Monday, December 20, 2010

December 19, 2010

      A story about honor was reported in the Washington Post this past week.
     It involves an effort to restore the reputation of a long-dead Air Force general, John Lavelle. Thirty-eight years ago he was fired and demoted to major general for allegedly ordering illegal bombing raids on what was then North Vietnam. The family says Lavelle was following orders--secret ones--from officials as high up as then-president Richard Nixon.
     The famous wiretaps in that White House have, for instance, Nixon saying to Henry Kissinger, his Secretary of State, "It's a bad rap for him (Lavelle), Henry.  Can we do anything now to stop this damn thing?"  And, a few months later, to Gen. Alexander Haig, "All this damn crap about Lavelle.  All he did was hit the goddamn SAM (surface to air missile) sites and military targets!"
     Kissinger, however, says those comments are being distorted.  He told the Post, "It has been said that President Nixon went outside the chain of command and authorized military action.... I am opposed to the argument that it was ordered by President Nixon. That argument is totally false."  Maybe.  But a president, of course, cannot "go outside" the chain of command.  He is at the top of that chain and can order anything he wants.  On the other hand, those White House tapes show that Nixon often blurted out unwise things in the Oval Office and his aides usually just ignored what he'd said.
     The truth?  We'll probably never know.  Where does honor lie?  The general's family has every right to ask.

Friday, December 17, 2010

      Some guys are just weird.
     Take, for instance, Army Lt. Col. Terrence Lakin, a doctor, seventeen years in the service, who this week pleaded guilty to not reporting to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, for deployment to Afghanistan.  Why?  Because he doesn't think Barack Obama is entitled to be commander in chief, so it's an illegal order.  Why
unqualified?  Because, Lakin thinks, Obama wasn't born in the United States.
     That's an old line, of course.  Obama's campaign made his birth certificate available on the internet in June, 2008.  Name:  Barack Hussein Obama.  Place of birth:  Honolulu, Hawaii.  Date:  August 4, 1961.   Officials say it's legitimate,  "I, Dr. Chiyome Fukino, director of the Hawaii State Department of Health, have seen the original vital records maintained on file by the Hawaii State Department of Health, verifying Barack Hussein Obama was born in Hawaii and is a natural-born American citizen.  I have nothing futher to add..."
     That is not enough for the Birthers, as they seem to be called.  You have to wonder if anything would be.
     Col. Lakin told the military judge that the winter has been "a confusing time, a very emotional time for me."  Maureen Dowd, in the New York Times, also quoted him as saying, "I made the wrong choice."
     Yes, colonel.  That's for sure. 
      The colonel was sentenced yesterday to six months in military prison and dismissal from the Army, which has been his life.  There can be a  price for clinging to some weird beliefs.  This one for the colonel was high.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

December 14, 2010

A federal district judge in Virginia has ruled part of the new healthcare reform law unconstitutional. That's not exactly a bulletin. Two other federal judges have ruled that the law is constitutional. What this almost surely means is that the Supreme Court, probably next year, will have to resolve the issue.
The judge ruled that a provision in the law requiring Americans to buy health insurance was unconstitutional. But again, other judges disagree with that.
When I lived in Britain, years ago, National Health was simply there. The Brits paid for it, of course, but there were no separate fees; they paid for it with their taxes, as they paid for everything else. We didn't use it because my then wife didn't like waiting in line and with a private physician you mostly didn't have to. But friends of mine used it, with excellent results. I came home a big fan.
The law Congress passed this year is, I read somewhere, about two thousand pages long. No, I haven't read it. It's been pretty clear all along it would need to be amended and improved as we saw how it worked.
I hope this ruling starts that process. National health insurance really is, for us Americans, an idea whose time has come. The rest of the industrialized nations already have it. It's time we joined them.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

December 9, 2010

     President Obama made a deal, a compromise, with Senate Republicans this week.  A lot of liberals are saying he shouldn't have.  I think they're wrong.
     The primary issue was extending some Bush-era tax cuts which were due to expire.  Mr. Obama wanted to extend them for all Americans making less than $ 250,000 a year.  That failed.  Then he proposed extending the cuts for everyone making less than a million a year. That failed too. That is to say, a majority of the Senate voted for both of them, but it takes three-fifths of the Senate to do anything nowadays.  Neither plan got the required sixty votes.
     So the president went along with the Republicans and the Senate voted to extend the cuts for everyone, including the very rich.  In exchange Obama got GOP agreement on extending unemployment benefits--help for folks who surely need it.
     This seems like a good bargain.  It helps people who need help--and, sure, some rich ones who don't.  It adds to the deficit, but that may actually encourage the next Congress to get serious about deficit reduction, as this one hasn't.
     You could call it making the best of a bad situation.  Or you could just call it politics. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

December 7, 2010

     Gallup has been asking Americans how they rate our presidents over the past half-century or so--nine them, from John Kennedy through George W. Bush--the current president, Barack Obama, not included.
     Well, surprise, surprise, Kennedy finished first.  I can understand most glamorous, the most photogenic, and all that--especially since the Obamas weren't on the ballot.  But performance in office?  Kennedy has one big loss--he backed the Cuban exiles' Bay of Pigs invasion, aimed at overthrowing Fidel Castro--and one big win--getting the Soviet Union to withdraw its missiles from Cuba instead of landing us in World War III.  That's .500 ball, but JFK was first with an 85% approval rating.  It was just 58% when he was killed.
     Second?  That would be Ronald Reagan, at 74%.  He had some high points, to be sure--the Cold War ended on his watch and people may remember that, more than, say, the 1982 recession or Iran-Contra.
     Bill Clinton--yes--was third.  I still remember being called back to Washington from an assignment in Cuba--the Pope was visiting Castro--with a plane load of reporters all saying things like, "An intern was it?  Monica who?"  But apparently people thought he was a good president, whatever he was up to on the side.
     And last?  Well, sure, Richard Nixon, the only president ever to resign the office, which he did, of course, to avoid impeachment.  No surprise there.  No indeed.

Monday, December 6, 2010

December 6, 2010

     The sports pages of the Washington Post today are damp with its reporters' tears.  The hapless, hopeless Washington Redskins have done it again.
     The regular sports story by Jason Reid: "...the Washington Redskins failed miserably from start to finish Sunday afternoon in am embarrassing 31-7 loss to the New York (except that they play in Jersey now) Giants."  Columnist Mike Wise:  "R.I.P.,Hope.  See ya, Renewal.  As usual, we hardly knew ye."  Columnist Thomas Boswell:  "a stunningly inept loss."  I could go on, but you get it.
     All the sports teams are bad here.  The basketball Wizards have yet to win a road game this year.  The hockey Capitols have good regular seasons but leave the playoffs early. Baseball?  The slogan about the old Washington Senators was "First in war, first in peace, but last in the American League."  Now it's the Nationals in the National League but the song hasn't changed much.
     Still, the Redskins are the city's favorite team.  They last won the Super Bowl in 1992, and that's not yesterday. But losing for the Skins goes way back.  In 1940, when there were two divisions and just one championship game, the Redskins, with a gifted quarterback named Sammy Baugh, played the Chicago Bears, with their own gifted quarterback named Sid Luckman.  Final score - Bears 73, Redskins 0.
     The more things change--well, you  know how that goes. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

December 2, 2010

     The Washington Post reported yesterday that officials at the National Portrait Gallery have pulled a piece of video art showing Christ with ants crawling on him.  The Gallery did this after complaints from the Catholic League, whose president called the piece "hate speech," and from incoming House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, whose office called it a waste of taxpayer money.
     The video, part of a show on sexual differences in American portraiture, is by the late artist  David Wojnarowicz.  The museum's director Martin Sullivan said, "This decision wasn't caving in."  That's nonsense.  Of course it was.
     The Post's Style section also ran a commentary about the Gallery's action.  Blake Gopnik wrote, "for 11 seconds of (Wojnarowicz') meandering stream-of-consciousness work...a crucifix appears with ants crawling on it.  It seems such an inconsequential part of the total video that neither I nor anyone I've spoken to who saw the work remembered it at all."  Way to go, Gallery.
     It seems pretty obvious that, as Gopnik's commentary was headlined, "Museums shouldn't bow to censorship of any kind."  The Gallery did and we are the worse for it.
     One of the most dreadful things I ever saw was Auschwitz, the old Nazi concentration camp, itself a sort of museum now.  There's a building there--not huge, about the size of a US Army barracks, which is piled full of shoes--all shapes, all sizes, just piled there--mute talismans of so many killed there. 
     I stared and stared at the shoes and thought about the nature of evil.  I'm very glad the building is there.
       Gopnik says that David Wojnarowicz' hope was to "speak to the suffering of his dead friend."   Museums should dare to speak to suffering be it through Wojnarowicz' video or Auschwitz' shoes. 

December 1, 2010

     Fifty-five years ago today a black woman in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks, refused to give up her bus seat so that a white man could have it.  Police arrested Parks;  she was convicted of disorderly conduct. That set off a boycott of the city bus service which lasted more than a year.  It was led by a young minister named Martin Luther King, Jr. and it changed America.
     If you're looking to mark the start of the civil rights movement in America, that was probably the day.
     Parks died in Detroit five years ago, aged 92.  John Conyers, a Detroit Congressman, remembers her as "the mother" of the movement, a "real apostle" of non-violence.  Her action and the boycott it started led to a court order desegregating Montgomery's buses, but it took the 1964 Civil Rights Act to desegregate all public accommodation in America.
     "We hold these truths to be self-evident:  that all men are created equal" our Declaration of Independence begins.  But the men (only) who wrote it didn't believe that.  Many of them owned slaves.  We haven't reached the promised land of racial equality yet.  Just look around and you'll know that.
     But we've come a fair way, and Rosa Parks is one of those who got us started.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

November 29, 2010

     If I turn on my memory, I can still hear Illinois' Everett Dirksen thundering (he was quoting someone, Goethe I think, but thundering anyway), "Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come."  He was speaking for the 1964 Civil Rights Act, or maybe the '65 Voting Rights Act, part of a bipartisan Senate majority which made those measures law. Yes, bipartisan. The Senate was like that then.
     Not today.  Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the GOP leader in the Senate, says his top goal is to make Barack Obama a one-term president.  More important than avoiding World War III? More important than diminishing hunger or poverty?  I guess so.
      The lame-duck Congress comes back tomorrow and one of the things they have to deal with is President George W. Bush's tax cuts, which expire at the end of the year.  Democrats want to extend them for those who make less than a quarter of a million dollars a year.  Republicans want to extend them for everybody.  Some moderate--was it Richard Lugar?--said let's extend them for everyone who makes less than a million a year.  But that's a compromise, and those seem out of fashion these hyper-partisan days.  Same intransigence seems likely on other issues, like the new START treaty with Russia.
     Government by inaction, paralysis?  Get ready.  I think it's time has come. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

November 23, 2010

     I remember someone, years ago in The Village Voice, lamenting that breaking up with his current girl friend would hurt just as much as breaking up with his last one. "Oh man," he wrote, "I dig the pain ahead."  I hope the rest of us can do that too.  We'll probably need to, this coming spring. 
   Because we keep spending more than we rake in, Congress will need to extend the limit on the national debt this spring.  Paul Krugman in the New York Times this week quotes former Senator Alan Simpson, co-chair of a special commission on deficit reduction, "I can't wait for the blood bath in April...We've got guys who won't approve the debt limit extension unless we give 'em a piece of meat, real meat" (meaning spending cuts). "And boy, the blood bath will be extraordinary."  He's probably right.
     It's not impossible to balance the federal budget.  Bill Clinton, I think, did it twice.  But run a surplus?  Oh wow.
     Congress would have to do really unpopular things:  raise the retirement age to seventy, say. so Social Security payments would start later;  cut the size of those payments;  cut Medicare;  cut defense spending.  Real stuff.  Or they could do nothing and watch the dollar collapse and the U.S. turn into a modern version of Germany's between-the-wars Weimar Republic, where shoppers hauled wheelbarrows of cash to the store to buy lunch.
     We really are going to have to cut, or else.  How many people will that hurt? Shouldn't it hurt everyone of us?
     Oh man, I dig the pain ahead.

Monday, November 22, 2010

November 22, 2010

    John Kennedy died 47 years ago today.  If you're old enough, you remember where you were.
      I was in London.  Big Ben normally tolls the hours, tolls once a minute when the king or queen has died.  It tolled once a minute that day.  Cab drivers, hearing my American accent, wouldn't take my money.
     Kennedy had a mixed presidency--failure at the Bay of Pigs, when American-backed Cuban exiles tried to invade Cuba and overthrow Fidel Castro;  success when the Soviet Union withdrew its missiles from Cuba in the face of a U.S. blockade.  But the other thing his presidency had was glamour.  He and his wife and two young children were memorably telegenic.  She later nicknamed their time in the White House "Camelot" and few disagreed.
      The national mood was upbeat.  "The torch has been passed to a new generation," he said in his Inaugural Address, "We shall pay any price, bear any assure the survival and success of liberty."
      Now we have another memorably attractive family in that house--the Obamas--probably the most glamorous since the Kennedys.  And yet the national mood seems very different. People, as best this retired reporter can tell, don't want to pay the price, bear the burden. They'd like to sit down and rest a while.
     I have no idea why.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

November 16, 2010

     I write today about the sad, bad end of a distinguished Congressional career, that of Harlem Democrat Charles Rangel, whom everyone on Capitol Hill calls "Charlie."  He won a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart in the Korean War.  He was first elected to the House in 1971 and has held the seat ever since.  He helped found the Black Caucus.  He rose to become Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee--that's the one that writes the tax laws.  He's smart and funny and reporters like him.
     And now--oh, dear.  The House Ethics Committee ruled there was evidence to support 13 counts of misconduct by Rangel.  He walked out of the hearing, but the committee's chief counsel listed evidence against him--549 exhibits, dozens of interviews, thousands of pages of testimony.
     The charges are white-collar crime--accepting rent-stabilized apartments from a Manhattan developer, failure to pay income tax on rent from a villa, soliciting charitable donations from people with business before Congress, and the like.  Members said later the facts against Rangel were "uncontested."
     They won't expel him;  they could but they almost never do.  Instead he'll get censure or a reprimand, still a black smudge at the end of a fine career.
     I'm sorry, Charlie.

Monday, November 15, 2010

November 15, 2010

     Thank you, Mr. President.  Thank you very much.
     I refer, of course, to Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, who says in an interview in today's Washington Post, that the U.S. should get some of its troops out of his country. Karzai told the Post, "He wanted American troops off the roads and out of Afghan homes and that the long-term presence of so many foreign soldiers would only worsen the war."  He also said the U.S. "must end the U.S. Special Operations night force raids that aggravate Afghans."
     As they used to say at all those anti-Vietnam war rallies, Mr. President, "Right on!"
     We went into Afghanistan, as I recall, to hit back at the Taliban for their involvement in the 9/11 attacks
on the U.S.   But the Taliban are a mobile force, working from Afghanistan, Pakistan, wherever.  Invading Afghanistan hasn't rid us of them.  Presumably it won't.
     Your colleague here in Washington may not agree with you, President Karzai.  He used to talk about starting withdrawals in 2011, but the date quoted recently has been 2014.  Over as thousand Americans have already died in this war.  Why more?
     Come on, Mr. Obama.  You inherited two pointless wars.  Combat troops are out of Iraq, we're told.
With a little effort you could end both these follies in your first term.
     Be remembered as a peacemaker, maybe.       

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

November 11, 2010

     A lame-duck session of Congress will convene here next week.  That's when the old Congress--winners and losers in the mid-term election--come back to do a little business at the end of the year before the new Congress--the winners--first convene in January.
     What will the ducks do?  Quack some, sadly or gladly, depending on whether they won or lost.  But they will do some serious stuff too.  Some tax cuts that passed in the Bush administration expire at the end of the year.  The Democrats want to let them expire for the wealthy--those making more than $ 250,000. a year--and extend them for everyone else. The Republicans want to extend them for everyone.  That's one issue the ducks really have to deal with.  If they don't, everyone's taxes will go up, and what elected Congressman wants that?
     Cutting federal spending?  We heard lots of rhetoric about that in the fall campaign but don't bet on action.  Cut your pet project?  Cut mine?  It's hard.
     Will they pass a resolution (called a continuing resolution) allowing present spending to continue?  They have to do that. The current CR runs out at the beginning of December. Without a new one, the government would begin to shut down.  Imagine!
     Oh, a Congress will probably do something about Medicare.  Its payments to doctors will drop by 30% in the new year unless Congress acts, as is has in the past, to postpone the cuts. If the cuts take effect, would fewer doctors accept Medicare patients?  Who knows?
     Anyway, enjoy the ducks.  Their quacking can be fun. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

November 9, 2010

"Just Say No" surfaced a decade or two ago as an anti-drug use slogan, which was fine. But these days it seems to be the platform of the Republican party and it isn't nearly as good at that.
What are the Republicans for nowadays? No new tax increases. Yes, but they're also for cutting the deficit. You can't do that without either increasing taxes or cutting spending. The GOP is for the second part of that equation, in theory. But to really cut spending you have to go after entitlements like Social Security, or defense spending, or both, because they make up most of the budget. I haven't heard the Republicans come out for cutting either of those.
Ross Douthat points out in yesterday's New York Times that we face three main problems: a jobless recovery, entitlement spending and an economy that wasn't helping the middle class even before the recession hit. The Democratic Party, he correctly notes, may have the wrong answers to these problems, but the Republicans don't seem to have any at all.
Come on, GOP! President Obama is vulnerable, but you're not going to beat him in '12 by Just Saying No. Some suggestions, please, on how to deal with the very real problems we face.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

November 3, 2010

I think it was sort of a "sort of" election. The Republicans sort of won, gaining control of the House. Nancy Pelosi won't be Speaker anymore, which is too bad because she was good at it, but the putative new guy, John Boehner, probably will be too.
You could argue that the Dems sort of hung on in the Senate and the GOP sort of won some there. Neither side will really have control in the new Senate; either will be able to filibuster the other. Sort of winning filibuster power may mean that good governing sort of lost the most.
As usual, there were some odd results. Senate majority leader Harry Reid squeaked to victory in Nevada over a woman, Sharron Angle, who wanted to abolish both Medicare and Social Security. Really? Are there many Nevadans who feel that way?
In Delaware, Christine O'Donnell (the Republican whose TV ad began "I am not a witch"), lost to Democrat Chris Coons in a battle for Vice President Joe Biden's old seat, leaving us only to wonder, but what if she were, and she's won? Oh well.
President Obama's old seat in Illinois went Republican when Mark Kirk beat Democrat Alexi Giannoulias, the state treasurer. The Tea Party won some. Its founder, Rand Paul, won as did Republican Marco Rubio in Florida, though Tea Partier O'Donnell, as noted above, lost in Delaware. Oh, and Alvin Greene, the drifter who somehow won the Democratic Senate nomination, lost. Well, I guess we all expected that.
Curiouser and curiouser, said Alice. Maybe curiouser still, two years from now.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

November 2, 2010

     What should you be watching this election tonight?  Here's where I'll start.
    The polls close at 7PM in Kentucky where Republicans are spending money on their 6th District challenger, Andy Barr, who's running against Democratic incumbent Representative Ben Chandler.  If Chandler loses, experts say, it could be a long night for the Dems.
     At 7:30 polls close in West Virginia where the Washington Post says Democratic Governor Joe Manchin appears to be ahead in the race for the open Senate seat once held by Robert Byrd.  If Manchin loses, that's another sign of a good election for the GOP.
     8PM?  That's Florida, where a key Senate race pits Tea Party Republican Marco Rubio against Democrat Kendrick Meek and Governor Charlie Crist, a Republican running as an independent because he thought he'd lose the GOP primary to Rubio.  A good one to watch.
     9PM?  Colorado, where appointed Democratic Senator Michael Bennet faces Ken Buck. The Post says this could be the closest Senate race in the country.
     10PM?  Nevada, where Democrat Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, is in a tough race against Republican Sharon Angle. They've spent about $ 50 million in a lightly populated state.
     There are more, but those'll get you started.

Monday, November 1, 2010

November 1, 2010

      Well, Gallup has done its final pre-midterm poll.  It shows the Republicans up, 55--40.  Other polls have slightly different numbers, but the consensus among those who've been talking to voters (as this retired reporter has not) is that the GOP will certainly win the House and maybe the Senate.
     Disillusionment with the President?  Yes, there is certainly some.  Mr. Obama's slogan of two years ago, "Yes, we can" seems to sound to people now more like, "Yes, maybe we can but we haven't yet."  That's a little unfair. of course, but we're talking politics here, not ethics.  The President got Congress to approve a stimulus package.  It hasn't brought prosperity and unemployment is worrisomely high, but it may have helped us avoid a real depression.  He got Congress to pass health care.  It's hard to imagine that most people won't eventually think that's a good thing, whatever amendments to the law they may favor.
     Obama has ended one of the two wars he inherited--sort of.  Combat troops are out of Iraq, we're told, though if the bad guys start shooting, all troops are combat troops.  We are not out of Afghanistan and for the life of me, I can't see why.  Give Karzai one last bribe, tell him to strike a deal with the Taliban and be done with it.  He quite often sounds anti-American anyway.
       Still, the day is upon us.  I hope that Delaware Senate candidate who says she once "dabble into" witchcraft does well.  Maybe she could cast a spell.   

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

October 27, 2010

         The World Series starts today.  It's an event I always look forward to, but I won't enjoy it as much because all the games this year are at night.
     I know, the TV ratings are better at night.  People can watch comfortable at home instead of clustering around a set in the shop or the office, hoping the boss isn't watching you watch the game.  I know.
     But the game Abner Doubleday invented more than a century ago was a game played outdoors in the sunshine.  The grass was green, the sky was blue, the beer was golden, not some other shade of
fluorescent.  I miss all that.
    Pretty easy to figure out whom to root for this year of course.  The Texas Rangers, an expansion team, has never won a Series, never even been in one until now.  The Giants can look back to their New York glory days and remember wins.  So I'm for the Rangers, even
though my own team, the ridiculous Chicago Cubs, hasn't even been in a Series since before the Rangers were born.
     So I hope you win, Texas.  Just wish you'd play one in the sunshine.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

October 25, 2010

      In January of this year the Supreme Court ruled 5--4 that government may not bar political spending by corporations in candidate elections.  That has had a huge effect on the midterms now underway.
     The New York Times reported this week, "The anonymously funded conservative groups that have played such a critical role this campaign year are starting a carefully coordinated final push to deliver control of Congress to Republicans, shifting money among some 80 House races they are monitoring day by day."
     I don't know whether corporations ought to be allowed to give money to campaigns. But if they are, surely that money ought to be identified as to source.  Candidate A ought to be able to be accused of taking money from the Wacko Works, Inc. just as money you I give to campaigns comes with our names attached.  And maybe corporations should only be able to give as much as individuals, or something like that.
     I am no expert on campaign finance law, which is complex, but surely the anonymous millions this year have made the system look worse and smell worse.
     Come on, Supremes, how about a change of heart?   

Sunday, October 24, 2010

October 24, 2010

     British Prime Minister David Cameron took a brave step this past week, announcing that his coalition government (he's a Conservative working with the Social Democrats) would move boldly to reduce its staggering budget deficit.  Yes, staggering;  it's 11.4%
the size of the overall economy, but no, not so different from ours at 8.9% of the U.S. economy.
      What the Brits are going to do is (gasp, shudder!) raise taxes and cut public spending.  Cut?  Yes.  Retirement benefits will start later.  Thousands
of government jobs will be eliminated.  Subsidies to things like the BBC will shrink.  Some taxes will go up.
     David Broder, in the Washington Post, writes that British friends of his say Cameron can only do this because he heads a coalition government and wonders whether President Obama, if the Republicans make big gains in the midterm elections, might try to do the same thing.
     I hope so.  I hope he does something.  So far, our only response to a very serious and worsening fiscal mess seems to be prayer.  I'm not at all sure than anybody is listening.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

October 20, 2010

     Listen up, voters!  The important off-year election is just days away.  Except maybe it isn't.  Isn't important, that is.
     I'm a retired reporter, so I've not been out this year talking to voters and candidates.  The consensus among those who have seems to be that the Republicans may well win control of the House and perhaps of the Senate too.  Will that matter much?
     It will certainly discourage President Obama from introducing major new legislation during the second two years of his term.  If he does introduce such proposals, he'll have a harder time getting a Republican Congress to approve them.
     Will it have any effect on the major laws passed during his first two years?  Probably not.  There's been
some talk about repealing the health care bill.  Very, very tough. Sure, a Republican Congress could vote for repeal-assuming they could get around the Senate rules which make it difficult for that body to do anything at all.  But then President Obama could veto their repeal.  It takes a two-thirds majority vote in both House and Senate to override a presidential veto. 
Republicans are very unlikely to have majorities that big.
     So health care, at least, is probably here to stay.

October 19, 2010

      When I was covering the war in Vietnam in the 1960s, the Army was mostly draftees. They went to the war for a year.  Occasionally you met a career soldier on a second tour, but that was unusual.
    Now we have an all volunteer Army, which means soldiers go to war (pick one; we have two--45,000 soldiers still in Iraq and, of course, Afghanistan) for longer.  Men and women serve three, four, sometimes even five tours in the war zones.  This has consequences.  High stress is one of them.
    Politics Daily, quoting an internal Army investigation, reports that more soldiers are dying by drug overdose, accident, murder and suicide than in combat.  Suicide, the report says, is now "the third-leading cause of death for soldiers...Simply stated, we are often more dangerous to ourselves than the enemy."  No one, Politics Daily says, suggests that stress is the only cause, but the Army's Vice Chief of Staff, General Peter Charelli, acknowledges that the problems are "troubling."
     This civilian sees two solutions:  one, restore the draft, which I can't imagine Congress doing;  two, end the wars.  Give peace a chance, as those Vietnam protesters used to chant.  Let's hope.

Monday, October 18, 2010

October 18, 2010

     This election season--the vote's just weeks away--is a good time, surely, to celebrate freedom of the press.

     Alaska Republican Senate candidate Joe Miller's campaign didn't see it that way the other day.  Private security guards working for his campaign arrested and handcuffed a reporter for the Alaska Dispatch, an online news site, who was trying to question the candidate.
     The reporter, Tony Hopfinger, followed candidate Miller down a hallway trying to ask a question about Miller's time as a government lawyer in Fairbanks last year.  Miller did not answer, having said earlier that he would no longer speak about has past work experience or his personal life.  Now there's a new approach to running for office!
     Hopfinger said he got wrapped up in a pro-Miller crowd and some guards as he followed the candidate.  Then a guard grabbed him.  "He throws me up against the wall. He handcuffsme."  Hopfinger also said the guards took his video camera and when they gave it back later the contents had been erased.
     The owner of the security firm
said Hopfinger was technically trespassing because the Miller campaign had rented a room for its town meeting, which it considered a private event. 
Another first, maybe--a private campaign for public office.
     We reporters used to sing a little song--I think it was back during the Nixon years or thereabouts.  The chorus went, "The lying press deceives/ the lying press deceives/ Beat the Press and Mace the Nation/ the lying press deceives.
     Guess things don't change much - at least not in the eyes of the Miller .

Thursday, October 14, 2010

October 14, 2010

Commentators have been noting that the Republicans this year have nominated some unusual and unusually conservative candidates.  Good.  Maybe that will liven things up.
     My favorite, of course, is Christine O'Donnell, the Republican candidate for Joe Biden's old Senate seat in Delaware.  She's the one who's been running a TV ad which begins, "I am not a witch."  But just imagine if she were and if she won.
     There we are on the Senate floor.  Majority Leader (assuming he gets reelected) Harry Reid of Nevada rebukes O'Donnell over some point of procedure.  She whips out a wand, there's a flash of light and suddenly Reid is transformed into a frog.  He'd make a good frog, don't you think - hopping about the Chamber, croaking for order?
     But wow!  Imagine the blizzard of publicity!  The Senate could start charging for seats in the Visitors Gallery.  Fifty bucks a head at least, I think.  People would line up.  C-Span ratings would soar.  They could start charging too.  A profit-making Senate--now there's a government reform worth having.
     I know, I know, she's behind in the polls and probably won't win.  An old, retired reporter has to dream. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

October 12, 2010

      In this election campaign, the hits just keep on coming.  A couple of weeks ago we had an ad for
a Senate candidate in Delaware that began with her telling the camera, "I am not a witch."  Okay, but does that make you a senator?
     Now comes the Republican candidate for governor of New York, Carl Paladino, who told a crowd Sunday, "I just think my children and your children would be much better off and much more successful getting married and raising a family and I don't want them brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option--it isn't."  In the text, but undelivered, was "There is nothing to be proud of in being a dysfunctional homosexual."
     Speaking of his opponent, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, Paladino said, "Mr. Cuomo took is daughters to a Gay Pride parade.  Is that normal?  Would you do it?...I don't think it's proper for them to go there and watch a couple of grown men grinding against each other...It's disgusting."
     Strong talk which, of course, rumbled across the state.  On Monday, unsurprisingly, Paladino said he is not anti-gay and would appoint gays in his administration.  There are, of course, many gays in New York and, like other New Yorkers, they vote.  Good luck, Mr. Paladino.
     Don't they have some kind of stupidity test these guys should have to pass before they can run?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

October 7, 2010

     I've never seen a political TV ad which began with a U.S. Senate candidate saying, "I am not a witch."  I'll bet you haven't either, but if we go to Delaware, we probably can.
     She is, of course, Christine O'Donnell, the Republican candidate in Delaware.  It all started when she said she had "dabbled into" witchcraft, whatever that means.  Then there was some quote about a date on a "Satanic altar," but I don't quite understand that either.  Her ad also says that along with not being a witch, "I'm you."  Well, no--younger, prettier and a woman.  She is against masturbation, which she once compared to adultery.  I thought it took two to adulterate, but what do I know.  She's also against Hare Krishna. I'm not sure why.  I'm also not sure how she writes her list of things she's against.
     Everyone at first thought she was a preposterous candidate, but that's changed. Since she won the GOP primary, she's raised, the state's largest newspaper says, 2.7 million dollars.  Small state, Delaware.  Big bucks.  The Democrats also have a candidate--it's Joe Biden's old seat, after all.  But I think he's a pretty average guy. Maybe they could get him to resign and nominate a warlock.
     Now wouldn't that be a bewitching race to watch?  

Monday, October 4, 2010

October 4, 2010

     I love the  Sports Section of the paper--full of happy endings and sad ones--stories that seem, unlike those about, say, Congress, to have a point and end.
    Sunday football:  During the NFL offseason, the Philadelphia Eagles traded 11-year veteran quarterback Donovan McNabb to the Washington Redskins. The two teams played yesterday in Philadelphia. The Philly fans, often rowdy, gave McNabb a standing ovation.  He led the Skins to a 17-12 victory over the hometown Eagles.  So McNabb, of course, gets the last word.  "Everybody makes mistakes in life," McNabb said after the game, "and they (the Eagles) made one last year."  Well, yes.  Point  taken.
     Then I read about baseball.

The MLB season ended yesterday.  I know, I know. That's only the regular  season, the playoffs haven't started yet.  But if you root, as I feebly do, for the hapless--hopeless--I never know which to use--Chicago Cubs, the regular season is all there ever is.  They finished next to last in their division, sixteen games out of first place. Their manager, I think I read somewhere, said he'd hoped they'd do a little better. 

I can't imagine why.
     The Cubs--lovable losers, Chicago sportswriters sometimes call them, but who loves losers--last won the National League pennant in 1945, losing the World Series to, I believe, the Detroit Tigers. They last won the Series in 1908, 102 years ago.  Now that's a losing streak.
     The poet Alexander Pope once wrote,  "Hope springs eternal in the human breast."  But not if you're a Cubs fan, sir.  Not then. 

Saturday, October 2, 2010

October 1, 2010

     This is a vile story.
     The Washington Post reported yesterday about Shirley Phelps-Roper and her family who show up at the military funerals of U.S. soldiers to praise God for killing them. "Thank God for dead soldiers" is one common sign.  The group's message is that America's tolerance of homosexuality has angered God.
     This is offensive, of course.  The question is, is it protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution,
which reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press...."  Does that language protect even speech as offensive as this?
     A man named Albert Snyder, whose
son's funeral was disrupted by these protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church, sued.  A Baltimore jury ruled that Westboro had to pay Snyder 10 million dollars.  The judge cut the amount in half.  But then a three judge panel for the 4th Circuit U. S. Court of Appeals unanimously overturned the judgment, calling the Phelps protest "distasteful and repugnant" butprotected by the First Amendment.
     The Supreme Court will now have to decide.   As an absolutist about the Constitution, I'm with the Court.  What do you think?   

September 30; 2010

     Wilfred Owen, a British poet who saw combat in
 World War I had it about right when he wrote: "If  you could hear at every jolt the blood/ Come gargling from the froth-corrupted longs/...My friend, you would not tell with such high zest/ To children ardent for some desperate glory/ The old Lie: Dulce et Decorum ast/ Pro patria mori." Which is Latin for "It is sweet and proper/ To die for one's country.
     Maybe it's sweet when the war is good but we don't seem to have many of those anymore. What we do have, increasingly, is  not just servicemen being killed by the enemy by young Americans in the military killing themselves.
     The New Yirk Times had a story this week, :Four
 suicides in a week take a toll on Ft. Hood. Well, I should think so!. Ft. Hood, in Texas, is the largest base in the United States. So far this year, it  has had 14 confirmed suicides; six others are believed to have killed  themselves, but the cases haven't been decided yet. The previous higfh was in 2008, whenb 14 soldiers killed themselves.
    The Times quotes the Center for Disease Control says that works out to about four ntimes the national avaerage.
     It's understandable. When I covered Vietnam back
 in thr 1960s, most draftees did a one year tour there.
Now, with a smaller professional army, soldiers go back to thye war zone   for four tours, sometimes five. Sick to death of it? Sure they are.
     One solution would be to revive the draft. I'd  probably vote for it, but would Congress? I doubt it. The other solution is to  get out of these dumb wars. Let's.  

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

September 29, 2010

      One of the oddities of Barack Obama's presidency is that so many Americans say, wrongly, that they think he's a Muslim.  One recent Pew Forum survey shows that 18% of us think Obama is a Muslim, up a bit from a 2009 survey.  34% say he's a Christian,
down from earlier surveys, and 43% say they don't know what his religionis.
     Obama himself spoke of his religion in a New Mexico campaign stop this week, telling voters that he wasn't raised as a churchgoer but embraced Christianity as an adult.  "It was because the precepts of Jesus spoke to me," he said, "in terms of the kind of life that I would want to lead--being my brothers' and sisters' keeper, treating others as they would treat me."  His public service, he said, is "part of that effort to express my Christian faith."  He went on to say that he's somebody "who deeply believes that part of the bedrock strength of this country is that it embraces people of many faiths and of no faith."
     Fair enough.
     Religion is something which draws controversy, especially when it's mixed with politics.  I'm old enough to remember voters grumbling that if John Kennedy (our first Roman Catholic president) were elected, he and we would be taking orders from the Pope.  Didn't happen, of course.
      And will Obama's latest comments end the rumor-mongering about his religion?  It would be lovely to
think so, but I'm sure it won't.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

September 22, 2010

  If the United States had a motto, it might well be something like "Good times ahead."  A flood of new economic numbers suggest that's changing--that we may have to add some words like "but not anytime soon."
     The recession officially ended in June 2009.  But unemployment is still high and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says it may stay that way until at least 2013.
     The OECD report says the U.S. economy has started to grow again.  It doesn't forecast a double-dip recession, but it adds, "We don't see either a recovery that is strong enough to put a significant dent in unemployment....It could be early 2013, at best, before the rate returns to it's pre-recession level."  It says the unemployment rate will average 9.7% this year and 9.0% in 2011.  I am old enough to remember the good old days when unemployment averaged around 5%.
      There is no silver lining here.  It suggests that some old assumptions--kids will have it better than their parents, for instance, or I'm looking forward to retiring on my pension--will have to be put on hold.  The economists are not suggesting that things will get worse than they now are--only that they will get better very, very slowly.  

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

September 22, 2010

     Christine O'Donnell is the Republican candidate for the Senate in Delaware--seeking Joe Biden's old seat.  She's unusual.  The Washington Post's Richard Cohen
pointed out in a column that she admited having "dabbled into witchcraft."  This is first, of course, an indictment of the Delaware public schools.  You dabble "in" witchcraft or winemaking or widgets - not
"into" it.  Sill, I'd love to meet whomever else was in her coven.
     Qualification?  She's for sexual abstinence before marriage, against abortion and against masturbation, which the Post says she once compared to adultery.  I find that confusing, but it may make sense to you.
     She doesn't seem to have worked anywhere much.  Apparently she lives in her campaign headquarters,
though that's confusing and, if you're seen many campaign headquarters, depressing.  On the stump she sometimes claims to have carried two of the
state's three counties in an earlier run for the Senate when, in fact, she carried none.
     Financial setbacks include a near foreclosure on her home, an IRS lien and a lawsuit from her alma mater for failing to pay bills.
     Oddly, she won the GOP primary by beating a former governor and Congressman, Mike Castle.
     She can't win, can she?  Sure she can.  It's that kind of a year. 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

September 18 , 2010

     Former Governor Sarah Palin, the GOP's 2008 vice presidential nominee, was in Iowa yesterday.

 This proves, of course, that the 2012 presidential campaign is underway. You remember Iowa?  First in the nation caucuses, it's where George McGovern upset Ed Muskie in 1972 and went on the become the Democratic presidential nominee? That Iowa.  It's a good state for a first test.  Blacks are under-represented, but the people are literate and tend to select thoughtful politicians of both parties.  
     I know it's early;  we haven't even had the 2010 midterm elections yet.  But presidential campaigns seem to start earlier with each new cycle, so this is not really a surprise.  Want more proof?  President Obama is going to Iowa, too, later this month. You knew he was going to run again, didn't you?

     The British do it differently, of
course.  Their campaigns are short--about a month, if I remember
rightly.  But length has its charms.  Everyone gets tired and you see
glimpses of character you might otherwise miss.  I remember one weary nominee, being heckled by rowdies at an airport one night, saying to a shouter in a soft but firm voice, "Kiss my ass."  It made me like him.
      Anyway, it's started. Brace yourselves.  Sure, the election is more than two years off, but we'll be having those Iowa caucuses in just over a year. 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

September 15, 2010

Tea Party sweeps!  Big changes coming!  Well, hold on a bit.  Let's wait for November.
     The headlines from Tuesday's primaries were tea-colored.  In Delaware Christine O'Donnell beat the Establishment choice, former governor and Congressman Mike Castle, for the GOP Senate nomination--Joe Biden's old seat, you know.  In New York newcomer Carl Paladino beat GOP veteran Rick Lazio for the gubernatorial nomination. What does this mean?
     What it probably means is that the Democrats' chance of winning those two elections just went up.  It's relatively easy for a dynamic new movement to win a primary.  If you're old enough, you remember Democrat George McGovern's antiwar activists winning him the presidential nomination in 1972, overcoming the Establishment choice, Ed Muskie. But then you also remember McGovern and the Dems carrying just one state--Massachusetts--and the District of Columbia in the fall election.
     Still true today.  Every story I've seen from Delaware says the Dems' chances went up when Castle lost.  New York's Lazio?  I'm not sure, but the same may well be true there.
     The Tea Party is swell fun if you like politics.  But how mighty?  We'll know in November.

Monday, September 13, 2010

September 13, 2010

     Rapture is spelled:  Washington Redskins 13, Dallas Cowboys 7.  I know, it wasn't much of a win.  I know, the 'Skins defense scored their only touchdown.  I know the Cowboys scored a touchdown on the final play, only to have it nullified by a holding penalty.  Still, rapture.
     Cities have sports teams, of course.  In Chicago, where I grew up, people rooted for the Cubs and the White Sox (two baseball teams in those distant days) and the Bears and the Bulls and so on.  In New York, when I lived there, people rooted for the Yankees and the Giants (baseball and football back then) and the Knicks and so on.
     Washington has always been different.

 Sure they have those other teams--the Nationals, the Wizards, the Capitals, DC United, the Mystics -  and sure people go to those games.  But the city's relationship with the 'Skins has always beenspecial.  When they win, the town swoons.  When they lose, it weeps tears of despair.
     Last season, they had much to weep about--four wins and twelve losses.  No wins at all against the teams in their division.  So yesterday was special--beating their arch rivals the Cowboys in the opening game.
     Does this mean they'll win their next fifteen?  Of course not.  Go to the Super Bowl? Not likely.  But they beat Dallas and so for a day glee reigns unconfined.  To quote Louis Carroll...they vorpled in it.  

Friday, September 10, 2010

September 19, 2010

     The doltish pastor of a small Florida church--congregation of about 50--now says he's reconsidered his decision to burn Korans to celebrate,commemorate, whatever, the ninth anniversary of the September 11th attacks.  He adds that he may reconsider his reconsideration.  Sure, Rev, anything to make the front page again or the evening news. 
    Gail Collins, in the New York Times, writes that this proves 5% of us are crazy--not in a medical sense but in the sense that we think locking the cat in the oven and then turning it on is good fun.   Or the poet W H Auden may be right that evil is simply part of our lives:  "Evil is every day and always human/and shares our bed and sits with us at table."  The doltish Rev says he promised to cancel his Koran burning after being misled by an imam about the issue. 
Whether he could tell an imam from a loaf of bread is of course a fair question.  Whether he falls fairly into Ms Collins' 5% need not be asked.
    How do we remember September 11th?  With grief, of course;  we honor the dead. With anger at the killers, remembering that they did not represent one religion or one country just a group of angry, murderous men.  Evil is every day...Mr. Auden again.
     And one more quote.  I remember Robert Kennedy during his 1968 presidential campaign, breaking the news of  Martin Luther King's murder to a mostly black crowd in Indianapolis.  "My favorite poet is Aeschylus," Kennedy said, "And he wrote 'Pain, which cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in the end, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.'"
     Wisdom?  I hope so.  You have to hope. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

September 8, 2010

I don't know how many years the Caesars ran Rome. The Daleys ran Chicago for 55-plus years. First was Richard J., the current mayor's father, from 1955 until he died in office in 1976, then Richard M. from 1989 until, as he announced yesterday, his term ends in 2011. The day after Christmas this year he will become the longest-serving mayor in the city's history, surpassing his father.
"Simply put," the Daley nicknamed Mayor for Life said Tuesday, "it's time. Time for me. And time for Chicago to move on." Well, I don't know. The City of the Big Shoulders, as Carl Sandberg once called it, has worked pretty well under the Daleys. "The City That Works" is, in fact, another of its nicknames.
It's grown, prospered. When all the cities were having riots in the 60s, Chicago did too, but it never reached the town's biggest ghetto on the South Side. It could have been much worse.
It's always had great art, great music--jazz, blues and symphony. Always been a great restaurant town. Sports? Well, Michael Jordan's Bulls were pretty great. The Bears have had some great football years. Baseball? Well, no, the Cubs haven't won the World Series since 1908. Hey, nobody's perfect. And they've got that great Great Lake...and Oprah.
Fortunately, there's a likely candidate for mayor who'd probably keep all that going--White House chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel, who has said he'd like the job one day. He may not be old enough to remember, as I do, party guys delivering turkeys to poor families at Thanksgiving, but he's a machine guy. He gets it.
I hope he runs. He might even be able to do something about the Cubs. Okay, okay, I can still dream, can't I?

Monday, September 6, 2010

September 6, 2010

     How better to start a Labor Day column than with Mark Twain's famous line, "I love work.  I can look at it for hours."  The New York Times, which always knows things like this, says the first Labor Day parade was in 1882.  Labor and we have changed a lot since then.
     Back then a lot of us worked on assembly lines--Henry Ford's contribution to the economy.  Automation has replaced a lot of those jobs, thank heavens.  I had one once and it wasn't much fun.  If fewer of us work on lines,  more of us work in offices. Union membership declined with the old factories, though of course some office workers are union members too--the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, for example.
     Education matters more now.  My father had a grade school education, like a lot of men his age, but they held down jobs that made enough to raise a family.  That's harder now.  Degrees and certificates, the trappings of formal education, matter more than they did in my dad's day or, probably, in mine.
     So, much changes.  But one important thing doesn't.  We celebrate this honoring of work, of labor, mostly by taking the day off.  Works for me.  

Thursday, September 2, 2010

September 2, 2010

       Well, here we go again.  Israeli and Palestinian leaders, with the U.S. (Hillary Clinton) watching and encouraging, are getting together to talk about a peaceful end to their sixty-year old dispute.  It would be nice to write about this with hope or optimism, but a much more natural reaction is, been there, done
     The Washington Post today published a useful, if depressing, chronology of this long search.  It starts with the Camp David Accords in 1978.  President Jimmy Carter took part.  A peace treaty was signed by Egypt and Israel, yes, but "subsequent talks broke
down." 1978?  Negotiators were Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin.  Long time ago.
     1993--the Oslo Accords. 1997--The Hebron Agreement.  2000--Camp David.  2007--Annapolis.  I'm
leaving some out or I'd run out of column.  
    I don't know how the average Arab feels, but a lot of them don't believe Israel has a right to exist.  Hamas, which holds that view, killed four Israeli soldiers Tuesday, their way of disapproving of the talks, I guess.  Obama called this "senseless slaughter" which does not mean it will stop, of course.
     "Got to keep on a-walking," one of the old civil rights hymns goes, "Till we get to freedom land."  But the Israelis and the Palestinians have been walking for sixty years now. 

They're not there yet.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

September 1, 2010

     The President, who is good with words, never uses ones like "victory" or "win" in his statement about U.S.
combat troops leaving Iraq because, of course, it wasn't a victory. We didn't win.  We spent almost a trillion dollars there.  More than 4400 Americans died there.  But we surely didn't win.
      Where does our departure leave the Iraqis?  I don't know or, honestly, much care.
      When we arrived, we overthrew a dictator, Saddam Hussein.  We leave with the country run by an unelected man named Nouri al-Maliki.  They had an election last March but they never seem to have figured out who won.
     Maybe the modern world doesn't have
neat wars with winners and losers.  We still have two Koreas, so I don't know who won that one.  The North won Vietnam, but we get along with them nowadays, exchange ambassadors and all that.
     So I don't know what lies ahead for Iraq.  A peaceful end to one of our two wars is a good new thing in our life.  Iraq?  I think I'll just say what Ed Murrow used to say at the end of his evening newscast:  Good night and good luck.   

August 31, 2010

     On August 26, 1920, ninety years ago, the 19th Amendment became law.  Women got the right to vote--the largest act of enfranchisement, the New York Times recently pointed out, in our history.  I think they've done pretty well with it.
     I mean, we had some fine presidents when it was just us guys--Jefferson and Lincoln, and so on.  But we also had the Polks and the Fillmores and the Garfields--quite a few of those.
 Since the women got to play, we've had Herbert Hoover--well, nobody's perfect--but we've also had some brilliant men like Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman (just think about the decisions he had to make--should he drop the first atomic bomb, should he send US troops to Korea, and so on), Lyndon Johnson (great domestic success but also the disastrous decision to send half a million troops to Vietnam), Dwight Eisenhower and, yes, Barack Obama who has had, I think, a pretty good run so far.
     Looking back, it's hard to imagine what all the fuss was about, but a fuss there surely was.  When Congress passed the 14th Amendment after the Civil War, giving blacks the right to vote, Republicans carefully added the word "male" saying states couldn't deny voting rights to "any of (their) male inhabitants." 

     Progress comes, at least sometimes.  Maybe the next step is for the ladies to elect one of their

Saturday, August 28, 2010

August 28, 2010

    With folks gathering for two rallies today in Washington
- Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" and Al Sharpton's "Reclaim the Dream" - I
thought I should write about it.  Then I read what John Lewis wrote in USA
Today.  No one could have said it better.
    Here's the link, if you're interested in reading his

Friday, August 27, 2010

August 26, 2010

Ninety years ago today the 19th Amendment became law. Women got the right to vote--the largest act of enfranchisement, the New York Times points out, in our history. I think they've done pretty well with it.
     I mean, we had some fine presidents when it was just us guys--Jefferson and Lincoln, and so on. But we also had the Polks and the Fillmores and the Garfields--quite a few of those. Since the women got to play, we've had Herbert Hoover--well, nobody's perfect--but we've also had some brilliant men--Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman (just think about the decisions he had to make--should he drop the first atomic bomb, should he send US troops to Korea, and so on), Lyndon Johnson (great domestic success but also the disastrous decision to send half a million troops to Vietnam), Dwight Eisenhower, and yes, Barack Obama who has had, I think, a pretty good run so far.
        . It hasn't worked out quite as well with mayors in some cities, of course, but nobody's perfect.
     Looking back, it's hard to remember what all the fuss was about. But a fuss there surely was. When Congress passed the 14th Amendment after the Civil War, giving blacks the right to vote, Republicans carefully added the word "male" saying states couldn't deny voting rights to "any of (their) male inhabitants."
     Progress comes, at least sometimes.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

August 25, 2010

     It's Wednesday, the day after primary elections, so there must be results, right?  And they'll tell us stuff, right?  Well, I'm not so sure about that last part.  Depends on which state you look at, pretty much.
     This is an anti-incumbent year, right?  No, not in Arizona where veteran Republican senator John McCain won his primary against former congressman and talk show host J.D. Hayworth.  Hayworth called McCain a "shape-shifter" but that shouldn't have startled anyone;  it's something McCain's done before.  A funny result in Arizona--Ben Quayle, son of former vice president Dan, won his primary with just 22.7% of the vote. Ten candidates were running.
     In Florida Democratic Senate candidate Kendrick Meek, the establishment candidate, beat a self-financed billionaire Jeff Greene.  But the Republican Marco Rubio won, maybe because he's part of both worlds--former speaker of the Florida House, but also a Tea Party stalwart who chased GOP Governor Charlie Crist out of the primary. Crist will run as an independent this fall.  Florida should be fun come November.
     Alaska?  Too close to call.  Senator Lisa Murkowski, whose dad held the seat before her, trails Tea Party favorite Joe Miller. There are enough uncounted absentee ballots to change that.
     Bring on November!  I can hardly wait.  

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

August 24, 2010

     California, I suppose, has always seemed exotic to the rest of us Americans.  It has movie stars, a terrific ocean, deserts, mountains and some fairly strange politicians too.
     The current governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is a Republican who gained fame not as a politician, but as a body builder turned actor.  Many Republicans don't like him much.  Ronald Reagan, of course, was an actor before he became governor and then president.
     This year the governor's race is a contest between dynasty and dough. 
     Democrat Gerry Brown represents the dynasty.  His father, Pat, was first elected governor way back in 1959, more than half a century ago.  He served two terms.  His son Jerry was first elected governor in 1975.  He served two terms too.  You might think his son would be in line now, but no.  Jerry, now in his seventies, is running again.  Is the campaign slogan "It's mine!"  I'm not sure but it could be.
     Dough is the Republican, Meg Whitman.  She has spent more than 100 million so far--had to get the nomination, of course, and plans to spend another 50--though there's more if she needs it.  I have no idea who'll win this one, but if some pollster asks you,  "Finest politics money can buy?" at least you'll know the answer. 

Friday, August 20, 2010

August 19, 2010

     Hallelujah!  Not a word I lead with often, but appropriate today.  The last American combat troops are leaving Iraq.  Not the last troops, of course.  Some 50,000 will remain training Iraqi forces and staying, I hope, mainly out of harm's way.  It's not the end but it's the beginning of the end.  Hallelujah.
     The war has lasted longer than World Wars I or II.  George W. Bush ordered U.S. troops into Iraq in March, 2003, more than seven years ago.  4400 of them died there. What for?  Well, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was a bad man.  He'd invaded Kuwait. The first president Bush drove him out of it.  His son invaded the country, perhaps because it was supposed to have weapons of mass destruction.  It didn't.  So the question of remains:  what for?
     But even bad things come to an end.  We are, last long last, leaving.  Shed a tear for the dead, the wounded and the scarred - and smile at the men and women coming happily home.  Even those left behind will come home eventually, we're told.  So, smile and welcome them home.
     One foolish war ending, or so it seems.  One to go.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

August 19, 2010

     Hallelujah!  Not a word I lead with often, but appropriate today.  The last American combat troops are leaving Iraq.  Not the last troops, of course.  Some 50,000 will remain training Iraqi forces and staying, I hope, mainly out of harm's way.  It's not the end but it's the beginning of the end.  Hallelujah.
     The war has lasted longer than World Wars I or II.  George W. Bush ordered U.S. troops into Iraq in March, 2003, more than seven years ago.  4400 of them died there. What for?  Well, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was a bad man.  He'd invaded Kuwait. The first president Bush drove him out of it.  His son invaded the country, perhaps because it was supposed to have weapons of mass destruction.  It didn't.  So the question of remains:  what for?
     But even bad things come to an end.  We are, last long last, leaving.  Shed a tear for the dead, the wounded and the scarred - and smile at the men and women coming happily home.  Even those left behind will come home eventually, we're told.  So, smile and welcome them home.
     One foolish war ending, or so it seems.  One to go.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

August 17, 2010

     Congratulations, Mr. President!  You got it exactly right.  Of course, a day later, you got it all wrong, so I'm not sure where that leaves us.  All in a week's work, I guess.
     The issue, of course, was the proposal to build a mosque and Islamic Center two blocks north of ground zero in Manhattan.  In getting it right, the President recalled the First Amendment to the Constitution:  "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...." 
Which means, I think, that a religious group can build a temple, mosque, church, whatever anywhere they choose as long as they afford the land and the
construction costs.
     But a day later, he backed off.  "I was not commenting and will not comment, on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there."  Aw shucks, Mr. P.--just when I was feeling hopeful about you.  Others of course were quick to comment.  What would we do without Newt Gingrich, who, according to Richard Cohen in the Washington Post, said it "would be like putting a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust Museum." 
Well, okay, Mr. Gingrich, I can live with that.  The sign would remind us of how easily evil can flourish in the world, of why World War II had to be fought and the Museum built.
     Cohen also quotes columnist Charles Krauthammer as saying it would be like building a convent outside
Auschwitz.  I can live with that too, but others couldn't.  Carmelite nuns took up residence there in 1984.  Their presence stirred up so much controversy that they were forced to leave.  I've been to Auschwitz and, coming out, you need to see something like a convent to remind you that goodness, too, exists here. 
     Anyway, I read somewhere that there's already a mosque in the neighborhood.  Why fuss about one

August 16, 2010

It's come to this? A column about presidential skin? Well, yes, it has.

Once before when President Obama went swimming, photographers snapped his chest. "Fit for office," the New York Post reported. But that was then; this is now. On a trip to Florida this past weekend the President went swimming, but the White House kept reporters and photographers away. The only photographer was a White House photographer and the only picture released showed the president's head and neck. The rest of him was underwater.

Newspaper photographers object to seeing a White House photo in the paper for the same reasons a reporter would object to seeing a White House press release instead of a story he or she had written. Many news organizations won't use such officialphotographs. The Associated Press did not distribute the official photo of Mr. Obama's swim.

A White House spokesman told the New York Times, "We're trying to get you guys as close to him as possible as many times as possible," which is pretty clearly not true.

White Houses always like to control events, control the words and pictures in which presidential events are reported to the voters. This White House is
no different.

When a reporter joked with the president that it might be good for him to be seen shirtless, Mrs. Obama quickly intervened. "No," she said. "It's not."

Friday, August 13, 2010

August 13, 2010

     Well, it's started.  I saw it first in Politics Daily, but they say they spied it earlier in Time Magazine's website yesterday--the idea that President Obama should dump Vice President Joe Biden in 2012 and replace him with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  They quote former Virginia Governor Doug Wilder writing even earlier this month on Politico that she would help win back "middle-class independents" who have always  preferred her to Obama.  Politics Daily's Eleanor Clift adds that Biden "would be a natural" at State.  Straight job swap, I guess.
     Well, maybe.  It's been done before, of course.  Franklin Roosevelt, who was elected four times, had three VPs --John Nance Garner in his first term, Henry Wallace in his second, and Harry Truman during FDR's third and what he served of his fourth terms.
     Has Biden done anything awful as VP?  No.  Detractors speak of "gaffes' and there have been some. "This is a big fucking deal!" when Barack Obama signed the health care bill. "His mom lived on Long Island for ten years or so, God rest her soul. And although  she's--wait, your mom's still, your mom's still alive...your dad passed. God bless her soul."  And so on. But the fate of the republic will not rest on stuff like that. I remember him pausing thoughtfully during a Senate speech one day and then saying, "Of course, I have no idea what I'm talking about."  God bless his candor, I thought.
     But it's out there now and people will gossip about it.  Whatever decision the president finally makes--and he'll be the one who makes it--will probably depend less on Biden's merits or Clinton's but more, sadly, on the polls.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

August 11, 2010

         Poet T.S. Eliot famously wrote, "April is the cruelest month/  Breeding lilacs out of the dead grass...."  I'm not sure I ever quite understood that--breeding lilacs out of dead grass would be pretty cool if you knew how to do it.  And I've always liked April--flowers and spring and all that.  Anyway, Mr. Eliot is way wrong this year.  August is the cruelest month.  Or maybe July.  We're all melting here.      The Weather Bureau says that here in Washington we've had, so far, 47 days when the high temperature was over ninety degrees.  The average is 29 such days.  And summer isn't nearly over yet.  We have half of August to go and then most of September.  I remember the old "September Song:" "And the days gentle down...." No.  No gentling so far this year.  None.      There's a nice roof area in my apartment building--good place to relax, chat, have a burger or a beer.  Not this year, thank you.  Those pools on the roof may not be human sweat, but you can't be sure.  Anybody melted up there?  I won't go look.  I have a balcony too--last sat out on it in... was it April?      Washington always has hot summers, but I've lived here more than forty years now and this is the hottest one I can remember.      I know time passes.  I read that the the NFL will start playing exhibition games in a week or two--if players can stand it.  But for now this whole city can sob with the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz, "I'm melting!!!!"   It's just true.
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Sunday, August 8, 2010

August 8, 2010

     President Obama says we are leaving Iraq--finally, finally.  I pray he will be able to do what he says.
     What he actually says, of course, is a little more complicated--that all US combat troops will leave by the end of this month--this month!  The 50,000 or so who will still be there will be charged with protecting US bases, property, etc., but not with going out and trying to shoot people.  If those who might want to shoot us hold off for a spell, the 50,000 may come home too.
     Why did we go there, all those years ago?  It's hard to remember.  Iraq was ruled by violent dictator, Saddam Hussein.  He invaded Kuwait at one point.  The first President Bush organized a coalition and drove him out of it.  Why not go further, that Bush was asked?  Because, he answered, it would destroy my coalition.  Right.
     But the second President Bush was more foolish than his father and went all the way.
He claimed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, but he didn't.  Some invoked the memory of 9/11 drawing a connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam, but there wasn't one.  We invaded Iraq, Saddam fell and we've been stuck there since.
    Leaving is much harder than getting rid of Saddam.  It still may not work. The Iraqis had elections last March and they still haven't come up with a new government.  So will the place stay stable as we leave?  Who knows?  Will we stay longer if violence recurs?  I surely hope not.
     But only time will...well, you know how that one goes...

Friday, August 6, 2010

August 6, 2010

       The pols get stranger and stranger. So does their English.      There's Sharron Angle, the Republican Senate candidate in Nevada. We first noticed her when she lectured reporters saying they should ask only friendly questions and "report the news the way we want it to be reported."  That's a brand-new definition of a reporter's job.  I always thought it was to report what the candidates were saying and, when they disagreed, to try to sort out the truth.      She has also said, it turns out, that government entitlement programs are a violation of the 1st Commandment:  "Thou shalt have no other gods before me."  "These programs," she told an interviewer, "are all entitlement programs built to make government our God. And...what's happening in this country is a violation of the 1st Commandment.  We have become a country entrenched in idolatry and that idolatry is the dependency upon our government.   We're supposed to depend on God for our provision and our daily bread, not...our government."       I get a Social Security check every month but I've never had any desire to go down the Social Security building and pray.  I refudiate Angle's position.  Refudiate?  That's a word Sarah Palin invented recently.  I think it means "disagree with" but I'm not a bit sure.      Palin's other recent breakthrough was to praise Arizona governor Jan Brewer by saying she "has the cojones that our president does not have..."  "Cojones" is the Spanish word for testicles.  If Brewer, or any other woman, has them, that's big medical news of course.  But is saying a woman has them a compliment or an insult?  Beats me.     But if you're Spanish-speaking, it's probably not a word you want your five year-old to use.
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Thursday, August 5, 2010

August 5, 2010

     This column, as regular readers know, is usually about politics.  But not today. This column is about courage and a dream.      This week a fourteen year old Dutch girl, Laura Dekker, set sail for Portugal, where she will begin her effort to become the youngest person ever to sail solo around the world.  Her father went with her to her departure point, he said, because "we want to make sure the boat is completely ready."  Well yes, I'll bet he does.  The boat, by the way, is named Guppy and is 26 feet long.  To begin the journey she needed a court order overturning a child protection ruling.  She got one.      "I am not really afraid," she told reporters.  What will she miss most?  Spot, her dog.     Do you remember the old prayer--the books say it started with Breton fishermen centuries ago:  "Oh God, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small?"  Sure works for Laura Dekker.      So I wish you well, young Laura.  I hope the ocean gods are kind.  I hope the seas and the journey are calm.  I wish not just "Bon voyage,"  a good journey, but an excellent one.  And, please, come safely home.     
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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

August 4, 2010

      Dan Balz reported in the Washington Post this week that a Gallup poll puts public approval of the Congress at 11%--an all-time low.  Congress finishes last, he adds, in a list of public confidence in sixteen institutions--eight points lower than health maintenance organizations, 11 points lower than television news, 14 points lower than newspapers.  By 2-1, Balz says, Americans say they'd like to vote for a Congressional candidate who's never been to Congress.  Wow--that's a lot of negatives!     The funny thing is, I'm not quite sure why.  Sure, it's easy to make fun of Congress--always has been.  I did it sometimes when I covered the place.  And sure, if you remember some of the great people who served in Congress thirty or forty years ago--Barbara Jordan, Phil Hart, Everett Dirksen, John Sherman Cooper, Pat Moynihan--it's easy to argue that today's Congressmen look a bit smaller on their stage.      Earlier Congresses coped with great issues--the Depression, war and peace.  But these guys have had big issues today too--two wars and a major recession.  We do seem to be leaving Iraq--all combat troops out this month, I read, and it's starting to look as if we might even leave Afghanistan sometime in the next few years.  And the economy is getting better--slowly, but it is.  This Congress managed to pass the stimulus package, the health care bill, financial reform - all big, cumbersome and important.      So sure, we should keep making fun of them--I think it's good for them--but maybe, just every now and then, a tiny ripple of applause as well?
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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

July 27, 2010

       Richard Cohen reminds us in today's Washington Post that this week's leak of secret Afghanistan papers has a precedent--the leak of the Pentagon papers first to the New York Times and then to others almost forty years ago.      Cohen says that leak contained real secrets--that Lyndon Johnson was escalating the conflict while claiming to "seek no wider war."  But I don't know.  Everybody knew the escalation was underway;  it wasn't a secret;  the number of US troops in Vietnam kept going up and was reported as going up.      What would have been major news in this leak, Cohen goes on, was "if any of these documents supported any optimism."  Okay, but I don't remember any optimism, aside from government spokesmen, back then either.  I can't remember a single reporter, including myself, who came back from Vietnam saying that things were going well.  I used to tell friends, I remember, that I went as a hesitant dove and came back a fervent one.      I don't know anybody who's come back from this war optimistic either.  I don't know why we went, except that George W. Bush seemed to be fond of foolish wars.  I hope Mr. Obama is wise enough to spot the foolishness and order the troops home.  Why ever not?      As George McGovern used to say in his 1972 campaign, "Come home, America!" 
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Monday, July 26, 2010

July 26, 2010

      When I was starting out in the news business, editors and mentors all said something like, "Get it first, kid. That's important.  But even more important--get it right."  No longer. Slimeballs are now apparently in vogue and some of them, of course, may stick.      This comes to mind, of course, because a website run by conservative Andrew Breitbart published a heavily edited video of Shirley Sherrod, a black Department of Agriculture employee, apparently saying she had been prejudiced against a white farmer she was supposed to help.  In fact, as everyone now knows, the full video shows that Sherrod did help the farmer and was talking about the need to avoid being prejudiced in jobs like hers.      Mr. Breitbart's response, according to the New York Times, was to say that there is an election year strategy to "falsely malign opponents of the Democratic party as racist.,..It's warfare out there," he said.  Hunh?  Talk about standing the truth on its head!  The Greek tragedian Aeschylus was the first to say, "In war, truth is the first casualty."  That was some five hundred years before Christ.  It probably applied to politics back then too.  Certainly Mr. Breitbart is only the latest to prove it still does.       Lying about the other guy is old stuff, of course.  It shouldn't upset the rest of us much, but it should remind us that our democracy needs careful voters who try to read more than one side before they make up their minds about an issue or a candidate.  But if they limit themselves to just one side, they should look for the truth, not swallow a lie.
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July 23_addendum

      Dear Readers:  Today's column should have mentioned that one of Rangel's primary opponents this year (if he's allowed to run) is Adam Claytlon Powell IV.   The more things change....
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Friday, July 23, 2010

July 23, 2010

       A couple of generations--forty years--ago, Harlem's Congressman was the flamboyant Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. who, as chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, helped ensure passage of major legislation during the presidencies of John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.  Powell broke boundaries, dining, for instance, in the previously all-white Congressional dining room.  He battled racism, saw the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts become law.      Most reporters who covered Congress liked him.  He was accused of various improprieties--unreported campaign contributions and so on.  He always denied the charges, usually adding "I don't do anything the white guys don't do," which was almost certainly true.  In his later years, absenteeism dogged him; he had a house in the Bahamas that he saw too often.  The House kept voting not to seat him, but the voters kept re-electing him until, in 1970, they replaced with a much younger African-American, Charles Rangel.      Reporters liked Charlie, too.  He rose, through his forty years in the House, to become chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, though recently he's had to resign the chairmanship.  Like Powell before him, he's been charged with financial irregularities and will now have to face a trial before members of the House Ethics Committee.      I have no idea whether he's innocent or guilty.  I hope he is innocent;  it would be a shame to have such a fine career smudged at it's end.      And what goes around, comes around?  Sure seems that way sometimes.  Mr. Powell today might revive his signature phrase for Charlie Rangel:  "Keep the faith, baby."
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