Saturday, December 31, 2011

December 31, 2011

Well, here we are again – the end of an old year, the beginning of a new.  As it has in the past, the column takes note today of some people we lost during the old year and whom we'll miss in the new.

Geraldine Ferraro died, a woman of charm and intelligence who proved you don't have to be mean to be in politics.

My personal list of those I'll miss starts with Andy Rooney, the longtime commentator for CBS' 60 Minutes.  "I want to do this forever," Andy used to say.  If there are gods and if they are kind, there is a corner somewhere in the afterlife where with a typewriter, a microphone and maybe a baggy tweed jacket we shared one year, he's doing just that.

On the Republican side Betty Ford, a remarkable woman who, among her many accomplishments, proved exactly the same thing.

Journalism lost David Broder, a reporter who covered politics.  I had the same beat for a number of years and would have to say he was the best I ever saw.  He probably knew more county chairmen by their first names than any reporter in America.  Good night, David.

Those of us who covered politics will miss Sargent Shriver, a principled man whose greatest public legacy would be his stewardship of the Peace Corps.

Elizabeth Taylor died.  She led such a turbulent life – multiple marriages, illnesses, tragedies, lots of movies which made lots of money.  It's hard to know what to say about her because she transcended so many of our ideas about what is possible for one person, however gifted, to achieve.  It's a life I really cannot imagine.  Nor could I imagine that the legend of her violet eyes was true until I saw them.

There are three who died this year I will not miss-- North Korea's Kim Jong Il,  Libya's Muammar Qaddafi and, of course, Osama bin Laden.  All three were dictators in one way or another in stark contrast to another international loss:  Vaclav Havel of Czechoslovakia/the Czech Republic, who emphatically was not.  He believed in and fought for democracy.  The world is a better place for the deaths of three;  better, for the life of one.


Friday, December 23, 2011

December 23, 2011


We have reached, gentle reader, that curious time of year call The Holidays.  Curious because nothing much ever seems to happen.  We spend a lot of time and effort on presents for each other.  A surprising number of them turn right around and head back to the shop they came from.


People don't do much either.  President Obama is still the president, of course, but you haven't seen his name in the papers much recently.  He's being what the scholars call "an inactive or passive president." 


The Congress?  That's a harder case.  Sure, they haven't done much lately but, then, when did they?

You never run out of adjectives for Congress:  passive or inactive, sure, but fulltime not just a seasonal lull like the one Obama is in.


You have to wonder what would happen if some country attacked us right now.  Would Congress notice?  And if it did, would it actually abandon its 535 golf courses and get together to do something for the country?  The feeling here is probably not.


The harder question then is how did we get this way as a country?  Answer:  damned if I know.


There's an old saying which I always thought was preposterous:  God is kind to drunks, fools and the United States of America.  Who knows?  Maybe it's true.  That would be my holiday wish.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

December 20, 2011

I begin with a really astonishing fact:  the serious - real folks' actual voting - presidential season begins two weeks from today.  That's when the good people in Iowa – Republicans only this time, of course – hold their famous caucuses.  Sit in your neighbor's living room and try to determine who the next president should be.


Democrats have no voice in this, of course.  They have a president who presumably is seeking a second term.  The betting here is that he gets it.  But that's beside the point.


Iowa is a good state in which to start things.  Iowans are well educated voters who by and large like the process and have elected over recent years intelligent Republicans like Charles Grassley and Democrats like Harold Hughes.


This time Republicans can choose from amongst a varied if disappointing field:  Mitt Romney (Gertrude Stein's old line keeps running through my mind, "There is no there there");  Rick Perry, the longest serving governor in Texas history, may be wondering just where his "there" went;  Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker.  He seems like a long shot this time around.  There may be just too much "there."  He may be the darling of the moment of the party's right, but that doesn't guarantee a thing.


Anyway, it will be a lot of fun.  First the Iowa caucuses then the New Hampshire primary, South Carolina, Florida, etc – until, by golly, there's a nominee.


The view from is that he – or she – Michelle Bachmann, remember – will face an uphill fight.  But so what?  It's all good, clean American fun.  Let the games begin!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

December 3, 2011


The first computer memory of the day was of a group of letters – 12 maybe 13 – clearly lost and looking for a home.  I wondered if it were easier or harder in Charles Dickens' day. David Copperfield begins, you may remember, with a chapter title that says simply "I Am Born."  At least you knew what the rest was going to be about.


I miss those simpler days sometimes.  Chapters that explain simply how so-and-so got hit by a fast ball or some other so-and-so plonked by a computer program.


I love computers, of course.  I own one and stare at it some every day.


But I'm afraid we've gotten away from the good old fashioned letter that explained to a friend or a loved one how the world was treating you and how you were getting on.


I wouldn't give up my PC (well, maybe for a MAC) but I do sometimes envy Mr. Dickens all by himself in a bare room with only a desk, a chair, a pot of ink, a half dozen quill pens and some paper.


Simpler times, those.  But maybe more wondrous.  "I am born."  Go, Charlie, tell on.  LOL ': )

Friday, November 25, 2011

November 24, 2011

The country has been kind of half a sleep these past few months-- half at war, half at peace.  Politically the slumber is about to end.


The serious swing from your chandelier political scene gets underway just a couple of months from now with the always talked about, always written about Iowa presidential caucuses:   the boom in the living room heard around the world.  I guess the front runner for the Republicans is still Mitt Romney--ink stained, tear blotted, come on "get the dog off the roof of the car" please, Mitt-- but gee, who knows?  Iowa could go to anybody--Bachmann, Cain, Perry, Gingrich…you know the list.  What a tired bunch!


I keep waiting for a knight to break loose from the lack luster field.  Barry Goldwater did just that in 1964 ("in your heart, you know he's right").  It didn't matter of course.  Right as rain or wrong as thunder, he got clobbered.  Can Romney win the White House, I very much doubt it. Can any of the rest of them?  Probably none.


Maybe that's something they should all be thankful for.

Monday, November 14, 2011

November 14, 2011

Franklin Roosevelt, Barack Obama, surely ain't.  Neither is he Abraham Lincoln nor, for that matter, Millard Fillmore nor Warren Harding.  It seems to this retired political reporter that Obama has been an okay president – not the best, not the worst.


Sure, the economy is kind of in a mess but, if you're old enough to remember the Great Depression (and I am), this isn't even close to that league.


I think you have to give the President average grades on almost everything.  He's gotten us almost out of one (Iraq) of the two extremely foolish wars in which his predecessor, George W. Bush, involved us.  There's less progress in leaving the other trouble spot (Afghanistan) but even there we see some signs that Obama would like to leave.  He avoided committing American ground troops to Libya;  you can imagine how the mighty W. would have jumped into that briar patch. 


So, overall he has been kind of an average president.  Give him a C+, perhaps even a B-, if only because he looks so well in class.


On a few things he might rate an A+:  Osama bin Laden is dead;  the national health care bill passed;  "don't ask, don't tell" is gone. 


Anyway, compare Barack Obama and Joe Biden, almost certain re-election candidates, against what the Republican candidates offer.  It's enough to make your head spin.  Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain?  They're not in the same league.  This is not an endorsement, of course, but I don't see any of them making the grade.



Friday, November 11, 2011

November 11, 2011

This column is about the magic of presidential politics, all right, but unlike a lot of stuff you may have read already, it does not foresee doom, gloom and defeat for Barack Obama.


Neither, of course, does it foresee Obama thundering to victory, pursued by a herd of world class Republican rivals.  My vision, instead, is of an average horse, Obama, crossing the finish line in front of a lame field of GOP opponents who might have trouble qualifying for the pony race at the county fair.


Rivals, contenders?  Well, there's Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, who finished tied with somebody else in a straw poll.  Wasn't it Herman Cain in Iowa?  Or does memory blur?  With this crowd that happens quite easily. Today they are the two frontrunners.  With the allegations against Cain, his position could well change with the next poll.


Republican hopes centered briefly on Rick Perry, the allegedly charismatic governor of Texas.  It was Perry, remember, who armed with his very own hand gun while out on his daily jog shot and wounded a coyote.  Wounded only, of course.  Texas Rangers, normally armed when protecting their governors, finished the job.  This is just one in a series of Perry "oopses."  In a debate Wednesday night, the Governor could remember the names of only two of the three federal agencies he wanted to cancel:  Commerce, Education and "Oops" (which turned out to be Energy).


Don't forget the slew of others in this mix:  Michele Bachmann; Newt Gingrich; Ron Paul; Rick Santorum – and Jon Huntsman, a former ambassador to China, who may actually be qualified to be president.  At the back of the pack are some whom I guarantee you've never heard of – I least I know I never have:  Gary Johnson, Tom Miller, Matt Snyder, Vern Wuensche.  It all feels like a pile up at the starting gate.


Where's the magic in this field?  Can't the GPO do better than this?  Doesn't a race for the presidency deserve some magic?  Don't we?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

October 5, 2011

     A new poll from the Pew Research Center says one third of the U.S. veterans of the post 9/ll wars--Iraq and Afghanistan—think those wars were not worth fighting.  A majority think the U.S should be focusing more on problems at home and less on foreign affairs.  I'm surprised the numbers aren't higher.


     Nearly 4500 American troops have died in Iraq and about 1700 in Afghanistan.  War costs have topped a trillion (yes, that's "t") dollars.  You have to ask, what for?


      And there's another factor.  When I covered the war in Vietnam in the 1960s, we had a draft.  Most GIs did only one tour in the war zone.  Now, our volunteer troops serve three or four.  That's a lot of war for anyone to bear.


     And you keep coming back to, why?  What are we gaining in those places?  Beats the hell out of me.  It's been ten years now;  haven't we lost enough?   

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Fwd: OCTOBER 2, 2011

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: "Ann Hawthorne" <>
Date: Oct 2, 2011 10:53 AM
Subject: OCTOBER 2, 2011
To: "Wittenberg, Holly" <>




     We're into the baseball playoffs again.  Wait a minute!  Grab that man who shouted "So what?!"  Get his name, please.


     Anyway, we're here.  We have some unsurprising qualifiers, like the Yankees, and some unsurprising losers, like the Chicago Cubs, who last won a pennant in 1945, a World Series in 1908.  But there are some surprising losers too.  Boston Red Sox fans—and a lot of their players, probably--thought they'd be out there.  They're not.


     So it's Yankees versus Tigers (I'd bet NY), Rays versus Rangers (have to root for Tampa Bay, they're new to all this), Cards versus Phillies (bet Phillies, I guess) and Diamondbacks versus Brewers (no idea, your call).


     Anyway, you know what I'll be watching these early days of October.  It'll all be good fun and when we get down to two teams, not eight, it'll probably be easier to pick a Series winner.


     Good luck. 



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Sunday, September 25, 2011

September 23, 2011



     Talk to Washingtonians about most things--how's the President doing, what do you think of Congress--and you get fairly logical answers--a few kooky ones, but mostly not.  Talk about the city's favorite sports team--the NFL's Washington Redskins--and all that  changes.  Wild optimism erupts.


    I've seen two headlines in local sports pages this week about the "undefeated" 'Skins.  True, sure, but silly.  They've played just two, count 'em, two games.  Fourteen to go.  "Undefeated?"  Give me a break.  The Skins do sometimes win.  The baseball team, the Nationals, doesn't.  Its predecessor, the Senators, had an unofficial slogan: ''Washington, first in war, first in peace, last in the American League."  Most years, they lived up to it.


     The Redskins have won, of course.  The 1988 and 1992 Super Bowls come to mind.  And sports is full of longer losing streaks.  I grew up in Chicago rooting for the Chicago Cubs, who last won the World Series in--are you ready?--1908.


     Ponder that.


Monday, September 19, 2011

September 19, 2011


     The United States Postal Service is tip-toeing into the 21st century.  They announced plans to end overnight mail delivery, among other things.  This is wise and simply reflects reality.


      Friends don't write their friends and loved ones first-class letters anymore.  They e-mail them or talk on the telephone.  What I get in the mail, and I'll bet you do too, are bills, notices of medical appointments, a magazine, a catalogue or two.  Delivery, say, three times a week is plenty for stuff like that.  The serious letter to a loved one got there electronically yesterday or the day before.  While they are at it, they can keep all that junk mail - save me the trouble of trashing it and maybe help a tree or two.


    So congratulations, USPS.  I've enjoyed attacking you over the years, but this time you got something right.



Friday, September 16, 2011

September 16, 2011


     There's a new CBS News/New York Times poll out which confirms something many of us have known or suspected for years:  the voters are lot smarter than we think.


     The basic finding is that more Americans than ever are dissatisfied with the way Congress works--just 12% approve.  Actually, that ties a previous low recorded in 2008.


     Why?  That's easy.  It's partisan, impotent, useless.  What has it done?... (long, long pause.)


     I can remember Congresses, when I started covering them years ago, that actually passed laws.  Some were divisive--the 1964 Civil Rights Act, for instance, or the '65 Voting Rights Act.  Some sparked filibusters.  But they passed.  I remember one of of this Congress's Senate leaders--I think it was Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican, saying his party's most important goal was to make Barack Obama a one-term president. Nothing to do with defense, or education, or any issue.  Just partisan politics.


     That's the difference. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

August 24, 2011

     On Monday I wrote a column about how calm and quiet Washington is in August.  Congress is away, the president is vacationing, lobbyists are yawning, etc.  I forgot one of the old rules:  "Never assume, it makes an ass of u and me."   Well, it was calm until we had an earthquake yesterday.
     And then, of course, it wasn't calm at all.  The apartment building I live in literally shook, quivered, moved.  We left, of course, we frightened residents. My little group perched outside a nearby cafe and sipped coffee.  After an hour or so, all seemed calm so we went back inside.  No major damage--broken glass from picture frames, one old wooden rocking horse I'm fond of had fallen off the wall and broken a hoof, but my friends think it can be mended.
     Usually excitement here is about a bill, a vote, a scandal.  Not this time.  No one was badly hurt, the papers say.  It's been a hundred thirty years since DC had one this big.  If they want to wait that long before the next one, it'll be fine with me.

Monday, August 15, 2011

August 14, 2011



     Well, the Iowa straw poll has come and gone.  It wasn't exactly a big turnout event.  More than sixteen thousand Iowans voted, more than four years ago but well short of the record of over 23,000 set in 1999.


     It's already thinned the field by one--former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has ended his campaign.  The winner, of course, was Minnesota Representative Michelle Bachman. This column wondered a few days ago whether she was real.  She was.  Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich got just 385 votes;  you have to wonder how long he'll stay in.


     Mitt Romney, the alleged front-runner, finished sixth with 587 votes.  He was behind both Texas Governor Rick Perry, a write-in, and former pizza magnate Herman Cain.  Hmmmm…


     The race goes on, of course. The real stuff in Iowa and New Hampshire starts early next year.  Was the straw poll a straw in the wind?  Maybe, yes;  maybe; no.  We'll see.      

Saturday, August 13, 2011

August 12, 2011

     There's a new Republican presidential candidate this weekend--Texas Governor Rick Perry-and he's different--different from some of his GOP competitors and very different from President Barack Obama.  For one, he likes to jog armed.
     He believes in low taxes and limited government.  He's been governor for eleven years. Texas, the Washington Post reports, has no income tax, ranks 46th in the taxes it collects per capita and has accounted for between 30% and half of the new jobs created in the country in the past two years.
     A quarter of the state's people lack health care coverage, the highest percent in the country.  Texas ranks 47th in spending on schools and highest in the country for levels of chemicals released into water and carcinogens released into air, the Post says.  So it's different, all right.  Very different.
     Is it what most Americans want?  I guess we'll find out. 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

August 11, 2011

    Iowa, where they'll have the first real presidential action with those caucuses early next year, is having a straw poll this weekend.  Candidates and reporters are sure to be watching.
     The poll may answer some questions about the 2012 race.
     Why, for instance, do stories always describe former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney as the front-runner?  In front of what?  Nobody's run anywhere real yet.  This column has always thought to paraphrase Gertrude Stein when it comes to Romney:  there's not much there there.   Nice hair but no there. 
     Or, is Michelle Bachman a contender or is she too conservative to actually be
elected?   She's pretty far right, but so is much of the GOP these days.  Can a woman win? Hillary Clinton didn't four years ago.  But could Bachman?  Sarah Palin?
 .   Is Rick Perry real?  Is he running?  Sure sounds as if he is.
     When I was still covering politics, I always liked going to Iowa.  Good, thoughtful people those Iowans seemed to me -- voters who really cared about politics.   I'm sure that's still true.
     So come on, Hawkeye State, give us a hint or two.   Please, Iowa, we could sure use a couple.     

Monday, July 18, 2011

July 18, 2011

     I was rooting for the Americans, of course, since I am one.  But now that it's over, I'm kind of glad Japan won the Women's World Cup.  If ever a country needed a reason for feeling pride and joy, it's they.
     I mean, what an awful year they've had--the earthquake, the tsunami, radiation leaking here and there from nuclear power plants around the country--surely after a run like that, any country deserves for some big thing to go right.  For Japan, it did.  Congratulations, ladies, I'm for you.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

July 12, 2011

     "The News of the World" has closed after 168 years.  It was the sleaziest, sexiest, most outrageous of all of London's tabloid newspapers, all of which are sleazier, sexier and more outrageous than ours.  I lived in London for a while, many years ago, and I loved it. 
     In the 1960s I remember perhaps the most wonderfully outrageous sex scandal ever:  Britain's Minister for War, Sir John Profumo, was sleeping with Christine Keeler who was sleeping with an official at the Soviet Embassy.  Sex, spies, Cold War secrets!  How could you beat it?  The News of the World loved it too.
     They've had lots of winners since.  The final headline was "Thank you and Goodbye," but the front page included smaller headlines noting past triumphs:  "Chief of Defense in Sex and Security Scandal," "Duke and the Hooker," "Runaway Bishop Confesses All" and the like.
     The paper closed because of a scandal that involved hacking into people's telephones.  The final edition included an editorial apology, but still included the words, "World's Greatest Newspaper, 1843-2011."  One critic called it "grandly sustained by an eternal cast of randy vicars, misbehaving politicians and adulterous celebrities," but added it was part of Britain's "sense of collective identity."
     Right.  I'm sorry it's gone.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

July 7, 2010

     So many Republicans running for president this year!  One recent story lists nine announced candidates.  I can't remember a bigger field.
     Alphabetically (how else?) they are:  Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain,  former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.  And a couple of others may join in--Sarah Palin, John McCain's running-mate in 2008 and Texas Governor Rick Perry.  Wow!  The early states may need to print bigger ballots.
     Who's ahead?  Hard to know. The Democrats will renominate Barack Obama, of course;  I don't think a party has ever dumped a sitting president.  The GOP?  Polls says Mitt Romney is the frontrunner, but that can change.  I remember 1972, when the early Democratic frontrunner was a senator from Maine named Ed Muskie.  The eventual nominee, of course, was a senator from South Dakota named George McGovern.
     And if you're thinking about running, jump in. The Iowa caucuses are still six months off. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

July 6, 2011

      In 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men (Americans of course) to walk on the moon, I covered the flight for CBS News from NASA's Manned Spaceflight Center, just outside Houston, Texas.  We all, employees and reporters alike, thought it the start of something big.  We wondered:  How long before we reach Mars or maybe Jupiter?   We were, of course, all wrong.
     The American manned space flight program ends with the launch Friday of the last scheduled space shuttle flight.   I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad one.
     We Americans want our government to pay for many different things:  Social Security for us old folks, food stamps for the hungry, the best weapons for our military, and so on and on and on.  Can't do it all without taxing us to death?   Probably true.   Have to pick and choose?  Certainly.  Where should a space program come?  I'm not a bit sure.
     I'm probably enough of an old-fashioned liberal to think that helping the poor and hungry should be high on the list along with health care and education.  But you could certainly have a swell national argument about all that.
     Maybe we should.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

June 30, 2011

     Hot new face in the GOP presidential race?   Looks that way now with Michele Bachmann.  She is the 55 year old Congresswoman from Minnesota who strikes some people as hot---a lot hotter than the presumed front-runner, Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts.   In one Iowa poll, she's just a point or two behind him.
     A voter, James Littman, at an event in South Carolina (an early primary state) told Politico, "She's fifty times smarter than the people who think she's stupid....We need a counter-revolutionary after this mess (the Obama administration). The last person that is, is Mitt Romney."  A personal note:  Romney has always reminded me of Gertrude Stein's line, "There is no there there."  Bachman seems to have plenty of there.
     She makes mistakes.  She told a crowd in New Hampshire, "You're in the state where the shot was heard round the world in Lexington and Concord."  Well, no.  She was in Concord all right but the Concord in the famous quote is in Massachusetts.  She once claimed that the men who wrote our country's founding documents, the Declaration of Independence, wanted to end slavery.  No again.  The writers, from free and slave states, knew they were writing to voters in both.  When they wrote, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal...." they knew that wasn't true in their America.
      Still, she makes it interesting.  And if Sarah Palin runs too, that'll be a debate I'll want to watch.     

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

June 21, 2011

     President Obama is breaking the law, which presidents, of course, should not do.
     The law he is breaking is the War Powers Act of 1973 which says, in effect, that when a president involves America in a war, he has sixty days in which to get congressional approval.  If he doesn't, then he has thirty days in which to halt all "hostilities."  It's been ninety days since we started bombing in Libya and neither of those things has happened.
     The President's chief legal counsel, Robert Bauer, says the president can keep bombing Libya indefinitely, without Congressional support.  But, as the New York Times notes, "This conclusion lacks a solid legal foundation."  The bombing may be well-meant, aimed at saving Libyan civilians from Muammar el-Quaddafi's troops, but it's still illegal.
     And as those of us old enough to remember Watergate learned back then, honesty and the law matter in a presidency.  Maybe more than anything else.

June 20, 2011

      Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been complaining about us again.  He said over the weekend that NATO troops were "here for their own purposes, their own goals, and they're using our soil for that."  But this time the departing U.S. ambassador answered back.
     Karl Eikenberry responded:  "When Americans, who are serving in your country at great cost--in terms of life and treasure--hear themselves compared with occupiers, told they are here only their own interests and likened to the brutal enemies of the Afghan people, my people in turn are filled with confusion and grow weary of our effort here."  He's got that just exactly right.
     And there is, of course, a simple solution.  Let's just leave.
     Afghanistan has never been easy.  Not when the British occupied it.  Not when the Soviets did.  And certainly not for the ten years or so that we've been there.  Why are we there?  For how long?  I haven't the slightest idea anymore and I'll bet you don't either.  Oh, yeah, we went for Osama bin Laden.  He's dead.
     There was one bit of good news in the New York Times story quoting Karzai.  He said the U.S. has been negotiating with the Taliban and Defense Secretary Robert Gates later confirmed that's true.
     Let's get on with it.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

June 9, 2011

     The basic question, of course, is why they do such incredibly stupid stuff?  It isn't just Representative Anthony Weiner, of course.  The Washington Post published a list of old, familiar names yesterday:  Gary Condit, a Congressman whose affair with an intern made news in 2001;  New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey, resigned in 2004 after acknowledging an extramarital affair with a man;  New York Governor Eliot Spitzer resigned in 2008, admitting he'd spent thousands of dollars on prostitutes.  If you're old enough, you remember Wilbur Mills of Arkansas, powerful chairman, as he was always called, of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.  He may best be known now for carrying on with a woman named Annabella Batistella, aka the Argentine Firecracker.  Why, oh why?
     Partly, I suppose, it's about power, about elitism.  They elected us, we're better than the rest, we're above the law.  Not true, of course.  The names above (the actual list is much longer than can fit in this short column) surely prove that.   But elitism is part of it.  Being in Congress you meet many flatterers, people who want your influence and will say nice things about you to get it.
     "Power tends to corrupt," Lord Acton said back in 1887, "and absolute power corrupts absolutely."  Still true, no doubt.  Sad, but true.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

June 7, 2011

     Democratic Cong. Shirley Chisholm ran for president in 1968.  Republican Elizabeth Dole ran in 2000 and Democrat Hillary Clinton mounted a strong challenge to Barack Obama in 2008.  They all lost, of course, but no trend lasts forever.
     This time the Democrats seem certain to renominate Obama, but the Republicans have two interesting, conservative women who may well run:  former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, a VP nominee in 2008, and Representative Michele Bachman.  I don't know what their chances are, but alleged frontrunner Mitt Romney has always looked a little wobbly to me.  And women hold leadership positions in the tea party movement, which may be important in the GOP primaries. Bachman has raised some three million dollars already.
      Republicans seem to have warmed to the idea of a woman candidate. Monday's Washington Post quoted a Pew Research Center survey as saying that in 2007 more than 20% of Republican men and women said they would be less likely to support a woman.  This year,  5% of men and 12% of women gave that answer.
     So who knows?  Come on in, ladies.  The water looks friendly.

Monday, June 6, 2011

June 6, 2011

     Did Thomas Jefferson like to dance?  This may not seem a question crying out for an answer, but in Washington you never know.
     It all started a week ago when police arrested five people for dancing at the Jefferson Memorial and videos suggested they could have been gentler about it.  So this past Saturday, about 200 people gathered.  No arrests this time, but the memorial was shut down for about an hour and a half while police worked to clear out the dancers.  There is, apparently, a court ruling banning such carrying-on.
     You have to wonder why.  Jefferson, our third president, was a man of many talents--a fine writer (his Declaration of Independence has held up pretty well) who presumably also enjoyed the other arts as well.  No dances during his eight years in the White House?  Hard to credit that.
     One of yesterday's dancers, the Washington Post reports, was dressed as George Washington.  Got his monuments mixed  up, perhaps.  Oh well, I don't know.  No one dressed as Tom.  But if you want to strike a blow for  freedom of movement, artistic freedom, come on down to the Jefferson.  And dance, dance, dance!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

June 1, 2011

     The House of Representatives has voted against raising the ceiling, the limit, of the national debt.  This is politics, of course, like just about everything the Congress does, but it could have serious consequences.   If Congress really won't raise the limit, the United States would go into default.  This means it would refuse to pay its debts and people or countries which had bought government bonds would be holding potentially worthless pieces of paper.  That would mean chaos, or close to it..
     This probably won't happen.  Congressional Republicans say they'll vote to raise the limit only if such a vote is accompanied by massive cuts in government spending.  Tim Pawlenty, the latest GOP presidential wannabee, favors cuts in Social Security.   I'll bet a lot of old folks and their kids would vote against that.  I wouldn't mind if we pulled out of Afghanistan and cut defense spending in, say, half.  A lot of conservatives would think that was a terrible idea.  So, it isn't easy.
     Congressional Republicans and then-President Bill Clinton had a huge budget fight back in the 1990s.  That time, the Republicans lost.
     This time?  Well, the House Republicans are meeting the president today--the first time that's happend--and of course both sides know the stakes are high.  White House press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday that default would be "calamitous."  We'll see.

May 30, 2011

     Look, there's a Republican elephant sitting on the curb--and it's crying!  Well, no wonder.  The party's presidential hopefuls are walking by
     "Weak" seems to be the adjective columnists use most to describe the field.  It's good one.
     I mean, there's the presumed front runner (nobody's voted yet, of course) Mitt Romney of Massachusetts.   He backed a health care plan in his state that critics say resembles President Obama's.  Fatal, they add.  And there's driving off on vacation with the family dog on the roof of the car.  Unfortunate, surely.  There's former Speaker Newt Gingrich, who criticized Rep. Paul Ryan's plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program.  If that's smart politics, I'm an aardvark.  There's former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who called for cuts in Social Security and Medicare, and said he'd sign the Ryan budget changing Medicare.  If that's smart politics--I don't know, how many aardvarks can I be?  Oh, and Pawlenty wants us to be tougher in Libya.  Nukes?  Ground troops?  I'm not sure.
     Then there's Sarah Palin, the half-term governor of Alaska.  Did you know you can see Russia from her home state?  You can;  I have.  But is that a qualification for the presidency?  Beats me.  There's Minnesota Cong. Michele Bachman.  Is she qualified?  I have no idea.
     You know who'd liven it up, though?  The woman who lost a Senate race in Delaware, Christine O'Donnell.  The one whose TV ad began, "I am not a witch." Just what we need, don't you think?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

May 25, 2011

     Oprah Winfrey's TV show says good-bye today.  It's probably not the last we'll see of her.  She's only fifty-seven and bound to be back in some vehicle or other one of these days.  But the show that's been on the air now for twenty-five years is ending.  Winfrey's had a stellar career and, boy, did she have to do it the hard way.
     Born to a single teenage mother, she was raised in poverty.  The mother went north.  Oprah spent her first six years with her grandmother often wearing dresses, one clipping says, made of potato sacks.  But her grandmother also taught her to read when she was three.
     At six she moved to Milwaukee to be with her mother.  She was molested, she has said, by a cousin, an uncle and a family friend, starting when she was nine.  At 13 she ran away from home.  Well, who wouldn't?  Then she went to live with her father in Nashville and became an honor student, voted Most Popular Girl.  A local radio station hired her to do news part time. Then she became the youngest news anchor and the first black woman anchor at a Nashville TV station and, you might say, never looked back.
     Now, of course, she has her own network--OWN.  She gets about 20,000 e-mails a week.  In 2008 she made 275 million dollars.
     Her program, over the years, has reflected the values that worked for her--determination, self-reliance, self-help.
     You're a big success, lady, and you've earned it, every step of the way.

Monday, May 23, 2011

May 22, 2011

     Well, no, it didn't.  End, that is.  The world, that is.  Earthquakes everywhere, they predicted, at 6PM local time on Saturday, May 21st.  The saved--a group I was sure would not include me--whooshed up to heaven, the rest of us left to suffer and die until the planet finally disintegrated this coming October.  But no.  No quake, no heavenward whooshing, the morning after was much like the one before.
     So now, I guess, we go back to the real stuff--can we keep from blowing up the planet (we have that power now)?  Can we lessen hunger?  Or poverty?  Or misery?  All the old questions remain.
        Most of us, I suspect, will want to try regardless of our race or nationality.  We have made some progress.  Not enough, of course.  But surely there is less wretchedness in the world now than there was a century or two ago.  It's a struggle we will never win, of course, but one we must continue to wage.
     "And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." (F. Scott Fitzgerald – "The Great Gatsby")

Thursday, May 19, 2011

May 19, 2011

     Have you noticed that the Republican presidential contest this year seems to be all about sex?
     I mean, politicians have had affairs before.  Franklin Roosevelt had a mistress (Lucy Rutherfurd, if memory serves) but still managed to lead us through depression and war.  But this year?
     Pick up the paper.  There's Newt Gingrich, who had a long affair with the woman who became wife #3 while still married to wife #2.  There's Mitch Daniels, the governor of Indiana, whose wife left him and their children to run off to California and marry a doctor but later changed her mind and came back.  There's John Ensign, a married senator who had an affair with a staffer who was the wife of his chief of staff.  There's Christopher Lee, a former Congressman who resigned after the story broke that he'd sent a bare-chested photo of himself to a woman he'd met on, I think, Craigslist.   And, of course, there's Arnold Schwarzenegger and the story about the illegitimate child he had a decade or so ago while married to Maria Shriver.  Well, maybe the last three aren't running for president, but still....
     Very strange political year.  What do you suppose will happen next?  And do we want to know?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

May 16, 2011

     Will the Republican nominee for president please raise your hand?  It's hard to tell who you are from here.
     I guess Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, is the front runner. But as goverrnor, he signed a state health care plan which somewhat resembles President Obama's.  Many conservatives just flat hate that part of his record.
     Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, has said he won't run.  He's personable and carried Iowa last time, but he doesn't want to do it all again.  He's a host on Fox News now and may feel that's an easier line of work.
     There's former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia.  He's against the House Republicans' plan to overhaul Medicare, but so are lots of people, of course.  It would end the program as we know it and issue the elderly vouchers with which to buy health insurance on the private market.  A lot of conservatives really like orthodoxy and might dislike his marital history:  a long affair with wife-to-be #3 when he was still married to wife #2.
     Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota?  He got elected governor twice but has said Social Security and Medicare should be cut to balance the budget.  Would voters like that?
     Then you have the real long shots.  Godfather's Pizza executive Herman Cain?  Pizza at state dinners?  Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr.?  But he was Obama's ambassador to China.  One-time UN ambassador John Bolton?  Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachman, a Tea Party stalwart?
     I have no idea who'll win, but it sure looks wide-open.  Wanna run? 

May 16, 2011 #1

    The Donald huffed and puffed and roared some mighty roars.  He made a lot of people nervous, but today he said no, he won't run for president.  Being rich and famous and being on television a lot is more fun than being POTUS.  Of course, he's probably right.
     "I have decided not to pursue the office of the Presidency," his statement says. "I maintain the strong conviction that if I were to run, I would be able to win the primary (actually, Mr. Trump, there are several) and the general election....Ultimately, however, business is my greatest passion and I am not ready to leave the private sector."
     Well, that's about what guys who don't run always say, of course.  My own feeling is that voters would have looked at Trump and shouted "You're fired!"  Never mind, it's over.
     Fate is sometimes kind.   I still would like to have seen what Marine One's rotor wash might have done to that hair.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

May 11, 2011

     If you're president and your country knocks off a famous terrorist, guess which way your polls ratings will go.  Yes, folks, "up" is the answer.  Barack Obama is finding that out this week, big time.
     An Associated Press-GfK (it's a marketing research group) poll taken after Osama bin Laden's death shows the president's approval rating at a whopping 60%.  More than half those polled say he deserves to be reelected.  Suppose the Dems would like to move up next year's election?
     73%--well, why not--say they think he can handle terrorist threats.  His ratings improvement isn't just limited to foreign affairs.  52% say he's handling the economy well, his best rating since early in his term.  The same 52% like how he's handling unemployment, even though it hovers around 9% and your Uncle Fred may be looking for work.  
     You can analyze these numbers endlessly, of course, but the bottom line is surely pretty simple.  The U.S., under Obama, knocked off bin Laden, and nothing, nothing succeeds like success.

Monday, May 9, 2011

May 9, 2011

     Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich has announced he's running for president.  This is about as surprising as announcing that the sun will rise in the East tomorrow, but at least it's now official.


     Gingrich, a Georgian, became Speaker in 1994, the first Republican to hold the job in fifty years.  He left the Speakership and the House in 1998.  There've been some scandals, but he's been a vocal and popular Republican ever since, always mentioned as a presidential possibility.  Now, it seems, he's ready to run.


     How will he do?  Pretty well, I would guess.  There's no dominant frontrunner yet, no Ronald Reagan.


   Mitt Romney is pretty well known but as much for hauling his dog around on the roof of the family car as for anything else.  As a governor he championed a health care plan which resembles the one President Obama got Congress to approve for the country.  Republicans hate that, of course.


    Tim Pawlenty?  Mitch Daniels?  Sure, maybe, but they aren't exactly household names.  Sarah Palin?  The Donald Trump?  Again, maybe, both are household names but neither one has announced yet.  If they did, would anyone take it seriously?


     Liabilities for Gingrich?  Well, he's on his third marriage.  I don't know if most voters care about that kind of thing as much as they did, say, thirty years ago.  The  conservative base might.   He criticized Obama for intervening in Libya right after he demanded that he should.  Flip flop is a tough sell.  And, too, there is that pesky old House ethics investigation.  He's got some baggage to tote.


     Anyway, he's just made 2012 a more interesting year.   Well done, Mr. Speaker.   

Thursday, May 5, 2011

May 5, 2011

     What if the Republicans held the season's first debate for presidential wannabees and hardly anyone came?  It's happening today in Greenville, South Carolina.
     Just for comparison, the GOP held a similar debate four years ago this week.  Ten candidates showed up--four former governors, two sitting senators, and so on. Today's debate has drawn just five possibles.  The only one most of us have heard of is former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty.  The others include former Godfather's Pizza executive Herman Cain, former Senator Rick Santorum, and libertarians Representative Ron Paul (Texas) and former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson.  (Who?)
     Not there?  Well, former, Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich...I could go on.
     Why?  Well, it's early, of course;  those Iowa caucuses are still, what, nine months away.  But of course that's never stopped anyone before.  Has the attack on bin Laden has made Obama unbeatable?  No,I'll guarantee that's not so;  he could still blunder and lose.
     I don't know what it is, really.  I'm tempted to sum it up in one simple line:  count your blessings. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

May 3, 2011

     Years ago I interviewed Bill Mauldin, the famous World War II cartoonist whose soldiers, Willie and Joe, were part of the American force invading Europe.  I remember Mauldin saying he didn't think the war had made the world a kinder or better place, or anything like that, but then he added, "Of course we had to kill Hitler."   And of course he was right;  we did.
     I feel that same way about Osama bin Laden.  Of course we had to kill him.  I'm glad we did, though "glad" is an odd word to use about someone's death.  Will that make the world a kinder, better place?  I very much doubt it.
     Terrorism will continue.  Al Qaeda and various other groups will continue to hate America, continue to look for ways to damage or destroy us.  Their hatred is longstanding and not dependent on any one man.  So the long struggle, the long war, will continue.  We're used to that.  Did we have real peace between the two world wars?  How long did the Cold War last?
     We've won a victory.  A wicked man is dead.  Are peace and happiness just around the corner?  Oh, no. 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

May 1, 2011


     Well, they're married.  Not off on their honeymoon, they've announced they'll do that later.  But they're married, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and it all went off without a hitch.


     But so did the only royal wedding I ever covered, the one between Charles and Princess Diana at St. Paul's Cathedral in 1981.  The wedding was splendid, the marriage which followed was, sadly, not.  Infidelity, separation, divorce, and then Diana's death--she hadn't even turned forty--in a Paris car crash in 1997.


     The odds seem better for William and Kate.  Charles was a lot older than Diana; she was just a teenager, nineteen, when they tied the knot.  She knew the hot fashions, the latest dances.  He didn't.  He was older and, judging from the snippets we saw on the news, he seemed a bit on the stodgy side.  


      Kate and William are of an age--she's, what, five months the older.  They've lived together in a house with others and presumably got along.  Of course, they'll stay in the spotlight.  Swedish royals or Danish ones, if they still are any, come and go without Americans much noticing.  Not so the Brits.


     So we'll be watching, young Royals.  This column wishes you the best of luck.

April 30, 2011

     Thirty-five years ago today Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), which had been the capital of South Vietnam, fell to the Communists making Vietnam one country under Communist rule with its capital Hanoi.  America had withdrawn its last troops earlier, on orders from President Richard Nixon.  Once they left, the outcome was virtually certain.


     It's so long ago it's hard to remember why we got involved.  Were we trying to restore French rule in a colony they could not hold themselves?  That's what Vietnam had been, of course, though the Japanese occupied it during World War II. Did we simply think Communism must be opposed everywhere?  At least we seem to have gotten over that.


     And we've become friends with Vietnam, at least sort of.  The last time I was there a few years ago, you'd see American veterans, even in Hanoi, telling their wives and kids when and where they'd served in that long-ago war..


     So we can get over wars.  We travel to and trade with Japan and Germany, our foes in World War II.  I wonder if we'll be as lucky in  the future--if today's U.S. soldiers will take their families to see the sights in Baghdad or Kabul.  Must we now add Tripoli to the list? 


     We don't know what the future holds, of course, but the past can sometimes teach us things.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

April 28, 2011

     Okay, the president has released his long-form birth certificate which, like the shorter version released earlier, says that he was born in Hawaii.  The New York Times called it "a profoundly low and disturbing moment in American political life."  Agreed, but will it end the flap?  Hell no, we all know better than that.
     The Times also called the controversy "a baseless attack with heavy racial undertones." I guess that's true, but it doesn't really explain it.  Jesse Jackson ran for office and nobody ever suggested he wasn't American born and bred.
     I think it's that he's different from most of us.  He's an intellectual, reads serious books.  Most of us settle for beer and a football game.  He speaks our language better than most of us, and that scares some of us too.  The birthers, I think, are scared of him because he's really different.  They're not even sure he was born in Kenya;  they think it might have been Mars.
     Okay.  But he's been a decent president.  We're getting out of Iraq, I think.  We're still stuck in  Afghanistan, of course, and now we're messing about in Libya.  I can't understand that, just can't.  The economy's puttering along.  I can remember when it's been better, but I can also remember when it's been worse.  So I don't really care where he came from.  I think he's doing okay.
     Let's hear it for the Martian!  Four more years!  Now there's a slogan.

Monday, April 25, 2011

April 25, 2011

     "'Bye, 'bye, Miss American sky, / Drove my shuttle to the levy, but the levy was dry...."  or something like that.  The American program of manned space flights is ending. 
     The Obamas will be going to the Kennedy Space Center this week to sit with injured Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords as she watches her husband, Navy Captain Mark Kelly, pilot Endeavor toward the International Space Station.  It's the next to last American flight;  the last one is planned for June.  Once upon a time, there were plans for rockets, the Ares I and Constellation, to succeed those now in use.  Those plans have been cancelled.  An American may occasionally hitch a ride into space, on a Russian space craft, but that's it.
     I remember when Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon.  I was covering the story for CBS News at the Manned Spacecraft Center just outside Houston.  If you'd asked the masses of NASA employees and reporters who were there that day, do you think we'll go on to Mars, I suspect every hand in the place would have gone up.  We were all wrong, of course.  We won't be going--not anytime soon anyway.  Armstrong spoke of his walk then as "one small step for a man, a giant leap for all mankind."  Okay, but we never leapt again.
     It's a hard choice, of course.  America is deeply in debt.  Presidents must choose--try to feed the hungry, help the poor, or roam the planets.  No easy answers, that's for sure.  Feeding the hungry, helping the poor should come first but, oh my, I'd have loved watching a Mars landing.

Friday, April 22, 2011

April 22, 2011

     The latest New York Times/CBS News poll says we Americans are in a down mood these days, the most pessimistic we've been since President Obama's first two months in office when the Great Recession (if the Times capitalizes it, that must be right) was still officially alive.
     The number of Americans who think the economy is getting worse has jumped 13 percentage points in just one month, the survey says, which is a very quick shift indeed in public opinion.
     Congress is divided now, of course;  Republicans control the House, Democrats the Senate. 75% of those polled disapprove of the way Congress is doing its job.  But 57% disapprove of the way President Obama is handling the economy--not great news for a man who presumably will seek reelection next year.  72% did support the president's suggestion to end tax cuts for households making more than a quarter of a million dollars a year.  About three-quarters of those polled agree with the prez that the federal government should provide health care for the elderly, while 56% think it should help the poor.
     Still, the poll found a small majority agreeing with Rep. Paul Ryan (R, Wisc) that we should change Medicare from a program that pays doctors and hospitals to one that helps elderly patients pay for private plans.
     Confusing numbers, but mostly gloomy.  Personally, I'm feeling pretty good right now but that's probably because my baseball team, the ever-hapless Chicago Cubs, is playing .500 ball right now.  In a couple of weeks, after they've lost, say, ten straight, I'll probably join the ranks of the gloomy too.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

April 20, 2011

     Back in 1968 when Democrat Hubert Humphrey was running for president, a popular anti-Humphrey slogan was, "Dump the Hump!"   Mean?  Sure--he didn't have a hump--but hey, that's politics.  This year rhyme may return to the campaign.  This time, of course, it would be "Dump the Trump!"
     Well, why not?  He's old enough, 64, rich enough--it's a very expensive thing to do--and, as far as I can tell, perfectly unqualified.  This is a man who questions whether Barack Obama was really born in this country, even though the President's Hawaiian birth certificate has often been shown.  Well, never let the facts get in the way of a good story, the old saying goes.  He's changing his positions to appeal, it seems, to the conservative base--once pro-choice, now pro-life, same switch on gay marriage.  And let's not forget he has "a great relationship with the blacks."  Still, I've seen more than one poll showing him running with the front of the GOP pack.
     Is he qualified?  That, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.  I'm old enough to remember that a lot of people thought Harry Truman was unqualified when he took office after Franklin Roosevelt died.  But he made some huge decisions:  dropped the atomic bomb on Japan to end World War II; led the United States into NATO, into the United Nations, into the post-war world.  And, among other things, he integrated the U.S armed forces.  Looks pretty qualified nowadays.
     So who knows?  If The Donald, as they call him (I've never known why) wants to jump in, let him.  If you win, Mr, Trump, shout and jump.  If you lose, just take your lump and your bump.  Lots of fun rhymes here.  That never hurts.

Monday, April 18, 2011

April 18, 2011

*Editorial from his publisher:  We want you to live for many more presidential elections, not just 2012**
     I'm an old guy--codger, geezer, whatever--but I really want to live Iong enough to see how the 2012 election turns out.  It just might be a doozie.
     That's not because the Republicans already have some gangbuster candidate who might knock Barack Obama out of the White House.  One such may exist, but I haven't spotted him or her yet.
     No, it's because the two major parties now differ so sharply on what government should and shouldn't do that we could have a real election about what kind of a country we want America to be.  For example:  House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R. Wis.) has issued a spending proposal that passed his committee on a straight party-line vote, 22-16.
     So long, Medicare, as we know it.  Ryan's plan would phase out the government run, fee-for-service program.  New seniors, instead, would get vouchers that would help them buy private health insurance.  It would repeal the health care law's requirement for people to have health insurance.  Ryan's plan would not reduce health care costs, just shift them from the government to us.  The Congressional Budget Office estimated that by 2022, the average portion of total Medicare spending borne by seniors would rise from 30% to 61%.  Ready for that?
     I don't know how much of this Congress would pass or the President approve.  I don't know if the voters would be for it or against it.
     But hey!  A real debate!  Might be kind of fun.   

Thursday, April 7, 2011

April 7, 2011

   They can still stall some more, of course.  But if they do shut the government down, will it be total?  No.  No one plans to lock away all the hydrogen bombs, so if some bag guy attacks us, we can attack back.  But will we notice the shutdown?  Oh, yes.
     Here in Washington, the Washington Monument would close.  So would parks and museums and Ford's theatre.  The Capitol would close, I suppose.  Congress might go home or sulk quietly in its homes here.  The rule is that non-essential federal employees would stay home.  That's maybe 800,000 people nationwide.  But how do we decide who's essential?  That's not clear. And what proud parent wants to look at the kids over breakfast and say, "I'm not essential, guys. I'm staying home today." 
     So it's a mess.  The Washington Post warns, "...the nation's capital may soon be in the grips of something akin to a vast nicotine fit.  Tens of thousands of federal workers deemed nonessential will be forced to give up their Blackberrys."  Pretty tough stuff.
     I have an idea, though.  Why don't we just declare the Congress nonessential, send them home and keep spending the money on everything else?  They're the bozos who couldn't pass a budget, right?