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.