Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Christmas Story

I've noted before that, although I'm not a Christian, I love Christmas. Not for the theology--that won't surprise you--but for the spirit. Yes, the Christmas spirit. Tomorrow night, as we do every Christmas Eve, the lovely Diane and I will watch Miracle on 34th Street (the original, 1947, B&W version, of course), and at the end I'll tear up.

One reason that it's easier for a non-Christian to love this season is that it never came with any of that baggage that that bedevils (you should pardon the expression) so many for whom the holiday has religious and family trappings. I can appreciate the spirit of Christmas in its essence. Of course, the spirit I cherish was largely constructed by American business and Hollywood. The miracle on 34th street, after all, was that Macy's would put customers ahead of profits (and in so doing, as the actor portraying RH Macy notes, make even more profits).

But enough Scrooge.

Tonight's CBS Evening News had a truly wonderful Christmas story, about a young (really young) man who truly knows the spirit of Christmas. Take a look. Oh, and go here to learn more about how you can get in on the goodness.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Good news--for me, at least

Just saw a story that asserts that my home state, Massachusetts (a commonwealth, actually), is one of the 10 worst states for retirement. Whew! I don't want to spend my retirement (when and if) among a bunch of old people, any more than I want to be surrounded by tourists when I travel. When I travel, I want to be the only tourist (well, with the lovely Diane), and when I retire I want to be among younger people.

So, all you alte kakas out there: Go to Florida!

Thursday, December 16, 2010


You have no doubt head the saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. If that's the case, then our attitude toward guns is the very definition of insanity.

In Panama City, Florida, the other day, a man stood up at a school board meeting and started taking potshots at the School Committee. In Sacramento, a young mother, a supervisor at a bookstore, was killed after a man apparently walked into a barber shop and started shooting. The mother was found in a position that led police to conclude that she heard the firing and placed her body to protect her 2-year old son. He will now grow up without a mother. Meanwhile, TPM reports that a plan to reduce gun smuggling to Mexican drug cartels has languished at the Justice Department out of fear of NRA influence.


Monday, December 13, 2010

The tax psychosis

The prevailing attitude toward taxes in this nation--at least so far as the mainstream media are concerned--may best be described as a psychosis, that is, a derangement characterized by a loss of contact with reality. This disease has grown over the past 30 years, to the point where it now dominates our politics.

Reality is that the nation faces great challenges: an educational system that has been overhauled and surpassed at all levels by countries in both Europe and Asia, the immense financial burden of war, a deteriorated infrastructure, a high-tech sector that is losing ground daily to foreign competitors, and a dependence on foreign energy sources that is only increasing, to name a few. Yet every serious attempt to deal with these problems--and to restore the United States to a position of leadership--is crippled by a reflexive refusal to consider any increase in the levies on those who can easily afford to pay more, who are also those who by every measure get the greatest benefits from government.

Not surprisingly, the tax psychotics are also bullies. Anyone with the courage to question their delusion is bullied and shouted down. They have to do that, because no rational defense of their position can be mounted.

Like many sane people, Democrats have been hesitant to challenge the delusion. Instead of calling the tax psychosis was it is--crazy--Democrats have temporized, tried to avoid conflict and attempted to reason. To no avail.

The anti-tax movement did not start out by being loony (although elements of the movement got there quickly). In the hands of its initial proponents, opposition to taxes was an expression of a belief that government was too large. And there are still those who espouse the need for smaller government, although few indeed are the members of this camp whose positions are consistent. But even the "starve the beast" camp of Grover Norquist et als has been obscured by a simple, reflexive and complete rejection of any tax hike, no matter how needed or equitable it might be.

The tax psychosis has crippled the United States. It distorts the debate about vital national issues and limits the range of solutions to problems that have have led to our national decline. It empowers the forces of reaction and fear.

Unless and until the progress of the tax psychosis is reversed and room for a healthy, real debate about tax policy created, there will remained hobbled, at home and abroad.

Future posts will pose some suggestions about how to counter the tax psychosis. Your suggestions will be welcome.

True intellectuals

Democrats tend to consider themselves more thoughtful and, truth to tell, more intelligent than Republicans.

But consider: It is said that the mark of a true intellectual is someone who can keep opposing thoughts in his or her head at the same time. And Republicans, as we know, believe that we must not tax the rich at the same time that they think that diminishing the deficit immediately has to be our first priority.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The price

"Why didn't you people shoot?" With those words Adm. Wilhelm Canaris, chief of German military intelligence, greeted his new deputy, Col. Erich Lahousen, formerly his opposite number in the Austrian service.

What would have happened had the Austrians resisted the forced annexation of their country? No one knows, of course. Had the Austrians fought (there was substantial division in that country over the Anschluss), they would have had to pay a price in blood, and most probably Germany would have prevailed. But it seems safe to assert that the butcher's bill would have been lower than it turned out to be. In all probability, many fewer Czechs, Poles, French, Norwegian, Dutch, British, Russians and Americans would have died to destroy Nazi Germany.

Had the world resisted Hitler earlier, the cost would have been even lower. When the German Army marched into the Rhineland in 1936, its orders were to turn around if the French put up a hand and said Stop.

I do not for a moment mean to equate Republican congressional leaders with Hitler. The point is that there is always a price to pay for standing up to bullies, and the cost gets higher the longer the bullies are allowed to prevail. Worse, that cost curve provides further justification for refusing to fight We saw that yesterday, when the President argued angrily that the cost of further resistance to Republican obstructionism on the Bush tax giveaways is too high. What he ignored is that the price has risen precisely because he has not been willing to fight back. Had he and his administration stood up to the GOP earlier, many fewer people would have had to suffer before the Republicans knuckled under--as they would have been forced to--on issues like taxes and unemployment compensation.

Ultimately, the West was forced to stand up for Poland, a nation that was geographically isolated and profoundly undemocratic. But by September 1, 1939, there was no choice. Even then, the Allies' unwillingness to take risks led to the occupation of Western Europe.

So far, Barack Obama has refused to learn from history. But he is a smart man and there is yet time for the light to dawn. Let's hope that the fury of his supporters and allies wakes him from the stupor that has taken up much of his first two years.

The President's defense

Did you see President' Obama's spirited defense of his "compromise" with the Republicans?

This is called--as the President should recall--putting lipstick on a pig.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

How come?

Today's Times reports that the President's commission on the national debt lacks to votes for a comprehensive plan.

There are essentially three ways to bring the federal budget into line and, ultimately, to reduce the national debt: 1) For the economy to grow fast enough so that increases in federal revenues are greater than increases in spending. 2) To raise taxes. 3) To cut spending.

How come the deficit commission concentrates almost all of its energy on the third of these? As do Republicans and a surprisingly high percentage of commentators who ought to know better. As far as raising taxes are concerned, the deficit commission's chairs, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, would concentrate on extracting more from the middle- and working-classes while letting the affluent off pretty much scot-free. They pay no attention to the first source of needed funds.

Does that make sense to you? Me, neither. But maybe that's because we're not rich enough. Or being paid by those who are.

What the President should say

Last night, I suggested that President Obama should announce that he will veto any extension of the Bush tax cuts for those earning over $250,000. On thinking about it, he should be more clear. Here is the kind of thing he should say:

The Bush-era tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000 will expire at the end of this month. They are history. They will not be restored. I will veto any measure that extends those tax cuts. If Congress sends me a bill that extends the Bush tax cuts for all taxpayers, I will veto it. If Congress attaches an extension or reenactment of the tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000 to a defense-authorization bill, I will veto it. If Congress attaches an extension or reenactment of the tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000 to a bill raising the debt limit, I will veto it. I trust that I have made myself clear. It is time for Congress to get on with the business of the nation, to pass measures that will be effective in bringing the nation out of recession and in starting to plan how we are going to deal with our huge load of debt once the economy is strong again. It is past time to talk about tax cuts for those who can well afford to pay a little more for the benefits that they receive from this nation.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Saying it all

A letter in The New York Times exposes the foolishness of those who believe that Wikileaks' disclosure of American diplomatic traffic is a welcome example of transparency. Thanks to Ilya Shlyachter of Cambridge, Massachusetts:
You seem to believe that disclosing diplomatic conversations will not have a dangerous chilling effect on the diplomats’ work. But are you willing to have your internal editorial discussions published? To have others decide what will and what won’t compromise your news-gathering methods? Would that not chill your ability to work.

We’ll know the answers when WikiLeaks publishes a trove of secret New York Times documents.


What am I missing?

Why doesn't President Obama simply announce that he will veto any tax bill that includes continued tax relief for people earning more than $250,000?

If he did that, he would call the Republicans' bluff.

Are the Republicans willing to go to the nation and say, "Yes, we raised your taxes, because the President would not agree to tax relief for the wealthy?"

I say, Let them.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The secret to delicious Thanksgiving turkey

I know that regular readers come here for iconoclastic commentary on politics and public affairs, but in this era of national anxiety, I thought we would do our part to allay that concern by providing the solution to what worries millions and millions of Americans at this time of year: How to make that perfect Thanksgiving turkey. As it happens, TONE knows the secret, and we conceive it to be our duty to share it with the nation. Indeed, with the world, the Internet being what it is.

So, go get a pencil and a piece of paper, because we're only going to say this once.

Here it is:

Remember to defrost the turkey early enough to get the bag of innards out of the cavity before you put it in the oven. Oh, yes, and remember to reach in and pull the bag out.

That's it.

For all the debate about brine, bags, deep-frying, whatever, the truth is that turkey is just about the easiest dish you can cook. Turn on the oven and let it heat to 325 or 350 degrees, put the bird in and, after a sufficient amount of time, take it out. Remember that, and don't get caught up in all that dithering about how to cook the turkey.

OK, a couple more hints: You can start the bird at 425, then turn the heat down after 30-45 minutes, to get the outside crisper. you can also help a crisp exterior, and maintain a moist interior, by basting the turkey every 15-25 minutes. Use whatever oil you prefer: canola, olive, peanut, motor....

One more thing: If you don't get soften the bird sufficiently to pull the bag out before it goes in the oven, roast it for an hour or so, then take it out and pull it out then. You won't notice the difference.

Oh, and if you feed your guests enough wine, beer, hard cider (TONE's preference, an authentic early American touch) or whiskey, they won't care what the turkey tastes like.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The hangover

Now comes the hangover. Like someone who has gone on an epic bender, the voters are sleeping it off; they probably will be in a stupor for some months. Slowly, they'll begin to wake, and as they do the awful uncertainty in the gut, followed by nausea, will make itself known. Then the headache will begin to pound, and voters across the nation will ask themselves, What have we done?

The hangover will last two years, at least. Let's hope that, like the person who comes to realize that drinking too much is no fun, the electorate will sober up for 2012. I, for one, am confident that we will.

(Note to readers: This is likely to be the last post for a while. I am preparing to conduct a trial that seems likely to last until Thanksgiving. Trying cases is an all-consuming occupation.)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

England or Spain?

If you had been a dispassionate observer of the European political scene in 1585, you would almost certainly have said that Spain was far and away the most dominant power. With its Empire in the Americas sending huge amounts of treasure to the mother country each year, Spain was much the richest of nations. It's armies dominated Europe, using a military system based on blocks of pikemen with arquebusiers at the corners that rolled over opponents. Through its dynastic connections with the Hapsburg emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, Spain's domains were spread across Western Europe.

England, in contrast, was a small nation on the periphery of the continent; it shared the British Islands with Scotland, a traditional ally of England's enemy, France. The English had a substantial fleet, but no regularly organized navy to speak of, and no standing army beyond a palace guard. Although prospering from trade and fishing, the English were poor when compared to the Spanish.

As we can see now, by the mid 1580's Spain had passed its zenith and was on a downward curve that would lead, with a only a few brief intervals, to the poor, weak and divided nation that emerged from the blood-soaked exhaustion of its Civil War in 1939. England would go on to establish the greatest empire the world has seen--for two hundred years it was literally true that the Sun never set on it--be a power of the first rank for three and one-half centuries and the Earth's richest nation for much of that time. England--later the United Kingdom--survived the loss of the American colonies that became the United States and the rise of the Napoleonic and two German empires; it outlasted them all.

Spain, confident in its wealth and power, sank into centuries in which it lived off its assets and watched is political horizons to become steadily more limited. England, in contrast, gave freer rein to its citizens, rewarding initiative and encouraging innovation. Where the Spanish aristocracy continued to rule even as it became increasingly entrenched and entrusted, England permitted commoners to rise and even to rule.

The question facing the United States today is whether we will be like England or Spain. Are we on a path of irreversible decline or will the American system prove resilient and regenerative? Actually, we may first have to face a preliminary question: Do we care enough to accept the challenge of being the world's leader? (For those who believe that this is only question of empire-building, see Tom Friedman's column today.)

This is a much larger question than whether Democrats or Republicans should control Congress, or the importance of the Tea Party. Indeed, the scope of the issue dwarfs the mean, petty, self-destructive quarrels that constitution our politics.

And the American people are quite aware of the challenge the nation faces. On NPR, both E.J. Dionne and David Brooks--who agree on little--reported that they have found a wide and deep-seated feeling (or maybe fear) that the United States is in decline. Indeed, I suspect that much of the rage that is said to power the electorate this year represents frustration with apparent decline at just the moment when we--the World's Only Superpower--should be supreme.

The party that dominates American politics in the next quarter century--and perhaps much longer--will be the one that recognizes and acknowledges this issue and can mobilize the nation to confront it. Which one will it be: Democratic? Republican? Or some new grouping?

The activist Constitution

Yesterday, the lovely Diane and I watched Hubert H. Humphrey, The Art of the Possible, a terrific documentary on one of the most underrated figures of Twentieth-Century American politics. The close of the program is Humphrey explaining the inspiration he found in the Preamble to the Constitution. The opening words of the Preamble, "We the People," embodied for Humphrey the essence of American democracy: that all power and all sovereignty derive from the citizenry. That's a truth that's all to easy to overlook--a lesson for political leaders and would-be leaders of both Left and Right.

But what really affected me was the way that Humphrey proceeded to explain how the Preamble formed the basis of his view of the Constitution and, indeed, of the role of the federal government.

The Preamble reads:

WE THE PEOPLE of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

As Humphrey noted, each of the verbs is active: to "establish" Justice; justice does not spring up on its own. "Insure" domestic tranquility: we must act to assure a civil society. "Provide" for the common defense: we must make the efforts necessary to defend the nation. "Promote" the general welfare; it does not come automatically. "Secure" the blessings of liberty: we cannot simply expect that freedom will flower, we must work to make liberty real.

As the Preamble sets the tone for the Constitution that is the foundation of the United States government, Hubert Humphrey argued that it should set the tone for our politics as well. In doing so, he also refuted those who would take a cramped and narrow view of government's role.

(Your editor worked very, very hard as a volunteer for Humphrey's 1968 presidential campaign. Hubert Humphrey was a good and gentle man, but tough enough to come within a whisker of winning that year; indeed, had the Left turned out, he would have been President. I recall how I walked around in a near-stupor for days after the election, unable to believe that the American people had chosen moral midgets like Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew over men with the stature of Hubert Humphrey and his running mate, Edmund Muskie.)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Post hoc

As most of those who read this post yesterday probably realized, I indulged in the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc (after therefore because) in suggesting that, had President Obama taken a stronger position against the big banks, Wall Street and the health insurers, we might have had no financial or health care reform.

What I assumed was that the political equation would have been the same if the White House had come down on the side of more change than they were in light of the President's tepid positions and that, therefore, the outcome for reform would likely have been worse (even) that it has been. Yet the power of the President is the power to persuade, as Richard E. Neustadt wrote in Presidential Power in 1960. (The link is to a later edition.) Had Barack Obama taken to the airwaves and the stump to call for real, top-to-bottom financial reform, had he espoused single-payer national health insurance, or the replacement of fee-for-service with other approaches to charging for health-care services, or just the breakup of huge health insurance companies to insure competition in the market, he could have changed the terms of debate. That, if accompanied by adroit political handling, might have led to very different results, to the benefit of the nation.

So, we'll never know what might have happened. More's the pity, especially as we are faced with the substantial likelihood that the next two years (at least) will see even more division as the forces of reaction block progress on almost all vital issues.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Were the liberals right?

If Obama had pushed to break up the big banks and weaken the huge investment banks (banking and investment banking used to be entirely separate lines of business; they should be again), Republicans would have had a lot more trouble in arguing that the Administration is in bed with Wall Street, and perpetrating the lie that it was the Obama, rather than the Bush Administration that bailed out the banks.

If Obama had taken on the health insurers, Republicans would have had a harder time assailing the Administration over "Obamacare," and particularly at the charges that health care reform will raise rates.

On the other hand, we might not have health care reform or financial reform on the books, even in their highly imperfect forms.

One thing is, however clear: The President should have been much stronger at criticizing Republican obstructionism from the beginning, and he should have made it clear that the bills he signed had many flaws and were only first steps toward real reform. The political people in the White House should have resisted the understandable, nay, inevitable, urge to celebrate the passage of health care and financial reform and urged the President to make the signing ceremonies muted affairs at which he noted the progress that had been made, but coupled that with strong statements that we need to go much further--with specific statements of the direction that further change should take.

Oh, and Mr. Obama should not have surrounded himself with people who were in the Wall Street club. He didn't do that on health care, and so you don't see Republicans attacking the administration for being too cozy with the health care establishment.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Shake the tree, you never know what will fall out

Some fallout from Virginia Thomas' misguided attempt to obtain an "apology" from Anita Hill.
This will not surprise most thoughtful people who, I suspect, long ago concluded that Prof. Hill was telling the truth, and that Clarence Thomas either perjured himself or engaged in the most massive self-deception in his quest to join the Court.

Some of us have not forgiven such examples of Senatorial rectitude as John Danforth (then R. MO), Arlen Spector (R/D PA) and Alan Simpson (then R WY) savaged Prof. Hill although they must have known that she was telling the truth and that Thomas was not.

I'm voting Republican, redux

Remember that great "I'm Voting Republican" video that we featured in this post? Funny thing: within a day after I first saw it, the number of views skyrocketed from a bit over 600,000 to more than 4.6 million. (Disclaimer: Not because it was posted on this blog!)

But then the number of views reported by YouTube got stuck. Go to the piece today, as I just did, and the number is still 4,673,586.

What gives?

Update: a few hours after this was posted, I checked again and let the video run full length to see if the clicker would roll over. Now the number of views is 4,673,932. But that is still a very small number of new views over several weeks.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Why didn't I think of that?

And why didn't the Democrats who are actually running? From Malcolm Fleschner, a very funny guy with whose mother I worked:

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Truth or lies

Todays Times has a fine lead editorial on the Senate race in Wisconsin, between Russ Feingold (D), who is one of the best Senators in a long time, and Ron Johnson (R), a former plastics manufacturer (remember The Graduate?) and political neophyte. Astoundingly, Feingold is trailing in the polls, and if you believe them he is seriously behind. Clearly, the ghost of Tailgunner Joe McCarthy is haunting the Badger State.

As the Times editorial points out, Johnson has got to his present place by dismissing the importance of mere details (like the effect of healthcare reform on costs, the number of people put to work by the stimulus bill and the effect of letting the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire on the vast majority of small businesses), and by outright lying.

Republicans have had little regard for truth--unless it happens to support their pre-conceived positions--for many years. This year, they have taken their cavalier attitude to new heights.

Truth does not always win out, but it's a better base for getting votes than lies. The truth can't be exposed.

How I would love to see a [Democratic] candidate turn to her/his [Republican] opponent in a debate and say, "If you believe that you are a fool. If you do not, you are a liar. You may choose." Think about how often that would fit.

So, in the last few weeks of the campaign, Democrats ought to make truth an issue. Maybe the issue. Expose the lies. Ask the voters: Do you want people to tell you the truth, or people who lie. If the voters choose the liars, they will get what they deserve. (You and I shall not deserve that, of course.)

(I do not suggest that Democrats and truth are perfectly congruent, or that all Republicans lie; there must be some who do not. But the difference is sufficiently great to be significant and worth making a bloody fuss over.)

Monday, October 11, 2010


When was the last time an American President challenged the American people? I'll save you the troubled of going to Wikipedia. It was Lyndon Johnson, with the War on Poverty.

That is both a symbol and a cause of our national decline. Where is the President to challenge us to rebuild our roads, bridges, water and sewer systems, to provide broadband to all areas of the nation, to improve an educational system that has fallen to 12th among industrialized nations in the proportion of college graduates?

Yes, its true that President Obama has raised all of these issues, but he has not used the power of his office to challenge the American people to participate in these efforts, not because they will help in the short run, but because they are imperative in the long run. And that is one reason--just one, but an important one--why his numbers are unfavorable.

The fact is that people, especially Americans, want to be challenged. Why politicians--Republicans and Democrats--have forgotten this remains a mystery.

The difference

What's the difference between Democrats and Republicans?

Democrats believe that we're all in this together.

Republicans believe that it's every man for himself.

Democrats need to point that out.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

This is what we have to look forward to

if Democrats and intelligent independents don't get out to vote on November 2nd.

Gene Cranick owns a farm in rural Tennessee. He and his neighbors have to pay a $75 annual fee for fire protection from a nearby department. Cranick hadn't paid. When his house caught fire last week, he called 911 and in the call he offered to pay the costs of fighting the fire. No dice. Firefighters responded when his neighbor--who'd paid the fee--worried that the blaze would spread. But they sat by and watched Cranick's house burn. More details here.

Is this the way we really want our country to run? A fee for everything, even the most basic services? A system in which its every man (and woman and child) for him/herself? Or are we all in this together?

Justice Holmes was right: "Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society." He had taxes in mind--not user fees.

(I might note that by not fighting the fire at Cranick's house, firefighters increased the likelihood that the flames would spread, not just to the neighbor who called them, but to other property or structures as well.)

You gotta see this

Regular readers will know that they haven't been able to be regular readers, because the Editor has not posted anything for some weeks. (He's been too busy to turn around, if that's an excuse.) He is roused from his torpor, however, by this video. Take a few (3) minutes to sit back and watch why your neighbors are voting Republycan this year:

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Splitting the sane vote

When Lisa Murkowski (R, for now, AK) announced that she would run for her Senate seat as a write-in candidate, I thought that was good news for Scott McAdams, the Democrat in the race. Apparently, I was naive. According to a new poll, Murkowski is splitting the vote of the sane people in Alaska with McAdams, providing Tea Partier and right-wing crank/crazy Joe Miller (now that has to be a made-up name, right?) with a big lead.



Standardized tests are at the center of discussions about education. Standardized tests teach children how to answer. A good education teaches them the questions to ask.

The debate over our declining schools has become a circular firing squad, with everyone pointing fingers at the others involved. Parents blame teachers and administrators. Administrators blame politicians for denying them resources. Teachers blame parents for not preparing their children and giving them an environment conducive to learning. Students get lost in the shuffle. Perhaps, given the poisonous atmosphere pervading our politics, these attitudes should not be surprising. But it is no help.

We know that good teachers can inspire children whose parents are indifferent to education. We know that parents can get a good education for their children despite uninspiring teachers. We know that learning can take place in humble surroundings. We know that some children can succeed without support from parents or teachers (although such children are rare).

Time to stop pointing fingers and accept that we are all in this together--even those of us who do not have children in school. Time to stop placing blame, discuss how to increase the value we place on education, and then do it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Yellow dogs, blue dogs and beaten dogs

I'm almost a yellow-dog Democrat. That's a term that has almost disappeared from the political lexicon; it referred to someone who would vote for a yellow dog if he ran on the Democratic ticket. Now we have blue-dog Democrats, on the party's right, who all too often undercut the leadership and act like a GOP fifth column. A reader of Talkingpointsmemo suggested that Democrats exhibit a beaten-dog syndrome, "to describe a generation's worth of Democratic electeds and operatives who have so internalized GOP attacks that the mere suggestion that they are coming cause these people to involuntarily cower."

Apart from the split infinitive, that's right on the mark. Sad as it is to say, since at least 1980 the Republicans have so dominated debate in this country that Democrats have largely lost the ability to define themselves, their party or--most important--their values. True, the Obama campaign reversed that in 2008, but the effort was centered on electing a President, not raising the position of the party. And once in office, Obama seemed unable or unwilling to espouse a strong, consistent, principled line of policy and program that would build up the party.

In 2008, with a substantial majority in the House and--for a short time--a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, it seemed as if a vital change in our politics had come. Six weeks before the mid-terms, things look very different. I'll have something to say about why that is so in another post.

Democratic weakness has not only meant losses for the party, it has been a tragedy for the nation. Even if you do not support the Democratic platform, a healthy democracy needs differing views. Although the Democratic Party itself all too often displays such a divergence, the dominance of Republican theory has held back the nation's development. (Think action on global warming and green jobs.) Democratic fecklessness has led to what may fairly be called American decline. Democratic weakness, their failure to offer a contest to Republican ideas, has left the Right dominant by default. And Democrats must share some of the blame.

Disturbing headline

From the Times:

Obama Aides Weigh Bid to Tie the G.O.P. to the Tea Party

If Democrats need to think twice about this, the party is in worse shape than I thought.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Strange attitude

Am I the only one who's getting tired of hearing the Tea Partiers--those self-proclaimed champions of a strong America--play the victim whenever they get criticized? The latest is Christine O'Donnell, speaking to the "Values Voters" conference in Washington yesterday.

"Will they attack us? Yes. Will they smear our backgrounds and distort our records? Undoubtedly. Will they lie about us, harass our families, namecall to try to intimidate us? They will. There's nothing safe about it," she said.

Now, there's no reason for Democrats to lie about O'Donnell--the woman once said she was a witch, for Heaven's sake--but what strikes me is that way that she and others of the Right (Sarah Palin being a prime example) quickly turn themselves into victims when the going gets tough. They have a perfect right to take that tack, but you would think that voters will begin to notice the contrast between the ostensible toughness of the Tea Party campaigners and the whining that rises when they are challenged.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Still not ready for prime time (not even close)

Christine O'Donnell, darling of both the lunatic Right and the Democrats (though not for the same reasons), says that the rigid moral views she has espoused in the past would not guide her in the Senate. According to the LA Times, she said, "When I go to Washington, D.C., the litmus test by which I cast my vote for every piece of legislation that comes across my desk will be whether or not it's constitutional."

Memo to Christine: If, by some horrible mischance, you do get to the Senate, 99.9% of the legislation you see will have no constitutional implications. The legislative process is a whole lot more complicated than you seem to believe.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

No surprise

Certainly not to Red Sox fans. The New York Times reports that "A curious phenomenon has emerged at the intersection of fashion, sports and crime:" many miscreants commit their crimes wearing Yankees caps.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

No doubt anymore

Rand Paul

Jan Brewer

Sharron Angle

Christine O'Donnell

Carl Paladino

Sarah Palin

Jim DeMint

Ben Quayle

John Boehner

Eric Cantor

Paul Ryan

James Inhofe

Mitch McConnell

Can there be any doubt that the Republican Party is dominated by radical right-wingers out of step with the American mainstream?

Just a thought

We have the worst economy since the 1930's, and the world is more violent than it has been since then. Why should we be surprised that we have the worst politics since the 1930's?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Warms the cockles of your heart.

Seven states that are among those suing to overturn Healthcare Reform are claiming federal subsidies under that very act.

A New Force for Afghanistan

Even as the U.S. buildup in Afghanistan continues, commentators are looking forward to next July 1st, when the withdrawal of American combat troops is scheduled to begin. Given the continuing and even increasing threat posed by the Taliban, there have been a number of stories on the way that women's rights have advanced in the country since 2001, and how they are threatened by the Taliban. Katie Couric did, I think, two stories when she was in Afghanistan recently. Time magazine ran a cover story that showed--on that cover--a beautiful young woman whose nose had been cut off by her husband in a fit of anger--a typical punishment in the traditional society.

Should we keep troops in Afghanistan longer than we would otherwise, because we believe in women's rights? Will we do women an injustice by withdrawing? These are complicated issues, and people of good will may be on all sides.

But I have an idea on how we can help women in Afghanistan to help themselves: Arm them! Let women form militias. Let them fight the Taliban. Women have fought in resistance movements for many years. More and more armies let women fight in combat; the United States does, even though our laws still formally forbid it. Let Afghan women fight for their rights.

And nothing will advance women's rights in Afghanistan faster than letting them face their abusers and would-be abusers with guns in their hands.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The wrong speech

President Obama is scheduled to give a national address on Iraq next week. That's not the speech he should give. Iraq is yesterday's news. Americans are worried about the state of the economy--more worried than we were six months ago. That's the issue that the President should address. Here's what I'd like him to say:

My fellow Americans, you don't need me to tell you that our economy remains in tough shape. Although we are recovering from the recession, the pace of recovery is much too slow. Millions of Americans have been out of work for months, with little prospect of getting new jobs in the near future. Hundreds of thousands of homeowners are still facing the threat of foreclosure. Tens of thousands of business owners worry about whether their shops and factories and farms can survive. Cities and towns across the nation are laying off teachers, police and firefighters--people who provide essential public services.

At the same time, there is much that needs to be done in this nation. We have half a million bridges that need to be rebuilt or repaired. We have thousands of dams that are in states of disrepair. Our roads need to be maintained and upgraded. Our electrical grid is not well constructed for the diverse sources of clean power that we need to bring on line in the next few years. We are buying millions and millions of barrels of oil from other countries, and some of them have supported forces that have tried to do harm to the United States; we need to learn to use less oil. We lack the broadband Internet capacity of many nations with which we compete. While we have started on high-speed rail lines, we need thousands of miles more track that can take the trans that have been commonplace in Europe and China for years.

In 2009, Congress passed the American Reconstruction and Recovery Act, the stimulus package. That program has been a great help. It has saved or created more than two million jobs. It has supported programs to rebuild America. But it is not enough. The stimulus was designed to spur the economy for two years; that time is expiring. The truth is, government needs to do much more to help our economy get rolling again.

Government needs to take on that role, because private enterprise is not. Businesses are not creating enough jobs. They are not investing enough in out future prosperity. There are banks--many of them the very ones that were baled out with billions or our taxpayer dollars--that are holding on to huge profits, but not lending to businesses or homeowners. There are large corporations sitting on large profits that they could be using to modernize plants, develop new lines of products and hire new workers. There are small businesses that simply cannot afford to expand or to hire. Whatever the reasons for this behavior, the evidence is clear: private business is not moving our economy forward fast enough.

Government can help. As the Reinvestment and Recovery Act has shown, public investment can create and preserve jobs. It can meet important public needs. It can inspire new investment. That is why I am calling on Congress to enact a stimulus package of $750 billion before April 15, 2011, and another of equal size by April 15, 2012. As part of those packages, I call on Congress to dedicate at least one third of the amount appropriated to rebuilding and extending our infrastructure.

This money must be directed to America's needs, not to the well-being of individual politicians. It must be used to improve our public works and public ways, to inspiring private investment, to retain jobs in pubic services and to inspire private enterprises to hire more Americans.

Some of you will be concerned that this program will increase the deficit. Even though our economy has not been progressing as strongly as it could, many voices have been raised to call for reducing the deficit now. It' is true that the federal deficit is a serious problem. I do not mean to suggest otherwise. Simply put, we need to reduce the deficit substantially.

But the deficit is a chronic problem, while the current economic situation creates an immediate need that demands work now. It's like this: suppose a patient who has cancer also develops pneumonia. The cancer needs to be treated, but if the doctors do not work at once to cure the pneumonia, the patient will die before the cancer can harm him. The deficit is like that cancer: it demands to be treated, but first we have to deal with the economic need that we face now.

Accordingly, following two years in which we use government resources to move our economy forward, it will be time to begin to reduce the federal deficit, not just by a small amount, and not just for one or two years, but for as long as it takes to bring it under control. That will require hard work and hard choices. It may seem an impossible task, but remember that that is what we did in the 1990's, when for several years the government ran surpluses that permitted us to pay down the federal debt. We can do that again, and we can do it without placing the burden of deficit reduction on those who can least afford it. But we cannot do that with an economy that is weak.

As you know, voters will go to the polls on November 2nd. I suspect some will say that the election this year should be a referendum on the plan I have outlined tonight. That is fine with me. Let those who argue against using government to move us forward explain how they would create jobs. Let them tell people who are out of work how they will get them back to earning paychecks. Let them tell us all how they will keep our bridges from falling down and our dams from breaking. Let them tell homeowners how they can avoid losing their homes to foreclosure. Let them tell teachers and firefighters and policemen how they will be able to keep on serving our communities. Let them tell the American people how long we can afford to let our nation's economy stagnate. Let the debate begin.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Re-thinking W

Who's the leader of the responsible, moderate faction in the GOP when it comes to the controversy over the Cordoba Center in lower Manhattan?

George W. Bush, would you believe? As a number of commentators--most recently NPR on today's' Morning Edition--have noted, Mr. Bush consistently linked his opposition to al Qaeda with respect for Muslims and their institutions, and statements assuring Americans that Islam is a religion of peace.

So, in less than two years we've come to the point where George W. Bush is on the left of the Republican Party.

(I should note that Mr. Bush has refused to take a position on the question gripping the nation: whether the Center can be built in a neighborhood of porn shops, strip clubs and OTB parlors.)

Retail politics

News Corporation, which is controlled by Rupert Murdoch, has given $1 million to the Republican Governors Association. Yep, $1,000,000 bucks.

This raises a number of questions, aside from the obvious--what is Murdoch getting for his money?

When the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Citizens United, declaring that corporations have an untrammeled right to buy political influence, many people asked whether that meant that foreign corporations had the same rights as American companies. (At this writing, the Court's majority has not yet declared that foreign individuals may buy American politicians the way wealthy Americans can.) News Corp. may be an American enterprise (I haven't checked on the locale of its incorporation, but I'd put my money on Delaware), but it is controlled by Mr. Murdoch, an Australian. So, is this kosher, or are there still some limits to the extent of our corruption?

Another question: is the White House going to continue to treat Murdoch's Fox News as if it were a news organization, rather than a mouthpiece of the Republican Party? It made headlines when Helen Thomas' seat in the front row of the White House press room was given to Fox (I suggested that the administration might be following Sun Tzu's dictum, "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer"), but the formal entrance of the Murdoch empire into partisan politics should perhaps move the Obama Administration to throw Fox out of the room entirely.

Democrats have shown a regrettable tendency to act as if Republicans operate on the same assumptions of civic discourse and respect for institutions as they do. The Republicans do not. By their actions they have forfeited any assumption of good faith about their policies, principles or programs. So, when a "news" organization enters the lists on behalf of Republicans, it is perfectly appropriate to declare it persona non grata in the halls of government.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Bigotry stalks the land

The uproar over the planned Cordoba (Islamic) Center in lower Manhattan may be dying back, although Republicans will undoubtedly try to keep the flames hot until the November election. Still, it is a story that needs more light shed on it.

President Obama has faced a storm of criticism for having pointed out that the proponents of the Center have every right to build it--although he gave the unfortunate appearance of dithering when he said the next day that he was not commenting on the wisdom of the location.

Apparently realizing that they could not win an argument over the First Amendment, opponents of what they mis-characterize as the "Mosque at Ground Zero" have receded to making a case that the Center should not be built, "there."

To begin with, where is "there?" If the proposed location--in a derelict Burlington Coat Factory--is too close to sacred ground (let's not forget that Muslims died in the attack on the World Trade Center, too), is 14th Street OK? How about 23rd Street, where I lived for a couple of years? Or 34th Street? No, that last won't work: it's too close to the site of Miracle on 34th Street.

Let's be honest: what is behind opposition to the siting of the Cordoba Center is bigotry. Anti-Islamic bias is the currently acceptable form of open or slightly-camouflaged prejudice in the United States. As Josh Marshall points out, George W. Bush held the outright bigots in his party in check by making inclusive remarks about Islam. Now that his is out of the picture, there seems to be no one on that side of the aisle ready to call out the extremists. That's right, the Republican Party has moved to the point where W looks like a moderate.

Time for all of us to stand up and make it clear that the First Amendment contains no clause excluding Muslims, or anyone else. We need to do that for our own freedom.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Mad as hell

Those who might have consulted this page in the past 3 months will have noticed that there's been nothing new. Truth is, I had pretty well convinced myself that I lacked the energy to keep coming up with new fusillades. But the assaults on truth, sense and honesty multiply and, to quote a famous speech from a two-star movie, I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more.

So be warned: Expect to see more fulminations in the coming days.

(Oh, and I hope that future quotations will be less trite.)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Safety doesn't pay

While the rest of the world is waiting to see if the BP well in the Gulf can be capped, NPR has been looking at our last industrial disaster, the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine that killed 29 miners. The network discovered that mine owner Massey Energy routinely pulled the wool over the eyes of Mine Safety and Health Administration inspectors.

Fortunately, under the Obama administration, the MSHA seems to be taking its role of protecting mine workers more seriously than it did in former years. The agency has made a number of surprise inspections of Massey mines. Inspectors were following up on tips that the company was not hanging safety curtains that are supposed to direct air to the face of the shaft, dilute methane and keep down coal dust, which can not only explode but is the cause of black lung. The result:
MSHA coal administrator Kevin Stricklin said inspectors blitzed the Massey mines and stopped people from tipping off workers inside. "We captured the phone and we went underground and unfortunately in all three of these cases, we found the anonymous tips were true," Stricklin said.
Massey is worse than other employers--and its errors are more likely to cause loss of life--but its behavior is perfectly understandable when we remember what corporations exist for: to make money. Not to be nice to workers. Not to provide safe workplaces. To make money.

Now, some people (like your editor) would argue that better working conditions mean more productive workers, a greater likelihood of being able to hire high-quality employees and less turnover. All of which contributes to profitability, or should. But it's hard to measure such things, whereas dollars saved on safety equipment, and more hours spent cutting coal, because the time supposed to be spent on safety is cut, all go directly to the bottom line.

The tendency to cut back on safety--and analogous measures like environmental protection--is exacerbated in a climate in which the stock market values the last quarter more than the last quarter-century. In today's economy, the company that cares about worker safety or protecting the environment starts out behind those who don't.

So industry cannot be left to its own devices when it comes to the health and safety of its workers or the protection of the public. Capitalism is fine when it comes to separating companies that can make money in a dog-eat-dog world from those that can't. But pure capitalism does not care whit about other matters. So Massey Energy and BP will go on their merry way, killing people and harming the world we live in, as long as they can.

Which is why we need strong, effective government. Which ought to be obvious, and was for many years, but is today threatened by a rising tide of ignorance.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Grayson strikes again

The irrepressible Alan Grayson asks why you'd want to put Republicans in charge of government, when they "don't want to do it. " And more. Watch.

Political Self-Destruction 101

You've probably heard that newly-anointed Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul had a very long 24 hours between Wednesday and Thursday evening. First, he went on Rachel Maddow's show and suggested that the public-accommodations section of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was so problematic that he might have voted against the entire act had had he been in Congress then. (For some of us, he actually made it worse by suggesting that the law should not ban people from carrying weapons into restaurants. If the Long Branch could do it, why not us?)

The Paul tried to walk it back, saying that, yes, the federal government may ban racial discrimination in private business. That may have been less of a change in his position than it may sound like; I don't hear his original comment as saying that the Constitution prevents legislation to outlaw discrimination, just that it's a bad idea. Not exactly a full-throated endorsement of the Civil Rights Act.

Then, at about 2:00 p.m. yesterday, Paul said that he does not support repealing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Which puts him on the same page as every member of the US Congress and everyone this side of the Ku Klux Klan and the Aryan Nation. And, by saying that he does not favor repeal of an act that's sacrosanct, he raises the question of whether he actually does.

Finally, at about 5:00 p.m., the would-be senator told CNN that, yes, he would have voted for the law had he been in Congress when it came up.

Quite a first day as his party's candidate. Welcome to the big leagues, Dr. Paul.

This incident tells us several things about Rand Paul, and the forces he is said to represent. First, he is an ideologue, and one who has not thought through the implications of his philosophy. The problem with libertarianism is that, carried to its logical conclusion, it leads to results that are anything but liberty. May a group of people, exercising their individual rights, form a lynch mob?

Then, too, Dr. Paul (he's an ophthalmologist) seems proud that he is not a "professional politician;" rather than serving an apprenticeship in local or statewide offices, he makes his first attempt at what is often called the second-highest office in the land. But legislating is a skill. It needs the ability to master detail, to deal with multiple issues at the same time, to understand the implications of positions on bills--even those that might not be immediately apparent--and to negotiate. Senators vote on trillions (that's "trillions" with a "T") of dollars in appropriations and borrowings each year. The Senate is no place for amateurs.

Update: The hits just keep on coming. Today on Good Morning America, Rand Paul accused President Obama of putting his "boot heel on the throat of BP," and called criticism of the company "un-American." That's going to endear him to the 98 percent of Americans who think the government isn't grinding that boot heel in hard enough. And doesn't he realize that the company is BRITISH Petroleum?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Where are you going to spend eternity?

That was the title on a pamphlet handed to me today. Distributed by the Fellowship Tract League of Lebanon, OH, it is "free as the Lord provides." Pardon my cynicism, but I see the hand of man involved in the process, although I think that is good. If God can't get man involved, maybe he's doing something wrong.

I'm not going to comment on the content of the brochure I got. Some will, undoubtedly, find its message attractive and perhaps comforting. Fine for them.

As for me, as I've noted before, I'm going to Hell. No disrespect to the folks at the Fellowship Tract League, whom I don't know--their pamphlet was given to me as I walked by--but after seeing the folks who are sure they're on their way to Heaven, the idea of spending eternity with them is, well, hell. So I'm on my way to the other place.

Four words

Four words make a complete case against the "small government" folks--the ones who want to limit government in its dealings with corporations and agglomerations of private power.

Actually, the case is made by a pair of two-word phrases. They are:

Massey Energy


British Petroleum

Doesn't look good

This page tends to downplay the so-called anti-incumbent fervor said to be sweeping the nation. For instance, while it's true that Sen. Arlen Specter (R/D. PA) was voted out in Democratic Party's primary, recall that until a year ago he was a long-time Republican. To paraphrase an old saying, Democrats may have welcomed the convert, but were unlikely to elect him Pope. Or in this case, Senator.

I don't mean to say that there is no anti-incumbent feeling abroad in the land--there is. We saw that in Utah, where Bob Bennett (R. UT) was swept from office. Will that feeling last to November? There, we have doubts.

For one incumbent, Blanche Lincoln (D. AR), things do not look good, however. Check this graph of her poll numbers vs. those of her Democratic challenger, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter.

Lincoln does not have until November to see if hostility to incumbents fades; the primary run-off will be held June 8th.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Have you noticed?

I've said for a long time that the secret to being a pundit is never to look back. You predicted that Specter would trounce Sestak, that John McCain would beat that young guy Obama, that W was toast after he invaded Iraq? Never give a hint that you said those things--just go forward with your fearless forecasts.

The point of my maundering is to note that we're not hearing much from all those people who complained that democracy was broken, that incumbents had such a lock on public office that the voters couldn't make themselves heard. Now, all we hear is how incumbents are an endangered species.

That is an exaggeration, too. Just don't remind me that I said so...

Friday, May 14, 2010

The end of civilization as we know it

NBC cancels Law and Order.

(Now we know why it is the 3rd place network.)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Making Mississippi look good

In its campaign to make Mississippi look progressive, Arizona has decreed that those with "heavy" accents can no longer teach English.

Hmmm. So Arizona would keep Winston Churchill, Laurence Olivier, Cary Grant, or Hugh Grant from teaching English?

As the lovely Diane points out, wouldn't it make more sense to keep people who can't speak other languages properly from teaching them? Legions of French teachers who, with the best will in the world, could not pronounce "J'entre dans la salle de classe" come to mind.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Just a thought

David Cameron does not look like a Prime Minister. He looks like the Prime Minister on a BBC sitcom.

The wrath of G_d?

As you've probably heard, Oklahoma recently passed a pair of statutes designed to place further obstacles in the way of women seeking constitutionally-protected abortions. Shortly thereafter, the state was pummeled by a series of tornadoes.

So, how come we don't hear any of the panjandrums who are so certain that they know the will of the Almighty telling us that this is Oklahoma's punishment?

Just wondering.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Wingnuts rule!

The saying goes that revolutions eat their young. The Tea Party faction of the Republican Party exhibited such behavior over the weekend, when their supporters ended the senatorial career of Robert Bennett (R.UT).

Bob Bennett is extremely conservative. Like really, really conservative. But he is not a yahoo, like, say Tom Coburn or James Inhofe (both R. OK). No firebrand, Bennett is the kind of person that conservatives need--a steady, reliable vote who is willing to speak civilly with those across the aisle and will not terrify the legion of independents.

That's not good enough for the radicals who are taking over the GOP. They only want fire-breathing true-believers.

I've already gone out on a limb and said publicly that the Democrats will not do as badly in the mid-term elections as is widely expected. They may lose seats--that's normal in off-years. But as the six months to November unreel, I expect that the sensible center will begin to reject the anger and simple-minded nostrums of the extremists. Even if I am wrong about 2010, even if the anger in the nation is even deeper--and broader--than it seems, the Republican Party has taken a turn down the road to irrelevance.

The right place?

Palestinians and Israelis have begun indirect peace talks under US auspices. We should hope that they will be successful, but no one expects rapid results.

It strikes me that a more important locale for the US to expend energy on peacemaking would be between India and Pakistan. I make no claim to expertise, but it seems as if the issues in the sub-continent, though anything but simple, are less complex than those in the Middle East. And if a real peace treaty could be attained, it would have direct and immediate benefits to American interests. To begin with, it would free the largest part of Pakistan's military to cope with the Taliban and al Qaeda, and probably permit the nation to reduce its overall military expenditures as well, thereby much improving its economic prospects.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The time for gun control is past

Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square car bomber, was the legal owner of a Kel-Tec Sub Rifle 2000, a weapon that The New York Times described as "fearsome looking, a hybrid of a pistol and a long gun." A semi-automatic weapon with a telescoping stock, it could be concealed with ease under a coat, and provide a terrorist with just the weapon he needs to kill a large number of people in a place like Times Square.t s

And this weapon was bought legally in Connecticut, not obtained at some gun show or bought from a gun-runner in Georgia or Virginia.

It's time to stop talking about gun control and start talking about gun sanity.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


A GOP candidate for governor of Alabama wants to give drivers' license tests only in English. "This is Alabama; we speak English," Tim James says in a new ad.

That, of course, is a debatable assertion.

Give it back

I didn't see the Senate hearings where Goldman Sachs executives got grilled for sending the financial system into a ditch, but from what I've seen and heard about it, something was missing.

At one point, Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO, was asked how much of a bonus he got last year. $9 million was the answer.

And that was where one of the Senators should have told him to give it back. Indeed, all of the 2009 bonuses at G-S--which were "earned" directly or indirectly thanks to the willingness of the American people to clean up the mess the bankers made--should be given back.

Now I know that G-S did not get bailout money, at least not directly. And no part of it is owned by the government; whether the reverse is the case is an open question. But its bankers could return some of the largesse they received by contributing their bonuses to the Treasury. That's legal. Indeed, every year, the Treasury receives gifts from grateful citizens. The bankers could even earmark (yes!) their contributions to reduce the deficit, to which they contributed so mightily.

So, why didn't any of the Senators say, "Give it back!"

Monday, April 26, 2010

Just a thought

The conventional wisdom is that the greatest contribution to resolving the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would be a peace between Israel and the Palestinians. While that would be a development of tremendous importance, wouldn't a peace between India and Pakistan be of even more value?

And while we're talking about the sub-continent, isn't the obvious solution to more than sixty years of war and tension to re-unite the two parts of what was India before the partition of 1947?

Is he a Senator or a 4-year old?

The Constitution says you have to be 30 to serve in the Senate. But that doesn't mean that you have to act like an adult.

Exhibit A: Lindsay Graham (R. SC), who has withdrawn support for climate change legislation, because he's in a snit over Harry Reid's decision to advance immigration on the Senate agenda.

Graham charges that Reid is playing politics over immigration. Well, duh. What game does Graham think he's in?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What I've been up to

Well, one thing: Three of my friends in the plaintiffs' civil rights bar and I went to today's Tea Party rally in Boston to distribute free copies of the Constitution.

In case you can't read the sign, it says: Unconstitutional?
Read the actual Constitution of the United States

We gave away our entire supply (approximately 300 copies) of Constitutions in 40 minutes. At which point I left. So, no, I did not have to listen to Sarah Palin's maunderings.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

President Hu is coming to Washington

Chinese President Hu Jintao will attend a summit conference on nuclear security later this month. Which, inevitably--given a sophomoric sense of humor--inspired the following (with obeisances to Bud Abbott and Lou Costello):

President Hu is coming to Washington!

Who did you say?



That's right!


I just told you, President Hu is coming.

He is?


Who is he?

Yes, that's it.

Ok, let's try it this way. What is he president of?


Who is?

you've got it. He is!

That's what I'm trying to find out. Who is he?

He's the President.

Who is?

Haven't you been listening to me?

Yes. And I'm still waiting for you to tell me who is the President of China.

I've BEEN telling you that.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The challenge to the Pope--and the Papacy

The headline on yesterday's Boston Herald echoed a question I have been asking since last week: "Can the Pope Survive?"

As the lovely Diane pointed out when I expressed that, short of murder there is no way for the Church hierarchy to remove a Pope, and despite a number of popular novels positing plots for papal homicide, we surely don't expect that.

On the other hand, there are levels of survival. Given the burgeoning sexual abuse scandal across Europe, the present occupant of St. Peter's throne might conceivably be "forgotten but not gone," if the Vatican does not do much more to address what has happened, and the responsibility of high officials in the church for allowing it to continue for so long after the pattern became clear. Today's New York Times has an account of Palm Sunday reactions to the scandal from several cities in Europe and the United States. Including this telling comment from an Austrian woman in her '60s:
To think of Jesus Christ is one thing. To think of the pope is another.
Coming from an older woman from one of the most Catholic countries on Earth, that is exactly what the Church hierarchy should fear: the separation of the Church from Jesus, and Jesus from the Church.

(You might wonder why I, a non-Catholic, comment on this issue. Coming from the most Catholic large city in the United States, the Church has always had a presence in my life. And the Church is a very important institution, for good, ill or neither, and thus of significance to all of us.)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A crock

So there was Sara Palin campaigning for former running mate John McCain (R.AZ) on Friday, and NPR had a clip of her saying, "I'm a commercial fisherman, and we know that only dead fish go with the flow," followed by predictable cheers from the crowd.

You've probably heard that phrase before, but have you ever stopped to think about it?

It's a crock. In truth, all fish spend most of their lives going with the flow, and I daresay that many of them never go against it. Why do sharks and whales appear in northern water in the summer, but not the winter? Because they go with ocean currents, that's why. Even the salmon--the fish that we think of as going against the flow--goes with the flow on its way down rivers to the sea. And when it mounts that fight back upstream--impelled not by courage but by atavistic biological imperative--remember that it's going to spawn and die.

Yesterday, Palin and allies gathered in Searchlight, Nevada, hometown of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.NV). Strikes me that pretty much all of the countries where they could do that without getting hit with water cannon, tear gas or police batons are governed by the kind of social democratic governments that the Tea Partiers disdain. Maybe they should think about that.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The best gift Democrats could wish for

Have you heard about the new Harris poll of 2230 Republicans that found that:
57 percent of them believe that President Obama is a Muslim

45 percent believe that the President was not born in the United States

38 percent believe that Obama "is doing many of the things Hitler did"

24 percent believe that Obama "may be the Antichrist"
(Presumably Jewish Republicans--of which, I regret to say, there are some--were not among the last group.)

As Jim Farley said of FDR, "We love him for the enemies he's made." Or, to turn an old saying on its head, "With enemies like these..."

Maybe I was wrong

Regular readers may recall that I have taken Democrats to task for not reaching out to elements of the Tea Party crowd who are justifiably angry with a system that--even a year into Barack Obama's presidency--seems stacked against the "ordinary" American.

After seeing the disgraceful, racist, homophobic behavior of the Tea Party crowd in D.C. this past weekend--using the ultimate racist slur against the great John Lewis, a hero of 20th Century America, and insults at my congressman, the inimitable Barney Frank--maybe I was mistaken. Perhaps the Tea Partiers really do represent all that is evil about American populism.

Still, I have hopes that there are responsible citizens who were attracted by the Tea Party movement but will now be repelled by the antics of the demonstrators in Washington, and propelled into a more serious effort to change our politics to reflect the interests of the great mass of our people. If there are such citizens, Democrats should reach out to them.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The heat of the matter

The Indian Army weaponizes chili.

One more down

According to AP, Mit Romney told a book-signing in San Diego that the health-care reform package is unconstitutional, because it interferes with interstate commerce.

That view ought to disqualify the Mittster from running for President again. You'd think that it should be a basic requirement for wanting to be the person who takes an oath to uphold, protect and defend the Constitution that he or she would actually have some understanding of the document that established our Republic. Clearly, Mitt does not.

The Interstate Commerce Clause of the Constitution, part of Section 8 of Article I, defining the power of Congress, states, that "The Congress shall have the power...To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states..." Regulation necessarily implies interference. Commerce that is not regulated is, by its nature, not interfered with--at least not by the government. (As no less an authority than Adam Smith knew, government regulation is in some cases preferable to the interference in the market of unchecked private interests, but that is another matter.)

So Mitt turns the Constitution on its head.

Romney was at one time a serious figure. He has become--like most Republicans on the national scene--a buffoon.

(Josh Marshall is of the view that if health-care is still an issue in 2012, that will put paid to Romney's chances for the GOP nomination, because he would be too ripe a target for Democrats pointing to his sponsorship of health-care reform in Massachusetts that is strikingly similar to the plan passed by the House on Sunday night. Hypocrisy has not stood in the Mittster's way in the past, however; viz. 2008. Yet there are those who still think him a serious candidate for the nomination next time. The GOPher party has become such a rodomontade that anything is possible, even likely.)