Specter Jumps Ship

I don’t share a lot of political views with Arlen Specter, but I have to admit that on occassion he has said things and voted in a way that delighted me.  Like his vote against Robert Bork for the Supreme Court and some of his civil libertarian stances.  So I was like D.D. Gutterplan (biographer of I. F. Stone) who wrote in the Nation

…I’m trying to figure out why the news that he’d crossed the aisle made me smile this morning. I don’t think I have a sentimental take on how rapidly, even with 60 Democrats, the U.S. Senate is likely to bring about the blessed community.

I read about it at lunch and immediately thought to myself, now isn’t that wonderful.  But why exactly?  If Specter were to lose the Republican nomination, it is likely that one of several really progressive Democrats would win the general election, giving the Democrats another seat.  So why did the President welcome him to the party and say he would campaign for him instead of a real Democrat?  While Specter has made it clear he is not an automatic vote on anything (his first vote was against the Democratic budget resolution), he also made it clear that, according to the New York Times, he thought he could help President Obama.

Mr. Specter said he was “comfortable” with how Mr. Obama has conducted his presidency, which is 100 days old today, and that his own “centrist” approach on governance would help reach solutions on matters like health care, climate change, immigration, and the fiscal balancing act during a time of economic strain.


But let’s face it:  Specter knew he was going to lose in the Republican primary and he wants to be re-elected.  It is also true to some extent that, as he said, the Republican Party had left him.  This was echoed by Olympia Snowe quoted here in the New York Times

But Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, a Republican who also supported the administration’s economic stimulus plan, said Mr. Specter’s view that the party had shifted too far to the right reflected the increasingly inhospitable climate for moderates in the Republican Party.

Ms. Snowe said national Republican leaders were not grasping that “political diversity makes a party stronger, and ultimately we are heading to having the smallest political tent in history.”

I think that the President has embraced Specter and is dissing a sure Democratic vote later because he sees Specter as a 60th vote for health care and education reform now and he wants to pass both before the 2010 elections.   And in the meanwhile it is lovely to watch the Republicans have fits.

Politico.com has a lovely article – quite long – about the finger pointing going on among Republicans. 

Faced with a high-profile defection and the prospect of political irrelevance in the Senate, Republicans took off the gloves Wednesday for a ferocious game of finger-pointing.

Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch and George Voinovich blamed the Club for Growth for imposing a right-wing litmus test that chased Arlen Specter out of the Republican Party. The Club for Growth blamed Specter — first for helping to ruin the GOP and then for leaving it. A leading Republican strategist blamed the party for turning its back on moderates. Sen. Lindsey Graham sniped at Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele. Specter’s pollster blamed the stimulus bill. Karl Rove blamed Specter himself. 

The Club for Growth President defended himself

But Andy Roth, the Club for Growth’s vice president for government affairs, said the Republican Party is at its nadir precisely because it has tolerated the likes of Specter.

“Let’s look at what a big-tent Republican Party gets you,” said Roth. “Over the last eight years, we had Big Government with a party that had no identity. People like Specter destroyed the Republican brand.”

Republicans also wanted to know why the party let someone run against Spector in the first place which is an excellent question. 

While acknowledging that Specter’s defection was “about political survival,” veteran GOP strategist John Weaver said the party must be concerned about its “political relevance.”

“If [President Barack] Obama and the Democrats control not just the left side of the playing field but also the broad middle, then we are in for generations of irrelevancy,” Weaver said. “Yes, our party principles are important. But we better be more pragmatic in how we advance our cause. There can be a center-right governing party. There cannot be one only from the right.”

Weaver said there’s “plenty of blame to go around,” and that Specter himself should receive his fair share. But he also pointed a finger at Steele, the RNC chairman, who undercut Specter by suggesting, in a recent TV interview, that he could be open to supporting primary challenges to Specter and the other GOP senators who supported Obama’s stimulus plan.

“I would remind Mr. Steele and some of our party leaders: Theirs is a job of winning elections, of increasing party strength, not of forming some sort of party purity police so this grand experiment to shrink the base to its purest form finds us confined to a phone booth,” Weaver said.

What a delicious image! 

Wash your hands

The CDC says the best way to prevent swine flu is to wash your hands.  Here is a great story from NPR on washing effectively.

Grandma was right: If you want to prevent the spread of viruses, wash your hands.

But how long do we need to scrub? Preschoolers know the answer, and they sing a silly song or two to help them while away the 20 seconds that experts recommend.

Turns out that the “ABC” song is about right.  So pre-schoolers can practice hand washing and the alphabet at the same time.  But, as one of my co-workers said today, he’d get hauled away singing the alphabet song in the men’s room.  Allison Aubrey at NPR has a solution.

NPR’s reporters were quick to offer their suggestions: The chorus of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” is about the right length. Maybe the guitar riff from “Layla” by Eric Clapton, or how about that famous bridge in Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” about how “we will not let you go”?

For those more inclined to the theater, the first six lines of Lady MacBeth’s “Out, Damned Spot, Out” soliloquy clocks in at 22 seconds.

Also mentioned was “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” which is my choice only because I know all the words.  What ever you pick be sure to actually scrub and get the nails, the backs of your hands and between your fingers while you sing.

Ellsbury Steals Home

Jacoby Ellsbury, the best base stealer I’ve rooted for since Maury Wills, got his first straight steal from home and took the wind out of the Yankee’s sails.  I know they were hoping to avoid a sweep by the Red Sox in this first series of this year, but that was not to be.  The Sox won all three super long, super exciting games.

As a commenter  named ” af”  on the New York Times blog, Bats put it,

Stealing home is a slap in the face
To allow it is just a disgrace
These poor Yanks are so old
That their bones have grown cold
And they can’t seem to keep up the pace

Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Jacoby Ellsbury stole home as part of the Red Sox’ three-run fifth inning against Andy Pettitte.

Have to say that the Sox are looking good but it is a long season and they have to win on the road as well as at home.  But it is always good to beat the Yankees.

The Republicans at 100 Days

I’ve lived in the political wilderness so I have some idea of what the Republicans must be feeling.  I mean, who is this  guy anyway?  And how come the American people were so silly and stupid as to elect him?  I thought that about RR, George HW, George W and, when I was living in Virginia, George Allen.  But, I sat in my corner and groused.  I worked for candidates, I wrote letters, and I bought funny books about the right wing.  I bought a W countdown calendar. I didn’t go out and buy a gun to protect a woman’s right to choose. I tried to tell myself that it will all end and the good guys will win again and I was right.  The country, by a still surprising to me margin, elected a black man who has a great wife, kids, mother-in-law and now, dog.  Suddenly a family kinda like the Cosbys, but for real, is living in the White House and he is leading people like me out of the wilderness. 

It has been 100 days and President Obama is not going away.  If anything, he is getting higher approval ratings and popularity than when he began.  So what is it with the Republicans?  Bill Maher has written a great piece for the LA Times. His analogy:  “The G.O.P is acting like a Guy Who Got Dumped.”

The conservative base is absolutely apoplectic because, because … well, nobody knows. They’re mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore. Even though they’re not quite sure what “it” is. But they know they’re fed up with “it,” and that “it” has got to stop.

Here are the big issues for normal people: the war, the economy, the environment, mending fences with our enemies and allies, and the rule of law.

And here’s the list of Republican obsessions since President Obama took office: that his birth certificate is supposedly fake, he uses a teleprompter too much, he bowed to a Saudi guy, Europeans like him, he gives inappropriate gifts, his wife shamelessly flaunts her upper arms, and he shook hands with Hugo Chavez and slipped him the nuclear launch codes.

Do these sound like the concerns of a healthy, vibrant political party?

It’s sad what’s happened to the Republicans. They used to be the party of the big tent; now they’re the party of the sideshow attraction, a socially awkward group of mostly white people who speak a language only they understand. Like Trekkies, but paranoid.

Maher continues

Look, I get it, “real America.” After an eight-year run of controlling the White House, Congress and the Supreme Court, this latest election has you feeling like a rejected husband. You’ve come home to find your things out on the front lawn — or at least more things than you usually keep out on the front lawn. You’re not ready to let go, but the country you love is moving on. And now you want to call it a whore and key its car.

That’s what you are, the bitter divorced guy whose country has left him — obsessing over it, haranguing it, blubbering one minute about how much you love it and vowing the next that if you cannot have it, nobody will.

But it’s been almost 100 days, and your country is not coming back to you. She’s found somebody new. And it’s a black guy.

And there, to end on an unfunny note, you have it:  The Republican Party is in real danger of becoming the irrelevant party of white people in a world that is changing.  Janet Napolitano had it right.  We need to worry about the next Timothy McVeigh who is influenced by Representative Michelle Bachman and Governor Rick Perry.

Reading Out of Time

I often read mysteries set in historical times.  Dorothy Sayers for example set her Lord Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane stories during the time between the World Wars and into the Second.  But my recent reading has started me thinking about the differences in investigations before and now.

The economic crisis caused me to re-read some of the Annette Meyer “Smith and Wetzon” books.  They are set in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  No cell phones, just answering machines.  Early forensics help identify the bones of a dancer found in a trunk.  No 24 hour news cycles – just the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal delivered daily.  The books (Blood on the Street, These Bones Were Made for Dancing, and Murder: The Musical) seem more dated than Dorothy Sayers or what I am reading now, Anne Perry’s Buckingham Place Gardens which is set in Victorian England.

Why are stories set 20 years ago so old-school while Anne Perry and Dorothy Sayers are not?  Is is because therre is so much that is familar in Annette Meyer’s that the reader expects Law and Order, CSI or Bones?

Something to think about.  I will have to re-read some very early Robert Parker to see if I get the same feeling.

National Crisis but Local Impact

I’m sure that every community large or small has similar issues.  Development is stalled, often in the midst of construction.  This is what the credit crisis has done to all of us.  Yvonne Abraham writing in today’s Boston Globe articulates what I think many have been feeling.  She calls her piece “Holes in the Heart.”

A lot of people are mighty mad about the giant pit where Filene’s used to be, and rightly so. Ditto the fenced-off disaster that was to have been the South End’s Columbus Center. The stalled megaprojects are ugly gashes in the heart of the city.

But there are other holes in Boston that are just as damaging to the city. They lie at the center of lively and struggling neighborhoods. They are not high-rise luxury hotels or ritzy condos. They are less ambitious than that and more important.

Much of the development she writes about is housing and small commercial space in actual neighborhoods.  I drive by at least two of the sites she writes about several times a week.  They are all large vacant lots in mostly residential neighborhoods.  The housing was mostly designed to be affordable rental housing in a city where many – even those who work for the City – have problems finding places to live.  All are developments my city agency is working with the community organizations to create.  We’ve put in our federal money as has the state.  Now we wait for bank loans and tax credits.  The projects are in all parts of town, but here are the two I see most often.

On Centre Street in Jamaica Plain, plans for the site of the old Blessed Sacrament Church are also stalled. That project was a huge victory for the local community: locals rallied behind a project that would give low-income residents housing and the neighborhood a place to gather, instead of pricey condos in a primo location.

The development, which was supposed to be underway last summer, will include 81 affordable rental units, 16 condos for first-time buyers, and places for 29 formerly homeless men and women.

The JP Neighborhood Development Corporation, which heads the project, is also developing the corner of Centre and Lamartine streets. But those 30 affordable units are also frozen, a yellow earth mover stranded atop a mound of dirt in a fenced-off lot.

Why are they all stalled? Large chunks of the funding were supposed to come from tax credits, which the federal government gives to developers of affordable housing. The developers then sell the credits to profitable companies looking to reduce their tax bills. But the companies’ profits went away, and so did the market for tax credits. It’s a different side of the economic meltdown that has frozen the luxury condos across town.

…Vacant lots make communities feel gutted. Stalled renovation projects leave residents feeling abandoned. Trophy buildings like Filene’s and Columbus Center get ink and outrage, but this is where the real hurt is.

Mr. Robinson Wins the Pulitzer

Washington Post editor and columnist, Eugene Robinson, has won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for commentary for his columns about the 2008 election. 

One of his best was A Special Brand of Patriotism from July 4, 2008.  It begins

Anyone who took U.S. history in high school ought to know that one of the five men killed in the Boston Massacre, the atrocity that helped ignite the American Revolution, was a runaway slave named Crispus Attucks. The question the history books rarely consider is: Why?

Think about it for a moment. For well over a century, British colonists in North America had practiced a particularly cruel brand of slavery, a system of bondage intended not just to exploit the labor of Africans but to crush their spirit as well. Backs were whipped and broken, families systematically separated, traditions erased, ancient languages silenced. Yet a black man — to many, nothing more than a piece of property — chose to stand and die with the patriots of Boston.

Barack Obama had been criticized for failure to wear a flag lapel pin.

It is not common, in my experience, for sitting U.S. senators to be questioned on their love of country — to be grilled about a flag pin, for example, or critiqued on the posture they assume when the national anthem is played. For an American who attains such high office, patriotism is generally assumed.

It seems that some people don’t want to give Obama the benefit of that assumption, however, and I have to wonder whether that’s because he’s black. And then I have to wonder why.

Three Tuskegee Airmen -- from left, Charles McGee of Bethesda, Howard Baugh of Petersburg, Va., and Roscoe Brown Jr. of New York City -- stand for the national anthem at a memorial ceremony in Grapevine, Tex., in 2007.

What’s unpatriotic is pretending that the past never happened. What’s unpatriotic is failing to acknowledge that we’ve struggled with race for nearly 400 years. What’s unpatriotic is relegating “black history” to the month of February when, really, it’s American history, without which this nation could never be what it is today.

My father, Harold I. Robinson, served in the Army during World War II and has lived to witness this transformative moment of possibility. My father-in-law, the late Edward R. Collins, was a sailor who saw action in the South Pacific; he rests at Arlington National Cemetery. I have no patience with anyone who thinks that patriots don’t have brown skin.

Congratulations, Mr. Robinson.

Following up on Tea Parties

Here are some observations on the April 15 Tea Parties.  In all the news clips, I saw not a single person of color.  I think this is because they were basically anti-Obama demonstrations with more than a tinge of racism.  These demontrations were mostly not about taxes.  They were about how President Obama is not a citizen, was not legitimately elected, and will take away your Second Amendment rights. 

Then there is the question of attendance.  Nate Silver who has been tracking this at fivethirtyeight.com reports his final total to be more than 300,000.  He writes

 promised that I wasn’t going to put much more work into estimating crowd sizes for yesterday’s tea party events, but here is one last update. The important thing is that we now have a credible estimate for Atlanta at 15,000 persons; we were previously relying on an estimate of 7,000 that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution had initially made yesterday evening but then pulled back upon.

It’s not surprising that Atlanta had the largest turnout (in fact, the largest turnout by far, according to our collection of nonpartisan estimates). Turnout was much higher in state capitals than in other cities, and seems to have been much larger in the South than in other regions of the country. Atlanta, being by far the largest Southern state capital, therefore did very well.

His list ranges from the high point in Atlanta to 12 at the Fort Point, NY tea party.  300,000 is really not a lot of people when you think about it.  Maybe the rest of us should be glad of that.  As for the larger turnouts in the South,  I believe that Southern whites just cannot believe that a black man is really President.

So what exactly do the Republicans do with this Fox New movement?

Dan Baltz wrote in today’s Washington Post

The teabag protests that marked tax day on April 15 represent an opportunity and a risk for the Republican Party. Opportunity because they offer a jolt of energy for a battered party after two dismal elections. Risk because they supply at best only a partial answer to what ails the Republicans

For now standing back and saying no to Obama may be enough. But opposition to Obama’s policies represents an incomplete message for a party seeking to regain power. Republicans still must confront larger questions of how they can appeal nationally and how they would govern were they given the opportunity again.

Will the Republican Party try to use the issues of the Tea Parties to try to revive?  I don’t think that is the road back.  I hope and believe that Americans are beginning slowly to more past issues of race and gender.  Certainly the youngsters I see on the subway in Boston are often in mixed groups and couples are often interracial.  Maybe the race issue and the anti-Obamaism is why more people turned out in the South.  Plus we have that black president with very high approval ratings.  We will probably find out how tea parties work as a strategy when we know the results of the Kay Bailey Hutchinson v. Rick Perry (king of the Texas Tea Party) race for the Republican nomination for Texas governor.

Here are two final looks are the Tea Parties.  Tom Toles from the Washington Post

The Republicans should maybe remember Jim Jones.

And last but not least a link to Jon Stewart.

Taxes and Gay Marriage

I wrote about a lawsuit filed in Massachusetts to end the Defense of  Marriage Act back in March and yesterday Ellen Goodman published a good piece about why this is important.  Titled “A Strange Duel Citizenship”, Goodman writes

THEY ARE NOT the only married couple in America who talk about taxes and ulcers in the same sentence. Nor are they the only couple who believe they are paying more than they should. On that ground they are part of a noisy majority.

But they are a couple for whom tax season also entails an identity crisis. You see, Melba Abreu and Beatrice Hernandez file state taxes as what they are – a legally married Massachusetts couple. But under federal law, they have to file federal taxes as what they aren’t – two single women.

This identity crisis is not just some psychological blip on the cheerful landscape of their family life. In the last four years, the government’s refusal to consider them a married couple has cost the writer and the CFO of a nonprofit about $5,000 a year. As Beatrice puts it, “We don’t know anyone for whom $20,000 and counting isn’t significant.”

This is not about forcing states to choose to marry people.  It is about the simple act of recognizing legal marriages in other states.  It is not different from my straight marriage being recognized in Massachusetts even though I got married in Virginia.  Goodman concludes

So what do you say about an out-of-date law that enforces an identity crisis? What do you say about a law that “defends” marriage by denying it? The winds are blowing, but in a very different direction.

Amendment to this post

When I wrote this on Saturday morning, I hadn’t seen Stephen Colbert’s video mocking the anti-gay marriage ad – which he describes as combining the 700 Club and the Weather Channel.  Take a look.

The Torture Memos Released

President Obama did the right thing by releasing the Bush Justice Department memos providing a legal justification of torture and in deciding not to prosecute the interregators.  The ones who should be prosecuted are the memo writers who, rather than upholding the Constitution, international law, and basic American values, caved in to people like Vice President Cheney – and perhaps even Cheney, Rice, Rumfeld and Bush.

In his statement accompanying the release, President Obama said

The Department of Justice will today release certain memos issued by the Office of Legal Counsel between 2002 and 2005 as part of an ongoing court case. These memos speak to techniques that were used in the interrogation of terrorism suspects during that period, and their release is required by the rule of law.

My judgment on the content of these memos is a matter of record. In one of my very first acts as President, I prohibited the use of these interrogation techniques by the United States because they undermine our moral authority and do not make us safer. Enlisting our values in the protection of our people makes us stronger and more secure. A democracy as resilient as ours must reject the false choice between our security and our ideals, and that is why these methods of interrogation are already a thing of the past.

The United States is a nation of laws. My Administration will always act in accordance with those laws, and with an unshakeable commitment to our ideals. That is why we have released these memos, and that is why we have taken steps to ensure that the actions described within them never take place again.

It will no doubt be argued that this may, in fact, leave President Bush and other high ranking members of his administration open to prosecution in international criminal courts such as the one in Spain which as already begun an inquiry.  These, memos, people will argue, only add fuel to the fire.  We can’t have our elected officials held accountable for actions they thought were legal they will argue.

To them I say:  The high ranking officials in Hitler’s government also thought they were acting under the cover of law.  Maybe they didn’t have Justice Department lawyers writing the justifications, but those brought to trial at Nuremburg did not believe they had done anything wrong either.    This is why we now have United Nations Convention on Torture

  1. For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

  1. Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.
  2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.
  3. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

I haven’t read the entire test of the memos, but did not we commit war crimes?  Certainly the international agreement about torture was violated.

If we are a great nation, and I believe we are, we must lead not only by words, but also deeds.  I understand the political reasons why President Obama cannot be seen as bringing members of the previous administration to trial, but I see no reason why others, like Congress,  cannot do the ground work and present evidence to prosecutors and the courts.  It is probably better to do it ourselves than to leave it to Spain. 

At the very least, none of those Bush officials can travel outside of the United States without risking arrest.  Oh, I forgot, they better not set foot in Vermont either.