Sunday, October 5, 2014

Sunday Reading

First Monday in October — This year’s Supreme Court term could decide the marriage equality question.  Adam Liptak in the New York Times:

The Supreme Court on Monday returns to work to face a rich and varied docket, including cases on First Amendment rights in the digital age, religious freedom behind bars and the status of Jerusalem.

Those cases are colorful and consequential, but there are much bigger ones on the horizon.

“I’m more excited about the next 12 months at the Supreme Court than about any Supreme Court term in its modern history,” said Thomas C. Goldstein, who argues frequently before the court and is the publisher of Scotusblog.

In the coming weeks, the justices will most likely agree to decide whether there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, a question they ducked in 2013. They will also soon consider whether to hear a fresh and potent challenge to the Affordable Care Act, which barely survived its last encounter with the court in 2012.

The terms that concluded with those rulings riveted the nation. Now the two issues may return to the court — together.

“This term could become the ‘déjà vu all over again’ term of the century,” said Pratik A. Shah, a Supreme Court specialist with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. is entering his 10th term, and it is one that could define the legacy of the court he leads. Should the court establish a right to same-sex marriage, it would draw comparisons to the famously liberal court led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, said David A. Strauss, a law professor at the University of Chicago.

“It is only a slight overstatement to say that the Roberts court will be to the rights of gays and lesbians what the Warren court was to the rights of African Americans,” Professor Strauss said.

Petitions seeking review of decisions in the marriage and health care cases have already been filed. They may be joined in short order by ones on abortion and affirmative action.

“The prospect that every major social issue will collide before the justices may be historic,” Mr. Goldstein said.

The Unlucky Seven — G.O.P. governors who may get the heave-ho next month.  John Nichols in The Nation:

The headlines immediately following the “Republican Wave” election of 2010 focused on Congress, where Democrats lost control of the House. But attention quickly shifted to the states, where a new class of Republican governors, often working with allied legislative majorities, began implementing agendas far more extreme than those of their compatriots in gridlocked Washington.

That extremism has made many of these Republican Wave governors vulnerable in 2014—so vulnerable that billionaire campaign donors and business interests are scrambling to save them. Recent revelations of secret meetings organized by the Koch brothers and secret donations to groups like the Republican Governors Public Policy Committee confirm the connections—and the sense of urgency. But even a massive spending spree may not keep these governors in office.

That’s because what’s good for campaign donors has not been good for GOP-led states, many of which trail the national average in job creation. In some states, such as Kansas, economic stagnation is so severe that moderate Republicans are endorsing Democratic gubernatorial nominees who promise to stop catering to out-of-state special interests and to focus on education and jobs.

The failure of the GOP austerity agenda stands in stark contrast to the success of states where Democratic governors have invested in infrastructure, services and schools. California’s Jerry Brown and Minnesota’s Mark Dayton, both of whom replaced Republican governors four years ago, are well ahead in the polls. While some Democratic governors are in tight races, perennially embattled Illinois Governor Pat Quinn edged ahead of Republican Bruce Rauner in a mid-September Chicago Tribune survey, at least in part because of a campaign warning that Rauner would impose on Illinois the right-wing policies that are widely seen as having slowed growth in neighboring Wisconsin.

Wisconsin’s Scott Walker began his tenure in 2011 by attacking public employees and their unions and securing a budget that slashed spending on education and public services. He advanced laws restricting access to women’s reproductive health services, establishing harsh voter-ID requirements, undermining environmental protections, and generally rubber-stamping the agenda of corporate-funded groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Walker made big news, but his extremism was hardly unique. Michigan’s Rick Snyder used “emergency manager” laws to dismantle democracy in Detroit and other cities and signed an anti-labor “right to work” law in the home state of the United Auto Workers. Maine’s Paul LePage told the NAACP to “kiss my butt,” hired corporate lobbyists to help him rewrite regulations, and intervened so aggressively against unemployed workers that the US Labor Department had to step in. Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett hit all the wrong marks by appointing cronies to key positions, making statements that offended women and Latinos, attacking unions, and scrapping the state’s school funding formula in a move that led to devastating cuts.

Corbett’s misdeeds are so well known that he’s trailing as far as twenty points behind Democrat Tom Wolf, a businessman running as an ardent advocate for public education, a supporter of unions and a champion of manufacturing. Walker, Snyder and LePage are all locked in what the RealClearPolitics “Poll of Polls” ranks as toss-up races, as are Republican Wave governors Rick Scott of Florida, Nathan Deal of Georgia and Sam Brownback of Kansas.

History from Hendrik Van Loon — Charlie Pierce harks back to a storyteller of yore.

In his recent documentary about the Roosevelt family, Ken Burns alluded to a gentleman named Hendrik Van Loon. (At one point, Burns put up the front page of a newspaper with Van Loon’s byline.) The name alone was enough to get our house a’stir. (It is now my third-favorite name in American political history behind Elihu Root and Thurlow Weed.) So, the family Internet sleuth worked dark magic and we discovered that Van Loon was quite the character. Journalist. Author. Early and prolific anti-Nazi. Friend and confidante of FDR. And winner of the very first Newbery Medal (in 1922) for The Story Of Mankind, a young people’s book that delivered exactly what its title said it would deliver. The book was massive, and it sold massively. It was made into a movie starring Ronald Colman and the Marx Brothers, and Van Loon’s family added chapters to the original all the way up into the 1990′s. Van Loon went on to write other formidable doorstops for young folks including The Story Of The Bible and Tolerance. Van Loon did not condescend to the young reader’s allegedly short attention span, as we discovered as the books began arriving at our house this past week. Hendrik Van Loon’s readers were readers for the 15th round, they were.

It turns out that Van Loon is a remarkably discursive, and utterly eccentric, stylist, following his peculiar muse to fascinating and unmapped literary acreages. He has a positive gift for off-the-wall historical comparisons and, occasionally, he appears to be having his readers on. These characteristics, of course, made him an instant favorite at this shebeen, so much so that we have decided to give him his own space in the hopes of introducing his distinctive prose stylings to another generation which, we hope, will imitate them so as to confound their English teachers, baffle the gang at the Educational Testing Service, and raise holy hell with education “reformers” everywhere.

Our debut offering comes from The Story Of The Bible, in which Hendrik points out to his readers that, as far as Tacitus was concerned, the religious fervor of the devotees of a certain itinerant preacher in distant Judea was something of a sideshow, given the major events of the day. Van Loon writes:

The Christ in question had probably been a preacher in some obscure little synagogue in Galilee or Judaea. Of course, there was more than a probablilty that Nero had been too severe. On the other hand, it was better not to be too lenient in such matters. And there the question rested, as far as Tacitus was concerned. He never mentioned the offending sect again. His interest was entirely academic and such as we might take in the trouble between the Canadian Mounted Police and those strange Russian sects which inhabit the western portion of that vast empire of forests and grain fields.

Today’s Assignment: Why Jesus Christ Is Like The Mounties. Discuss.

Doonesbury — Welcome home.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Kissinger: “Smash Cuba”

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, aka Dr. Evil, plotted to overthrow the Cuban government in 1976, according to the New York Times.

Nearly 40 years ago, Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger mapped out secret contingency plans to launch airstrikes against Havana and “smash Cuba,” newly disclosed government documents show.

Mr. Kissinger was so irked by Cuba’s military incursion into Angola that in 1976 he convened a top-secret group of senior officials to work out possible retaliatory measures in case Cuba deployed forces to other African nations, according to documents declassified by the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library at the request of the National Security Archive, a research group.

The officials outlined plans to strike ports and military installations in Cuba and to send Marine battalions to the United States Navy base at Guantánamo Bay to “clobber” the Cubans, as Mr. Kissinger put it, according to the records. Mr. Kissinger, the documents show, worried that the United States would look weak if it did not stand up to a country of just eight million people.

“I think sooner or later we are going to have to crack the Cubans,” Mr. Kissinger told President Ford at a meeting in the Oval Office in 1976, according to a transcript.

Because that worked so well against North Vietnam, right?

I don’t think anyone around here harbors any special affection for the Castro brothers, but starting a war against them is just insane.  But then again, we’re talking about Henry Kissinger, who never met a country he didn’t want to conquer.

So say we attacked Cuba for whatever reason, and somehow we managed to win (although given his track record, that’s not necessarily a given).  Then what?  Welcome to Pottery Barn, as Colin Powell might say: You broke it, you bought it.  What would we have done with a country of 8 million people who were now dependent on us?  Put a puppet government in place?  Pour in tons of money?  Hand it over to capitalism and let McDonald’s and Marriott Hotels move in — along with NAPA Auto Parts to fix up the millions of cars left over from the 1950′s?  Well, that’s not for him to worry about; leave that to the next guy.  After all, Cuba has a long history of Jeffersonian democracy and squeaky-clean entrepreneurship.

Here’s another interesting revelation from the piece:

Mr. Kissinger, who was secretary of state from 1973 to 1977, had previously planned an underground effort to improve relations with Havana. But in late 1975, Mr. Castro sent troops to Angola to help the newly independent nation fend off attacks from South Africa and right-wing guerrillas.

That move infuriated Mr. Kissinger, who was incensed that Mr. Castro had passed up a chance to normalize relations with the United States in favor of pursuing his own foreign policy agenda, Mr. Kornbluh said.

“Nobody has known that at the very end of a really remarkable effort to normalize relations, Kissinger, the global chessboard player, was insulted that a small country would ruin his plans for Africa and was essentially prepared to bring the imperial force of the United States on Fidel Castro’s head,” Mr. Kornbluh said.

So it wasn’t that Castro was sending forces to Angola in an attempt to turn southern Africa into another worker’s paradise and spread the scourge of godless Communism.  It was because Castro got there first.

“You can see in the conversation with Gerald Ford that he is extremely apoplectic,” Mr. Kornbluh said, adding that Mr. Kissinger used “language about doing harm to Cuba that is pretty quintessentially aggressive.”

Shorter version: “Mine!  Mine!  Mine!  No fair!” followed by stomping of little feet and throwing of toys around the nursery.

Fortunately for us, though, the plans went nowhere because Jimmy Carter won the election and Henry Kissinger shuffled off to the backstage of history.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sunday Reading

Warhawks Hawking War — Those pro-war pundits on cable TV have an agenda: their bank accounts.  Lee Fang reports in The Nation.

If you read enough news and watch enough cable television about the threat of the Islamic State, the radical Sunni Muslim militia group better known simply as ISIS, you will inevitably encounter a parade of retired generals demanding an increased US military presence in the region. They will say that our government should deploy, as retired General Anthony Zinni demanded, up to 10,000 American boots on the ground to battle ISIS. Or as in retired General Jack Keane’s case, they will make more vague demands, such as for “offensive” air strikes and the deployment of more military advisers to the region.

But what you won’t learn from media coverage of ISIS is that many of these former Pentagon officials have skin in the game as paid directors and advisers to some of the largest military contractors in the world. Ramping up America’s military presence in Iraq and directly entering the war in Syria, along with greater military spending more broadly, is a debatable solution to a complex political and sectarian conflict. But those goals do unquestionably benefit one player in this saga: America’s defense industry.

Keane is a great example of this phenomenon. His think tank, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), which he oversees along with neoconservative partisans Liz Cheney and William Kristol, has provided the data on ISIS used for multiple stories by The New York Times, the BBC and other leading outlets.

Keane has appeared on Fox News at least nine times over the last two months to promote the idea that the best way to stop ISIS is through military action—in particular, through air strikes deep into ISIS-held territory. In one of the only congressional hearings about ISIS over the summer, Keane was there to testify and call for more American military engagement. On Wednesday evening, Keane declared President Obama’s speech on defeating ISIS insufficient, arguing that a bolder strategy is necessary. “I truly believe we need to put special operation forces in there,” he told host Megyn Kelly.

Left unsaid during his media appearances (and left unmentioned on his congressional witness disclosure form) are Keane’s other gigs: as special adviser to Academi, the contractor formerly known as Blackwater; as a board member to tank and aircraft manufacturer General Dynamics; a “venture partner” to SCP Partners, an investment firm that partners with defense contractors, including XVionics, an “operations management decision support system” company used in Air Force drone training; and as president of his own consulting firm, GSI LLC.

To portray Keane as simply a think tank leader and a former military official, as the media have done, obscures a fairly lucrative career in the contracting world. For the General Dynamics role alone, Keane has been paid a six-figure salary in cash and stock options since he joined the firm in 2004; last year, General Dynamics paid him $258,006.

The Truth About Standardized Tests: They Don’t Work — Robert Hach in Salon on the bane of teaching to the test.

In recent years, I have begun each semester by asking my first-year composition students two questions, one theoretical and the other practical. First, the theoretical question: What is the purpose of testing? Then the practical question: What happens to the information they study for a test after students have taken the test. My students’ answers to both questions typically achieve virtual unanimity. The purpose of testing, they say, is to find out how much students have “learned,” which is to say, how much they “know.” After they take the test, these same students testify, they forget virtually all of the information they “learned” for the test.

In the subsequent discussion, I ask them what their answers to these questions suggest about their experience in the public school system (only a tiny minority of Miami Dade College students having attended private schools). Did the tests they took achieve the purpose of revealing how much they had learned, how much they know, about the subjects on which they were tested? If they passed those tests (as they must have in that they had been allowed to continue their education) and yet had forgotten the information about the subjects on which they were tested, can they legitimately say that they “learned” that information, and as a result, that they now “know” it? And if they didn’t learn it and, as a result, don’t know it, what was the outcome of their public education?

The answer is surely not that public school students don’t learn anything. They do, after all, learn how to take tests. As standardized testing has swallowed up public education in the U.S. in the twenty-first century, its ravenous hunger intensifying yearly since the federal mandate inaugurated by President Bush’s No Child Left Behind and perpetuated by President Obama’s Race to the Top, students have largely become test-takers. As a result, their minds have been increasingly downsized to the mental equivalent of shrunken heads (trophies of the class warfare waged by the corporate interests who profit so handsomely from standardized testing).

Of course, students have always had to take tests. But tests (i.e., multiple-choice, true-false, fill-in-the-blank) used to be simply one of the tools in the educational tool box. And the least effective tool when it came to assessing student learning. Tests were also the refuge of teachers who lacked the skills or the motivation, first, to engage students’ interest in their subjects, opening their understanding and inspiring their imagination, and, second, to formulate meaningful ways to measure their students’ learning. All teachers had to test their students, but for good teachers (of which there have always been many) testing was, at best, a necessary evil.

The limits of public education must be acknowledged if the most is to be made of it. One teacher per 20 (to 40 or more) students necessarily limits what teachers can accomplish in the best of systems. The educational ideal of the Socratic dialogue assumes an ongoing interaction, whatever the subject may be, between a teacher and a few students, who avail themselves of equal opportunity to question and challenge their teacher, who questions and challenges each student. And the teacher is able to continually assess the students’ understanding of the subject matter based on what those students ask and answer. The classroom setting, by contrast, is an artificial learning environment that threatens to squelch curiosity by the sterility of its structure, and the teacher-to-student ratio typically precludes the kind of interactive dynamic that makes learning natural and lively. The best public school teachers have always found ways to mitigate and compensate for the limitations of the public school setting, but those limitations, nonetheless, remain. (And, as a result, education “reformers” can always point to inadequacies and shortcomings, to whatever degree inescapable—and to whatever degree typically exaggerated by would-be reformers—when they have an innovation to push.) Testing has always seemed necessary to assess the learning of students whose numbers make it impossible for teachers to know them well enough to measure individually their knowledge of subjects.

The Last Carousel Craftsmen — The past lives on, going in circles.  Bourree Lam in The Atlantic reports.

What do you think of when you hear the word “carousel”? Is it 1920s Paris with its glittering lights, music-box tunes, beautiful vintage horses, going round and round near Sacre-Coeur Basilica in Montmartre? That’s what I used to see, largely due to the 2001 movie Amélie. But recently, I’ve been thinking of a very different place when I think about carousels. And that place is much closer to home: Ohio.

That may seem like an odd choice, but, as it turns out, there are only two dedicated full-service carousel building companies in America, and they are both located in Ohio: Carousel Works in Mansfield and Carousels And Carvings in Marion.

“We’ve got ourselves a little cottage industry going here,” said Todd Goings of Carousel and Carvings. “[Carousel Works and Carousel and Carvings] are the only ones [where] the owners of the company are the carvers working in the shop.”

While there are other carvers (both hobbyists and professionals), and shops that cast fiberglass or metal carousel replications, along with many companies that sell all kinds of amusement rides—these two companies in Ohio appear to be the only ones taking carousels from design to finish and carving them from wood the old-fashioned way.

Art Ritchie and Dan Jones of Carousel Works first came to Ohio in the late 1980s to build a carousel for the Carousel District in Mansfield. Since then, they’ve sold 58 carousels and restored dozens.

Ritchie began carving in 1973, making anything from furniture to signs. Back then, he recalls, he would carve anything that had a payday. One day, a customer came by and asked him for a quote for a carousel horse. He estimated that it would cost about $1,800. “He couldn’t get his pocketbook out fast enough,” Ritchie remembers.

He didn’t know it then, but Ritchie was then at the leading edge of a revival of interest in carousels in America. Whether it’s nostalgia for childhood or a general interest in all things from the turn of the century, carousel fever has been growing steadily since the 1980s. This wasn’t always the case, as American carousel history has really had its ups and downs.

Steam-powered carousels date back to the turn of the century, the period that carousel enthusiasts now refer to as the “golden age” of American carousel-making. The big names from that era: Charles Looff and Charles Carmel of Coney Island, Gustav Dentzel in Philadelphia, and a handful of other master carvers—immigrants from France, Russia, and Germany but whose work defined the classic American carousel style. All in all, there are nine notable workshops from that time whose carousels are today considered collectables.

Doonesbury — 30% happy.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Next Day

I’m not the first to notice that last night’s speech by President Obama came on the eve of the anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001, and that the two events — America’s involvement in other nations’ civil wars and the terrorist attacks — are inextricably connected.  We would not have had one without the other, even if the war was the result of lies and misdirection by an administration with an agenda that had nothing to do with preventing another attack; indeed, it bred more terrorists than it destroyed.

I’m not going to get into all of the back-and-forth between the president’s critics and supporters about the speech last night; if you want to find out what they said, there are plenty of places to read what John McCain and the rest of the Villagers thought, as if that will make a difference to the actual policy and plans for what comes next.

That said, there are a lot of people who get paid a lot of money to write things in papers, magazines and websites for their insight who are reflecting on the events of the last thirteen years.  I’m not one of them; I’m just a guy with a blog that gets maybe 200 hits a day if I’m lucky, and some of those are from people who, based on the name of this blog, come looking for pet supplies.  You get my profundities for free, and they’re probably worth the price.

I’m not going to repeat the cliche that the world changed after September 11, 2001.  Three thousand people died in New York, Washington, and a field in Pennsylvania, and countless others — friends, family, co-workers, and even the guy who sold a victim a newspaper or a bagel — were hit as well.  And yet we went on.  Not just as Americans (people from other places died, too) but as humans; wounded, yes, but recovering and changing just as any event large or small will change our life.  As Lanford Wilson said in Fifth of July, you can’t worry about the stopping, you have to worry about the going on.

We’re going on now, not knowing what will happen.  If you want to use a theatre metaphor, the future is all improv anyway.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sunday Reading

Wales Ponders Independence — The referendum next month in Scotland has some Welsh thinking about their own nationality.  Karen Bennhold of the New York Times reports.

800px-Flag_of_Wales_2.svgTwm Morys was boiling carrots for his children when he momentarily stopped to recite a 15th-century battle chant in Welsh. Beating out the guttural consonants with a stave on his kitchen floor until they rang in every last corner of his farmhouse, Mr. Morys, a well-known poet, said it was time to put “fire in the belly” of his people.

He is not the only one. In the ancient mountains towering above this coastal town in northern Wales, where eight in 10 people speak the native Celtic tongue, and many carry names their fellow Britons would not dare pronounce, Welsh nationalists have their eyes firmly set on independence — Scottish independence.

Less than a month before Scotland holds a referendum on whether to leave Britain, Wales is watching with a mix of envy, excitement and trepidation.

“If Scotland votes yes, the genie is out of the bottle,” said Leanne Wood, leader of Wales’s nationalist party Plaid Cymru. Only one in 10 Welsh voters supports independence, compared with about four in 10 in Scotland, but Ms. Wood thinks that could change. “The tectonic plates of the United Kingdom are shifting,” she said.

Tremors from the Scottish debate can already be felt across Britain. Whatever happens on Sept. 18, growing demands for more regional autonomy will reshape the country. In Northern Ireland, nationalists spy an opportunity to revive dreams of a united Ireland. Cornwall recently won minority status for its Celtic inhabitants. Even the long-neglected north of England has turned up the volume, questioning an ever greater concentration of wealth in London and the southeast.

But in Wales, perhaps more than anywhere else, nationalists have made the Scottish independence bid their own in the hope that it will stir passions at home — if not for full independence, at least for more self-government.

Ms. Wood, who was once expelled from a legislative debate for referring to Queen Elizabeth II as “Mrs. Windsor,” has been to Scotland twice in support of the Yes campaign and plans to go again. The Welsh Hollywood actor Rhys Ifans has joined the #goforitScotland campaign. And Adam Price, an entrepreneur and prominent pro-independence thinker, has been campaigning in Scotland from a caravan, Welsh-style. “Caravaning for independence,” he calls it.

Others, like Mr. Morys, will gather in the Welsh capital, Cardiff, the week before the referendum for a series of performances to “whip up some Welsh enthusiasm,” stave in hand.

Wales and Scotland have much in common — not least an unfailing loyalty to any sporting side that plays against England, their once mighty and still dominant neighbor.

Ever since Margaret Thatcher, the conservative prime minister, shut their heavy industries, Scottish and Welsh voters have cast their ballot to the left of the English. There is, said Peter Florence, director of Wales’s Hay literary festival, a shared sense of not being represented in Westminster.

But Wales is smaller and poorer than Scotland. It has no oil to make up for the subsidies from London currently sustaining its public services. “We’re a hundred years too late,” Mr. Florence lamented, referring to the Welsh coal riches that once fired Britain’s industrial revolution. If he were Scottish, he would vote for independence, he said. “But we simply cannot afford it.”

Gerald Holtham, one of Wales’s most prominent economists, has done the math: Total government spending for Wales is 30 billion pounds a year, or about $50 billion, and tax receipts come to 17 billion pounds. “We’re talking about a gap a quarter the size of the economy,” he said.

Nationalists retort that Wales can escape poverty only if it takes charge of its own destiny. “No nation has ever ruled another well,” said Mr. Price, a former lawmaker who set up a technology company in Wales. “We are poor because we are not independent, rather than the other way round.”

But even he conceded that the time for Welsh independence has not come. First, he said, “We have to learn to be a nation again.”

Unlike Scotland, whose Parliament voted to join England three centuries ago, Wales was conquered in 1282. The Scots kept their own legal system, schools, universities, church and, with it all, a strong civic identity distinct from England’s. Welsh institutions were swallowed whole; the Welsh dragon, which flutters proudly and ubiquitously on the high street in Caernarfon, is nowhere to be seen in the Union Jack.

“We were England’s first colony,” said Eirian James, owner of Palas Print, a local bookstore with mainly Welsh-language fare. Every time she visits relatives in southern Wales, she has to take a train through England. To this day, most transport links run from west to east, toward England, rather than along Wales’s north-south axis.

The Welsh tourism board proudly promotes the fact that there are more castles per square mile in Wales than anywhere else. For locals, those castles are another reminder of early occupation.

Full disclosure — At least one branch of my family tree grew in Wales.

Doonesbury — Parental guidance.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Richard Nixon, Traitor

Via digby, a story that had long been suspected but not confirmed until now.

Richard Nixon was a traitor.

The new release of extended versions of Nixon’s papers now confirms this long-standing belief, usually dismissed as a “conspiracy theory” by Republican conservatives. Now it has been substantiated by none other than right-wing columnist George Will.

Nixon’s newly revealed records show for certain that in 1968, as a presidential candidate, he ordered Anna Chennault, his liaison to the South Vietnam government, to persuade them refuse a cease-fire being brokered by President Lyndon Johnson.

Nixon’s interference with these negotiations violated President John Adams’s 1797 Logan Act, banning private citizens from intruding into official government negotiations with a foreign nation.

Published as the 40th Anniversary of Nixon’s resignation approaches, Will’s column confirms that Nixon feared public disclosure of his role in sabotaging the 1968 Vietnam peace talks. Will says Nixon established a “plumbers unit” to stop potential leaks of information that might damage him, including documentation he believed was held by the Brookings Institute, a liberal think tank. The Plumbers’ later break-in at the Democratic National Committee led to the Watergate scandal that brought Nixon down.

Nixon’s sabotage of the Vietnam peace talks was confirmed by transcripts of FBI wiretaps. On November 2, 1968, LBJ received an FBI report saying Chernnault [sic] told the South Vietnamese ambassador that “she had received a message from her boss: saying the Vietnamese should “hold on, we are gonna win.”

As Will confirms, Vietnamese did “hold on,” the war proceeded and Nixon did win, changing forever the face of American politics—with the shadow of treason permanently embedded in its DNA.

Resigning was too good for the man.  He should have gone on trial and rotted away in jail.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Old Money

I went to the post office yesterday to help Mom mail some stuff, and I pulled out my wallet to pay for a stamp. Among the bills was a $1 silver certificate, one of the 1957 series that was replaced in 1963 by the Federal Reserve note that we all use today in the U.S. as regular currency.

??????????

I noticed what it was before I handed it to the clerk and replaced it with a newer bill. The bill is in rough shape, and even if it was in good condition it isn’t worth much more than its face value, but it was a real flashback; I don’t think I’ve seen one of them since I was a kid.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Little Night Music

Mixing Throwback Thursday with ALNM:

Mahoney Hall UM 07-24-14

This is Mahoney Hall at the University of Miami.  It was my freshman dorm 1971-1972.  Trust me, it didn’t look this good back then, and it didn’t have air conditioning, so anyone playing their stereo entertained the whole building, the sound echoing across campus.  This was one tune that stuck in my head that first year of college.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

On This Date

Ten years ago today Barack Obama walked onto the national stage at the Democratic convention in Boston.

For all his soaring rhetoric masterfully delivered, his statement that we are one America was woefully wishful.  In fact, you could make the case that he made it worse; not because of anything he did but simply because of who he is.  There is still a Red America and a Blue America and plenty of grifters and haters who depend on it being so.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Signs of Age

I guess you have to be of a certain generation that it makes you shiver just a little when you read about the president planning a two-day trip to Dallas.

And another generation probably wondered “what the…?” yesterday when social media exploded with “Hooray for Germany!”

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Glorious Fourth

Flags in the Rain 07-03-14When I was a kid I was very outgoing in putting up displays for the holidays — Memorial Day, Christmas, the Fourth of July — I liked the flags, the lights, the stuff. It was cool to make a big splash. But as I grew up I grew out of it, and today I don’t go much for things like that. I don’t have a flag to fly on national holidays, and the most I’ll do for Christmas is a wreath on the door because it has good memories and the scent of pine is rare in subtropical Florida.

I suppose it has something to do with my Quaker notions of shunning iconography — outward symbols can’t show how you truly feel about something on the inside — and more often than not they are used to make up for the lack of a true belief. This is also true of patriotism: waving the flag — or wrapping yourself in it — is a poor and false measure of how you truly feel about your country.

There’s an old saying that there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. As Benjamin Franklin noted, no country had ever been formed because of an idea. But when the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in 1776 and passed the resolution embodied in the Declaration of Independence, that was what was being done. To create a nation not based on geographical boundaries, property, tribalism, or religion, but on the idea of forming a new government to replace the present form because the rulers were incompetent, uncaring, and cruel. The American Revolution wasn’t so much a rebellion as it was a cry for attention. Most of the Declaration is a punch-list, if you will, of grievances both petty and grand against the Crown, and once the revolution was over and the new government was formed, the Constitution contained many remedies to prevent the slights and injuries inflicted under colonialism: the Bill of Rights is a direct response to many of the complaints listed in the Declaration.

But the Declaration of Independence goes beyond complaints. Its preamble is a mission statement. It proclaims our goals and what we hope to achieve. No nation had ever done that before, and to this day we are still struggling to achieve life and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness goes on with no sign of let-up.

That is the true glory of America. Not that we complain — and we do — but that we work to fix those complaints. To put them right. To make things better than they were. To give hope to people who feel that they have no voice, and to assure that regardless of who they are, where they come from, what they look like, who they love, or what they believe, there will be room for them to grow, do, and become whatever it is that they have the capacity to be. It’s a simple idea, but the simplest ideas often have the most powerful impact.

This nation has achieved many great things. We’ve inspired other nations and drawn millions to our shores not to just escape their own country but to participate in what we’re doing. And we’ve made mistakes. We’ve blundered and fumbled and bullied and injured. We’ve treated some of our own citizens with contempt, and shown the same kind of disregard for the rights of others that we enumerated in our own Declaration of Independence. We have been guilty of arrogance and hypocrisy. But these are all human traits, and we are, after all, human. The goal of government is to rise above humanity, and the goal of humanity is to strive for perfection. So if we stumble on the road to that goal, it is only because we are moving forward.

I love this country not for what it is but for what it could be. In my own way I show my patriotism not by waving a flag from my front porch but by working to make things work in our system and by adding to the discussion that will bring forth ideas to improve our lives and call into question the ideas of others. It is all a part of what makes the simple idea of life, liberty, and that elusive happiness so compelling and so inspiring, and what makes me very proud to be a part of this grand experiment.

Go forth!

Photo: The Avenue in the Rain by Frederick Childe Hassam 1917

This post originally appeared on July 4, 2005.

The Declaration of Independence

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Friday, June 13, 2014

A Little Night Music

Via commenter Ice, memories of Miami.  Even though I lived here from 1971 to 1974 and didn’t move back until 2001, a lot of the old places and names were around back then and bring back good times.

Monday, June 9, 2014

On This Date

Forty years ago today — June 9, 1974 — I started out on a National Outdoor Leadership School wilderness course through the Uinta Mountains of Utah.  It lasted six weeks.

Uinta Mountains 06-09-14

I learned a lot about wilderness camping and survival skills, things that came in handy two years later when I went to work at a Rocky Mountain summer camp.  I also kept a detailed diary in a little notepad that I bought at Stapleton Airport in Denver on my way to Lander, Wyoming, where the trip began.  That’s the only time in my life that I’ve kept a diary (unless you count this blog).  It came in handy in 1976 when I wrote my first produced play about a wilderness course gone horribly wrong.

But mine was mostly uneventful — no one died.  I learned how to climb up and then rappel down a cliff, how to ford a stream with a fully-loaded pack, how to do what bears do in the woods, saw some amazing scenery — the photo is of Kings Peak, the highest point in Utah, and we crossed by it through Gunsight Pass — and learned that freeze-dried food and mountain bluebells can make a pretty good dinner.

We emerged from the wilderness in mid-July just in time for Watergate to blow up, and I made it home in time to watch the impeachment hearings on TV and see Richard Nixon resign a few weeks later.

The only souvenirs I have of the trip are that diary, a walking stick that I carved out of a ponderosa pine branch, and my mustache.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Sunday Reading

Impossible Choices — David Rohde, a former Taliban captive explains why we’re demonizing the wrong people.

I’m biased about Bergdahl. Five years ago, I was kidnapped by the same Afghan Taliban faction along with two Afghan colleagues while I was on leave from The New York Times, researching a book in Afghanistan. An offer for an interview from a Taliban commander who had previously met twice with European journalists proved to be a ruse. We were abducted at the meeting point and then transported to the tribal areas of Pakistan.

My decision to go to the interview thrust my family and editors into a world where there are no good choices. Kidnapping cases vary, but they all center on the same tortuous questions. Was the kidnap victim innocent or somehow at fault—and does it matter? Is it right to pay a ransom that could encourage kidnappings or fund future terrorist attacks? When is it morally acceptable to let a captive die?

One brave Afghan and one brave Pakistani allowed me to avoid answering those questions. While our guards slept, the Afghan journalist and I managed to escape and reach a nearby Pakistani military compound. After we were nearly shot by sentries, a Pakistani Army captain allowed us to enter the base and saved our lives. (The other Afghan kidnapped with me returned home safely six weeks later.)

Ten days after our escape, Bergdahl was captured by the same Taliban group. Over the last four years, I have talked regularly with Bergdahl’s family and those of other kidnapped Americans. One of them is the family of Warren Weinstein, an aid worker abducted in Pakistan nearly three years ago. His family fears he will die in captivity. In July, he will be 73.

The Bergdahls, the Weinsteins, and every other family I have spoken with express the same sense of desperation, isolation, and crushing responsibility. They incessantly ask themselves if they are doing enough. The sad truth hanging over every conversation is that they do not have the power to save them.

Five years later, the situation has gotten worse.

In every case I know of, the U.S. government has refused to pay ransom and, until Bergdahl, refused to release prisoners. Over the last three years, however, European governments have paid $100 million in ransom to various al-Qaeda splinter groups across the Middle East and North Africa, according to British officials. Israel released 1,000 prisoners in exchange for one Israel soldier.

[...]

During the Iraq war, security consultants began recommending that the abduction of journalists be kept secret. A media blackout, it was hoped, would reduce captors’ ransom demands. It would also, in theory, discourage would-be abductors from seeing kidnappings as a way to gain worldwide publicity for their cause.

When we were abducted in Afghanistan, my family and editors followed that advice. My captors also initially demanded that the case remain secret as well. As had occurred in a half-dozen previous instances, media outlets agreed not to report on our kidnapping.

We will never know the impact of the blackout on my captors, but throughout the seven months I was held captive, they remained convinced that I was a “big fish.” By the time we escaped, their price for my release included $7 million in cash and seven prisoners from Guantánamo—a drop from the $25 million and 15 Guantánamo prisoners they started with.

In the years since I’ve returned home, it’s become clear that one unintended consequence of this blackout strategy is that U.S. officials are under little pressure to address the problem. Anguished families say they regularly visit Washington only to be “patted on the head” by U.S. officials.

[...]

The outcry over the Bergdahl case could create the worst of both worlds. Jihadists will expect prisoner exchanges or large ransoms. U.S. officials will be ever more hesitant to act in kidnapping cases.

Both sides in the furor over the Bergdahl case offer simplistic answers to the growing problem of abductions. Those who say the release of the five prisoners sets no precedent are downplaying the scope of this propaganda coup for the Taliban. Other militants around the globe will likely emulate them.

[...]

The focus of our anger should be the kidnappers. They are the problem, not hostages, their families, or a government that meets a demand. We must unite in fighting the perpetrators of a craven crime—not each other.

A Simple Wedding — John Nichols at The Nation on why each marriage equality ruling is historic.

Shari Roll was clutching the marriage certificate. Renee Currie was clutching Shari Roll. And when their designated officiant, Mike Quieto, pronounced them married, they smiled so perfectly, so naturally, that it seemed as if this was just another wedding on the courthouse steps.

And, of course, it was.

The only distinction was that this was the first legally-recognized marriage of two women in Wisconsin, the first same-sex marriage in Madison, the one of the initial celebrations of the marriage equality ruling issued by a federal judge Friday afternoon. By the end of the night in Madison, 61 same-sex couples had been issued marriage licenses by Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell, while 68 had been issued by Milwaukee County Joe Czarnezki.

Together for years and very much in love, Roll and Currie could easily have driven to the neighboring state of Iowa, which has since 2009 recognized marriage equality. Thousands of Wisconsin couples, including Congressman Mark Pocan, D-Madison, and his husband, Phil Frank, married outside the state after a ban on same-sex marriages was enacted in 2006. But Roll and Currie decided to wait for a future when the state could no longer restrict the most basic rights of loving couples.

“We wanted to get married where we live,” explained Shari Roll.

I understand that. A lot of us who choose to marry in the place where we live, embraced by the people we know, grounded in the values and the unique interactions of the very different communities and states that make up America.

Madison’s uniqueness was evident Friday night, as dozens of couples got their licenses and married on the steps of the downtown building that serves both as the Madison City Hall and the Dane County Courthouse. Judges in robes waited on the steps, meeting couples and performing the marriages as cheers went up from the ever-expanding crowd of well-wishers. Children showed up, brimming with bouquets. I asked who the wedding flowers were for and they replied, “For everyone who is getting married today.” Then they starting handing flowers out to couples who had rushed to the courthouse without much preparation but suddenly felt quite special and very loved.

Then the cops showed up with the wedding cakes. Several Madison Police officers who had been assigned to keep an eye on the proceedings raced off to a nearby grocery store and bought three large cakes. Everyone was eating cake and cheering as the Klezmer band arrived and a fiddler played “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” for a pair of women who waited 30 years to marry.

[...]

Today, polling shows Wisconsinites overwhelmingly support marriage equality – a May Marquette Law School poll found 55 percent of voters favor allowing same-sex marriage, while just 37 percent are opposed. Unfortunately, Governor Scott Walker and his Republican-controlled legislature have refused to allow the voters to revisit the issue. Walker was still backing efforts by Attorney General JB Van Hollen to block marriages, even as the clerks started issuing licenses.

So it was appropriate that a senior jurist with her own deep roots in Wisconsin, Federal Judge Barbara Crabb, would determine that, “Quite simply, this case is about liberty and equality, the two cornerstones of the rights protected by the United States Constitution.” In an 88-page decision that was hailed as one of the most though yet produced by a federal jurist ruling on the issue, Crabb explained that states cannot trump federal guarantees of equality and equal protection with their own discriminatory amendments. And, while Walker and Van Hollen will continue to cling to a past that has been rejected by the courts and the great mass of Wisconsinites and Americans, the future is fast arriving.

And that future allows people to marry the people they love in the places they love.

In their rush to get to the courthouse Friday afternoon, Shari Roll and Renee Currie forgot to bring any cash for the license fee. Roll handed her credit card to friend who ran off to a nearby bank machine and returned with the cash. It was no problem. Shari and Renee were getting married where they live, and everyone was helping out.

The Day the Giants Walked — Lt. Col. Robert Bateman on one soldier’s landing on D-Day.

In the smoke and dust kicked up by the massive pre-landing naval bombardment, the markers leading the way into the beach were missed by the men piloting the landing craft. Sure, they were heading ashore, but unbeknownst to them they were heading for the wrong section of the shore. The place they were supposed to land was more than a mile, some 2,000 yards, to the north. With confusion created by smoke, dust, noise, and fear, the landing craft were well off-target. But time and tide wait for no man, and so when they grounded on the gently sloping sands and the ramps dropped, the men of the 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, and the diminutive general accompanying them, stepped ashore.

Even today Utah Beach is unremarkable. This stretch of the coast is at the base of the Cotentin Peninsula, and it is low, with just a single light sand dune abutting the beach. Go there off-season and you can walk these sands, alone, lost in the memories of 100,000 men. You can wander the beaches imagining the approach and the arrival all those decades ago, with not a single person in sight. If you have a vivid imagination, and know your history, it can border on the spiritual. There are no beachside cafes, nor bustling hotels or tourist shops selling kitschy D-Day schlock to interrupt you, as at some of the other landing sites. There is only the beach, where the first of the allies waded ashore, and the world started to change.

Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. was the deputy division commander of the units that landed in the first wave. He had to pull strings to be allowed to land with the dogfaces, but when your cousin is the President of the United States, some of your “strings” can be quite substantial. Roosevelt only played that card, significantly, in order to get in to combat, not to avoid it. Eventually General Bradley caved, and so Roosevelt was there, in the first confusing moments. Confusing, of course, because the terrain did not match what the infantry was expecting. They had maps, but the ground did not match the maps they were issued. What to do?

Two battalions of American infantry were now ashore, and the battalion commanders were wondering, “what do we do now?” And this is the moment when that wizened little man who was not supposed to be there, using a walking stick, made his mark upon the history of the world.

[...]

Roosevelt was not long for this earth, and he probably knew it. I suspect that he did not care. What he cared about were the men, the mission, and the countless memories recorded by the men who served with or under him substantiate that. He was a worthy successor to his father, and might have left a mark known to more, had there been more time. He was not to have that time.

Less than 60 days later, having just been appointed as the commander of his own Division, he died of a heart attack. But on this day, this morning, 70 years ago, he made history. He gave an order, and the men followed, and the world began to change.

“We start…from here.”

Doonesbury — Pay attention.

Saturday, June 7, 2014