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.

Insert movie times and more without leaving Hotmail®. See how.

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." 
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

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.
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

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?

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

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.               
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

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. 
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

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. 

Get back to school stuff for them and cashback for you. Try Bing now.

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.   

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile