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