Thursday, June 12, 2008

A victory for America

The Supreme Court's decision today, affirming the right of Guantanamo Bay detainees to habeas corpus, is not just a victory for the Constitution and the law, but for America. By that I don't mean for the nation, but for the idea of America: that we have, as John Adams put it, a government of laws and not of men, that we have enough faith in our constitutional system to apply it even to great threats by those who would destroy our liberties, and that the law protects even the most loathsome persons.

This is the America that those parts of the world that believe in or aspire to liberty have seen as a beacon of freedom for more than two centuries.

It was, as you probably know, a "close-run thing," a 5-4 decision; the Great Writ of habeas corpus hung on a single vote. Sometimes, the scales of justice are barely tipped, yet the result is epochal.

Let me take a moment here to comment on what has been reported about Justice Antonin Scalia's dissent; I confess that I have not read the decision as yet. Scalia is said to have commented that, as a result of the decision, more Americans will die. There is no way to tell whether that is true, and it is unlikely ever to be knowable. But let us assume that Justice Scalia is correct. Does that make the decision wrong. No. No, it does not. We know that our system of justice may impose such costs on our society. We repeatedly boast, after all, that our system is intended to let 50 or 100 guilty people go free in preference to convicting one innocent individual. Some of those guilty persons will go back to preying on society, and we have always known that. And until the Bush Administration, we thought we knew that the nation abided by the Geneva Convention, our Constitution and our laws, even though those provisos might "tie the hands" of our intelligence officers and interrogators. Justice Holmes said that taxes are the price of civilization, but they are not the only price we willingly pay.

Dispatch from the front line

Here in Massachusetts, we have to get our cars inspected once a year. My car is scheduled for June inspection, so today when I saw an inspection station, I drove in and got it done.

When I went to pay, the owner--who had been talking away on his cel phone when I went in--said "when you drove in I was on the phone yelling at Sunoco." He then told me that the company is charging him $3.94 per gallon, and pointing out that the credit card fee he pays is $.10 per gallon for Visa and MasterCard, more for American Express. He said he's earning $.04 per gallon. Even if he's understating the figure by a bit, it's clear that he's not making any money pumping gas.

The exorcist?

There' been a lot of talk about Bobby Jindal, young, "conservative" Republican governor of Louisiana as a possible McCain VP pick. Now comes a report, based on an article that Jindal wrote, that he may be an exorcist. Will the right wing of the Republican Party accept an exorcist on the ticket? Doesn't sound like it would play well in the Bible Belt or parts of the Midwest. Not to mention Jewish neighborhoods in South Florida.

Is this the end of the Jindal bubble?

Thinking about vice

The vice presidency, that is. (Get your mind out of the gutter!)

I'm not going to handicap the prospective vice-presidential candidates, but let's take a few moments to think about the qualities that a vice-president should have.

Vice-presidential nominees are often--almost always--chosen for short-range political considerations, i.e., getting elected. But after the election comes serving in probably the least-rewarding job in western civilization. Or Eastern, for that matter.

The VP is the aide that the President can't fire. On the other hand, and for that very reason, the VP is also an aide who has at least a penumbral stature over and above what the President gives him/her. Thus we should hope that the VP is a person who can aid the President, perhaps by bringing an aspect of experience (with the economy in McCain's case, for instance) that the President lacks, or--and this would be my preference--through a relationship of trust and confidence between the two that makes the Vice-President a sounding board and confidant. In other words, a Vice-President with stature.

Although the President cannot fire the VP, he--or at some time she--can move the VP to the deep background. There are lots of jokes about the job of the Vice-President being to go to funerals. We'd be better off without that. Well, maybe. Clearly, the Bush administration would have been less pernicious if Dick Cheney had been sent off to more memorial observances.

I'm hoping that Barack Obama and John McCain will give at least as much thought to how his respective Vice-Presidential nominee would serve the nation in office as each does to how many votes the VP nominee might attract to the ticket.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


A follow up on The Huckabee Heimlich:

Regular readers will know that our real motto is not the bromide at the top of the page, but "Don't let the easy ones go by." With that in mind:

It's true: all would be Republican Vice-Presidential candidates will be required to show that they are certified in CPR.

If you read the original post, you were waiting for that one, weren't you?

Monday, June 09, 2008

Tag line

Keith Olbermann suggests that every Obama campaign spot could end with, "When Bush became President, the price of gas was $1.47 a gallon. Now it's over $4.00. And you're thinking of voting for another Republican?"

Where is the world?

I was in Europe at the time of the Zimbabwean election, which meant that we heard a lot more about the story of the regime's stonewalling in the face of obvious electoral disaster than you did back in the States; the BBC covered it intensely, and CNN World is much more attuned to news out of Africa than it is in the United States.

In the past two months, the tragedy has only deepened. The world has stood by as the unbelievably incompetent, incredibly corrupt and amazingly brutal government party has worked to steal power from its rightful holders. And, not all that surprising, the world is letting Mugabe and his thugs get away with it. Taking cover behind Thabo Mbeki, Mugable's ally in fact if not in name, the rest of the world barely musters the energy to mouth meaningless protests at the outrages. When Mugable announces, on June 28th or 29th, that he has won another term, the rest of the world will tut-tut about "electoral irregularities."

Zimbabwe and Burma (a/k/a Myanmar), allies in the Coalition of the Brutal and Incompetent, each need another Kemal Ataturk. Ataturk, in case you've forgotten, overthrew the rotten and corrupt regime of the "Young Turks" in the Ottoman Empire. (Yes, that's where we get the phrase.) Ataturk laid the foundation for modern Turkey and, looking ahead to the time when he could no longer rule, set up a two-party system that led to today's near-democracy. Though by no means perfect, Ataturk was a true patriot, motivated by a vision for his nation, not the desire to line his own pockets. Unfortunately, people like him are rare.

(To give you an idea of the kind of man Ataturk was, in 1915, under his birth-name Mustapha Kemal, he had been assigned as a junior general to a backwater region--the price of his opposition to the Young Turk regime. The backwater was the Gallipoli peninsula south of Constantinople (now Istanbul). When British Empire forces stormed ashore, intending to force the Dardanelles, knock Turkey out of the war and open a supply route to Russia, there was only about a regiment or maybe a battalion available to oppose them. Kemal lined his few men up and said to them, "I do not order you to attack. I order you to die." He then sent them forward, where they checked the first wave of invaders, leading to the prolonged stalemate and ultimate disaster of Gallipoli.)

The Huckabee Heimlich

Mike Huckabee performed the Heimlich Maneuver on the Republican candidate for Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina.

This will undoubtedly raise Huckabee's chances of getting the Vice-Presidential nod from John McCain, whose campaign could use a Heimlich Maneuver.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Hillary Clinton's exit

Hillary Clinton's exit was as generous and gracious as Barack Obama and his supporters could have hoped for. There were no sour grapes, no damning with faint praise. She gave her supporters all the reasons to support the Democratic ticket, whether or not she is on it.

If Clinton was gracious, some of her supporters, interviewed on NPR, were less so. (Were reporters looking for disgruntled Clinton people? Do dogs search for bones?)

I heard interviews with a couple of Clinton supporters, one who said that she would have to think about whom she was voting for in November, and another who said she would not vote for Obama--she might write-in Clinton or, perhaps, vote for McCain. And I thought how nice it must be not to have to worry about someone who might be killed in Iraq because John McCain is determined on "victory." Or about millions of people who would get health insurance under Obama but will be denied it if John McCain is elected. Or about the women who will not be paid equally with men under a Republican administration.

For its last six weeks or so, the Clinton campaign was kept afloat by sexism--the supporters (most, but not all of them women) who thought she should be President because she is a woman. (Would they support Libby Dole or Kay Bailey Hutchison?) Some analysts suggested that the approach she took in yesterday's speech was dictated by a cool appreciation of what she had to do to assure her political future. Maybe. But she also knew which of the remaining candidates would come closest--much the closest--to carrying out her program for the country, so whether it was a case of pragmatism, idealism or cold calculation, she pointed her supporters toward Obama. I hope that they will take the final message of her campaign to heart.

Friday, June 06, 2008


As you've no doubt heard by now, John McCain has challenged Barack Obama to a series of 10 joint "town-hall appearances" over the summer. He's even suggested that they travel to them on the same plane. (Is his campaign that short of cash?)

Obama should accept, on one condition: that to relax and loosen up before each appearance, he and McC play 20 minutes of one-on-one roundball.

All the news?

I know that The NYT says it publishes "all the news that's fit to print," by why is this story on today's front page?

Bush Overstated Evidence on Iraq, Senators Report

As the teens and 'tweens would say, "Duh-uh!"

Thursday, June 05, 2008

How long?

For those who bewailed how long it took for Barack Obama to wrap up the Democratic nomination, consider this: He did it before the Stanley Cup playoffs had been decided, and before the NBA finals had even begun.

(Whether that's a comment on politics or the state of professional sports, I leave to the reader.)

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

OK, it's over


The NYT reports that Hillary Clinton will "suspend" her campaign and endorse Barack Obama on Friday. Apparently, a group of her supporters in the House and Senate told her that they were moving to Obama, and that finally tipped the matter.

The phrase "forgotten but not gone" was beginning to apply to Hillary.

The final lap of this race was so long that it's hard to believe that the Democratic race really is over. So let's take a moment to stop and reflect on what Obama has done: A black man, with two years in the Senate, is going to be the candidate of the Democratic Party, and should be the favorite to stand up and take the oath next January 20th. Imagine that! Few would have a year and a half ago, when Barack Obama stood on the steps of the Old State House in Springfield, Illinois, and announced his candidacy for President.

This is not the only improbable candidacy for president; indeed, most of them are. Think of Ronald Reagan, former second-rate actor. Or Jimmy Carter, one-term governor and former peanut farmer. Or Abraham Lincoln--a one-term congressman who lost the race for the Illinois Senate seat only two years before being elected to the White House.

A couple of months ago, I would have said that Obama would roll to victory in November, in perhaps the most unlikely story in Presidential history. After the long slog against Clinton, with his repeated defeats in important states (albeit only among the Democratic electorate), that seems a bit less probable. I fear that I have begun to buy the idea that Obama needs to shift his argument, to make a more specific case to the American people. Just relying on his inspiring message will not work, in part because so many voters have heard the message that it has less power to inspire. But truly inspirational leaders--FDR, JFK--have been able to lift hearts and spirits on a variety of subjects and a variety of levels. This is the challenge Obama faces now.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

AP calls it

The Associated Press calls it for Obama.

(George Orwell wrote a piece in which he distinguished between real news--like wars--and psuedo-events like press conferences. Most of our "news" these days falls into the latter category. Given that war, pestilence and famine (not to mention earthquakes and floods) fall into the former, maybe that's not a bad thing.)

Crazy as a bedbug

A Fox News employee has filed a lawsuit against the owner of the building she works in, and the maintenance company, claiming that bedbugs have invaded her workplace.

TONE wants to know why she was sleeping on the job.

By the way, isn't "Fox News" a candidate for the shortest oxymoron in the English language?