Saturday, April 27, 2013

Shame on Congress (again)

And, yes, not only the Republicans but the Democrats too.    So they finally felt the sequester cuts where they hurt:   the required furloughs for air traffic controllers, which led to hour-long delays in flights this week.   Which, of course, inconveniences the more affluent Americans, including Congress members.

Within days, Congress passed a bill to exempt air traffic controllers from the mandatory cuts.   The vote in the House was 361-41, and the Senate passed it "without objection."   Meaning they didn't even bother to take a vote count.

But they left in place the cuts that began weeks ago to social network programs that affect the less affluent Americans:  Head Start teachers lost jobs; there were cuts in funds for Meals on Wheels and subsidies for cancer patient treatments; and compensation for unemployed workers was reduced.  None of that moved them to act.

Priorities?    Perfectly clear.   And it's not a pretty picture.    As long as it only hurts needy children, seniors, and jobless Americans -- "well, we're sorry the economy is so bad."    But just let the upper crust have to sit on the runway for an hour, and Congress will make your head spin with its speedy action.   Just in time for their own weekend trips home.

That's the class warfare side of it.   The political?   Even though Democrats voted for it too, it looks like a win for Republicans.   The sequester was meant to be across the board, to be hard for both parties so they would fix the budget.   But the now message can only be, as Jonathan Chait puts it:   "Republicans can reverse the cuts they don’t like, but refuse to reverse the cuts Democrats don’t like."

Bah humbug.   A pox on both them both.


Friday, April 26, 2013

Reflecting on the George W. Bush presidency

In a Huffington Post article prompted by the dedication of the George W. Bush presidential library in Dallas, Howard Fineman wrote that we need to remember and acknowledge the bottom line about Bush:

"That as unaffected as he was, as charming as he could be, he gave us Iraq (and Katrina) because of his stubborn, even proud, lack of curiosity, his refusal to pay close attention to details, his instinct to delegate power, and his faith in simple answers.

"Bush lived in a world of black and white. He said that it was because of his deep moral beliefs -- and perhaps it was. . . . But knowing Bush as I do -- I covered him from 1994 to 2008 for Newsweek -- I can say that there was another reason for his Manichean view:  It was easier for him to deal with. It gave him further reason to offload key decisions to the men around him, to men he didn't really know and whose motives he never really quite understood.

". . .  He saw no reason to know anything more than what he needed to know at the precise moment he needed to know it . . .  He wanted to sense just enough about people to make sure that they were not a threat, or to suss out how to initiate them into his informal tribe. Ever the fraternity president, he gave everyone nicknames, not out of affection but to keep them at a safe distance. . .

"As a young man, Bush found it hard to focus. . . . [W]hen he prepared for debates, he wrote on large legal pads with a Sharpie pen, only a few words per page in a big, looping scrawl.

"He was a product of Andover, Yale and Harvard, but so far as I could tell, he hated them all. He fit in socially but not academically. The professors were liberals, so he could dislike them for that. But mostly he seemed to fear them because they had the power to test his mind.

"The result of his upbringing and his education was a combustible mix and a combustible man. His "aw shucks" demeanor hid a sense of entitlement -- and yet he was full of resentment at the intellectual, managerial and personal demands that fate had handed him.
The result was his stone-cold refusal to change or to be curious about the world beyond what he already knew of it once he became president.

"There is a durable myth in American history about presidents "growing" in office once they face its unique challenges. . . .  Not so with George W. Bush. He was oblivious to the warning signs of 9/11. He turned control over to Cheney and the neoncons. He told "Brownie" that he was doing a "heck of a job" in New Orleans.

"We went to war in Iraq -- arguably the biggest mistake we have made as a nation since the Vietnam War -- on what turned out to be made-up evidence. Perhaps the best thing one can say about Bush and Iraq is that he wasn't curious enough or closely involved enough to have judged the evidence, or lack thereof.

"But he didn’t really want to."

Fineman comes at it from a liberal perspective, but I think he is right on target.


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Blunt Barbara Bush

Former First Lady Barbara Bush, always known for her candor and blunt speech, was asked what she thought of son Jeb's running for president in 2016.

Her reply:  "We've had enough Bushes."

Amen to that.

Add Rhode Island to the list

Today Rhode Island's state Senate passed a bill that will legalize marriage between two people of the same sex.    The state House had passed it in January.    Governor Lincoln Chafee will quickly sign it.

That makes 10 states plus the District of Columbia;   California is awaiting a SCOUTS decision.   Illinois and Delaware are quite likely to be added soon.  New Jersey's Republican governor Christie vetoed it there.   Colorado just passed a civil union bill.

Internationally, 14 countries have legalized marriage equality.  France, New Zealand, and Uruguay have all been added in the last few weeks.

Unless SCOTUS decides soon, they may find themselves left in the dust of changing times.



Just read a side-bar blurb on Huffington Post about a 39 year old country music star who got into an argument with a 70 year old boat captain about their boats at a dock.  The music star threated to kill the older man.  My point in repeating a story that is not particularly news-worthy is that HP headlined the blurb with this:
". . .  Terrorist Threats Against an Elderly Man."
That's the ouch part.   A 70 year old man is considered elderly?   For an 80 year old, that's a bit hard to hear.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Senator Lindsey Graham

Sometimes he appears to be one of the few sane Republicans, even voting with Democrats;  or like when he actually praised President Obama recently for something.

But now when it comes to national defense and security, Sen. Lindsey Graham and his buddy Sen. John McCain, are definitely saber-rattling hawks.    And, in my opinion, Graham is not above trying to use his war-mongering for political purpose.

It's only going to get worse in the coming year, since he is running for re-election from the very conservative state of South Carolina.   He's certainly doing it now over national security.

He keeps calling for Dzhakhov Tsarnaev to be held as an enemy combatant and questioned without legal representation, despite the fact that he has already been questioned initially under the exception that allows a citizen to be held temporarily to gather information about any knowledge he may have of a possible national emergency.    They determined that there was none.   So he was read his Miranda rights and given legal counsel.

But Senator Graham only doubled down on his mantra -- "enemy combatant,"  even after he himself has admitted that he does not meet the criteria in the War Powers Act.

Further, he's being critical of the FBI for not keeping tabs on the older brother after they interviewed him in 2011 at Russia's request.   They found nothing to link him to terrorists groups.

Hindsight is always better, of course.   Consider this:   Tamerlan's name was added to the classified government watch list in 2011.    But so were more than 500,000 other names on that list.    They cannot all be kept under close surveillance.  Judgment has to be used.  And prior to the Boston attack, they had no information that would warrant that.

The fact that now, after the fact, we see that he was increasingly becoming radacalized does not change the fact that in 2011 they had nothing to make him seem more of a risk than the other 499,999 names on that list.

So, get over yourself, Lindsey.   The people of South Carolina elected you senator.   The people of the United States elected Barack Obama to be president.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Do not politicize the Boston bombing -- that means You, Lindsey Graham

Start with a couple of facts:    (1)  Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is up for re-election in 2014 in a very conservative southern state.    (2)  Lindsey likes to spout off on television, especially if he thinks he knows more than the president about an issue.

Graham is a lawyer who did a tour of military service as an adjuntant general -- which means he worked as a lawyer in the military.    He likes to remind people of that, which he thinks makes him an authority on such military, legal matters.

He made headlines last week by calling for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to be held as an "enemy combatant" so he can be questioned without a lawyer to find out whether they were linked to any terrorist group and what he knows about any possible further planned attacks.

Lindsey was pretty quick to spout off about this.   Dzhokhar hadn't even been captured, much less charged with a crime, when he first talked about interrogating him "before he lawyers up."    This would be illegal, except under one circumstance -- imminent threat to the nation or being part of our declared enemy forces.   There's no evidence of that in this case.

Graham has admitted that he knows that, as a citizen, Dzhokhar cannot be tried in a military court;  but he wants to delay his being read his Miranda rights and legal representation until he has been interrogated.

In other words, he thinks this is that rare exception when a citizen should be deprived of his 6th amendment rights.   It is not.   And I believe that the president is in a better position than little Lindsey to know the latest intelligence and the latest information that the FBI has.

The fact is, there is absolutely no evidence that the brothers had any connections with Al Qaeda or the Taliban or any other organized radical or terrorist group.   "Enemy combatant" is defined in 2012 National Defense Authorization Act federal documents as "a person who was a part of or substantially supported Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners."

Committing a terrorist act on one's own makes one a criminal but not an enemy combatant.   Now that he is awake and answering questions in writing (he cannot speak because of his throat injury), Dzhakhov has said they were motivated by religion, not some outside group, and that they acted alone.    There is no evidence to suggest otherwise.

Lindsey is posturing, politicking, and putting himself in the spotlight.   It would be shameful to stoop to cheap politics at a time of national tragedy like this.


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Boston #5

Bits and pieces of information are gradually filling in the cypher of the Tzarneav brothers.

There is a mosque about 10 minutes walk from their apartment.   Members say that Tameran attended infrequently over the past year and a half and that Dzhokhar attended only once.   Dzhokhar has seemed more interested in the Chechen independence movement than in religion.

The LA Times has reported that, about 3 months ago, Tameran was kicked out of a Friday prayer service when he became enraged and began to argue with the imam leading the service.

The imam was talking Martin Luther King, Jr.   Tameran interrupted and insisted, "You can't mention this guy because he's not a Muslim."    Not only did he disturb the prayer service, but this is not consistent with the thinking of the group, which does not hold extremist views.

A sign in front of the Islam Center of Boston reads:
"United We Stand For Peace on Earth."
And that is the view of the vast majority of Muslims worldwide.   The Center released a statement saying of the brothers:  "In their visits, they never exhibited any violent sentiments or behavior.  Otherwise they would have been immediately reported to the FBI."


Change . . . and not for the better

I drove past the old Border's Book Store on Peachtree Road just north of Lenox Square.   I was sad when the chain went out of business and closed this store.

Today I felt even sadder when I saw that this marvelous book store has been replaced by a Container Store.   What a commentary on our times.

We used to have a store stocked with the richness of fiction and literary studies, the classics, history, psychology, languages, travel, photography, art, sports, science, newspapers from far and wide, obscure intellectual magazines and journals of critical thinking -- you name it.

Now we have a store to help organize our over-busy lives.  A place to buy every imaginable size and shape of empty containers to put all our stuff in.

Life somehow feels diminished when we prefer to buy empty boxes rather than books filled with experience and ideas.

The one bright note is that they do sell book shelves.   But who needs shelves?   The books have all gone digital.