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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