unsuccessfully for president in 2012. The only reason he’s running this time around is that he has nothing better to do. Absolutely nothing better to do.

Regrettably, that description also fits other GOP candidates and wannabes like Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina and Donald Trump. They, like Santorum, are people beset with an almost total lack of qualification for the country’s highest job and whose only real interest in running is feathering their empty nests. They’ll get book deals, or high-paid jobs or maybe positions as TV analysts. That’s it. They’ll never be elected to anything.

What a sad place we have come to with our political system. I wish I could speak with enthusiasm about the other party’s candidates, but I can’t. Hillary Clinton comes with a lot of baggage that troubles me, although she at least has some of the policy chops the Republicans are so lack. It’s a sad pass for all of us who truly care more about the welfare of our country than an abstract and dubious set of “principles.”

Republican Problems….

The Republicans have a problem. Oh, not THAT one. No, I mean the one about having too many candidates for president. I suppose it’s a good sort of problem to have, if only any of the potential candidates actually had the stuff to be elected president. But for now the problem is that the party is trying to figure out how to hold televised debates with so many people on stage.

You may recall that in 2012 there were as many as nine Republican wannabes on stage at the same time. That included Rick Santorum and Rick Perry, two of the least likely candidates-to-succeed, along with Herman Cain and Michele Bachman, a pair of the daffiest candidates ever to show up. Mitt Romney eventually won, of course, and we know how that turned out in the general election. Though we don;t know how large a role the fact that Mitt once drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the top of the car might have played in his defeat.

Oh well, onward and upward. And speaking of upward, there may be nearly 20 Republican candidates this year, if you call Donald Trump a potential candidate (and does his hair count as a separate candidate)? The field is filled with lightweights, wackos and never-will-bes. Can you imagine a debate in which you have to listen to Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz, Rich Santorum, John Kasich, Bobby Jindal, Lindsey Graham, and … well, you name ‘em?

Personally I think it would be hilarious. And since Fox News is the major media sponsor, the options become even funnier. Let’s have Sean Hannity moderate a debate with all of those people. The possibilities are endless and endlessly appealing in a bizarre kind of way.

And yet — the truth is that it’s really very disappointing. There’s not a single Republican candidate on the horizon who would seem to have the brains, the background and the intellectual and emotional honesty to be a legitimate candidate for President of the United States. Sad. And especially so when you think about the candidates — or candidate — on the other side. I’m not ready to crown Hillary; I’m not yet convinced she’s the best option for our country. And I don’t like yielding to her by Republican default.

So yeah, the GOP has a problem. But it goes a whole lot deeper than finding space on stage for its most prominent members.

Oh, SC, how could you?

I spent many years living in South Carolina, and it is a lovely state that is home to some wonderful people. My kids were born there and have gone on to much success since.

But I have to admit the Palmetto State — named for the tree, by the way, and not the extremely noxious Palmetto Bug, also known as one gigantenormous cockroach — also shelters some people best described as . . . well, probably best left alone. Take my word for it. Please.

I’m not referring to the deranged mother who drove her two small children into a deep lake and then abandoned them. That really happened, by the way. Nor am I talking about the man who held up a couple on the streets of Charleston, asked them to remove their clothes and then ran off with their clothes, leaving behind their money, jewelry and credit cards. That really happened, too. And then there was the guy who wanted to marry his sheep. And then there was Strom Thurmond. But, well, you surely get the idea.

No, my thoughts went burbling back to South Carolina recently when I read that the state’s attorney general has inserted himself into the discussion over the issue of same-sex marriage. It is now legal in a majority of states, of course, and most people seem to believe the Supreme Court will make it official in a ruling later this year.

The South Carolina attorney general has a novel view of this. His contention, if I might sum it up briefly, is that the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — adopted in 1868 and declaring that everyone is entitled to equal protection under the law — was approved by a group of people who at that time explicitly discriminated against women. Hence, they would certainly approve discrimination against gays and lesbians, including the banning of same-sex marriages.

You’ve got to admit there’s somebody in South Carolina who’s really thinking out of the box, if by box you mean abandoning the basic parameters of logic and sensibility for the sort of thinking that once assigned slaves the value of three-fifths of a single non-slave person. And that happened when we had people like James Madison and Thomas Jefferson around.

Anyhow, I’d rather think good thoughts about South Carolina, in spite of its somewhat checkered history. Charleston, for instance, is voted as the nation’s friendliest city in polls year after year, and it really is a place where fabled southern hospitality lives on. Boston, by the way, has not showed up in those polls since 1775, when the British started voting.

I love the South Carolina beaches. They are unspoiled, and by unspoiled I mean it is still possible to see an occasional grain of sand through all the semi-naked bodies and beach towels laying on it in July. Myrtle Beach is the most popular beach resort on the East Coast and boasts more golf courses than New Hampshire has Republican presidential candidates, although not by much, I grant you.

South Carolina has beaches and mountains and a whole lot of flat, plain stuff in between. Sort of like a sandwich in which the bread is really yummy and the ingredients are close to plaster-board taste. I naturally lived in the middle. There were competitions among some of the smaller towns in the middle to see which one truly deserved the title of “the armpit of America.” I always thought it was mostly a tie between 34 of them.

South Carolina claims to have more churches per capita than any other state, and they do have a number of gorgeous, historical churches. The state also claims it is the only state in the Union that deserves to be called Carolina, since North Carolina is a late-comer and pretender, much like South Dakotans probably feel about North Dakota, although my usually thorough online research has not yet turned up information on exactly where the Dakotas are on the map. West of the Monadnocks, I believe.

So in conclusion, I would like to think I’ve helped my fellow Granite Staters understand a little more about the place I once called home. I hope everyone has an opportunity to travel there soon; you won’t regret it, I assure you. You’ll get to it pretty much the way everyone does: drive south of Boston until it stops snowing, and then make a left just before you get to Florida. If you get to the place where restaurants are advertising that early-bird dinners start at 3:30 p.m., you’ve gone too far.

Or you’ve accidentally driven into South Dakota. And if so, please do let me know exactly where it is. I hear it’s really pretty there.

Just Plain Weird

Some years back when I was living in Atlanta, I remember coming across an item in the newspaper about an incident that occurred in a small East Tennessee town. To properly appreciate this, you have to know that East Tennessee is a very weird a sort of place, and my apologies to anyone who hails from there, but you exactly what I mean.

Apologies aside, it seems that one evening police were called to a trailer after reports of a disturbance there. They found the residents were indeed having a little dispute. One of them, a dwarf albino man, had just stabbed his wife, a blind, one-legged transvestite, following an argument apparently over the television remote control.

Doesn’t hearing that make you feel just a tad bit more normal now? I mean, really, don’t we all argue over the TV remote?

And we can all smile forgivingly at those kinds of goings-on because they occurred in the South, which is notorious for its eccentric if not altogether crazy and occasionally dangerous people, right? Just think, Louisiana alone boasts more certified political wackos than any state north of Maine. Just go read Flannery O’Connor’s stories if you doubt that haunted characters inhabit the South But, well, wait a minute . . .

Some stories in recent Granite State newspapers do remind us that we are a lot more alike than we might care to remember. One example, and I’ll quote a newspaper’s lead paragraph since it’s impossible to summarize better what happened:

“A man charged with chasing a Chester homeowner around his yard with a running chainsaw has told a judge he may claim he was acting in self defense.” Now remember as you read through that, we’re not in Tennessee any more, Dorothy.

Of course you can’t make that sort of thing up; nobody would believe it. The claim of self defense seems irrelevant. After all, does anyone read that and not conjure up the image of Leatherface rampaging through “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre?” in pursuit of the five stupidest teenagers in cinema history?

That’s hardly it for New Hampshire, however. Has anyone forgotten about that amazing woman in Epping a couple of years ago who somehow managed to get arrested four separate times in a mere 26 hours? That has to be some sort of record for law-breaking persistence.

First she was issued a warning at her home for playing loud music by the group AC/DC. One hour later they returned to arrest her for continuing to play music too loud. She was released, then arrested five hours later for the same offense. A few hours after that she was arrested a third time. Same problem. And amazingly that wasn’t the end of it.

Police had to come back to her house one more time — they probably didn’t need a GPS by now — after her nephew called to report he was trying to remove some belongings from her house when she threw a frying pan at him, which seems a minor offense after having to listen to AC/DC for so long. I think we can all agree it could have been worse if by worse you’re thinking of listening to loud music by Herman’s Hermits.

But unusual celebrity has come to other Granite Staters. Take Earl Tupper, for instance. Sort of an average guy, born in Berlin (ours, not Germany’s), raised on a working farm. As plain and as simple as Tupperware. And come to think of it, that’s why we remember Earl Tupper today.

Mr. Tupper — his friends never called him Earl, and who could blame them — was working for a chemical company during the Depression when he invented Tupperware. Only of course when he invented it it wasn’t Tupperware, it was just an oddly congealed plastic substance. Once he invented a lid to go on it and started marketing it in the 1940s, he got rich.

It’s a wonderful rags to riches story, isn’t it? Humble New Hampshire boy becomes a great inventor and a source of joy and pride for all Americans. Only it didn’t quite end that way. It seems Mr. Tupper wasn’t exactly as fond America as it was of him, especially the part involving taxation, so he sold his invention, divorced his wife and bought an island off the coast of Central America where he spent the last years of his life wishing he’d invented the Ronco bassmaster instead.

The point of all this meandering, of course, is . . . well, I may possibly have lost the thread somewhere along the way, but I’m sure if you read back over the column you’ll find it. Sorry, but I’m busy checking the yard to make certain there’s no one out there with a chainsaw.