Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Barack Obama's vision is more complicated. Yes, we'll defend liberty, intervene in other countries--just not with ground troops. Mr. Obama said he would act unilaterally if the U.S. were directly threatened. But in other cases, not alone. "In such cases we should not be afraid to act, but the burden of action should not be America's alone. Because contrary to the claims of some, American leadership is not simply a matter of going it alone and bearing all of the burden ourselves. Real leadership creates conditions and coalitions for others to step up as well."
Well, maybe. It's complicated. Kennedy, if memory serves, sent the first U.S. combat troops to Vietnam. It had been a French colony. Ho Chi Minh defeated the French, the country was split in two and, for reasons I never really understood, we intervened to help the South, the more colonial half. We lost. 58,000 Americans died in that war. Today we and the Vietnamese are friends, sort of. The last American troops left there on this day in 1973.
Why does Libya matter? Well, oil, of course. And Gaddafi is clearly a bad guy. But is President Obama prepared to knock off every bad guy on the planet as long as we have allies and don't use ground troops? Stay tuned.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: "Ann Hawthorne" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Mar 23, 2011 3:28 PM
Subject: MARCH 23, 2011
To: "Wittenberg, Holly" <email@example.com>
I asked one friend what word came to mind when she thought "Elizabeth Taylor" and she said 'legend." I guess my own would be "beauty," just the unadorned noun. But there are plenty of words we could use.
She started acting as a child in the 1940s. It was a different time. The movie palaces glittered with famous names--Gables and Garfields, Hayworths and Hepburns. Many were legends; many were beauties, but Elizabeth Taylor was, somehow, special. She first became famous, I guess, for "Lassie Come Home." Her first big, big hit, at age twelve, was "National Velvet." Just a girl and a horse, back in 1944.
Then came grownup roles--A Place in the Sun, Giant, Raintree County--the first of five Best Actress Oscar nominations. Others? Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Suddenly Last Summer. First Oscar--1960s Butterfield 8. Cleopatra. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf-- 2nd Oscar win.
Well, I could go on and so, if you're old enough, could you. The glamour, the beauty, and magic mattered, somehow, more than all the gossip, all the husbands.
I don't know where dead souls go, but I hope hers finds a happy place. Good-bye, beauty. We'll miss you.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
That's a slide, all right. The Post also cites a growing willingness among GOP activists to say out loud what they have long felt privately-- that she can't win in 2012. I don't know. Palin burst on the national scene in 2008 as John McCain's running-mate. That's a couple of years after I retired as a reporter, but I always felt that for those still in the news business she was the gift that keeps on giving--you never knew what she'd say next, but it would probably make pretty good copy.
Now a story about somebody who won something. Amtrak has renamed its Wilmington, Delaware, station after former Delaware senator Joe Biden, now, of course, Vice President. There's a reason. Biden served in the Senate for 36 years. Shortly after his election in 1972, his wife and baby daughter were killed in a car accident. He decided he wanted his two sons to grow up in Delaware, not Washington.
So, for thirty-six years he rode the train to Washington every morning and back to Wilmington every night. I rode with him once years ago when we were doing a profile. He was on first-name terms with every brakeman, every conductor, every Amtrak employee on the train. Why wouldn't he be?
So Biden and Palin are in the news this week as a winner and a loser. It's kind of like 2008, I guess.
Let's see now. We've attacked Gaddafi because he's a bad guy. Well, sure, he's a bad guy, but is he our bad guy? The Libyans have put up with him for forty-some years now. They have to live with him; we don't. And, let's see, we invaded Iraq to knock off Saddam Hussein, another bad guy, but not, again, one of ours. And Afghanistan? Oh, yes, we wanted to find Bin Laden and punish the Taliban, because maybe they were behind 9/11. But they turned out to be mobile. Heat up Afghanistan and they move elsewhere, over to Pakistan, say. Or...well I'm sure you know the list as well as I do.
And have you any idea, sir, how we get out of these places? If we leave Iraq or Afghanistan or Libya, why won't some other bad guy take it over? Do we then go back in and knock him off? Come on, sir. Give us a break.
It always sounds so simple: get rid of the Kaiser! Sure, and then welcome Adolf Hitler; sure, then knock off Hitler and get used to the Cold War; resolve it, and let's chase those terrorists. Some poet, I think it was Auden, wrote, "Evil is everyday and always human/ And shares our bed and sups with us at table."
Well, if it is human and everyday, maybe we should try getting used to it, living with it, instead of trying to exterminate it year after year.
Oh wow! Three wars! Any hope for a fourth? Maybe a fifth? Is anybody counting?
Sunday, March 20, 2011
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Thursday, March 17, 2011
I was a teenager when the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We all knew the world had changed forever. "For the first time," a minister said, "man has the ability to destroy God's created order."
Ever since, we have tiptoed through wars and disagreements, telling ourselves, "Well, at least nobody's been dumb enough to drop the bomb yet." We've gone through sixty-five years that way. Now nature has dropped the bomb and there isn't much we can do about it. All it took was a major earthquake and a tsunami, and here we are. We didn't drop it. Nature did.
"U.S. Calls Radiation Extremely High;" says a headline in today's New York Times, "Sees Japanese Nuclear Crisis Worsening." Yes, got that about right.
I don't know what we can do about this. The Times says American officials think one of the Japanese reactors has worse damage that the country's government has yet acknowleged. True? No way to know.
What is all means, I suppose, is that, yes, we can destroy God's created order, but so can God. Or nature. Or whatever. Not too cheerful, that.
Monday, March 14, 2011
They're playing exhibition games this week, and you can hear the old baseball abbreviations--ERA (Earned Run Average), RISP (Runners in Scoring Position) and so on. I'd like to borrow one for a few paragraphs: RBI. But I want it to mean "Really Bad Idea" not "Runs Batted In." And boy, is there ever a RBI running around Washington these days.
This RBI has several names--let's bomb Libya, let's knock off Gaddafi, and so on. All bad. And we ought to know that. It wasn't all that long ago that we heard a very similar idea called "Let's Knock Off Saddam Hussein." It started, I suppose, when Saddam invaded Kuwait. The first President Bush (Bush 41) organized a coalition and threw Saddam out of Kuwait. Why not go further, he was asked. "My coalition would fall apart," he correctly answered.
His son Bush 43 (W) was less wise. He did invade Iraq and topple Saddam. We're still trying to get the hell out of the place . W also invaded Afghanistan; we're still trying to get the hell out of there, too.
Rules to live by: Don't invade a place unless you know why you want to be there AND you have a plan for getting out of the place once you're in it.
Well, who knows? Barack Obama is a lot smarter than W, I think. Maybe we'll be lucky this time and he will recognize a "Really Bad Idea" when he hears it.
Sunday, March 13, 2011
David Broder of the Washington Post, who died Wednesday at 81, was the best political reporter I ever knew and also an extremely likeable and modest man. Some reporters like to thunder into the press conference or the campaign bus. Not he. If David spotted a newcomer, he'd say, quietly, "Hi. I'm Dave Broder." He didn't need fanfares; he was just the best.
That's partly, of course, because he loved the job. He didn't seem to mind the travel, and there's a lot of that. In a presidential year the Iowa caucuses start things off, probably in January. The election is in November, of course, and you won't be home much in between. Some of us grumbled. David thrived.
He was dismayed sometimes at campaigning's modernisms--you don't have to know anything anymore, just take a poll. But by an large he loved it and he did it way better than the rest of us. He knew, I would bet, way more county chairmen than any of us.
He beat us often, but never bragged about it. He was soft-spoken, fun to be with, to have lunch or dinner with as we wandered along the campaign trail.
You were the best, David--and I'll miss you in person and in print.
A Republican Congressman, Homeland Security Committee chairman Peter King of New York, is opening hearings today on radical Islam in the United States. This is almost certainly a bad idea.
This should remind Americans, who are old enough, of World War II when Japanese-Americans who had done absolutely nothing wrong were rounded up and put in camps for the duration of the war. Lots of Japanese-Americans--about 110,000 of them. They were, mind you, guiltless. They stayed in the camps until the war ended.
The First Amendment to the Constitution--good grief, is he quoting that again--is plain: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment or religion...." Being Japanese-American, of course, was a matter of ethnicity, not religion, and so didn't count, I guess.
The Washington Post today quotes California Democratic Congressman Michael Honda, who as a child lived behind barbed wire in one of those World War II camps, as saying, "We have to show people that as Americans, we're not going to put up with this kind of nonsense." Quite right.
Let's not have hearings on a religion. Let's admit that most of them, all of them, include bad people and good ones. Okay?
Saturday, March 5, 2011
The First Amendment to the Constitution is straightforward: "Congress shall make no law regarding an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." The key words, whether you're talking about freedom of speech or of religion are "no law."
So it shouldn't have surprised us when the Court ruled 8--1 in favor of some particularly vile free speech as practiced by a small, nutty church in Illinois. The Westboro Baptist Church likes to picket the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq. They display signs reading, among other things, "God Hates Your Tears," "Thank God for Dead Soldiers," "God Hates Fags," and so on. The church says it is protesting America's tolerance of homosexuality. But that's not the point.
The point is that this is tasteless, offensive speech and it's covered by the First Amendment.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that we can't react by "punishing the speaker." "We have chosen a different course," Roberts wrote, "to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate."
Bravo, Chief Justice. And let's hear it for the Constitution!
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Old names today. Old memories. Old grief.
There's a parole hearing in the Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga, California, today for a Palestinian Christian named Sirhan Sirhan, now 63, who shot and killed Robert Kennedy just after he'd won the California Democratic presidential primary in 1968. Kennedy was running against Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Senator Eugene McCarthy. With Kennedy dead Humphrey went on to win the nomination but lost the presidency, of course, to Richard Nixon.
One man wounded in the shooting, William Weisel, told CNN he would not oppose a decision to release Sirhan. I would.
It's not vengeance, exactly. It's the sense of loss I still feel. America was in terrible shape in 1968--bleeding from a useless war in Vietnam (sound familiar?) which we eventually lost, roiled at home by the murder of Martin Luther King. I was on assignment somewhere in Texas, I think. It was the middle of the night when the soundman called and said, "It's happened again." And God, it had.
Bobby was special. He believed in hope and change, believed that one man could make a difference. And if you don't join in this effort, he used to ask, who will? I don't know. A lot of us might have, I think. We just never had the chance to find out.
"Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God." – Aeschylus as quoted by RFK on 4 April 1968