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.

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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.

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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.   

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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.   

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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.

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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.  

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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.  

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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.

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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.  

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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. 
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