Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A great story

From The New York Times, the tale of a Torah rescued from Auschwitz--yes, Auschwitz--by Polish Jews, a Polish priest and an American rabbi and his 13-year-old son.

(I am going to relate the experience of our recent travels, including our trip to Auschwitz. I have not had the time--or maybe the energy--to do so as yet. I fear that my account will be an anticlimax after you read this one.)

Mea Culpa

OK, I was wrong about Rev. Wright.

Now, can we get back to something that matters?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Man of the people

Last week, Senate Republicans blocked the Lilly Leadbetter Equal Pay Act, a bill to reverse a terrible Supreme Court decision last year that erected very high barriers to enforcing the Equal Pay Act. Sen. McCain was not there for the vote (Obama and Clinton voted for the bill), but he announced his opposition. "I am all in favor of pay equity for women," the Senator proclaimed, "but this kind of legislation, as is typical of what's being proposed by my friends on the other side of the aisle, opens us up to lawsuits for all kinds of problems." Someone should tell the Senator, who does not--so far as I know--have a law degree--that lawsuits are intended so that people can enforce legal rights.

So he's in favor of equal pay, he just doesn't believe that women should have the opportunity to force employers to give it to them. Memo to Sen. McCain: talk is cheap.

You may remember that last fall, Sen. McCain supported Bush's veto of expanding children's health insurance, a measure that had been backed by a huge majority of the members of Congress in both parties.

And McCain--despite loud and repeated proclamations that he opposes torture--voted against a bill that would have banned waterboarding. Memo to the Senator: Actions speak louder than words.

So let's see, the presumptive Republican nominee is against enforcing equal pay for women, against expanding health insurance coverage for children and in favor of torture. And the media think he has a chance of winning in November?

Question I would ask

If I were Barack Obama: "Am I my (former) pastor's keeper?" (Though maybe he needs one.)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Teddy bear?

Did you see Justice Antonin Scalia on 60 Minutes last night? He was like a big teddy bear, all smiles and self-deprecating comments. And CBS played along. All the questions were asked by Lesley Stahl; the only other comments came from Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a "liberal" on this court, but a great friend of Scalia.

When Scalia dismissed criticism of the court's decision in Bush v. Gore ("get over it") and even blamed it on Al Gore for having the temerity to file suit to keep Katherine Harris (now there's a blast from the past) from stealing the election, Stahl missed the opportunity to follow up and ask why, if the decision was not political, the majority declared that its principles would not apply in any other case.

Scalia also flummoxed Stahl--who is not a lawyer--by asserting confidently that torture is not cruel and unusual punishment. And, you know what? he's right. It isn't. Now, to the ordinary person--the layperson--the cop who's beating on your head or the CIA interrogator who's pouring water down your gullet, certainly is inflicting punishment. What Scalia knows, and Lesley Stahl understandably did not, is that the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, applies to sentences after conviction. What the Justice conveniently failed to mention is that torture violates the Fifth Amendment, which guarantees due process.

Then today, the Court held that the Indiana law requiring a photo ID is constitutional. The majority decision was written by John Paul Stevens, but Scalia wrote a concurring opinion including the following: "The burden of acquiring, possessing and showing a free photo identification is simply not severe, because it does not 'even represent a significant increase over the usual burdens of voting.'" Apparently, he wasn't listening when the court was told, during oral argument, that some people might have to travel as much as 17 miles to get a free ID. The people who would need to do so are, of course, are the ones too poor to have a car , or a driver's license.

Some teddy bear.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Tough guy

If John McCain is so tough, how come he can't get North Carolina Repubs to pull that scurrilous ad linking Democratic candidate for governor to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright?

(This thought is not original with me, but it's too good to ignore.)

The Rev. Wright unmasked

Bill Moyers interviewed the Rev. Jeremiah Wright tonight; the interview was taped after North Carolina Republicans announced that they would broadcast a commercial using carefully-edited clips of the Reverend to attack the Democratic candidates for governor of that state. (Both of the candidates have endorsed Obama, so as Keith Olbermann put it, this is a case of guilt by association by association.)

Rev. Wright comes across as a very different person than the caricature portrayed by the Republicans and most of the media. He was quiet, thoughtful, well-read and intelligent. He explained his philosophy well. Moyers played longer clips of his more notorious sermons than you've seen on other outlets, which revealed the way in which his words have been twisted for political purposes.

Unfortunately, only a small slice of the American people will see this interview. If you didn't, go here and take a look. It will be well worth your time.

What if things were reversed?

So, what if the Clinton campaign had more than one hundred more delegates than Barack Obama, and four times as much cash on hand? Would Obama still be in the race? And if he were, would the media give him any credibility, or would he be viewed as a figure of fun?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The media is the message

A long time ago--about two weeks, actually--the universal wisdom was that Hillary Clinton needed to win Pennsylvania by a wide double-digit margin. Indeed, a number of observers noted that she needed to win by 20 percent or close to it if she were to cut into Obama's popular-vote and delegate leads significantly. As the race tightened, however, we heard less and less of that talk. Then, when she prevailed by slightly less than 10 percent--always rounded up in the reports I saw--we were told that she had won a "decisive" victory. The MSM sounded as if there was a real horse race.

What the media will almost never acknowledge is that it has an interest in a good story--and the story of a nasty contest between Clinton and Obama is more dramatic than Obama and McCain making their way toward their respective conventions. The result is that the media presents a contest when the contest is all but over.

Now that the dust has settled

I'll have more comments on my recent trip to Europe, but first....

Now that the dust has settled from Pennsylvania, has anything changed? Although much of the press--including the estimable TPM--spoke of a "decisive" Clinton victory, it was nothing of the sort. Keeping her campaign alive was not a decisive victory; it was merely the avoidance--delay, really--of the final failure.

As of today, John Edwards is almost as likely to get the Democratic nomination as Hillary Clinton. Hell, Joe Biden is almost as likely.

(English usage note: In TPM, Josh Marshall wrote, "I'd say the real story is that this leaves us basically where we were. It was a decisive win for Hillary but that was the expectation." I emailed him to note the contradiction and he took the time to write back, defending his usage because of the numbers. Well, no. That's really journalistic sloppiness.)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Going to Auschwitz

The genesis of our recent trip was a decision I made several years ago: that I had an obligation to go to Auschwitz. There was a certain logic to this; I have for decades been interested in the Second World War. But I view the war through a distinctly American lens--as one of the primary psychological events of our history. Also, I am an amateur military historian; much of my study of the war has been through that perspective. And, as regular readers know, I am a student of politics; in the context of WW II, the three-way struggle between fascism, Communism and democracy provides much interest. Then too, there is the much-observed aspect of WWII as the last "good" war.

And yet, I have not given as much attention to the Holocaust as to other aspects of the tragedy of 1933-45. Oh, I'm sure that I have spent more time reading and thinking about it than most Americans, probably more than most Jews. But not with as much intensity as I might have. I'll readily admit that some of this has been unwillingness to deal with the pain and almost unrelieved, unimaginable horror of what happened to the Jews of Europe. Perhaps some of it relates as well to the fact that, while I have known some survivors, and the children of others, I know of no member of my own family who died in the Holocaust. (That does not mean that there were none--almost certainly, there were--but my family had no contact with the old countries of Lithuania and White Russia (now Belarus), and so such victims were invisible to us.)

So I think that much of the motivation for my resolve to go to Auschwitz was guilt--guilt over my reluctance to pay sufficient attention to what happened there.

As you may imagine, when I decided that I should go to Auschwitz, I did not turn at once to making travel arrangements. It was something to do at some time. I fully intended to make the trip, but I did not set the dates.

Then, about two years ago, I found my father's tallis or prayer shawl. (In the Sephardic pronunciation of Israel and most American Jewish congregations, it would be a tallit, pronounced more like "tal-eet." Call me a mossback, but I find that accent harsh.) And I formed a plan: I would take the tallis to Auschwitz, and there I would say the mourner's kaddish for the millions who died there. For this was the other major motivation for my journey--to stick my thumb in Hitler's eye, to say that he intended to exterminate us, but he is gone and we are still here, stronger and more numerous than when he came to power.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

An explanation, and apology, and thanks

As regular readers will have noticed, TONE has been off the air (or is it off the 'Net) for the past few weeks. The reason is that TONE and the lovely Diane were traveling in Europe for 2 1/2 weeks. We actually returned on the 17th, but jet lag and the press of other matters has kept me from posting til now.

I had meant to explain that we were going away before signing off. My apologies for not having done so.

And, to those regular readers who inquired about TONE's absence, thanks for your interest.

Having said that, I hope to produce a substantive post or two later, but for now, I've got a paper to complete for my other life.

It's good to be back.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Innocent until proven guilty?

Don't believe it. Here's a story about a man who got a long, long prison term for a crime of which he was found not guilty. And the Supreme Court has refused to review his appeal.

So, you thought there was something called the Bill of Rights?

Watch ouf for the Fed

I haven't had a chance to review the administration's proposals for financial-market reform in detail, but they seem to involve giving the Federal Reserve Bank regulatory power. Bad idea.

Most Americans don't realize it, but the Fed is an independent body, which means it is removed from political influence. Now, that might be a good idea when it comes to matters like monetary policy, but it's a bad idea when we're talking about regulating commercial and investment banks, trusts, etc., etc. Such regulation should be subject to political pressure; that's the theory behind democracy: that the people rule. That is especially true in the financial world, which ultimately depends on confidence. If the citizens feel that they have no influence on the process, they are likely to be much less confident about what's going on in the markets. If you want to know what happens when people lose faith in the market system, look up "The Great Depression."

Let the Fed do what it does. When it comes to regulatory functions, let those be carried out by agencies under the control of the executive and Congress.