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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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

July 21, 2010

        President Obama's poll ratings are down from the rosy numbers he got early in his term--mostly in the high forties or low fifties lately.  You have to wonder why.       Internationally, there are no big triumphs but no big blunders either.  We seem to be getting out of Iraq, a plus in my book.  There's talk about being out of Afghanistan by 2014.  I'd like to be out by suppertime, but hey, you can't win them all.  And we've had no disasters like JFK's Bay of Pigs or LBJ's Vietnam.      Domestically, he's done better, passing three major bills which will affect us all in years to come.  First, the economic stimulus bill.  Experts argue over how much it helped, but they all agree it helped some.  Resuming unemployment benefits for those out of work more than six months should help too.      Second, health care.  The bill isn't perfect--complicated bills seldom are--but it seems certain to help people and can be amended and improved in years to come.  And finally, just this week, financial reform.  Again, a complicated bill which can probably be improved down the road, but a very important first step.  Who, after living through the financial near-collapse of the last few years, would argue that some new regulation of Wall Street wasn't needed?     So hang in there, Mr. President.  I think you're doing pretty well. 
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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

July 20, 2010

     Remember Alvin Greene, the man nobody'd ever heard of, who won the Democratic Senate nomination in South Carolina without ever campaigning, spending a nickel,  running an ad or seeking a vote?  He won, most figured, because the ballot listed the candidates alphabetically and he was first.  Well, he's done it now.  He's made a speech.
     As reported in Politics Daily he did it in his hometown, Manning.  More than 300  attended.  Greene, the report said, "was a man of few words and many pauses and seemed nervous in front of the crowd and television cameras."  Fair enough;  it's not easy, especially first time out.
    Themes?  He's "about getting South Carolina and America back to work."  He said that, the report notes, three times.  Fair enough again.  I don't remember how many times George McGovern said "Come home, America!" when he ran for president in 1972, but three per speech wouldn't surprise me.  All politicians have standard speeches and sometimes repeat themselves. 
    We like to think we're a country where civilians can serve in high office, but we're mostly not.  Jimmy Stewart's "Mr. Smith" goes to Washington as a senator, sure, but that was a movie.  In real life it's mostly an old pros' game:  governors run for president (Dewey, Reagan, Clinton, Carter, Bush) as do senators (all three Kennedys, Obama, McCain, Nixon).  Political virgins rarely make it.  It just doesn't work that way.
       Everybody has to start somewhere.  It's just usually not from complete obscurity.  Still, good luck, Mr. Greene.  We'll see how it goes.

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Monday, July 12, 2010

July 12, 2010

         Congress came back to work today.  It's the end of their Fourth of July holiday.  Yes, today is the 12th.   You probably didn't get that long a break.  These guys get to set their own hours;  you probably don't.      If you're worrying that they'll do something awful while they're here, don't.  They're only here for a couple of weeks, then the August recess starts.  That gets you through Labor Day, or thereabouts, and hey, in a good year, they like to finish up in October. The pay's not all that great--$ 174,000 a year, but you sure can't beat the hours.      What have they done?  They've passed one major piece of legislation, health care. Big bill, right up there with Medicare and Social Security.  It's a complicated issue, and it will probably turn out that some parts of the bill work better than others, so it will need to be amended, improved in the years ahead--just like Medicare and Social Security. There's other big stuff pending--a bill to extend unemployment compensation, another to regulate the financial industry.  Will there be time for those this year?  No one knows.      I think Congress is less visible in the public eye than it used to be.  That may simply be because the issues have changed.  The great questions of the 1960s were single questions--should blacks be allowed to vote, allowed to sit next to whites on the bus.  They were passionately debated, but simple.  Congress voted;  the country moved on.      Health care, financial reform are much more complicated.  Keep at it guys, you're doing all right, I think.       And be sure, of course, that you get enough time off.
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Sunday, July 11, 2010

July 11, 2010

       You can argue whether same-sex marriage is good or bad.  But there's a related and also interesting question:  who gets to decide?      A federal judge in Massachusetts ruled this past week that a law barring the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.  Judge Joseph Tauro wrote, "This court has determined that it is clearly within the authority of the Commonwealth (Massachusetts) to recognize same-sex marriages among its residents, and to afford those individuals...any benefits, rights and privileges to which they are entitled...The federal government, by enacting and enforcing DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) plainly encroaches upon the firmly entrenched power of the state."      The judge bases his ruling on the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, which reads, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people."      Well, a quick browse through the Constitution by this non-expert found no references to marriage--gay, straight, whatever.  So the judge's ruling seems to have a certain logic: if the Constitution doesn't say it's federal, it's up to the states.      The argument, of course, is likely to continue and end up in the U.S. Supreme Court.
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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

July 7, 2010

     Richard Starkey is seventy years old today.  You know him better by his stage name, Ringo Starr, drummer for the Beatles, the most famous band in the history of rock and roll, maybe in all of music.  My son, Alec, is the big Beatles expert in our family--knows all the songs, probably all the lyrics.
     He wasn't born when the band first burst upon there scene in the early 1960s.  I was living in London then and -- it's odd to say this about a music group -- the whole country was excited.  The world was rocking and rolling to British music, Mary Quant was designing dresses every woman in the West wanted to wear, and the Brits were very proud of all of it.  Crowds at airports went bananas when the Beatles came through;  I remember being stuck in one once.
     It didn't last, of course.  John Lennon, arguably the most famous Beatle, was assassinated outside his New York apartment building in 1980.  George Harrison, the lead guitarist, died of lung cancer a few years later.  Paul McCartney lives on, the most successful ex-Beatle, nine number one singles in his post-Beatles career and a knighthood from the Queen.  But when the group was together, it was a time.  Oh, what a time it was.  Seems like Yesterday.
     Happy birthday, Ringo.  Let it be. 

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Monday, July 5, 2010

July 5, 2010

      "Just a-lookin' for a home," comes originally from a song about, of all things, the boll weevil.  But it works just fine to describe the trial of the 9/11 defendants, the men behind the men who blew up the World Trade Center.  No intent here to insult the weevil, of course.      9/11, as we all too well remember, happened on September 11th, 2001, coming up on nine years ago. The right to a speedy trial?  What's that?      The Washington Post offered a useful update yesterday.  Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-styled mastermind of the attack, and the other four accused were to be tried in Manhattan in civilian courts.  That plan collapsed.  In March, officials said it would probably be a military court.  In April, Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress the review of the case would be completed in "a number of weeks."  That was eleven weeks ago.  Maybe Holder should have said "a large number of weeks."       There are arguments, of course.  It ought to be, since it's a civil crime, in a civil court.  Wouldn't that cost New York, or any other place, a fortune to provide security?  Well, it certainly might.  Then let's have the trial on a military base before a military tribunal?  That's not how the law would normally function.  You get the idea.      Now, the Post reports, the decision has been taken away from Justice.  "It's a White House call," one official said, "We're all in the dark."  And apparently the call won't be made until after the midterm election in November.  Why?  I have no idea...      How do you spell "dither?"  Is it O-b-a-m-a?
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