Saturday, December 29, 2007

The messy reality

Since 9/11, we've seen a great increase in security-consciousness. Some of this has led to real security improvements, but much of it to steps that merely present the appearance of security.

Among the latter are those desks in the lobbies of large buildings, where you have to present your license and perhaps even have someone in the building vouch that, indeed, you have an appointment. So if I were a terrorist, all I would have to do is to make an appointment under an assumed name, present fraudulent identification--to security guards with no training in discerning forgeries--then go up to the office where I've made the appointment, ask for the men's room key, leave the bomb there and go back down in the elevator. If I'm willing to commit suicide, it will be even easier.

At Jet Lagged, the NYT blog on air travel, Patrick Smith does a wonderful job of exposing the absurdities of what passes for security in the air. Take a look.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Agents of change

The Democratic race has come down to arguments about which of the leading candidates is the true agent of change, with Obama, Clinton and Edwards fighting over the title.

What seems missing from the coverage is a consideration of what kind of change the contestants propose. If we listen to what they are saying and how they are saying it, we find that each of the leading candidates has a different kind of change in mind.

For Hillary Clinton, change is programmatic: national health insurance, pre-kindergarten for all children, etc., etc. If there is an over-arching vision of the relationship between citizen and government, it's not very apparent. Clinton intends voters to believe that she has learned her lesson from past battles, that she can be more effective as President than she and her husband were in many of the same fights in the 1990s, but the unstated premise is that no basic change in the nature of our politics is required. (Let me add that I believe that Ms. (or is it Mrs.?) Clinton is probably right; for a whole raft of reasons, she probably does have a much better shot at getting large programs like national health insurance through now than Bill did during his two terms.)

John Edwards has been espousing a program that, in most essentials, would have been familiar to populists a century ago. (The old populism contained a racist and nativist streak that is absent from Edwards' liberal version; his platform is reminiscent of Fred Harris' New Populism of 1976.) While Edwards is trying to construct an alliance between middle- and working-class Americans, he is not doing so explicitly, contenting himself mainly with an attack on their common foes: big business and the wealthy. The weakness of this approach is that in America, where classes mix and meld almost imperceptibly, it may be hard to identify all but a few super-rich individuals as the enemy. The failure of populism in America--as of socialism-- has largely grown out of the fact that many of the middle and even working classes have allied themselves with the wealthy. Republicans have had success in using a "culture war" to attain such an alliance, but even without "social issues," many Americans believe that the people at the top deserve their positions, and also that they, themselves, might attain such heights. Back in the early 1970s, I spoke with people who wanted to limit the salaries that corporate executives could get; at that time, $250,000 per year was a fortune. I suggested that the obstacle they faced was that, even if the guy on the line at GM knew he would never be the company president, he was damned if he'd admit that his son couldn't be, and if his son made it, he didn't want the youngster's opportunity to be limited. Edwards does not seem to confront that reality.

Obama's call is for change of yet another sort: he seeks a way out of the sour partisanship that has divided the nation and paralyzed progress. While he has proposed programs that are similar to those of his rivals, the basis of his appeal is not specific proposals--some of which are less liberal than those of Clinton or Edwards--but to the idea that the American project can still work, that Americans can come together for the common good and that problems can be solved without playing one group off against another. In many ways, Obama invokes the spirit of JFK--a President who's most important contribution to the national discourse was to convince Americans that the government was their agent, and that the nation could do great things. Whether Obama can carry out that kind of change if elected is likely to depend as much on the size of the Democratic majority in Congress (both in terms of votes for his programs and as a symbol that political weight has shifted significantly leftward) as on his own qualities.

Which of these varieties of change is best for the nation? I'll leave that for you to judge.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Jew's Christmas

Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year, even though I, as a convinced if not observant Jew, do not accept the divinity of Jesus. Without the birth of the Messiah, what does a Jew find to love about Christmas?

It is, of course, the fact that the holiday involves so much love--love for one's family and love for the human family. Or, to put it in mundane terms, the Christmas spirit. Christmas is a time for thinking of others--the holiday when we learn that it really is better to give than to receive. (After all, when you are giving, you can spend days, weeks, even months [or in the case of a large number of guys, hours] thinking of how much the recipient will enjoy his or her gift. As the recipient, you get to unwrap the gift, look at it and, with the best will you can summon, say, "Oh, just what I wanted! Mittens.")

True, for Jews Christmas day can be an anti-climax, especially if you do not celebrate with Christian friends. On Christmas itself, all of that bothersome theology comes to the fore; it may remind us of the separation from our brothers and sisters that still exists. But I try to hold on to that Christmas spirit just a little longer, and hope that next year we may all be just a bit closer.

And so, to all of our readers--Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Bahai, agnostic, atheist or whatever you faith or lack of faith in which you believe, a heartfelt Merry Christmas!

A thought for the holidays

Last year I suggested this as a thought for the holidays:

Only in America (as they used to say on the Lower East Side) would a Jew wish a Muslim "Merry Christmas!" and both of them smile at the thought.
In a case of life imitating blogs, this from Monday's NYT Metropolitan Diary (the best thing about the paper each week):

One of the perennial joys of the holiday season: the hearty good wishes for a very merry Christmas exchanged as my Jewish husband hands our Muslim doorman his year-end tip. Lisa Anderson

Thursday, December 20, 2007

It depends what you mean by "saw"

Mitt Romney has been telling people that he saw his father, George Romney, at one time Republican governor of Michigan and presidential candidate, march with Martin Luther King in a civil rights march in the Wolverine State. Only trouble is, apparently it didn't happen.

OK, so another political candidate has been caught blowing hot air. So what? I mean, it's not like sons don't make mistakes about things their fathers did 30 or 40 years ago. Mitt could have shrugged his shoulders, said he could have sworn he could remember it, and moved on. Most of us would have though no less of him over the incident. (Especially those of us who could hardly think less of him.)

But what does the Mittster do? In response to questions about the accuracy of his memory, he says that maybe he didn't mean that he literally saw what he said he saw: "If you look at the literature or look at the dictionary, the term 'saw' includes being aware of -- in the sense I've described."

Uh, huh.

Then the clincher: "When we say I saw the Patriots win the World Series, it doesn't necessarily mean you were there."

Memo to Mitt: The Patriots didn't win the World Series. That was the Red Sox. The Pats won the Super Bowl. So,I guess, if Mitt says he saw the Patriots win the World Series, we KNOW he wasn't there.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Campaign strategy

On Sunday's network news, I saw Hillary Clinton commenting on her endorsement by Iowa's leading newspaper, the Des Moines Record. Frankly, I thought that her reaction--she spoke slowly and without drive, and I thought she looked tired--did a lot to undermine the newspaper's pick. (I'm not going to go into the wingnuts' bitching about Hillary's looks; this is not something that's important--not like what the candidate says about an issue--just an observation.)

The Clinton campaign has her on a likeability tour--she's going across Iowa this week, showing her human side. I suppose it's a compliment that she no longer has to prove she's tough enough to be president, but I don't see Rudy or John McCain being called on to show their warm and fuzzy faces.

Selling a personal quality is done by example and demonstration, not by talking about it. As the old adage has it, "When a man tells you how honest he is, keep your hand on your billfold." By presenting the current tour as one designed to show Hillary's humanity, the campaign is actually sending the opposite message. Further, there's the matter of why she feels she needs to do this. Not only is she changing her message in mid-stream, but she runs the risk of validating the fatuous (and sexist) critique that says her human side is vital. If I were her adviser, I'd suggest that she tell the press and the voters, "This is who I am. If you don't like me, don't vote for me. "

Or is this just another example of the New York Senator's problem with genuineness?

While I'm ranting about the Clinton campaign, is it really a good idea for Bill to be so prominent in the campaign? Or does it undermine the message of change that has been his wife's theme recently? Do Democratic voters really want to go back to the '90's? Does having Bill front and center obscure who the candidate is, and is that something the Clinton camp should want? As you can probably tell, I don't think so.

Who is Paul Krugman, and why is he saying all of those terrible things about Barack Obama?

Renowned liberal stalwart and NYT columnist Paul Krugman has written no fewer than three columns trashing Barack Obama's health-care plan, and teed off again on the Illinois senator today, in an interview with TPM Election Central.

What gives?

It's not as if Krugman pretends that there is any great difference among the health-care plans proposed by the Democratic front-runners. As he noted on December 7th: "there is a huge divide between Republicans and Democrats on health care, and the Obama plan — although weaker than the Edwards or Clinton plans — is very much on the Democratic side of that divide."

Krugman is not the only one to assert that Obama's plan, which does not include mandated health care for all, is less comprehensive than the other Democrats. But it's a long stretch from that to concluding, as he did on Monday, that Obama is "the anti-change candidate." And to spend three of his valuable Times platforms attacking Obama is, well, strange.

Is this just a visceral dislike for Obama on Krugman's part? Does he covertly support another Democratic candidate? Either would be legitimate, but ought to be revealed. And Krugman should go on to other subjects.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Obama's new ad

Barack Obama did not get the endorsement of the Des Moines Register, but he's already got an ad running that takes on the candidate who did--without using any names--in part by using the Register's own comments. I don't know if the ad was in the works before the endorsement, but it is a strong answer to what the paper had to say (and also to Paul Krugman's attack on Obama today). Take a look:

Bizarre

TONE does not spend a lot of time critiquing journalism--maybe we should--but this one is too good to let pass by.

MSNBC has a page it calls First Read, which it bills as "The First place for key political news and analysis." A box entitled, "About First Read," leads with, "First Read is an analysis of the day's political news, from the NBC News political unit." So it's not pretending to be a spur-of-the-moment blog.

OK, so this morning, they run a story headed, "Rep. (Steve) King endorses Romney," the first paragraph of the post reads:
And the endorsements keep coming... Congressman Steve King (R), one of Iowa's most strident critics of illegal immigration and a champion of the state's rural conservatives, has endorsed Romney. [Emphasis in original.]
No real news there. Except that when you get to the fourth paragraph you see,
*** UPDATE *** King just announced that he's supporting Thompson. Team Romney is in the back of the room looking bewildered. They were all here, leading all the press to conclude that it was an endorsement for Romney.
Huh? You mean that no one leaked to the press what the Congressman (R-IA) was going to say? Maybe the MSNBC reporter didn't get the phone call. Or did King mistake the Mittster for the guy who really was a TV star? This King--not to be confused with the bombastic Peter King (R-NY)-- is an anti-immigrant ranter, so maybe he meant to endorse Tom Tancredo.

Bizarre.

Is it just me?

I watched two of the networks yesterday (CBS and ABC) to see how they played the Des Moines Register endorsement of Hillary Clinton, and what struck me was Hillary's manner in reacting to the news. She looked and sounded very tired. I don't know if she had something written out, but had trouble reading it, or if she was speaking off the cuff and choosing her words carefully, or whether something else was at work, but she struck me as lacking energy. I even wonder if that video cut could damage her as much as the endorsement might help; for once, she looked and sounded a lot older than Barack Obama and John Edwards, and not in a good way.

As regular readers will know, I do not favor Mrs. Clinton, so I'd be interested to hear the reactions of others who saw her statement.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A great story

The lovely Diane put me on to a great story from the BBC, about a young French woman who came to Britain in 1940, determined to serve the Free French movement and repudiate France's surrender to the Nazis. Take a look.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Too early?

Has Mike Huckabee peaked too early? Hard to believe, with less than 3 weeks to the Iowa caucuses, but when there are a lot of skeletons in your closet, it doesn't take long for some of them to escape into public view. And in the Internet age, an hour is enough for the word to travel around the world. This week, the wonderful Gail Collins, in The NYT, and Dan Payne, in The Boston Globe, zeroed in on Huckabee. The items they write about--especially those involving cupidity and much more ideological rigidity than the former governor has shown on the stump--are very much at variance with the image Huckabee has worked to present.

Will such assaults puncture the Huckabee balloon? If he were a Democrat, I would say certainly, but with Republicans I'm not so sure. Look at it this way: the latest poll of New Hampshire Repubs I've seen gives Mitt Romney a 15-point lead. Now, these Granite Staters get Boston TV stations, see Boston news papers, and many of them work in Massachusetts. If they haven't figured out that the Mittster is a bad joke, it may show that Republicans embody a level of denial never before seen. Which might help to explain a) George W. Bush and b) the looming disaster that the GOP is about to experience.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Least surprising conclusion of the week

From a Concord Monitor story on a new poll that shows Obama with a statistically-insignificant lead over Clinton in New Hampshire:

The poll suggests that the Democratic race could hinge on the turnout of undeclared voters, who aren't registered with either political party.

Duh-uh. The New Hampshire primary always hinges on the undeclared voters. And every four years, we get stories like this one, which pretend to present news. They are perennials, just like the articles that predict the race will get tighter as election day nears.

What is it they say about news? It's not when dog bites man?

(Whenever I hear a commentator or, better yet, the coach asked, "What is the key to this game?", I always hope that the retort will be, "Scoring more points than the other team.")

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Past transgressions

The co-chair of Hillary Clinton's New Hampshire campaign says that Barack Obama's past drug use (in high school, and something he's freely talked about for a long time) will be used by the GOP candidate if Obama is nominated.

That may well be true, but what's getting most attention is that it looks like Hillary is getting desperate. (Perhaps with good reason; a Rasmussen poll has her behind Obama in NH.)

Ironically, the story broke the day after Bush acknowledged that he was addicted to alcohol.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

How strange are they?

A lot of Americans think of Canadians as basically American, but a little different. For most people in the US, Canadians (except for those few with a noticeable French-Canadian accent) speak a variety of English all but indistinguishable from our own. (It is not, actually, indistinguishable, but Americans are famously insensitive to all but the strongest accents.) They like baseball. They play hockey (Americans are often astonished to discover that Canadians INVENTED hockey). They play a variety of football that is instantly recognizable, if slightly different, from ours. They call soccer, well, soccer. They drive cars that look like the ones we drive. Including big SUVs and such. The celebrate Thanksgiving, even if they do schedule it in October.

Every once in a while, however, we get a wake-up call, a reminder that Canada really is a foreign land.

Consider this, from The New York Times: Canadian police have filed criminal charges against Larry O'Brien, the mayor of Ottawa, accusing him of offering a payoff to an opponent if the man would drop a run for office. Now here's the really strange part: "Legal scholars said Mr. O’Brien appeared to be the first mayor in modern Canadian history to face criminal charges related to his office."

HUH?

The tools of sin

Thanks to Barry Roseman of NELA (the National Association of Employment Lawyers) for this one:
"Sin has many tools, but a lie is the handle which fits them all."

Oliver Wendell Holmes

Monday, December 10, 2007

Oprahpalooza

That's what the Obama campaign is calling the whirlwind of appearances by Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey. In toto, 60,000 people saw the duo (with, let's not forget, Obama's dynamic wife, Michelle). In South Carolina there were 30,000 people at the University of South Carolina football stadium--the largest political rally in SC history, at least since Fort Sumter.

I thought that Oprah showed the secret of her authority when she told the audience, "I am not telling you what to think, I am asking you to think about Barack Obama." It is the essential honesty of that appeal that distinguishes her from most of those on talk TV and radio.

The debate over whether Oprah's unique position in American life will translate into votes for Obama is obscuring what is likely to be the most important fact about this weekend's tour: the way it dovetailed with Obama's rise in the polls, and in the nature of the coverage he's been receiving.

Scared yet?

No? Take a look:

The voter has spoken

A comment on TCM Election Central:

I want to be non partisan and just elect a nice person.

So it comes down to Obama or Huckabee.

I am leaning to Huckabee because of his experience. I even have a fem democratic friends who are leaning towards him.

It's a hard choice though.

Restores your faith in democracy, doesn't it?



So, which poll d'you believe?

We're already knee-deep in the presidential silly season. Polls proliferate; you can find a poll that shows Obama ahead in Iowa by more than the margin of error, and one showing Clinton still up by a few points.

And you can find competing polls on whether Hillary Clinton is running the most positive or the most negative campaign.

About all you can't find is a poll that tells us why we should care about whether Hillary's campaign is positive or negative.

Friday, December 07, 2007

What will they do?

The revelation that the CIA destroyed videotapes that may have shown agency employees torturing prisoners (an act that seems to be clear obstruction of justice) ought to raise questions for the presidential candidates.

With thirteen months left in George W. Bush's time in office, it's clear that no movement to impeach him (with or without Deadeye Dick) is going to gather steam. The matter of prosecuting and punishing members of the administration for their apparent crimes will then pass to the new President and his appointees. So each candidate should be asked whether he or she will pledge to investigate high officials of this administration and, if the evidence warrants, prosecuting them for felonies such as obstruction of justice, perjury, conspiracy to commit those crimes, and other serious offenses under United States law.

From a narrow political perspective, Democrats would gain from Republicans dithering on the issue. "A [insert name of Republican candidate here] administration will continue the cover-up," would be a valuable talking point for Democrats. But on a larger scale, if the nation is to recover from the wounds to its essential constitutional fabric and the laws by which we are supposed to be governed, it is essential that the new President move aggressively to prosecute lawbreakers who operated under the cover of high office.

I am one of those people who believe that a person who violates an oath to uphold, protect and defend the Constitution is worse than a mere civilian who violates the law.

And, yes, I know that Bush can pardon his associates (can he pardon himself? an interesting question), but if he does that--a virtual admission of guilt, especially if it is clear that the incoming administration will conduct a thorough investigation--the new President should nonetheless seek to uncover the wrongdoing, so that the public may know the criminal acts that were carried out in its name.

The alternative--to declare that we must heal the wounds done by the Bush administration's mendacity--would not only cover the wrongdoing, but would facilitate further law breaking in the name of policy.

Wrong speech

Turns out, Mitt Romney gave the wrong speech. Instead of talking about Mormonism, of which he did precious little, he should have talked about lawn care and the presidency. Although now it turns out that the painters he hired to refinish his palatial home in Belmont, MA, this fall have been accused of employing unlawful immigrants, and the accusations surfaced as long ago as 2005, when they were on the front page of The Boston Globe. That was while Mitt was playing at being governor of Massachusetts.

Meanwhile, Romney is running TV ads telling voters how he'll get tough in unlawful immigrants.

Mitt Romney should not have felt that he had to give a speech about his religion. While candidates should be free to express faith--or the lack of it--no candidate should feel compelled to talk about the subject, much less to profess a particular faith or strand of faith. The theology in which candidates believe is irrelevant; what counts is what kind of people they are, and how they will behave in office. Romney has shown us what kind of man he is, and it has nothing to do with his faith.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Constitution on trial, again

(This post was begun 0n December 5th, but computer delayed prevented its posting.)

Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Boumediene v. Bush, another case challenging the Bush administration's practice of ignoring the Constitution when it comes to the rights of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay. (I do not meant to suggest that that is the only instance in which this administration ignores the basis for the American government.)

This time, the issue is whether Congress could constitutionally bar the "detainees" from the right of habeas corpus through sleight of hand: not by saying that the right to the Great Writ is withdrawn, but by precluding courts from hearing such claims. It is hard to believe that this can be seriously argued: the Constitution says that Congress may suspend habeas rights only in times of insurrection or invasion. Preventing the courts from hearing cases involving rights is no different, in any meaningful way, from simply denying those rights.

The case for the petitioners--37 detainees--as argued by Seth Waxman. You can hear the argument on Oyez.

The essential point that Waxman made was that if the territory at Guantanamo Bay is not governed by American law, then it is a lawless territory. This is not quite my formulation, which is that the government was created by the Constitution, and thus must act under the Constitution at all times and in all places, but it is close enough for present purposes.

Boumediene is being argued against yet another constitutional outrage: the decision of a military judge that defense lawyers for Omar Ahmed Kahdr may not tell him the identity of some of the witnesses against him. Forget the Sixth Amendment, a model of legal clarity:
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial...and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
But the Constitution does not mean miuch to this administration; it is an inconvenience or, at most, an excuse.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Oops

In the early days of Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update, Gilda Radner's character, Emily Litella, would regale us with a lecture against some perceived evil. Inevitably, she would turn out to have misunderstood a perfectly innocent remark (for instance, "Why is all this attention being paid to Soviet Jewelry?" when it was Soviet Jewry under discussion). At the climactic moment, anchorman Chevy Chase would interrupt to point out her error. To which, Ms. Litella would respond with her trademark, "Never mind."

I thought of Emily Litella yesterday, when the administration had to admit that--what do you know!--as best we can tell, the Iranians are NOT building nuclear weapons, after all.

The latest conclusion raises at least as many questions as it answers: were earlier intelligence estimates ginned up to support administration policy? Is the new estimate a reaction to the political tides that are turning strongly against another military adventure? Given the rampant misconduct of Bush, Cheney & Co. when it comes to national security, how can we trust that this NIE (National Intelligence Estimate) is the unvarnished professional opinion of our intelligence people, and that it was not adjusted for political ends?

And, finally, if this NIE is, indeed, the straight dope, the best judgment of our spies and analysts, what if it is wrong, nonetheless?

Monday, December 03, 2007

Coming apart?

Is the Clinton campaign showing signs of panic? Today, the campaign issued a statement assailing Barack Obama for allegedly saying that he had not been planning to run for President for a long time. What Obama is quoted by the Clinton campaign as saying is that he is "not running to fulfill some long held plans"--a not-very-veiled reference to Hillary Clinton herself (does her campaign really want to remind people of her career path?).

And what does the campaign marshal as evidence? Among the items--I kid you not--is that he told his kindergarten teacher that he wanted to be President. In second grade, he is said to have written an essay in which he wrote "I want to be a president." (The Senator, prescient beyond his years, might have been referring to the presidency of the Harvard Law Review, which he achieved in 1990.)

Then there was the forum in Iowa at which Clinton was booed yesterday--in contrast to the enthusiastic reception given to Edwards, Obama, Dodd and Kucinich.

A far cry from the inevitability mantra that the Clinton campaign was peddling for months, now the New York Senator is failing to show the composure that would be expected of a front-runner or, indeed, a serious contender.

Honestly, now...

...are you surprised?

From AP:

Japanese researchers pitted young chimps against human adults in two tests of short-term memory, and overall, the chimps won.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Ode to electability

Frank Rich has a paean to the electability of Barack Obama.
[M]uch like the Clinton campaign itself, the Republicans have fallen into a trap by continuing to cling to the Hillary-is- inevitable trope. They have not allowed themselves to think the unthinkable — that they might need a Plan B to go up against a candidate who is not she. It’s far from clear that they would remotely know how to construct a Plan B to counter Mr. Obama.
Rich's piece is complimented by a front-page piece in The Times, entitled, "Feminist Pitch by a Democrat Named Obama." Coupled with another poll showing the Illinois senator slightly ahead in Iowa, and one showing Hillary Clinton's lead in New Hampshire shrinking to 7 points, the inevitability of Clinton is yesterday's play book.

Yet even as he lauds Obama, Rich hints at the identity of the most electable Republican: Mike Huckabee.

While there have been reports of ethical problems during Huckabee's tenure in Arkansas, and criticism of his record on taxes from the Club for Growth, the former governor (and former fat man) would present a tough target for the Democrats. For one thing, not having been in Washington, he's not saddled with the baggage of Bush, Cheney & Co. While he is both a political and a Christian conservative, Huckabee seems to be miles away from the smarmy, nasty politics of Karl Rove. While his tax policy is nutty--he wants to do away with the income tax and replace it with a national sales tax--that's not an issue that Democrats want to fight about (it's too likely to revivify the image of tax-and-spend, even if the discussion is about the nature of taxes, not their level). And Huckabee is a nice guy, with a good, and often pointed, sense of humor. For instance, he calls the Club for Growth, the "Club for Greed," which is not only funny, but happens to have the added advantage of being true.

Even as they work on beating each other Democrats should take a little time to think about how to beat Mike Huckabee.

Friday, November 30, 2007

A plug

TONE deals with serious issues--well, most of the time, anyway. But there are serious areas into which we seldom, if ever venture. Such as food.

Fortunately, there are others who do enter such areas. One is Urban Feed, a relatively new blog well worth reading. Take a look!

Uh, oh

From today's Boston Globe:

With Iowa tight, N.H. becoming Clinton's firewall

With Hillary Clinton faltering in polls leading up to the Iowa caucuses, the New Hampshire primary is looming as a possible make-or-break moment for her - in a place where she has most of the party's key endorsements and a sizable lead in the polls, but where a defeat could be devastating.
They don't write that kind of story--especially one on the front page, unless they think the candidate is in deep trouble. (Let's be clear, however: This is not to say that Clinton actually IS in trouble, only that The Globe THINKS she is.)

The many sides of Rudy Giuliani

Who is Rudy Giuliani? Is he the statesmanlike leader portrayed in his TV spots? (You can see one on his website, here.) Is he the thoughtful commentator on immigration whom David Brooks profiled as saying in a 1996 speech, “I’m pleased to be with you this evening to talk about the anti-immigrant movement in America, and why I believe this movement endangers the single most important reason for American greatness, namely, the renewal, reformation and reawakening that’s provided by the continuous flow of immigrants?”

Or is he the Rudy who proposes a single biometric ID card for all foreigners entering the US (boy, would that cause problems for New York merchants who are making millions and millions off European tourists using the weak dollar in wild shopping sprees)? And the Rudy who would require all immigrants to read and write English? (A study by the Pew Center shows that the overwhelming majority of children of Hispanic immigrants learn fluent English.)

Is he the Rudy who speaks with authority, citing statistics to prove that he turned New York City from the brink of disaster? Or the Rudy whose statistics are wrong, time after time?

Is he the Rudy who reduced crime in New York, or the Rudy who provided a police car and a driver for his mistress (now third wife), Judith Nathan?

And if we can't figure out which of these Rudy's is the real one, or if he's more than one of them, how can he make a claim to the highest office in the land?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The silent majority

We old-timers can remember when Dick Nixon used the "silent majority" as a means of appealing to all those who felt ignored by the prevailing social and political movements of the 1960's. In part, this was an attempt to cozy up to unreconstructed segregationists without being labeled a racist himself. But it was also a way to speak to people who felt that protests against the Vietnam War were unpatriotic and that our military deserved respect--which, all too often, it did not get from anti-war protesters. And to those who believed that the "War on Poverty" and other social programs favored the [implicitly undeserving] poor while the middle-class was ignored. There was also that very substantial fraction of Americans--perhaps an actual majority--who rejected the mores of the drug culture and the sexual revolution. The members of Nixon's "silent majority" were not homogeneous, although many of the elements overlapped; they were united, however, in feeling left out.

In a very different era, Democrats should reach out to a new silent majority. I am put in mind of this by two pieces: one, an article on The Huffington Post by Bill Curry, suggesting that Republicans still set the agenda, the second, the wonderful Gail Collins' column on the GOPher YouTube debate.

One place for Democrats to invoke the silent majority is in the immigration debate. Unless Republicans have a sudden attack of good sense and nominate John McCain or Mike Huckaby (probably the most dangerous potential nominee for Democrats, but that will be the subject of a later post), the GOP is going to get very nasty on the subject. And the media, which loves nastiness and simple slogans, will play along.

The truth is that immigration, like health care, is a very complicated subject. But good sense on such subjects (health care is another) is easily overridden by simple slogans. To counter this tendency, Democrats must appeal to the majority of Americans who don't mouth off on immigration, but who, although they may not be able to enunciate their position in a few words, know that the issue is complex.

I envision a Democratic candidate speaking along these lines: "Most Americans know that the vast majority of undocumented immigrants are not drug dealers or terrorists, but poor people who need to feed their families. Most Americans know that undocumented immigrants take on some of the hardest, least-rewarding and worst-paid jobs in America. Most Americans know that even while on one hand we said that those undocumented immigrants were breaking our laws, we welcomed and encouraged them with the other--welcomed them to do the jobs we didn't want to do, and to the jobs we wanted done cheaply. And most Americans know that we simply cannot round up the twelve million or more undocumented immigrants and simply ship them out of our country.

"Now, knowing that, what should we do? [Follow with the candidate's prescription for a tough-but-fair policy.]"

The same can be true for the health-care debate. "Most Americans know..."

What's needed is not to dumb-down the message, but to counter the sense that the people with the simple slogans represent the feelings of most Americans. To do that will require resolution and repetition: Nixon did not invoke the silent majority once; he used it every day during the campaign. Democrats need to do the same.

This approach should be easy for Democrats: we have been giving vent to the feelings of the unheard for well over a century.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Least surprising headline of the week:

Hospital fined for wrong-side surgery

Shouldn't that be obvious?

What IS surprising is the rest of the story, which begins:
Rhode Island Hospital was fined $50,000 and reprimanded by the state Department of Health Monday after its third instance this year of a doctor performing brain surgery in the wrong side of a patient's head.
Third time? THIRD time???? In neurosurgery???? I'm not a doctor, but shouldn't it be pretty easy to tell one side of the brain from the other? And if it's not, shouldn't it be clearly marked on the X-rays, CT scans or whatever else the surgeon is using as a guide? And the hospital was fined $50,000 for the THIRD mistaken surgery? Shouldn't it have been $500,000, or $5 million, so they get the message?

Seems to me, a bunch of people need to get their heads examined.

Monday, November 26, 2007

What's the real story?

David Yepsen, the acknowledged dean of Iowa political writers, suggests that John Edwards' campaign is near collapse, and that Hillary Clinton's is flat. This report may have real weight, with other reporters who respect Yepsen and may be affected by his view of the campaign, and with voters, who may drift away--or not pay as much attention to--a candidate who seems to have no chance of winning.

Is Yepsen's opinion good news for us who support Barack Obama, Bill Richardson or the rest? Perhaps, but is it really news at all? Shouldn't the campaigns be focusing on getting the message out, and shouldn't the public concentrate on what the candidates stand for? Mark Helperin, edit0r-at-large and senior political analyst for Time explains how he got distracted from what matters. Others covering the campaigns, take note.

Really, shouldn't this inside-baseball be reserved for bar-talk among reporters at the end of a long day on the trail?

Loathesome behavior

You have probably seen or heard about the tussle between Rudy and the Mittster over the former Massachusetts inmate, set free by a judge whom Romney appointed, who then moved to Washington state, where he murdered a newlywed couple. (Apparently, the accused has confessed.) The argument has displayed the worst features of both men, and that's saying a LOT.

Kevin Cullen, of The Boston Globe has a particularly good take on this sorry spectacle of how degraded our public debate has become, at least on the GOP side.

Quotas?

Remember when the threat of "quotas" (illusory ones, at that) were a rallying point for GOPhers?

Josh Marshall makes a good case that Mitt Romney believes in quotas. Take a look.

The high cost of health care

The New York Times had a terrific editorial on the health care crisis. Aside from the fact that it will be read by many people, the piece's greatest contribution to the debate may be that it makes clear how complicated and deep-seated the problems are.

This is the kind of issue that presents a challenge to the democratic process, at least as it is presently practiced in the United States. In a former age, when Democrats and Republicans could work together on important matters, we might have seen a coalition of congressmen and/or senators from the two parties getting together to hammer out a compromise program that recognized the legitimate concerns of the different interests and belief systems engaged in the debate.

Can that happen today? The S-chip debacle is both encouraging and a lesson on how hard progress is. The bills that emerged from committees in the House and Senate were the products of broad bipartisan consensus unseen for well over a decade. On the other hand, the inability to obtain a sufficient majority to enact the legislation--and the willingness of GOP House members to accept even a compromise that met their stated objections to the original bill--for a relatively simple piece of the health-care puzzle does not bode well for progress on the far larger and more complex challenge of providing comprehensive health care to 300 million Americans.

True, the prospect of replacing George W. Bush with a Democrat gives hope that the nation can finally make progress on this vital issue, but even if that occurs, a comprehensive national health policy that assures coverage for all Americans is by no means assured.

We won't have Trent Lott to kick around any more

Just musing, but did Trent Lott announce his resignation from the Senate because someone has been looking deeper into Deborah Jean Palfrey's little black book?

Friday, November 23, 2007

What it's really all about

Bill Moyers on FDR as he accepted an award from the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute:

[My father] voted for Franklin Roosevelt in four straight elections, and he would have gone on voting for him until kingdom come if both had lived that long. I once asked him why, and he said, "Because the President's my friend." Now, my father never met FDR. No politician ever paid him much note, but he was sure he had a friend in the White House during the worst years of his life. When by pure chance I wound up working there many years later, and my parents came for a visit, my father wanted to see the Roosevelt Room. I don't know quite how to explain it, except that my father knew who was on his side and who wasn't, and for twelve years he had no doubt where FDR stood. The first time I remember him with tears in his eyes was when Roosevelt died.


Read the whole speech here. (Go ahead; it's not very long and you'll find your time well rewarded. In fact, you'll probably wish it were longer.)

Far-way melting pot

The veteran foreign correspondent C.J. Chivers describes an advanced base in Afghanistan, where Americans born in Turkey, Peru, Puerto Rico, the Soviet Union (when it still was) and West Virginia celebrated Thanksgiving yesterday. Oh and there were five French mountain soldiers, a member of the Foreign Legion and soldiers of the Afghan army.

When my cynicism level rises, it's good to remember that there are people who still believe in the promise of America enough to die for it.

More inside baseball

On October 30, an American Research Group poll had Clinton ahead of Obama in South Carolina by a margin of 41 to 19 percent. On November 21, SurveyUSA had Clinton with 47 percent and Obama at 33 percent. The fact that the two polls were by different organizations makes direct comparison a bit dicey--watch polls from a particular organization and you'll notice trends. For instance, Bush's popularity rating is likely to be consistently a few points higher in some polls than in others. That being said, the narrowing of the race in South Carolina is probably real, and mirrors perceptions from most of the rest of the country.

Before you reach any conclusion, however, note that a November 1 survey from Winthrop University (I don't know anything about this organization) had the race as Clinton 33, Obama 23.

All of these polls show bad news for John Edwards, who is running a poor third in a state that borders his home in North Carolina.

Perhaps the most important statistic is that the South Carolina primary takes place on January 29th, almost four weeks after the Iowa caucuses and three weeks following New Hampshire.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanks

As I get ready to watch meaningless (to me) football games, take a nap and cook Thanksgiving dinner for the lovely Diane, the kitties and me, I'd like to say thanks to people who don't get to take the day off, people who give up part or maybe all of the holiday.

Top of the list are the soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen who serve our country all over the world, and who are on duty today. We may abhor the job some of them have been sent to do, but we should all thank them for their service.

Then there are the police officers and firefighters who guard us every day. And people who keep buses and trains running, even on holidays. Toll takers who sit in their booths and keep them open for travelers going to and from holiday dinners. Don't forget those in gas stations, making sure that you won't run out, and the people who handle two trucks if you do, or have a breakdown.

Workers in hospitals and nursing homes can't take the day off, either. They deserve our thanks every day, so let's think of them on this one.

Don't forget the people who keep TV and radio on the air, and those who keep ISPs and websites in business; this message wouldn't get to you without them. Newspaper people are working too, getting tomorrow's edition ready.

And remember that there's always news, and reporters have to work every day.

Thousands of restaurants, from fast food to haute cuisine are open today. Their employees give up part of their day to serve dinner to us--and breakfast and supper and snacks, too.

And to all the people I've forgotten, thank you on this Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Justices to consider Second Amendment

In June, I put up a short post about a blog I had come across--one authored by what I think I might fairly call a gun enthusiast. It generated more comments than any post since this rag first hit the 'net. Let's see what happens with this one:

The Supreme Court has announced that it will consider an appeal from a decision of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that struck down a D.C. gun-control ordinance. The ordinance is one of the strongest gun-control laws in the country, and the Supreme Court is widely expected to offer a definitive interpretation of the Second Amendment, something it has ducked for many decades.

(A word here on definitive interpretations by the Supreme Court: As Justice Jackson put it, "We are not final because we are infallible. We are infallible, because we are final.")

The Second Amendment is a model of brevity that manages also to be opaque. It reads:

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Leaving aside the questionable punctuation--Eighteenth Century writers did not follow what we would consider rules of grammar--it seems clear that the right to keep and bear arms was bound up in the maintenance of a militia. If it were not, the initial phrase--that a militia is essential to a free nation--would be irrelevant. Rules of interpretation hold that no word in a constitutional or statutory provision should be considered surplus where a reasonable meaning can be gleaned from the text, so that phrase should not be construed as a mere prefix. (From what we read of Eighteenth Century militias--the Minutemen being the most famous example--the term "well-regulated" may have been either a sop to the states or an admonition; it seems not to have been a description.)

A little history here: The colonists had hated and feared the British Army, which they regarded as the principal arm of kingly oppression. They resolved to avoid that evil in the new nation, and at one point the entire United States Army consisted of fewer than 100 officers and enlisted men. The primary defense against foreign invasion or Indian attacks (the Indians were always seen as the attackers, not as defending their homes, but that's another story) was the militia, organized by the states and called into national service in time of war. This system, such as it was, persisted until the Civil War.

The militias were not standing armies in state clothes; they consisted of virtually all able-bodied men, who were liable to call-up in times of emergency, and who brought their own weapons from home; not until much later did states provide arms. The Swiss army is somewhat like that even today. The ideal of the citizen-soldier was deeply embedded in the new republic; it was both a symbol and a concrete expression of how different the United States was from the British monarchy, with its standing army ready to trample the rights of the free-born.

It is also important that the Bill of Rights protected citizens against the federal government, not the states. Despite the establishment clause of the First Amendment, for instance, many states had established churches for decades after the Constitution was adopted.

From this, I deduce that the Second Amendment was meant to protect the right to bear arms against intrusion by the federal government, and indirectly to protect the states and their militias, as a guard both against foreign invasion and against overbearing forces from the federal government. The people's right to bear arms, as set out in the Amendment, was, then, not intended to keep states from making at least reasonable restrictions on what weapons civilians might possess.

(If one believes that the Second Amendment protects the individual's right to possess weapons, then it becomes necessary to ask if my neighbor can own a tank or a fighter plane. No one--at least no rational person so far as I am aware--believes in that much freedom to own weapons, but if the Second Amendment does not allow Congress, or at least the states, to enact controls, where does the line lie, and where is it found in the Constitution?)





Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Are they insulting or "just" incompetent

Radio station KDKA, in Pittsburgh reports that wounded soldiers who are unable to complete their military commitments are being dunned to return part of the bonuses they got for signing up.

Do we want people who are so stupid and insensitive in charge of dangerous weapons? Let alone depending on them for our national security.

More on voter ID laws

As we told you last week, new data supports the belief that voter ID laws are really meant to suppress voters likely to support Democrats. Now there's a report from Florida that black voters were 6 1/2 times as likely as whites to be rejected by computer programs supposed to match voter applications with public records. Hispanic citizens were 7 times more likely to be rejected than blacks.

For years, we've been arguing that people who don't believe in government shouldn't run for office. Now we're going to expand that to say that people who don't believe in democracy shouldn't participate in elections.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Back to the game

Among the political cognoscenti, Barack Obama was widely seen as having waffled in front of Hillary Clinton's aggressive performance at last week's Las Vegas debate. Over the weekend, he got drawn into a tussle with the Clinton campaign in which he appears to have been used as a stalking horse in a scheme that employed Robert Novak--the man who outed Valerie Plame--to shop a fake story that the Clinton people had some scandalous info on Obama, but were holding it back. Obama fell into the trap and demanded that Hillary's people put up or shut up, getting some satisfaction by being able to say that it took three tries before the Clinton campaign said flatly that there was no damaging material. All in all, not a good week for the senator from Illinois when people question whether he's got the experience to be President.

But it's always darkest before they turn on the light, as Cole Porter had it. According to The Washington Post, Obama has moved ahead of Clinton in Iowa, receiving favor from 30 percent of "likely caucus voters," a shadowy category, to 26 percent for Hillary and 22 percent for John Edwards.

It's early, of course, and the poll shows the race still close, but coupled with other reports in the past couple of weeks, it looks like Clinton's aura of inevitability has been dented, perhaps badly. The challenge for her is to give voters another reason to support her. She's got time to do that in Iowa, and more time elsewhere, but she appears to be more vulnerable now than at any time in the past six months.

How important is "inevitability" or, perhaps more significant, how important is it if the aura has passed? We may find out in the next six weeks. Hillary has a very good organization and lots of dollars. She can run on more than just being the presumptive nominee. I saw one of her ads here in Boston yesterday (the Boston stations cover NH), and it was quite good, if not ground-breaking and filled with generalities--kind of like her campaign, but don't sell it short.

It seems to me that John Edwards is the one who's got to be worried: Iowa is pretty much win-or-go-home for his campaign, and he's now behind Obama at the outside edge of the margin of error, at least in this one poll. If other surveys show him losing ground, some of his voters are going to shift away from him for that reason; people don't like to feel that they are wasting their votes. I think most of those who drift away from Edwards (if it happens) will go to Obama if they go to the caucuses at all, but no one can say at this point.

I've noted that the media are also starting to pay attention to the second-chance votes--in Iowa, if your candidate gets less than 15% in the first vote, you get to vote again. Obama seems to be the second choice of more people than Clinton, at this stage, and commentators are noting that as a possible source of strength for him in the final results.

Interesting to see how the press plays the polls. The Post headlines, "For Democrats, Iowa Still Up for Grabs," while The Times reports the poll by saying, "The [WAPO] poll showed a statistical tie..." Maybe, but I'd rather be four points ahead than four points behind. Ah well, as the politicians always say--and sometimes mean--there's only one poll that counts.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Clinton news network

I turned the TV off after last night's debate, but those who left theirs on CNN got a panel including David Gergen, J.C. Watts (formerly the GOP's token black congressman) and James Carville. Gergen and Carville's work for the [Bill] Clinton White House were noted, but somehow it never slipped out that Carville is currently an adviser to [Hillary] Clinton's campaign.

During the discussion, Carville said good things about Clinton's performance, while he criticized Barack Obama's.

The discussion clearly involved the expression of opinions, or what Sprio Agnew used to call "instant analysis and querulous criticism," but shouldn't the audience know that one of the panelists had a horse in the race?

Diamonds and pearls

If you saw last night's debate, you may have noticed that the last question came from a young student at UNLV (the school that hosted the event), who asked Hillary Clinton if she preferred diamonds or pearls. (Mrs. Clinton, noting that she had been criticized for not making up her mind, said, "Both!") The other candidates--all male--jumped in with their responses to this sexist question, which they had to call out over Wolf Blitzer bringing the event to a close. I think I heard Obama show decisiveness by saying "Diamonds!"

Turns out that the young woman was forced to ask the question by CNN. (Forced being, in this connection, an elastic term; no one held a gun to her head.)

If I were asked the question, I'd have to say "Pearls." You see, in Hebrew, my name means "pearl."

Electability

Here's an interesting series of polls. In Iowa, SurveyUSA has released results from the following head-to head match-ups:

Clinton 47%
Giuliani 43%

Clinton 49%
Romney 43%

Clinton 49%
Huckabee 43%

Clinton 44%
McCain 48%

Obama 52%
Giuliani 39%

Obama 53%
Romney 39%

Obama 56%
Huckabee 35%

Obama 50%
McCain 42%

The margin of error for these polls was +/- 4.2 or 4.3 percent.

What the surveys show is that--at least in Iowa at this moment--Barack Obama is more electable than Hillary Clinton. Indeed, in each survey in which Clinton leads, the results are within the margin of error. In Obama's case, however, only against McCain--who beats Hillary in the poll between them--do the results come within the margin of error, and then just barely.

It's also interesting, though perhaps not significant, that Clinton does not reach 50% in any of the match-ups. (Note, too, that none of the Repubs gets 50%.)

These are only snapshots, almost a year before Election Day. But they are interesting.

Bin Laden's tour

I haven't posted much the past few days, because I've been spending my evenings at Town Meeting. My town has almost 60,000 inhabitants, so our Town Meeting members are elected. I was recently "caucused-in" to replace a member who resigned.

From time to time, I've thought of what I'd like Osama bin Laden and his henchmen to see, if by some chance I were to capture them. A New England town meeting is one of the sights they should certainly witness. Let them watch as citizens spend hours of their time discussing local zoning, budget and other issues. Boring? You bet. (Bin Laden's counsel might argue that having to sit through a town meeting violates the Eighth Amendment.) But valuable nonetheless.

I'd also like bin Laden and his gang go to a school committee meeting. And especially to witness a local election. I want them to see citizens volunteering their time to work all day that the polls. I want them to talk to candidates for offices that pay nothing, in salary or graft, who spend all day greeting voters, seeking the privilege to spend evenings at Town Meeting.

If, as I expect, I run for re-election next spring, I'll be out there in the cold (the election is early in May, but it's always cold on election day), missing a day from work and asking for votes so that I can spend more long nights in the high-school auditorium debating local issues with my fellow citizens.

If the people who hate us for who we are could and would take the time to watch the workings of American democracy, they might or might not like us better. But at least, I think, they would begin to realize what they are up against, and to understand that they can never win a struggle with the American people.

Now a struggle with our leaders--that might be a different story.

Krugman tags Obama

Paul Krugman hammers Barack Obama for saying that there's a Social Security Crisis. Although this page favors Obama for President, Krugman is right on this one, and Obama wrong. The "crisis" has largely been the creature of Repubs who want to tear down the Social Security system as we know it.

I saw only about half of last night's debate, but I did tune in in time to hear Obama make it clear that the real crisis is financing health care, a much greater problem than Social Security. So maybe he's learning.

(In today's column, Krugman repeats an observation he's made before--that what passes for "bipartisanship" today is code for giving in to the Right. Indeed, the attitude of most on the right has paralleled JFK's description of Nikolai Khruschev's negotiating position: "What's mine is mine and what's yours is negotiable." On the other hand, as Joe Biden noted last night, that's changing. We've seen in Congress that more and more Repubs--scared by W's extremism and/or the 2008 elections--are moving toward a real center.)

Voter ID's, what's really going on

A paper by three professors from the University of Washington, UC Irvine and the University of New Mexico examines the effect of Indiana's voter-ID law, the strictest in the nation. The authors conclude that "voter identification laws in Indiana do disenfranchise many citizens who are entitled to full voting rights."

Given that the argument in favor of ID laws is that they will prevent fraud, coupled with the fact that there have been few allegations of fraud with any merit, the study's finding should be sufficient to show that Indiana's law violates the Constitution.

As I suspect most of you know, that is not the end of the story. Voter ID laws are not pushed by disinterested members of the public who champion good government. They are the almost-exclusive province of Republicans.

The study's authors conclude that:
Institutional burdens to participating have long been established to have the largest impact on individuals who have fewer resources, less education, smaller social networks and are more institutionally isolated. Increasing barriers to voting are likely to have the largest impact on these groups, and we find strong evidence to support our thesis that strict voter identification laws would substantially affect those groups negatively.
Who are in the groups negatively affected? Older people. Ethnic minorities. Marginal workers. All groups who vote mainly for Democratic candidates. And that's what it's all about: not stopping vote fraud, but stopping Democrats. As many observers have pointed out, if Florida had not wrongly disenfranchised thousands and thousands of black voters in 2000, we would never have heard of hanging chads, and Al Gore would never have won the Nobel Prize. Or if he had, it would have been for his work as President.

Repubs should be ashamed of themselves for participating in a movement designed to undercut the foundation of our democracy. But shame has long been a stranger in their ranks.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

WOW!

Roger Cohen on Barack Obama:
If the globe can’t vote next November, it can find itself in Obama. Troubled by the violent chasm between the West and the Islamic world? Obama seems to bridge it. Disturbed by the gulf between rich and poor that globalization spurs? Obama, the African-American, gets it: the South Side of Chicago is the South Side of the world.
What a rave! Obama's people will be sending this one around for months. At least to areas where being attractive to people of other nations is not considered a bad thing.

OUCH!

From today's NY Times:
Political analysts say Mrs. Clinton’s two rivals have not been especially ruthless — pointing out differences on Social Security or Iran, for example, rather than trying to stoke the concerns about Mrs. Clinton that some Democrats have had since the 1990s....

“Edwards and Obama are still waltzing around her rather than hitting on doubts about her that would really resonate with voters,” said Ross K. Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers University.

“One absolutely devastating accusation that could resonate is that she is gullible — she bought into two false story lines, one from her husband about Monica Lewinski and one from President Bush about Iraq,” Mr. Baker added.

Fortunately, none of the Repub candidates (except Ron Paul) could use that last one against Mrs. Clinton.



Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What's HE doing there?

Michael Mukasey was sworn in as Attorney-General in a small ceremony last Friday. Today, he is to take the oath of office again, this time in a public rite, in front of hundreds of Justice Department employees. The oath will be delivered by none other than the Chief Justice, John Roberts. The President will also attend, and deliver some well-chosen remarks. Or, some not-so-well-chosen words.

There's no need for this folderol. Calvin Coolidge, on learning of the demise of Warren G. Harding, took the oath of office from his father, a local judge, in the front room of his family's home in Vermont. That was all the inauguration he got, until elected in his own right in 1924. Lyndon Johnson, as we know from the famous photo, was sworn in on Air Force One, just after President Kennedy was pronounced dead.

Mukasey's most important job, to the country, if not to the administration, is to restore confidence in the independence and professionalism of the Justice Department. To that end, having W attend his public swearing-in is not a good idea.

But what's the Chief Justice doing there? Isn't he lending his imprimatur to a partisan event--sponsored by this most partisan of administrations? And isn't it just a teensy bit unseemly for him to be presiding over the installation of the top guy at what is, in effect, the largest law firm, working for the most powerful and most frequent party in cases to come before the high court? The rules of ethics say that a judge should not give even the appearance of impropriety. I'm not sure that the Chief Justice is doing that, but it's not an event that will add lustre to him or his office.

Monday, November 12, 2007

A good time was had by all

All 9,000 Iowa Democrats who showed up for the party's annual Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner in Des Moines. Given that the number of caucus voters in the state is likely to be in the 100,000 -125,000 people, that means that a significant percentage of them were there to see six of the Democratic candidates. (Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich were not invited, because the state party deems them not to be actively campaigning in Iowa.)

David Yepson, of the Des Moines Register, the dean of Iowa political reporters, concluded that five of the Democrats "gave really good speeches. Barack Obama's was excellent." According to Yepsen, Obama's performance should help him close the gap with Hillary Clinton, who leads by a significantly insignificant percentage over Obama and John Edwards.

I did not see Clinton's or Obama's speeches live on Saturday night. They were last on the speakers' list (drawn by lot) and when they started introducing Sen. Tom Harken (D-IA) at 11:30, I gave up and went to bed, knowing that I'd be awake at 5:30 the next morning. (Don't get me wrong; I like Tom Harken. I worked for him when the ran for president in '92.)

Fortunately for those of us who could not stay up late enough, or who did something else on Saturday night, most of the campaigns have posted the speeches on the 'net. I've put Edwards' Clinton's (as much as I could find of it) and Obama's below. If you haven't made up your mind, or even if you have, take a look at them.

John Edwards, who started off the evening, gave a fiery address.



Chris Dodd gave a good speech; I'm not pasting it in here, because I'm afraid that he's got no chance, but if you want to see it, look here.

The Clinton campaign posted only a 55-second clip of Hillary's peroration:




I really urge you to take a few minutes to watch Obama's speech. I think he hit a home run--not just in his words and tone, but in fitting the speech to the moment. As the Iowa campaign heads into the stretch run, he responded with a top-level performance. In politics and governing, as in sports, rising to the occasion is an invaluable talent. Hear and see for yourself:

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The freedom platform

Frank Rich on Pakistan and Bush's silent coup at home--and implicitly setting out a freedom platform for the Democratic Party.

Democracy and diversity

Some of us haven't forgiven Tom Friedman for supporting the Iraq war, and we've noticed that, no matter how ferocious his criticism of the war has been, he has never admitted that he was wrong. That being said, Friedman has a terrific column today, on the need for diversity--what used to be called tolerance--in the Muslim world. Great quote:
[D]emocracy is not about majority rule; it is about minority rights. If there is no culture of not simply tolerating minorities, but actually treating them with equal rights, real democracy can’t take root.
This is a key point and it helps to explain cases--such as in Venezuela--where democratic mechanisms have been used to install authoritarian regimes, or worse. And, although Friedman does not acknowledge it, the reasoning applies fully to Iraq.

Clarity on Mukasey

The New York Times lead editorial today is a blistering attack on the failure of Democrats to stand up to President Bush on Iraq--and most everything else. It is particularly strong on New York Senator Charles Schumer's capitulation on the Mukasey nomination.

Senator Charles Schumer, the New York Democrat who turned the tide for this nomination, said that if the Senate did not approve Mr. Mukasey, the president would get by with an interim appointment who would be under the sway of “the extreme ideology of Vice President Dick Cheney.” He argued that Mr. Mukasey could be counted on to reverse the politicization of the Justice Department that occurred under Alberto Gonzales, and that Mr. Mukasey’s reticence about calling waterboarding illegal might well become moot, because the Senate was considering a law making clear that it is illegal.

That is precisely the sort of cozy rationalization that Mr. Schumer and his colleagues have used so many times to back down from a confrontation with Mr. Bush. The truth is, Mr. Mukasey is already in the grip of that “extreme ideology.” If he were not, he could have answered the question about waterboarding.

One of the reasons that Schumer gave for confirming Mukasey is that he will reinstitute professionalism in the Justice Department. But if Judge Mukasey is a truly principled lawyer, why did he agree to serve an administration so riven with corruption, and if he were going to stand up for independence in the Department, why was he unwilling to speak the truth about torture?


Friday, November 09, 2007

How desperate are they?

Take a look at how CNN edited (to be polite) Nancy Pelosi to make a pre-determined point.



This is the kind of disgraceful "journalism" we would have expected from Fox, but obviously CNN has dived into the tank, too.

The thing is, we can expect Fox to be spewing right-wing filth even after the next election, but I'd bet that CNN will be toeing a new line with Democrats dominant in Washington in 2009.

Protect our children!

As if videogames haven't brought us enough sex and violence, along comes BIBLEMAN. Yes, a series of DVDs based on the Bible!

When you realize how much sex (all that begetting and begatting!), immorality (polygamy, adultery and treachery, not to mention Sodom and Gomorrah), and plain old-fashioned violence there is in the Good Book, you realize just how pernicious this series is. It's put out by an organization that calls itself Family Christian Stores, but that name's nothing but a hustle. Obviously it's just a front for the DEVIL!

Science

Bill Maher: New rule: Republicans must say whether the fact that the days are getting shorter is evidence that the Earth moves around the Sun.

Where have they been?

“We are experiencing among our clients an awakening that the United States is in big trouble,” said Erik Nielsen, chief Europe economist at Goldman Sachs.

The New York Times, 11/8/07, p. 1

Ben. S. Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, told Congress on Thursday that the economy was going to get worse before it got better, a message that received a chilly reception from both Wall Street and politicians.

The New York Times, 11/9/07, p. 1

Have the professionals just awakened to what millions of Americans have known for the past couple of years--or longer--or have they just realized that they can't sell their bill of goods any more?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Truth telling

In case you didn't see it, here's Keith Olbermann's latest exposition on George W. Bush and torture. Many accuse Olbermann of ranting, but what he really does is speak the truth without varnish.


video

Two nuts in a pod

Pat Robertson has endorsed Rudy, a development that has surprised pundits, because the two disagree on so many issues. But they are alike in one way: they're both nuts.

Robertson's move won't mean much, however, because former Repub non-contender Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) has decided to back John McCain (R-AZ). That will put McCain over the top.

(A more thoughtful analysis of the odd alliance of Giuliani and Robertson appears on The Huffington Post, in a piece by Trevor Neilson, to wit:

Giuliani is a presidential candidate because people liked how he looked after September 11th.

Robertson said that Americans deserved what happened on September 11th because "We have sinned against Almighty God, at the highest level of our government, we've stuck our finger in your eye."

Giuliani is known to enjoy dressing up as a woman in drag -- and has done so in public and on national television.

Robertson once called for a ban on Halloween, saying "I think we ought to close Halloween down. Do you want your children to dress up as witches? The Druids used to dress up like this when they were doing human sacrifice."

Giuliani is pro-choice and made personal donations to Planned Parenthood throughout the 90's.

Robertson has said that Planned Parenthood "is teaching kids to fornicate, teaching people to have adultery, every kind of bestiality, homosexuality, lesbianism -- everything that the Bible condemns."

Take a look at the whole piece here.)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Be on the lookout

FBI agents in the Bay Area tried to uncover Iranian agents by looking at sales of felafel at grocery stores (together with other date--presumably, the movement of humus, baba ganoush and halvah).

Credit to Michael A. Mason, head of the Bureau's criminal investigations, who quickly figured out that the project was harebrained. Oh, and likely illegal.

And we wonder why Osama bin Forgotten is still on the lam. (Or lamb.)

Have another helping

Maybe you can't be too rich, but you CAN be too thin. Turns out, according to a report from the CDC and the National Cancer Institute, that being overweight lowers the risk of dying from a whole panoply of diseases when compared to people who are underweight. The diseases showing significant levels of reduced risk include Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and lung disease; contrary to what you might think--contrary to what I would have thought--death rates for coronary heart disease (is there any other kind of heart disease?) and other cardiovascular causes are also lower among overweight people.

Push yourself away from the table before that third helping, however. Being obese WILL much increase your chances of premature death.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A uniter, not a divider

Where have I heard that before?

Barack Obama is showing unexpected strength--among Republicans.

(I wonder if there are Democrats for Mitt out there.)

No brainer

MIT has sued noted architect Frank Gehry over a $300 million building that he designed for the campus. This should not be a surprise. The building, which was constructed in 2003-04, is falling down already. Take a look:

Countdown

1 year. 12 months. 364 days. 8751 hours. To the 2008 election. (Based on Eastern Standard Time.)

Just thought you might like to know.

Amen, brother

Letter to the Editor in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Theodore Roosevelt gave us the Square Deal, Franklin Roosevelt the New Deal, and Harry Truman the Fair Deal. George W. Bush's presidency should be remembered in history as the Ordeal.

Interesting fact

I bet you didn't know that more Jews sought refuge from Arab nations in 1948 (the year Israel was founded) than the number of Palestinians to left Israeli territory in 1948 and 1949. Indeed, many more Jews than Palestinians became refugees in that year. According to the United Nations, 856,000 Jews left Arab nations in 1948, while 710,000 Palestinians what became Israel.

In citing these figures I do not mean to suggest that there should was a simple population exchange, that after 60 years people should be satisfied and that all the claims back and forth be silenced. Some of those Jewish refugees went to nations other than Israel, but those who did go to the new state were going to a Jewish homeland, which most Jews had dreamt of for decades, even centuries. The Palestinians, on the other hand, left their homes and their homeland (although the notion of such a homeland seems to have developed later).

Then, too, the policies of the countries to which the refugees moved were vastly different. Israel welcomed the influx of Jews; faced with hostile Arab nations on all sides, the task of absorbing the new arrivals strained resources, but they provided valuable reinforcements. The Arab nations around Israel--principally Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt--preferred to keep the Palestinians separate, and offered virtually no chance to become part of the local social fabric. That is why there are still Palestinian "refugee camps" six decades after Israel's founding. That policy victimized the Palestinians, but it also allowed the Arab nations to cultivate irredentist fantasies which masked many of their failures of governance.

What does all this mean for the Middle East today? I don't know. On the other hand, the more we know about the past, the better chance we have for the future.

Monday, November 05, 2007

A Democratic Hallowe'en party

With a surprise guest

Awww, does it hurt much?

After its candidate got caught in a cross-fire from her Democratic rivals in a debate last week, the Clinton campaign started boo-hooing about how the guys were all ganging up on her. Geraldine Ferraro, the party's 1984 Vice-Presidential nominee, said "“It’s O.K. in this country to be sexist. It’s certainly not O.K. to be racist. I think if Barack Obama had been attacked for two hours — well, I don’t think Barack Obama would have been attacked for two hours.”

If Obama does become the Democratic front-runner (as I hope), he should be subject to hard questions, challenges and legitimate criticism from his rivals, and if his camp calls it racism he should be called to account for that, too. The gantlet that the leading candidate must endure is part of the campaign process--the means by which the American people decide who is the best of the available candidates to be president.

Does anyone think that if Hillary were running third in the polls she would have been the focus of last week's debate? Of course not. It's because she's out front, not because she is a woman, that she was subjected to attacks from so many of the other candidates. The only sexism lies in the Clinton campaign's response to what the other candidates said about her.

While we're on the subject of the campaign, there is one criticism of Hillary and Bill Clinton that appears to be an error: that they have worked to withhold papers from the Clinton administration until 2012. Critics have focused on a sentence in a letter from Bill Clinton stating that most of his papers are "subject to withholding," and should be reviewed before disclosure. While that might appear to mean that the papers should be kept secret, in the context of the law that applies to presidential records it is actually a request for review that must precede release of the materials; the Clintons argue--convincingly, I think, that they are really seeking early disclosure, not trying to hide information.

Is it being catty to suggest that this story got some legs because it seems like the kind of thing that Hillary would do? OK, then: Meow.

One final note: Democrats will probably let this go now--as they should. But what would the GOPhers d0? Indeed, can we not expect to see this canard revived if Clinton becomes the Democratic nominee next year? And much more, to boot. It's a sad commentary on the state of the republic that Democrats need to search their closets not only for material that might be the stuff of scandal, but for any dust bunnies that could be spun into a seeming shame by a well-funded political operation for which truth is but a minor obstacle.