Add some music to your day

I first heard the late Kenny Rankin back in the day on Minneapolis’s KQRS when it was a freeform FM radio station, in the late ’60 or early ’70s. I liked what I heard (probably his “Peaceful” or one of his many covers of Beatles songs), but forgot about him for a long time until I heard John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey talking him up and playing his music on their weekly Radio Deluxe program. They clearly loved him and still love his music.

In the video below Kenny performs “When Sunny Gets Blue,” one of the songs Don Costa arranged for The Kenny Rankin Album (1967). I’ve had Rankin’s version of the song going around in my head all day and wanted to share it with those of you who might enjoy it, concededly a niche market.

Kenny died in 2009. Peter Keepnews recalled a few salient facts of his life in the New York Times and Alec Baldwin did likewise on a personal note at the Huffington Post.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Last week John noted that he went out shooting for recreation. I chase after ocean-going wildlife.  But somehow I keep forgetting my harpoon.  Anyway, here’s two short highlight reels of the action this week.  Call the first one “The Porpoise-Driven Life.”  Okay, groan if you want to.  The second one has some great whale-on-whale action: (more…)

What do Americans believe about immigration?

Kellyanne Conway has released the results of a new poll on immigration. The poll takes a deeper look at the issue than any survey I recall seeing. It finds that (1) immigration has become a massive issue, (2) neither political party has an edge on immigration, but (3) the issue represents a major opportunity for Republicans if they adopt a stance that favors American workers over immigrants.

A majority of Americans in Conway’s survey named immigration as one of the three most important issues in their voting decision this fall. And, while they disapprove of President Obama’s handling of the issue by an almost 2-1 ratio, Republicans are not viewed favorably either.

What immigration policies do Americans favor? For one thing, according to the survey, by a margin of 70-21, likely voters favor encouraging illegal immigrants to return to their home country over offering them legal status in this country. Among voters who consider immigration the most important issue, the margin is 80-13. Among voters who consider it a “top 3″ issue the margin is 75-17.

How might we “encourage” illegal immigrants to return to their home country? Two-thirds of likely voters in the survey favor denying illegal immigrants jobs and welfare benefits.

The House recently passed a three-point immigration plan the prongs of which are (1) providing extra funding for immigration enforcement, (2) making it easier to repatriate young illegal immigrants, and (3) restricting the president’s ability to legalize immigrants through executive power. Conway’s survey found that Americans favor this proposal by a margin of 58-32.

Obama may be on the verge of unilaterally granting amnesty to most illegal immigrants. Americans oppose this move. By a 74-21 margin, they favor Obama working with Congress over him changing immigration policy on his own. Even a majority of Democrats agree with this.

What is driving sentiment in favor of a tougher, rather than a more lenient, approach to illegal immigration. Fairness is, of course, one consideration.

However, Conway’s findings suggest that the desire to protect the American worker is paramount. 74 percent agreed with the following proposition: “The government has a responsibility to adopt immigration policies that protect. . .unemployed or low-wage American workers from competition with illegal immigrants for job.” 85 percent of “blue collar workers” agreed with this. Even a majority of those identifying themselves as liberals concurred.

The same sentiment is evident in the response to this question: “If U.S. businesses have trouble finding workers, what should happen? They should raise wages and improve working conditions to attract Americans OR more immigrant workers should be allowed into the country to fill these jobs.”

Three-quarters of respondents (and 86 percent of Blacks) said that businesses should raise wages and improve working conditions. Only 8 percent favored allowing more immigrant workers into the country to fill the jobs.

From a political standpoint, then, Republicans should be treating immigration as a jobs issue and as a means of appealing to workers. Instead of pandering to business’s desire for cheap labor and to Hispanics who are unlikely to support Republicans in any realistic scenario, they should focus on the interests of the American worker, as the American worker perceives them.

No public office holder has done this more effectively than Sen. Jeff Sessions. And, if I may be permitted to indulge in a bit of blog promotion, no commentator has done it more effectively than John Hinderaker.

Fraud? Did You Say Fraud?

Liberals who defend Obamacare used to point to the VA as an example of how the government could provide universal health coverage just dandy. Well, that talking point has rather disappeared down an Orwellian memory hole.

Another favorite talking point was that the government’s low administrative costs for Medicare proved that private insurance, with their higher overhead, were inefficient profiteering price gougers, etc. That was one reason for Obamacare’s mandate that insurance companies had to deliver at least 80 percent of premiums in health services.

That’s why I’m surprised the front page story in last Saturday’s New York Times hasn’t made a bigger splash: “Pervasive Medicare Fraud Proves Hard to Stop.” How much fraud? The story reports that it is as much as $60 billion a year. That’s 60 with B. A one with nine zeros after it.  Times sixty.  (As Sterling Archer might explain the math.)

Fraud and systematic overcharging are estimated at roughly $60 billion, or 10 percent, of Medicare’s costs every year, but the administration recovered only about $4.3 billion last year. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is responsible for overseeing the effort, manually reviews just three million of the estimated 1.2 billion claims it receives each year.

Turns out it’s really easy to keep your administrative costs low if you have a system that allows $60 billion a year in fraud and overbilling. Why haven’t Aetna and Blue Cross thought of this?

And now the final Jeopardy question: anyone think there might be a similar problem with fraud in Food Stamps, Medicaid, unemployment, disability, and so forth? Wait, I forgot; you’re a racist if you ask this.

Rand Paul’s self-serving version of identity politics

Rand Paul was in Guatemala this week. Eliana Johnson reports that during his visit, Dr. Paul worked with a team of surgeons to perform eye surgeries at Salama’s Hospital de Ojos.

Paul opined that doctors are superior to lawyers when it comes to serving in political office:

I personally think that if we got rid of all the lawyers and replaced them with all the doctors our country would be much better off because doctors are “problem-solvers” who don’t get caught up in partisanship.

Was Paul being serious? I don’t know. Either way, his statement reveals considerable ignorance.

Most lawyers are problem solvers; otherwise they couldn’t command their fees. Lawyers help clients solve tax problems, estate problems, domestic relations problems, property problems, litigation problems (usually through settlements designed to avoid unacceptable consequences for both parties), etc.

As for “partisanship,” it may be the case that lawyers are more politically active and politically ambitious than doctors. But there is no reason to think that doctors who are politically active and ambitious — such as Rand Paul — are less partisan than their lawyer counterparts.

In any event, why is “partisanship” inherently bad in a politician. If you don’t want the Republicans to nominate a “partisan” for president, you should support Susan Collins or Jon Huntsman, not Rand Paul.

Thoughts from the ammo line

Today our friend Ammo Grrlll continues her series deriving from her recent high school reunion in ON THE ROAD – Part Dos – Or, Are We There Yet?

I believe it was French philosopher Alexis de Toqueville who said, “This is one big-ass country,” but I could be mistaken. It might have been the Texan next door who likes Whataburgers and French Fries. An understandable confusion.

If you only fly over America – particularly her heartland – you can never really understand America. This country was meant to be traveled in a big-ass American automobile, or at least a mid-sized Korean one. It is darn near twice as far from Los Angeles to New York as from Paris to Moscow! Texas, alone, is just under 800 miles across.

On my recent 5,000-mile trip to and from Minnesota for a class reunion, with my two BFFs Bonnie and Heather, I got to experience those miles up close and personal. Before you get too old, tired or disabled to make the trip, I would highly recommend a leisurely jaunt across the heartland, stopping at whim to see what’s out there. It is surprising and wonderful.

You have to be willing to engage with your fellow Americans, those warm-hearted and stunningly un-bitter clingers who just get up every day and make everything work. Most of what we discovered was serendipitous, one happy accident after another.

In a truckstop in Oklahoma, we chatted over terrific Barbecue with a Vietnam vet who had raised 24 foster children. In Guthrie, Oklahoma, we found a gorgeous giftshop called Aunt Gertrude’s House. It was full of the most exquisite art, jewelry, scarves, and pottery. Though the lovely proprietor proudly featured only American crafts and art, she made an exception – out of support – for Israeli artists! Who knew you could find a mezzuzah in a state known as the Buckle on the Bible Belt?

When I have journaled previous trips, most entries could be summed up in four words: “And then I ate…” Why stop now? The first night in Van Horn, TX, we found an outstanding meal at the historic El Capitan Hotel. The man next to us described his Chicken Fried Steak as the best he had ever eaten in his life. From my appetizer plate, I have no reason to doubt him. Bonnie’s entree salad was a feast for all the senses.

If you read my post last week, you learned that I am directionally-challenged. And yet, I can find favorite restaurants on the road like a heat-seeking missile. In Big Spring, TX, where I had stayed on previous trips West, I fell in love with Albertos Mexican restaurant. Craving huevos for breakfast, we left the highway, and I drove right to its front door. Que cosa! It did not open until 11:00. With enough therapy, I may eventually recover.

In Wichita – both coming and going – we ate at P.F. Chang’s. Though it’s a chain, Bonnie and Heather had never experienced Chang’s and we had an absolutely delightful waitress named Morgan. The food, libation, and service were exemplary. In a houseful of males (Household Motto: “The Seat is Always Up.”), I have serious Daughter Deprivation and want to adopt every young woman I see. Morgan would make a good choice.

Got a world-class burger and fries at Retta Mae’s Home Style Cookin’ in Roscoe, TX. Retta Mae is an African-American lady and her staff and happy regulars of every race and color could have populated that “I Am An American” propaganda piece that ran tediously after 9/11.

We found the Holy Grail of Mexican food at La Posta DeMesilla in Las Cruces, New Mexico. My neighbor said he routinely drove there from El Paso for dinner, evidently because there’s just not enough Mexican food in El Paso.

Guthrie, Oklahoma, was treasure trove enough to warrant another separate future trip. Ammo Grrrll normally has the patience of a teething toddler for museums, but The Oklahoma Territorial Museum is nothing short of delightful. My Daddy was a druggist and there is also an Apothecary Museum we will catch next time.

We left early enough in the morning from Guthrie to be able to hit the Cowboy Hall of Fame in OKCity when it opened. Ammo Grrrll had urged spending just two to three hours there in order to avoid the worst of rush hour when we returned Heather to Ft. Worth. Someone – why point fingers? – had squandered 30 minutes of that precious time in another slight directional error. (East, West – as HRC said, “What difference does it make now?”) Besides, two hours at that Museum would be like two hours at the Louvres. There is simply too much to see.

In addition to 1300 kinds of barbed wire (barbed wire’s greatest hits, culled from over 8,000 varieties), there is gallery after gallery of gorgeous Western and Native American art, a complete mock-up of a Western town, a vast collection of cowboy outfits worn in Westerns, a fine firearms gallery, a sprawling outdoor sculpture garden, a rodeo hall of fame, and an excellent lunch buffet! You quite literally cannot do it in a day. We spent five hours and the impending hellacious rush hour was totally worth it. (Photo below of the 3 amigas with Indian.)

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And so we end this episode with Ammo Grrrll lost in the Beirut-like construction maze that is Dallas-Ft. Worth at rush hour. Going a restful 90 mph to avoid being rear-ended by Texans doing 100. And I did NOT run a red light. And never have in my entire life. It was yellow all the way through the intersection and the wretched “Safelight” camera photo that allegedly captured me must have been photo-shopped! A pro bono case for John or Scott?

Next week: the 50th reunion itself, or, “Who are all these codgers?”

Test link: read this.

An embarrassment of Democrats (3): Eldridge edition

Chris Gibson represents New York’s Nineteenth Congressional District. He is an Iraq war vet and a Republican. He was elected to Congress in the wave of 2010. It’s a D+1 district, so Gibson’s reelection is far from a gimme.

I don’t know him, but Gibson is the kind of guy who makes me proud to be a Republican. His campaign site is here. The site includes a profile of Gibson that briefly summarizes his service:

Over the course of his 24 year Army career, Chris rose to the rank of Colonel and deployed seven times. This included four combat tours to Iraq, and separate deployments to Kosovo, the Southwestern US for a counter-drug operation, and most recently – just prior to his retirement – Haiti where he commanded the 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team (BCT) during the opening month of that humanitarian relief operation. The Secretary of the Army awarded the BCT the Superior Unit Award for their actions in Haiti.

Chris earned two Legions of Merit, four Bronze Star Medals, the Purple Heart, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge with Star, the Master Parachutist Badge and the Ranger Tab. For their actions in Mosul in support of the first national election in the new Iraq, his Battalion Task Force earned the Valorous Unit Award. For their actions in Tal Afar during the 2nd and 3rd national elections in Iraq his Battalion and the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment were recognized for excellence by President George W. Bush and earned a 2nd Valorous Unit Award.

Running against Gibson as he seeks reelection this November is Democrat Sean Eldridge. If I were a Democrat, I would be embarrassed to have to support this guy for office against anyone, but especially against a stellar incumbent like Gibson. Among other things, Eldridge has only recently moved to the district with his husband, Facebook gazillionaire and current New Republic owner Chris Hughes. Eldridge moved to the district to run for office. In an excellent look at the race, Politico called Eldridge’s candidacy “brazen.”

As I say, embarrassing.

Then New York Times reporter Ray Hernandez provided an unillusioned look at the Eldridge phenomenon in the article “Young, rich and relocating yet again in hunt for political office.” Hernandez introduced the story thusly:

This is the story of how one young couple came to the Hudson Valley with a fortune and big political dreams.

Two years ago, Sean Eldridge and his husband, the Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, bought a $5 million estate in Garrison, about 50 miles north of New York City. It offered 80 acres of rolling fields and a farmhouse once owned by a Vanderbilt. It would also allow Mr. Eldridge, 26, to run for the local Congressional seat if he chose to.

But that seat appeared unattainable, and soon the couple’s gaze shifted north, to the neighboring district. In January, they bought a $2 million modern home here overlooking a reservoir, laying the groundwork for Mr. Eldridge’s campaign for their new local Congressional seat, New York’s 19th.

Word of Mr. Eldridge’s political plans has delighted the friends who make up his social circle: Donors to his exploratory committee include George Soros, the billionaire financier, and Sean Parker, the tech entrepreneur behind Napster and Spotify.

But his ambitions have puzzled some residents among the farmers, mill workers and small-business owners who populate this district, which rises through the Catskills and rolls north through cornfields and apple orchards to the Vermont border….

As I say, embarrassing.

Eldridge can’t even give a straight answer to the question whether he will remain in the district in the event his husband’s millions fail to unseat Gibson. The Free Beacon noted Eldridge’s nonresponse to the question in “Carpetbaggers gonna carpetbag.”

In the interest of pursuing the humorous side of politics, the Free Beacon has stayed on Eldridge’s case, as in “Man of the people” and “Sean Eldridge on defense in new ads.”

The National Republican Congressional Committee has been following this race. It recently reported:

YO NO QUIERO TACO BELL. Sean Eldridge, in his latest attempt to try to relate to average voters in New York’s 19th District, told the editorial board of the Daily Freeman that his experience working at a Taco Bell – in high school – helps him relate to the middle class. Eldridge wants Hudson Valley families to rest assured knowing that he understands their issues because one summer he worked at Taco Bell.

As I say embarrassing.

What does Eldridge have to offer? He is “liberally” spreading “his” money around the district through the investment firm Hudson River Ventures. The Politico article notes:

Hudson River Ventures made its first investment in late 2012, as talk of an Eldridge political bid simmered. The firm has focused its giving on the culinary industry, which is crucial to the agriculturally rich Hudson Valley. It has provided money to local businesses such as Prohibition Distillery, Continental Organics and Bread Alone bakery, according to the firm’s website. Hudson River Ventures, aides say, is strictly for-profit. Eldridge’s advisers won’t say how many jobs the firm has created.

The site lists investments in 19 businesses, the majority within the confines of the 19th District. Aides won’t disclose how much Hudson River Ventures has spent in total, but they say investments range from $50,000 to $500,000 each.

Eldridge has also personally donated $250,000 to a 3-D printing project at SUNY New Paltz, which is in the district.

*****

Eldridge’s team denies that the venture capital firm and campaign are coordinated. But the overlap is undeniable.

Oh, did I forget to mention that Eldridge is in favor of campaign finance reform? Politico quotes him in a 2013 radio interview: “We will certainly do what we need to do to be competitive and win next year. But at the same time, when I am in Congress I will be a loud and consistent advocate for campaign-finance reform.”

As I say, embarrassing.

You can contribute to Gibson here.