Sunday, February 27, 2011
It started when the governor, facing, like most governors, a deficit, proposed some spending cuts. But this governor, Republican Scott Walker, went further. He wants the legislature to pass a law sharply restricting the rights of state employee unions to bargain collectively. The governor's plan would forbid unions to engage in collective bargaining except on the issue of wages. No negotiating about hours, safety, working conditions--none of that stuff. And raises would be limited to no more than the rate of inflation.
Their state Assembly approved this astonishing change in traditional collective bargaining. Democrats in the state Senate fled the state, so as to prevent a vote they thought they'd lose. There's a similar walkout, for similar reasons, in Indiana.
I don't know where you stand on these major changes in how collective bargaining works. I'm against them. But in any case, we should all be paying attention because we are talking about very big changes in the way our system works.
Monday, February 21, 2011
A lovely, important part of the America I grew up in is disappearing and it makes me sad. I mean, of course, the neighborhood bookstore.
Wherever I've lived, in this country or abroad, there's always been one. That ceased to be true about a year ago when the one in my Capitol Hill neighborhood closed. Still, there was a Borders just a short subway ride away. Now that chain is going bankrupt, I read. That will leave one excellent, independent bookstore in Washington, but it's a longer ride away.
I know, there's Amazon on the internet. But you can't browse on the net. Oh sure, you can ask for a list of the latest romances, or crime novels or whatever. But it's not the same as walking into a store full of books you probably never heard of, looking up at one and thinking, "Hey, that looks like something Uncle Fred would like." Or Aunt Harriet, or whomever. And usually, those are gifts they read and like.
I'm not fond of Kindles, dammit. I'm fond of books, books with pages you can turn. And I'm fond of stores that sell them. I don't write this thinking anything will change, of course. Just wanted to share a little sadness.
Chicagoans decide who their next mayor will be today. The only question seems to be whether former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel will win a majority outright or be forced into a runoff in April with the second-place finisher. I'd bet on the flat-out majority, I think.
He has opponents, of course; Former Senator Carol Mosely Braun is one. She's African-American and so are many other Chicagoans, but Emanuel seems to get along with them just fine, as he does with everyone else. He has raised much more money than anyone running and is spending it on what reporters in the city describe as an efficient, well-run campaign.
Reports say he's toned down his abrasive White House style some--less use of the F-word, for instance. But he seems very at ease. He is, after all, Chicagoan--as Chicago as good beer and good steak. Opponents tried to keep him off the ballot because he'd rented out his Chicago house when he went to work at the White House. That failed. Emanuel has paid his dues in the city. Early on, he worked for the retiring mayor, Richard M. Daley, who's been running City Hall since 1989--and oh yes, his father, Richard J., had the job before that (1955-76).
This usually impartial column wishes him well.
When I was in grade school (yes, that was years and years ago) Washington's Birthday was a holiday. So was Abraham Lincoln's, unless your school was in the South. Well, it made sense. Washington started us; Lincoln led us through a bitter Civil War.
Now we have Presidents' Day. So let's take a moment to remember, and honor, John Tyler and Millard Fillmore, and....come on, who am I kidding? Should we have a Rutherford B. Hayes day? Or one for Chester A. Arthur? Why?
You could make a case for some of them, of course. Woodrow Wilson, maybe; he led us through World War I. Or Franklin Roosevelt, who led us through WWII and the Great Depression.
My favorite of the ones I've met would be Harry Truman, who as an ex-president used to visit Washington once or twice a year, always stayed at the same hotel and went for a walk every morning, accompanied by a gaggle of us reporters. Truman was a president who faced some big calls--drop the first atomic bomb ever, on the Japanese? Integrate America's armed forces? He did, you know. On those walks someone would always ask Truman about his nickname, "Give 'em hell Harry." And Truman would always answer, "I never gave anybody hell. I just told the truth and they thought it was hell."
Maybe what we need is a Some Presidents Day. Pick a favorite. I'll take Truman. Last one up gets, say, James Buchanan.
The magic three words have gone out. They are, of course: "Pitchers and catchers..." They've been followed in parks in Florida and out west by two even more magical words: "Play ball."
Dreams stir, old dreams, even though you know they won't come true this year either. "Washington," one old saying goes, "First in war, first in peace, last in the American League." That was the old Senators, of course. Now it's the Nationals in the National League, but not much else has changed.
Perhaps the sharpest pain is saved for those of us who root for--well, hope, maybe, or just feel faint twinges over--the Chicago Cubs. What a team! What a record! Last won the pennant--the championship of their league, the National, more than half a century ago. That was in 1945. They lost the World Series, of course, to the Detroit Tigers in seven games. I was a disappointed kid back then but, hey, the future lay ahead. Now it no longer does. The Cubs last won the World Series back in 1908, more than a century ago. I wasn't alive then and don't expect to be alive should they ever do it again.
Still, it's a lovely park, Wrigley-- ivy on the outfield walls, and all that. Lovable losers, their fans call thrm, though losers, of course, aren't very lovable, mostly. How many admirers has Alf Landon these days. Or, come to that, Tom Dewey.
Oh well, play on, Cubbies. Hapless, helpless, hopeless, whatever. You know I'll be paying attention.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Egyptians, you've been wonderful. Got rid of the despot relatively bloodlessly. Made Cairo's streets glisten with happiness. Now, of course, comes the hard part.
You'll need a leader, of course. That was pretty easy for us when we got rid of British rule a couple of centuries ago. One man--George Washington--really dominated our landscape--military leader during the war, well-known politically, and so on. We really couldn't imagine anyone else in charge. In reading about your fine revolution, I haven't seen one name that stands out like that but I may simply have missed it.
You'll need a constitution. That's harder. I know you had one, of course, but I read today the generals have suspended it. No matter. We brag about our Constitution a lot. Our original had lot of things wrong with it. Worst of all, probably, it tolerated slavery. A slave, it said, would count as three-fifths of a person when states were determining their populations. Men could vote in our original document; women could not. I know you'll avoid dumb mistakes like that, but you may make others. It's important, I think, to have a document that's amendable. We've improved ours a lot over the years.
Anyway, good luck with all that. And many thanks--I haven't enjoyed watching the news this much in years—nor missed reporting it more.
Now comes Italy. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, we read, will go on trial on charges he paid for sex with a 17-year old Moroccan hooker and then tried to cover it up. The trial will be in April, heard by three judges, all of them women. Now there's something our Bill never had to face. Paying for sex is not illegal in Italy, apparently, but paying for sex with someone under 18 is.
Berlusconi and the girl, whose name is Ruby, both deny having had sex, though she says he gave her 3,000 euros (a little over $ 4,000) when they first met. Just his way of saying "Hi," I suppose.
Well, life goes on. Clinton is an ex-president; his wife makes the news now as Secretary of State. And Berlusconi? He's seventy-four and been prime minister three times. Maybe a little rest in prison would be good. The more things change, as there French say, the more they stay the same.
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
If you were in the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, as I was, you're thinking about them as you read the reports from Tahrir Square in Cairo now.
The New York Times' Tom Friedman reports today about a girl wearing a sign urging Hosni Mubarak to leave. "Make it short. This is history and we'll have to study it in school." For years I kept an envelope one of the kids in Tiananmen had given me. On it was written: "Long love democracy!" Same sentiment, almost exactly.
Kids in both squares shout slogans. One I remember from China was, "The Peoples' Army must not attack the people." But in the end they did, of course. No one knows how many died. The best guess seems to be several hundred. Did they win anything in China? I don't know. I kept in touch with one young woman who'd worked as a translator for us--us being CBS News, back then. She eventually came here, won a full scholarship, married and has a family. So she's better off. But of the ones who stayed behind, there's no way to know.
Let's hope the kids in Cairo fare better. They are battling a non-Communist dictatorship, unlike the kids in Beijing. I don't know whether that makes their task easier or harder. But I do know, of course, that freedom is worth it. Go for it, guys. "Long love democracy! "
Monday, February 7, 2011
On this day in 1952, Britain's King George VI died in his sleep. His daughter, aged 25, became Queen Elizabeth II. She's had the job now for fifty-nine years.
It's an unusual job. British monarchs reign--that is, they serve as the symbolic heads of the government. They do not rule--that is, actually govern. Parliaments led by prime ministers do that. Still, what a peek at history she's had. Prime ministers consult with her regularly; it's required. They probably don't pay much attention to what she says, but she's been around so long she might actually have some useful thoughts to share with them.
And imagine--she actually met, got to know Winston Churchill, Clement Atlee, Harold Macmilllan and all the rest of them. Pretty good sources if you're studying postwar European history. She's met most of our presidents, starting with Dwight Eisenhower. We've had eleven during her reign, if my arithmetic is right.
Wouldn't it be fun to sit down with her and hear her reminisce about them! Oh, well, not much chance of that. Still, best wishes, ma'am. Long may you reign.
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Ronald Reagan, who was elected president in 1980 and 1984, was born one hundred years ago this week. Americans liked him then and like him now. In a 2009 Gallup poll they ranked him as the best president, ahead of Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy. Lou Cannon, who covered that White House and has written books about Reagan, calls this a "highly generous" assessment in a piece on AOL today. He is surely right about that. Where would you put George Washington or Franklin Roosevelt?
But Reagan was more successful than most; that's also true. "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall," is a quote that may or may not be remembered a hundred years from now. But the Berlin Wall did come down on Reagan's watch – the symbolic end of the Cold War, which had lasted for more than thirty years. The presidents who preceded him get some of the credit, of course, and the Congresses of that day and the Soviets, come to that. But he was the senior player on our side, no doubt.
The economy boomed when he was in the White House too. The "Reagan recession" Cannon notes, lasted sixteen months; the Reagan recovery which followed lasted into the next presidency.
We should probably cancel all those bad jokes we used to make about actors running our show. Happy 100th, Mr. President. Well done.
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
As I write this, Hosni Mubarak hasn't resigned yet, but it's pretty clear he'll have to. With the United States, his former best friend, talking about the need for a peaceful transition, Mubarak should probably start packing his bags.
The reports about the protesters are encouraging too--young, pro-democracy, all those good things. Still, you never know. I remember walking among young Chinese protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square a generation ago. There was a lot of optimism then too. But in the end, of course, the Red Army cleared the square with gunfire and people--nobody knows how many but probably several hundred--died.
Let's hope things go better this time. There's lots to do in Egypt. The country is very poor. It has never tasted democracy, but seems anxious to try it. Let's hope they can, and let's hope the western democracies can help without blundering into some sort of war.
This well-wisher sends the protesters one very American rallying cry: Let freedom ring!