Thursday, December 31, 2009

Fw: 2009-12-31 BRUCE MORTON column for ann - CORRECTION

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-----Original Message-----
Date: Thu, 31 Dec 2009 16:45:33
Subject: 2009-12-31 BRUCE MORTON column for ann - CORRECTION

The Dole-Kemp ticket was 1996.
Mr. Morton's editor apologies to him and to his readers.

December 31, 2009

       At the end of the year, this column always thinks about those we've lost during the year.  It seems like a lot this year, but then it always does.      We lost Edward Kennedy, the youngest and most troubled of the brothers, as many frailties as most of us possess.  But health care reform, perhaps his favorite cause, seems headed toward success.  Good night, sweet prince.  I hope they pass it.  Maybe that can be his monument.  We lost his sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, a tireless advocate for those with special needs.      In my own former trade, news, we lost Walter Cronkite, the ultimate anchor. When he said, "That's the way it is," it usually was.  And Don Hewitt, creator and first executive producer of "60 Minutes."  Now there's a legacy.     Author Dominick Dunne died the same day as Kennedy. "He'd have hated that," one friend said.  And John Updike, a great American novelist whose four books about a high school basketball star named Rabbit Angstrom told us much about our country.      Marilyn Chambers died, an actress who made pornographic movies and "Ivory Snow Girl" ads.  How many of us can say that?  Oh, and in 2004 she ran for Vice President on the Personal Choice Party ticket.  She got 946 votes.      We lost Jack Kemp, a gifted NFL quarterback and later a articulate conservative Congressman, Bob Dole's running-mate on the 2004 Republican ticket.  He got more votes than Chambers, of course.  We lost Ed McMahon, best known for two words, "Heeeere's Johnny!"  Lost Irving Penn, a photographer best known for shots of fashion and glamour.  Movies:  Farah Fawcett, Jennifer Jones, Bea Arthur, Natasha Richardson, Patrick Swayze and Karl Malden, a wonderful character actor, all left us.      Popular music lost Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary, guitarist Les Paul and Michael Jackson, who was only fifty.      We lost Robert McNamara, a brilliant Defense Secretary, burdened with a pointless war in Vietnam--he didn't start it, Lyndon Johnson did, but 58,000 Americans and even more Vietnamese died in it.  I remember him, out of office, talking about getting a memo from the Soviets saying, in effect, if you want war, you can have it.  He didn't.  We didn't have it.      Oh, and we lost Gidget, the chihuahua who worked for Taco Bell.      I always leave out of these columns, I know, some people who should be in them.  I'm sorry. 
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Monday, December 28, 2009

December 28, 2009

      Should the U.S. Senate be euthanized?  Put to sleep?  These days you could make a case for it.      I remember the 1960s when white Southern senators filibustered the Civil Rights Act.  It went on for weeks.  Filibusters were rare back then and the bill did finally pass with bipartisan support.      It takes three-fifths of the Senate--60 votes--to end a filibuster.  Nowadays somebody seems to threaten one every time a senator asks permission to sneeze or scratch his nose.   In a recent New York Times column Paul Krugman quotes political scientist Barbara Sinclair as noting that in the 1960s filibusters - threatened or actual - affected 8% of major legislation.  Now?  70%.      The Senate finally passed a health care bill.  Every single Democrat had to vote for it for that to happen because every single Republican voted against it.  One dissenting Democrat and the debate would have continued, the filibuster would have begun.  Certainly that is the most partisan approach to legislating, but probably not the best one.        Krugman, in that Times column, notes that in the 1990s  Senators Lieberman of Connecticut and Harkin of Iowa proposed a change--60 votes needed on the first vote to cut off debate, but 57 votes a day or two later and so on down to a simple majority.\     I don't know if that's the best fix but, come on guys, ya gotta do something!      The filibuster is not part of the Constitution;  it's just part of the Senate rules.  The senators can change those anytime they want to--usually at the start of a new session.       I'll say it again...I don't know if that's the best fix but, come on guys, ya gotta do something!
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Thursday, December 17, 2009

December 16th , 2009

     Come on, Congress, pass a health care bill!  You can do it...or maybe you can't.
     It's painful to read the paper these pre-Christmas mornings and learn about Congress' struggles with health care.  We are, of course, the only major industrialized country that doesn't have some form of national health insurance and we have million of citizens with no insurance at all.  That doesn't seem to bother many in the Congress.  Republicans in the Senate, for instance, seem united in the belief that that's just fine.  If you can't afford any, you don't deserve any--it's not up to government to fix that.
     It's painful to read about efforts to trim the bill to attract this waverer or that: Lieberman might be for it if we drop the public option--the notion that the government itself might sell insurance;  Nelson might be for it if...and so on.
     Well, Congress, it doesn't have to be perfect.  If it turns out that section 7C is a bummer, you can amend it next year and make it better.  It's a law, not a concrete bunker.
     When I lived in England, years ago, you had a choice.  My then wife, who didn't like waiting in line, went private and got excellent care;  my daughter was born there.  A good friend, less well-paid, got very ill and went national health, was hospitalized, seen by distinguished specialists and finally diagnosed as, of all things, allergic to wheat.  The cure was obvious, of course;  he lived happily for years.
     What's the Emma Lazarus poem on the State of Liberty?  Something like, "Send us your hungry and your poor, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore..."  Well, we're still pretty good at offering better jobs, more hope.  But if you're sick and poor, stay where you are.  You'll probably get better care.  

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December 17th

       This column is usually about politics, news analysis, that sort of thing.  But today I'm just passing along an amazing story about a young Cleveland woman's bravery and sense of adventure.  She's Katie Spotz, 22, and this winter she plans to row across the Atlantic Ocean alone--no sail, no motor, just two black oars.      She'll row from Dakar, Senegal, on Africa's west coast at least 2500 miles to South America.  "I never thought I could do something like this," the New York Times quotes her as saying.  "But it's not like a rowing machine in a gym. You just pace yourself."  Yes.  And the rowing machine in the gym, of course, is on dry land.  The Atlantic Ocean has fifty-foot waves.      The Times says the voyage will take between 70 and 100 days.  If she makes it, she'll be the youngest person, and the first American, ever to row alone from mainland to mainland.  The paper, which always knows stuff like this, says the first rowed crossing was done by two Norwegian immigrants in 1896.  In the last nine years 109 rowboats have crossed the Atlantic, Pacific or Indian Oceans.  About as many failed--they either returned or were rescued.      Spotz says her nickname on her high school swim team was Turtle, meaning she says, that she was no superstar.  "I see this," she told the Times, "as a form of active meditation."      I'm not a bit sure what that means.  But I want to wish this pioneering young American the very best of luck.  May she succeed!      Editor's note:  Mr. Morton and his editor are both taking a holiday break.
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Thursday, December 10, 2009

December 10, 2009

       Nobel laureate Barack Obama accepted the Peace Prize by talking, of course, about war.      "Evil does exist in the world," the President said, "Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes a recognition of...the imperfections of man and the limits of reason."      Well, yes, but some wars are more necessary than others.  An American surrender after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was unimaginable.  But Vietnam?  I'm still not sure why we were there.  George H.W. Bush, the 41st president, threw Iraq's Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait after he invaded it.  Fair enough.  But then his son, the 43rd president, went ahead and invaded Iraq, toppling Saddam.  I'm not sure we had to do that.      And Afghanistan?  Well, al-Qaeda was there.  But they're in several different places.  They are still in Afghanistan, though we've been after them there for eight years now.  And Obama mentioned Iran and North Korea as possible threats, potential nuclear powers.  Well, maybe.  But the United States was the first nuclear power, of course, and the only country ever to use atomic weapons in a war.  We attacked cities and killed thousands of civilians.      I would have dropped those bombs too;  avoiding an invasion of Japan saved many American lives.  But to assume the moral high ground, the notion that some nations can be trusted with nukes but not others?  I'm not so sure about that.  
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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

December 9, 2009

     Gay marriage is one of those issues that just won't go away.  This week it's playing in New Jersey, and some big games are involved.
     Governor Jon Corzine, a Democrat, is for it, saying it's a civil rights issue.  Not such a big name?  Okay Bruce Springsteen, The Boss, is for it, writing on his website that he has "always spoken out for the rights of same-sex couples."   The Boss and the Gov?  It's a lock, right?
     Well, no.  The Governor-elect, Republican Chris Christie, says he'll veto it if he gets a chance.  It passed a Senate committee by one vote on Monday.  The full Senate votes tomorrow.   Democrats are conceding, the wire stories say, that they may not have the twenty-one votes they need for passage.
     Some religions regulate marriages.  The Roman Catholic church opposes divorce and therefore remarriage. Some forms of Islam allow men to have more than one wife.  And so on.  But governments?  I don't see why they need to regulate it.  If Susie and Doris, or Fred and Chuck, want to get married, whose business is it but theirs?

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Monday, December 7, 2009

December 7, 2009

            In 1987 David Halberstam's "The Making of a Quagmire" was published, an account of events in 1961 as the U.S. stumbled into a deadly war in Vietnam.   That war lasted for years and cost 58,000 American lives.  Now, someone may want to reuse the title.      The headline in today's New York Times is simple: "No Firm Plans for a U.S. Exit in Afghanistan."  Well, why should there be?  We've only been there eight years.  The quotes in the piece support the headline.  Defense Secretary Robert Gates on CBS:  "There isn't a deadline."  National Security Advisor General James Jones on CNN:  "We're going to be in the region for a long time."      I remember George McGovern, campaigning for president in 1972.  His speech always included the line, "Come home, America."  The voters rejected him, of course, and we didn't come home, but it wasn't a bad idea then and isn't now.      The original purpose in invading Afghanistan, as I remember, was to get Osama bin Laden. But that was eight years ago, and we haven't.  The reports I read say he doesn't live there, just visits from time to time.  Terrorists, anyway, tend to operate in small groups.  They can be attacked successfully by small groups--commandos, air strikes, and so on.  No need to try to occupy a whole country, especially one with a history of resisting occupiers.      Come home America?  Sounds like a plan to me.     
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December 2, 2009

     Wilfred  Owen, a poet and soldier in World War I, wrote, "My friend, you would not tell with such high zest/ To children ardent for some desperate glory,/ The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est/ Pro patria mori."
    It means, of course, "It is sweet and right to die for your country."  Not always a lie, I think.  Most Americans were willing to die for their country in World War II.  In Vietnam, many were not;  President Johnson, in 1964, promised, "We seek no wider war."
     But the war grew and grew, went on and on.  58,000 Americans died in that war and many more thought the dying was not sweet and right.  I remember the demonstrations.  Now comes Afghanistan.  How do we feel about young Americans dying there?
     President Obama announced he is sending more troops, but added that he later plans to withdraw some.  "...the nation that I am most interested in building is our own."  I am no expert;  I was there only once briefly, years ago.  But we have learned some things.  Nation-building is very hard, as witness our efforts in Iraq. Nation-building in Vietnam has had some success, but of course that's a war we lost.
     Afghanistan is primitive, poor and full of problems.  Hamid Karzai, the president, is widely reported to be a crook.  So is the rest of his government.  We've been there eight years already.  How much of a nation have we built?  The Associated Press today quotes the U.S. commander there, General Stanley McChrystal, as saying we should offer the militants a way to quit "with dignity."  The same story quotes a villager, "What did you do for the last eight years against your enemies? You have killed Afghans and your enemies have killed Afghans."
     I'm sure that President Obama, a wise man, thinks it's possible.  I suppose Lyndon Johnson thought it was possible.  But as Alessandra Stanley notes in today's New York Times, "All president seek to improve on history.  But history has a way of getting the better of even the best intentions." 

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

December 2, 2009

            Wilfred  Owen, a poet and soldier in World War I, wrote, "My friend, you would not tell with such high zest/ To children ardent for some desperate glory,/ The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est/ Pro patria mori."     It means, of course, "It is sweet and right to die for your country."  Not always a lie, I think.  Most Americans were willing to die for their country in World War II.  In Vietnam, many were not;  President Johnson, in 1964, promised, "We seek no wider war."      But the war grew and grew, went on and on.  58,000 Americans died in that war and many more thought the dying was not sweet and right.  I remember the demonstrations.  Now comes Afghanistan.  How do we feel about young Americans dying there?      President Obama announced he is sending more troops, but added that he later plans to withdraw some.  "...the nation that I am most interested in building is our own."  I am no expert;  I was there only once briefly, years ago.  But we have learned some things.  Nation-building is very hard, as witness our efforts in Iraq. Nation-building in Vietnam has had some success, but of course that's a war we lost.      Afghanistan is primitive, poor and full of problems.  Hamid Karzai, the president, is widely reported to be a crook.  So is the rest of his government.  We've been there eight years already.  How much of a nation have we built?  The Associated Press today quotes the U.S. commander there, General Stanley McChrystal, as saying we should offer the militants a way to quit "with dignity."  The same story quotes a villager, "What did you do for the last eight years against your enemies? You have killed Afghans and your enemies have killed Afghans."      I'm sure that President Obama, a wise man, thinks it's possible.  I suppose Lyndon Johnson thought it was possible.  But as Alessandra Stanley notes in today's New York Times, "All president seek to improve on history.  But history has a way of getting the better of even the best intentions." 
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Sunday, November 29, 2009

November 29, 2009

          Aw, c'mon guys!  For a couple of days you were my heroes and now you've gone and messed it up.      I'm writing, of course, about Michaele and Tareq Salahi, who delighted many of us by successfully fooling the Secret Service, which is not easy, and crashing Barack Obama's  state dinner for the prime minister of India this past week.  It was a great coup.  They got to pose with the Prez;  they looked terrific and right at home.  Those screams you hear are from the Secret Service agents being flogged in the White House basement.      Has it ever been done before?  I don't think so.  Could be wrong, but I go back a few years and can't remember anything like it.  And they had no intent to harm, of course. It was just a terrific prank we could all enjoy.      But now they want to sell their story, news reports say, for several hundred thousand dollars.  Boo, hiss, guys!     Do they need the money?  Hard to know.  The New York Times reports that "For years, the Salahis have publicized their own flashy adventures in the social and sporting scenes of Washington and its outlying horse country, and left behind a record of lawsuits  and unpaid bills...."      Tell you what, Salahis--I'd be glad to listen to your story over a good meal somewhere--it's on me.  But six figures?  You've got to be kidding.
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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

November 25, 2009

        Is the President slipping?  Well, there are some signs.  He's down some in the polls from, say, last summer.  And the columnists are starting to criticize.      Roger Cohen, in the New York Times, quotes Henry Kissinger:  "He reminds me of a chess grandmaster who's played his opening in six simultaneous games.  But he hasn't completed a single game and I'd like to see him finish one."  Cohen himself adds, "...can this probing, intelligent president close anything?"   That's a good question;  one I can't answer.      Maureen Dowd, also in the Times, blasts him for firing White House counsel Greg Craig, an old Clinton pal who'd worked for Obama, not Hillary, in the campaign.  She says it "sent a chill through some Obama supporters" and notes that Elizabeth Drew in Politico called it "the shabbiest episode of his presidency."       I don't know what led to Craig's dismissal, but I do share the feeling that while President Obama is smart and thoughtful, he does seem to have trouble getting things done.  He doesn't have much experience managing things.  Neither, of course, did John Kennedy, whose brief presidency began with a disaster, the Bay of Pigs, but went on to a triumph, the Cuban missile crisis.      Maybe it's just too early for report cards.  Could we wait until the end of his second year?
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Sunday, November 22, 2009

November 22, 2009

      The New York Times reminds us that on this day, forty-six years ago, John F. Kennedy was murdered in Dallas, Texas.       If you are old enough, you of course remember where you were.  I was working in London that year.  Big Ben tolled, pealing, I think, once a minute, a ritual normally used only when the sovereign has died.  Cab drivers, hearing my American accent, wouldn't take my money.      I had interviewed Kennedy a few times while he was still in the Senate.  He seemed almost shy back then, soft-spoken.  By the time he died, of course, he was a rock star.  The world, or at least the non-Soviet part of it, went into mourning.  It was a measure of the affection in which he, and America, were held.      It didn't last, of course.  His successor, Lyndon Johnson, led the country into a bitter and divisive war in Vietnam, and America's bright image in the world began to fade.      It hasn't glowed that brightly since.  But the new president, Barack Obama, offers, I think, just a hope that it might.  Is he there yet?  Certainly not.  Might he get there?  It's a possibility.
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Thursday, November 19, 2009

November 19, 2009

     Attorney General Eric Holder is, I think, absolutely right in his decision to try the 9/11 defendants in civil court, in New York where the attack took police.  Free, fair and open trials are part of what we're all about.  Military tribunals, secret or semi-secret, with restrictions on what can be reported or what evidence can be introduced, are not.
     I want a jury of regular Americans, like us, and I have no doubt they will arrive at a just verdict.  It will be more expensive than a military hearing--lots of security, and all that.  It will be worth it.
     Short column, huh?  But a true one, don't you think?

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

November 17, 2009

     She's ba-aack!  Former Alaska Governor, former vice-presidential candidate--there she was on Oprah yesterday, on forty-seven (or is it eight) other screens this week--it's Sarah Palin!  Is she running?  Are you kidding?
     The New York Times' Alessandra Stanley found her with "the hunted look and defensive crouch she wore" in the 2008 campaign.  I didn't;  I thought she was having a pretty good time.  You can love her or hate her, but she brightens up the screen.  Say "Mitt Romney" in a room and the people with you will probably start to yawn.  Palin does not have that effect.
     Michael Carey, a columnist for the Anchorage Daily News, writes in the Times that he doesn't think she'll ever hold national office.  Polls agree and so do I, because most Americans basically vote middle-of-the-road.  But, he adds,  "she inspires many right-wing activists and enchants some members of the conservative news media."  He's right about that too, but there's more to it.  She perks up politics and it could use a little extra perkiness most days.
     So I'm delighted that she's back;  she'll make following politics over the next couple of years a lot more fun.  Welcome back, lady!
     Just please don't win.

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Monday, November 16, 2009

November 16, 2009

     Can Dede Scozzafava become a trend?  A household word...well, two words? Maybe.  Scozzafava, you may remember, was the Republican Party nominee in New York's 23rd Congressional District.  She withdrew in the face of opposition from Conservative Doug Hoffman, who then lost the general election to Democrat Bill Owens, the first time the 23rd had sent one of those to Congress in more than a century.  A fluke?  Maybe not, stay tuned.
     Comes now Florida, where Republican Governor Charlie Crist is running for the Senate.  He seemed like a lock.  Crist is not a flaming liberal.  He is for gun rights and the death penalty, against abortion.  Nevertheless, he faces a spirited primary challenge from Mario Rubio, a telegenic, the New York Times says, former Speaker of the Florida House.  Too liberal, critics say, on global warming, voting rights for ex-felons, etc.  Worst of all--one picture is worth a thousand words--he took the stage with Obama at a post-election rally last February, and the President--gasp, shudder--hugged him.
     When Crist was introduced at a party barbecue this month, hecklers shouted "Go hug Obama!"
     It's an old fight.  Moderates think the GOP has to reach out beyond party ranks to win.  Purists think purity is the path to victory. 
     Will Crist be, forgive me, Scozzafaved?  We'll find out.  But not, of course until next year.  The primary is months away.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

November 11, 2009

     Once upon a time, we used to call it "the good, gray New York Times."   No longer.      The lead in a story in yesterday's paper is, "Peter Pan would be so happy." They've discovered that colorful writing and news aren't enemies.  The story itself is quite wonderful.  Seems that sometime in the next year or so the Planetary Society, with help from an anonymous donor, will be taking a tiny step toward travel to the stars.  The stars themselves will help.      Once aloft, the tiny satellite--about the size of a loaf of bread, the Times says, will unfurl four triangular sails that will gather power from light--sunlight, starlight, whatever.  The craft--Lightsail 1--won't travel very far, but it's a start.  The Society will launch successors, some in orbit around earth, some beyond.       In theory, a solar sail can veer and tack, like any other sail.  And, of course, it won't have to carry a kazillion tons of rocket fuel.  Could humans ride it?  Maybe we, or our kids, will find out.  Freeman Dyson, of Princeton's  Institute for Advanced Studies, says "We ought to be doing things that are romantic"      They are.
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November 10, 2009

     On this day in 1982, the New York Times reminds us, the Vietnam War Memorial opened.  I was there.  I cried, I've cried every time I've visited it since--every year or two.  Part of it, of course, is that I covered that war as a reporter for CBS News in 1966-67.  I lost friends here.       But part of it too was that I wasn't sure why we'd fought that war.  I was just a kid during World War II, but I knew we had to fight it.  I remember Bill Mauldin, the famous cartoonist of that war, saying once, years later that he wasn't sure it had made the world a better place or anything grand like that "but of course we had to kill Hitler."  And of course we did.      Vietnam?  Well, they'd beaten the French, but so what?  They wanted to be independent, but wasn't that why we'd fought the British?  They were Communists, of course--at least the North was--but were they Communists who could harm us? Not likely.  Didn't have the weapons, the reach.  About like Afghanistan today.      Does anyone remember why we fought there?  Don't all raise your hands at once.
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Saturday, November 7, 2009

November 5, 2009

          Okay, the elections are over and we've learned something important about the national mood and how voters feel about President Obama, right?  Wrong, I think.        Democratic Governor Jon Corzine lost in New Jersey to Republican Chris Christie, and it's more often than not a Democratic state.  But taxes in New Jersey are very high and Corzine didn't lower them.  That probably explains that.      In Virginia, a lot of voters who'd voted for John McCain in 2008 showed up and produced a GOP sweep of the ballot, with Bob McDonnell the governor-elect. Virginia, by the way, is one of the few states that limits governors to a single four year term, so the Democratic incumbent, Tim Kaine, couldn't seek reelection.      But in some ways, the most interesting election was in New York's 23rd Congressional district.  The nominated Republican Dede Scozzafava, a moderate, withdrew after being attacked by third-party Conservative Doug Hoffman as being too liberal on social issues like abortion.  The result?  Voters, maybe angry that national conservatives like Sarah Palin had intervened against Scozzafava, elected the Democrat, moderate Bill Owens, the first time they've voted for the Democrat in more than a century.      Message?  Voters may be worried and/or angry but the middle still looks like the place to be.
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Monday, November 2, 2009

November 2, 2009

       Off-year elections, like this year's, are a terrible way to predict what will happen when the whole country votes, as we will in 2010 and 2012.  There are too few of them, and they happen in places which aren't necessarily typical of the rest of the country.  But everybody does it.  Me too.      Two states elect goverors.  First, New Jersey, where the incumbent Democrat John Corzine faces Republican Charlie Crist.  Michael Steele, the Republican National chairman told the New York Times, "These are bellwether races," but, again, they're not.  Joel Berernson, Corzine's pollster, told the paper, "I really think this is an obsession of the media," and he's right.  I mean, what else can a political reporter write about this week?  Anyway, this one looks pretty even, though it's usually a Democratic state and Obama campaigned for Corzine.      Then there's Virginia--part of the Democratic Solid South which became the Republican Solid South after the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts passed in the 1960s, but recently has elected Democratic governors like Mark Warner and the incumbent, Tim Kaine.  Polls show Democrat Creigh Deeds losing to Republican Robert McDonnell.  Is this a referendum on Obama?  That's a Wednesday morning argument.      And there's one interesting House race--New York's 23rd District, where the Republican candidate, Dede Scozzfava, dropped out after conservatives accused her of being too liberal on issues like abortion and gay rights.  So it's Conservative Douglass Hoffman versus Democrat Bill Owens in a district which has been Republican for about ever.   If Hoffman wins, count on more conservatives challenging more moderate Republicans.  Good news or bad for the GOP?  That's a Wednesday morning argument too.     One prediction I will make:  there will be a lot of talking Wednesday morning.   
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November 1, 2009

       The Berlin Wall, news reports remind us, came down twenty years ago this week.  That means many of us are too young to have seen it.  It was awful, but it did teach a lesson we all need to learn.      It was the ugliest structure I've ever seen--squat, unwelcoming.  It stank of oppression.  The East German guards shot and killed their fellow citizens who tried to climb or otherwise escape it.  Looking at it, I felt almost nauseous;  it was hard to imagine human beings doing this to one another.  (I was, I should add, a reporter based in London at the time.  Americans could cross the Wall and enter East Germany. Germans, of course, could not.)      But it did come down, of course, and the freedom-seeking hordes poured through.  The lesson, I think, is that freedom-- the good guys-- do sometimes win.  It isn't easy, and it can be very slow.  Freedom/racial desegregation came to the American South only in the 1960s, a century after our Civil War.   No one would suggest that we've solved racism here.      News reports say inequalities continue in Germany too.  Incomes are lower in the East, and so on.  Still, we do inch forward and there are milestones.  The death of the Wall is one of them.
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October 29, 2009

     The New York Times has an interesting op-ed piece today about the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan.  The Soviets could win the battles, a general of that army recalls.  But the enemy, he goes on, would vanish into the hills and reappear a day or two later.  Without a lot more men, the general told his bosses, this war cannot be won.       I don't know what the American commanders, if they were candid, would tell President Obama today about our war there, but I expect it would be much the same thing.  The Soviet general's comments reminded me, too, of America's war in Vietnam.  We had more, better and newer equipment, we had air power and we won the battles, but we lost the war.      It's very hard to occupy somebody else's country.  The Nazis conquered France, Holland, Belgium--most of Europe, but they couldn't keep it.   The British Empire is a Commonwealth of independent countries now.  The Philippines, once American, is independent now and so, of course, is Vietnam.      George McGovern, when he ran for president in 1972, opposed our Vietnam War.  His standard campaign speech included the line, "Come home, America!"  Maybe we should start yelling that on the White House lawn again. Maybe Mr. Obama would listen.  Or, of course, maybe not.  But it's worth a try.      It's hard to justify a war where there's no easy answer to the question:  what do we get if we win?    But then what do we lose if we lose?
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Monday, October 26, 2009

October 24, 2009

     On this day in 1945, the New York Times reminds us, the United Nations charter took effect.  Mankind did something right.      That was 64 years ago, and we haven't had World War III yet.  We had an international organization, the League of Nations, between Wars I and II, but the United States didn't join, and the League didn't work.  Only twenty years, one generation, separated Wars I and II - not 65.      Sometimes the U.N. itself has intervened.  I remember being sent to Congo in the 1960s when a province then named Katanga tried to secede.  The U.N. intervened--Indian Army troops on the ground, Swedish helicopter pilots, and so on.  The secession failed.      More often, of course, the U.N. simply gave us Cold Warriors, and the rest of the world, a place to talk.  "Jaw jaw," Winston Churchill once said, "is better than war war."  We and the Soviets jawed a lot.  And we had some awful wars too, of course. 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam.  But we've avoided the big one.      In a nuclear age, I remember some wise man saying years ago, mankind has, for the first time, the ability to destroy God's created order.  But we haven't done it. Dumb luck, sure, but the U.N. probably deserves some credit too.    
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Saturday, October 24, 2009

October 24, 2009

       I know who I want to win the World Series this year--the Yankees.  Not because they're Yankees, or New Yorkers, but because, like me, they're old.      I'm old in real terms, of course--late seventies.  But four Yankees, arguably the heart of the team, are old in baseball terms. They all came up to the team fourteen years ago, in 1995.  Who are they?  Well, you probably know, of course, but just in case...they are pitcher Andy Pettitte, reliever Mariano Rivera, catcher Jorge Posada, and shortstop Derek Jeter, the team's leadoff hitter.      If they make it to the Series this year--Pettitte will start game 6 of the American League playoffs Saturday in Yankee Stadium--it will be their seventh World Series with the team since 1996.  Not too bad.      "Youth will be served," the old saying goes.  But maybe not this year, maybe not in this Series.  I'm not against youth.  I have young friends, my kids are young--well, in their forties, which seems young to me--and they're swell, of course.  But sometimes, you gotta root for the old guys.      So, as they travel toward New York for Game 6--Pettitte will pitch, wouldn't you know it--here's one old geezer with a fervent wish:      Go, Codgers, go!       
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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

October 21, 2009

       If the cops get a tip that so-and-so is driving drunk, have they the right to stop him?  Well, maybe not.  On December 31st, 2005, Richmond, Va. police were called and told that Joseph Harris, Jr. was driving drunk.  The police spotted him.  He drove slowly through an intersection and braked well before reaching a red light.      The cops pulled him over anyway and smelled alcohol on his breath.  He also  failed a field sobriety test.  So, okay, he was drunk, and was convicted for it.  But wait!  The Virginia Supreme Court threw out the conviction, saying that if the police didn't see any evidence of drunk driving--erratic behavior, a sudden swerve, whatever--they had no authority--no probable cause--to stop him in the first place.      Not surprisingly, this odd case reached the U.S. Supreme Court. The majority of the Justices sided with the Virginia court, voting not to to hear Virginia officials' appeal. They didn't say why, they usually don't.      But Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by Antonin Scalia, dissented.  In his dissent, Roberts made a pretty good point.  "The decision," he wrote, "commands that police officers following a driver reported to be drunk do nothing until they actually see the driver do something unsafe on the road--by which time it may be too late."  State courts have ruled both ways on this.  Roberts thought the Supremes should have stepped in.  "The effect of the rule," Roberts wrote, "will be to grant drunk drivers 'one free swerve' before they can be legally pulled over...It will be difficult for an officer to explain to the family of a motorist killed by that swerve that the police had a tip that the driver of the other car was drunk, but that they were powerless to pull him over even for a quick check."      You could argue both sides of this, I think.  What about you?
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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

October 20, 2009

      Exam time is coming.  If you're a college student, that means boning up on chemistry, or Roman history, or whatever.  But exam time is coming for President Obama too--different kinds of tests in different subjects, of course.      By the time the new term starts, we'll probably know whether he's going to get a health care bill.  There are all sorts of other questions within that big one, of course.  Just one is whether there will be a public option, a government plan to compete with insurance company plans.  But the really important one is simply:  will there be a bill?  If there is, it will probably be flawed--it's a very complicated subject--but that's okay, because Congress can go back next year and amend it, make it better.  If there's nothing, Congress will have to start over again.  After all the fuss and bother this year, could we really blame them for saying, "Oh, the hell with it. Let's take 2010 off."      Another test coming is on Afghanistan.  By then, the issue of how many, if any, more troops to send, may have been decided.  Some questions:  do we really want a big, semi-permanent U.S. force in Afghanistan?  If we do, why, what's the point? Afghanistan as a country doesn't threaten us.  It's government is, by all reports, crooked, but that's their problem, not ours.  It may be used as a base by terrorists, of course, but if we keep them out they'll probably base themselves somewhere else--say next door in Pakistan.      And that's a real problem.  Pakistan has nuclear weapons.  Afghanistan doesn't. If terrorists can destabilize Pakistan, that's a genuine threat to other countries all over the world.  I'd rather the bad guys stayed where they are.
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Monday, October 19, 2009

Editor away for a few days

Mr Morton's column is on a brief hiatus.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

October 13, 2009

      The New York Times has a long piece today about the similarities and differences between Afghanistan and Vietnam.  It's enough to get you thinking.      I was a reporter for CBS News in Vietnam for some months at the end of 1966 and the start of '67.  I arrived there a tentative dove and left a passionate one.  Part of that was personal.  The day I got there, a friend said, "You know, this isn't like those Third World wars we've covered."  I said I was sure that was true, but how? And he said, "You can't cover this for very long without having people you've come to know and like pretty well get killed."  And that was true, of course.      But part of it was philosophical.  We could win the battles, but not the war.  To do that, we had to win over the Vietnamese people.  But they had a charismatic leader of their own--Ho Chi Minh.  There was no one in the South Vietnamese government that we backed who had a tenth of his appeal.   I don't know who's leading the Taliban, but again no one very glamorous is on our side.  Mohammed Karzai?  You've got to be kidding.      And I don't think we've learned much about nation-building in the years since we failed in Vietnam.  Afghanistan isn't like the United States. Tribes matter. Nationalism may matter.  We are, in any case, the foreign occupying power and the Afghans are good at getting rid of those.  Ask the British, or the Russians.  And if the Afghans want to be independent, want us to leave, as I suspect they do, why not just say yes, and head for the airport.      That Times piece quotes Normal Mailer, writing in 1965:  "we are not protecting a position of connected bastions so much as we are trying to conceal the fact that the bastions are about gone--they are not dominoes, but sand castles and a tide of nationalism is on its way in."     Let it roll.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

October 12, 2009

      The headline, in red at the very top of the front page, above the name of the paper (The Washington Post)  reads, "Woe...Redskins fall apart, 20--17."  This is a city with a lot of teams--baseball, basketball and so on. They mostly lose and Washington stays fairly calm.  When the football team loses, Washington weeps and wrings its hands.      It's not that they expect to win;  the Redskins last won the Super Bowl in 1988, twenty-one years ago.  But it's different here. The Chicago Cubs, the baseball team I grew up with, last won the World Series a hundred and one years ago, in 1908.  Fans still flock to Wrigley Field and seem to enjoy the games.  Not here, not with the 'Skins.     The "fire the coach?" stories began some time ago and are now numerous. Impeach the West Coast offense?  Maybe they could try that.  The team song, "Hail to the Redskins" appeared in another recent Post headline as "Fail to the Redskins." Well, newspapers are supposed to be accurate, after all.      And some of this year's losses have been spectacular.  Yesterday's winner, Carolina, hadn't won a game all year until the Redskins came to town.  Earlier, the Skins lost to Detroit, which hadn't won a game this year - or last year, come to that.  I'm not sure, but that may have been the only 0--16 season in NFL history.      So, hail to, rail at, quail from, fail with the Redskins.  Wish coach Jim Zorn luck if he ends up looking for work.  And hang in there.  Eleven more games, and it'll all be over.  Hail! 
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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

October 6, 2009

       Well, the baseball season is over--the regular season anyway.  I like baseball, but I think this was a dull year.  Maybe the playoffs will be better.      There was a lot of consistency in the regular season, though.  The Yankees and the Red Sox made the playoffs;  they usually do.  And the Washington Nationals--you remember the old saying: "Washington, first in war, first in peace, last in the American (well, the National now) League.  Consistent, though--this was their second straight season with more than a hundred losses.       For true consistency, though, you can't beat the Chicago Cubs.  They last won the World Series in 1908.  And this year, again, they didn't contend for the championship.  So could they have a second century without a Series title?  Seems perfectly possible to me, though of course I won't be here to see it.      But maybe consistency isn't a virtue.  What do you think?  Ralph Waldo Emerson, a genuine smart cookie, wrote:  "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."  Suppose he'd like to manage the Cubbies?  
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Monday, October 5, 2009

Oct 2 2009

         People are talking here this week, again, about whether Congress should pass a reporters' shield law.  That's a law that says, if a reporter publishes classified information given him by anonymous sources, he or she can't be send to prison for refusing to disclose who those sources are.      As a senator, President Obama had co-sponsored such a bill, but this week the White House backed a weaker version. The administration version says prosecutors should exhaust other methods for finding the source, but it adds that wouldn't apply if the leaked material could cause "significant" harm to national security.  And the bill tells judges to be deferential to the executive branch's statements about whether a particular leak might cause such harm.         Well, significance, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.  The reporter will probably think that he is exposing some government mess-up that the voters ought to know about.  The government will probably think national security is involved, demand the name of the leaker and want to send the reporter to jail if he refuses to disclose it.      Reporters do sometimes go to jail in these cases.  You may remember the New York Times' Judith Miller, who was subpoenaed in the Valerie Plame-CIA case. Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, a sponsor of the bill, says at least nineteen journalists have been subpoenaed since 2001;   four have been imprisoned.      The bill has passed the House but is stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Specter says he hopes the full Senate will pass it.  Then, he says, Obama can veto it if that's what he wants to do.  Sounds like a plan to me.
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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

September 29, 2009

     The news business, we all know by now, is in trouble.  The Rocky Mountain News may not be the most recent major newspaper to file for bankruptcy, but it's the one that comes to mind.
     A report in The Nation magazine notes that private philanthropy has made some efforts--a group called ProPublica has tried to help.  It has a staff of thirty-five reporters and editors, and its stories have appeared in The New York Times and the Washington  Post.  That's a hopeful sign.
     Now CBS News (full disclosure:  I worked for them from 1964-1993) says it will get reports from a company called GlobalPost, which has some seventy reporters in more than fifty countries.  Those reporters will provide information and maybe video, but not ready-for-broadcast packages.
     GlobalPost started up in January in response to decisions by many news organizations to close foreign bureaus because they're too expensive.  Investigative reporting, another expensive form of journalism because it can take a long time to develop a complicated, hard-to-get story, has also suffered.
     I don't know how well that will work--back in Walter Cronkite's day CBS would have snickered at the notion of hiring outside help, but times have surely changed. Boy, have they ever.  So let's wish this experiment well.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

September 28, 2009

        The New York Times quotes Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman as saying America has just "begun the first serious national debate about Afghanistan:  whether we should be there and what we should be doing there."  Lieberman is a hawk in this debate as he was, if my memory is accurate, on Iraq.  But why?      The president himself, Times columnist Ross Douthat notes, has described Afghanistan as a "war of necessity."  But you have to wonder.  The original notion, as I recall, was that we'd get rid of the terrorists, Al Qaeda, the Taliban, whoever they were.  Terrorism seems weaker now than after the 9/11 attacks on New York eight years ago, but it hasn't gone away.      Afghanistan as a country has a corrupt, but not particularly anti-American president and lacks the power to attack the United States.  The terrorists have the will to attack but probably not the forces they need.  If they are hiding a nuclear bomb, say, in Afghanistan, they'll likely respond to a pending U.S. attack by hiding it somewhere else--maybe in Pakistan.      If we just leave, pull our troops out, might the terrorists, Al Qaeda, the Taliban take over Afghanistan?  Sure, but should that be a big concern to us?  Maybe not.  And maybe we could talk to whatever government ends up in charge there.  If we step up the war, more of us and more of them will die.  "Jaw-jaw," Winston Churchill once said, "is better than war-war." 
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Friday, September 25, 2009

September 23, 2009

         President Obama, in his first speech to the United Nations, said some wise things--that America can't run the world by itself;  other nations must help us.      "Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world's problems alone," he said.  "The time has come for the world to move in a new direction," he went on.  "Our work must begin now....In an era where our destiny is shared, power is no longer a zero-sum game.  No world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will succeed.  That is the future America wants."      So all nations are equal?  Well, not exactly.  Iran and North Korea "must be held accountable" if they continue to pursue nuclear weapons.  But if it's okay for Britain, the U.S., Russia and Pakistan, say, to have nuclear weapons--and they all do--then why would it be wrong for Iran to have some?  We may think the Iranians are reckless or foolish, but who are we to tell them what weapons they can and can't have?      It's hard to imagine Iran saying, of course, we'll let America decide that.  And in fact, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not join in applauding Mr. Obama's speech.     Still, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, they say.  Mr. Obama made a hopeful step.  Let's wish him well.
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Monday, September 21, 2009

September 21, 2009

      Newspapers are warning of possible "mission failure" in Afghanistan unless we send more troops there.  Failure would mean, presumably, the Taliban winning and Afghans--granted, ones we don't like--running their country.  A more interesting question is:  what would "mission success" look like?      We presumably support Hamid Karzai's government.  But everyone agrees it is weak and crooked.  So that's not success.  Elections?  We had one of those and it hasn't helped much, mostly because everyone thinks the Karzai folks rigged the vote.  I suppose a non-Taliban, honest government would constitute a success, but where in Afghanistan could you find one of those.  Come to that, how many Americans could find Afghanistan on  a map?  Even a big map.      Sometimes you have to accept imperfect outcomes.  If we just left, what would happen?  For one thing, young Americans wouldn't be getting killed over there any more.  For another, the Taliban would take power.  Would they kill a lot of their own people?  Probably not.  Would women's rights take a beating.  Probably yes.  But is that our responsibility?  Probably not;  we are not supposed to impose our culture on the rest of the world.  The Afghans have managed to stay independent for a long time.  The British couldn't keep them as a colony;  the Soviets had even less success.  Could the Taliban launch an attack on the United States?  No, they don't have ICBMs and all that intercontinental stuff.  Could they invade?  No again.  Don't have the navy for it.      And  over time, we might end up talking to each other.  Vietnam and the U.S. have embassies in other's countries now.  Why not, in a generation or two, do the same thing in Afghanistan?  What we're doing now doesn't seem to be working very well for either side.  Why not try something new, like coming home?

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

September 15, 2009

          On this day in 1963, the New York Times reminds us, a bomb went off in a Baptist church in Birmingham, Alabama, and killed four young black girls, one of the most violent events of the civil rights era.      It's an era that's behind us, kind of.  Overt racism, segregated schools, denial of the vote to blacks--those evils are behind us.  So we've ended racism in America? Of course not.  Columnists are speculating this week about whether racism was part of the explanation for Congressman Joe Wilson's (R.-S.C.) yelling, "You lie!" at President Obama when he spoke to Congress last week.  I don't know;  I've never met the Congressman.  South Carolina is no stranger to racism, of course.  Its long-serving senator, Strom Thurmond, ran for president on a segregationist ticket back in 1948.  The state has changed much since then, of course, but it's surely still true that no state in our union is free of racism.  It's a struggle that generations after us will continue to wage.      So we're better than we were, but not there yet.  As for Mr. Wilson's yell--well, Congressman, it was rude.  Presidents do lie of course, like the rest of us from time to time.  We're just not supposed to interrupt them by yelling about it while they're talking.               
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September 14, 2009

      I am not an expert on Afghanistan;  the only time I was ever there was so long ago they still had a king.  It's obvious, though, that things aren't going very well. They never have for occupying powers, not even the British, who were good at occupying.  "When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains," Rudyard Kipling wrote, "And the  women come put to clean up the remains/ Just roll on your rifle and blow out your brains/ And go to your God like a soldier."       The Russians had no success there either, of course.  We seem to have joined the club.  Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was President Carter's national security advisor, said in a speech this past weekend that only about 300 American troops were involved in the original overthrow of the Taliban in 2001.  Now we have about 100,000 there, but Brzezinski says they are increasingly seen as foreign invaders, not liberators.  Well, of course they are.      It is  not an easy country to rule.  It's one of the poorest countries in the world with a traditionally weak central government and illiteracy rates around 70%--the list of problems is long.  Brzezinski said in that speech, "We are running the risk of replicating...the fate of the Soviets."  It's hard to argue with that.      Is there a solution?  Certainly not force of arms, in spite of all the talk about increasing U.S. forces there.  Hasn't worked so far.      Washington Post columnist Fareed  Zakaria suggests making deals--shrink the number of enemy forces, he says, by making them switch sides or lay down their arms.  I don't know if that will work, but it's the best idea for cutting our losses there I've heard in good while. 
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Friday, September 11, 2009

September 11, 2009

     Comes now the curious case of Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) who, in a moment of passion, pique or politics yelled at the President during his speech to Congress this week, "You lie!"  I guess that needs the exclamation point.
     Presidents do lie, of course.  You can argue where Richard Nixon's "This president is not a crook" line falls in the true-false spectrum, but Bill Clinton's "I did not have sexual relations with that women" (Monica Lewinsky) was clearly in the flat-out lie category.  So they do lie sometimes, but we don't interrupt their speeches to tell them so.  That's rude--oafish, loutish behavior.  If Congress or some other group awards Mr. Wilson the "Oaf of the Year Award," I'd probably cheer.
     Or Mr. Wilson could resign from Congress, move to Britain and run for Parliament.  They yell insults at each other all the time.  Question Time, a Parliamentary institution, is where the abuse is often thickest.  An opposition MP asks the Prime Minister, or whoever's turn it is that day, a question. The answer will be immediately interrupted as opposition MPs yell things like "Sit down!"  One of the legendary putdowns--generations ago, but the story is still told--came when an MP named Palings (a paling, but the way is a fencepost) called Winston Churchill a "dirty dog."  Churchill:  "The honorable gentleman has called me a dirty dog.  I would remind him of what dogs do to palings," which of course is to pee on them.
     I enjoyed the British system when I lived there.  They were good at hurling insults without ever actually hating each other.  I'm not sure we have that knack, but I expect we'll find out as we follow Rep. Wilson's career, assuming he still has one.  At any rate, he has a last name which does not immediately invite attack. 

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Monday, September 7, 2009

September 7, 2009

      Barack Obama may want to think, in these waning days of summer, about an old saying:  "Of all sad words of tongue nor pen, the saddest are these: 'It might have been.'"      We know, heading into the last few months of this president's first term that he is thoughtful and smart.  We don't know yet how good he is at getting things done. We're going to find out pretty soon, though.  The issue, of course, is health care.      The president said early it was a big deal for him, a priority, but he left it up to Congress to draft the bill.  This worked about as well as you might expect.  Several bills emerged from several committees and Congress fizzled and foozled over what to do with them.  Nothing, so far, is what it's chosen to do.      Now, I read the president is going to propose his own bill.  We'll see how good he is at twisting arms and compromising to get it passed.  Bob Dole, the former Republican leader in the Senate, has said Mr. Obama will have to do some horse-trading.  He's right of course, and that's a skill Mr. Obama may or may not have;  we just don't know yet.          The risk is that if he doesn't have it, failure on health care will infect the whole rest of his term with Congress paying little attention to a president it sees as ineffective, a talker who can't get things done.   

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

August 26, 2009

        Years ago, he was the family lightweight.  When he ran for president in 1980, I remember, CBS's Roger Mudd asked him why he wanted the job.  Edward Kennedy's long, rambling answer was fairly incoherent--something about natural resources.  None of us in the newsroom had any idea what he meant.      But he grew wiser--in more than forty years in the Senate, you learn things.  He had triumphs--his name is on a lot of bills--and tragedies.  His two older brothers, John and Robert--one a president, the other a candidate for the job--both murdered.       He had family, many friends and came to be one of the most powerful senators of his time--the Lion of the Senate was a phrase people used about him.  He did have the persona, and he certainly did have the hair.      He was here so long he was almost part of the landscape, and we'll miss him.  The cause of his life, he always said, was health care.  His Senate is wrestling with that issue now.  Maybe they'll finally pass a bill, and name it after him.      Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest
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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Column on hiatus

Mr. Morton's editor is escaping for a time. His column will resume when the wandering editor returns.
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August 25, 2009

          Are we going back to the moon?  Not soon. &nbsp;    The New York Times reports today--just forty years and a month after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on its surface--that no one else will follow them anytime soon.  "Little chance" of repeating their walk on its 50th anniversary, the paper says, and "maybe not even by the 60th."       NASA plans to retire the space shuttles by September 2010 and use Russian rockets to get to the International Space Station until a new rocket, the Ares I, is ready in 2015.  It would retire the space station in 2016 and develop a bigger rocket, the Ares V, to get to the moon.  That's based on a plan President George W. Bush proposed in 2004.  Trouble is, Mr. Bush never asked Congress for as much money as the plan called for, and Congress never added it either.      And President Obama's budget outlined further cuts in 2011 and the years beyond.  A panel Obama appointed found that the moon plan was not "executable."      Does it matter?  The Times report quotes one pro-space advocate as saying  a lot of people care a little about space, but it's only a key issue for a few.  I suspect that's about right.  I mean, if you look at poverty and hunger around the world, if you look at the money our schools need here at home, where should space be on our list?  It's not first on mine, that's for sure, though as a reporter who covered those first flights from NASA's Manned Space Center outside Houston, it was exciting.      Oh, well.  Time to reread Ray Bradbury's "Martian Chronicles" maybe, and imagine what it might have been like. 
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Saturday, August 22, 2009

August 22, 2009

        Is President Obama in trouble with the voters?  The answer seems to be yes,  especially on one of his key themes--changes in the health care system.      A Washington Post-ABC News poll out today shows 49% of Americans now think Obama will make the right decisions for the country, down from 60% one hundred days into his presidency.  55% of those polled now think the country is on the wrong track.   Disapproval of his handling of the health care issue is 50%, the highest so far.   42% say they "strongly" disapprove.  His numbers are eroding from both ends of the spectrum.  He is losing those fearing "death panels" (thank you, Sarah Palin) as well as health care activists who see him caving to public opinion.      Why?  It may be that people feel they've elected a philosopher, not a man of action, that Obama's approach lacks passion.  Post columnist Eugene Robinson cites poet William Butler Yeats:  "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."  Paul Krugman writes in the New York Times, "He still seems unable to settle on a simple, pithy formula;  his speeches and op-eds still read as if they were write by a committee."      One odd element--polls show seniors especially opposed to changes in health care.  But we codgers already have government health care.  It's called Medicare and this codger, at least thinks it works pretty well.       Wherever you stand, the basic facts are pretty clear.  We have more that 47 million people who have no coverage.  No other developed country comes even close to that proportion.  We need to fix that;  Mr. Obama knows that; and  Congress should.  Pass something, guys, we can improve it later on.  
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Friday, August 21, 2009

August 21, 2009

        News reports say the CIA hired a private firm that specializes in dark doings to assassinate members of Al Qaeda.  Good news, you might think, for those who think the government is mostly incompetent and ought to turn things over to the private sector.      But no.  Turns out that the CIA didn't kill any bad guys, but neither did Blackwater, the private firm.  So what's a government to do?      It's hard to talk about these things, but the fact is, governments probably have to kill people sometimes.  I mean, if you know what Fred is going to set off an atom bomb in the middle of a city, you have to either seize the bomb or shoot Fred.  If shooting Fred is easier, most of us would probably say, so be it.  That's why governments fight wars in theory, though some wars--World War I, our invasion of Iraq--seem to defy reason in that it's hard to see any good they did or why they had to be fought.      I remember Bill Mauldin, the World War II cartoonist who drew the GIs Willie and Joe, saying once he didn't think the war had made the world a better place, or anything like that, "but you had to kill Hitler."  If you remember that war, you probably agree.       So governments do have to kill people sometimes--in wars, or in the case of the terrorist with the bomb.  But I think it's kind of reassuring that ours doesn't seem to very good at assasination. That's right for a democracy, somehow.   
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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

August 18, 2009

         Democracy is a wonderful thing.  I read in today's Washington Post that Iraq may hold a vote on whether U.S. troops should leave.  The surprise is, the Post says, that if the Iraqis say "Go," we will.      I mean, they didn't ask us in, but they get to tell us to get out?  This is why we invaded them, conquering the country by force of arms?  Well, maybe.      When we invaded Iraq, the rationale was that they were a threat to the U.S. because they had weapons of mass destruction.  But they didn't.  They were thought to pose some kind of threat to us, to support the Taliban terrorists. Again, they didn't.      And we've stayed and stayed and stayed.  The war has killed several thousand Americans and many more Iraqis, a lot of them in factional fighting--Sunnis, Shia, Kurds, and so on.  Will they stop if we leave?  Probably not, but of course it hasn't stopped while we've stayed either.      We probably can't leave without a lot of windy talk about what a good job we've done there.  That's nonsense in my view, but listening to bad speeches is a small price to pay for ending a war we should never have started in the first place.     In fact, I'm delighted the Iraqis are going to vote on us, but my own preference is for quicker action.  Let's start loading the guys on the airplanes.  The war was always  a mistake.  Let's admit it and leave. 
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Thursday, August 13, 2009

August 13, 2009

    The New York Times reports a story today which should get some good arguments going.  Do you remember when a Danish newspaper a few years ago published a dozen caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad?  Other papers picked it up;  riots broke out in the Middle East and Africa--Muslims called the cartoons blasphemous and, the Times says, at least  200 people were killed.      Now, Yale University Press is publishing a book about the cartoons, but the book won't show them.  The University decided to drop the cartoons and some other proposed illustrations which depicted the Prophet.      Yale consulted some two dozen experts from scholars to terror experts.  They unanimously recommended against showing the cartoons in the book.  The director of the Press told the Times that "there was no question" about what to do.      But wait a minute.  Yale could decide not to publish the book and nobody could argue with that;  publishers reject manuscripts all the time.  But to publish a book about the cartoons and the controversy they caused without including them  seems a little like publishing a book about, say, Lindbergh's historic solo flight across the Atlantic without mentioning the plane.  I mean, if the book is about the cartoons, why not show them?  One scholar withdrew his supportive blurb for the book, calling the decision "frankly idiotic."      I'm with him.  What do you think?       
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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

August 12, 2009

      These are the dog days of August.  It was 97 yesterday. Cooler today, they say, only 94 or 95. If it weren't for the invention of air conditioning, you know they'd have moved the capitol by now. Congress, which sometimes does foolish things, always acts wisely during August. They go home.      It's the dog days for the president too.  Mr. Obama's poll ratings are down, dipping toward 50%.  But we should remember, as veteran reporters Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson point out in their book about the campaign, "The Battle for America 2008," he started out as longshot to get to the White House. Hillary Clinton, of course, was the early favorite.      We don't know a whole lot about President Obama yet;  his presidency is only a few months old.  But my guess is that he is smart, savvy, and cool-- that in Harry Truman's old phrase, he can stand the heat and won't have to get out of the kitchen.     The real problem may lie with the Congress, which increasingly seems antiquated and partisan.  When I lived in Britain years ago, I wasn't a great fan of  their parliamentary system, under which you're expected to vote the party line and it's a big deal if you don't.  But watching the Blue Dogs, the Orange Raccoons and the rest, I have to wonder.      Still, I'm enough of an optimist to think some health care bill will pass, hopefully with national insurance included.  One of the puzzles is that polls show it's we old folks who most oppose that, but of course we already have it:  it's called Medicare.  For this codger, at least, it's worked pretty well.      Anyway, before long it will be Labor Day.  Congress will come back to wrestle with health care and other issues. The weather will moderate.  Footballs will fill the air.  Mr. Obama will get some of what he wants.  The country will stand
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Sunday, August 9, 2009

August 8, 2009

       April may be the cruelest month, as the poet T.S. Eliot wrote, but August is the month when Governor Sarah Palin loosed herself upon us anew, and the rocking and socking may have just begun.  Take health care.  Please.      "The America I know and love," Palin declared on Facebook, "is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so that bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment...whether they are worthy of health care.  Such a system," Palin went on, "is downright evil."      That's not in any bill anybody has proposed. The House bill would require Medicare to pay for end-of-life counseling for people who want it--only people who want it. Obama himself pointed out in a July speech that "nobody is going to be forcing you to make a set of decisions on end-of-life care based on some bureaucratic law."   What Palin suggests would lead me to believe that she is either deliberately distorting things to score partisan points or she hasn't read the bill.      I assume that Gov. Palin will be active politically and that's fine.  But maybe the Democrats should fire up a truth squad to follow her around.
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Thursday, August 6, 2009

August 6, 2009

      An old saying goes, "God is kind to drunks, fools and the United States of America."  Well, maybe.  Sixty-four years ago--in 1945--the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The New York Times says it instantly killed an estimated 66,000 people.  It also, along with a second bomb dropped on Nagasaki, ended World War Two.      As a Roman Catholic cardinal put it some years later, the atomic bomb "gave man the power to destroy God's created order."  The possible proof of divine kindness is that we, not just America but all the nuclear powers, haven't done that yet.  It's not like us.  We are usually Pandora;  we open the box and trouble flies out.      The nuclear club is not just us any more, of course.  Some old and trusted friends have joined--Britain and France, for instance--and some countries we don't know as well, like Pakistan.  The earth has survived.      Now there's a great fuss about North Korea, which is the club's newest member  Nicholas Kristoff writes in his New York Times column that North Korea "seeks talks with the U.S conditioned on accepting North Korea's status as a nuclear power--which is unacceptable."  But how are we supposed to change it?  We could nuke them, of course, but surely that too is unacceptable.  Convert them by sweet reason, logic?  Most unlikely.  North Korea clearly wants to be in the club, be one of the big boys, and that surely won't change.      So we're stuck. Another old saying is, "What can't be cured must be endured."  That seems to be where we are with North Korea.  Maybe, like the other club members, they'll decide they don't want to destroy the planet.  Maybe.     It's a tough world.  Always has been.         
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Monday, August 3, 2009

August 2, 2009

     Congress is off on its regular August summer vacation.  The temptation may be to shout,  "How can you take a month off when you haven't done anything about health care?"  Usually, accusing these men and women of laziness and self-indulgence is fair enough, but this time, they sort of have an excuse.
     Lots of issues are straight up and down--buy more F-22 fighters?  Yes or no?  More money for teachers?  Stem cell research?  Aid to Africa?  Yes or no?  Health care is much more multiple choice:   government plan by itself, or competing with insurance companies, or requiring the businesses themselves to offer universal coverage or...or...or....
     There are a lot of different points of view here and a horde of lobbyists trying to convince Congress that their bill is best.  The bills are long and hard to read.  It's a complicated thing to try to create--a health care system.  Do you add to what's already there, start over, what?
     This columnist is no expert on this subject and will not offer advice.
     Except this:  47 million of us Americans, I read, have no coverage at all.  These people clearly need help.  So, Congress, don't give up because the bill isn't exactly what you want.  Pass something.  If it's flawed, and it may well be, fix it next year.  But please, at least, make a start. 

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

July 29, 2009

        The American-led force in Iraq is formally named the "Multi-National Force--Iraq."  But that will change, because it isn't anymore.  Multi-national, that is.  The Iraqi Parliament left on summer vacation without extending  an agreement to let the British keep a training force of 100 in the country, so they'll be leaving this week.  The Australians, it's reported, will also be out by the end end of the month;  the Romanians, the New York Times reports, left last Thursday.  NATO will still have some people there, but they never were part of the Force.      So who's left?  You guessed it--just us lucky Yanks.      I never understood why we invaded Iraq in the first place.  Did we have an aim?  Weapons of mass destruction?  They didn't have any.  Big buddies with al-Qaeda?  Nah.  Was it to show we were tougher than out father, who threw Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait after he invaded it but then stopped?  Maybe. But in any case, we get to stay.  We're supposed to leave too, of course, by the end of 2011, but only time, as they say, will tell.  If we do leave, Iraq won't have any jet fighters.  It's asked us for some, of course, but our commander there says we couldn't deliver any by then.  That's a disappointment I can live with--more money not spent on this dumb war.      My own answer to what to do comes from an old country music lyric: "You got to know when to hold 'em, and know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away..."  The war has killed over 4,000 Americans so far.  Let's fold 'em, let's walk away and let's bring the rest home.   
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Sunday, July 26, 2009

July 26, 2009

     Sarah Palin is an "ex" now, a "former."  Former governor of Alaska, that is.  This is the first day of the rest of her life.  What will she do with it?  A lot of people think she'll run for president.      She has some obvious advantages.  People know her, she's pretty and attractive, and we've never had a woman president before.  She'd have no trouble getting coverage; TV and radio shows would want her, and she's signed up to write (or have someone write, I suppose) a book. Another advantage:  the other Republican most often mentioned is Mitt Romney, who was a terrible candidate last time out and seems unlikely to have improved  (It's heredity.  His father, who ran in, I think 1968, was a terrible candidate too.)  And of course she'd make a lot more money on the circuit than she did as governor.      She'd need to do a little homework, of course.  Remember that embarrassing silence when a reporter asked her what newspapers she read?  The correct answer, easily memorized, is "The Anchorage Daily News, the New York Times, and sometimes the Washington Post."  Is it true? Doesn't matter, who's to know?      So welcome to the battle, Ms. Palin.  It's exhausting, but it can be good fun too.  If I were a reporter I'd plead with my editor to cover you and not poor Mitt.  Hot copy is what we newsies like and, it seems to me, you're it.                 

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Monday, July 20, 2009

July 20, 2009

      Forty years ago, man landed on the moon.  It was an extraordinary technological achievement and yet, we've forgotten all about it.      Back then, it seemed like the very exciting first chapter of a book.  There'd be a chapter called "On to Mars," followed by "On to Venus" and so on.  The Space Age had arrived.  Space travel had arrived.  Maybe they had, but we were not waiting there to meet them.      Instead, we got bored with space.  When will men walk on Mars?  Beats me. Venus?  Same answer.  It would cost billions of dollars and there are no signs the American government, or for that matter any government, wants to spend it.  And you know what? They're probably right.      I mean, if you had to choose between spending tax dollars on better educating our kids or on getting to Mars, how would you vote? Or between reducing hunger and Mars?  Or between decent housing for our people and Mars.  Or between...well, it's a long list.      For once, I think government got it right.  Mars would be a grand adventure, but this other stuff matters a whole lot more.  Of course, if we spend the money on wars instead...well, that's another question.
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Saturday, July 18, 2009

July 18, 2009

       Goodbye, Walter.  I'll miss you, even though it's been a while since we last spoke.   I'll miss what you stood for even more.       Walter Cronkite anchored the CBS Evening News for nineteen years, from 1962 until 1981.  I joined CBS News in 1964, so I was there for most of it.  It was a special time.  We thought we had the best team.  We in Washington thought we had the best bureau.  We probably did.  One review of network news back then said, I still remember,  "People at other networks talk a lot about CBS people.  So do CBS people."  Right.  And we knew, of course, that we had the best anchor.      Chet Huntley and David Brinkley of NBC led the ratings when Walter's tour began.  He overtook them and was number one for years until he retired.  CBS stayed first for a time after that but then lost it, and never, if I remember properly, got it back.     What was it about him?  He wasn't TV slick or TV handsome, that's for sure.  What he was, I think, was reassuring.  However bad the news was, and it was often pretty bad back then--Vietnam, Watergate--you remember--this earnest, believable man seemed to be saying, in addition to his spoken words, "It's okay, folks, we'll get through this."  He didn't openly show emotion - the Kennedy assassination, of course, and once  I remember a "Go, baby, go!" when a spacecraft lifted off the launch pad.  That feeling of solidity, of "this is a guy I can believe," was always there.      When Lyndon Johnson famously said of the Vietnam War, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America," he was probably right.     I've missed you on screen too, Walter.  TV news just ain't what it used to be.  But I'm happy to have been one of your "so-and-sos", as in, "so-and-so has more on that."  Good memories of the way it was, back then.             
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Thursday, July 16, 2009

July 15, 2009

        Governor Sarah Palin will, I read, campaign as an independent ex-gov not only for Republicans but also for Democrats who agree with her philosophy. The story didn't say whether the Republican Party would issue certificates exempting Democrats who didn't want Palin's backing from getting it, but I think they should, don't you?      In a way, you have to love Palin.  She's a fresh if sometimes uninformed voice in a politics too often dominated by caution and fear--don't say anything to lose votes, don't scare 'em away.  Palin goes back to a more carefree school - more colorful times:    Edwin Edwards, then governor of Louisiana leaving the hotel elevator to start a day's campaigning accompanied by a very pretty woman none of us had seen before, saying something like, "Hey guys, it's just me bein' me;"  or Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon's running mate, saying that no, he didn't think Strom Thurmond, who'd run for president on a segregationist ticket, was racist;  or Joe Biden himself, in the midst of a Senate harangue, pausing and then saying thoughtfully, "Of course, I have no idea what I'm talking about."  It's the funny moments you remember.      Palin already has a few memorable, head-scratching moments, of course, as when CBS' Katie Couric asked her what newspapers, or was it news magazines, she read.  Her long, long pause was followed by no names.      Well, no matter.  It's only '09 and we don't vote 'till '12, but it's never to early to play.  Let the game begin!  But it has, of course.  It has.          
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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

July 14, 2009

      Well, they did it.  I mean, you knew they were going to do it.  It was only a matter of when.   Now they've done it and we can move on.  What have they done?  Sorry, I thought you knew. The Washington Nationals have fired manager Manny Acta.  It's kind of a baseball tradition.      Acta, in fact, is the third major league manager to be fired so far this season and he probably won't be the last.  Should they have fired him?  Sure. The club has the worst won-lost record in the major leagues, so how can you argue against it?  On the other hand, will firing Acta change the character of the team, propel the hapless, hopeless Nats into the playoffs?   Almost surely not.      The new manager has been a coach on the team, so it's not likely the team chemistry will suddenly change.  And with one or two exceptions, there's an explanation for the Nats' terrible season that doesn't involve anything as complicated as chemistry:  there just don't play very well.      The legendary Casey Stengel, watching tryouts for the original expansion New York Mets, is supposed to have asked, after a dreary hour or so, "Can't anybody here play this game?"  He'd have been perfect for the Nats.      Well, lots of things in baseball don't change.  My home town team, the Chicago Cubs, is tied for third in its six-team division, unlikely to make it to the World Series, which they last won in 1908. The Washington team, known as the Senators during its years in the American League, was the subject of a slogan, or maybe a taunt:  Washington--first in war, first in peace and last in the American League.      They've changed leagues, but not much else.      
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