Tuesday, November 30, 2010

November 30, 2010--The Joneses

Later today the incoming congressional leadership will meet with Barack Obama to see if there is any hope of their working together over the next two years.

At the top of the agenda are two items--Senate ratification of the START treaty that would limit Russian and American nuclear weapons and the about-to-expire Bush tax cuts.

Securing 67 votes in the Senate, even if they try to do it during the lame duck session, seems unattainable as the GOP appears to be continuing to play partisan politics with anything proposed by Obama though there is the likelihood that both sides will make a deal about taxes. It is hard to imagine that if the Bush rates were to lapse on January 1st because the Republicans are dug in regarding the portion of them that benefits the rich, if hard-pressed Americans see their taxes rise as a result, they will blame and punish the Republicans. I am thus hearing that a compromise is forming through which Clinton-era tax rates will phase in for Americans making a million of more per year. Less than one percent of the population.

In a column in the Sunday New York Times, Robert Frank argues that the rich, no matter how one defines them, will still have a good economic life even if they have to pay a little more in taxes. That is, if all of the rich have to ante up equally. (Article attached.)

He says it is all psychological. Since the wealthy spend a good deal of their discretionary money on goods and services in order to maintain appearances and keep pace with the consumption habits of those with whom they are in conspicuous competition, if next summer they can rent a house in the Hamptons with 5 bedrooms instead of 6 they will somehow figure out how to handle this version of reduced circumstances.

After reading this, if true, I felt a lot better about things. Up to then I had been worrying about the super rich. But now I am feeling assured that they will be all right. That is unless their seaside cottage has only 4 bathrooms.

Monday, November 29, 2010

November 29, 2010--The China Card

While the media early last were whipping the traveling public into a frenzy about "enhanced" security checks at America's airports, once the traveling public started traveling and seemed to take the full body screening and new pat-down rules in stride, the story quickly turned to shopping--would Black Friday turn out to be a success or were we still holding onto our cash, assuming we had any.

Pretty much lost in these headlines was the very disturbing news that North and South Korea might be moving toward a resumption of the Korean War, which ostensibly ended in 1953. Hermetically-sealed North Korea launched a hundred or so artillery shells at South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island, killing four people. No one knows just why they did this. Or why a week or so earlier they invited an American nuclear physicist to visit a previously-unknown, super-secret uranium enrichment plant, which is clearly in the business of producing more fissionable fuel from which the North Koreans can build atomic bombs and thereby add to their current stockpile of at least 12 such weapons of mass destruction.

Perhaps their current supreme leader, Kim Jong-il, who is reported to be terminally ill, is attempting to engineer a transition to one of his sons and is thus flexing atomic muscles in a power struggle with his equivalent of the Pentagon. Perhaps they are attempting to force the United States into bilateral discussions about North Korea's weapons program. Who knows? Even experts who claim to understand this region confess they have no idea what is going on. All agree that the situation is dangerous and that the ruling family is irrational and unpredictable (read "crazy").

The U.S., in a show of force and support for South Korea, where since 1953 we have stationed 37,500 troops, moved an aircraft carrier into the area and the Obama administration has appealed to China to get them to tell their client-state, North Korea, to cool it.

As in the past when we appealed to China, or tried to exert pressure on them, China has thus far demurred.

In a thoughtful essay in Sunday's New York Times, Helene Cooper points out why it is so difficult to get China to lean on the North Koreans, or do much else that we would like them to do. (Article linked below.)

To no avail, we have tried to get China to cut back on its use of fossil fuel. They are the world's leading polluters. We have prodded them to allow their currency, the yuan, to float so it can find its true value. They have ignored this plea, artificially keeping it undervalued to assure that their exports remain unfairly cheap. We have urged them to support strong sanctions against Iran in an attempt to put pressure on them to end their nuclear weapons program. From our perspective, seemingly irresponsibly, the Chinese government has refused to do this.

All of this, including their unwillingness to cut food and energy supplies to nuclear-armed North Korea has one thing in common--China does not see the actions the U.S. would like them to take to be in their national self interest.

They see an undervalued yuan to satisfy that interest--largely based on manufacturing and exports, they are now the world's second largest economy and in a few decades will surpass us. They need Iranian oil to literally fuel their rapid growth so they can continue to bring more Chinese into the middle class. To them the pressure they feel from their rural poor who want jobs that will enable them to participate in the economy of the 21st century is greater than any threat they sense from Iran. And they are unprepared to curb carbon emissions because they need cheap energy, also in the interest of the hundreds of millions of Chinese who are clamoring for a "better" life. Global warming is thus not on their radar screen.

And when it comes to North Korea, China's perception of the "problem" is very different from ours. We are concerned about a rogue regime armed to the teeth with missiles and atomic bombs. They see our alliance with South Korea, including the tens of thousands of American troops near their border, probably also armed with nuclear weapons, to be a treat to their regional hegemony. We have our Monroe Doctrine that excludes foreign nations from being overly aggressive in our hemisphere, and they have their version for the China and Yellow Seas. They know, like with East Germany, if North Korea collapses, South Korea will seek to reunify all of Korea, right on its border, under its and the U.S.'s domination.

Quoted in the Times, David Rothkopf, author of Running the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power, claims that the United States is "still struggling with a post-unilateralist hangover." That hangover, causes us to believe "that we're the sole remaining superpower and the objective of our foreign policy is to get people to go along with that. To fall into step with our worldview. But the reality is that's not what the future holds."

And thus, countries like China with their own sources of power are no longer reliant on us, or easily prodded into following our lead. Like us they are pursuing their own self interest and we need to find new ways to relate to and work with them.

Welcome to the 21st century.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

November 25-26, 2010--Thanksgiving

I plan to spend the day giving thanks for many things and of course eating more than is good for me. I will return on Monday. Enjoy the holiday.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

November 24, 2010--Condomania

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recently elected Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York to be its president. This was considered to be a surprise since traditionally (and bishops tend to act act very traditionally) the outgoing vice president of the Conference is elected to fill the presidency.

Observers say that Dolan's election suggests that the Catholic Church wants to assure that orthodox thinking and doctrine are reemphasized within Catholicism in the wake of the scandals that have rocked members and been the reason most cited to explain the mass exodus of baptized Catholics from the Church.

They are undoubtedly right about that but the election of the ultraconservative Dolan and the recent behavior of the Pope are unlikely to encourage the return of the faithful.

The New York Times quoted Archbishop Dolan earlier this week regarding his concerns about the decline in his flock. He said that he was upset when he saw a long line of people last Sunday near St. Patrick's:

I'm talking two blocks, a line of people waiting to get into Abercrombie and Fitch. And I thought, wow, there's no line to get into St, Patrick's Cathedral and the treasure in there is of eternal value. What can I do to help our great people appreciate that tradition? (Article linked below.)

I am tempted to say put things on sale for the holidays, but will restrain myself.

What he says he will do is spend three weeks in Ireland this winter (in the wake of the sex scandals there he is the Vatican's chief investigator of the seminaries of Ireland) visiting the seminaries that train priests. When there he will focus on investigating whether priests are being trained for a "happy, healthy celibacy."

Though the Pope has asked for his report on Ireland by Esther, if he is serious about reattracting lapsed Catholics he should better report to the Pope that as long as the Church is obsessed with celibacy and other sexual matters (especially those that affect the health and daily lives of people) young people especially will leave the Church.

He should remind the Pope that requiring priests to be celibate is not biblical but rather was not imposed on priests until the 4th Century. Even Saint Peter was married! (See Mark 1:30.)

So this practice of celibacy may be traditional but it is not required by God. It imposes an impossible standard on average men who are priests and is lagely responsible for the decades (undoubtedly centuries) of sexual abuse that has fractured the Church.

Since the Pope is a scholarly man, Dolan might pass this along:

The earliest known instances of penalties for members of the clergy who did not observe continence are those from the Council of Elvira in 306.

"Bishops, presbyters, deacons, and others with a position in the ministry are to abstain completely from sexual intercourse with their wives and from the procreation of children. If anyone disobeys, he shall be removed from the clerical office."

By 400, a Council of Carthage decreed that bishops, priests, and deacons must abstain from conjugal relations:

"It is fitting that the holy bishops and priests of God as well as the Levites, i.e. those who are in the service of the divine sacraments, observe perfect continence, so that they may obtain in all simplicity what they are asking from God; what the Apostles taught and what antiquity itself observed, let us also endeavour to keep... It pleases us all that bishop, priest and deacon, guardians of purity, abstain from conjugal intercourse with their wives, so that those who serve at the altar may keep a perfect chastity."

Archbishop Dolan should also consider talking with the Pope about condoms. This is a fair subject since the Pope himself, also earlier this week, brought up their potential use in certain, very limited circumstances. Until now their use has been forbidden in every conceivable circumstance. But with the continuing spread of AIDS the Pope said that maybe, just maybe there was justification for using them. This was mentioned in an extended interview about to be published in book form. When pressed for examples the Pope came up with one--they might be used by male prostitutes.

Putting aside for the moment why this came to the Pope's mind as the one exceptional example his off-the-cuff comment has created a storm of concern within the Church. The Pope appears to have gone AWOL. Archbishop Dolan, clearly caught off guard, or having failed to get his talking points, also to the Times said that the Church could not simply change its doctrines:

"You get the impression that the Holy See or the Pope is like Congress and every once in a while says, 'Oh, let's change this law. We can't."

Well, though it is true that the Church is not like Congress, for centuries it has changed many of its laws and doctrines. Just to name two--in the face of scientific evidence it retreated from its heliocentric view of the cosmos and eventually conceded that the earth circles the son, not the other way around; and evolution, not creationism, the Church acknowledged, is a better explanation for the origin of species.

Speaking of Congress, clearly it is much on Dolan's mind since he told the Times reporter that he and the Conference of Bishops may join Republicans in Congress in calling for the repeal of the new health care law. Like John Boehner, Sarah Palin, and Michele Bachmann, Dolan is convinced it allows for federal financing of abortion.

Forgetting church-state issues, if the archbishop is worried about the lines at Abercrombie and Fitch, in addition to stocking T-shirts in St. Pat's gift shop, he should maybe be worried about all the poor who would lose hope of healthcare if he and his Conference and GOP colleagues manage to repeal Obamacare. I have a feeling, as we approach the season of his birth, that Jesus would have cared more about that. And, I offer, if Dolan were to spend a little more time reflecting on the life of Jesus he would not have to worry so much about the competition from A&F.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

November 23, 2010--Class Warfare: The New Mediocracy

To kill time last week while waiting for my coughing and wheezing to abate, I watched more daytime television in three days than I had during the past 10 years.

I kept switching around searching for distraction--MASH reruns, a few episodes of Hogan's Heroes, and if I got really lucky the Mary Tyler Moore Show. No such luck. All I could find were endless episodes of the Andy Griffith Show. I couldn't force myself to watch. That sick I wasn't.

I must confess that I did take in half an hour of The View, looked in on Martha, and spent some time with Oprah, including on Friday to witness the orgy of consumption she unleashed during her "biggest giveaway ever." More of this I could not take without the risk of turning my cold into something requiring hospitalization.

Instead, I overdosed on CNN, MSNBC, and even Fox News. They pretty much devoting all their air time to the flap about the TSA's rolling out its new full body scanning equipment and its enhanced pat-down procedures. All the polls cited indicate that more than 80 percent of the American public were OK with this (maybe even looking forward to some anonymous groping) and so I wondered why all the anguished discussion about something this popular? When was the last time 80 percent of us agreed about anything?

Also being discussed extensively was the Sarah Palin phenomenon. And a phenomenon it truly is. Have we even had a political figure anything like Palin? I can't recall anyone equivalent either from my lifetime of my reading of American history.

She has a new book coming out and with the success of the Republicans in the recent midterm elections all eyes are on the half-term governor of Alaska. Actually, there is something else 80 percent agree about--80 percent of Republicans have a positive view of Palin. Poor Mike Huckabee. While campaigning over the weekend in Iowa he was asked if he thought Palin could win the Republican nomination for 2012. He said, "In a runaway." Maybe he's already trying to position himself as her running mate.

Between sneezes, I used what little brain power was at my disposal to try to figure out why she is so popular and potentially so electable.

I came to conclude it is because of class warfare.

Traditionally it is Democrats who get accused of waging class warfare. They are labeled as redistributionists--wanting to adjust tax policy, for example, to raise tax rates for the wealthy while lowering them for the poor and middle class. Unspoken, but widely hinted at is that this reveals them to be socialists, even communists.

But in fact there is another kind of class warfare well underway that is being waged by Republicans.

Reagan and Bush tax policies were truly redistributionist. Though they claimed the benefit of tax cuts for America's wealthiest would trickle down to the poor and middle class, in other words shift wealth to them, in fact, in practice in both instances they redistributed wealth upwards. And of course doubled and then doubled again the debt since during both administrations the economy did not grow enough--things did not trickle down enough--for that growth to yield enough taxes to contract the debt.

This, ironically, had to wait for a Democrat president, Bill Clinton who presided over tax increases and spending cuts which in fact were stimulative. So much so that he left office with budget surpluses which would have stretched well into the future if not tampered with. This rosy economic future, we now know, was subverted by the Bush tax cuts. During Clinton's eight year in office 22 million jobs were created while only 1.0 million were created under Bush. And then all of these were wiped out during the first three months of the Obama administration which was and still is operating under Bush tax policy.

This economic aspect of Republican-engendered class warfare has lead to the ruination of much of our economy but does not explain Sarah Palin. What does is her version of cultural class warfare. And it too is redistributive in nature--

It calls for a shift in power from the educated to the marginally-literate class. From the coastal elites to those in rural communities and others struggling to stay afloat in middle class suburbs.

Her people (and they are very much her people) have had it up to here with the urbane and Ivy League educated Nancy Pelosis, Barack Obamas, Tina Feys, and most of the mainstream media. They are even casting blame at, and purging, the old go-along-get-along-big-spending members of the Republican establishment when they look for explanations about why they feel their own circumstances slipping backwards and see Americans unable any longer to have their way with the rest of the world, be it militarily or in global economic competition.

They don't blame Reagan and Bush in large part because they did an excellent job of connecting with them culturally. Forgotten was the fact that Bush came from the real eastern elite or that Reagan was propelled forward as a politician by many from America's corporate elite. In style and tone, in speech and swagger they both convincingly came across as regular folks.

Contrast that with the cool and urbane Pelosi and Obama who though they come from modest backgrounds prefer Armanis to Levis.

People like me are frustrated that a Sarah Palin, who knows nothing about history, public policy, and of course foreign affairs and world geography, who clearly reads nothing, is legitimately considered to have an odds-on chance of winning the Republican nomination and also might be able to unseat Obama if the economy isn't turned around in a couple of years.

Don't people see that she is an empty dress? Don't people understand that she hasn't the least understanding of the issues, the experience, or even the ability to speak coherently about anything more than what is scripted for her? And forget for the moment her gaffs and malaprops. Leave those for Saturday Night Live.

But isn't the point that it is precisely because she is so unabashedly the way she is that she has such a passionate following? Unlike Bush who pretended to be a good-old-boy, she is the real thing. And the more she, to the media's perception, screws up the more she endears herself to her supporters. In her they see themselves. "We don't read the New York Times either," they are saying, "so who cares if she doesn't. Actually, isn't that a good thing."

Her people are shouting--"It's now our turn!" They are sick and tired of being patronized and mocked by educated smart alecks who have for decades made them feel inferior and put down and told what's good for them. Just look what this has brought them--a declined standard of living, terrorism everywhere, a bankrupt treasury that has to turn to China to bail us out, 10 million illegal immigrants, and since Vietnam one lost war after another.

They want their America back. Their version of it and see their cultural equal, Sarah Palin, the Grizzly Mom, as best able to bring back the good old days. How does she put it? "It's time to reload."

America used to be thought of as a meritocracy. The land of opportunity where the best and brightest and hardest working would be the ones to succeed. But look what that brought us--a diminished place in the world and an economic collapse largely manipulated by Wall Street and government elites.

Through Sarah Palin many in America are now asserting something very different when they say it's our turn to run the country.

A mediocracy is coming into being. It is a society based on a quasi-egalitarian ideology in which words and ideas are redefined so as to appeal to average, disenfranchised-feeling people. Other classic symptoms include dumbing-down discourse, replacing thought with jargon, and instituting a phony form democratization that usually leads to authoritarianism. Not a pretty picture.

Also on my TV playlist while I was recovering from the flu was Dancing With the Stars, where the big story of the week was why Sarah Plain's daughter Bristol, who though by meritocratic standards was obviously and by far the worst of the remaining dancers, kept surviving. Why the "public," who by telephone, computer, and text message vote for their favorites kept voting for her in spite of her clumsy performances.

Easy--forget merit. It's reload time.

Monday, November 22, 2010

November 22, 2010--The Limits of Virtue

For more than two years Harvey B. and I have been having a debate about global warming. He's pretty well versed on the subject and so am I. He's skeptical about the science; I am much less so. The debate has thus been lively.

We do at least agree that global warming is happening but not about its causes. I see clear evidence that humans are contributing significantly to it; Harvey sees some human responsibility but so little as to not get too worked up about what we and governments should do to in attempts to slow it.

To support his view he cites criticism of some of the science (for example, the UN Global Warming report and the compromised data from some British studies) but mainly he relies on the evidence from the geological past. How millennia before the emergence of humans, over eons, the Earth has cooled and warmed. There have been numerous ice ages and as many when the Arctic was a tropical rain forest.

He has his earth science right but he is wrong about what is currently happening--

The preponderance of scientific evidence is that this time around the warming is largely fueled (pun intended) by us. Largely because swelling populations in the developed and rapidly-developing worlds have been insatiably generating energy from carbon-rich fossil fuel that in turn produces carbon dioxide which then saturates the atmosphere, thereby trapping greenhouse gases which contribute to raising the temperature of the Earth.

You don't have to use Al Gore or an Inconvenient Truth as your bible in suppprt of this view. Just last week, for example, the New York Times published a sober summary of the growing, non-ideological evidence that human-caused warming is accelerating. (Article linked below.)

Harvey has been trying to convince me to calm down and I have been attempting to get him to agree to the following--

Because the science is not definitively proven, rather than waiting for it to be (which will never happen--this is the nature of science) since the stakes are so high, if the scientists I follow are correct, shouldn't we, for the sake of the human race assume they are right and do everything sensible we can to slow down the warming?

He is halfway there. Just the other day he wrote:

Yes, it would be prudent to do something if there is something viable to do. Most of the measures I’ve heard about will do virtually nothing to ameliorate the problem or be so insignificant (in light of the scope of the problem) as to be useless. I’m holding out for a “real” answer. I’m sure it’s out there and I’m sure it will be found. At that point you’ll see me get real excited about pushing for action.

Earlier in our debate Harvey and I couldn't agree to even this. I've been trying to figure out why.

Since those who vigorously oppose the government telling us how to use and conserve energy agree that there is some human contribution to global warming and since those like me who want enlightened government to set some standards--things such as requiring car manufacturers to increase the average miles-per-gallon of the vehicles they build--and since we agree that there are in fact geological forces at work over which we have no control, why is the debate in the political arena and in the hyper-media so hot and uncompromising?

I am coming to conclude that this is because folks on both sides of the debate have been thinking ideologically.

Those on the right see the government cooking environmental data so they can further limit personal freedom and thereby chip away at capitalism and the free market; while those on the left want the government to apply more regulation to an economy that they see protecting privilege and producing inequality.

Since so much of the argument is belief-based, we are stalled, in practical terms, about what to agree to do and will remain so until ideology is extracted from the debate.

Liberals, who have been behind the movement to have us do more to limit human contributions to global warming have based a large part of their case on what they perceive to be virtuous--in effect saying that it is a responsible, good, and noble thing to take care of the one Earth we have. Conservatives who tend to oppose organized efforts to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels also see their position to be virtuous--the free market, they claim, is derived from natural, even divine law and it thus goes against nature (and God) to in any way interfere with it.

When both sides are dug in about these core beliefs there is no hope of compromise or progress. One doesn't compromise about beliefs.

The political left, which cares most about these issues, has made the grievous error of not decoupling the practical from the moral.

Rather than focussing so much on doing the right thing, we should have been asking a much more universally appealing question:

How can we free ourselves from dependence on foreign oil?

Focusing on this would have captured almost everyone's attention and transcended the ideological debate about global warming and our role in contributing to it. By in this way de-intensifying the argument we would have been able to focus on what to do rather than what to believe.

If we could agree that energy independence is a necessary economic and national security goal (as well as a patriotic one), the things we might quickly conclude need to be done to accomplish this (the development of major new forms of renewable energy, conservation, mass transit) would also serve a secondary purpose: they would contribute in a major way to reducing the human role in global warming while at the same time growing our economy.

We would see these "good" things happen as an additional consequence of moving toward energy independence and could thereby bypass the ruinous ideological and moral arguments altogether. These are getting us nowhere fast.

Actually, they are fast getting us to the point of irrelevance as the Chinese, among others, ever practical, leave us in the dust as they move to dominate the field of renewable energy.

Friday, November 19, 2010

November 19, 2010--Still Recovering

I'm feeling much better but will take one more day off. I will for certain return on Monday.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

November 18, 2010--Foggy Brain

From the medications and lack of sleep and so I will try to return on Friday.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

November 17, 2010-Still Coughing

It is looking like I'll be away from blogging until Monday.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

November 16, 2010--Sick Call

I have a thick cold and as a result my brian is not working. I will try to return tomorrow.

Monday, November 15, 2010

November 15, 2010--Safe Haven for Nazis

Our Justice Department is a busy place. Much of its time the past few years has been taken up with the decision about where to try Kalid Sheik Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attack on the U.S. He is the purported terrorist who was waterboarded by the Bush administration 183 times and since Obama's election has been the object of intense internal discussion about where to bring him to trial.

Guantanamo is the right place, most pandering politicians say, claiming that it would be either unsafe to try him in New York City, just 10 blocks from Ground Zero, or too painful for families of victims to see him and his lawyers ranting on local TV. Initially and courageously the Obama administration said there is no better place both symbolically and constitutionally to have him face justice than where he committed his heinous crime.

But then, in what is sadly typical for them, Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder got cold political feet when opposition mounted. The issue, almost two years later, is still festering undecided, and now New York governor-elect Andrew Cuomo has weighed in saying there is no way he will allow the trial to take place in New York City.

But the Justice Department has been busy with other matters, including attempts to withhold the publication of an internal report that reveals how the U.S., after World War II, provided a safe haven for Nazi war criminals and collaborators.

According the the report, which was reported about in the New York Times (linked below), the rationale for sheltering Nazis was the hope that they would help in the hunt for some of the most notorious of war criminals--Dr. Joseph Mengele, the so-called Angel of Death who presided over barbarous medical "experiments" at Auschwitz and Ivan the Terrible, the notorious prison guard at Treblinka, who the government, with former Nazis' help, wound up misidentifying.

No matter how valid it was at the time to harbor some small fish in order to get their help in tracking down the big fish, most of the thousands of former Nazis who were allowed to come to the U.S. and live here unprosecuted were of no help whatsoever. They just lived on in effect protected by our government and were never held accountable for their misdeeds.

And now refusing to release the report, for some inexplicable reason, only compounds that crime.

According to the report, "America, which prided itself on being a safe haven for the persecuted, became--in some instances--a safe haven for the persecutors."

Withholding the release of the report, the Justice Department claims that though it is the product of six years of work it was never formally completed and thus does not represent its official findings. According to the Times, the department cited “numerous factual errors and omissions,” but declined to say what they were.

Declining to say what its problem is with the United States harboring Nazis is not my idea of Justice. But I know I should try to understand--Attorney General Holder has a lot of his plate.

Friday, November 12, 2010

November 12, 2010--Short Week

Too much to do this week. I will be back on Monday.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

November 11, 2010--Political Capital

When Barack Obama was elected president by a significant majority and perceived to have done very well with almost all segments of the population, it was assumed he would enter office with considerable political capital. There was then a great deal of speculation about how he would spend it--what would his priorities be and when necessary, to get unpopular things done, how would he spend down some of that capital.

We now know that he spent nearly all of it to advance his health care reform agenda. Even though he could never get even half the public to support this effort, since he saw it to be of benefit to all, including opponents of the plan, and claimed that it needed to be done to slow down the growth of spending on mandated programs such as the popular Medicare, nonetheless it continued to be resisted by all Republicans in Congress and the majority of the public.

Thus, to get it passed, he cashed in most of his political chips. He gambled that once it became law and the benefits began to phase in, people would see it to be a good thing after all and begin to restore some of his political currency.

This of course did not happen. Or hasn't happened yet. In the meantime, the economy has continued to falter, Obama is increasingly seen to be ineffective in leading the effort to turn it around, and in political capital terms he has fallen into a form of political deficit.

After fewer than two years in office he is perceived to be a lame duck and the Republicans who are about to wrest congressional power from the Democrats are already seeing him to be a one-term president.

This loss of standing has happened before to both Republican and Democrat presidents.

When they got trounced in midterm elections, they did one of two things--worked in a bipartisan way to get significant things accomplished as Clinton did with Newt Gingrich (they agreed to eliminate welfare as it had come to be known since New Deal days) or, like Ronald Reagan, they turned to foreign policy as the arena in which to rebuild their credibility and amass more political capital. Reagan worked successfully with Mikhail Gorbachev to end the Cold War.

Perhaps this is why Obama sped off to Asia right after Election Day. Since he knew Democrats were going to lose control of Congress and that Republicans would see their top priority to do all they could to make sure he is defeated in 2012 (Mitch McConnell said this very thing even before Obama boarded Air Force One), he realized that since it will be impossible to work with Republicans in a bipartisan way, rather than follow the Clinton approach he took a lesson from Reagan.

So how is that foreign policy agenda working for him?

Ten days after the mid-term elections--not very well.

But it appears that Obama has also lost most of his international political capital.

Earlier this week, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke announced that he would in effect print nearly a trillion new dollars in an attempt to weaken the dollar so that American products would be easier to export and thus jobs would be created. The Fed has already reduced interest rates to almost zero and that hasn't worked so this is his final, last ditch effort to contribute to revitalizing the economy.

Bernanke is not a member of the Obama administration. The Fed operates autonomously, but Treasure Secretary Geithner endorsed the Fed's action as did the president himself when questioned about it in while in India and Korea.

As a result of coming to Bernanke's defense the politically weakened president was criticized by most of the world's finance ministers. From Germany to China. And they did so in blunt and dismissive language rarely heard in public or polite company. They appropriately pointed out that this sort of currency manipulation not only doesn't work (it can actually make things worse) but it is the very sort of practice that Obama and his administration have criticized when countries such as China refuse to allow their currencies to float with the market.

And also while Obama has been abroad, the Israeli government took the opportunity to announce the construction of 1,000 new housing units in Arab or East Jerusalem. Just the sort of thing to derail what is left of the "peace process."

Obama immediately condemned this, saying that "This kind of activity is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations."

Without missing a beat, Prime Minister Netanyahu snapped back, lecturing Barack Obama, "Jerusalem is not a settlement; Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Israel." In other words, "Thank you very much but don't tell us what to do in our own country."

We are here witnessing the end of the grudging respect Netanyahu has felt compelled to pay to the American president whose country continues to be responsible for Israel's ultimate security. There is no way he would have spoken this dismissivly if Obama and the Democrats had done better at the polls last Tuesday.

In fact, as the New York Times reports (article linked below), while in America this week, Netanyahu has spent most of his time celebrating with Republicans.

So with little hope of any cooperation from the GOP to work on the economy and with world leaders enjoying the opportunity to reject U.S. assertions of power, Obama has to think again about how to proceed. His cooperative words and glossy foreign trips will not get the job done. This is a real problem for him and for America.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

November 10, 2010--Optics

Former president George Bush is making the rounds humping his memoirs. I caught some of his interview the other night with Matt Lauer and was reminded, more by his affect than his words, how disengaged and incurious he is. Maybe he'll do better on Oprah's cozy sofa or when on the official GOP outlet, Fox News.

Of course, Bush's reemergence is great fodder for David Letterman. On Monday night he put together a package of Bush's greatest hits. Literally his greatest hits. Like the time he smacked his head while boarding a helicopter or when he exited from a news conferebce and couldn't open a locked door. And then, most irrsistably, Letterman showed a video clip of Bush in Africa trying to participate in a native dance. He looked ridiculous when attempting to "get down" with tribal members while wearing a shirt and tie and Oxford shoes.

I cut away from Letterman to check on the real news and there, on CNN, was Barack Obama in India, in shirt and tie and shiny leather shoes also trying to fit in while dancing with indian school children. If David Letterman would set aside his liberal inclinations, he could put together a pretty good package of Obama's greatest India hits.

In addition to looking as ridiculous as his predecessor, Obama has also been saying some pretty silly things while on this junket, especially silly since he is saying them while out of the country for 10 days on a trip that commenced right after he and the Democrats got trounced at the polls.

For months he and his political advisors knew what was coming on Election Day and yet they decided to have him take off for Asia before all the votes were counted. Bad enough in itself but did he need to go, of all places, to India where tens of thousands of U.S. jobs have been outsourced?

As one wag put it the election was about jobs and so was the trip--about former American jobs that had been outsourced to India. And he added, if Obama wanted to feel Americans' pain he should have visited a Master Card customer service center in Mumbai and listened in on how people are telling Indian workers that they can't pay their bills because they lost their jobs.

Another Obama hit was his lame explanation when questioned about this outsourcing. In his clinical, unfeeling way he gave one of his academic-style answers. He said that from an American perspective outsourcing is not a problem. That as many jobs have been created in America as the result of the win-win nature of outsourcing. He literally described it as "win-win."

If true, this is obviously a politically disastrous thing to say in India; but since it is not true--from enhanced trade and globalization hundreds of thousands of our jobs have flowed in India's direction while at most 50,000 have been created in America--it shows that he is either ill informed (not likely) or was pandering to his Indian hosts.

He should have stayed home and at his press conference and subsequent interview on 60 Minutes shown that he got the message delivered by the election and told us what he is going to do to return the focus to the economy--to jobs and the foreclosure crisis. Things Americans care and worry about.

And if he had to go to Asia why did he ignore China? Is it more important to go to Indonesia and Korea? True, they are significant players in the globalized economy (and Indonesia is where he pretty much grew up), but we have big issues with China that need his attention. Big issues with big consequences for our economy.

He needs to clean house back at the White House, getting rid of his Chicago friends and advisors and bring some adults on board who can tell him what's going on in America and try to get him reoriented to what his job is. If he doesn't, the voters will do the White House cleaning in 2012. And perhaps they will be right to do so.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

November 9, 2010--Free Market Antibiotics

Now that the fun part is over--criticizing Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and the media--Republicans have gained control of the House of Representatives and almost equal standing in the Senate and it is thus time for them to participate in governing. Especially to take significant responsibility for the lagging economy.

By now we know the mantra--cut taxes and slash spending.

The tax part is easy--eliminate the estate tax and maintain the tax levels of the Bush administration. Forget that many in the Tea Party would cut them even more. GOP leaders would settle for the current status quo. No matter that doing so would continue to maintain income and wealth inequality not seen since the last Gilded Age since the main beneficiaries of the current tax system are the nation's richest 2 percent and would add trillions to the deficit. If one believes with almost religious fervor, against all evidence, that reducing taxes will lead to trickle-down prosperity, one half of the GOP economic agenda is clear and simple.

On the other hand, when it comes to spending, after the rhetoric dissipates, when it comes time to decide just where to make cuts, things get a lot trickier.

Spending on entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security and defense eats up about 85 percent of the current budget and that then means that over time trillions would need to be eliminated from the budgets for education (student loans are a marquis example), veterans (their hospitals are not part of the defense budget), highways (most that is spent for these comes from federal as opposed to state budgets), unemployment insurance, the national forests and parks (unless of course one wants to cut down the remaining trees), the FBI and federal courts (including the salaries of favorite Justices Roberts, Alito, Thomas, and Scalia), Homeland Security, FEMA, and science and health research (particularly that which involves stem cells).

GOP members of Congress would also have to eliminate their own taxpayer-paid-for perks--their gyms, subsidized restaurants in the Capital, their barber shops, travel junkets, pensions, and over-generous health care plans. They after all are also government employees and at our expense hypocritically live quite sumptuously.

No wonder then that when victorious Republicans have been questioned this past week about what they would actually cut, we hear a lot of hemming and hawing.

My favorite example, because it hits close to all of our homes and represents a microcosm of how difficult it is to reduce the federal budget without radical and unpopular decision-making, is the call to end federal subsidies for pharmaceutical research. The thinking behind this is that since the drug companies exist within the larger context of capitalism, they are neither entitled to government assistance nor need taxpayer support since the profit motive guides the blind hand of the free prescription drug market.

But, the New York Times reports, left to their own for-profit devices, America's pharmaceutical companies would rather look for the next erectile dysfunction pill than new antibiotics because that's where the big money is. (Article linked below.)

It costs much more in research and FDA-required testing to find and get approval for a new Erythromycin than a new anti-anxiety pill. And the market for these is much, much greater than for any antibiotic.

If you are not familiar with the reasons we need to add to our pharmacopeia of antibiotics it is largely because many killer bacteria, through mutations largely caused by the over-use of current medications, have become more and more resistant to virtually all existing drugs.

For example, doctors are discovering that a newly-discovered mutation, NDM-1, which renders deadly germs such as E coli invulnerable to nearly all current antibiotics, is spreading rapidly. And about 100,000 deaths a year occur in American hospitals from infections such as MRSA that are resistant to most antibiotics.

From a drug company perspective 100,000 patients is a small number and so there is no financial incentive for them to do all the hard and expensive work required to develop effective new drugs. To make the huge profits that their shareholders demand, from a cost-benefit way of doing business, it only makes sense to invest in searching for drugs that can be sold by the multi-millions. Without federal support, it is unlikely that we will see the discovery of the low-batch drugs needed to fight many killer diseases.

Henry Waxman, departing chairman of the House committee that deals with federal issues of this kind, has seen a role for the federal government in the development of new antibiotics, from tax breaks to drug companies to extending the patent life for effective drugs to government guaranteed purchases. Waxman is hoping that with the GOP takeover of the House there will continue to be bipartisan support for congressional action of this kind.

But since subsidizing pharmaceutical companies costs money, he is concerned that federal support for basic health research will wind up on the cutting room floor. Unless John Boehner or Mitch McConnell, God forbid, contract MRSA or E coli from the hamburgers they serve in the Senate cafeteria.

Monday, November 08, 2010

November 8, 2010--Day Off

I will return on Tuesday.

Friday, November 05, 2010

November 5, 2010--Sarah In 2012

As the votes were being tallied Tuesday night, the race for the presidency in 2012 officially got underway.

The first hint of this was when some pundit on CNN, after it was clear that Marco Rubio had defeated Charlie Crist and Kendrick Meeks in the Senate race in Florida, suggested that since his was an inspiring story of the son of a Cuban exile making history wouldn't elevating him to national prominence represent an opportunity for the Republicans to restore their credibility with Hispanics after all their recent anti-immigrant ranting. Maybe even by putting young Rubio on the ticket as the GOP vice presidential candidate for 2012.

I cynically thought, absolutely--Rubio could be the Latino Dan Quayle.

Or as one passionate supporter of his on election night exclaimed without irony, "He's our Cuban Barack Obama. He gives us hope."

There was no mention of his total lack of national much less international experience or the fact that he looks 25 or that he is being investigated by the IRS for having used a GOP credit card to pay, illegally, for personal expenses. All that seems to matter these days for someone to be considered vice-presidential material, to be one heartbeat from the presidency, is that he is attractive and a Cuban-American.

But there is of course a much better example of attractiveness--Sarah Palin.

Arguable, Tuesday was her night.

More than 60 soon-to-be=sworn in Tea Party representatives and senators were heartedly supported by her and they will constitute a body of support if she chooses to give up some of her lucrative TV and personal appearance deals to run or the GOP nomination. (See New York Times story linked below.)

On her own private "news" outlet, FOX News, questioned by the soft-balling Chris Wallace, who playfully suggested that she would not run in 2012 because she was having too much fun and making too much money, in her beguiling and disingenuous way she said that she might if someone doesn't step foreward in her party to represent the needs of the people.

We know, especially now that Obama looks so vulnerable, that there are at least 20 GOP hopefuls already lined up, probably including Rubio, who I suspect by later today will be encouraged to skip the VP run and go for the presidency itself. So there is no lack of contenders eager to represent Palin's version of "the people."

But even with a room full of other GOP aspirants, this in no way means that she will not run for who among the contenders has the best chance to win the nomination? The nominees from both parties who most appeal to the bases are the ones who typically are nominated since it is the activists who, through their energy and passion, control the process. And the GOP base loves Sarah Palin.

And then, if she is nominated and loses the election, she can get right back to Fox, to "writing" books, and the lecture circuit where she will command even higher fees per appearance.

Conventional wisdom suggest that unless nominees move to the center, after running to the left or right during primary season, they are unelectable. This version of wisdom suggests, especially in the case of an ideological true-believer such as Sarah, who are reluctant to compromise, that they are unelectable in general elections.

But the same chatterers who assert this with such certainty not too many months ago were certain that the Tea Party was a Fox News perpetrated joke. Good for entertainment and media sound bites but without the lifting capacity to get anyone elected.

And then came along Scott Brown in Massachusetts who won Ted Kennedy's Senate seat with significant Tea Party support. Though his victory was discounted by the mainstream media since his opponent, Martha Coakley, was such an inept candidate, the Tea Party claimed him and they were off to the races.

After that there was Tuesday.

If you concede that Sarah Palin could win the GOP nomination but believe she would not be able to marshall the broad appeal required to defeat Obama, think again. We are living in very roiled times and if the economy is still dormant two years from now anyone opposing Obama would have a good chance of becoming president.

If you need further proof of the power of the Palin Effect, tune in Monday night to America's top-rated TV show--Dancing With the Stars. There you will find Sarah's daughter Crystal, a "teenage activist" as she styles herself, who has the chutzpah to command big fees as she runs around the country to speak, as an unwed mother, in support of abstinence. Crystal who seems lovely but who you will quickly find has no dancing ability whatsoever, has managed to avoid elimination by a vote of viewers while others who can really shake their booties have week-by-week fallen by the wayside.

Then be forewarned that these same DWTS voters are quite capable of showing up at the polls on Election Day.

20 million voted last week for their Dancing With the Stars favorites. That's about a third of the total number needed to be elected president of the United States.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

November 4, 2010--Welcome to New York

After four months in residence on the coast of Maine we were back in Manhattan for literally five minutes when, while attempting to cross Second Avenue at 21st Street, we received a rude welcome.

The light turned green and I gently eased the car forward, having just been reminded by Rona that we were again in New York and that pedestrians here do not pay much attention to red and green lights. And, as forewarned, a young man stepped into the crosswalk and, without looking up, was taking his sweet time crossing against the light. The cab driver behind me leaned on his horn but I, still calm and patient after all that sweet time looking out on Johns Bay, tapped mine gently.

Still not acknowledging us or picking up his pace, now halfway across, he pantomimed an obscene gesture. There is no other way to put it--in response to my suggesting that when the light turned green we had the right of way, he moved his clenched hand back and forth in rapid strokes as if he were jerking off.

Rona laughed, "Did you see what he did?" I had. "Can you believe it?"

"Well, yes," I chuckled.

We then made our way downtown without further incident and were fortunate enough to find a parking space right across from our building which promised to make it easier to unload the car. "You go for the handcart for the luggage," Rona said, "And I'll get a parking ticket from the meter."

"Sounds like a plan to me," I said. "I think we only need a half hour."

"It looks like that will be two dollars," Rona said, squinting at the half-scratched-off instructions on the box. "Parking rates have sure gone up while we've been away. I don't think I have enough quarters but it seems that the machine takes credit cards."

"Good," I said, "I'll be right back with the cart."

When I returned in less than two minutes it was clear that Rona was upset. "What's going on?" I asked. "You look perturbed. I've only been gone a few seconds. What happened?"

"I'll tell you what happened," Rona snapped, sounding now more like a proverbial New Yorker than a Mainer. "I put the credit card in and not only did it say the bank wouldn't authorize its use but now it won't give me my friggen card back!"

"Let me take a look," I gallantly offered.

"I already pressed all the buttons and my card is still seemingly confiscated. I can't believe it."

"I'll look to see if there's a meter person around."

"Lots of luck with that. There's a telephone number to call. Do you have your cell phone?"

I did and called the city agency and they told me that the meter that ate Rona's card had already been reported as defective and that someone was on his way to fix it. They promised to return our card once it was retrieved. In the meantime they told me we could park there and no one would give us a ticket.

When i reported this to Rona she said, "Lots of luck with that. You think I believe them?" It was clear she didn't. Nor in fact did I. "You take the bags up and I'll stand guard here. Then we'll take the car over to the garage and see if they have space for us."

They did but we're still waiting to hear about Rona's credit card. She called it in as lost or stolen and they promised to send her a replacement. "We'll see about that too," Rona said. Now fully "home."

On the way back from the garage, needing cash, we headed toward our bank. "I wonder what all those police cars are doing?" I asked.

"It looks as if the police are in the bank," Rona said. "I'll bet someone had a heart attack or died while waiting on line."

"We're back in the city for less than an hour and already you're talking about heart attacks and people dropping dead in

"Why else would they be there?" Rona asked. "Surely there wasn't a robbery or anything. No one would just walk into a bank right here on our busy corner and in broad daylight pull out a gun."

"You're right," I said. "It's sad, though, that someone had an incident in there."

Since the bank was understandably closed, we crossed the street and mentioned the police and incident to Gary, the doorman of our building. "Actually, there was a robbery in there a couple of hours ago. Didn't you see the police cars when you pulled up?" We admitted that we hadn't, we were so busy trying not to run over anyone crossing against the light.

"Yeah, some guy walked into the bank, passed a note to the teller demanding money, and after they gave him some--which appears to be bank policy--someone pushed the alarm and in a minute a police car showed up and they chased him down Broadway. I don't know what happened after that but it was quite something."

"Wow," Rona said. "I think we should take all our stuff upstairs, have a drink, and get under the covers." She was smiling and so I knew she only half-meant what she said.

The next morning on the way back from coffee we ran into one of the bank managers. He's a nice fellow so we stopped to chat and of course to ask about the robbery. He told us that he was the one to ID the robber and when the police arrived they asked him to get in the car with them while they chased after him. He said, "It was like an episode of Law and Order, what with racing down one-way streets against the traffic, driving on the sidewalk, and blasting the siren and loudspeaker to get people out of the way." He reported that they did catch the perpetrator and no one got run over. So he was both happy and excited by his adventure.

When we told the doorman what we had learned and I said it's a good thing the robber was unarmed, Gary said, "Well, you should have been here a couple of weeks ago when someone else robbed a bank in the neighborhood. He did have a gun and while tussling with the guard, who was foolish enough to tackle him, shot himself in the leg."

"My oh my," Rona said. "It's gotten to be quite something here."

The sociologist in me wondered out loud if maybe the economy was making people more desperate.

"Actually, there was another shooting right around the corner on Broadway," Gary said. "It happened late at night after the after-hours clubs let out. Someone was hit though I don't know if he was killed."

Rona muttered, half to herself, "I wonder if it's too early to have a drink." I ruefully nodded. But then, absorbing the energy and excitement of the city, she added, "Let's try to enjoy ourselves. We have lots to do and good friends to see. And . . ."

"And then we'll head for Florida," I completed her thought.

At that Rona smiled.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

November 3, 2010--That Elitism Thing

Since the presidential campaign more than two years ago people in the media and over beers and coffee have been thinking, talking, and writing about Barack Obama's alleged elitism. Most recently in an article in the Sunday New York Times. (Liked below.)

This is even more important to confront now, the morning after the Republican tsunami, if Obama and the Democrats are to have any chance of rebounding in 2012.

The charge is that since President Obama went to fancy schools and likes to share sociological ruminations (for example, how "ordinary people" cling to their religion and guns) he is an elitist and when he acts like one turns off much of the population. According to this perception, since being elected, in his every scripted utterance and by the tenor of his interactions with the public he in effect has been saying to the "unwashed," "I know what's good for you even if you don't."

As a result he has been slipping further and further out of favor and contributed to bringing his fellow Democrats down with him.

Ironically, Republicans both in political life and in the right-wing media, more in service to the corporate elites who are much more powerful than the so-called educated class, have been doing a better job than the Democrats of obscuring their own elitism.

So much so that they have somehow managed to snooker their most fervent followers to pour out into the streets and polling places in support of continuing tax breaks (and the resulting piling on of trillions in more debt) for the wealthiest five percent.

How anyone struggling to get by, as most people are, can be convinced that their own fortunes are linked to people who really have fortunes is beyond my comprehension. But there you have it.

And though it grieves me to say this, Obama almost daily stands exposed as the elitist that he truly is and is thus a major contributer to the political debacle.

Just last month, and a high-end fundraiser in Boston, Obama said, "Part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now, and facts and science and [rational] argument do not seem to be winning the day . . . is because we're hardwired not to always think clearly when we're scared."

When word of these remarks leaked out he was confronted by a chorus of criticism--"Obama the snob" was heard across the talk-radio dial. And not inappropriately.

But then, elitist that I confessedly am, I agree with Obama's off-the-record comments. He is right about the relationship between fear and belief and resistance to change.

But politically he should have stifled his thoughts.

Other elitists on the left (look in on MSNBC if you want a sampling of their views and condescending style) also need to cool their sarcasm and mockery. It may make them feel superior when making fun of the Tea Partiers and the undereducated, but it is turning off the majority of Americans and contributing to the pseudo-populist appeal of those they most revile.

The truth is that folks on the right are no more homogeneous or stereotypical than those on the left. There is considerable diversity at both ends of the ideological spectrum. It wouldn't hurt those who feel they know more about history and human nature to try to understand those they belittle before hurling snide comments.

Also, to defend Obama, as the Times did, by pointing out that he grew up poor and was raised by a single mom who for a time lived on food stamps does not prove that he isn't an elitist.

In many similar cases, quite the contrary is true. Many who are as elitist as they come emerged from similar backgrounds. If they somehow, like Obama, managed to get to a Columbia and a Harvard, once they graduated, out of a mix of insecurity and ambition, they are often prone to feel superior and act accordingly.

Many in the established elite, like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, do not feel the need to parade their status and thus at times are able, again like FDR, to find a way to relate to the real lives of real people and by doing so can accomplish great things.

In these desperate times, this is what we need. Not more snide lectures about what characterizes the underclass. In addition to everything else, as we have just seen, it is a ruinous political strategy.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

November 2, 2010--Dream On

Pundits are assuming that by this time tomorrow there will be a seismic shift in political power in Washington. At the very least, they are saying that the GOP will wrest control of the House of Representatives; and that this will mean . . . well, not very much.

But what about all those Tea Party folks who are about to represent us? Not to worry, the chattering class says, this will be just like 1994 when, during the Clinton administration's first term, the Republicans, lead by Newt Gingrich, armed with their Contract With America, seized control of the House and rather than obstructing things, worked in a bipartisan way with Clinton and passed a lot of meaningful legislation. For example, they reformed welfare "as we know it" and more than balanced the budget.

So this time around, as soon as the newly elected are sworn in, they will realize that they have the responsibility to govern. The time for taking pot shots at Obama and the Democrats and Congress and Washington itself is over. They will now be, after all, members of the government and part of the Washington establishment. This will mean that they and Obama, with self-interest very much in mind, will cut some spending, cut some taxes, and offer some breaks for a variety of job-creation initiatives. After all, if they don't get this done a new wave of Tea Partiers and/or reenergized Dems will mobilize to kick the newbies out of office two years from now.

Saturday's New York Timesran just such a front page story in which they found that many of the Republicans who are virtually certain to be elected, "grizzled veterans" they called them, are mainly experienced Washington hands and thus we should not unduly worry about the radical things that they, unlike Tea Party folks, are likely to do. (See article linked below).

Cited were Rob Portman, certain to be elected to the Senate from Ohio, who spent 12 years in the House before serving in the Bush administration. Roy Blunt of Missouri, who is about to enter the Senate, is completing his seventh term in the House. Arkansas Representative John Boozman, who is likely to defeat Senator Blanch Lincoln, has served five years in the House. And there are others.

From their past history in Congress these seasoned and pragmatic politicians are known to be more inclined to compromise and work in a bipartisan way than possible new Congressmen and Senators such as Sharron Angle or Rand Paul. Congressman Blunt, for example, is a close friend of Democratic House minority Leader Steny Hoyer and made a career out of working with colleagues across the aisle.

Thus we should not worry about the bomb-throwers about to be elected and pay more attention to those with steady hands.

Maybe, maybe not.

I see it as more likely that these experienced Republicans will be more inclined to worry about getting on the wrong side of the right wing media and talk show hosts and their soon-to-be Tea Party colleagues than interested in working with Obama and the Democrats. I see them arriving in Washington already ducking for cover.

Look at how intimidated poor Olympia Snow and Susan Collins have become. Both are, or were, among the very few remaining GOP moderates but they have been running scared since Tea Party favorite Scott Brown got elected to the Senate to fill Teddy Kennedy's seat. If ultra-liberal Massachusetts could elect an ultra-conservative senator Maine is unlikely to be far behind. (For governor Mainers are about to elect Paul LePage, a Tea Party bully.) Since the moment that Brown became Senator Brown, Snow and Collins lined up in lock-step to follow the lead of Mitch McConnell, the GOP minority leader who did not originally back about-to-be Senator Rand Paul but since Paul won the Kentucky primary can't get his picture taken often enough with the Aqua-Buddha one.

Thus I am not feeling sanguine about the pragmatic possibilities of the anticipated results. The headlines will appropriately all be about the energy the Tea Party generated and how that translated into political victories. On the ground it will likely mean that even those inclined to want to actual govern via compromise will spend the next two years shaking in their boots in the hope that the Tea Party will not turn against them in 2012.

And of course, if nothing gets done in Washington it will in effect be just what the Tea Party desires--no government and no spending. Except, of course, when it comes to waging wars.

Monday, November 01, 2010

November 1, 2010--Facebooking

I finally broke down. After years of looking down my considerable nose at friends who are devoted Facebook participants (is this the right way to describe their involvement?), late last week I became a member.

This seismic shift in the way I had been thinking about social networking is the result of two things--

On the way to do some chores in Rockland we passed a movie theater that was showing Social Network and since the timing worked for us we bought a couple of tickets and had a private showing--in these parts of Maine during the early afternoon, everyone is either working or taking care of kids and thus we were the only people in the theater.

I would give the film just one thumbs up. Though I thought it enjoyable to me it was not much better in its depth of understanding the Facebook phenomenon than a made-for-TV movie. But the fact that in just a few years one-fourteenth of the entire world's population participates caused me to wonder why that might be and what I was be missing.

Then, the next morning at the Bristol Diner, after the morning regulars had cleared out, I asked Doug and Angie, Facebook enthusiasts, why they like it so much. Doug said it's like joining friends at a cafe for coffee. Facebook provides a good why to chitchat and keep up with each other's lives. Angie said that though she doesn't go to too many cocktail parties, it's sort of an on-line party. There are a lot of people there who you know but may not be that close to while others are friends; and while at the party you drift from person to person, group to group and find a way to have a good time.

This I understood. I'm not much for cocktail parties myself but I do enjoy meandering conversations while lingering with friends over coffee at a cafe or diner.

And one more thing--

With almost everyone I know and soon most of the people on the planet finding Facebook so important to them how can I consider myself a modern person and not get in on the action? Also, knowing how disciplined I am, or can be, I convinced myself that there was no danger of getting so involved that I would neglect my work and my off-line friends.

So with Rona's help I signed up.

I wasn't too happy being required to give my birthdate--I don't like to make much of a big deal about October 2nd and I am of an age where I don't want too many people knowing just what that age is.

Rona said not to worry, I could keep that information private, between me and Facebook; and sure enough when my homepage was created, including what I think is a pretty cute picture of me, neither my birthday nor my age appears, though I notice that the ads that keep popping up on my homepage are decidedly pitched to senior citizens. Lots of Viagra ads, thank you Jeff Zuckerberg.

As I'm sure most of you know, you're then asked to go down a long list of people you may know (the list is provided by Facebook) and then either reach out to them ("Add As Friend" in Facebook-speak) or click "Ignore." Of course I clicked Ignore for everyone listed, including close friends, family members, and even Rona.

"The last thing I want," I said to Rona who was still at my side guiding me, "is to get a million emails from Facebook requiring me to respond to people from PS 244 who I haven't seen of thought about in more than 60 years. And what with my and their pictures posted, we'd all look old and fat and bald."

"So why are you doing this?" Rona asked, more than a little annoyed. She was right, she had better things to do getting the Maine house ready to be shut down for the winter than helping me join Facebook and then having me opting not to interact with anyone, including her.

Feeling guilty that I was wasting Rona's remaining time up here and also realizing that the hundred or so people I was mercilessly ignoring would somehow, via Facebook, know I was actively and intentionally ignoring them, I got with the program, figured out how to retrieve the list, and began frantically to click on "Add As Friend" for pretty much everyone.

And so it began.

When I turned on the computer very early the next morning my email Inbox was flooded by responses from dozens who indicated that, yes, they wanted to be my friend!

At five in the morning with the late October wind howling and the propane heater not as yet beginning to make things cozy, how good does it feel to have former elementary and high school classmates from half a century ago, work colleagues from decades back, current friends, and family members telling me, even via the cool medium that is my laptop, that they want to be my friend.

That Jeff Zuckerberg, I thought, no wonder he's the youngest billionaire ever. How genius of him that rather than calling us Facebook "members" or "participants" we are Friends.

That one choice of desigantion must be responsible for at least half his billions.

With everyone in motion, with families scattered, with the impossible task of attempting to stay in touch with people from the past as lives diverge, how nice indeed it is to be able, with just a few clicks of one's mouse, to find out where Heshy Perlmutter is and how his life unfolded since our last contact back in the 1950s.

How nice to see pictures of S__ M_____'s beautiful children after having lost touch with her more than 10 years ago. How nice to know that my accountant, M____ E______ wants me to be her Friend. How good to see that though dear friend R__ S_____ lost his beloved wife almost a year ago he is doing as well as possible and since his network of Facebook Friends is growing this suggests he is managing to reengage with the world.

Less than a week into it, I do find that I am spending more time Facebooking than I anticipated, in spite of my self-promoted discipline. For example, just yesterday I caught myself spending two hours communicating back and forth with Friends but gave myself dispensation because, after all, it's just a few days since I signed up. I feel certain that my enthusiasm will abate in another day or too.

With more than a touch of skepticism, knowing me as I actually am, Rona said, "We'll see."