Monday, December 29, 2008

Uh-oh ... Something Is Wrong Somewhere!

My apologies for the lack of regular posts over the past week. For reasons clearly above my threshold of understanding, my high-speed internet connection has not been working and I have been relegated to dial-up. It is so painfully slow that it has been almost impossible to check my Google Alerts for newsworthy blog fodder, let alone maneuver through the actual posting process.

My computer-savvy son-in-law will get me back up to speed when he returns on Thursday from a holiday visit with his family in Canada. In the meantime, my best wishes for the New Year, for which there is indeed reason for hope and optimism. Haoli Makahiki Hou.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Sitting On Top Of The World

A tasty excerpt from a recent column by Garrison Keillor

We threw the dice and we won the jackpot and elected a black guy with a Harvard degree, the middle name Hussein and a sense of humor - he said, "I've got relatives who look like Bernie Mac, and I've got relatives who look like Margaret Thatcher."

The French junior minister for human rights said, "On this morning, we all want to be American so we can take a bite of this dream unfolding before our eyes."

When was the last time you heard someone from France say they wanted to be American and take a bite of something of ours? Ponder that for a moment.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Twenty-Seven Days ... and Counting!

A month ago, Bush & Co. gave $150 billion to AIG and many billions more to the Wall Street bankers with no strings attached.

Then last week they gave a measly $15 billion to be divided between Chrysler and General Motors, but only after a public beating up of their executives, squeezing still more concessions out of their workers, and demanding a full report on how they’re going to turn the entire industry around in 90 days.

And now – did you see yesterday’s Associated Press story? – the bankers won’t tell us what they did with the money!

Folks, the lunatics are running the freakin’ asylum!


Sunday, December 21, 2008

From the Mouths of Readers Oftimes Come Gems

One of my favorite web sites for items and discussions about government and politics is
Obviously, there has been a lot of discussion there recently about Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. There was a funny, and probably incisive comment about the beleaguered governor posted there the other day from someone identifying himself as an Illinois native:

If someone told me, “Hear about Blogo? He dressed himself up as Elvis, highjacked an Air Yugo flight from O’Hare to Belgrade, and is now living under the protection of Serbia. And he’s formed an exploratory committee for 2016.”

I’d pause for a minute and say, “Yeah, that sounds right.”

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Forgiveness: The Difference Between Left and Right?

The announcement that Rick Warren, the conservative evangelical pastor at the Saddleback Church in California, will deliver the invocation at Barack Obama’s inauguration has prompted howls of anguish and outrage from liberals and gays.

My first thought was, why are these folks surprised? For over a year during the campaign, Obama repeatedly said he would work for a less-divided, more inclusive country. What a freakin’ nerve! He’s doing what he said he would do!

The uproar also serves to illustrate a basic difference between folks on the right and those on the left.

If a Republican candidate turns out to be a dud (Dubya) or an embarrassment (Palin), most conservatives will grind their teeth, clench their jaws, and vote for them anyway.

But if a liberal even thinks that you might be straying from the left's ideological line, he’ll scream bloody murder and throw you out of the boat.

Sheesh! No wonder we Democrats have so damn much trouble winning elections!


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Truman or Obama ...Some Things Just Never Change

To say that my paternal grandparents were rock-ribbed Republicans would be an understatement.

In June of 1950, I was sitting in the parlour of their house – yes, that’s what they called it – watching a Red Sox game on what was then their primitive television set. Suddenly, the game was interrupted and a man appeared on the screen. He said the North Koreans had invaded South Korea and that President Harry Truman was about to address the nation in this hour of crisis.

My grandmother was in the next room – the "sitting room" and, yes, that’s what they called it – reading one of her paperback detective novels. I called to her to come into the parlour and watch the president on TV.

“There is nothing that damn Democrat has to say that interests me,” she snapped.

I thought about my grandmother this morning when I opened the CNN web site and saw that TIME magazine has named Barack Obama “Person of the Year.” Then I noticed the CNN poll, which asked the question …

Do you agree with Time's choice of Barack Obama as Person of the Year?

Well, of course! I mean, who else??

Then I checked the results. Of the 100,000 people voting, 30% don’t agree.

I’m quite sure Grandma Loomis wouldn’t either.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

An Astute Observation On the Past Eight Years

"When the government is run by a political party committed to the belief that government is always the problem, never the solution, that belief tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Key priorities are neglected; key functions are privatized; and key people, the competent public servants who make government work, either leave or are driven out.”

Paul Krugman
New York Times
Sept. 1, 2008


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Items From the What-the-Hell-Are-They-Thinking Department

The obsessive die-hards who insist that Barack Obama is not legally entitled to be president and his Hawaii birth certificate is a fake had a set-back the other day when the United States Supreme Court refused to hear their case.

The birth certificate is genuine, of course, but the issue may not yet be resolved. According to Honolulu Advertiser columnist Dave Shapiro, “the conspiracists who brought the suit say they’ll appeal to the high tribunal on their home planet.”

Most Hawaii citizens are down on our Republican governor, Linda Lingle. She stepped into deep kukae (that’s Hawaiian for doo-doo) by declining to attend the National Governors Conference two weeks ago where most of the other govs met with Obama to ask for federal help with their states’ budget shortfalls.
Hawaii has a budget crisis, too, but Lingle has already taken bold steps to address it. For instance, she’s not giving State employees the traditional half-day off on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, a gesture that will please Republican ideologues, piss off 53,000 public employees, and not to a damn thing to fix the problem. Senators Shelby and McConnell (see previous post) were doubtless her inspiration.

Friday, December 12, 2008

About Bail-Outs and Loans and Speaking With Forked Tongues

I don’t know if helping the auto industry is the right thing to do or not. It does appear, however, that the government loan may not go through and, unless Bush acts with money already approved, many thousands of autoworkers will likely be losing their jobs.

Several things about this mess bother me.

GM and Chrysler were asking for a loan of 14 billion dollars, while the Bush Administration gave $150 billion to AIG. That’s ten times what the car companies asked for!

Opposition to the automakers loan comes from Republicans in the Senate. The most vocal of these are Senators Richard Shelby of Alabama (top) and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky (bottom). Note, please, that both of their states are home to huge auto plants run by foreign automakers like Toyota and Volkswagen. To attract those companies, Alabama and Kentucky offered big tax incentives because of the jobs they would provide.

And that begs the question: Why is it OK to give up tax dollars through incentives to create jobs in Alabama and Kentucky, but not OK to use tax dollars for loans that will save jobs in Michigan and Ohio and Indiana and Illinois?

Could it be because the southern autoworkers are not unionized, while those working for GM and Chrysler are members of the United Auto Workers? Well now… there’s a thought!

With unmitigated gall (because they know it to be untrue), Senate Republicans continue to lay much of the blame for the financial problems of GM and Chrysler on the wages being paid to the union workers. In fact, when you combine wages and bonuses, the non-union workers in the South are making slightly more that the union folks working for GM and Chrysler.

It would appear that Shelby, McConnell et al have seen an opportunity to damage or even break the United Auto Workers, and are willing to let many thousands of union families pay the price to do it.
Merry Christmas, y’all.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Some Smart People Need a Little Help To Stop Being DUMB!

Hello, my name is John Thain.
I’m chairman of Merrill Lynch.
We lost $11 billion this year.
It could have been a lot more,
but I’m awfully smart.
So I want a $10 million bonus to thank me for doing such a good job.
Oh, wait! I'm hearing cries of outrage
from very important people.
Suddenly I feel your pain.
I guess I won’t take any bonus this year.
(But don't worry ... you can really thank me next year.)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Wow! The Illinois Governor Gets Really, Really Busted!

When was the last time a law enforcement official marched up to a governor’s mansion at 6:30 in the morning, knocked on the door and said “You are under arrest”? That’s what U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald did this morning to Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich on charges, among many others, of trying to peddle the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama.

Several things about this astonishing bust deserve mention.

Of course, the accusations are shocking, but I have also been dismayed by the number of Republicans – pundits, bloggers and emailers – who are saying that this means Obama, too, is corrupt. And, far worse, there are people so blindly partisan that they are openly hoping that is the case.

As a matter of fact, there is indeed an Obama connection. According to political insiders from Chicago, Blagojevich approached Valerie Jarrett, one of Obama’s closest advisers, offering the appointment to her in return for a sizable payment. The word is, she immediately went to Obama’s chief-of-staff, Rahm Emanuel, and they blew the whistle on Blagojevich. Presumably, this will eventually come out in the trial. (The Obama haters will be so disappointed!)

Also worth mentioning: the U.S. attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald, is the very same guy who prosecuted and nailed Dick Chaney’s right-hand man, Scooter Libby. When that happened, Fitzgerald was shrilly attacked as an over-zealous and out-of-control prosecutor. (Shhhhhh. Listen ... Hear any of that talk now?)

There’s a really interesting twist to this whole sordid business: What comes next? How is Illinois going to get a new U.S. senator? Legally, only Blagojevich can make the appointment. And who in their right mind would accept that appointment?

Finally, take a look at the extensive allegations against Blagojevich. They are so egregious, so brazen, so just-plain-dumb that you have to wonder if this guy has both oars in the water. Let’s hope the prison psychiatrists can figure it all out … over the next 20 or 30 years.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Doing What He Promised Causing Obama Problems

I was watching one of the cable news shows earlier today and the subject was how some liberals are upset with Barack Obama because of the people he’s named to his new cabinet.

Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State?

Retired Marine General James Jones as National Security Advisor?

And keeping Bush’s Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, for God’s sake??

Dammit, Barack, when are we going to see some fire-breathing lefties? We better start seeing some of the change you promised us!

Have I got this right? These folks are ready to abandon ship because Obama is doing what he said he would do through the entire campaign – try to end divisive ideological politics and work for consensus?

Hey, if that isn’t a change, what the hell is??

Friday, December 5, 2008

They're Serious: Palin for President

In a CNN poll released today, 32 percent of Republican voters think Sarah Palin should be the party’s nominee for president in 2012.

OK, seriously now … what the hell are you people thinking?

Here’s what the candidate you prefer had to say about nuclear (not newk-yoo-lur) war:

“Nuclear weaponry, of course, would be the be-all, end-all of just too many people in too many parts of our planet, so those dangerous regimes, again, cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, period.”

And here she is on the subject of Africa:

“My concern has been the atrocities there in Darfur and the relevance to me with that issue as we spoke about Africa and some of the countries there that were kind of the people succumbing to the dictators and the corruption of some collapsed governments on the continent, the relevance was Alaska’s investment in Darfur with some of our permanent fund dollars.”

During the campaign, she extolled the virtues of John McCain, describing him as “… somebody very, very committed to policies that I believe will progress this country in the right direction.”

Honest to God, if I have to listen to more of that semi-coherent babbling over the next four years, I will progress myself right into the loony bin, screaming all the way.

As a Democrat, I should be rejoicing at the mere thought of Palin-for-President. But I can’t. I am dumbfounded that so many of my fellow citizens could seriously present this arrogant, ignorant, calculating, shallow, inarticulate, immature, incurious, uninformed, hypocritical and disingenuous person as the best your party has to offer our country.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Iraq: Getting In and Getting Out.

Revisionist history. Did you see the clips of the Bush interview when he declined to speculate if he still would have invaded Iraq had the intelligence reports said there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction there? Or the clip of Karl Rove saying Bush would not have invaded if only that pesky intelligence had been accurate?

One small problem: While some intelligence said Iraq had WMDs, there was also plenty saying there weren't any there. But those reports were filtered out by Dick Chaney and George “Slam Dunk” Tenet, later the recipient of a Medal of Freedom. (He looks a bit embarassed, doesn't he?)

And something to remember us by. A new agreement signed by both the U.S. and Iraqi governments, sets a deadline for getting our troops out of there … out of Iraqi cities and towns by the end of next June and out of the country completely by the end of 2011. I guess, by that time, the only thing left in Iraq will be the embassy we’re building which, last I heard, is going to cost us nearly a billion dollars. Oh, well ... easy come, easy go.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Today’s Employees Have No Idea …

Have you visited a typical office lately? Things are pretty informal, with employees dressing casually, and many working flexible hours or even from home. Smart employers not only pay well and provide lots of benefits, they also look for ways to make the work experience fun. If you don’t, you lose good employees. (We used to have afternoon pingpong tournaments on the conference room table.)

One of my very first jobs right out of college was working for the Hartford Fire Insurance Company in Hartford, Connecticut.

Companies like that had informal but rigid protocols that governed the careers of young men working for them. (I say “men” because, with very rare exceptions, careers open to women employees in those days were as stenographers and typists and secretaries. Period.)

Sure, an ambitious guy had to work hard, but it was much more important to kiss up to your bosses and observe all the rules, many of which were unwritten.

For instance, the higher you went on the corporate ladder, the more conservative you were expected to dress. Young male executives wore dark suits, white shirts, subdued ties (no bold patterns or bright colors), and black or dark brown shoes. Long hair or beards? Never!

One guy I knew played by the rules in every way but one: He wore bright red socks to work almost every day. I finally asked him about it. “I’m waiting to see,” he said, “if anyone will actually be chicken shit enough to complain about the color of my socks.”

No one ever did. But they fired him anyway.

That was in 1962. That was also when I moved to Hawaii. And I haven’t owned a suit in almost 30 years.


Saturday, November 29, 2008

Hawaii’s Governor: No Aloha and No Class.

Hawaii’s Republican Governor, Linda Lingle, campaigned across the mainland U.S. for the McCain-Palin team. OK … fine. Her Party. Her choice.

Of course, she could have done that without saying that Barack Obama wasn’t really a native son of Hawaii and sneering that he never even bothered to call her when he visited here. (As if, indeed, there was the least little reason for him to do so.)

But now the election is over and there is, at least for the time being, happy talk of non-partisan cooperation aimed at dealing with common problems.

One problem common to many of our 50 states is budget shortfall. It’s certainly an issue here in Hawaii where, just to give one example, $24 million has been cut from the States Adult Mental Health Division.

The nation’s governors are meeting in Philadelphia this coming week and our President-elect will be there to meet with the governors and talk about how the federal government might help states facing these financial difficulties.

Well, not all the governors will be there. Our governor, Linda Lingle, says she has a scheduling conflict and won’t be able to be there for the meeting with Obama.

Are you kidding me? Her administration is whacking millions out of critically needed social services, the new president is ready to meet with her … and she can’t fit that into her schedule?

That’s petty, ridiculous and irresponsible. And it’s an embarassment to the entire state.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Lack of Health Insurance Impacts the Economy

I recently wrote how hospitals treaing patients with no health insurance are forced to pass along those costs to the rest of us, thus artificially (and, some would say, unfairly) driving up the cost of our health insurance.

On that same general subject, I came across an enlightening column in The New Yorker magazine which contained the following interesting and sobering paragraph:

The accumulating failures in the country’s health-care system are a cause of profound weakness in the American economy; unaddressed, this weakness will exacerbate the coming recession and crimp its aftermath. A large number of the country’s housing foreclosures in recent years appear to be related to medical problems and health-care expenses. American businesses often can’t afford to hire as many employees as they like because of rising health-insurance costs; employees often can’t afford to quit to chase their better-mousetrap dreams because they can’t risk going without coverage. Add to this the system’s moral failings: about twenty-two thousand people die in this country annually because they lack health insurance. That is more than the number of Americans who are murdered in a year.

Steve Coll
The New Yorker

Nov. 10, 2008

Forty-seven million Americans without health insurance is a national disgrace. But it is also stupid because, clearly, the most expensive choice we can make on this issue is to do nothing.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Another Good Reason Why We Liked Ike

As he was leaving office, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower famously warned us about the “military industrial complex.” Those guys are still around, but today’s version has an added player: the neo-conservatives.

The latest ploy is a move to lock us in to a military budget that would be set by law at 4% of the Gross Domestic Product, which is the total value of all the goods and services this country produces. Obviously, the push behind this comes from the professionals in the Pentagon and the people who build weapons, aided and abetted by the far right.

To require us to spend that money, year after year after year, regardless of circumstaces or other greater priorities, is just nuts.

But you know what these people are calling this scam? “Four Percent for Freedom.”

Get it? If you don’t think this scheme is a good idea, well, by golly, you’re against freedom!

I guess that must mean Dwight Eisenhower was “anti-freedom”, too.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

His Object All Sublime: Punishment Fits The Crime

I have a new hero. He’s Judge Paul Sacco from Fort Lupton, Colorado.

Judge Sacco has come up with a perfect way to deal with the inconsiderate morons who go around playing terrible music at a volume that makes the fillings in your teeth vibrate.

He makes them sit in a room for an hour listening to Barry Manilow. I'm not kidding. You can look it up!
(Hizzoner looks a lot like Humphrey Bogart, don't you think?)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Universal Health Care: The Most Expensive Option

What should be done about the 47 million Americans who have no health insurance?

These are people who work for companies that don’t provide it and/or they can’t afford it. Of particular concern: an educated guess would be that half of those 47 million are kids.

Whether kids or adults, when these folks are sick or get hurt, the only real option is to show up at a hospital emergency room where they get the treatment they need. The problem is, the hospitals cover those costs by charging you and me more when we go to the hospital.

Six months ago, my wife broke her wrist. Three hours in the emergency room cost more than $5,000. That included the cost of our care plus some of the cost incurred by the hospital for treating uninsured people. You think that’s not so? Ask any hospital administrator.

It’s not fair, of course, but what’s the alternative? Somebody has to pay or the hospital will go broke. So to recoup the cost of treating patients without insurance, hospitals inflate charges to patients with insurance. Then, to cover those higher costs, the insurance companies inflate the premiums they charge to us … to you and to me. You think that’s not so? Ask any health insurance executive.

The people who oppose universal health care whine about the cost and object to their taxes paying for some poor person’s health insurance. But the point is, they’re already paying!

During the campaign, John McCain criticized Barack Obama’s health insurance plan as socialized medicine, saying it would “put a bureaucrat between you and your doctor.”

You mean like Medicare?

Let me say to all of you who aren’t old enough to participate in Medicare: When the time comes, you will be goddamn glad you have it. You will also find that it works beautifully … smoother and simpler and cheaper than whatever private health insurance plan you have now.

Yes, cheaper. Administrative costs for Medicare are about 3 percent. Administrative costs for private health insurance plans run between 20 and 30 percent.

So again: What should be done about the 47 million Americans who have no health insurance?

We can do something. It will work, but it will be expensive.

Or we can do nothing. And that is the most expensive option of all.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Pardon Me. Oh, No … Pardon YOU!

In his final days in office, Bill Clinton
disappointed a lot of people by giving pardons to a number of dubious characters, including Mark Rich who skipped the country after being nailed for evading taxes and tax fraud.

With just under two months to go before George W. Bush becomes an ex-president, speculation is beginning to mount about who will (or will not) receive presidential pardons in the final days of W’s administration.

Plenty of candidates have emerged over the past eight years, from Duke Cunningham to Jack Abramoff.

But, if I were a betting man, I would wager the whole freakin’ farm that one name will be at the top of Bush's pardons list: Dick Chaney's former chief-of-staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby.

Any takers?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Flip a Coin, Throw a Dart and Pick a Drug Plan.

Between now and the end of the year, I have to decide if I’m going to keep the prescription drug insurance plan I’ve been using or switch to another one. So I sat down yesterday to figure out which of the available choices would give me the best coverage for the lowest cost.

I spent well over an hour at the computer plugging my medications and dosages into a program that promised to help me select the best plan for my needs.

Guess what: There are no less than 65 plans available to me here on Maui and they all have different annual premiums that range from almost $400 to more than $1200.

But with each of these plans, my out-of-pocket cost will be different for the medications I take. For example, the co-pay for a 30-day supply of one particular pill was $18 on one plan and $98 on another.

Some plans cover all the drugs for the whole year; other plans stop coverage when you reach a certain level, then resume coverage after you hit another threshold.

In all honesty, I could spend hours on all that and still not be sure of which is the best plan for me. And, of course, everything would change anyway if the plan I choose increases premiums or if I have to change medications or start on a new one. We have the lobbyists for the private insurance companies to thank for this.

One more thing: We’re not permitted to legally buy prescription drugs from Canada where the cost is a lot less because – wink! wink! – they might not be safe … even though many of the drugs we get from our local pharmacy are manufactured overseas anyway. And we have the lobbyists for the pharmaceutical companies to thank for that!

Folks, we are being screwed and it’s a damn outrage.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

This Could Explain Sarah Palin ... Among Others!

"… how has 'elitism' become a bad word in American politics? There is simply no other walk of life in which extraordinary talent and rigorous training are denigrated. We want elite pilots to fly our planes, elite troops to undertake our most critical missions, elite athletes to represent us in competition and elite scientists to devote the most productive years of their lives to curing our diseases. And yet, when it comes time to vest people with even greater responsibilities, we consider it a virtue to shun any and all standards of excellence. When it comes to choosing the people whose thoughts and actions will decide the fates of millions, then we suddenly want someone just like us, someone fit to have a beer with, someone down-to-earth—in fact, almost anyone, provided that he or she doesn't seem too intelligent or well educated.

Sam Harris
NEWSWEEK, 9/29/08

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Lieberman, Limbaugh, Pirates and a Wordsmith

So Joe “The Weasel” Lieberman can continue merrily along as a member of the Democratic caucus in the Senate. He can also stay as chair of the Homeland Security Committee. That goes down hard, since he actively campaigned for John McCain. OK but, according to what I hear, if he crosses the line again – or even tippy-toes up close to it – he’s gone. Whenever that happens, be it sooner or later, I say very good riddance!

Right-wing pundint* and bloviator, Rush Limbaugh, is wailing about the economy. He thinks were heading for a massive depression and says – ready? – it’s all Barack Obama’s fault!

How can anyone take this big fat fraud seriously any more?

* You mean that isn't the way you pronounce it?

Yet another merchant ship has been hijacked by Somali pirates. This time it’s a super tanker that could be carrying as much as two million barrels of oil.

Question: since the pirates operate in high-speed power boats that clearly must have limited range, what in the hell are these ships doing in waters that close to Somalia?

And, finally, there’s Dick Cavett, who periodically writes an opinion piece for the New York Times. Every column is a gem, hallmarked with his precise and exquisite and wicked use of the language. This past weekend, his column included the following observation on McCain naming Sarah Palin as his running mate:

“I feel a little sorry for John. He aimed low and missed.”

The President-elect’s Extraordinary Grandmother

As I’m sure you know by now, Barack Obama was born in Hawaii and spent his teenage years here, graduating from prestigious Punahou School.

The person most responsible for raising him was his maternal grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, and by all accounts she was quite a remarkable lady. Among other accomplishments, she became the first female vice president at Bank of Hawaii, then Hawaii’s largest and most prestigious bank.

No doubt you also know that Madelyn Dunham died just one day before her grandson was elected President of the United States.

In her final days, hundreds of local folks sent her flower arrangements and leis … which, according to a local media report, prompted Mrs. Dunham to say, “Oh my! With all of this hullabaloo, it’s going to be embarrassing if I don’t die!”

Quite a lady, wouldn’t you say?

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Sign of the Times? NOT!

These photos were at least third-hand by the time I came across them … but so what! They happen to illustrate quite nicely some very good things that are happening in this country.

First we have a sign that appeared the day before Barack Obama was scheduled to make a campaign appearance in Hendersonville, North Carolina.

That’s a pretty red part of the state and, obviously, the owner of the real estate company was not an Obama fan.

However the tone of the sign didn’t sit too well with many of the locals who turned out in force to make their feelings known ... loud and clear.

I suspect that the owner of Land of the Sky Realty, one James Edney, may have come to realize by now that it’s better for business if he doesn’t go to the trouble of flaunting his bigotry.

You can't make it out, but one of those good folks is holding a sign saying our president-elect is really Hawaiian. (I know, I know ... but we’ll gladly settle for “Hawaiian-at-heart.”)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Dick Tuck: Having Fun In a Serious Business

Unless you’re a politics junkie of a certain age, you’ve probably never heard of Dick Tuck. But, trust me, the man is a legend. He made a career of driving Richard Nixon batty.

It all started in 1950 when Tuck was still a student at UC Santa Barbara and was asked by a professor to help promote a campaign visit to the campus by Nixon, then an ambitious young Republican congressman running for the U. S. Senate. Unbeknownst to the professor, Tuck was a volunteer working for Nixon’s opponent.

Gleefully seizing the opportunity, Tuck hired a 4,000-seat auditorium for the Nixon appearance, but did nothing to promote the event. Of course only a handful of people showed up to rattle around in the near-empty hall. Tuck himself gave a lengthy rambling introduction, and ended by announcing that the candidate would be speaking on the significance of the International Monetary Fund, which came as news to the flustered Nixon.

In 1960, the day after the historic Nixon-Kennedy debate, Tuck hired a sweet little old lady to go up to Nixon, kiss him on the cheek, and say, "That's all right, Mr. Nixon. He beat you last night, but you'll win next time." There was, of course, no other debate scheduled.

But my favorite Dick Tuck story took place in 1966, the first (and last) time he became a candidate himself, running for a state senate seat in California. He lost, but on election night delivered the all-time classic concession speech:

“The people have spoke – the bastards!”

The last I heard, Dick Tuck is in his mid-80s, retired, and living in Arizona.

They say he’s still a laugh a minute and I’m not at all surprised.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

You Go, Girl … That’s Tellin’ ‘Um!

Times are tough and a lot of people are having a hard time paying their bills. So it’s good to know that a number of the large mortgage lenders are now making a serious effort to restructure some of their loans so some families won’t face foreclosure … at least not right away.

It kind of restores your faith when creditors show a little understanding, if not compassion.

That brings to mind a couple I knew quite a few years ago. They had unexpectedly run into hard times. Everything was going along quite nicely until the husband, Ron, jammed up his back quite badly. He needed surgery and found himself laid up indefinitely. Then he got laid off from his job. The extra medical expenses were significant and after several months some of the household bills were going unpaid.

It was Helen, the wife, who looked after the family books. Being a responsible person, she called the various creditors, explained the circumstances and promised to make partial payments on the outstanding balances every month.

Every one of them was understanding and agreeable … except Montgomery Ward. They not only insisted on the full payment, they started dunning her almost daily with aggressive phone calls. Finally, when one of the people calling was especially demanding, Helen lost it.

“Listen,” she snapped. “Every month I put all the bills into a hat. I pull them out one at a time and pay something on the balance until the money runs out. But this month, because you’re so damn nasty, I’m not going to put your bill into the hat!” And she slammed the phone down.

Don't you love it, on those rare occasions, when you come up with exactly the right thing to say?


Let Me Introduce a Real American Hero

If it’s possible to judge a man by his enemies, Morris Dees is way out in front of all the rest of the Good Guys. He's got a whole bunch of enemies and there’s a giant bulls-eye on his back. The FBI has broken up a couple of plots to kill him and he must sleep with one eye open every night.

Morris Dees is an attorney and the founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama.

The SPLC uses the law to go after hate groups. They let the criminal courts take on the actual culprits – the Neanderthals who commit the assaults or fire-bombings – and they go after the organizations that support and encourage the goons. They go for damages, asking for whopping settlements, and when they win, the hate groups are wiped out financially.

That's the plan. And it works!

Several years ago, Dees and the SPLC won a $6 million judgment against the head of the Aryan Nations in Idaho and, to come up with the money, these pathetic morons had to sell their property and all their assets. Out of business!

Yesterday Dees scored again, winning a $2.5 million judgment against “Imperial Wizard” Ron Edwards of the Ku Klux Klan for being the mentor for the three low-lifes who beat the crap out of a teenager because he was a Latino.

I’ve followed this wonderful organization for a long time now and send them a contribution or two every year. Go here to find out more about the organization and/or to make a contribition.

And while you’re at it, keep Morris Dees and the rest of his people in your thoughts and prayers, eh?


Friday, November 14, 2008

It’s the Freakin’ Sarah Palin Show … AGAIN!

Did you see the news coverage of Sarah Palin yesterday? There she was at the Republican Governors Conference in Miami, holding forth to the media and answering questions, with a half dozen tight-lipped governors standing self-consciously in a semi-circle behind her.

What in the world was she doing out there in the spotlight? Every one of those guys has more education, more brains, more experience, more ideas, more good sense and represents more people.

I have to believe that the vast majority of Republicans look at Sarah and know, deep down inside their conservative hearts, that she has no serious understanding of national or world affairs and is unable to utter a coherent opinion about issues of the day. Reduced to the simple essence of the printed page, Sarah Palin quotes are 90 percent incomprehensible gibberish. Think not? Well, go ahead, pick a quote … any quote.

Yet, on her own initiative, this arrogant, shallow, calculating woman has shoved her way to the head of the line, acting as though she is the titular head of the Republican Party and positioning herself as a serious contender for the party’s nomination for president in four years.

What do Republicans suppose the rest of us think when we see this happening? We may not agree with the ideology, but we know there are plenty of smart, competent people in the Republican Party. Yet they’re moved to the back row, don’t speak, and she’s up there at the microphone … the new voice of the GOP?

In all seriousness, what the hell are they thinking?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hawaii: Surf and Sand and Hula and Plate Lunches

The New York Times had a story yesterday about one of Hawaii’s unique culinary treats: the plate lunch. The rationale behind this particular story was a report that, during his recent visit here, Barack Obama indulged in plate lunches on a couple of occasions.

Hawaiian plate lunches come in several forms but almost every variation includes two scoops of white sticky rice and a scoop of macaroni salad, laced with mayonnaise. Then there’s the meat, which can be chicken (teriyaki or katsu), pork (usually kalua pig), teriyaki beef, some kind of stew or the ever-popular Spam ... all served with chopsticks on a flimsy paper plate. (You'll get a plastic fork if you ask.)

Typically, these are served from little “mom and pop” restaurants or from lunch wagons that show up around mid-morning, wheeling into parking lots, alleys, side roads, or just pulling off onto the shoulder near light-industrial areas.

Several years ago, I was having breakfast in a local hangout with a visiting friend from the mainland. In the middle of our conversation, he suddenly stopped, pointed at the table next to us and said, “My God! What is THAT??”

It was a favorite breakfast choice among locals here called, for reasons lost in time, a loco-moco. It consists of three scoops of rice, a large hamburger patty, pools of brown gravy, all topped with two fried eggs. Three-quarters of the way through one of those babies you can actually hear your arteries begin to harden.

It’s absolutely true that Hawaii has some wonderful restaurants and there is a whole genre of quite fabulous cuisine that has been evolving here for many years. But you really can’t beat sitting under a palm tree on a balmy day, looking at the surf while digging into a good plate lunch. Dat’s good grinds, bruddah!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Fledgling Writer During College Daze

I sold my first bit of writing while a student at Boston University. It was a short piece about the B.U. football team which I peddled to True magazine for a hundred dollars.

That was a princely sum in 1959. One of the Kenmore Square bars we favored actually sold eight-ounce glasses of beer from the tap for ten cents. A hundred bucks would buy a thousand "dimies" and I was a very popular guy in my fraternity for the final semester of my college experience.

About that same time -- and this is what I sent to True -- the university had decided to "de-emphasize" the football program. Unfortunately, there was no parallel de-emphasis in the schedule of opponents, and week after week our guys had to face some real powerhouses, including Kansas, West Virginia, Penn State and Syracuse. Furthermore, Syracuse was the top team in the country that year, with the legendary Jim Brown as their running back.

The B.U. coach, Steve Sinko, had the habit of coming up with a slogan-of-the-week, which he scrawled across the blackboard in the locker room before practice every Monday, wistfully hoping it would inspire his minions.

For instance, Sinko’s slogan for the Penn State game that year was:


Brave words – and appropriate, too, since BU’s mascot is the Boston Terrier – but that Saturday, they lost to the Nittany Lions, 21-12.

On the Monday before the final game of the year against mighty Syracuse, the bruised and battered BU players trooped into the locker room to discover that some unknown wag had gotten to the blackboard before the coach. There, in large block letters, were the words-of-wisdom for the players to ponder over the next five days:


Final score that Saturday: Syracuse 46, Boston University 0. To quote Casey Stengel, "You could look it up."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lieberman: Between a Rock and Two Hard Places

Most Democrats scorn Joe Lieberman as a turncoat.

The party nominated the senator from Connecticut to carry its vice-presidential banner in 2000, but eight years later he was stumping for John McCain and questioning Barak Obama’s ability and patriotism.

My first thought was to hope his Democrat colleagues in the Senate would toss his sorry ungrateful ass out of the party.

But wait. On second thought, let’s do something much, much better than that. Let’s use him.

Let’s let Joe-the-Weasel stay in the Senate Democrats’ caucus and even keep his committee chairmanship … on the condition that from now on he votes the way he’s told. And if he doesn’t, out he goes!

At that point, Lieberman will have two choices.

Door Number One: He can become a real independent, one of only two in the Senate, with no clout and zero committees.

Or, Door Number Two, he can go over to the Republicans, in which case he’ll get nothing or next to nothing. You see, they don’t really want him because he’s always voted with the Democrats on all those awful social programs.

Of course, if he does turn Republican, the people of Connecticut will very likely vote him out of office next time around anyway.

Poor Joe. What’s a little weasel to do?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sometimes a Pit Bull Is What You Really Need

Barack Obama’s choice of Congressman Rahm Emanuel as his chief-of-staff has already provoked criticism from a few of the more notoriously partisan republicans, Congressman John Boehner of Illinois in particular.

Boehner said that Rahm Emanuel "… is an ironic choice for a president-elect who has promised to change Washington, make politics more civil and govern from the center." This, of course, is coming from a guy who is always first in line to grab a microphone and zing the Democrats.

The basis for Boehner’s jab is Emanuel’s reputation for being a fierce partisan in his own right. But after all, the Democratic Party gave Emanuel the task of helping elect more Democrats to the House, and that role clearly required someone who would have a take-no-prisoners approach. (Based on last Tuesday's results, he did a helluva job, too!)

The position of White House chief-of-staff, on the other hand, comes with a new and quite different set of job requirements and Emanuel certainly has the savvy and the skills to adapt and fulfill them.

Boehner’s view notwithstanding, Republicans and Democrats almost unanimously agree that Rahm Emanuel is exceptionally smart, knows how to get things done in Washington, and will run a very tight ship for the president-elect. Mostly that means keep everyone in the White House working as a team and focused on the objectives set by Obama … and to kick ass and take names when they don’t.

And that is exactly what Obama will need when he takes office on January 20th.