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.


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


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."


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


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.


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!


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.

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:


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.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

What they stand for

The three men generally accounted to be the leading candidates for the GOP nomination, Giuliani, Romney and Thompson, all support the administration's "enhanced interrogation" policies and refuse to rule out waterboarding.

The same three also support Bush's veto of the S-Chip bill.

So there you have it: The Repubs are in favor of torture and against health insurance for children.

Memo to Mike Mukasey

Learn about waterboarding in this brief discussion from NPR. Find out that an American officer was relieved of command for waterboarding a prisoner during the Spanish-American war. Read about the Japanese officer who received 15 years in prison from a war crimes tribunal for waterboarding a US citizen during World War II. Learn about the American soldier court-martialed during the Vietnam War, because he supervised the waterboarding of a captured North Vietnamese soldier.

And, most revealing of all, read about what it's like to be waterboarded in the transcript of testimony by a victim.

Maybe then, Mike, you can figure out whether waterboarding is torture.

Values voters

Kentucky is one of the few states with gubernatorial elections in odd-numbered years--one of them being 2007. The Repub, incumbent Ernie Fletcher, is way behind in the polls. So what has his campaign done? His campaign is using a robo-call by crooner Pat Boone (they must have had to exhume him?) warning that Steve Beshear, the Democratic nominee, will work for "every homosexual clause." And just in case the GOPhers try to make that seem like some rogue operation, their nominee for Lt. Governor asked at a campaign stop, "Do you want a couple of San Francisco treats or do you want a governor?"

If Kentuckians--among the most conservative voters in the nation--reject this kind of pandering, they'll strike a blow for American values.

Friday, November 02, 2007

More Democratic Spinelessness

The New York Times reports that Sens. Schumer and Feinstein have knuckled under on the Mukasey nomination. Schumer was one of the judge's earliest sponsors; apparently, he didn't have the guts to admit that he made a mistake. And Feinstein--well, she turned tail and allowed the disgraceful Leslie Southwick--a man who said in effect, in a judicial opinion, that calling a man a nigger was about the same as calling him a good ol' boy--to have a lifetime appointment to the Federal appeals court. So you know what she's like.

Should we give up on the Democrats? One is mightily tempted, sometimes, but the real solution is to elect more Democrats--the kind of Democrats who'll make people like Feinstein and especially Joe Lieberman irrelevant.

My pick for one of those Democrats: Al Franken. And to make it better, he's running against slimy Democratic turncoat Norm Coleman. Al deserves your support. What's more, he sends out fund-raising letters that begin, "Dear Person I'm Asking for Money." How can you not like a guy like that?


This from the President:
I believe that the questions he’s been asked are unfair. He’s not been read into the program — he has been asked to give opinions of a program or techniques of a program on which he’s not been briefed. I will make the case — and I strongly believe this is true — that Judge Mukasey is not being treated fairly.
HUH? The guy is up for approval as Attorney-General and he hasn't had a full security check? Is that what we're to believe? Or he has had a security check and hasn't passed? Or he has passed, but they are keeping the vital torture memos from him--even after the questions that the Senate has asked? Can you believe that? Can ANY well-meaning person believe that?

Or is it just another one of Bush's lies?