Hillary’s Money

The campaign of Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for president, is off to a rocky start.  Even before she announced her candidacy, critics were questioning contributions made to the Clinton Foundation, the charitable organization run by Ms. Clinton and her husband, former president Bill Clinton.

“Some of the money they accepted from foreign entities while she was Secretary of State sure is revealing, ” said former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who is one of many vying for the Republican nomination. “You really have to wonder whose interests she was serving. You can’t say that if you don’t know where the money comes from.”

“Why on earth would the Clintons take money from places like Saudi Arabia if she knew she was going to run?” added Texas Senator Ted Cruz. “It makes no sense. Why didn’t she funnel everything to a super PAC? That way she could have kept it private.”

Jeb Bush, whose own Right to Rise super PAC has raised tens of millions in secret money, agreed. “The Clinton Foundation reports its contributions. We know who’s writing the checks. It’s idiotic for a candidate for national office to be that open. Good grief, if the public knew who was giving me money, they’d go nuts.”

“I don’t agree with Jeb on much. Well, actually, all of us GOP candidates agree on pretty much everything,” chimed in Florida Senator Marco Rubio, “but we all agree that secret, untraceable money is the key to getting elected. I mean, if the people really understood whose bidding we’d be doing once we’re in office, there’d be a revolution in this country.”

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was typically blunt. “Follow the money. The Clintons are raking it in, and we know exactly from where and from whom.  Do you think for one minute I would reveal where my funding comes from? It would be like me admitting I knew about the traffic problems on the bridge.

“In this day and age in America, that level of transparency is simply unheard of. It really makes you question whether Hillary has the judgement to be president.”

Messin’ With Texas

Texas governor Greg Abbott, responding to internet rumors of a planned military takeover of the Lone Star State, has called out Texas State Guard forces to “monitor” a large U.S. military training exercise, named Operation Jade Helm.

Officials in Washington debunked the notion that President Obama is trying to put Texas under martial law.

“We have no intention of taking over Texas,” Defense Secretary Ashton Carter explained. “Quite the opposite, we’re there to keep Texas from taking over the rest of the country.

“After watching Texas grow increasingly paranoid and unpredictable under the governorships of Rick Perry and Abbott , we’re simply moving to prevent further contamination of the other 49 states.”

“To begin with,” added Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, “Texas is the poster child for income inequality in America.  You’d think that with such a high rate of poverty and so many millionaires, they’d want to find  ways to help people at the bottom, but the reverse is true.

“Even though they have the highest percentage of people without health insurance in the country, they refused Obamacare. They turned their back Medicaid expansion, and only Alabama has more restrictive Medicaid eligibility. It’s as though they’re at war with the poor.”

“Only one state has more gun murders.” noted the Surgeon General’s office, “and no state has looser gun laws. Their solution seems to be to let Texans kill each other and then execute the killers. They put more prisoners to death than any other state in the union by far. It’s a truly bizarre system.”

Ann Ravel, chairwoman of the Federal Elections Commission, commented that, “between gerrymandered districts and the outrageous voting restrictions, Texas is one of the least democratic states in the country.  There’s a reason Texans keep electing the people they do.”

“Honestly, the last thing we want is to occupy Texas,” the Defense Secretary explained. “We just don’t want whatever’s going on there to spread.

“Frankly, it would be be big relief if Mexico would just take it back.”


The Game of Thrones Solution

The Supreme Court this week heard arguments in a case brought by three death row inmates challenging the constitutionality of lethal injection.

As recently as 2008, the justices ruled that the three-drug protocol then in use passed constitutional muster. Those drugs have since become unavailable, and the states have scrambled to replace them, often with disastrous results. Condemned men have died in agony when the replacement concoctions failed to work as promised.

Now the Court is wrestling with the fallout from those gruesome experiments, with the liberals predictably appalled and the conservatives apparently unperturbed. Why justices who are so squeamish about abortion seemingly have no qualms about burning a man from the inside with caustic drugs escapes me, but I’m hardly an expert in the finer points of the law.

Let us not even consider the recent revelation that the FBI Crime Lab condemned dozens of men to death on the basis of sloppy and now thoroughly discredited DNA testing of hair samples. We’ll assume, for the sake of this argument, that everyone convicted of a capital crime is actually guilty and we won’t be wrongly executing a bunch of minorities on the flimsiest of evidence. We’re over that now. That was so 2013. And the police always use the utmost care when arresting Black men. Okay, maybe not in Baltimore, but it’s really not a problem anywhere else, right?  But I digress. The case before the Court is narrowly confined to the constitutionality of lethal injection.

Please allow me to offer a simple, elegant solution, one that came to me while binge-watching Game of Thrones on HBO. Forget lethal injection. Cut off their heads.

On Game of Thrones, it’s done with a single stroke of a heavy broadsword. Quick and neat, no fuss, no muss (well, except for a lot of blood spewing from severed arteries and the head possibly rolling across the floor and fouling one’s Guccis).  One chop, and it’s done. No lingering in unspeakable agony. There should be no constitutional issue because of unreasonable pain and suffering.

One important detail, though. In Game of Thrones,  Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell, insists that he who passes judgement must be the one who carries out the sentence. When we go to the broadsword solution, we should also demand that the judges who pass sentence  be the ones who perform the execution. If the Supremes decide that the death penalty is still okay, they should be prepared to swing the sword. I propose that they spend the months the Court is in recess doing executions.

I, for one, would love to see the live telecast of John Roberts beheading a bunch of condemned men, most of them Black, on the steps of the Court, while Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas look on impassively (except maybe for a little smirk by Scalia).

How do you think that would play in Baltimore?

Tax Week Relief

I can’t wait. I am on pins and needles. I am dizzy with anticipation. Which will come first, my income tax refund or the flood of money I will get now that The House of Representatives has overwhelmingly passed much-needed tax relief?

By a vote of 240-179, the House voted this week to repeal the estate tax, which currently applies to inheritances valued at over $5,430,000 (that’s for individuals; joint estates are taxed only when they reach twice that amount).

True, this applies to only the wealthiest 0.2 percent of the population, but we all know that the extremely rich, despite numerous rounds of tax cuts, are still groaning under the weight of excessive taxation, and thus unable to share their wealth with the rest of us. Faced with the burdens of owning multiple homes, paying for private planes and yachts, maintaining extensive art collections and lavish wine cellars, shelling out for dues at private clubs, not to mention the spiraling costs of buying politicians and their increasingly expensive elections, there has been little left over for sharing the wealth with average citizens.

I think I speak for all of us in the remaining 99.8 percent when I say it’s about time that something changed.  Now that the wealthiest Americans can pass ALL their resources on to their offspring without Uncle Sam demanding an unfair share of it, the rest of us can expect wads of their money to come to us, as well. At least, that’s what I keep hearing.

How this will happen is still too complicated for a simple soul like me to understand, uneducated as I am in the arcane mysteries of economic theory, but who am I to doubt the politicians who assure me that I will inevitably share this largess some day? I’m sure that they’re acting in my best interests, even if I can’t afford to send them big campaign contributions.

Yes, I remember that Ronald Reagan promised 35 years ago that cutting taxes for the rich would mean more for all of us by the magic of “trickle down economics.” That it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it won’t. I’m told these things don’t happen overnight. Maybe the pump just needs more priming.

It seems like it would have been simpler to get the money to me by cutting MY taxes, but what do I know?

Let me know when the check is in the mail.


Rand Paul is evolving. So is Jeb Bush.  I expect Hillary Clinton to mutate rapidly as soon as she declares officially. It’s the miracle of modern politics. A process that takes nature millions of years takes politicians only minutes after discovering that their previously-held positions are being questioned by potential voters.

While natural selection generally favors qualities, like increased intelligence, that improve the species, political evolution seems to work only backward.

Senator Paul, within a nanosecond of throwing his hat in the ring, was announcing that his Iran policy had changed.

“As many of your are aware,” Paul stated in his much-anticipated announcement speech, “I once said that it would be unwise for Congress to further sanction Iran while the President was negotiating with them. It was a responsible and nuanced approach to a complicated issue.

“Forget I ever said that. As a senator I have certain responsibilities. But as a candidate for president I disavow responsibility and nuance. In fact, for the duration of the campaign I promise never to make a nuanced statement on any issue. You have my word on it.”

Meanwhile, former Florida governor Bush was doing his own evolving.

“Yeah, it was pretty funny that I accidentally called myself Hispanic when I registered. Now, some of you might think I was just trying to court the Hispanic vote, because in the past, unlike most Republicans, I’ve said some genuinely sensible things about immigration,” the latest Bush to run for the highest office explained.

“But that was before I evolved. Now I realize that if I’m going to win the nomination I have to be just as stupid as the rest of the GOP on the subject. I know lots of people think I’m the smart Bush, and that I should have been president instead of my brother George. But I’m here to tell you that I’m at least as dumb as he is, and maybe even dumber,  especially on immigration.”

Hillary Clinton, who has yet to declare her candidacy, has not indicated how she will change once she is officially in the race. Her office would only comment that she currently is spending her time learning how to save emails.

“These new technologies aren’t easy for her,” a spokesperson said, ” but she’s evolving.”


Okay, the internet is back up and the tv is working again. So far, so good, except now we can’t get get a signal from the Blu-ray player.

This is still an improvement over yesterday, when the internet was down, so Lisa couldn’t cancel the tickets she bought on Expedia within the 24-hour cancellation window. She bought them there because the Frontier Airlines website wasn’t working and there was an hour-and-half wait to talk to a ticket agent on the phone, which pretty much used up the battery life of the iPhone, which we had to use because the home phone, which is Comcast, wasn’t working.

The internet has been giving us fits because of some weird glitch that suddenly cropped up out of nowhere between the Airport Express and the Comcast router. Everything had been working fine until a few weeks ago, when it all went berserk. Comcast claimed it was because they’d upgraded their security and our 5-year-old tv wasn’t new enough to cope with the technology, so it wasn’t their fault.

None of which explained the internet working intermittently, or not at all. Our computers are both brand new. A call to Comcast solved nothing, but it did solve the problem of what to do for three hours on a Thursday night.

Then yesterday, everything went out. No phone, no tv, no iPad, no nothing. Fortunately, the iPhone was working and still getting internet through the T-Mobile system, so we could call and discover that there was a neighborhood outage. The Comcast folks came out and spent several hours working in the alley. They told us that squirrels had chewed through the cable. They did a great job replacing the cable and cleaning up the wiring at our house. Then the really nice service guy spent two hours reworking our system in the house, and everything, including the Blu-ray, worked great. what a relief!

Until ten minutes after he left, when the internet AND the Blu-ray went out again. The tv worked, though.

Another call to Comcast, and two hours later and another complete reworking of the entire system, the internet is back up and working fine, although we’re now using the Airport instead of the Comcast router for the internet signal. We deleted the Comcast network, because it was fighting with the Apple network.

But I still need to call Comcast for a fourth time, because the Blu-ray isn’t working. My iPad is getting internet, though, and so is the iPhone, so we’re 80% there.

I don’t know. Maybe we tied too much of our lives to electronic gadgetry, which rely on too many services that speak too many incompatible languages, none of which I speak a word of. Maybe in the pursuit of  total connectedness, we reached too high.

We, the unhappy citizens of Babel.


Not Just Ferguson

The New York times ran a fascinating story today–fascinating if you call sad and outrageous fascinating–about how the police department and courts in Ferguson, MO, and in many, many other towns across the country, stick it to the poor.

The Ferguson police, with the complicity of the court system, collect much of their budget in the form of fines and fees imposed on people–primarily minorities–they stop for routine traffic violations. Because that’s where their funding comes from, there is a perverse incentive to keep stopping people for minor (or trumped-up) offenses, and to add court fees on top of the fines, and penalties on top of that for people who can’t pay. Although this country supposedly does not have debtors prisons, too many people end up serving jail time for failing to pay fines. It’s an inherently racist system.

And Ferguson is hardly the only community that operates in this fashion; it’s just the one that the Justice Department singled out in its investigation of the Michael Brown shooting.

What the Times story didn’t do was connect this horrendous practice with the broader national issues of government funding and taxation. Police forces aren’t the only public institutions which the relentless push by conservatives to cut taxes and starve government have shortchanged.

As federal tax rates have fallen over the years, more and more services that used to be borne by all of us have fallen to the states; and, as state governments have been taken over by the anti-tax crowd, on municipalities in turn. Budgeting by fees and fines is by far the most regressive form of taxation–it falls most heavily on those least able to pay. The wealthiest keep more of their money, and the poorest are made to pay even more. The dirty little secret in all of this is that what’s being done is largely invisible outside impoverished communities like Ferguson. It took the tragedy there to reveal to the rest of the country how the city really functioned.

My hope is that the Times’ investigation inspires journalists all over the country to take a long, hard look at how their their own communities operate.  Only by shining a cleansing light can we ever hope to change.


Truth, Screenwriting and Memory

Three of the films up for Oscars last night,  “Selma,” “The Imitation Game”  and “American Sniper,” have been criticized for the liberties they took with the historical record.

I won’t get into the discussion about whether movies about historical events and people have a duty to represent their subjects as accurately as possible, or whether as works of art and popular entertainment they have license to distort the record in search of great storytelling.

The question for me as a storyteller is somewhat different. In Sleeper Ave., my new webcomic, I’m writing about things that happened fifty and sixty years ago, knowing full well how faulty memory can be. Plus, just as screenwriters need to make their stories compelling, I have to find a way to dramatize these events so that my readers will find the tales interesting. Every writer does that by selectively highlighting certain details and diminishing or ignoring others. Does this mean my work is an unreliable record?

I’m trying hard not to fictionalize anything for dramatic effect, but my memory might already have played that trick on me years ago. The only choice, really, is to tell the truth as I remember it.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

The Sad State of Colorado Journalism

The  newspaper industry has been on the ropes for years, with devastating consequences for our democracy. As newspapers go out of business, and as the remaining ones cut staff and coverage, we are simply less well informed.

Political parties and their funders now have greater access to the public than the Fourth Estate. This is not good news for a democracy that depends of an informed electorate to make the right choices.   I believe that there’s a direct link between the decline of the press and the rise of the hyper-partisan gridlock that has paralyzed Washington and now threatens to do the same in the Colorado legislature.

Ever since the Rocky Mountain News, newspaper I worked for for 31 years, folded, Coloradans have been missing more and more important stories.

This story in the Columbia Journalism Review illustrates that concern. This is an issue that should have been widely covered locally, yet was ignored by what’s left of our mainstream press.

Off to See the Wizard

I just posted the next SleeperAve. story this morning, about going to see the Wizard of Oz for the very first time.

For a kid, it was a really scary movie, what with tornadoes carrying people away, a genuinely terrifying witch, and worst of all, the flying monkeys. When it was released in 1939, it didn’t do particularly well at the box office, most likely because those grim scenes were too much of a downer for a Depression-weary public. It only became popular through repeated re-releases.

I first saw it in 1955, when my mother and I were on a trip to  Dallas. I’m guessing Waco was too small a market.

I remember being scared, especially by the tornado. I was still traumatized by the giant twister that devastated Waco two years earlier.  I actually thought the monkeys were cool. Despite the scary stuff, I was captivated by the film, and have loved it ever since.

Plus, that movie is the greatest gift ever given to cartoonists. There’s just something about it that generates endless metaphors for political cartoons.

At any rate, check out the new Sleeper Ave. post. I think you’ll enjoy it.

Plus, even though I’ve succeeded in fully funding my challenge at Beacon Reader, there are still a few days left for you to underwrite the project, if you want.


The online home of editorial cartoonist, writer and analyst Ed Stein.