They're breathing a little more easily in Massachusetts today. The Democrat won the Senate race, which is what Democrats are supposed to do there. A Republican, Scott Brown, won in 2010--big upset. Now, orthodoxy is restored. Congressman Edward Markey (a Democrat) will represent a state where voters still remember senators named Kennedy.
Markey beat a Republican named Gabriel Gomez 55-45%. The news reports all speak of the money and the volunteers who poured into the state to help him. The volunteers included President Obama and Vice President Biden. It's three and a half years since Brown bested Democrat, then Attorney General, Martha Coakley in a special election to fill the seat that had been owned by Edward Kennedy. Markey, yesterday's winner and a longtime House veteran, assumes the seat held by John Kerry, who left the Senate to become Secretary of State.
One Democratic strategist said the 2010 Brown win proved the Democrats must never take a seat for granted. This time, they didn't.
And the appointee who filled the vacancy for six months before the election? William Cowan had some words of wisdom for the Washington Post. He loved the job, he said, but "I think money has such a pervasive, pernicious influence on governing here that it's getting in the way...I've come to love the job, but I still hate the application process." He means the scuffle for cash, of course.
Thursday, June 27, 2013
The Supremes did not flatly rule in favor of same-sex marriage, but they did say a state ban on it is unconstitutional and a same sex couple wanting to marry can go to a number of states--13, I think, including now California, the most populous, to do so.
The Washington Post seemed to have it about right: "Sometimes the Court makes history outright,...Other times it moves more deliberately, facilitating changes already underway." I expect we won't see great, sudden changes from these decisions because, as the Post noted, the changes are already happening.
Reaction? Critics of same-sex marriage booed, practitioners cheered. I like a woman quoted as saying, "When we heard the news, the family started crying with happiness, except the babies. They slept right through it." I hope they prosper.
Sunday, June 23, 2013
The federal government, unsurprisingly, has filed charges against Edward Snowden, who leaked documents about top-secret surveillance to the press. He is charged, the Washington Post says, with theft and "unauthorized communication of national defense information" and "willful communication of classified intelligence to an unauthorized person." These charges were brought under the Espionage Act, passed in 1917, the World War I era.
I guess he did it; he certainly hasn't denied it; he says he did it. But there is a moral question here--if you believe your country is doing something profoundly wrong, as Snowden apparently believed the government's massive surveillance of its own citizens was, do you have a moral obligation to do something about it? The question has been answered "yes' by protesters against repressive regimes of the past, like Hitler's Germany or the old Soviet Union. Daniel Ellsberg answered "yes" during the Vietnam War when he released the Pentagon Papers.
Is the United States wrong to secretly surveil its citizens? I'm not sure. The government probably does have secrets it needs to keep secret, but the idea of some government snoop I've never met secretly tapping my phone is, to me at least, offensive.
So I have some sympathy for Snowden. Wrong? Maybe. But good motives?
It's probably the biggest scrap bust in history: the U.S. is getting rid of a lot of the military stuff it has in Afghanistan. News reports say about 170 million pounds of stuff have been destroyed so far as the services rush to meet a 2014 withdrawal deadline. About 7 billion dollars worth of stuff--20% of what's there--won't be shipped back home. Who needs it?
What to do with the equipment? Say, a nice Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected Vehicle? Well, the Afghan government forces probably couldn't keep them running. Maybe the Taliban--the bad guys--could, but of course you don't want that. Tear 'em up or ship 'em out, I guess. Shipping them isn't easy or cheap, and it's not the vehicle you'd probably want to park in front of your house anyway. Still, the Pentagon estimates, about 9,000 of the excess 11,000 will be shredded--maybe sent home, but what would become of them then?
And tearing them up? Not a simple job. They're built for wars, built to resist violent explosions.
Good luck, government.
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
The President says, "My concern has always been not that we shouldn't do intelligence gathering to prevent terrorism [author's note: why not?] but rather are we setting up a system of checks and balances?" Obama argues that something called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court provides enough oversight of the National Security Agency's work.
The trouble is, of course, that we have to take his word for it.
All American governments, I suppose, do surveillance. Much of it, if revealed, would probably seem to us ordinary citizens like invasion of privacy. Some of it, in fact, probably is. But what can we do about it? It was easier to put up with government spying when the Soviet Uinion existed and a nuclear war beween them and us could quite possibly have destroyed the planet. North Korea seems to dislike us, but they're not on the same scale as the Soviets were.
But the reality is simple: we can't make Obama stop. We can raise the issue at the next election, but we must also ask questions: Do we need spying which invades privacy? Would our country be safe without it?
Thursday, June 13, 2013
A new Washington Post--ABC News poll has some interesting news. Americans lopsidedly oppose race-based college admissions and support same-sex marriage.
Three-quarters of us--76%--oppose letting universities consider race when deciding which students to admit. The Post notes that the Supreme Court is deciding whether the University of Texas at Austin's policy, which allows administrators to consider race in admitting some of its freshman class, is constitutional.
On the question, "do you approve or oppose allowing gay men and lesbians to marry legally?" 57% said yes. Support was strongest among young people; only those over 65 were against. And asked if the government should give legally married gay couples the same benefits as other couples, 63% said yes. Again, those over 65 disagreed.
It's always pleasant to read a poll you agree with. I guess that's why I'm passing this one along to you.
Monday, June 10, 2013
Well, here we go again--stories in the papers about shadowy government groups spying on us, prying into sites like Google and Facebook, listening to our phone calls and reading our e-mails, trying to find out--I guess--which of us is passing along useful or damaging information, depending on where you sit, about the rest of us.
Once upon a time the fear was that spies were leaking good stuff to the Soviet Union, which might have wanted to harm us. But it (the Soviet Union) disappeared. Now? Surely anyone getting secrets from us now would be a lot weaker than the USSR was. George W. Bush liked the spy stuff and gave us the Patriot Act, but it's generally agreed now that as a president he rates somewhere between bad and really bad. Anybody remember why we invaded Iraq? Afghanistan?
Secrets now might be on a neighborhood basis--like who's having an affair with whom? Though why the government should care about that, I do not know. And while I can imagine Richard Nixon caring, Barack Obama? Nah.
I'm going to be calm until the government issues an enemies list as Nixon did. Then I'll join you outside the White House. Till then, I'll be here at home, probably reading a good book or watching a baseball game.