Sunday, February 28, 2016

Hillary's Big Night

This wasn't just a win, it was a rout. Hillary Clinton didn't just beat Bernie Sanders in South Carolina, she cleaned his clock. She got 74 percent of the vote to Sanders 26 percent, but more importantly she picked up 43 of the state's 59 delegates, with 2 delegates yet to be decided.

As bad as the night was for Sanders, it could've been far worse. Had this primary been run under GOP rules, Clinton would've won ALL the delegates, because she won every congressional district and county in the state. She also won every demographic group except voters under 30. Sanders still held that group. In fact, that demographic has proven to be his strongest throughout this campaign.

So, where do we go from here? Well, for one thing, let's be clear: this race isn't over, not just yet. True, Hillary had a big night; an important night. She needed a huge win and she got it. And she also has a huge lead in a majority of the Super Tuesday contests, including Texas which has 252 available delegates and Georgia which has 116. By contrast, Bernie's only sizable lead is in his home state of Vermont which has a paltry 26 available delegates. He's tied with Hillary in Massachusetts which has 116 available delegates. Assuming he splits the delegates there and wins, say, 75 percent of the delegates in Vermont, Hillary could still end up with a commanding lead in delegates by midweek.

So why isn't it over after Tuesday? Because we still have another Super Tuesday coming on the 15th of March, and also because Sanders has enough cash on hand to stretch this primary season out until he is mathematically eliminated. Unlike the Republican primaries, which as of March 15 are winner take all, all of the Democratic contests award their delegates proportionally. That means if he manages to close the gap in polling between himself and Clinton, Sanders could pick up enough delegates to hold on for weeks. Assuming Hillary holds all her super delegates - and there's no reason to believe she won't - she will most likely lock up the nomination in either late March or early April, more than enough time for Sanders to make a statement and save face with his supporters.

And that's really the best Sanders can hope for. No matter how you slice it or dice it, the map for him just keeps getting smaller and smaller. Without the majority of African Americans behind him, there's simply no way he can beat Hillary Clinton. The irony for him is that while he wins with young voters and on the issue of trust, Clinton wins when it comes to every other demographic and the all-important electability issue. A majority of Democratic voters simply believe she is more electable than Sanders in the general. And unlike Republican voters, who don't seem to care much about that, Democratic voters do and Bernie is paying the price for it.

The bottom line is this: if you're a Hillary supporter, last night was a good night. Your candidate is in the driver's seat. If you're a Bernie supporter, your candidate has a lot of catching up to do and not a lot of time in which to do it.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

A Marriage Made In Hell

Well, look who's bucking for number 2? None other than the mouth that roared.

I'll admit it, I didn't see this coming. Chris Christie endorsing Donald Trump was totally unexpected, and that's saying something given how bizarre this Republican primary season has become. To see the two of them up there on the same stage was something to behold. What a pair.  Like Frankenstein's monster and his bride. The two biggest gasbags in all of politics fawning over one another. It was enough to make you gag.

But as revolting a concept as it may be, when you stop and think about it, it's a no brainer for both men. Trump's main problem in the general - and, yes, he's winning the GOP nomination, get over it - won't be the Southern or Plain states, but the all-important swing states in the Mid-Atlantic and the Rustbelt regions. Having Christie in his corner doesn't guarantee they will go red, but it does put them within reach. Hell, Christie's presence might even put in play, dare I say it, states like Pennsylvania, long considered Democratic strongholds. In what promises to be a tightly contested election, Democrats will be forced to spend precious resources defending their home turf. Hillary will have her work cut out for her, that's for sure.

As for Christie, it's an opportunity to put another nail in Marco Rubio's coffin, while at the same time feed that enormous ego of his, which, though not nearly as large as Trump's, is significant nonetheless. Rubio, in case you missed Thursday's night's debate, er, steel cage wrestling match / Three Stooges festival, is holding on for dear life. Despite his bravado, and that of most of the Republican establishment, his campaign is running on fumes. He's even trailing Trump in his home state of Florida. If nothing else, Christie has the satisfaction of rubbing more salt in the wound he inflicted on Rubio in New Hampshire. I'll say this for him, when it comes to exacting revenge, like a good Italian, Christie really does serve it up cold.

Ever since he gave the keynote address at the 2012 Republican convention, Christie has had one thing on his mind: winning the White House. That speech wasn't about Mitt Romney, it was about him. Everything in Chris Christie's universe revolves around him. He's his own planet, no pun intended. He probably regrets not running that year; he probably thinks he could've won. Know what? He might've. And now that he can't win the presidency this year - it turns out the Republican base only has room for one egomaniac at a time - he's decided on the next best strategy: securing the number two slot.

Don't doubt for a moment that Christie didn't float the idea to Trump before deciding to endorse him. And knowing Trump, he probably assured him he'd be on the short list, ahead of, say, Gary Busey. You really didn't think he was going to pick Sarah Palin, did you? Trump may be a racist, xenophobic asshole, but he's not stupid enough to go down that rabbit hole again. Filing for bankruptcy four times is nothing compared to repeating John McCain's YUUGE mistake.

But even if Trump made no guarantees, just the fact that Christie, for the next few months, gets to shoot off his mouth on a national stage might be payment enough. Ever since the cleanup after Sandy, he's been beating his chest on what a great leader he is and all that red governor in a blue state crap and how he's transformed New Jersey from a wasteland into a garden of paradise. Now he gets to take his show on the road. Of course none of what he says will be true, but that won't matter much to the zipperheads who support Trump. If you're too dumb to know you're being played by a con man, how are you going to spot a serial liar posing as a governor?

Yep, this has been one helluva presidential campaign, and it promises to get even more hellish before it's over.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Brian Sandoval Just Did President Obama a Huge Favor

Okay I get it. On paper it made sense. A moderate Republican replacing one of the most conservative jurists to ever sit on the Supreme Court. Kind of like Eisenhower replacing Reagan as president. Politically, it would've put Mitch McConnell and the GOP in a very tough bind. How do you justify blocking a nominee from your own party and then show your face in public?

But while the politics might've temporarily helped Barack Obama and, who knows, might even have laid the groundwork for a Democratic takeover of the Senate, Daniel Denvir is right. It would've been yet another "capitulation" by Obama "by opening negotiations with a proposal that, under saner conditions, Republicans would've made on their own. Such a nomination would definitely prove that liberal establishment centrism, celebrated for its pragmatism, qualifies more as a pathology than strategy."

As I have written so many times in this blog, for most of his presidency, Obama has attempted to appeal to the moderate elements within the GOP, failing to grasp the simple truth that there are no moderates left in the party. And even those who from time to time have flirted with the concept, have usually fallen in line with the leadership when push came to shove. Today's Republican is far more concerned about facing a primary challenge than losing a general election. How do you bargain with someone like that?

And yet bargain - in good faith, mind you - is exactly what Obama has done for the better part of seven years. Or more to the point, bargain away.  I say that because, sadly, Obama has gotten virtually nothing for his largesse. Indeed, not only has the GOP failed to reciprocate, his base has taken out its frustration by staying home in two consecutive midterms. As a result, what was once an overwhelming Democratic majority in both houses of Congress has now turned into a Republican majority. Worse, even with a large turnout this November, it is highly unlikely that Democrats will retake the House. That's the thanks you get when you turn your back on the people who got you elected.

Don't get me wrong, negotiation is a necessary evil in politics. Like it or not, it is how the Republic has managed to survive for over two centuries. That's one of the reasons I'm concerned about Bernie Sanders winning the White House. He's the antithesis of Obama; unyielding, unbending and uncompromising. But one hundred eighty degrees from wrong is still wrong.

The problem with Obama isn't his desire to negotiate, but rather the circumstances under which he does it. Take the Affordable Care Act for example. Most Republicans in 2009 feared single payer was coming. Mitt Romney in an interview on CNN early that year urged the then new president to adopt his state's healthcare law as a "national model." Obama, many say, missed a golden opportunity to force the GOP to the table. Even if it was true that single payer and the public option were both DOA in the Democratically-controlled Senate, Republicans didn't know that going in. Obama could've called their bluff and said, "We're passing single payer, period."

Who knows, had he played his cards right, the GOP would've been the ones to come up with the ACA. After all, as far back as 1989, conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation were touting a mandated healthcare law. Then, instead of Democrats having to face angry mobs at those town hall meetings, Republicans would've been the ones having to explain themselves to their constituents. But instead, Obama blinked first and laid his cards on the table. As a result, he now owns this healthcare law, much to the dismay of progressives and the delight of conservatives. In the art of negotiation, it's where you start that determines the outcome. If your goal is to get to midfield, to use a football parlance, you start in your end zone, not the 40-yard line. Denvir put it brilliantly.

Year after year, Obama has proposed half measures only to be summarily obstructed by Republicans. In doing so, he not only allows Republicans to drag the 50-yard line farther to the right, but incapacitates progressives from actually setting goals or having dreams. Compromise is great and necessary. But the ends can't justify the means if you aren't clear where ideally you want to end up. This frustration is precisely what is animating the current Democratic primary.

Maybe without quite realizing it, Brian Sandoval did Obama a huge favor by taking his name out of the running for consideration. Progressives are already pissed off enough. The last thing Democrats can afford is to have them sit home and stew this November over an appointment that in all likelihood would never have been confirmed in the first place. If Obama is going to go to the trouble of nominating a replacement for Antonin Scalia, he should go for the gusto. Give his base something to cheer over. Whoever ends up winning the Democratic nomination is going to need every progressive vote they can muster, especially if it's Hillary Clinton. Obama owes it to her and to the country to put as much wind beneath her wings as possible.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Why Trump May Runaway With the GOP Nomination

If you just look at the returns of the South Carolina Republican primary, the numbers showed Donald Trump with 33 percent of the vote, followed by Marco Rubio at 23 percent and Ted Cruz at 22 percent. The other candidates combined for the remaining 22 percent, including Jeb Bush's underwhelming 8 percent, prompting the once "presumptive" nominee to "suspend" his campaign.

But where it counts, Trump won all 50 of the state's available delegates. Why? Because in South Carolina, delegates are awarded based on congressional districts. Win the district, pick up the delegates of that district - ALL of the delegates. Trump ran the table in every district. Hence he swept the state. Fair? Maybe not. But who said politics was fair?

As it stands now, Trump has 61 delegates. The rest of the remaining candidates have a combined total of 29 between them; Cruz has 11 of those 29, and "establishment" candidate Rubio 10. According to rules that the GOP set up in 2014, following an excrutiatingly long 2012 primary season, from March 15 on, the winner of a state's primary or caucus gets all of that state's delegates. Prior to that, delegates will be awarded proportionally.

What that means is that if Rubio or Cruz or any of the other Republican candidates haven't managed to catch Trump by the 15th, or at least slow him down a bit, he might very well be unstoppable. It is quite conceivable he could runaway with the nomination. In that event, Donald Trump, the guy nobody took seriously last summer and who everybody thought would fizzle out, will likely face either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders in the general election. Incomprehensible you say? Hardly, and here's why.

Beginning March 15, there will be 29 states that will hold their primaries or caucuses, some of them - Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New York and California - among the largest in the country. At stake are 1350 delegates. Okay, so Rubio wins Florida. That's 99 delegates. Not bad. Except that the odds are that Trump could win 20 of the remaining 28, including New York (95), Pennsylvania (71), North Carolina (72) and California (172). Assuming he wins a majority of the Super Tuesday contests - and that's pretty much a given according to the polls - Trump could clinch the nomination before the June 7 California primary, maybe even as early as late April.

I said it as far back as last August. Donald Trump can win. Well, here we are in late February and the numbers don't lie. Think about it; he calls Mexicans rapists and nothing happens; he goes after the handicapped and nothing happens; he calls his fellow candidates liars and nothing happens; he publicly rips the Pope and nothing happens. No matter what this man does or says, it never seems to stick to him. He is the ultimate teflon candidate. And if things continue to go as they've been going, in about two months he will do the impossible and, with it, redefine national politics for a generation to come.

A reality TV show producer and media mogul with no political experience might very well be the next president of the United States. Only in America.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Feeling Berned Out

Look, I understand. Every time you see Hillary Clinton you're reminded of that friend who would come over to your home for lunch and go through your house checking for dust on the shelves and mildew in the bathroom. She'd give you that fake hug, you know the one that says please don't mess my hair; I'm going out tonight with someone I actually give a shit about. And the conversation would be SO banal. Seriously, you would've done better inviting a homeless person over. But you didn't, so you're stuck with her. And then that moment comes when she departs and you can finally exhale and say, "Thank Christ that's over. That's two hours of my life I'll never get back."

That's Hillary Clinton almost to a T. She's transparent, she's obvious, and if there IS a genuine bone in her body, it must've been removed when she was a teenager, because for the life of me, there's no evidence of it anywhere. Every word that comes out of her mouth is carefully calculated so as not to piss anyone off. Her campaign will likely set a record for taking polls of just about every conceivable issue and topic in the free world. I hear she even took one to find out what her favorite food should be.

Hillary Clinton is the consummate politician. She makes her husband Bill look like Clark Kent. She's the Democratic equivalent of Jeb Bush, only without a trillion dollar war hanging over her head. And I understand perfectly well why so many progressives can't stand her. She wants to be liked the way Elizabeth Warren is adored, but more often than not she comes across as Cruella de Vil in 101 Dalmatians. She even has the same laugh, doesn't she?

Bernie Sanders, by comparison, is like your grandpa who comes over and gives you candy and maybe even some loose change in his pocket. When he gives you a hug, it's a bear hug that takes the air out of you lungs. You have to kick him out of you house because he makes himself so at home. Who could hate someone like that? That's like not believing in Santa Claus. And his supporters? They're like groupies at a Grateful Dead concert. Just try and not feel the Bern. Go ahead, I dare you.

But while I admire Bernie's supporters for their spirit and obvious good taste in candidates, it's time they admit a painful truth to themselves. Much of the reason for their support of the senator from Vermont stems from their contempt for Hillary, or more to the point, what Hillary represents. Eight years ago, they fell in love with a charismatic freshman senator who spoke of hope and change. Then he got elected and they quickly discovered what most children discover when they grow up. There really isn't any Santa Claus, after all.

Barack Obama was supposed to change the way things were done in Washington. Only instead Washington ended up changing him. Progressives felt they'd been sold down the river and they were pissed as hell. You don't hear much about it, especially with everything that's been going on in the GOP, but progressives have long memories, too. For instance, when they thought Bill Clinton had betrayed them, they took it out on Al Gore. Now, sixteen years later, many of them seem poised to do the same to Bill's wife.

In this topsy turvy election year, up is down and down is up. Being an outsider isn't just cool, it's now mandatory for many voters who feel as though they've been screwed by the system. It's why Donald Trump is ahead in virtually all of the Republican polls and Bernie Sanders is seriously challenging Hillary Clinton for the lead in the Democratic ones. Being an establishment candidate is akin to bringing a cross or a mirror to a vampire convention.

Bernie Sanders has captured the hearts and minds of many progressives in a way we haven't seen in this country since Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression years. In fact, the parallel is staggering. But despite the similarities in temperament and maybe some in policy positions, there is one huge difference between FDR and Sanders: the former had a working majority in Congress and the majority of the population in his corner. Sanders, if he were to get elected, will have neither. Yes, his supporters will have his back, but a hostile Republican-led House and a determined Republican Senate, combined with the most polarized electorate in the history of the country, will work to undermine him from the moment he sets foot in the White House.

Bernie will be resolute, he will be determined, he will hold onto his core principles to the very end, and he will most certainly fail, big time. Why? Because he has no choice, or more to the point, he has given himself no choice. For most of his political life Sanders has been both blessed and cursed with two undeniable traits: one, he believes in what he stands for; and two, he is unwilling to compromise that belief in order to accommodate other view points. This makes him a man of great conviction; it also makes him a lousy leader. Leaders not only have the courage of their convictions but the wisdom to know when to alter course.

I keep listening to the things he says and the promises he makes and the first thing that pops into my head is, can I get a pony to go with that? I'm serious. If you actually think that Bernie Sanders is going to be able to enact any of his agenda once he gets to the White House, I've got a bridge in Brooklyn I can sell you for a song. It took Obama two years to get the Affordable Care Act through Congress with 60 Democratic seats in the Senate and an overwhelming Democratic majority in the House to work with. And Bernie is going to replace it with Medicare for all with, maybe, a slight Democratic majority in the Senate and a Republican majority in the House? Not to mention the two most powerful lobbies in the country: the insurance and pharmaceutical industries? Sure he is. And I'm Captain America. You think the GOP obstructed Obama? Just wait'll they get their hands on Bernie.

It's one thing to be pissed off and disillusioned; it's quite another to be delusional. And sadly, many of Sanders' supporters are just that. Bernie talks about a revolution; he's going to need a coupe to accomplish any of his goals. A fifteen dollar an hour minimum wage? When pigs fly. He isn't the second coming of Lincoln or Adams or Teddy Roosevelt or FDR or even Bobby Kennedy. What he reminds me of is a bitter old university professor who thinks he knows it all and who can't resist lecturing his students about his vast intellect. Sorry, Bernie, but I'm done with college.

You won't get any argument from me that Hillary Clinton leaves a lot to be desired. But, face it, between the two of them, she is far more likely than he to get things done if elected president. Progress isn't measured in waves; more often than not it's measured incrementally. Yes, the system is rigged and, yes, you and I are both fucked and have been for quite some time. But electing Bernie Sanders president won't fix any of that. What is more likely to happen is that Sanders will end up being a failed one-term president followed by an extreme two-term Republican one.

And that is simply unacceptable.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

I've never been one to hold back and mince words. I'm not going to wax poetically or pine over the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Legal scholars will trip over themselves heaping praise on him, and they'll be quick to point out how brilliant a jurist he was. So what? He was a Supreme Court justice. One would think he was smart enough to sit on the bench. After all, he was no Harriet Myers.

It wasn't his intelligence that was the issue, but his reading of the Constitution, which was inventive to say the least. He's responsible for the term conservative activism, which as it turns out isn't an oxymoron. I've always said that the difference between a judicial activist and a strict constructionist depends on who's wearing the robe. For Scalia, the matter was moot. When it suited him he could be either one. For instance, it was his majority opinion in Heller that forever changed the interpretation of the Second Amendment. You don't get much more activist than that.

Scalia was a lightning rod for a Supreme Court that was among the most politically divisive in the history of the country. From Bush v. Gore to Citizens United, Scalia was the straw that stirred the drink. When his critics would call him out on the Court's contradictory decisions, as happened often, especially with respect to the Bush decision, he would simply tell them to "get over it." When he wasn't putting his critics in their place, he would go after the liberal justices on the Court. His comment that some black students belong at "slower-track" universities remains one of the most ignorant and repugnant things ever uttered by a judge.

And now he's gone. There are eight justices remaining on the Court, only two of which are far right. That means that John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy are no longer the swing votes; they're the last chance that conservatives have for a tie and, based on recent decisions, that doesn't bode well for them. Scalia's death is a major blow to whatever hope they had of rolling back most of the jurisprudence of the last fifty years.

So what happens next? Well, for starters it means Barack Obama gets one more crack at appointing a Supreme Court justice before his term expires next year. Talk about stepping into it. Yes, I know he's got a snowball's chance in hell of getting his nominee through; that's not important. The point is that in an election year, fate has intervened and given progressives yet another reason to show up at the polls this November. Whoever wins the presidency will get to fill Scalia's spot, along with at least one or two more. The stakes couldn't be higher.

And the GOP? They're stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, they can't afford to let Obama appoint another justice to the Court, especially Scalia's successor; on the other, they can't take the chance that either Donald Trump, Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio will win the election. If they role the dice and lose, they're screwed. Hillary or Bernie will get their pick on the Court. Mitch McConnell can huff and puff all he wants, it's his funeral if he guesses wrong. Oh, and regarding the argument that presidents don't get to choose Supreme Court nominees in their last year in office, tell that to Ronald Reagan and Woodrow Wilson, both of whom had their nominees confirmed in the last year of their administrations. Knock it off.

If I'm Obama, I say damn the torpedoes and go for full speed ahead. Screw going middle of the road. Hell, I'd even call up Hillary and Bernie and invite them over for brunch. Let them have some input into his choice. Then throw it into McConnell's lap. If he stonewalls, the Dems will have the issue of a lifetime to run on. It's a win/win for him and the Party.

What Obama should not do is capitulate to his "better angels" like he has done so many times during his tenure in office. Being the reasonable man in the room didn't serve him very well over the first six years of his administration and it resulted in an epic 2014 midterm election loss. This would be a good time to make amends with the progressives in the party who have been disappointed with him. It's also a good way to hedge his bets in the event that Bernie Sanders ends up winning the nomination.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Problem With Authenticity

In the end it shouldn't have surprised anyone that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders scored convincing wins in New Hampshire. In the year of the outsider, both men have galvanized their respective party's bases like no other in recent memory. They say what's on their mind and apologize to no one for it. More than anything else, it's their authenticity that attracts voters to them.

But it's their very authenticity that could prove to be their undoing should either of them win the presidency. Let's face it, no one actually believes Donald Trump is going to build a wall on the U.S. -Mexican border and he certainly isn't going to round up eleven million people and deport them. Bernie Sanders, likewise, will never get his Medicare for all program through Congress, not to mention raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. I don't care how many people he gets to stand outside Mitch McConnell's office. It'll never happen. I'd have a better chance at landing a photo shoot for G.Q.

Over the last few weeks I have been reading quite a few posts from progressives on Facebook and quite frankly some of them have been so over the top I'm starting to get a little concerned about November. I realize Hillary Clinton isn't the ideal candidate. To be honest, I was kinda hoping Elizabeth Warren would've jumped into the race. But she didn't, so the choice is between Hillary and Bernie.

For the record, I don't dislike Sanders. In fact, philosophically, I'm more in tune with his proposals than Clinton's. And I'll give him this much: if he isn't in the race, there's no way Hillary moves as far to the left as she has. She's like her husband and, let's not mince words here, Bill was no progressive. He still isn't, no matter what the wingnuts on the Right say about him.

But history doesn't lie. Before Bill, the Democrats were getting their butts kicked in every presidential election, save one, since 1968. And let's face it: if not for Watergate, there's no way Jimmy Carter would've won in '76. The Clintons, like it or not, saved the Party from electoral ruin. Now the tide has turned. After their resounding defeat in '88, the Democrats have won the popular vote in every presidential election since '92, with the exception of 2004. That is no accident. While it may be a tough pill for progressives to swallow, their candidates don't tend to do well at the ballot box. In fact, the last successful true progressive president was FDR. And Bernie is NO FDR, despite his supporters assertions. Lyndon Johnson might've gone down as a great progressive had he not escalated the Vietnam War.

The fact is when I look at Trump and Sanders, what strikes me most is that both men owe their success to a failed and bankrupt political system that has been slowly rotting for decades. As voter disgust grew, the establishment candidates were seen as part of the problem. There was a strong yearning for a fresh face that wasn't corrupted and, more importantly, couldn't be bought. They are opposite sides of the same coin.

I've written at great length about the upheaval that occurred within the GOP which led to the Tea Party wave of 2010, but simmering underneath and in the background was the growing unrest within the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Bernie Sanders has tapped into that unrest brilliantly. Not since the days of Bobby Kennedy have we seen anything like this. Barack Obama was supposed to be the transformational president the Left had been waiting for. He turned out to be more like Bobby's brother, John: practical, pragmatic, left of center, but hardly a true believer. Small wonder many progressives feel betrayed by him.

Not only is Sanders their darling, he's redefining how campaigns should be run. With no Super PAC and most of his donations under $100, Sanders has managed to out raise Hillary Clinton over the last few months. Indeed, in just the first 48 hours following Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, his campaign raised over $7 million. While Clinton is still the prohibitive favorite to win the Democratic nomination, her once formidable lead is dwindling fast.

As for Trump, well, he's his own Super PAC. The man could fund the entire U.S. defense budget without blinking an eye. His message is simple: they can't buy me, I don't need their money. This has given him permission to pretty much do and say anything he wants. The more outlandish his comments, the more his popularity soars. He's vulgar, vain, xenophobic, racist, sexist, you name it. He's also ahead in all of the polls. As it stands now, the Republican nomination is his to lose.

But getting back to this authenticity issue. If we take Sanders and Trump at their word that both will not succumb to the politics as usual mentality that has gripped Washington, we are indeed in deep shit. Because a President Donald Trump or a President Bernie Sanders is the last thing this country needs.

Contrary to what both political flanks believe, the major problem with this country has very little to do with a lack of principles. It does have everything to do with a failure to reach consensus and work together. For most of the last seven years Washington has been stuck in neutral. The paralysis that has gripped the federal government is unprecedented in the nation's history. Electing a president like Sanders or Trump would only exacerbate an already volatile situation.

Trump boasts that he is a deal maker and he knows how to negotiate. Good luck with this bunch, Donald. This is a government that was minutes away from defaulting on the debt. What's more likely is that his abrasive personality will only inflame his critics and alienate even his allies. Unlike reality TV shows where he gets to fire people he doesn't like, Trump will find Congress to be his biggest challenge and most adversarial nemesis. Unless he is willing to check his ego at the door - very unlikely - I suspect that his administration would be a disaster for the country.

Sanders has an altogether different problem. Many within the Democratic Party don't trust him, and some flat out don't like him. They view his refusal to aline himself with the Party as a slap in the face. It's one thing to caucus with a Party; it's quite another to join it. Sanders will have to do some heavy lifting to make amends to Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi if he expects to get their support. And then there are the Republicans in both chambers. At best, Sanders will have 51 or 52 seats in the Senate to work with, and that's assuming he has a coattail effect, which many doubt he will. And barring a miracle this November, Paul Ryan will still be Speaker of the House in 2017, which means the gridlock that has come to define this government will continue for at least another four years under his administration.

See the problem here? Neither Trump nor Sanders is best suited to roll up their sleeves and compromise to get things done. Both see it as a betrayal of what they stand for and what they have promised their supporters they would not do. I submit that of the two, Sanders might have the more difficult time, since just about every one of his proposals would be DOA. Really, can you see Bernie in a room with Ryan and McConnell negotiating a budget deal? Sanders wants to start a revolution; he's going to need one if he expects to get anything done.

I don't mind principles. Frankly we could use all we can get. But principles only get you so far. If we've learned anything from the Tea Party, it's that a single-minded fixation on a core set of principles can blind people to reality. The truth is no one gets everything they want. Life demands we give a little to get a little. Whether in business or in politics, our ability to grasp this simple truth determines whether we succeed or fail.

The two best nominees to lead their respective parties are Hillary Clinton and John Kasich. As I mentioned earlier, Clinton is still the prohibitive favorite to win the nod for the Democrats. Kasich is a long shot at best. I can't speak to their authenticity, nor do I care to. But both would be worthy opponents and make, I suspect, better presidential material than either Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Who's A Hungry Kitty?

To tell you the truth, I was never much of a cat person. I grew up with two dogs - both Shetland Sheepdogs - and always found cats to be way too aloof and independent for my tastes. I much preferred a pet that would come when I called it, not look at me like I had two heads.

So you can imagine my surprise when my wife announced the weekend before Thanksgiving 2000 that she wanted to get a cat. Reluctantly, I went along with it. We went down to the local shelter on Black Friday and it didn't take long before my wife found this black kitten with a white spot on one side of his mouth and white paws. There was an instant chemistry between the two of them. He had a great personality and didn't act like any cat I had ever heard of. When he jumped up on my wife's shoulders, she was sold. This was the one. His name was Puffin and the next day I went down to pick him up and bring him back home with me.

Puffin had a very unique personality. He brought new meaning to the term alpha and it didn't take him long to put his stamp on our home. Maria and I fell in love with him almost from day one. Whether we were sitting down on the couch or sitting down to eat at the dinner table, Puffin would jump up and let us know he was there. He would head-but you in the face as a sign of affection, but also to let you know he was in charge. He would then curl up in your lap and put his paw on you expecting you to pet him. You just couldn't resist his "charm."

Puffin's first few years with us were exciting to say the least. He managed to escape from us and was presumed lost in his first year. Miraculously, he found his way back after one night. The following year, he suffered the first of three medical problems. After several days of not eating his food, I took him down to the Vet where he was diagnosed with a blockage in his intestine. An emergency surgery to remove it saved his life. The surgeon called me up afterwards to let me know that I not only made the right decision but if I had waited even a few hours, Puffin's intestine would've shut down and he would've died.

Yes, he dodged quite a bullet that time, but it was only three years later that he had a similar problem eating his food. He exhibited the same symptoms, but this time the Vet, after taking a close look at some X-rays, opted not to operate. It wasn't a blockage, in his opinion, it was pancreatitis. After a couple of days of taking some medication, Puffin was good as new. Once more he had dodged a bullet. Once more lady luck had shined her light on him.

Only one year later, however, Puffin once again went under the knife. A blockage in the same general area threatened his life. Just like he done the last two times, he made a quick recovery. The Vet strongly recommended that, owing to his susceptibility to blockages and pancreatitis, we change his diet to a no-grain food. Though it cost more, we gladly complied. It worked. For the balance of his life, Puffin never again had any issues with his intestine or suffered any more bouts of pancreatitis.

I should point out that by now Puffin was one of three pets my wife and I had. Skye, a female cat that I picked up along with Puffin that same November day in 2000 and Henry, a dog that we adopted from my wife's friend in 2004, completed the trio. Together they were quite a bunch. My wife and I often had our hands full keeping Puffin and Henry from tearing each other apart. They were like Felix and Oscar in The Odd Couple.

When Henry succumbed to cancer in 2013, Puffin regained his status as numero uno. He became even more affectionate and more needy. If I was typing away on my laptop, Puffin would jump up and sit down on my chest, forcing me to close the laptop and pay attention to him. If I was eating in the den, he would jump up on the hassock next to me and put his paw on my plate. Like Henry before him, my food was his food. Virtually every morning Puffin would sit on my wife waiting for her to get up and feed him. When my wife didn't move fast enough, I would suffice. When it came to eating, Puffin didn't much care who the chef was. A meal was a meal.

When he turned 15 this past May, my wife and I both assumed he would live to be a grumpy old man. After all, he had survived three near-death episodes that certainly would've felled a lesser cat. With a new addition to the family, a black kitten my wife rescued from our backyard, we once more had a trio of pets. Lily helped lessen the pain of losing Henry and kept Puffin on his toes. After a painful and tearful 2013, the last two years were shaping up as pretty good.

Then after returning from a December trip to Florida to visit my father, I noticed Puffin was hiding under the Christmas tree with drool coming out of his mouth. My wife told me he had just started doing that and that it was probably due to an abscessed tooth. Christmas week my wife brought him down to the Vet to have him checked out. Later that day we got the bad news. Puffin didn't just have an abscessed tooth, he had a mass in his jaw that was later diagnosed as cancerous. Worse yet, the tumor was so big that operating on him was not a viable option. They would've had to remove 85 percent of his jaw. The prognosis was bleak. Puffin had weeks to live.

My wife and I were devastated. For the second time in just over two years we were faced with the loss of a pet to cancer. Our beloved Puffin was terminally ill and this time there would be no last minute miracle. We resigned ourselves to make what little time he had left as comfortable as possible.

Over the next five weeks, my wife did her best to make his food as edible as possible. She would mix it in the blender and I would call out "who's a hungry kitty?" and bring it upstairs to the guest bedroom so he could eat undisturbed. As his tumor grew, though, his ability to eat became diminished.  Last Saturday he ate what would be his last full meal. No matter what my wife did, no matter how thoroughly she mixed his food, it didn't work. Puffin simply couldn't eat anymore, not because he was sick, but because the tumor prevented him from using his tongue to lick up his food.

As each day passed, he grew more and more frail. My wife and I knew it was only a matter of time. We originally thought Thursday night, but opted to wait till Saturday afternoon to take him down to the Vet. That day was the longest day of our lives. We each said our goodbyes to him before we left for the Vet. Even in his weakened condition he still managed to head-but me while I held him in my arms.

I never thought I would grieve the loss of another pet like I had done with Henry, but I wept like a baby that afternoon. Puffin had meant so much to me, and to my wife as well. I couldn't wrap my head around the idea that we would not be coming home with him. After seeing him slowly deteriorate over the last six and a half weeks we were torn on the inside. On the one hand, we didn't want him to suffer anymore; on the other hand, we didn't want to lose him. In the end it was our love for him that guided our actions.

I have many fond memories of Puffin that I will always treasure. Like the way he would drink from the faucet in the sink or bathtub. It was uncanny. Or the way he would greet you at the front door when you came home by jumping onto your shoulders and riding all the way with you to the kitchen. Talk about needy; my wife was often the recipient of this since she was the first to come home from work. Or the way he could open the drawer in the living room table to get one of his toys out. We still have the scratch marks to show for it.

But my fondest memory of all was the time he was recovering from his second operation. I visited him in the recovery room and kept him company for a couple of hours. As he curled up in my arms, I could hear him purring and occasionally he would reach up and head-but me. He felt safe in my arms and I was grateful that I was there for him that night. You could say we bonded in a way few pets bond with their owners.

Before Puffin came along, I was convinced that cats were cold and uncaring. Thanks to him, I now know how wrong I was. Henry and Puffin were two peas in a pod. Full of personality and full of love. It is fitting that they are now both waiting for us at the Rainbow bridge. One day we will all cross over that bridge and be together forever in Paradise.

Until then, sleep tight, my Puffin, and rest in peace. Your daddy and mommy love you very much.

P.S., be a good boy and play with Henry. He finally has his buddy back now.