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?