Friday, May 28, 2010

May 28, 2009

     I wrote here not long ago about the Democratic nominee for the vacant Senate seat in Connecticut, a man named Richard Blumenthal whose campaign is hampered by the fact that he said several times that he'd served in Vietnam when, according to the New York Times which broke the story, he hadn't.  Today, the Times' Gail Collins offers some interesting stuff about the Republican in the race.
     It's not former Congressman Rob Simmons, who, as it happened, served in Nam.  No, the GOP picked flamboyant Linda McMahon, the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment.  One of her qualifications:  she said she'd put fifty million dollars of her own money into the campaign.  A lot of money for a small state, though of course you do want to buy New York TV ad time.
     Wrestling, as I remember it on TV years ago, used to be a fairly shabby sport.  I remember watching the small black and white screen with neighbors, with the sound off. We'd turn on classical music as an accompaniment.  I always thought it was better that way.
     Then the McMahons apparently turned it into big time stuff with more sex, more violence, more show.  Linda McMahon calls it "one of America's greatest exports" which all depends, I suppose, on your point of view.  McMahon's primary opponent, whom she beat, used a video, Collins writes, which showed her husband in the ring telling a weeping female wrestler to take off her clothes, get down on her knees "and, dammit, bark like a dog."   Whatever it takes, of course.
     Anyway, Connecticut, a question for November:  Do you want the guy who lied about being in Nam or the woman who wanted her wrestlers to bark like dogs?  Sometimes, democracy asks really hard questions.     

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Sunday, May 23, 2010

May 22, 2010

          Comes now the sad case of Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, now a Democratic candidate to replace retiring Chris Dodd in the U.S. Senate.  He has a problem.  He has lied about (misstated? no, lied about) whether he served in Vietnam during our war there.      The New York Times reported this past week that Blumenthal told a group in March, 2008, "We have learned something important since I served in Vietnam."  In fact, the Times went on, Blumenthal received five deferments while completing his graduate studies and then joined the Marine Corps Reserve.  He was never sent overseas.      Blumenthal told the Times he had "misspoken" about his service in the speech they quoted and perhaps at other times, adding,  "My intention has always been to be completely clear and straightforward out of respect to the veterans who served in Vietnam."  That, of course, is nonsense.      I was drafted during the Korean War but was never sent to Korea.  I cannot imagine ever forgetting nor misspeaking about either of those facts.  They were important facts in my life.  I covered the Vietnam war for CBS in the 1960s.  I cannot imagine ever forgetting nor misspeaking about that either.  It too was an important fact in my life.      Trust me, Mr. Blumenthal:  it's hard to forget a war zone.  
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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

May 19, 2010

             Well, Arlen Specter lost.  The Pennsylvania Democrat, thirty years in the Senate, spent twenty-nine of them as a Republican.  He switched parties last year to avoid a tough primary fight against Pat Toomey, who almost beat him six years ago.  So instead of an easier win, he lost the Democratic primary to two-term Congressman Joe Sestak.   Now Sestak will face Toomey in the fall.  Go figure.      Arkansas Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln faced a tough challenge from Lt. Gov. Bill Halter.  Neither got a majority;  there'll be a runoff next month.      The Tea Partiers have a race to brag about.  In Kentucky their man, Rand Paul, won the Republican primary against Secretary of State Trey Grayson, who had the support of orthodox Republicans like Senate leader Mitch McConnell.  It wasn't close;  Paul got 59% of the vote.      One House race got lots of attention.  Pennsylvania Representative John Murtha died this year.  He'd held the seat for about ever and was famous, not for issues, but for funneling pork to the folks back home.  The district is littered with John Murtha Institutes for the Study of this, that or the other.  To succeed this fountain of jobs and money, voters elected Democrat Mark Critz, who used to work for Murtha.  One voter said, "He knows all the stuff that Murtha's accomplished, and I think he'll do a good job too."  Keep those goodies coming, Mr. Critz.      But the last word goes to Specter, one of the losers. "I wasn't sent to Washington to play it safe," he said, "I have something to show for what I've done."  Got that right, Senator.
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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

MAY 18, 2010

    Good grief! The polls haven't even closed yet in today's key primaries and we already have some losers.
     First, Indiana Republican Representative Mark Souder has announced he's resigning from Congress because he had an affair with a staffer.  He's served eight terms. "In the poisonous environment of Washington D.C.," he said in a statement, "any personal failing is seized upon, often twisted for political gain.  I am resigning rather than put my family through that painful, drawn-out process."  Okay, Congressman, but some politicians do survive personal failings, scandals.  Wasn't there a president named Clinton?  And a senator named...well, I could go on...
    Then came word that Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat hoping to replace retiring Chris Dodd in the Senate, has been lying to the voters about his military record.  The New York Times cited several quotes, like:  "We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam."  Trouble is, of course, he never did.  Several deferments, then service in the Reserves, working in programs like "Toys for Tots." Oooops.  No Nam.
      I don't know what it is this year.  Something in the water?  

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Sunday, May 16, 2010

May 16, 2010

       The Washington Post says a Congressman, Democrat Alan Mollohan of West Virginia, had the worst week in Washington.  Last week he lost his primary, getting only 44%  of the vote.  He won't be back next year.  It wasn't a rookie mistake.  Mollohan had held the seat since 1982;  his father held it for the fourteen years before that. Talk about a dynasty.      He isn't alone.  Bob Bennett, a conservative Republican senator from conservative Utah, lost his primary the other day.  This coming Tuesday two more well-known Senate veterans are at risk--Democrats Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania and Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas.      I'm not quite sure why.  Specter, as I noted recently, switched parties to improve his reelection chances.  Apparently that hasn't worked.  Lincoln just seems to be the most visible victim of the voters' dislike of Congress.  The president's approval rating isn't great but isn't awful either.  Congress' approval ratings are.  And yet, in Obama's first year-plus in office, they passed an economic stimulus bill which has helped the economy, though you can argue how much, and they've passed health care, surely a big deal.      So why are the voters mad at then?   I don't know.  It may be November before we finally find out how mad they are.  Even then we may not quite know why.  
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May 15, 2010

     The space shuttle Atlantis is taking more astronauts to the International Space  Station.  This is the last flight for Atlantis, the third-from-last for the U.S. manned spaceflight program.       I was a reporter at Mission Control, just outside Houston, on June 20, 1969.  I still remember the excitement the people in Mission Control felt--the excitement we reporters felt--when we heard Neil Armstrong say, "The Eagle has landed," and then, when he stepped on the moon, "One small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind."      But was it?   No other nation followed us to the moon, and we cut our own Apollo program short.  Armstrong's was Apollo 11. The last, I think, was Eugene Cernan's Apollo 17 in 1972;  18, 19 and 20 were scrubbed--to save money, as I recall.      Now here we are again.  After Atlantis, we'll have two more missions to the Space Station, and that's it.  An astronaut or two may hitchhike out there on a Russian craft, but the US manned program will, to put it simply, end.   There's talk, of course, about new rockets somewhere down the road, rockets which could land on asteroids or on Mars. But that's just talk.  New rockets are not being built.       Going further in space would cost billions.  Is it worth it, compared with spending those billions to fight hunger and disease at home?  Good question.       But Mars would have been something quite wonderful, don't you think? 
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Thursday, May 13, 2010

May 13, 2010

     Arlen Specter is a Democratic senator from Pennsylvania who used to be a Republican.   He's 80 years old and, after 30 years in the Senate, he's running for a sixth term.  (I'm 79 and cannot imagine running for anything - the Senate or a bus.)  "A grizzled survivor," Politico magazine called him, "of bare-knuckled Pennsylvania politics, two bouts with cancer and five terms in the Senate."  His string may have run out.
     Speaking at a recent Democratic event, Specter twice thanked the "Allegheny County Republicans" for their endorsement.  "I think it's not unusual for anybody to misspeak from time to time," he said afterward.  When you're eighty, it's the kind of thing folks notice.  And it doesn't help that some Pennsylvania Dems think he switched parties a year ago for tactical reasons--to get reelected, not out of conviction.
     His opponent is two-term Philadelphia Congressman Joe Sestak, a fifty-something retired admiral. He talks about Specter's party switch a lot, predicting that Specter, the new Democrat, would support Barack Obama's nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court even though Specter, the old Republican, opposed her appointment as Solicitor General.
     It also doesn't help that Specter is not stylish nor glamorous nor lovable.
    And President Obama is apparently not going to visit the state to campaign for him.  Well, he didn't do much for Jon Corzine, who used to be governor of New Jersey, or Martha Coakley, who hoped to be a senator from Massachusetts, so maybe that doesn't matter.
     You'd have to say, though, it isn't easy being Arlen.  

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

May 11, 2010

     I knew Billie Holiday slightly, had dinner with her once and talked about her life and her music.  I remember that voice, so full of sweetness and pain.  And I knew Ella Fitzgerald slightly.  We chatted between sets one evening when she was singing at a club in New York.  And I remember that voice, the scat style she invented which could bring a club crowd cheering to its feet.      I never met Lena Horne and so I'll miss her differently--a voice, a beauty now gone from our national treasury. She was so beautiful that Michelangelo, sculpting her, wouldn't have changed a line.  But she was much more than that.  She came to Hollywood when blacks were mostly servants or Sambos;   she never was.  If there's anything you remember about her in those movies, it's her dignity, her presence.  When she was on the screen, she owned it.  Blacks, when she came to Hollywood, were second-class citizens.  She wasn't.   Time passed, she came to Broadway in the 1950s and wowed it.  When she went back to Hollywood as Glinda the Good in the film version of Broadway's The Wiz, she wowed it too.      She was an activist, refusing to perform before segregated audiences, which cost her, among other gigs, a USO tour.  In the 80s she was back on Broadway in a show which bore her name.  She won two Tony awards and many hearts.   She was, to put it simply, successful at being herself.      Good night, Lady.
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Sunday, May 9, 2010

May 9, 2010

`      The big political news today is that the Tea Party won one.  They knocked off an incumbent.  The odd part is that the incumbent they knocked off is a conservative, GOP Senator Robert Bennett of Utah.      Conservative?  Oh yes.  Opposes abortion.  Voted against benefits for dependents of gay and lesbian federal employees.  For the flat tax.  I could go on, but you get the idea.      Bennett finished third in the second round of balloting at the GOP state convention in Salt Lake City.  Men named Tim Bridgewater and Mike Lee--a Tea Party favorite, stories say--will meet in a June primary to decide the nomination.  Politics Daily reports that when the vote was announced, delegates shouted, "He's gone! He's gone!" and waved "Don't Tread on Me" flags--a Tea Party symbol.      Utah, of course, is a very conservative state and the Senate seat will probably stay Republican.  But this won't work nationally, Partiers.  If the conservative beats the moderate in Republican primaries in, say, Illinois or Ohio or Pennsylvania, that's good news for the Democrats.  Maybe they'll throw a party then...with tea.
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Friday, May 7, 2010

May 7, 2010

     The nice thing about British political campaigns is that they're short.  They last a month.  Ours go on for a couple of years and it always seems much longer.  The not so nice thing is that here we are the day after the election and we don't know who won.  We know, of course, that the Tories (the conservatives) got the most votes with Labour second and the Liberal Democrats third.  But we also know that none of them got a majority which means--gasp, shudder--political bargaining.
     Gordon Brown, the Labour party leader and present Prime Minister, could try for an alliance with the Lib Dems, but their leader, Nick Clegg, has already spoken out against allowing Brown to continue to "squat" at 10 Downing Street.  But what about an alliance with some other Labour MP if Brown stepped aside?  Not ruled out.  Labour might also need some of the tiny parties--Scottish Nationalists, Welsh, etc.-- to prevail.
     The simplest alliance, because it would immediately have a majority, would be an alliance between the Tories and the Lib Dems.  Some Tories will object to some Lib Dem ideas like free college, a greener government.  Still, it's the first hung Parliament they've had since the 1970s and it should be good fun...
     ...especially if you're watching from a distance. 

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Thursday, May 6, 2010

November 6, 2010

     Leads I never thought I'd write:  Newsweek magazine is up for sale, but you probably don't want to buy it.
     Donald Graham, chairman of the Washington Post Company, which owns the magazine, says it's about money, of course.  "The magazine would lose money in 2010," he said. "We don't see a sustained path to profitability for Newsweek."
     Other national mags have been on the block too. The New York Times (still published, still profitable, thank goodness)  says TV Guide was sold for one dollar; Businessweek, for 5 million in cash.  The Audit Bureau of Circulations, a non-profit organization which keeps track of such things, says the circulations of Time and Newsweek now are about where they were in 1966.  Wow.
     The Times quotes Edward Kosner, a Newsweek veteran:  "It was really important what was on the cover" of Time and Newsweek, "because it was what passed for the national press."  Well, that was then.  Newsweek, the Times says, had operating losses of 28.4 million in 2009, up more than 60% from the year before.  Newsweek's circulation was 3.14 million in the first half of 2000, 1.97 million by the second half of 2009.  Wow again.
     I'm a retired reporter, something of a news junkie, but I'm part of the problem.  Ten years ago, I could probably have told you what was on the cover.  Not today.  Too much other news--all news TV, all news internet, and so on.
     Still, I'm sorry that Newsweek's fallen on such hard times.  Maybe I'll read it next week?  No, probably not.  What I should have done was read it last week - and lots of weeks before that.

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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

May 4, 2010

       A couple of legal notes today.  First, the U.S. Supreme Court says those of us who want to watch its proceedings can't go in by the front door anymore.  Sorry, folks, around to the side.  I assume the Justices can still use the front door while perhaps murmuring to themselves the slogan which adorns their building:  "Equal Justice Under Law."       Doors may not matter much, but the Court resists openness in a number of ways.  It will not allow the arguments before it to be televised.  A majority barred the planned video-streaming of a trial testing the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8, the ballot initiative in the state barring same-sex marriage.  Last week the Senate Judiciary Committee passed bills that would order the televising of Supreme Court arguments and give lower federal courts more discretion in televising their procedures.  It's not something I say often, but "Go, Senate!"     Second, on a sillier level, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli recently gave lapel pins to his staff, joking that it was a more "virtuous" version of the original.  It dates back to 1776 and shows the goddess Virtus standing victorious over Tyranny.  She wears a tunic exposing her left breast.  No vulgar detail, of course, it's just a rough sketch.  But the new lapel pin covered the boob.      This reminded some critics of former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, who spent $ 8,000. to cover up some half-naked statues in the Justice Department.  "When you ask to be ridiculed," University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato told the newspaper Virginia Pilot, "it usually happens."  Cuccinelli's office said "It wasn't about covering up at all.  He was just trying to do something nice for his employees."      Un-hunh.  Cuccinelli's office says he'll stop using the revised pin and adds that taxpayer dollars didn't pay for it.  The original designer, by the way, was George Wythe, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.
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