Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Rest in Peace, and laughter

Molly Ivins passed away today. America will miss her, but I, for one, will smile when I think of her.

Update: At a dinner in her honor, Lewis Lapham said, ""She reminds us that dissent is what rescues democracy from a quiet death behind closed doors." Amen.

Man's inhumanity to man, and woman

Day after day we hear of suicide bombings and car bombings and mortar shellings, and after a while it is hard to remember that people--real people, with hopes and dreams and worries and families--are being hurt and killed. So maybe if we look at some lesser inhumanties we can regain our perspective.

Two examples:

The New York Times notes that the cost of the Iraq debacle includes, in addition to 34,000 Iraqis killed last year alone, 1.8 million who have been driven from their homes and 2 million who have left the country entirely. Many of these are people who committed themselves to the American cause: politicians, policemen, soldiers and ordinary people who bought into the idea that the United States would bring them and their nation a better life. So, are we welcoming them to our shores now that the scope of the Iraq disaster has become clear? No. At least not in any numbers. While we spend $8 billion a month on the war, the Bush administration proposes a paltry $20 million for Iraqi refugees in fiscal 2008. For our special friends, we have a special visa program--50 slots a year, for both Iraq and Afghanistan. There are thousands of desperate people out there, and most of them are desperate because of our blundering. The least we could do is to offer some of them refuge.

Now let's shift our attention to South Dakota. You may recall that a statewide referendum rejected the draconian anti-abortion law that the state legislature passed last year--and did so by a comfortable margin of about 10 points. Unfazed by this, anti-abortion legislators have introduced a new bill. This one would make the narrowest possible exception to protect the life and health of the mother. The true motives of the bill's sponsors may be deduced from this description: "In the case of incest, a doctor would have to get the woman's consent to report the crime along with the identity of the alleged perpetrator before an abortion could be performed." Think about that for a moment: a girl who has been raped, perhaps for years, by her father, brother or uncle has to decide whether to carry the pregnancy to term or to turn in the offender for prosecution. How many young women--often girls--who have not left the home already will be willing to do that? Even if she has left the home, the victim (and that's what she is) probably depends on the family for at least social and emotional support, which is likely to be cut off if she agrees to help prosecute the person who attacked her. People who want to impose that kind of condition on incest victims are not interested in them or the unborn fetus; they want to keep women in their place.

Dumbest headline of the week

U.S. may have botched training of Iraqis


Duh, ya think so?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

(Fast) Rising star

First Jim Webb told off W at a White House event for new members of Congress. As Stacy Schiff put it, when Bush asked about Sen. Webb's son, who is serving in Iraq, Webb didn't really intend his brusque answer. "Evidently, he meant to slug the President." Wouldn't that have been something?

That was just for openers. A couple of weeks ago, Webb asked Condi if she thought that the President could move against Iran without prior congressional approval. The Secretary of State, showing talent for the diplomatic bob and weave that I didn't think she had, demurred. Instead of answering, she promising to give the Senator a response in writing. Now, everyone knows that she had no intention of replying to the question by speech, writing or smoke signals. Webb got what he intended from asking the question; Rice's refusal to answer made the response clear as day.

But Jim Webb is looking distinctly different from other politicians, even other anti-war Democrats. So, he's written to the Secretary of State to pose his question again, and added this helpful comment: "This is, basically, a 'yes' or 'no' question regarding an urgent matter affecting our nation’s foreign policy." More details here.

You've got to love this guy. He seems to have watched "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," and taken it seriously. After a career in the Marines including a record in Vietnam that makes John Kerry look like a draft-dodger, a stint as Reagan's Secretary of the Navy and a hard-fought senatorial campaign in which he knocked of a man who had been considered a leading contender for the Republic nomination in 2008, he still appears to have the unsullied faith in democracy of a Frank Capra hero. The Democratic candidates for President had better watch out--no one's going to be talking seriously about Jim Webb in 2008, but he's going to make a lot of them look like wimps.

Too sweet to be true, but....

The new White House executive pastry chef, Bill Yosses, is the author of Desserts for Dummies.

2008--Another Issue

Josh Marshall has an extremely important post at talkingpointsmemo.com. "[T]he virus of anti-constitutionalism President Bush has injected into the body politic is now so deepseated that a renewed constitutionalism should now be a central element informing our political priorities and political identification." He's absolutely right. The Bush administration has so damaged our political and legal condition that constitutional principles must be a leading campaign issue for the first time since 1860 (for those who aren't too good on dates, that's before the Civil War).

To begin with, every candidate for President in 2008 should be asked hard questions about where he or she stands on the issue of executive power. Will he or she insist on the same prerogatives that W and Cheney have: the right to imprison secretly, the right to hold prisoners without resort to legal process, the right to spy on Americans and legal residents without warrants, the right to control every move of the executive branch? Or, will the candidates agree to a recession of presidential power?

I also suggest that you read Adam Cohen's trenchant analysis of Congressional war powers--the first such article that I have read in a mass-circulation publication. And, don't miss Garry Wills' discussion of the militarization of the presidency; he notes that Ike, who had spent 35 years in the Army, never gave the hand-to-the-brow salute as President, because he wasn't in uniform. That gesture was started by the actor, Reagan and, regrettably, followed by all since. These pieces make Marshall's point even more clear.

2008--The Idea of America

In an earlier post, I suggested that Democrats should articulate an American ideology. In response to that idea, MS emailed, "I don't think America has or needs an ideology. Does any country have an ideology? Certainly not any as diverse as diverse as this country. We do have founding principles: individual liberty, self-government, equality of opportunity, separation of church and state, to name a few."

Fair enough, but I suggest that the idea of America has always been the key to our national identity. People came here because of the American ideal, more than they did because of the streets that were supposed to be paved with gold. The Thanksgiving myth centers around the Pilgrims at Plymouth, not the wealth of the present day. Even our imperializing is cloaked not in national glory but in the belief that we are making the world a better place. That kind of moralizing is deeply offensive to some in other countries, and a cause for ridicule in others, but it expresses a difference between the United States, that is, Americans, and the citizens of other nations, at least of those that have been major international powers.

Most Americans, even most of those who concern themselves with politics, don't think of themselves as ideological. Indeed, one of the most important contributors to our success in the 20th Century was a hostility to fixed ideologies. That characteristic enabled bipartisanship--a concept almost unknown in other democracies, even Britain. Still, I suggest that that non-ideological politics really expressed a general agreement on an overarching framework of ideas on which American politics and policy were grounded.

Thanks to the "conservative" [reactionary is a better term] movement of the past three decades, much of that agreement has been torn apart. But that does not mean that Americans cannot come together to express the American idea. Indeed, the obvious failure of the "conservatives," especially of the Bush administration, provides an opportunity to rebuild a consensus around the basic propositions that gave the United States its great influence for decades.

So what should America stand for? I don't claim to have thought the answer through completely, and to say what we stand for could fill a thick book and leave plenty of room for argument, but let me start with a few ideas:

--That all individuals are entitled to dignity and respect.

--That individuals have the right to free thought and free expression.

--That government depends on the consent of the governed, and that government should be based on law.

--That government's first mission, after preserving the nation, is to protect the rights of its citizens.

--That government should act to protect those who have the least before it aids those who have more than they need.

--That democratic government is best, but that at least government should be responsive to the needs of the populace, and should work to progress toward true democracy.

--That the United States has no territorial ambitions.

These represent only a beginning, of course. I'll try to add to them and to form them into some more coherent framework, and I'd be happy to have your ideas. But I hope you can see from this small start how we could construct an ideology that would allow us to contest with those who view the United States as their enemy.







Monday, January 29, 2007

RIP

Rev. Robert Drinan, S.J. has died at the age of 86. For 10 years, from1970 to 1980, he was my congressman. He came to Congress as an opponent of the Vietnam War. Having been dean of Boston College Law School--an institution that he did much to improve--Father Drinan was put on the House Judiciary Committee, and on the special House Committee that considered whether to impeach President Nixon. I met with him in his district office in 1973 or '74. He was very pleasant, and probably the most honest politician I have ever met. I've known some politicians who would not lie--or whom I thought would not lie--but who might not tell you something they thought you didn't want to know. Drinan would. We discussed how the Massachusetts delegation would vote on impeachment (Massachusetts actually had a couple of Republic congressmen then). Of one old-line Democrat who shall remain nameless (not the least because I can't recall the name), Drinan said something like, "He's a good old duffer. He'll vote the right way when the time comes." And then, "I probably shouldn't have said that." But he was a compulsive truth-teller.

Drinan left Congress in 1980, after Pope John Paul II decreed that active priests should not serve in elective office. He taught at Georgetown Law School and just a few weeks ago celebrated a special mass in honor of Nancy Pelosi's accession to the speakership.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

"Bush bin Lyin"

Sign seen at the march against the Iraq war, Washington, D.C., January 27, 2007

Moderation

An editor's note: TONE has got popular enough (apparently, it doesn't take much) to have received a number of comments that are spam. As a result, the editor is now moderating comments. All of which means that it may be some time before your comment actually appears, because the editor is not always as diligent as he should be in checking for comments. (He will try to do better.) If your comment is substantive, it WILL be published, even if it is highly critical of what appears here.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Forgotten but not gone

Katherine Harris, who has a large number of reasons to stay out of the public eye--indeed, to keep from going out in public--is still hanging around the house. Not her house, our house: the House of Representatives. Showing how truly shameless she is, Harris was on the floor of the chamber before the State of the Union speech Tuesday night, handing out business cards to people who were too polite or too clueless to refuse them. There are even photos. (I thought of posting one, but I thought that there might be readers who had just eaten.)

Bad for democracy

Four big states--New Jersey, Florida, Illinois and California--will probably move their 2008 presidential primaries to early February, perhaps only a week after New Hampshire.

Many progressives and good-government advocates disagree with me, but I see a real value in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, even given the small number of minority voters in those states. The retail politics--though diluted in recent campaigns by media coverage that makes TV advertising (and also Internet campaigning) a major force--permits relatively unknown candidates without huge warchests to make a run, viz. Howard Dean in 2004. It also allows for movement during the campaign--remember that John Kerry was down and out nationally in late 2003.

Moving the big-state primaries to the front of the campaign, especially four of them, across the nation, will put a premium on money and national media attention. Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Barack Obama and Rudy Giuliani will probably be able to contest; John Edwards and Mitt Romney are likely to be there, too (although Romney's inconsistent positions may lead him to self-destruct before the end of this year). But can Bill Richardson (whom I think to be the best of the "second-tier" candidates), Joe Biden, Chris Dodd and Tom Vilsack raise enough money to be in the race on this new Super-Duper Tuesday? If Chuck Hagel declares his candidacy on the Republic side--he would be the REAL maverick in that field--he'll probably be doomed by the size of his treasury even more than his position on the war.

The present primary system is not very good, but it's a lot better than what seems to be shaping up for 2008.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Monday, January 22, 2007

There is no joy in Mudville

Permit me to dilate upon something different. Something more important than politics and perhaps as important as cats: football.

Gloom pervades New England as our Patriots went down to defeat last night at the hands of the Indianapolis Colts, a team that the Pats once dominated, at least psychologically--which is more important than dominating physically.

It was a game of if onlys.

If only the Patriots still had David Givens or Deion Branch (or better yet, both of them).

If only the Patriots had rushed Peyton Manning more in the third quarter.

If only Corey Dillon had played more in the 2nd half. (Was he hurt?)

If only Ellis Hobbs had made an 80-yard kickoff return when the score was 21-13, not 21-21. (Going up by 15 points after the other team has cut the lead to 8 is a more powerful psychological statement than going ahead by a single score after the game has been tied.)

If only the refs had called pass interference when Reche Caldwell was mugged in the end zone. (The Pats would have had the ball 1st and goal on the 1, with about a 95 percent certainty of scoring a touchdown, and the best the Colts could have done on their final drive would have been to tie.)

If only the Patriots' coaches had smelled out a run on the play that led to the winning touchdown. I did, and I'm no football whiz.

and finally: If only the Pats had won.

If nothing else, this game confirms my football superstition: I believe that if you score fewer points than the other team, you're going to lose.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Turning point

I always mark the day I notice light in the sky at 5:00 p.m. as the first sign of spring. That day has arrived. My joy is tempered, however, by the fact that this week saw our first winter weather.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Which poll d'ya read?

Hillary Clinton (R-NY) jumps into the race and she's being anointed the frontrunner. ABC reports that in a hypothetical (remember that word) primary, Clinton bests Barack Obama (D-IL) 41 percent to 17 percent, with John Edwards third at 12 percent. Fair enough.

But then there's Newsweek's poll with this little gem. In those hypothetical races, McCain edges Clinton by a point, but loses to Obama by 2 percent and Edwards by 5 points. Contests where Rudy Giuliani is the hypothetical Republic nominee turn out pretty much the same way.

Such early polls are so close to meaningless that you need a powerful magnifying glass to tell the difference, but if results continue this way, it will be bad news for Hillary. She doesn't inspire many people with her oratory or her ideas; electability has to be her catchword.

A caution, however: as the candidates say, the only poll that counts is the one on election day. Like all cliches, that's true. Campaigns, especially presidential campaigns, depend on a lot more than polls. And the early stages, in particular, depend on organizational ability and retail politics more than on oratory or positions on particular issues. The race hasn't even entered the starting gate--we're only seeing the post parade.

It's going to get interesting. Stay tuned.

Cheer up: Counting down

There are less than two years left in the Bush presidency.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Better check the bunker

From the NYT:

" Yevhen Kushnaryov, a deputy leader of the pro-Russian Party of Regions and a close ally of Prime Minister Viktor F. Yanukovich, died of a gunshot wound suffered while hunting on Tuesday. Mr. Kushnaryov was shot under circumstances not yet fully explained. Ukrainian news agencies said he was with a group that had just finished a boar hunt when a wolf appeared, prompting at least one unidentified hunter to fire and strike Mr. Kushnaryov."

Has anybody seen Dick Cheney the last few days?

Law of the jungle

The New York Times analyzes how the administration's changing stance on matters such as wiretapping, the legal rights of alleged terrorists and such present a moving target to defenders of civil rights and liberties. In cases such as those of Yaser Hamdi and Jose Padilla, the government has mooted legal challenges. It is attempting to do the same to suits attacking the warrantless wiretapping program.

These tactics demonstrate that the administration has no respect for law, only for power; it does not act because of law, but because political reality has changed and compels it to. Indeed, the Bush administration is the most lawless in our history, exceeding even Nixon's.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Pardon me if I don't cheer

Advocates for civil liberties and privacy are claiming victory now that the administration has announced that it will seek warrants from the FISA court for the NSA's wiretapping program.

I suppose this is some kind of an advance (albeit made to defuse hearings that congressional Democrats have scheduled for the spring), but am I the only one who thinks that a secret court-- even the identities of the judges on the court are withheld--is contrary to the American system of justice and, very possibly, the Constitution?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A moral choice

It was cold in Boston today--about 10 degrees as I walked across the Public Garden. The Garden has a bridge over the pond where the Swan Boats promenade in spring and summer. As I crossed it, I noticed that a person was lying on one of the benches about 5o yards from my path. He--it was most likely a man--was wrapped from head to toe in a red quilt, probably of the kind that movers use to pad furniture. From where I walked I could not see what was under the quilt.

I debated whether to go over and see if he was all right. I know from my friend Bob, who is homeless, that the slatted benches can be dangerous on cold nights, because they allow air to circulate below as well as above a sleeping person. I noticed that the figure was completely wrapped, that the quilt extended even beyond head and feet, and I told myself that the man on the bench was probably all right, that he might resent being roused (it was probably a little before 7:30 a.m.), and maybe he was drunk or crazy, too. And I walked on. I was fully conscious that I could have made certain that the person under that quilt was safe, or as safe as he could be on the streets in winter, but I did not want the hassle that having contact with him might entail. So I continued to walk.

A little farther, in the Boston Common, I came across a couple of guys that I have seen almost every morning that I've walked for the past couple of weeks. One of them is older, grizzled'; he's never said anything to me. The younger man, dressed neatly in a New York Giants jacket and jeans, with a trimmed beard and moustache, is friendly and I've got used to acknowledging his presence and saying hello as I pass. Neither of them has ever asked for money, and they don't have a cup or a box for handouts. Today, I asked the younger man if they'd been out all night. No, he said, they'd been at a night shelter. They were killing a few hours between that and the time when they could go to Emmanuel Church for the day. I asked how long he'd been on the street and he said about three months. He told me that he used to work in the auto parts business. He mentioned that he's had social workers, but it's tough to get a job when you're in a shelter each night. I pulled out my wallet and gave them some money--more than a buck, but not a lot of money--and suggested that they get something to eat.

Was I more generous than usual because of the cold, or because I was guilty about passing that man on the bench? I don't know.

You may have heard that the newly appointed archbishop of Warsaw was forced to resign his post, because it was revealed that he had cooperated with the Communist secret police. As far as is known, his cooperation was minor, and did not endanger anyone. In an Editorial Observer piece in yesterday's New York Times, Serge Schmemann commented on the Wielgus case, and how "surviving in that world, especially for anyone in a position of authority, presented excruciating choices, again and again." The truth is that we all make moral choices, every day, and as we do not live in totalitarian states or face immediate danger, our choices seldom require courage. In most cases, we never recognize that we have even made a choice. In those where we do, I suspect that most of us find that most of the time we come up short of the mark that we think we have set for ourselves.

When I was a college freshman, I went to a talk by the Yugoslav historian Vladimir Dedijer, who spoke about his time in the resistance to the Nazis. One of the things I remember about that talk was when Dedijer said that he did not blame the people who were captured and broke under torture. "You cannot go to the barricades 365 days a year," he said. At times of crisis and stress, when I cannot summon the energy to carry on the struggle, those words have given me comfort. The choice I made this morning, however, cannot be rationalized with such a brave slogan.

What will I do if I see that figure on the bench tomorrow? I just hope he will have moved somewhere else.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

2008

Regular readers will recall that after the election, I started a series of posts on what the Democratic platform for 2008 should look like. It's time--past-time, actually--to return to the subject.

In the past few months, as frustration and opposition to the war has grown, the political situation has changed as dramatically as at any time in memory. Political support for the war has declined much more sharply than it did during any comparable period during Vietnam, including the months immediately after the Tet offensive. Although that development has resulted in some additional scrutiny and criticism of the entire strategy (if you can call it that) behind the GWOT (Global War on Terror for those not big on acronyms), there has not been nearly enough.

Now it's my view that, no matter how low the President's approval ratings, no matter how little support the war has in 2008, the Republics' strategy will be to paint Democrats as weak on national security. (The only exception might--just might--be if Chuck Hagel or another anti-war Republic is the nominee. Which is highly unlikely.) Bad as the Republics' record has been, given their position and their Rovian habit of attacking Democrats' perceived strength, they will attempt more of the same in 2008. Oh, and it's hard to see what other approach to national security policy they could take. (If you have an idea for such another possible Republic approach, please let me know!)

What should Democrats do? Bypass the Iraq-war issue, avoid getting drawn into an argument over who's tougher on terror. Change the debate to this: What is the American ideology? What ideas do we put into the field to counter those who oppose us, whether Islamist extremists, Hugo Chavez and his allies or even our friends, the French? This would not only be a wise tactical approach, it might actually help the nation--if Democrats can express such an ideology cogently and show how to make it real.

The first step is to define what the American ideology is, or should be. More about that in a later post or, more likely, several of them. If you want to get a head start, feel free to tell us your ideas.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Have you heard

the one about the divided Democrats? You can hardly avoid stories about divisions in the party of Jefferson and Jackson, but the real story is about the divided Republicans. The day after President Bush's latest take on Iraq strategy, the most devastating critique came not from a Democrat, but from Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Vietnam vet and likely presidential candidate, who suggested that the "surge" is the worst strategic decision since Vietnam.

Republic critics of the war are notable enough, but to really see how the president's party has lost its goose-step discipline, watch them on issues such as the minimum wage, global warming, stem cell research and even health care reform (as in Schwarzenegger's proposals for near-universal health care in California).

We'll still see stories about Democratic disunity. Until Democrats have a presidential candidate, they will not have the structure to achieve unity, and besides, we're talking about Democrats here (remember Will Rogers). And there are a lot of media outlets still in thrall to the Republic party and its corporate sponsors, and they have an interest in perpetuating the story of divided Democrats. Divisions among Republics, however, hold out hope for a reduction in partisanship and, perhaps, some legislative progress.

Sunday, January 14, 2007


Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

--August 28, 1963


The assault continues

By now you will have heard about the outrageous comments of Charles Stimson, the deputy assistant secretary of defense in charge of the administration's "detainee" policy, in which he criticized some of the nation's premier law firms for having the gall to defend the rights of people held at Guantanamo Bay, and called for the firms' corporate clients to tell the firms to give up that representation or lose the corporations' business. What makes Stimson's comments all the more hideous is that he is not merely some political hack, but a lawyer himself. (Not that being a lawyer is inconsistent with being a hack.)

Now comes word that the CIA and the Pentagon have been looking into Americans' bank accounts and credit records through the use of non-mandatory "national security letters." (How many banks and credit providers will take the chance of being labeled uncooperative by this administration?)

And for a parlay, The New York Times today reports that some observers are concerned that the omission of 10 words from an Arny manual on intelligence gathering signals that the military accepts the administration's view that the government has an inherent right to spy on Americans without bothering about pesky formalities like warrants.

Because most Americans do not feel threatened by these assaults on our system of government, they do not realize the constitutional crisis that the administration has precipitated through its blatant misreading of the Constitution.

Perhaps the new Democratic Congress can educate the American people. Impeachment hearings might be one vehicle for that.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Conflict of interest

Democrats in the House had no trouble passing a bill that will hike the minimum wage, but Republics in the Senate insist that the measure must be paired with tax breaks for restaurants and other alleged small businesses. (Would McDonald's or Pizza Hut qualify for these breaks? Want to guess?) The Republics are even muttering about mounting a filibuster if they don't get their way.

This presents Democrats with a dilemma. The Republics' demand for tax breaks has long since lost political steam; at this point it is only a payoff for their supporters. So Democrats have every expectation that if they stand fast the Republics will either fail in their threatened obstruction or, if they succeed, will present a luscious political target.

On one hand, Republic obstruction against popular items like the minimum wage increases the chances of an increased Democratic congressional majority in 2008, and even of a Democratic president. But raising the minimum wage now will have important effects for some of our most vulnerable citizens. Are Democrats justified in losing an opportunity to help those individuals in the hope of greater political advantage, even with the greater benefits for ordinary Americans that we may expect to flow from Democratic control of the levers of government?

What's your opinion?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

On a lighter note

Or maybe a lightheaded note.

When I fly, I like to feel that the airline knows where I am going--or at least where IT is going. So I don't think I'm going to be flying Nepal Airlines anytime soon. NA used this picture to advertise travel to its native country:



Pretty spectacular, right? The high mountains. The village clinging to a crag. Just what you would expect of the fabled Himalayan kingdom. Only one problem. It's not Nepal. It's Machu Picchu, in the Peruvian Andes. Nepal Airlines apologized to Peru for using this photograph in a campaign with the slogan: "Have You Seen Nepal?" (To which the answer, of course, is "not yet.")

Let us hang our heads in shame


Today is the fifth anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp.

One in, one on the way out

Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT), the senior but lesser-known Senator from Connecticut, announces that he will seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2008. I don't think he's got a prayer, but perhaps he'll add something useful to the debate. (You should know, dear reader, that as a political prognosticator, I am on a par with John Peter Altgeld, the governor of Illinois who said of William Jennings Bryan on the day before the Cross of Gold speech, "Tell Bryan he's got as much chance of being nominated as I do, and I was born in Germany.")

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney will be dogged by this video of his debate against Ted Kennedy in 1994, in which the Mittster espoused positions distinctly at odds with the social conservatism he now professes. It was always a matter of time before Romney had to face questions about how he could have been elected governor of true-blue Massachusetts and be a true conservative; that time may be closer.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

How soon they forget

Remember when members of the Republic Party marched in lock-step? (Those were the days when Karl Rove & Co. were predicting a permanent Republic majority.) Nothing like losing an election and being led by a lame duck (especially one who's heading for the edge of the cliff) to change people's minds.

The NYT reports that at least 10 Republic senators will vote in favor of the Democrats' resolution against surging. The measure will be symbolic, but as Napoleon said, "The moral [what we would call psychological] is to the physical as three to one." The times, they are a changin'.

(For any who may be wondering about references to the Republic Party, I got the idea from a wonderful piece by Charles Baxter, in Sunday's Times. I've noted in the past that Republics have slurred the Democratic Party for decades by calling it the Democrat Party. Baxter says we Democrats should follow their example, an idea that I have espoused in the past but never carried through on. Now I'm going to do it, and I urge you to do the same. Let's start a trend.)

Scheduling note

George W. Bush will lie to the nation tonight at 9:00 p.m., eastern standard time. His lies will be carried live (live lies!) on the major networks.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Watch out, George!

One of my law partners found this photo.


Why the Sun set on the British Empire

A study reports that putting milk in tea removes the tea's beneficial effect on blood flow.

Serves them Right! Many years ago, when it was difficult to find decent coffee in Britain, I found that it was also difficult to find tea without milk.

Rogue's gallery

Finally, a photo of W and Jack (the Jailbird) Abramoff has surfaced. See it here.

How far we've (not) come

" To those peoples in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to breach the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required--not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich."

John F. Kennedy said that, in his inaugural address. (I was tempted to write "first inaugural," but of course history decreed that there would be only one.) Barak Obama quotes it in his estimable book, The Audacity of Hope," which has about the best title of the year (Obama admits that he did not originate the phrase, but he was smart enough to use it).

I noticed a number of things about that quotation. Today, we would probably not describe half the world as living in huts and villages; it's a measure of economic progress that many more people live in urban areas and are part of formal economies. On the other hand, millions of those people live in squalor, work in sweatshops (which may be a big step up for many) and face the threat, if not the reality, of AIDS.

Yet the principles that JFK enunciated still speak to us. "If a society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich" could be the rallying cry for all who oppose government of, by and for the wealthy. And the idea that policy should be based ultimately on what is right flows as a refreshing breeze after all the years of calculation, triangulation and pseudo-realism. (Yes, yes, the neocons alleged that the invasion of Iraq was a matter of moral choice, but I think the difference between their moral vision and JFK's is pretty clear.)

Now, JFK's actual performance often fell far short of his soaring rhetoric, but at least the words were there to measure his actions by, and to inspire improvement in policy.

How far we have descended from that plateau is shown in Iraq, on a daily basis. Yesterday, Paul Krugman asked if Bush's plan to escalate in Iraq is delusional or merely cynical. It's a close question, but I vote for delusion. Case in point: On Sunday, The Independent described a plan to turn Iraq's oil industry over to western companies:

"Iraq's massive oil reserves, the third-largest in the world, are about to be thrown open for large-scale exploitation by Western oil companies under a controversial law which is expected to come before the Iraqi parliament within days.

"The US government has been involved in drawing up the law, a draft of which has been seen by The Independent on Sunday. It would give big oil companies such as BP, Shell and Exxon 30-year contracts to extract Iraqi crude and allow the first large-scale operation of foreign oil interests in the country since the industry was nationalised in 1972."

This might seem to be an expression of cynical profiteering--we might call it "The Audacity of Greed," but I see it as embracing at least two delusions: that the world would not view this as evidence that the war was nothing but an imperial grab of resources, and that there is some hope that the Iraqi infrastructure can be rebuilt--a prospect that would require suppression of the insurgency to levels far below what anyone--even the most optimistic--seems to find credible.

Then, this morning, comes word of American airstrikes in Somalia, delivering what must be at best a minor injury to al Qaeda, but a major blow to the fledgling government of that country, which is already seen as an Ethiopian client and will now look like an American one. Not to mention a further stretching of our already-overburdened military.

Come to think of it, maybe Krugman is wrong for once. Maybe W and his coterie are not cynical or delusional, just plain dumb.



Monday, January 08, 2007

More truth than they'd like to admit

Often, people tell more of the truth than they intended to. A case in point was a story on NPR's Morning Edition today. It seems that consumer groups have been criticizing the insurance industry for keeping a much higher portion of premium dollars than used to be the case. In 2005, despite Katrina, insurance companies made record profits

To rebut this, the Insurance Information Institute sent out its chief economist, Robert Hartwig. He pointed out that in the 1980's, insurance rates were two to three times as high as they are now, and that means that the companies can't afford to pay out what they used to disgorge.

Fair enough. BUT, this excuse gives the lie to the alibi that insurers have used to justify sky-high rates by creating fears of a non-existent "malpractice crisis," or bleating about a need for "tort-reform" to reduce the size of personal-injury verdicts. What Mr. Hartwig said was that insurance rates are first and foremost a function of the investment climate, especially the bond market, and not of claims payments. Which is exactly what critics of insurance companies have said when the insurers have tried to limit recoveries for torts and malpractice. Either the companies were lying then or they're lying now.

You can't have it both ways.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Feline Update

Those of you who remember this post may be happy to know that Shay-Shay seems to have recovered from his Kidney infection; indeed, after a long course of antibiotics, he seems to be healthier than he has been in a couple of years. I'm afraid, however, that he's used up 8 1/2 of his lives.

In the photo below, Shay-Shay, who loves empty boxes and bags big enough for him to climb into (which may be much smaller than we would think he could get inside) explores a gift bag.


As you can see, Santa--tuckered out from his travels and having lost a lot of weight in the process, is curious, too.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Ve haff a complete dossier on you. Nozhink is hidden from us.

Before he was W's designated bully-in-chief at the UN, John Bolton was an assistant attorney-general at the Justice Department. There, one of his duties was to intimidate potentially critical witnesses when William Rehnquist was going through the confirmation process associated with his appointment as Chief Justice of the United States.

Rehnquist, you may recall, first came to public notice when he had charge of a particularly odious effort to intimidate minority voters in Arizona.

Oh to be a fly on the wall

Keith Ellison (D-MN) introduces himself to Virgil Goode (Know-Nothing-VA) on the floor of the house.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Something to Make You Feel Good About Humanity

Sometimes you read a story that seems too good to be true. And all too often, you find out that they are. The New York Times carries such a story today, but it seems as if it may just turn out to be one case in which reality matches what you'd like to believe.

To summarize: A young man apparently fell into a subway tunnel in New York as a train approached. Another man, who was taking his two daughters home before reporting for work at a construction site, jumped in and covered the fallen man while the train roared overhead. As the story says, "Five cars rolled overhead before the train stopped, the cars passing inches from his head, smudging his blue knit cap with grease."

Read the whole piece. It will make you feel better about humanity.

The cost of Republican government...

...is death.

Last year, deaths of coal miners reached a 10-year high and reversed an 80-year trend of steadily diminishing death tolls in the nation's mines.

Not coincidentally, the Bush administration has steadily cut back on money and personnel to enforce mine-safety laws. In 1997, during the Clinton administration, the Mine Safety and Health Administration had 634 inspectors; in 2005, that number was down to 584. At the same time--due to the push to mine coal as an alternative to oil--the number of mines increased from 2,053 to 2,620. Also, under Republican leadership, mine owners have faced much looser regulation and less severe penalties than previously.

The people who pay for this are the miners and their families.

Just one more reason for outrage.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Right Step

This afternoon, the Massachusetts Legislature allowed a proposed constitutional amendment to move closer to the ballot, when 61 legislators--just over 30 percent of the total membership--voted for it in a constitutional convention. When proposed amendments are initiated by petition, as this one was, the Massachusetts Constitution requires the vote of only 25 percent of legislators in two successive legislative sessions to send a matter to voters. Most legislators are opposed to the proposed amendment, but they knew that enough were in favor to send it forward if it came to a vote. Attempting to derail that, a constitutional convention was adjourned several months ago. Today, the final legislative session, was the last chance to vote on the amendment. Last week, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts declared that legislators were bound to vote, but noted that, due to the separation-of-powers doctrine, the court could not force senators and representatives to do so.

Still, there was doubt about whether a quorum would be present in the House chamber for today's session. Governor-elect Deval Patrick and supporters of same-sex marriage such as the ACLUM (the Massachusetts affiliate of the ACLU) urged legislators to avoid a vote.

Well motivated as they might have been they were wrong, the Supreme Judicial Court was right and the members of the legislature deserve credit for recognizing their responsibilities.

In case you are a new reader, the editor is a strong supporter of same-sex marriage, and he intends to work strenuously to defeat the proposed amendment if it does get to the ballot. But upholding the process established for amending the state's constitution is also vital. Justice Felix Frankfurther once said that the history of liberty is in some sense the history of procedure. This is the kind of issue he was talking about.

Opponents of the vote often said that civil rights should not be on the ballot. That may sound good, but if you think about it, it does not make sense--at least not the kind of sense that those who believe in democratic government should support. The Bill of Rights was adopted by a democratic process--as democratic as the Republic had at the time. The same was true of the Civil War amendments that outlawed slavery and established the basis for racial equality, and for the 19th Amendment, which provided for women's suffrage. We say that all government depends on the consent of the governed, and that is just as true for matters of civil rights as for all others. The process is made difficult, because we recognize that the passions of the moment should not lead to changes in the basic structure of government, but when the procedural requirements are satisfied, it is dishonest and ultimately self-defeating to employ parliamentary maneuvers to stop a measure from consideration.

Bastion of Freedom

In response to a freedom-of-information request from the ACLU, the FBI has released records of detainee abuse at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The documents included a report of a prisoner whose head was wrapped in duct tape for chanting the Quran (so much for freedom of religion) and another who pulled his hair out after hours in a sweltering room. The AP story on the documents also says:
"The reports describe a female guard who detainees said handled their genitals and wiped menstrual blood on their face. Another interrogator reportedly bragged to an FBI agent about dressing as a Catholic priest and 'baptizing' a prisoner."

Remember the phrase, heard after 9/11, that if we were to do--or not do--a certain act, "the terrorists will have won?" Time to resurrect that saying.

We can hope--without much faith--that stories such as this will lead the courts to reject attempts to prevent the detainees from obtaining legal redress.