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April 28, 2004

Supreme Court doings

The High Court today heard oral argument regarding the government's detention of U.S. citizens suspected of collaborating with terrorists. The central question in this case is: does the policy of holding alleged terrorists--who are U.S. citizens--without access to a lawyer or other aspects of due process violate the Constitution?

In my Constitutional Law class, I argue that the Court consistently has sided with the government during wartime; civil rights and civil liberties have been trumped by national security concerns. (The habeus corpus cases during the Civil War, the treatment of anti-draft activists during WWI, and the notorious Korematsu case in WWII all illustate this point.) Usually the Court reverses itself later, however, when the national crisis has passed.

I'll be very interested to see how the Court handles this case, as the war on terror seems fundamentally different from the wars we've fought in history, in that it may NEVER end. This may lead the Court to break the pattern described above. We should know by June.

Voting, iTunes, and ice cream!

Citizens of the U.S. who will be at least 18 years of age by this November 2: visit this site, make the pledge, and enjoy a free iTune!

April 29, 2004

Veep-O-Matic

Point your browser here for a cool exercise selecting a running mate for presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry. This is from the excellent "On Politics" section of the Washington Post web site.

May 1, 2004

Mission Accomplished?

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Let's not forget the President's action hero show on the deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln one year ago today.

A picture is worth a thousand words, they say. How's the mission going 365 days later?

May 2, 2004

Competency gap?

In her New York Times column today, Maureen Dowd was right on the money in pointing out the apparent failure of the Bush Administration to grasp the human cost of its Iraq adventure. In addition to their well-documented reluctance to have coffins of the war dead photographed upon arrival in the United States, it now becomes clear that the policy-makers don't seem to have a sense of just how costly this conflict has become:

Asked during a Congressional budget hearing on Thursday how many American troops had been killed in Iraq, [Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul] Wolfowitz missed by more than 30 percent. "It's approximately 500, of which — I can get the exact numbers — approximately 350 are combat deaths," he said.

As of Thursday, there were 722 deaths, 521 in combat. The No. 2 man at the Pentagon was oblivious in the bloodiest month of the war, with the number of Americans killed in April overtaking those killed in the six-week siege of Baghdad last year.

(For the entire Dowd column, click here.)

Pretty discouraging detachment from reality for someone who was perhaps the prime architect of the Iraq war.

May 3, 2004

Brilliant

My 2˘ worth: you won't find better political commentary than Tom Tomorrow's weekly offering, This Modern World, which can be read online here. It's topical, scathing, and extraordinarily witty. New cartoons appear each Monday on the Salon.com web site.

May 6, 2004

Catholic politicians

Some conservative Catholic activists have been pushing the Church to deny the sacraments to (Democractic) candidates who favor abortion rights. Some of their bishops have jumped on board this train. In fact, today's papers report that New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey, a regular churchgoer, will forgo Communion to comply with the wishes of the Bishop of Newark.

What's disturbing about this is the selective manner in which Church teachings are being used to put Democratic political figures in the crosshairs. Will the same conservative bishops and laity apply pressure for supporters of the death penalty--the existence of which is clearly at odds with the Church's position--to be denied Communion? The Vatican also has condemned the war in Iraq; will (Republican) lawmakers who are Catholic find themselves pressured to reconcile their public position on the war with their status as Catholics in good standing?

It seems to me you can't have it both ways: if forces within the Church want to play politics with the sacraments, they ought to do so consistently, not just with those issues that dovetail with the conservative agenda.

May 7, 2004

Heads oughtta roll

This sickening business involving the humiliating and dehumanizing treatment of prisoners in Iraq is a black eye on our country. (The gruesome details are documented here.)

These events--to say nothing of recording them photographically--represent an appaling lack of discipline on the part of at least some of our troops, casting a pall over the mostly honorable and dedicated men and women who fill the ranks of our armed forces.

Adding insult to injury is the stink of cover-up in the wake of the horrors committed on the Iraqi prisoners.

I am glad our president formally apologized for what happened. But there needs to be swift justice dealt to the offenders and to those responsible for their conduct up the chain of command. Our foreign policy has been seriously undermined and our national reputation has sunk to new lows in a part of the world where we cannot afford any more enemies.

What were they thinking?

May 9, 2004

It must be all those pills

Rush Limbaugh must be in the running for Moron of the Month. Here--verbatim--are his remarks on the treatment of Iraqi detainees:

"All right, so we're at war with these people. And they're in a prison where they're being softened up for interrogation. And we hear that the most humiliating thing you can do is make one Arab male disrobe in front of another. Sounds to me like it's pretty thoughtful. Sounds to me in the context of war this is pretty good intimidation -- and especially if you put a woman in front of them and then spread those pictures around the Arab world. And we're sitting here, 'Oh my God, they're gonna hate us! Oh no! What are they gonna think of us?' I think maybe the other perspective needs to be at least considered. Maybe they're gonna think we are serious. Maybe they're gonna think we mean it this time. Maybe they're gonna think we're not gonna kowtow to them. Maybe the people who ordered this are pretty smart. Maybe the people who executed this pulled off a brilliant maneuver." (Thanks to the excellent War Room '04 column over at Salon.com for this gem)

I couldn't make up stuff like this. Who listens to this guy?

May 10, 2004

Keeping up with the Joneses

The Information Superhighway has given us a nifty way to see which presidential candidates have garnered financial support from people you know. It is, after all, a matter of public record! Click here to check out your friends and neighbors.

May 17, 2004

This says it better than I could have

From "The War Room" column on Salon.com today:

Bush celebrates Brown vs. Board

From the Associated Press:

"President Bush on Monday renewed his call for Congress to pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriages. On the same day that Massachusetts began issuing licenses to gay couples, Bush said in a statement, 'The sacred institution of marriage should not be redefined by a few activist judges.' In the statement, read aboard Air Force One by White House press secretary Scott McClellan while traveling to Topeka, Kan., Bush said that 'all Americans have a right to be heard in this debate.'"

The reason Bush went to Topeka today was to mark the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling that ended racial segregation in schools. Good to know the president celebrated the end of one form of discrimination by calling for yet another form of discrimination to be enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

-- Geraldine Sealey

Ouch!

Tilting at windmills

Though most Americans probably have no idea, Dennis Kucinich is still on the campaign trail for the Democratic nomination. This sort of spirit is refreshing--if perhaps a little bit out there. Check it out here.

May 21, 2004

Highway robbery

Just paid $2.10 a gallon for regular gas when I fueled up my (gas-guzzling) Ford Explorer. Not a lot of fun.

It will be interesting to see what effect sustained high gasoline prices might have on the presidential election unfolding in the months to come.

Of course, it seems the "blue states" (e.g., California and the Northeast) are bearing the heaviest burden of the high prices.

June 1, 2004

The Emperor's New Clothes

Paul Krugman's column in today's New York Times skewers the Bush Administration's cynically serving the interests of its wealthy power base while appearing to do the opposite during the 2004 election cycle. As always, Krugman pulls few punches in tackling his favorite target.

June 7, 2004

Tom Tomorrow On The "Liberal Media"

Click here for Tom Tomorrow's take on one of the favorite chestnuts of American conservatives: the supposedly "liberal" bias of the media. Brilliant.

The Reagan Legacy

Some thoughts on our recently departed 40th President from today's New Dem Daily e-mail newsletter:

Since today's Republicans invariably cite Ronald Reagan as their guiding inspiration, they should pay special attention to three aspects of his political career that his conservative heirs have too often forgotten:
  • Despite his fervent anti-communism and unshakable belief in the unique mission of the United States, he remained faithful to the Cold War bipartisan tradition in foreign policy, and never abandoned America's traditional alliances or the multilateral institutions created to advance them.
  • Despite his longstanding championship of a conservative domestic agenda, he was willing to compromise and adjust his policies to reflect real-life conditions, as shown by his decision to sign a liberal abortion law as governor of California, and to support tax hikes both as governor and as president.
  • Despite his many years of service to the GOP, he never sought to demonize his political opponents, and never questioned their patriotism or sincerity.

Reagan's universally praised decency was undoubtedly rooted in a healthy sense of his own limitations, and of politicians generally. That, ironically, is why he was larger than his ideology, his party, or his record, and why his memory will live on when all the debates that accompanied his long political career have faded.

(To read the entire piece, click here.)

Dubya vs. JFK 2004

James Fallows, longtime contributor to The Atlantic Monthly, has written a fascinating and well-balanced piece analyzing the debating styles of George W. Bush and John Kerry in the cover story of this month's issue. A must read for political junkies!

July 6, 2004

Pot Pourri

In an effort to catch up on my lapsed blogging, what follows is an assortment of quick takes on a variety of topical subjects.

John Edwards: Kerry made what was probably the safest choice for a vice-presidential nominee, but one that I think ultimately will help him in November. Yes, the pollsters will tell us that Edwards may not move any of the swing states into the Kerry column--not even North Carolina, probably--but he represents an articulate, charismatic presence on the ticket that could be reassuring to swing voters in various demographic categories that will be crucial in what should prove to be a close general election. The Tar Heel senator has a fascinating life story, coming from humble origins and facing genuine adversity along the way. Of course the GOP immediately attacked Edwards this morning as lacking the experience for the vice-presidency, what with only six years in the United States Senate. This is laughable, given that the man at the head of the Republican ticket boasted exactly six years experience as governor in a state in which that office held little real political power. Moreover, Bush was more or less a failure at everything he attempted in his life before his political career, in spite of all the advantages conferred by Poppy and his friends. In contrast, Edwards was a self-made millionaire who fought corporate wrong-doing and then distinguished himself in Congress by co-sponsoring sweeping reforms such as the Patients' Bill of Rights.

John McEnroe's talk show: Tomorrow night CNBC debuts a new talk show featuring former "Super-Brat" John McEnroe. As an adolescent tennis fan, I always rooted for Mac's greatest rivals: Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors. (Though I never warmed up to Ivan Lendl, so McEnroe occasionally enjoyed my support!) I must admit that I've come around on McEnroe over the years. Maybe he's mellowed; maybe I have. When he started as an announcer on tennis telecasts I found him occasionally amusing but fairly undisciplined as an analyst. Nowadays he's refreshingly insightful, more open-minded (while still refreshingly honest and opinionated), and is capable of substantial slef-deprecating humor. So I am looking forward to seeing what he'll bring to the table as a talk show host. Mac seems to have become something of a polymath, with genuine interests in art, music, politics, sports, etc. He can do no worse in this new role than Dennis Miller, whose show is in the adjoining slot on the cable network; Miller is someone I used to enjoy immensely before his gradual transformation into a right-wing crank (which corresponded fairly precisely with his becoming more or less unfunny).

Spider-Man 2: This film deserves the box office success it has enjoyed the past week. It won't change the world and it not quite perfect, but it's a pretty spiffy summer popcorn flick. Have fun with this one.

Farenheit 9/11: On the other hand, this movie--also a relative box office champ--might, in fact, change the world. Michael Moore's documentary skewers "W" and company pretty effectively. For the most part Moore avoids the heavy-handedness that made me feel sorry for Charlton Heston in Bowling For Columbine. That's not to say there is no point of view here; quite the opposite, the director has conceded. He wears his politics on his sleeve and is unabashed about presenting his opinions on the Bush Administration, the war on terror, the Patriot Act, and the current Iraq misadventure. But for the most part, Moore himself maintains a lower profile in this picture, instead letting the objects of his derision condemn themselves on camera.

Wimbledon 2004: In spite of the seemingly endless rain (that kept me from getting out to the All-England Club while in London during the opening days of the fortnight) this was one of the best Wimbledons in recent memory. Finals weekend was particularly satisfying, with the coming of age of the charming and talented Maria Sharapova in the ladies' championship and the enjoyable and highly competitive Federer/Roddick tilt on Sunday. The sport needs a few more majors with the excitement we saw in SW19 the past two weeks.

Sting in concert: I caught the former Police front man in an outdoor show at Jones Beach last week. He was in exceptionally good voice, sharing the bill with Annie Lennox. I knew it would be a good show when the second song played was one of my Police faves, "Synchronicity II."

Whither Euro 2004? While I was ambling around Paris, Scotland, Ireland, and London in June, I could not escape the football frenzy surrounding the European Cup soccer championship. Every day, there was wall-to-wall coverage in the newspapers and on television. Upon returning to the States, I was struck that highlights of the tournament merited hardly a mention in our papers.

July 11, 2004

Amusing

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(Thanks to defectiveyeti.com)

July 14, 2004

Good News From The Keystone State

This analysis will warm the hearts of Democrats (thanks to the mydd.com political web site for this tidbit):

Pennsylvania in the Bag?

by Chris Bowers

Hard to imagine, but the latest Qunnipiac Poll suggests that my state may be out of reach for Preznit:

July 6-11, 1500 RV, MoE 2.5, June 24 numbers in parenthesis Two-Way Trial Kerry: 49 (49) Bush: 42 (43)

Bush Job Approval
Disapprove: 52 (53)
Approve: 45 (45)

This seems like no big deal. Kerry leads, but not something that Bush would be unable to overcome. However, look at these numbers:

Unfavorables
Statewide
Bush: 42 (42)
Kerry: 28 (30)

Central NW
Bush 34 35
Kerry 32 31

Philly NE
Bush 62 41
Kerry 14 31

Not only is Bush getting crushed and making negative progress in the unfavorables department, Philadelphia shows that Bush is actually over-performing. The city of Philadelphia, with 1/8 of the state's voters, regularly gives Democrats around 85% of the two-party vote. Bush is way down, and Philadelphia has not even maxed out yet. This is because Bush is behind in the two most Republican areas of the state: central and northwest PA. He is down by ten in lean-Republican Northeast PA. Actually, Bush's unfavorables are higher than Kerry's in every part of the state!

While this is only one poll, it suggests Pennsylvania is a rout in the making for Kerry. Also, remember that both campaigns are not advertising as heavily here as they are in almost all other swing sates. Perhaps they both know something. If Kerry wins PA, he only needs either OH or FL to nearly seal the election. Things are looking goooood.

Update: I didn't notice the first time I looked at the poll, but Bush has a 37-59 approve / disapprove among independents in this poll, while Dems and Reps are 82-16 mirrors. Further, Bush's unfavorables among indies are at 46, while Kerry's are at 19. These are nail in the coffin type numbers.

July 15, 2004

The Electoral College

There's a really cool web site that enables you to calculate the effect of various states falling into either the Bush or the Kerry columns come November 2. Click here to see for yourself.

July 24, 2004

This Is Why We Have The Internet

A few folks sent me this link, which is well worth checking out: www.jibjab.com/

This is VERY funny and skillfully assembled.

July 26, 2004

The Democratic Convention

Here's an interesting snippet from Chris Suellentrop's piece posted today on Slate.com:

Even a casual viewer of Hardball knows that the first rule of an election that involves a sitting president is that it's a referendum on the incumbent. This election, however, has turned out to be the opposite. It's a referendum on the challenger. Kerry probably isn't responsible for this turn of events, but he's benefiting from it: The referendum on the incumbent is over. President Bush already lost it. This presidential campaign isn't about whether the current president deserves a second term. It's about whether the challenger is a worthy replacement.

Click here to read the entire article.

Inspiration

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No surprise at this point, but Bill Clinton hit one out of the park in his Convention speech tonight. The man is magic before a crowd.

July 28, 2004

A Star Is Born

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Not often that a relatively obscure state official gets to deliver the keynote address at a major political party's national convention. It's even more unlikely that such a figure would upstage the golden-tongued 42nd President of the United States. As good as Bill Clinton was the night before, Barack Obama was even better. There was a lot of hype before his speech but the Illinois candidate for the U.S. Senate lived up to it and then some.

In 1988, a little-known young governor from Arkansas regarded as "the future of the Democratic Party" also delivered a much-hyped keynote address, but Bill Clinton fell flat on that occasion, with a rambling and uninspired delivery that was far too long. This missed opportunity was one more obstacle for "the Comeback Kid" to overcome in the course of his successful 1992 presidential bid.

Clearly Obama has a future in American politics. The pundits were nearly as enthusiastic in the wake of his speech as the delighted throngs of delegates were during it. The excitement in the Fleet Center was almost palpable, even on television.

July 29, 2004

Book Of The Week

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In the last few days, I've been leafing through this recent book by cartoonist Ted Rall: Wake Up, You're Liberal!: How We Can Take America Back from the Right. It's a heftier tome than I expected and Rall manages to find a voice that is strident without being angry, passionate without being overly ideological. For those fellow travelers enjoying the sights and sounds coming out of the Fleet Center this week, I recommend this work.

You can also check out Rall's excellent cartooning work online here.

Help Is On The Way

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Oh, good. He accepted. Whew!

July 30, 2004

Music At The Convention

I was struck by the power of Springsteen's "No Surrender" before Kerry's speech last night and then U2's "Beautiful Day" immediately afterward. There's a good piece on the use of pop songs at the Democratic Convention this past week here.

July 31, 2004

Very Funny

Jon Stewart and his ensemble have been bloody brilliant in their take on the Boston sonvention scene this past week. No cows are sacred. Just damned funny stuff. I hope they are equally on form in New York in a month's time, too.

August 1, 2004

Surowiecki's New Book

NPR's Weekend Edition program ran a great feature yesterday on Jim Surowiecki's new book, The Wisdom Of The Crowd. Jim is a Choate alum and one-time colleague in the History Department. He currently is the business writer for The New Yorker. His book has gotten great reviews. Click here to listen to the story.

August 2, 2004

Let The Word Go Forth

Apple's iTunes Music Store has posted all the major speeches from last week's Democratic National Convention as free downloads. Get 'em while you can!

August 4, 2004

Proud Papa

It looks like this blog is a father now. Well, sorta. Scott Harris was one of my students this summer and has started a political blog that mentions this site as an inspiration. Nice to know someone is reading out there in the blogosphere. Except he writes a lot more there than I do here, which will make me look bad if he keeps up the pace. Anyway his site is well worth checking out here, as is one of the sources on electoral college projections he links to, which is here.

Behind The Scenes At The Ranch

Check this out if you want to watch Will Ferrell as "W" on the set of his most recent campaign commercial. This parody was assembled by America Coming Together.

Try This

Go to Google.com and type in "miserable failure" and see what pops up first.

August 5, 2004

The Boss Speaks

Check out this piece in the Op-Ed section of today's New York Times:

Chords for Change

by Bruce Springsteen

A nation's artists and musicians have a particular place in its social and political life. Over the years I've tried to think long and hard about what it means to be American: about the distinctive identity and position we have in the world, and how that position is best carried. I've tried to write songs that speak to our pride and criticize our failures.

These questions are at the heart of this election: who we are, what we stand for, why we fight. Personally, for the last 25 years I have always stayed one step away from partisan politics. Instead, I have been partisan about a set of ideals: economic justice, civil rights, a humane foreign policy, freedom and a decent life for all of our citizens. This year, however, for many of us the stakes have risen too high to sit this election out.

Through my work, I've always tried to ask hard questions. Why is it that the wealthiest nation in the world finds it so hard to keep its promise and faith with its weakest citizens? Why do we continue to find it so difficult to see beyond the veil of race? How do we conduct ourselves during difficult times without killing the things we hold dear? Why does the fulfillment of our promise as a people always seem to be just within grasp yet forever out of reach?

I don't think John Kerry and John Edwards have all the answers. I do believe they are sincerely interested in asking the right questions and working their way toward honest solutions. They understand that we need an administration that places a priority on fairness, curiosity, openness, humility, concern for all America's citizens, courage and faith.

People have different notions of these values, and they live them out in different ways. I've tried to sing about some of them in my songs. But I have my own ideas about what they mean, too. That is why I plan to join with many fellow artists, including the Dave Matthews Band, Pearl Jam, R.E.M., the Dixie Chicks, Jurassic 5, James Taylor and Jackson Browne, in touring the country this October. We will be performing under the umbrella of a new group called Vote for Change. Our goal is to change the direction of the government and change the current administration come November.

Like many others, in the aftermath of 9/11, I felt the country's unity. I don't remember anything quite like it. I supported the decision to enter Afghanistan and I hoped that the seriousness of the times would bring forth strength, humility and wisdom in our leaders. Instead, we dived headlong into an unnecessary war in Iraq, offering up the lives of our young men and women under circumstances that are now discredited. We ran record deficits, while simultaneously cutting and squeezing services like afterschool programs. We granted tax cuts to the richest 1 percent (corporate bigwigs, well-to-do guitar players), increasing the division of wealth that threatens to destroy our social contract with one another and render mute the promise of "one nation indivisible."

It is through the truthful exercising of the best of human qualities - respect for others, honesty about ourselves, faith in our ideals - that we come to life in God's eyes. It is how our soul, as a nation and as individuals, is revealed. Our American government has strayed too far from American values. It is time to move forward. The country we carry in our hearts is waiting.

Well said.

Quick Takes

• Kudos to Republican John McCain for expressing his disgust with the ads set to run in a handful of swing states and paid for by "Swiftboat Veterans for Truth," a group of Vietnam vets who maintain that John Kerry's record as a war hero is a fraud. (Of course none of the members of this group served directly with Kerry; the five surviving colleagues from his swift boat assignment have all endorsed the Massachusetts senator. Moreover, most of the funding for the ads comes not from contemporaries of Kerry's in Vietam but from established GOP activists.) McCain blasted the ads as "dishonest and dishonorable."

• Though the post-convention playbook for the Republicans has been to question Kerry's supposedly less-than-productive record as a U.S. Senator, Dick Cheney passed a grand total of TWO bills into law during his eleven years in Congress (in contrast to Kerry's 57). And even don't get me started on George W. Bush's "accomplishments" before January 2001.

• And finally, in the From The Horse's Mouth Department, our president offered these words earlier today while signing a defense appropriations bill: "Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we."

August 7, 2004

Polling Numbers Confusion

For those wondering why the poll results in the presidential election horse race seem to be all over the place in recent weeks, there is a provocative analysis posted online here on the Slate.com site. Check it out.

My own take is that the only presidential poll numbers that really add up to anything substantial are based on electoral math: that is, those that survey on a state-by-state basis with an eye to determining the projected outcome in the Electoral College.

August 9, 2004

Happy Anniversary

At midnight last night (this morning?) C-Span ran Richard Nixon's resignation speech, originally broadcast August 8, 1974 (Nixon resigned at noon on the 9th). I remember it well, as it was my birthday and my dad told me this was the best possible present I could ever hope for!

August 13, 2004

Adventures With The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy

Today's New York Post was mistakenly delivered to my doorstep this morning. (Being a media omnivore, I usually receive The New York Times and USA Today through home delivery.) Strangely, this followed an evening in which I subjected myself to a couple of hours of syndicated right-wing radio hosts, just to see how the other half is living. Of course, the McGreevey story was red meat for this morning's Post cover and for the pundits on the airwaves last night and again today. Having watched the documentary Outfoxed a couple weeks back, it really is obvious that there is an industry thriving out there by bashing Kerry and the Democrats and turning a blind eye to the shortcomings of our current administration. Of course Hilary Clinton was lambasted for referring to the "vast right-wing conspiracy" in the wake of the Monicagate revelations, but just because her husband initially misled her about his adultery doesn't mean she was wrong about the rabid right-wing elements of the media in America.

August 14, 2004

I Love This T-Shirt

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This is pretty clever. I saw it on a guy in the mall about a month ago. You can order the above logo on a T-shirt of your very own by clicking here.

August 15, 2004

Hoisted By His Own Petard

Garry Trudeau's "Doonesbury" today is very funny, though the humor is not of Trudeau's creation this time. Check it out here.

August 19, 2004

Amendment 36

In a development that could potentially determine the outcome of the electoral votes in this fall's presidential stakes, Colorado has a very interesting referendum coming up; click here for details

August 28, 2004

Police State?

I took a train from New Haven to New York City today to attend the U. S. Tennis Association's coaches conference in conjunction with the U. S. Open. From the time I arrived in Union Station in New Haven, I was struck by the presence of so much law enforcement--no doubt in light of the upcoming political convention in New York. There were local police, state troopers, and soldiers with machine guns patrolling the station and the train ride as well. And Grand Central Station had a similar presence. The streets of New York didn't have the military presence but there were a LOT of boys in blue on display.

October 20, 2004

See, I Told You I Was Back

Slate.com has an interesting (dare I say encouraging?) piece on state-by-state polling and Electoral College projections here.

NYT Endorsement of John Kerry

The New York Times endorsed John Kerry on Sunday, October 17. While not exactly a surprise development, the articulate and masterful argument the paper offered was absolutely spot on:

Senator John Kerry goes toward the election with a base that is built more on opposition to George W. Bush than loyalty to his own candidacy. But over the last year we have come to know Mr. Kerry as more than just an alternative to the status quo. We like what we've seen. He has qualities that could be the basis for a great chief executive, not just a modest improvement on the incumbent.

We have been impressed with Mr. Kerry's wide knowledge and clear thinking - something that became more apparent once he was reined in by that two-minute debate light. He is blessedly willing to re-evaluate decisions when conditions change. And while Mr. Kerry's service in Vietnam was first over-promoted and then over-pilloried, his entire life has been devoted to public service, from the war to a series of elected offices. He strikes us, above all, as a man with a strong moral core.

There is no denying that this race is mainly about Mr. Bush's disastrous tenure. Nearly four years ago, after the Supreme Court awarded him the presidency, Mr. Bush came into office amid popular expectation that he would acknowledge his lack of a mandate by sticking close to the center. Instead, he turned the government over to the radical right.

Mr. Bush installed John Ashcroft, a favorite of the far right with a history of insensitivity to civil liberties, as attorney general. He sent the Senate one ideological, activist judicial nominee after another. He moved quickly to implement a far-reaching anti-choice agenda including censorship of government Web sites and a clampdown on embryonic stem cell research. He threw the government's weight against efforts by the University of Michigan to give minority students an edge in admission, as it did for students from rural areas or the offspring of alumni.

When the nation fell into recession, the president remained fixated not on generating jobs but rather on fighting the right wing's war against taxing the wealthy. As a result, money that could have been used to strengthen Social Security evaporated, as did the chance to provide adequate funding for programs the president himself had backed. No Child Left Behind, his signature domestic program, imposed higher standards on local school systems without providing enough money to meet them.

If Mr. Bush had wanted to make a mark on an issue on which Republicans and Democrats have long made common cause, he could have picked the environment. Christie Whitman, the former New Jersey governor chosen to run the Environmental Protection Agency, came from that bipartisan tradition. Yet she left after three years of futile struggle against the ideologues and industry lobbyists Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney had installed in every other important environmental post. The result has been a systematic weakening of regulatory safeguards across the entire spectrum of environmental issues, from clean air to wilderness protection.

The president who lost the popular vote got a real mandate on Sept. 11, 2001. With the grieving country united behind him, Mr. Bush had an unparalleled opportunity to ask for almost any shared sacrifice. The only limit was his imagination.

He asked for another tax cut and the war against Iraq.

The president's refusal to drop his tax-cutting agenda when the nation was gearing up for war is perhaps the most shocking example of his inability to change his priorities in the face of drastically altered circumstances. Mr. Bush did not just starve the government of the money it needed for his own education initiative or the Medicare drug bill. He also made tax cuts a higher priority than doing what was needed for America's security; 90 percent of the cargo unloaded every day in the nation's ports still goes uninspected.

Along with the invasion of Afghanistan, which had near unanimous international and domestic support, Mr. Bush and his attorney general put in place a strategy for a domestic antiterror war that had all the hallmarks of the administration's normal method of doing business: a Nixonian obsession with secrecy, disrespect for civil liberties and inept management.

American citizens were detained for long periods without access to lawyers or family members. Immigrants were rounded up and forced to languish in what the Justice Department's own inspector general found were often "unduly harsh" conditions. Men captured in the Afghan war were held incommunicado with no right to challenge their confinement. The Justice Department became a cheerleader for skirting decades-old international laws and treaties forbidding the brutal treatment of prisoners taken during wartime.

Mr. Ashcroft appeared on TV time and again to announce sensational arrests of people who turned out to be either innocent, harmless braggarts or extremely low-level sympathizers of Osama bin Laden who, while perhaps wishing to do something terrible, lacked the means. The Justice Department cannot claim one major successful terrorism prosecution, and has squandered much of the trust and patience the American people freely gave in 2001. Other nations, perceiving that the vast bulk of the prisoners held for so long at Guantánamo Bay came from the same line of ineffectual incompetents or unlucky innocents, and seeing the awful photographs from the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, were shocked that the nation that was supposed to be setting the world standard for human rights could behave that way.

Like the tax cuts, Mr. Bush's obsession with Saddam Hussein seemed closer to zealotry than mere policy. He sold the war to the American people, and to Congress, as an antiterrorist campaign even though Iraq had no known working relationship with Al Qaeda. His most frightening allegation was that Saddam Hussein was close to getting nuclear weapons. It was based on two pieces of evidence. One was a story about attempts to purchase critical materials from Niger, and it was the product of rumor and forgery. The other evidence, the purchase of aluminum tubes that the administration said were meant for a nuclear centrifuge, was concocted by one low-level analyst and had been thoroughly debunked by administration investigators and international vetting. Top members of the administration knew this, but the selling went on anyway. None of the president's chief advisers have ever been held accountable for their misrepresentations to the American people or for their mismanagement of the war that followed.

The international outrage over the American invasion is now joined by a sense of disdain for the incompetence of the effort. Moderate Arab leaders who have attempted to introduce a modicum of democracy are tainted by their connection to an administration that is now radioactive in the Muslim world. Heads of rogue states, including Iran and North Korea, have been taught decisively that the best protection against a pre-emptive American strike is to acquire nuclear weapons themselves.

We have specific fears about what would happen in a second Bush term, particularly regarding the Supreme Court. The record so far gives us plenty of cause for worry. Thanks to Mr. Bush, Jay Bybee, the author of an infamous Justice Department memo justifying the use of torture as an interrogation technique, is now a federal appeals court judge. Another Bush selection, J. Leon Holmes, a federal judge in Arkansas, has written that wives must be subordinate to their husbands and compared abortion rights activists to Nazis.

Mr. Bush remains enamored of tax cuts but he has never stopped Republican lawmakers from passing massive spending, even for projects he dislikes, like increased farm aid.

If he wins re-election, domestic and foreign financial markets will know the fiscal recklessness will continue. Along with record trade imbalances, that increases the chances of a financial crisis, like an uncontrolled decline of the dollar, and higher long-term interest rates.

The Bush White House has always given us the worst aspects of the American right without any of the advantages. We get the radical goals but not the efficient management. The Department of Education's handling of the No Child Left Behind Act has been heavily politicized and inept. The Department of Homeland Security is famous for its useless alerts and its inability to distribute antiterrorism aid according to actual threats. Without providing enough troops to properly secure Iraq, the administration has managed to so strain the resources of our armed forces that the nation is unprepared to respond to a crisis anywhere else in the world.

Mr. Kerry has the capacity to do far, far better. He has a willingness - sorely missing in Washington these days - to reach across the aisle. We are relieved that he is a strong defender of civil rights, that he would remove unnecessary restrictions on stem cell research and that he understands the concept of separation of church and state. We appreciate his sensible plan to provide health coverage for most of the people who currently do without.

Mr. Kerry has an aggressive and in some cases innovative package of ideas about energy, aimed at addressing global warming and oil dependency. He is a longtime advocate of deficit reduction. In the Senate, he worked with John McCain in restoring relations between the United States and Vietnam, and led investigations of the way the international financial system has been gamed to permit the laundering of drug and terror money. He has always understood that America's appropriate role in world affairs is as leader of a willing community of nations, not in my-way-or-the-highway domination.

We look back on the past four years with hearts nearly breaking, both for the lives unnecessarily lost and for the opportunities so casually wasted. Time and again, history invited George W. Bush to play a heroic role, and time and again he chose the wrong course. We believe that with John Kerry as president, the nation will do better.

Voting for president is a leap of faith. A candidate can explain his positions in minute detail and wind up governing with a hostile Congress that refuses to let him deliver. A disaster can upend the best-laid plans. All citizens can do is mix guesswork and hope, examining what the candidates have done in the past, their apparent priorities and their general character. It's on those three grounds that we enthusiastically endorse John Kerry for president.

October 21, 2004

Election Analysis

The Nation offers an interesting overview of the presidential election less than two weeks ahead of us now. Click here to read it.

October 23, 2004

Must Read For The Weekend

Frank Rich's column in tomorrow's Times is brilliant. Click here to see for yourself.

October 24, 2004

Kerry Sweeps FL Newspaper Endorsements

John Kerry earned the endorsement of all of Florida's major newspapers today, with the blessing of the Orlando Sentinel, which argued for Bush in 2000 and hasn't backed a Democrat in forty years! Check it out here.

October 27, 2004

Film Villain Of The Year

This is too rich! From the AP wire:

Readers of a British magazine have rated President Bush the year's top screen villain, for his appearance in Michael Moore's documentary Fahrenheit 9/11.

Readers voted Bush top film villain over those from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Lord of the Rings, Spider-Man 2, and Kill Bill: Vol. 2.

[snip]

Almost 10,000 people voted in the poll, conducted by Total Film magazine. Results were announced Wednesday.

October 31, 2004

Going Down To The Wire?

Recent polls indicate a nail-biter in the presidential race on Tuesday. This seems to be good news for the challenger, I think. If it's this tight so close to Election Day, I am guardedly optimistic Kerry will take it.

I did worry that Friday's Osama videotape would be something of an October surprise to help Bush, but that may not pan out for the GOP. The specter of the terrorist leader appearing on TV screens in America's living rooms may be a reminder that this administration dropped the ball on Al-Quaeda by pursuing what has become a debacle in Iraq.

Pot . . . Have You Met The Kettle?

From the Department of Unintentional Irony: Fox News Channel ran a segment today accusing The New York Times and CBS News of biased coverage of the presidential campaign. This from the "news" organization that functions as the voice of the Republican Party!

November 2, 2004

Showtime!

I am SO excited about today's election. Woke up early--before 6 a.m.--and have been sampling the morning papers, TV news, and the Internet. It's looking pretty good for John Kerry; check this out. The lines for voting in Florida are amazing. OK, I am off to cast my ballot.

November 3, 2004

America Loses Today

Before labor organizer Joe Hill was murdered in 1915 by a firing squad in the yard of the Utah State Penitentiary, he exhorted his supporters, "Don't mourn, organize!"

November 5, 2004

Thoughts On The Body Politic

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After the passage of the Sedition Act in 1798, Thomas Jefferson wrote these words:

A little patience and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to its true principles. It is true that in the meantime we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of a war and long oppressions of enormous public debt . . . If the game runs sometimes against us at home we must have patience till luck turns, and then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost, for this is a game where principles are at stake.

Pretty much sums up my feelings about the state of the nation right now.

December 27, 2004

Sobering News

The human tragedy in South Asia has been getting widespread news coverage. It seems each hour the body count from the deadly tsunami climbs horrifyingly higher. It gives one pause in this holiday season to count his blessings. It also reminds us, fragile residents of this planet that we are, of the power of nature in a world that we often fool ourselves into thinking we have tamed with our technology.

April 24, 2005

Quote Of The Day

"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."

John Kenneth Gabraith

April 26, 2005

Wisdom Of The Ages

In an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times entitled "Jesus Was No GOP Lobbyist," Jack Hitt is spot on describing the twisted version of Chrsitianity currently enjoying center stage in our national political life:

How quickly it has all happened — that the media, particularly television, has convinced itself that Christianity is little more than a Republican political action committee. When the pope died, CNN's Wolf Blitzer introduced former Clinton aide Paul Begala and right-wing pundit Robert Novak this way: "Bob is a good Catholic; I'm not so sure about Paul Begala." At the bottom of the screen, CNN ran an informative factoid for the audience: "Many Catholic doctrines are conservative."

Broadcast media prefer to cast Christianity in the role of "right-wing values PAC" because it's so neat and tidy. They don't much like even to say the name Jesus on air because then we might have to talk about his ideas. "Evangelical Christianity" is much simpler because you can treat it as just another special-interest group, like the Teamsters or the neocons.

Leaders such as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and James Dobson have used the media to redefine Christianity as the "Republican base" — all between commercials hawking family-values videotapes or pleading for more contributions.

Gosh, WWJD? It makes me wax nostalgic for the days when people wore those bracelets and asked the question, "What would Jesus do?" At least people said his name then and pondered his ideas, using the question as the beginning of an engaged moral debate. Few would have appreciated those bracelets as much as the man himself — Jesus, who preached a new way of thinking about religion. Instead of taking orders from temple chieftains, Jesus provoked his followers into thinking for themselves. His preferred media outlet? A literary genre called the parable. It's a style of Q&A wherein the teacher doesn't give the answer but challenges the listener with a half-finished story that forces him to think through to the answer by himself. The radical right has swapped out this genius preacher for some easy listening. They insist that everything will be fine if we just nail the Ten Commandments above every courthouse.

Curious. Jesus updated the Ten Commandments in his most famous speech, the Sermon on the Mount. In it, one finds the Eight Beatitudes. Why don't we ever hear about nailing those somewhere? Here's why: It's not simply the law in the Ten Commandments that attracts fundamentalists. Rather, it's the syntax. The authoritarianism of so many "Thou Shalt Nots."

The syntax of Jesus' Eight Beatitudes is not so easy (Blessed are the poor in spirit…. Blessed are the peacemakers). These words invite the kind of hard questions that Jesus loved to tweak his followers with. How are they blessed? And why? It's just like Jesus to leave us with questions instead of answers.

The Jesus who speaks in the Gospels is nothing like the fuming Republican Jesus I see on TV now. Jesus was a leader who understood that ambiguity and doubt are not to be feared but are, simply, facts of life that a great teacher exploits to guide his followers on their own paths toward conviction and belief.

Here is a quote from Jesus that you almost never hear: "What do you think?" It's right there in the Bible. Jesus asks this question all the time.

One parable Jesus taught was this one, from Matthew: "What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' And he answered, 'I will not,' but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, 'I go, sir,' but did not go." Jesus' disciples all strenuously raised their hands. They knew the answer! The first son was the most virtuous!

Whereupon Jesus (whose sense of humor is underrated) replied: "Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you."

What does that parable mean? Frankly, I am not sure. I have my own thoughts, but they all feel tentative, and I can only hope I'm right. Jesus doesn't accuse his disciples of being wrong; he just mocks the easiness of their quick answer.

Taken as a whole, it's not a parable with a clear and right answer. None of them are, and that is the point. You have to sort of toss it around in your head, think about people you've dealt with who've said one thing and done another, and then try to come to some answer. Chances are that few will agree in their interpretations, an outcome that is rhetorically so sly. Jesus makes you work through your own doubt and hesitation to arrive at an answer that becomes the very foundation of your own certainty.

This guy's good, isn't he?

But that Jesus is nowhere to be found on our televisions or in our newsweeklies. Ironically, mass-market Christians rarely cite or emphasize the living Jesus, the Jesus who speaks. They like their Christ dead. Or nearly dead, as in Mel Gibson's movie. In that film, the entire Sermon on the Mount — the most important words Jesus spoke — is relegated to a few seconds of flashback.

Yet the living Jesus always finds a way of getting past the money-changers, doesn't he? Every generation produces a Jesus to suit its own purposes. How fitting that in the Age of Information our broadcasters have marketed a Jesus so narrowly defined that he resembles little more than a lobbyist loitering outside Tom DeLay's office hoping for a few minutes of the great man's time.

But these people always underestimate the actual words that Jesus spoke. They are right there in the Gospels for those willing to hear Jesus, rather than rely upon videotape salesmen to re-interpret him as a furious political hack. The living Jesus will come again. It's the other meaning of being reborn.

For the source, click here.

May 6, 2005

Current Reading

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I have just started Tom Friedman's latest book, The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. For the past few years, I have been teaching Friedman's The Lexus and the Olive Tree in a unit on globalization in my winter term class. Friedman thinks broadly and writes incisively about the world economy, so I am looking forward delving into this work.

June 8, 2005

Outrageous

From the front page of this morning's New York Times:

A White House official who once led the oil industry's fight against limits on greenhouse gases has repeatedly edited government climate reports in ways that play down links between such emissions and global warming, according to internal documents.

In handwritten notes on drafts of several reports issued in 2002 and 2003, the official, Philip A. Cooney, removed or adjusted descriptions of climate research that government scientists and their supervisors, including some senior Bush administration officials, had already approved. In many cases, the changes appeared in the final reports.

The dozens of changes, while sometimes as subtle as the insertion of the phrase "significant and fundamental" before the word "uncertainties," tend to produce an air of doubt about findings that most climate experts say are robust.

Mr. Cooney is chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the office that helps devise and promote administration policies on environmental issues.

Before going to the White House in 2001, he was the "climate team leader" and a lobbyist at the American Petroleum Institute, the largest trade group representing the interests of the oil industry. A lawyer with a bachelor's degree in economics, he has no scientific training.

Read the entire article here. (Free registration required.)

What does it say about this government's environmental policy when we have foxes guarding the chicken coop in such manner?

June 19, 2005

Free Burma

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Today is the 60th birthday of Aung San Suu Kyi, the democratically elected leader of Myanmar (a.k.a. Burma) who has lived under house arrest for the last decade. (She was the inspiration for the terrific U2 song "Walk On.") To learn more, check out this site.

June 29, 2005

Friedman On The Celtic Tiger

Tom Friedman's column in this morning's New York Times is an excellent overview on the effects of globalization on Ireland.

"The End of the Rainbow"

By Thomas L. Friedman

Here's something you probably didn't know: Ireland today is the richest country in the European Union after Luxembourg.

Yes, the country that for hundreds of years was best known for emigration, tragic poets, famines, civil wars and leprechauns today has a per capita G.D.P. higher than that of Germany, France and Britain. How Ireland went from the sick man of Europe to the rich man in less than a generation is an amazing story. It tells you a lot about Europe today: all the innovation is happening on the periphery by those countries embracing globalization in their own ways - Ireland, Britain, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe - while those following the French-German social model are suffering high unemployment and low growth.

Ireland's turnaround began in the late 1960's when the government made secondary education free, enabling a lot more working-class kids to get a high school or technical degree. As a result, when Ireland joined the E.U. in 1973, it was able to draw on a much more educated work force.

By the mid-1980's, though, Ireland had reaped the initial benefits of E.U. membership - subsidies to build better infrastructure and a big market to sell into. But it still did not have enough competitive products to sell, because of years of protectionism and fiscal mismanagement. The country was going broke, and most college grads were emigrating.

"We went on a borrowing, spending and taxing spree, and that nearly drove us under," said Deputy Prime Minister Mary Harney. "It was because we nearly went under that we got the courage to change."

And change Ireland did. In a quite unusual development, the government, the main trade unions, farmers and industrialists came together and agreed on a program of fiscal austerity, slashing corporate taxes to 12.5 percent, far below the rest of Europe, moderating wages and prices, and aggressively courting foreign investment. In 1996, Ireland made college education basically free, creating an even more educated work force.

The results have been phenomenal. Today, 9 out of 10 of the world's top pharmaceutical companies have operations here, as do 16 of the top 20 medical device companies and 7 out of the top 10 software designers. Last year, Ireland got more foreign direct investment from America than from China. And overall government tax receipts are way up.

"We set up in Ireland in 1990," Michael Dell, founder of Dell Computer, explained to me via e-mail. "What attracted us? [A] well-educated work force - and good universities close by. [Also,] Ireland has an industrial and tax policy which is consistently very supportive of businesses, independent of which political party is in power. I believe this is because there are enough people who remember the very bad times to de-politicize economic development. [Ireland also has] very good transportation and logistics and a good location - easy to move products to major markets in Europe quickly."

Finally, added Mr. Dell, "they're competitive, want to succeed, hungry and know how to win. ... Our factory is in Limerick, but we also have several thousand sales and technical people outside of Dublin. The talent in Ireland has proven to be a wonderful resource for us. ... Fun fact: We are Ireland's largest exporter."

Intel opened its first chip factory in Ireland in 1993. James Jarrett, an Intel vice president, said Intel was attracted by Ireland's large pool of young educated men and women, low corporate taxes and other incentives that saved Intel roughly a billion dollars over 10 years. National health care didn't hurt, either. "We have 4,700 employees there now in four factories, and we are even doing some high-end chip designing in Shannon with Irish engineers," he said.

In 1990, Ireland's total work force was 1.1 million. This year it will hit two million, with no unemployment and 200,000 foreign workers (including 50,000 Chinese). Others are taking notes. Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said: "I've met the premier of China five times in the last two years."

Ireland's advice is very simple: Make high school and college education free; make your corporate taxes low, simple and transparent; actively seek out global companies; open your economy to competition; speak English; keep your fiscal house in order; and build a consensus around the whole package with labor and management - then hang in there, because there will be bumps in the road - and you, too, can become one of the richest countries in Europe.

"It wasn't a miracle, we didn't find gold," said Mary Harney. "It was the right domestic policies and embracing globalization."

July 1, 2005

Sandra Day O'Connor

Seismic tremors emanating from the nation's capital. With everyone expecting the Chief Justice to retire at the end of this recent term, Justice O'Connor's announcement took everyone by surprise and changes the stakes considerably. Replacing Rehnquist with another conservative--even if Scalia were anointed the new chief--would not fundamentally affect the ideological balance of the High Court. But given O'Connor's position as a swing voter, the Court's future is now very much in the balance depending on who her replacement is.

July 2, 2005

Live 8

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The telecast of the Live 8 concerts has been enjoyable. High points of the day for me: Paul McCartney joining U2 on "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" at the start of the day in London; a strong showing by Madonna; Sting's modified lyrics for "Every Breath You Take"; what remains of The Who back in action; and the stellar Pink Floyd reunion (though Roger Waters was hardly in good voice).

July 7, 2005

London Horror

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I awoke to the news of the bombings of London's mass transit system. Having been in the city (and often on the Tube) just two weeks ago, I am especially sensitive to this tragedy. And I can't imagine London without the Underground and buses functioning; the city must have ground to a halt.

July 23, 2005

Appointing New Justices

Tomorrow's New York Times Magazine has an excellent piece on the future of the Supreme Court that provides a sober context for understanding what is likely to happen with new appointments to the bench:

"Supreme Modesty"

by Jeffrey Rosen

At the moment, liberals are afraid, very afraid. They fear that two Supreme Court appointments by President Bush could transform America for decades to come. And they fear that President Bush will accomplish this transformation by replacing Sandra Day O'Connor and, eventually, William Rehnquist with hard-core conservatives in the mode of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. A hypothetical worst case for liberals might be a multicultural twofer: the appointment of Judge Janice Rogers Brown, an African-American libertarian who makes Thomas look mild, and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who may well surprise his right-wing critics by becoming a reliable conservative on the bench.

But even if the court is, in fact, transformed, the consequences might be far less severe than liberals imagine. To begin with, most of America's legal business does not involve the court at all. The justices decide very few cases -- an average of only 82 a year during the past 10 years -- and most of them are not politically divisive. Between 1994 and 2003, 36 percent of the court's opinions were unanimous, as opposed to only 21 percent that were decided by a 5-4 vote. What's more, if the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade or its school-prayer decisions tomorrow, abortion wouldn't become illegal across America, and prayer wouldn't become mandatory. Instead, the states and Congress would have the power to regulate abortion or to allow prayer if they chose to do so. That means that the most controversial questions in American life would ultimately be settled in the court of public opinion, regardless of what the Supreme Court says.

Of course, some of the court's closest decisions involve hot-button issues, and they could indeed go the other way if the new justices follow in the path of Scalia and Thomas. The most immediate change might involve affirmative action: two years ago, O'Connor wrote a 5-4 majority opinion upholding affirmative action in law-school admissions; her successor might tilt the court in the opposite direction. But even if the court voted to strike down affirmative action in higher education, it is hardly obvious that affirmative action would end in a dramatic stroke. When the court, with O'Connor's blessing, questioned the constitutionality of affirmative action in public contracting in 1995, political support for affirmative action in the Clinton and Bush administrations and in Congress ensured that many federal contracting set-asides continued anyway, with only slight revisions.

The ultimate liberal nightmare is that the new Bush court might overturn Roe v. Wade. But if Rehnquist retires next, Bush will need three Supreme Court appointments, not two, to overturn Roe. For the sake of playing out the liberal nightmare, however, imagine that Roe, in fact, was overturned. The world still wouldn't come to an end for liberals. Since two-thirds of Americans in polls have long said that abortion should be legal during the first three months of pregnancy, only the most conservative states -- Louisiana and Utah, for example -- might try to pass new restrictions on early-term abortions. And in the event that a handful of states succeed in passing new early-term bans, or reviving old ones, the national backlash could split the G.O.P. apart at the seams, causing sizable numbers of pro-choice Republicans to desert their party. Karl Rove understands this, and when asked whether Roe should be overturned, he has dodged the question.

The fact that Bush may need three Supreme Court appointments to overturn Roe (and to resurrect school prayer) suggests that liberals should keep some of their powder dry for the truly defining battle over the court, which will occur if and when a liberal justice retires. But what if Bush gets three retirements and manages to appoint three Clarence Thomas epigones to the court? Thomas is the court's most radical justice, and if his views prevailed, environmental laws might be struck down, and the states, no longer bound by the First Amendment's prohibition on establishment of religion, might be free to re-establish congregationalism as an official religion. (I'm not making this up.) But of course, the chances that any state would actually try to re-establish the Congregational Church are nil. And if the court tried to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency, even a Republican Congress might rise up in protest, prompting an eventual judicial retreat. Throughout American history, the court has been notoriously ineffective when it has tried to impose the views of a minority over the determined objections of a national majority.

I don't mean to minimize the importance of the immediate Supreme Court nomination on the horizon, which may indeed transform the law on everything from campaign finance to the detention of immigrants. But nightmares aside, the most immediate effect of two more conservative appointments may be to make Anthony Kennedy the new swing justice, and like a polarized molecule, he might react to his new colleagues by moving a little further to the left. On the new Bush court, though, it's unlikely that Kennedy would be able to satisfy liberals by creating new rights, even if he wanted to.

But that may be yet another blessing in disguise for liberals. After all, Kennedy's decision striking down sodomy laws in the name of sexual freedom angered and alienated social conservatives and may have increased their political clout. The court is far from all-powerful and all-determining. And for this reason, it may be unwise for liberals to spend tens of millions of dollars to fight largely symbolic Supreme Court confirmation battles that they will probably lose in the end. Instead, they should be preparing legislative campaigns to protect abortion rights and religious neutrality and devoting their energies to recapturing the two branches that really govern America: namely, the White House and Congress.

July 27, 2005

The Estate Tax

One usually doesn't think of the USA Today editorial page as a likely source of wisdom, but today's edition has a spot-on take on the estate tax, one of my hot-button issues.

This tax is often disingenuously referred to by Republicans as the "death tax." This is altogether misleading because the deceased, of course, pay no taxes at all. Rather, their heirs are taxed on UNEARNED INCOME--that is to say, a windfall for which they did not work. Now I am not arguing someone should not be able to inherit wealth from an older generation, just that it's reasonable that the society that enabled the accumulation of said wealth get a reasonable share.

In the end, as the editorial correctly points out, we are talking about efforts to reduce taxes on the wealthiest 1-2% of Americans.

"Sob Stories Mask A Giveaway For The Super Wealthy"

When Factcheck.org, a non-partisan watchdog group, questions the accuracy of a political advertisement, it normally does so in dry language. It might call an ad "misleading," or even "inaccurate."

But when Factcheck focused on ads by an anti-estate tax group, the American Family Business Institute, it opted for more colorful prose, calling them "malarkey."

The word choice is a play on the name of the ad's narrator, World War II veteran Donald Malarkey. But it's also a dig at the ads' contents, which make it sound as if it's no longer safe to pass away. "When you die," one ad warns, "the IRS can bury your family in crippling tax bills. It can cost them everything."

What it doesn't say is that the vast majority of people listening won't even be taxed when they die. Nor does it say that most estate taxes are paid by the very wealthy.

After years of misleading arguments about how the "death tax" crushes farms and small businesses, supporters of a repeal are poised for at least partial victory.

As early as this week, the Senate could vote on a bill that would slash the top estate tax rate from 47% to 15% while increasing the amount shielded from the tax from $1.5 million to $3.5 million. The measure would cost the treasury about $196 billion over the next decade. That would require other taxpayers to make up the difference or add yet more debt to be paid off by future generations.

In April, the House of Representatives passed a measure that would replace the estate tax with a complicated capital-gains tax, making it likely that something will reach President Bush's desk this year or next.

These legislative successes show how disinformation campaigns can be enormously effective and how wealthy interests have been able to gain at the expense of others.

The estate tax falls mainly on very large estates, not mom-and-pop shops or family farms. Consider these facts:

• Just 1% of estates paid any estate tax in 2003, according to the IRS. Three quarters of the money raised from the tax comes from estates of more than $5 million.

•Although the top rate has been as high as 55%, and is currently 47%, the actual rates paid are much less, thanks to generous exemptions and the creation of trusts and other tax plans. According to the Tax Policy Center, the average estate is taxed at 19% of its value. Estates worth from $1 million to $2 million are taxed at an average of just 4.7%.

• Of the more than 18,000 estates paying the tax last year, just 340 consist primarily of a single farm or small business.

Some sob stories of family businesses hit hard do exist, but that hardly justifies slashing the taxes on heirs of vast fortunes.

The Senate measure, which is still being negotiated, would tax inherited wealth of millions of dollars at a lower rate than what a teacher pays on a $70,000 annual salary. It would also give inherited wealth a more privileged status than money made from hard work or putting capital at risk.

In fact, it would ensure that the easiest way of making money — being born into the right family — is the least taxed. That would be good news for wealthy heirs. But anyone who says it would be good for the economy or more fair is spreading, well, malarkey.

A sidebar presents the average tax rate paid on estates of various sizes:
$1-2 million: 4.7%
$2-3.5 million: 10.5%
$3.5-5 million: 20.8%
$5-10 million: 24.9%
$10-20 million: 27.1%
$20+ million: 21.8%

August 11, 2005

Another Excellent Column In The Times

I have to be careful this blog doesn't turn into a clipping service, but today's David Brooks piece in the Times is so good, I present it in his entirety:

"All Cultures Are Not Equal"

Let's say you are an 18-year-old kid with a really big brain. You're trying to figure out which field of study you should devote your life to, so you can understand the forces that will be shaping history for decades to come.

Go into the field that barely exists: cultural geography. Study why and how people cluster, why certain national traits endure over centuries, why certain cultures embrace technology and economic growth and others resist them.

This is the line of inquiry that is now impolite to pursue. The gospel of multiculturalism preaches that all groups and cultures are equally wonderful. There are a certain number of close-minded thugs, especially on university campuses, who accuse anybody who asks intelligent questions about groups and enduring traits of being racist or sexist. The economists and scientists tend to assume that material factors drive history - resources and brain chemistry - because that's what they can measure and count.

But none of this helps explain a crucial feature of our time: while global economies are converging, cultures are diverging, and the widening cultural differences are leading us into a period of conflict, inequality and segmentation.

Not long ago, people said that globalization and the revolution in communications technology would bring us all together. But the opposite is true. People are taking advantage of freedom and technology to create new groups and cultural zones. Old national identities and behavior patterns are proving surprisingly durable. People are moving into self-segregating communities with people like themselves, and building invisible and sometimes visible barriers to keep strangers out.

If you look just around the United States you find amazing cultural segmentation. We in America have been "globalized" (meaning economically integrated) for centuries, and yet far from converging into some homogeneous culture, we are actually diverging into lifestyle segments. The music, news, magazine and television markets have all segmented, so there are fewer cultural unifiers like Life magazine or Walter Cronkite.

Forty-million Americans move every year, and they generally move in with people like themselves, so as the late James Chapin used to say, every place becomes more like itself. Crunchy places like Boulder attract crunchy types and become crunchier. Conservative places like suburban Georgia attract conservatives and become more so.

Not long ago, many people worked on farms or in factories, so they had similar lifestyles. But now the economy rewards specialization, so workplaces and lifestyles diverge. The military and civilian cultures diverge. In the political world, Democrats and Republicans seem to live on different planets.

Meanwhile, if you look around the world you see how often events are driven by groups that reject the globalized culture. Islamic extremists reject the modern cultures of Europe, and have created a hyperaggressive fantasy version of traditional Islamic purity. In a much different and less violent way, some American Jews have moved to Hebron and become hyper-Zionists.

From Africa to Seattle, religiously orthodox students reject what they see as the amoral mainstream culture, and carve out defiant revival movements. From Rome to Oregon, antiglobalization types create their own subcultures.

The members of these and many other groups didn't inherit their identities. They took advantage of modernity, affluence and freedom to become practitioners of a do-it-yourself tribalism. They are part of a great reshuffling of identities, and the creation of new, often more rigid groupings. They have the zeal of converts.

Meanwhile, transnational dreams like European unification and Arab unity falter, and behavior patterns across nations diverge. For example, fertility rates between countries like the U.S. and Canada are diverging. Work habits between the U.S. and Europe are diverging. Global inequality widens as some nations with certain cultural traits prosper and others with other traits don't.

People like Max Weber, Edward Banfield, Samuel Huntington, Lawrence Harrison and Thomas Sowell have given us an inkling of how to think about this stuff, but for the most part, this is open ground.

If you are 18 and you've got that big brain, the whole field of cultural geography is waiting for you.

August 17, 2005

Joke Of The Day

Q: What's the difference between the Vietnam War and the Iraq War?

A: George W. Bush had a plan to get out of the Vietnam War.

This Week's Must-Read Magazine

This week's edition of The New Yorker (cover dated August 22) is unusually good. Among the features are a fascinating profile of Billy Graham, another of Kinky Friedman, and a thoughtful piece on the state of French politics and culture at this time. In the "Talk of the Town" section Hendrik Hertzberg skillfully skewers the Administration's anti-science bent in the context of the current hullabaloo over "intelligent design" and the President's recently articulated (ok, not the best word to describe the man's utterances) poisition that the theory ("creationism" in new packaging) should be taught alongside evolution, as if the two approaches had equal scientific merit. Here is an excerpt:

I.D.—whose central (and easily refuted) talking point is that certain structures of living things are too intricate to have evolved without the intervention of an “intelligent designer” (and You know who You are)—enjoys virtually no scientific support. It is not even a theory, in the scientific sense, because it is untestable and unsupportable by empirical evidence. It is a last-ditch skirmish in a misguided war against reason that cannot be won and, for religion's sake as well as science's, should not be fought. If the President's musings on it were an isolated crotchet, they would hardly be worth noting, let alone getting exercised about. But they're not. They reflect an attitude toward science that has infected every corner of his Administration. From the beginning, the Bush White House has treated science as a nuisance and scientists as an interest group—one that, because it lies outside the governing conservative coalition, need not be indulged. That's why the White House-sometimes in the service of political Christianism or ideological fetishism, more often in obeisance to baser interests like the petroleum, pharmaceutical, and defense industries-has altered, suppressed, or overriden scientific findings on global warming; missile defense; H.I.V./ AIDS; pollution from industrial farming and oil drilling; forest management and endangered species; environmental health, including lead and mercury poisoning in children and safety standards for drinking water; and non-abstinence methods of birth control and sexually-transmitted-disease prevention. It has grossly misled the public on the number of stem-cell lines available for research. It has appointed unqualified ideologues to scientific advisory committees and has forced out scientists who persist in pointing out inconvenient facts.

For the entire piece, click here.

August 22, 2005

Catching Up With The Papers

Usually I get most of the Sunday New York Times a day early, what with many sections being included Saturday's home delivery. Down here in Bermuda, I got Sunday's edition a day late, so I caught up with the world over lunch this afternoon. A highlight of the Sunday paper most weeks is Frank Rich's column, which is consistently brilliant. Rich was on form this past weekend, with a spot-on indictment of the Bush crowd's penchant for character assassination. This is one of the things that I despise about these people now running the show: they are willing to do just about anything to get--or stay in--power. These "chickenhawks" in charge of the war are now facing Cindy Sheehan who is positioned to expose their hypocrisy for what it is. Here is a tasty snippet from Rich's column:

Once Ms. Sheehan could no longer be ignored, the Swift Boating began. Character assassination is the Karl Rove tactic of choice, eagerly mimicked by his media surrogates, whenever the White House is confronted by a critic who challenges it on matters of war. The Swift Boating is especially vicious if the critic has more battle scars than a president who connived to serve stateside and a vice president who had "other priorities" during Vietnam.

The most prominent smear victims have been Bush political opponents with heroic Vietnam r�sum�s: John McCain, Max Cleland, John Kerry. But the list of past targets stretches from the former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke to Specialist Thomas Wilson, the grunt who publicly challenged Donald Rumsfeld about inadequately armored vehicles last December. The assault on the whistle-blower Joseph Wilson--the diplomat described by the first President Bush as "courageous" and "a true American hero" for confronting Saddam to save American hostages in 1991--was so toxic it may yet send its perpetrators to jail.

True to form, the attack on Cindy Sheehan surfaced early on Fox News, where she was immediately labeled a "crackpot" by Fred Barnes. The right-wing blogosphere quickly spread tales of her divorce, her angry Republican in-laws, her supposed political flip-flops, her incendiary sloganeering and her association with known ticket-stub-carrying attendees of Fahrenheit 9/11. Rush Limbaugh went so far as to declare that Ms. Sheehan's "story is nothing more than forged documents--there's nothing about it that's real."

But this time the Swift Boating failed, utterly, and that failure is yet another revealing historical marker in this summer's collapse of political support for the Iraq war.

Of course, the fact that this commentary appeared in the Times means that, as usual, the President's apologists will dismiss such sentiments as part of the pervasive "liberal media" that supposedly dominates American life (in spite of the considerable evidence to the contrary!).

August 24, 2005

So Much For Sanctity Of Life, I Guess

As has been widely reported, Pat Robertson, former Republican candidate for the presidency and self-proclaimed "Christian" leader, publicly called for the assassination of Venezuelan president Chavez on his program The 700 Club. One more illustration of the hypocrisy of Robertson and his ilk: false prophets who cloak themselves in a narrow interpretation of the Christian faith that somehow always seems to line up with the accumulation of wealth, lower taxes, Second Amendment rights, sexism, homophobia, and Bush foreign policy.

August 29, 2005

Ouch!

Reporters apparently have started asking elected officials who are supporters of the Iraq war if they have encouraged their own children to enlist in the cause. Read about it in "The War Room" at salon.com.

September 1, 2005

Fiddling While Rome Burns?

In dynastic China, conventional wisdom held that natural disasters that afflicted the people were sure signs that the emperor had lost the all-important "Mandate of Heaven."

The reliably conservative Manchester Union Leader, a newspaper that endorsed President Bush for re-election a year ago, ripped into "W" for his handling of the crisis in Louisiana the past few days:

A better leader would have flown straight to the disaster zone and announced the immediate mobilization of every available resource to rescue the stranded, find and bury the dead, and keep the survivors fed, clothed, sheltered and free of disease.

The cool, confident, intuitive leadership Bush exhibited in his first term, particularly in the months immediately following Sept. 11, 2001, has vanished. In its place is a diffident detachment unsuitable for the leader of a nation facing war, natural disaster and economic uncertainty.

Click here for the entire editorial.

For a good overview of Bush's declining political fortunes, check out this analysis.

September 2, 2005

Priorities

Today's "War Room" column on Salon.com points out the forthcoming G.O.P. efforts to roll back the estate tax:

The U.S. Senate approved $10.5 billion in emergency disaster relief for Katrina last night, and the House of Representatives is expected to approve the measure this morning.

Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman has other priorities in mind. In an e-mail he sent yesterday, Mehlman called on the Senate to eliminate the estate tax. And he urged his supporters to call their senators -- "today" -- to demand that they get on board with the plan.

The message arrived in our in box at just about the same time Scott McClellan was pushing away criticism of the president by saying, "This is not the time for politics."

In light of the failure of the federal government to plan for and respond to the natural disaster in the Gulf states, the failure of the Administration to send in enough troops to establish a secure Iraq, and the ballooning budget deficits, it strikes me as POSITIVELY UN-AMERICAN to argue for an abatement of the estate tax.

September 8, 2005

Seems Like The British Get It

U.K. broadcaster Sky seems to have a good handle on things; check out the banner across the bottom of the screen:
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September 9, 2005

"41" and "43" On Summer Vacation

The following arrived via email last night from a colleague. It's priceless!
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September 14, 2005

Back To The Blog

The first ten days of the school year have been typically frenetic, so this blog has suffered from a bit of neglect. I resolve to get back to a regular schedule of posting now, however.

Here, for your amusement, is the joke du jour:

Q: What is George W. Bush's position on Roe v. Wade?
A: He doesn't care how people get out of New Orleans.

September 19, 2005

Confirm John Roberts

John Roberts ought to be confirmed as the new Chief Justice of the United States. The liberal PACs and Democrats in the Senate ought to realize they do not--and should not--have veto power over a nominee who appears to be a bright, thoughtful jurist, even if he is conservative. He seems far from the narrowly ideological approach to law we get from the likes of Antonin Scalia. Moreover, as one who teaches a course in the history of the Supreme Court, I would hasten to remind the Senate that you can't really predict how a justice on the High Court is going to rule years down the road. Earl Warren and David Souter were huge disappointments to the conservatives who championed their nominations. So all the dissections of Justice Department memos that Roberts had a hand in drafting twenty years ago are attempts to decipher tea leaves that really are not worth reading.

Confirm this guy and move on. If the nominee for the O'Connor seat is a reactionary ideologue, then oppose him/her by all means. But this guy is pretty unobjectionable in my estimation.

September 26, 2005

Wisdom From The Business Section

David Carr writes a media column Mondays in the The New York Times. Today's piece is a one that should not be missed.

"A Story Better Told In Print"

NEW ORLEANS--LAST week at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown New Orleans, a mix of contractors, journalists and security people sat in the bar, reminiscing about Katrina and speculating about Rita, the storm of the moment.

Hurricane coverage, for all of its discomforts, is a bit of a caper with beaucoup fringes. Reporters get to take over hotels, spend like pirates, drink like sailors and eat like truck drivers.

Back at headquarters, things are grimmer. Last week, The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer and The San Jose Mercury News all announced significant layoffs. But the impulse to cover the big story in a big way remains.

I was part of the scrum, spending last week finding the few artists and musicians remaining in New Orleans. Covering the return of music and art to a city that continues to take on water would seem to be a luxury, but it is a gesture of good faith on the part of the people I work for. Then I saw the memo about job cuts and I worried that I was part of the problem.

By their disposition, hurricanes are a television story: great pictures, an informational crawl at the bottom, and a wind-swept, rain-soaked anchor. But big papers like The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times all dug in, sending dispatches out of New Orleans that shed light where there had been only heat. What exactly happened at the convention center? Is Mayor Ray Nagin a saint or a kook? Were the levees overtopped or undermined?

Will New Orleans be a real city again, or just Disneyland with Jell-O shots?

Those are not questions that get asked or answered much on television. The New Orleans story needed the big muscles of print journalism to gain custody of facts that seemed beyond comprehension. People could Google their way through the storm, but for a search engine to really work, you need women and men on the ground asking difficult questions and digging past the misinformation and panic that infect a big story.

Newspapers are a civic good, especially right now, but they cannot function as a nonprofit. Make all the jokes you want about dead trees, a printed artifact that people pay to read and advertise in is an absolute necessity.

On television, it always seems like Groundhog Day - get wet, rinse, repeat. There is undeniably something compelling about Anderson Cooper standing in wind and rain in Galveston at 3 a.m. on Saturday as Rita blew ashore - "You feel very much at the edge of the world," he said, blinking against the rain - but that does not address the issues of governance, logistics, race and class that the hurricanes reveal. Those are stories newspapers tell well.

BUT with department stores consolidating both their operations and their advertising and with readers canceling the newspapers that land on their doorstep in favor of more instant gratification on the Web, big newspapers full of deep reporting and serious ambitions seem like dinosaurs at the beginning of a very cold age.

Sitting on one of the last planes out of New Orleans on Friday, waiting for a break in the weather to take off, I wanted to get off, to stay and participate. But there was a new hurricane, a large ugly one, coming and many big-name reporters and anchors to chase it.

The rest of us were now officially off the ball, doing broom and dustpan patrol on the aftermath, filing stories that may never see print because of the new horrors - buses incinerating elderly passengers, poor people left behind again, and wholesale displacement - now meriting space and attention, and rightfully so.

Unfortunately, New Orleans refused to recover in time for the satellite trucks to withdraw. Assurances that the mended levees would stay that way sounded hollow when they were proffered, and the storm surge and the rain took care of that straightaway. The trash that decorates the length of Magazine Street; the mix of Humvees and television trucks that occupy the neutral ground on Canal Street; the transformation of the Ninth Ward into a wetlands, all of it serving as a reminder that some big stories have no period, only ellipses. New Orleans will be a chronic, grinding story.

The French Quarter, which has served as the television backdrop for so many stories, is empty, save the drunks and lunatics at Johnny White's, a bar that never closes. The rest of the Quarter is block after block of pitch black. Is this Bourbon Street or Royal Street? Which way is the hotel? Is my flashlight running out of batteries?

On Wednesday night in the midst of the gloom, at St. Louis and Royal Streets, the shadow of a figure over a big kettle appeared. Finis Shelnutt, the owner of Kelsto Club, had cooked up a huge batch of jambalaya and had a cooler of cold beer to go with it. It was a hopeful gesture, not a commercial one.

"I don't want your money," he said. "I just want to know what you think of the food. Right now, I need to give back, not take." A group of newspaper people - print journalists filing string that may or may not be used - nodded their assent. For the record, the jambalaya was incredibly spicy, with a burn that provided a shock, in a good way, to the ghosts and sleepwalkers who came by to eat.

Katrina and Rita have tested news media endurance. Jaded reporters looking for a quick reaction from the citizens found out quickly that you should not ask a question unless you are ready for a long, thorough answer. A random query about the geography of a neighborhood or the prospects of recovery will often prompt a soliloquy, a yarn that begins with "the war of Yankee aggression" and ends with what someone had for dinner the night before. Television rarely has time for all that. They want the bite short and sweet, never mind when your grandfather first arrived here.

The story here defines the long tail. Race, infrastructure, class, all those things that electronic media just can't do as well, have come to the fore. Never mind that school that was wiped out but never really worked in the first place, can we see that cool graphic about Rita's landfall?

I spent Friday morning parsing the gas I had and then driving to the airport through blinding rain, trying to figure out how to make the reluctant wipers on the rental car work. After parachuting in for a few stories, it felt like time to get out.

If I had an excuse, I would have stayed, because this story is worth staying close to. But that would be a hopeful gesture, not a commercial one.

October 27, 2005

Tom Toles Is A Funny Cartoonist

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Quote Of The Day

From political philosopher John Stuart Mill:

"Conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives."

Supreme Court Musical Chairs

Now that Harriet Miers has been taken off the board, does anyone expect the president will nominate someone other than a bona fide right-wing jurist? Bush needs to placate his base, for it was the right wing that did in Miers. Nominating a conservative to the Court will energize the Republican base (and Democratic opposition will fuel the flames), BUT with Bush so weak right now, he has to be careful not to lose moderate or maverick Republicans (e.g., John McCain) in the process. I expect a nomination will come soon (Friday morning?), especially given the need to distract the press and the people from the political fallouts of any pending indictments in the Plamegate case.

November 8, 2005

Election Day

One year after George W. Bush's victory, The New York Times offers a biting critique of the administration's performance, with over three years left to go. The harshest words are reserved for the vice-president. Read for yourself:

President Bush's Walkabout

After President Bush's disastrous visit to Latin America, it's unnerving to realize that his presidency still has more than three years to run. An administration with no agenda and no competence would be hard enough to live with on the domestic front. But the rest of the world simply can't afford an American government this bad for that long.

In Argentina, Mr. Bush, who prides himself on his ability to relate to world leaders face to face, could barely summon the energy to chat with the 33 other leaders there, almost all of whom would be considered friendly to the United States under normal circumstances. He and his delegation failed to get even a minimally face-saving outcome at the collapsed trade talks and allowed a loudmouthed opportunist like the president of Venezuela to steal the show.

It's amazing to remember that when Mr. Bush first ran for president, he bragged about his understanding of Latin America, his ability to speak Spanish and his friendship with Mexico. But he also made fun of Al Gore for believing that nation-building was a job for the United States military.

The White House is in an uproar over the future of Karl Rove, the president's political adviser, and spinning off rumors that some top cabinet members may be asked to walk the plank. Mr. Bush could certainly afford to replace some of his top advisers. But the central problem is not Karl Rove or Treasury Secretary John Snow or even Donald Rumsfeld, the defense secretary. It is President Bush himself.

Second terms may be difficult, but the chief executive still has the power to shape what happens. Ronald Reagan managed to turn his messy second term around and deliver - in great part through his own powers of leadership - a historic series of agreements with Mikhail Gorbachev that led to the peaceful dismantling of the Soviet empire. Mr. Bush has never demonstrated the capacity for such a comeback. Nevertheless, every American has a stake in hoping that he can surprise us.

The place to begin is with Dick Cheney, the dark force behind many of the administration's most disastrous policies, like the Iraq invasion and the stubborn resistance to energy conservation. Right now, the vice president is devoting himself to beating back Congressional legislation that would prohibit the torture of prisoners. This is truly a remarkable set of priorities: his former chief aide was indicted, Mr. Cheney's back is against the wall, and he's declared war on the Geneva Conventions.

Mr. Bush cannot fire Mr. Cheney, but he could do what other presidents have done to vice presidents: keep him too busy attending funerals and acting as the chairman of studies to do more harm. Mr. Bush would still have to turn his administration around, but it would at least send a signal to the nation and the world that he was in charge, and the next three years might not be as dreadful as they threaten to be right now.

November 30, 2005

Red And Blue

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December 1, 2005

Good Music For A Good Cause

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As today is World AIDS Day, it is fitting to note that Alicia Keys and Bono are releasing a song on iTunes next Tuesday that will raise money to fight children's poverty in Africa. The song is a cover of "Don't Give Up," a terrific Peter Gabriel composition (which he recorded with Kate Bush on his So album).

December 29, 2005

Madres de los Desaparecidos

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After a late lunch on the waterfront in the Puerto Madera section of town, I saw the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a gathering of protestors who meet weekly on Thursday afternoons in the center of the capital. All of these women had children who disappeared--presumably at the hands of the military juntas--during the Dirty War period of Argentine history. It was pretty moving. The scene wqas evocative of the Sting song, "They Dance Alone (Gueca Solo)," though the lyrics of that piece focus on a similar group in neighboring Chile, rather than Argentina.

January 6, 2006

Tom Friedman On Energy

In today's New York Times, Tom Friedman's column is right on the money in identifying the shortcomings of our current national energy policies. Some choice excerpts:

What's so disturbing about President Bush and Dick Cheney is that they talk tough about the necessity of invading Iraq, torturing terror suspects and engaging in domestic spying--all to defend our way of life and promote democracy around the globe.

But when it comes to what is actually the most important issue in U.S. foreign and domestic policy today--making ourselves energy efficient and independent, and environmentally green--they ridicule it as something only liberals, tree-huggers and sissies believe is possible or necessary.

Sorry, but being green, focusing the nation on greater energy efficiency and conservation, is not some girlie-man issue. It is actually the most tough-minded, geostrategic, pro-growth and patriotic thing we can do. Living green is not for sissies. Sticking with oil, and basically saying that a country that can double the speed of microchips every 18 months is somehow incapable of innovating its way to energy independence--that is for sissies, defeatists and people who are ready to see American values eroded at home and abroad.

Living green is not just a "personal virtue," as Mr. Cheney says. It's a national security imperative.

[snip]

We need a president and a Congress with the guts not just to invade Iraq, but to also impose a gasoline tax and inspire conservation at home. That takes a real energy policy with long-term incentives for renewable energy--wind, solar, biofuels--rather than the welfare-for-oil-companies-and-special-interests that masqueraded last year as an energy bill.

Enough of this Bush-Cheney nonsense that conservation, energy efficiency and environmentalism are some hobby we can't afford. I can't think of anything more cowardly or un-American. Real patriots, real advocates of spreading democracy around the world, live green.

Well said.

April 22, 2006

In Honor Of Earth Day

Happy Earth Day!

Here is the excellent Tom Friedman column from yesterday's New York Times. I present it not only because my alma mater gets a nice mention, but because it's a subject that needs a lot more attention in this day and age.

"The Greenest Generation"

I was visiting Williams College a few days ago and heard a student speaker there mention that at the end of the day, she had gone back to her dorm room to study and to "do it in the dark."

Hey, I thought, I'm not a prude, but did she have to be so explicit — and in public, in front of parents no less?

Fortunately, I quickly discovered that "doing it in the dark" is not some new sexual escapade, but a new Williams energy-saving competition in honor of Earth Day. Student dorms, classrooms and campus buildings are pitted against one another to see who can save the most energy. Students are encouraged to turn off lights every time they leave a room, to unplug cellphone chargers when not in use, to take advantage of daylight to study or use precise task lighting at night ("Do it in the dark!"), and to change old light bulbs to compact fluorescents.

The Williams competition got me thinking. Why doesn't every college make it a goal to become carbon-neutral — that is, reduce its net CO2 emissions to zero? This should be a national movement. After all, today's students will be profoundly affected by climate change, the coming energy wars and the rising danger of petro-authoritarian states, such as Iran. Yet on most campuses, the whole energy-climate question still seems to be a student hobby, not a crusade.

C'mon kids, wake up and smell the CO2! Everybody — make your school do it in the dark! Take over your administration building, occupy your university president's office or storm in on the next meeting of your college's board of trustees until they agree to make your school carbon-neutral. (And while you're at it, ban gas-guzzling G.M. Hummers from your campus as well!)

It is not that hard. Start by measuring exactly how much energy your university is consuming and how much CO2 it is emitting, from its heating and cooling of buildings to its transport systems. The Greenhouse Gas Protocol, which can be downloaded from www.ghgprotocol.org, offers an internationally accepted way to measure greenhouse gas emissions.

Once you determine your university's total CO2 emissions, the next step, suggests Glenn Prickett, a senior vice president at Conservation International, should be to have "your own graduate students in science and engineering develop their own comprehensive plan to reduce fossil fuel consumption." They can turn to more efficient lighting, heating and cooling; more hybrid vehicles; and better building design, including renewable energy technologies like solar panels.

After a college reduces its carbon emissions as much as possible, it can then develop a strategy for offsetting the greenhouses gases it is still putting into the atmosphere. To become carbon-neutral, you need to finance a project that will measurably reduce greenhouse gases, and it has to be a project that would not have happened if your school had not paid for it. That's how you get the credit.

You can pay to preserve rain forest land in the Amazon so trees there will not be burned, a major source of greenhouse gases, or plant forests in Africa that will absorb carbon, or sponsor a project to turn landfill gas into electricity. (G.M. does that!) In a partnership with Conservation International, the band Pearl Jam offset all the emissions from its last tour by paying to help communities preserve rain forest land in Madagascar. (That also helps reduce poverty and protect endangered wildlife.)

"Our offices are carbon-neutral," said Jonathan Lash, president of the World Resources Institute, which is ready to advise any campus on how to proceed: call (202) 729-7600. "We worked through a broker and identified a school in Portland that needed to buy a new heating system because the old one was very inefficient and created a lot of greenhouse gas." The institute helped pay for the new system, the school saved money and reduced its emissions, and W.R.I. got the offset for its own emissions.

Al Gore eloquently argues that our parents' generation, the Greatest Generation, turned back the black tide of fascism. They fought the war and built the institutions that preserved peace and freedom for a lot of people on this planet. Today's young people, Mr. Gore argues, have a parallel task. Yes, he means you college students.

You need to become what the writer Dan Pink calls "the Greenest Generation," and build the institutions, alliances and programs that will turn back the black tide of climate change and petro-authoritarianism, which, if unchecked, will surely poison your world and your future as much as fascism once threatened to do to your parents' world and future.

This is your challenge. Who will rise to it?

April 25, 2006

The Cover Of Rolling Stone

The latest issue of Rolling Stone arrived in my mailbox today with a provocative cover story:
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April 26, 2006

The Right Man For The Court

Yeah, I know: blogging ought to be more than just cutting and pasting pieces from the Times, but this thoughtful and provocative piece by a member of the paper's editorial board is worthy of sharing:

Reining In Justice Scalia by Adam Cohen

"You know what I say to those people? That's Sicilian."
—Justice Antonin Scalia

Justice Antonin Scalia has gone too far — and he keeps on doing it.

He made national headlines recently for making a gesture that may or may not be obscene. If it wasn't obscene, it was certainly coarse and undignified.

He recently called those who disagree with his unconventional views of the Constitution "idiots."

His public statements often make him sound more like a political partisan than a judge. He is particularly bad on the subject of Bush v. Gore, the decision that put President Bush in the White House, a low point in the Supreme Court's history that Justice Scalia should not be pulling down any lower.

Worst of all, Justice Scalia refuses to abide by the basic principles of recusal, the law that forbids judges from hearing cases in which they are not impartial, or will not be viewed as impartial. A few weeks ago, he took part in a case involving the rights of detainees after making inflammatory statements that seriously called his fairness into question.

Justice Scalia is certainly hurting his own reputation. After one of his ethical lapses involving Vice President Dick Cheney, Jay Leno joked on "The Tonight Show" about an "embarrassing moment" when Mr. Cheney visited the White House — "Security made him empty his pockets and out fell Justice Antonin Scalia!"

More important, Justice Scalia's actions are damaging the reputation and moral authority of the Supreme Court. Not since Abe Fortas and William O. Douglas stirred up controversy in the 1960's and 70's has there been a justice whose personal conduct has done as much to diminish the court's reputation.

The rate of Justice Scalia's disturbing words and deeds is increasing — now, it seems, he can be counted on to embarrass the court publicly roughly every few weeks. There is debate among court-watchers about why this is happening. But whatever the reason, Justice Scalia needs to be reined in.

If he will not police himself, his colleagues and Congress should do it, to protect the dignity of the court, and to ensure that the parties before him get a fair hearing.


I. Injudicious Public Statements

There is a long tradition of Supreme Court justices speaking at law schools, and in other public forums. In general, this is a good thing. The American people should be able to see their justices up close, and learn their views about the law, and the justices should get out of the monastic world of the court and interact with real people.

It is critical, though, that the justices uphold the court's integrity and independence. Alone among his Supreme Court colleagues, Justice Scalia seems indifferent to this basic point.

His most recent major blow-up occurred in a Boston church. After he was asked about the impact of his religion on his judicial decisions, Justice Scalia placed his fingertips under his chin and flicked them outward. The Boston Herald reported that the gesture was obscene. Justice Scalia wrote a letter to the editor insisting that it was merely an Italian way of indicating, roughly, "I could not care less."

Whether the gesture was obscene is subject to debate. The Philadelphia Inquirer surveyed residents of South Philly, and found opinion divided. Some Italian-Americans said the gesture simply meant "fuggeddaboutit," while others said it was vulgar. Sonny D'Angelo of D'Angelo Brothers butcher shop told the paper that he was brought up to regard it as obscene, adding that "My father would go berserk if I used that gesture."

The photographer who took a now-famous picture of the gesture, Peter Smith, a Boston University assistant photojournalism professor, said that when Justice Scalia made the gesture he also uttered an obscenity in Italian.

In February, speaking to a meeting of the conservative Federalist Society, Justice Scalia dismissed those who believe that the Constitution is a living document that evolves over time. "You would have to be an idiot to believe that," he said. Among the people who are "idiots" by Justice Scalia's formulation: the vast majority of constitutional law professors, and most of his colleagues on the Supreme Court, who continually reaffirm their belief in a living Constitution.

In a speech at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland on March 8, Justice Scalia was even more off-base. On the subject of whether detainees captured in war should be given a jury trial in civil court, he said "Give me a break," even though closely related questions were at issue in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, which was headed to the Supreme Court in a matter of weeks.

The loose cannon keeps on firing. On April 12, during a visit to the University of Connecticut, Justice Scalia said of his decision not to recuse himself from a case involving Vice President Dick Cheney, which he participated in after going on a hunting trip with Mr. Cheney, "I think the proudest thing I have done on the bench is not allow myself to be chased off that case." Justice Scalia's decision was widely criticized by commentators, lawyers, and law professors, including some of the nation's leading experts on judicial ethics. It is bizarre that he would call it his proudest accomplishment on the bench.


II. Refusing to Recuse

Justice Scalia has refused to follow the law on recusals, participating in cases where his impartiality has been seriously called into doubt.

The law of recusal is clear. Supreme Court Justices are bound by a federal statute The Supreme Court has emphasized that the law should be read broadly to avoid "even the appearance of impropriety."

Justice Scalia failed to do this in two important, and highly political, cases.

The first was a lawsuit by the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch against Vice President Dick Cheney, seeking to learn the identity of members of a secret energy task force he met with early in President Bush's first term. Critics of the administration have long suspected that those meetings were a forum for oil companies, and other powerful corporations, to shape the administration's energy policies. The court decided the case in June, 2004, in the middle of President Bush and Mr. Cheney's re-election campaign.

Shortly before it was argued, Justice Scalia went on a small hunting trip with Mr. Cheney, who was an old friend. The two men flew down to Louisiana together on Air Force Two, and hunted together.

The Sierra Club filed a motion asking Justice Scalia to recuse himself from Mr. Cheney's case. Justice Scalia, refused and then voted in Mr. Cheney's favor.

When he decided not to remove himself from the case, Justice Scalia wrote a 21-page memorandum setting out his position. It is thoroughly unconvincing, as Hofstra Law School professor Monroe Freedman, who is one of the nation's leading legal ethics experts, explained in "Duck-Blind Justice: Justice Scalia's Memorandum in the Cheney Case," in the Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics.

The memo is filled with specious arguments. Justice Scalia acknowledged that friendship between a judge and a party to a lawsuit can be grounds for recusal. But he argued that this was mainly true when the party is sued in his personal capacity. In a case where a friend is sued in his official capacity, according to Justice Scalia, a judge only needs to recuse himself when the party's "reputation and integrity" are at stake. In the case before him, Justice Scalia wrote, Mr. Cheney was being sued in his capacity as chair of the Energy Group, in what was a "'run-of-the-mill' dispute about an administrative decision."

The argument is hard to take seriously. The energy task force lawsuit was anything but run-of-the-mill. Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney's political opponents were using the task force as a political weapon in the 2004 election, and if Mr. Cheney had been forced to reveal who had attended meetings, it might well have produced information that would have shown up in political attack ads. Justice Scalia seemed to be suggesting that if Mr. Cheney, an extremely wealthy man, were being personally sued for a small amount of money, he would have recused himself, but that this suit was so much less important to Mr. Cheney that recusal was unnecessary. That makes no sense at all. It is hard to believe Justice Scalia could have convinced a judge to accept his argument, but fortunately for him, he only had to persuade himself.

Justice Scalia's memo has other serious flaws. He accepted a free ride for himself and two family members on Air Force Two from Mr. Cheney right before hearing the case. Taking things of value from one of the parties to a case is the most basic conflict for a judge. But Justice Scalia dismissed objections with the most clichéd defense of bribe-takers — that it was absurd to think he could be "bought so cheap." In fact, the value of three luxury plane rides is not insubstantial at all compared to the salary of a Supreme Court Justice.

Professor Freedman noted in his article that 8 of the 10 largest-circulation newspapers (including this one) ran editorials calling for Justice Scalia's recusal, as did 20 of the top 30, and none argued against it. "Unless we are to believe that all these editorialists are unreasonable people," Professor Freedman wrote, "the conclusion is inescapable that a reasonable person might question Scalia's impartiality in the case." A few weeks ago, Justice Scalia again participated in a case in which many reasonable people questioned his impartiality — because of his own comments. In his University of Fribourg appearance, he was quoted saying that "War is war, and it has never been the case that when you captured a combatant you have to give them a jury trial in your civil courts." As Tony Mauro, a veteran Supreme Court reporter, has pointed out, that seemed to directly prejudge a case he was to hear a few weeks later, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, in which an alleged Al Qaeda member captured in Afghanistan was challenging the use of military tribunals to try detainees held in Guantanamo.

Justice Scalia made things worse by saying, in the same discussion, "I had a son on that battlefield, and they were shooting at my son." The strong suggestion was that he was connecting the question of what rights detainees have to the danger posed to his son Matthew, who was an Army captain in Iraq. A group of retired generals and admirals who filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Mr. Hamdan asked Justice Scalia to recuse himself. He refused. At oral argument, according to Mr. Mauro's account, Justice Scalia at times "appeared to take over [the government's] ... argument," doing battle with the justices who appeared most sympathetic to Mr. Hamdan.

Justice Scalia clearly does not like the recusal law as it exists in the statute books—and he seems intent on replacing it with a more forgiving standard of his own creation. At his University of Connecticut appearance, when he was asked about the Cheney case, he replied, "For Pete's sake, if you can't trust your Supreme Court justice more than that, get a life." But Justice Scalia, who is so critical of liberal judges for making up legal standards, has made up his own standard here. If he had fairly applied the one in the statute, he would have removed himself from the case.


III. Justice Scalia, Political Partisan

Justice Scalia speaks, frequently, as an undisguised right-wing ideologue. In his University of Fribourg appearance, he was quoted saying, about President Clinton's false statements in the Monica Lewinsky matter, "we really don't like our presidents fooling around in the Oval Office." The questioner was asking about the dishonesty of American presidents, but Justice Scalia sounded like a right-wing talk show host in his response. He was certainly not giving a legal answer to the question, since the articles of impeachment against President Clinton were for perjury and obstruction of justice, not sex in the White House.

His comments about Bush v. Gore have also been strikingly political in tone, which is particularly unfortunate given the black mark the case has already made on the court's reputation. In the same Fribourg appearance, again according to the Washington Post, Justice Scalia said on the subject of Bush v. Gore, that if all of the votes that Democrats had wanted counted were indeed counted, "They would have lost anyway." The important point is that no one will ever know who would have won if all of the votes had been counted, and the Supreme Court ordered the vote counting stopped. He was also quoted as saying, "Oh God. Get over it," as if there were a statute of limitations for raising questions about the legitimacy of Supreme Court rulings.

In the Supreme Court, the case broke down sharply along partisan lines, with the five conservative justices voting for George W. Bush, and the four liberals dissenting. But Justice Scalia rejected charges that the court had approached the case in political terms while at the same time stating, outrageously, that the Florida Supreme Court judges had been politically motivated when they ordered that more votes be counted. The Supreme Court's prestige was sorely tested in Bush v. Gore, when it had to resolve a deeply divisive dispute over who had rightfully been elected president. The reason the court's decision was accepted, though — by an electorate that had cast 500,000 more of its votes for Mr. Gore than Mr. Bush — is that it was regarded as a legal decision, not a political one. Justice Scalia's discussion of the case undermines the public's faith in the decision, and the court.


IV. Why Is He Doing This?

There is no way to know why Justice Scalia has been acting in a way that has been so injurious to his own reputation, and the reputation of the court.

It may simply be a product of his booming self-confidence, in his intellectual ability and his moral vision. He may simply be speaking his mind because he feels he can.

Some court-watchers have conjectured that Justice Scalia may have been motivated by a deep desire to be appointed Chief Justice. He may have curried favor with Vice President Cheney before the election in the hope that it would help him to be nominated. And Justice Scalia may be speaking out now because he feels that, with a new Chief Justice, John G. Roberts, who is much younger than he is, he has nothing left to lose.

Justice Scalia, for his part, has been quoted saying that he has been on something of a public relations kick. "My kids have been working on me to get out and do more public appearances," he told a reporter from the New York Daily News last year. "They think it makes it harder to demonize you — and I agree." He may want to reassess his strategy.

In the end, why he is doing it doesn't matter that much. Getting him to stop matters a lot.


V. What Is to Be Done?

If Justice Scalia keeps making outrageous statements, and violating recusal law, at his current pace, it will do serious damage to the Supreme Court.

The simplest solution would be for Justice Scalia to begin policing himself. Unfortunately, he seems convinced that he is above reproach, despite all of the reproach he has received.

The next obvious place to look for corrective action is Justice Scalia's colleagues on the court. The Supreme Court has always jealously guarded its prerogatives when it comes to setting its own rules — Justice Anthony Kennedy recently told Congress that the Supreme Court, not Congress, should decide if its proceedings are televised. But with that assertion of authority comes responsibility.

Chief Justice Roberts, and perhaps other members of the court, should persuade Justice Scalia to give up his unseemly public utterances, and to recuse himself from cases when the law indicates that he should.

If Justice Scalia keeps flouting basic recusal principles, the court should consider changing its rules. Currently, justices are the only federal judges who are allowed to decide on their own whether to recuse themselves. There is an inherent illogic in allowing a judge to be the final word on his own impartiality — if they are so biased that they cannot hear a case, they may well be too biased to decide if they are too biased. But it is a system that works only if justices do their utmost to be fair to the arguments for recusal.

The court could decide to allow the justices as a whole, or an alternating panel of three justices, to rule on recusal motions aimed at their colleagues. Such an approach would have its own problems — conceivably, justices in one ideological camp could vote to recuse their ideological opposites to affect the outcome of a case. But if individual justices abuse their right to decide their own motions, such a change would be an improvement.

Finally, Congress should be doing more. Respected members from both parties should speak out when Justice Scalia makes outrageous comments, and make it clear that better is expected of him.

They should also reconsider the rules of recusal. Congress could amend the federal recusal statute to require that the whole Supreme Court, or a panel of justices, rule on recusal motions. Short of amending the law, some pointed criticism from members of Congress, particularly on the Republican side of the aisle, could encourage Justice Scalia to do better in ruling on his own recusal motions.

More than any modern justice, Justice Scalia seems intent on presenting himself to the world as an outspoken champion of conservative values. But conservatives are people who believe in respecting and preserving existing institutions. There is nothing conservative about diminishing a great institution like the Supreme Court by making inflammatory and partisan off-the-bench statements and ignoring the rules of ethical judging.

April 27, 2006

A Little Audio For All You Flat-Worlders

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I'm an avid reader of Tom Friedman's work. His recent address at my alma mater about globalization--based on his book The World Is Flat, which recently has been reissued in an updated edition--is available as an audio file here.

April 29, 2006

Recommended Reading

The article in tomorrow's magazine section of The New York Times--which arrives on Saturday for subscribers--has a terrific piece by Peter Beinart: "The Rehabilitation of the Cold-War Liberal." The article considers the theologian Reinhold Niehbur as the intellectual forefather of Democratic foreign policy ideas in the middle of the 20th century and advocates a linkage between the domestic pursuit of economic equality and foreign policy rooted in restraint and international cooperation as well as power. It's a fascinating piece. An excerpt:

To be sure, such institutions must acknowledge the realities of power, as did NATO, the U.N. and the other international bodies born at the end of World War II. But by mildly redistributing power — by conceding that even the mightiest country must sometimes modify its behavior in pursuit of a higher good — they build international norms that seem legitimate rather than hypocritical. In the liberal story, America's power to intervene effectively overseas depends on its power to persuade and not merely coerce. The power to persuade depends on a willingness to be persuaded. And that willingness depends, ultimately, on America's willingness to entertain the prospect that it is wrong.

The entire article can be accessed here (registration required).

May 21, 2006

Political Cartoon Of The Week

Thank you, Tom Toles, for this one:
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June 25, 2006

Great Flick

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Given the non-stop rain here on the Vineyard all of yesterday and today, I had hopes of getting on an earlier ferry--I booked the 7:15 p.m. trip from Vineyard Haven to Woods Hole months back, imagining then I could spend a leisurely day in good weather on the island--but of course lots of other folks had the same idea in light of the foul weather, so I couldn't get back to the Cape early and thus had time to kill. The documentary An Inconvenient Truth was playing in Edgartown at 2:15, so I got out of the downpour for a couple of hours in the cinema. While the movie is not perfect, it is a "must-see" film. Al Gore is far more engaging in this format than he was as a candidate. And the mountain of facts he and the filmmakers have marshalled to sound the alarm on climate change is pretty overwhelming (and convincing!). Gore makes great use of a Keynote (Apple's version of PowerPoint) presentation on the lecture circuit and this movie should get the message out to a lot more people. That's a good thing.

August 8, 2006

Lieberman's Day of Reckoning

Democratic voters in the State of Connecticut have the chance to deny Joe Lieberman the party nomination in his 2006 U.S. Senate re-election campaign. His opponent--Ned Lamont--has built a lead in polls taken during the past two weeks, largely due to the percpetion that Lieberman has been too supportive of the Bush Administration's foreign policy in the Middle East (specifically the Iraq war).

I voted for Lamont in the Senate race and for Dan Malloy in the gubernatorial contest.

August 9, 2006

A Holiday

Happy Nixon's Resignation Day everybody!

August 10, 2006

Heathrow Scare

Just four days ago while en route from Cape Town to New York, I was bemoaning the inefficiency of having to go through security again while in Heathrow Airport, even though I was in transit and presumably already in a secure zone. Given the plot that was foiled earlier today, I suppose the alternative to my being inconvenienced is pretty sobering to contemplate. Apparently terrorists were trying to smuggle liquid explosives onto U.S.-bound flights to blow up multiple planes mid-air, but were stopped due to good work by British law enforcement.

Normally I find Heathrow a frustrating place. It sounds like it became hellish in the past 24 hours, as flights were delayed and cancelled, security lines were backed up, and passengers couldn't take laptops, iPods, or really any hand luggage onto planes.

Glad I wasn't there for that!

August 12, 2006

Joe Must Go

I had decided to vote for Ned Lamont in last Tuesday's Democratic primary here in Connecticut largely because Joe Lieberman has lost touch with his constituency in my estimation: he is too focused on national affairs (instead of the needs of his state) and too willing to defend the disastrous foreign policy of the current Administration (when even the top American generals in Iraq are conceding it's a civil war now).

Lieberman's recent comments in the wake of the terrorist plot to bomb U.S.-bound airlines have really crossed the line. The senator basically equated support for his opponent with encouraging such acts of terror. I find this leap--which more or less echoes exactly what Dick Cheney said earlier in the week--highly offensive. The inability to distinguish honest political disagreement from irresponsibility and disloyalty is another page from the Bush Administration's playbook--and it's patently un-American, in my humble opinion.

I'm now even more convinced that Lieberman is no longer worthy to represent the Nutmeg State.

August 19, 2006

Happy 60th, President Clinton

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You may not have been perfect, but it's increasingly clear how badly we miss you!

August 21, 2006

Dissection Of A Disaster

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I am currently reading Fiasco, an excellent overview of the current Iraq war, written by Thomas Ricks, longtime Pentagon correspondent for the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. Recommended for anyone who wants to understand exactly what has unravelled in Iraq and how it happened. While the author doesn't appear to have a particular ideological axe to swing, he has turned in a fairly scathing indictment of the arrogance and incompetence of the current administration.

Is Bush Hitting The Bottle Again?

Okay, this is kind of sophomoric, bit it IS pretty funny: click here.

August 22, 2006

In Case You Are Counting . . .

. . . it's been 1800 days since President George W. Bush said he would "get Osama bin Laden dead or alive."

September 21, 2006

Frank Rich's New Book

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I started Frank Rich's The Greatest Story Ever Sold, a fairly scathing analysis of politics and culture in America between 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. No doubting Rich's power as a prosesmith; he writes elegantly and convincingly, even more so in book form than in his weekly New York Times columns.

October 2, 2006

The Morning Report

From the dependably on-target Tom Tomorrow:
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October 24, 2006

The Final Fortnight of Campaign '06

Living in Connecticut, with its high-profile Lamont/Liberman Senate race and three highly competitive battles for House seats, one can hardly turn on the television for a few minutes without being bombarded by political advertisements for the various candidates. With just two weeks left before Election Day, the Dems have a slew of positive indicators suggesting a takeover of both houses of Congress may be within reach, but it's early yet. An "October surprise" could shake things up. And you can't discount the GOP get-out-the-vote machine that was so effective in 2004.

November 7, 2006

Election Day

I voted this morning. I supported the Republican incumbent governor Jodi Rell over John DeStefano, who, IMHO, represents all that is slimy about politicians. I voted for Ned Lamont for U. S. Senate with some reservations; I'm not convinced he's the best fit for the Senate, but it's clearly time for that sanctimonious phony Joe Lieberman to be sent home, as he long ago lost touch with his Connecticut constituents. Third District Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro will cruise to re-election without breaking a sweat, and I am happy to support her.

November 8, 2006

America Cleans House . . .

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. . . and probably the Senate too! Yesterday's election returns were good news for the Democrats, who swept into control of the U.S. House of Representatives and--pending a recount in Virginia--the Senate as well. Most of the candidates I backed won. It was especially encouraging to see the G.O.P. lose ground in places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri, and Montana, thus exposing the myth of the supposedly insurmountable electoral advantage the Republicans have gerrymandered in recent years.

Bicameral Sweep

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The Associated Press and other major news outlets are now projecting Webb as the winner of the U.S. Senate race in Virginia, which would give the Democrats control of the upper house of Congress as well. A whole new ball game in Washington, it seems!

November 9, 2006

The Wheel Of Fortune

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Brilliant. The photo is real, of course: Rummy and Saddam in happier days! Credit to this site.

December 6, 2006

Common Sense

Sounds like the Baker/Hamilton bipartisan commission--the Iraq Study Group--is weighing in with a (gently worded, perhaps?) rebuke of administration policy, firmly rejecting "stay the course" as an approach with any credibility. This on the heels of yesterday's testimony by Robert Gates--the nominee for Secretary of Defense--before the Senate Armed Services Committee, in which he candidly acknowledged that our Iraq policies had no hope of producing a victory. Such straight talk is long overdue. Of course, finding a sensible solution to the mess in Iraq is far easier said than done.

December 7, 2006

Tom Toles = Funny

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December 10, 2006

Good Riddance

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Augusto Pinochet, 1915-2006, mass murderer, enemy of human rights. He will not be missed. In observance of his death, I played Sting's "They Dance Alone (Gueca Solo)," a mournful meditation about the women whose husbands, father, brothers, and sons went missing in Pinochet's Chile. "Someday we'll dance on his grave."

December 30, 2006

Paul Krugman Gets It Right

In his last column of 2006, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman provides an overview of the "Republican revolution" of the last decade. His analysis (which I read in the International Herald Tribune while traveling today) seems to hit the spot:

"A Failed Revolution"

After first attempting to deny the scale of last month’s defeat, the apologists have settled on a story line that sounds just like Marxist explanations for the failure of the Soviet Union. What happened, you see, was that the noble ideals of the Republican revolution of 1994 were undermined by Washington’s corrupting ways. And the recent defeat was a good thing, because it will force a return to the true conservative path.

But the truth is that the movement that took power in 1994 — a movement that had little to do with true conservatism — was always based on a lie.

The lie is right there in “The Freedom Revolution,” the book that Dick Armey, who had just become the House majority leader, published in 1995. He declares that most government programs don’t do anything “to help American families with the needs of everyday life,” and that “very few American families would notice their disappearance.” He goes on to assert that “there is no reason we cannot, by the time our children come of age, reduce the federal government by half as a percentage of gross domestic product.”

Right. Somehow, I think more than a few families would notice the disappearance of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — and those three programs alone account for a majority of nondefense, noninterest spending. The truth is that the government delivers services and security that people want. Yes, there’s some waste — just as there is in any large organization. But there are no big programs that are easy to cut.

As long as people like Mr. Armey, Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay were out of power, they could run on promises to eliminate vast government waste that existed only in the public’s imagination — all those welfare queens driving Cadillacs. But once in power, they couldn’t deliver.

That’s why government by the radical right has been an utter failure even on its own terms: the government hasn’t shrunk. Federal outlays other than interest payments and defense spending are a higher percentage of G.D.P. today than they were when Mr. Armey wrote his book: 14.8 percent in fiscal 2006, compared with 13.8 percent in fiscal 1995.

Unable to make good on its promises, the G.O.P., like other failed revolutionary movements, tried to maintain its grip by exploiting its position of power. Friends were rewarded with patronage: Jack Abramoff began building his web of corruption almost as soon as Republicans took control. Adversaries were harassed with smear campaigns and witch hunts: Congress spent six years and many millions of dollars investigating a failed land deal, and Bill Clinton was impeached over a consensual affair.

But it wasn’t enough. Without 9/11, the Republican revolution would probably have petered out quietly, with the loss of Congress in 2002 and the White House in 2004. Instead, the atrocity created a window of opportunity: four extra years gained by drowning out unfavorable news with terror alerts, starting a gratuitous war, and accusing Democrats of being weak on national security.

Yet the Bush administration failed to convert this electoral success into progress on a right-wing domestic agenda. The collapse of the push to privatize Social Security recapitulated the failure of the Republican revolution as a whole. Once the administration was forced to get specific about the details, it became obvious that private accounts couldn’t produce something for nothing, and the public’s support vanished.

In the end, Republicans didn’t shrink the government. But they did degrade it. Baghdad and New Orleans are the arrival destinations of a movement based on deep contempt for governance.

Is that the end for the radical right? Probably not. As a long-suffering civil servant once told me, bad policy ideas are like cockroaches: you can flush them down the toilet, but they keep coming back. Many of the ideas that failed in the Bush years had previously failed in the Reagan years. So there’s no reason to assume they’re gone for good.

Indeed, it appears that loss of power and the ensuing lack of accountability is liberating right-wingers to lie yet again: since last month’s election, I’ve noticed a number of Social Security privatizers propounding the same free-lunch falsehoods that the Bush administration had to abandon in the face of demands that it present an actual plan.

Still, the Republican revolution of 1994 is over. And not a moment too soon.

December 31, 2006

There's Something About Liz

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I saw The Queen this afternoon at a cinema right next to Circular Quay and the Opera House. It's a captivating film featuring a brilliant performance by Helen Mirren, who is already being tipped for Oscar honors. Don't miss this movie.

February 12, 2007

Thanks, Tom Tomorrow

Hitting the nail on the head again:

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March 15, 2007

I Like Getting Messages Like This

A recent Choate alum--who shall remain nameless--sent me this note some weeks back:

you were right. kerry was the better candidate in 2004 but hindsight is 20/20 and i was wrong at the time.

i said it

Give 'em time and most of them will see the light.

March 19, 2007

Iraq Four Years On

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Four years into our misadventure in Iraq, it's clear this war is a disaster. The perception of the United States around the world has been diminished. Our ham-handed approach to the war has emboldened our enemies (Iran, North Korea) and given fresh motivation to those who would do us harm throughout the Middle East. We have diverted resources that would have been far better utilized against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. The American people have lost faith in their government and in the media, all guilty of far too readily buying into what we now know to be bogus reasons for war. The long-term prospects for the U.S. economy are in the toilet now. And the loss of life in our armed forces and among Iraqi civilians has been catastrophic.

And now the president--in his news conference today--asks for patience?

April 16, 2007

Required Reading

Tom Friedman's cover piece in Sunday's New York Times Magazine is a must-read on the need to make environmental issues a top national (and global) priority. He makes his case based on geopolitics as well as science. Here is a snippet of his argument:

I want to rename “green.” I want to rename it geostrategic, geoeconomic, capitalistic and patriotic. I want to do that because I think that living, working, designing, manufacturing and projecting America in a green way can be the basis of a new unifying political movement for the 21st century. A redefined, broader and more muscular green ideology is not meant to trump the traditional Republican and Democratic agendas but rather to bridge them when it comes to addressing the three major issues facing every American today: jobs, temperature and terrorism.

How do our kids compete in a flatter world? How do they thrive in a warmer world? How do they survive in a more dangerous world? Those are, in a nutshell, the big questions facing America at the dawn of the 21st century. But these problems are so large in scale that they can only be effectively addressed by an America with 50 green states — not an America divided between red and blue states.

Because a new green ideology, properly defined, has the power to mobilize liberals and conservatives, evangelicals and atheists, big business and environmentalists around an agenda that can both pull us together and propel us forward. That’s why I say: We don’t just need the first black president. We need the first green president. We don’t just need the first woman president. We need the first environmental president. We don’t just need a president who has been toughened by years as a prisoner of war but a president who is tough enough to level with the American people about the profound economic, geopolitical and climate threats posed by our addiction to oil — and to offer a real plan to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

April 24, 2007

R.I.P. David Halberstam

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David Halberstam died this week in a car accident in California. He enjoyed a distinguished career as a journalist and a sportswriter. I admire the versatility with which he alternated his work between "serious" topics and sport; of course, I'd argue he approached the latter with the same seriousness of purpose he brought to all his coverage of politics and culture. I've enjoyed a number of his books, which I've always found well written and provocative.

One personal anecdote came to mind in the wake of his passing: some years ago when I was teaching the Vietnam War elective here at Choate, I included excerpts from The Best And The Brightest, Halberstam's book on the genesis of the war among American politicians, on my syllabus. Well, one day Halberstam was visiting the Choate campus--I think one of his children was an applicant--and the tour guide was one of my students enrolled at that time in The U.S. In Vietnam. The good news was that this student told Mr. Halberstam that he was reading The Best And The Brightest as part of his coursework and found it fascinating. The bad news was that he let on that Halberstam's book had been distributed in (royalty-free) photocopy form! D'oh!

Anyway, we will miss this man of letters and his urbane and humane voice.

April 26, 2007

The Brilliant Tom Toles

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May 13, 2007

The Stuff You Find On YouTube

I didn't know President Bush performed U2 covers: check it out.

May 15, 2007

Bye Jerry

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Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell passed away earlier today. Hard to take satisfaction in any person's death, but for a man of the cloth, Falwell leaves behind an unfortunate legacy of divisiveness and intolerance.

May 29, 2007

90th Birthday

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Today would have been John F. Kennedy's 90th birthday. Given that his mother lived beyond 100, it's possible he might have been around to celebrate in 2007. It's intriguing to imagine what the world would have been like with an ex-President Kennedy on the scene since the 1960s!

July 9, 2007

Time To Go?

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Not surprisingly, President Bush is not making his aides available for Congressional hearings, invoking executive privilege.

Not surprisingly, President Bush gave Scooter Libby a "get out of jail free" card last week, creating suspicion of a cover-up in the roots of the Iraq war and Plamegate.

Not surprisingly, President Bush's appointees to the Supreme Court have tilted the bench to the right, rolling back decades of progress in civil liberties.

Not surprisingly, Vice-President Cheney remains secretive and avoids any sort of accountability, concocting the novel argument that he is part of both the executive and judicial branches of goverment, and thus answerable to neither one.

Not surprisingly, New Orleans is still struggling to rebuild, highlighting the incompetence of the administration's handling of the Katrina crisis.

Nor surprisingly, an unpopular war in Iraq continues, America's credibility in the world erodes, stability in Afghanistan slips away, terror and bloodshed in the Middle East grows by the day.

Isn't it time for these guys to go yet?

July 17, 2007

The Pulse Of The Capital

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I spent most of the day squiring the ten Kennedy Institute students around Capitol Hill.

Security concerns have made navigating around the Capitol complex pretty frustrating. I remember the days when I could take a group from a House office building through the Capitol basement, onto the Senate Subway, and into the Senate office buildings without being stopped. No more. Without an official escort much of the time, we had to keep heading outside to move from one building to another. And of course, the temperatures in July in D.C. tend to be soaring--making every such trip a brutal hike.

That said, there is always an excitement about being in the midst of the wheels of government when Congress is in session. We are meeting lawmakers and staffers as part of our official schedule, of course, but there are also chance sightings of (and sometimes meetings with) political celebrities. Today we saw U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Senator (and presidential candidate and former First Lady) Hilary Clinton. More importantly, even in these cynical times, people in and around government often exhibit an admirable sense of idealism about their work; this feeling is somewhat infectious.

July 19, 2007

Draft College Republicans

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A priceless video piece on the chickenhawk phenomenon among College Republicans has been posted. Click here to view it.

July 26, 2007

How Embarrassing!

The newspapers are full of reports of high profiled people engaged in misbehavior.

The NBA is investigating allegations of gambling on the part of one of its officials, including bets on games he worked.

The NFL is reeling from the revelations of superstar Michael Vick's involvement in dog fighting.

Major League Baseball is fumbling around, trying to deal with the very real possibility of one of its most important records being broken by Barry Bonds, who has been surrounded by a mountain of circumstantial evidence of being "juiced" for years.

The Tour de France was rocked again on the doping front yesterday, as Tour leader Michael Rasmussen was kicked out of the competition by his own team for some pretty incrimininating behavior earlier in the spring.

Meanwhile, in Washington, the credibility of Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez continues to erode, as the Senate considers charges of perjury (!) as his recent testimony is apparently contradicted by documentary evidence.

July 28, 2007

Hilary Ascendant?

I overheard the older couple sitting behind me at dinner last night discussing how surprised they were with Hilary Clinton as a candidate: that they were unexpectedly warming to the prospects of her as a worthy presidential aspirant. Couple that with yesterday's David Brooks column in The New York Times in which he comments on this as a broader phenomenon: that Senator Clinton is carefully distancing herselves from her rivals--Democrats and Republicans alike--as having the requisite experience to lead as well the politically advantageous positions on the key 2008 issues. Here is a taste of the analysis offered by center-right pundit Brooks:

The biggest story of this presidential campaign is the success of Hillary Clinton. Six months ago many people thought she was too brittle and calculating and that voters would never really bond with her. But now she seems to offer the perfect combination of experience and change.

[snip]

Iraq will still be a shooting war in 2008. Health care is emerging as the biggest domestic concern. This is natural Democratic turf. So as I travel around watching the Republican candidates, I’m looking for signs that they’re willing to try something unorthodox. Eighty percent of the time, what I see is the Dole campaign: Republican candidates uttering their normal principles — small government, military strength, strong families — and heading inexorably toward defeat.

August 15, 2007

Tom Toles On The Mark

The reliably brilliant Tom Toles on Karl Rove's "retirement" from the Bush Administration:
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August 27, 2007

He's Outta Here

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Another Bush Administration official prepares for the walk of shame back into private life: Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez announced his resignation this morning on the heels of disastrous performances in Congressional testimony earlier in the summer, leaving behind him not exactly the most distinguished record in the annals of the Justice Department!

September 4, 2007

Sixty Years On

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NPR's Morning Edition featured an interview with the author of a book on the Marshall Plan, which is marking its 60th anniversary this year. The effort to rebuild Europe in the wake of World War II positioned America as a global leader and resulted in an apex of good will toward this country. Today, the reputation of the United States is in steady decline. If only we learned the lessons of our past!

September 13, 2007

Cut And Run?

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So our president has endorsed a limited plan of withdrawal of troops from Iraq, positioning himself as a great compromiser. Of course, "the surge" was only supposed to be a temporary bump in our military presence, so this is not a shift in policy at all. Moreover, an analysis of Pentagon manpower projections reveals we won't have enough troops to sustain current levels of deployment next spring anyway, so it's not like there was any choice in the matter. Another weak effort by an inept administration to spin a disastrous policy.

September 20, 2007

It's Come To This

The dollar continues to fall in relation to other currencies. The Euro costs about $1.40, the pound about $2, and today the Canadian dollar reached parity with the greenback for the first time in decades. No more cheap vacations up north!

October 3, 2007

Modern-Day Heroism

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In the midst of the current political mess in Myanmar (Burma), it's heartening to see the inspirational role played by Aung San Suu Kyi, even though she still is being utterly repressed (she has been under house arrest for years) by the ruling junta. Her steadfast leadership stands in marked contrast to the lack of vision we see in so many of our elected officials closer to home!

And one would be remiss in not recognizing the courage of the Buddhist monks and hundreds of ordinary citizens of the country who are risking their lives in standing up for democracy.

October 10, 2007

Praise From Unlikely Quarters

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One usually associates The Economist with a mostly center-right view of politics and government. It was surprising, then, that the recent issue had so many positive (though not exclusively so) things to say about Hilary Clinton's candidacy, as well as a pretty harsh view of the current administration:

Mrs Clinton now exudes an overwhelming air of competence. Mr Bush is widely regarded as one of the most incompetent presidents in American history—a man who rushed blind into Baghdad, who filled his administration with lacklustre cronies, who bungled the handling of Hurricane Katrina and who famously claimed that he could not think of a single mistake he had made. Mrs Clinton is the anti-Bush: a woman who speaks in clear sentences, who has a formidable command of the facts, and who, on health care, is willing to learn from her mistakes.

October 12, 2007

Congratulations

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Kudos to President Al Gore for sharing a piece of the Nobel Prize for his work in spreading the word about climate change.

October 24, 2007

The Cost Of War

This morning's USA Today ran a cover headline projecting the costs of our conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq at $2.4 trillion over a decade. That amounts to $8000 from every man, woman, and child in America. Wow.

October 31, 2007

A Day In The District

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Spent much of the morning in the White House. It's been a few years since I have been inside the building. We did the East Wing/mansion tour and then spent time chatting with a handful of relatively senior staffers. Pretty interesting stuff for the wonkishly inclined. It's still somewhat heady to be in the actual White House for a few hours.

We had lunch at the State Department, followed by back-to-back Asia-related briefings wth some high-ranking Foreign Service officers, the first focused on the Five Party Talks about North Korea, and the second on the recent Burma crisis.

Our last stop of the afternoon was a visit to the city's premier lobbyist/law firm Patton Boggs. We talked to several senior partners there, including former U.S. Senator John Breaux of Louisiana.

Tonight we head to Georgetown for a chat over pizza with Newsweek editor-at-large Evan Thomas.

November 4, 2007

One Year To Go

Just 365 days until America elects a new president!

November 6, 2007

A Missed Election Day

I am embarrassed to admit the fact that Election Day was today and it never really entered my consciousness all day. I guess I am more or less out of touch with local politics. The lack of federal or state candidates in this odd-numbered-year election slate kept my interest in 2007's electoral politics pretty near nil.

November 21, 2007

Unsubscribe Me

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December 3, 2007

Crunch Time

One month until the Iowa caucuses. The Democratic and Republican presidential candidates have a lot of work ahead: while there are clear front runners, these races are still remarkably fluid.

December 17, 2007

Joltin' Joe

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The big news this morning is that quasi-Democrat Senator Joe Lieberman has endorsed his friend, Republican Senator John McCain, for president. Maybe this will give a much-needed boost to the Arizonan's floundering prospects in Iowa and New Hampshire? Though I regard Lieberman as a lost cause politically at this point, I am always intrigued by cross-party alliances like this one. The breakfast Barack Obama and Mike Bloomberg had a few weeks back gave rise to speculation of the very interesting possibility of a Obama/Bloomberg ticket.

December 22, 2007

YouTube Wizardry

A clever little film about the end of the world, which you can access here.

December 30, 2007

Satellite Radio

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My rental car out here in the Southwest came equipped with XM satellite radio. I've been spending a lot of the time listening to the "POTUS '08" channel, which focuses on the upcoming presidential election. I got to hear a town meeting held by Barack Obama, whose articulate, thoughtful, and knowledgeable answers to foreign policy questions from the crowd elevated him considerably in my estimation. In contrast, this was followed by a Rudy Giuliani stump speech in Tampa, in which it was clear the former New York mayor is now far less than the man I came to admire in the fall of 2001; instead he has adopted every partisan bullet point possible rather than offering the maverick leadership we saw in a time of crisis.

January 4, 2008

Obama's Time?

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Barack Obama may be making a believer out of me. I was impressed to listen to his Iowa town hall meetings on the radio last week and the fact that Democrats turned out almost twice as much as ever before--largely due to enthusiasm about his candidacy--says good things about this man's ability to inspire.

January 20, 2008

One Year From Today . . .

. . . the United States will (finally) inaugurate a new president.

January 30, 2008

Thinning The Herd

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Big news of the day is the withdrawals of Democrat John Edwards and Republican Rudy Giuliani from the presidential race. I will miss Edwards, who has emerged as an articulate champion of addressing poverty in the nation and the world as well as a steady voice against special interests in government. Giuliani had impressed me tremendously in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy, but his exploitation of that attack since for personal profit and his pandering to the right wing as a presidential candidate soured me on him.

February 2, 2008

Barack Obama For President

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It's endorsement time in "As Far As You Know," what with the Connecticut presidential primary now just a few days away. I have resisted declaring a favorite thus far, preferring to approach the race with an open mind, and watching the campaign unfold.

Frankly, each of the Republican candidates is pretty seriously flawed, so the GOP is a non-starter for me at the presidential level in 2008. Moreover, the Republicans have had eight years at the helm and . . . well, let's just say the current administration won't be remembered in history as one of our finest moments as a country.

Some of the Democrats in the race that I found most attractive--specifically John Edwards and Connecticut's own Chris Dodd--have already abandoned their campaigns. So my choice is now between Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama. There's lots to like about Senator Clinton; she has consistently outperformed expectations on behalf of the people of New York and has proven herself a far more effective U.S. Senator than her critics--who are legion--have given her credit for. I've seen her in person and she exceeded my own expectations as well. Moreover, she has been a savvy and resilient campaigner. I'll certainly support Clinton should she win the nomination. But my vote next Tuesday will be cast for Barack Obama.

Our country surely needs a break from the possibility of a quarter of a century of Bushes and Clintons trading terms in the White House. That's just too much politics as usual. But as a colleague of mine pointed out to me the other day, that's not enough of a reason not to vote for Hilary. And she's right. I am supporting Obama because (1) he has the best chance to put the Executive Branch under Democratic control after the disaster of the past eight years--he will be more electable in my estimation; (2) he embodies a message of change that will reposition America's role in the world in a fundamentally positive way (and having traveled the globe a lot in recent years I can testify that this is a development we desperately need); (3) he has already shown an ability to engage and inspire Americans who have largely been turned off by politics, especially young people; and finally, (4) he has the temperament, the commitment, and the intelligence to be an effective president.

Today's editorial page in the Los Angeles Times sums it up pretty well:

In the language of metaphor, Clinton is an essay, solid and reasoned; Obama is a poem, lyric and filled with possibility. Clinton would be a valuable and competent executive, but Obama matches her in substance and adds something that the nation has been missing far too long--a sense of aspiration.

In short, Obama is the best person for the job.

February 5, 2008

Your Civic Duty

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It's primary day here in Connecticut (and in many states across the country). Don't forget to cast your ballot! I just voted this morning. Instead of pulling the lever on a machine, there was a paper ballot with a bubble to fill in next to the name of each candidate: sort of like a one-question SAT!

February 26, 2008

More Momentum

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Senator Chris Dodd's endorsement of Barack Obama's candidacy only adds to the sense of a train picking up steam. Hard to see Hillary derailing this momentum in tonight's debate, the last showdown before the Ohio and Texas primaries, which have to be seen as the last stand for Senator Clinton.

March 2, 2008

Frank Rich Strikes Again

The New York Times columnist Frank Rich has never been better than in his recent columns, wherein he manages to eloquently capture the dynamics of this presidential election season. Here is his penultimate paragraph from today's piece:

What repeatedly goes unrecognized by all of Mr. Obama’s opponents is that his political Kryptonite is the patriotism he offers in lieu of theirs. His upbeat notion of a yes-we-can national mobilization for the common good, however saccharine, speaks to the pride and idealism of Americans who are bone-weary of a patriotism defined exclusively by flag lapel pins, the fear of terrorism and the prospect of perpetual war.

Brilliant.

March 19, 2008

A Powerful And Provocative Speech

Required viewing:

April 22, 2008

Showdown In The Keystone State

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The much-awaited Pennsylvania Democratic primary is at hand, and the day could be a turning point in the 2008 presidential campaign. Senator Clinton could be knocked out of the race altogether by a surprise Obama win (or even by a very strong second-place showing). More likely is a comfortable but not decisive Clinton win, which will probably prolong this battle for the nomination. A blowout for Clinton--unlikely but not impossible--could reshuffle the deck considerably, but barring any unforeseen developments between now and the summer, I think Obama retains the upper hand in this campaign.

May 4, 2008

Welcome Back, Tom Friedman

Good to have New York Times columnist Tom Friedman back on the beat this week. Although I think he blew it on the Iraq situation until relatively recently, you can't beat his take on globalization and on environmental issues.

Here is a snippet from today's column on the 2008 election:

Much nonsense has been written about how Hillary Clinton is “toughening up” Barack Obama so he’ll be tough enough to withstand Republican attacks. Sorry, we don’t need a president who is tough enough to withstand the lies of his opponents. We need a president who is tough enough to tell the truth to the American people. Any one of the candidates can answer the Red Phone at 3 a.m. in the White House bedroom. I’m voting for the one who can talk straight to the American people on national TV — at 8 p.m. — from the White House East Room.

Who will tell the people? We are not who we think we are. We are living on borrowed time and borrowed dimes. We still have all the potential for greatness, but only if we get back to work on our country.


May 5, 2008

Edmund Burke and John McCain

There's a thoughtful piece on the intersection of Edmund Burke and John McCain in the last issue of The Atlantic. The piece captures just how far the modern Republican party has strayed from virtues that are authentically conservative. You can read it here.

May 6, 2008

Resolution?

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Hilary Clinton can't be a happy camper tonight. She got blown out in North Carolina--a big state--and it looks like she'll have at best a narrow win in Indiana. Hard to see how the delegate math will produce anything other than an Obama nomination. It will be much harder now for Senator Clinton to raise money, attract superdelegate votes, and exceed expectations in the remaining contests now that her portrayal of Obama as unelectable has been punctured.

May 21, 2008

The Rising Cost Of Gas

The pain at the pump I experienced today was a little different than most people I know are facing. It cost me about $5 to fill the tank of my scooter--as opposed to the $3 I was used to paying when I first got it a few years back. Now the extra two bucks is not exactly going to bankrupt me, but considered as a percentage increase, it's clear to see why I am trying to minimize the mileage behind the wheel of my Ford Explorer.

May 22, 2008

Locus Of Evil

If one wants to see the face of evil in our world, one wouldn't have to look much past the military leaders of Burma (I refuse to honor the junta's preference for Myanmar as the name of the country). These thugs have willfully obstructed international aid efforts over the past three weeks since the horrific cyclone hit the nation, leaving a trail of human carnage and misery behind. It's staggering how heartless these so-called "leaders" have been, given the plight of their people.

May 23, 2008

Revenge Of The Geeks

I got a few chuckles reading David Brooks' typically insightful New York Times column this morning. A few choice excerpts:

At first, a nerd was a geek with better grades. The word described a high-school or college outcast who was persecuted by the jocks, preps, frat boys and sorority sisters. Nerds had their own heroes (Stan Lee of comic book fame), their own vocations (Dungeons & Dragons), their own religion (supplied by George Lucas and “Star Wars”) and their own skill sets (tech support). But even as “Revenge of the Nerds” was gracing the nation’s movie screens, a different version of nerd-dom was percolating through popular culture. Elvis Costello and The Talking Heads’s David Byrne popularized a cool geek style that’s led to Moby, Weezer, Vampire Weekend and even self-styled “nerdcore” rock and geeksta rappers.

The future historians of the nerd ascendancy will likely note that the great empowerment phase began in the 1980s with the rise of Microsoft and the digital economy. Nerds began making large amounts of money and acquired economic credibility, the seedbed of social prestige. The information revolution produced a parade of highly confident nerd moguls — Bill Gates and Paul Allen, Larry Page and Sergey Brin and so on.

Among adults, the words “geek” and “nerd” exchanged status positions. A nerd was still socially tainted, but geekdom acquired its own cool counterculture. A geek possessed a certain passion for specialized knowledge, but also a high degree of cultural awareness and poise that a nerd lacked.

Geeks not only rebelled against jocks, but they distinguished themselves from alienated and self-pitying outsiders who wept with recognition when they read “Catcher in the Rye.” If Holden Caulfield was the sensitive loner from the age of nerd oppression, then Harry Potter was the magical leader in the age of geek empowerment.

But the biggest change was not Silicon Valley itself. Rather, the new technology created a range of mental playgrounds where the new geeks could display their cultural capital. The jock can shine on the football field, but the geeks can display their supple sensibilities and well-modulated emotions on their Facebook pages, blogs, text messages and Twitter feeds. Now there are armies of designers, researchers, media mavens and other cultural producers with a talent for whimsical self-mockery, arcane social references and late-night analysis.

They can visit eclectic sites like Kottke.org and Cool Hunting, experiment with fonts, admire Stewart Brand and Lawrence Lessig and join social-networking communities with ironical names. They’ve created a new definition of what it means to be cool, a definition that leaves out the talents of the jocks, the M.B.A.-types and the less educated. In “The Laws of Cool,” Alan Liu writes: “Cool is a feeling for information.” When someone has that dexterity, you know it.

[snip]

The news that being a geek is cool has apparently not permeated either junior high schools or the Republican Party. George Bush plays an interesting role in the tale of nerd ascent. With his professed disdain for intellectual things, he’s energized and alienated the entire geek cohort, and with it most college-educated Americans under 30. Newly militant, geeks are more coherent and active than they might otherwise be.

Barack Obama has become the Prince Caspian of the iPhone hordes. They honor him with videos and posters that combine aesthetic mastery with unabashed hero-worship. People in the 1950s used to earnestly debate the role of the intellectual in modern politics. But the Lionel Trilling authority-figure has been displaced by the mass class of blog-writing culture producers.

So, in a relatively short period of time, the social structure has flipped. For as it is written, the last shall be first and the geek shall inherit the earth.

June 3, 2008

Time To Move On

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I am not one of those who has been advocating Hilary Clinton drop out of the race for the Democratic nomination. She has deserved to contend and clearly has built a committed and loyal following within the Party. But as today's contests mark the end of the primary season--and at the risk of alienating my pro-Hilary friends and family members--I say the time has now come for her to find a way to bow out gracefully in the next few days so that Democrats can begin the process of unifying for the fall general election campaign. Though there's little doubt McCain would be far better than "W" as president, the potential for damage to the country and the world with four more years of the White House under Republican control almost demands Senator Clinton recognize the reality of the situation and pledge herself to supporting the Obama candidacy.

June 7, 2008

On The Path To Party Unity?

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Though it seemed to take about as long as it took for the U.S. to recognize the People's Republic of China, candidate Hilary Clinton today acknowledged the inevitable, and suspended her campaign and endorsed Barack Obama for the presidency. No doubt this was made easier by Senator Obama's graceful praise of her in recent speeches and by what was reportedly a pleasant one-on-one meeting between the two Democratic front-runners in Washington a few days back. Still, it had to be painful to let go of one's life ambition.

June 11, 2008

Op-Ed Page's Nugget Of The Day

From Tom Friedman's New York Times column today:

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Democrats’ nomination of Obama as their candidate for president has done more to improve America’s image abroad — an image dented by the Iraq war, President Bush’s invocation of a post-9/11 “crusade,” Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay and the xenophobic opposition to Dubai Ports World managing U.S. harbors — than the entire Bush public diplomacy effort for seven years.

Read it for yourself here.

June 13, 2008

Sad News

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Sorry to hear of Tim Russert's passing earlier today. The affable newsman was always an entertaining presence for those of us who are political junkies.

June 15, 2008

Over A Barrel

Filled up the tank of my Ford Explorer today. The cost? $93.63--getting perilously close to $100! I can remember breaking the $30 mark and thinking how outrageous that was.

June 26, 2008

The Supremes And The Second Amendment

Big news out of the Supreme Court today: in the final day of the term, the High Court struck down the D.C. handgun ban in what is already being billed online as a big victory for the NRA and its allies. Now I'm generally sympathetic to gun control, but I don't see this ruling as a disaster. First of all, I believe the Constitution does, in fact, grant individuals the right to own firearms. But I also believe that right, like all others, is not unlimited. The D.C. law was probably far too broad in its scope. I think that in the name of public safety, the Court will demonstrate it's far more amenable to less sweeping restrictions on handgun ownership.

July 2, 2008

Shades Of The Manchurian Candidate

It can't be too comforting to learn that our government's approach to the interrogation of suspected terrorists at Guantánamo Bay mirrors the techniques the Chinese communists employed in the 1950s! See this morning's New York Times for details.

July 15, 2008

Some Perspective, Please!

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The reaction to the cover of the latest issue of The New Yorker has been one of outrage, from both the Obama and McCain campaigns, and around the blogosphere as well. Maybe because I've subscribed to the magazine for over twenty years now, I've gotten used to such snarkily provocative cover images. But it seems to me the satirical statement has caused far too big a deal. As comedian Bill Maher said in this morning's New York Times, “If you can’t do irony on the cover of The New Yorker, where can you do it?”

July 24, 2008

A Clever Spoof

Here is Vanity Fair taking a friendly swipe at the controversial cover on its sister publication, The New Yorker:

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July 25, 2008

A Triumphant Tour

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I haven't seen any television coverage of Obama's tour of Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel/Palestine, and Europe. I suppose the images play especially well--particularly the footage of the speech in Berlin before a throng of 200,000--but just reading about the trip this past week in The New York Times and USA Today suggests this went about as well as the Obama campaign could have wished: its candidate came across as presidential, statesmanlike, and possessing a command of foreign policy. We'll see how all of this plays out back home.

August 1, 2008

Economic Models For The Presidential Election

Reuters ran a story today projecting Barack Obama winning between 52 and 55 percent of the popular vote on November 4, based on complex models used by economists successfully in the past. (One of the best-known such economists is former Choate parent Ray Fair.) Such a margin means it's likely Obama will win the Electoral College as well, though the Fair model projected a Gore popular vote win in 2000 which, though accurate, did not result in Gore moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue!

August 5, 2008

An Argument For Studying History

In his review of The Landmark Herodotus in an April issue of The New Yorker, classicist Daniel Mendelsohn describes the story of the Persian invasion of Greece chronicled by "the father of history" as follows:

Then, there is the story itself. A great power sets its sights on a smaller, strange, and faraway land—an easy target, or so it would seem. Led first by a father and then, a decade later, by his son, this great power invades the lesser country twice. The father, so people say, is a bland and bureaucratic man, far more temperate than the son; and, indeed, it is the second invasion that will seize the imagination of history for many years to come. For although it is far larger and more aggressive than the first, it leads to unexpected disaster. Many commentators ascribe this disaster to the flawed decisions of the son: a man whose bluster competes with, or perhaps covers for, a certain hollowness at the center; a leader who is at once hobbled by personal demons (among which, it seems, is an Oedipal conflict) and given to grandiose gestures, who at best seems incapable of comprehending, and at worst is simply incurious about, how different or foreign his enemy really is. Although he himself is unscathed by the disaster he has wreaked, the fortunes and the reputation of the country he rules are seriously damaged. A great power has stumbled badly, against all expectations.

Sound familiar?

August 13, 2008

Another Olympiad

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I am reading an excellent account of the 1960 Olympics in Rome by Washington Post veteran David Maraniss. This excellent overview of this particular Games touches on the politics, the emerging commercialism, the human interest stories, and the sheer drama of sport that the Olympic Games typically encompass, and does so in an engaging narrtive style. It's a treat to read this while keeping up with current developments in Beijing.

August 23, 2008

Biden It Is

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I awoke to the news that Barack Obama had chosen Joe Biden to be his running mate this year. Biden would not have been my first choice, I suppose, but there's a certain logic to the pick in that he brings substantial foreign policy credibility to the ticket and he also appeals to the working class voters in the Northeast and Midwest that Obama seemed to have trouble connecting with in the Democratic primaries earlier this year. I am convinced that the Catholic vote will be the pivotal factor in the November election, and Biden--a Catholic himself--seems a good choice to appeal to that demographic.

The Democratic Ticket

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I dashed home from the movie theater to catch Senator Obama's introduction of his VP choice, Joe Biden of Delaware. The two appeared at a rally in Springfield, Illinois. After listening to the two speak, I feel much better about the ticket now that it has materialized. I think Biden, though not a perfect candidate, will be an effective presence to challenge John McCain in the traditional running mate's role of attack dog, but he'll do so with humor and an affable personality. And he does round out the perceived shortcomings of his partner atop the ticket. I'll be very curious to see who McCain taps in a week's time.

August 25, 2008

The Obama Family

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Given what is was intended to do, Michelle Obama's speech was very effective at humanizing her and her husband and extending a compelling narrative about "ordinary folks." What really sealed the deal, though, was the spontaneous behavior of the two young daughters on stage with the open microphone. How many million votes were sewn up right there, I wonder?

August 26, 2008

Hillary Nails It

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After exhaustive speculation in the media about how Hillary Clinton would handle her supporters and throw her weight behind the Obama candidacy at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, there can be little doubt she stepped up with an effective, emotional, and shrewd speech. It is, of course, in her own best interest to offer full-throated support for the Democratic nominee; if Obama were to lose in November without the Clintons' support, Bill and Hillary would have effectively written their own epitaphs with most Democrats nationwide.

August 27, 2008

Bill Clinton Clears The Air

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It is pretty likely Bill Clinton still harbors great resentment about the way the Democratic primaries unfolded earlier this year. That said, there's little doubt the former president delivered another of his masterful orations tonight, throwing his support clearly behind the Obama candidacy and making the case that the senator from Illinois is prepared to be commander-in-chief.

August 28, 2008

The Big Occasion

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Barack Obama delivered a masterful speech accepting the nomination of the Democratic Party this evening. He effectively made the case for his presidency by poignantly delivering his personal story, offering specific policy initiatives, effectively refuting the recent attacks from the McCain camp, and doing it all with a thoughtful, engaging, and lucid address. This one was really hit out of the park.

August 29, 2008

Surprise, Surprise

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Republican presidential candidate John McCain surprised the pundits and the American people with his choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate. The little-known Alaska governor was a bold choice, one that will be seen as either brilliant or bone-headed a couple months from now. She certainly will shore up McCain's support among the right wing of the GOP, but I'm less certain her presence on the ticket will enable the Republicans to attract the support of Hillary Clinton backers, which I think was the real goal in this selection. It will certainly be a lot harder for his opponents to criticize Senator Obama as too inexperienced, given the remarkable lack of seasoning Palin offers for one potentially just a heartbeat away from the presidency.

September 3, 2008

The VP Nominee Speaks

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Alaska Governor Sarah Palin broke through the veil of media silence tonight with a speech designed to serve up lots of red meat to the GOP faithful. She has a compellingly folksy delivery style that had the effect of softening somewhat the barrage of blows she aimed at Barack Obama. But based on her positions, there is little doubt that this is a candidate in line with the more extremist right wing of the Republican Party.

(Yes, I know the photo above is a fake, but I couldn't resist.)

September 4, 2008

The Republican Nominee

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John McCain's acceptance speech tonight at the Republican National Convention was fascinating: this 25-year veteran of Congress tried to position himself as an outsider intent on changing Washington and his rhetoric suggested that his party was ready to mount an assault on the status quo--particularly ironic, considering the Republicans have controlled most of the institutions of government in recent history.

While McCain said some nice things about his Democratic opponent, we heard only lip service about reaching out to independents and Democrats. I had hoped the "maverick" would be willing to speak truth to his party on topics such as global warming, torture, and immigration reform--where he's demonstrated an independent streak in the past--but that never materialized. While he seemed to reject the politics of personal attack and division, McCain's speech capped a week in which speaker after speaker engaged in mockery, sarcasm, questioning the patriotism of Democrats, and plenty of Obama-bashing. Moreover, McCain was pretty loose with the facts in mischaracterizing his opponent's positions on taxes and nuclear power, preferring to pander to the passions of the Republican delegates in the hall with ready-made applause lines.

In the past four days in St. Paul, Minnesota, we heard precious little in the way of new ideas. Instead, lots of (admittedly stirring) personal biography, some harsh attacks, and loads of faux patriotism dominated the proceedings. It was clear the name of the sitting president was taboo. I certainly had hoped to hear some fresh thinking on the economy, the topic most Americans identify as their highest concern nowadays. It would have been nice if we had been offered solutions, rather than cheap shots and one-liners this week.

The convention provided ample evidence that Karl Rove's lieutenants are firmly in control of the McCain campaign now. That is especially worrying, since George W. Bush in 2000 promised to govern in a bipartisan fashion (as "a uniter not a divider") too, and then presided over the most rabidly partisan administration in memory. I think John McCain can rise above that standard, but we will need to see signs that he's willing to challenge his own party a lot more in the 60 days left in this campaign.

September 5, 2008

Busted!

Check out this clip from Jon Stewart's show with some prominent political and media figures caught in some, um, rhetorical gymnastics. This is priceless!

September 7, 2008

From The Usual Gang Of Idiots

Here is Mad magazine's take on the GOP ticket:
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September 8, 2008

Not Bad For A "Disappointing" Season

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Roger Federer served notice that he's hardly washed up at age 27, winning his 13th major singles title--one shy of the record of 14 held by Pete Sampras--in defeating Andy Murray for the U.S. Open crown. I had picked Federer to prevail before the tournament (I'm on a roll, having also tipped Nadal to win Wimbledon) and he looked like the Roger we've been watching since 2003. Credit to Murray for a terrific tournament; this guy is going to be a factor in the months ahead. He made a good case for being considered among the Nadal/Federer/Djokovic faction atop the men's game.

September 11, 2008

A Cease Fire

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It was pretty classy of both campaigns to suspend political campaigning in light of the 9/11 anniversary. Obama and McCain appeared together in New York, signaling national unity in the observations in honor of the victims of the terrorist attacks seven years ago.

September 23, 2008

A Nifty 99-Cent Solution

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If you are an iPhone user and a political junkie like me, you should download Election '08 from the App Store: it provides the latest in state by state polling for the presidential contest, with a projection of the Electoral College tally.

September 25, 2008

A Scathing Assessment

Here's a journalist who doesn't mince words in analyzing the candidacy of the GOP vice-presidential candidate: Matt Taibbi writes the following in the latest issue of Rolling Stone:

Sarah Palin is a symbol of everything that is wrong with the modern United States. As a representative of our political system, she's a new low in reptilian villainy, the ultimate cynical masterwork of puppeteers like Karl Rove. But more than that, she is a horrifying symbol of how little we ask for in return for the total surrender of our political power.

Not only is Sarah Palin a fraud, she's the tawdriest, most half-assed fraud imaginable, 20 floors below the lowest common denominator, a character too dumb even for daytime TV--and this country is going to eat her up, cheering her every step of the way. All because most Americans no longer have the energy to do anything but lie back and allow ourselves to be jacked off by the calculating thieves who run this grasping consumer paradise we call a nation.

Ouch!

September 26, 2008

Well Played, EW!

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For this week's cover of Entertainment Weekly, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart brilliantly send up the controversial cover of The New Yorker published earlier this year.

September 27, 2008

The Great Debate

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Last night's debate between candidates McCain and Obama was surely lacking in fireworks. There were no devastating gaffes, and no clear slam dunk moments either. The Democrat started strongly and appeared somewhat more surefooted on the economy questions. The Republican was visibly more at home with foreign policy later in the debate. Hard not to call this one a tie. But since McCain is starting to nosedive in the polls, he needed a big win and he certainly didn't get that. Moreover, since Obama appeared to hold his own with the foreign affairs topics--supposedly his opponent's strongest suit--he may have established himself as a more convincing commander-in-chief with undecideds.

I watched the debate on CNN and was most interested in the focus group feedback of the independents, as represented by the white line on the meter at the bottom of the screen. These voters seemed to dial downward whenever either candidate made an aggressive attack. My informal gauge of the data was that Obama did better with the independents, at least those in the CNN studio. The consensus of other polls done in the last twelve hours confirms that.

September 28, 2008

Art Imitating Life?

It's a bit scary when the Saturday Night Live writers get their material word-for-word from the news shows. This sketch was less a parody than a replay of the Couric/Palin interview!

September 29, 2008

A Teaching Moment

Just as I am wrapping up a unit on Congress in my American politics and government class, the House of Representatives jumps to the lead story in the news cycle with the dramatic vote on the financial rescue package. I was discussing in class how each legislator has to vote based three primary considerations: the desires of constituents, his/her personal beliefs and analysis, and the needs of the party and other organizational demands. Clearly the third category was deemed far less important than the first one for many of the Congressmen just five weeks before Election Day!

October 2, 2008

The Polls Are Shifting

It's far too early for any candidate to be counting his chickens five weeks before an election, but in the last couple of days, there have been seismic shifts appearing in the state-by-state polls for the presidential race. Barack Obama has opened up significant leads in virtually every key battleground state, according to multiple polls.

Here are recent CNN/Time numbers in five critical swing states:

Florida: Obama 51%, McCain 47%

Minnesota: Obama 54%, McCain 43%

Missouri: Obama 49%, McCain 48%

Nevada: Obama 51%, McCain 47%

Virginia: Obama 53%, McCain 44%

If these figures hold--and they may well not--the Electoral College contest won't even be close.

October 3, 2008

Showtime For Caribou Barbie

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Both vice-presidential nominees exceeded expectations in last night's debate (which garnered much higher television ratings than the presidential debate last Friday). Joe Biden was in very good form, avoiding long-winded answers and gaffes--both factors that have hampered him in the past. He also managed to treat his opponent deftly, neither appearing the bully nor overly chivalrous. Of course, expectations for Sarah Palin were so low, if she could speak in complete sentences and not fall off the stage, the night might be considered a success. She did more than that, conveying charm and an ability to convey her prepared talking points in a lucid manner. The format helped her considerably: Palin's embarrassing moments with Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric the past few weeks were usually with follow-up questions that forced her to provide an answer that went beyond her prepared script. In the end, though, Palin's performance last night will alleviate worried GOPers. Biden probably enhanced the credibility of the Democratic ticket at the same time. I doubt this event will have much effect on the final outcome of the election; only the men at the top of the ticket or a major unforeseen event can move that needle at this point.

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October 7, 2008

Presidential Debates, Round II

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It's looking more and more like "that one" will be our next president. There's a certain appeal to Obama's cool-headedness in a time of economic crisis, especially contrasted with the sometimes grumpy, emotionally erratic bearing of McCain. Most pundits seem to be scoring these contests on points. I think many (most?) voters are looking for non-verbal cues: looking presidential is about projecting confidence and demonstrating command of the issues. Though neither candidate scored a "knock-out punch" in these first two debates, the polls suggest Obama is enhancing his credibility as a potential commander-in-chief.

October 8, 2008

An Endorsement

The latest issue of The New Yorker contains an editorial endorsement for--surprise, surprise--Barack Obama for president. The piece itself is worth a read: it's a scathing indictment of the current administration and a point-by-point assessment of the relative strengths and weaknesses of Messrs. McCain and Obama. A sample:

What most distinguishes the candidates, however, is character—and here, contrary to conventional wisdom, Obama is clearly the stronger of the two. Not long ago, Rick Davis, McCain’s campaign manager, said, “This election is not about issues. This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates.” The view that this election is about personalities leaves out policy, complexity, and accountability. Even so, there’s some truth in what Davis said––but it hardly points to the conclusion that he intended.

Echoing Obama, McCain has made “change” one of his campaign mantras. But the change he has actually provided has been in himself, and it is not just a matter of altering his positions. A willingness to pander and even lie has come to define his Presidential campaign and its televised advertisements. A contemptuous duplicity, a meanness, has entered his talk on the stump—so much so that it seems obvious that, in the drive for victory, he is willing to replicate some of the same underhanded methods that defeated him eight years ago in South Carolina.

Perhaps nothing revealed McCain’s cynicism more than his choice of Sarah Palin, the former mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, who had been governor of that state for twenty-one months, as the Republican nominee for Vice-President. In the interviews she has given since her nomination, she has had difficulty uttering coherent unscripted responses about the most basic issues of the day. We are watching a candidate for Vice-President cram for her ongoing exam in elementary domestic and foreign policy. This is funny as a Tina Fey routine on “Saturday Night Live,” but as a vision of the political future it’s deeply unsettling. Palin has no business being the backup to a President of any age, much less to one who is seventy-two and in imperfect health. In choosing her, McCain committed an act of breathtaking heedlessness and irresponsibility. Obama’s choice, Joe Biden, is not without imperfections. His tongue sometimes runs in advance of his mind, providing his own fodder for late-night comedians, but there is no comparison with Palin. His deep experience in foreign affairs, the judiciary, and social policy makes him an assuring and complementary partner for Obama.

The longer the campaign goes on, the more the issues of personality and character have reflected badly on McCain. Unless appearances are very deceiving, he is impulsive, impatient, self-dramatizing, erratic, and a compulsive risk-taker. These qualities may have contributed to his usefulness as a “maverick” senator. But in a President they would be a menace.

You can read it in its entirety here.

October 9, 2008

The Seat Of State Government

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I took Choate's American government classes up to Hartford on a field trip today. We checked out the State Capitol, met with State Senator Len Fasano, and then crossed the street to the Supreme Court, where we spent some time with the Chief Justice, Chase T. Rogers. Believe it or not, in all these years of teaching politics and government classes, this was my first time dealing with the Connecticut state government or visiting any of these landmarks.

On Not Counting One's Chickens

Lest Obama supporters become too optimistic 26 days before the election, check out this trip down memory lane from October 9, 2004.

October 10, 2008

The Surreal State Of World Finance

The Japanese market lost about 10% of its value today and the European exchanges are down 7-9% at this hour. Could be another rough day on Wall Street. It's a bit frightening to see all of this wealth disappear so quickly. Makes me glad I am not near retirement, I suppose!

October 11, 2008

Must Have The Precious

This is too funny: Gail Collins in her New York Times column on Thursday's presidential debate:

Remember how we used to joke about John McCain looking like an old guy yelling at kids to get off his lawn? It’s only in retrospect that we can see that the keep-off-the-grass period was the McCain campaign’s golden era. Now, he’s beginning to act like one of those movie characters who steals the wrong ring and turns into a troll.

During that last debate, while he was wandering around the stage, you almost expected to hear him start muttering: “We wants it. We needs it. Must have the precious.”


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October 13, 2008

Hitchens On Palin

In his endorsement of Barack Obama--a bit of a surprise, given his politics--Christopher Hitchens saves some of his most potent venom for the GOP's vice-presidential nominee:

[T]he only public events that have so far featured [McCain's] absurd choice of running mate have shown her to be a deceiving and unscrupulous woman utterly unversed in any of the needful political discourses but easily trained to utter preposterous lies and to appeal to the basest element of her audience.

[snip]

I wrote not long ago that it was not right to condescend to [Gov. Sarah Palin] just because of her provincial roots or her piety, let alone her slight flirtatiousness, but really her conduct since then has been a national disgrace. It turns out that none of her early claims to political courage was founded in fact, and it further turns out that some of the untested rumors about her—her vindictiveness in local quarrels, her bizarre religious and political affiliations—were very well-founded, indeed. Moreover, given the nasty and lowly task of stirring up the whack-job fringe of the party's right wing and of recycling patent falsehoods about Obama's position on Afghanistan, she has drawn upon the only talent that she apparently possesses.

Ouch!

October 17, 2008

Bushworld

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I saw Oliver Stone's new movie, W, tonight. It paints a portrait of the man currently in the Oval Office that is alternately sympathetic and buffoonish. This is hardly a great film, but it's an interesting take on a polarizing figure of our time.

October 19, 2008

Mr. Rich's Weekly Erudition

Frank Rich is brilliant, as always, in capturing the moment in our cultural and political life as a nation. Here's a snippet of the wisdom he dispensed in today's column:

The Bushian ethos that McCain embraced, as codified by Karl Rove, is larger than any particular vote or policy. Indeed, by definition that ethos is opposed to the entire idea of policy. The whole point of the Bush-Rove way of doing business is that principles, coherent governance and even ideology must always be sacrificed for political expediency, no matter the cost to the public good.

Like McCain now, Bush campaigned in 2000 as a practical problem-solver who could “work across the partisan divide,” as he put it in his first debate with Al Gore. He had no strong views on any domestic or foreign issue, except taxes and education. Only after he entered the White House did we learn his sole passion: getting and keeping power. That imperative, not the country, would always come first.

One journalist who detected this modus operandi early was Ron Suskind, who, writing for Esquire in January 2003, induced John DiIulio, the disillusioned chief of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, to tell all. “There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus,” DiIulio said. “What you’ve got is everything—and I mean everything—being run by the political arm. It’s the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis.”

Seen On 13th Street, Greenwich Village

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Required Viewing

General Powell speaks articulately and elegantly without notes on the choice of presidential candidates and the issues before the country in this election:

Nice to see a leader like this "reach across the aisle" and "put the country first."

October 20, 2008

On Moral Diversity

A provocative presentation on morality and political preferences from the always worthwhile TEDTalks podcast series:

October 22, 2008

On Media Bias

Sunday's New York Times has a good piece by Public Editor Clark Hoyt on the question of media bias. Here's a choice excerpt:

In political coverage, the accusations are always that the reporter or publication has ideological or party bias. But Cline has written that journalists have a whole set of professional biases that have nothing to do with politics. Journalists are biased toward conflict, toward bad news because it is more exciting than good news, and, obviously, toward what is new. When Obama was the new candidate on the presidential scene, The Times did some tough reporting on his background and record. But that was a long time ago, and memories fade. Palin was new much more recently, so the tough reporting on her happened closer to the general election, leading her supporters to complain that The Times was picking on her and giving Obama a pass.

Being human, journalists do have personal biases, and a long line of studies has shown that they tend to be more socially and politically liberal than the population at large. There is no reason to believe Times journalists are any different. But Tien-Tsung Lee, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Kansas, wrote in 2005 after reviewing the literature that “a link between reporters’ political beliefs and news coverage has never been convincingly established.”

You can read the entire article here.

October 23, 2008

Closetgate

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I guess some folks working for the RNC are catching hell right now for the horrible symbolism associated with outfitting GOP vice-presidential nominee and "one of us" "Jane Sixpack" "hockey mom" Sarah Palin with $150,000 worth of fancy duds from stores such as Nieman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. This stuff isn't gonna play well in an economic crisis, methinks!

October 24, 2008

This Might Qualify As A Guilty Pleasure

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I generally try to steer clear of the screaming heads on cable television, but lately I have been viewing Countdown with Keith Olbermann in video podcast form every night. He's a bit off the wall, but certainly an entertaining alternative to the Bill O'Reillys and Sean Hannitys of the commentariat.

October 27, 2008

A Different Take On America's Choice

Oh, the things one comes across on the Internet! Here is Obaman and Robiden, suited up to take on their foes:
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Ten Days Later . . .

. . . I am still trying to figure out what this moment at the third presidential debate was all about:
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October 28, 2008

Seven Days To Go

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Closing in on Election Day! With a week to go, is the die cast? Or will there be unexpected shifts in the days ahead? Either way, this will be fun to watch.

November 1, 2008

An Amusing Lawn Sign

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November 3, 2008

Tomorrow's Game Plan

1. Get up.
2. Breakfast at Abbott's
3. Vote.
4. Community lunch.
5. Teach PS550 classes.
6. Athletics staff meeting.
7. Cross country coaching.
8. Meet with girls' squash captain and co-coach.
9. AVOID ALL INTERNET SITES ABOUT THE ELECTION, ESPECIALLY THOSE WITH LEAKED EXIT POLLS.
10. Eat dinner.
11. Go to Goodyears for Election Night Party.
12. Await good news.

November 4, 2008

Big Day For Political Junkies

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This is it: the culmination of two years of campaigning for the White House. Of course, there are lots of seats up for grabs in the Senate, the House, the governorships, and local races. Get out and vote!

Yes I Did

Just voted across town at a local elementary school. No wait. Paper ballots for the first time in my Connecticut voting experience. And lest there be any doubt how I cast my vote, here's a hint:
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November 5, 2008

This Says It Better Than I Could

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December 16, 2008

It's Official

537 electoral votes were cast yesterday in state capitals around the nation and now it is official: Barack Obama will be the 44th President of the United States. I've been good about not gloating, so permit me this moment of celebration:

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December 31, 2008

2008: The Year Of A New Hope

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As we look back on the exciting political developments of past year, let's remember 2008 as the dawn of A New Hope.

January 14, 2009

In Which The President-Elect Meets His Childhood Hero

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In what might be construed another shameless attempt to cash in on the publicity surrounding the inauguration of Barack Obama, Marvel Comics published a special variant cover of The Amazing Spider-Man today, after Obama indicated he was a Spidey fan while growing up. It's a pretty cool honor, I suppose. Apparently people are storming comic shops all over the country today to secure a copy. The real winner in all of this? eBay!

January 18, 2009

Kicking Off The Festivities

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My parents, who have arrived in Florida for their annual snowbird migration called and asked if I would record the concert at the Lincoln Memorial in honor of the Inauguration. Well the state of my transition to the new television probably will make recording the program problematic, but I did start watching the live telecast on HBO HD and got to see a handful of my favorite performers (e.g., U2, Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor, Sheryl Crow) in action. The key thematic elements of the show were Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, which made a lot of sense for both the venue and the occasion. Hard not to feel sentimentally patriotic watching all of this. The Obamas and Bidens had choice seats just off the stage and it looked like the turnout at The Mall was huge. But it looked COLD down there!

January 19, 2009

Let Us Turn Our Thoughts Today . . .

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. . . to Martin Luther King." Those are the opening lyrics from a James Taylor song, "Shed A Little Light." A good reminder about what today's national holiday is all about. President-elect Obama has asked all Americans to dedicate this day to the principle of service, and I hope the spirit of looking out for the interests of our neighbors is infectious as our nation moves into what is hopefully a new era of politics and society.

January 20, 2009

Wow, Look At The Time!

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So sad we have to say goodbye to such accomplished statesmen today . . . NOT!

January 19, 2009

Tom Tomorrow Says Goodbye

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January 20, 2009

A New Birth Of Freedom

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Hard not to feel the tectonic plates of history shifting while watching today's Inauguration festivities. Surely this is America at its best. There's a spirit of hope and fellowship amidst adversity--kind of like being in New York City in the weeks after 9/11. Let's hope the good will continues and the new administration makes headway in facing the enormous challenges ahead.

January 22, 2009

Delivering On His Campaign Promises

Lots of early signs that our new president is changing the tone dramatically in his first days in office. The Executive Orders dealing with ethics within his administration are welcome, and it's especially gratifying to see respect for the Constitution as a top priority once more, as Obama is moving ahead with his promise to close the military prison in Guantánamo within the year.

March 2, 2009

BJK in MSG

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I caught a little bit of the ceremonies honoring Billie Jean King in Madison Square Garden tonight; HBO covered the event live. Former president Bill Clinton showed he still has a silver tongue, as he articulately delivered very warm words about the tennis and women's rights pioneer.

April 14, 2009

The New Hampshire Capitol

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Concord is the seat of the State of New Hampshire. While visiting St. Paul's, I am staying downtown at the Holiday Inn, right across from the State Capitol. When I taught in the Law and Government program at SPS, we enjoyed frequent field trips to see the state legislature in action and visit other working parts of the government. On one such trip to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, we had an enjoyable session with one of its judges, David Souter, who has since been elevated to the U.S. Supreme Court. Souter clearly enjoyed interacting with students and led a lively and thoughtful discussion.

April 30, 2009

Two Rushes

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A friend of mine--the biggest Rush fan I know (a fan of the band, that is, not the windbag)--sent me this design from a T-shirt, which is brilliant.

May 10, 2009

Obama The Comedian

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While relaxing with my folks here at my cousin's house in East Hampton, I caught up on the president's remarks last night at the annual White House Correspondents Dinner, when it's traditional for the leader of the free world to cut loose with some comedy. Obama did not disappoint. And Wanda Skyes was very funny too. It's all over YouTube, so check it out.

May 26, 2009

A New Face On The High Court?

President Obama's nominee for the Souter seat on the U.S. Supreme Court looks like a brilliant pick, at least politically. Because Sonia Sotomayor has solid judicial credentials and because she is female and Hispanic, Republicans will have a tough time mustering opposition to her appointment without alienating two key voting blocs with which they have been struggling for support in recent elections.

June 4, 2009

The Power Of Words

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In my Shakespeare class at Yale, we are reading Richard II this week, a play that explores the relationship between poetry and politics. This provides me an interesting context to watch President Obama's speech to the Muslim world in Cairo earlier today. This eloquent address, aimed at establishing a new beginning for America and Islam, may do more to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East than all the efforts of Obama's predecessor fighting his "war on terror."

June 14, 2009

Pain At The Pump

Refueling my rental car before dropping it off at the Pearson Airport here in Toronto, I was reminded how relatively untaxed gasoline is in America. Of course, calculating what one is paying at a Canadian gas station is doubly tricky: in addition to the currency conversion, you have to convert liters to gallons. But I am one of those who believes it will be in our long term best interest as a nation and as a planet to tax gasoline more heavily in the U.S., which will force consumers to adopt more fuel-efficient vehicles and rely more often on public transportation. The economy will be helped by giving the auto industry and mass transit shots in the arm. And obviously anything we do to reduce our collective carbon footprint is extraordinarily helpful at this point.

June 22, 2009

Revenge Of The Nerds

July 3, 2009

Sarah Quits

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Sarah Palin resigned from the governorship of Alaska today, no doubt to better position herself for a run at national office in 2012 or beyond. Finshing her term could only have complicated Palin's ambitions: she has been increasingly unpopular in "The Last Frontier" lately and it's been tricky for her to balance her obligations to the state with her desire to cultivate a following among GOP true believers in the lower 48. We haven't heard the last from Caribou Barbie, I'm sure!

July 5, 2009

Free Burma

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The artist Shepard Fairey--the man behind the Obama "HOPE" graphics--has released a striking image of Aung San Suu Kyi, the imprisoned leader of Burma, whom the country's ruling military junta has held under house arrest for years now and who is currently on trial for supposedly breaking the terms of her captivity (when an American activist broke into her house one evening earlier this year). For more information, click here.

July 21, 2009

Capitol Hill

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Our group of thirteen students and three adults spent most of the day on Capitol Hill after a morning visit to a prominent lobbying firm. The new Capitol Visitors Center is impressive; nice to see the finished product after looking at that huge hole in the ground on the East Front for years. The highlight of the day was a 15-minute or so meeting with the Speaker of the House; Nancy Pelosi met with us on the Speaker's Balcony--arguably one of the best views in the District!

July 22, 2009

The Old Boy Network

Today's appointments for the Kennedy Institute's D.C. session happened to involve a handful of former students: two veterans of the Kennedy Institute and a trio of Choate "winter school" grads all doing great things in either government service or related work in the private sector. (Two of them also taught with me in the K.I. summer program, too.) As a teacher, it's very rewarding to see those I once knew as eager 15-year-olds now positioned as seasoned veterans in prominent roles in the nation's capital. One of them is chief-of-staff for a Representative, another a staff director and counsel for a major House Homeland Security subcommittee, one more working on government relations for Google, and yet another developing a career as a lobbyist after a half-dozen years as a Senate aide.

July 28, 2009

Tom Tomorrow Strikes Again

This week's weekly dose of wisdom from Tom Tomorrow is brilliant:
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August 9, 2009

Making The Rounds On The Internet

Thought for the day:

This morning I was awoken by my alarm clock powered by electricity generated by the public power monopoly regulated by the U.S. Department of Energy.

I then took a shower in the clean water provided by a municipal water utility.

After that, I turned on the TV to one of the FCC-regulated channels to see what the National Weather Service of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration determined the weather was going to be like, using satellites designed, built, and launched by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

I watched this while eating my breakfast of U.S. Department of Agriculture-inspected food and taking the drugs which have been determined as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

At the appropriate time, as regulated by the U.S. Congress and kept accurate by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the U.S. Naval Observatory, I get into my National Highway Traffic Safety Administration-approved automobile and set out to work on the roads build by the local, state, and federal Departments of Transportation, possibly stopping to purchase additional fuel of a quality level determined by the Environmental Protection Agency, using legal tender issued by the Federal Reserve Bank.

On the way out the door I deposit any mail I have to be sent out via the U.S. Postal Service and drop the kids off at the public school.

After spending another day not being maimed or killed at work thanks to the workplace regulations imposed by the Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health administration, enjoying another two meals which again do not kill me because of the USDA, I drive my NHTSA car back home on the DOT roads, to my house which has not burned down in my absence because of the state and local building codes and Fire Marshal's inspection, and which has not been plundered of all its valuables thanks to the local police department.

And then I log on to the internet -- which was developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration -- and post on Freerepublic.com and Fox News forums about how SOCIALISM in medicine is BAD because the government can't do anything right.

August 10, 2009

A Surprising Trend

Here's the latest Gallup polling on party identification in America:
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August 20, 2009

As Parodies Go, This One's Pretty Good

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August 25, 2009

R.I.P. Senator Ted Kennedy

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Sad news from Cape Cod this evening, as it was announced that Ted Kennedy passed away tonight after a brave fight against cancer. This was not a surprising development, and yet the news of his death hit pretty hard. The Massachusetts icon blossomed in recent decades as "the Lion of the Senate" and for someone born into great privilege, he was consistently a champion of the underdogs in society. He shall be missed.

September 11, 2009

A Grim Anniversary

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Eight years ago, the nation suffered through the horrors of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. There's an interesting website with archived television footage from September 11-13, 2001, documenting broadcast coverage of the events and their aftermath. It's somewhat chilling to see this footage again, but worth a look for its educational value.

October 9, 2009

The New Nobel Laureate

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The country awoke this morning to the news that the American president had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. My own take on this? I was surprised; it surely seems a bit premature so early in Obama's presidency. But it hardly justifies the flurry of criticism on the left and (especially) the right. The fact that our leader is perceived by a committee of Scandanavians as a man of diplomacy, values, and great potential is hardly something to be upset about.

October 31, 2009

Michael Moore's Latest

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I saw Capitalism: A Love Story tonight, expecting to be underwhelmed, but this turned out to be a pretty thoughtful, well-made movie and relatively free of Moore's sometimes over-the-top screeds.

November 9, 2009

The Fall Of The Wall

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Today marks the 20th anniversary of the momentous day when the citizens of Germany started dismantling the Berlin Wall, the physical embodiment of a forty-year Cold War. I visited the Wall less than a year later and hacked out a souvenir chunk for myself. Amazing to consider how different the world is from what I knew a quarter-century ago!

November 6, 2009

HBO's Documentary On The 2008 Election

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I've been enjoying the chance to get caught up on By The People this week, watching it in chunks as I've had time; the documentary first aired on Tuesday, the one-year anniversary of Obama's election. It is an inside look at the Obama campaign, starting before his announcement to run, right on through the primaries, and the general election fight. A political junkie's dream!

December 14, 2009

Say It Ain't So, Joe

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No great surprise that Connecticut's junior senator is causing more trouble on health care reform, yesterday abandoning the Democratic Party's compromise agreement on the public option/Medicare angle.

December 21, 2009

Imperfect Progress

Looks like the Democrats in the Senate will have a filibuster-free bill on health care reform after all. Like Obama's Copenhagen agreement on addressing climate change this past weekend, the Senate bill is the product of compromise and is surely disappointing in many respects. But I support the passage of this legislation--flawed as it may be--because it expands insurance coverage dramatically to 30 million more Americans, ensures insurance companies can't deny coverage for pre-existing conditions, and offers some deficit belief on top of that. Yes, there's lots more work ahead on this front in the future, but this is a creditable start.

December 24, 2009

Senator Kennedy's Lifetime Work

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In what should be seen as the ultimate tribute to the late Ted Kennedy, the U.S. Senate passed the health care reform bill this morning after months of deliberation and political wrangling. While there is the tricky business ahead of reconciling this version with the House bill, it looks like America will get at least a first wave of legislation addressing the health care needs of the nation. Hopefully there will be substantive reforms to follow on this front, as well. Though the process was controversial and messy, this legislation has to be considered a triumph for President Obama, Congressional leaders Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, and the Democrats.

January 2, 2010

Quote Of The Day On Aviation Security

From security analyst Bruce Schneier:

Despite fearful rhetoric to the contrary, terrorism is not a transcendent threat. A terrorist attack cannot possibly destroy a country's way of life; it's only our reaction to that attack that can do that kind of damage. The more we undermine our own laws, the more we convert our buildings into fortresses, the more we reduce the freedoms and liberties at the foundation of our societies, the more we're doing the terrorists' job for them.

Of course!

(Read the whole piece on CNN's site.)

January 3, 2010

Neither Liberal Nor Conservative

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Fascinating piece on Obama's real base posted on The Daily Beast website. Worth a read!

I Like This Mash-Up A Lot

January 5, 2010

Senator Dodd Retires

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Word on the street tonight is that Connecticut's senior U.S. Senator, Christopher Dodd, will announce he will not run for re-election this year. The senator has hit a rocky patch in his political career, starting with an unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2007 and 2008, followed by revelations of a sweetheart deal on a mortgage. His approval ratings have plummeted as a result. Facing this political math, Dodd has apparently decided not to fight his way to re-election (though I believe he could have turned this around). Stepping down now probably means the Democrats will be able to hold this seat comfortably; with Dodd still in the race, it was a very vulnerable seat.

Having seen Senator Dodd at close range numerous times with student groups in Washington, I will miss him. He is clearly smart, hard-working, and articulate with a wonderful way with people and a firm command of the issues.

January 14, 2010

Remember Those In Need

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The heart-wrenching news and images from earthquake-ravaged Haiti offer some pretty brutal perspective for those of us whose lives are quite comfortable. Hard to get to exorcised over NBC's handling of its late night talent, for example, in light of the devastation in the Caribbean. The Internet makes it easy to make a contribution. I just made a modest donation to the Red Cross, for instance--which I report not to score any points with those few souls who might come across this blog, but to encourage as many people as something to make some sort of effort to help those in dire need.

January 18, 2010

The Liberal Professorate

An article in this morning's New York Times addresses the perception that those of us working in academia skew toward a liberal political orientation. The current thinking:

Now new research suggests that critics may have been asking the wrong question. Instead of looking at why most professors are liberal, they should ask why so many liberals -- and so few conservatives -- want to be professors.

[snip]

Nearly half of the political lopsidedness in academia can be traced to four characteristics that liberals in general, and professors in particular, share: advanced degrees; a nonconservative religious theology (which includes liberal Protestants and Jews, and the nonreligious); an expressed tolerance for controversial ideas; and a disparity between education and income.

[snip]

The tendency of people in any institution or organization to try to fit in also reinforces the political one-sidedness . . . when it comes to hiring, "the majority will tend to support candidates like them in the matter of fundamental beliefs, values and commitments."

Provocative analysis, and one that seems to make sense to me.

Google Commemorates MLK Day

Now appearing on the Google home page:
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January 20, 2010

Political Shake-Up?

Last night's big news was the Massachusetts election of Republican Scott Brown to the U.S. Senate seat long held by Ted Kennedy. Seems to me the right-wing crowing and media hype are all misplaced. 41% hardly constitutes a majority in the Senate, after all. Yes, the White House and Congressional Democrats need to do a better job conveying their message. But let's remember the GOP in Washington is embracing a fairly nihilistic approach to governance right now: opposing nearly every Administration initiative (at least in domestic policy) and offering scant little in the way of alternatives (other than the usual tax-slashing mantra). This could be just the wake-up call the President needs to kick in those political instincts and oratory skills that were deployed so effectively throughout the 2008 campaign.

January 21, 2010

So Much For Stare Decisis

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The U.S. Supreme Court decision announced today, Citizens United v. FEC, probably represents a greater shift in our nation's political life than the Massachusetts special election earlier this week. In a 5-4 vote, the Court's conservative block threw precedent out the window by invalidating a 63-year-old congressional ban on virtually all corporate (and union) spending in support of, or opposition to, candidates in federal elections. Such an outcome suggests the majority on the bench has, in fact, embraced a philosophy of judicial activism--ironically just the the label American conservatives incessantly have used to blast supposedly liberal judges in recent decades. Basically, this approach entails judges stretching Constitutional interpretation in order to impose their personal policy preferences on the citizenry, in a manner that contradicts established legislation fashioned by the people's elected representatives.

Though the George W. Bush appointees, Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito, posed as judicial moderates during their confirmation hearings, it turns out they are intent on shifting American jurisprudence sharply to the ideological right.

The particular ruling in this case, while wrapped in the language of the First Amendment, was properly lambasted by the most senior justice, John Paul Stevens in a withering dissent read from the bench. Basically, the majority opinion held that the campaign finance laws in question violated the free-speech rights of "citizens." The central flaw in this analysis is treating corporations as citizens, of course.

This is scary!

January 30, 2010

Just A Couple Of Guys At The Game

Spotted at the Georgetown/Duke game in D.C.:
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January 29, 2010

Behind Enemy Lines?

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Barack Obama was awfully impressive in facing down House Republicans at their retreat in Baltimore today. He is so quick on his feet, so even tempered, and has such command of details that he really took over the occasion. It was a coup for the White House to have this exchange of ideas played out in front of reporters and television cameras.

January 28, 2010

Back On His Game

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Got caught up on the State of the Union address I missed while in the city last night. I was impressed by President Obama's tone: not exactly defiant, but firm enough. I liked the way he called out the Supreme Court majority on its disastrous campaign finance decision. Looks like there's still plenty of fire in the belly.

February 4, 2010

The Republican Mind

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Scary stuff: this is data from a survey of self-identified Republicans, as cited in this article in The Economist.

February 7, 2010

Required Viewing

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The unedited footage of Jon Stewart's appearance on The O'Reilly Factor is a must-see. Stewart brilliantly dissects Fox News as an organization and scores some good laughs along the way.

February 8, 2010

Game Change

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I started reading Game Change, the "inside baseball" account of the 2008 presidential campaign, over the weekend and spent some time with the book on the plane up to Connecticut today. It's a great read, a pretty gripping narrative about the Obama, Clinton, and McCain organizations.

February 22, 2010

Tidbit Of The Day From The Commentariat

A snippet from today's Paul Krugman column in The New York Times:

Republicans insist that the deficit must be eliminated, but they're not willing either to raise taxes or to support cuts in any major government programs. And they're not willing to participate in serious bipartisan discussions, either, because that might force them to explain their plan -- and there isn't any plan, except to regain power.

March 19, 2010

Watching Glen Beck Will Never Be The Same

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April 2, 2010

Teabonics

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See this and many other, um, interesting signs collected from Tea Party rallies and other such focal points of reactionary enlightenment here.

April 22, 2010

Love Your Mother!

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Happy Earth Day, everyone! Be kind to our planet.

May 4, 2010

"Four Dead In Ohio"

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Hard to believe it's been forty years since the Kent State shootings, when National Guardsmen opened fire on student demonstrators, killing four of them. When I taught a course on the Vietnam War, I used to show a film called The War At Home, which captured the domestic social and political tensions associated with what was going on in Southeast Asia in the 1960s and 1970s. Of course the truth of the anti-war movement on college campuses in that era is that protests dropped off significantly once the draft was abolished.

May 24, 2010

Thought Of The Day

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May 8, 2010

The Meaning Of The Parthenon

A very thoughtful article in the New York Times about the Elgin Marbles controversy:

The British Museum is Europe's Western front in the global war over cultural patrimony, on account of the marbles. The pamphlets give the museum's version for why they should stay in Britain, as they have for two centuries -- ever since Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Sublime Porte at Constantinople, and with the consent of the ruling Ottomans (not to mention a blithe disregard for whatever may have been the wishes of the Greek populace), spirited them from the Acropolis in Athens. The pamphlet stresses that the British Museum is free and attracts millions of visitors every year from around the world, making the sculptures available to, and putting them in the context of, a wide swath of human civilization.

[snip]

Mostly, though, the issue comes down to the fact that culture, while it can have deeply rooted, special meanings to specific people, doesn't belong to anyone in the grand scheme of things. It doesn't stand still. When Walter Benjamin wrote in the last century about the original or authentic work of art losing its aura, he was in part suggesting that the past is not something we can just return to whenever we like -- it's not something fixed and always available. It's something forever beyond our grasp, which we must reinvent to make present.

Today's Acropolis is itself a kind of fiction. Over the centuries and through succeeding empires and regimes, it became Christian and Turkish, and briefly Venetian, after it had been Roman. The Parthenon was a pagan temple, a church, a mosque, an arms depot (disastrously, under the Turks) and even a place from which the Nazis hung a big swastika flag whose removal by Greek patriots helped spur a resistance movement. Modernity has mostly stripped the site of all those layers of history to recover a Periclean-era past that represents, because it has come to mean the most to us, its supposed true self -- a process of archeological excavation, based on another modern kind of fiction about historical and scientific objectivity that inevitably adds its own layer of history.

[snip]

But the general question, looting and tourist dollars aside, is why should any objects necessarily reside in the modern nation-state controlling the plot of land where, at one time, perhaps thousands of years earlier, they came from? The question goes to the heart of how culture operates in a global age.

The Greek proposal that Britain fork over Elgin's treasures has never involved actually putting the sculptures back onto the Parthenon, which started crumbling long before he showed up. The marbles would go from one museum into another, albeit one much closer. The Greeks argue for proximity, not authenticity. Their case has always been more abstract, not strictly about restoration but about historical reparations, pride and justice. It is more nationalistic and symbolic.

[snip]

But as the Princeton philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah has cautioned about the whole patrimony question: "We should remind ourselves of other connections. One connection -- the one neglected in talk of cultural patrimony -- is the connection not through identity but despite difference."

What he means is that people make connections across cultures through objects like the marbles. These objects can become handmaidens for ideologues, instruments for social division and tools of the economy, or cicerones through history and oracles to a more perfect union of nations. Art is something made in a particular place by particular people, and may serve a particular function at one time but obtain different meanings at other times. It summons distinct feelings to those for whom it's local, but ultimately belongs to everyone and to no one.

We're all custodians of global culture for posterity.

Neither today's Greeks nor Britons own the Parthenon marbles, really.

You can access the complete piece here.

June 19, 2010

Happy Birthday Daw Suu

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Aung San Suu Kyi, the imprisoned leader of the democracy movement in Burma, turns 65 today. Walk On.

August 4, 2010

How Some Would Remember 9/11

Click to enlarge:
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August 11, 2010

Can The Senate Be Fixed?

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Being on a train for four nights is giving me a great opportunity to unwind and catch up on my reading. George Packer's article about the "broken" Senate in last week's issue of The New Yorker is a fascinating read: a "don't miss" piece for anyone interested in American politics and government. I'll have to find a way to work this into my American Political Institutions course this fall.

August 16, 2010

Such Idiocy . . .

. . . about the proposed Islamic community center near the World Trade Center site.

via Reddit:

[Rush] Limbaugh sarcastically suggests that we build a Hindu temple next to Pearl Harbor and a mosque next to the Pentagon . . . without realizing that Shinto, not Hinduism, is the most common religion in Japan, and there is already a mosque inside the Pentagon and a Shinto temple next to Pearl Harbor.

Meanwhile, in a moronic analogy that is wrong on so many levels, Newt Gingrich equates American Muslims with Nazis (via Media Matters):

Seriously, where do we get these guys?

August 25, 2010

Fox News: Stupid Or Evil?

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September 20, 2010

What's New At Walden Pond?

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I like the cover of this month's copy of The Atlantic Monthly, which arrived in the mail today. I am a long-time fan of "Doonesbury" but have lost touch with the strip in recent years. The magazine has a nice feature on the 40th anniversary of Garry Trudeau's landmark creation.

October 12, 2010

A Massive Doonesbury Tome

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Amazon delivered my copy of 40: A Doonesbury Retrospective today. This heavy slipcased book celebrates four decades of Garry Trudeau's landmark strip. Looking forward to digesting its contents over the next few days.

October 1, 2010

Where Our Tax Dollars Go

An interesting overview of federal spending as a projection of our tax payments:

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October 24, 2010

Fox News And NPR

In the wake over NPR's firing of Juan William and the firestorm of sniping in Washington and on the airwaves (and cable wires, I suppose), James Fallows has written a very thoughtful piece providing some context for the journalistic values at stake in this dispute. An excerpt:

To hear the Fox/DeMint attack machine over the past week, NPR is simply a liberal counterpart to Fox--a politically minded and opinion-driven organization that is only secondarily interested in gathering news. I believe that the mischaracterization is deliberate, and I know it is destructive and wrong.

Read the entire piece here.

December 22, 2010

What A Difference A Month Makes

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In the wake of the November elections, President Obama seemed on the ropes politically, his party having absorbed what he called a "shellacking" at the polls. But he and the Democrats have surprised everyone by turning the "lame duck" part of this Congress into a string of (in some cases improbable).

Obama forged a compromise on taxes with the GOP that seemed to some on the left a sell-out, but subsequently was able to deliver the votes in both houses on Capitol Hill. In retrospect, this turned out to be a pragmatic move in unlocking a logjam of legislative business. Shrewd political maneuvering in the Senate (led by--heaven forfend!--Joe Lieberman, getting back into the good graces of his Democratic brethren) resuscitated the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal such that the president signed it into law this morning. (And by the way, his rhetoric at the ceremony this morning seemed to recapture the inspirational mojo which was so much in evidence in 2008 campaign, but seemingly lacking over the past eighteen months!) This afternoon the Republicans have backed down on the question of health care for 9/11 first providers. And now it looks like the votes to support the START treaty are falling into place. Not a bad run for a supposedly crippled president and his party!

May 2, 2011

Surprise!

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Bet the GOP didn't see that coming! President Obama upstages his predecessor by ordering the operation that resulted in the death of Osama Bin Laden.

October 24, 2011

The Guardian On iPad

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I love that the difference in time zones means Tuesday morning's edition of The Guardian arrives on my iPad Monday night. So I get a late evening paper from Britain to read before bed. And the new iPad version of this newspaper is beautifully designed: a triumph of journalism in a digital format. The Guardian iPad edition is free for the first couple months after one downloads the app; i wonder if I'll be suckered into paying for it come December?

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