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Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017

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The Las Vegas shooting.

It’s been called, “the deadliest shooting in modern American history”. 59 dead, more than 500 injured, either by bullets or trying to escape the carnage. Could it have been prevented? Those closest to the investigation say, “No”. There was simply no way something like this could have been prevented. Still, there are those who insist that, had some of the concert-goers had weapons of their own, they could have saved lives (not all lives, but some) by returning fire and possibly killing the perpetrator. It’s a fallacious argument, one often repeated by the NRA (aka, the gun lobby), Second Amendment advocates, gun “enthusiasts” and any number of others who have no idea what they’re talking about. Their argument bears not the slightest resemblance to objective reality.

The perpetrator, Stephen Paddock, was situated in a hotel room of the Mandalay Bay Hotel, approximately one-quarter mile (1260 ft.) from the concert venue. The apartment was located on the 32nd floor of the hotel, approximately 400 feet above ground level. From this vantage point he had a clear, unobstructed view (through the broken window; he brought a hammer for the purpose) of the concert site and the crowd assembled there, some 1600 feet (approx. 1/3 of a mile) away from his position. He was armed with a high-powered, semi-automatic rifle modified to fire “full automatic”.

It took the concert-goers several seconds to realize they were being fired upon. Once the first bodies fell, panic, fear and confusion gripped the crowd as they ran for cover, many running for the exits which, ironically, put them in more peril. The exits were between the concert-goers and the gunman.

Police and security personnel at the scene were forced to take cover while doing all they could to aid the wounded and direct others to safety, away from the carnage. Some of the police and security were armed but there was no return of fire from the police and security. In fact, no return of fire would have proved effective, either in eliminating the threat or in reducing the number of fatalities.

Police and security were armed with handguns and standard-issue ammunition designed for “personal protection” with an effective range of 30 – 50 yds. (“effective range”, in this context, is meant to be the distance at which one can be “reasonably assured” of hitting your target); far too limited to combat the fusillade they were being subjected to. In any event, returning fire from the ground would have resulted in more confusion and fear. With shots being fired from several directions, concert-goers would have been unsure of which way to go to safety, and in their fear and indecision would have “frozen” in place, offering the shooter more targets of opportunity and an increased body-count.

Even if some of the concert-goers had been armed, they wouldn’t have had high powered, automatic or semi-automatic weapons, or likely the expertise to use them to good effect. Civilians, and even many police officers, have little or no experience or expertise firing at a target while under heavy fire. Hunters and target-shooting enthusiasts have little fear of their targets returning fire. An effective defense would have required weaponry at least comparable to that of the perpetrator, and a stable platform from which to fire. Neither of these were available on the ground, to civilians or police. Further, it was not known until after the shooting had ceased that the gunman had constructed a “shooting platform” that allowed him to operate from within the hotel room, thus making it impossible to see any muzzle flashes issuing from his weapon as he fired on the crowd. So, even if the appropriate weaponry was available, it’s unlikely anyone would have known where to return fire.

Las Vegas SWAT had all the equipment necessary to subdue Stephen Paddock, but none of it was put to use. Paddock took his own life before he could be confronted by the authorities.

In the aftermath of that horrific night we are left with two questions. Why did this happen? We may never know. Stephen Paddock, as far as anyone has been able to ascertain, left no note, no clue as to what prompted him to this heinous thing.

The other question has answers, but, as the politicians say, “they’re “nuanced”. How can we prevent something like this happening again? We’ve asked this same question numerous times before. We asked it after Aurora, after Newtown, after Miami. And we’re asking it again; this time, after Las Vegas. We know the answer. We all know what we should do, what we feel we have to do. But somewhere along the way, we lost the collective will to do it. I heard one panelist, on one of those interminable “discussion” shows the news networks always put on after something like this, say, “This is the price of freedom in America.” He actually said that! I  could not believe my ears.

In conclusion, I want to make it perfectly clear I have no problem with a person exerting his or her rights under the Constitution; that includes the Second Amendment. I’m a member of the ACLU. I support the Bill of Rights. I have but one caveat: If the price of your Second Amendment rights include your right to kill me and fifty or sixty of my fellow Americans for no reason the price is too damn high!

 

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Written by stevewthomas

October 9, 2017 at 4:16 pm

Random Thoughts . . .

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I’ve been spending some time lately thinking about life; not only mine, although that has been my primary focus, but all those affected by the recent natural disasters in Texas and Puerto Rico, and, of course, the horrific carnage in Las Vegas. I guess it’s natural in a way for one’s thoughts to turn to the subject of mortality at times like these. I know mine do, but that could be a function of age; I’m 70 years old and nearing the end of my time here (at least according to the statistical data).

I’m not trying to be maudlin, but trying to cope with the feelings that arise in the aftermath of events such as we’ve all witnessed in the past few months. I know there are people “out there” trying desperately to deal with the pain of the loss of family, friends, neighbors, even total strangers. They’re trying to put things in some kind of perspective, trying to make sense of the senseless. Some, those most deeply and immediately affected by these tragedies, are in deep mourning, trying to deal with what, for them, is completely inconceivable; the loss of someone who “had their whole lives ahead of them”.  Others, whose pain is not so closely felt, are trying to put a philosophical spin on the events and their aftermath, saying things like, “You just never know when your time is up”.

I was fortunate in this respect. Other than a bout of anxiety over whether or not my brother, who lives in Las Vegas, was safe and unharmed. Truth be  told, I don’t know if “Pat” was at the event in Las Vegas, or if he even likes country music, but the possibility that he could be there was enough to cause concern. Distance may make the heart grow fonder, but it also amps up the concern when events beyond our control occur at distances we cannot overcome that could possibly put our loved ones in jeopardy. I have a granddaughter serving in the Navy, in the Pacific fleet, and if this “Korean thing” goes from “warm” to “hot”, she’ll be deployed to deal with it, and there won’t be much I’ll be able to do but worry for her safety.

All these thoughts and feelings brought my mind to the subject of the future. We all worry about the future, what it will be like, how much of it do we have. The truth, though, is something different. We don’t have “a future”. None of us. We all hope we do. Have a future. We try to do the things required to insure that future is there and we are there to enjoy it. We eat right, exercise, get enough sleep. We save what we can so that when that future arrives, we can afford to enjoy it, whatever that means. And when we go to bed at the end of the day, we say our prayers (those of us who pray, anyway), and ask we be allowed to wake the next day to do it all over again.

But there are no guarantees. All we have, every one of us, is today. Doesn’t matter how young or old, how rich or poor, good or bad, famous or unknown; there’s only today. As for myself, I’m going to make the most of what I have, time-wise. A random act of kindness. I won’t be such a “dick” (at least some of the time). Whatever it takes to make this day — the only one I’m sure I have — better than those that have gone before.

I may be mistaken about all this. Then, again, maybe I’m not. Still, it couldn’t hurt. And maybe it’ll do some good. Maybe those things I do today will make someone else’s “future” (provided, of course, they have one) a little less burdensome, a little less dreary and a bit easier.

It would be nice, too, if everyone else felt the same way, don’t you think?

Written by stevewthomas

October 4, 2017 at 12:41 pm

Thoughts on Writing

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What is a writer?

Well, the simple answer is, a writer is someone who writes. Easy enough to explain something by citing its definition. Bricklayers lay brick, dancers dance, musicians make music, and writers write. Simple.

But why do writers write?

The answer to that question is a bit more complex. It is, as they say, a whole other ball o’ wax. The reasons people choose to write are as varied as the writers themselves. I could list all the reasons for writing by it would take up more time that I’m prepared to spend on this post. For those interested in exploring the topic, l suggest you pick up a copy of Margaret Atwood’s Negotiating With the Dead, A Writer on Writing. She offers an extensive, although by no means comprehensive, list of reasons why writers write; some of them surprising, others not so much. One reason that appears elsewhere in Ms. Atwood’s book, although not among the listed reasons for writing, is that it’s a comparatively easy thing to do. There are no prerequisites; no intellectual or educational background is required beyond a certain facility with one’s native language. That, and the determination to see the process through from beginning to end. After all, it is, as Neil Gaiman is supposed to have said, simply a matter of putting one word after another on the page until you’ve finished saying whatever it is you want to say. Simple, right? Not really.

There’s a small addendum to Mr. Gaiman’s description that’s worth noting if one aspires to be a published writer. (Not all of us aspire to that lofty goal, but I’ll get to that in a bit). The addendum is, that along with putting one word after another on the page, a should be able to put the right word in the right order after another on the page. Makes this ‘writing thing’ a bit trickier, don’t you think?

Ernest Hemingway once described the act of writing as, “You just sit down and open a vein.” Ironic, considering Hemingway did a lot of his writing standing up. I’ll confess that Hemingway’s description is a bit more strenuous the Mr. Gaiman’s, and anyway most writers – not all, but the majority – manage to confine their bloodletting to the page. Suffice it to say the actual process of writing lies somewhere between the two extremes. I, myself, picked writing because it was one of the few things I was suited to that didn’t require an inordinate amount of time trying to dislodge the dirt from under my fingernails.

So, what’s it like, being a writer?

For the most part writers live pretty much to way everyone else does. Most of us have ‘day jobs’. We get up, get the kids ready for school, go to work, attend PTA meetings, grocery shop, pick the kids up after school, get the car washed, the tires rotated, go to the barber or the hairdresser, maybe go on vacation when we can afford it. Pretty much the same thing everyone else does, except when all the other stuff is done, we write; usually late at night or early in the morning, and sometimes on the weekends if there are no soccer, baseball or football games, or piano or ballet recitals to attend. We’re just like everyone else. We’re kind of like witches in that respect; you can’t tell just by looking whether we are one or not.

Writers also tend to be avid readers, and we read across a wide variety of subjects and genres. I’ll give you an example. My own small library contains books on history, biography, memoirs, religion, business, art, writing, cooking, science and politics. I have thrillers, literary fiction, classics, philosophy, occultism, humor. books on photography and crafts, wine and winemaking, books and book collecting. And these, in one way or another, inform my own writing, as well as the way I tend to see the world around me. By reading how others viewed their world, I gain insights into my own world, and how it came to be the way it is. It’s also a handy how-to for using words, a turn-of-phrase that, with practice, helps me improve my writing.

Writers have always experienced a peculiar, Janus-like relationship with the non-writing public. Being among the ‘creatives’ in society, we are encouraged, even celebrated, in our ability to provide entertainment for the masses; to allow them to slip the bonds of their work-a-day lives and enter realms where good and evil battle endlessly for supremacy, and where good doesn’t always prevail, at least not until the next installment rolls off the presses. Then the god smiles on the writer, and the critics praise his efforts and lament the dearth of creativity in society, and presses roll out another spate of how-to books exclaiming, “You, too, can be (or become) more creative!”

Writers – and this applies especially to journalists, whether they write books or newspaper and magazine articles – have also always had the responsibility to “speak Truth to Power”, to expose, whenever possible, the misdeeds of governments and corporations, and provide the public the information necessary to combat the abuse of power. Then the god frowns on the writer, and governments and corporations berate him or her for the “misleading information”, “the lies”, “libels”, “unfounded accusations” and “unsubstantiated rumors”. These centers of power and influence have always viewed the writer as suspect, unreliable, and possibly subversive. Writers who continually joust with those in power have often been described in stereotypical terms; alcoholic, drug-addicted and mentally unbalanced, all to discredit those who question authority; and not only those who currently challenge authority, but those who would do so in the future.

That’s what it means to be a writer. It’s just like any other job or avocation. You have your good days and your bad. Like my mother used to say, “You pay your money, and you take your chance.”

In the end, I guess, it really doesn’t matter what type of writer you are (or become); whether you labor in the public eye like Stephen King, John LeCarré, or Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, or you labor in secret like Winston Smith, the reluctant hero of George Orwell’s 1984, or even if you write a single word. It doesn’t matter what you do, what matters is that you do it. But if you’re human, and I’m betting you are, sooner or later you’ll give in to cacoethia scribendi, “the itch to scribble”. Just be warned, if you scratch that itch once, you won’t be able to stop.

 

 


 

35 Days. . .(and counting)

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President-elect Donald Trump likes present himself as a wildly successful businessman; someone in possession of uncanny abilities, and possessing such rare insights as to be able to best the brightest and most accomplished competitors at the negotiating table.

Mr. Trump also likes to emphasize the magnitude of his intellect by repeatedly exclaiming, he “has the best words” and that he “knows more about ISIS than the generals.” He attributes these amazing faculties to the fact that he’s “like, a smart person” with a degree of disingenuousness that is simply stunning.

All that being said, one could be pardoned for thinking Mr. Trump’s vocabulary lacks depth or breadth, owing to the fact that during and after his campaign his language was more appropriate to an elementary school playground than anything resembling an adult conversation. Those “best words” he alleges to possess must be some words because he is loathe to use them (at least in public) for fear of alienating his worshipful followers. Besides, “The Donald” loves “the in-(under)-educated”; stands to reason he would use language better suited to their limited intellects.

As for Mr. Trump’s much vaunted (by his own account) knowledge of ISIS, the source of this intelligence remains a mystery. Perhaps his varied business dealings in the Middle East have provided rare insights into the inner workings of the ISLAMIC STATE. Could ISIS be controlling the construction industry in Dubai? It’s known they control the flow of oil from their captured territories. Could ISIS be using the sanitation industry as a front for their nefarious schemes. Both the construction and sanitation industries are heavily involved in the real estate business; something Donald Trump knows a great deal about; that and “branding”. Perhaps he has sources in these industries feeding him inside information. Or maybe he just sat through a couple of screenings of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (although that’s highly unlikely, Mr. Trump isn’t known for a long attention span). One can only hazard a guess as to where Mr. Trump’s information originates. One thing’s certain, though, it isn’t coming from his own government’s intelligence sources.

And speaking of intelligence sources, how could someone as supposedly brilliant as Donald Trump fail to recognize the danger in inviting a foreign government — one that admittedly does not have the best interests of this country at heart — to spy on his competition?  If the last of the three pigs opened the door for the wolf, the wolf would be an idiot to insist on huffing and puffing instead of simply walking in. Does Donald Trump believe Vladimir Putin is an idiot? I think not. Mr. Trump sees Mr. Putin as a friend. (A friend, by the way, who spent his entire adult life in the espionage services of his country on his way to absolute power). After all, Mr. Putin complimented “The Donald”, calling him “an amazing fellow” (in Russian, the same way you or I would say, “Isn’t that squirrel on a surfboard amazing?!” or “Isn’t that bear on a unicycle amazing?!”) I’m sure Mr. Trump is of the opinion a friend wouldn’t do something as crass and underhanded as spy on the opposing candidate and swing the election in his favor. What would he have to gain? What indeed.

During the Cold War, anyone who openly promoted reductions in nuclear weapons or the expansion of Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) was labelled “a dupe of the Kremlin”. In the run-up to the first Gulf War, anyone who advocated for continued diplomatic efforts to avert the war was labelled “a dupe of Saddam” and accused of “giving aid and comfort” to the enemy. I think, in the present circumstances, that label can (and should) be assigned to Donald Trump, a man who invited an adversary to spy, denied do so and, when faced with the fact that spying took place, said, “It could’ve been anybody. It could’ve been China. It could’ve been Korea. It could’ve been a 400 pound fat guy in his bed in New Jersey.”(Chris Christie?)

Come on, Donald! You know you’ve been punked. Admit it.

It’s the smart thing to do.

Revisiting an old post. . .(kinda, sorta)

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Find your PassionFive – nearly six – years ago I wrote a post entitled, “You Have To Know the “Rules” . . .(before you can break or bend them)”. It was a not-all-that-subtle attempt to explain how to approach the interview process; how to dress appropriately combined with an attempt to advise job-seekers on the (then touchy) subject of tattoos. The job market had tanked and I felt there was a need for information about finding work, and the various problems that arise during the job search. There are a lot of them, and not all of them have to do with “pounding the pavement”, submitting resumés, etc. . . There was nothing new in the post, nothing that shouldn’t have been “common knowledge” or “common sense”. Still, the article seemed a “good fit” so I posted it, and then promptly forgot about it and moved on to different topics. Then a funny thing happened.

Of all the posts I’ve written on this blog (and I’m the first to admit there haven’t been all that many), “You Have To Know the “Rules” . . .” is the one post most often referenced by people stopping by this blog.  I began to wonder why. I’ve written on a variety of topics, not all of which have to do with job-hunting.  Many have been (at least to me) humorous or autobiographical; some have been straight fiction.  So why did this one post elicit so much popularity after so many years? Are there still people “out there” who need help job-hunting, or dealing with the interview process? Or was it something else?

Were people looking for some “magic bullet” that would allow them to find the perfect job, the most satisfying career, the most blissful life? Was the title of the post misleading? Were my readers referencing the post in hopes of finding some “inside track” that would magically supply them with the key to finding happiness? Is that why people were reading “You Have To Know The “Rules”. . . ? God, I hope not!

Because the simple truth of the matter is, there aren’t any. There are no one-size-fits-all “rules” for anything. In fact, the only “rules” are the ones you make for yourself. Everything else is a “guideline”, a “suggestion”. Sure corporations large and small have “rules” for how the work gets done, how the employees should behave, etc. . .(but they’re the corporation’s rules, not yours) and you can accept them or reject them, along with the job. That’s entirely up to you.

What it comes down to, in the final analysis is this: “Rules”, whether they’re set up by your parents, teachers, pastors, employers or friends are really their expectations of how you should behave, or what you should learn, or what you should believe, or what you should do to try to fit in and nothing more. It’s up to you to decide those things, not someone else.

You have your own ideas of what constitutes a good life, a happy life. You have your own dreams and plans and hopes for the future. It’s up to you – and you alone – to make those plans and dreams and hopes reality. You’ll never get there if you spend your time (and it’s a very limited amount of time) trying to live up to someone (or everyone) else’s expectations, or “rules”. (Image courtesy of gapingvoid,com)

 

 

 

 

Written by stevewthomas

May 9, 2016 at 11:55 am

Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease. . .

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It’s been rumored, in some of the print media, Sen. Rubio will drop out of the Republican race after the Florida primary this coming Tuesday, and throw his support behind his soon-to-be-former opponent, Sen. Ted Cruz in what appears to be a last-ditch attempt to stop Donald Trump from amassing the delegates to claim the Republican nomination.

Should “The Donald” win the nomination — and the likelihood of that happening  increases day-by-day — he would become the standard-bearer of the Grand Old Party; a homophobic, bigoted, billionaire, misogynist, reality TV star who attracts right wing, lunatic fringe, conspiracy theorizing, violence-prone nut-cases to his cause. And the GOP elite and powerbrokers don’t think the Trump campaign represents “core Republican values”.  Think about it! This is the party that campaigned for ‘Citizens United”, restricting voting rights (including restrictive voter ID laws) and against funding for Planned Parenthood, the Affordable Care Act (aka, Obamacare), immigration reform, marriage equality, and gun control (along with a host of other issues of vital interest to the citizens of this country). And who do they think would be a better representative of “core Republican values”?

Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz. Senator Ted Cruz, who since being elected to the Senate in 2013, has managed, almost single-handedly, to shut down the government over ‘Obamacare’; referred to the raising of the debt ceiling to avoid another government shut-down “a complete Republican collapse”, called the Senate Majority Leader, Senator Mitch McConnell, “a liar” on the floor of the Senate, and thus alienating all his fellow senators. During his campaign Cruz has vowed to repeal “every blessed word of Obamacare”, dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and eliminate the Dept. of Education. He has enthusiastically encouraged the Republican-led Senate to not hold hearings to confirm (or reject) President Obama’s pick to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court as a result of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death and, in related comments, said he would not allow “our” Supreme Court (meaning his and his Christian-cloaked Tea Party cohorts’ Supreme Court) to be “stolen” by liberals who would destroy the Constitution.  Sen. Cruz fashions himself a “strict originalist” when it comes to interpreting the Constitution, which means he feels the Justices should cleave to the ideas and meanings the framers originally intended; making the Constitution, as we understand it, irrelevant in today’s society but very relevant to the 18th century. This is the man the Republican party would choose, in place of Donald Trump, to be the representative of “core Republican values” in 2016.

Donald Trump would be a huge embarrassment to the Republican establishment; a caricature of what they see as a “true” Republican. But a manageable embarrassment. He is, after all, a neophyte when it comes to politics. Trump may be a “wheeler-dealer” but he would need people around him who could advise as to when to “wheel” and when to “deal”. If the GOP isn’t going to support his campaign, the least they could do is offer him some much-needed “assistance” should he win in November.

Ted Cruz, on the other hand, is a horse of a different — very different — color. The junior senator from Texas has already in his brief Senate career shown his willingness to disrupt the traditional workings of government. Like a petulant child, he would rather there be no game unless everyone agrees to play by his rules. Sen. Cruz is, like his colleagues in the Senate, unwilling to compromise, but unlike his colleagues in the Senate, he is unwilling to compromise with members of his own party, not just those on the “other side of the aisle”. He has said he will tear up the Iran Nuclear Arms deal brokered by President Obama, and thereby destroy whatever modicum of trust the President has managed to extract from, not only the hard-liners in that country, but the other eleven signatories of the agreement. As if this weren’t enough to give pause, Sen. Cruz has stated he would make the Middle East sand “glow in the dark”; a more than vague indication he is willing to use nuclear weapons. Ted Cruz would be more than an embarrassment for the GOP.  He would be a  disaster for the Republican Party and a catastrophe for the rest of the world.

 

 

 

The Republican field is about to get a lot smaller. . .

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One of the problems with not being a “committed” writer (although many have suggested I should be — committed) is that I have a problem trying to decide how I want to say what it is I have to say.  This, more often than not, leads to long periods of apparent inactivity, as anyone who has taken the time to follow this blog can attest. It also means I’m often “beaten to the punch” when it comes to subject matter. Take, for example, this post.

I’ve seen in the media – both print and televised – reports that members of the Republican establishment opposed to the Trump candidacy are actively searching for someone other than Marco Rubio to try and stop, or at least delay, the freight train that is the Trump campaign from pulling into “Nomination Station” before his coronation — excuse me, I meant to say the convention.  It seems the Republican establishment has soured on Sen, Rubio, owing to his less- than-stellar showing in all the primaries and caucuses thus far.  Sen. Rubio is placing all his eggs in his home state of Florida’s winner-take-all basket; a strategy many of the Republican elite don’t see as viable.  The result of their second-guessing on their strategy is that they have to find someone else to rally around in hopes of, if not stopping, at least slowing the Trump juggernaut and forcing a “brokered” convention, where they can, or at least hope to, deny him the nomination. To that end they may have found themselves in the distasteful position of picking the one candidate they see as being able to, if not defeat Trump outright, bring him to the convention sans nomination.

It has been reported former presidential candidate Jeb Bush is scheduled to meet with all the remaining Republican candidates except Trump. There are two meetings set up before the Florida primary; one with Sen. Rubio and a second meeting with Sen. Cruz and John Kasich. The agendas of the upcoming meetings have not been made public, but it’s a fair bet to say they do not bode well for Sen. Rubio. That could be (and probably is) the reason Jeb Bush was tasked with breaking the bad news to the senator, rather than some other high-ranking Republican. Bush is a former governor of Florida and for a time acted as a mentor (of sorts) to the young first-term senator. It’s likely Jeb’s presence will take the sting out of the news he has to deliver; that the GOP “kingmakers” don’t think Rubio can win in his home state, and, in the unlikely event of his doing so, that he would be unable to sustain whatever momentum such a victory would provide.  I’m only “spit-balling” here (I have no insider information or leak sources to draw on) but during the one-on-one with Rubio, Jeb could – could – suggest his one-time protégé step aside before the primary and forego the embarrassment of losing what the senator has described on numerous occasions as a “sure win”. The alternative would be to face the humiliation of losing his home state, and all the bad press that would result, drop out of the race and throw whatever fast diminishing support he could muster behind the party’s preferred candidate.

Jeb, in all likelihood, has the same message for Gov. Kasich who is pinning his meager hopes on carrying his home state of Ohio (which primary is held on the same day as Florida’s), without the courtesy of a private delivery.  That would leave only one viable alternative to Trump (or Drumpf, if you’re a fan of John Oliver) – Senator Ted Cruz.  The choice makes no sense to me. Why would the GOP pick a candidate they despise (and the GOP despises nobody as much as they despise Ted Cruz)? The Republican party is in a panic over the possibility of a “Drumpf” (you guessed it, I’m an Oliver fan!) nomination. It’s palpable and in their desperation, they’ve turned to the one man capable of completing the destruction of the GOP.

After next Tuesday, the race for the GOP nomination gets really scary. I’ll have more in the coming days. Until then. . .

 

 

 

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