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.      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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