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.