Saturday, December 29, 2012

DECEMBER 27,2012

You've had, I hope, a huge merry feast and a bag of goodies so heavy Santa needed help to get it down the chimney.  I wonder how this America strikes its new arrival.

One of the ladies who looks after me is Ethiopian.  She is very pleasant and has opened a new cuisine for me—spicy.  I like it.  She's been in the US several years now and understands our wackinesses.  But her husband and their two teen-age kids just got here.   I wonder what they make of it all.

Mom, I'm gonna give this shirt to my brother, but we're supposed to pretend it's from some dude named Santa--Santa Claus?  Is that even an American name? Well no, honey, but it's what they do, so we better do it too.  And eight tiny reindeer?  They don't  grow any reindeer here, do they? I don't know, son, just go along.

And no, you'll probably never find a hall to deck with holly.

One thing though, mom.  The food's terrific. Yes, son. you got that right.  Have another turkey leg.

DECEMBER 22, 2012

     A columnist needs a foolish lobbyist these slow holiday weeks, so I'd like to thank the National Rifle Association for providing today's column.

     The NRA, the Washington Post reports, has come out in favor of putting armed (with guns, of course) police officers in every school.  Man, would that ever sell a lot of guns!  The Post estimates there are 135,000 public and private schools in the United States.  Maybe we need to make things even safer--arm every teacher, in every classroom, so that if the fifth-graders start acting up, the teacher can blow away two or three of the ringleaders and calm things down.

     It won't pass, of course.  Congress, even Congress, wouldn't do that.  To arms, Americans!

     And Merry Christmas!


DECEMBER 21, 2012

      The news is saying that Chuck Hagel, the former Republican senator from Nebraska, may be President Obama's choice for Secretary of Defense.  Well, Mr. President, you could go further and do much worse.
     The first good thing about Hagel is that he's been to war--Vietnam--and in fact was wounded there. Wars are ugly;  if you've been to one, you know that.  Hagel knows that.  The Washingon Post quotes him as saying, "I remember thinking to myself, you know, if I ever get out of all this, I am going to do everything I can to assure that war is the last resort that we as a nation, a people calls upon to settle a dispute.  The horror of it, the pain of it, the sufferiing of it.  People just don't understand it unless they've been through it."

     Pretty good words for a possible Sec Def.  Some presidents have known war first hand, of course--Grant, Einsenhower, Kennedy.  Obama hasn't and I can't think of anyone better to stand at his shoulder if war beckons than Chuck Hagel.

     Hell, if George W Bush had had him, we might be at peace today.



Sunday, December 16, 2012

DECEMBER 15, 2012

The headline makes no sense…"victims mourn."  Wrong, newspaper.  

The victims are dead.  We, the living. mourn.  We mourn, but we have no words.  

There is nothing more to say.  Children?  Yes, but still.  

There is just nothing more ro say.  Silence beckons.  Let us mourn.  

There is just nothing more to say.




Friday, December 7, 2012

DECEMBER 7, 2012

      About forty years go, I was a reporter at the Manned Spacecraft Center (Mission Control) just outside Houston while Neil Arrnstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon.  "One small step for (a) man," Armstrong, who died this past year, said, "a giant leap for mankind" 

     Well, the leaps worked well for a while and then they stopped.
 If any Americans are in outer space now, they hitched a ride there on Russian rockets.

     So you can imagine my surprise today when I saw a front-page story in the Washington Post--all right, below the fold, it wasn't that big a deal
—"Want to get away? Book a trip to the moon."

      The company offering the trip is the Golden Spike Co.
"We know how to do this," a spokesman said.  And maybe they do.  People did, once.  The company envisions a lunar lander and moonwalking suits.  They see 2020 as a possible date for a first trip.

     There is one hurdle--the price.
 The newpaper quotes the company as saying 750 million dollars per seat.  They think they'll sell to foreign governments and space tourists.   One unnamed rich guy is already talking to them about it.   I think I'll wait a while.


DECEMBER 6, 2012

     The holidays are on us.  Fun, of course, especially for us parents.  I like buying gifts for the kids.  But it gets harder as they, and I, get older.  The gift world keeps changing.

     I could buy a kid a car, of course
, but I keep seeing phrases in car ads I don't understand.  People talk about "hybrids," for instance.  Fooled me.   I thought maybe it's a cross between a radish and a tomato, something of an automotive mule, but no.  Turns out it's a car that guzzles gas and some other ingredient (Scotch, sour mash, I can't remember, impartially.  No, wait, it's electricity, but does it burn out the way a flashlight battery does?)

     My daughter wants a tablet
this year.  I was all set to run down to the drug store and get one of those yellow writing pads with lines.  Nope. Turns out to be a small computer.  I don't know whether it has lines or comes in yellow.

     Oh well, maybe I'll just give the kids eight tiny reindeer.
 Do they come in diesel? 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

DECEMBER 2, 2012

     Some trends burst upon us--the airplane, the atomic bomb, the Twinkie.  A note today about a smaller change, but one full of interest.   West Point's Cadet Chapel--yes, the one at the US Military Academy--has hosted a gay wedding.

     It was, the Associated Press reports, a first, or at least a first since the "don't ask, don't tell" policy ended. 

     It leaves out some things I'd like to know:  what did they--both women--wear, was there music, were there flowers, etc.  

     They've been together seventeen years. They'd have preferred to have the wedding in New Jersey, where they live, but their home state doesn't allow gay marriage.  They said West Point was fine, more than fine.  One of the brides graduated from West Point in 1980, the first class to include women.

     It turns out theirs was the second same-sex wedding at the Academy;  the other was last week at a different chapel.  This couple was told no West Point chaplains were allowed by their faiths to perform same-sex weddings.  They found an army chaplain friend.

     God (if there is a god) bless you, ladies. Truly,


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

NOVEMBER 27, 2012

        The year is almost over.  Many of us are thinking about holiday gifts. Congress, of course, is thinking about taxes.
     Some tax cuts are due to expire at year's end.
 Congress would probably like to extend them, but the national debt really is enormous.  Tax cuts, of course, would make it worsethat's the "fiscal cliff" we keep reading about. And this Congress, like the new one we just elected, is not the best for swift, efficient decision-making.

     Such a government would have one party in charge.
 We don't.  The Democrats have the White House and the Senate;  the Republicans have the House.  It will be the same when the new crowd meets.

     Still, Congress often muddles through.
 I think--can't prove, just think--they'll do it again.  Stumble around very close to the edge of the fiscal cliff, just not fall over it.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Fwd: NOVEMBER 26, 2012

     The Washington Post runs an ombudsman column every week defending the paper.  This week's is about a front-page photo they ran November 15th of a man crying as he holds the shroud-wrapped body of his 11-month-old son killed by a bomb strike in Gaza.  

It is a strong picture.  It could make you cry.     The man is Palestinian, the column notes.  The bomb was Israeli.  The column says, correctly in my view, that that is almost beside the point.  But the Post says it got of criticism calling the photo biased.  Why no grieving Israelis?  

The Post notes that no such photo existed.  No Israeli civilians had been killed in Gaza, the paper says, in more than a year    

 True?  I don't know, but that's beside the point too.     The point is wars suck.  They kill people on all sides of whatever the quarrel is about.  Wars suck.  We just don't seem able to stop them.      




Friday, November 23, 2012

NOVEMBER 22, 2012

     When I came to Washington half a century or so ago, one of the first phrases I heard was, "good enough for government work."  It was a putdown, not kindly meant. Now a survey in the Washington Post reports that federal employees themselves are less satisfied with their jobs than they used to be, that their morale is sinking.

      The survey was posted by the government's Office of Personnel Management.  The survey had been done every two years. Th
Is is the first time it's been done annually,

     Pay is
part of it.  Just 22% said those who do a good job are paid accordingly.  It varies from agency to agency.  59% of employees at the National Archives were happy compared to 74% at NASA.

     And it probably won't get better.
 I can't think of any Congressman who campaigned in favor of increasing government salaries, can you?



Wednesday, November 21, 2012

NOVEMBER 21, 2012

Many have things to be thankful for this season. President Obama can be thankful he won.  So can Vice President Biden.  So can the Democrats who won in the Senate.  The Republicans won the House, but that's one out of three.  A little thanks but an emphasis on grumpiness, maybe.

There's an interesting question about the Republicans.
 They campaigned hard for the new, very conservative GOP--kill the Obama health plan, vouchers for Medicare, whatever--substiantial cuts in the size and cost of government.  But the election results didn't show much change for or against the ideas.  I don't think Americans want these changes, but maybe they just want more time to think about them.

Young people of both parties can perk up and start organizing.  Obama can't run again.  Romney surely won't be the Republican choice.   

The  Iowa caucuses--remember the tedium--are just over
four years away. Go get 'em!


NOVEMBER 20, 2012

     Columnist Richard Cohen had the Petraeus story about right in the Washington Post last week.  "This is her matter," he writes, "and her husband's--and not ours. He betrayed her, not his country...Now get back to work."

     That can't happen, of course.
 He resigned.  But should he have had to?

     A lot of things in life are personal
.  If you cheat at cards at the office bridge club, that a a good reason to drop you from the club, but not to fire you. Your work is presumably unaffected.  If you lie about your work, that might justify firing.  If you complain about food at work, that wouldn't.  Not relevant again.

     Accodrng to news reports, Petraeus was a very good top spy. Cheating on his wife probably hasn't affected that.
 So why fire him?  Expel him from his church, perhaps, but let him keep his job?

     Worth thinking about?

Monday, November 12, 2012

NOVEMBER 12, 2012

     It's over, of course.  Obama won
.  Now the debate is why?

There are several reasons, I suppose.  First, the country has gotten better lately--not wonderful, but better.  The ecomony is somewhat improved in some places but still worrisome.  Employment is up some--again, not swell, but better.  The Democrats had a better case to make in November than they would have in, say, July.

     Another reason
the Republicans--not all, of course, but many of the more thoughtful ones--ran on a fairly coherent philosophy--the federal government is too big and must shrink, both in size and in the money it spends.  Examplespeople talked about killing the health care bill and about replacing Medicare with a voucher system.  The government would spend less;  recipients would get less.

    It wasn
't a specific plan.  There were differences in degree, in detail.  We don't know how a specific plan would have fared.  But the election suggests, I think, that Americans don't want a smaller government that cuts their taxes but gives them fewer services.

     I think we said "No
."  Those who disagree have four more years now to change our minds.  Start your engines, again. 


NOVEMBER 11, 2012

     It's called Veterans Day now, but once it had a name that was full of history--Armistice Day.  It marked, with some cerermony, the end if the longest and bloodiest war mankind had ever known back then--November 11th--the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, people used say.

     World War I was a different war, using quaint old versions of weapons--tanks and airplanes, which had greatly changed by the time the next and even bloodier war--II, not I, came along just under thirty years later.  And we're still not out of the habit--58,000 Americans died in Vietnam, a much smaller war, some thirty years after WWII.  The total number of dead Americans in the Afghan war is not yet known.  That war, the dying there has yet to end.

"All we are saying," the Vietnam War protestors used to chant, "is give peace a chance."  Must be tough. We haven't done it yet.



Thursday, November 8, 2012

NOVEMBER 8, 2012

     The Washington Post story speaks of a small courtroom at a base in Washington state.  An Army staff sergeant named Robert Bales is charged with shooting and killing sixteen Afghan civilians last March.

     I don't know anything about the incident, but it reminds me strongly about a couple of trials I covered during Vietnam, or the massacre of unarmed civilians at a place called My Lai.  The number of civilians was unclear, but everyone agreed they were unarmed.  Men?  The lawyers would ask?  Women?  Children?  Babies?  The witnesses always said yes.  Some of the men refused to fire.  Most did not.  Lt. William Calley, the platoon commander, said, "They were all the enemy to me. They were all to be destroyed."  And they were, of course

     Calley was court martialed and convicted.  President Nixon gave him some sort of pardon and he vanished into civilian life.

     We'll have to see what happens to Sgt. Bales.  Whatever does, the stories remind us of a simple truth:  war is hell.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

NOVEMBER 7, 2012

     Four more years?  Well, the voters said, why ever not?

     There are always some results that stand out.
 One yesterday was the defeat of the Republican Senate candidate in Indiana, Richard Murdock, who said among other things that a pregnancy resulting from rape was "something God intended." The seat had been held by moderate Republican Richard Lugar, who retired Senator Claire McCaskell (D-MO) held onto her seat, beating Todd Akin who shared his bizarre understanding of female biology in cases of "legitimate rape."

      In a more general sense, though, the result seemed to be a rejection of a philosophy which a number of young conservatives have been pushing.
 It calls for major cuts in the size of the federal government and what it spends.  Backers of this approach talk of killing "Obamacare," the president's healthcare bill.  They talk of replacing medicare with a voucher system.  No signs of great voter enthusiasm for that, though.

      In fact, of course, not much changed.
 Democrat Obama is still president;  the Senate, still Democratic;  the House, still Republican.  Since passing legislation requires the approval of all three, the chances for big new legislation seem modest at best.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

NOVEMBER 6, 2012

By this evening, or this night, we'll know.  For good or ill?  That depends, of course, on whom you ask.  "Tomorrow," Mitt Romney is quoted as saying yesterday, "we begin a better tomorrow."  That's if you voted for him and he won, of course.  Or could you argue...well, you could but he wouldn't.

President Obama campaigned, among other places, in Iowa where he scored his first big upset in 2008, beating Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, whom he then named Secretary of State.

It's a heck of a system.  I used to enjoy seeing the various parts of the country, though I never learned to love the plane.  Mrs Clinton by now must have enough free miles to vacation on Mars.

Anyway, well done all.  We'll be back tomorrow to congratulate the winner.




Monday, November 5, 2012

NOVEMBER 5, 2012

     The day before The Day.  Close, they all say, and maybe it is.  Exit polls will offer early hints.  If those polls--asking people after they've voted how they voted--are lopsided--Romney 58, Obama 42, say, the experts will probably call the state for Romney.  If the margin is close--two or three points, the experts will probably label it Too Close to Call until more real votes have been counted.  States' electoral votes go winner-take-all.  Whoever gets the most popular votes gets all the electoral votes.

      It matters.  Romney has come to stand for the radical wing of the Republican Party.  His running mate, Congressman Ryan, is one of its prime spokesmen.  If they win, look for proposals to dismantle Medicare, for instance, replace it with a voucher system, maybe.  Social Security might be changed as well.  Romney has promised to get rid of "Obamacare" completely.

     To do this big stuff, of course, Mitt Romney would have to win the presidency;  the GOP would have to win the House, which it controls now, and the Senate, which the Democrats do.

     Big stuff.  Whomever you choose, vote.  Please, please vote.  It matters.




Sunday, November 4, 2012

NOVEMBER 4, 2012

Pretty close now, just a couple of days, and the American people will, as they always do, elect their leader.

The system's worked pretty well through our history;  there must be something about elected leaders.  There are the winners, of course--Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt (Franklin) and so on.  And there are the so-so ones--John Tyler, say, or Franklin Pierce.  And there's even the unelected one--yes, we had one of those too.

You have to go back to Richard Nixon, a trouble-prone Republcan defeated by John Kennedy in 1960, but a winner in 1968 over Hubert Humphrey.  Nixon's term was troubled.  His Vice President, Spiro Agnew, turned out to be a crook and had to resign.  Nixon chose as his replacemernt the Republican leader in the House, Gerald Ford of Michigan.  The House and Senate confirmed the appointnent, as the law required, but there was no election. 

Things went from bad to worse for Nixon--workers for his reelection campaign breaking into Democratic headquarters and so on.  In the end, Nixon had to resign to avoid impeachment. Vice President Ford, unelected, took over and reassured the country with one memorable line:  "Our long national nightmare is over."

And it was.  Ford, most of us thought, was a pretty good president, though the country turned to a Democrat, Jimmy Carter, in 1976.


Monday, October 22, 2012

OCTOBER 22, 2012

    One of the lines George McGovern always used in speeches when he was the Democratic candidate for president in 1972 was, "Come home, America!"  He was protesting the war in Vietnam.  If you'd covered that war, if you'd seen all those dead young faces, you knew what he meant.  He knew; he'd been a bomber pilot in World War II.
     The campaign failed, of course.  His was one of the great landslide losses ever--McGovern carried just one state--Massachusetts, not his native South Dakota.  The winner, Richard Nixon, as president, withdrew the American troops from Vietnam.

     Big defeat for McGovern and the Democrats?  Yes, but it also helped change the party toward anti-poverty and civil rights programs along with opposing the war.  An influence?  Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton worked on the campaign.  So did Gary Hart and a host of others who continue in politics today.

     Food was a major issue for him.  He thought up the idea of Food for Peace and was, under President Kennedy, its first director.  He spent twelve years in the Senate and mostly worked in good causes.  


     His wife Eleanor, asked about the sometimes silly nicknames--prairie populist,  McGoo and the like--just laughed.

     Why not?



Thursday, October 18, 2012

OCTOBER 17, 2012

They woke the president up for the second debate.  It made a big difference--real arguments, rhetoric that sometimes verged on anger.  It was good debate--fun, unlike the first one, in which the president seemed very passive.

And it showed, of course, that there are real differences between the parties. Democrats think the government should help its most disadvantaged citizens in areas like health and education.  Republicans think voters can and should help themselves in these areas with perhaps the aid of a tax cut.

People I know who watched the first debate mostly thought Romney won it. I haven't seen any numbers for this one, but I wouldn't be surprised if Obama won
the second.  


And there's one more to come.  Of course none of them matters.  What does  is Election Day, in about three weeks.

I'm sure Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles are charming, but I think these old American street brawls are more fun




Editor's note:  Mr. Morton's lazy editor is totally at fault for this column's late posting.

Monday, October 15, 2012

OCTOBER 15, 2012

      Did the first Romney-Obama debate change anything?  There's been a lot of talk about how Romney won it, but a story in today's Washington Post may make you wonder.

     The headline says "GOP's zeal for Romney grows," but the poll numbers haven't changed much, suggesting that he needs not more zealous voters but simply more voters.  The new Washington Post-ABC News poll, the story says, shows 49% for Obama, 46% for Romney, adding that's "basically unmoved from...before the two candidates met in...their first debate."  The story doesn't say what the poll's margin of error is;  they are often around three percent.

     Other poll puzzles:  "…the survey portrays an electorate...deeply divided along partisan lines and locked in its views."  Two more debates are scheduled.  "Nearly two-thirds say they do not need any more information before Election Day and barely one in eight is undecided.  Even as voters overwhelmingly perceive that Romney won the first debate, the vast majority say their view of the president did not shift as a result."

    Okay.  We had a debate.  One candidate won but it didn't matter, so we're going to have two more.  I hope that makes everything perfectly clear.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

OCTOBER 13, 2012

      It ain't over, Yogi Berra is supposed to have said, until it's over. Well, everyone, it's over.  Or maybe, for the Nationals, it isn't.

      Still, this Washington team can tell some good stories in the off season.  They won their division.  They won the most games, I think, of anyone in their league.  They got, I quoted one of their players as saying yesterday, to play one more day.  They just didn't win.  They're an expansion team--only been at it ten years or so. They just haven't won yet.  They have time, bags of it.

     The team I grew up rooting for, the helpless, hapless Chicago Cubs--last won the pennant in 1945, the World Series more than a century ago in 1906.

     The Nationals can spend the off-season practicing a phrase the Cubs have forfeited the right to use:   Wait 'til next year.


     Good luck, Nats.  You deserve it.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

OCTOBER 11, 2012

     The vice-presidential campaign this time is not between turkeys, but between two men with serious Washington credentials.

     Rep. Paul Ryan, Romney'
s running- mate, has seven terms in Congress and hasn't just been hanging out in the halls.  He is chairman of the House Budget Committee and a leader of the party in crafting the right-wing Republicans' budget:  replace Medicare with a voucher system and all that.

      Joe Biden is the sitting VP of course, and h
as a reputation for offering tough advice, whether it's been asked for or not, in his forty years on Capitol Hill.

     He has long had a reputation for gaffes. I remember sitting at a Senate hearing once--subject long-forgotten, of course.  Senators often take turns questioning a witness--twenty minutes apiece, say. Biden was maybe half way through his twenty when he suddenly announced, "Of course, I have no idea what I'm taking about."  The room, including Biden, burst out laughing.  Then he started in again, and did have an idea after all.

     Gaffes are his past anyway.  He seems not to do them so much anymore.  When they do come they seem less like written and rehearsed "zingers" and more like just ad-libbing Joe.

     Anyway, you might tune in tonight.  Two interesting men worth hearing.   



Wednesday, October 10, 2012

OCTOBER 10, 2012

   The polls seem to have shifted toward Mitt Romney, but polls are notoriously volatile creatures.  There's plenty of time for them to shift again,  maybe more than once. This week's poll followed last week's debate.  Two more of those are planned, plus one between the vice presidential candidates this Thursday.

     Romney's criticisms have centered on foreign policy, but I'm not sure the country agrees with him. This week's Pew poll shows Romney ahead 49--45% among likely voters, though tied at 46% among all registered voters,

     Romney talked a lot about Iran but did not really propose a different solution from Obama's, which is sanctions and rhetoric saying a nuclear Iran is unacceptable.  Romney said this week that he would take a hard course on Iran.  He didn't say he'd invade it.  I suspect that most Americans would urge him not to.

     Obama had people behind him in getting out of iraq.  I suspect that most of us would have a simple solution for Afghanistan as well.
 Out now.


Sunday, October 7, 2012

OCTOBER 7, 2012

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: "Ann Hawthorne" <>
Date: Oct 7, 2012 3:11 PM
Subject: OCTOBER 7, 2012
To: "Wittenberg, Holly" <>



     Are numbers joining the presidential race?   Well, maybe.

     You'll recall that in their debate this week Republican chall
enger Mitt Romney repeatedly said that Democratic President Barack Obama had lost control of the economy, allowing unemployment to soar to 8--gasp, shudder--8%.  Very high, very bad, and true enough as he spoke.  But as some wise cynic once said, "There are three kinds of lies--lies, damned lies, and statistics."

    We woke
Saturday morning to discover that 8--a tricky number--was some kind of lie.  It had transformed itself into 7.8, a four-year low.  Romney can still say that's bad, but Obama can now say:  see, it's getting better and will keep getting better if you give me four more years.


     Is he telling the truth, or one of those kinds of lies?  How about Romney--a lie, a  damned lie or just a statistic?

     You decide.
 It's why we have these things.



Thursday, October 4, 2012

OCTOBER 4, 2012 #2

    If you're for Romney, you probably think he won the debate--a hit for Mitt, maybe.  If you're for Obama, you'd probably call it a draw.

     Romney, who's spent much of the campaign trying to get his foot out of his mouth, didn't have to do that this time.  Sentences were unmangled, voice clear, etc.  Obama was calm and clear too, of course, but we're used to that from him.  For the challenger, it was a good showing,

     It was, by agreement, all about economics.  I don't how often viewers could hear about interest rates and budget deficits before boredom set in.  The real political test, I suppose, will come when the first flurry of post-debate polls comes out, sometime in the next few days.  Romney needs a rally;  Obama doesn't.

      If you liked it, there are two more--one centered on foreign policy.  There's also one bewteen the the VP nominees.  That might be fun because Representative Paul Ryan, the GOP candidate, is a forceful advocate of economic reform--medicare vouchers, etc.  He might go further than his boss did in arguing that case.

Beats soap operas anyway.  And the baseball playoffs are starting. More good news 



OCTOBER 4, 2012


     The  Washington Nationals have clinched something, but baseball has
gotten so quirky, I'm not sure what.  When I was a kid, there were eight teams in each league.  Every fall the two leaders, who we said had won the pennant in their leagues, as we used to say, played a best-of-seven World Series.  The winner was the lord of baseball creation.

      Now, there are three leaguelets in each league.  Some have five teams, some six.  Four teams in each league qualify for the playoffs--the three actual winners and the non-winner with the best record--the wild card team.  How they play off is something of a mystery to me.  One day I read that the Washington Nationals, who haven't ever won anything, had made the playoffs, another day that they'd won something else--good grooming, maybe.  I have no idea.

     Winning anything is good news here.
 The Nats, a young expansion team, have never won.  The previous Washington team, the Senators, had a slogan they'd earned:  Washington, first in war, first in peace, last in the American League.

     So go, Nats.  Win all you can.  We'll worry about what to call it later on.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

OCTOBER 2, 2012

      It's the day before the big show and the question--well, one of them, anyway--is how many Mitt Romneys will show up.

     As Eugene Robinson points out in today's Washington Post, Romney's been pro and anti-abortion, pro and anti-gun control, pro and anti-healthcare.  Now he has to deal with that plaguey 47% of us.  We are the people, he said, he could "never convince…to take personal responsibility or care for" our lives.  He thinks we want the government to do it.  I suppose the government did control my life years ago when I was an Army draftee, but it was not an experience I wanted to prolong.  Polls say the remark hurt Romney; tomorrow he'll have a chance to heal.  I'd like to know whether he talked that way because he thought he was in a closed meeting and it wouldn't leak. Naive, if true.

     Say what you like about them, the debates are democracy at work. Or democracy and television, all mixed up.




Friday, September 28, 2012

SEPTEMBER 28, 2012

     Well, the first presidential debate is almost upon us--next week, in fact.  They are high drama, of course, but do they matter?  Do they really change the result?  Well, maybe sometimes.

    I don't remember Franklin Roosevelt ever debating an opponent.  Of course, he didn't need to.  He was leading us out of a truly great depression.  Who could argue with that?   Dwight Eisenhower had led us to victory in a huge, bloody war.  Nobody was going to debate that either.

    I think the one time a debate really mattered was John Kennedy versus Richard Nixon in 1960.  Nixon had played in the big leagues, been to the summits, stood with popular President Dwight Eisenhower.  Kennedy was a young senator--nothing wrong with that, but....And yet, of course, the new guy won.  It was the first presidential debate to be on TV.  Everyone watched and everyone talked afterward about how calm Kennedy was, how cool, how collected.  Nixon--gasp, shudder--sweated a lot and looked nervous.  I didn't see the debate;  I listened to it on the radio and, without the pictures, thought it was a draw.


    This time?  I'd bet on Obama, but who knows?  That's why we have these things.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

SEPTEMBER 25, 2012

I watched President Obama today on a TV talk show called "The View."  If you don't know, it's a talk show featuring five women, led by Whoopi Goldberg and Barbara Walters.  Obama has been on before.  Watching him you have a sense that this is a part of his day he really enjoys.

For one thing, he's good at it;  words come easily, no ers, ands, uhs or buts.  He smiles.  He's relaxed.

I don't know that that matters, but the wordsmith often does win the election.

 "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."  JFK:  "Ask not what your country can do for you;  ask what you can do for your country."  Richard Nixon: I am not a crook.   Well, not great oratory there, but he was trying to avoid impeachment. Failed, of course, he resigned instead.

ernor Romney?  I remember him sayng that his wife "drives around a couple of Cadillacs."  More recently he said that 47% of us are "unwilling to take responsibility of our lives."  Not eloquence, of course, but affluence.  And the vote is still several weeks off.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

SEPTEMBER 20, 2012


    If you saw this column Tuesday or if you read any newspaper, heard any newcast, you noticed Mitt Romney saying 47% of Americans are "dependent on government."  "My job is not to worry about those people," he said.  He is certainly acting as if that were true.

     The Washington Post
, in a column called The Fact Checker notes, among other things, that, yes, about 46% of American households paid no income tax. But it adds that for about three-quarters of working Americans payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare far exceed what they pay in income tax.

     The Post grades Romney's speech
at Three Pinocchios ("significant factual error and/or obvious contradictions") and adds:  "Perhaps it is too much to expect a politician to be entirely accurate in a closed-door speech, but one would think he would have even less need to stretch the truth if he thought the cameras were not rolling."  Well said.

    Romney's campaign so far sounds as if he wants to be shocking and wrong. Shocking may appeal to voters, I suppose, but surely he doesn't want to be wrong. What about a small, silver foot? He could wear it around his neck and suck on it quietly when scheduled to talk.

     Just a thought
– along with an affectionate nod to Ann Richards.



Tuesday, September 18, 2012

SEPTEMBER 18, 2012

It isn't over yet, but sometimes it feels as if it were.

Mother Jones magazine unveiled a video this week showing Mitt Romney sa
ying that 47% of Americans are "dependent on government" and that they think "they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it."

Romney added that his job "is not to worry about these people
. I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."  His comments, Romney said, distinguished between President Obama's belief in a "government-centered society" and his "free-people, free-enterprise, free-market, consumer-driven approach.     

Romney conceded at one point that his remarks were "not elegantly stated" but that's as far as he went.

And of course he said he had a fine staff, a fine campaign, etc
.  That's what you say.  But these last few days, it's looked a little raggedy.


I don't know that anyone needs to cue the fat lady just yet but she might be warming up those pipes.

Monday, September 17, 2012

SEPTEMBER 17, 2012

     This one is for Alec, my son.  I know Ringo was always your favorite Beatle, but this is a story about John I think you'll  like.  It could even change your life.

   It seems there's this island--the size of a dozen soccer fields, the newspaper says--off Ireland's west coast.  It's for sale at $340,000.  Forty five years ago Lennon bought it,  just a short while before he was shot and killed in New York.  Lennon, it turns out, had plans to build a house there. They could have sat there, he and she, kissed while gazing at the sea.

     Lennon and Yoko visited the island in 1968.
 There are pictures.  It's name is Dornish, but locals call in "Beatle Island."  And John had hopes for the place. "I hope we're a nice old couple," he said, "living off the coast of Irealand or something like that--looking out at our scrapbook of madness."

ell, yes.  Interested?  A guy can dream, can't he?  Imagine.




Friday, September 14, 2012

SEPTEMBER 14, 2012

     There's a lot of Romneyesque rhetoric wandering around these days as to how President Obama ought to go after the bad guys in the Middle East--Egypt, Libya, Syria, wherever.  Eugene Robinson offers an example in today's Washington Post of a time when a different philosophy prevailed.

     The President was Ronald Reagan
;  terriorists attacked U.S. Marine barracks in 1983 and killed 241 Americans.  Reagan's response?  He withdrew the remaining U.S. forces from Lebanon.  Things stayed fairly calm, as I remember.  No major war, for sure.

    The point isn't that that would work now
.  I don't know whether it would or not.  The point is that force doesn't always work either.  Good grief, some foolish president invaded Iraq and Afghanistan in the first place.  Bad calls? Polls show most of us think so now.

     Walk softly, one president said, but carry a big stick.
 He could have added, only use it if you have to.  I may be wrong, but I don't think Egypt and Libya and Syria are on the "must bash" list yet.



Wednesday, September 12, 2012

SEPTEMBER 12, 2012

      We're in a traditional mess just now in the Middle East involving traditional players--Iran, Israel, ourselves.  We probably have only limited control over whether or not Iran becomes a nuclear power.  Our real argument just now seems to be with our old friend, Israel.

     Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Natanyhu says the U.S. does not have the "moral right" to forestall military action.
 By Israel, I guess, against the Arabs.  Well, no.  Nor by the Arabs againat Israel, come to that.  Every country, democracy or dictatorship, must figure out what wars it is willing to risk and who will aid or oppose it if it risks one.

     The White House meanwhile has announced that President Obama will not meet with Netanyahu later this month
.  I think that's called a hint.

     I've quoted before here a preacher of my childhood who said early in the atomic age, "For the first time, man has the capacity t
o destroy God's created order."  We've only used it twice--Hiroshima and Nagasaki--but I worry a lot about when we blunder into using our (everyone's) bombs again.



Tuesday, September 11, 2012

September 9, 2012

     Well, they're both over – the conventions, that is.  The GOP and the Dems have nominated their candidates.   People used to say conventions were the most exciting thing in politics but I doubt if that's much believed anymore.  For months you had a passel of primary candidates in your house ever night on TV and this year they nominated exactly the people we thought they would.  Not too much excitement there.

     Given the changing nature of the Republican Party, it's a very long time since the party of Lincoln was for freedom and against slavery;  this year they're about something new. They keep talking about how awful the economy is.  It seems to me, maybe just because I'm old and retired, that it has sometimes been worse than now, even though it has also certainly been better.   


      They, at least the more ideological Republicans, are seriously interested in cutting government spending, including programs we're used to. Replace Medicare with a voucher program?  You'd get less money. Do the same for Social Security? Same result

    I don't know how popular ideas like these are.  If President Obama wins, he'll presumably veto them.  The Republicans will have to control Congress--they control the House but not the Senate--to get any of this stuff even that far.

   I saw one poll that suggested the race was pretty much a tie, but I don't think so.  Seems to me the incumbent, President Obama, has the edge.  He has the experience by now; he's ended one of our wars and may even get our troops out of Afghanistan, though that's never been easy for the colonizing country, not for Britain in the19th century, nor for the Soviets in the 20th, nor for us today


   One thing I think will be very important--their debates. Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney are two men with very different views of the world.  Their debates ought to make those differences clear.

    So it could be an interesting election after all.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Okay, the Republicans had theirs and the Dems are having theirs this week. When it's over we'll know...what?  That it's election time, but we knew that already.

People, many self-declared experts
say, think it's the economy, stupid, and maybe it is.  I can certainly remember when times were better but I can also remember when they were worse.  Not a lof of beggars or guys selling apples on the street these days.  

Each side has its heavy hitters making points. "He can't tell you that you're better off," GOP VP hopeful Paul Ryan told a crowd in Greenville.
"Simply put the Jimmy Carter years look like the good old days compared to where we are now.  Democrat Joe Biden, who has the job Ryan wants, offers, of course, a different view.  "Folks, let me make something clear, the VP said, "Let me just set it up this way...Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive."

Just think, folks. Only two months left.  





       The Rev. Sun Myung Moon has died in his native South Korea.  He was 92.

     He led a religion, of course, the Unification Church, and he expected to change the world. The Washington Post summarized: "His stated ambition was to rule the world and replace Christianity with his own faith, which blended elements of Christianity, Confucianism, and Korean folk religions." He was as famous for mass weddings, probably, as for anything else. Hundreds of people.  Sometimes, the couples hadn't even met each other.

     He didn't rule the world, of course. No one has ruled the whole planet for a very long time, if ever. He raised huge amounts of money and built many, many churches

     What will happen to his faith now that he's gone? My guess is t
hat it will dwindle but not disappear.  Nobody, not even grumpy retired reporters, can know for sure. It must be time for the uncertain pundit's favorite line:  only time will tell. 



Saturday, September 1, 2012

AUGUST 31, 2012

      Mitt Romney, I think, tried to use his convention to present himself as an ordinary guy not just someone who likes to tell people "You're fired." Did he succeed? We'll know in a couple of months.

     A woman named Pam Finlayson told how Romney visited her sick daughter in intensive care. "When he looked down tenderly at our daughter his eyes filled with tears".....When the girl died, the mother said, "When it comes to loving our neighbor, we can talk about it, or we can live it.  The Romneys live it every single day" 

     Compassion is a virtue, of course, but is it the only one we want our presidents to have?  

     I remember watching President Obama a few months ago on "The View"  talk show. He was very quick with words, very at ease. The first presidential debate should be a doozie.



Thursday, August 30, 2012

AUGUST 29, 2012

The Republican convention will approve a platform.  It will get a lot of publicity--where the party stands on this issue or that.  But what does it really mean?  Not much.

Abortion is an example. "A moral and personal issue on which Republicans disagree," the 1976 platform says.  By 1980 the GOP seeks a constitutional amendment protecting "the right to life for unborn children."  Twelve years later the platform calls for appointing judges who oppose abortion.  I'm not sure when rape and incest became a part of the discussion.

But the basic rule is pretty simple when it comes to a party's platform.
 Conventions adopt them.  Candidates may run on them.  Or not.

A new president can walk into the first policy meeting in the Oval Office, throw the plarform into the waste basket, pull his own list of must-pass stuff from his pock
et and say, "Okay, guys, this is what we're gonna do."

That's politics. That's life.




Tuesday, August 21, 2012



Saturday, August 18, 2012

AUGUST 17, 2012

     The Washington Post reports today that thirty-eight American soldiers killed themselves in July, the most since the Army started releasing that number in 2009. The story says suicides will add up to about 200 active duty troops this year more than any year in the past decade.

     Why? No one can be sure, but one thing we do know. When I was covering the Vietnam war in the 1960s, we still had the draft. Most draftees served one tour in combat--it was a year--and then went home. Now the Army is all-professional.  It's not uncommon to read stories about troops who've served four or five tours.

     The Army, the Post says, had hoped that fewer combat deployments would lower the suicide rate. That seems not to have happened. "There is significant disagreement among mental health experts," the Post writes, over how to deal with this. Yes--I remember writing a similar column a year or two ago.

     The irony is, of course, that there are a couple of easy solutions the government seems not to like.   One--bring back the draft, so that soldiers see one war tour, not four or five.  But the government hasn't done that and seems not to want to. The other is to bring the troops home--no war, fewer suicides, surely.

    "All we are saying," as the crowds used to chant during Vietnam, "all we are saying is, give peace a chance."


Thursday, August 16, 2012

AUGUST 16, 2012

I'm glad the Republicans are going (I suppose) to nominate Paul Ryan for Vice President.  The Congressman is an articulate spokesman for a lot of the Far Right's more extreme economic positions.  His candidacy will offer a good measure of how Americans feel about them.

Abolish Medicare?  Medicaid?  Turn Social Security into some sort of a voucher system?  I don't know, in these early days of his candidacy, exactly how all those proposals would work;  a campaign would probably tell me. Candidate Ryan will, it's fair to assume, be debating Vice President Biden, himself an articulate man.  Such an exchange would help explain all this, offering opposing views of the issues.  We would learn from this.

I think economics is an area in which many Americans have strong opinions but not a whole lot facts to go with them.  So debates will help.

Abolish Medicare?  Sounds like a bummer to me, but a good campaign could tell us for sure, don't you think?  Let's find out.



Wednesday, August 15, 2012

AUGUST 14, 2012


    A story in the paper this morning wondered what the U.S. should do about Syria.  My first answer was,"Nothing. Let the Syrians worry about Syria." But maybe that's not true in these modern times.

     A hundred or so years ago, countries like Syria were colonies. The colonizing powers were responsible for food, law and order, etc.
 Then we had a period of Great Power wars.  There were a few countries to a side--Germany versus Britain, France and eventually the U.S in World War I.  We had same lineup in WWII except the Soviet Union joined with the Allies; Japan, with the Axis.  Then came the Cold War, which ended when the Soviet Union imploded into all the smaller countries it had been before.

     We tottered through all that without actually blowing up the planet, though we and the Russians might have managed had we really tried

      Now, I don't know.
 Alliances work.  History shows that.  But how to form them, how to know which ones will last?  How to know if the bedfellow you choose is good or strange?  Remember when the Russians were fighting Afghanistan, we supplied the Taliban, who were allied with Osama bin Laden.  Good questions.  Anyone with answers, please speak up.     


Monday, August 13, 2012

AUGUST 13, 2012

     American politics keeps getting weirder.  So, it shouldn't have startled me over the weekend when the presumed Republican candidate for president, Mitt Romney, introduced his running mate--the guy who would be vice-president if they won--as "the next president of the United States, Paul Ryan."  Hunh?  I thought.  Have they switched jobs before they've even won?

     Ryan gamely began orating, though I'd love to know what he was thinking--Is Mitt out of it already?  Whatever.

     Within a couple of minutes, of course, Romney had clambered back on stage to say no, of course it was a slip of the tongue.  He would be the boss; Ryan, the number two.

     I took a deep breath.  We were back to the accepted order.  But was that good?  Maybe Ryan would be a better president.  If you're for a job, shouldn't you at least remermber its name?  Anyway, maybe Ryan could run as a write-in. You think? 



Saturday, August 11, 2012

AUGUST 11, 2012

      I began to worry that I wasn't smart enough to watch the Olympics when one game in some obscure sport--beach volleyball, maybe, on an indoor beach--ended with an apparent winner.  But the officials decided it was a tie and ordered a tie-breaker, which produced a seeming winner too.  But then the officials ordered a second tie-breaker.  They accepted that one and it was over.  A victory for truth?  Beats me.

     Parts of the Games were beautiful;  no one could argue that.  Parts were grand fun as when tiny Croatia whipped the U.S. at some sport so unfamiliar to me I can't remember which it was.  A friend solved one mystery:  why did none of these handsome, muscular men have chest hair. Catches the wind, I was told, can slow you down some fraction if a second. Well, that's what she said.

     Anyway, it's ending.
 It will be hard, I think, for the finale to match the opening when the Queen and James Bond exchanged hellos.

     So there I was in front of the TV just now
watching a baseball game and hearing words I've known for years--ball, strike, double play.

     Familiarity is sweet sometimes.      

Sunday, August 5, 2012

AUGUST 5, 2012

          The headline in the Washington Post today reads "Mars rover on course for risky landing on Monday."  Well, risky for the steel and aluminum and whatever else the rover is made of.  Not risky for people;  there are none aboard.

     The United States doesn't have a manned space program just now. We used to, you remember, if you're old enough, Armstrong and Aldrin on the moon and those who followed them.  We were all sure then that it wouldn't end with the moon, that men would walk on Mars.  Maybe some day. Probably not while I'm still here to see it.  Self-pity?  Oh, I think so. don't you?

     Countries have to choose, of course.  Education, health, defense, and so on.  Space needn't, probably shouldn't, be first.

     I'll bet I still have a copy of the late Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles around somewhere.  I think I'll look for it.  Science fiction, of course, but good, exciting stuff.


AUGUST 4, 2012

I think I almost know how to score water polo, though I'm not sure how many are on a team. The Olympic Games only run another week or so. If there's a test at the end, I may flunk.

Still, it's a nice change.  My TV set has one daylight position, except for the occasional baseball game. The position is, as you will have guessed, off.

Some of the athleticism is extraordinary.  There was a picture of gymnast Gabby Douglas in the paper the morning after she won gold.  She seemed to be higher in the air than she was tall.  A four-foot something woman, say, parallel to the ground and six feet above it.  My armchair, old like its owner, just won't rise to that.

I've been watching this weekend too.  The longer races--a thousand meters and up--are still to come.  The cameras usually offer intense glimpses of stress and exhaustion.

If only we could get some of this intensity into the presidential campaign.

'Twould be a nice change


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

AUGUST 1, 2012

     We noted recently that the U.S. House of Representatives was to vote on a bill to ban late-term abortions in the District of Columbia. They did vote and the bill, which would have banned abortion in the District except to save the life of the mother after twenty weeks of pregnancy, won 220154.  But, this beingWashington, that means it lost.  Under House rules it needed a  two-thirds majority to pass under the suspension of normal rules in effect at the time.

   Nobody said House rules were simple.

    We have two good issues here, and anyone can argue either side of either one.  Abortion?  My own feeling has always been, if you don't approve of it, don't have one.  Lots of people, for religious or other reasons, don't.  They certainly have every right to follow their convictions.

    On the other hand, I see no reason why 435 visitors (Congress, that is) can decide this issue and the people like me who live here have no voice, no vote, in a decision which basically affects only us.  Seems perfectly undemocratic to me.

Freedom for DC! Now there's a slogan.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

July 28, 2012


     The Washington Post reported that all sorts of creatures were in London for the opening of the Olympic Games:  cows, a flock of sheep, goats, ducks, and--oh yes--Mitt Romney.

     Romney was an early critic:  "disconcerting," he called the spectacle and its logistics, adding "It's hard to know just how well it will turn out."  He said no Olympics (he ran the 2002 Winter Games) could be mistake free.  But he also called the London Games "fabulous" though they hadn't started yet.


    Critics fired back.  London Mayor Boris Johnson:  "I hear there's a guy named Mitt Romney who wants to know whether we're ready. Are we ready? Yes, we are!"  And then came the headlines:  "Mitt the Twit" (The Sun);  "Party-pooper Romney" (The Daily Mail);  "Nowhere Man" (Times of London).  No doubt, this wasn't the foreign affairs debut Romney wanted.

     Well, it all makes wo
rk for the working candidate to do.  It is not true that President Obama took the week off and went fishing, but I think maybe he could have, don't you?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

July 24, 2012

Twelve dead.  Fifty-eight, I think it was, wounded.  What's going on?
The answer, I'm afraid, is nothing much.  Weapons are better than they used to be.  Guns kill more quickly than swords.  But human nature?  Pretty constant, over the years.

The Colorado killer is a nut case, obviously crazy.  But we've always had them;  their tools are just better now.

The poet W.H. Auden wrote, "Evil is unspectacular and always human, and shares our bed and eats at our own table...." it was, so it is, so it will be...evil, everyday and always human.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

JULY 10. 2012

The Washington Post has a poll today which says President Obama and his presumed Republican rival for the presidency this fall, Governor Mitt Romney, are about even. This puzzles me;  I'm having a hard time believing that we're having an election at all.

     To be sure, the president makes speeches, mostly about how well things are going, and the ex-governor makes them, mostly about how badly. The economy is so-so, I can remember when it was better and when it was worse.  If you're old enough to vote, so can you. We're at war;  that's the bad news. The good news is that we used to be at two. One war is better than two.  Neither man, that I've noticed, has really offered a persuasive path to peace--no wars at all,

     I got a new copy of the Constitution this past week; the old one vanished somewhere.  In the front are some wise words from Alexander Hamilton, spoken back in 1775, "The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sun beam in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself, and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power."

    Okay, Mr. President, Governor.  It's election time.  Start writing, please.