Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Fwd: DECEMBER 31, 2013

      As always, one column at year's end honors some of the admirable people who left us during its passing.  And, too, as always, we haven't space for them all.  

     There's no doubt who comes first.  Nelson Mandela died at 95, spent twenty-seven of those years in prison, and emerged smiling, radiating sunlight and non-violence.  And oh yes, he founded a country.

     On another part of the planet, we lost Patti Page, no stateswoman but the queen of the jukeboxes for many years. 15 million records sold. Can you still whistle "Tennessee Waltz?"

     We lost Peter O'Toole, whom many of us remember as Lawrence of Arabia, but he played other parts.  We lost Stan Musial, who played 22 seasons in baseball's major leagues, had more than 3000 hits, was Most Valuable player three times.  Can't play that game much better than that.

     We lost Scott Carpenter, the fourth man in space, and Van Cliburn who could make you think you were in space just by playing the piano.  

     We lost Margaret Thatcher, who proved the British could breed tough women politicians and David Frost, who proved they breed good reporters too--remember his interviews with Richard Nixon?  And Helen Thomas, who proved Americans could cover presidents too.

     Vietnam lost Vo Nguyen Giap, who helped his country gain its independence by successfully fighting both the French and the Americans.  And some of his troops lost Mikhail Kalasnikov, who designed the world's most famous assault rifle, the AK 47.

      We lost Abigail van Buren, better known as Dear Abby, who helped newspaper readers solve their problems, I guess.  We lost actor James Gandolfini, who used to cause problems as Tony Soprano.  

     And finally, on a personal note, I lost a friend and colleague, Jack Germond.  He was a legendary political reporter--knew lots of pols, understood what they did and why.  Jack was fun on a story.  He loved a drink and good food.  A friend coming into a restaurant once asked Jack how the ducks were. "Pretty good," said Jack, "I just had a couple."

     Hope your holiday meal is yummy too.



Monday, December 30, 2013

DECEMBER 29, 2013

     We're coming to the New Year, of course.  I wonder if folks still do resolutions.  I can think of some that might be useful.  So, I dare say, can you.

      The State Department, for instance, could resolve not to talk to Syria.  Resolve to not do anything bad to them--more bad is probably the last thing they need--but not to try to do anything good either because any dealings with Syria seem to end badly in deaths both for them and whoever else is involved.

     Congress--and this is a seriously good idea--could resolve not to pass any more single-member bills--you know, bills sponsored by one Congressman setting up a post office in his district or a statue to some great-uncle who fought in the the Spanish-American War or…well, you know what I mean.  There are hundreds of those every year and they aren't cheap.

    What about me?  I'm going to lobby for a brand new, really expensive ballpark for the Chicago Cubs--Wrigley is getting old.  There is talk about serious renovation but, under my rules, they'll get the new park as soon as they win the World Series.  They last won it, you shoulld know, in 1908.  I think our money is safe.



Fwd: DECEMBER 27, 2013

      Christmas is past.  We now look forward to the New Year, but not with unrelieved joy. The Post Office has announced an increase in the price of a first-class stamp.  Just temporary, they say.  Oh, sure.

      It's just a three cent increase, but that rings a peculiar bell if you're as old as I am.  I started mailing childish scrawls when the total price of the stamp was three cents--really, it was.  Now it will be forty-nine cents--an increase of, I don't know what, but certainly more than a thousand percent in way less than a hundred years.  Well, maybe not way less, but less.

     The new year will also, as even numbered years do, see off-year elections.  The presidency's not at stake but all the House seats and a third of the Senate's are.  It will be a chance to see how the radical Republicans--the ones who really want to change and shrink the fedreal government--do.

     My guess is, badly—but, hey, they've got almost a year in which to prove me wrong. Let's listen up.  



Wednesday, December 18, 2013

DECEMBER 18, 2013

      The government's offensive (in my view) program of spying on all its citizens--tapping our phones--has taken a legal hit but is is still running.  It may take the Supreme Court to defeat this unconstitutional (my view again) practice.

     You remember how all this started--a leaker named Edward Snowden revealed that the National Security Agency could--did, in fact--monitor all our phone conversations, listening to or recording any ones it wanted.  A military secret?  A love affair with someone not your spouse?  Didn't matter. The government could listen if it liked.

     Now comes a U.S. District Judge, Richard Leon.  He wrote an opinion--not ruling on the practice itself, but mentioning it: "I cannot imagine a more indiscriminate and arbitrary invasion than this systematic and high tech collection and retention of personal data."

     The part of the Constitution most people say this snooping violates is the Fourth Amendment.  It reads: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, house, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation...."

     Doesn't sound like a warrant for constant snooping, does it?


DECEMBER 18, 2013

     President Obama's numbers are down in a new Washington Post--ABC News poll, but hey, he shouldn't worry too much;  he has a lot of company.

     The poll shows the president and the Republicans tied at 41 percent.  A year ago Obama led, 54--38.  But if you really want to feel sorry for somebody--well, 535 somebodies--consider the Congress.  Congressional approval in the poll is 16%, up 4% from a month ago, but still near all-time lows, the poll says.

     More than 7 in 10 respondents disappove of how Congressional Republicans are doing their jobs, but more than 6 in 10 disapprove of how the Democrats are doing theirs.

     And there's an election next year and all those Congressmen--well, all those who want to--will have to run for reelection.  Happy 2014, guys!




Monday, December 16, 2013

DECEMBER 14, 2013

     It's been a good week for the administration as Congress finally demonstrates it can do--not just oppose.

     The Republican-controlled House actually approved a two-year budget deal, with moderate Republicans joining Democrats to pass it and Speaker John Boehner criticizing Tea Party conservatives who vote No as "misleading'  and "without credibility."

    Is this a permanent conversion?  We'll have to wait and see.  There's an immigration bill in the pipeline somewhere which will be a good test when and if it gets to the floor.

     But for now, the House did something.  It refused to allow its most conservative members from enforcing inaction, paralysis.  That could be almost reason enough for Democrats to have a party.  Or at least to be happy that Santa's brought them something nice for Christmas.

     "'Tis the season for Dems to be jolly?"  Maybe. We'll find out down the road a bit.



Friday, December 13, 2013

Fwd: DECEMBER 12, 2013

     We're heading toward a new year and, of course, off-year elections. The Democrats will try to win back the House, now held by the Republicans, who in turn will try to win back the Senate, now Democratic.

      But the Republican primaries around the country may be as interesting as the general election. A coalition of Republicans and Democrats have agreed on a budget this week and, assuming it does become law, we'll be spared the inconveniences of another sequester next year.

     But it was moderate Republicans who agreed to the compromise. And in a number of primaries in 2014, moderates will be challenged by conservatives--the Tea Party wing of the party. They favor big cuts in spending and think shutting down the government is good fun. In fact, they'd like to shut parts of it permanently.

     So watch those Republican primaries next year. If the conservatives do well, big changes could follow.  



Monday, December 9, 2013

Fwd: DECEMBER 9, 2013

     Some cities are calm about sports:  Chicago's baseball Cubs haven't won the World Series in over a century, but fans still throng to Wrigley Field on sunny summer days and enjoy themselves.  Washington mostly takes things as they come; fans were pleased when the baseball Nationals made the playoffs last year but not wildly upset when they didn't this year.  The exception has always been the football team, the Redskins.  This year they are having a truly awful year--they lost to the Kansas City Chiefs yesterday, 45--10--and that means the Monday morning sports pages are something quite special.

     Red numbers on page 1 show some of the highlights.--151 for the number of rushing yards the Chiefs made--7.9 yards per carry, 6 for the number of times the 'Skins quarterback was sacked.  But it's the headlines on the stories that really tell the tale.

     One column's headline is, "We don't deserve this but they (the team and its owner, I think) deserve each other."  Another, about the coach: "No longer whether he should go but when."  Another: "A winter blunderland"  Or "Special teams turn in a horrendous effort," or, "In all phases Redskins have a frightful game...."

     And in bars today fans (ex-fans?) are no doubt reviving an old nickname for the team: the Deadskins.     


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Fwd: DECEMBER 5, 2013

           Well, she knows how to do it, that's for sure.  She gave Barack Obama a tough race in the 2008 primaries, probably tougher than either of his Republican opponents did in the fall.  Is she too old?  No, she'll be sixty-nine on election day, 2016.  And she's certainly got the resume:  eight years in the U.S. Senate;  four as Secretary of State; and eight years in that big house on Pennsylvania Avenue.  Do you suppose she misses it, sometimes?

     She—Hillary Clinton, of course--gave a speech in New York this weekend and didn't talk about running.  She reminisced about opposing the Vietnam War in college, about going to Yale Law School because some fool at Harvard said, "We don't need any more women."  She talked about all sorts of things except running for her husband's old job.

     Will she run?  I'd bet yes.  Last time Democrats in the primaries knew they were going to nominate either the first black major party presidential candidate ever or the first woman. The black, as we all know, won the nomination and then the presidency.

     This time, I think I'd bet on the girl.


Fwd: DECEMBER 4, 2013

    My kids like books.  No wonder, their parents did.  And my friends do too.  At Christmas I'm always reminded of one of the sadder trends of our time, the disappearance of the local book store.

     That doesn't mean I'm giving worse or fewer books than I once did.  Washington, where I live, has a large, excellent book called "Politics and Prose"  with big stock, knowledgeable clerks, everything you could want.  They know how to ship their stock too, wherever you want it sent.

     No, what I miss about the old neighborhood stores--there were two near me--is that whenever I felt like it, I could walk over and browse.  I might see a cover on a display book that got me interested, might see a new book by a favorite author I didn't know had written one--that kind of thing.  I miss browsing, finding something unexpected.  There's no way to do it nowadays.

      Don't worry, friends.  Gift books from me will be as carefully selected as always and I hope you like them.  It's just that choosing them used to be a little more fun a decade or two ago.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

NOVEMBER 27, 2013

      A lot of presences lurk in my apartment building, some human, some not.

     The latest to declare itself is the Trash Room, previously known as a modest place, where a resident could leave, yes, trash--old food, read newspapers, whatever.  All would rest there quietly until the removal people came to take it away.

     Maybe this was too calm for the Room.  Maybe it wanted action, adventure, a touch of danger. The other day, it took a hostage.

      The taking wasn't secret;  the hostage's pleas for help could be heard through the door, but would-be rescuers in the building couldn't open that door no matter how hard they tugged and kicked and hammered.

     What to do?  Call the cops? No, nobody robbed or assaulted, that wasn't it. An ambulance?  No was was sick or hurt, yet. The Fire Dept.?  Yes, what a good idea!

     The firefighters arrived quickly and opened the door about as easily as you'd expect of men used to battling twelve foot flames. Hostage freed, crisis over.

     We residents are feeling pretty good. The freed hostage is truly happy.  The Trash Room?  We hope it''s learned a lesson but only time, as they say, will tell.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Fwd: NOVEMBER 21, 2013


      One of the nice things presidents get to do is present deserving Americans with the Medal of Freedom.  The awards remind the rest of us of what a fine, diverse place this country is.

     Some--not all--of this year's winners:    


     Ernie Banks, the great Chicago Cubs infielder. It's not his fault they haven't won a World Series in more than a century;

     Ben Bradlee, former executive editor of the Washington Post. Remember Watergate?  President Richard Nixon resigning?


     Gloria Steinem, a leader of the women's movement;

     Bill Clinton--well, you know who he is;


     Oprah Winfrey—you know who she is too

     Richard Lugar, former Republican senator from Indiana, who was way smarter than most;

     Sally Ride, the first American woman in space;

     Dean Smith, former basketball coach at the University of North Carolina.  Well, there was the occasional loss to Duke, sure, but still....;

     Loretta Lynn.  Hard to end the list on a better note.  Still love that voice, those songs.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Fwd: NOVEMBER 18, 2013

     I wrote recently that America seems to be changing its mind on gay marriage.  There's another straw in that wind today.

     It involves two sisters, daughters of Richard Cheney, a conservative Republican who was George W. Bush's Vice President--so you can see we're not talking wild-eyed liberals here.

     Mary Cheney, one of the sisters, is lesbian and has a wife.  Liz, the other sister, is straight and disagrees with her sister.  "I love Mary very much. I love her family very much," Liz said.  "This is just an issue on which we disagree."  Mary and her wife reacted promptly. "Liz has been a guest in our house...shared holidays with our children...to have her now say she doesn't support our right to marry is offensive to say the least."

     Former VP Cheney, the father, issued a statement supporting gay marriage in 2009, after his term had ended.  Well, it's a trend. There's nothing to say whole families have to adopt it all at once.


Fwd: NOVEMBER 17, 2013

     The newspapers remind me that it was fifty years ago this week that President John Kennedy was shot and killed while riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas.

     The first question for readers old enough is, "Where were you?"  Easy for me.  I was a reporter then, working out of London.  The news hit Britons, I think, almost as hard as it hit Americans.  Big Ben normally tolls the hours, halves, and quarters like any clock with a bell tower.  When a sovereign--a king or queen--dies, it tolls in mourning once every minute.  It tolled once a minute for Kennedy too--the only time it's ever done that for a non-royal.  On a more prosaic note, cab drivers, once they'd heard your American accent, wouldn't take your money.

     The more serious question is, what is JFK's legacy?  It's not so much what he did, I think, as what he started.  He said men should walk on the moon and men--Americans--did.  I remember that because CBS News, for which I then worked, stayed on the air the whole time astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stayed on the moon--twenty-some hours.

     The most important domestic legislation of the 60s was probably the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Kennedy's Vice President, Lyndon Johnson, was president by then, but there's no doubt JFK helped set the stage for them.

     Maybe the atmosphere of his years in power mattered most.  His widow Jacqueline called it Camelot, King Arthur's realm. Many Americans came to believe she was right.   


Sunday, November 17, 2013

NOVEMBER 16, 2013

     President Obama's health care plan has debuted to very mixed reviews.  In fact, the boos outnumbered the cheers.  But I don't know that this is a great setback to the cause of national health care.

     The law can be amended.  Republicans would like to kill it, but they seem to lack the votes for that.  I am covered by Medicare and Social Security because I am old.  Did they start smoothly?  I don't know, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that they had some early glitches, which eventually got straightened out. They've certainly worked for me,

     Health legislation is complicated.  It's not like a bill to buy more fighter planes or a few guns.

     The United States is, I believe, the only major power that doesn't have some sort of national health insurance for its citizens. I would bet that in ten years this flawed bill will be viewed as an important first step in ending that.




Tuesday, November 12, 2013

NOVEMBER 11, 2013

      It's Veterans' Day, but that's its new name.  It used to be Armistice Day, for the truce that ended World War I, which took effect, the combatants agreed, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.  It's easier to remember the numbers than the reasons for that long-ago war.  Various monarchies started quarreling and the next thing you knew, there we were.

     No catchy numbers for the next one.  Nazi Adolf Hitler started conquering Europe in the 1930;  we came in when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and other U.S. bases on December 7, 1941, a date which "will live in infamy," President Franklin Roosevelt said.  This time the cause was clear. I remember Bill Mauldin, a much-decorated veteran of the war and famed editorial cartoonist, saying he wasn't sure the war had made the world any better "but we had to kill Hitler," which, considering his fondness for killing Jews and others, was certainly true.

Korea?  Most said we were defending the South from the Communist North, though at least one book argued the South actually attacked first.

Vietnam?  Our longest war.  58,000 Americans died in it.  I have no idea why.  Sure, the North was Communist, but we get along with them now, all those lives later.  Why did we have to fight them then?

Iraq?  Afghanistan?

Maybe the solution is--honor our veterans, of course, but be very careful about which wars we send them to fight.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

NOVEMBER 5, 2013

      This column has spotted a trend.  We're not the first, of course, just happy latecomers.  The country is changing on gay rights.

     For evidence, take the headline in today's Washington Post: "Gay rights bill spotlights a shift."  The story:  fifty-four Democrats and seven Republicans voted to take up the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.  The Post says it's been seventeen years since the Senate voted on the issue and the sixty-plus votes means the bill will probably pass.  It almost certainly won't in the House, which is led by Republican social conservatives, but we're talking trends here.

     Fourteen states have legalized same-sex marriage.  Polls show Americans agree same-sex couples should have the right to marry.    

      And in Maine, Representative Mike Michaud, a Democratic candidate for governor, has announced he's gay.  "They want people to question whether I am gay," Michaud said. "Yes, I am. But why should it matter?"

     Increasingly, Americans seem to be asking themselves the same question and coming up with the same answer.



NOVEMBER 4, 2013

      There's a big gubernatorial election in Virginia tomorrow, Tuesday, that offers a lesson about the future of the Republican party.

      The Democrat, Terry McAuliffe, is favored over Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, and that suggests a problem the Republicans face in other states too.

     Cuccinelli is a very conservative Republican. This probably helped him get the nomination, but is a less attractive quality in a general election, where appealing to moderates can be important.

     The kind of Republican with a better shot in a general election would be somebody like New Jersey's popular Governor Chris Christie, who is often talked and written of as a presidential possibility in 2016.  He is in fact a moderate, which might well make it harder for him to get the GOP nomination.

     Tricky business, politics  But tomorrow in Virginia, bet on the Dem.  Well, don't bet your life savings, of course, but you know what I mean. 


Sunday, November 3, 2013

NOVEMBER 3, 2013

      I think we have a lot of laws we don't need.  Sometimes it's simple.  I read from time to time about efforts in this state or that to make same-sex marriage more difficult, and I wonder why.  If two men or two women want to marry, why shouldn't they?  Nothing in what they're doing compels anyone else to do the same thing.

     And if the same-sex couple adopt a child, who knows whether it will have a happy life any more than any other kid will.

     Restrictions on abortion?  That's a harder call because there's another life--the fetus'--involved.  But it still seems to me a woman has the right to decide what to do with her body.

     Saluting a flag?  Surely it's up to you, not someone else, what flag, if any, you salute.

     And I'll bet you can think of some more examples.  My point is simply that we don't need a law for everything.  There are plenty of questions grownups can decide for themselves. 


Friday, November 1, 2013

Fwd: NOVEMBER 1, 2013

      It was their third World Series title in the last ten years, but it turns out to be the first the Boston Red Sox have won at home--Fenway Park--in 95 years. Who did they beat at Fenway then? It was, of course, the hapless, helpless, hopeless Chicago Cubs.

     "Lovable losers," Chicagoans sometimes call them, but I've always had trouble with that even though they are my team.  They last won the Series in 1908, more than a century ago. I think they're shooting for two.


Fwd: OCTOBER 31, 2013

      Something unusual and good in Washington this week: one government executive looks at a troubled program and says--yes, my fault!  When was the last time you heard that?

     The troubled program is what the Washington Post called "the government's problem-plagued health care web site" under the new health care program. There, at a Congressional hearing, came the attacks.  There, for the administration, sat Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius, who spoke the magic words.

     The site has been "a miserably frustrating experience for way too many Americans," she said. "Hold me accountable for the debacle.  I'm responsible."  

     They ought to carve those words in granite and put them up somewhere.  A corridor in the Capitol?  The White House lawn?



Monday, October 28, 2013

OCTOBER 26, 2013

     The National Security Administration has been telling us, through a leaker named Snowden, how it can tap all our telephones, learn and reveal all our secrets, and so on.  We ordinary folk can't do much about the government's snooping into our lives, but foreign countries maybe can and at least two--Germany and France--have complained about it.

     They say the U.S. National Snooping Agency has eavesdropped on some thirty world leaders and they want it stopped.  Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel said, "We want...something that is in line with the spirit of an alliance."  Well, yes, you don't normally spy on your friends, do you?

     Trouble is, our master spies like their jobs.  Told to stop, they'd probably target the White House and produce a bunch of fake stuff  designed to show they had.

     I think the only real solution is to recreate the Soviet Union, which expired in 1991.  It'd be expensive, but I"d rather have the NSA (National Snooping Agency) spying on them than us, wouldn't you?  Of course, they'd probably do both, just wouldn't tell us the part about spying on us. 

OCTOBER 24, 2013

      There was one story, a fourteen year old student in Massachusetts, charged with stabbing and killing a teacher, dumping her body behind the school.  Another, a twelve year old in Nevada shot two classmates, killed a teacher and then himself.  And another, a seven year old killer.  Another, police kill a boy playing with a toy assault rifle.  Another--well, I could go on and so could you.

     It's sad, of course--children killed, children as killers.  But I think the truth is, in the country we have chosen to live in, it's inevitable.  We have chosen a country in which it is relatively easy to own and use a gun.  We want this.  You can blame it on our past--taming a large place full of wild animals--but other countries have violent pasts too and much more peaceful presents.

     The National Rifle Association is an excellent lobby, but that is partly because it is lobbying for the kind of America most of us seem to want.   I hope we're happy with it.  I'm not – not by a long shot, but I'm just one guy.

OCTOBER 22, 2013

        The Republicans have once again proved an old political saw--if you do something foolish and people know it was you, they'll probably blame you for it. The something foolish was of course the government shutdown.  The evidence is a Washington Post/ABC News poll

     The Post story is headlined, "Poll finds major damage to GOP after shutdown."  Two in three Republicans or independents who lean toward the GOP have a negarive view of the shutdown.  Overall, eight in ten disapprove. Dissatisfaction with Congress went up--well, how could it not?  Approval of Congress, the poll says, is now 12%.

     Clearly, the Grand Old Party made a Grand Old Mistake here. 



Sunday, October 20, 2013

OCTOBER 17, 2013

Well, it's over and the world did not come to an end.  Some of us, in fact, had trouble watching it--it was hard to spot.  The mailman kept coming to my building; cops were on the streets, directing traffic, whatever; nobody told the Army to go home; the  banks stayed open, cashed checks, took deposits and all that.

Still, it was a sort of shutdown I guess.  President Obama was certainly right when he said we don't need those.  He was right too when he noted that pricky partisanship in Congress--not just between parties but among factions seem to be at an all time high and is one of the reasons we get into these messes.

The radical Republicans come to mind, of course, and some of them must have thought they'd won something at first. They didn't except maybe new lustre for not understanding very well how the game is played.

So will things improve?  The president listed three areas in which he hoped Congress would act--the budget, immigration, and a farm bill.  What they do next should tell us how much, if anything, Congress has learned.  Don't be too optimistic.  I'm not.



Thursday, October 17, 2013

Fwd: OCTOBER 16, 2013

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Ann Hawthorne <aphawthorne@verizon.net>
Date: Wed, Oct 16, 2013 at 11:24 AM
Subject: OCTOBER 16, 2013
To: "Wittenberg, Holly" <holly.wittenberg@gmail.com>




I guess the shutdown isn't total yet. There are still bursts of hot air coming from the Capitol, and I haven't seen any furloughed Army guys--probably in jeans rather than in uniform but with rifles and canteens and all that stuff--you know.

But if you're looking for who'll get blamed, it's probably not too early to bet on the Republicans. Their problem is that their leaders, like House Speaker John Boehner, can't control their party's wacko wing, which really wants a much weaker and different America.

Kill Obama's health care bill, of course, but go further--weaken Medicare, for instance, by making it a voucher system.  I don't know what that would be, exactly, but I'll bet serious money I'd like it less than what I have now.

The results of their extreme views, if the country gets to know them, would probably be severe losses for the GOP in the next election.  Not a certainty, but a good bet.  Hope I'm around long enough to see how it turns out.



Tuesday, October 15, 2013

OCTOBER 12, 2013

      I grew up before baseball really had playoffs.  The two league champions (pennant winners, we called them back then) met in a best-of-seven World Series and that was that.  Now there are two rounds in each league (and the leagues are bigger, of course;  just eight teams per league back then).  Anyway, we're down to the semifinals this year and they look like good fun.

     In the National League it's the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles (Brooklyn in the old days) Dodgers and it looks like a fine tussle.  Some distinguished ghosts will be watching:  for the Cardinals, Stan Musial, maybe the best player ever; his outfield mate Enos Slaughter; Marty Marion, a peerless shortstop, well, I could go on.  For the Dodgers?  Just the ghosts that helped integrate the sport would be enough--Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe--if you're old enough, you remember them..

     In the American League we have the Boston Red Sox and the Detroit Tigers.  One name is enough to stir memories--Ted Williams, the Splendid Splinter--the last man to bat over .400 for a full major league season.


    Well, I'll stop.  Why this column?  Well, it's October and I sure enjoyed typing out all those names.


OCTOBER 14, 2013

There is some news the Wall Strett Journal this week on where the Tea Party may be headed.  It's in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll quoted extensively by E.J. Dionne in his Washington Post column today.

First, some other numbers. The poll shows up slightly, at 47%, positive opinions of President Obama.  By that same number, 47% to 39%, people preferred a Democratic Congress to a Republican one.  


Positive feelings toward the Tea Party, meanwhile, fell to 21%, down from 34% in June, 2010.  Another straw in the wind--the poll asked respondents to choose between "government should do more to help meet the needs of people" and "government is doing too much."   In 2010, 45% said do more;  in the latest poll,, 52% did.

Polls aren't cast in concrete of course, but this one does seem to point to hard times ahead for the Tea Party.



Friday, October 4, 2013

OCTOBER 4, 2013

     "I've got an idea," the little boy said.  "If we all get together, we can shut down the playground." 

     The other little boys –  and a few girls -  thought that sounded like fun, so they got together and made a plan--so many to close this gate, so many for that one, so many to make sure no one used the slide and so on.  Not very democratic, of course, but it worked.  Playground closed.

     "This is neat," they said when they'd done it. "We need a name for our gang."  "I've got it," said one, "Let's call ourselves Congress."


OCTOBER 3, 2013

     The U.S. government is still shut down, though so much other weird stuff is happening here that Washingtonians may have forgotten about it.

     Weirdest of all may have been when a car rammed a barricade near the White House then headed for the Capitol.  Police opened fire--well, you do, I guess, when national landmarks and the First Family, Congressmen, and regular people are threatened.  The driver of the car, a dental hygienist from Connecticut named Miriam Carey, was shot and killed by police.  A one-year old baby, also in the car, was unharmed.  Good luck, surely, not aimed fire.

     Police say nothing about the incident or about Carey suggests any sort of terrorist attack or anything like that.  What does it suggest?  I have no idea.  Nor, apparently, has anyone else, but you might want to stay out of town until the crazy season passes.

     I don't, of course, know when that will be. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

SEPTEMBER 26, 2013

      It's that time of year again--fiscal ones ending and starting, Congressmen making bizarre threats about how much government will be left, and so on.

     Some Republicans are demanding that Congress kill the president's health bill, usually called "Obamacare."  That won't happen.  The Republicans could vote to kill it in the House, which they control, but not in the Senate, which they don't.  And even if the Senate yielded (fat chance!), President Obama could still veto the bill.

     The Republicans can threaten to shut the government down, but there are problems with that too?  Who pays the Army?  Can we go to war?  All these questions are complicated by the fact that the Congressmen are not simply trying to do what's good for the country, they're trying to gain political advantages for their political parties and for themselves too.

     Still, it can be fun to watch.  The country hasn't crashed and burned yet.  So enjoy?  Or maybe not?  Your call.   Unless you're sitting in Congress there's nothing you can do but watch, is there?


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

SEPTEMBER 18, 2013

      Can we expect new gun control legislation because of the Navy Yard murders?  Most unlikely.  Don't hold your breath.

     The Washington Post runs a series of polls on the issue today;  they show support for gun control is shrinking.  60% supported it in 1989, the polls say, 34% opposed it.  Now 52% favor it, 45% oppose.  And 51% in one recent poll said having a gun made the home a safer place.

     Politically, chances seem dim.  Senate Majority leader Harry Reid says, "We don't have the votes. I hope we get them but we don't have them now."

     Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said he would like to see "the current background check law redesigned to capture mental health events in a better way."  But again the Democratic leader of the Senate says, "We don't have the votes."

     Again, gun control backers, don't hold your breath.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

SEPTEMBER 17, 2013

      Mass killings in America are not so rare. The Navy Yard shooting yesterday seems not to have been a plot by some political group or ideology, but just mass murder by a nut with some guns.

     President Obama, during his term, has had to cope with mass killings in Fort Hood, Tucson, Aurora and Newtown.  Well, "cope" is the wrong word, of course.  No one, not even a president, can bring the victims back.  All we can do is offer sympathy, try to ease the families' pain.

     You can make an argument that stricter gun control laws might lessen the number of these awful killings.  The British don't have them, nor the French, and gun control is stricter there.  But the fact is, we don't want that.  Gun control loses in Congress;  there was a story the other day about a couple of state officials who were for it being recalled.

    That's who we are;  that's how we choose to live.  It's hard to imagine us changing.  The occasional massacre by lone gun-wielding nuts is apparently part of a price we are willing to pay.

      I just don't understand.          



Saturday, September 14, 2013

SEPTEMBER 14, 2013

      I've written before about my dislike of the idea that the U.S. should be the world's policeman, committed to trying to enforce peace and civilized behavior in places like Syria.  So I was touched by a story in today's Washington Post from Norfolk, Virginia, where there's a big naval base, talking about the sad state of the sailors who come back from such tours.  "They're drained when they come back," one Norfolk man says, "They tell us all the time about how tired they are."

     Another Norfolk resident, "My heart goes out to the people dying over there," says another, "but we've got to look out for our boys.  We're stretched here." And we all remember stories about how suicides among career military people are up significantly.

     And yet, and yet....Richard Cohen, a columnist I respect, writes in the Post the other day, "The inescapable truth is that the world needs a policeman.  The inescapable truth is that only the United States can play cop....A further inescapable truth is that evil exists and must be fought."

     So is it a job we can decline or one we must accept?   Maybe we need an election to answer that question.

Monday, September 9, 2013


     Ever think your kid might grow up to be a cop?  Easy enough in America--Chicago, say, or Detroit.  But in Britain it's a different game.  The police who protect Buckingham Palace are supposed to protect the Royals, not stalk them.

     And yet, and yet....two days after the cops nabbed one intruder, they thought they'd caught another--except that he turned out to be Prince Andrew, second son of Elizabeth II, who reigns over the whole country.  To understate it: Ooooooooops! 

     The fuzz sent an apology to Andrew, aka the Duke of York.  He replied--these Royals are smooth, "I am grateful for the apology and look forward to a safe walk in the garden in the future."

     The newspapers loved it of course. "PRINCE ANDREW HELD AT GUNPOINT" brayed the Daily Express.

     I don't think America will compete, do you?  The Secret Service busting Sasha or Malia?  Nah, no way.

Sunday, September 8, 2013


     Well, finally an argument in the Washington Post for not attacking Syria. "Syria," a headline warns, "could stall Congress's work."

     Of course it could.  Congress has many important things to do.  It comes back to work (or whatever you call it) this coming week.  And, oh boy, is there stuff to do:  find agreement on federal spending, raise the limit on the national debt--some, but how much?, consider immigration reform and a farm bill which leaves out money for food stamps, and so on.  But no, the Post says, they're going to take up Syria first.

     That's complicated because President Obama seems to believe he can bomb Syria--or, presumably London or Miami Beach--without permission from Congress. The Constitution (Article 1, Section 8)  says the Congress shall have the power "to declare war."  But maybe bombing isn't war?  Sounds funny to me.  When Hitler bombed London in World War II both sides thought it was war, that's for sure.

     But this president disagrees, I guess.  Tough on the Syrians.  Tough on us and what we thought our country stands for.  



Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Fwd: SEPTEMBER 4, 2013

      Some politician--I can't remember who, but he'd probably just lost an election--once grumbled, "The voters are a lot smarter than we think."  Mr. President, that's still true.  The latest proof is a poll in today's Washington Post. It says, please (well, I added that), don't attack Syria.

     Here's the key question: "The United States says it has determined that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons in the civil war there. Given this, do you support or oppose the U.S. launching missile strikes against the Syrian government?"  36% support it;  59% oppose.  That's a pretty substantial margin.

     Why should the president ignore it?  We are not allied with any of the factions in Syria.  We have not been named the world's policemen by the United Nations or anybody else.  We have learned recently that intervening in Third World troubles--Iraq, Afghanistan--sometimes makes us wish we hadn't.

     This time, sir, couldn't we just stay out and see how that works?


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Fwd: SEPTEMBER 3, 2013

This is a story about an extraordnary event and the extraordinary woman who achieved it.  It teaches us, I think, that if you want to accomplish something badly enough, maybe you can.  She did, anyway, and is an example to us all.

The woman is Diana Nyad.  What she did was to swim nonstop from Havana to Key West, Florida.  It's about a hundred miles.  It took her about 53 hours--yes, more than two days.

This was not a  success that came easily;  it was her fifth attempt.  The first four, obviously, failed.  The most amazing thing, perhaps, is that she never gave up.  Her success, that fifth attempt, came when she was 64 years old. Yes--in an age where youthful athletes seem to get the most attention, she was 64.

So the lesson, I guess, is, if you want something, don't give up.  Yes, again, she's 64.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

AUGUST 20, 2013

      Back in the 1930s, Adolf Hitler's Germany set out to conquer the world.  He started by conquering most of Europe.  At one point he seemed poised to invade Britain, which of course is an island.  Hitler began by ordering his air force to bomb Britain into submission.  It failed.

     While the war raged, so did debate here over whether the United States should intervene to help Britain.  Those who argued against that were called "isolationists."  They lost the argument, of course;  the US went to war after Japan attacked us.

      But I wonder these days whether we may not need some new isolationists as fighting breaks out in various third world countries--Egypt, lately.  But you can think of Libya, Syria and others in recent years.
     We've been prudent so far and I hope we stay that way.  But not always.  President George W. Bush sent troops into Iraq and Afghanistan.  I never understood why;  we are still trying to get them out.

     Hitler was special.  He meant to conquer the world and the world needed to kill him.  But now?  These Third World countries?  Diplomacy is fine, even military aid, maybe--equipment that is.

     But troops.  Let's be isolationists.  It'll be good for us, don't you think?


Sunday, August 18, 2013

AUGUST 18, 2013

     I guess it's contagious, this spying stuff.  There's a story in the Washington Post today about how the Obama administration prepared a memo to Congressmen explaining how, or some of how, the National Security Administration's spying on the rest of us worked.  But the leaders of the House Intelligence Committee decided not to pass this goody along to the rest of Congress "in the months before a key vote on the future of the program."

     The administration sent a cover letter along with the memo urging that it be distributed to Congress, but the House Intelligence Committee disagreed and kept it quiet.  One newly elected Congressman, Michigan Republican Justin Amash, said dozens of new members elected in 2010 did not have access to the facts they needed to fully understand the program until they got them from Edward Snowden's leaks.

     A spokesman for the committee said they offered briefings.  Congressmen have crowded schedules;  it's much easier to read something on your own time.

     It's kind of like kids' gangs in grade school.  They love secrets.  Is Congress any more mature?  Good question.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

AUGUST 10, 2013

   I read that President Obama has cancelled a planned summit with Russia's President Putin.   One reason given in news reports was Obama's anger at Russia's decision to give leaker-defector Edward Snowden asylum for a year. Well, different things anger different folks.  I personally would probably have agreed to pay Russia a few bucks to take Snowden for a year.  I mean, is he really the kind of guy you want living down the block?

     But there's another reason why this is, in a funny way, good news.  Nobody thinks it will bring on World War III.  Once upon a time, when Russia and its neighbors were still the mighty, touchy Soviet Union, that wasn't so.

     I still remember, when I was a kid early in the atomic age, a preacher saying, "For the first time, man has the power to destroy God's created order."  We still have it, of course;  nobody is throwing away nuclear weapons.  But the worry that we might blow up the planet is less now, on, I think, both sides.

     And that's genuine good news.  Quarrel?  Sure.  Immolate Earth?  Probably not.  I don't miss the Cold War--do you?


AUGUST 11, 2013

     The government has released a white paper saying that it has the right to tap our telephones, internet activity, and so on.  It's legal, the government says, when the spying is "relevant, a broad standard that permits discovery of large volumes of data in circumstances where doing so is necessary to identify much smaller amounts of information within that data that directly bears on the matter being investigated."  Whatever that might be, of course--a defense secret, a love affair, whatever.

     That's fine with some of
us.  The Washington Post says the House voted against killing the program last month but adds that the vote was close.  I, of course, would have voted to kill it.

     I'd have done so on the general ground that "this is not the America that we agreed to," as someone once said.   I believe that individual Americans' privacy matters more than the government's right to snoop.
 The government disagrees and in that fight it greatly outweighs me.  So it's winning.  I don't see that changing but it should.