Feline “First Citizen” Passes, Leaving Townfolk Appawled


Stubbs poses on a car in a 2006 photo. (Jenni Konrad / Flickr)

Legend has it that Stubbs, the ginger-haired, long-time feline “mayor” of tiny Talkeetna, Alaska, rose to stardom fairly early in his 20-year, three-month lifespan, shortly after he was found in a box by employees of the Nagley’s General Store.

Talkeetna, a historic district without an annual mayor, long ago accepted Stubbs as honorary “first citizen” who, thanks to Nagley General Manager Lauri Stec and others, had run of the store and a good deal of the town, according to a 2013 Wall Street Journal profile. (Paywall.)

Stubbs died earlier in July, quietly, in his sleep, according to a statement from the family that has owned Nagley’s and the West Rib Cafe Pub for two and a half years.

Unlike many modern-day politicians, he was universally beloved by the town he led for more than 18 years. And the people of Talkeetna, population 900, deeply mourned the death of the four-legged fellow they called mayor.

“He was a trooper until the very last day of his life,” Stubb’s human family’s statement said.”Thank you, Stubbs, for coming into our lives for the past 31 months; you are a remarkable cat and we will dearly miss you.”

The cat was embraced by residents of the area as a tourist attraction – Talkeetna is a Smithsonian.com “Best Small Towns of 2017” pick – and beloved figure of local pride. “We don’t know what we’d do without him, really,” local resident Leah Vanden Busch told Jim Carlton in the Wall Street Journal profile. Politically too, he was widely approved of. “He hasn’t voted for anything I wouldn’t have voted for,” resident Peg Vos told Carlton.

That year, however, a mauling by a local dog left Stubbs in need of surgery. He soon resumed his mayoral duties, which mainly consisted of wandering around the town, drinking catnip-laced water from margarita glasses, and of course, sleeping a lot.

Stubbs was even drafted for a last-minute campaign as a write-in candidate in 2014 for Alaska’s U.S. Senator race, though he was unsuccessful in his bid.

In the last few years, however, reports Charles Levin for CNN, Stubbs began to come to the general store (his “mayoral office”) less and less, preferring to hang around the home of his owners.

“Stubbs did a couple TV shows and more than a handful of interviews, but was not fond of the camera and all the people; it had gotten to be too much for him,” his owners said in a statement.

The end came peacefully last week, reports Chris Klint for KTVA News, with Stubbs dying in his sleep.

The mayoral post is vacant for the first time in a long time, but it likely won’t be for long, reports Levin. The fittingly named Denali, one of two kittens taken in a couple of years ago by Stubbs’ family, may soon step into the power vacuum.



Trump, Sanders Similarities Explain Poll Standings

U.S. presidential hopeful Donald Trump holds up a signed pledge during a press availability at Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York
U.S. presidential hopeful Donald Trump holds up a signed pledge during a press availability at Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York September 3, 2015. The pledge is an agreement with the RNC to not to run as an independent candidate if he loses the Republican Party nomination, a party official said, despite Trump’s earlier refusals to rule out a third-party bid. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson – RTX1QZ9K

Vermont’s Bernie Sanders and New York’s Donald Trump may not seem to have a lot in common – not least because they actually don’t, except for one thing: As long-shot outsiders when they declared themselves to be candidates for president, both have done surprisingly well in crowd-pulling and fund-raising. Bernie’s has been the amazingly simple matter of raising relatively small sums – compared to what major, vested-interest donors provide – from individuals. Fund-raising by Trump – still, surprisingly often ID’d as “The Donald”, a pet name or faux epithet bestowed by a while-back wife –has been, as you’d expect of someone totally oriented toward tugging dollars out of hidden crevices, via the sale of the likes of hats bearing his likeness or a campaign phrase.

Sanders redefines – or harks back to – how politics is supposed to be: Oriented toward actually serving the people as a ‘public servant’ president is sworn to be. The (or just plain) Donald defines the opposite extreme – serve the candidate and his opinions, anticipating the ‘great unwashed masses’ will follow.

[Please see the link for an interesting history of the cited phrase, leading as well to the acknowledged originator of the phrases “the pen is mightier than the sword” and, of all things, what’s been described as “a literary tragedy”: as the worst novel launch ever: “It was a dark and stormy night.” Most times, references don’t get more interesting than this!]

Donald Trump’s best qualification for being president seems, so far, to be his status as “I’m very rich.” That he’s opinionated – very opinionated – is a given. It’s amazing that more than 90 percent of the all-too-numerous photos of him exhibit his mouth in an open, opinion-spewing mode!

Bernie Sanders has a relatively long, quite distinguished history as one of two senators of a small, up-against-the-wall-please Conservative state – where seldom is heard a discouraging word . . . and practically never is someone ordered up-against-the-wall.

Vermont is a pleasant place. A peaceful place. A place where neighbors get along. Where visitors marvel at the local cheese, and opportunities – as I once took, in the mid ‘60’s – to enjoy same with a nice bottle of wine alongside a country byway. Very much like a wine/cheese picnic my then wife and I enjoyed on a few years later on a Swiss hillside. Much as I love Vermont, I’d far rather be, and reside, in Switzerland! So close to Italy, and to France, and to Monaco, where I once actually won at the casino. (Well, not actually in the casino, but in the entranceway, where there were a couple of slot machines. My wife and I agreed to dedicate one franc to ‘the game’. Hers failed to score. Mine hit for two – putting us in the ‘break-even’ column – a  ‘plus’, given that we could have been two francs down!)

Vermonters don’t, for the most part, have significant political differences. Theirs is a ‘live and let live’ environment.

Sanders’ appeal to voters primarily is his appearance of honestly, his straight-forwardness toward goals he (rightly) sees as necessary to right a lot of the wrongs several recent congresses have foist upon us.

Trump, well, he’s something else again: A non-politician who expresses in sometimes excessively strong ways, opposition to things – such as immigration reform – the country needs, collectively, to address.

He is, as the head of a ministry said to me a couple of days ago, “divisive”.  He talks of a 100-foot wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and banning all Muslims who might want to come here from doing so.

He says “look at that face” about one of his Republican competitors, and degrades others in assorted other ways. He takes ‘outspoken’ to an entirely new, rude level!

Were the eventual ‘real’ race – in which, of course, no vote will be cast for roughly eleven months – to boil down to a race between Sanders and Trump, all bets would be off: Trump has a huge and apparently growing following, and he can personally support any spending he feels he needs to do – beyond benefiting from all the ‘free’ coverage the national media is providing.

Sanders, too, has a strong following, largely comprising people with views diametrically opposed to Trump’s, but Sanders isn’t independently wealthy, and no matter how many small contributions he get, he’d have a tough time competing in the ludicrous, and criminally expensive national advertising ‘race’. (THAT, cost-wise, is this country’s main ‘race problem’).

Neither would have fun trying to win legislative victories in Congress, thanks to the hold the Republicans are likely to still hold – despite defeats they’re likely to suffer – a year from now.

But then there’s this: A Trump opposer crashed a Trump focus group a couple of days ago, intending to be both a disrupting factor and to learn what is driving people into Trump’s camp. He succeeded on both counts – and came away hoping, in an odd but understandable twist of logic, that Trump will win the Republican nomination . . . and be soundly beaten in the general election.

“I want him to get the nomination to get completely destroyed in the general. The older generation in my party needs to understand we can’t have this pro-war, anti-immigrant nonsense anymore… we need to lose this [election] in order to ever win again,” said Michael Wille, a former Romney campaign staffer.

Not that I’d ever want to see Republicans with the mindset of the current ‘leaders’ of the party or their supporters win even a single election, but Wille has a point: His party is close to a breaking – as in breaking-up – point, because the extreme right wing goals it is pursuing really, are truly not what the majority of Americans want.

If old Abe, credited as the founder of the current Republican party, can roll enough in his grave to wish up for his present-day successors a sensible candidate, one who actually pays attention to the wants of people not on the outer fringe of the party, there’s an outside chance the party could again win the White House – and win back all the Congressional seats they are otherwise likely to lose next November.

I once sent a note to Eric Cantor, one of the most extremely conservative members of that party until he was soundly beaten by an upstart in 2008. I said that I really wished I could move one voting district east, to be in his, so I could – as an actual Cantor constituent – fight his every action in Washington.

I couldn’t move, but it didn’t matter: His loss was surprisingly decisive: His constituents did not agree with his positions – meaning, he wasn’t fairly representing his district.

There isn’t, truly, one strong Republican candidate – one who might actually win the general election. The odds that Hillary Clinton will be the next president are increasing daily.

I don’t trust Clinton – her or her husband. But, more importantly, I don’t fear what she might do as president. I most definitely fear what any of the not-particularly-gifted Republican candidates might do if elected.

It’s a sad state of affairs when anyone in this country – including recent immigrants – truly has a lot to fear from a potential president from a party that’s clearly demonstrated, over the past seven or more years, how uninterested and unable it is to serve the best interests of this country’s citizens – existing and aspiring.

The new beard of that party’s new leader, House Speaker Paul Ryan, doesn’t make him appear more ‘Lincolnesque’, wiser or too busy with his newly expanded duties to shave. It makes him look like someone desperately anxious to capture the attention of a younger generation that, for whatever reason, considers either tended or untended facial foliage to be ‘cool’. Nothing that Paul Ryan, or any other leading member of his party, has or might do will ever make them look or appear to be ‘cool’.

From right now, that party has about two, maybe two and a half years, to rethink its strategy, find a couple of potential-candidate-like-people who can really who can live and breathe the ‘new message’ – or Hillary will be a shoe-in as a two-termer – the first of her gender to ever officially serve as something more powerful than First Lady. (In Reagan’s waning years, as Alzheimer’s snuck up on him, Nancy more than likely came pretty close, on many occasions, to acting in his stead.)

‘Odd that no one’s studied that!

Votes Count — But Not Enough Bother To Bother

Twenty-six percent: That’s the share of eligible voters who turned out last Tuesday in Virginia, where the weather couldn’t have been nicer, to exercise their right to have a say in who represents them in local districts and on school boards. The turnout was even worse in New Jersey, where a mere 20.8% (“The lowest turnout in N.J. history”, screamed a headline) showed up at the polls.

New Jersey’s and Virginia’s turnouts each were less than half that of several districts in Washington state, where as many as 54.36%, 57.42% and 60.49% of eligibles cast a vote. Those counts compare to the 68.3% who participated in Canada’s recent national elections. And while those Canadian turnouts were the highest in recent years, even 68.3% pales in comparison to the 79+% who showed up at the polls there on a couple of mid-1960’s years.

Canadian voters this time around defied the odds — and prognosticators — by pushing into power a new prime minister, a Liberal son of a former prime minister  — Justin Trudeau is the son; Pierre was his father — whose party was not expected to win the election. As a television report noted (see embedded video), some 70% of those polled before the voting were anxious for some change, but maybe not this much — a dramatic shift from the Conservative to the Liberal party — surprised most everyone.

By way of comparison, the turnout in the UK general election in May of this year was 66.1% — impressive, but still a good deal short of the 78.8% who turned out in 1974 or the 78.7% who voted in 1959.

Even the UK’s highest-turnout years are sad showings compared to the likes of Belgium, where 87.2% turned out last time around, or Turkey’s (86.4%) or Sweden’s (82.6%) latest counts as a percent of eligible voters — the standard measurement.

But put the first two of those in perspective: Voting is ‘mandatory’ in both Belgium and Turkey — as it is in 26 other countries around the world.

Perhaps there’s something to that idea.

Then again, Americans are wed to the concept that voting is a ‘right’, a ‘privilege’, not, necessarily, a responsibility. We also are tied to having voting done on Tuesdays. That can serve as a convenient excuse for many to not break away, if only for a few minutes, to visit their polling place and place a vote. Tuesdays also can be a terrible inconvenience for many would-be voters.

Historically, Tuesday was selected as voting day because, when that day was first selected in 1845, “We were an agrarian society; We traveled by horse and buggy; Farmers needed a day to get to the county seat, a day to vote, and a day to get back, without interfering with the three days of worship; So that left Tuesday and Wednesday, but Wednesday was market day; So Tuesday it was,” we’re told by WhyTuesday.org. ” In 1875 Congress extended the Tuesday date for national House elections and in 1914 for federal Senate elections,” that website adds.

Well, ours is not an agrarian society anymore — and it hardly takes ‘a day out and a day back’ to cast a vote, though a lot of people do spend relatively short amounts of time in their polling district during most polling hours because they commute to a job site somewhere else.

But that’s changing: Ours is becoming, more and more, a society of work-at-home self-employed people — as opposed to employees who occupy a desk or work station miles, even hours, from home. A population that, when you get right down to it, might find it more convenient to vote on, say, a Saturday rather than a Tuesday.

That — to move our nation, and hopefully individual states and localities to Saturday rather than Tuesday voting — is the aim of the Why Tuesday organization. Theirs is a worthy cause of the emotional and financial  support of everyone able to offer one, the other, or both.

As a reporter for my local weekly newspaper, I attended a meeting last evening of my county’s school board. One of the board members expressed concern at the “appallingly low” level of voter participation in last week’s election. Particularly, he noted, “on a day that couldn’t have been nicer.” (Pert near quoted myself there!)

He didn’t propose a solution. I am doing so — with a two-part suggestion:

[1] Voting should be done, rather than on Tuesdays, on Saturdays — or over a two-day period, say Friday and Saturday;

[2] Voting, like virtually everything else in today’s society, might be sponsored: A voter might be given a choice of, say, a $5 Walmart gift card or one of similar value from McDonald’s, Starbucks or another popular retail space. Municipalities could — and perhaps should — compensate the retailer for 20% of the value ($1 of $5) of such a gift card for every one redeemed.

Sure, it’s a bribe. Sure, the idea borders, but only barely, on the idea that votes are being ‘bought’: They are not being bought for any specific candidate, or referendum, or other ballot item. The ‘bribe’ is to encourage people to do what they ought to be doing anyway: Voting.

No one would force a gift card or other enticement (which might include an ‘I Voted’ T-shirt sponsored by assorted local businesses, at an extremely low (advertising) cost to each) upon any individual voter. The incentive would simply be presented as a reminder, a suggestion, an encouragement, an embarrassment, perhaps, for those who, for whatever reason did not take tie initiative to vote — serving, instead, serve as a devilment to the ‘neither of the above’ non-voters.

This country’s electoral process sucks. In the eyes of the public, it’s strongly biased (one way or another, depending on one’s perspective), and, truly, it’s broken.

People in general are fed up with over-aggressive, often-untruthful political advertising. They’re also fed up with knowing — not just imagining — that political races are won by those with the deepest pockets — meaning, in essence, the most lobbyist-based support.

The system needs to, has to, and will change. Will it do so soon enough to benefit you — to influence who represents you locally, at the state level, and in Washington? You can push for that change, though involvement in groups  such as WhyTuesday.org — and by simply talking to people, encouraging them to vote.

A house near where I live is occupied by a mother-son pair who don’t work, have (self-stated) mental issues, and, more than likely, wouldn’t even think of voting. Yet they live on public money, and whatever publicly-supported services they may need and receive. The United States has an alarming number of such people with addresses from which they can vote. Yet few do — sometimes putting the services they depend on at risk.

Those people, like all of your neighbors (in the broadest sense), need you to both vote and encourage others to do so.

That, like voting, is a right, responsibility, and a privilege.

Please checkout Commotion In The Pews, an eclectic blog by a brilliant (ex-Naval Intelligence) guy with a fascinating range of interests and a hobby being Santa, wherever he’s invited, in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.

Some of what Joe Courtemanche writes about probably won’t excite you, but at the very least, you more than likely will be impressed by his common sense, and the way he tells his tales.

And on my behalf, please pass on news of this blog to everyone you think might find it interesting. We cover an assortment of issues, most of which, in one way or another, concern – or should concern – a broad swath of the population, in the U.S. and elsewhere.