Mark Curtis's blog

“The Sunday Political Brunch” -- August 3, 2014


(Providence, Rhode Island) – This week’s “Brunch” is more of a smorgasbord – a hodgepodge of political odds and ends. There is no main theme this week, as our lawmakers and politicians seem to be all over the place.

“Biden’s Birthday Suit” – A book out this week by controversial political author Robert Kessler says that Vice President Joe Biden has a proclivity for skinny dipping (spoof photo above), something that female Secret Service agents apparently find offensive. Whether it is really true or not doesn’t matter, because the mental image is already seared into too many minds. If he runs for President and wins, will he hence be known as the “Commando-in-Chief?”

“Run for the Border!” – Congress is in recess until September 8th. In the end, little got done this year. On Friday, the House approved about $700 million for immigration reforms and border security, out of the $3.7 billion the President wanted. The Senate probably won’t even take it up, so zero will get approved. In the meantime, upwards of 90,000 unaccompanied children have crossed the U.S. southern border illegally this year. The failure to address it in any meaningful way is hardly a selling point for either party in campaign 2014. Is there a third option out there?

“Highway to Hell” – Much of the Congressional infighting the past few months has been about providing new money for the “Highway Trust Fund,” which is mostly fueled by the gasoline tax. The federal gasoline tax has been at 18 cents a gallon for two decades, but many Democrats pushed to raise it to 30 cents a gallon this year. While the idea of creating billions for badly needed road, highway and bridge repairs nationwide is a great idea, (not to mention all the jobs created), the political reality of boosting the gas tax by 66 percent was just crazy. In the end Republicans agreed to a “temporary” funding measure (aka a band-aid) until next May. The two parties couldn’t be further apart!

“Start the Meter on Billable Hours” – The House voted this week to sue President Obama over his use of Executive Orders, often to circumvent Congress. It’s unlikely any Federal Court will accept the case, citing the separation-of-powers clause of the Constitution. Every modern President has signed Executive Orders – yes, some to excess – but here’s the scorecard: Jimmy Carter, 320 in one term; Ronald Reagan, 381 over two terms; George H.W. Bush, 166 in one term; Bill Clinton, 364 in two terms; George W. Bush, 291 over two terms; and, Barack Obama, 183 over one-and-a-half terms. Still, the uniqueness of altering the provisions of Obamacare only from the Executive Branch (since it was passed by Congress) may prove tempting to the Courts, but my guess is they will pass.

“Want Some Chowda’?” – This is an "only in Rhode Island" story. Controversy erupted in the Ocean State this week, when it was learned the State Police were investigating the contract to provide food concessions at state-owned beaches. The contract was won and managed by the Chairman of the State Democratic Party (who promptly resigned) and a sitting State Representative. On the face of it, that may not be illegal, but could violate the state’s Ethics Committee guidelines. TBA on all of that, but the worst revelation (among 73 since-repaired health code violations) was that cans of Clam Chowder sold at the concession stands were being stored in a nearby restroom. YUCK!!!

“Spies vs. Senators” – A lot of people don’t trust their government, but that is actually a sign of a healthy democracy. A good dose of skepticism means we aren’t overly trusting, and that helps keep the elected and appointed folks and their staffs on their toes, we hope. On the other hand, some CIA investigators got caught spying on members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the very people who oversee the CIA. That’s unprofessional, creepy, and - just perhaps - illegal. It makes you wonder who - from the top down - is minding the store. When I spoke of the separation of powers in one of my above missives, it was a clear plug for the importance of that cornerstone of our Constitution. This clearly crossed the line. It smacks of something from the Nixon era.

“From the Land, Sea and Error” – The political gaffe of the week comes from U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes (D-Kentucky). While she has a good shot at defeating Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) this year, she clearly goofed when she said the following about foreign policy and the current Israeli-Hamas fighting: "The Iron Dome has been a big reason why Israel has been able to withstand the terrorists that have tried to tunnel their way in." Well, actually the Iron Dome is Israel’s stellar missile defense system that prevents attacks from the air. It has nothing to do with terrorists tunneling in. Could the gaffe cost her the election? Stay tuned!

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© Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

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“The Sunday Political Brunch” -- July 27, 2014


(Providence, Rhode Island) – Things have been a little frosty between the United States and Russia of late, especially after the shoot down of the Malaysian Airlines flight over Ukraine. It got me to thinking that the old Cold War between the two world powers was heading back into the deep freeze. So, let’s “brunch” on some Cold Russian Borscht this week as we look back on the Cold War and what may lie ahead!

“The Beginnings” – The tug of war that led to the Cold War was well underway before World War II was even over. But it was the tension over how to divide up occupied Germany that sent what had been somewhat warm relations between the U.S. and Russia into the ice box. The establishment of the Eastern Bloc and the ultimate formation of the Soviet Union created a giant iceberg. Advantage: Standoff.

“Berlin as Ground Zero” – As things went from bad to worse, Russian dictator Joseph Stalin launched what came to be known as Berlin Blockade, in which food and other critical supplies were not allowed to be transported from East to West Berlin. The United States and its European allies had to form a massive Berlin Airlift, to keep people in the West from starving. Advantage: USA

“Atoms Away!” – The U.S. dropping the atomic bombs on Japan effectively ended World War II in the Pacific Theatre. Finding itself at a military disadvantage, Russia developed and tested its own atom bomb. The arms race was on, and both nations spent hundreds of billions over the next four decades, escalating the arms race and causing an economic surge in both nations that President Dwight Eisenhower dubbed, “The Military-Industrial Complex.” Advantage: Standoff.

“Changing Faces” – Presidents Roosevelt and Stalin died; Nikita Khrushchev took over in Russia and lasted through U.S. Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson. He was probably the biggest and longest lasting thorn in the side of the U.S. Advantage: Soviet Union.

“Bay of Pigs” - When Fidel Castro seized control of power in Cuba in 1959, he changed his country’s allegiance from the United States to the Soviets. He welcomed Russian help, and, in response, President Eisenhower developed a CIA plot to overthrown Castro. The plan took two years to craft and by the time it was executed in 1961, President Kennedy was in office. The overthrow failed badly, and was an embarrassment to U.S. foreign policy. Advantage: Soviet Union.

“Cuban Missile Crisis” – On the heels of the Bay of Pigs disaster - just 18 months later – the U.S. detected Soviet made missiles on the ground in Cuba. The Russians wanted them there to counter the U.S. missiles placed in Europe. The Cuban Missile Crisis would last nearly two weeks, and was perhaps the closest the two nations ever came to going to war, nuclear missiles, and all. The Soviets backed down and removed the missiles. Advantage: USA.

“Afghan Invasion” – In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, and, for nearly a decade, fought it out with various bands of tribal rebels (many of whom were supported with money and weapons from the United States). The mountainous territory was eventually no match for the Russians, nor was the bad public relations the war created for Moscow worldwide. The U.S. offered a paper tiger of a protest by not participating in the Russian Olympics in 1980, which accomplished nothing. For once the Soviets looked over matched, but the U.S. looked timid and weak in response. Advantage: Standoff.

“Korean Airlines Flight 007” – On September 1, 1983 the Russian military shot down a commercial airliner killing all 269 people on board, including U.S. Congressman Larry McDonald (D-GA). Yes, the pilots strayed into Soviet airspace, but clearly the Boeing 747’s unique design made it identifiable as a passenger jet. President Reagan strongly condemned the Soviet Union in a televised address, and the world community was clearly in support of the United States and Korea. It was another public relations disaster for Moscow. Advantage: USA.

“Down Comes the Wall!” – In 1989 the forces of freedom, bolstered by the forces of a failed communist economy, were too much for the Berlin Wall to bear. Years earlier, President Reagan stood at Brandenburg Gate and shouted, “Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall!” It was one of the most electrifying moments in the history of U.S. Presidents and foreign policy. Advantage: USA

“Why All This Matters?” – In so many of the instances of Russian - and later - Soviet aggression, the Cold War enemy was met face-to-face with the steely resolve of an angry U.S. leader, whether it was a Democrat in Kennedy, or a Republican in Reagan. There were also major breakthroughs in diplomatic efforts, most notably by President Nixon on the U.S. side, and Mikhail Gorbachev for the Soviets. There were moments of weakness, too, such as President Carter’s response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Cancelling U.S. participation in the Olympics was a failure. It’s early in this latest crisis and many are wondering how stern a response President Obama and our European allies will send to Vladimir Putin, perhaps the most aggressive and steely (translate mean) Russian leader since Khrushchev. The world watches and waits! Advantage: Standoff, so far.

What are your thoughts on what the U.S. and its European allies should do with Russia? Post your comments at

© 2014, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo Courtesy: ABC News

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