Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Printed copies available

Interested in buying a hard copy of Bruce's Blog? There are no profits associated with this book at this time, just the cost of printing.

Holly Wittenberg, web publisher.

Bruce Morton's Column for Friends

Bruce Morton's Column for Friends

by Bruce Morton

This is a printed copy of Bruce Morton's 2007-2008 blog.

Buy Now!

Monday, December 29, 2008

     I was going, gentle readers, to write something about that stupid Barack Obama song being peddled by some GOP stalwart named Chip Saltsnan who wants to be the party's new chairman.  I was going to, but I can't.  It's just too tacky to quote. The rhymes aren't very good--"Farrakhan" and "won" rhyme about as well as "on" and "won."  Too tacky. Too vulgar.  Can't do it.
     Fortunately, there are lots of smart Republicans who will never elect a twit like this as party chairman.  Period.  Full stop.

Send e-mail faster without improving your typing skills. Get your Hotmail® account.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

December 28, 2008

     At the end of a year this columnist likes to remember some of those we lost during that year. There is never enough room for all the valuable dead, but here are some:
     We lost Mark Felt an FBI agent who, as Deep Throat, was the source who helped end Richard Nixon's presidency.  We lost actress and singer Eartha Kitt and playwright Harold Pinter.  Just imagine her in one of his. Oh my.
     We lost Jesse Helms, an unapologetically racist senator whose time, thankfully, had passed.  We lost Studs Terkel, a writer and philosopher whom I grew up hearing on the radio.
     We lost Alexander Solzhenitsyn, another writer and philosopher who helped bring down the Soviet Empire. That was real empire;  we also lost Charlton Heston, who played the rulers of lots of fictional ones.  Also from Hollywood, we mourned Cyd Charisse, a dancer and actress of great grace.  And Van Johnson, a star from back when stars were really stars.  And Paul Newman died, perhaps the finest actor of his generation and certainly the one with the bluest eyes.
     Music lost Odetta Holmes, who shared the blues with us.  And Bo Diddley, an icon of rock and roll.
     Conservatism lost Bill Buckley, one of its most literate voices.  Bobby Fischer died.  As a youngster he'd been the world champion of chess, and if he never seemed quite sure of what to do next, wasn't that something all by itself?
     Journalism lost Tim Russert who never ran out of well-researched, pointed questions for his guests on "Meet the Press."  Fashion lost Yves St. Laurent.  And the idea of bravery in response to challenge--that lost Sir Edmund Hillary, who conquered Mt. Everest and set an example for us all.

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Holiday wishes

Ann Hawthorne, who edits this column, will be taking a leave from her editorial duties over the holidays. The column will resume after the holidays.

Happy Holidays!!!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

December 17, 2008

     Well, no, New York Governor David Paterson doesn't have to appoint Caroline Kennedy to the Senate seat that Hillary Clinton will vacate when she becomes Secretary of State, but I kind of hope he does.
     There are all kinds of other interesting New Yorkers.  The New Yorker magazine lists, among others, such disparate figures as basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, novelist Toni Morrison, and the theatre's Arthur Laurents.  They might all be wonderful, but I do like Caroline.
     Critics say she lacks experience.  They're wrong.  She has experienced tragedy--murdered father, murdered uncle and the death of her brother.  She has experienced joy--brought her kids up out of the spotlight so that they could lead relatively normal lives.  She has an uncle who's been in the Senate for about a hundred years.  He can advise her on how the place works or, sometimes, doesn't.  And it's worth remembering that Ted, her uncle, was first elected as a kid with no experience at much of anything. 
     Experience isn't what you need anyway.  A good staff can explain the technicalities of drafting a bill or offering an amendment.  What you need is a sense of what will be good for the country.  I suspect that Caroline Kennedy has as clear an idea as most of us of where she thinks we should go.
     She led an out-of-the-limelight life until a year or so ago, but then she campaigned vigorously for Obama and was one of his advisors on choosing a running-mate.  She has had a chance to see how campaigns and politicians work.  And she's smart;  I think she's shown that.
     So if she wants it, now that the kids are grown, I hope she gets it.  If she's terrible at it, the voters can pick someone else in just two years. 

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Monday, December 15, 2008

December 15, 2008

      Shoes don't make history very often.  I'm old enough to remember Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev banging his shoe on a desk at the United Nations General Assembly one year.  That was a pretty good story.  Shoe as gavel?  Shoe as symbol of protest?  Whatever.
     And now of course we have an Iraqi reporter chucking both his shoes at President Bush during a Baghdad news conference.  Shoe as weapon?  Probably not;  it's hard to imagine doing serious hurt to anybody with a shoe--maybe a spiked sports shoe or a stiletto, but these were just the usual, wear 'em to work variety.  Shoes as protest--well I guess so.  And did the reporter get carted off to jail in his stocking feet?  Not to worry--even a jail cell in Iraq is unlikely to be cold.
     Today we read that thousands turned out in the streets of Baghdad to demonstrate in support of the shoe-throwing newsie.  Now that's the good news.  We claim we invaded Iraq to teach them, among other things, about democracy.  And what could be more democratic than showing your dislike for the power occupying your country by cheering the guy who threw shoes at its president?
     I don't know, of course, what they'll do to the reporter turned shoe-chucker, but what they should probably do is give him a medal.   And we, of course, should say to ourselves--hey, protest, democracy--these guys really get it.  Mission accomplished (this president likes that slogan).  Let's all go home.
     Never happen, of course, but you've got to hope. 

Send e-mail faster without improving your typing skills. Get your Hotmail® account.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

December 14, 2008

     Usually, presidents start off with pretty good press.  The negative reviews and all that come later.  It feels odd to be defending Barack Obama this early, but here we go.
     I've seen two or three stories the past couple of days wondering if, maybe, Obama wasn't involved with his state's disgraced governor, Rod Blagojevitch.  Hadn't there been some talk between the two about the Senate seat Obama's vacating?  Might he have shared the governor's plan to sell it?
     Well, the short, simple answer to these questions seems to be, no.  Obama, I read, hadn't spoken to the governor in over a year.  That's a long time in politics.  Had his staffers ever mentioned a possible successor to the governor?  Hard to be certain there, so many more people are involved.  But I have seen absolutely no credible evidence that any of Obama's people ever bargained with any of the governor's people, no evidence that Obama or anyone on his staff did anything wrong.
     Herblock, the late Washington Post cartoonist, always drew Richard Nixon with a heavy five o'clock shadow.  I remember a cartoon he ran when Nixon won the presidency in 1968 showing him smiling and beardless.  "This column," the caption read "gives every new president a clean shave."   Let's do the same for Obama.
     Nixon, of course, later famously said, "This president is not a crook," and people argue about that to this day.  But Obama's done nothing wrong that I know of, so let's give him a clean shave and a happy, smiling start.  The job will challenge him later--it always does--he'll face controversies and make enemies--they always do.  
     But I wish you a very happy start, sir.  You'll want to remember it when things get ugly later on.    

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Saturday, December 13, 2008

December 13, 2008

      I, and most of us who've covered politics in recent years, lost a gifted friend yesterday.
     Robin Toner, whose newspaper career started in West Virginia but who spent 23 years at the New York Times, died of colon cancer.
     I met Robin, as best I can remember, on Michael Dukakis' 1988 presidential campaign.  She was there for the Times;  I, for CBS.  We sat together on the campaign enough that we got to be friends.  She was an excellent reporter, a good observer who knew how politics worked and could write about it clearly and with authority.
     And she had a good calm temperament, which helps on the road where things can and do go wrong.  Hers was a face you were always glad to see on the bus, the plane, at the press conference, wherever.  Just a good person with whom to share the trip.
     I've missed her because I'm retired now and didn't cover the '08 campaign.  Now, sadly, I'll miss her fine stories too.   

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

December 10, 2008

     I was reading a detective story the other day in which the cops were saying how lucky they were that most of the crooks they had to deal with were stupid.  Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich wasn't a character in the novel, but he could have been.
     I mean, there you are on the telephone talking about how you shouldn't talk on the telephone.  "You gotta be careful how you express that and assume everybody's listening.  The whole world's listening," the Washington Post quotes the governor as saying.  "I would do it in person," he says another time, "I would not do it on the phone."   But he did, of course, and the FBI was listening.
     Selling Barack Obama's Senate seat (the governor gets to appoint the new senator)?  A "golden" moneymaker, he tells a friend and the Fibbies:  "I'm just not giving it up for ******* nothing."  Well, political corruption is nothing new in Illinois.  Blagojevich is a Democrat;  his Republican predecessor is now in jail.  And there've been others.
    When I was a little kid in Chicago in the 1930s, you could see members of the city machine handing out turkeys in poor neighborhoods at Thanksgiving.  And sometimes they paid for votes.  But that was in an earlier America--one without food stamps and unemployment compensation.  It was crooked, but the bribes mostly went to people who needed the money.
    And sometimes the crooks were charmers.  Reporters, including this one, loved covering Edwin Edwards when he was governor of Louisiana.  I remember him turning up in a hotel lobby one morning with a pretty woman, not his wife, on his arm.  He gave us a big smile and said something like, "Hey guys, I'm just bein' me."  Of course he's in jail now too, but he was fun.
     This governor just seems seems kind of dumb.  Illinois likes to call itself "the land of Lincoln," but Robert Grant, the head of the FBI's Chicago office, may have hit closer to home.  "If it isn't the most corrupt state in the United States," he said, "it's certainly one hell of a competitor."     

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

December 9, 2008

     The old American melting pot is still working, though this time it needed a little help from its friends.
     The meltee, so to speak, is Anh Cao who this past weekend became the first Vietnamese-American elected to Congress.  He won in Louisiana where he beat a nine-term incumbent, Democrat William Jefferson, who was indicted on felony counts in 2007 for allegedly taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes.  The House Democratic leadership stripped Jefferson of his assignment to the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.
     Cao, like immigrants from earlier times, has a story.  He fled Saigon as an 8-year-old refugee jammed into a helicopter, didn't see his mother or father--an officer in the South Vietnamese army who was imprisoned by Ho Chi Minh--until 1991.  But Cao went to college, finished law school and ran for Congress.  Nobody thought he could win.  National Republican organizations did not help him much.  Jefferson had a primary fight, Hurricane Gustav delayed the general election,  turnout was light and, by golly, Cao won.
     Republican House leader John Boehner, who did not campaign for Cao, now says, ""Cao is the future."  That's nice, but a little late.  Still, something may be going on in Louisiana.  The Republican governor, Bobby Jindal, is Indian American.  Cao said he hopes his win will make the GOP "more inclusive."  And a lot of experts agree that to prosper in the years ahead, the GOP needs to be less white.
     Anyway, it's a swell American story.  Good luck, Congressman Cao.    

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Sunday, December 7, 2008

December 7, 2008

     I trust you are all as horrified--is that too strong?  Nope, sure isn't--as horrified as I was to learn that there is already a poll out about who will be the Republican candidate for President in 2012.  Yes, that election is almost four years off.  Yes, there really is a poll.
     CNN and Opinion Research Corporation are the guilty parties.  And of course you want to now who's ahead.  Okay, voters.  The frontrunner is (drum roll here) Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee with 34% of the sample leading his way.  Second?  You guessed it, the moose-shooter, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin at 32%.  And since the margin of error in the poll is 4.5 %, it's fair to say that they are in a statistical tie.  CNN's Polling Director Keating Holland (a friend) notes that Palin does better among men and Huckabee among women.  Huckabee leads among evangelicals and born agains;  Palin, among other Republicans.
     Oh yes, and other Republicans got votes:  Mitt Romney, a candidate last time, 28%;  former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, 27%; former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, 23%.
     But that's not the point.  The point is that this is absurd, silly and wrong.  Nobody knows how many people will remember Sarah Palin four years from now--or any of them, come to that.  New stars may deck the GOP heavens by then.  Joe the Plumber may have a national organization.  You just can't know.
     I'm a believer in freedom of speech, the First Amendment, all that good stuff.  But if Congress decided to ban 2012 polling until, say, 2011, I might burst into applause.  I mean, wouldn't you? 

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

December 2, 2008

     With his time in office almost over, President Bush is expressing regret. 
     He is sorry about the recession, he told ABC News.  "Obviously I don't like the idea of people losing jobs, or being worried about their 401(k)s.  The American people have got to know that we will safeguard the system."  That's if we can figure out how to safeguard it, of course.  The evidence on that is, at best, mixed.
    But Bush said his biggest regret was what he called the "intelligence failure" that led him, with Congressional support, to invade Iraq in March 2003.  The rationale was that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.  He didn't.  Would Bush have ordered the invasion anyway if he'd known that?  "You know, that's an interesting question. That's a do-over that I can't do...."   Most of us could, of course.  Most of us would not have invaded.  Many of us old enough to remember would have recalled the bad intelligence that led John Kennedy to the Bay of Pigs invasion.  But it's hard, I suppose, for a civilian president to question the self-styled experts who claim intelligence as something they own.
     Bush also called Barack Obama's election victory a "repudiation of Republicanism" which is doubtful and a vote "because of me" which is surely closer to the truth.
     It's always hard to knows how presidents will be remembered. John Kennedy's was an administration of great glamour, had wins and losses, and could probably most fairly be graded "incomplete."   Lyndon Johnson accomplished great things domestically--the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act--but was badly stained by his failure to end the useless war in Vietnam.  Richard Nixon did good things--detente with the Soviets, talking to China--but the word that first comes to mind is "impeachment."  Jimmy Carter?  Couldn't get the hostages back from Iran, couldn't turn the economy around--"unlucky" might sum him up.
     And George W. Bush?  I don't know, but "one of the worst" is what I think of first. 
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Monday, December 1, 2008

December 1, 2008

     President-elect Obama's national security team is diverse, but its members have one thing in common--a lot of experience here in Washington.
     Hillary Rodham Clinton, who'll be Secretary of State, is an old Washington hand.  She's been a senator here and, of course, First Lady before that.  Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense, has experience as well, Secretary of Defense.  And retired General James Jones, who'll be national security advisor, spent plenty of time here during his military career.
     The last president who attracted this much interest, John Kennedy, followed a different pattern.  His Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, was a Georgian, though he had done work for the State Department.  His Defense Secretary, Robert McNamara, came from the automobile industry in Detroit--imagine asking one of those CEOs for help nowadays--and his national security advisor, McGeorge Bundy, came from Harvard.
     Did it matter?  The Kennedy team, perhaps because they were still getting used to DC, had one early disaster--the unsuccessful Bay of Pigs attempt to invade Cuba and overthrow Fidel Castro.  It left Kennedy angry, vowing never to blindly trust the CIA's advice again.  But if his team was inexperienced, it - and he - learned quickly.  The biggest success of his short administration was the Cuban missile crisis, when the Soviets put missiles in Cuba which could hit the U.S. but, after some tense negotiation and a U.S. naval blockade of Cuba, took them out again.
     Background probably matters less than compatibility--who works well with whom.  Robert Kennedy wasn't officially part of his brother's national security team but was an advisor consulted on everything simply because the President trusted his brother to tell him the truth as he saw it.
     It will be a while before we know how successful the Obama team will be.  But they all, as far as I know, are smart and capable.  It's hard to see how that could hurt.

Get more done, have more fun, and stay more connected with Windows Mobile®. See how.

Friday, November 28, 2008

November 28, 2008

     Presidential candidates talked a lot during the campaign about being experienced, ready to take charge "on day one."  But as we are being reminded these days, our system doesn't work that way.  Inauguration Day comes more than two months after the election.  Barack Obama can talk about how he's going to fix the economy, but he can't do anything until January 20th.
     Most parliamentary systems work differently.  In Britain, if the ruling Labour Party were to lose a vote of confidence, the opposition Conservatives would have a chance to form a government.  If they had the votes, they'd be in charge right away.  If they had to bargain with the third party Liberals, it might take longer but it would still be pretty quick.
     Do we lose things by our long delay?  Well, not if the country is peaceful and prosperous, but this year, yes, we probably do.  Obama's made a lot of proposals for how he'd fix the economy, has appointed an economic team of heavy hitters, but right now they're powerless.  Power is almost two months off.
     President Bush wants to fix the economy too, of course, but he has less power as his time in office wanes.  The Democrats gained seats in both the House and Senate and are likely to say, let's wait and give Barack a chance.   
     Will all this many any actual difference?  I have no idea.  I am not sure exactly how we got so deeply into this mess--dumb loans, sure, but is that all?  And I certainly don't claim to now how to make things better.  Economics was never my best subject in school.
     Obama sounds as if he just might know.  But we'll have to wait until January to find out.  

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

November 25, 2008

     The economy is a mess;  that's the bad news.  The president-elect gets that, and seems to know what to do about it. That's the good news.

     The key to a sound economy is jobs.   And there was Obama this past weekend outlining his plan: "It will be a two-year, nationwide effort to jump start job creation in America...We'll put people back to work rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, modernizing schools that are failing our children, building wind farms and solar panels...."  See?  He gets it.
    We have a lot of old infrastructure stuff in this country.  Most governments in industrial countries spend serious money modernizing the infrastructure.  We don't and it shows.  As Bob Herbert points out in the New York Times, you have to spend this money wisely, not simply build bridges to nowhere of the kind Congress so loves.  But there's no reason we couldn't do that if we tried;  we just haven't tried lately.
     One of the odd failings of the Bush administration is this failing.  You'd think conservatives wanted small government and less federal spending, sure.  But Bush has managed to spend more, to send the national debt to record highs, and ignore the things that need doing at home.
     Maybe the new guy will do better.  Maybe we can cut back on foolish expenditures like the war in Iraq and spend some of that money on all these things that need doing at home--and building prosperity by paying American workers good money to do them.
    Maybe it won't happen, of course.  But the new guy does seem to know what needs doing.  That's progress all by itself. 

Proud to be a PC? Show the world. Download the "I'm a PC" Messenger themepack now. Download now.

Friday, November 21, 2008

November 21, 2008

     My dictionary defines arrogance as a feeling of superiority, manifested by an overbearing manner.  We've had some synonyms for arrogance in Washington this week.  Richard Wagoner is a synonym for arrogance.  So are Robert Nardelli and Alan Mulally.  These three clowns, or titans of industry if you prefer, are the chief executives of General Motors, Chrysler and Ford.
     They are synonyms for arrogance because, when they came to town this week to beg Congress for money--different from the guy on the street with a tin cup only in that they wanted more--they arrived, each of them, in his company's corporate jet.  Can you believe that?
     I mean, they could have shared a jet.  They could, come to that, have shared a car, except that there chauffeurs may have had the day off.  Corporate jets for beggars!  What will we think of next?  Corporate jets for chimpanzees, maybe.  Why ever not?
    Congress didn't give the beggars any money this week.  It almost surely will eventually, not because their argument has merit--what can they say except that they failed to make cars that enough Americans wanted to buy--but because so many Americans work in the auto plants that cutting them lose would be very hard medicine for an economy already in trouble.
     But I have one suggestion--any of our tax money that Congress gives the auto companies should be given only on the condition that these three captains of industry are fired.  They won't go hungry;  they are all paid eight figure salaries--twenty, thirty million a year--and they must have put a few bucks by for a rainy day.
     One other suggestion--don't let them teach anything like business administration;  they clearly haven't a clue.  Maybe they could be parking lot attendants, something like that   And please, make the companies sell off the jets--that's a little of your and my tax charity for these bozos that could be saved. 

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

November 19, 2008

     Ted Stevens is leaving the Senate.  Joe Lieberman is staying.  Different men, different lives.
     Stevens served in the Senate for forty years, longer than any other Republican.  He was an Alaska institution, mostly because he got so many goodies for his state.  He lost his election this time, mainly, I suppose, because just before the vote he was convicted on felony charges of lying on federal forms about gifts and home renovations he'd received.
     He routinely brought home billions in earmarks--9 billion in 2006 alone, according to one estimate.  But the felony conviction hurt, and he's out now--the close election called just this week, on his 85th birthday.  Well, forty years is a long time to keep one job.  I think Stevens had come to think the Senate was his, that the regular rules didn't apply to him.  Richard Nixon famously said once that "if the president does it, it's not illegal."  Watergate proved him wrong.  I suspect--I surely don't know--that Stevens had come to think of his power in the Senate in much the same way.
      While Republicans were debating what to do with Stevens--in the end they did nothing, the voters decided the election-- Senate Democrats were deciding what to do about Joe Lieberman.  He's an independent--one of two in the Senate--who caucuses with the Democrats--that is, votes with them on organizing the place--and so he's chairman of an important committee.
     Lieberman's offense was that he campaigned for John McCain in the election, not Barack Obama.  But the Democrats decided to do nothing.  I think--I surely, again, don't know--that Lieberman's personality had a lot to do with that.  He's a nice guy, fun to talk to, somebody you'd like to have lunch with, quite a different mix from the chillier Stevens.   Personality matters in politics, in how you appeal to the voters and, in a club like the Senate, what your fellow members think of you. 

Get more done, have more fun, and stay more connected with Windows Mobile®. See how.

Monday, November 17, 2008

November 17, 2008

     A report from Dubai quotes former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani as saying he may run for president again.   Boy, I'll bet that has Republicans all over this country twitching with excitement.  The equivalent for the Democrats, I suppose, would be if Dennis Kucinich announced plans for a third White House run.  But the Democrats will presumably have an incumbent president running in 2012, so Kucinich may have to wait.
    The real question for Republicans probably isn't who, but what?  What sort of candidate and what sort of party should he represent?   Traditionally, the Republicans were for limited government, smaller government, lower taxes.  But George W. Bush has blown a huge hole in that philosophy.  He has spent more than any other president, has run the national debt up to record highs.  It will be hard to recover from that because we are in a recession and of course that's when people want more help from their government, not less.
     And Mr. Bush led us into two wars.  You can argue that he had no choice but to go after terrorists in Afghanistan after 9/11.  But he had plenty of choice about Iraq and chose a war which costs billions of dollars every month.   The Iraqis have now said we should leave by the end of 2011.  But a new conservative approach might be, why wait so long?  John McCain campaigned on staying until we'd achieved "victory" but I've never been sure what that would look like.
     A conservative party might emphasize diplomacy, not force of arms, in foreign policy.  No one wants to go back to 1930s isolationism, but it's surely cheaper to talk to other countries than to fight them.
     Domestically, there are programs that can be cut--subsidies to industry, subsidies to the arts, and so on.  And a conservative party might want to spend money, and create jobs, fixing up our aging infrastructure--roads, bridges, and so on.  It would put people to work and we need that.
     Anyway, that's the debate that hopefully lies ahead for the GOP.  Rudy Giuliani?  That can wait.  

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Sunday, November 16, 2008

November 16, 2008

     It's time to have fun in Washington these days, time to spread irresponsible rumors.  Just wander down the street where two or three people can hear you and say something like, "I hear it's Charlie Brown for Defense."  Keep walking.  They'll pass it on and, with any luck, you'll read some pundit in the morning, "Reliable sources say Charlie Brown is on the short list for Secretary of Defense."  You can't beat it.
    The fact usually is, of course, that the ones who know don't talk and the ones who talk don't know, but that's no reason not to have fun with it.  I keep reading, for instance, that Hillary Clinton is on the short list for Secretary of State.  Well, why not?  If I were President-elect Obama,  I'd be more likely to offer her Health, Education & Welfare.  She spent a lot of time, you may remember, working on health care during her husband's first year as president.  It didn't go anywhere; Congress didn't pass a bill.  But I'm sure she learned a lot about the issue and has learned more since.  What the heck, let Charlie Brown drive the tank.
     And that raises another question.  How much fun would you have in a cabinet job?  Most presidents want to be in charge themselves on the big issues:  foreign policy, defense.  You might have more power as Secretary of Agriculture.  Presidents are less likely to want to read the fine print on a 400 page farm bill.  Or maybe you'd be happier back in the Senate.  Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel was quoted as saying he'd rather stay there.  You can pretty much choose how many hours you work, except for when big votes are scheduled, and you can learn as much or as little as you want about the various issues.
     The restaurant's gone up and down over the years, but most people who lunch at the State Department cafeteria don't rave about it either.    
     Anyway, it's an exciting time.
     Really?  Angelina Jolie for Treasury?  Where'd you hear that one?  I'll pass it on.

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

November 15, 2008

     The New York Times reminds us that on this date in 1969--39 years ago--something like a quarter of a million people massed in Washington to demonstrate, mostly peacefully, against the Vietnam war.  The Mall was full, from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial.  I'm sure there were speeches.  I don't remember any of them.  What was extraordinary was this huge crowd assembled to tell its government--hey, you've messed up.  This war is a mistake.
     Nothing like that nowadays.  I'm not sure why.  I thought the Vietnam war was a mistake, especially after I'd covered it for some months.  I haven't covered Iraq--too old and slow--but from the start I've thought it was a mistake as well.  Sure, Saddam Hussein was a bad man, but he was no threat to the United States and he had nothing to do with the terrorists in Al-Qaeda.
     One difference, of course, is  that we still had a draft then.  Every draft age young man, and every parent of one, could think--hey, I have a stake in this.  Today our armed forces are volunteer.  Another difference is that American casualties are lower--fewer than, 5,000 Americans killed in Iraq;  58,000  American names are on the Wall here which honors the Americans killed in Vietnam. 
     Still, a bad war is a bad war.  That one was.  This one is.  I'm surprised we are not angrier about it.  Will President-elect Obama get us out of it as Richard Nixon, of all people, finally decided to get us out of Vietnam?  We have to hope so.
     I remember that demonstration, all those years ago.  There were many demonstrations and I could be wrong, but I think I ended my report for CBS News 39 years ago by saying, "It's been a very long day.  It's been a very long war."  This time too, Mr. President-elect.  This time too.

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

November 11, 2008

     Abraham Lincoln said it best in his second Inaugural Address as the Civil War was coming to an end.   "...let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan...."  Care was less sophisticated then;  one cavalry troops was told they could keep the horses;  they'd need them for spring plowing.
     The best job we've ever done of caring for those who have borne the battle was, I think, with the GI Bill which became law at the end of World War II.  It paid a generation which could never have afforded college enough money to earn a degree.  I met some them--I was just starting college, they were finishing up--and they were doing fine--not living lavishly--who in college was?--but able to afford tuition and books and food and rent.  They graduated.
     Another part of the Bill offered veterans who wanted to buy a house low-interest mortgages.  A man named Leavitt pioneered building low cost homes--seven thousand dollars or so, unimaginable today--and the face of America changed.  That first GI Bill, whether Congress intended it or not, turned out to be one of the most important pieces of social legislation in our history.  It changed the country.
     We haven't done as well by veterans since--help with college, but often not enough to pay all the bills, and so one.  And the veterans of our two current wars--Iraq and Afghanistan--face special problems.   They are sent back for more than one tour, which adds stress and tension to their lives.  Some are badly hurt physically, wheelchair bound or using complicated prostheses which they handle--the few I've met--with astounding courage and grace.
     But money is short.   The Washington Post won journalism awards last year for pointing out inadequate care being given to some vets at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here in Washington.
     I read, Mr. President-elect, that your priority will be to focus on our distressed economy, and no wonder.  But you might want to give a thought, this Veterans' Day, to those who "shall have borne the battle" and how we can better pay them what we owe them,  which is a lot.  

See how Windows® connects the people, information, and fun that are part of your life Click here

Monday, November 10, 2008


     Well, it's started, of course.  What's started?  The 2012 presidential campaign, silly.  You mean you hadn't noticed?
     Only Republicans, of course.  The Dems assume their guy will run again.  But the GOP?  Off and away!
     Arkansas' Mike Huckabee, who won the Iowa caucuses this year, will visit Iowa again November 20th--stops in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, part of a tour promoting his new book. And talk little politics?  You betcha, as someone would say.  He'll have a bus with his picture on it.
     Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a young hopeful, will visit the state November 22nd, keynoting the dinner of a Christian conservative group.  South Dakota Senator John Thune:  "I'm just trying to help the team," may be staying closer to home;  he's up in 2010.  But he knocked off Tom Daschle to win his Senate seat, and he's hot.
     The Republican governors are holding their annual conference this week in Miami, and hopefuls will blossom like roses.  Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty will be there making a speech.  Florida's own Governor Charlie Crist will be there, also making a speech.  He's on all the 2012 lists.  Sarah Palin is likely to be there, and likely to talk.  I mean, you can't ask them not to talk politics;  it's what they do.  It would be like asking a preacher not to pray.
     Mitt Romney is only a former governor, so he won't be there, but the AP quotes a friend as saying he's keeping his options open.  And columnist Bob Novak has just written a piece talking up former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who, face it, would probably not say no.
     So it's started again.  Already.  No, that's wrong.  It just never stopped.  It never does.

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Friday, November 7, 2008

November 7, 2008

     Well, he's started staffing his administration.  Done pretty well so far--Rahm Emmanuel is smart and Washington-wise, for instance.  What will be interesting, though, is now bi- or non-partisan he is.  One suggestion several columnists have made is to keep Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense.  The Pentagon is a mysterious place (trust me, I covered it for a few months years ago) but the people who cover it now seem to like and respect him.
     I hope he brings back Colin Powell in some top job.  Powell wasn't a great success as Secretary of State, but that's because others in the Bush administration fed him phony data about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and he used that bad information to give a UN speech defending the U.S. invasion.  Iraq didn't have such weapons, of course. and the invasion remains, in my book anyway, George W. Bush's principal blunder as president.  Let's hope the new administration doesn't play those games.
     The tone Obama sets may matter more than which person gets which job.  What really needs to change in Washington Is the atmosphere of petty, pissy partisanship--I'll block you on this issue because you blocked me on that one.  It's the main reason why Americans tell pollsters that have a very low opinion of Congress.  Obama needs to get Congress, and his own people, thinking country first,  trying to do what's best for America, not just make partisan points on tomorrow's front page.
     He knows he needs to do this;  he talked about it during the campaign.  Let's all hope he has the skill, and judgment and luck to bring it off.  

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Thursday, November 6, 2008

November 6, 2008


     "It's morning in America."  That was a Ronald Reagan campaign slogan but it feels truer now than it did then.  It is morning.  The sun is up.  I am proud of my country again, a feeling I've often missed these past few years.
    There have been lots of proud moments over the years--we were on the right side in World War Two;  we were for the United Nations;  we passed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act and we heard Lyndon Johnson, a Southern president, quote the civil rights anthem, "We shall overcome."  Good moments.
     But lately?  We've actually had an administration announcing which kinds of torture it endorsed.  Torture?  In America?  Yes indeed.  We've had tax policies designed to help the rich; the poor, our leaders figured, could help themselves.  We've neglected housing, neglected education and left me, quite often, with the unfamiliar feeling of being ashamed of my country.
     That's over, for now at least.  We don't know how well Barack Obama will do as president, but we do know, I think, that he will try to make us better again, to make us see a new sunrise with a bright future ahead.  Ronald Reagan, aside from proclaiming morning, used to speak of America as a "shining city on a hill."
     For the first time in several years, I think I can see the city again.  It's a ways off, but if we start moving, and I think we can now, we might get there one day after all.    Another proud moment.

Stay up to date on your PC, the Web, and your mobile phone with Windows Live Click here

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

November 5, 2008

     The poet Langston Hughes wrote of America as the place "that never was and yet must be/ the land where every man is free."  We aren't there, of course;  we are not all equal nor all free and some of us usually go to bed hungry.  But we are a lot closer to Hughes's vision today than we were yesterday because we have elected a black man to be our president.
     "Change has come," Barack Obama said, and of course he's right.  I'm 78, old enough to remember Martin Luther King saying that he could see the Promised Land but wouldn't get there.  Obama's there.  If you'd asked me, twenty or thirty years ago if I would live to see this day, I think I'd have said no.  I am delighted to have been wrong.
     President-elect Obama (have to get used to typing that) may of course wish he hadn't sought the job.  He inherits two wars, an economy in serious trouble, a declining manufacturing base which means Americans will need better education to compete in the new technological environment--well, I could go on but you get the idea.  Still, one big barrier has come down. Mothers of any color can tell their two year-olds, hey, you can grow up to be president.  In fact, after Hillary Clinton's formidable campaign, they can say it to girls as well as boys.
     One of the songs the civil rights marchers used to sing goes, "Gonna keep on a-walkin', keep on a-walkin', till we get to Freedom Land."  We're not there yet, but yesterday we covered a lot of ground.   

See how Windows® connects the people, information, and fun that are part of your life Click here

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

November 4, 2008

    No column this election day.
   Just two heartfelt, important words:  please vote. 

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Monday, November 3, 2008

November 3, 2008

     Americans elect a president tomorrow, of course, but they also (well, not those of us who live in Washington, D.C., but the rest of you) elect a Senate, and there are some interesting races. One of the most interesting is in Minnesota where a real comedian (we've had lots of unintentional ones in Congress, of course), a professional, Democrat Al Franken is running against incumbent Republican Norm Coleman.  It's supposed to be close.
     Then there's New Hampshire, where former governor Jeanne Shaheen is running against Republican incumbent John Sununu, who beat her six years ago.  She's led most polls, but again it's close.
    You may remember Morris Udall, a Democratic Congressman from Arizona for thirty years or so.  His Democratic family is all over the west--Representative Mark Udall is favored in Colorado, where Republican Wayne Allard is retiring.  Representative Tom Udall is thought to be leading Steve Pierce in New Mexico, where Republican Pete Domenici is retiring.
     Incumbents are usually favored.  In Arkansas the Republicans never found a candidate.  Mark Pryor only has to beat the Green Party nominee.  In Georgia, Republican Saxby Chambliss is running against former Congressman Jim Martin, who would need a heavy black turnout to have a chance.  Louisiana's Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu is thought to lead Republican John Kennedy (how does a Republican with that name campaign?) but it's close--her races always are.
     In South Dakota, Democratic incumbent Tom Johnson, who's recovering from a brain aneurysm, is favored.
     Alaska's different:  longtime Republican incumbent Ted Stevens, convicted on seven counts of failing to disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of gifts, is running against the mayor of Anchorage, Jim Begich.  No one seems quite sure how that one will turn out.
     Most of the forecasts have the Democrats gaining some seats. They hope to get sixty--enough votes to cut off Republican filibusters.  But they'll have to win just about all the close ones to do that.

When your life is on the go—take your life with you. Try Windows Mobile® today

Sunday, November 2, 2008

November 2, 2008

     Nicholas Kristoff points out in the New York Times today that in an "unscientific" poll of 109 professional historians 61 rated George W. Bush as the worst president we've ever had.  Well, yes--I'd certainly agree. 
     What it is, I think, is that he's lessened us in the world.  I am old enough to remember when the U.S. was truly a world power.  I recall an incident in the 1950s sometime--Dwight Eisenhower was president--when Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser announced he was going to nationalize the Suez Canal.  Britain, France and Israel sent troops to prevent this.  Eisenhower, without revving up a single helicopter, sent them a message--hey, guys, bad idea.  Why don't you bring your troops home?  All three countries did.  That, as we used to say in Chicago, was clout.
     It's hard to imagine an American president with that kind of influence today.  But we need to hope that the next one--I think it will be Obama, but whoever--can get some of that authority back.
     For one thing, we have to care about others' opinions of us;  we have to talk to other countries;  we have to look for interests we have in common.  We shouldn't be in Iraq;   we shouldn't be flailing about in a worsening war in Afghanistan with no clear idea of what to do next.  We should be talking to Iran because, as Winston Churchill famously said, "Jaw jaw is better than war war."
     But specific countries aside, we need to work at being the good guys again.  We shouldn't, for example, be debating what kinds of torture might be legal.  The United States should be against torture--any kind, any time, anywhere.
     Lots of people--not everyone, not all countries, but lots--used to see us as the good guys--relatively disinterested in territorial gain, anxious to help peace and stability where we could.  The next president should try to get some of that back.  It won't, I fear, be quick or easy. 
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Saturday, November 1, 2008

      Nobody ever said campaign ads were supposed to be fair or accurate or anything like that, of course.  If you're old enough, you can remember one in the 1964 campaign of a little girl whose play is interrupted by an atomic bomb exploding.  The point was that Barry Goldwater might do that (no proof offered of course) but not good old Lyndon Johnson.  It only ran once, but it had a large impact.
     Then there was Willie Horton, the criminal paroled on Michael Dukakis' watch as governor of Massachusetts.  That ran, it seems to me, about a million times and had an affect though, to be fair, he was paroled under a program Dukakis supported.
      And we can all think of more, of course.  But North Carolina Senator Elizabeth Dole may have retired the trophy for the scuzziest, most shameless ever in an ad she's running this fall against her Democratic opponent, state senator Kay Hagan.  It's about God.
     The ad shows members of an atheist group--the Godless Americans Political Action Committee, talking about some of their goals--removing 'In God we trust' from U.S. currency, the words 'under God' from the Pledge of Allegiance, and so on.  The ad questions why Hagan went to a fundraiser at the home of a man who advises the group.
     'Godless Americans and Kay Hagan,' the ad says. 'She hid from cameras. Took Godless money.  What did Hagan promise in return?'  Then the ad shows a picture of Hagan while a woman's voice says, 'There is no God!'  It's not Hagan's voice, of course, but the folks who made the ad don't tell you that.  Why would they?  Truth is not their goal.
     In fact, Hagan is a Presbyterian church elder and sometime Sunday school teacher. Her campaign has sued, charging Dole with defamation and libel.
     We don't know how the suit will turn out, of course, and the election is supposed to be close. You know, I'm sure, who I'm rooting for.  I wish Mrs. Dole had consulted her husband, who ran candid and basically clean campaigns for the Senate and the White House.  I suspect Bob Dole is a little embarrassed at what his wife is up to these days.

When your life is on the go—take your life with you. Try Windows Mobile® today

Monday, October 20, 2008

October 20, 2008

    Some days, reading the newspaper is just weird.  Today, for instance, the Washington Post has a front page story about U.S. efforts to negotiate an agreement with Iraq on when American troops would leave.  The draft agreement says by December 2011 but would allow for extensions;  Shiite critics want no possible extensions.  The story goes on to say that "if there is no accord" U.S. forces must leave by the end of this year.
     Hunh?  We're not in Iraq because of some agreement, some invitation.  We're there because we invaded the place, which some of us, but not George W. Bush, thought was a bad idea in the first place.  We stay there, we occupy the place by force, not diplomacy.  Now if there's no agreement, we must leave?  In that case, let's root for the talks to fail, but it makes no sense.
     Meanwhile, our presidential election is (thank goodness) only two weeks off.   Barack Obama, ahead in most polls, has been endorsed by one of the men who led us into Iraq, General Colin Powell.  Powell made an important speech at the U.N. in 2003, claiming among other things that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.  He has said since that the speech was based on bad information and is a "blot" on his record.  He remains an honorable man and there are enough Iraq blots on peoples' records to go around and then some.
     So we roll on.  Will Powell's endorsement help Obama?  Probably;  it's certainly hard to imagine it hurting him.  And Obama says he'll get us out of Iraq.  It's a little like F. Scott Fitzgerald's line in Gatsby:  "And so we roll on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
    But no.  The future is coming, folks.  In just two weeks.
    Note: The editor of this column, will be out of Washington for a time. The column will nap, and rouse itself on her return.

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Friday, October 17, 2008

October 17, 2008

     I don't know what you've learned  from the presidential debates, but the message I got was simple:  if you see one of those candidates coming, run like hell!
     Otherwise, you may wind up like Joe the plumber.  He became a celebrity after John McCain mentioned him a dozen or so times, and so of course he drew celebrity coverage in the media.  We now know, thanks to the ace investigators at the New York Times, that Joe the plumber isn't...well, might as well come right out with it, isn't a plumber.
     He is Samuel J. (where the Joe comes from) Wurzelbacher, age 34, of Holland, Ohio, just outside Toledo, a single father.
     But Thomas Joseph, the business manager of Local 50 of the United Association of Plumbers, Steamfitters and Service Mechanics told the Times that Wurzelbacher never had a plumber's license--required in Toledo--never completed an apprenticeship and does not belong to the union. It, by the way, has endorsed Obama.  Wurzelbacher acknowledged, the Times reported, that he does plumbing work without a license.  Goodness gracious!
     The Times also reported that the poor guy owes back taxes--two liens, each over $ 1,100. One settled;  one, with the state of Ohio, still outstanding.  Oh, and the Times--wouldn't you know--found a tax expert or two who said that if Wurzelbacher took over the business--it's a two man show, he works for the owner--his taxes would probably go down, not up.
  Wurzelbacher himself summed it all up:  "I'm kind of like Britney Spears having a headache," he said, "Everybody wants to know about it."
     I tell you--you see one of those candidates coming, flee.

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

October 14, 2008

     On this day, back in 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  What a different America that was! 
     1964, for younger readers, was the year the Civil Rights Act passed--no more legal segregation in the South, no more segregated trains or buses, no more--well, lots of stuff. And the next year the Voting Rights Act passed.  Look at how that has changed the country.
     A black man is running for president -- likely, many now say, to win.  The New York Times has a story today which starts with a black woman who's running for reelection to the state legislature in New Hampshire.  Blacks are less than 1% of the population in the district, but she's expected to win.  And there's a lot more of that than there used to be.
     In 2001, about 16% of the country's black state legislators represented mostly white districts. By 2007, that was up to about 30%.  About a quarter of them represent districts in which blacks are 20% of the population or less.  And there are black mayors now in lots of mostly white cities--places like Asheville, North Carolina, and Columbus, Ohio.  
     The country is, by just about any measure, less racist than it used to be. Are there still racists among us?  Of, course, but they are fewer than they used to be.
     One of the songs the civil rights marchers sang back in Dr. King's time went, "Keep on a-walkin', gonna keep on a-walkin', till we get to freedom land."   We're not there yet, but we are walking.  I think Dr. King would be pleased.   

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Monday, October 13, 2008

October 13, 2008

     Presidential campaigns often seem endless.  But the days grow short, as the old song notes, when you reach September.  We're in October now;   is it over?  Probably, though of course you never know for sure.
    "Obama up by ten points...among likely voters," the Washington Post reports this morning, noting the Barack Obama leads John McCain.   The polls shows McCain with higher negative ratings than Obama and is seen as mostly attacking his opponent instead of talking about the issues voters care about. 
     An Associated Press story notes, "GOP worries about McCain's strategy.  What seems to have happened this year is not that somebody's negative politics worked better than somebody else's. Voters don't seem too upset that Barack Obama knows William Ayers, who was a bomb-throwing radical when Obama was eight.  Nor do they seem upset about McCain's casual involvement in the Keating Five scandal.  No one, after all, suggested he'd done anything illegal, only that he's shown poor judgment   And we're used to that;  you could argue we have some in the White House right now.
     This seems, instead, to be a year when the voters are driven by an issue--the tottering economy.  McCain suffers here because his party holds the White House now, his president got us into this mess.  Former House speaker Newt Gingrich told the AP, "He has to make the case that he's different from Bush and better than Obama on the economy."
     And that's hard to do.  Both men are Republicans.  McCain didn't help his case by saying a while back that the economy wasn't his best subject.
     There's one great unknown, of course.  Obama is black.  Will that make a difference?  Almost certainly.  How much?  I have no idea.  Race is an area in which polls can be misleading.  Still, three weeks to go and an Obama tide does seem to be running.
     I have, of course, been wrong about this stuff before.   

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Thursday, October 9, 2008

October 9, 2008

     Everybody's coming out of the closet.  So now it's my turn.  I met, and knew briefly, William Ayers and his wife Bernardine Dohrn, members, once upon a time, of the Weather Underground, which called for the violent overthrow of just about everything, though they were really, really incompetent when they tried to do it.
    Dohrn and Ayers were among the leaders of the Weathermen, who organized something called the 'Days of Rage' in Chicago in 1969 (lots of broken windows).  They bombed government buildings and police stations, not to great effect.  Dohrn and Ayers married while underground, hiding from police.  They had two children and wound up living in Chicago under aliases.
     They went public in 1980, and that's where I came in.  Dohrn surfaced in a broadcast at CBS News.  I was the reporter and I remember we did the interview in New York's Central Park.  People stared some, but she had been underground and was a famous name but not a famous face.
     She and Ayers went on to respectability.  At one point they ran a nursery school together.  Northwestern University hired her as an adjunct professor of law in 1991.  Ayers teaches education at the University of Illinois in Chicago. 
     And it was in that later, legal phase of their lives that Ayers and Barack Obama met.  If my brief acquaintance with them disqualifies me from the presidency, that's good news.  I never wanted the damn job anyway.
      If it disqualifies Obama--should he have shot Ayers--couldn't turn him in, he was square with the law by then--that's more serious, because he does want the job and because that would change the standards for future candidates--you're out, Fred, you knew some bad people once.
     As usual, thank goodness, the voters will decide.

See how Windows connects the people, information, and fun that are part of your life. See Now

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

October 8, 2008

What goes around comes around?  Well, maybe.  I remember asking presidential candidate John McCain when he was running in 2000 about a sleazy one-liner he'd used about Chelsea Clinton.  McCain, a man many of us reporters admired as honorable, apologized, saying yes it had been stupid and cruel, and noting that he had told the Clintons he was sorry.
     In that same year, McCain also had some experience as the victim of sleaze and smear tactics.  During the South Carolina primary, which he needed to win but lost to George W. Bush, the rumor spread that McCain had fathered a black child out of wedlock.  Wasn't true, of course.  The truth was that McCain and his wife Cindy had adopted a black child in Bangladesh.  But, as noted, he lost the primary and the nomination.
     Now the smears are mostly coming from the McCain camp, though he is using his running-mate, Governor Sarah Palin to sling the actual mud.  It's a traditional role for number twos on the ticket, though Joe Lieberman, for one, wouldn't do it when he ran with Al Gore in 2000.  Palin, on the other hand, seems to be having a ball in the role.  And a lot of the people who smeared McCain in 2000 are working for him this time, so they know how it's done.
     Does it matter?  The late Lee Atwater, who was a founder of dirty politics, always said he did it because it worked.  It did work against McCain in 2000, no doubt about it.  This time?  I'm more skeptical because the country is in worse shape--two wars, a tanking economy and a new Gallup poll in which only 9% of Americans said they were satisfied with the way things are going in the country--the lowest ever.  Can the smears overcome that?  Stay tuned--less than a month to go.  

See how Windows Mobile brings your life together—at home, work, or on the go. See Now

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

October 7, 2008

     Get out your foul-weather gear;  the campaign is getting ugly.  Vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin is the chief mud-slinger.  Barack Obama, she told a crowd recently, "launched his political career in the living room of a domestic terrorist....This is not a man who sees America the way you and I see America."  And so on and so on.
     This sucks.
     The alleged terrorist is William Ayers, who has now morphed into being part of the liberal establishment.  Years ago he was a member of the Weather Underground.  They did bomb things, but it was a long time ago.  Obama has described Ayers as "somebody who engaged in detestable acts forty years ago when I was eight." 
     Nowadays?  They know each other, have worked on community boards together, but the Associated Press says, "No evidence shows they were 'pals' or even close when they worked on community boards years ago."  The New York Times adds "...the two men do not appear to have been close," and goes on to quote Obama's comment about detestable acts.
      Palin probably knows this, so what her repetition of the charge means is that she feels no obligation to campaign using the truth, but simply to scuff up the other guy because she wants so badly to win. This is scuzzy but not unusual in our politics.  If you're old enough, you remember Spiro Agnew denouncing us reporters as "nattering nabobs of negativism," which at least was well written (by William Safire, I think) and good fun.  But the Nixon White House also had its enemies list, approved a burglary in an effort to get dirt on an enemy.  Those weren't much fun at all.
    So Palin isn't new or surprising.  Just shabby.  

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Monday, October 6, 2008

October 5, 2008

      Oh bang the drum slowly,
      And play the pipes lowly,
      The hapless old Cubbies are losers again.
      Will they ever be winners? It's hard to know when.
     A century's losing just wasn't enough.
     They did make the playoffs but then things got rough.
     Got swept by the Dodgers who beat them three straight.
     Scored only six runs, a series to hate.
     So bang the drum slowly,
     And play the pipes lowly.
     And no, wait 'till next year; we know that's a lie.
     The Cubs ever winning? Just pie in the sky.
     They're bound to keep losing; it's what they do best.
     So mourn for the losers, and the hell with the rest.

Get more out of the Web. Learn 10 hidden secrets of Windows Live. Learn Now

Friday, October 3, 2008

October 3, 2008

      Sarah Palin proved she can speak in complete sentences.  She did much better in the VP debate than many Republicans must have feared.  But Democrat Joe Biden did well too.  He was obviously better informed on all kinds of issues than Governor Palin, but he's been on the national scene for years.  Her performance was no reason to think that if elected she couldn't learn that stuff too.
     She'll have to learn to cuss better, of course.  'Gosh' and 'darn' are words you just don't hear all that often on Capitol Hill.  And she stuck to generalities.  She said 'yes' when asked about the bailout bill Congress is dealing with, but avoided details.  And asked how she'd reduce partisanship on the Hill, she said, 'Let's commit ourselves, just everyday American people, Joe Six Pack, hockey moms across the nation, I think we need to band together and say never again.'   Okay, no pesky specifics there.
     Biden, I think, was wise in not attacking her.  He concentrated on McCain--no maverick on the Bush budget proposals, no maverick on enrolling more kids in government health insurance, and so on.  Fair enough.  McCain is a sometimes maverick, not an every day one.
     So they've had their debate.  Palin did what she needed to do, I think, and Biden had a good day--no gaffes and some good shots at McCain.
     We have two more debates, of course, with the big guys.  I think momentum (our old election pal Big Mo) is shifting Obama's way;  news stories today report the McCain campaign is giving up on Michigan, spending that money on other battlegrounds like Florida and Ohio.  We'll see what happens, but for me it's been the most interesting campaign in years.  

Get more out of the Web. Learn 10 hidden secrets of Windows Live. Learn Now

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

October 1, 2008

     They say presidents worry about their legacies, about how history will remember them. George W. Bush, I think, can stop worrying.  History will give him an "F," maybe even a special award as the worst one we've ever had.
     Foreign affairs?  He blundered us into a very expensive invasion of Iraq--no, they didn't have weapons of mass destruction and no, Saddam Hussein was not sheltering Taliban militants. Bush's mistake has killed more than 4,000 young Americans so far;  Iraqi casualties are far, far higher.
     Domestic stuff?  Well, the Dow Jones Industrial average lost over 700 points the other day, big brokerage firms are folding, and the president couldn't get his rescue bill through the House in spite of what we're told was serious lobbying--a lot of phone calls to Members.  Has Mr. Bush's clout on Capitol Hill run out?  Sure seems that way.
     The bailout is not dead, of course.  The Senate is to vote this evening on a slightly revised version--additional tax breaks for business and the middle class, increased deposit insurance.  The word is it will pass the Senate easily, though it's fate in the House is much less certain.  It will not pass the Senate, though, because of anything the president has done.  His personal popularity is at its lowest ever, according to the most recent Gallup Poll, down to 27%, a figure which reminds us older folk of Richard Nixon during Watergate, Harry Truman during Korea.
     I like elections;  I like politics.  But I'm especially anxious for this election because, whoever wins, we get a new president.  The country is in a fairly serious mess, as best I can tell, and we really need a new face in the White House to try to make things better. 
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Monday, September 29, 2008

September 27, 2008

Who won? I think my editor, Ann Hawthorne, had it about right: you probably think the one you're for won. No big gaffes, certainly. Nobody lateraled Poland the way Gerald Ford did in 1976; nobody sighed mournfully--was he sad or just bored--the way Al Gore did in 2000. And each candidate got in some good licks, though I think John McCain failed in his effort to make Barack Obama seem like an immature teenager.

So, onward. I'm personally looking forward to the vice presidential candidates exchange, due this coming week. I mean, we have one candidate, in Sarah Palin, who cites the fact that you can see Russia from parts of Alaska as somehow enhancing her foreign policy credentials. " Well, it certainly does," Palin told CBS's Katie Couric. "because our next door neighbors are foreign countries, there in the state that I am the executive of."

Well, maybe. But many years ago, when I was a draftee soldier, the U.S. Army send me to St.Lawrence, an island in the Bering Strait about half way between Nome and Siberia. We could see Siberia on clear days, and there were two or three of those that winter, but none of s thought we learned anything neew about the Soviet Union by staring at it. What we mostly did was tape record radio messages and worry about keeping our feet warm.

Ms. Palin's rival, Sen. Joseph Biden, has been to Russia, of course, and when you visit a place you do learn something about it. Not anything very vice presidential, maybe, but did you like the food, are the people friendly, stuff like that. I liked the people when I was there, though the government, back when the pace was the USSR, was less obliging.

Anyway, the two of them should be fun. You never know what she'll say, and I still remember him, at one very boring Senate hearing, pausing maybe eight minutes into his ten-minute turm to ask questions--he hadn't asked one yet--and suddenly saying, thoughtfully, "Of course, I have no idea what I'm talking about."

So I have high hopes for the VP showdown.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

September 25, 2008

     "Houston, we have liftoff."  That's a phrase we just don't hear much anymore.  And I wonder whether anyone cares.
     Once upon a time, Americans were excited about space.  When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made the first moon landing in 1969, CBS News, for which I then worked, was on the air the whole time that they stayed on the moon--a little more than a day, as I recall.  Hard to imagine anything like that now.
     The Washington Post ran a special section today to remind us that NASA--the National Aeronautics and Space Administration--will be fifty years old next month.  And it still has projects--there are pictures of a new crew capsule, the Orion, of the Altair Lunar Lander which is supposed to put four astronauts on the moon for a week, of the Ares rocket which is supposed to take them there, and so on.
     But the truth is that the space shuttle will be retired shortly.  For a time the U.S. will have no way of reaching the international space station except by hitching a ride with the Russians or maybe the Chinese, who are interested in space and have big plans to be out there. 
     This country?  We're in two wars;  we have poverty and hunger and home;  we have all sorts of earthly problems we haven't solved.  Space?  Why?  "To boldly go where no man...,"  may be the most famous split infinitive in the history of television, but Star Trek was a long time ago--Lt. Sulu just turned seventy--and if the captain beckoned now, who would go?
     I hope I'm wrong.  I'd like to think of man, not just remote-controlled landers, on Mars or amongst the moons of Jupiter or the rings of Saturn.  I'd like to think that but it's just very hard to imagine Americans making those journeys, given all the stuff we need to deal with at home.
     I hope I'm wrong.  What do you think?   

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

September 23, 2008

I've never identified with John McCain--I mean, I was never a pilot, nor a prisoner, nor a hero--until the other day when he said he always had trouble with economics, or words to that effect. Senator, I'm with you.

What seems to have happened, as best this amateur can tell, is that a lot of institutions--government, investment banks, and so on--made a lot of bad loans to people who thought they could afford to buy a house and then found out they couldn't. So now, foreclosures, and some sort of government bailout program so that the institutions that made these bad loans don't collapse, leaving the rest of us outside the bank asking plaintively, "Where's our money?"

Some intervention is obviously needed. It would be good, I think, if it weren't just a government to the rescue bailout. If the government is going to buy bad notes, let's hope there's some mechanism so that when the economy gets better, and the bad notes' value increases, the government can sell them at a profit and the taxpayers will see some recovery, get some money back in tax cuts, or whatever.

We've gotten used to a government that's in debt, saddled with one ridiculously expensive bummer, the war in Iraq. Now we have two.

The presidential candidates have their first debate this week--Friday--and I hope they get asked not only how we got into this mess, but how we get out of it--where the hell we go from here.

Gotta go now; time to call my bank.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

While his "editor" is away for a few days, Mr. Morton will be gathering his thoughts for when the column returns next week...unless, of course, he is moved to write something today.

Stay up to date on your PC, the Web, and your mobile phone with Windows Live. See Now

September 17, 2008

     I was going to wait until they clinched, but the editor may be away then, so here goes.  What the heck, they're leading their division by nine games with only about a dozen left to play.  So, the Chicago Cubs will be in the playoffs.
     Doesn't mean anything.  They were there last year and lost.  There in 2003 and lost.  Maybe the hitting is a little better this year and, yes, their ace, Carlos Zambrano, did pitch a no-hitter the other day.  But hey, these are the Cubs were talking about.
    I mean, the last time they won the pennant was in 1945, 63 years ago.  The last time they won the World Series?  A century ago, 1908.  Must be the longest losing streak any time, anywhere. So we know they're not going to win, don't we?  Wrigley Field might fall down if they won.
     Still, if you're a Cubs fan, your heart races just a little.  You find yourself thinking, well, maybe this year is different, maybe....
     I know how to sum this all up.  It's a line from the Village Voice back when it was new, in the 1950s.  There was someone, I don't remember who, who wrote short nifty essays.  One week he was writing about this terrific woman he'd met, just like this other terrific woman with whom he had just concluded a miserable, unhappy affair.  Looking ahead to the new woman, the new affair, he wrote, "Oh man, I dig the pain ahead."
     Could have been a Cub fan.  

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

September 16, 2008

The Dow Jones Industrial average loses over 500 points--about 4.4 % of its value--in a day. Stocks tumble, Merrill Lynch merges, Lehman disappears.  We're in economic trouble.  What would the candidates do?
     They're fairly typical of their parties.  John McCain, the Republican, basically believes in markets and in keeping government out of them.  'I'm always for less regulation,' he told the Wall Street Journal last March.  In 1995, after the Republicans won control of Congress, he proposed a moratorium on all federal regulations.  Yesterday he called for 'major reform' in the existing system of regulation and to 'bring transparency and accountability' to Wall Street.  His running mate, Governor Sarah Palin, quoted Ronald Reagan the other day saying 'government isn't always the answer. In fact, too often government is the problem.'
     Barack Obama, the Democrat, generally follows his party.  He's called for regulating investment and mortgage brokers the way commercial banks are.  And he'd set up a government commission to monitor threats to the financial system and report to the President and Congress.  Oddly enough, the New York Times reports that Obama has raised more Wall Street money than McCain by about three million dollars, quoting the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics.  Maybe the Street wants more government?  Hard to imagine.
     Anyway, the campaign now has a real issue to debate.  No more talk about whether hockey moms wear lipstick, whether McCain is reckless or Obama effete.  We have real problems these days and we should encourage the candidates to speak to them.              

Want to do more with Windows Live? Learn "10 hidden secrets" from Jamie. Learn Now

Monday, September 15, 2008

September 15, 2005

     The Washington Post has been running excerpts this week of a book called "Angler: the Cheney Vice Presidency" by Barton Gellman.  It will be published tomorrow.  The book makes clear what to me has always been the scariest thing about George W. Bush's presidency:  the belief that in wartime the president's powers are absolute, unlimited.
     The issue was a program for warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens.  A number of administration officials, including Attorney General John Ashcroft and James Comey, his deputy, thought the program was illegal and were refusing to certify it.
     The judge in charge of the special surveillance program, Royce Lambeth, is quoted as saying, "We could have gone to Congress, hat in hand, the judicial branch and the executive together and gotten any statutory change we wanted in those days I felt like.  But they wanted to demonstrate that the president's power was absolute."
     In the end, Bush made some minor changes in the program and Justice Department officials who were ready to resign, including Comey, didn't.  But now, in this election season, that of course isn't the point.
     The point is that someone, in the first of the upcoming presidential debates, should ask Senators McCain and Obama where they stand on this.  Personally, I would vote against anyone who believed in an all-powerful president in time of war.  The men who wrote the Constitution had experienced a king and rebelled against him;  they didn't want another one.   And the Constitution itself very carefully spells out the different branches of government.  Article I begins "All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in Congress..." and so on.  Article II spells out the powers of the president, and they are limited.  Congress, for instance, is supposed to declare war, though we've certainly gotten away from that lately.
     Anyway, Mr. Cheney is wrong, in my view;  the president is not all-powerful.  Let's find out what the new guys think.   

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 11, 2008

     It's been seven years.  Are we winning the war on terror?  Losing?  Who knows?
     We're not losing.  We have played successful defense;  there has not been another successful attack like the one that brought down the Towers.  No one has set off a small nuclear bomb in Kansas.  But we don't seem to be winning either.  Life for the terrorists may be harder, supplies more limited.  But we haven't found Osama bin Laden.  While Al Qaeda has taken some hits in places like Iraq, I'm sure it still survives.
     The papers report today that Mr. Bush has a new tactic--going after terrorists on the ground in other peoples' countries without giving those countries--Pakistan mainly--any advance notice.  Just walk in and shoot 'em up.  That will surely make us many new friends and allies.
     In fact winning, as opposed to not losing, will almost certainly be a challenge for the next president--a challenge not simply in military terms.  He will need to convince Muslims and Muslim governments that the United States does not regard Islam or the countries where it rules, as necessarily hostile.  There is nothing in the religion, as far as I know, that requires Muslims to wage holy war.  They sometimes do and so, of course, do Christians, but it's not required.
     What the next president will understand, I hope, is that we live in a diverse world, that not all countries will admire the American way, but that we don't have to fight the ones who don't like us, and they don't have to fight us.  Talking to their leaders, which Obama has said he'd do, is something he's been attacked for but it's hard to see why.  Beats bombing as an approach, you'd think.
    So let's hope that we accept diversity and that we can live with different cultures in peace and they with us.  It's not the Bush way, but it might be Obama's or McCain's. 

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

September 10, 2008

     If Barack Obama's campaign were a car, he could have it towed to a garage and jump started there.  It seems to have stalled lately.  I'm not sure why, but the excitement he stirred during the primaries seems to have disappeared.  His acceptance speech was ordinary;  can you remember a single line from it?  Neither can I. 
     And, of course, the excitement these days is all about the fabulous Sarah.  But the campaign has a way to go yet, and her car too may stall before it's over.
     Governor Palin has brought John McCain's campaign to life--and of course she is pro-life--but she's been successful partly because she has so far refused to answer questions.  And there are some holes in her resume.  She says, in her standard speech, that she was against the Bridge to Nowhere.  But in fact she was for it before she was against it.  She attacks earmarks--those little goodies Congress sticks in bills--but in fact she was brilliantly successful at getting them for her home town and her state.
     She wants creationism and evolution both taught in the schools.  But one is religious doctrine and the other is science.
     She fought with the librarian in Wasilla because the librarian would not remove some books from the library that Palin disapproved of.
     Her church supports a program which aims at converting homosexuals into heterosexuals through the power of prayer.  Does Palin agree with this?  Would she volunteer to take part?
     You can argue for or against all these positions, but on balance she seems to be a whole lot more of a social conservative than the average voter.  And the voters will probably figure that out before November.  I can see her rallying the conservatives who were worried about McCain.  But independent women?  Democratic women?  I doubt that very much.       
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile