December 2006

Thanks for a year of living bloggerishly

Friday, December 22nd, 2006

p.s. the title of this post is a play on a pretty cool 1982 Mel Gibson, Sigourney Weaver, Linda Hunt movie called “The Year of Living Dangerously.”

I know the p.s. shouldn’t come before the main message. But here’s the main message:

Be well. Be good to each other. See you in ’07.


Keith Ellison on Virgil Goode on Keith Ellison: ” I just think it’s a learning gap we have to close.”

Thursday, December 21st, 2006

The inane kerfuffle about whether a Muslim congressman should be allowed hold the Qur’an when he ceremonially re-enacts swearing the oath of office — you’ve heard by now that it isn’t even the official swearing-in, right? — apparently lives on for another day.

Rep. Virgil Goode of Virginia, who already got his name in all the papers and on all the talk shows, declined to climb down from his silly claim that the election of Michigan-born Keith Ellison is an argument for immigration control. (Although if you read the full transcript of the CNN coverage of today’s chapter of the brouhaha, you’ll see that Goode couldn’t quite bring himself to reaffirm what he originally said, nor to take it back, and relied on something of which he seemed quite sure, namely that he is not a Muslimi and will not be swearing any oaths on the Qur’an.)

Ellison, the newly-elected congressman from Minneapolis, continued to take the high road even as Wolf Blitzer practically begged him to say something angry about Goode. Here’s an extended excerpt:

BLITZER: What’s your reaction, Congressman-elect?

ELLISON: Oh, yes, Wolf, I think that, you know, diversity of our country is a great strength. It’s a good thing that we have people from all faiths and all cultures that come here. And we all support one Constitution, one Constitution that upholds our right to equal protection, one Constitution that guarantees us due process under the law, one Constitution which says that there is no religious test for elected office in America.

BLITZER: So if you had a cup of coffee or you sat down with Virgil Goode in the next several days — you’re going to be coming to Washington, you’ll be sworn in, in the next couple of weeks — what would you say to him specifically on his point?

He wants tighter immigration restrictions in order to keep Muslims out of the country, and if — because if they’re kept out of the country, obviously, they won’t be elected to Congress.

ELLISON: Well, what I’d tell him is that, you know, there might be a few things about Muslims that he might want to know. He might want to know that Muslims, there are about five million in the country, that they’re here to support and strengthen America, that they are nurses, doctors, husbands, wives, kids who just want to live and prosper in the American way, and that there’s really nothing to fear, and that all of us are steadfastly opposed to the same people he’s opposed to, which is the terrorists.

And so there’s nothing for him to be afraid of, and that what we should do is to tell our constituents that we should reach out to each other, not be against each other, and we should find ways for common ground. I would urge Congressman Goode to have his congregation reach out to a synagogue or a mosque and start some interfaith dialogue so that we can increase understanding among each other, as Americans of different faiths. That’s what I’d tell him.

BLITZER: Do you think he’s a bigot?

ELLISON: You know what? I don’t know the fellow. And, you know, I’d rather just say that he has a lot to learn about Islam. And, you know, we all have a lot to learn. I don’t know him. I look forward to meeting him. I’m not afraid of being frank about my views about him, but I simply haven’t gotten a chance to get to meet him so I don’t want to start any name calling…

BLITZER: So when you hear comments like Virgil Goode’s, I suppose — you’ve reacted in all of your public statements, as well as here, really taking the high road, but I assume inside, it’s really irritating you.

ELLISON: Well, Wolf, you know, my reaction, externally and internally is the same. I can honestly say that I’m not angered by Representative Goode’s comments. I just think it’s a learning gap we have to close.”

What think?


Bush: “It’s going to take a while for the ideology of liberty to finally triumph over the ideology of hate.”

Thursday, December 21st, 2006

In answer to the first question of President Bush’s Wednesday press conference – a question about his decision to request an increase in overall U.S. Army and Marine troop strength (don’t confuse that with an increase in troops in Iraq, which Bush is also considering) — Bush made this effort to explain why more overall troops were needed:

“I understand that we’re going to be in a long struggle against radicals and extremists, and we must make sure that our military has the capability to stay in the fight for a long period of time. I’m not predicting any particular theater, but I am predicting that it’s going to take a while for the ideology of liberty to finally triumph over the ideology of hate.

I know you know I feel this strongly, but I see this — we’re in the beginning of a conflict between competing ideologies — a conflict that will determine whether or not your children can live in peace. A failure in the Middle East, for example, or failure in Iraq, or isolationism, will condemn a generation of young Americans to permanent threat from overseas. And therefore, we will succeed in Iraq. And therefore, we will help young democracies when we find them — democracies like Lebanon; hopefully a Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace with Israel; the young democracy of Iraq.

It is in our interest that we combine security with a political process that frees people, that liberates people, that gives people a chance to determine their own futures. I believe most people in the Middle East want just that. They want to be in a position where they can chart their own futures, and it’s in our interest that we help them do so.”

How does this strike you as a description of the situation in which America finds itself heading into 2007?

The Pleasant Scent of Democracy in Iran

Thursday, December 21st, 2006

A week ago, we discussed the question of how much democracy there is in Iran where there seem to be fairly open elections for president, but the most powerful positions are held by religious leaders; where students were apparently able to hold public protests protests against the president’s idiotic conference on the Holocaust, but where President Ahmadinejad had succeeded in mostly shutting down the oppositio newspapers.

The latest evidence, and you’d have to put it on the side of evidence in favor of democracy in Iran, is that Ahmadinejad’s allies just got their clocks cleaned in municipal elections across the country.

So far, as a general rule covering most recent elections in the Muslim Middle Eastern countries that allow elections, the key to political success has been to be the most anti-American choice on the ballot (a trend that certainly has to be part of the discussion of whether spreading democracy in the region is necessarily in the geostrategic interests of the United States).

But, ironically, Iran, with its rabidly anti-American president and its amibition for regional hegemony, may be one of the exceptions. I don’t guess the anti-Ahmadinejad majorities on a bunch of municipal councils can change Iranian policy toward Washington, Israel or reprocessing uranium. But the vote — with a turnout of more than 60 percent — surely tells us something about Iranian opinion toward Ahmadinejad’s approach to some of those questions.

p.s. The title of this post borrows from the name of the pro-Ahmadinejad slate in the Tehran municipal elections, as translated in the attached Reuters piece:

A political group closely identified with the president, calling itself the Pleasant Scent of Service, took just three Tehran seats. The highest placed vote getter on their list was a sister of Ahmadinejad in eighth place.

Mama don’t take my cellphone away

Thursday, December 21st, 2006

According to a poll by the Pew Research Center, 49 percent of Americans believe cellphones are a “necessity.” Fifty one percent say a home computer is a necessity (up from 25 percent who said so 10 years ago) and for 29 percent the computer had to be hooked to a high-speed internet connection.

Paul Taylor of Pew was on the first hour of Mid-Morning this a.m. (on MPR-KNOW) talking about the poll. They ask you whether an item is a luxury or a necessity. They last took the same poll in 1996. The necessariness of every item that was on both lists increased except for the car, which dropped insignificantly from 93 to 91 percent.

The biggest jump in necessariness since 1996 (I wouldn’t have guessed this one) was the microwave oven, which is necessary to 68 percent of us, up from 32 in 1996.

But the pioneer still lives. Only 5 percent of us feel they couldn’t live without a flat-screen TV and only three percent feel that way about an iPod.

Here’s the full report.

p.s. for the young fogys: If you didn’t catch the reference, the title of this post is a play on an old Paul Simon song, the refrain of which was “Mama don’t my Kodachrome away.” For the even younger fogys, Kodachrome is/was a brand of color film from back when cameras required film.

That pesky Iraq-Vietnam analogy again

Tuesday, December 19th, 2006

Writing for a left-leaning news-aggregating website called Truthout, under the title ” Iraq Is Vietnam – And You’d Better Believe It,” a guy named John Graham whose bio includes work with the U.S. Foreign Service, NATO, the U.N. and the staff of Sen. John Glenn, starts his piece thus:

I was a civilian advisor/trainer in Vietnam, arriving just as US troops were going home. I wasn’t there to fight, but I hadn’t been in country a week before I learned that the word “noncombatant” didn’t mean much where I was posted, fifty miles south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that then divided South Vietnam from North. I got the message when a sniper’s bullet whistled past my ear on the main highway twenty miles south of HuŽ. Joe Jackson, the burly major who was driving, yelled at me to hold on and duck as he gunned the jeep out of range, zigzagging to spoil the sniper’s aim.

Snipers or not, in 1971 it was the US government’s policy not to issue weapons to civilian advisors in Vietnam, even to those of us in distant and dangerous outposts. The reason was not principle, but PR – and here begin the lessons for Iraq.

Sometime in 1969, the White House, under siege from the public and faced with unrelenting facts on the ground, quietly made the decision that America couldn’t win its war in Vietnam.

Nixon and Kissinger didn’t put it that way, of course. America was a superpower, and it was inconceivable that it could lose a war to a third-rate nation whose soldiers lived on rice and hid in holes in the ground. So the White House conceived an elaborate strategy that would mask the fact of an American defeat. The US would slowly withdraw its combat troops over a period of several years, while the mission of those who remained would change from fighting the North Vietnamese and Vietcong to training the South Vietnamese to carry on the fight on their own. At the same time, we would give the South Vietnamese a series of performance ultimatums which, if unmet, would trigger a total withdrawal and let us blame the South Vietnamese for the debacle that would follow. This strategy was called “Vietnamization.” Implementing it cost at least 10,000 additional American and countless more Vietnamese lives, plus billions of dollars.

It was a rigged game from the start. All but the wildest zealots in Washington knew that the South Vietnamese would not and could not meet our ultimatums: an end to corrupt, revolving-door governments; an officer corps based on merit, not cronyism; and the creation of a national state that enjoyed popular allegiance strong and broad enough to control the political and cultural rivalries that had ripped the country’s fabric for a thousand years.”

Here’s the full piece if you’re so inclined.

What think? Is this what’s going on now?

The interesting life of Walter Mondale

Tuesday, December 19th, 2006

In 1963, in the case of Gideon v. Wainwright, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states must provide lawyers for criminal defendants who couldn’t afford their own. One of the chief objections to this concept was a states’ rights argument, that the federal government had no authority to intrude on the question.

In answering that argument, Justice Hugo Black (no relation to your humble ink-stained wretch), writing for the unanimous court, noted that only Florida (the state that had denied Gideon a court-appointed attorney) and Alabama (in an amicus brief) argued that states should continue to have some discretion to deny indigent criminal defendants representation, while a brief filed on behalf of the attorneys general of 22 states urged the court to impose this requirement.

If the chief law enforcement officers of so many states favored the principle, perhaps it wasn’t so offensive to states’ rights, Black suggested. The campaign to assemble the coalition of attorneys general was organized by Walter Mondale, then the 35-year-old boy wonder attorney general of Minnesota.

Mr. Mondale will soon turn 79. It’s been my honor to know him for several years now, strictly as a reporter covering an elder statesman, although I’ve come to admire his unconditional decency. But I hadn’t known about his role in the landmark Gideon case until one morning last week when I attended the final meeting of a unique University of Minnesota class.

A small group of U of M undergraduates and grad students from various disciplines was given access to boxes and boxes of historical papers touching on myriad aspects of Mondale’s public life, — including some documents that have just been declassified and have not yet become publicly accessible — and access to hours of time with Mondale, and to several big movers and shakers who worked with and for Mondale over the years.

Each student wrote a paper about some Mondalian chapter or created an exhibit that is now on display at the Humphrey Museum in the University’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

Last Tuesday, the students presented their papers, engaged in a brief exchange with Mondale on their topics, and took a few questions from Prof. Larry Jacobs, who coordinated the course.

Sitting for two hours in a cramped seminar room (named, by the way, for Harold Stassen), listening to bright young people describe and analyze their adventures in Mondaliana, I was struck by what a great opportunity this was for the students, by how lucky I was to have stumbled into a line of work that pays me a reasonable wage to have experiences that I probably should be paying to have, and mostly, what a remarkable thing it was that a preacher’s kid from Elmore, Minnesota had managed to lead a life that lead him to the scene of so many of the historical events of the nation and the world over several decades.

If you seldom think about such things, when the name Walter Mondale comes up, you may think of his loss, by 49 states to one, in the 1984 presidential election. Or maybe you think of the historic choice of Geraldine Ferraro as his gender-barrier-breaking running mate. Or perhaps you think of Mondale’s term as vice president under Jimmy Carter, a term that ended in disappointment and defeat.

But there are many other entry points into the Mondale biography, and the student papers — none of which focused on the 1984 campaign — provided a sampling. for example:

*The story of the Gideon case was a small chapter. I made a big deal of its above because it caught me by surprise, because it was so long ago, because the young law student who chose that as her paper topic had actually reviewed Mondale’s law school notes (which naturally made me wonder whether I could come up with any of my own college notes).

*According to one student’s research, Mondale played a bigger role in the 1978 Egyptian-Israeli Camp David Accords of 1978 than is usually recognized. Mondale confirmed that student’s impression that Carter and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat shared a deep personal bond, while Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin distrusted Carter’s commitment to Israel’s needs. Mondale, who was viewed as a solid friend of Israel, went to Egypt and Israel in advance of the Camp David talks and, the student researcher and Larry Jacobs agreed, Mondale was able to reassure Begin that he wasn’t walking into a trap.

*In 1968, Mondale co-chaired Hubert Humphrey’s presidential campaign. One student detailed the experience, which came across as a series of disasters. Mondale smiled ruefully and reminisced about some of the bad breaks that put his mentor Humphrey into a deep political hole heading into the general election.

*In 1975, Mondale led a historic push to change the Senate rules on filibusters. As hard as it is in recent times to gain the 60 votes needed to cut off debate and force a vote, imagine what it was like before the Mondale effort to cut the votes necessary from two-thirds to three-fifths. After a student presented a paper on that chapter, Mondale acknowledged that his feelings had about the filibuster had waxed and waned through the years. And he acknowledged that, as occurred last year when the Senate almost melted down over the filibustering of judicial nominations, senators position on the filibuster tend to fluctuate wildly, depending on how many votes their party has in the body.

*In 1979, just after the U.S. established normal diplomatic relations with China, Mondale went to Beijing and negotiated trade and cultural exchange deals with Deng Xiaoping. As Mondale and the student who wrote about that chapter exchanged thoughts, another guest in the class, a Chinese-American scholar, piped up to say that she came to America in the aftermath of those talks and as a direct result of those deals that Mondale helped negotiate. She is now a U.S. citizen, teaching writing at Macalester College.

*Three students wrote about aspects Mondale’s role in the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillence Act, the 1978 law, signed by Carter that was also a follow-up to the abuses by domestic and foreign intelligence agencies that Mondale helped investigate in the 1970s as part of the Church Committee. It was clear during his exchanges with those students (one of whom was himself a former military intelligence officer) that Mondale had stayed abreast of developments of that law, that was headline news in recent years because of the Bush administration’s decision to disregard the warrants, required by the law, and the special court, created by the law, to issue the warrants if, er, warranted.

Mondale has devoted considerable time and energy over recent years to establishing the historical record of his public life, a process that included a series of autobiographical panels that I covered between 2000 and 2003. The course at the U, the assembling of the papers at the Minnesota Historical Society, and the effort to declassify some of them is the latest.

Researchers take note: the papers will become available to the public in January.


Gates: “Failure in Iraq at this juncture would be a calamity”

Monday, December 18th, 2006

At his swearing in today at Defense Secretary, Robert Gates said he would go to Iraq “quite soon,” to hear from the military “honest assessments of the situation on the ground” and to get “their advice — unvarnished and straight from the shoulder — on how to proceed in the weeks and months ahead.”

He then spoke about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. “How we face these and other challenges in the region over the next two years will determine whether Iraq, Afghanistan, and other nations at a crossroads will pursue paths of gradual progress towards sustainable governments, which are allies in the global war on terrorism, or whether the forces of extremism and chaos will become ascendant.”

Then he delivered the quote that all the news stories have featured:

“All of us want to find a way to bring America’s sons and daughters home again. But, as the President has made clear, we simply cannot afford to fail in the Middle East. Failure in Iraq at this juncture would be a calamity that would haunt our nation, impair our credibility, and endanger Americans for decades to come.”

What think?

You’ve come a long way, baby?

Monday, December 18th, 2006

Up to now, 42 of our 43 presidents have been white, anglo-saxon, protestant males.
If I understand the ridiculously early handicapping of the ’08 prez race, at the moment there are five sorta frontrunners and they are:
A woman.
An African-American.
A Mormon.
A Catholic (and a pro-choice, divorced Catholic yet).
And one WASP male.

Here’s to Brad Radke

Monday, December 18th, 2006

I accept that often, until an athlete gets arrested for a bar fight or suspended for steroids or says something incredibly stupid in an interview, we can’t really know what they are like deep down.

And sure, making millions for pitching a baseball doesn’t put you in a league with those who spend their lives helping the less fortunate or trying to make their world, or even their neighborhood, a better, fairer, kinder more humane place.

But if you play 12 years for the same team, consistently give your best effort and even play through pain, never flip the bird to the fans, don’t exhibit poor winnership or losership in fron the kids, don’t blame your teammates or your coaches when then go badly, don’t complain about your obscene paycheck and even act like you get how lucky you are…

…you get a tip of the hit on the day you announce your retirement.

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