Commentary: Politics

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Annapolis

Fifteen years as a newspaperman taught me a few select things. One is this: It is the god-given right of every American to resent or even hate his local newspaper. Indeed, it is our birthright to hate any and every news organization, print or broadcast. It is not certain that you will avail yourself of that right, or that you will invoke it consistently if you do, but it is there for you whenever life doesn’t go the way you want. Your hometown newspaper will highlight your most embarrassing utterance at the PTA hearing or detail your company’s bankruptcy, just as it will at some point ignore your daughter’s performance in the school play or miss the zoning hearing at which a porn shop is dropped a block and a half from your son’s middle school. It will herald some political views you abhor and denigrate some politicians you wish to cheer. It will spell your name incorrectly when you are named the Rotarian of the Year and dox you with precision when you are cuffed and processed for...

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Politics

What I did on my humble-brag trip to Western Maryland

For reasons too improbable and esoteric to explain, I was recently invited to a small coterie of vacation shacks in Thurmont, north of the city of Frederick in Western Maryland.  Franklin Roosevelt christened the joint as Shangri-La — in honor of his “Lost Horizon” reference following the Doolittle Raid against Tokyo — and that name stuck until Eisenhower renamed it for his grandson, Daniel or Douglas or whatever. Anyhow, the rule is that what happens at Camp Daniel stays at Camp Daniel.  When you get an invite, they don’t want you to describe the place on social media, or to relate the goings-on. And the Marines at the gate hold your cameras and smart phones so there’s nothing visual I could or should post here. It will have to suffice as humble-brag to say that I drank a couple shots of presidential Jose Cuervo and I played a game of presidential darts and tilted a presidential pinball machine in the game room. Then I threw a couple jumpshots into...

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History Politics

Old faces and fresh dishonor

  Save for the image of a six-year-old Hungarian girl which I do not possess — these are the photographs of 10 of the 11 members of my family who did not escape from Europe in the critical prewar years, when the path for refugees fleeing fascism narrowed, then disappeared. Fear of these people — their otherness, their politics, their faith — was sufficient to close borders and deny safe passage to America and elsewhere. The first six photos are an extended family on my mother’s side lost at Auschwitz, the last four a branch of my father’s clan slain in the woods outside the city of Slonim, in what is now Belarus. The facelessness of the hundreds of thousands fleeing our time’s great cruelty is in some basic way part of their undoing. In their anonymity, the Syrian refugees running from Assad or the Islamic State appear in our political discourse as mere numbers, abstract and enormous. Save for the occasional photograph of a child’s body on a...

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Politics

A good day to be an American

Marriage equality and foam in the corner of Scalia’s mouth. Amazing Grace and presidential duende.  And all amid the afterglow of a decision that affirms a successful government initiative that helps millions as claimed. So, this is what a first-rate country feels like.            

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Policy & Law Politics

American torture

Here’s the sad fucking truth: Our democracy, our republic, is very much weaker than we imagine if this report can only see the light of day after our government first issued preemptory promises not to prosecute the persons that did these things to other human beings in our names, or ordered that these things be done to other human beings in our names. That there are elements of the American government still arguing against this cold blast of truth, offering up the craven fear that the rest of the world might see us as we actually are, or that our enemies will perhaps use the evidence of our sadism to justify violent retribution or political maneuver — this further cowardice only adds to the national humiliation. This is not one of the world’s great powers behaving as such, and it is certainly no force for good in the world.  This might as well be the Spanish national amnesia following the death of Franco, or a post-war West Germany without the stomach for the...

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Politics

The nationalist veil

Make no mistake, Vladimir Putin is a thug, a neo-Tsarist xenophobe and complicit in the chain of events that led to Ukranian separatist rebels mistakenly downing a civilian airliner.  He should reflect on his performance and its result, and he should begin to make what amends he can offer.   Nothing that follows mitigates against any of the above. However: “….As of 1993, the United States had not apologized to Iran.  In 1996, the United States and Iran reached “an agreement in full and final settlement of all disputes, differences, claims, counterclaims” relating to the incident at the International Court of Justice, including a recognition of the incident in the form of “…the United States recognized the aerial incident of 3 July 1988 as a terrible human tragedy and expressed deep regret over the Loss of lives caused by the incident…” As part of the settlement, the United States did not admit legal liability but agreed to pay on an...

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Politics

The Koch brothers and The Baltimore Sun

Some nice folk hoping to help craft a better future for my alma mater, The Baltimore Sun, stopped by the office a few weeks ago and asked me some questions about what I thought about the Koch brothers, those politically passioned gentlemen, purchasing the half-empty husks of what remains of the Chicago Tribune newspapers. I replied in detail, but of course, they needed a shorter sound bite: Okay as far as it goes, but I’d like to be a little more clear about why the Koch family isn’t really cut out to be a publisher of American newspapers.  It isn’t that they are rightist libertarians and I am not, honestly.  As I said in my remarks, but which do not convey fully in the edited clip, I’d be as distressed if Ariana Huffington or George Soros wanted to purchase and operate The Sun.  Why?  Because 1) they are engaged in ideological advocacy and 2) they aren’t from Baltimore and their ties to my community are insufficient to guarantee a responsive and locally...

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Policy & Law Politics

NSA and FISA commentary: Calling it.

Okay, folks, I want to thank everyone, sincerely, for engaging in what has been for the most part an aggressive, sincere and genuinely relevant discussion of the Verizon data controversy.  At points, I looked around and thought that the debate at this little corner of the web was far more specific and rooted than much of what occupied the op-eds and 24-hour cable channels.  You all brought a lot into the mix.  And with rare exception, everyone stayed largely on substance and avoided ad hominem and other rank fallacy. For my part, I remain convinced that the Verizon call data should be used as a viable data base for counter-terror investigations and that its misuse should be greeted with the hyperbole that currently adorns the present moment.  On the other hand, the arguments of others convinced me that while I still believe the differences between call data and a wiretap are profound, and that the standard for obtaining call data has been and should remain far more modest for law...

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Policy & Law Politics

We are shocked, shocked…

Is it just me or does the entire news media — as well as all the agitators and self-righteous bloviators on both sides of the aisle — not understand even the rudiments of electronic intercepts and the manner in which law enforcement actually uses such intercepts? It would seem so. Because the national eruption over the rather inevitable and understandable collection of all raw data involving telephonic and internet traffic by Americans would suggest that much of our political commentariat, many of our news gatherers and a lot of average folk are entirely without a clue. You would think that the government was listening in to the secrets of 200 million Americans from the reaction and the hyperbole being tossed about. And you would think that rather than a legal court order which is an inevitable consequence of legislation that we drafted and passed, something illegal had been discovered to the government’s shame. Nope. Nothing of the kind. Though apparently, the U.K.’s...

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Gun Laws Politics

Dead children and monied politicians.

What is left to say? A sane man’s contempt for the United States Senate must now be certain and complete. Given the inertia on even the most modest legislative response to the mass murder of schoolchildren, those still credulous enough to believe that our governance is representative of popular will are either Barnum-sized suckers, or worse, tacit participants in tragedies soon to come. An entrenched collection of careerist incumbents, chosen and retained through their singular ability to gather cash from money troughs over six-year intervals — and the unrestrained ability of capital to keep those troughs constantly full — none of this is worthy of any intelligent citizen’s respect or allegiance. Never mind that the higher house of our bicameral farce is one in which 40 percent of the American population choses 60 percent of the representation; that millions of New Yorkers or Texans, say, are represented and served to the same degree as thousands of Montanans...

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People Politics

Petraeus, On Further Reflection (R.I.P. John O’Neill)

What follows is lifted from the comments to my previous post on this issue.  I’m reposting it simply because as I was engaged in responding to this particular comment, I realized — even to my own surprise — how close the Petraeus imbroglio corresponds to the the tragic story of my old friend and source, John O’Neill.   It’s worth posting on its own, I think. HENLEYTX11 says:(Edit) November 14, 2012 at 8:04 am Churchill famously said “The price of greatness is responsibility”, which is something Clinton has never accepted nor assumed. His presidency was, and his post-presidency is rife with examples of assigning blame to others for his own personal and professional shortcomings. And I’m writing as someone who worked for him in on a national level in his 1992 campaign. As for Petraeus, I have no doubt that Petraeus did not resing but was forced out, and that his September 14th statement in reference to Benghazi was informed and/or prompted by the knowledge...

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Politics

Barack Obama And The Death Of Normal

I was on an airplane last night as the election was decided. As the plane landed after midnight on the East Coast, I confess that my hand was shaking as I turned on my phone for the news. I did not want to see dishonesty and divisiveness and raw political hackery rewarded. It is hard enough for anyone to actually address the problems, to move this country forward, to make the intransigent American ruling class yield even a yard of the past to the inevitable future. But going backwards last night would have been devastating. I read the returns in silent elation; a business trip had me traveling in business class and the gnashing of corporate teeth all around precluded a full-throated huzzah on my part. I abhor a gloat. But the country is changing. And this may be the last election in which anyone but a fool tries to play — on a national level, at least — the cards of racial exclusion, of immigrant fear, of the patronization of women and hegemony over their bodies, of self...

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Politics Posts by Subject

Union, union, union

Is there a better, more apparent argument for a return of collective bargaining and trade unionism as a core value in American life than the current NFL season?  I say this as a Ravens fan — and a secondary supporter of the Saints.  Have there been games played in which these scab refs haven’t butchered it at key points?  The season is fast becoming an irrelevant measure of anything. And I say that having banked all the emotional equity from last night’s field goal. Seriously.  It pays to go with the union label.

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Politics Posts by Subject

Mitt Romney paid taxes at a rate of 13 percent and he’s proud to say so. Redux.

A month back I ventured a brief post on this site in which I expressed my astonishment at the spectacle of a multi-millionaire presidential candidate assuring Americans that he had paid no less than 13 percent taxes.  It generated some commentary back and forth.  But as a startling addendum, we must now consider Mr. Romney’s comments at a private fundraising event at which he didn’t know he was being surreptitiously videtaped, with the tape now leaked to Mother Jones magazine and hitting the internet on several sites: “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what.  All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That, that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote...

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Politics Posts by Subject

Mitt Romney paid taxes at a rate of at least 13 percent. And he’s proud to say so.

Can we stand back and pause a short minute to take in the spectacle of a man who wants to be President of The United States, who wants us to seriously regard him as a paragon of the American civic ideal, declaiming proudly and in public that he has paid his taxes at a third of the rate normally associated with gentlemen of his economic benefit. Stunning. Am I supposed to congratulate this man?  Thank him for his good citizenship?  Compliment him for being clever enough to arm himself with enough tax lawyers so that he could legally minimize his obligations? Thirteen percent.  The last time I paid taxes at that rate, I believe I might still have been in college.  If not, it was my first couple years as a newspaper reporter.  Since then, the paychecks have been just fine, thanks, and I don’t see any reason not to pay at the rate appropriate to my earnings, given that I’m writing the check to the same government that provided the economic environment that allowed for such...

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Politics Posts by Subject

Kwame Brown: Another federal case, another Head Shot.

I was driving my daughter to her grandmother’s house today, and I heard a panel on WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi Show waxing righteous about the rather meager charges against D.C. councilmember Kwame Brown.  Now, I am not focused on Kwame Brown.  He may indeed be a corrupt politician.  He may be Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Brown Goes To Washington” for all I know. This isn’t about him. The only federal charge that the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington could bring against Mr. Brown was for bank fraud.  He falsified statements to a federally-insured bank while seeking a loan, claiming more income than he had received.  A misdemeanor charge for violating campaign financing rules was also filed in local court, and Mr. Brown will apparently plead guilty.  But the larger charge has nothing to do with his public function or with public business. Now lying to a bank on a loan application or providing false information in a loan application is wrong of course.  It is also...

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