Freedom from Blog

Don't call it a comeback . . . .

Thursday, July 31, 2008


From Today's Post:
Zimbabwe will drop 10 zeroes from its hyperinflated currency--turning 10 billion dollars into one . . . .
Central bank governor Gideon Gono said new money would be launched Friday with 500-dollar bills and with coins, which have been obsolete for years.
Inflation in Zimbabwe is officially at 2.2 million percent, but independent economists say it's closer to 12.5 million percent.

Eh, what's a few million percent? A lot, actually.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Veep of Faith

NBC News and the WaPo are both reporting that Gov. Tim Kaine of VA, a former Catholic missionary, may be Obama's top pick for VP on a short list that also includes Sen. Joe Biden (DE), Sen. Evan Bayh (IN) and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (KS). Props to Frannie for making a case for Kaine in comments a little while back.

Kaine seems to me like a classic safe pick. Popular southern governor of a big, winnable state that usually goes GOP. He's bland but likable, an early Obama endorser with whom he seems to have rapport. He's got executive experience but not military, and he's a blank slate on foreign policy, a big concern in this election. My brain tells me he's the best pick on that short list.

My gut, on the other hand, tells me that Joe Biden would be a helluva lot more fun. Sure, he's a windy and sometimes gaffe-prone DC insider. But he's also an energetic loyalist knows how to throw a punch, making him the anti-Lieberman. Maybe I'm fighting the war before the last war here. Still, I'd love to see some legit "Joe-mentum" this year. Meanwhile, although I have to recognize that Bayh would be a smart pick on grounds similar to Kaine, I really don't want him. He's uber-bland, and his foreign policy judgment (on Iraq, etc.) makes him a charter Capitucrat, always caving in to GOP scare tactics. Sebelius would make a great VP, or P for that matter. But she can't bring Kansas, it wouldn't matter if she could, and I fear that her political gifts are better suited to long time periods in a small state where she can get to know voters personally. She doesn't seem like a national candidate to me. Plus, that bumper sticker is just too much. This is America, and shallow matters.

Could be a fun week. If I were Obama, I'd go early to make McCain look reactive again. If I'm McCain, I'd pick Tom Ridge (PA) over nerd boy Tim Pawlenty (MN). But the GOP base would not be happy.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Zombie Mac

Unlike Kevin Drum, I'm one of those Dems who caught a mild case of JohnnyMac fever back in the day. I voted for him in the 2000 primary and flirted with the idea of voting for him in the general had he won, though, truth be told, bitter impeachment memories surely would have kept me, despite my wandering eye, a loyal donkey. McCain impressed me with his reformist zeal and his willingness to take on bloated targets in his own party, including "agents of intolerance" Falwell and Robertson. But he really won my respect over the next three and a half years, a period when most Dems in Congress were rolling over and playing dead, leaving McCain to lead the anti-Bush resistance on issues like taxes, campaign finance, and torture. He won some and lost some, but at least he put up a fight.

Then everything fell apart in 2004. Johnny lost his mojo. In retrospect, it is quite clear what happened, although no one seems to be reporting on this. It all began when McCain called up Kerry to initiate talks about joining the ticket as VP, reprising caucus-switch conversations he had held with Tom Daschle three years earlier. Obviously, it didn't happen. The press has never really gotten at what went down, and their interest has been mild at best. But the answer is pretty obvious. McCain made a rational calculation that if he took the VP slot he'd never get his own shot at president--he'd be too old to run in 2012, his first real opening--except, of course, if his friend John Kerry died, something no one with any decency would want to pin their hopes upon. So, despite a wandering eye, he stayed a loyal elephant.

This was the first of many raw calculations on McCain's part. He started buddying up to Bush, so we got degrading campaign shots of fealty hugs. He started pulling his punches in the Senate, backing down on torture, habeas and other rule of law fundamentals. Then he went hard right on the war to pander to the GOP base and cut off charges that he was a disloyal squish. Now, each one of these moves was as necessary as it was disheartening, and I've had the queasy sensation of watching a basically good man with a heroic past sell his soul for a shot at glory. So here we are. 2008. And McCain is running a deeply nasty campaign, one long on confusion, lies, fear, and resentment, but shockingly short on anything like an idea or a noble cause. Can a man fuel an entire presidential run on nothing but bluster and churlishness? He's Surgey McSurge, desperately trying to bluff his lone face card into a royal flush. Forgive the mixed metaphors, but whenever I see McCain on TV now I see a zombie, a pale, fleshy replicant of his once charming former self who lurches right, right, right while droning on about wanting to eat Obama's brain.

Ironically, McCain's claim to election entitlement rests on his life of "sacrifice," a point that Michael Crowley explores beautifully in his recent TNR story ("Salter Ego") on McCain's "brain," Mark Salter, the man who forged McCain's hero image as his top adviser and regular co-author. As Crowley writes, "nothing seems to rile up Salter like Obama himself. . . . In the Salter narrative, the self-sacrificing war hero could not meet a better foil than the Obamamaniacs' narcissistic world of Facebook and YouTube and Scarlett Johnansson."

It is certainly true that McCain has lived a life of sacrifice. But the sacrifices that got him the GOP nomination are not the ones that Salter wraps in flags of sepia. They are the ones where he compromised his judgment to George Bush, FOX News, and the "conservative movement" juggernaut. Meanwhile, it is true that Obama has sacrificed relatively little in a rise that now eclipses McCain's. He seems effortless, a man of flesh and blood, comfortable in his own skin, the rare national politician unafraid to use his own brain. What self-respecting zombie wouldn't try to crush that hope before collapsing resentfully into the grave?

Friday, July 25, 2008


A few thoughts about coverage of the World Obamathon.

First, I've heard many times now that Obama was "either smart or lucky" to have embraced a 16 month timetable and then have it endorsed by al Maliki and the Iraqis generally. As if no one could have guessed that the Iraqis wanted us to get the hell out ASAP. As if no one could have thought that the Iraqis might be more willing to take advantage of Bush's lame duckery than say American pols or reporters. What a bubble mentality. Has anyone been reading those polls of Iraqi opinion over the last, I dunno, 5 years! It doesn't take a genius to recognize that, once you dropped the silly Bush/GOP line about Iraq's endless supply of rose petals, a relatively quick withdrawal would look pretty good to our Jeffersonian friends in Baghdad. (Note to self: "Jeffersonian democracy" celebrated independence as virtue and eschewed foreign entanglements.)

Second, isn't it funny how a week ago every single press report on the Obama trip claimed it was fraught with minefields or walking on a highwire, and now every single press report claims that he had a pretty "low bar" to hurdle and that he seems to have just barely done it. True, Obama does make it look easy.

Finally, I loved Chris Matthews's repeated pitch, made after each early visit (Kabul, Iraq, Israel, etc.) about how Obama had done so well he should just call it a vacay and head for home. Yeah, we wouldn't want him to blow his chances by trying to deliver a speech in front of 200,000 adoring Germans waving American flags. Who knows if that guy can deliver a speech? It might make him look small.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Better When Ezra

One of the things I like best about fatherhood is reading bedtime stories. It is a truly relaxing experience, and it makes up for one of the lesser aspects of fatherhood--late night crying jags (usually hers). The books themselves make a difference too. Before "the Goof" showed up, I hadn't read a children's book since, well, childhood. As it turns out, some of them are quite extraordinary. When I first saw Goodnight Moon my reaction was a bored yawn. This is a classic? There's nothing to it. Yet that's the beauty of it--a calming simplicity that hides subtle shifts of perspective and that has much more going on than it immediately reveals.

Even better are a couple we've been reading recently by Ezra Jack Keats. You may know Keats from The Snowy Day (1962), his best known story, one I had vague and distant memories of having once read, primarily the "snow angel" page. Keats, a white New Yorker, was the first major children's author to center stories on black children in urban environments. How amazing must that have been 46 years ago, prior to the Civil Rights Act? The lead character in TSD is a boy named Peter, and he appears again as a supporting character, aged a decade, in Keats's Pet Show! (1972) Keats's pictures draw you in: the colorful collages of TSD, the 70s ghetto impressionism of PS! But the words keep us coming back. I love the staccato "Crunch crunch crunch. His feet sank into the snow" from TSD. I love the effortless dialogue and gentle humanism of PS! So does the Goof. Every night as we're getting her ready for bed, I'll ask, "What do you want to read tonight?" Every night for the last month her answer has been the same and it has been immediate. "Pet Show!"

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

McCain's "Base" or Surge!, Surge!, Surge!, Surge!

As luck would have it, I watched the CBS Evening News for the first time in months last night and managed to catch Katie Couric's now infamous interview with John McCain. There's been a lot of hubbub about how CBS doctored the interview to edit out a huge gaffe where Surgey McSurge utterly botched the history of the surge he had supposedly masterminded while errantly accusing Obama of exactly the same sin. CBS then replaced that gaffe with an answer to an earlier question where the Surgester charmingly blasted Obama with committing treason.

Of course, when I watched that interview I didn't know about the creative cut and paste. But it was still a pretty disgusting piece of journalism, even taken at face value. The McCain interview followed immediately after an interview with Obama in which Couric grilled him about the "success" of the surge. Fair enough. Nothing wrong with tough questions, and Big O handled them reasonably well. But the Dr. Surgenstein interview was one giant powderpuff. Rather than grilling Saint Surgesa, Couric just baited him to attack Obama over and over again without any critical apparatus whatsoever. It made me think of the times, back when Couric was just starting out behind the CBS anchor desk, that she'd bring out Rush Limbaugh as an expert commentator. What the hell has happened to CBS? They used to be a real news organization.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Where Have We Been? Or, And Then There Were Three!

It's been a while, I know. But trust me, we've been busy. Our little daughter (nickname "Bee"), seen here on the second day of life outside, was born on TMcD's birthday, June 22. And we moved into the new house June 23. That was monumentally poor planning, but the baby was three weeks early. She caught us rather unprepared--not, I expect, for the last time. Mother and daughter are both doing fine.

I wouldn't recommend moving and having your first child in the same week. Then we also had a few plumbing issues in the new house, which added to the stress. Those issues seem resolved now, although old houses have old plumbing, and thus plumbing issues. It's part of the "charm."

Bee is a true delight, although at three weeks old children don't do much more than eat, poop, pee, and sleep. According to some in the neonatal field, until about three months the child is really still a fetus. That's a weird way to think about it, but in my new experience, it makes a lot of sense. Bee isn't really focused on the outside world as yet. Her own bodily sensations, yes. And even not so bright light bothers her. But most "stimuli" aren't, yet.

Oh, and she really looks like my baby pictures. The old wives' tale is that babies look like their fathers--I guess I can see how that would have evolutionary potential. Looking like me might not be a good thing in the long run, however--I hope that she favors Frances as she gets older.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


So it looks like Jesse Jackson just Sister Souljaed himself. How's that for a nifty maneuver? Obama ought to send him a big basket of mixed nuts--sliced?-- as a thank you. Hell, throw in a basket for the good folks at FOX News while he's at it. They secretly mic the left reverend so that they can embarrass Big O and yet somehow manage to show their perpetually pants-wetting white audience that O is pissing off "Big Black" by standing up for family values.

I'd cheer but I'm still pretty pissed off at Big O for his FISA fold. Really inexcusable as a matter of principle. Now, I get that sometimes you have to sacrifice principle in politics for political gain. In Dem politics, I almost always take the fighters over the saints. But where's the frickin' gain? There is literally zero public constituency for the Dem position, plus passionate opposition in the base. Obama has a dozen other issues he can go (and has gone) "centrist" and actually reap pay off, making FISA utterly useless. Meanwhile, Bush gets a big win and the Dems look like pansies (again). I guess I just don't understand the politics here for either Obama or the Dem leadership in Congress. Congress is at 19% approval, and that's lower among Democrats than GOPers! Come on, take a page from the Bushies. When you've lost everyone, at least cater to your base--they're the only ones who even might change their minds. Harry Reid wimped out a long time ago, so I guess he's just following form. But Obama? Makes me want to cut his nuts off! Oops. I guess I'm not supposed to say that. Don't tell Sean and Bill-O.