Monday, June 28, 2010

June 28, 2010

       It's not true that he was already sitting there and they had to build the Capitol around him, but with Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia it often seemed that way.      He has died at 92.  He was, of course, the longest serving senator ever - 51 years.  He was chairman of the Senate Appropriations committee for about ever and earned the title "King of Pork" for sending thousands of federal projects to his home state. He liked it. "Pork," he said once, "to the critic, is service to the people who enjoy some of the good things in life, and I've been happy to bring to West Virginia the projects to which they refer.  I have no apology for it."  Didn't need one either;  he ran the committee, was on it for fifty years.      Byrd grew up in Raleigh County, was valedictorian of his high school class and married his sweetheart Erma James, "the love of my life," shortly after graduation in 1937.  The marriage lasted until her death in 2006.  On the day he became Congress's longest serving member, he said, "My only regret is that my beloved wife, companion and not here to witness this wonderful day.  I know she is looking down from heaven and saying, 'Congratulations,...but don't let it go to your head.' "      He got a college degree after he was already in Congress, going to American University here at night.  But he studied Senate lore and Roman history as well, and would sometimes lecture visitors about them from the Senate floor      Politically he evolved--joined the Ku Klux Klan, later left it;  filibustered against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, for civil rights legislation later on.  He was also an accomplished fiddler, recorded an album, "Mountain Fiddler," and won the Grand Ole Opry's Distinguished Fiddler Award in 2008.      I wonder what they'll do with his desk.  Maybe bronze it?              
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Sunday, June 27, 2010

June 27, 2010

       I was a news reporter for about fifty years.  I'm retired now, but I still believe that when we newsies get something wrong, we should acknowledge it.      Which brings me to a story that ran in The Washington Post this past Thursday. The headline read, "Oregon investigated sex accusation against Gore."  Well, not exactly.  The story goes on to say that a woman, a masseuse, first said that she was sexually assaulted by Gore when he visited the city, but didn't want police to investigate her claim. This was, as I read the story, in 2006.  In 2009 she decided she did want an investigation.  The detectives concluded after an interview that they lacked enough evidence to proceed with an investigation, the story said.      "At this point, the Police Bureau does not consider this an ongoing investigation unless new evidence is received in this case," it said.  The Portland Tribune declined to publish a story about the charge, the Post said, in part because of the woman's refusal to be named.  The woman subsequently went public and the National Enquirer published her claims last Wednesday.      But why?  Do we know for sure that anything happened?  No.  Was there an incident?  We don't know.  Was there ever a real investigation?  Apparently not.  Except for the fact that the woman makes the claim, this seems to me an essentially fact-free story.  Which raises a question.      Why print it?   
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Saturday, June 26, 2010

June 26, 2010

       Every so often, I see a story in the paper bemoaning the impending doom of the Postal Service:  they're going to have to cut home mail delivery from six days a week to five, maybe even four.  But the last time I read one of those, I stopped in the middle and thought, well, why not?  The country has changed;  shouldn't the Postal Service change with it?      When I was young, away at school, away in the Army, I wrote letters to my friends and parents, put them in an envelope, stamped them and mailed them.  I'm so old I can remember when all it cost was one three-cent stamp.  What I can't remember is the last time I did that.      What I get in the mail, and what I bet you get, is ads and bills.  The ads, now as inevitable as death and taxes, are junk.  I throw them away.  The bills I pay, like most of us I suspect, once a month.  Friends?  There are phone calls sometimes, but usually they e-mail.  I have one friend in Canada who used paper until recently.   I e-mailed an answer, saying that it was just much easier for me.  Now she's switched too.         And it is easier, of course.  Sit at the computer, write a letter, hit "send" and that's it.  No trip to post office for stamps, no searches for envelopes, no checking the mail box, and so on. The important mail I get is the bills. They come once a month;  I pay them once a month.  If the Postal Service delivered them once a week, or twice a week, would I care?  Not a bit.  I might even switch to e-bills and save a tree or two.        Postal Service, times have changed.  Maybe you should too.  You can still make your appointed rounds through rain and sleet and snow and gloom of night...just not every day.  
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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

June 23, 2010

         The Constitution is very clear: "The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States...."  They didn't have an Air Force back then, but he gets it too, of course.      Presidents sometimes discipline the generals who work for them.  President Lincoln, if I remember rightly, once wondered if he could borrow the Union Army for a few days as his general, George McClellan, didn't seem to be using it just then.  When China intervened in the Korean War to help the North, the American commander, General Douglas MacArthur, wanted to invade China.  President Harry Truman didn't want to do that and fired MacArthur.  Big flap, but everyone knew Truman was the boss.      So now comes General Stanley McChrystal, dissing the president and his top advisors. "Are you asking me about Vice President Biden?"  McChrystal is quoted as asking at one point, "Who's that?"  "Biden?" chimes in an aide,  "Did you say:  Bite Me?"  Come on, generals. Those are the kind of jokes sixth-graders make in the school newspaper.  You guys should be able to do better.      No one suggests Afghanistan is easy.  It resisted being a British colony for a century or so, resisted being a Soviet one after that and now resists us.  The place is full of war lords, little independent fiefdoms. The alleged head of it, Hamid Karzai, is by all accounts a crook and not a particularly powerful one at that.      There's plenty of room for argument about whether the surge worked and what to do next.  My own view, as I've said before would be to simply come home and let the Afghans sort it out.      But this kind of cheap magazine shot?  The Washington Post today quotes Eliot Cohen, an advisor in the Bush administration, as saying, "This is a firing offense."  Oh, hell, yes. 
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Friday, June 18, 2010

June 17, 2010

     My favorite president, of the ones I've met, is probably Harry Truman.  I think he could teach Barrack Obama something about how to do the job.
     Truman's strength was his humanity.  When he disagreed with you, you knew it.   His nickname in the newspapers and among people talking about him was "Give 'Em Hell Harry."  As an ex-president Truman often came back to Washington, always stayed at the same hotel.  He went for a walk every morning, always shadowed by a gaggle of reporters.  Whenever someone asked about the nickname, which was fairly often, Mr. Truman always answered, "I never gave anybody hell.  I just told the truth and they thought it was hell."  Okay, sir, but they got the message.
     Another favorite moment involves Dwight Eisenhower.  When he had a press conference (he had one just about every week  - now there's a change), reporters stood up when they wanted to ask a question, identified themselves, "Joe Doaks, Mr. President, Detroit Tribune," and then asked it.  I remember once when Eisenhower really didn't like the question.  His face turned bright red, you could almost see the five stars in the World War II general appear on the shoulders of his business suit, and he snapped (command voice, I think they call it), "Sit down!"  The reporter, normally an aggressive fellow, sat.
     What we need from Mr. Obama, I think, is more passion.  We know he's smart and thoughtful, and all that.   But we'd like to see him angry, passionate about some cause.
     Come on, sir.  Give 'em hell and kick some ass.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

June 14, 2010

     Now for a headline you really don't need:  "Iraq's new parliament convened in brief symbolic session," Fox News reported, "as political blocs remain deadlocked."  Right.     You could argue with the word "new;"  the parliament was elected just over three months ago on March 7th. Of course, we have a two month gap between our November elections and the new Congress coming into session in January, but our old Congress stays on and does whatever business needs doing.  Not so in Iraq.
     In case you've forgotten, and who could blame you, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's bloc lost.  Another group, headed by Ayad Allawi, won.  But Maliki is still prime minister. Any talks, any negotiations about a coalition government, or anything like that?  No. According to its constitution, the new legislature should have chosen a permanent speaker and a president by now, but of course it hasn't.  The "brief symbolic" session lasted twenty minutes and did nothing.  The acting speaker said the parties needed more time to discuss the issue.
     The short session had heightened security;  terrorist attacks remain a threat, though you have to wonder why they'd bother.  One Iraqi diplomat said it might take from two weeks to three months before parliament meets again.  You have to wonder why they'd bother too.
    Years ago during America's wretched involvement in the Vietnam War George Aiken, a wise Republican senator from Vermont, suggested a policy:  Declare victory and leave.   
     Sure wish he were around today.

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

June 12, 2010

      Last Tuesday's Democratic Senate primary in South Carolina is without a doubt the oddest election I've ever heard of.       The winner is an unemployed veteran named Alvin Greene, 32, involuntarily discharged from the military because, he said, "It just wasn't working out."  He won the nomination (how he paid the $ 10,440 filing fee remains a mystery) despite not having a campaign staff, any campaign money, a campaign website, cellphone or personal computer.  "I check my e-mail," he told the Washington Post, "two or three times a week. I prefer the telephone...That's the easiest."  He doesn't have his own apartment, lives with his father.     Oh, and he's facing a felony charge for allegedly showing a University of South Carolina student a pornographic picture.  His lawyer, of course, is a public defender.  A headline in Time Magazine wonders, "Is the Dem candidate in South Carolina a GOP Plant?"  He says no.      He showed the Post reporter a campaign flier, asking him to be careful because it was the only one he had.  How many were printed?  "Maybe thousands.  Hundreds. Maybe a hundred.  I don't know exactly."     The obscenity charge?  "I'm on the not-guilty side of things.  I have to be.  I mean, I mean, I have no comment, I mean."      The woman who accused him told the Post she didn't know he was running.  She wished she had, because "I could have said something, so that people would have known who they were voting for."      Yeah. 
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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

June 9, 2010

     Well, it's a tough year for incumbents;  everyone's been writing that.  Which doesn't explain, of course, why two-term incumbent Senator Blanche Lincoln won her runoff in Arkansas.  She'll face a tough Republican in November, but she did win.
     The Tea Party?  They can brag on Nevada, where Tea Party favorite Sharon Angle seems to have beaten out two rivals and will challenge Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the fall.  In South Carolina Rep. Nikki Haley ran far ahead of three male competitors in the gubernatorial primary.  With 49% of the vote, she will face a runoff.  Two men claimed they'd had sex with Mrs. Haley, but that didn't seem to matter.
     It was a good day for rich white Republican women in California.  In the Senate primary, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorino won her primary and will face three-term incumbent Barbara Boxer this fall.  In the gubernatorial primary, Meg Whitman, who spent millions of dollars of her own money, won and will face, can you believe it, Jerry Brown in the fall.  Brown served two terms as governor thirty years ago.
     So in this very political city, the election owns the Washington Post front page today? Well, no.  It shares the front page with the Washington Nationals' (that's the baseball team, usually preceded by the adjective "hapless"...lost more than a hundred games the past two seasons) rookie pitching phenom, Stephen Strasburg.  He made his major league debut last night, allowed two runs in seven innings, struck out 14, and WON.  Big front-page color picture, story to match.
   First things first? 

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Monday, June 7, 2010

June 7, 2010

     Tuesday is, you might say, hog heaven for those of us who like politics.  Where, oh where to start?
     Well, there's California, where former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman, once a political unknown, could win the Republican gubernatorial nomination by spending about 80 million (yes, that is $80,000,000.00!) of her own bucks on her campaign?  An opponent attacked her as liberal on immigration, but the word is she's recovering.
     Then there's the Nevada race to decide who'll oppose Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the fall.  Former state party chairman Sue Lowden was probably the front-runner until she suggested a new approach to paying for health care:  barter. You know, bring your doctor a basket of fresh corn in exchange for his advice on how to help your sore shoulder.
    In Arkansas two-term Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln has been endorsed by President Obama and others, but organized labor has spent millions of dollars helping her opponent, Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter.  The Washington Post says it's a tossup.
    Then there's a genealogically interesting House race in South Carolina:  Paul Thurmond, son of Strom, versus Carroll Campbell, son of the late governor, versus Tim Scott, the first black state representative since Reconstruction.
     But the best race in South Carolina, and probably in the country, is the GOP battle for governor.  State Representative Nikki Haley is one candidate.  She's not been helped by the fact that two political consultants have said they've had sex with her. "We'd gone to dinner. I had some drinks. Things happened," is one man's version.  Haley denies the stories.  Her opponent, Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, has a supporter, State Senator Jake Knotts, who went on radio and said of Haley, who is Indian-American, "We already got one raghead in the White House.  We don't need another in the governor's mansion."
     With a nod to Alice, it is "curiouser and curiouser..." 

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Friday, June 4, 2010

June 6, 2010

      What?  They're practicing politics at the White House?  Surely you jest.     The newest FSF (Fairly Silly Flap) comes over reports that White House aides urged Joe Sestak not to run against incumbent Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania's Democratic Senate primary.  Then they did the same thing in Colorado, suggesting to former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff that he accept a government job instead of running in a primary against incumbent Michael Bennett.  Both men said no.  Sestak, you'll recall, beat Specter and will be the party's candidate in November.  Romanoff and Bennett face off in August.      Republicans yelled "foul" and demanded an investigation.  But as the Washington Post correctly points out, "White House intervention in contested primaries has occurred during many presidencies and is rarely considered unusual or scandalous."   What's unusual is that the Obamas don't seem to be very good at it.      The President is from Illinois, which is pretty good at politics even though former Governor Rod Blagojevich is currently on trial for corruption. Well,  Illinois has always been pretty good at that too.  But picking candidates?  The idea of a mayor Daley (either one) not knowing how a primary would come out is preposterous.      Send home for some help, Mr. President.  This stuff isn't that hard.
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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

June 2, 2010

         As a youngster, early in the nuclear age, I remember a minister saying, "For the first time, man has the ability to destroy God's created order."  More than half a century later we can still destroy the planet, of course.  What we can't do, it turns out, is stop the leak.And with that leak, one marine ecologist recently said, "We have for the first time destroyed a sea."      The Washington Post reports this morning that oil has now hit the shore in Mississippi and Alabama as well as Louisiana.  75,920 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico have been closed to fishing, the paper says.  17,000 U.S. troops have been deployed but are apparently helpless.  A hundred thousand more, I suppose, would be helpless too.      This is an awful disaster, of course, the worst of its kind I can remember.  Is there someone we should blame?  Was British Petroleum careless or inefficient when it drilled the well?  We don't know yet.  We may never know.  Can it be fixed or do we simply watch the oil spread and the fish and shellfish die until, if ever, the well runs dry?  We don't know that yet either.      What we've learned, it seems to me, is that we don't control the planet.  Things can happen, by accident or design, that we can't fix, can't handle.  A hard lesson, but a useful one, don't you think?
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