Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Phil Woods (November 2, 1931 ~ September 30, 2015)

A weight that would break most musicians pressed on Phil Woods from early on.  How many young singer-songwriters have been declared "the next Bob Dylan" or young operatic tenors "the next Plácido Domingo"?  Woods was burdened with being "the next Charlie Parker," a jazz legend of extraordinary virtuosity, after the death in 1955 of the man nicknamed Bird.  Woods soared to that challenge, not merely becoming the New Bird, as he invariably was dubbed when he was still wet behind the ears, but forging a 60-plus year career as an extraordinary bebop alto saxophonist, as Bird had been, as well as a gifted bandleader and composer.
Woods died on Tuesday morning.  He was 83.
I first met Woods because of the Delaware Water Gap Celebration of the Arts, a jazz festival held each September since 1978 in the tiny eastern Poconos village of Delaware Water Gap.  
Woods, trombonist Rick Chamberlain and community organizer Eddie Joubert had founded the festival.  While Woods played at every festival until this year, as had Chamberlain until his passing earlier this year, Joubert left this mortal coil in 1981, the victim of a brutal ax murder that left the close-knit community of musicians, artists and Vietnam veterans stunned and bereft.
When I interviewed Woods in 2003 for The Bottom of the Fox: A True Story of Love, Devotion & Cold-Blooded Murder, a book about Joubert's life and times, he opened his home and heart to me, and we chatted at length in a spacious living room with a cathedral ceiling and walls covered with four Grammy awards, a slew of Downbeat and Playboy Jazz Poll awards, testimonials and a gold record or three.
Woods and I later became neighbors, if not exactly bosom buddies.  He is irascible and then some, although I did hear that he liked The Bottom of the Fox so much that he gave away copies as Christmas presents the year that it was published.
Phil Woods and Eddie Joubert at the jazz festival (1981)
When Woods reprised Parker's classic Charlie Parker With Strings album with a jazz trio and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in Pittsburgh on September 4, he left his alto sax on stage after the last number, an unmistakable message that his extraordinary playing career was over.
That career includes 48 albums as a leader and many as a much-sought-after sideman to, among others, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Oliver Nelson, Ron Carter, Quincy Jones, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Art Farmer, Milt Jackson, Bill Evans, Stephane Grappelli, Ben Webster, Lee Konitz, Kenny Burrell and Gary Burton. 
That's Woods blowing sax on Billy Joel's New York State of Mind and Turnstiles, as well as on Joel's "Just The Way You Are," for which he was paid $300 for just 10 minutes of studio work.  The single was a Number 3 hit, went gold and jump started Joel's then struggling career.  He also played on classic rock hits by Paul Simon ("Having a Good Time") and Steely Dan ("Doctor Wu"), both produced by Phil Ramone, a classmate of Woods' at the Julliard School.
Steely Dan’s “Doctor Wu,” Paul Simon’s “Have a Good Time” and Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are.” The last two were produced by Phil Ramone, a classmate from Woods’ days at New York’s Juilliard School.

Read More: Phil Woods, Saxophone Legend, Dies at 83 | http://ultimateclassicrock.com/phil-woods-dies/?trackback=tsmclip
Steely Dan’s “Doctor Wu,” Paul Simon’s “Have a Good Time” and Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are.” The last two were produced by Phil Ramone, a classmate from Woods’ days at New York’s Juilliard School.

Read More: Phil Woods, Saxophone Legend, Dies at 83 | http://ultimateclassicrock.com/phil-woods-dies/?trackback=tsmclip
Steely Dan’s “Doctor Wu,” Paul Simon’s “Have a Good Time” and Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are.” The last two were produced by Phil Ramone, a classmate from Woods’ days at New York’s Juilliard School.

Read More: Phil Woods, Saxophone Legend, Dies at 83 | http://ultimateclassicrock.com/phil-woods-dies/?trackback=tsmclip
Woods was one of those great artists whose sound is immediately recognizable: Distinctive and clean  melodies, dashing runs and subtle quotes wrapped into a bright, soaring tone. 
While he is most closely associated with Parker, he has never copied him, and his greatest inspirations actually were alto sax greats Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter, with whom he was very close until Carter's death in 2003. 
Woods passed at Pocono Medical Center in East Stroudsburg, Pa., not far from his home in Delaware Water Gap, where he had lived since 1976.  He had been battling emphysema and other health problems, including a self-acknowledged blow-and-booze lifestyle in his younger days that was bound to catch up to him.  He had brought an oxygen tank on stage at recent concerts, and as he noted at a memorial service for Chamberlain, no one was more surprised than himself that he had outlived the other jazz festival founders.
His association with Parker was solidified when he married Parker’s widow, Chan, in 1957.  The marriage ended in divorce.  He is survived by his wife, Jill Goodwin; a son, Garth; three stepdaughters, Kim Parker and Allisen and Tracy Trotter; and a grandson.
As crowning achievements go, Woods' is monstrous.  In 2007, he received the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters award.

"Jazz will never perish," Woods said.  "It's forever music, and I like to think that my music is somewhere in there and will last, maybe not forever, but may influence others."
Well, he's wrong about the not lasting forever part.

PHOTOGRAPHS © BUD NEALY (2008) AND WALTER BRAEDEL (1981)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Politix Update: Before You Know It, Fiorina's Pants Will Be Burning. Guaranteed.

There is a downside to suddenly catching fire in a presidential race.  Before you know it, your pants are burning, and Carly Fiorina is about to find that out. 
The silver-tongued Fiorina has built her campaign for the Republican presidential nomination around her tenure as CEO of Hewlett-Packard from its outset.  "I come from a world outside of politics, where track records and accomplishments count," she invariably tells audiences on the stump.
After strong "performances" in both the first and second debates, Fiorina's poll numbers have continued to grow, and she trails only Donald Trump in some polls and is tied for second with Dr. Ben Carson in others.
But as Fiorina has caught fire, so have her pants.  She just doesn't realize it yet.  There is no indication that she is gaining supporters because of her experience as a Silicon Valley big or her slavishly pro income gap-widening financial market policies.  She is gaining support because she is getting a go-free card on her appalling Planned Parenthood lies, and beyond that biz world experience she has none to speak of, other than having possibly made the worst political TV ad in history.  Once the crowded Republican field thins, that experience will come under increasingly intense scrutiny.
It is not a pretty picture.
The reality is that Fiorina pretty much drove HP into the ground after having previously trashed fast-growing Lucent, another tech company.  And if her track record is as good as she incessantly claims, and if she was fired for her maverick style as she also claims, how come other Silicon Valley companies -- always on the hunt in that hyper-competitive environment for maverick CEOs with a Midas touch -- never offered her jobs at their companies like they did Marissa Mayer at Yahoo, Virginia Rommety at IBM, Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook, Safra Catz at Oracle . . . and the list goes on and on.
It may be because Fiorina made an astonishingly bad series of management decisions at HP while feathering her own nest to the tune of over $100 million in compensation and a $21 million golden parachute, which was plenty of money to buy something like an immense yacht.  Which is exactly what she did. 
Fiorina likes to say that she increased revenues at HP, which is true, but that is because of temporary gains following HP's merger with Compaq.  (Remember Compaq?)  In fact, profits soon plummeted because Fiorina made a monumentally lousy deal.  HP stock tanked, dropping 52 percent, some 30,000 employees lost their jobs, and HP has never really recovered.
"I know a little bit about Carly Fiorina, having watched her almost destroy the company my grandfather founded," Arianna Packard, the granddaughter of the HP co-founder David Packard, wrote in a letter in 2010, when Fiorina was a candidate for the U.S. Senate in California.  And a longtime friend who had worked in a highly-valued tech position at HP for many years told me Fiorina's decision-making beggared belief.  He was one of the people who lost their jobs.
After her ouster, Fiorina appeared on several "worst CEO" lists, including those of CBS News and USA Today, while Portfolio magazine ranked her the 19th worst CEO of all time and described her as a "consummate self-promoter" who was "busy pontificating on the lecture circuit and posing for magazine covers while her company floundered."
While we're on the subject, there is no evidence that business executives make good presidents.
As a candidate, former businessman George W. Bush used to brag that he'd run the U.S. like a corporation.  Instead, he ran the U.S. into the ground.  And there is no indication that Mitt Romney, Herman Cain or Ross Perot, who ran on their business experience, would have done any better.
In fact, there have been no presidents who parlayed their business experiences into successful presidencies.  Unless you consider Harry Truman's partnership in a Kansas City men's clothing store a big plus.  
THE INFAMOUS ROBOT SHEEP AD
About that worst political TV ad in history:  In 2010, Carly Fiorina was locked in a close primary race with Tom Campbell, a former congressman who was finance director for California Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger.  The winner (who turned out to be Fiorina) would face Senator Barbara Boxer (who won going away). 
The ad, which is difficult to describe unless you're high on LSD and playing Pink FLoyd's Dark Side of the Moon at high volume, which I am not doing, depicted an alien robot sheep with lite-brite eyes, a metaphor for something or other.  Wrote CNET blogger Chris Matyszczky at the time:
"It may well be that Carly Fiorina will make for an excellent California senator. It may well be that her advisers are slapping her (and themselves) on the back because they have finally got her name out of the morass of apparently faceless politicos who are vying for the honor of failing to corral the psychedelic state. But it also may well be that they have propelled an image of Fiorina as something of nasty nutbag who shouldn't be allowed anywhere near the steering wheel of a Prius, never mind that of a state whose recall may have been total, but whose politics should be totaled."
Which begs a question: Is Fiorina a wolf in sheep's clothing?
A FEMINIST BY ANY OTHER NAME
There is one thing about which Carly Fiorina and I agree: Her view that​ "a feminist is a woman who lives the life she chooses."  But from that point on we quickly part company, as do many feminists.
This clever bit of worldplay -- and Fiorina is not anything if not (calculatingly) clever -- would seem to set her up as an alternative to a self-avowed feminist like Hillary Clinton, but scrape the . . . uh, mascara off Fiorina's brand of feminism and you pretty much have a narrative flipper that barely masks the same old Republican war on women, although this warrior happens to wear a pants suit and, by comparison, makes a GOP woman stalwart like Elizabeth Dole look like Gloria Steinem.
Yes, Fiorina says she believes in equal pay for women, but gets all squishy when asked to explain how she would make so something that her fellow Repubs oppose.  Her views on reproductive rights and birth control are a ruse, witness her attacks on Planned Parenthood, an organization that is a reproductive health-care lifeline for millions of women and is not in the abortion business.
"It's so weird -- she looks like one of us, but she's not," says bestselling author and feminist Jennifer Weiner. "You're on the bus with her until she starts talking about Planned Parenthood."
And then there is Fiorina's view that radicals have hijacked feminism, which she claims "has devolved into a left-leaning political ideology where women are pitted against men and used as a political weapon to win elections."   (Grr!) What is really needed, she says, is deregulating markets and curbing the power of unions because, doncha know, that would be good for women.
SHE SAID IT 
Dahlia Lithwick in Slate on Carly Fiorina's campaign of calculated lies about a non-existent Planned Parenthood video:
"Not even the most robust defenders of Fiorina's defense can say much more than some of the images grafted onto the sound bite might not be completely false. And yet there is still no word from Fiorina, her campaign, or her super-PAC to indicate that she misspoke, or misremembered, or confused some other video with a video about Planned Parenthood. There seems to be no place in the middle for Fiorina to just put out a statement saying, 'Hey, I misspoke. Sorry.'
"This is an extraordinary moment in the annals of political deception. No walk-back, no clarification, just a persistent insistence that a video that doesn’t exist and can’t even be manufactured in the underground labs of political deception is really out there but, like the Emperor’s new clothes, only the virtuous can see it. In Fiorina’s world and the world posited by [the National Review's Jonah] Goldberg, if people want to believe the big lie about the kicking fetus and the brain harvesting badly enough, who are we to tell them it couldn’t have happened?"
The enormity of the fabrication is mind boggling; the unwillingness of the news media to fact check is criminal.

Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968.  Click here  for an index of previous Politix Updates.

IMAGE FROM DONKEYHOTEY/FLICKR.  USED WITH PERMISSION.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Saturday, September 26, 2015

'There's Something Happening Here, What It Is Ain't Exactly Clear'

FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH
By Stephen Stills 
There's something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

There's battle lines being drawn
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind

It's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side

It's s time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you're always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away

We better stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Stop, now, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
PHOTOGRAPH © MURILEE MARTIN

Friday, September 25, 2015

Politix Update: Please, Let's Try To Appreciate Bernie Sanders While He Lasts

When was the last time that a politician came along who is a nonobservant Jew, a socialist with a progressive agenda and sound policy positions who ignites a grassroots movement and challenges voters by telling them things they might not want to hear?  Never, of course.
The decision by Time magazine to make Bernie Sanders the cover story of its September 28 issue is hugely important, although pretty much only in symbolic terms.  The senator from Vermont will eventually succumb to the powerful magnetic field of Hillary Clinton and the
Democratic Party establishment, but the cover is long overdue and richly deserved recognition by a bastion of the mainstream media that Sanders is a one-man populist revolution who contrasts sharply with the candidate inmates of the Republican asylum -- and Clinton and Joe Biden, as well, were he to enter the race. 
Sanders' problems, and they are no surprise, are twofold: 
* Clinton fatigue and disgust with business-as-usual politics notwithstanding, Sanders' support increases only slightly while Clinton's support increases substantially when you take Biden out of the equation.
* While Sanders is hugely popular with young voters and progressives, he has not connected with other key segments of the Democratic coalition, most notably African-Americans, who show no interest in him.
This, of course, is a crying shame, because beyond the sound bites, Sanders and reality are on a first-name basis, as opposed to Donald Trump's skin-deep populism.
While Trump is a narcissistic fantasist, the hallmark of Sanders' 34-year career as an elected official is the work he has done for and with his constituents.  This includes a deeply informed cognizance -- and this makes Republican heads explode -- that many other countries have made better lives for their own citizens through universal healthcare, paid sick leave and family leave, and trying to level the playing field between the rich and ordinary working stiffs. 
Sander will not embark on a third-party campaign; he's too . . . uh, classy and too much of a team player for that.  So the best we can hope for as he soaks up much deserved applause while he's still out there campaigning is that he pushes Clinton leftward (and she has finally come out in opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline) as well as reminds us that there still at least one honorable person left in Washington.
CONFIDENCE & IGNORANCE
After working through several stages of denial, I have come to believe that Donald Trump has done us a favor because he is the best thing to happen in ages in laying bare, as does Bernie Sanders from an altogether different place, the phoniness of the so-called political process.
Politico recently asked historians whether there are historical figures whom Trump resembles who can help explain his rise, and David Bright of Yale University really hit a nerve when he said that Trump was the first presidential candidate with "no belief system other than the certainty that anything he says is right."
Trump's real antecedents, Bright believes, are not people like Ross Perot or Huey Long, but Mark Twain's fictional characters:
"Especially his use of the Confidence Man, Captain Simon Suggs of Tallapoosa, in a chapter in Huckleberry Finn. There are Trumps aplenty also in Twain's 1873 novel, The Gilded Age. The Confidence Man is always notoriously full of bravado, hyperbole, shiftiness; he makes people just line up and buy things from him. Frustrated, alienated from normal politics, hating political parties and with very short historical memories, many Americans perversely desire a river boat gambler dealing them bad hands, especially if those cards can confirm their most heartfelt prejudices."
Bright added that it is worth remembering one of Twain's ditties: "To succeed in life you need two things: confidence and ignorance."
THE SCHOOLYARD BULLY STRIKES AGAIN 
Do you remember the snot-nosed kid in elementary school who would start fights on the playground and then point to some hapless soul -- perhaps you -- as the perp when a teacher ran over? 
Well, that's Donald Trump. 
Trump, who has long and unapologetically questioned whether Barack Obama really is an American, declared this week that Hillary Clinton is "the original birther."
"Hillary is a birther," Trump exclaimed during an appearance before the Greater Charleston (S.C.) Business Alliance. "Hillary is the one who started it.  Check it out — 2008." 
We did.  She didn't.
HATE AT A CROSSROADS 
Arthur Goldwag, writing in Salon: 
"Racism runs deep in the Republican Party, as we have all learned, seven years into the presidency of Barack Obama. But the kinds of hatreds that animated Elizabeth Dilling, if not Ann Coulter, run much deeper than nasty tweets or even racial gerrymandering and voter suppression. Totalizing and metaphysical, they reflect and shape a whole worldview. If traditional racism is deeply rooted in America’s economy, geography and culture, it is more tangible and easier to measure and parse than the fixations that characterize the 'Paranoid Style in American Politics,' in Richard Hofstadter's famous coinage. Like the proverbial iceberg, a lot of those primal, capital ‘h’ Hates are hidden from view; they are buried in the collective id. And Hate has come to a crossroads." 
Be afraid America, be very afraid.

Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968.  Click here  for an index of previous Politix Updates.

IMAGE FROM DONKEYHOTEY/FLICKR.  USED WITH PERMISSION.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Politix Update: The Death Of Cowboy Conservatism & Other Campaign Morsels

There was a long familiar Republican soap opera character absent from the second presidential debate the other night: The Cowboy Conservative.
You know what a Cowboy Conservative is.  He's the Stetson hat-wearing dude with a Texas swagger, aw shucks style, feigned ignorance and a drawl a mile wide as exemplified by George W. Bush and most recently by Rick Perry, who watched the debate from his ranch . . . er, townhouse in Austin after becoming the first major casualty of the 2016 campaign, arguably because of shifting Republican voter demographics as much as any other factor.  (Scott Walker has no such excuse.  He was, plain and simple, a dud.)
Anyhow, in Dubya's heyday being a "good ol' boy" was preferable to being an effete urbanite in the eyes of many Republican voters, and they ate up the shtick like crab puffs at a party fundraiser.  But as the party "runs out of old, white, married, rural voters, being a Cowboy Conservative ain't what it used to be," writes  pundit Matt K. Lewis in The Week. This is because younger and more cosmopolitan conservatives are rejecting that shtick as stupid, if not downright repellent.
My own take as an effete FDR liberal is that pretending you are dumb, a hallmark of the Cowboy Conservative, might have box office appeal, but it doesn't have legs when it turns out that you are dumb. In the case of Bush and Perry, their dumbness wasn't necessarily because of a lack of intelligence, it was because they did dumb things.  Perry seemed to acknowledge as much after his campaign crashed and burned so spectacularly in 2012.  He got reading glasses, boned up on policy issues, made some pretty good speeches -- notably one about Republicans marginalizing black voters - and dialed back on the shtick, but it was too late.
We can blame Dubya for many things, and seven years after his godawful presidency stumbled to an end, the list of his sins is still growing, while the embarrassment Republican bigs feel when confronted by his tarnished legacy seems boundless.  But there is one thing for which we can thank him: The death of Cowboy Conservatism.
DR. BEN'S FIRST FIRESTORM
Republicans love to cite the Founding Fathers as a backstop for their wingnuttery, and reliably get ridiculously wrong what the powdered crowd set actually said and believed.

To the inconvenience of Dr. Ben Carson, who does not believe that a Muslim should be president (he thinks Barack Obama is one) and asserts that the Constitution says as much, as well as the execrable Ted Cruz and their fellow GOP travelers who also view Islam as a threat to motherhood and apple pie, the Founders recognized Islam as one of the world's great faiths.
Thomas Jefferson often consulted a copy of the Quran and made sure the concept of religious freedom enshrined in the Constitution included Islam. Hence the great document reads: "No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."
In what The New York Times calls a "firestorm," Christian and Islamic groups took issue with Carson. He has been dogged by his own brand of racism everywhere he has gone in recent days, and his efforts to walk back his statements by clarifying his clarifications would be comical if they weren't so damning.  (Example: Carson has not been absolute in his view that the Constitution should be more important than religious belief. Asked if this should apply to Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused to certify same-sex marriages, he hemmed and hawed and finally said that his view "only applies to presidential contenders.") 
The Council on American-Islamic Relations called for Carson to leave the race and expressed outrage that someone like himself who had benefited from the civil rights movement would make such an incendiary statement.
"Our message is this: Dr. Carson, you should have more faith in the American people," said Rabiah Ahmed, a spokeswoman for the Muslim Public Affairs Council. "Fifty years ago, people in the United States said African-Americans were unfit to be president. Because of civil rights leaders, you have the right to run for president." 
No matter, 43 percent of Republicans believe Obama is a Muslim, according to a CNN poll, up from 31 percent in 2010, while a PPP poll finds 49 percent of Republicans think Islam should be illegal.  That's not going to change when even the candidates not into name calling don't want to roil the party base.
CROCODILE TEARS FOR SCOTTY

Halley's Comet lasted longer than Scott Walker's presidential campaign, which should not come as a shock to anyone who spent . . . say, five seconds on the guy and realized that he was a Tea Party cipher.  (Yes, Trump was a factor.)
 
But before we relegate the Wisconsin governor to the scrap yard of campaigns, one thing is worth noting in this age of Citizens United: Walker was supposed to be able to stay in the hunt for a long time because of super PAC money, but when you don't have a campaign worth funding -- and despite spending millions of dollars in Iowa alone Walker would have had to sit at the kiddie table at the next debate -- the money from the rich farts goes poof!  
And while you didn't ask, I see fellow governator John Kasich benefiting the most from Walker's flameout, not Marco Rubio as some pundits say, with Lindsay Graham being the next dropout.
YET ANOTHER SHOE DROPS -- ON CHRISTIE'S HEAD
Beating up on Chris Christie is so much fun.  The Republican presidential wannabe is finding over and over again that paybacks for the crap and corruption that have characterized his tenure as New Jersey governor are a bitch, and Walker's exit from the big dance won't matter squat to Christie's running-on-fumes campaign.
The last time we checked on His Corpulence, the CEO of United Airlines and two other execs had been shown the door after being caught in one of the tentacles in the long-running fallout from Christie' very own Bridgegate scandal.  Now comes word that a New Jersey state lottery privatization scheme that benefited two cronies, including a central figure in Bridgegate who screwed the pooch in the United flap, is a flop.
Christie had declared that taking the lottery private would boost revenues and stimulate sales.  Just the opposite has happened, and the lottery has cut state income for the second straight year, creating a $136 million shortfall in the 2015 budget.
IT'S ONLY ROCK 'N' ROLL, BUT WE LIKE IT
Political candidates have been appropriating rock songs for their campaigns for years, and almost without fail if they're Republicans, they get their ears cuffed by offended musicians, who almost without fail are liberals of the Democratic persuasion (Ted Nugent is a rare exception) who threaten to sue if the candidates don't stop using their songs.
The most (in)famous such appropriation is Ronald Reagan's use of "Born in the U.S.A.," which drew a sharp rebuke from Bruce Springsteen, who is kind of rare among rockers for being a political activist who puts his money where his mouth is and did a slew of get-out-the-vote concerts for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
Now comes R.E.M., which has given Donald Trump and Ted Cruz their collective middle finger for the unauthorized use of the band's "It's the End of the World as We Know It," and Survivor co-founder Frankie Sullivan for Mike Huckabee's unauthorized use of the band's "Eye of the Tiger."

"Go f*ck yourselves, the lot of you -- you sad, attention-grabbing, power-hungry little men," R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe declared.  "Do not use our music or my voice for your moronic charade of a campaign."

Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968.  Click here  for an index of previous Politix Updates.

IMAGE FROM DONKEYHOTEY/FLICKR.  USED WITH PERMISSION.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Politix Update: They're Nutty, Delusional, Scary & All Destined To Be Losers

​A regular reader of Politix Update recently asked me how I did it.  How did I crank out two or three columns a week, a total of about 40 columns to date.  "It's easy," I replied, "Like shooting fish in a barrel." 
But therein lies a problem.  While a few of my columns have been about Hillary Clinton's proclivity for being her own worst enemy and the state of political play in general, most have focused on the Republican presidential field, and I am fast running out of ways of trying to say the same thing differently: That this bunch of wannabes are nutty, delusional and scary unlike any group of candidates before them. 
Ever. 
That their blatherings are in sync with a party base reflective of what the GOP has worked so assiduously to become: Nutty, delusional and scary.  That the eventual nominee will morph into a moderate in the home stretch of the campaign in a futile effort to attract moderates, Independents, undecideds, minorities and women -- as did John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 -- who are not already turned off by the party's fantasy view of America and the world.  And that the nominee and his feckless running mate will crash and burn, returning a Democrat to the White House for the fifth time in the last six presidential elections, not counting the one thrown by the Supreme Court. 

I'm not asking you to feel my pain.  And this front-end rant may ignore the possibility that politics has changed under my very Been There Seen That nose.  But I don't think so.  While disillusionment with Washington and the sausage factory that produces a presidential race every four years certainly has grown, and justifiably so, most of us still like our presidents sane, experienced, pragmatic, knowledgeable, thoughtful and even compassionate when the situation calls for it, as well as disinclined to shock and awe some foreign country back to the Stone Age every time its head honcho gives us the finger.
Let's look at the portion of the field that did not sit at the kiddie table at the second presidential debate as ranked by an aggregation of the polls, which is to say unscientifically and with no claim that any of these candidates are indeed adults:
DONALD TRUMP 
The Donald is an utterly unqualified bottom feeder, scam artist, bloviator, world-class liar, Muslim basher and proud misogynist.  This explains why he leads in the polls and the number of Republicans who believe he has the best chance of being elected is increasing. 

DR. BEN CARSON 
The suspicion grows that Carson sees himself as some sort of messiah, and his rise in the polls can be attributed to clever packaging of vacuous lunatic fringe positions wrapped in religion that in many cases are no different than Trump's, although presented in a kinder and more gentlemanly way. 


CARLY FIORINA 
Because Michele and Sarah were not available, the party needed a woman.  It got Carly, whose major claims to fame are that she's not Hillary and wrecked not one but two major tech companies.  Great CEO?  Right. Investors were so relieved to see her gone that HP's stock soared on news of her departure.


JEB BUSH 
Jeb, Jeb, Jeb!  While the Republican elite was behind him from the outset, broader support has been tepid, he has virtually no endorsements, including those of moderates, and I'll be damned if I know what his message is even as someone who is paying close attention. But he'll probably still be the nominee.

TED CRUZ 
If they gave a prize for scariest candidate, this demagogue and ideological purist from Texas would win hands down.  Little comes out of his mouth that isn't an appeal to gutter politics, the basest of instincts and most punitive of responses, and he uses lying like a deadly weapon.
MARCO RUBIO
Rubio is sooo baby faced, and even his willful naivetĂ© is kinda cute.  But he's got two problems that might even deny him a spot at being a veep running mate: He's Hispanic and many Republicans don't like 'em, while many Hispanics think he's an out-of-touch elitist. Oh, and his campaign is stuck in low gear.
MIKE HUCKABEE
The former Baptist preacher has been hemmed in on one side by Carson, who is out-God squading him, and candidates who say even stupider things than him on the other side.  But who can begrudge a guy who has said drug dealers should be executed and AIDS sufferers quarantined?
JOHN KASICH
Kasich entered the fray kind of late, which is unfortunate because he makes sense, speaks his mind without resorting to lying, opposes ripping big holes in the federal safety net and supports the Affordable Care Act.  Truth be known, I kind of like the guy.  Which means he doesn't have a chance.
SCOTT WALKER
Scott, Scott, Scott!  The campaign of this Tea Party robot has unraveled, perhaps because he is truly a resume without a man and his repeated boasts about being a political outsider are pure hokum.  The Wisconsin governor is only 47, but he's been running for office for the last 25 years.  (UPDATE: Walker ended his campaign late today.)  
CHRIS CHRISTIE 
Beyond an addiction to lying, Christie's big problem is that he is running on his record, and even a cursory examination of his six years as New Jersey governor reveals a disregard for poor working stiffs and a level of incompetence and corruption extraordinary even for the Garden State.

RAND PAUL 
The libertarianish Paul wants to repeal the Patriot Act and end large-scale data collection, approves of medical marijuana and has a more nuanced view of foreign policy, while he appeals to a wider voter demographic than the other candidates.  All of which explains why he's doing so poorly.
. . . AND A FINAL WORD
David Brooks is the house conservative on The New York Times editorial page and successor to The Williams -- Kristol and Safire.  He is reliably Republican, reliably plain vanilla and reliably tolerant of the excesses of the GOP.

But the carefully bifurcated red and blue world in which Brooks plods is all topsy turvy.  He wrote after the second debate that:

"Republicans radiate more alienation than the sophomore class at a Berkeley alternative high school. 
"They have also entered a weird post-material political space.  Many Republicans show little interest in candidates who offer proposals, but flock to the ones who offer outrageous self-expression."
He lumps the candidates into two groups:
"One group wants to rip up the political process and disrupt everything. Renounce the Iran deal on Day 1, no matter what our allies say. Ignore the Supreme Court and effectively disallow gay marriage. Shut down the government to defund Planned Parenthood. Magically deport the 11 million illegal immigrants. . . .

"The other [group] lives within the confines of reality. You can't actually defund Planned Parenthood or end Obamacare if you don't control the White House. Offending every global ally on the first day of a new administration might have some nasty knock on effects. You can’t actually erase the 14th Amendment and end birthright citizenship."
Brooks writes that the summer run of the "burn-down-the-house crowd," including Carson, Cruz and, of course, Trump is over and it's time for the realists, including Bush, Kasich and Lindsey Graham to take control.  Brooks just doesn't believe that this will happen; he prays that this will happen.  But even if he can borrow a prayer or two from Carson or Huckabee, it won't happen.

Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968.  Click here  for an index of previous Politix Updates.

IMAGE FROM DONKEYHOTEY/FLICKR.  USED WITH PERMISSION

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Friday, September 18, 2015

Politix Update: How Donald Trump Preys On People Struggling To Get Ahead

There is a sublime scene in Time Bandits when Robin Hood meets and greets "The Poor," a motley lot who have been unexpectedly gifted a treasure trove of silverware, crystal, jewels and paintings, including the "Mona Lisa," that a gang of dwarves stole from Napoleon Bonaparte in Italy before escaping through a hole in the spacetime fabric and landing in Sherwood Forest.  It turns out that Robin Hood (John Cleese), plays against fabulistic form and steals from the rich and the poor.  Like Donald Trump.
But Trump, a man who declares that his name is synonymous with success as he makes his improbable thrill show ride for the Republican presidential nomination, makes Cleese's Robin Hood look like a piker.  Trump's seamy past is littered with financial chicanery, double dealing, union busting and endorsements for get-rich-quick schemes that have separated hardworking people from their money.  Which they of course never see again. 
The most egregious of these schemes, detailed in a Salon.com article by Joe Miller and elsewhere, involves ACN, a North Carolina-based outfit that touts itself as a "multi-level marketing" company.
What ACN actually does is run a multi-level pyramid scheme, and it has thrived by using Trump as its front man.
 
"The Trump name and success have really become one and the same," Trump declares as he shakes his famous You're fired! finger in an ACN promotional video.  "The two things I've mastered over the years is understanding the importance of timing in business and the ability to recognize great opportunities. So, I'm here to tell you about a company that provides these two essential components for success."

Trump made $1.35 million from speaking fees ($450,000 a shot for three speeches) for ACN, according to the financial statements he released over the summer in conjunction with his campaign.  But when the Wall Street Journal inquired about the $1.35 million and other millions he previously made on the backs of ACN victims, he had all traces of himself removed from the ACN website.

"I know nothing about the company," Trump told the Journal, conveniently forgetting that he was the featured speaker at ACN's annual convention in February.  "I'm not familiar with what they do or how they go about doing it, and I make that clear in my speeches."
That gibberish is further betrayed by the fact that Trump first became involved with ACN in 2006, while in 2009 and 2011, company executives appeared on the gadzillionaire's NBC reality show, "Celebrity Apprentice." During one episode, a video phone being sold by ACN was a featured product.
But video phones and other merchandise is not what ACN is about.  It is about using existing sales agents to recruit new ones, thereby creating a lucrative and self-regenerating revenue stream since sales agents, who pay $499 to join the company, are required to sign long-term contracts and charged annual fees and training expenses.
"The essence of the whole thing is kind of a card trick," says Robert FitzPatrick, who operates the website Pyramid Scheme Alert.  He estimates that only about one percent of all ACN agents ever make any money.
"With a name like Trump behind it people would think this can’t be a scam," FitzPatrick says.
Meanwhile, ACN and Xoom Energy, an ACN subsidiary, are the subjects of a class-action lawsuit filed in North Carolina alleging that the companies worked together to perpetrate an elaborate bait-and-switch scheme in which ACN marketers would convince customers to switch energy service to Xoom by promising lower energy costs. Customers instead found their energy costs rise dramatically and had difficulty canceling their contracts. 
FitzPatrick calls ACN "one of the more predatory and aggressive of the many multi-level marketing companies that exist," while I call Donald Trump unadulterated, bottom-feeding slime for preying on people who are struggling to get ahead.  Which further reveals that the campaign of a man who has made millions from a scam is one big scam itself.
TRUMP PANIC -- PART ONE 
The Republican leadership is in a panic over Trump getting the nomination, and they should be. 
The second presidential debate the other night certainly didn't change anything, although it did reinforce that the race remains hugely chaotic and that Trump is a bully and knows bupkis about foreign affairs.  The latter prompted some pundits to foolishly declaim that this might be the turning point that his opponents have been praying for.  And no, Carly Fiorina didn't "win."  Nobody won, which is a victory for Trump.
In a watershed moment in what has been a topsy-turvy, personality-driven campaign, Trump now not only leads in virtually every poll, but Republicans increasingly think that he has the best chance of winning the 2016 presidential election as confidence fades in "traditional" politicians like Jeb Bush and Scott Walker.
The latest New York Times-CBS News poll, 39 percent of Republican primary and caucus voters viewed Trump as their best shot at winning the presidency, compared with 26 percent in August. Only 15 percent said they would not back him if he wins the nomination.  (The execrable Tom Brady, New England Patriots cheater extraordinaire, says he's for Trump, so why shouldn't we all be?)  
TRUMP PANIC -- PART TWO
Any time the conservative Club For Growth wants to change it's name to the Club For Widening The Income Gap is fine with me, but it is nice to see that it too is panicked over Trump.  
And so the deep-pocketed organization has launched $1 million ad campaign in Iowa built on their view that Trump is not an economic conservative.

The club is using a two-pronged approach to try to discredit Trump: Utilizing his previous liberal policy views to argue that his campaign promises are disingenuous, and his use of eminent domain as a developer to suggest that he has a record of -- and this is rich coming from the capitalist vampire elite -- hurting middle class Americans to bolster his own business interests
TRUMP PANIC -- PART THREE 
Wall Street also is in a panic.
Financial marketeers -- that's banksters to you --  are terrified that Trump could actually win the nomination.  This is because Trump, calling the kettle black as is his wont, has attacked lavish executive pay while promising to raise taxes on "the hedge fund guys," as he calls them. 
Beyond have an extra martini for lunch, there's not a lot the banksters can do to stop Trump except funnel even more money to their buddies like Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker.  Which they are doing.
TRUMP PANIC -- PART FOUR
This is how panicked the Republican leadership has become over Trump: There's serious talk of begging Mitt Romney to re-enter the race.

When Romney, who spectacularly crashed and burned in 2012 as the GOP's nominee, first suggested in January that he might enter the race, he was harshly received by the leadership, but he's now viewed in some quarters as the party's only hope.  There are indications that Romney may be receptive because he has been hustling to keep himself in the public eye.  He opposed the Iran nuke deal, has dissed Republican candidates who are more interested in slinging mud than talking policy, and even did a promo for Stephen Colbert’s new late night talk show.
The panic is fueled in part by party establishment favorite Jeb Bush's somnambulant campaign, which was reinforced at the debate by his attempts to go after Trump.  They were so feeble that one pundit recalled that when British politician Denis Healey was attacked by patrician rival Geoffrey Howe, he said it was "like being savaged by a dead sheep."
I wrote early and have written often about how the Republican Party is reaping the whirlwind of years of succumbing to the basest of political instincts, which is why Trump is making an all too serious run for the nomination.  That Romney, who would be ravaged in a 2016 redo, is viewed as a savior is all you need to know about bankrupt the GOP brand has become.  


PHOTO COURTESY OF HANDMADE FILMS AND JANUS FILMS