Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Indiana politics, Mike Pence, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and the fine Republican art of the Texas Side-step

Why is it they seem to grow their politicians tall, fair-haired, and a trifle dimwitted in Indiana? 

First there was Dan Quayle, who declared himself and his grumpy-looking wife “The New Kennedys” – a narcissistic conceit squelched handily by Lloyd Benson in the 1988 vice-presidential election debates.  

If you haven’t seen this in a while, it’s worth the three minutes and 38 seconds it takes to watch Quayle, stalling and vamping as he tries to think of an answer to Tom Brokaw's simple question, and then comparing himself to John F. Kennedy. He gets sliced, diced and barbecued with no tool sharper than Benson's tongue.

Now we have Governor Mike Pence who played to the Tea Party mob by encouraging a law that would have allowed restaurants, bars, hotels, resorts, flower shops, and virtually any other business to refuse service to selected members of the public, ostensibly on religious beliefs.

Or so Pence said.

The initial target was gay couples, but you can always find some biblical passage that can extend the shunning to Afro-Americans, Jews, Catholics if you’re Protestant, or Protestant if you're Catholic, people with physical disabilities, people with developmental difficulties or some other perceived “mark of the beast” – heck the possibilities are limitless.

The problem for Pence is, the wave of backlash has turned into a tsunami that threatens to engulf the state of Indiana and drown its businesses in a boycott. So now Pence is trying to take it back while at the same time not taking it back.

He seems to keep saying, while at the same time denying that he’s saying – hold on real tight and bite your lip so that the words don’t tangle your neurons on fish hooks – that the law doesn’t permit discrimination just because it allows businesses to discriminate. Now he’s calling for a revision to the law that won’t say it allows discrimination, at the same time it does say it.

Yeah, I know. My brow wrinkled at that one, too.

Which brings me to a Broadway show and later a movie called “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” based on a true story and real political and demimonde characters, which featured Charles Durning as a politician glibly accustomed to speaking out of both sides of his mouth. There’s a song for that, and here’s how it goes:

The only difference is, Durning's character is a lot more clever than Mike Pence.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Need a good tactic to attract thinking people but still win over the yahoos? Introducing the “Designated Imbecile” vote-catcher

"6 munths ago I culdn't even spel 
'Imbecile' and today I are one!"
Oh thank you, Steve M of “No More Mister Nice Blog.” 

I just went through some of your last two days’ offerings and there it was – an occult inspiration that I am now officially stealing to make un-occult. I do this in the hope it will shower me with glory and praise from the center and left, and no doubt also scorn and opprobrium from those on the extreme right – the ones hanging over a rational cliff by their fingernails.

In a piece entitled “Foreign Policy Made E-Z, the way Heartland America Likes It,” Steve chronicled some truly idiotic statements recently made to radio broadcaster Hugh Hewitt by wannabe Republican candidate for President Scott Walker. These were seized upon with deserved glee by Joan Walsh of Salon.

Republican balloon gets 
pricked, stabbed and busted

Next, Steve swung around his own battery of howitzers and blasted some of the stupidest remarks made by Walker and others on the addled right.

You can follow the two links above and treat yourself to many minutes of delightful reading, chock-a-block full of chuckles. I won’t repeat it all here, but I do need to summarize some of the points in order to get around to my Designated Imbecile idea.

Scott Walker, the foreign policy genius (yes yes, I do indeed toss around that phrase lightly) complained about the middle eastern situation, vis a vis  Israel, Iran and the U.S.

It was like the old movie Trading Places, said Walker, and (sorry, I gotta quote), “In the eyes of this president, our ally is supposed to be Israel. Our adversary has been historically Iran. Our ally is supposed to be Israel. And yet this administration completely does it the other way around….”

Umm, Scott? Iran was our ally too, under the Shah (and for a while it was also Israel’s principal petroleum supplier) until the Ayatollahs and the so called Revolutionary Guard put the kibosh on the way things were.)  We once even gave the Shah a ticker tape parade down Broadway.

And as Steve’s blog points out, it’s hard to tell from Walker’s penetrating analysis which country is Dan Ackroyd and which is Eddie Murphy. Maybe we could switch Scott over to Abbott and Costello. I think Who's On First? is the analogy Walker's grasping for.

Send Wisconsin’s treasurer
off to the Syrian desert?

Also worth jeering at: Walker’s claim that he’d be ready to fight ISIS because he creamed Wisconsin’s state employee unions. Right Scott, it’s exactly the same thing. If ISIS goes on TV and shows some disgusting thug holding a knife to an innocent man’s throat, you can call them up  (if you can find the ISIS switchboard's phone number) and say, “That’s it, buster. Drop the knife or I’ll cut the pension benefits you already earned and shaft you on health insurance while I’m at it.”

There was also Ronald Reagan, already in office, who had a handy answer back in 1984 when a suicide bomber blew up an American embassy in Lebanon and it turned out that security improvements for the embassy hadn’t gotten off the drawing board under the Reagan administration.

“Anyone that’s ever had their kitchen done over knows that it never gets done as soon as you wish it would.”

And with that impressively stupid statement, Reagan won re-election five weeks later.

Stupid pays as stupid is.
Or something.

 Clearly, when you want to be president, it pays to talk stupid – at least when you’re a Republican. But isn’t there some way Democrats could win over the Stupid Vote without offending people who still pay attention to the news (real news, not Fox News), and still analyze events more or less rationally, and still vote?

Folks, I think I have the answer.

The Designated Imbecile.

The Republican Party has never needed to designate imbeciles. They abound in Republican ranks. Think Sarah Palin. Think Michele Bachmann. Think Governor Rick “Whoops!” Perry of Texas. Think of Senator Rafael Eduardo ("Ted") Cruz's stirring reading of Green Eggs and Ham on the floor of the U.S. Senate. For that matter, think Scott Walker. 

The problem is, these imbeciles are permitted to run for president, governor, Congress, the Senate, what-have-you, scaring the last living handful of intelligent Republicans away from the voting booths, or sometimes even into the waiting arms of Democrats.

So I’m suggesting  that we Democrats designate a permanent non-candidate as our official imbecile. This person would follow the legitimate Democratic candidates around from stump speech to stump speech. The candidate’s  words would provide rational ideas, logical programs and inspiration.  This would attract most of the bright Americans to vote for him. Or more probably, her. 

Talking stupid for
fun and votes

Meanwhile, after each speech, the Designated Imbecile would stand up and talk stupid on his party’s behalf. Like a small community’s village idiot, he’d be well-enough known so that brighter folks would be kindly to him, but everybody would nevertheless gather around to listen. 

The  Designated Imbecile would give the same fools who vote for candidates who would destroy Obamacare, and now Medicare, a reason they could understand to change their minds. For example, “Have you noticed that Muslim nations don’t have Obamacare? Do you want to be like them? Don't eliminate Obamacare or next thing you know, we’ll have Shariah law here.”

Well, it’s a thought, and a stupid one at that. But I insist it’s a defensible thought. If people won’t vote for you, give them a stupid reason to change their minds. Just make sure somebody else does the stupid talking – your own carefully curated Designated Imbecile – while you show up the Republicans by speaking intelligently.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Donald Trump throws his combover into the race for Republican Presidential nominee. Who’s next, I wonder?

Narcissistic puppet and former presidential Candidate Howdy Doody, 

Howdy Doody for President
He’s America’s choice
He will never be hesitant
To fight for the rights of girls and boys!

Above, a stanza from the campaign song of Howdy Doody.

He was a string puppet whose late afternoon television antics enthralled seven- eight- and nine-year-olds of my generation back in…well it was a very long time ago, a time  when television was so new that children and adults alike would stare for hours at anything that moved on a blurry 7-inch screen.

Suffice it to say that Howdy never made it to the White House. In fact, given that the coaxial cable had yet to be installed to make possible coast-to-coast television programming, and TV shows were yet to get videotaped, I don’t even know if Howdy’s show made it even as far as Pittsburgh. 

Howdy Doody had a human side kick ostensibly named Buffalo Bob Smith, and a coterie of other puppets and clowns with names like “Mr. X,” “Mister Bluster,” “Clarabel the Clown,” and “Princess Summer Fall Winter Spring.” Does that all sound vaguely like a collection of Republican presidential candidates to you? 

I’d be tempted to say you can’t make this stuff up, but obviously somebody did at NBC, back in the day.

I bring this up because of  the revelation that Donald Trump is “seriously” running for president. Or at least the Manchester, New Hampshire Union-Leader is taking it seriously. Their article states:
Combined with staff hires, Trump’s announcement that he will form an exploratory committee for the first time is a sign the billionaire is seriously considering running for the Republican nomination.
Somehow Trump’s name and the adjective “seriously” in the same sentence reek of more than a soup├žon of Eau d'Oxymoron. All the same, given the Republican predilection to seriously consider a huge assortment of clowns and corporate puppets as presidential candidates in recent years, I’ll take any Republican’s  announced candidacy  seriously. 

I mean, please remember that Sarah Palin was once the actual, gen-u-ine Republican Vice-Presidential nominee. How did that work out for ya, Republicans? And Mitt Romeny last time around was seriously the presidential candidate. And among the many people who climbed out of the Republican clown car wearing baggy polkadot pants, bulbous red noses and giant shoes  were Rick Perry and Herman Caine. 

So this year we already have Fat Chris Christie, whose lap band surgery doesn’t seem to have helped much. And Scott Walker, whose backstabbing of his own constituency of Wisconsin working folks has made him the Mister X of a new generation.  And Carly Fiorina, who has a rare talent for swamping  huge corporate enterprises. (Imagine what she could achieve with the U.S. Government.) And Jeb Bush, whose administration as Florida’s governor seems to have been ethically, umm, challenged, not to mention his quirky support of “faith based prisons.”

And also not to mention, as a writer for the Florida Sun-Sentinal put it, that…
… while his tenure coincided with a sizzling economy and an overflowing treasury, Bush's back-to-back terms were marred by frequent ethics scandals, official bungling and the inability of the government he downsized to meet growing demands for state services, including education and aid for the infirm and the elderly.
And now we have The Donald? 

Oh boy, maybe we Dems can win with Hillary and all her flaws after all.

A final thought. Can you imagine going abroad and saying to incredulous foreigners, "This is my president?"

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Dictatorships, murder, Greece, Florida, Governor Rick Scott, and the the secret words that may not be spoken

Florida under Governor Rick Scott is
slowly becoming the kind of dictatorship
 portrayed years ago in the movie "Z"
This story takes place in Florida but I’m going to begin it almost half a century ago in Greece. That was when a peace activist and physician named Gregoris Lambraskis was clubbed over the head, in public, for his political opinions, and died of the beating.

His death lead to demonstrations that captured the Greek headlines. Over half a million people joined a protest against the right wing government – actually more of a military junta than anything most Americans would recognize as a government.  When honest government investigators  began uncovering connections to ultra right wing extremists and the army, the investigators were fired from their jobs.

All this was retold in a 1969 film called "Z,"  a real-life thriller that fully deserves a revival. You can learn more about it and see the trailer here.
In the film, as in real life, the protest movement begins scrawling grafitti around town consisting of one letter, “Z,” which was shorthand for “He Lives!” referring to Lambrakis. So the government, in reaction to public exposure of corruption and illegalities, and still trying to maintain thought control, outlaws the letter Z.

And now to Florida.

The Miami Herald is reporting that Governor Rick Scott’s office has threatened to fire, and in fact  has fired people for using forbidden words and phrases. The forbidden words and phrases are, “climate change,” “global warming” and "sustainability.”

Here are some of the eerily creepy, excerpts from the Miami Herald article, outlining an atmosphere reminiscent of “Z” :
“We were told not to use the terms ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ or ‘sustainability,’” said Christopher Byrd, an attorney with the DEP’s Office of General Counsel in Tallahassee from 2008 to 2013. “That message was communicated to me and my colleagues by our superiors in the Office of General Counsel.”
And this:
One former DEP employee who worked in Tallahassee during Scott’s first term in office, and asked not to be identified because of an ongoing business relationship with the department, said staffers were warned that using the terms in reports would bring unwanted attention to their projects. 
“We were dealing with the effects and economic impact of climate change, and yet we can’t reference it,” the former employee said.
The prohibition against words pertaining to global warming occurred after one agent of Governor Scott, Herschel Vineyard Jr., was appointed director of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection, effectively changing it into a department of environmental destruction. The Miami Herald also reports:
Under Vineyard, the DEP was repeatedly embroiled in controversies, from the suspension of its top wetlands expert after she refused to approve a permit to a failed effort to sell off surplus park land. Longtime employees, including Everglades scientists, were laid off or fired, while top jobs went to people who had been consultants for developers and polluters. Meanwhile the emphasis in regulation shifted from prosecuting violations to helping industry avoid fines.
As for Chris Byrd, well, he hasn’t been clubbed over the head in Tallahassee by thugs in a passing truck, the way Lambraskis was in Greece. Not yet, anyway. But Governor-Dictator Rick Scott and his coo-conspiring corruptocracy have already sought revenge. The Miami Herald reports:

DEP dismissed Byrd in 2013. His termination letter states: “We thank you for your service to the State of Florida; however, we believe the objectives of the office will be accomplished more effectively by removing you from your position.” Byrd, now in private practice as an environmental lawyer in Orlando, said he was fired because he repeatedly complained the DEP was not enforcing laws to protect the environment.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Never Kill a Killer – and other squawks from the Gumshoe Follies

Somebody named Tyler Maroney  seems

to imply we should discourage books 
like this, because a dumb reader might
be inspired to become a crooked private
dick. Instead of banning it, order and read it.
She was the kind of dame I just knew was trouble, from the moment she used one of her shapely gams to push open the door of my office. 

She sauntered in like she owned the place, great clouds of Chanel Number Five wafting off her pulse points and snuffing out the musty odor of the room I call my detective bureau

She sat down on the edge of my desk, crossing her legs and making herself at home. She lit the extra long cigarette that was wedged into her cigarette holder, using the lighter that’s always on top of my desk – a copy of a .45  semi-automatic that spouts a cigarette flame instead of a bullet when you pull the trigger. When she pulled the trigger it made a satisfying snap.

Her dress was red. Her foxtail fur stole was gray. Her eyes were the gunmetal blue color of the gat I always kept in the top drawer of my desk. I quietly opened the drawer and felt  for the reassuring heft of the weapon.

“You wouldn’t hurt a lady,” she purred through clouds of smoke.

“Of course not,” I told her, cocking back the hammer of my .38 snub nosed, removing it from the drawer and pointing it straight at the enticing depths of her decolatage. Why do you ask? Are there any ladies in this room?”

Above, a made up excerpt from a non-existent book, of a genre some of us have come to love – the noir pulp crime novel. None of this stuff ever happened and we all know it. At least any of us with any brains know it. Whether it’s Dashiell Hammet or Mickey Spillane or Lawrence Block, or name your author, we read their stuff for the sheer pleasure of escaping to a world that we can savor only as fiction.

Now, from another world, the world of authentically dumb-but-genuine real life private dicks, comes a dick peddling a book instead of his investigative services. His name is Tyler Maroney, and he’s out to stop what he seems to be telling us is one of the greatest evils known to Western civilization – the noir detective novel.

No no, I am not making this part  up. I quote from an op-ed piece of his that the New York Times published just last Saturday:
[Author John Carroll Daly] and many others who followed him helped romanticize the rule-flouting investigator, and created a world that inspired some people to believe that’s how real private eyes should behave. That’s why fans of the genre need a less felonious detective story, a yarn with more document review and less dark arts that puts the gumshoes in the law’s good graces. 
Lawbreaking private eyes, real and imagined, do a disservice to us all. Honest investigators help ensure that our legal system, our financial institutions and other corners of American life remain fair and transparent.
Right. Your average working gumshoe, following straying wives to motel rooms and occasionally digging up dirt on an out-of-work job applicant who once posted something stupid on Facebook are the bulwark of our democracy. Got it, Maroney.

If you can slog your way through the thick goop of his op-ed piece, Maroney seems to be the quintessential dumb PI, naive, dangerously impressionable, and smitten by the unimportance of what he does. Again I quote:
In my very early days as an investigator, I thought I was granted the authority to do things ordinary citizens could not: use false pretexts to obtain information, impersonate, infiltrate. I was wrong. My first assignment was a background check, which consisted of database research. My second assignment, to trace the source of counterfeit apparel goods, promised more intrigue, but my role was simply to buy shirts online.
In other words, until he finally gave in to the joy of tedium, he thought he could lie chat (and I’m guessing also steal or possibly even kill) because he read about stuff like that in some pulp novel. And somebody pays this genius to do investigative work?

He's not even good at the detective work he does. His own words:
At last, I was granted permission to channel Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. Working with a former F.B.I. agent, who was armed, I tailed the chief executive of a media company to see if we could catch him meeting with a competitor to discuss a merger. My partner and I sat in a Zipcar outside the Carlyle hotel for seven hours listening to the radio. The executive never made an escape — at least not one we caught.
So now this guy wants to make the detective stories you read as boring as his life. Well, maybe. But a little sniffing around the edges of his prose reveals that he’s got a little something cooking on the side: an ulterior motive.

What it boils down to, observed at least one reader (not me) who put his thoughts in the adjacent comments column, is that Maroney is actually flogging a book called “Corporate Dick.” In it, you can get to read how ethical and dreary his life is.

Hey, I have a better idea. How about a book full of genuine fake detective stories that will whisk you away to the magical world of crime and punishment as we all wish it were. It includes stories by some of the masters of the crime writing trade. It’s called Dark City Lights. Most of the delightful stories in it are just the right length to give your life a charge while you sit on the john.

Crime master Lawrence Block’s hit man, Keller, is in there with a story about taking an assignment to murder a dog. Parnell Hall of the Puzzle Lady mysteries has a piece about the a process server who gets in a little too deep during the process of serving summonses. 

There are wonderful stories by S.J. Rozan, Jim Fusilli, and Jill D. Block, among the 23 authors of real made up crime stories, and even a story by the great science fiction writer Robert Silverberg, about Martian invaders setting up a bivouac in Central Park to the consternation of New Yorkers. Oh, and I suppose I should mention a tale by a guy named Peter Hochstein, about a private gumshoe who really does lead a dreary life until a Mafia wife comes to him with a commission to bump off her husband.

Dark City Lights will be published on April 27th, but you can put in your advance order today by going here.

I don’t know where you can buy Tyler Maroney’s book about the daily tedium and alleged indispensability to our democracy of real goody two-shoes private dicks. And frankly, Tyler, I don’t give an authentic private dick’s dumpster dive. I don’t buy books to find out how long I have to keep forcing myself to read before my eyes roll back in my head.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Ding dong, the witch is d….Oh wait. Scratch that. She’s Alive. She...is...ali-yi-yi-ve!!

When Carly Fiorina was finally ordered by the Board of Directors at HP to take a hike from her job as chief executive, a good many of her employees started singing, “The witch is dead!”

Little wonder. During her tenure the value of HP was sliced in half. She asked her employees to take voluntary pay cuts and when all but 14 percent of them agreed to do so, she thanked them for their sacrifice for the company by firing 30,000 of them. 

Jets, not jobs

Not that any of this led her to pinch pennies, or for that matter, to pinch great bulging sacks of moolah when it came to her own well-being at company expense. At the same time those sacrificing HP employees got thrown out on the street, Fiorina, in the position of CEO, “tripled her salary, bought a million dollar yacht, and five corporate jets.”

Oh, and perhaps most horrific of all: she forced her soon-to-be fired employees to train their own lower-paid replacements. Somehow, that seems akin to an invading army rounding up innocent peasants and making them dig their own graves before shooting them in the back.

But if you think Fiorina’s dismissal was the end of her, you’ve been singing "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" again instead of paying attention. It looks like she’s  now trying to become the Republican  presidential candidate, although the right wing National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar has a theory I buy into that’s she’s really running for the vice presidential slot. 

If Palin could do it
why not Fiorina?

Kraushaar makes sense. Fiorina doesn't have the chops for the presidency. She has never held elected office. The one time she ran for the U.S. Senate, despite spending oodles of money (and still owing oodles more to campaign suppliers she has so far stiffed) she got trounced. 

But as a vice presidential candidate she’s be subject to less scrutiny, while possibly serving to foil Hillary Clinton on the Democratic ticket. And she’d be free to spew nonsense like, “I get so tired of the Democrats in general and Hillary. Their facts are just all wrong.” In this case she was referring to the issue of women getting paid less than men for the same job.

Hey, here’s an idea:
let’s blame the unions

Fiorina’s explanation of why Hilary and the Democrats are wrong is as far out in right field as anything that ever fell out of the mouth of Sarah Palin, another brilliant Republican choice for vice-president. If you have the patience to watch the video above, in the course of witnessing what I can best describe as an overtly friendly interview you’ll get a taste of what we’re in for if Carly ever gets into the White House. Or even a heartbeat away from it. 

What her argument boils down to is, it’s the fault of the unions that women are underpaid, because unions want people paid fairly by grade and seniority, where as Florina would simply pay them according to how she feels they “merit” the money.  Never mind that women have been in the work force in substantial numbers for over 30 years, still don’t get paid equally despite all the time they’ve put in. 

If anything, unions protect all workers, from having their salaries cut and their pensions vanished into the rapacious maws of people like Carly Fiorina.

And having watched what happened at Hewlett Packett, we all know how “rewarding” non-unionized people at the whim of management works out.