Tuesday, January 29, 2008

And There Goes Margaret

I guess it's only fair, having done a few paragraphs recently on Caroline Kennedy to mention another presidential daughter. Margaret Truman has passed away. Margaret's fame came before my time, but like many, I always enjoyed the stories of Harry and his daughter. One of my favorite always being Harry's response to a critic from the Post after Margaret's singing performance.

On Dec. 5, 1950, she did a program by Schumann, Schubert and Mozart at Constitution Hall in Washington.

Washington Post music critic Paul Hume wrote in his review: "Miss Truman is a unique American phenomenon with a pleasant voice of little size and fair quality. She is extremely attractive on stage. Yet Miss Truman cannot sing very well. She is flat a good deal of the time -- more so last night than at any time we have heard her in past years."

After the president read the review the next morning, he wrote to Hume: "I've just read your lousy review of Margaret's concert. It seems to me that you are a frustrated old man who wishes he could have been successful. When you write such poppycock . . . it shows conclusively that you're off the beam. . . . Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens you'll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below."

Good old Harry - responding just like a father would, even if that father is also the US President. I never heard Margaret sing, but I have read a couple of the books that she wrote later in her life. Safe only thanks to Harry's demise many years ago, I can say that I found the books to be . . . well, let's just say Margaret could not write very well either. A line in one of her books is a favorite of mine to this day, "He noticed her flashing eyes." Which was fine enough, except it appeared in a scene of a phone conversation.

While Margaret may not have been a great singer, or author, she certainly does seem to have had a good life, and that's nothing to mock. So rest in peace Margaret, and if you can, please don't let Harry haunt me for the "not write very well either" line.

Starbucks or Dunkin?

There's a new category of voter today, thanks to the Boston Globe. Back in the day, we had peace voters, hard-hat voters and the silent majority. More recently, we've seen Reagan Democrats, soccer moms and security moms, limousine liberals, evangelicals and the wineandcheese crowd. In today's Globe, a Democratic strategist speculated that the Kennedy endorsement of Barack Obama will broaden his appeal nationwide. Obama, this guy says, already had the STARBUCKS vote sewn up. Kennedy will help Obama win over the DUNKIN DONUTS crowd, the people who can't afford or won't shell out $$$ for the $4 latte and so opt for coffee-of-the day at the DONUT shop. I thought that was a pretty clever way to put it.

On the Republican side, does this mean that Romney has the Starbucks vote, even though caffeine is verboten for him? I think the flinty-eyed, austere McCain would opt for Dunkin, and most likely Huckabee, too, since he shuns high-calorie coffee drinks.

Monday, January 28, 2008


The official title of this blog being somehistoricalperspective, I thought I would clue you in on an up-and-coming phenomenon in the countries of the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe: Ostalgie, or nostalgia for the "good old days" of Communism. Some people, like the Yugoslavs, understandably pine for the days of Tito, who managed to deliver on (relatively)high standards of living without preventing people from traveling or monitoring their every word. Revelers are already gathering for a pilgrimage to the Tito birthplace for the "Old Man's" 116th birthday May 25. Others, like the Lithuanians and Romanians, don't miss the Communist yoke at all, but wish to profit from it by presenting aspects of it in a clever way to the first generation of post-Soviet theme park goers. The Romanians are bringing back Vlad Dracul, in so doing making invidious comparisons with the late, great Nicolae Ceausescu, while the Lithuanians have built "the 1984 Soviet Union theme park..."

The London Daily Telegraph reports that the 1984 park offers "a journey back to the Soviet Union with KGB interrogation methods and "beatings" with a leather belt, visitors paying to be "beaten, interrogated and shouted at" by tour leaders dressed as agents of the Russian secret police, the KGB.

As a spokeswoman for the park told Reuters, "There are still many people in Lithuania who are sick with Soviet nostalgia so we've started this show to help them recover, " but it will be valuable too for the younger and foreign visitors as a history lesson.

Not to worry if you are easily excitable, as "at the conclusion of the tour, visitors receive a special certificate to honour their two hours as "Soviet citizens" and a shot of vodka, presumably to settle their nerves."

This experience seems to go a bit far in the search for authenticity, but it has plenty of irony as well as financial possibilities...entrepreneurs making $$$ off the WORST the Communist world had to offer...

Caroline Kennedy

I've always had a special admiration for Caroline Kennedy. We were born the same year. I have been blessed with a father who is still living and I have always felt for the girl who lost hers so young, and under such horrible circumstances. I've long admired her ability to grow up to be a normal functioning person having survived so much public scrutiny, and with all that family's trauma and tragedy.

In her op-ed piece in yesterday's NYTimes, Kennedy wrote "Over the years, I’ve been deeply moved by the people who’ve told me they wished they could feel inspired and hopeful about America the way people did when my father was president. This sense is even more profound today." And it was while looking for that inspiration and hope that she found her candidate in Obama. It is a remarkable piece from a woman who has not often shared her feelings about her father with the public (and isn't that such a refreshing change from someone like Spears who drags us through her life 24/7?).

She continued, noting that:

Sometimes it takes a while to recognize that someone has a special ability to get us to believe in ourselves, to tie that belief to our highest ideals and imagine that together we can do great things. In those rare moments, when such a person comes along, we need to put aside our plans and reach for what we know is possible. . . .

I have spent the past five years working in the New York City public schools and have three teenage children of my own. There is a generation coming of age that is hopeful, hard-working, innovative and imaginative. But too many of them are also hopeless, defeated and disengaged. As parents, we have a responsibility to help our children to believe in themselves and in their power to shape their future. Senator Obama is inspiring my children, my parents’ grandchildren, with that sense of possibility.
I have voted too many times for the candidate because the other guy was worse, or would be worse. How many times have we voted for candidates not because we loved who they were and what they stood for - but because we feared or despised the ones they ran against? Aren't you tired of that as well?

I don't pretend to suggest that everyone else feels this way about Obama. But what I do want to suggest, what I would like to INSIST ON here is this. Look at the candidates, sure some are falling like flies, but there are still good ones out there. Look at the candidate and find that one who will inspire you. Find the one that makes you want to vote for him (or her) by inspiring you, by letting you dream of a better world. Above all things, find that candidate who you would vote for readily - and not because the other guy would be worse.

And maybe, just maybe, in January 2009 we'll see something pretty special in the White House. A president we can actually be proud of. One we can believe in.

And wouldn't that be something.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Deconstructing the Obama victory...

The results are trickling in from South Carolina, presaging a significant Obama victory. Something like 81% of African-Americans voted for him, which suggests two conclusions you could draw. First, I wonder if it is true, as pundits suggest, that the Clintons have succeeded in defining Obama as the "African-American" candidate in the race and somehow marginalized him? You would think not by looking at the Iowa results, but...I'm no pundit or political scientist(even if i DID stay at a Holiday Inn express lately). Second, maybe basic tribalism kicked in again here. I think you could say women were outraged in New Hampshire by the admittedly misogynist coverage of Hillary Clinton in the media after Iowa, and turned out to give a big middle finger to the pundits and avenge the slights they felt Hillary received. Could it be that we've seen the same reaction among African-Americans re some of the punches the Clintons and their surrogates threw at Barack Obama? And if the latter interpretation is on the mark, can we now move beyond race and gender and get some serious discussion of where the two leading contenders stand on the key issues, namely the ones Tomcat reiterates all the time on politics plus--the ones that never seem to get asked in the lust for horserace gossip?

I'm not confident, but i AM encouraged. It's not over, but the possibility is STILL OUT THERE that I might have the chance to cast a vote for President with joy in my heart, rather than with my thumb and forefinger clasped firmlly over my nose.

Perils of a plural Presidency

In today's NY Times, which recently gave hometown favorite Mrs. Clinton the nod in the upcoming primaries, Garry Wills raises a question that hadn't really occurred to me regarding the potential Clinton restoration. As before, the mister and missus are running as a twofer, i.e. elect Hillary, get Bill for free. That is cited by some supporters as the best reason to vote Clinton. But how great an idea IS this, really?

Wills sets up the scenario nicely. "SENATOR Hillary Clinton has based her campaign on experience — 35 years of it by her count. That must include her eight years in the White House. Some may debate whether those years count as executive experience. But there can be no doubt that her husband had the presidential experience, fully. He has shown during his wife’s campaign that he is a person of initiative and energy. Does anyone expect him not to use his experience in an energetic way if he re-enters the White House as the first spouse? Mrs. Clinton claims that her time in that role was an active one. He can hardly be expected to show less involvement when he returns to the scene of his time in power as the resident expert. He is not the kind to be a potted plant in the White House."

So far, so good, right? Well...maybe not so much...

"This is not a new question," Wills continues. "It was intensely debated in the convention that formulated our Constitution. The Virginia Plan for the new document submitted by Edmund Randolph and the New Jersey Plan submitted by William Paterson left open the number of officers to hold the executive power. Some (like Hugh Williamson of North Carolina) argued for a three-person executive, each member coming from a different region of the country. More people argued (like George Mason of Virginia) for a multiple-member executive council. The objection to giving executive power to a single person came from the framers’ experience with the British monarchy and the royal governors of the colonies. They did not want another monarch.

But as the debate went forward a consensus formed that republican rule would check the single initiative of a president. In fact, accountability to the legislature demanded that responsibility be lodged where it could be called to account. A plural presidency would leave it uncertain whom to check. How, for instance, would Congress decide which part of the executive should be impeached in case of high crimes and misdemeanors? One member of the plural executive could hide behind the other members.

James Wilson of Pennsylvania made the argument for a single officeholder with typical depth and precision: 'To control the executive, you must unite it. One man will be more responsible than three. Three will contend among themselves till one becomes the master of his colleagues. In the triumvirates of Rome, first Caesar, then Augustus, are witnesses of this truth. The kings of Sparta and the consuls of Rome prove also the factious consequences of dividing the executive magistracy.'

Wilson and his allies carried the day; and their argument is as good now as when they embedded it in the Constitution."

Come to think of it, we've seen this show before, pretty recently, and it isn't pretty...

"One problem with the George W. Bush administration is that it has brought a kind of plural presidency in through the back door. Vice President Dick Cheney has run his own executive department, with its own intelligence and military operations, not open to scrutiny, as he hides behind the putative president. No other vice president in our history has taken on so many presidential prerogatives, with so few checks. He is an example of the very thing James Wilson was trying to prevent by having one locus of authority in the executive. The attempt to escape single responsibility was perfectly exemplified when his counsel argued that Mr. Cheney was not subject to executive rules because he was also part of the legislature."

That's at least as good an argument against a Clinton restoration as the ones against dynasty politics...if you're looking for accountability in the Oval Office, which we most certainly have NOT had in the Bush-Cheney presidency, you might want to reconsider returning the Clintons. If pro-Clinton friends object, you would be on solid ground in taking them back to First Principles, as Wills makes clear above.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Vetting candidate Obama

There's an interesting piece in this morning's Boston Globe by Dan Payne, a columnist and sometime Democratic media consultant. Payne is "worried About Obama," referring to those aspects of the Obama record that are likely to attract special attention from the media and GOP opposition researchers. We know about all of Mrs. Clinton's negatives, Payne says, and he's right, ad nauseum. Now, potential vulnerabilities in the Obama record need to be vetted and explained well before voters make the final decision about which candidate will carry their standard in the fall...

1. Who's this slumlord? While running as a reformer, Obama has had a 17-year relationship with an indicted Chicago con man who's going on trial for fraud, extortion, and money laundering. ABC News found that Obama has been close to Antoin "Tony" Rezko, a major slumlord and wheeler-dealer who used minority set-asides and community groups as fronts to win government contracts.

As a state senator, Obama wrote letters to the city and state backing Rezko's successful bid to get $14 million in tax money to build senior citizen housing that wasn't in Obama's district.

ABC and the Chicago Sun-Times both found that Obama asked for and got Rezko's help in buying land neighboring Rezko's property for $300,000 below the asking price. When the deal became public, Obama said it was a mistake that he regrets. He may not be done regretting it.

The Sun-Times has learned that Obama is the unnamed political candidate in the federal indictment against Rezko. His US Senate campaign got $10,000 out of quarter-million-dollar scheme engineered by Rezko.

Obama's dealings with Rezko took place while it was well known that Rezko was under investigation by US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who sent Scooter Libby to jail. Rezko goes on trial Feb. 25, three weeks after Feb. 5, when half of all the delegates will be chosen.

2. The gang of three. I worry that Obama will get pounded by the GOP for being one of only three state senators to vote against making it a crime for convicts on probation or bail to have contact with street gang members.

3. Keyes to victory. I'm worried that Obama has never had a tough race against a Republican. He became a US senator because both his primary and general election opponents imploded over ex-wives' recriminations. In order to beat the last-minute entrant, GOP goofball Alan Keyes, all Obama had to do was continue breathing.

4. No whining. I don't know how Obama's team will deal with the ceaseless attacks from the far right that the Clintons are used to (and dole out). How will they respond to the bilge from Fox news, Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, and hate-filled talk radio?

Obama is a lucid writer, meaning he is a clear, incisive thinker, and if you've read Dreams From My Father, you know he also brings a unique set of life experiences and perspective to the Presidential race. He needs to use these advantages to address the controversies and defuse all the attacks that you know are coming his way.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Is Dick Watching You?

No surprise here today in Cheney's call for Congress to PERMANENTLY extend items like the "Protect" America Act. (sorry could not resist the quotes). The Protect America Act expires in nine days. But instead of letting it die a peaceful death - or at least look at making it a little less . . . oh, I don't know . . . unconstitutional, undemocratic, you name it, Cheney wants us to make the sucker permanent. But not as is. No Cheney wants to "modernize" FISA, making secret electronic surveillance permanent, not simply extended. Harry Reid asked the White House to support a 30-day extension "while we work to strengthen the legal framework for such activities." (whatever THAT means - do you trust Harry Reid anymore? I know I don't!)

As the WaPo notes on its site:
The Protect America Act, passed in August 2007, permits U.S. intelligence to monitor the communications of persons "reasonably believed to be outside the United States" without a court order or oversight. It continues to require an order from the secret FISA court for such surveillance when the targeted person is in the United States. The act also protects third parties from private lawsuits stemming from assistance they provide to the government's intelligence collection efforts.
The requirement that orders should be required from the FISA court is one of those little points that just drives the administration crazy. But then again, Bush's executive signature letters is all he needs to say that it's just part of the law they don't need to obey.

There is an act out there called HR 3773 from John Conyers that amends the act, but doesn't go far enough under our skin for Cheney's liking, so there is opposition to the bill, which passed the House and is sitting in the Senate. (no I don' t have the senate number on me at the moment). But you can check here to see how your Rep voted on 3773.

Personally, I'm with the ACLU, which calls it the "Police America Act" and notes that the law "contains virtually no protections for the U.S. end of the phone call or e-mail, leaving decisions about the collection, mining and use of Americans' private communications up to this administration."

Aren't you glad you asked?

Take that, GOPers!

Glimpsed on the car in front during a traffic slowdown somewhere in southeast Washington:

"Democrats are sexy. When was the last time you heard someone say that's a nice piece of elephant?!"

Monday, January 21, 2008

Remembering V.I. and the Mausoleum movement

Today is the anniversary of the death of Vladimir Il'ich Lenin near Moscow in l924. Even more important, from the standpoint of Twilight Zone fans, it is the beginning of the Mausoleum Movement, the apparent compulsion that everyone in the Communist world felt about embalming for the long haul and displaying their deceased leaders under glass for permanent public viewing. Lenin's mausoleum made possible the Mao mausoleum in China, Pyongyang's Dear Leader I mausoleum, the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum in Vietnam, the Dmitrov mausoleum in Bulgaria and several others. For a time, there were TWO corpses in the Moscow mausoleum--during the Lenin/Stalin dual occupancy, l953-61. You can see this incarnation of the mausoleum in the photo above.

Of course, political changes have taken their toll: Stalin was removed unceremoniously in the dead of night in October l961 and buried out back, near the Kremlin wall. The end of Communism in Bulgaria saw Dmitrov's corpse evicted from his place of honor and replaced with a public toilet--a low blow, to be sure. On the other hand, in some places, the corpse's stock has only risen. For example, it was reported in the Russian papers a few years ago that Lenin corpse embalmer specialists are working in Pyongyang by order of Dear Leader II on not just the periodic touching-up of, but the ACTUAL PHYSICAL RESURRECTION of DL I(!).

Putin is renowned for his tough talk, but he hasn't so far summoned the courage to put an end to this spectacle by burying old V.I. I've long thought he should send him on a world tour, a farewell to the world as it were, and then arrange for his interment in St. Petersburg, which is what V.I. wanted in the first place. At that point, Red Square could begin its transition from a graveyard to the vibrant, multi-purpose space it was for hundreds of years before January l924.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Remember Burma?

We've got a lot on our minds lately. Elections, recession (oops, we're not supposed to use that word, I forget), the death of moral values (or on the flip side - the repressive oversight of the morality police), wars that are going nowhere, and political leadership that is notable only for its amazing lack of spine, thought and leadership.

And in the midst of all that, if we take a moment to remember the situation in Darfur, we consider ourselves lucky. So I don't blame you from skipping to other posts or just reading this and forgetting it. But if you're up for the challenge, take a moment to remember the Burmese monks and their remarkable brave protests.

To their credit (not a phrase I've used much), the Bush administration has pushed for China and India to put pressure on Burma to make substantive reversals in its repressive policies. But even if we take the Bush administration at its word (not something I've ever been willing to do) and assume that they've REALLY, SERIOUSLY, pushed for China and India's help, we'd have to assume that they're as incompetent at that as at everything else.

What has happened since the world last took notice of the Burmese monks' protests? More monks arrested and no information on many of the missing and dead.

Neither the United Nations nor Bush's administration have anything to be proud of here. Both need to find the strength to stand with the monks of Burma. Because if they don't, there won't be any monks left able to stand for themselves.

What Makes an American?

Xenophobia is certainly not anything new in the United States. My German-born ancestors were mocked by Ben Franklin and others for their foreignness, including their preference for speaking their mother tongue, including publishing German-language newspapers in various communities in the new world.
Why should the Palatine boors [the Germans] be suffered to swarm into our settlements, and by herding together establish their language and manners to the exclusion of ours? Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a colony of aliens, who will soon be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our anglifying them, and will never adopt our language or customs, any more than they can acquire our complexion.
Here we are several generations down the road, my English is pretty good, my German, non-existent but for a few words and phrases remembered from one high school German class. But I do enjoy a good meal of wiener schnitzel from time to time. And so the road has been traveled by immigrants from all over the world. The United States has a long history of giving and taking from those huddled masses yearning to breathe free. But, as Franklin's quote also shows us, we also have a long history of fearing the unknown of just what those immigrants are bringing with them.

We are at another stage in our national life when xenophobia has made its way to the front of the discussion on immigration. There can be rational, logical and practical discussions on any topic. But all too often many in the discussion toss thinking out the window and react out of emotion and fear, not logic or practicality.

One such example is right here in my own back yard, in the state of Virginia. The past few years have seen some ludicrous and bizarre reactions to the immigration debate in that state. In just two weeks of legislative work, over 100 bills on the topic of immigration have been introduced. I have not read most, even many of the bills. So I am holding out hope that among the 100+ there are at least a few that deal with the topic in a useful way.

There are, however, some that expose the fears behind their authors' words, including:
  • A proposal to require driver's license exams to be conducted only in English
  • Several that seek to declare English Virginia's official language (a law that would find victims among more than a few white, non-Hispanic, US-born Virginians I've met over the years).
  • A proposal that would require defendants to pay for language interpreters in court if convicted.
  • Give police officers the authority to begin deportation proceedings.
  • Require students to show a valid birth certificate before entering public K-12 schools or college.
  • Create a state agency to deal with illegal immigration.
And my favorite of them all - two different bills that would allow employers to fire workers for misconduct if they speak a language other than English at work.

I have known at least two people since moving to DC who were foreign-born and living in the country illegally. One of them spoke the King's English, being from London. The other spoke and wrote English wonderfully in public, but only her native language when at home with her parents and grandfather, who had never learned English in his 80-some years. My British friend held down a very well paying job with a top company in the city. My Italian friend worked as a free-lance interpreter and writer. Despite living here for at least 10-15 years, neither ever applied to be a US citizen. I never asked about their legal documents, but would have to assume that they were either non existent, or just as fake as the illegal Spanish-speaking immigrant who might have fixed part of the restaurant dinner I had last night. Or picked the lettuce for the salad I'm having for lunch.

So why is it that the British and Italian illegal immigrants have nice, well-paying jobs and from what I can see, crisis-free lives while the state of Virginia is on a man-hunt to track down those restaurant workers and migrant farmers?

Experience wanted? Maybe not so much...

With all due respect to the "35 years/Ready on Day One" partisans, I offer these reflections by Nic Kristof in Sunday's NY Times:

"It might seem obvious that long service in Washington is the best preparation for the White House, but on the contrary, one lesson of American history is that length of experience in national politics is an extremely poor predictor of presidential success.

Looking at the 19 presidents since 1900, three of the greatest were among those with the fewest years in electoral politics. Teddy Roosevelt had been a governor for two years and vice president for six months; Woodrow Wilson, a governor for just two years; and Franklin Roosevelt, a governor for four years. None ever served in Congress.

They all did have executive experience (as did Mr. Clinton), actually running something larger than a Senate office. Maybe that’s something voters should think about more: governors have often made better presidents than senators. But that’s not a good Democratic talking point, because the candidates with the greatest administrative experience by far are Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee.

Alternatively, look at the five presidents since 1900 with perhaps the most political experience when taking office: William McKinley, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush. They had great technical skills — but not one was among our very greatest presidents."

Kristof adds that the man whom many consider the greatest of all Presidents--Abraham Lincoln--had a paltry, and not terribly successful, one term in the House before seeking the highest office. And, he concluded, the man with the greatest current claim to the Presidency on the basis of experience is...none other than Richard Cheney(!).

So experience is important...except when it's not so much.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Quelle surprise!

One of this hour's Reuters/Yahoo headlines reads, "Polish town leery of hosting missle defense system." The Bush team has been pressuring the Poles and Czechs to allow them to build interceptor stations, against the wishes of most residents. It apparently hasn't occurred to the Bushies that these citizens of the former Soviet bloc might be less than enthusiastic about becoming instant sitting ducks...it's pretty clear who would get hit if Vladimir Putin suddenly took offense at some US demarche in central Europe, the Middle East or just about anywhere else.

Will the United States of America have ANY friends or allies ANYWHERE once we get rid of this President?!

Summoning Truman's economists...

Harry Truman once lamented that no one would bring him a one-armed economist, because the ones he consulted were always saying something apparently definitive, only to add, “On the other hand,” and completely muddy the waters. Harry S. was a simple and direct man, so you can see how that would’ve tormented him. On what this has to do with the price of tea in China…I wish I could say definitively that Mrs. Clinton would not become the Democratic nominee, but the win in Nevada certainly gives her the momentum going into Florida, California and New York for Super Tuesday, since women and Latinos are plentiful in all those places. So I’ve been asking myself what would those wishy-washy Truman economists say about Mrs. Clinton?

Item: Of all the candidates, she is LEAST electable because of her high negatives. At least half the people in my small town, and possibly the nation at large, believe she is the anti-Christ, and even though she is double-standarded on everything—“She is up to something, she thinks she can be PRESIDENT” is unacceptable from her, but not from the men in the US Senate—it is a fact that lots of people, LOTS of people, do not like her. They think she is ruthless, calculating, cold, etc. etc. etc. So how is she supposed to attract the essential independent and crossover voters in the general? And isn’t it likely that people who dislike her will come out of the woodwork to register to vote for the sole purpose of making sure she NEVER gets into the White House?

OTOH: Mrs. Clinton has apparently worked hard in the Senate to assuage the concerns of the constituents who did not vote for her in the Senatorial campaign—the upstaters and Long Gislanders, who tend Republican. I don’t know the particulars of her voting record on their issues, but it is a fact that she won re-election with 78% of the vote. She must have done something to win the support of a significant cross section of voters during her first Senate term. New Yorkers are a critical and exacting group…if she attracted bi-partisan support in New York, could she not do the same on the national stage?

Item: Contrary to what she says non-stop, ad nauseum, she doesn’t have tons of executive experience. It can be argued that she knows how the Senate works, because she worked well with her colleagues and co-sponsored quite a few pieces of legislation. But she was FIRST LADY, not PRESIDENT, and so all those trips abroad, all those conferences she sponsored, all of her initiatives were pretty much second-tier, unofficial. She certainly didn’t make foreign policy, and the one domestic project she headed—health care—failed spectacularly. So her most forceful argument—experience counts, Ready on Day One—is fundamentally bogus.

OTOH: Bill Clinton assured voters in ’92 that if you bought one Clinton, you got one free. Mrs. Clinton at the very least observed a lot of key Presidential decisions, especially those having to do with foreign policy. She knows something of the dynamics of crisis management in the White House. AND, it can be presumed that Bill Clinton, no slouch of an intellect, would be her principal advisor—to paraphrase Lyndon Johnson’s observation about Bob Kennedy, “Bill is the boy she listens to.” Could we really lose with the Clinton team back in place?

Item: She voted for the war, even expressed enthusiasm for it, later admitting that she hadn’t even read all the way through the thick stacks of briefings that cast doubt on the stated rationale. She didn’t ask any questions, didn’t try to slow down the stampede to war, just went right along and cheered on cue. She subsequently refused to apologize for the vote, couching her refusal in semantics, and has rattled her sabre several times since, e.g. voting for the Kyl-Lieberman amendment. In other words, there isn’t a lot of daylight, historically speaking, between Mrs. Clinton and the White House on using the military to whack people and/or solve difficult problems.

OTOH: Any female candidate is going to face a higher standard in proving her national security bona fides. In other words, she is going to have to talk tough consistently to be taken seriously as a potential President, lest she be perceived as weak or unwilling to pull the trigger on big, bad men threatening all of us. In this interpretation of her votes, she will return to the road of diplomacy and dignity in world affairs in the White House, using military solutions as a last rather than a first resort. No need to worry about her continuing in the Way of the Cowboy.

Item: This is the Republicans’ preferred opponent because they have so much experience in, and get such a kick out of, finding negative material about her(and Bill)to use in ads and the Repub nominee’s campaign. She’s ruthless, she’d run over her own grandmother to win, he wants to be the eminence grise/shadow president, she’s crooked(remember the lucrative, alleged insider stock trade), he’s an inveterate womanizer who would disgrace the country again(no, they didn’t start any wars, but YOU KNOW WHAT WE MEAN!!), they’re wine-and-cheeseing elitists, limousine liberals who don’t share our values, they’re YALE LAW SCHOOL(!), she hates traditional women, she was so ambitious for herself that she shamelessly stood by him after Monica, Whitewatertravelofficemarcrichlincolnbedroom. Oh, yes, and she HATES our troops and everyone in the military.

OTOH: They could do this and worse to anyone else, and at least everything negative or unflattering about her has surely already been found and publicized for everyone’s “benefit.” There have been dozens of hatchet job books on her the past few years, and there’s no sign of that trend slowing down. The Republican attack machine is ecumenical in its hunger for Dem blood…

I’m vaguely aware that there isn’t a lot of enthusiasm for Mrs. Clinton in this forum, so talk to me, tell me where I’ve gone awry or off the reservation. I’m just trying to talk myself into liking what I might end up having to accept, or accepting what I might have to like, or something like that. Truman’s economists are good at least for working that out.

LaPopessa's Neighborhood

It's a beautiful day in my neighborhood, a beautiful day in my neighborhood, won't you be my neighbor?

Well maybe not yesterday afternoon. One of those days we have in DC from time to time when something just a little bit odd pops out. In this case, it was a guy walking down the street with a loaded shotgun, a samurai sword and a bag that was found filled with gunpowder. He was walking down the street near my office, heading towards the capital. It's the sort of thing that sooner or later does draw attention, and he was stopped by the Capitol Police who arrested him and then sent a robot bomb detecting unit over to his car to blow up a suspicious package or two there.

Of course it is the sort of thing that does cause the streets to close down and police to swarm a bit, so people coming back from lunch to their offices (this happened around 1pm) get not only a floor show, but the fun of trying to find a new way to get back to their office because they can't cross one of the police lines.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Who Gets to Be Heard From?

When is a candidate not a candidate? Well sometimes it's when a debate organizing group decides that they're not "viable" for one reason or another. In the case of tonight's MSNBC Democratic presidential candidate debate, Dennis Kucinich was not invited. When he argued the point in court, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled just after 4pm today that MSNBC didn't have to include him. As of this moment, the Supreme Court has the case and hasn't yet announced a decision. There's plenty of time before the debate - three whole hours.

According to the NYTimes,

The debate is scheduled to be shown on MSNBC at 9 p.m. Eastern. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards are expected to attend.

In his ruling, Mr. Thompson found NBC to be in breach of contract because Mr. Kucinich was invited to the debate on Jan. 9, only to be disinvited shortly thereafter.

What changed? On Jan. 10, after two other Democratic candidates dropped out of the race, NBC revised its qualifying criteria for debate participants, requiring that invited candidates must have finished in the top three in either the Iowa caucus or the New Hampshire primary. . . . Mr. Kucinich’s complaint argued that, without the inclusion of all “credible candidates,” the telecast would be “effectively an endorsement of the candidates selected by NBC” instead of an actual debate. He cited the public interest provisions of the Federal Communications Act of 1934.

We shall wait and see if Kucinich's determination as non viable based on MSNBC's criteria holds up in the Supreme Court. If it does, the people of Iowa and New Hampshire have already decided a great deal for the rest of us.

Thanks guys.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

A most quotable quote

I was just thumbing through one of the US news weeklies, where there was a listing of especially memorable quotes from the past year. Detractors of the Republican candidate from Sodom and Gomorrahville, er, sorry, New York, will savor this one from the second of the candidate's three wives...asked to explain the circumstances of her divorce, Donna Hanover said that religious conflict was the culprit. Pressed on the nature of this conflict, she delivered herself of the following: "My husband thought he was God, and I didn't."

Somehow, I am not surprised...

Can we get on with this?

Once we have gotten over the surprise Clinton victory in New Hampshire and the alleged role of media misogyny, pundit piling on and furious females, there are some rawther serious issues that deserve the candidates' attention. Anybody remember there's a war on? The New York Times editorial board does and helpfully provides the key questions to ask about Iraq and what happens after the troop surge becomes untenable. Here they are, since the Times site requires registration:

" What is to become of the thousands of Iraqis who helped America and its coalition partners as translators, drivers and fixers and will face retribution? What will be the nature and content of a long-term agreement on future Iraqi-American relations? Will Congress have a say in it? Will the United States retain bases in Iraq or elsewhere in the region? How will a new president seek to enlist key regional countries in stabilizing Iraq? How will a new president improve on Mr. Bush’s failure to facilitate political conciliation? Should the United Nations be involved?"

There are hints of other Iraq-related issues in tomorrow's Times that Popessa has touched on recently, e.g. the l00+ returned Iraq/Afghanistan veterans who have been charged with murder. So I hope we can get beyond the conceit of helping Mrs. Clinton break the glass Presidential ceiling and press all of them for the best answers they can give to those questions above. We are going to need all the help we can get.

Musharraf - No Surprise Here

Musharraf has said no to allowing a UN investigation into the Bhutto assassination. In Le Figaro, Musharraf said that Pakistan has its own investigators and abilities and were already being assisted by the British, so no further need was needed, or wanted. He compared the request for an investigation with the investigation into Lebanon's former Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri. "It is not possible. Is another country involved? [in Bhutto's killing]. Pakistan is not Lebanon."

He agreed that the al-Qaeda campaign of suicide attacks were creating disorder and "disheartening the population," but that they did not have "the capacity to destabilize the country" and that elections would be held February 18 "whatever happens." What is going to happen? After all, the leader of the opposition has been eliminated. I'm sure Musharraf wants the elections to happen today so he can boast of his nation's support and love for himself and his policies.

When asked about the option of American troops going after al-Qaeda from Afghanistan into Pakistan, he rejected the notion, saying that there was no question that American soldiers would be allowed to fight in Pakistani territory. "We are a sovereign country. All those who believe that they can do better than the Pakistani army are quite misled."

And finally, my favorite question and response - When asked if democracy was possible in Pakistan, Musharraf responded, "If I answer 'not,' you will accuse me of being a military dictator! . . . Pakistan will arrive at democracy, but it will be at its own rate. . . . I made more advances to democracy in six years than my predecessors had done in 50. I am perhaps a military man, but I am not a dictator."

So remember that when Musharraf has to throw hundreds of people in jail again for speaking their mind or questioning his authority. He is not a dictator.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A timely thought

Amidst all the reaction to the US election in the London Independent today, this observation from an Aussie reader:

Sir: If Barack Obama misses out on being elected as President of the US, I am sure that the citizens of Kenya would only be only too happy to have him.

Robert Pallister

Punchbowl, New South Wales, Australia

Something tells me that the Clinton team will be urging this career change on their chief rival as the race here tightens and Kenyan politics continues its descent into chaos.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Holy hyperbole!

The Obama juggernaut has been rolling through the US electorate and now seems poised to begin the conquest of Europe. A prominent newspaper in WHAT European regional capital fairly hyperventilated about the Dem hopeful in a headline, directly identifying him with Lincoln and Kennedy(!)and proclaiming him the hope of the world? You COULD say an anointing like that might be a bit premature...no peeking, but once you've committed yourself, you can find the answer here.

An American Marine Talks About PTSD

Also from today's WaPo, Tom Rick's inbox (always insightful information into the lives and minds of our troops) has an article from the January issue of the Marine Corps Gazette. Staff Sgt. Travis Twiggs bravely discusses his PTSD - after one tour in Afghanistan and two in Iraq.

When I arrived back in the States, it was as though I had never left. All of my symptoms were back, and now I was in the process of destroying my family. That was all taking place because I did not understand what was happening to me. . . .

Well, I ended up back in Bethesda [National Naval Medical Center], and this time I was in a locked ward where I would remain for two weeks. At Bethesda I was not exactly a model patient. I was experiencing psychosis where I would fight my way through the hallways and clear rooms as if I were back in theater. The hospital police would have to be called in to secure me. . . .

Sgt Twiggs' experiences remind us of the continual damage done to our men and women in the service by the insane and illegal Bush/Cheney administration.

George McGovern Speaks: Impeach Bush & Cheney

I am old enough (ack) to remember George McGovern's run for the presidency. In fact, more than that. It was my first real campaign experience. It didn't matter to me that I wasn't old enough to vote, (I wasn't even old enough to be driving the cars from place to place during the car wash I organized with the local community college students) I worked at his campaign headquarters during the primary and the general election.

McGovern has been mostly quiet on the political and national scene since his bitter defeat by Nixon in 1972. Only two years later Nixon, of course, was having his own bitter defeat and resigning the presidency - my first taste of being right in the long run, and beaten down in the short.

In an OpEd piece in today's WaPo titled, "Why I Believe Bush Must Go," McGovern acknowledges that the chances of impeachment of one or other of these high criminals is unlikely. "The political scene is marked by narrow and sometimes superficial partisanship, especially among Republicans, and a lack of courage and statesmanship on the part of too many Democratic politicians. So the chances of a bipartisan impeachment and conviction are not promising."

McGovern goes on to discuss the various crimes against the Constitution and this country that Bush and Cheney have committed. It is a MUST READ piece. And then we have to ask our representatives in Congress an important question. Just what does it take for them to find their backbone in the 21st century?

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Ah, That's Too Bad

It seems that former Indonesian President Suharto just might be dying. He's in a Jakarta hospital in critical condition for heart issues. For those who don't remember, Suharto was Indonesia's corrupt tyrant for decades until the late 1990s, when he finally stepped down. Instead of being sent to jail or exile, he has been allowed to stay in the country and lived well in retirement with the wealth that he stole from the country during his reign (estimates range from $20-$35 billion).

His was yet another of those strongman regimes that we supported during the Cold War to keep countries from flying off into Communism. So under his rule Indonesia got arms and money and Suharto got to tyrannize his people with nary a word from the west except no doubt for private congratulations to Suharto for his military's wide-spread murder of Communist and left wing supporters across the country. But hey, what's a mass murder here or there as long as we got to keep a friend in the region. Once the Cold War was over, and during a time of economic unrest in Asia, Suharto actually lost his influence and power.

Unfortunately, despite the blood on his hands and unbridled greed and theft, Suharto was never really put on trial and held to account for his crimes. He's been able to escape punishment through this and that odd illness since he left power. If he wasn't being prosecuted because he was too ill, the man should have died long ago.

Not to be Read Soon After Eating

It's a thought that would make any sane person toss their cookies.

Rudy "9/11" Giuliani apparently left his brain in Iowa. In a NH event, he suggested that he'd want a Veep just like Dick Cheney. Even speaking the Devil's name several times in the speech. Now I don't know anyone before who was in the Rudy camp, but I've got to say now - if I ever meet one, I'm going to be suggesting they get back on their meds - FAST!

Friday, January 04, 2008

Advice for the also-rans in Iowa

The results are in, and the big Iowa winners, as we all know, are Obama and Huckabee. Those two are getting lots of props and kudos today, while those who didn't do so well are plotting new strategies for New Hampshire. I don't know what will happen, but I think the other campaigns might want to consult a real campaign-turnaround specialist. They are a bit hard to reach, and they are Russian, but look what they can do for the down-on-their-luck, based on their ads in the Moscow subway newspaper, METRO:

Sofia Georgievna…clairvoyant and magician of the first order. I can keep your family together, return love to your home, deliver you from loneliness and despair. I can produce the most astonishing turnabouts…your lover will suddenly become as loyal as your faithful dog. I can also banish bad influences, e.g. curses, the evil eye, various spells. I will change your Karmic path. Custom-made talismans also available for a small extra fee. I can solve problems of any complexity.

Lidiia Andreevna…descendant of a professional magician. I will restore friendly relations in your family forever. I can derail your spouse’s illicit affair, fill your spouse with hatred and disgust for his or her lover and make sex with anyone else unthinkable. I can solve business-related difficulties of any level of complexity, e.g. forecasting, making a competitor disappear, advancing your career. I treat each client as an individual and guarantee 100% satisfaction. I am bonded by the city of Moscow and offer a written guarantee of results. Checks as well as cash accepted.

Ol’ga Fedorovna…descendant of a talented sorcerer, specialty is old-style Slavic magic. I work with each individual to determine his or her needs. I can bring back your estranged husband, mend your broken heart and re-establish loving relations in the family—results from the first day. I can remove curses, open up new possibilities for the loveless without a second consultation and protect you from all bad influences forever. I also practice business-magic, making you attractive to clients, helping bring in money, banishing competitors, guaranteeing your success. Talismans, amulets, defenses against evil, all with a lifetime guarantee.

With help like this--written guarantees, no less!--a phone call away, who needs strictly political consultants?!

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